BIOTECHNOLOGY AND ENVIRONMENTAL BIOSAFETY
IN THE FIELD OF AGRICULTURE AND FOOD PRODUCTION
Dr. Ashok Kumar Panigrahi, Balasore.
Genetical modification of Agricultural Seeds- cotton, soya, maize, potato, rice and trees in the forest.
The all encompassing big macabre issue discussed world wide today is the invasion of the good science, ‘biotechnology’ to virtually every nook and corner of the biosphere and practically turned to the bad science, ‘thanotechnology’ for every living element of concern and speeding up the rate to total annihilation of the biosphere.It all began with a little known episode in 1980, that is the US Supreme Court decision in the case, Diamond vrs. Chakrabarty, where the highest US court decided that biological life was legally patentable.
Anand Mohan Chakrabraty a microbiologist and employee of General Electric Company (GE) developed a type of bacteria that could ingest oil from oil spills. GE rushed for a patent in 1971 which was turned down as life forms were not patentable. GE sued and won. In 1985 the US Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) ruled that the Chakrabraty ruling could be further extended to all plants, seeds and plant tissues or to the entire plant kingdom.
US company W.R. Grace was granted 50 US patents on the Indian Neem tree which even included patenting indigenous knowledge of medicinal use of the Neem products (since been leveled ‘biopiracy’). In 1988 PTO issued patent on animal to Harvard Professors, Philip Lader and Timothy A. Stewart who had created a transgenic mouse having genes of the chicken and human being. In 1991, PTO granted patent to human stem cells and later to human genes. Biocyte was awarded European patent on all umbilical cord cells from foetuses and new born babies even without the permission of the ‘donors’. European Patents Office (EPO) received applications from Baylor University for the patenting of women who had been genetically altered to produce GE proteins in their mammary glands.
Baylor University essentially sought monopoly rights over the use of human mammary glands to manufacture pharmaceuticals. Attempts also were made to patent blood cells of indigenous people of Panama, the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea. Within a decade the ‘Chakrabarty ruling’ of the US Supreme Court revolutionised the research and developments in biotechnology involving microbes to human beings which led it to be branded as bad science, “thanotechnology” in the following decade and hated world wide. Biotech companies engaged in biotech pharmaceuticals quickly moved to agriculture, obtained patents on seeds, buying up small seed companies, destroying their seed stocks and replacing the same with GE seeds. In the last decade several companies have gained monopoly control over such seeds world wide as soy, corn and cotton ( used in processed foods via cotton seed oil). As a result, nearly 2/3 rd. of such processed foods showed some GM ingredient in them.
However, even without any labelings, the concerned US consumers were aware of such pervasive food products of biotech companies. Immediately the companies knew that aware citizen kept away from GM foods and they organized to convince the regulators not to require such labelings. Somewhat shockingly the bureaucratic risk evaluators in the US turned a blind eye towards the ill motives of the bio-tech companies.
The point of concern
All genetical modifications are based on recombinant DNA technology. The present society is faced with unprecedented problems not only in the history of science, but of all life on earth. The GE technology enables the profit oriented biotech companies the capacity to redesign the living organisms, the products of three billion years of evolution. In the words of Dr. George Wald, Nobel Laureate in Medicine (1967), Higgins Professor of Biology at the Harvard University, “potentially it could breed new animal and plant diseases, new sources of cancer and novel epidemics”.
In 1989, dozens of Americans died and over several thousands were afflicted and impaired owing to the ingestion of a genetically altered version of food supplement L – tryptophan. A settlement of $ 2 billion was paid by Showa Denko, Japan’s 3rd. largest chemical company (Mayeno and Gleich, 1994)
In 1996, pioneer Hi-Bred spliced Brazil nut genes into soy beans. Some individuals are so allergic to this nut that they go into apoplectic shock which can cause death. Animal tests confirmed the peril and the product was soon removed from the market before any fatalities occurred. In the words of Marion Nestle, HOD Nutrition, New York University, “the next case could be less than ideal and public less fortunate.”
In 1994 US Food and Drug Administration approved Monsanto’s r-BGH, a GE growth hormone, for injecting the dairy cows to enhance their milk yield in spite of experts warning that the resultant increase of IGF-1, a potent chemical hormone, linked to 400 – 500 % higher risks of human breast, prostrate and colon cancer. According to Dr. Samuel Epstein of University of Chicago, ” it induces the malignant transformation of human breast epithelial cells.” Studies on Rats confirmed the suspicion and showed damage to internal organs with r-BGH ingestion. Even FDA’s own tests showed a spleen mass increase by 46%, a state that is a prelude to ‘leukemia’. The argument that the substance get damaged by pasteurization was nullified by 2 of Monsanto’s own scientists, Ted Elasser and Brian Mc Bride who found only 19% of the hormone get destroyed after 30 minutes of boiling (pasteurization takes only 30 seconds). Inspite of Canada, EU, Australia, New Zealand and even the UN’s Codex Alimentarius refusing to endorse the GE hormone, the same is freely marketed in the US by Monsanto. It was found out that 2 US bureaucrats namely, Margaret Miller and Micheal Taylor in the US FDA who helped Monsanto’s r-BGH pass the risk factor barrier were in fact earlier Monsanto employees.
Several other GM products approved by US FDA involve herbicides that are commonly known as ‘carcinogenic’, viz – ‘bromoxiny’l used on Bt. Cotton and Monsanto’s ‘round-up’ or Glufosinate used on GM soy, corn and canola. Sharyn Martin, a researcher, has opined that a number of auto- immune diseases are enhanced by foreign DNA fragments which come with G M food that are not fully digested in the human stomach and intestine. These DNA fragments absorbed into the blood stream mix with normal DNA through recombination and are, hence, unpredictable. Such DNA fragments have been found to be in GM soy and other GM products available in the market.
The fear factor
Professor Joe Cummins, Professor Emeritus of Genetics, University of Western Ontario said, ‘ Virus resistant crops are becoming the mainstay of biotech industries. These crops carry foreign virus genes which are genetically engineered to empower the plants to resist virus attacks. Most of the fruits, vegetables and baby food marketed in the US are of this category. Lab. experiments have shown that ‘the GE viral genes in food potentially give rise to new viruses – deadlier than the viruses that the crops are being protected from’, a fact that is quite alarming.
In 1986, it was reported that GE plants having TMV genes delayed the development of the disease and this report opened the flood gates to create resistance to a range of other viruses. But the fact is that viral coat protein production in GE crop does not block the virus entering into the plant cell rather the transgene is exposed to the nucleic acids of many viruses that are brought to the plant by insect vectors. A number of study results are there to show that plant viruses can acquire a variety of viral genes from GE plants through recombination.
* Defective Red Color Mosaic Virus lacks the gene enabling it to move from cell to cell and hence is not infectious ,but recombined with a copy of that gene in GE Nicotina benthamiana plants, regenerated the infectious RCMVirus.
* GE Brassica napus and Nicotiana bigelovii containing ” gene- vi “, a
translational activator from the Cauliflower Mosaic Virus (CaMV) which
recombined with the complementary part of a virus missing that gene, and
produced new infectious virus in all GE plants.
* N. benthamiana expressing a segment of the Cowpea Chlorotic Mottle Virus (CCMV) coat protein gene recombined more frequently with the defective virus missing that gene.
* N. benthamiana was transformed with 3 different constructs containing coat protein coding sequence of African Cassava Mosaic Virus (ACMV). The transformed plants were inoculated with a coat protein deletion mutant of ACMV that induces mild systemic symptoms in control plants. Several such inoculated plants of the transgenic lines developed severe systemic symptoms typical of ACMV confirming recombination had occurred between mutant viral DNA and the integrated construct DNA resulting in the production of recombined viral progeny with ‘ wild type ‘ virulency.
The CaMV recombination, when and where ?
CaMV 35 s promoter gene, is the ubiquitous viral sequence in all the transgenic (GM) plants which are either already commercially released in the market or undergoing field trials. This gene is needed by all GM plant producers because it drives the production of gene messages from the genes inserted to provide herbicide tolerance, insect- pest resistance, antibiotic resistance and a range of other functions deemed to improve the commercial quality of the crop plant. In the absence of this ‘promoter gene’, the ‘inserted gene’ remains inactive, while in its presence the gene activity is maintained at a high level in all of the plant tissues irrespective of the changing environmental conditions which drastically affect the activity of ‘promoters’ native to the crop plant.
The 2 events which occurred in 1999 provoked Professor Cummins and other independent scientists to draw global attention to such alarming industrial scientific maladies that may have disastrous consequences. In fact Professor Cummins had in 1994 questioned the environmental safety of the release of CaMV 35 s promoter gene through the GM plants. Experimental evidences available indicated that the frequency of genetic recombination of CaMV 35 s promoter gene was much higher than those of other viruses. When recombinant CCMV was recovered from 3% of transgenic N. benthamiana containing CCMV sequences, recombinant CaMV was recovered from 36% of transgenic N. begelovii.
Event -1. Scientists of John Innes Research Institute published a paper showing that the CaMV 35 s promoter has a recombination ‘hot spot’ meaning it is prone to break and reassociate with other pieces of genetic material, may be of other viruses.
Event- 2. Dr. Arpad Pusztai, a senior scientist working in the UK govt. funded Rowett Institute in Scotland was sacked from his job because he revealed the results of feeding experiments suggesting that transgenic potatoes were unsafe. The lab. Rats fed with GM food showed increased lymphocytes in gut lining indicating damage to intestine from non specific viral infection.
Scientists Mae- Wan Ho and Angel Ryan published a paper in October 1999 issue of Journal of Microbial Ecology in Health and Disease warning that the CaMV 35 s promoter is interchangeable with promoters of other plant and animal virus and is promiscuous and functions efficiently in all plants, green algae, yeast and E. coli. Its recombination hot spot is flanked by multiple motifs and is similar to other recombination hot spots such as that of the Agrobacterium –T DNA vector, the other most commonly used gene, in making transgenic plants. They also claimed to have demonstrated in the lab. of the recombination between viral transgenes and infecting viruses.
In an article published in the online journal of European Food Research and Technology (2006) authors ( Marit R. Myhre, et. al. ) claimed to have constructed expression vectors with CaMV 35 s promoter inserted in front of 2 ‘reporter genes’ encoding firefly luciferase and green fluorescent protein (GFP), respectively and performed transient transfection experiments in the human enterocyte – like cell line, Caco – 2 and found that the CaMV 35 s promoter genes drive the expressions of both the ‘reporter genes’ to significant levels.
Promoter viral genes such as CaMV 35 s can mix with other genes, viral, bacterial and others including those of the retrovirus like HIV and Hepatitis B. CaMV is itself a para retrovirus. With retro transposons available on all plant genomes (which are mobile in nature) and a host of viruses together with CaMV 35 s promoters, possibility of super virus origin is quite certain.
In a Canadian study, a plant infected with a Crippled Cucumber Mosaic Virus (CuMV) that lacked a gene needed for movement between the plant cells, the crippled CuMV became active in less than 2 weeks – an evidence of gene mixing, having acquired the much needed activator from the surrounding – an evidence of ‘ horizontal gene transfer ‘.
The international Biosafety Protocol signed by most independent nations at Montreal in January 2000 will be of no use if things continue to move in this direction.
Threat to Antibiotics via plants
Much of genetic implantation uses a ‘marker’ to track where the gene goes in the cell. GM Maize plants use an ampicillin resistant gene. The British Royal Society called for the banning of this marker as it threatens a vital antibiotic’s use.
Resurgence of Infectious diseases
‘The Microbial Ecology in Health and Diseases’ Journal reported in 1998 that genetic modifications in food crops may cause resurgence of infectious diseases. It cited the cases of resistance to antibiotics, formation of new and unknown viral strains, lowering of body immunity through altered food etc. as the drastic fallouts of bioengineering with the genes. It also indicated the occurrence of horizontal gene transfer of transgenic DNA among bacteria. It cited the cases of bacteria of the mouth, pharynx and intestines taking up transgenic (viral) DNA in domestic animals through their food which can be passed easily to human beings through their milk and meat.
Increased food allergies
The loss of biodiversity in our food supply has grown in parallel with the increase in food allergies. Mass case studies indicate that our body cells and the immune system seems to reject excess ‘homogeneity of our
food’. Monsanto’s own analysis of glyphosate –resistant soya showed the GM line contains 28% more Kuniz – trypsin inhibitor, a known allergen and nutrient inhibitor.
A study made by Dr. Marc. Lappe in 1999 and published in the ‘Journal of Medicinal Food’ showed that GM foods have lower levels of nutrients – especially ‘phyto estrogen’ compounds which protect the body from heart disease and cancer. A study on the consumption of GM Vita Faba, a bean of the soy family, caused increase in estrogen levels. This is alarming since the same is used in baby food. Milk from cows injected with r-BGH (a GE growth hormone) contains substantially higher levels of pus, bacteria and fat cells.
Sometime back Monsanto announced it had found ‘unexpected gene fragments’ in their ‘round-up ready’ soybeans. It is a well known fact that modified proteins do exits in all GE foods , the proteins never before ingested by humanity. FDAs’ own microbiologist Dr. Louis J.Pribyl had in 1992 warned that pleiotropic (unintended and/or uncontrolled) effects do occur in GE plants at frequencies exceeding 30 % of known and unknown toxicants together with undesirable alterations in the levels of nutrients which might escape breeders notice. FDA’s biotechnologist James Marayanski also had warned about lack of consensus among FDA’s scientists as to the ‘sameness’ of GM foods compared to non GM foods.
Genetic modifications were sought in crop plants to increase production and reduce use of toxic agro chemicals. But nothing
could be further from truth. Professor David Ehrenfield, Professor of Biology, Rutgers University has rightly said, ” What has come out in the last decade from the GE crops are- increased sales of agrochemicals and production of nutrient devoid hazardous food.” Ontario(US) govt. study also showed that herbicide use was on the rise largely due to the cultivation of GM crops.
All GM crop plants are engineered to resist all types of toxins such as herbicides and pesticides etc. and these chemicals are sold by the same biotech companies who have developed such GE crop plants as if to boost their agrochemical product sales. Scientists like R.J. Golburg predicted long ago that GM crops will triple the sale of toxic agrochemicals and over the years he is found to be correct. According to US Fish and Wildlife Services, “Monsanto’s spray chemical ‘Round-out’ (a herbicide) already threatens 74 endangered species in the US. It attacks other plants’ photosynthetic activities”. Malcolm Kane (former Head of Food Safety for Sainsbury’s chain of Super markets) revealed that the US govt. in order to accommodate Monsanto, raised pesticide residue limits in food form 6 ppm to 20 ppm. According to a study report published by the University of California, “glyphosphate (the active principle of ‘round-up’) was the 3rd leading cause of farm workers’ illness. At least 14 persons died of ingesting ‘round-up’.”
Soil-sterility and pollution
In Oregon, scientists found out that GM bacterium, Klebsiella planticola, engineered to breakdown agri wastes to produce ethanol and the residual waste component as compost material – rendered the soil sterile. It eliminated essential soil nutrients like nitrogen and killed the nitrogen capturing fungi. A similar result was also found with the GM bacteria, Rhizobium melitoli. Professor Guenther Stotzky of New York University found out that the same toxins that eliminated the Monarch butterflies were also released by the roots of GM plants and polluted the soil which lasted up to 18 months and depressed soil microbial activity. An Oregon study also showed that GM soil microbes killed wheat plants in the lab. when added to the soil.
Loss of seed sovereignty
Some time back the US ‘Time’ magazine referred to the massive trend by large seed corporations to buy up small seed companies, destroying their seed varieties and replacing the same with their GM seeds of patented and control brands as ‘ the death of birth’. These GM seed companies additionally get the farmers sign contracts not to save their seeds – forfeiting their sovereign rights to seeds.
It has been shown that GM Bt. endotoxins remain active in the soil up to 18 months (Marc Lappe and Britt Bailey) and can be transported to wild plants creating super weeds that are resistant to pests – thus offsetting the balance of nature. Studies in the UK ( National Institute of Agricultural Botany ) and Denmark (Mikkelsen, 1996) showed the growth of super weeds nearby in just one generation. US and UK studies also showed that the super weeds were resistant to glufosinate ( a herbicide). Another US study showed 20 times more genetic leakage with GM plants through horizontal gene transfer. A French study showed that GM canola could transfer genes to wild radishes. According to ‘New Scientists’, a farmer in Alberta, Canada, between year 1997 and 1999 planted 3 fields with different GM canola seeds only to produce 3 different mutant weeds which were resistant to Monsanto’s ‘Round-up’, Cyanamid’s ‘Pursuit’ and Aventi’s ‘Liberty’, all patented herbicides.
GE super trees, loss of biodiversity and ecosystem collapse
GE super trees are being developed to withstand high doses of herbicide sprays from the air to kill all surrounding life except the GE trees. These trees are mostly non flowering and sterile. Monsanto’s super trees even exude toxic chemicals from its leaves to kill not only caterpillars but all visiting insect life. In 2002 China planted millions of ‘poplar’ super trees to combat deforestation, creating monoculture forests. Such flowerless toxin oozing trees will end up in eliminating all flying insects (bees and butterflies included) reducing the insect world to only booklice and earwigs. Its plantation in the wild will not only cause collapse of the forest ecosystem comprising of fungi, insects, earthworms, birds and mammals but also cause intensive genetic contamination through gene flow of transgenes to the wild and affect animal and human health. The reported case study of transgene flow and transgene introgression from cultivar to the wild (J.R. Reichman and L.S. Watrud, Molecular Ecology, 2006) may be cited which established the existence of transgenic plants in wild in Oregon, USA. The case involved glyphosate – resistant ‘creeping bent grass’ (Agrostis stolonifera L.) plants expressing CP4 EPSPS gene from Agrobacterium spp. Strain CP4, conferring resistance to herbicide glyphosate, transgenes were found in non agronomic habitats outside of the experimental test plots in the central Oregon study.
Lab. tests indicate that the cotton bollworms, a common plant pest is getting resistant to the Bt. sprays . The stink bug epidemic reported from North Carolina and Georgia is suspected to be linked to the GE plants, loved by the pest. GE company Monsanto recommended spray of one of the deadliest chemical, ‘Methyl parathion’ to control the pest. Transgenic Bt. Cotton and the other GE crops failed in the US, India and elsewhere due mainly to pest problems besides their desired and expected production failures. Bt. Cotton was engineered to kill its pests like American bollworms, pink bollworms and bud worms but it ended up in eliminating these pests’ natural predators and turned these pests into super pests.
Killing beneficial insects
Several field studies showed GM products do kill beneficial insects such as the Monarch butterflies larvae (Cornell, 1999). Bt. Crops killed the Lace wings which are the natural predators of the cotton worms. Honey bees are killed when they feed on the proteins in GM canola flowers and Bt. Cotton flowers.
Poisonous to mammals
GM potatoes, spliced with DNA from Snowdrop plant with the viral promotor (CaMV 35 s) was found to be poisonous to mammals (as rats) damaging their vital organs and immune systems. Scientist since have demanded that all GM products using CaMV – 35 s promotor gene be with drawn from commercial production.
Some GM crops are flowerless but not all. GM pollens carried by wind, rain, birds, bees & other insects, fungus and bacteria causesevere genetic pollution. Pollen from GM canola, GE oilseed rape and Bt. cotton can move several hundred meters and pollute the non GM varieties as well as the wild varieties even across species barriers causing horizontal gene transfer. It is postulated that ubiquitous promotor, CaMV 35 s, in fact enhance
horizontal gene transfer and recombination.
A US study showed that 50% of wild straw berries growing within 50 meters of GM straw berry acquired GM gene markers and another study showed 25-38% of wild sunflowers grown close to GM crop had GM gene markers. Similar studies made in Germany with respect to GE Oil seed rape and in Thailand with respect to Bt. Cotton have confirmed the American findings.
A study in England showed that a small GM planting contaminated wild honey
which meant that bees carried the GM pollens to organic plantings and the
wild, which must show transgenic elements in them.
A new revolution the ‘ the blue revolution’ in aquaculture is growing rapidly in
which commercial fishes as salmons, trouts and cat fishes are genetically
modified to grow fast in size (up to 39 X). This will, in turn, wipe out their
cousins in the wild. There is no regulation for the safety of the non GM and
native/wild species biodiversity as of now.
Decline and Destruction of family farms and small land holders
In the US, the population engaged in agriculture was 60% in 1850; 4% in 1950 and less than 2% now. In 1935 there were 7 million farms which now stands at less than 2 million. More or less similar declines have occurred everywhere in the world. But the fact remains that these family farms and the small land holders between them produce more than 60% of our foods. This decline takes its root in the new GATT – WTO regulations. The economic strength and legislative powers have been taken away by the new agri corporations through the GATT – WTO dominated new world order. Promotion of GM products in food is the business of these agri corporations. A large number of native paddy varieties numbering around several thousands have already been lost in India through the two agri revolutions. The new world order may wipe out 1,00,000 traditional vanilla farmers of Madagascar and Comoros Islands through GM vanilla; several lakh sugar cane farmers in the third world through GE fructose. Sudan has long lost its export of gum arabic. A modest estimate puts the figure at least $ 14 billion of synthetic substitutes for the natural farm products of the third world. There are attempts to grow food in big laboratories eliminating the need for seeds, soil and even the plants thus shifting the task of food productions from the farming communities to the GE laboratories.
Control and dependency
GE seed companies have ensured through legislations that farmers would not be eligible to save and exchange patented seeds. To fail the farmers in seed collection and seed saving, they have developed and introduced a technology, broadly called ‘Terminator technology’ to ensure that the seeds are rendered sterile after harvest. These seeds contain ‘suicide’ genes in both male and female lines. The male sterility is caused by a gene (US patent no. 5,750,867 owned by Aventis) from bacterium Bacillus amyloliquefeciens called ‘barnase’ coding for a ribonuclease that renders pollens ‘dead’ by failing the pollen cells from undergoing meiosis to halve their chromosomes. Besides, a pollen lethality gene is also used which is expressed late in the development of male flowers, in pollen cells after meiosis that prevents the pollens being formed. The female sterility gene (US patent no. 5,633,441 owned by Aventis) is linked to a selectable marker gene with its own promoter, so that the female sterile plants can be selected. The terminator genes, besides barnase, include papain active protein, or the A- fragment of diphtheria toxin, Marker genes used include herbicide resistance gene, or a gene conferring a disease or pest resistance, a GUS gene for glucuronidase, or a gene encoding Bacillus thuringensis (Bt) endotoxin. The major problem associated with the process of use of different genetic constructs is that there occurs a lot of gene scrambling as they are integrated and genetic engineers cannot control either their integrations or their multiplications which, in turn, would multiply the uncertainties and unpredictabilities of the GM crops. Many of the genes currently in use in GM crop productions such as recombinase and the terminator lethal genes are harmful to the cells including mammalian cells. The recombinase cause recombination at non- specific sites there by causing large scale genome scrambling (ISIS News 7/8 ). Besides, the synthetic genes and other GM constructs can spread by horizontal gene transfer to unrelated species which cannot be controlled. This will cause large scale destruction of the existing biodiversity so evolved in the nature by the forces of evolution.
This is another patented bad technology released to the market by the modern agro corporations by which some GM crops have technologically controlled stages in their life cycles – when to leaf, flower and bear fruit – under the influence of certain triggering chemicals. Thus, a farmer is forced to use these chemicals if he/she is to yield a harvest, thereby pushing him/her to deeper levels of economic dependence or debt.
Less diversity, quality, quantity and profit
The most misleading hope raised by the GM technology firms is that only the GM crops will solve the world’s hunger. World wide studies have proved beyond doubt that monoculture of any crop any where has always less yields per acre as compaired to polyculture of several crops – different seeds interplanted between the rows, in the fence or in different patches within the same area. In a study of 8,200 field trials, Round up ready soybeans produced fewer bushels of soy than non GM cousin( Charles Benbrook, former Director, Board of Agriculture, National Academy of Science). The average yield for non GM soybeans was 51.21 bushels per acre; for GM variety it was 49.26. This was again confirmed in a study at the University of Nebraska’s Institute of Agricultural Resources. Monsanto’s 5 different strains of soya was planted in 4 different locations of varied soil environments. Dr. Elmore found that on average more expensive GM seeds produced 6% less than non GM varieties and 11% less than good yielding conventional crops. Even where the yield was higher( Bt. Cotton in some field study in the US.), the cost of seeds and fertiliser used reduced the net profit substantially thus decreasing the depleted cost-benefit(B:C) ratio further. In agronomy, the cost-benefit ratio is the all important factor that signifies the farmer’s sustainability. A decreasing B:C ratio indicates a farmer’s declining economy; that he is not making any profit and that he cannot continue for long in such agriculture.
Fragility of future agriculture:-
Loss of agro biodiversity makes agriculture fragile. The case of Irish potato famine of 1840s is a glaring example of the importance of the crop diversity factor. When Irish farmers cultivated a few varieties, Peruvian farmers had thousands of varieties and this diversity provided the constant resource for blight resistance in potato crop. In the recent past a similar situation arose in Russia where a more virulent strain – potato late blight – threatened the Russian potato crop, broadly having the ability to withstand the harsh Russian winter. Citrus cancer blight threatened Florida’s $ 8.5 billion citrus fruit industry in 2000. Coca plants, mono cropped and nearly all identical, are also endangered by an international blight. Thus, the destruction rather than conservation of crop diversity seed stocks by GM agro corporations create a very dangerous situation and make the future of agriculture extremely fragile.
More pesticides and diminishing yields:-
Contrary to tall claims of GM companies field studies show that the best of organic farming techniques – using rich natural resources can always produce better resistant crops with higher yields and higher B:C ratios than the GM crops. GM crops, over the years, demanded 2 – 5 times more pounds of biocides per acre than non GM crop varieties and this leads to drastical environmental deteriorations.
Economic, political and social factor
Monopolisation of food production:-
There are approximately 1500 seed companies worlds wide but about a dozen of these control 50% of the global commercial seed market. Big seed corporations are buying up smaller seed companies and using clandestinely their market faith. By the year 2000, 5 corporations controlled 40% of soy seed market; 3 corporations controlled 90% of corn seed market; 2 corporations controlled 75% of cotton seed market and thus the company numbers diminishing and monopolistic market control increasing. Competing against the new GATT- WTO norms not only the number of farming families are diminishing abruptly but also the net annual farm income. Average annual income from small family farms in the US/ Europe plummeted in the last decade rendering the families to survive below poverty level.
Impact of food dependency:-
When the food production is monopolised, the future of its supply becomes dependent on the decisions of a few companies and their effective seed stocks. The crop diversity is waning – lost in the developed world and is in the process in third world countries except a few pockets – like the Peruvian potatoes and Indian paddy varieties, all in the third world. Food scientists indicate that if these indigenous territories are further disturbed by biotech’s advances, the long term vitality of all of the world’s food supply will be lost for ever.
Leading Agro Biotech Corporations & their Agribusiness,1999.
Sales Agribusiness Sales Seed
Production Ranking (global) Agro-
Chemical Sales Ranking (global) Pharmaceutical
Original business.) Research &
A. ‘Life Science’ Group (involved mainly in genetic modification of various crop
Aventis $20.5 billion $4.6 billion n/a 1 $13.9 billion $3 billion
(Syngenta) $20.3 billion $4.4 billion 3 2 $9.8 billion $2.2 billion
Monsanto(98) $8.6 billion $4 billion 2 3 $2.8 billion $1.3 billion
(Syngenta) $18.4 billion $2.7 billion 6 5 $14.8 billion $2.9 billion
B. ‘Industrial Science’ Group (involved mainly in production of various
Bayer $27 billion $3.1 billion n/a 6 $5 billion $2.1 billion
DuPont $26.9 billion $3 billion 1 4 $1.6 billion $1.6 billion
Dow $18.9 billion $2.3 billion —— 8 —— $0.85 billion
BASF $29.5 billion $1.7 billion —— 9 $2.5 billion $1.3 billion
Colonisation in the past was through technologically superior armies. But the newest weapon in the hands of a few superpowers is a biological one and that is the GM seed. When a person loses food sufficiency he gets entangled in food dependency. This is why 5,00,000 alert Indian farmers staged a protest against new GATT in 1993 and are now opposing the GM seeds , GM agro products. Recently the European communities have launched the Slow food movement which is fast growing into a global movement essentially aimed at curbing the GM crops and save the diminishing biodiversity and
indigenous knowledge on farming techniques, biodiversity based organic farming.
Dependency and slavery:-
The new regulations which have come through the new world orders, GATT – WTO etc., the autonomy of the local economies can be wholly overridden. Foreign companies can buy and own all local companies, seeds, water, land and natural resources, converting them to exported cash, thus pushing the local economies to dependency and slavery.
Where does the future lead us to?
Long ago philosopher Descartes postulated that the space may be universally
or infinitely separated. Not long ago Einstein devised the famous formula, E =mc2, which led to the annihilation of 2 Japanese cities that brought the end to the 2nd world war. Now is the time of genetic engineering or gene splicing, the recombinant DNA technology, introduction of foreign DNAs – promoters and markers – genetic modification of all life forms – not for the betterment of the mankind but using thanotechnology for making bad money. Global sense prevailed to destroy or restrict the nuclear weapons once owned by the 2 super powers. But insanity is spreading fast in the form of recombinant DNA technology applications in the living world threatening its existence. Is it a Cartesian approach in a different form?
Is it better to be safe than sorry ?
In response to the rapid developments in genetic engineering and its
applications to life forms, the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety was negotiated and it entered into force from September, 2003. The Protocol
sets up a regime governing the international movement of GMOs with the
aim to protect global biodiversity from the adverse effects of the GMOs. The
WTO covers only the trade in GMOs, thus has a different aim i.e., to prevent
limitations on the free movement of GMOs. Thus, the Protocol in a sense
clash with the WTO. Hence, harmonisation of these two agreements is highly
desirable. The suggestion is that the Protocol be used by the WTO as
evidence of internationally accepted standards in relation to GMOs. But it is
unlikely that the WTO would accept such a proposal. Is there a solution?
By 1999, about 28 million hectares were under GE crop plantations world wide under the claim that they were pest, disease resistant and would provide enough food to end world hunger.
The other opinion was that such crops were released without enough tests and questioned their long term safety with respect to human beings and environment.
Governments world over were in dilemma, to allow it or not allow it, a decision most likely heavily influenced by the bureaucrats in view of the lack of adequate scientific consensus on the issue of threat to biological world.
Based on the convention on Biodiversity, the Cartagena Protocol that entered into force from 11 September, 2003 set up a regime that dealt with the international movement of all living modified organisms (LMOs) which included GMOs and other organisms created through cell fusion of different taxonomic categories – in accordance with the precautionary principles.
The Protocol applies to 2 categories of LMOs:-
1. LMOs intended for release into the environment such as fish, plants and
seeds etc. covered by the operational sections.
2. LMOs intended for use in food or feed or for processing such as cornflakes,
soya milk etc.
All LMOs that are pharmaceuticals for humans are excluded from the Protocol,
which was objected to by the European Union States but US vetoed this objection.
Under the Protocol, trade in LMOs with non parties ( such as the US ) must be carried out in the same manner as with the parties.
Articles 7 – 12 of the Protocol, the Advance Informed Agreement (AIA) described as its backbone requires an exporting country to obtain the consent of the importing country before shipping living LMOs for the first time by informing its national authority. The importing country must then acknowledge receipt of the notification and decide whether to or not to accept the shipment within a certain period of time. Under the Protocol, a risk assessment must be carried out for all decisions made in relation to the acceptance of LMO shipments. A party can accept the shipment with certain condition, prohibit the import or request additional information from the exporter. In addition the Protocol establishes a “Biosafety clearing house” to which the importing country must inform its decision on the import of a particular LMO within 270 days of the original notification. However, under the Protocol a failure to notify does not imply consent.
The US even though not a party to the Protocol exerted considerable influence on the scope of the Protocol by participating in negotiations. Its intentions were to ensure that the Protocol had as limited an effect as possible, in order to protect the US biotech industry. The primary objective of the US was to make the Protocol subordinate to the WTO rules so that international trade in GMOs would not be disrupted.
Consequent upon the US involvement, the 135 member countries soon became divided into 2 groups viz. ” Like Minded Group” mostly of the developing countries except Argentine, Chile and Uruguay and “Miami Group”comprising of countries like Australia, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and the U.S.,the GMO exporting and importing countries. Miami Group favoured a weak Protocol that would not disrupt international trade in GMOs.
The US continually sought to have the issue of trade in GMOs shifted to the WTO’s mandate. Only lack of support from the EU forced the WTO to decline addressing the GMO issue which, in turn, lent greater weight to the Protocol.
Under US insistence the draft Protocol included a ‘savings clause’ in the ‘preamble’ not in the ‘operative part’ and the US with reference to the 2nd paragraph and ignoring the 3rd paragraph claims that treaty does not alter the rights and obligations of governments under the rules of the WTO.
Any conflict between the Protocol and the WTO would most likely be referred to the WTO Disputes Panel if one side to the Dispute has not signed the environment agreement (as the US). For example if India, acting consistently with the Protocol banned the import of certain GMOs from the US, the US may take the conflict to the WTO Disputes panel claiming that India had breached WTO rules and in such a case the result may be well predicted since the Dispute body’s only role is to interpret the WTO agreement and not the Protocol.
Hence, the question – Is it better to be safe than sorry? And the answer may be, ‘sorry, it is perhaps too late’. We are mid way through globalization. We have already decided our fate through legislations and policy decisions from which perhaps we can not backtrack. Yet we have enough biodiversity which we have to sustain no matter how and at what cost.