To ease your site search, article categories are at bottom of page.

August 05, 2008

Anti-GMO activists 'want more scientific evidence' but are busy destroying crop trials

Almost ten years ago, a jury acquitted Lord Melchett, a British aristocrat who headed Greenpeace, of the wilful destruction of a field of genetically modified (GM) crops in Norfolk (UK). Though police caught Lord Melchett and 27 other activists in the field, the jury was unwilling to convict. Talk of “Frankenfood” and “genetic pollution” sowed popular fear of GM crops.

Ten years on and anti-GM activists are still at it: in June, unknown vandals destroyed a field of genetically modified potatoes near Tadcaster, North Yorkshire. If they are ever caught, they may find themselves in for rougher treatment than their forerunners: though many Britons remain mistrustful of GM crops, the knee-jerk opposition that freed the lord has quieted for a number of reasons.

First, widespread public concern about the safety of these crops has greatly evaporated. Seven academies of science, and a number of independent enquiries and reviews have found no evidence of risks to human health. Second, farmers around the world recognise that GM crops offer many potential benefits, not least the prospect of greater profits. Most important, however, is that GM crops may offer considerable environmental benefits.

Most countries were slow to start planting GM crops when they were introduced. That has changed: in 2007 GM crops worldwide covered an area roughly equivalent to Colombia. This was a growth of 12% on the previous year, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), an industry body, in its 2007 report on the Global Status of Commercialised Biotech/GM Crops. GM crops were grown in 23 countries, most widely in America (with 50% of the global biotech area), Argentina, Brazil, Canada, India and China.

In India, Bt cotton has increased yields by 50%, reduced insecticide sprays by half and increased income by up to $250 per hectare. According to PG Economics, a biotechnology consultancy, GM crops have reduced pesticide spraying by about 224m kg over the past decade, and have also greatly reduced greenhouse-gas emissions from agriculture.

They have also increased yields to produce more food from the same amount of land, so less wilderness has to be put under the plough. The green benefits of GM crops pose a dilemma for many environmentalists who must weigh the benefits of crops that need less water, pesticide or land against the “unnatural” nature of these crops.

Greenpeace, however, remains firm in its opposition. It believes the ISAAA report is misleading and contends that GM crops contribute to the problem of world hunger by increasing farmers’ dependence on the companies that supply the seeds. “GMO crops extend all the worst practices of industrial agriculture,” contends Daniel Ocampo, a Greenpeace campaigner. He adds that the ISAAA report “lacks scientific evidence to support its claims that GMO crops are safe and effective”.

Oh, what an irony. Greenpeace wants more scientific evidence, while activists that may have been inspired by its crop-trashing efforts ten years ago are busy destroying trials that would provide it. Scientists at Leeds University had been hoping to test the effectiveness and environmental impact of a new type of potato that was resistant to cyst nematode worms. These worms cost farmers more than $119 billion, and can damage important crops such as bananas, which form up to 25% of the diet of many African countries.

According to Anthony Trewavas, a vocal critic of organic food and proponent of GM, today’s global-food problems demand agricultural pragmatism and flexibility, not ideology. Most people—save a rump group of diehard British activists—seem to understand this.

If the crop trashers are so convinced they are right and have public support, they should identify themselves—and face a new trial. There, in front of the world, they can air their complaints and defend the need to destroy a trial that aims to put food in the mouths of hungry people.

The Economist

Article Categories

AGRA agribusiness agrochemicals agroforestry aid Algeria aloe vera Angola aquaculture banana barley beans beef bees Benin biodiesel biodiversity biof biofuel biosafety biotechnology Botswana Brazil Burkina Faso Burundi CAADP Cameroon capacity building cashew cassava cattle Central African Republic cereals certification CGIAR Chad China CIMMYT climate change cocoa coffee COMESA commercial farming Congo Republic conservation agriculture cotton cow pea dairy desertification development disease diversification DRCongo drought ECOWAS Egypt Equatorial Guinea Ethiopia EU EUREPGAP events/meetings expo exports fa fair trade FAO fertilizer finance fisheries floods flowers food security fruit Gabon Gambia gender issues Ghana GM crops grain green revolution groundnuts Guinea Bissau Guinea Conakry HIV/AIDS honey hoodia horticulture hydroponics ICIPE ICRAF ICRISAT IFAD IITA imports India infrastructure innovation inputs investment irrigation Ivory Coast jatropha kenaf keny Kenya khat land deals land management land reform Lesotho Liberia Libya livestock macadamia Madagascar maiz maize Malawi Mali mango marijuana markets Mauritania Mauritius mechanization millet Morocco Mozambique mushroom Namibia NEPAD Niger Nigeria organic agriculture palm oil pastoralism pea pest control pesticides pineapple plantain policy issues potato poultry processing productivity Project pyrethrum rai rain reforestation research rice rivers rubber Rwanda SADC Sao Tome and Principe seed seeds Senegal sesame Seychelles shea butter Sierra Leone sisal soil erosion soil fertility Somalia sorghum South Africa South Sudan Southern Africa spices standards subsidies Sudan sugar sugar cane sustainable farming Swaziland sweet potato Tanzania tariffs tea tef tobacco Togo tomato trade training Tunisia Uganda UNCTAD urban farming value addition value-addition vanilla vegetables water management weeds West Africa wheat World Bank WTO yam Zambia Zanzibar zero tillage Zimbabwe

  © 2007 Africa News Network design by

Back to TOP