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Ten Reasons Why GE Foods Will Not Feed the World
prepared by The CornerHouse, UK

It is often claimed that genetically engineered crops are the only way to
feed a growing world population. Yet close analysis suggests that there are
at least 10 good reasons why the widespread adoption of genetic engineering
in agriculture will lead to more hungry people - not fewer.

1. Feed, Not Food
2. Engineering for Convenience
3. Substituting Tropical Cash Crops
4. Increasing Farm Debt
5. Promoting Inefficient Farming
6. Increasing Destitution
7. Unsustainable Agriculture
8. Lower Yields
9. Increased Corporate Contro
10. Misreading the Problem


1. Feed, Not Food

The two main GE crops grown commercially in the United States - soybeans
and maize (corn) - are used to feed livestock, not people.

This may be good for GE companies and their partners in the grain trade,
but it will do little to relieve world hunger. Indeed, livestock production
in many Southern countries has often been at the direct expense of poorer
people's diets.

Egypt, for instance, encouraged by USAID, invested heavily in livestock
from the 1970s onwards. The country now grows more food for animals than
for humans. Human supplies of grain have been made up through US imports
which contributes to Egypt's external debt. The consistent beneficiaries
have been large US grain merchants which have exported US grains at hugely
subsidised prices to Egypt.


2. Engineering for Convenience

Much genetic engineering research in food has been directed at meeting the
commercial needs of food processors rather than the nutritional needs of
poorer consumers.

A report by the US Biotechnology Industry Organization suggests that more
biotech effort will be devoted to genetic techniques for delaying ripening
or rotting of fruits and vegetables and for improving their appearance so
that they can be transported over ever longer distances and kept on
supermarket shelves for longer.

Maintaining a system whereby food has to travel such long distances may be
good news for oil companies, airlines and motor manufacturers, but it is an
energy- and resource-intensive system which contributes little to the
nutritional health of hungry people in either South or North - and does
much to undermine it.


3. Substituting Tropical Cash Crops

Using genetic engineering to create substitutes for tropical cash crops
will destroy the livelihoods of the rural poor in many Third World
countries - aggravating poverty and hunger.

Several applications of biotechnology are aimed at growing tropical cash
crops in the North, or at producing in laboratories the substances
currently derived from such crops.

Canola, for example, has been genetically-engineered to produce oils which
would replace coconut and palm oils. Coconut oil provides seven per cent of
the total export income of the Philippines, the world's largest exporter of
coconut oil, and direct or indirect employment for 21 million people, about
30 per cent of the country's population. Other tropical crops at risk
include vanilla and cocoa.

Although some of these cash crop producers will be able to switch to
growing other crops, many will not. With their income from export earnings
slashed, few Southern countries will be in a position to compensate such
workers and farmers. They will be left to fend for themselves: many are
likely to become malnourished for lack of cash to buy food.


4. Increasing Farm Debt

Unlike many of the seeds currently grown by Third World farmers, GE crops
do not come free. Attempts through legislation and genetic engineering
techniques to sterilize seeds, and to deny farmers' their ancient right to
save and exchange seeds from previous harvests will force them to buy their
seeds every year. In addition, farmers will also need to buy chemical
herbicides and fertilizers; without theses the GE seeds will fail to
achieve viable yields.

Many small farmers, who are already hard pressed by competition from
heavily-subsidised food imports from the US and by the removal of subsidies
on water and energy under structural adjustment programmes, will slide into
debt.

The result is likely to be yet another wave of farm bankruptcies, leading
to landlessness for poorer farmers and an increased concentration of land
as wealthier farmers and speculators buy up bankrupted farms.

By threatening the farm livelihoods of the very poor, GE crops can only
undermine the food security of small producers - hardly a policy for
"feeding the world".


5. Promoting Inefficient Farming

Proponents of genetic engineering in agriculture argue that farm
bankruptcies are a regrettable but necessary price of greater efficiency in
agriculture.

In terms of output per unit of labour, small farms are less "efficient"
than large modernised ones. But in terms of gross output per unit of land,
smaller farms often outdo larger ones. In Thailand, holdings under one
hectare have been found to be almost twice as productive as holdings over
40 hectares.

Arguments for replacing "inefficient" small producers with "efficient"
large producers also fail to take account of the key role that small farms
(particularly household gardens invariably tended by women) play in
efficiently supplying informal household networks with food.

To displace such networks would almost certainly result in a dramatic fall
in the amount of unmarketed food available to poorer people.


6. Increasing Destitution

Many vulnerable smallholder producers displaced as a result of growing
genetically-engineered crops are likely to find themselves in a saturated
labour market. If they could get jobs, they would probably be low-paid,
insecure ones in the cities or on larger farms where workers are generally
paid piece rates.

In today's global supermarket, food goes to those who have the money to buy
it. Only those who have the income to translate their biological needs into
"effective demand" get to eat. Those whose incomes are too low - who cannot
grow food for themselves - inevitably wind up malnourished.

The overall result of displacing "inefficient" small farmers is thus likely
to be increased famine and malnutrition - not a reduction in hunger as the
proponents of genetic engineering promise.


7. Unsustainable Agriculture

Genetic engineering in agriculture is likely to have adverse environmental
impacts which are in turn likely to undermine the ecological basis of food
production.

Genetically-engineered crops will stimulate the evolution of "superweeds"
and "superbugs" which will necessitate higher doses of chemicals and make
food supplies more vulnerable to pest damage.

The outcrossing of engineered traits to other plants also poses a major
threat to food production.

In addition, the adoption of genetically-engineered crops is likely to
reduce genetic diversity, resulting in fewer and fewer types of food crops;
the narrowing of the genetic base of food adds to the likelihood of pest
and disease epidemics.

Many of these problems stem from the fact that genetically-engineered crops
will be grown in industrial monocultures. Other forms of agriculture offer
far safer, proven andecologically-benign means of protecting crops against
pest damage.


8. Lower Yields

The genetically-engineered crops now being cultivated do not have
significantly increased yields. In some cases, yields are lower than those
for conventional varieties of the same crop.

In the first large-scale field trials in Puerto Rico in 1992 of Roundup
Ready plants, Monsanto scientists found statistically significant reduced
yields, averaging some 11.5 per cent, in three of seven trials.

Many of the first growers of Roundup Ready cotton in the Mississippi Delta
of the US complained in 1997 of low yields and poor quality, noting that
bolls dropped prematurely and were deformed. Over 50 growers filed
complaints with the newly-formed US Seed Arbitration Council; Monsanto has
since paid out substantial compensation.

Several analysts conclude that any further increases in crop yields in
modern food crops will almost certainly come from building on traditional
breeding methods - not from transgenics.


9. Increased Corporate Control

Mergers, takeovers, joint ventures and licensing agreements between plant
breeding companies, seed distributors, grain traders, chemical companies
and genetic engineering interests have resulted in some genetic engineering
companies gaining near-monopoly control over the growing and marketing of
some agricultural commodities.

Just ten multinationals (including Monsanto) have now cornered nearly 40%
of the world seed market. Monsanto itself estimates that half the US grain
industry is now using its genetically-engineered seed; it expects that by
the year 2000, all soybeans planted in the United States will be of its
Roundup Ready variety.

Seed companies may well take conventional varieties off the market or use
existing seed and patent legislation to restrict farmers growing such
varieties. The result could be a drastic reduction in farm biodiversity -
with a consequent increase in the vulnerability of crops to disease. Again,
hardly a way to ensure food supplies for the future.


10. Misreading the Problem

Underlying the biotech industry's claim that GE foods are needed to feed
the world lies a fundamentally flawed analysis of the causes of world
hunger.

More food will undoubtedly have to be grown in future if the increasing
numbers of people in the world are to be adequately fed.

But the claim that GE crops have a positive contribution to make is only
plausible if one mistakenly assumes that the hungry must be hungry because
there is not enough food. In fact, more than enough food is already being
produced to provide the world with a nutritious and adequate diet -
according to the United Nations' World Food Programme, one-and-a-half times
the amount required.

If one in seven people currently go to bed hungry, it is not because of an
absolute shortage of food, but because inequalities in political and
economic power deny food to people. As long as access to food depends upon
money, and as long as poorer people are excluded from food markets or from
land, significant numbers of people will be malnourished, hungry and
starving - whatever happens to the global food supply, and whatever happens
to the number of people in the world.

Far from addressing these underlying structural causes of hunger, genetic
engineering will do much to exacerbate them. Ensuring food security
worldwide requires an approach to agriculturethat is, in almost every
respect, the reverse of that being promoted bybiotech companies and their
allies in government and regulatory authorities.

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"Ten Reasons" is extracted from "Food? Health? Hope? Genetic Engineering
and World Hunger", a 28-page briefing prepared by The Corner House, PO Box
3137, Station Road, Sturminster Newton, Dorset DT10 1YJ, UK. Email
<cornerhouse@gn.apc.org> Email versions available free.
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Sarah Sexton/Larry Lohmann/Nicholas Hildyard/Tracey Clunies Ross

THE CORNER HOUSE
PO Box 3137,
Station Road,
Sturminster Newton,
Dorset DT10 1YJ
BRITAIN

Tel: +44 (0)1258 473795
Fax: +44 (0)1258 473748
Email: <cornerhouse@gn.apc.org>
Website http://www.icaap.org/Cornerhouse/

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