GeneWatch UK today responded to reports that Monsanto's new drought tolerant genetically modified (GM) corn (maize) does not perform better than conventional varieties (1). The GM industry has made repeated claims that its crops will be needed to feed a growing population as the climate changes, in order to gain public and political support (2).
"This new report highlights the continuing failure of GM to deliver complex traits such as tolerance to drought", said Dr Helen Wallace, Director of GeneWatch UK "The GM industry must now stop its cynical attempts to manipulate the public into believing that GM crops are needed to feed the world".
Monsanto's rivals DuPont and Syngenta both announced new drought tolerant corn varieties earlier this year (2). Both varieties were conventionally bred and did not use genetic engineering. Indigenous non-GM drought-tolerant crop varieties are also readily available (3).
New GM traits, including drought-tolerant, salt-tolerant and nitrogen fixing crops, were first promised thirty years ago, when the US government first decided to invest taxpayers' money in biotechnology research and development (4). However, only two GM traits, herbicide-tolerance and insect resistance (Bt crops), have been commercialised on a significant scale to date. Major problems are now occurring in the US and South America, where most GM herbicide-tolerant soya is grown for animal feed, as herbicide-tolerant superweeds spread across farmland (5). Pest resistance is also beginning to develop where the main developing country crop Bt cotton is grown, and infestations of new pests are also an increasing problem (6).
"GM crops are not sustainable" said Dr Wallace, "Developing weed and pest resistance can lock farmers into a vicious cycle where they are forced to pay for seed price hikes and increasingly expensive chemicals as their GM crops begin to fail".
Patents on GM seeds mean that farmers cannot save them and have to buy new seeds each year.
Most GM corn (maize) and soya is used as animal feed or subsidised by the US Government for use in industrial-scale biofuels. The increasing consumption of grain-fed meat and use of land and food crops for biofuels are both thought to be factors in driving global hunger.
For further information contact:
Dr Helen Wallace: 01298-24300 (office): 07903-311584 (mobile).
Notes for Editors
(1) In a draft environmental assessment of the new GM corn, the USDA states that: "Equally comparable varieties produced through conventional breeding techniques are readily available in irrigated corn production regions." USDA Looks to Approve Monsanto's Drought-Tolerant Corn. New York Times. 11th May 2011.http://www.nytimes.com/gwire/2011/05/11/11greenwire-usda-looks-to-approve-monsantos-drought-tolera-84634.html.
(2) Last year GeneWatch revealed that Ipsos Mori Reputation Management had been working for a multi-national Agro-chemical and seed company and its advertising agency since 2009 "to develop concepts which link agribusiness with important global issues (such as climate change, water scarcity, deforestation etc) and position the company as a positive force" (Dr Wallace's resignation letter from the Food Standards Agency's GM dialogue: http://www.genewatch.org/uploads/f03c6d66a9b354535738483c1c3d49e4/resignation.doc). A major PR push to convince the public that GM was needed to feed the world was started by the New Labour Government in 2007 (see: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2007/sep/17/gmcrops.politicalnews1 ). In March 2011, GM seed companies told the FT that high food prices would spur the acceptance of GM crops in developing countries: .
(3) A list has been published by GM Watch on: http://www.bangmfood.org/feed-the-world/17-feeding-the-world/14-non-gm-breakthroughs
(4) GeneWatch UK Press Release 5th January 2011. On: http://www.genewatch.org/article.shtml?als[cid]=492860&als[itemid]=567367.
(5) The US Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) first made such claims in 1981, when billions in taxpayers' money began to be invested in biotechnology R&D on the grounds that this would improve the competitiveness of rich country economies. Bioscience for Life? GeneWatch UK Report 2010. On: http://www.genewatch.org/uploads/f03c6d66a9b354535738483c1c3d49e4/Bioscience_for_life.pdf.
(6) Farmers cope with Roundup-resistant weeds. New York Times. 3rd May 2010. On: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/04/business/energy-environment/04weed.html.