Known as the Nobel Prize of Food, the World Food Prize has received as much attention for its connection to industrial agriculture and genetically modified (GM) crops as it has for honoring those who feed the poor and hungry in the world.
The prize was recently awarded to Robert Fraley, an executive at Monsanto, Syngenta scientist Mary-Bell Chilton and Marc Van Montagu, Plant Genetic Systems co-founder. All of these individuals are committed to the development of high-yield GM crops that resist pests, harsh climates and diseases.
However, just one week after the World Food Prize was awarded to GM giants Monsanto and Syngenta, the European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Safety (ENSSER) has released this statement in response to claims that there is a “scientific consensus” that GM foods and crops are safe for human consumption and the environment. The statement calls these claims “misleading”, stating, “This claimed consensus on GMO safety does not exist.”
“As scientists, physicians, academics, and experts from disciplines relevant to the scientific, legal, social and safety assessment aspects of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), we strongly reject claims by GM seed developers and some scientists, commentators, and journalists that there is a “scientific consensus” on GMO safety and that the debate on this topic is “over”. “
The award struck outrage worldwide and stands in scary contrast to the recent ruling in many countries restricting or banning the field release of GM crops. These include 9 countries in Europe and Mexico. In addition, developing countries such as Bangladesh, the Philippines and India have placed an indefinite moratorium on field release trials until certain safety testing measures are put in place.
GM approvals are also under trial in Argentina and Brazil because of questions regarding scientific approval. Most questions are around lack of scientific proof of the safety of GM crops and the lack of testing.
Toxicopathologist Prof. C. Vyvyan Howard from the University of Ulster (a signatory to the statement) says, “A substantial number of studies suggest that GM crops and foods can be toxic or allergenic. It is often claimed that millions of Americans eat GM foods with no ill effects.
But as the US has no GMO labeling and no epidemiological studies have been carried out, there is no way of knowing whether the rising rates of chronic diseases seen in that country have anything to do with GM food consumption or not. Therefore this claim has no scientific basis.”
The agency meant to protect consumers and the world’s largest genetically modified food producer swore that the Bt toxin that is produced inside the plant would be completely destroyed in the human digestive system and would have no impact whatsoever on consumers. But not only were they wrong in that Bt does produce resistant “super-pests,” researchers are discovering that it can have devastating effects on human health.
When testing the blood of both pregnant and non-pregnant women at a hospital in Quebec, this dangerous toxin was found in 93 percent of the pregnant women and 80 percent of the umbilical blood in their babies, as well as 67 percent of non-pregnant women.
The toxin is typically consumed in processed foods and drinks in the form of high fructose corn syrup and the meat from animals that were fed Bt corn. This scary news raised the possibility that eating anything that contains Bt corn could turn your intestinal flora into a type of “living pesticide factory.”
Increase in Pesticide Use
According to a May report in the Wall Street Journal, “insecticide sales are surging after years of decline, as American farmers plant more corn and a genetic modification designed to protect the crop from pests has started to lose its effectiveness.”
Monsanto’s Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) corn was engineered to poison rootworm, however, the rootworm now seems to be resistant to the gene, as it is coming back. Similarly, Monsanto’s ‘RoundUp Ready’ crops have spurred the rise of superweeds that are resistant to RoundUp themselves.
Since the introduction of GMO crops in 1996, until 2011 when data was collected, pesticide use has increased by 7 percent, which translates to 404 million pounds more pesticides that have been sprayed on United States crops.
According to Dan Steiner, an independent crop consultant from northeastern Nebraska, “we used to get sick… because we’d always dig to see how the corn’s coming along. We didn’t wear the gloves and everything, and we’d kind of puke in the middle of the day. Well, I think we were low-dosing poison on ourselves!”
Tracy Franck, an Iowa farmer, told the Cedar Rapids Gazzette that he and his family, “are putting on more RoundUp every year to kill the same amount of weeds.” He added, “every year it will get worse.”
Biotech companies Monsanto, DuPont, Dow and Syngenta now control over 80 percent of the corn seed market and 70 percent of the soy market. They, however, are not suffering from the lost effectiveness of their crops, as they also sell pesticides. According to NPR and the Wall Street Journal, pesticide sales are doing just fine.
There is a Safer Way to Feed the World
As we reported earlier in June: According to a recent report from Agro-ecology and the Right to Food, sustainable, organic small-scale farming could potentially double food production in the areas of the world where hunger is an issue. The report speculates that in five to ten years, the world could see a huge leap in crop cultivation if these practices are adhered to. This is definitely something that the GMO companies, such as Monsanto, do not want you to know; it could put them out of business.
A wonderful example of the power of small-scale organic farming is found in Russia. There, over 35 million Russian families grow their own organic crops on land totalling about 20 million acres. These crops are grown by small family farms on gardens less than an acre in size.
From their individual gardens combined, these 35 million Russian families supply about 92 percent of all of Russia’s potatoes, 87 percent of its fruit and 77 percent of its vegetables, according to recent statistics. This represents 71 percent of the entire Russian population fed by organic family farms.
Russia’s population is approximately 143 million people. The population of the United states is about 314 million people. If such organic farming success is possible in Russia, it is certainly possible here, if enough land is dedicated to this pursuit.
Unfortunately, much of United States farmland is used to plant GMO crops. Statistics from 2001 show that over 88 million acres of U.S. land were used for planting GMOs, and the numbers have increased since then. Monsanto and other GMO companies have spent a great deal of money on campaigns trying to convince us that GMOs can ‘end world hunger.’ This claim is egregious and inaccurate in many ways.
The main misconception regarding world hunger is that there is not enough food to go around. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The real issue is distribution. Grocery stores throw out huge amounts of food each day, and the wealthy members of the population have more food than they can eat.
Those around the world who suffer from hunger and starvation do not have access to the food; the food grown in these countries is often shipped to wealthier countries, and the pay that the farmers receive often isn’t even enough to feed their families.
In a recent article published by the Huffington Post, John Robbins highlights another flaw with Monsanto’s claim to ‘feed the world.’ His article focuses on a strain of GM rice known as “golden rice,” which has been genetically altered to produce beta carotene. GMO companies claim that golden rice could prevent death and blindness in the developing world.
However, in reality, the soil is not right in developing countries to grow this rice. Furthermore, a great deal of water is needed for its cultivation, and most farmers in these countries do not have access to it. According to Robbins, “an 11-year-old-boy would have to eat 27 bowls of golden rice a day,” for the beta carotene content to be worthwhile.
Olivier De Schutter, the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, says, “we won’t solve hunger and stop climate change with industrial farming on large plantations.” This kind of change starts at home, by giving business back to small-scale organic farmers, and by collectively addressing the global need for efficient food distribution to places that need it.
Russia’s example is encouraging, and shows the benefit of replication of old practices that work. Why are we always trying to reinvent the wheel, come up with a new process, do something different, when we know what works?
We are spending billions of dollars, competing for lab research money like it is an Olympic Sport and throwing genetic material together in a petri dish without much thought to the outcome when a better, time tested solution exists. This is where the use of science to create a better world gets a little confusing. If others are feeding millions without genetic manipulation why is it so important that we do it?
We think that the answer to why all this ‘invention’ is pretty obvious – and while we are definitely in favour of free enterprise, we need to be very careful that we do not choose corporate profits over our health.
-The Alternative Daily