Biowatch South Africa: GM Crop Picture Not as Rosy as Industry Claims

Press statement
Wednesday, 24 January 2007

Industry-funded International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) claims of increases in the growing of genetically modified (GM) crops and overwhelming acceptance of this risky new technology is flawed.

Statistics from ISAAA have been exaggerated in the past, according to a report released this month by Greenpeace International. ISAAA claimed that in 2005 Romania grew 125 000 hectares of GM soy, while the Romanian government put the area at only 87 000 hectares. In 2006, ISAAA claimed that Iran was growing GM crops commercially, although Iran is neither growing nor has it approved any GM crops on a commercial scale.

According to ISAAA, of the 25 European Union states are growing GM crops. It is silent on the banning on cultivation of GM soy by Romania, the ban on GM maize by Austria and that seven European countries have banned one or more GM crops.

According to ISAAA, China has 3.5 million hectares under GM crop cultivation. Nevertheless, Kraft Foods, the world’s second largest food producer, has committed itself to supply China with GM-free food from January 1 2007. The Chinese government’s biosafety committee has also called for more data and assessment about the safety of GM rice, so delaying a decision on its commercial approval for at least a year.

Following the discovery in 2006 that significant quantities of USA long grain rice were contaminated with an unapproved GM variety, the Rice Producers of California and a major rice mill in the state have called for a ban on the growing of GM rice, including in field trials. The world’s largest rice processor, Ebro Puleva, has also committed to being GM-free and rice traders in Thailand and Vietnam, the world’s two largest rice exporting countries, have done the same.

In India, which ISAAA says is the leading GM crop grower in Asia, the Supreme Court has placed a temporary ban on all field trials of GM crops. ISAAA claims Brazil has 11.5 million hectares under GM crop cultivation but Brazil continues to resist GM industry attempts to get approval for GM maize.

Even in South Africa, where ISAAA says there has been a 180% increase in the area under GM crop cultivation, the regulatory authority for GM applications last year rejected an application for experiments with GM sorghum - because they feared contamination of local sorghum varieties. And towards the end of 2006, the South African Wine Industry Council objected to an application for the use of GM yeast in winemaking.

Research in South Africa and worldwide is showing that GM crops have none of the benefits which the GM industry persistently promises. A joint seven-year study by Chinese and United States researchers found that Chinese farmers growing GM cotton lost money. The researchers, from the Centre for Chinese Agricultural Policy, the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Cornell University in the United States, found that farmers who had planted Bt cotton initially cut their pesticide use by more than 70% and had earnings 36% higher than those planting conventional cotton.

But after that, the farmers growing Bt cotton had to spray as much pesticide as farmers growing conventional cotton. This resulted in them earning 8% less than conventional farmers because the Bt cotton seed was triple the cost of conventional cotton seed. After seven years, other insects had increased so much that the farmers growing Bt cotton were having to spray their crops up to 20 times per growing season.

A study of GM cotton farmers in Makhathini Flats in KwaZulu-Natal by University of KwaZulu-Natal researchers, found that cotton yields in the area were more or less the same before and after the adoption of GM cotton. Based on their discussions with those familiar with pesticide application in the area, the researchers suggested a similar scenario with pesticide use as was the case in China.

ENDS

For more information, queries, please ring Leslie Liddell, Biowatch South Africa director, on 021 447 5939 or 073 307 8873.

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Press statementWednesday, 24 January 2007Industry-funded International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) claims of increases in the growing of genetically modified (GM)

Date published: 
Friday, 26 January, 2007

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