The latest in a string of disasters from the Franken-Food folks:
Millions of hectares of farmland in northern China have been struck by infestations of bugs following the widespread adoption of Bt cotton, an engineered variety made by the US biotech giant, Monsanto.
Outbreaks of mirid bugs, which can devastate around 200 varieties of fruit, vegetable and corn crops, have risen dramatically in the past decade, as cotton farmers have shifted from traditional cotton crops to GM varieties, scientists said.
I published an article on GMO farming as part of a sustainable development module in grad school. While I was (still am) largely cynical of our ability to predict the long-term consequences of such scientific forays, I had no moral qualms about research into genetic modification. Agrarian societies have long engaged in such manipulation through selective breeding and modern biotechnology is ostensibly an attempt to employ sophisticated gene splicing techniques to achieve the same ends. Since the manipulation occurs at the genetic level, the randomness of the selective breeding process is bypassed and therefore the results can be more predictable within fewer generational attempts.
Particularly with the promise of super-foods such as 'golden rice', I was initially enthusiastic about biotechnology's potential to address global food security. After completing my research, however, I found little to support the movement in its current form, and substantial evidence that it should be halted immediately.
At minimum, the research and development expenses associated with bringing a crop to market are far too immense for practically anyone outside global agribusiness. Virtually all of the research and production of plant GMO’s is carried out by seven major “life science” companies, many of whom are actually pharmaceutical giants. Golden Rice projects may be good PR, but they ignore the fact that people aren't hungry because their rice is no nutritious enough, they're hungry because all they eat is rice. In the meantime, these corporations mount an assault on the farmers themselves with the inclusion of suicide genes which ensure that crops become infertile after a single season (requiring the purchase of more seeds), that they work with only a single strain of pesticide/herbicide (happily sold by the same company) and whose controversy artificially constricts the available market to countries friendly to GM foods (notably, the U.S.).
In an ecological sense, GM crops not only shuttle much of the developing world into mono-cropping (think Ireland's potato famine), but also have the same effect as hospital superbugs (e.g. antibiotic-resistant strains of MRSA spawned by the overuse of germicides). Those organisms able to adapt to the chemical assault form super-pests and super-weeds which are not only nearly impossible to control, but have the bonus effect of assaulting neighboring farms who chose not to become slaves to global agribusiness.
Hey, I'm all about human ingenuity. But does anyone still believe that multi-national corporations have our best interests in mind?
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