Friday, December 10, 2010

The con view of the genetically modified seed debate

There are some in the west that are against using genetically modified seeds for under-developed world farming. They say that there is no proof that these technologies can improve yields, and that forced use of technology takes control away from the farmer. This side of the argument has taken the aim of their views squarely at the Gates Foundation for investing so much in GM seed technology.

From the great Business of Giving blog at the Seattle Times, writer Kristi Heim interviews a critic the work of GM crops and the Gates Foundation. Phil Bereano of AGRA Watch explains why they would rather have the farmer control yields instead of bio-tech.

Q: One of the projects the Gates Foundation is working on with Monsanto, Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA), is being billed as a way to deal with worsening drought due to climate change, a serious problem for farmers.

A: It may use water more efficiently, but it's not drought tolerant. Drought tolerance is a complicated interplay between several dozen different genes.

There are thousands of varieties of maize, including drought tolerant varieties. The problem is they can't be patented and sold because they are in the public domain. Multinational corporations like Monsanto are attempting to gain control over food by patenting GMO seeds and presenting them as a savior to peoples' needs.

Q: Do you believe any genetic modification (GM) of food has merit?

A: It's very hard to say the existing GM products satisfy any criteria I would find socially useful. A UN and World Bank study said there is no necessary role for GM in the future in order to deal with issues of hunger and increasing production. Agroecological methods are able to do it.

None of the technologies which have been presented respond to the genuine needs of people. Herbicide resistance has not increased food production or reduced food costs for farmers.

But no one really knows because there are no adequate scientific assessments of the risk with the potential benefits. We actually don't know whether it's worth it.

No comments: