Artificial fortification of Nature

June 2019

One of the first GM 'decontaminations' by activists in the UK was carried out in 1999 when two field trials of 115 GM poplar trees were trashed.

The reasons given for this action were blunt:
"those who are manipulating the DNA of trees using a very powerful but dimly understood technology, show contempt for our planet and the life it supports, including human life".
Media warnings were succinct: GM trees could lead to "a silent spring in the forests of the future".

Until the activists struck, Britain was intent on becoming a world leader in GM trees.

A healthy cure for citrus greening

June 2019

For more than ten years, a majority of orange groves in Florida have been afflicted with 'citrus greening'.  The disease has devastated millions of acres of citrus crops throughout America and elsewhere.

The visual symptoms of citrus greening include short internodes (stem length between leaves), tiny leaves, asymmetric chlorosis (loss of green colour in leaves), flowering out of season, and leaf and fruit shedding.

Trees that succumb to this disease produce fruits that are green, misshapen and bitter.  They're unsuitable for sale as fresh fruit or for juice.  Most affected trees die within a few years.

Research into citrus greening has consumed well over $540 million of funding without a single recovered orange or cured tree to show for it.

Revolution, legend or myth

June 2019

The Legend of the Green Revolution in India

Once upon a time in India, there were too many people and their agriculture was too old-fashioned and burdensome to feed them all.  There was famine in the land, and so many were facing death from starvation that there were fears the people would soon be feeding on each other.

Then came the Green Revolution.  Modern high-yielding wheat and rice which only needed a dab of artificial fertiliser and pesticides to grow just about anywhere.  The foundations of this Revolution lay in crops with short stalks which didn't collapse under the weight of their great big yield.

Thus, a billion lives were saved, Indian peasants were freed from the drudgery of farming, and they all lived happily ever after.

Non-GM cotton to the rescue

June 2019

GM cotton in India has probably been the biotech industry No.1 success story.

When the Indian government liberalised the economy in the 1990s, it pulled back agricultural subsidies on fertilisers, pesticides, water and seeds. Shops which had previously stocked a limited range of public agricultural goods were suddenly flooded with new, private brands.One of these was 'Bt' insecticidal GM cotton seed which was allowed into India for cultivation in 2003, followed by an upgraded version in 2006.

Both the yield per hectare and the area under cotton expanded dramatically, and there was a reduction in insecticide use ... for a while.  From an initial three types of seed on the market, by 2019, there were more than 1,200.

India became one of the world's top producers and exporters of cotton fibre, and Monsanto's GM cotton seed technology now dominates 90% of India's cotton acreage.

That's the macro-economic picture.  It suggests Bt cotton is a runaway success with Indian farmers and is delivering a good yield.

Off-loading GM maize in South Africa

June 2019

A recent application for permission to sell and cultivate three types of GM maize in South Africa illustrates the biotech industry vision of the future Africa.

Corteva AgriScience (agricultural division of Dow DuPont) is seeking approval for three crops, all genetically transformed to tolerate 2,4-D herbicide using a gene which also confers tolerance to quizalofop herbicide.   Two of the new GM maize varieties are stacked with double genes for glyphosate herbicide tolerance (one of which seems to be an unintended mutant version of the other), and one of these is also stacked with two Bt insecticide-generating genes.  This sounds like a succession of increasingly stacked GM crops aimed at selling herbicides, with some Bt genes thrown in now and then to 'add value'.

Enslaving Africans again

June 2019

In 2005, the Head of the Ethiopian Environment Protection Authority suggested that GM crops would, once more, enslave the people of Africa.  Instead of being transported as slaves to grow crops in America, they would be forced to grow America's crops in African soil.

Also recognised even then was that the issue of GM food safety is a much bigger question in Africa than in the developed world.  This is because chronically malnourished people will be more susceptible to any harmful effects from their food.  In the case of GM maize, in particular, account must be taken of the quantities likely to be consumed: maize may be eaten three times a day by African populations, while it forms no more than two per cent of the American diet.

Indeed, the biotech industry's new frontier in GM crop expansion does appear to be Africa, and does appear to be focusing on GM maize.

Industry promises are, our course, yield, yield, yield, with a feel-good refrain of help the poor, feed the hungry, and improve efficiency and farmer livelihoods.

But, what does the GM-based agricultural dream model really offer the people and states of Africa?