Seeds of Doubt:
North American farmers' experiences of GM crops
Soil Association 17sep02
[ Press release below ]
The Seeds of Doubt report was written by Gundula Meziani and Hugh Warwick. It was launched in 13 different countries on the 17th September 2002.
The UK government and farming community will soon make a fundamental long-term decision: whether to allow genetically modified (GM) crops to be commercially grown in the UK. The picture the biotechnology industry has painted of GM crops in North America is one of unqualified success, after six years of commercial growing. The objective of this report was to assess whether this image is accurate and if not what problems have occurred. We present interviews with North American farmers about their experiences of GM soya, maize and oilseed rape, and review of some of the independent research.
The evidence we have gathered demonstrates that GM food crops are far from a success story. In complete contrast to the impression given by the biotechnology industry, it is clear that they have not realised most of the claimed benefits and have been a practical and economic disaster. Widespread GM contamination has severely disrupted GM-free production including organic farming, destroyed trade and undermined the competitiveness of North American agriculture overall. GM crops have also increased the reliance of farmers on herbicides and led to many legal problems.
Six years after the first commercial growing of GM crops, the use of genetic engineering in global agriculture is still limited. Only four countries including the US and Canada grow 99 per cent of the GM crops grown worldwide, and just four crops account for 99 per cent of the global area planted to GM crops. In the UK, we have a choice over whether to remain GM-free.
Our findings show that GM crops would obstruct the government from meeting its policy objective that farming should become more competitive and meet consumer requirements. It would also prevent it from honouring its public commitment to ensure that the expansion of organic farming is not undermined by the introduction of GM crops. The Soil Association believes this report will contribute towards a more balanced and realistic debate on the likely impacts of GM crops on farming in the UK and assist an informed decision on the commercialisation of GM crops.
The direct impacts of GM crops on farmers in North America are examined in chapters 3 –6 , 8 and 9. Many of the claimed benefits have not been seen in practice and several unforeseen problems have emerged:
The profitability of growing GM herbicide tolerant soya and insect resistant Bt maize is less than non-GM crops, due to the extra cost of GM seed and because lower market prices are paid for GM crops
The claims of increased yields have not been realised overall except for a small increase in Bt maize yields. Moreover the main GM variety (Roundup Ready soya) yields 6 –11 per cent less than non-GM varieties
GM herbicide tolerant crops have made farmers more reliant on herbicides and new weed problems have emerged. Farmers are applying herbicides several times; contrary to the claim that only one application would be needed. Rogue GM oilseed rape plants ('volunteers ') have become a widespread problem in Canada
Farmers have suffered a severe reduction in choice about how they farm as a result of the introduction of GM crops. Some are finding themselves locked into growing GM crops.
In chapter 7 we look at GM contamination, which has been the single greatest problem. Widespread GM contamination has occurred rapidly and caused major disruption at all levels of the agricultural industry, for seed resources, crop production, food processing and bulk commodity trading. It has undermined the viability of the whole North American farming industry:
Contamination has caused the loss of nearly the whole organic oilseed rape sector in the province of Saskatchewan, at a potential cost of millions of dollars. Organic farmers are struggling practically and economically; many have been unable to sell their produce as organic due to contamination
All non-GM farmers are finding it very hard or impossible to grow GM-free crops. Seeds have become almost completely contaminated with GMOs, good non-GM varieties have become hard to buy, and there is a high risk of crop contamination
Because of the lack of segregation, the whole food processing and distribution system has become vulnerable to costly and disruptive contamination incidents. In September 2000, just one per cent of unapproved GM maize contaminated almost half the national maize supply and cost the company, Aventis, up to $1 billion.
The economic impact of GM crops is the focus of chapter 10. GM crops have been an economic disaster. As well as the lower farm profitability, GM crops have been a market failure internationally. Because of the lack of segregation, they have caused the collapse of entire exports to Europe and a loss of trade with Asia:
Within a few years of the introduction of GM crops, almost the entire $300 million annual US maize exports to the EU and the $300 million annual Canadian rape exports to the EU had disappeared, and the US share of the world soya market had decreased
US farm subsidies were meant to have fallen over the last few years. Instead they rose dramatically, paralleling the growth in the rea of GM crops. The lost export trade as a result of GM crops is thought to have caused a fall in farm prices and hence a need for increased government subsidies, estimated at an extra $3 – $5 billion annually
In total GM crops may have cost the US economy at least $12 billion net from1999 to 2001.
GM contamination has led to a proliferation of lawsuits and the emergence of complex legal issues (chapter 11 ):
One of the most unpleasant outcomes of the introduction of GM crops has been the accusations of farmers infringing company patent rights. A non-GM farmer whose crop was contaminated by GMOs was sued by Monsanto for $400,000
While biotechnology companies are suing farmers, farmers themselves are turning to the courts for compensation from the companies for lost income and markets as a result of contamination. In Canada, a class action has been launched on behalf of the whole organic sector in Saskatchewan for the loss of the organic rape market.
Farmers ' response
The severe market problems have led many North American farmers to seriously question the further development of GM crops (chapters 10 and 11 ):
Many US farm organisations have been urging farmers to plant non-GM crops this year
The US and Canadian National Farmers Unions, American Corn Growers Association, Canadian Wheat Board, organic farming groups and more than 200 other groups are lobbying for a banor moratorium on the introduction of the next major proposed GM food crop, GM wheat
With the support of several farming organisations, federal legislation was tabled in Congress in May 2002 ,to introduce GM labelling and liability rules in the US.
A full copy of the report can be purchased from the Soil Association website www.soilassociation.org
GM CROPS ARE ECONOMIC DISASTER SHOWS NEW REPORT
EMBARGOED UNTIL 11.00AM TUESDAY 17 SEPTEMBER
Genetically modified crops have been an economic disaster in the USA and
Canada according to a new report published by the Soil Association.
The Soil Association estimates that GM soya, maize and oilseed rape could have cost the US economy $12 billion (£8 billion) since 1999 in farm subsidies, lower crop prices, loss of major export orders and product recalls. Farmers are not achieving the higher profits promised by the biotechnology companies as markets for GM food collapse. Widespread GM contamination at all levels of the food and farming industry is the major cause of these difficulties.
Severe problems with GM crops has led to over 200 groups representing farmers and the organic sector in the USA and Canada to call for a ban or moratorium on the introduction of the next major proposed GM food crop, GM wheat. Some politicians in the USA are so concerned that in May this year, legislation was introduced to Congress to address the economic, market and legal issues.
The Soil Association's report is the first to reveal the serious widespread impacts of GM crops in North America on the food and farming industry, where three-quarters of the world's GM food is grown. It is the most comprehensive review of the situation to be produced from a non-biotechnology industry perspective.
Peter Melchett, the Soil Association's Policy Director said: "A decision will be made next year whether to allow GM crops to be grown commercially in the UK. With agriculture still suffering a deep economic crisis, the temptation to seize a new technology is great.
"GM was introduced to the USA when farmers were financially vulnerable. The biotechnology industry's claims that their products would bring benefits were widely accepted, but GM crops have now proved to be a financial liability. Growing GM crops in the UK will undermine the competitiveness of British agriculture.
"We hope farmers in the UK will take our findings seriously. Most of the world is GM-free and there is no market for GM crops in the EU.
"The Soil Association hopes that this report will result in a better informed public debate, and a more independent, less pressurised decision about the possible commercial growing of GM crops in the UK. We can still avoid the mistakes made in the USA and Canada, but only if we don't open the can of GM worms that commercial growing of GM crops represents.
"The Government is publicly committed to ensuring that the expansion of
organic farming is not undermined by GM crops - our report shows that the two
Seeds of doubt: experiences of North American farmers of genetically modified crops, is available from the Soil Association Mail Order Department on 0117 929 0661, firstname.lastname@example.org or from http://www.soilassociation.org/gm price £12.
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0117 914 2448 or email@example.com.
- Over the three years 1999, 2000 and 2001, the USA paid out an estimated total extra $10 billion (£6.5 billion) in farm subsidies for maize and soya (as 'Loan Deficiency Payments' and 'Market Loss Assistance') as a result of the low prices caused by the loss of trade due to GM crops. The loss of foreign trade due to GM crops totalled an estimated $1-2 billion (£0.6 billion - £1 billion) . The StarLink incident has cost an estimated $1 billion (£0.6 billion) including the product recall.
- GM oilseed rape, maize, soya and cotton have been grown commercially in North America since 1996. They are all used in vegetable oils and animal feed, and soya is widely used in processed food.
- The report is based on interviews with organic and conventional farmers in the Mid-West states of America in January and February 2002, as well as evidence from independent academics, advisers and industry analysts in the USA and Canada.
- Nestle, Unilever and Heinz, plus the major UK supermarkets have a ban on GM food ingredients in own brand products. Many are now using GM-free animal feed.
- GMOs are prohibited in organic farming and food processing in view of their incompatibility with the principles of organic agriculture, their unrecallable nature and the potential risks they pose to the environment and human health.
- Lower profits for farmers growing GM crops: The profitability of growing GM herbicide tolerant soya and insect-resistant Bt maize is less than non-GM crops. This is due to the extra cost of GM seed (which can be up to 40% higher), the lower market prices paid for GM crops, and reduced soya yields.
- Collapse of export markets: within a few years of the introduction of GM crops, almost the entire $300 million (£200 million) annual US maize exports to the EU and the $300 million annual Canadian rape exports to the EU had disappeared due to market rejection. The US share of the world soya market has decreased while non-GM producing countries have seen an increase.
- Increase in government subsidies: US farm subsidies were meant to have fallen over the last few years. Instead they rose dramatically, paralleling the growth in GM crops. The lost export trade as a result of GM crops is thought to have caused a fall in crop prices and a need for increased government subsidies, estimated at an extra $3-$5 billion (£2 - £3 billion) annually.
- Lower yields: the claims of increased yields have not been realised overall except for a small increase in Bt maize yields. The main GM variety (Roundup Ready soya) yields 6-11% less than non-GM varieties. A farmer in Mississippi was awarded over $165,000 (£100,000) in damages from Monsanto for low GM soya yields.
- Widespread contamination of non-GM crops: contamination has caused major problems throughout the food and farming industry in just a couple of years, including the loss of nearly the whole organic oilseed rape sector in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan. Non-GM seeds varieties are difficult to buy, and even these may turn out to be contaminated. Those who are successful in sourcing non-GM seeds risk having their crops contaminated by neighbouring GM fields. Many organic and other GM-free maize farmers have lost sales or received lower prices because of contamination at a potential cost of over $90 million (£60 million) annually.
- Premiums for non-GM crops: farmers who are successfully growing non-GM crops are reaping benefits, with one farmer reporting that organic soya is selling at a 200 per cent premium.
- A proliferation of lawsuits and the emergence of complex legal issues: biotechnology companies are suing many farmers for infringing company patent rights, saying that they have unlicensed GM plants on their land. A non-GM farmer whose crop was contaminated by GMOs was sued by Monsanto for $400,000 (£260,000). Farmers are turning to the courts for compensation from the companies for lost income and markets as a result of contamination. In Canada, legal action has been launched by the organic sector in Saskatchewan because they cannot supply the organic rape market with GM-free rape, which could cost biotechnology companies millions of dollars.
- Increased use of herbicides: Contrary to claims from the biotechnology industry, farmers are now more reliant on herbicides (weedkillers). Certain crops have been engineered to be resistant to specific herbicides to enable farmers to spray weeds without damaging crops. Although it was claimed that only one application would be needed per crop, several are being made. In addition, weeds are developing resistance to these herbicides, and rogue GM plants that grow after a harvest (volunteers) have appeared and spread widely. In particular, GM oilseed rape volunteers– the GM crop most likely to be introduced in the UK – have spread quickly, and some plants have become resistant to several herbicides through cross pollination. As a result, farmers are making more frequent applications and reverting to older and more toxic chemicals.
- GM food recalls: the most expensive recall concerned GM Starlink which was approved for animal feed, but not human consumption. However, it was found in food products such as taco shells and the recall cost to Aventis is estimated to be up to $1 billion (£0.5 billion). In 1998, cross-pollination from GM maize was suspected of contaminating organic maize in Texas. This was only discovered once the maize was shipped to Europe as organic tortilla chips, costing the small company more than $150,000 (£100,000).
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