Responses to key issues raised by anti-GMO activists
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1. African regulators don’t have adequate expertise to effectively assess the safety of GM products in the continent.
All Biosafety Regulatory bodies in African countries involved in biotechnology have scientific advisory committees comprised of highly qualified scientists trained in relevant areas of biotechnology/biosafety in renowned universities in Africa and overseas. These committees review all biotech applications in their countries and make recommendations for the regulatory bodies to make informed decisions.
2. African scientists do not have adequate equipment to fully assess safety of GM products.
South Africa and Burkina Faso do have laboratories and equipment for safe production of GM products such as Bt seeds. Moreover they network with their international colleagues and the global scientific community to solve any emerging technical challenge.
3. The adoption of modern biotechnology in African countries violated the provisions of the Cartagena protocol that requires public information and participation in decision making. In African countries like Burkina Faso there was no open debate before going into biotechnology.
The adoption of modern biotechnology in Africa has followed closely the provisions of the Cartagena protocol. Every country has its own history of technology adoption and for all new technologies; it has never been so easy. In a country like Burkina Faso, biotechnology was found to be the only option to solve pest resistance issues that were undermining the cotton sector. Producers urged the political leaders to come up with the best solution. Burkina Faso started confined trials in 2003 while implementing the necessary regulations; the Cartagena protocol was ratified by the county in the same year (2003) and a national biosafety committee was established in 2004. A national law was adopted by the Parliament in 2006 well before Bt cotton was commercially released in 2009. Although biotechnology was adopted as an urgent solution to save the cotton sector, its implementation complied adequately with the national and international regulations.
4. Biotechnology adoption in Africa is more about a deal between the government of the USA and African States than a real need in the field. There are more suitable, cheaper and environment-friendly crop production techniques for African producers.
Africa has been implementing so-called cheap and environment-friendly crop production for decades and yet the continent is one of the most crippled by food insecurity. Africa needs today sustainable and more effective solutions to boost food production and no technology that has proven efficient on another continent should be neglected, including biotechnology. Biotechnology is not certainly a panacea but it can greatly help to solve some of the critical agricultural challenges in Africa, including pest pressure, droughts, and climate change.
5. Monsanto is bribing a wide range of stakeholders to impose its technology on African producers.
Monsanto is not the only industry operating in Africa in the biotechnology sector. European firms like Bayer and even Chinese multinationals are present especially in Cameroon and Sudan, respectively. It is also important to understand that farmers have generally strong associations in African countries and their voices are among the most heard by politicians; so no bribed politician can impose a technology to them if they do not see benefit from it.
6. A study in Russia showed that eating GMOs could affect fertility in third generation.
This study by the Russian biologist Alexey V. Surov on hamsters has not been acknowledged by the international scientific community, reliable studies from The National Academy of Science (USA), FAO, the European Union Comission Directorate General for Research the International Council for Science the American Medical Association etc… have proved that all commercialized GM products are as safe as their non-GM counterparts.
7. A study by Seralini, a French scientist, showed that GMO consumption caused cancer in laboratory mice so the same could happen to human beings.
Same as above. It was unanimously recognized that Seralini’s study did not follow the required scientific protocol needed to produce reliable data and was therefore found inconclusive.
8. Studies commissioned by the World Health Organization recently concluded that the Roundup Ready active ingredient, glyphosate, is potentially carcinogenic. So eating crops like Round-up Ready maize, cotton oil, and soybeans could cause cancer.
People around the world have been eating GMO for two decades now and no reliably documented human or animal safety issues have been reported since biotech crops were first grown in 1996.
All biotech crops go through thorough extensive testing before they are approved for commercial release to farmers and consumers. Researchers conduct more rigorous studies on biotech crops than those conducted for conventional crops to determine the safety of biotech crops. Regulatory and scientific agencies worldwide including the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) who have reviewed the studies have confirmed the safety of biotech crops currently on the market.
GM crops are studied for potential changes in nutritional composition, toxicity and allergenicity. The studies conducted ensure that biotech crops are as safe as their non-GM counterpart for human/animal consumption. Glyphosate also has been extensively tested and is one of the least toxic of all herbicides. It is considerably less acutely toxic than commonly consumed chemicals such as nicotine, caffeine, and tylenol, and has been found to be non-carcinogenic by U.S. and European agencies.
9. Glyphosate destroys soils and all useful soil micro-organisms. So in the long term, it will degrade all soils and impoverish producers.
Crop rotation is recommended just like in conventional or organic farming to preserve land fertility. Alternative herbicides that would be used instead of glyphosate have equal or greater toxicities to the land and environment, and weed control by cultivation rather than herbicide use results in increased soil erosion.
10. Studies showed that the Bt toxin that protects Bt crops is present in all Bt products so Bt products are not safe food and feed.
The toxin produced by the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is very highly specific for certain types of insects, and not even all kinds of insects. It does not affect other types of animals (birds, fish, mammals) or humans. It is also used by organic farmers in spray form to control pests in their fields. Studies from reliable institutions such as The National Academy of Science (USA), FAO, European Union, the American Medical Association etc. have shown that GM food is as safe as non-GM food.
11. Most safety studies were done by the industry itself so these studies are not fully reliable. There are very few independent studies.
The list of reliable institutions that carried out thorough study on safety of GM food is actually long and includes:
- The National Academy of Science (USA)
- European Union
- The World Health Organization
- American Medical Association
- The Royal society of Medicine
- American Association for the Advancement of Science etc.
12. Biotechnology is a clever way the industry has come up with to control the seed production around the world and make producers more dependent.
Agricultural biotechnology is just a tool used to overcome some of the most critical challenges e.g. pest pressure, recurrent droughts etc. faced by farmers in some countries. Countries freely choose to adopt or not adopt biotechnology. Even in countries that allow GM production, farmers do not have to grow GM crops. If they prefer, they can continue to grow the varieties they used in the past. So far countries that have adopted modern biotechnologies are deriving benefits in terms of increases in yield and improved incomes.
13. GM seeds are not a solution to pest or weed control because pests and weed are developing resistance and the situation may become worse. Natural pesticides are the best solution.
African countries have tried organic farming with natural pesticides for decades but the continent is still suffering from lack of food and malnutrition.
Insect resistance is a natural evolutionary process enhanced by repeated exposure of the pest to high toxins. It can arise due to the widespread use of GM crops, but also with the widespread use of any chemical pesticide on conventionally bred crops (natural or chemical). Insect resistance to Bt can be slowed down by growing non-Bt crops (refugia) together with Bt crops, so that the resistant insects mate with susceptible ones. The planting of refugia is required in all countries utilizing Bt crops. Other strategies that can slow down insect resistance include: stacking or pyramiding toxins that are distinct from each other, sterile moth releases, crop rotation and use of trap crops. Integrated pest management should not be neglected because no single method is sufficient.
Emergence of minor or secondary pests as key pests
Application of chemical pesticides typically kills all insects, including primary pests, secondary pests and beneficial insects. Bt is highly specific and does not kill all insects. When Bt crops are grown, the reduced use of chemical pesticides that would have killed the secondary pest can result in increased populations of secondary pests, as has occurred for a cotton pest in China. Integrated pest management practices such as crop rotation, biological control agents not targeted by the transgenes, tillage, intercropping, trap cropping should not be neglected by farmers.
Glyphosate resistant weeds have been reported in U.S, Australia, Malaysia, East Asia and Chile. Emergence of glyphosate resistant weeds can result from selection pressure from repeated glyphosate applications. The rare individuals that are resistant are the ones that are able to survive and produce seeds. Integrated weed management practices are important in managing evolution of herbicide resistant weeds. Such practices include: growing herbicide tolerant crops in rotation with conventional crops, tillage and use of other herbicides.
14. Neither modern biotechnology nor conventional agriculture is sustainable. There are better methods with a good combination of organic and no-tillage farming.
No farming method is a standalone solution or a panacea to agricultural challenges today. Each method could be a specific response to a specific situation. It is all about finding the best solutions to food and nutrition challenges in each country.
15. Biotechnology is more beneficial to big farmers not for smallholder producers. GMO producers will soon control most of the fertile lands around the globe and smallholder producers will have to give up their small lands and become just farm workers for large scale producers. Biotechnology is not a pro-poor technology.
What we have seen so far in Burkina is just the opposite. Almost all Bt cotton farmers are smallholder producers and their income keeps increasing since the commercial release of Bt cotton in 2009. The situation is also different globally because in 2014, 18 million farmers benefited from growing biotechnology crops of which 90% were small resource-poor farmers. In addition in Sudan, biotechnology cotton is being grown by small scale farmers..
16. It is morally unacceptable to insert animal genes to plants. These 2 worlds are separated by nature, why should we try to mix them?
All new technologies can raise ethical and moral questions. Some global moral authorities have recognized the importance of biotechnology as a tool that could help alleviate food insecurity and poverty around the world.
“It is legitimate for humans, with the correct attitude, to intervene in nature and make modifications,” Cardinal Peter Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace told a room of about 1,000 people attending the World Food Prize symposium in downtown Des Moines. “The human person does not commit an illicit act … when he intervenes to modify some of their characteristics,” even at the genomic level, for food production.
Citing Pope John Paul II, Turkson said adverse climate change has affected food production in poor countries, “and the findings of science must be put to use in order to ensure a high productivity of land.”
In addition, farmers are always free to choose whether they will grow GM crops or not. In Burkina Faso, there are three groups of cotton growers: Bt cotton farmers who are the larger group, conventional growers and organic farmers.
17. With Bt cotton the quality of the lint and the length of the fiber are lower.
This situation happened in Burkina Faso just because Bt seeds were not backcrossed enough before commercial release. The Bt trait was not incorporated into the very best lines. The National Seed Company and Monsanto are aware of the issue and are currently working to fix this. Other Bt cotton varieties have excellent fiber quality that equal or exceed conventional varieties.
Jean Keberé, communications Officer / NEPAD Agency ABNE
See also : The Food Safety Section and Environmental Safety Issues