“Over the past decade, corporate and government managers have spent millions trying to convince farmers and other citizens of the benefits of genetically modified (GM) crops. But this huge public relations effort has failed to obscure the truth: GM crops do not deliver the promised benefits; they create numerous problems, costs, and risks; and … consumers and foreign customers alike do not want these crops. It would be too generous even to call GM crops a solution in search of a problem: These crops have failed to provide significant solutions, and their use is creating problems – agronomic, environmental, economic, social, and (potentially) human health problems.”
– National Farmers Union of Canada1
GM crops are promoted on the claimed basis that they give higher yields, reduce pesticide use, and benefit farmers and the environment. But independent studies either contradict these claims or show them to be inflated.
GM crops were not designed to give higher yields and generally yield no higher than the non-GM parent crop: in some cases yield is reduced. And GM crop technology is already failing under the onslaught of herbicide-resistant superweeds and pests resistant to the Bt toxin engineered into crops. These failures mean increasing costs to farmers and harm to the environment.
On-farm and environmental impacts of GM crops are not limited to the effects of the GM crop itself. They also include the effects of the pesticide that the crop is engineered to contain or to tolerate during cultivation. Research shows that negative impacts are occurring from all these sources.
Some of these impacts also occur with non-GM crops grown under chemically-based agricultural systems. So GMO proponents may obscure the negative effects of GM crops by comparing them with crops grown in chemically-based agricultural systems and concluding that GM crops have less harmful impacts.
But this is to compare one unsustainable agricultural system with another. A more meaningful comparison, and one that would help advance agricultural technology, would be to compare GM with agroecological or integrated pest management (IPM) systems. Many farmers outside the certified organic sector already use agroecological and IPM methods. This progressive trend should be encouraged. Instead, it is being delayed by the false hope offered by GM agriculture, which is only serving to prolong dependence on pesticides and fertilizers.
In the section we address some of the common arguments used to promote GM crops.
- National Farmers Union of Canada. GM crops: Not needed on the Island. Recommendations of the National Farmers Union to the Prince Edward Island legislature’s standing committee on agriculture, forestry, and the environment. Charlottetown, PEI, Canada; 2005. Available at: http://www.nfu.ca/sites/www.nfu.ca/files/PEI%20GMO%20BRIEF%20TWENTY%20SEVEN%20FINAL.pdf.