In Great Britain the three-year government moratorium on the cultivation and commercialization of GMOs will soon expire. The British media have recently been full of the GMO debate, since the Blair government is apparently inclined to open up to this type of produce. It seems Blair is being encouraged in this by the Minister of Industry Lord Sainsbury. Which figures!
British public opinion remains very skeptical, though it’s being bombarded every day with the results of contrasting surveys, statements (America farmers’ associations have claimed that GMOs saved them from drought this year) and multinational advertising campaigns that serve only to muddle the issue even further.
Seeds of Doubt, a booklet published by the Soil Association, the leading British organic agriculture certifying body, is a detailed analysis of six years of cultivating and commercializing GM crops in the USA and Canada (where 99% of the world’s GM crops grow). It is packed with facts, figures and interviews with farmers who have had experience growing transgenic corn, soya and canola.
The picture the book paints is one of total failure – of unfulfilled promises that clash with the claims of the biotech industry. The book covers five main aspects: the impact on the agricultural sector, contamination, economic impact, legal questions and farmers’ experiences.
It appears that profits dropped with all the GM crops.This is because seeds cost more, while market prices drop. Yield has also slumped, except in some cases of pesticide-resistant corn. Despite the claims that crops only need to be sprayed once with herbicides, problems also emerged with the appearance of new weeds and increased dependence on chemical treatment.
Contamination in GMO-free fields reached such high peaks that organic cultivation and a return to non-GM crops appear virtually impossible.
What with falls in exports (in the EU, for example, GMOs are banned), lower prices and damages paid as a result of law suits, the US and Canadian agricultural sectors suffered a net loss of 12 billion dollars between 1999 al 2001!
So we were right to say that it’s best to wait before introducing GMOs into Europe. Now North American farmers are complaining that they depend too much on multinationals that sell seeds and herbicides; now they struggle to find GMO-free seeds and, when they do, they have exorbitant costs. The situation is so worrying that American growers’ associations are calling for a moratorium on the next GM crop to be launched on the American market – wheat. Yet this about-turn is proving harder to achieve than expected.
The data published by the Soil Association need to be disseminated as much as possible. The fact is that the advent of GMOs is becoming somehow inevitable. Do we just have to make the best of things? It looks like the American giant is going to impose GMOs on us sooner or later. But a 12 billion dollar loss is a big one in anybody’s language so maybe people will now get round to seeing that the giant has feet of clay.
Adapted by John Irving
First printed in La Stampa on 22/09/2002