GM Crops – Should we believe in them?

Tales of intimidation

My colleague Olivia recently came back from a rather disturbing GM Freeze talk by Percy Schmeiser.

Percy, is a farmer from Bruno, Saskatchewan in Canada, whose Canola (rape seed) fields were contaminated with Monsanto’s Round-Up Ready Canola. He became involved in a high-profile legal battle with Monsanto, lasting many years, during which time he claims he was subjected to 24-hour surveillance of his house and threatening phonecalls. He also claims that Monsanto bribed his neighbours, tried to enforce gagging orders making him agree never to take Monsanto to court again and employed gene police to encourage neighbours to report on each other.

His story is not, it seems, an isolated case. As a GM Watch ‘quiz’ posted on Food Democracy asks “What is the annual budget that Monsanto devotes to harassing, intimidating, suing – and in some cases bankrupting – American farmers over alleged improper use of its patented seeds? ANSWER: 10 million dollars.”

What is going on?

GM crops are patented crops which means that ownership accrues to the holder of the patent or Intellectual Property Right or ‘breeder’. Seeds used therefore have to be purchased year on year or a royalty payment must be made if seed is recycled. Since most crops entering the market are bred by private companies, ownership accrues to the company holding the patent – normally a small number of large corporations.
As a result “Patents and genetic modification mutually reinforce each other. Patents provide the commercial monopoly that enables companies to control markets and maximise profits.” (GM Freeze)

Since GM crops can never co-exist with non-GM crops of the same species without the risk of contaminating them, the indigenous seeds that farmers have developed over centuries are at risk. Meanwhile farmers with contaminated fields could end up being forced to pay royalties to companies that own the patents on the GM crops that contaminated their fields.

Food crisis – opportunity or challenge?

As Daniel Howden , the Africa Correspondent for the Independent, writes in his article Hope for Africa lies in political reforms the climate crisis was used to boost biofuels, helping to create the food crisis; and now the food crisis is being used to revive the fortunes of the GM industry.”

However the food crisis also presents us with an opportunity to highlight alternatives to the proposed GM ‘solutions,’ especially given the fact that climate change is one of the major factors contributing to the food crisis.

For years African farmers, in the face of inherently unreliable climatic patterns, have made use of different agrecological niches by choosing wetlands and drylands, different soil types and planting cereals, grain legumes and root crops often in the same fields on the understanding that not all crops were likely to fail simultaneously. This diversification of agricultural production minimizes their risk in the face of challenges such as climate change.

FYF empowers Malawian farmers to make sure that these farming skills aren’t lost. By taking control of their farming operation (including by seed-saving from one year to the next) and making sure that their voices are heard at a national level the farmers we work with being empowered to act as ‘Citizens’ in their society. Read more about how we are empowering Farmers as Citizens

Over the coming years this could prove particularly important. As John Vidal writes in the New Statesman Monsanto espies huge profits in places such as Malawi, where the whole country depends on maize. It’s not legal to sell GM there but even if it were, the chances of…small farmers, 90 per cent of the population, benefiting from it are utterly remote. Malawi is a land of conservative, uneducated and vulnerable farmers. They could not possibly afford the seeds or the herbicide, let alone take the risk. It would be criminal to ask them to.”



  1. Posted January 28, 2009 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

    very good,nice ptc

  2. Posted February 10, 2009 at 10:03 pm | Permalink

    Excellent article. There are so many issues with GM food. There was a recent uprising in the Basmati region of India because of some GM rice that was discovered to have been planted in the heart of the region. The local farmers, who understand that their livelihood is tied to the quality of the Basmati rice, quickly destroyed the GM demo plot. However, it does demonstrate the lack of oversight on these test plots and how Monsanto and other companies are treating GM crops (i.e., with little regard to the environmental or agricultural impacts to the local peoples).

    Keep it up, we need to inform people more about GM agriculture and its potential detriments.

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