Asked recently about "golden rice", genetically modified to tackle blindness caused by vitamin A deficiency,
It was a staggering thing to say. For one thing, the developers of golden rice have said that it is not even ready for commercial planting. For another, it will be assessed in
Last year 170 million hectares were planted with GM crops, almost all with one of two traits: herbicide tolerance and insect resistance. Paterson says farmers wouldn't grow it, governments wouldn't license it, and consumers wouldn't buy it if it were not cost-effective and beneficial. But the facts tell a different story.
Farmers who took on herbicide-tolerant GM crops are now struggling with herbicide-resistant "superweeds". As a result, since 1996 there has been a disproportionate increase in the use of weedkillers - in excess of 225m kg in the US. Meanwhile, farmers who took on pest-resistant GM crops are struggling with the cost of secondary pests unaffected by the built-in toxins.
Nor has GM boosted yields. Indeed, in
Countries such as
GM has been widely grown for nearly 20 years, more than enough time to prove itself. The industry behind it is enormously powerful and well-funded. If GM never took off as predicted it is because all those promises of cheap pest control, and crops that tolerate flood, salt and extreme weather, simply haven't materialised. If they had, perhaps consumers would be willing to put niggling doubts about safety to one side. Without the success story, GM relies on hype.
The irony is that a different type of biotechnology - traditional hybridisation - has actually delivered those products, and at a fraction of the cost. Using new technologies such as gene marker mapping and genome sequencing, conventional breeding has quietly delivered drought-tolerant and flood-tolerant rice varieties with higher yields. British scientists have developed disease-resistant pearl millet for
But even while there is so much to gain from traditional biotech, there's little money in it. Improving and selling crop varieties that farmers can use year after year is not as profitable to the industry as a GM model that requires farmers to purchase patented seeds each year, locking them into dependence on the giant companies - just three of which control a staggering 70% of global seed sales.
GM has never been about feeding the world, or tackling environmental problems. It is and has always been about control of the global food economy by a tiny handful of giant corporations. It's not wicked to question that process. It is wicked not to.
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