Genetic Engineering

Do we need genetically modified food?
Companies promoting genetic engineering constantly harp on how genetic engineering (GE) will ‘improve’ food and feed the world. But so far the only beneficiaries are the multinational corporations promoting them. We have many other proven and safe ways of producing food that have not been properly assessed. The clamour for a technical quick fix is little less than spin, smoke and mirrors. The developers gain financial benefit, the public bears the uninsurable risks.

Business is only interested in GE because of the ability to own and patent life. When someone changes a life form they patent that thing. This means that a seed for a plant that has been genetically engineered can be owned, thereby forbidding anybody else to use it without payment.

This means that the few companies who have invested in GE could gain the rights to all the seed for all the food in the world. A monopoly or a cartel from which we all had to buy our seed becomes possible. Recently many of the world’s smaller seed companies have been bought by large multinational giants, so that 6 seed companies now effectively control a significant amount of the seed market. Monsanto, responsible for most of the worlds GE plantings, has announced its South African presence by purchasing two of our biggest seed companies, Carnia and Sensako. This degree of vertical integration is unprecedented.

There are absolutely NO benefits to consumers of genetically modified foods whatsoever.

Who needs to be eating corn and maize products that have shown in animals, transfers to our gut bacteria, and what is worse may proliferate turning our gut into living pesticde factories.

Will genetic engineering feed the world?
There is enough food in the world to feed everyone on earth over a kilo of a good quality mixed diet daily. People go hungry because they do not have money, access to food, or land. GE will not change this. The problem is economic, political and practical, not technical. Most farmers will never be able to afford technology fees and the chemicals to grow these new GE seeds. It is even possible now to genetically engineer plants to produce sterile seeds, stopping farmers from saving their seeds for replanting the next year. About a third of humanity depends on saved seed for their survival.

Genetic engineering in its present form cannot form part of the solution; it is part of the problem.

Will genetic engineering harm the environment?
GE crops may devastate the environment. We have already seen triple herbicide resistant weeds, making it necessary to use highly toxic weed killers, exactly the opposite of what GE is claimed to do. Herbicide use has increased since the introduction of GE crops, not decreased as claimed. Insect resistant genes have been shown to be persistent in soil and water, they affect soil life, earthworms and microbes. Once we let the genie out of the bottle, there is no way to put it back. Once genes are out there it is impossible to control them.

Archbishop slams use of GM crops
Cindy Mathys Sunday Argus 23 May 2004

Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town Njongonkulu Ndungane has expressed his dismay over the possible use of genetically engineered crops in this country days before a case in which a non-governmental organisation is trying to force the Department of Agriculture to reveal information about genetically engineered food and crops in South Africa. The case starts in Pretoria tomorrow. Ndungane said genetic engineering tinkered with the essence of life.

“Species that would not naturally reproduce are mixed together. Through patenting seeds and genes, life forms can now be owned by corporations. Through contamination of natural wildlife and plants, genetic engineering forever compromises the rights of future generations to a safe, healthy and diverse environment.”

He added that genetic engineering threatened rural livelihoods, food security and local control over genetic resources.

“Patent laws undermine the right of farmers to save seed, and one of the touted advantages of the patented seed, a reduction in the need for labour, is in fact disadvantageous when applied to Africa.”

Ndungane said he regretted that South Africa had “adopted a relatively cavalier approach” to the controversial technology. “Do Africans need genetically engineered food? I would argue, no. At least, not until we are certain of the consequences of our actions. Not until we know that it is safe, that we can afford it and contain it, that it is suitable for our farmers and farming systems, that it will not lead to a reduction in jobs, that it will not destroy biodiversity and that it will not increase our dependence on rich nations.”

Ndungane added that while many countries did not approve of the new technology, South Africa was one of the few that had accepted genetically engineered food.

“Many countries around the world, including European Union and African countries, have not welcomed this new farming revolution with open arms,” he said.

“These countries have chosen to approach the importation and production of gene tically modified organisms cautiously while trying to determine their safety and environmental risks. “In 2002 South Africans became the first people in the world to eat genetically engineered white maize and more than 300 000 hectares of South African land had already been planted with a variety of engineered crops.”

If companies promoting genetically engineered crops really cared about the poor, “they would lobby their governments to stop subsidising their farmers instead of trying to sell Africa newly patented seed”.

“To sustain its system of subsidisation the US exported staple foods at below the cost of production, undercutting developing countries and undermining their farming sectors. Much of this subsidised overproduction, particularly genetically engineered crops that had a limited market, ended up as food aid.”


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