Consumers Association of Penang

Giving voice to the little people...since 1970

Securing our food security without GM crops

We wish to respond to the article "Securing our food supply with GM crops" by Dr. Hoe-Han Goh published in the New Straits Times on 14 November 2015. Dr. Goh extolled the benefits of genetically modified (GM) crops in several countries, but his article failed to provide the full picture and we seek to address this important gap.

In the case of India, after 10 years of Bt cotton (a GM cotton) cultivation, the Indian Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture released a report in August 2012 stating that "There have been no significant socio-economic benefits to the farmers because of the introduction of Bt cotton.  On the contrary, being a capital-intensive agricultural practice, investments of the farmers have increased manifold, thus exposing them to far greater risks due to massive indebtedness, which a vast majority of them can ill afford. The experience of the last decade has conclusively shown that while [GM agriculture] has extensively benefited the industry, as far as the lot of poor farmers is concerned, even the trickle down is not visible"[1].

In 2010, India's (then) Minister of Environment and Forests declared a moratorium on Bt brinjal, the first genetically modified food crop that was being considered for commercial cultivation in the country. Following a series of public consultations, and submissions made by academics, economists, environmentalists, farmers, civil society groups and citizens at large, the Minister declared that his decision was "both responsible to science and responsive to society".[2]

Meanwhile, in China, although Bt cotton had managed to control the bollworm pest, field data collected in 2004 demonstrated that this benefit had been offset by the increased use of pesticides to deal with secondary pests, so the average expenditure on pesticides of Bt and non-Bt cotton farmers was about the same.[3],[4]. In addition, Bt cotton seeds cost three times more than non-Bt seeds and Bt farmers made less money than their non-Bt counterparts.3

A study on the socio-economic impacts of GM corn cultivation in the Philippines revealed that overall, farmers' food security had diminished after 10 years of cultivation of the crop.[5] The study also reported that in all of the study areas, health problems were observed to be on the increase since the introduction of GM corn, along with acute allergic reactions to pesticides. Likewise for livestock and poultry, deaths and increased susceptibility to illness after consuming GM corn fodder were observed. Furthermore, GM corn had adverse effects on the environment such as the emergence of new pests and weeds resistant to glyphosate (the herbicide sold and used in conjunction with GM glyphosate-tolerant crops).

In October 2013, a statement[6] released by the European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility (ENSSER) highlighted that there was no scientific consensus on the safety of genetically modified foods and crops, calling claims that GM foods and crops were safe for humans, animals and the environment "misleading".

The Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN) has released reports based on 20 years of commercialisation experience in North America. They found that GM crops, trees and animals are rooted in and perpetuate a model of agriculture that has serious environmental impacts and is not sustainable in the long-term[7]. Furthermore, they concluded that GM food is but an ongoing experiment on consumers, as the potential risks from eating GM foods have not been fully investigated[8].

A further evidence-based report called "GMO Myths and Truths" shows that GM foods may be toxic, allergenic, or have unintended nutritional changes.[9] The report also provides evidence that conventional breeding continues to outstrip genetic engineering in delivering crops that yield well, resist disease, are nutritious, and tolerate drought and other types of extreme weather.

It is noteworthy that Dr. Goh mentions the Cartegena Protocol on Biosafety. This Protocol and the UN's Codex Alimentarius Commission acknowledge widespread recognition of the risks posed by GM foods and crops. As Party to the Cartagena Protocol, Malaysia should exercise the Precautionary Principle with respect to GMOs, which is provided for in this agreement and which is also the basis of the National Biosafety Act 2007.

If GM crops are so wonderful and necessary as Dr. Goh claims, then why have 19 countries in Europe registered with the EU Commission this October to opt out of GM crop cultivation?[10] Would not Malaysians be better advised to follow their lead and keep our country free of GM crops? Or should we ignore all evidence of the risks of GM crops in a foolhardy dash to achieve what can only be an illusion of "global prominence" in the agri-biotech field?

Indeed "All Malaysians should feel the urgency of this topic and not shy away from it". However, contrary to Dr. Goh's call to embrace GM crops, we should exercise prudence and responsibility and demand to keep GM crops OUT of Malaysia!

 

Letter to the Editor, 25 November 2015

 

Note:

[1] Indian Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture. 2012. Cultivation of Genetically Modified Food Crops - Prospects and Effects. 164.100.47.134/lsscommittee/Agriculture/GM_Report.pdf

[2] http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/moratorium-on-bt-brinjal/article103642.ece

[3] Wang S; Just DR; and Pinstrup-Andersen P. 2006. Tarnishing Silver Bullets: Bt technology adoption, bounded rationality and the outbreak of secondary pest infestations in China. Paper presented at American Agricultural Economics Association annual meeting, Long Beach, CA, 22- 26 July.

[4] Wang S; Just DR; and Pinstrup-Andersen P. 2008. Bt cotton and secondary pests. Int J Biotechnol, 10:113-120.

[5] Socio-economic Impacts of Genetically Modified Corn in the Philippines. 2013. http://masipag.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/MASIPAG-Book-low-res.pdf

[6] http://www.ensser.org/increasing-public-information/no-scientific-consensus-on-gmo-safety/

[7] Are GM crops better for the environment? Canadian Biotechnology Action Network. www.GMOinquiry.ca/environment

[8] Are GM crops better for consumers? Canadian Biotechnology Action Network.www.GMOinquiry.ca/environment

[9] GMO Myths and Truths. http://earthopensource.org/earth-open-source-reports/gmo-myths-and-truths-2nd-edition/

[10] http://ecowatch.com/2015/10/05/european-union-ban-gmos/ and http://ec.europa.eu/food/plant/gmo/authorisation/cultivation/geographical_scope_en.htm