Global GM crops still stalled

17 February 2012


Industry front group ISAAA (International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications - ) fudges the figures in its 2011 annual global report on genetically manipulated (GM) crops. Even on ISAAA's inflated industry-generated data, GM crops were grown on just 3.276% (160m ha) of the world's 4,883,697,600 ha of agricultural land last year (FAO, 2008). [1]

"ISAAA uses the same spin and inflated figures as before, pushing false promises further into the future but ignoring present GM problems and setbacks," says Gene Ethics director, Bob Phelps.

For instance, in 2011 BASF and Monsanto both dropped their research and market programs in Europe because of farmer and shopper resistance, while China rejected GM rice and India banned GM eggplant (brinjal). The two GM traits launched in 1996 - herbicide tolerance, so farmers spray more Roundup weedkiller without harming their crops; and built-in Bt insect toxins that kill some caterpillars - are still the only GM traits available in commercial broadacre crops. "Pushing GM is like peddling Windows '95 - the technology and its products are past their use by date," he says.

ISAAA double counts the quarter of all GM crops that contain both herbicide tolerance and Bt insect toxin genes, inflating its figures by calling these 'trait hectares'.

ISAAA again claims GM crops will cope better in climate change with abiotic stresses (drought and salt tolerant) and biotic stresses (weed, pest and disease resistant) - (Exec summ, p 22). "But these complex traits rely on the interaction of many genes while GM techniques can only be used to cut and paste single genes. Despite 30 years and $45 billion poured into GM, none of these more complex GM traits exist and the GM industry is stalled. Though conventional breeding is moving faster and producing better results it doesn't offer the profit bonanza of GM crops that can be patented," Phelps says.

Globally, twenty one plant species are now herbicide tolerant superweeds and GM crops hasten this problem as Duke and Powles note: "Most of the documented cases of evolved GR [glyphosate resistant] weeds in the past 6 years have been in GR crops." [2] Insect pest resistance in GM crops is also exploding with resistant corn rootworm in the USA and pink bollworm in Indian cotton wreaking havoc. In Australia, last week the Glyphosate (Roundup) Sustainability Working Group confirmed resistant brome grass exists, the third new Roundup tolerant weed species found in Australia in the past year. [3] "It defies belief that the scientists on the Working Group are also strong advocates of GM crops for Australia."

"The biggest lie is that GM crops can 'feed the world' by increasing crop yields. But the best conventional varieties of soy, corn, canola and cotton outperform GM types in most places."

"Governments and publicly-funded researchers chase GM pipe-dreams because of ISAAA and industry spin. Instead we need public money spent on new, smarter GM-free farming systems that feed people perpetually without wrecking the planet," Mr Phelps concludes.

More comment: Bob Phelps 03 9347 4500 or 0449 769 066

[1] rbook2010/yearbook2010-reources/en/

[2] Duke SO and Powles SB, 2008. "Glyphosate: A once-in-a-century herbicide". Pest Management Science 64: 319-325. _115=212997
[3] and The Land, Thursday Feb 9, 2012, p 28.

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