Resisting the ‘Food Transition’: Genetic Engineering and Dependency
(by Colin Todhunter | Off-Guardian) – This is an abridged version of the second chapter of the author’s short e-book Food, Dispossession and Dependency. Resisting the New World Order (2022), which can be read for free here.
The ‘food transition’ is integral to the ‘great reset’. This transition is couched in the language of climate emergency and sustainability and warnings about the imminent need to address the Malthusian threat of too many people and not enough food to feed nine billion by 2050.
This transition envisages a particular future for farming. It is not organic and relatively few farmers have a place in it. It involves drones, driverless machines and largely farmerless farms. Cloud-based ‘precision’ agriculture as the norm – meaning GMOs and new gene-editing techniques and amalgamated farmlands growing monocultures.
GM crops are required to feed the world is a well-worn industry slogan trotted out at every available opportunity. Just like the claim of GM crops being a tremendous success, this too is based on a myth.
There is no global shortage of food. Even under any plausible future population scenario, there will be no shortage as evidenced by scientist Dr Jonathan Latham in his paper “The Myth of a Food Crisis” (2020).
However, new gene drive and gene editing techniques have now been developed and the industry is seeking the unregulated commercial release of products that are based on these methods.
These new techniques can cause a range of unwanted genetic modifications that can result in the production of novel toxins or allergens or in the transfer of antibiotic resistance genes. Even intended modifications can result in traits which could raise food safety, environmental or animal welfare concerns.
The European Court of Justice ruled in 2018 that organisms obtained with new genetic modification techniques must be regulated under the EU’s existing GMO laws. However, there has been intense lobbying from the agriculture biotech industry to weaken the legislation, aided financially by the Gates Foundation.
Various scientific publications show that new GM techniques allow developers to make significant genetic changes, which can be very different from those that happen in nature. These new GMOs pose similar or greater risks than older-style GMOs.
In addition to these concerns, a paper from Chinese scientists, ‘Herbicide Resistance: Another Hot Agronomic Trait for Plant Genome Editing’, says that, in spite of claims from GMO promoters that gene editing will be climate-friendly and reduce pesticide use, what we can expect is just more of the same – GM herbicide-tolerant crops and increased herbicide use.
By dodging regulation as well as avoiding economic, social, environmental and health impact assessments, it is clear that the industry is first and foremost motivated by value capture and contempt for democratic accountability.
BT COTTON IN INDIA
This is patently clear if we look at the rollout of Bt cotton in India (the only officially approved GM crop in that country) which served the bottom line of Monsanto but brought dependency, distress and no durable agronomic benefits for many of India’s small and marginal farmers. Prof A P Gutierrez argues that Bt cotton has effectively placed these farmers in a corporate noose.
Monsanto sucked hundreds of millions of dollars in profit from these cotton farmers, while industry-funded scientists are always keen to push the mantra that rolling out Bt cotton in India uplifted their conditions.
On 24 August 2020, a webinar on Bt cotton in India took place involving Andrew Paul Gutierrez, senior professor at the College of Natural Resources at the University of California at Berkeley, Keshav Kranthi, former director of Central Institute for Cotton Research in India, Peter Kenmore, former FAO representative in India, and Hans Herren, World Food Prize Laureate.
Herren said that “the failure of Bt cotton” is a classic representation of what an unsound science of plant protection and faulty direction of agricultural development can lead to.
He argued that a transformation of agriculture and the food system is required; one that entails a shift to agroecology, which includes regenerative, organic, biodynamic, permaculture and natural farming practices.
Kenmore said that Bt cotton is an aging pest control technology:
It follows the same path worn down by generations of insecticide molecules from arsenic to DDT to BHC to endosulfan to monocrotophos to carbaryl to imidacloprid. In-house research aims for each molecule to be packaged biochemically, legally and commercially before it is released and promoted. Corporate and public policy actors then claim yield increases but deliver no more than temporary pest suppression, secondary pest release and pest resistance.”
Recurrent cycles of crises have sparked public action and ecological field research which creates locally adapted agroecological strategies.
He added that this agroecology:
…now gathers global support from citizens’ groups, governments and UN FAO. Their robust local solutions in Indian cotton do not require any new molecules, including endo-toxins like in Bt cotton”
Gutierrez presented the ecological reasons as to why hybrid Bt cotton failed in India: long season Bt cotton introduced in India was incorporated into hybrids that trapped farmers into biotech and insecticide treadmills that benefited GMO seed manufacturers.
The cultivation of long-season hybrid Bt cotton in rainfed areas is unique to India. It is a value capture mechanism that does not contribute to yield, is a major contributor to low yield stagnation and contributes to increasing production costs.”
Gutierrez asserted that increases in cotton farmer suicides are related to the resulting economic distress. Read Full Article >