Date Added to website 2nd December 2015
GMO Crops -- more costs than benefits
An interesting new report from Canada, which shows that the widespread introduction of GMOs in Canada is based more on hype than on a realistic assessment of actual costs and benefits. The only real "benefit|" coming from GMOs is more effective weed management -- at least in the early days of GMP planting, before super-weeds (and super-bugs) kick in. And in a world where "farm productivity" is the obsession, farmers have swallowed the line promoted by the biotechnology industry, just in order to hold down their farm production costs including labour requirements. But there are massive costs that are conventionally ignored, especially since many of these costs are not carried by the farming industry at all -- but are pushed onto society as a whole, in the form of human and animal health damage, environmental degradation etc. Many of us have been saying these sorts of things for years -- but in this report the real costs of GMO farming are carefully documented, with a very full list of supporting references.
ARE GM CROPS BETTER FOR FARMERS?
Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, November 2015
This fourth report of GMO Inquiry 2015 investigates the impacts and risks of genetically modified (GM; also called genetically engineered or GE) crops on farms and famers over the past twenty years, with a focus on Canada.
The use of patented GM traits has helped facilitate corporate consolidation in the seed market. Markets for GM crops are dominated by a few seed and agrochemical companies. This high level
of corporate concentration in the seed market has meant higher prices, limited choices for farmers, a narrowing of genetic diversity in crops, and stagnating innovation. Legal control over seeds has also increased, in the form of patents on genetic sequences and other mechanisms that prevent farmers from saving, exchanging and reusing seed. GM crops have diminished the choices available to farmers, while strengthening the control of a few companies.
Yields in GM and non-GM crops have increased at a similar rate in Canada, and there are no clear patterns to show that GM crop yields have increased more than those of non-GM crops. In fact, research comparing GM crops in North America and non-GM varieties of the same crops grown in Europe has shown that non-GM crop yields have increased as much, or more. GM traits are added to plant varieties that are already high- yielding due to background genetics developed through non-GM breeding methods. It is these pre-existing characteristics, along with other factors, that have determined yield increases in the past decades, not GM traits.
Growing GM crops is not putting more money into the pockets of Canadian farmers. Although gross farm income in Canada has increased over the past two decades, realized net income (the income remaining after farm expenses are paid) has not changed significantly. Farm expenses have increased substantially, in part because of the rising prices of seeds and other inputs. GM crops have fed into this pattern; GM seeds are significantly more expensive than non-GM seed, in Canada and other countries.
The major benefit that GM herbicide-tolerant crops offered farmers was simplified weed management. However, the increased use of herbicides has led to the emergence and spread of herbicide- resistant weeds, which are reversing this benefit and creating new costs and complications for farmers. The biotechnology industry’s solution to this problem is to sell new GM crops that are tolerant to different herbicides, an approach that will further drive up herbicide use and speed up the spread of herbicide-resistant weeds.
GM contamination can also present serious costs for farmers. The examples of GM flax contamination, which closed Canada’s export markets, and GM canola contamination, which meant that most Canadian organic farmers were forced to stop growing canola, stand testament to these costs. Despite these experiences, new GM crops such as the GM alfalfa are being commercialized. If released in Canada, GM alfalfa contamination will have serious and irreversible impacts, the brunt of which will be borne by organic and other non-GM farmers.
The Canadian government does not assess the agronomic and economic impacts of GM crops or evaluate the benefits or risks they pose, and farmers are not consulted before GM crops are approved for growing. The experiences of the past twenty years show us that there is an urgent need for a democratic decision-making process to assess what role, if any, GM crops should play in our food and farming systems.
The high level of corporate consolidation in the seed market has been partly facilitated by the use of GM technology. This corporate concentration has meant that seed prices have risen at a faster rate than other farm inputs, while farm incomes in Canada have not increased. The choices available to farmers in the market have decreased, and legal control, in the form of patents that prevent farmers from reusing seed, has increased.
Farmers have not yet benefitted from increased yields or rising net incomes because of GM traits. The benefits that GM herbicide-tolerant crops may have offered farmers are now being reversed due to the new management costs of herbicide-resistant weeds.
In Canada, there is no assessment of the potential economic consequences of introducing new GM crops. For example, potential GM contamination is only assessed in relation to a narrow set of questions about environmental impacts, not in relation to potential economic costs, despite the fact that farmers can pay a high price. Farmers in Canada are not consulted before genetically modified crops are approved, for field trials or commercial release.
Twenty years of GM crops have benefitted the companies that sell GM seeds, but have not always benefitted farmers.
Quote: "Farmer experiences regarding this technology have yet to be fully studied for Canada, the United States, and Argentina as the first countries to commercialize GM crops, or are restricted to the benefits. The role and potential contribution of farmer knowledge also has yet to be systematically evaluated for any GM crops and, indeed, risk research as a whole" — Mauro and McLachlan, 2008
Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN) Suite 206, 180 Metcalfe Street Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, K2P 1P5
Phone: 613 241 2267 ext. 25 | Fax: 613 241 2506 | firstname.lastname@example.org | www.cban.ca
The GMO Inquiry 2015 is a project of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN). CBAN is a campaign coalition of 17 organizations that researches, monitors and raises awareness about issues relating to genetic engineering in food and farming. CBAN members include farmer associations, environmental and social justice organizations, and regional coalitions of grassroots groups. CBAN is a project on the shared platform of Tides Canada.