So what are GMO's?
A Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) can be any plant, animal or microorganism which has been genetically altered using molecular genetics techniques such as gene cloning and protein engineering. Plants like maize/corn that has the pesticide Bt engineered into its genetic makeup to make it resistant to certain pests are GMO crops.
People have been selectively breeding or cross-breeding plants for centuries – for example, to adapt them to a particular climate or improve their yield. What makes genetic engineering radically different from traditional breeding methods is that genes are transferred between completely unrelated species. For instance, animal genes are transferred into plants and bacteria genes are moved across to food crops.
Two main types of GM crops are:
Other GM crops include those that have been made resistant to fungal infections and those that have had their nutritional properties enhanced (such as ‘golden rice’ which contains vitamin A).
Why are GMO's bad then?
Threats to food security and local livelihoods
Despite claims by GM lobbyists that GMO's are the answer to world hunger, their companies so far have only proven to contribute to it. GM seeds provide a limited benefit to large-scale industrial farmers by allowing them to mechanise more and reduce labour costs (at the cost of systematically destroying their soil). For the vast majority of farmers on the planet, however, GM methods are more expensive, less productive and locally inappropriate to their sustainable small or medium-scale systems.
Bad for the Environment
Advocates of GM crops argue that GM crops are good for the environment since they will reduce the amount of agrochemicals (pesticides and herbicides) that need to be used in crop production.
However, opponents of GM crops believe that these crops are a threat to the environment. The claim that GM crops require fewer herbicides and pesticides has already been proven wrong. They might require fewer chemicals than conventional crops in the short term but over time they need significantly more.
Threatening Plant Dioversity
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) threaten plant biodiversity. Planting GM crops is not a question of choice: once they are planted somewhere, crops elsewhere become contaminated by them. This could be especially disastrous for organic farmers.
For example, although it is illegal to grow GM maize in Mexico, in 2001 researchers found that traditional maize varieties grown by farmers in two remote Mexican states had been contaminated with GMOs from GM maize. There are thousands of varieties of maize in Mexico. If contaminated by GMOs, these precious indigenous varieties would be irretrievably lost.
Some farmers whose conventional crops have been contaminated by GM material have found themselves obliged to pay fees to biotech corporations (which have patented the GM material) or face legal action. In the words of a US farmer: ‘Farmers are being sued for having GMOs on their property that they did not buy, do not want, will not use and cannot sell.’
GM crops are produced for corporate profit. Seeds, and the chemicals that are required to grow them, must be bought from the multinational biotech corporations. Farmers are prohibited from saving and sharing seeds: every year they must buy more seeds and the associated agrochemicals from the corporations.
Putting an end to Seed Saving and Sharing
The majority of farmers in developing countries struggle to afford even the most basic inputs (seeds, fertilisers, etc). Their survival depends on the age-old practices of selecting, saving and sharing seeds from one year to the next. GM crops do not allow farmers to do this.
By patenting GM seeds and their associated technologies, biotech corporations will consolidate their already worrying control over the world food market. They will exercise a monopoly over what we eat and what we plant – with devastating effects, particularly in developing countries, for food security (people’s ability to have access to safe and nutritious food at all times).
Although the goal of GMO crops is to make them less susceptible to pests, more resistant to drought and stronger overall, the actual result is that stronger pesticides will be needed for the stronger weeds and disease, just as overuse of antibiotics has created stronger strains of disease in humans. Do we really want stronger pesticides to be used on the food that we eat?
Despite claims by the biotech corporations as to the safety of their products, there are many documented health risks. See Seeds of Deception for more information.
For further reading and info on GMO's we can also recommend the following websites:
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