Sunday, August 10, 2008

Genetically-modified hunger...

One of the more strained arguments for deploying GM technology world-wide over the wishes of detractors has been the promise of decreasing hunger.  That is a credible argument, but only in the first derivative: since GM crops are about corn, soy, canola and cotton, yield increases in these crops would free up acres to grow, you know, food.
By contrast, relatively little GM investment is going into the crops that do matter to poor farmers—cassava, sorghum, millet, pigeon pea, chickpea, and groundnut. These crops are more nutritionally balanced than corn or soybeans and are far better suited to the local soils and often-tough climates of poor nations. Yet, because poor farmers can't afford high-tech seeds, GM companies have little incentive to invest research dollars to improve "marginal" crops. Instead, they focus on the money makers: According to the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization, just four commercial crops—corn, soybeans, canola, and cotton—account for 85 percent of all GM crops planted worldwide. [More]

That's certainly not an indictment against GM crops, just an observation. While acceptance of GM is as American as bratwurst, it is not a panacea for most of the world.  At least, not yet.

When I was in Denmark, I spoke with a farmer who headed a large cooperative.  He was an impressive farm leader, and I was frankly taken aback by his antipathy toward Monsanto, as opposed to GMO's in general.  It seems to stem from legal action initiated by Monsanto in separate EU countries to force GM seed acceptance.  While the effort has been unsuccessful to date, one thing the litigation campaign did accomplish is shift this producer who was generally interesting in finding ways to introduce GM seeds to his operation into an adversary.

Surprisingly, more than one European producer acknowledged the disadvantage EU prohibitions have caused and more importantly, the competitive disadvantage this was saddling European producers with. We often forget how many small changes in our production techniques arose when we started planting GM seeds.  You don't just buy a bag of RR seed and catch up. EU growers now realize this.

What I can't understand is the over-the-top push. Biotech solves problems. Allowing farmers and consumers to discover this in their own time may not make the nearby quarterly profit forecasts as scintillating, but it could mean there would be more years of profit in the long run.

1 comment:

Ol James said...

"... more years of profit in the long run."
This last line of your post sums it up the best. Very interesting article and link Mr. John.
I have a question..With all the focus on the crop do you think they are forgetting about the weeds??
The best way to build up a tolerance is to be subjected to it. Are the weeds and grasses becoming more immune to the weed killers and other chemicals?? I saw on another Ag program how farmers are mixing different brands and chemicals together to help with the evasive species. Sometimes mixing the product stronger than the guidelines stipulated.
If Monsanto, Syngenta and other GM companies want to sell their seed. Let the CEO walk into a field and pick an ear and eat it right there on live TV. **(cliche warning!!)** The proof is in the pudding.