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GM Crops - a solution for over-population?

GM crops are being seen as an “answer” to human overpopulation, a “big Australia” and a way of securing food for the future. The global challenge is to produce 70% more food in the next 40 years. GM has the potential to increase hunger around the globe.

Greenpeace has been accused of being anti-science over the destruction of experimental GM wheat trials in Canberra earlier this year.

GM crops are being seen as an “answer” to human overpopulation, a “big Australia” and a way of securing food for the future.

Greenpeace's senior scientists, Dr Janet Cotter, says she thinks the big issue with GM is crop contamination.  She says we are seeing lots of canola contamination in Australia, and in wheat trials overseas we are seeing contamination of cropsThe insertion of genes into the genome causes unexpected and unpredictable results such as allergies - allergies are proteins and in peer reviewed studies protein introduced into a pea plant, have caused allergen problems.

Population challenges

Population growth in developing countries generates a huge challenge to food and nutrition security, with 93 per cent of world growth expected to occur in those countries while arable land is being reduced by land degradation and climate change. The global challenge is to produce 70% more food in the next 40 years. Of course, it's offensive to cultural, economic and religious sensitivities to keep within our ecological limits?

The success of the Green Revolution at feeding Asia’s growing population is touted across the world as a triumph of modern humanity over the limitations of nature and traditional farming. The Green Revolution is shuddering to a controversial halt precisely, when greater productivity is needed.  Dr Bourlag's “population monster” is rearing it's ugly head!

Dangers of GM

Lack of research done to detect any effect this herbicide and insecticide DNA might have on human health. Over the years we have had some horrific side-effects from the use of chemicals that had been researched for 10 years and later proved to be cancer-causing or dangerous to pregnant women. They were then withdrawn from the market.
GM has the potential to increase hunger around the globe. This jars with people's logic (and defies brilliant marketing campaigns by the GM industry) but the companies responsible for producing food globally could actually cause further food scarcity. The International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development reported that
instead of allowing farmers to save and reuse seeds as they have done for generations, they will be required to purchase new seeds each year.

GM companies claim that their seeds will feed the poor, when in fact their only goal is greater profits.  GM canola can cross-pollinate with a number of other species, and eating such resulting crops would decertify organic livestock as well.

Shady agro-giant, that food-world Voldemort, Monsanto in the 1990s sold Indian farmers, stricken by drought and poverty, were so entranced by Monsanto's promises of wealth that they take on debt, at local moneylenders' extortionate rates, to buy the GM seed hundreds of times more expensive than traditional seed. 

French researchers found rats fed GM maize showed
significant liver and kidney damage. The findings only came to light after Monsanto was forced to publish its raw data on safety tests by anti-GM campaigners. Dr Seralini concluded that rats which ate the GM maize had ' statistically significant' signs of liver and kidney damage.

Scientists at Scotland's Rowett Institute found intestinal and immune system damage to rats fed GM potatoes. Even though some lectins are highly toxic to humans, the developers of the GM potato believed that it would be toxic to insects, nematodes and fungi without harming mammals. To his surprise and alarm Dr. Arpad Pusztai, a Hungarian immigrant to Scotland, found that rats fed the GM potato suffered damage to their immune system and digestive system.

Canadian gynaecologists have found insect toxins from GM plants in the blood of pregnant women and their foetuses.  The researchers suggest that the most
probable source of the toxin is GM food consumed
as part of a normal diet in Canada, where GM presence in food is unlabelled.

Africa's solution to drought and crop diseases may be in growing genetically engineered crops specifically tuned to resist weather conditions and mature quickly. This could result in saving crops from losses of harvests, which are followed by hunger and starvation. Nearly 200 million people in Africa are undernourished.  At present, most African countries cannot advance GM crop research because national policies or regulatory systems are not prepared to deal with safety requirements. Only South Africa and Nigeria have a specific policy for biotechnology.

Facing a growing number of people in need of food aid, the Kenyan government gazetted existing legislation in August that allows for the importation of genetically modified (GM) crops as well as for the cultivation of GM food crops within Kenya.

Teresa Anderson, of the Gaia foundation, which partners with the African biodiversity network to prevent the industrial commoditisation of the continent’s agriculture, says Kenyan farmers’ opposition to the new legislation is a testament to how devastating GM could be for their farming practises. Farmer would no longer be able to save their seeds for the next planting season, and would be in possession of a patented product.

decline of bees

The decline of honeybees around the world continues to puzzle scientists. Australia is the only continent that has been spared the mite but it may soon be here.

The genetic modification leads to the concurrent genetic modification of the flower pollen. When the pollen becomes genetically modified or sterile, the bees will become malnourished and die of illness due to the lack of nutrients and the interruption of the digestive capacity of what they feed on.  Digestive shutdown due to hard material in the digestive tract compromises the immune system and points to GMO flower pollen.

Russian Scientists Find Third Generation of Hamsters Sterilized by GM Soy.  One group of hamsters was fed a normal diet without any soy whatsoever, a second group was fed non-GMO soy, a third ate GM soy, and a fourth group ate an even higher amount of GM soy than the third.

 Using the same genetically modified (GM) soy that is produced on over 90 percent of the soy acreage in the US, the hamsters and their offspring were fed their respective diets over a period of two years, during which time the researchers evaluated three generations of hamsters.  GM crops, instead of being a solution to feeding a blow-out of global population growth, could actually solve the overpopulation crisis.

Nearly all the third generation GMO babies were sterile!

While Australia is in a more fortunate position than many other countries, our natural environment, our biodiversity and our agricultural resources are already under strain from the demands of our current population. To restore sustainability to our landscapes and waters, we need to reduce the demands on them.

UN Millenium Development Goals failing

The U.N.'s Millenium Development Goals has been trying to eradicate poverty, with a program that started in 2000, and the goal is supposed to met in 2015. However, the world is still at 2 billion people who make less than $2 a day. The problem is: overpopulation causes poverty and hunger, and makes nations vulnerable to corruption. If you tackle reproductive rights first, it's the first step in addressing poverty and food security.

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My impression is that GM crops simply haven't lived up to all the hype they've been loaded with. Thousands of years of conventional selective breeding have already pushed the envelope close the maximum possible yield, limiting the possible improvements you get from genetic modification. But the vague promise they present feeds the hopes of those who regard population stabilization as a wrong-headed and misguided, and perhaps evil, goal, and that technology will allow the human population to increase forever (ironically their idol Normal Borlaug advocated population stabilization himself).

GM crops are being seen as an “answer” to a way of securing food for the future.
Are they – show me some evidence of where scientists are saying this. They certainly say that transgenic technology is an important tool – among the many other plant breeding tools at their disposal. They also acknowledge – even Monsanto – that poverty, wastage, corruption, war, and other social factors are also significant barriers to our attempts to have a secure food supply.

The insertion of genes into the genome causes unexpected and unpredictable results such as allergies.

Conventional plant breeding also carries this risk, and it has happened and conventional varieties have been removed from sale because of it. It hasn’t occurred with any GM product, yet. One of the reasons for this is that they must check via metabolomic analysis to see if the inserted gene has caused any genetic disruptions that led to an increase in natural and existing allergenic or toxic proteins. They must also check that the protein from the novel (transgene) is also non-toxic, non-allergenic, etc.

Dangers of GM

I noticed you didn’t mention that all of the papers you present as evidence of the dangers of GM have either not been peer-reviewed and have serious flaws or have issues with their statistical analysis. You also don’t mention, as context, the couple of hundred peer-reviewed papers that show no issues with the transgenic technologies.

Decline of bees?

Where is your evidence for any GM crop being responsible or partly responsible for the colony collapse disorder – which has occurred in countries and regions where no GM crops are grown?

As for an issue with Monsanto or the corportisation of our food - fair enough. But that is an issue with how the technology is being used, rather than the technology itself. There is no doubt there are risks with transgenic technologies when applied to plant breeding, but so too there are risks with conventional plant breeding. It boils down to how an individual defines safe, and what is acceptable risk, something that will differ for each of us.

Jason Major, Manager, TechNyou,
University of Melbourne

US bees are dying from antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, likely to be the result of widespread genetically modified (GM) crops. Pollen from GM crops affect bees adversely and weaken their immune systems. With their weakened immune systems, bees cannot withstand veroa mite outbreaks ... and so they die.

Herbicide resistant GM canola (oilseed rape) in Europe has cross-bred with other members of the brassica family to produce herbicide resistant weeds.

GM crops created superweed, say scientists in the Guardian of 25 Jul 05.

Many GM crop varieties are given genes that allow them to resist a specific herbicide, which farmers can then apply to kill the weeds while allowing the GM crop to thrive.

re: superweeds. Yes, you are correct that the development of herbicide-tolerant (HT) crops can lead to the increased use of a particular herbicide and consequently increase the risk of resistance build up in related weeds. Those herbicide-tolerant crops also have the potential to transfer those herbicide-tolerant genes to related weeds, exacerbating the problem further. But this is not a GM issue as such, because in Australia, at least we have two varieties non-GM canola that are herbicide tolerant and one of these has the same risk of being able to transfer its herbicide tolerant trait to weeds. So the same risks apply. It requires effective agronomic management - eg correct use of the herbicide, proper crop and herbicide rotation...and so on. You will also find this development of superweeds occurs simply by the reliance and incorrect use of a particular herbicide. We have an issue of glyphosate resistance in Australia, a problem that was occurring well before herbicide-tolerant crops came onto the scene. If the farmers follows best-practice agronomics herbicide resistance and super weeds from the use of HT crops can be managed. I guess the caveat is, will Australian farmers follow proper agronomic management? So far, from what I understand, they seem to have done so with the non-GM herbicide tolerant varieties.
Jason, TechNyou, University of Melbourne

It seems to me that the biggest problem with GM crops is their proprietary component. No-one can own traditionally bred seeds, but US and other national laws have permitted laboratory-bred seeds to be 'patented'. The consequences of this are absolutely huge, with Monsanto now infamous for prosecuting to bankruptcy and dispossession farms accidentally contaminated with Monsanto seeds, for failure to pay for the right to 'use' those seeds. It is the perpetuation of this capitalisation of nature that threatens us all. There have been a number of very good films on this legal and food supply problem, which I hope others will supply links to to save me the trouble. :-)

Whilst TechNyou's argument about superweeds has merit, it seems to me that it overlooks some higher ecological risks. Although industrial genetic manipulation of plants and other animals mimics natural and traditional breeding trends and experiments, I don't think anyone could deny that it speeds up and repeatedly fosters trends on a scale unusual in nature. The impact of artificially creating 'super-breeds' of plant or animal and churning these out in great quantities at great rates has a higher potential to disrupt agricultural ecologies and natural ecologies than natural plant variations. David Pimentel, professor of Agriculture at the University of Cornell, has observed that most natural populations of species are actually very small, however humans have engineered very large populations of certain species which greatly change the natural diversity and local ecological balance.


In Pimentel, “Population Regulation and Genetic Feedback”.[1] The author identifies a number of rules. One is that most species are quite rare, relatively or ‘by whatever criterion they are judged’.[2] This rule helps to construct the idea that huge numbers involved in overshoot by a species are probably rare and do not last for long. Another is that nearly all animals feed off live material. This observation is important because dead material cannot evolve genetically in response to predation. Pimentel describes field observations and laboratory tests which show that predated populations evolve in response to a particular predator “only if the numbers of the animal are sufficient to exert some selective pressure on the host.” Using a variety of examples, he observes that the dominant control mechanism operating initially is “competition” (meaning selection), “but genetic feedback became dominant with time and through evolution.” [1]Pimentel, D, (March 1968) [2] Andrewartha, H.G. and Birch, L.C., (1954), and Darwin, Charles, (1859) in Pimentel, D. (March 1968), p.1433.

"If more GM crops could be propagated and distributed globally, with a human sterilising hormone, the natural world would over a few sterile human generations start breathing again. In four generations, there would be sustainable paradise - perhaps a million humans globally?"

Candobetter Ed. I published the above anonymous comment because, apart from showing the despair that human population growth engineering causes, it presents an interesting question of the possibility of engineered risk in globalised GM crops. Traditional local and regional plant breeding practices, even if they were able to produce such a quality in plants, would not be released on the industrial scale and global scale of high-tech GM. How would you engineer such a quality? A more common risk from massive scale privately owned GM crops is starvation and enslavement, if people are unable to pay for these seeds and plants that are being foisted on us with the assistance of undemocratic governments.

In the mean-time please look at the new article plus a new on-line film on OGM patents risks, "Farmers and Seed Sellers sue Monsanto to protect themselves from patents on genetically modified seed"about a class action in the US to protect farmers' and ordinary citizens' rights against the abuse of patents.

You are correct that for many people, farmers included, there is an issue with the intellectual property attached to the transgenic seed (though there is similar proprietary stuff attached to non-GM seeds, so it isn’t strictly a GM issue). Nor is this strictly limited to seeds – try processed foods, oil, electronics, cars, etc. I guess it boils down to an economic decision for the farmer as to whether he will grow the GM or non-GM version. Economics is not my area of expertise so I am unable to offer a better solution. I can say, however, that a lot of the intellectual property for crops in the research phase and that could soon be on the market if all goes to plan will be held with public institutions such as universities and similar research groups, though they ultimately have to partner with industry as it is very expensive to get a crop from field trials through all the regulatory hoops and hurdles to a crop approved for commercial planting. There are other GM crops such as the biofortified crops eg Golden Rice, or an iron-enriched rice being researched here at University of Melbourne that will either have the royalty/technology fee waived or in the case of the iron-rich rice there will be no patents attached to the technology behind the crop, so it will also be distributed fee-free to those in the countries it is required – at least that is the plan. But, at the moment we are stuck with the majority of commodity crops seeds in the hands of a powerful few.

Re: your second point. I am unsure how you can suggest transgenic breeding speeds up changes in plants anymore than traditional breeding technologies such as mutagenesis or plant embryo rescue. In fact, there a few recent papers showing that mutagenesis, at least, disrupts and warps a plant’s genome significantly more and in more unpredictable ways than transgenics. Embryo rescue allows us to force the cross of two plants that would never be able to cross in nature. We can also select offspring with the specific genes that we want because we know the sequence of those genes and identify the individual plants with those genes. In fact nature is likely to have greater genetic variation than any carefully controlled crop species.

If indeed such “churning out of super breeds will disrupt agricultural and natural ecologies’ then the risk of it happening is equally likely with traditional breeding technologies. Although I would argue that agriculture full stop regardless of how you bred the crops has the largest ecological footprint of any human activity and is of far greater concern than any potential ecological risk (real or perceived) from transgenics. For example, the clearing of land, diverting water from rivers, applying artificial fertiliser, destroying predators and other pests of agriculture (via sprays and other poisons), cultivation of fragile soils, overgrazing of livestock....and so on, have far greater environmental issues attached to them than how a plant is bred.

Jason, Manager TechNyou, University of Melbourne -

18/11/2011 -
Western Australia's non-genetically modified (GM) grain sector could vanish within the next 10 years due to contamination from GM crops, some farmers and conservation groups fear.
- Rebecca Le May
Nic Dunlop, environmental science and policy co-ordinator for the Conservation Council of WA, says feral GM canola plants have been found on road verges in the state's Esperance district some 20 kilometres away from the nearest GM crop.

The discovery shows that the requirement for a five-metre gap between GM and non-GM crops under the state government's limited commercial-size trials is ineffective.

The main purpose of the trials is to assess whether segregation is possible.

Dr Dunlop said GM-free canola could be a thing of the past in WA by the next decade, given that eight per cent of roadside plants recently sampled by the Conservation Council in the Esperance region were GM, only one year into the trial.

"It doesn't matter what you're doing on the farm - the trucks are spreading it around the countryside," Dr Dunlop told reporters.

Canola seed is very fine, so it falls through holes in trucks.

This is evident by the abundance of GM canola "fugitives" in areas where road vibration is high such as grates and bumps, Dr Dunlop said.

Janet Cotter, senior scientist at Greenpeace's University of Exeter-based science unit, said she suspected WA's feral canola population would be entirely GM within a few years.

Dr Cotter warned that the "tolerance" level for GM contamination in non-GM canola - 0.9 per cent - would rise incrementally with each year the trials were held.

However, WA Agriculture and Food Minister Terry Redman says he's confident the level of gene-flow between canola crops will remain acceptable.

Redman said a five-metre gap between crops to keep GM contamination under 0.9 per cent was the benchmark standard in Australia and was "more than sufficient".

"I'm talking 0.01 per cent - nothing near 0.9 per cent," Redman told reporters.

He rejected assertions by anti-GM groups that grain customers in Japan wanted GM-free products, which attracted a premium price.

The Japanese benchmark tolerance level for GM contamination was much higher at five per cent, he added.

Redman said the non-GM market in Japan was small and WA would continue to be able to supply those customers.

On a recent trip to Japan, only one out of half a dozen importers of WA grain had raised concerns about the GM trials, Redman said.

"They are saying `we are happy with segregation arrangements and we're happy that we are able, if we choose to meet our consumer needs and import non-GM canola from WA'.

"It is simply a furphy to say that what we've done in WA ... is a barrier to trade in the Japanese market."

Janette Liddlelow, a non-GM grain farmer in the WA Wheatbelt town of Williams, argued that the sector was more significant than Redman claimed.

Liddlelow also said the minister had failed to deliver on a handful of conditions to the trial, including a public register of GM growers, mandatory random audits of GM farms and GM-free marketing zones.

There was angst in Williams, where non-GM farmers wondered whether their neighbours were growing GM crops.

Williams became the centre of the GM contamination debate in August when a truck spilled 15 tonnes of GM-canola onto a highway near the town.

Liddlelow said the threat of contamination meant the choice to not grow GM grain had been taken away from farmers.

"It's very difficult to co-exist," she told reporters.

"You'd be pretty concerned about signing any long-term contracts."

Source: AAP NewsWire

University of Oxford professor of plant science Chris Leaver said better quality crops are needed to feed the world’s growing population.

“Earth's population will reach nine billion by 2040. We need crops that offer better nutritional quality, can withstand drought, use fertiliser more efficiently and resist diseases and pests. GM can contribute to achieving that,” Prof Leaver said.

Despite the potential to feed millions of starving people, African governments have been cautious in allowing GM foods to enter their countries.

According to the CSIRO, when it comes to our food supply, the world’s population could reach 9 billion by 2050. The global challenge is to produce 70% more food in the next 40 years. It means that we must accept the consequences.

In Australia we’ve been growing and consuming GM products for at least 15 years, with GM cotton and carnations grown commercially since 1996 and GM canola since 2008.

Our lax labelling laws make it almost impossible to avoid GM foods. Most processed foods contain at least one ingredient derived from soya, corn or canola.

-Certified organic food should be free from GM ingredients.

-Greenpeace has issued a Truefood Guide with a “green list” of brands that actively avoid ingredients from GM crops and a “red list” of those that may allow GM ingredients to contaminate their supply.

-Some manufacturers volunteer information about GM on the label – though very few foods actually claim to be “GM-free”

Cottonseed oil is often used for frying by fast food outlets or as an ingredient in foods such as mayonnaise (it’s labelled simply as “vegetable oil”).

See also: Genetically modified food risks in Choice magazine of 17&nbsp:Feb 10.