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Dr Michael Hansen: GM Crops No Panacea for Food Security

KARACHI: Senior US scientist Dr Michael Hansen has said genetically modified crops are not the panacea for food security. Rather, the answer to food security lies with small-scale, ecologically rational, sustainable agriculture that focuses on local food systems.

"If you look carefully at global data, the most engineered crop is soybean. Ninety per cent of US acreage, 98 per cent of Argentina acreage and 60 per cent of Brazil are engineered," he said.

"Scientific data show that on an average Roundup soybean has 10 per cent lower yield than non-engineered soybean. So if you want to feed more people, genetically-engineered soybean will not be the answer," he said.

In an exclusive interview with The News recently, Dr Hansen, who is associated with the Consumers Union (USA), a non-profit publisher of consumer reports, said: "There is a global agreement under the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTDI) and it basically answers the question what kind of agriculture will be most useful in feeding the poor of the world. This four-year assessment, involving 400 scientists, concluded that 'business as usual is not acceptable.' They say the answer is not high technology such as genetic engineering or nano technology; rather the answer lies with small scale, ecologically rational agriculture that focuses on local food systems, reforms of trade laws and enabling policy environment and paying attention to gender issues."

Asked to comment on giant US multinational Monsanto's claim that Bt cotton requires less water and is pest free, he said: "It's wrong! In 2002, Bt cotton smuggled from Australia was planted in Sindh. A detailed survey of 138 farmers in four districts reporting growing Bt cotton on 4,249 hectares showed that local cotton variety non-engineered NIAB-78 received six irrigations while Bt cotton received 11 to 12 irrigations which resulted in increased cost of 1,750 rupees per acre. That clearly shows that Bt cotton uses more water.

"Similarly, in 2002, farmers were surveyed in five districts in Punjab. There the cost in terms of rupee per acre for water was Rs2,600 for Bt cotton and Rs2,100 for non-Bt cotton. Bt cotton used 25 per cent more water in Punjab than non-Bt cotton and almost 100 per cent more water in Sindh."

Asked to what extent the apprehension was true that with the introduction of Bt cotton and other genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) seed business in Pakistan is likely to be monopolised, he said: "The answer is yes."

Citing a report of the US Department of Agriculture and the Pakistan Annual Cotton Report released in May 2009, he said Monsanto has gained approval for a plan to introduce advanced genetically-modified crop technology and hybrid technology in Pakistan.