Genetically modified (GM) crops have led to a large increase in pesticide use and have failed to increase yield or tackle world hunger and poverty, a new report by Friends of the Earth and Center for Food Safety reveals today. The report coincides with the annual release of biotech industry figures on GM crop cultivation around the world.
“The biotech industry tells Africans that we need GM crops to tackle the food needs of our population. But the majority of GM crops are used to feed animals in rich countries, to produce damaging agrofuels, and don’t even yield more than conventional crops,” said Nnimmo Bassey, Friends of the Earth International’s GMO coordinator in Nigeria.
“For years, the biotech industry has been trumpeting the benefits of GM crops, but this report shows the true emerging picture,” added Andrew Kimbrell, Executive Director of the Center for Food Safety. “These crops really promote greater use of pesticides, and cause direct harm to the environment and small farmers. More and more, foundations and international aid and development organizations are recognizing the dead end that GM crops represent.”
The report, “Who Benefits from GM Crops?: The Rise in Pesticide Use,” finds that:
- GM crops do not tackle hunger or poverty
- The vast majority of GM crops are used to feed animals in rich countries rather than people in poorer nations. South America’s expanding GM soybean plantations produce soy meal for Europe’s livestock industry, and have reduced food security by displacing poor farmers and reducing land area planted to food crops like corn and beans for local consumption.
- Industry claims that genetically-modified cotton (Bt cotton) has boosted cotton yields and increased small farmers’ income. However, close examination reveals that cotton yield gains are attributable more to favorable weather conditions (India, the U.S) and a shift to irrigation (South Africa) than to the biotech trait.
- In South Africa’s Makhatini Flats, portrayed internationally as the “success story” demonstrating the benefits of GM cotton, the number of small cotton growers has plummeted from 3229 in 2001/02 to just 853 in 2006/07.
- Not a single GM crop on the market is engineered for enhanced nutrition, increased yield potential, drought-tolerance, or other attractive traits touted by the biotech industry.
GM crops increase pesticide use and foster spread of resistant “superweeds”
- Four of every five acres of GM crops worldwide are Monsanto’s Roundup Ready varieties, designed specifically for use with glyphosate, the weed-killing chemical that Monsanto sells under the name of Roundup. Weed-killers, or herbicides, are the largest class of pesticides.
- U.S. government data reveal a huge 15-fold increase in the use of glyphosate on soybeans, corn and cotton in the U.S. from 1994 to 2005, driven by adoption of Roundup Ready versions of these crops.
- Rising glyphosate use has spawned a growing epidemic of weeds resistant to the chemical in the U.S., Argentina and Brazil. Weed scientists have reported glyphosate-resistant weeds infesting 2.4 million acres in the U.S. alone.
- Increasing weed resistance to glyphosate has led to rising use of other toxic chemicals. In the U.S., the amount of 2,4-D applied to soybeans more than doubled from 2002 to 2006. 2,4-D was a component of the Vietnam War defoliant, Agent Orange. In Argentina, it is projected that 25 million liters of herbicides other than glyphosate will be needed to tackle glyphosate-resistant Johnsongrass.
Overall, GM crops do not yield more and often yield less than other crops
- Roundup Ready soybeans, the world’s most widely planted GM crop, have 6% lower yield than conventional soy, according to University of Nebraska researchers
- Even the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture admits that no GM crop on the market has been modified to increase yield. The main factors influencing crop yield are weather, irrigation, soil fertility, and conventional (non-biotech) breeding for increased yield.
GM crops benefit the biotech industry and some large growers, not small farmers
- Biotech companies benefit by selling more herbicides, charging more for GM seeds, and by seed patents, which make seed-saving illegal and thereby increase seed sales.
- Some large-scale growers in North and South America benefit from a “convenience effect” - reduced labor needs and increased flexibility in the timing of herbicide applications, though resistant weeds are beginning to erode these benefits.
- Thousands of U.S. farmers have been forced to pay Monsanto tens of millions of dollars for the “crime” of (allegedly) saving and replanting the company’s patented seed.
View the executive summary of “Who Benefits from GM Crops?”
View the full report
A Question & Answer document showing that GM crops do not help meet the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals of halving hunger and poverty by 2015 is available at:http://www.foeeurope.org/GMOs/Who_Benefits/QA_FINAL_FEB08.pdf