Are You Wearing GMO?


“Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them”. – Albert Einstein


Are you eating and wearing GMO?

Biotechnology uses living organisms or parts of these organisms. Modern medicine, agriculture, and industry make use of biotechnology on a large scale.

GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, are organisms such as bacteria, fish, insects, mammals, plants and yeast whose genetic makeup has been altered through genetic engineering procedures. Merging DNA from different species, creates unconventional animals, bacteria and plants that are not naturally found in customary crossbreeding or even in nature.

FDA is responsible for regulating the safety of genetically modified (GM) crops that are eaten by humans or animals. According to a policy established in 1992, FDA considers most GM crops as “substantially equivalent” to non-GM crops. 

In 1997, FDA established a voluntary consultation process with GM crop developers to review the determination of “substantial equivalence” before the crop is marketed, such as assessing the toxicity and allergenicity of the gene product and the plant itself. If the data in the food-safety assessment are satisfactory, FDA notifies the developer that marketing of the crop may proceed.

Critics have raised questions about whether this voluntary consultation process provides adequate assurance that GM crops are safe. 

In the United States alone, GMOs make up about 70-80% of the foods we consume.

Advocates of biotechnology affirm that the application of genetic engineering to develop transgenic crops will increase world agricultural productivity, enhance food security, and move agriculture away from a dependence on chemical inputs helping to reduce environmental problems. This belief has been challenged by many scientific studies. One such study is conducted by Miguel A. Altieri and Peter Rosset (University of California, Berkeley & Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy) and in their paper published in AgBioForum (a journal of Agro biotechnology Management and Economics) challenges such assertions by first demystifying the Malthusian view that hunger is due to a gap between food production and human population growth. Through there study they expose the fact that current bio-engineered crops are not designed to increase yields or for poor small farmers, so that they may not benefit from them. In addition, transgenic crops pose serious environmental risks, continuously underplayed by the biotechnology industry. They suggested that there are many other agro-ecological alternatives that can solve the agricultural problems that biotechnology aims at solving, but in a much more socially equitable manner and in a more environmentally harmonious way.

Most innovations in agricultural biotechnology have been profit-driven rather than need-driven. The real thrust of the genetic engineering industry is not to make third world agriculture more productive, but rather to generate profits (Busch et al., l990).

The big four Soy, maize, cotton, and rapeseed account for almost all commercial GMO production. GM plants are grown mainly in North and South America, but increasingly also in India, China and South Africa.

In the USA the farmers are still committed to green gene technology. For soy and sugar beet, in 2013 genetically modified varieties represented over 90% of the total; for maize and cotton it was exactly 90%.

Below is global cultivation area of GMO cotton:

GMO cotton

                Acreage of cotton in million hectares

US based company Monsanto, has 23% of global proprietary seed market share. India is 2nd largest cotton grower in the world, after China. Almost 90% of all the cotton grown in India is now Monsanto’s Bt cotton (10.6 million hectares in 2011).

There is a good chance that the cotton t-shirt you are wearing is made from GM cotton.

In a report published in Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (cban- a collaborative campaign for food sovereignty and environmental justice) states, Monsanto promised Indian farmers that Bt cotton would (a) reduce the amount of pesticides farmers need to buy to control pests (b) increase harvests and farm income by reducing crop losses due to pest attacks.

Their study exposes that farmers saw some changes in first couple of years but in the long run below is the findings of their report:

  1. Bt cotton yields declined
  2. Secondary pests emerged, forcing increased pesticide use
  3. The price of cotton seed rose
  4. Farmers lost the option to buy non-GM cotton seed

Farmers across several districts of the cotton growing areas of India have reported that their livestock fell sick or died after grazing on plant debris from cleared Bt cotton fields. A report compiled by research-based groups, veterinary scientists and local farmers’ associations showed that a total of 1820 sheep died in 4 villages in one region, after grazing in Bt cotton fields.

protest-827936_1280

In United States, in 2011, an estimated 75% of cotton in the U.S. was insect resistant (Bt) and 96% was herbicide tolerant. The most recent data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that herbicide use on cotton has risen from 2.1 kilograms a hectare in 1996, to 3.0 kilograms a hectare in 2010. Visit cban’s page in the reference below to see dozens of other resources working on cotton GMO issue.

Now how does this affect a normal cotton cloth wearer? First of all, consumer won’t know the clothes they are wearing is GMO or non-GMO because the labels don’t say that, unless it is made from organic cotton. Organic Cotton is always non-GMO.

A report published in The Telegraph, UK, on Oct 8th 2012, states that three quarters of the cotton clothes bought in Britain today are made from GMO crops, including items available in major High Street stores.

The studies have already proved now that the assumption about GMO cotton using fewer pesticides is not true.

Amy Leech, Soil Association research assistant in UK, explained that GM cotton can use dangerous pesticides and gives farmers little control over their own crop. She claimed that organic cotton uses less water and is a better deal for farmers. “Growing cotton is a toxic business; it uses a lot of pesticides – putting in peril the lives of women, men and children in cotton farming communities. 77 million cotton workers suffer poisonings from pesticides each year.”

The Organic Cotton Initiative is urging consumers to choose organic for environmental reasons. Organic and fairtrade cotton does not use GM.

Conventional cotton farming is one of the most environmentally destructive agricultural practices—harming the air, water, soil, and farmers’ health and safety. 

Organic farming is healthier and safer for farmers, fieldworkers, and nearby communities. Growing cotton organically also benefits small-scale farmers who don’t have the means to buy expensive pesticides. Organic cotton farming uses significantly less water and electric power than conventional cotton farming techniques.

Organic benefits everyone and it has so many long-term benefits. It sustains the whole world.

Resources:

http://www.cban.ca/Resources/Topics/GE-Crops-and-Foods-On-the-Market/Cotton/Genetically-Modified-Cotton-CBAN-Factsheet

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