By Ma Guihua, Journalist
As the controversy continues about genetically modified food, also called GMO, GMO crops and controversy are already spreading around the globe.
Developing countries, such as Brazil, India, China, and South Africa represent the largest growth in GMO plantings, adopting the technology twice as fast as industrialized countries. Developing countries accounted for almost 50 percent of the GMO hectares planted.
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What are GMO Foods?
Genetic modification is the direct manipulation of an organism’s genome using biotechnology. To date, many GMO crops have been manipulated and patented to resist specific herbicides or insects, or fortified with certain nutrients.
Commercial GMO crops, mainly soybeans, corn and cotton started to be grown on a large scale in the U.S. in 1997. Now, figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) show that some 88 percent of corn, 91 percent of soybeans, and 93 percent of cotton grown in the country are GM.
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The GMO Foods Controversy
William Endahl, an American researcher published in 2007 a book titled “Seeds of Destruction: The Hidden Agenda of Genetic Manipulation”. Using abundant facts and figures, Endahl unveils a huge conspiracy among the U.S. political and financial elite behind the “green revolution” and “gene revolution” across the world in the name of scientific advancement, food aid, intellectual property rights with an eye to controlling world food and ultimately world population.
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The “conspiracy” theory might be an overstatement, but some of his predictions are turning into reality.
Take rice, a staple food for more than 2.4 billion people with over 140,000 varieties in the world.
In early 1990’s, Rockefeller Foundation-financed research on Vitamin-A-enhanced rice, later known as Golden Rice. It became a “symbol” playing on UN statistics of some 100 to 140 million children worldwide had some form of Vitamin A deficiency.
Golden Rice promoters claimed that Vitamin A rice is necessary for the poor in Asia because many of the world’s malnourished cannot be reached with pills. However, Endahl cited one estimate as saying that an average Asian would have to eat 9 kilograms of cooked rice daily to get the required minimum intake of Vitamin A.
Calling Golden Rice a propaganda stunt, Endahl said the introduction of GMO rice would “open the prospect of directly controlling the rice seeds”, hence food insecurity for most of Asia.
Now, the Philippines, where the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) was the prime vehicle to proliferate the new gene revolution in rice, with over one-fifth of the world’s rice varieties tucked away in its gene bank, is ready for investment in Golden Rice and other GMO foods.
Worldwide, similar scenarios are taking place, thanks to the aggressive push from biotech companies and other agribusinesses.
Staple Crops are GMO Foods
At present, genetic modification on most of the staple foods for developing countries have been completed or are being completed. Among them, are sweet potato, bio-fortified sorghum, rice, cassava and drought tolerant corn in Africa, herbicide-tolerant soybean in Argentina and Brazil, and biotech banana in Uganda.
In 2011, world population reached 7 billion. By 2050, the figure should surpass 9 billion, meaning farmers will need to produce 70 percent more food on less land than ever before. Many of the world’s major biotech companies claim that GMO crops would be the key to solving the world’s food problems.
But many scientists believe otherwise.
In 2008, an International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development published a report on agriculture and food, saying GMO crops are controversial and will not play a substantial role in addressing the challenge of climate change, loss of biodiversity, food security, poverty and hunger. It also highlighted the problems which the current regime of patenting seeds has on farmers and researches.
“Only two countries in the world, both in South America, grow GM on more than 40 percent of their agricultural land and both are suffering from an increased food insecurity. Most of their poor neighbors that have not adopted GM have improving food security statistics,” said Prof. Jack Heinemann, a lead author of the report from the University of Canterbury, New Zealand.
Dr. Doug Gurian-Sherman of the Union of Concerned Scientists cited a study saying conventional breeding and farm management continue to greatly out-perform transgenic technology when it comes to yield improvements.
Protecting Indigenous Seeds and Bio-Diversity
Experts suggest that developing countries work on protecting their indigenous grain seeds, setting up their own seed gene bank so as to protect bio-diversity and avoid getting into a vulnerable position of being at the mercy of multi-national seed giants.
They should also set up non- GMO growing areas, and engage in efficient, eco-farming that would benefit the limited arable land in the long run.
Growth of Organic Farming in the U.S.
While transnational biotech companies are expanding their GMO territories to the developing countries, growth of organic crops within the U.S. is on the rise.
USDA statistics shows that between 2000 and 2005, planting acreage for organic corn, wheat and oats grew at an annual rate of 10-12 percent.
Also in the U.S., where some 80 percent of packaged foods reportedly contain GMO ingredients, environmentalists and food safety advocates launched a campaign, trying to get GMO food labeled. Although the proposition failed to pass into state legislation last November in California, the labeling camp has pledged to carry on with the movement and take it to other states amid increasing public distrust of the food industry.
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