Why GM Crops Will Not Feed the World

Biotech companies claim that GM crops offer better yields and lower pesticide use than non-GM crops; however, the results from the field suggest otherwise.

| September 2014

Sheldon Krimsky and Jeremy Gruber have compiled the best, most thought-provoking essays on genetically modified food by leading scientists, science writers and public health advocates in The GMO Deception (Skyhorse Publishing, 2014), offering a comprehensive look at the social, political and ethical implications of food-based biotechnology. This excerpt from "GMOs in the Developing World," contributed by Bill Freese, deals with the actual performance of GM crops as it compares to the claims made by biotech companies.

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: The GMO Deception.

Why GM Crops Will Not Feed the World

Last spring marked a tipping point for rising global food prices. Haiti’s prime minister was ousted amid rice riots; Mexican tortillas have quadrupled in price. African countries were hit especially hard. According to the World Bank, global food prices have risen a shocking 83 percent from 2005 to 2008. And for the world’s poor, high prices mean hunger. In fact, the food crisis recently prompted University of Minnesota food experts to double their projection of the number of the world’s hungry by the year 2025—from 625 million to 1.2 billion.

Many in the biotechnology industry seem to believe there’s a simple solution to the global food crisis: genetically modified (GM or biotech) crops. Biotech multinationals have been in media blitz mode ever since the food crisis first made headlines, touting miracle crops that will purportedly increase yields, tolerate drought, and cure all manner of ills.

Not everyone is convinced. The UN and World Bank recently completed an unprecedentedly broad scientific assessment of world agriculture, the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development, which concluded that biotech crops have very little potential to alleviate poverty and hunger. This four-year effort, which engaged some 400 experts from multiple disciplines, originally included industry representatives. Just three months before the final report was released, however, agrichemical seed giants Monsanto, Syngenta and BASF pulled out of the process, miffed by the poor marks given their favorite technology. This withdrawal upset even the industry-friendly journal Nature, which chided the companies in an editorial entitled “Deserting the Hungry?”

GM Crops: The Facts on the Ground

GM crops are heavily concentrated in a handful of countries with industrialized, export-oriented agricultural sectors. Nearly 90 percent of the world’s biotech acres in 2007 were found in just six countries of North and South America, with the US, Argentina and Brazil accounting for 80 percent. GM soybeans rule in South America, and Argentina and Brazil are known for some of the largest soybean plantations in the world. In most other countries, including India and China, biotech crops (mainly GM cotton) account for 3 percent or less of total harvested crop area.

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