Who benefits from GM crops?

feeding the biotech giants, not the world’s poor

, by Amis de la Terre International (FOEI)

Friends of the Earth International warned today that biotech crops are benefiting biotech food giants instead of small farmers and the world’s hungry population, which due to the food crisis is projected to increase to 1.2 billion by the year 2025. [1]

The warning was issued in a new report [2] released today by Friends of the Earth International with hard facts about genetically modified (GM) crops grown today – facts that conflict dramatically with the hype concerning speculative future GM crops that may never materialize.

The findings of the report support a comprehensive United Nations assessment of world agriculture which concluded in 2008 among other things that GM crops have very little potential to alleviate poverty and hunger. [3]

“GM crops are all about feeding biotech giants, not the world’s poor,” said Nnimmo Bassey, Friends of the Earth Nigeria executive director and Friends of the Earth International chair.

“GM seeds and the pesticides used with them are much too expensive for Africa’s small farmers. Those who promote this technology in developing countries are completely out of touch with reality,” he added.

The report explains how the rising grain prices behind the world food crisis have allowed biotech giants like Monsanto to dramatically increase the price of GM seeds and chemicals they sell to farmers.

Monsanto is the world’s largest seed firm, and has a near monopoly in the expensive “traits” incorporated in GM seeds. GM seeds cost two to over four times as much conventional, non-biotech seeds. The company also markets Roundup, the world’s biggest selling herbicide.

The report also describes Monsanto’s strategy of increasing sales of its Roundup herbicide by stacking its “Roundup Ready” trait in nearly all the GM seeds it sells.

“Thanks largely to Monsanto, U.S. farmers are facing dramatic increases in the price of GM seeds and the chemicals used with them,” said Bill Freese, science policy analyst at the US-based Center for Food Safety and co-author of the report.

“Farmers in any developing country that welcomes Monsanto and other biotech companies can expect the same fate – sharply rising seed and pesticide costs, and a radical decline in the availability of conventional seeds,” he added.

Exploitation of the food crisis has been extremely profitable for Monsanto as well as for grain trading giants like Cargill. Monsanto announced in January that its quarterly profit nearly tripled, and its net income (after taxes) is also projected to triple from $984 million to $2.96 billion from 2007 to 2010. [5]

The great cost of GM seeds is not the only problem. The vast majority of GM crops are not grown by or destined for the world’s poor, but rather are soybeans and corn used to feed animals, generate agrofuels, or produce highly processed food products consumed mostly in rich countries.

Nearly 90% of the global area planted to GM crops is found in just 6 countries with highly industrialized, export-oriented agricultural sectors: the US, Canada, Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. One country alone, the United States, produces over 50% of the world’s GM crops; the U.S., Argentina and Brazil together grow over 80% of all GM crops.

Despite more than a decade of hype, the biotechnology industry has not introduced a single GM crop with increased yield, enhanced nutrition, drought-tolerance or salt-tolerance. Disease-resistant GM crops are practically non-existent.

In fact, GM crops available today are best characterized by the overwhelming penetration of just one trait – herbicide tolerance – which is found in over 80% of all GM crops planted worldwide. Herbicide-tolerant GM crops have indisputably increased use of chemical pesticides.

Meanwhile, the hype around biotech crops has obscured the huge potential of low-cost agroecological and organic techniques to increase food production and alleviate hunger in developing countries.

The report mentions several such realities, such as ‘push-pull’ maize farming in east Africa. The enormously successful push-pull system controls weed and insect pests without chemicals, increases maize production, and raises the income of smallholder farmers.

* Read the report "who benefits from gm crops 2009" (48 p., pdf)

An executive summary is online at: http://www.foei.org/en/publications...


[1] source: Runge et al. 2007

[2] The report ‘who benefits from GM crops 2009’ is online at: http://www.foei.org/en/publications/pdfs/gmcrops2009full.pdf

An executive summary is online at: http://www.foei.org/en/publications/pdfs/gmcrops2009exec.pdf

[3] The four-year UN effort – the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) is online at http://www.agassessment.org/
It engaged 400 international experts from many different disciplines. Approaches favored by IAASTD included agroecological farming techniques that offer increased productivity without expensive seeds and chemicals; reductions of agricultural subsidies in rich nations, and reform of unfair international trade rules.

[4] From 2007 to 2008, the average price of food crops has risen dramatically – corn by 60%, soybeans by 76%, wheat by 54%, and rice by 104%.

[5] source: Goldman Sachs, 2008