You are here: UNE Home / UNE Blogs / Klaus Rohde: Science, Politics and Art

Genetically Modified Crops

This is a follow-up to my last post on Fraudulence in Science and Politics which concluded with the obvious, i.e., that “Whether in science, the economy or in the media, data evaluation by people whose objectivity might be jeopardized by financial or other interests, will lead to corruption.”

The importance of this became clear when I watched the Insight program on SBS dealing with the problems of genetically modified crops. A wide variety of people participated in the discussion.

What struck me most was that, apparently, no animal experiments on the toxicity etc. of new products are required, and companies, not independent researchers, have to provide the evidence that their products are not harmful. The research conducted by these companies is to a large degree non-transparent, not subjected to peer review, and not published. In other words, rules are even less strict than in the pharmaceutic industry, where animal experiments followed by clinical tests have to be submitted to authorities before new drugs are even considered for approval.

Probably the most important objection against the wide use of genetically engineered crops is the monopolization of seed supply in the hands of very few huge companies (and in some cases a single company). It leads to disappearance of biodiversity and could – in the long term – have disastrous consequences not only for the environment but for the viability of small local farms. A few days ago a large international meeting in Paris concluded that the support of small local farmers was essential to overcome the present food crisis.

7 Responses to “Genetically Modified Crops”

  1. Chris Fellows Says:

    The monopolization of seed supply in the hands of very few huge companies is a fact of industrial agriculture today, whether the seeds are genetically modified or produced by conventional breeding. Therefore, this is not a cogent objection to genetically modified crops per se. There is no reason why genetically modified crops could not be produced by government research agencies, not-for-profit agencies, or- if the current onerous regulatory framework was eased- by small-to-medium enterprises rather than multinational corporations.

  2. Klaus Rohde Says:

    “monopolization of seed supply in the hands of very few huge companies is a fact of industrial agriculture today”

    Quite true if we consider industrial agriculture, but a very large proportion of farm products (I don’t know what proportion) still comes from small or middle sized farms which use a variety of locally evolved crops. And they are the ones threatened by the large multinationals.

    “There is no reason why genetically modified crops could not be produced by government research agencies, not-for-profit agencies, or- if the current onerous regulatory framework was eased- by small-to-medium enterprises rather than multinational corporations.”

    Quite true of course – in principle. But is it realistic to assume, in the context of the present world economic system, that the large multinational companies will release their hold on the seed supply. Is it true that pressure has been exerted by such companies on countries such as Rumania and small African nations to open their door to genetically modified crops? Is it true that a reason (and one of the main reasons) for the EU to prohibit certain (or all?????) genetically modified crops is the effect they could have on the viability of small farmers?

  3. Chris Fellows Says:

    I don’t see how GM crops threaten locally developed crops any more than the hybrid seeds sold by the seed companies companies. Small enterprises would still be free to chose to grow whatever they wish (in non-centrally-planned economies).

    Without knowing for certain, I am confident that large companies will have applied pressure on countries such as Rumania and small African nations to open their doors; but at the same time other entities will have applied pressure in the other direction. One expects all mortal organisations to act in their own interest! I know for instance that NGOs have irresponsibly applied pressure on small African countries to refuse GM food aid, leading to unnecessary suffering and death

    On purely anecdotal evidence I had understood the primary goal of EU farm policy to be to preserve the environmental, aesthetic and cultural values of the countryside- thus seeking to protect small farmers from market forces in general, not just GM crops?

  4. Klaus Rohde Says:

    “Small enterprises would still be free to chose to grow whatever they wish”

    A point made by one of the participants in the Insight discussion (a small farmer growing I have forgotten what non-engineered crop) was that he (and not his neighbours) had to “prove” that his crop was not polluted from adjacent farms, which makes production more expensive.

    ” preserve the environmental, aesthetic and cultural values of the countryside”

    These seem to me indeed values worth of protection (having grown up in that environment)

    ” NGOs have irresponsibly applied pressure on small African countries to refuse GM food aid,”

    The problem is, once you have got the devil in the box you can’t get it out again. I would not be so sure that the decision to keep the engineered crops out was not the right decision.

    But apart from all this, after seeing the Insight show, I certainly believe that stricter rules for testing are necessary. After all, in the few animal experiments made, strong evidence for allergies resulting from feeding engineered food to mice was found (although there was an a priori likelihood that this might be the case for the particular food tested), and – I am not familiar with the literature – it seems that genes can be tranferred for example to the intestinal flora.

    All over, I think that great caution is necessary.

  5. Chris Fellows Says:

    One of the things I was surprised to hear recently is that the burden of proof on the small farmer to which you refer is absurdly low; I had considered this as a valid economic argument against GM crops before but now do not think it is.

    I agree that those are certainly values worthy of protection! The problem is balancing the cost of protecting those values. Does the impact of EU farm policy on living standards and environmental conditions in the Third World, and the opportunity cost it imposes by forcing up prices for European consumers, outweigh the benefits it brings? I don’t know.

    Yes, genes can theoretically be transferred to the intestinal flora. But this is true for everything we eat with genetic material in it, whether modified or not. The only way you can avoid this is to irradiate your food or follow the time-honoured Northern European custom of boiling it into mush. :)

  6. Chris Fellows Says:

    Oops, sorry, the ‘/b’ did not take! I have tried recasting and expanding my thoughts on the Origin of Life – I hope they are a little clearer now. :)

  7. Klaus Rohde Says:

    “But this is true for everything we eat with genetic material in it, whether modified or not. ”

    Quite true of course that genetic material may be transferred whether modified or not. However, the problem to me seems to be the range and amount of genetic material introduced almost overnight, for which humans – so to say – are not prepared. It seems that there has been a consistent and fairly rapid increase in allergies. Can the multinational companies producing the crops guarantee that their crops are not responsible? I agree with one of the participants in the Insight discussion (from the US, interviewed by video), apparently very well informed. He was not against genetically modified crops in general, but against introducing them so rapidly, before we have learned to fully understand the consequences. In this context, there seems to be evidence (but I have to say again: I am not familiar with the literature) that embryos of experimental animals were affected by modified crops.

    “Does the impact of EU farm policy on living standards and environmental conditions in the Third World, and the opportunity cost it imposes by forcing up prices for European consumers, outweigh the benefits it brings? ”

    Opening the door to more imports from developing countries certainly is important. I do not believe that it will help developing countires to drown them in subsidised genetically engineered crops, which would ruin the farming communities there.

Leave a Reply