The Failures of Genetically Modified Crops Continue

The GM industry has been ailing at least as far back as 2005, but kept alive by an aggressive campaign of disinformation. GM Watch brings you the latest GM failures 2007-2008

GM cotton debacle in India

GM cotton has been failing in India and elsewhere for years [1] (Broken Promises, SiS 22), escalating the epidemic of farmers’ suicides [2] (Stem Farmers’ Suicides with Organic Farming, SiS 32). Unfortunately, the Indian government has allowed the commercial planting to continue with drastic consequences.

BT cotton failed in Vidarbha

A study on the introduction of Bt cotton in India’s cotton-growing belt of Vidarbha revealed that it failed in the region. Suman Sahai, director of Gene Campaign, which conducted the study, said that despite knowing that Bt cotton would not work in rainfed areas, the state government introduced it. The high input costs of Bt cotton increased indebtedness, and the study showed that 70 per cent of small farmers lost their landholdings as collateral for loans that they could never repay.

The study also showed that farmers who adopted Bt cotton had a net lower income than non-Bt cotton farmers. Seed dealers had promised farmers that they would get 12–15 quintals per acre when the actual yields were 3–5 quintals [3]

In February 2007, five districts of Vidarbha where Bt cotton was widely adopted reported nearly 1 500 farmers committing suicide in the previous 20 months [4].

More livestock deaths from grazing Bt cotton

With reports of deaths of livestock that had grazed on Bt cotton in 2006 still fresh [5] (Mass Deaths in Sheep Grazing on Bt Cotton, SiS 30), more deaths and illnesses in sheep and goats were seen in the early months of 2007. Symptoms included bloating of the stomach, black patches on the intestines, lung congestion, green and red mucus flow from nostrils, reddish urine, sneezing, and skin allergies. Women cotton pickers also reported skin allergies [6], another problem with Bt cotton reported widely in 2006 [7] (More Illnesses Linked to Bt Crops, SiS 30).

Minister gives compensation to Bt cotton farmers

Tamil Nadu minister for agriculture Veerapandi S. Arumugam distributed compensation to 996 farmers whose crop suffered after using Monsanto-Mahyco's GM Bt cotton seeds. The firm offered compensation of Rs. 5 000 per acre [8]

Andhra Pradesh Agriculture Department warns against Bt cotton

The state department of agriculture in Andhra Pradesh has finally conceded that Bt cotton is not beneficial to rainfed farmers. The commissioner and director of the state department of agriculture has furthermore admitted that “the introduction of genetically modified (GM) crops, engineered for a specific trait, was also resulting in new pest problems”[9]

New pathogens with Bt cotton

Punjab Agricultural University plant pathologists have warned about a high incidence of fungal and bacterial pathogen problems associated with Bt cotton [10]

Failing the world’s hungry

The great GM miracle?

BBC Radio 4’s Costing the Earth set out to answer the question of whether GM crops are the answer to feeding the world’s starving. The programme tellingly concluded [11], “Despite the hype, pro-GM advocates failed to identify a genetically modified crop that could be planted today to put food in the hungriest mouths.”

UK chief scientist plays fast and loose with the truth

So lacking is the biotech lobby in success stories that it resorted to stealing one from sustainable agriculture. Late last year, the UK government’s outgoing chief scientist Sir David King stated that a GM breakthrough in Africa had increased crop yields by 40–50 percent. But the project he described had nothing to do with GM crops. It was a ‘push-pull’ system of managing pests and increasing yield that relies on companion planting, a mainstay of organic and sustainable farming. Commenting on the incident, Dr Richard Horton, the editor of medical journal The Lancet, said Sir David took his faith in science into “the realms of totalitarian paranoia”[12].

Pests and superweeds on the rise

US corn pest expansion a consequence of GM crops?

A corn pest that can devastate yields may be increasing in prevalence across Illinois and other states because Bt crops are reducing predators that once kept the pest at bay [13]. Western bean cutworm, a major pest in Nebraska and Colorado, was first detected in Illinois in 2004, and has since spread to 49 counties.

US superweeds on the march

In Arkansas, state agriculture officials are turning to Syngenta to solve problems of Roundup-resistant weeds caused by Monsanto’s GM crops. The Arkansas Agricultural Extension Service is teaming up with Syngenta to push farmers to add the company’s herbicide, Reflex, to their arsenal. They raise the possibility that by bombing their fields with Reflex before planting their cotton, farmers have a chance to avert a possible “explosion” of superweeds this summer.

Chillingly, a scientist brought in to advise the state seemed to suggest that such broad-spectrum herbicides might need to be applied year-round to avoid a resistance outbreak, even when fields are resting between plantings [14]: “We need almost a season-long programme of controlling [superweeds]. Any gap in the season could increase the likelihood of resistance evolution.”

Transgenic contamination and economic losses in billions

GM rice claims exceed $1 billion

Hundreds of lawsuits have been filed and more are expected in the wake of the GM contamination of US rice. In one class action suit, attorney Don Downing has filed suit on behalf of hundreds of Missouri and Arkansas farmers, representing over 248 000 acres of rice.

Downing said [15], “Many farmers have decided to quit planting as much rice as they have in the past... the rice price isn't where it would have been had this not happened - and we’ve lost a chunk of our export market.” Total compensatory damages may approach or exceed $1 billion - and that's before taking into account punitive or statutory damages.

Robobank: less US rice farming due to GM

According to Rabobank, rice acreage in the US in 2007–8 was likely to decline due to concerns over GM contamination, which has already led to the loss of a major share of the EU market [16].

Attack of the mutant rice

Collectively, farmers and seed companies have lost hundreds of millions of dollars as a result of the US rice contamination, according to an article in Fortune magazine. The rice was never approved for commercial growing, so the contamination must have come from GM trials. “This is the most traumatic thing I've seen in the rice industry in 30 years,’ said Darryl Little, the director of the Arkansas State Plant Board, who has tried to clean up the mess [17] “It's been devastating.”

GM drags down value of farmer’s crops

The huge expansion of GM maize and soy in the US, Argentina and Brazil has dragged down the world price of grains, and that is having an impact on the viability of farms, British farmer Peter Lundgren told GM Watch.

He said the world price of grains is set by the Chicago Board of Trade and is therefore sensitive to the US grains market.

When the US adopted GM varieties and failed to ensure segregation of GM and GM-free varieties, it lost its two most profitable markets, Japan and Europe. That left the US attempting to dump its excess grain (mainly GM) onto the world market or into food aid. Both actions dragged down the world price. Now that the Bush administration is pouring funding into biofuels, the previously exportable surplus of GM maize is in demand by the domestic bioethanol industry. Suddenly the dragging effect was removed and the world price of grains doubled [18]

GM canola has destroyed the organic market

As a result of the introduction of GM canola (oilseed rape) in Canada, organic canola farmers say they’ve suffered loss of market access; loss of income; loss of choice; and loss of control over what they produce, how they produce it, what value it has, and who will buy it [19].

Organic canola farmers in Saskatchewan say coexistence doesn’t work and they want legal redress. But, in May 2007, the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal denied the farmers class-action status in a lawsuit aimed at recouping damages from Monsanto [20].

GM canola fails non-organic farmers too

For anyone under the illusion that at least GM crops are turning round the fortunes of non-organic growers, Statistics Canada figures show that despite rising grain prices and the surge in demand for agrofuels, Canadian farmers’ incomes continue to decline. In other words, any economic benefits are going to the likes of Monsanto, Cargill and Exxon. Meanwhile, the number of farms in Canada continues its descent -- down 7 percent in five years [21].

Market failure of GM hormone

A growing number of US consumers are choosing milk that comes from cows not treated with Monsanto’s controversial GM growth hormone, rBGH (also known as rBST and Posilac), the New York Times reports [22]. The marketplace has responded, and now many food retailers, from Whole Foods Market to Wal-Mart Stores, sell milk that is labelled as coming from cows not treated with the hormone. Some dairy industry veterans say it’s only a matter of time before nearly all of the milk supply comes from cows that weren’t treated with Posilac. The article commented: “It may be the last stand of Posilac.”

Monsanto has attempted to defeat consumer choice by introducing bills to US states that would ban milk labels claiming products are “growth hormone-free”[23]. Pennsylvania dairies successfully fought to keep their labels. Monsanto is now using a front group, American Farmers for the Advancement and Conservation of Technology, or Afact, to fight its corner. Afact describes itself as a grass-roots organization that came together to defend members’ right to use Posilac. But the New York Times revealed that Afact was organized in part by Monsanto and a Colorado consultant who lists Monsanto as a client. Furthermore, it has received help from Osborn & Barr, a marketing firm whose founders include a former Monsanto executive and receives financial support from Monsanto [24].

Note: A fully referenced version of this report is posted on ISIS members’ website. Details here

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  • Posted on May 5, 2008. Listed in:

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