GM – hor­ri­fy­ing food for thought

Central Leader - - NEWS -

It was a very sim­ple ques­tion lead­ing a re­cent col­umn: ‘‘Is our food healthy?’’ It sprang from the wor­ry­ing re­sults of re­search de­scribed as ‘‘strik­ing and sta­tis­ti­cally sig­nif­i­cant’’.

Now there’s more ev­i­dence – a dif­fer­ent re­search source, this time in New Zealand with more wor­ry­ing find­ings on the com­mer­cial vi­a­bil­ity of GM. First, re­cap­ping on that orig­i­nal worry over health from Dr Judy Car­man, ad­junct as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor at Flin­ders Univer­sity, Ade­laide.

She told us: ‘‘A ground­break­ing new study shows that pigs were harmed by the con­sump­tion of feed con­tain­ing ge­net­i­cally mod­i­fied (GM) crops. GM-fed fe­male pigs had, on aver­age, a 25 per cent heav­ier uterus than non-GM-fed fe­males, a pos­si­ble in­di­ca­tor of dis­ease that re­quires fur­ther in­ves­ti­ga­tion showed se­vere in­flam­ma­tion in stom­achs was markedly higher in pigs fed on the GM diet. Th­ese re­sults in real, on-farm con­di­tions, not in a lab­o­ra­tory, have with the added ben­e­fit of strict sci­en­tific con­trols not nor­mally present on farms. Pigs with th­ese health prob­lems end up in our food sup­ply. We eat them. Pigs have a sim­i­lar di­ges­tive sys­tem to peo­ple, so we need to in­ves­ti­gate if peo­ple are also get­ting di­ges­tive prob­lems from eat­ing GM crops. The new study lends sci­en­tific cred­i­bil­ity to anec­do­tal ev­i­dence from farm­ers and vet­eri­nar­i­ans who have for some years re­ported re­pro­duc­tive and di­ges­tive prob­lems in pigs fed on a diet con­tain­ing GM soy and corn (Booth col­umn for week of July 9).’’

Now from an­other sci­en­tific source, an­other sim­ple ques­tion with a wor­ry­ing an­swers: Do GM crops equal bet­ter yields? Univer­sity of Can­ter­bury re­searchers say ‘‘no’’. They have found that North Amer­i­can crop pro­duc­tion has fallen be­hind Western Europe through Amer­i­can farm­ers us­ing ge­net­i­cally mod­i­fied (GM) seed and more pes­ti­cide com­pared to non-GM use in Europe. The Can­ter­bury re­search team, led by Pro­fes­sor Jack Heine­mann, com­pared data on agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tiv­ity in North Amer­ica and Western Europe from the last 50 years. The two re­gions were com­pared as they are sim­i­lar in terms of the crops they grow, lat­i­tude and ac­cess to biotech­nol­ogy, mech­a­ni­sa­tion and ed­u­cated farm­ers.

‘‘We found that the com­bi­na­tion of non-GM seed and man­age­ment prac­tices used by Western Europe is in­creas­ing corn yields faster than GM-led pack­ages cho­sen by the US,’’ Pro­fes­sor Heine­mann says.

‘‘Our re­search showed rape­seed (canola) yields in­creas­ing faster in Europe with­out GM than in the GM-led pack­age cho­sen by Canada and de­creas­ing chem­i­cal her­bi­cide and even larger de­clines in in­sec­ti­cide use with­out sac­ri­fic­ing yield gains, while chem­i­cal her­bi­cide use in the US has in­creased with GM seed. Europe has learned to grow more food per hectare and use fewer chem­i­cals in the process. The Amer- ican choices in biotech­nol­ogy are caus­ing it to fall be­hind Europe in pro­duc­tiv­ity and sus­tain­abil­ity.’’

Pro­fes­sor Heine­mann says this raises the ques­tion whether New Zealand should adopt US farm­ing tech­niques – in­clud­ing GM-led biotech­nol­ogy – or should fol­low the high-per­for­mance agri­cul­ture demon­strated by Europe.

‘‘Agri­cul­ture re­sponds to com­mer­cial and leg­isla­tive in­cen­tive sys­tems. Th­ese take the form of sub­si­dies, in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty rights in­stru­ments, tax in­cen­tives, trade pro­mo­tions and reg­u­la­tion,’’ he says. ‘‘The in­cen­tive sys­tems in North Amer­ica are lead­ing to a re­liance on GM seeds and man­age­ment prac­tices that are in­fe­rior to those adopted un­der in­cen­tive sys­tems in Europe.

‘‘The de­crease in an­nual variation in yield sug­gests that Europe has a su­pe­rior com­bi­na­tion of seed and crop man­age­ment tech­nol­ogy and is bet­ter suited to with­stand weather vari­a­tions. This is im­por­tant be­cause an­nual vari­a­tions cause price spec­u­la­tions that can drive hun­dreds of mil­lions of peo­ple into food poverty. We need more than agri­cul­ture; we need agri­cul­tures, a di­ver­sity of prac­tices for grow­ing and mak­ing food that GM does not sup­port, we need sys­tems that are use­ful, not just profit-mak­ing biotech­nolo­gies – we need sys­tems that pro­vide a re­silient sup­ply to feed the world well,’’ he says.

The re­search re­sults have been pub­lished in the peer-re­viewed In­ter­na­tional Jour­nal of Agri­cul­tural Sus­tain­abil­ity. I have read the full re­port on its web­site. The statis­tics in­volved pin­point ma­jor changes in world farm­ing with GM as the lat­est tool – for bet­ter or worse! Ex­am­ple: Of the nearly 10,000 wheat va­ri­eties in use in China in 1949, only 1000 re­mained in the 1970s ... In the United States, 95 per cent of the cab­bage, 91 per cent of the field maize, 94 per cent of the pea and 81 per cent of the tomato va­ri­eties cul­ti­vated in the last cen­tury have been lost.

From col­umn reader Ida Short: ‘‘In­de­pen­dent sci­en­tific re­search has shown the harm caused by Ge­netic En­gi­neer­ing/Ge­netic Mod­i­fi­ca­tion (GE/GM) on the en­vi­ron­ment, soil, an­i­mals and hu­man health. Why are Mon­santo and sim­i­lar cor­po­ra­tions able to thrive de­spite the enor­mous harm caused by their GM food, feed and chem­i­cals? It’s no se­cret: Mon­santo con­trols US govern­ment along with the reg­u­la­tory bod­ies by brib­ing them.

‘‘In New Zealand, we see emerg­ing lo­cal Mon­san­tos, like the AgRe­search (GE an­i­mals), the Scion-Ar­borGen (GE pine trees) and Te Teko – Fon­terra (GE rye­grass for the pas­tures).

‘‘The National Govern­ment has poured tens of mil­lions of tax­pay­ers’ dollars into use­less and harm­ful tri­als with trans­genic pine trees, grasses and other plants and an­i­mals. There is al­ready enough ev­i­dence con­firm­ing danger­ous con­se­quences from such tri­als and GE prod­ucts for the en­vi­ron­ment and the pub­lic health. At the same time, the Govern­ment stopped fund­ing of the New Zealand or­ganic sec­tor in June, 2011. Some govern­ment of­fi­cials and most reg­u­lat­ing bod­ies lean to­wards multi-na­tion­als and th­ese com­pa­nies and their prof­its, rather than pro­tect­ing our en­vi­ron­ment and peo­ple. New Zealand Soil and Health As­so­ci­a­tion in­for­ma­tion points to wide­spread use of GE feed for dairy cat­tle, pigs and poul­try – ba­si­cally soy, corn, maize and cot­ton­seed. In 2012, New Zealand im­ported about 200,000 tones of GE soy, ba­si­cally from Ar­gentina, the main pro­ducer of GE crops.

‘‘Thou­sands of tons of poul­try ma­nure are spread on the pas­tures, con­tam­i­nat­ing them and soil the soil with GE tox­ins. Se­vere ad­verse ef­fects of GE feed­ing go through the food chain and af­fect hu­mans. Peo­ple con­sume cat­tle meat, poul­try and dairy prod­ucts with GE tox­ins – hav­ing no idea about their pres­ence in the food with­out cor­rect la­belling.

‘‘In New Zealand, at least 70 food lines use GE in­gre­di­ents such as soy, corn, maize canola oil and oth­ers. The pub­lic con­sumes the toxic pro­cessed food ev­ery day be­cause GE in­gre­di­ents aren’t dis­closed on the la­bels. The Govern­ment al­lows hid­ing data about GE in­gre­di­ents in food. Govern­ment of­fi­cials stub­bornly ig­nore mul­ti­ple pub­lic re­quests for fair la­belling, danger­ous GE tri­als and other GE is­sues. Prob­a­bly they for­got that they are the pub­lic’s ser­vants but not the pub­lic’s ar­ro­gant bosses.’’

Ida sug­gests fol­low­ing web­sites: gefree.org.nz, or­gan­icnz.org, re­spon sibletech­nol­ogy.org/faqs, prorev.com/ge­netic.htm.

I’m wor­ried – are you?

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