Monday, August 29, 2011

GMOs as a Solution

I was on vacation and missed all this GMO-debate excitement, but it deserves a belated blog post.  Last week, this op-ed article in the New York Times by Nina C. Federoff prompted a strong response from anti-GMO activists.  Federoff argues that world hunger, the trends of climate change, require greater research on genetically modified (GMO) foods.  She further argues that the Environmental Protection Agency’s hesitance about GMO crops will make them too costly and impede research and development.
Federoff sites the example of the Green Revolution as proof that technology can feed the world.  The Green Revolution of course was able to produce these higher agricultural yields while running an ecological debt to soil, water reserves and nitrogen.  Now agricultural soils are seriously depleted, the nitrogen cycle has been completely interrupted by fertilizer production and the areas practicing this intensive agriculture are facing severe water shortages.  Federoff also points out that more livestock feed must be grown as more of the world’s population is consuming meat or making it a staple of their diet. She concludes that GMO development is not dangerous and that molecular methods have the same hazards as crop modification through other methods. 

This video Farmer to Farmer: The Truth About GM Crops shows the reality of GMOs and the trouble with herbicide resistant weeds.  "We've just been relying too heavily on Round-Up, in every crop."

Farmer to Farmer: The Truth About GM Crops from Pete Speller on Vimeo.

Anna Moore Lappe, author of Diet for a Hot Planet, co-founder of the Small Planet Institute and Small Planet Fund has also responded to this article with her own titled: Why GMOs Won't Feed The World (Despite What You Read in the New York Times).  She argues that instead of GMO technology, the global food system requires an investment in “sustainable intensification”.  When Anna Lappe writes about sustainable intensification, she is referring to “producing abundant food while reducing negative impacts on the environment” like the ecological debts I mentioned earlier.  The Food and Agriculture Organization has echoed these sentiments, especially with this report, Save and Grow which I  mentioned in the blog a little while ago.  The FAO has taken the position that the present industrial food system cannot meet the challenges of climate change and hunger. GM crops are owned and promoted by some of the world's largest corporations, when the demand for local and organic is what is actually increasing (in virtually every region of the world).  Only a decentralized, consumer-controlled food system can satisfy this need, no technology, no matter how extraordinary it is, can take the place of this policy change to benefit farmers and consumers. Lappe also addresses Federoff’s claims that GM crops are more environmental because they require less fertilizer or pesticide.  “An analysis of 13 years of commercialized GMOs in the United States actually found a dramatic increase in the volume of herbicides used on these crops”. 

Federoff's assertion that GMOs are necessary to produce enough feed to produce enough meat to feed a growing affluent population is especially offensive when this highlights the worst inequalities and inefficiencies of the global food system.  Federoff recommends that we use GM crops (threatening the environment) to feed more animals (which produce animal waste contaminated with antibiotics and greenhouse gases), while this diet further harms the animals (this post will remind you that GM feed has been linked to startling rates of livestock miscarriages), in order to feed our world's richest, fussiest eaters (who are prone to high blood pressure and heart disease from this addition to their diet)? Meanwhile, countries like Peru and Hungary, which have stable food supplies but no where near the surpluses of the United States, have banned GMO foods. 

In the mean time, it seems that there are not enough obstructions to slow the spread of GMOs around the world.  Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) has filed a lawsuit against the White House Trade Representative, Office of Management & Budget and the State Department to release documents describing their partnership with the GMO industry.  The U.S. government is accused of entering a joint venture with the agricultural biotechnology industry to remove parries to the production and spread of GE crops.  PEER claims that the Biotechnology Industry Association  asked the White House for assistance in overcoming barriers to GMOs in wildlife refuges and the objections from GE-averse nations.  The government’s Agriculture Biotechnology Working Group, of 35 officials from 10 agencies, formed to promote GE agriculture.  

Why is the government taking biotechnology's side in this debate?  Why is this issue being framed as obstructions to research and scientific development and food solutions instead of taking precautions about GMOs' potential impact on animal, human, plant and ecological health especially with the evidence that GMOs or the Round-Up sprayed all over them may cause a wide range of potentially life threatening health conditions?

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