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10 Reasons Why We Don't Need GM Foods

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With the cost of food recently skyrocketing - hitting not just shoppers but the poor and hungry in the developing world - genetically modified (GM) foods are once again being promoted as the way to feed the world. But this is little short of a confidence trick. Far from needing more GM foods, there are urgent reasons why we need to ban them altogether.

1. GM foods won't solve the food crisis

A 2008 World Bank report concluded that increased biofuel production is the major cause of the increase in food prices.[1] GM giant Monsanto has been at the heart of the lobbying for biofuels (crops grown for fuel rather than food) - while profiting enormously from the resulting food crisis and using it as a PR opportunity to promote GM foods!

"The climate crisis was used to boost biofuels, helping to create the food crisis; and now the food crisis is being used to revive the fortunes of the GM industry." - Daniel Howden, Africa correspondent of The Independent[2]

"The cynic in me thinks that they're just using the current food crisis and the fuel crisis as a springboard to push GM crops back on to the public agenda. I understand why they're doing it, but the danger is that if they're making these claims about GM crops solving the problem of drought or feeding the world, that's bullshit." - Prof Denis Murphy, head of biotechnology at the University of Glamorgan in Wales[3]

2. GM crops do not increase yield potential

Despite the promises, GM has not increased the yield potential of any commercialised crops.[4] In fact, studies show that the most widely grown GM crop, GM soya, has suffered reduced yields.[5]

A report that analyzed nearly two decades worth of peer reviewed research on the yield of the primary GM food/feed crops, soybeans and corn (maize), reveals that despite 20 years of research and 13 years of commercialization, genetic engineering has failed to significantly increase US crop yields. The author, former US EPA and US FDA biotech specialist Dr Gurian-Sherman, concludes that when it comes to yield, "Traditional breeding outperforms genetic engineering hands down."[6]

"Let's be clear. As of this year [2008], there are no commercialized GM crops that inherently increase yield. Similarly, there are no GM crops on the market that were engineered to resist drought, reduce fertilizer pollution or save soil. Not one." - Dr Doug Gurian-Sherman[7]

3. GM crops increase pesticide use

US government data shows that in the US, GM crops have produced an overall increase, not decrease, in pesticide use compared to conventional crops.[8]

"The promise was that you could use less chemicals and produce a greater yield. But let me tell you none of this is true." - Bill Christison, President of the US National Family Farm Coalition[9]

4. There are better ways to feed the world

A major UN/World Bank-sponsored report compiled by 400 scientists and endorsed by 58 countries concluded that GM crops have little to offer global agriculture and the challenges of poverty, hunger, and climate change, because better alternatives are available. In particular, the report championed "agroecological" farming as the sustainable way forward for developing countries.[10]

5. Other farm technologies are more successful

Integrated Pest Management and other innovative low-input or organic methods of controlling pests and boosting yields have proven highly effective, particularly in the developing world.[11] Other plant breeding technologies, such as Marker Assisted Selection (non-GM genetic mapping), are widely expected to boost global agricultural productivity more effectively and safely than GM.[12] [13]

"The quiet revolution is happening in gene mapping, helping us understand crops better. That is up and running and could have a far greater impact on agriculture [than GM]." - Prof John Snape, head of the department of crop genetics, John Innes Centre[14]

6. GM foods have not been shown to be safe to eat

Genetic modification is a crude and imprecise way of incorporating foreign genetic material (e.g. from viruses, bacteria) into crops, with unpredictable consequences. The resulting GM foods have undergone little rigorous and no long-term safety testing, but animal feeding tests have shown worrying health effects.[15] Only one study has been published on the direct effects on humans of eating a GM food.[16] It found unexpected effects on gut bacteria, but was never followed up.

It is claimed that Americans have eaten GM foods for years with no ill effects. But these foods are unlabeled in the US and no one has monitored the consequences. With other novel foods like trans fats, it has taken decades to realize that they have caused millions of premature deaths.[17]

"We are confronted with the most powerful technology the world has ever known, and it is being rapidly deployed with almost no thought whatsoever to its consequences." - Dr Suzanne Wuerthele, US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) toxicologist
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