Sunday, October 16, 2011

Thoughts on GMO crops

As today is the Blog Action Day of 2011 and the subject is food, I decided to write about GMO crops. I realized that I knew very little about them myself and I'd seen a lot of articles recently on the issue, so I'll try to sum up on that a bit.

I was a little bit taken aback when I read the links from this Swedish blog to articles in the most important newspaper in Sweden, DN (Dagens Nyheter). The articles were positive and, in fact, argue for less tight rules in Europe on GMO-crops (articles here and here). I guess I was very suprised as I have felt Sweden is very pro-organic and pro-ecological in every way so far... apparently not every one in Sweden is. Luckily, a blogger posted the answer from the environmental organization that DN didn't to publish for some reason (so typical!)

Anyhow, the answer very much contains the same informaton that I found from this movie on GMO crops (I found the movie from this Swedish blog). I very much recommend it if you have 1 h 30 min to spare! It's from 2004 but unfortunately still a hot topic today.

Some thoughts on the movie (Warning for spoilers if you want to watch it):

  • When I have googled GMO before, the company Monsato came up and I didn't get a good feeling, this movie definitely confirmed that this company makes big money on not so ethical grounds
  • How? Monsato patented their GMO-crop and, because a crop is a natural thing that reproduces itself, it contaminated other farmers' fields that had normal crops and, then, Monsato sued those farmers for using their patent. The person in the movie talks about "a disturbing economic trend" (no shit!).
    Now US wants to harmonize patents in the world, wonder why?
  • When people say GMO crops are safe, do they know that the way to make GMO-crops is very much the way viruses behave? It seems for example that rats that were fed only GMO-crops had an affected immunesystem; so how will it affect us?
  • GMO crops will also affect genetic biodiversity. For example, if we have one GMO crop that is resistant to a certain herbicide and 10 different normal crops that are not->which one do you think will survive? There is also GMO crops with a "suicide" gene, after one planting it will not be possible to use its seeds anymore. What if this one contaminates other plants? What sort of mess are we in then?
  • About 1:10 min into the movie they explain why the argument that GMO crops will help the hunger problem in the world is not correct:
    "The hunger problem is not a production problem but an access problem"
Luckily, in Europe our legislation is still pretty thight, I at least hope it stays that way. It seems that even in US where GMO crops are more widely spread it is not very popular, 87 % of Americans would like to have labels on food with GMO crops, and just a week ago I read this article on "how to protect your family from GMO".

This article was also very interesting "Deep thinking about the future of food" based on a analysis by scientists in University of Minnesota. There's a few points that I would like to highlight from the text:

  • For starters, the group argues that the conversion of forests and grasslands to agricultural use needs to stop now; the environmental damage we are doing chopping down the Amazon far exceeds the small gain in food production, it says.
  • increases in food supply need to come from existing farmland by a process of intensified production in regions where yields are low
  • If yields in these regions could be brought to within 75 percent of their known potential using modern farming methods, including fertilizer and irrigation, total global supply of major foodstuffs would expand by 28 percent, the paper found. If yields were brought to 95 percent of their potential, close to those achieved in rich countries, the supply increase would be a whopping 58 percent.
  • improve the efficiency of agriculture in places where yields are already high. If farmers in Africa need more fertilizer, farmers in the United States need less.
  • high yields can be attained with fewer chemicals and less water, which would not only cut pollution but in some cases also cut costs for farmers.
  • more of the food we grow needs to wind up on people’s plates. That means cutting food waste, not just the kind so common in Western kitchens but also the tremendous post-harvest losses caused by bad storage conditions in poor countries.

Luckily some consumers are clearly making a statement buying organic food. I wonder if this is also a reason why the trend of gardening on your own is growing. In UK I saw numerous books on how to make your own kitchen garden and this post confirms that it is also big in US to grow your own stuff. Stefan also showed me this link, of a Spanish company offering solutions and education on how to grow your own garden and plants.

Growing your own takes of course a bit more effort and time but I think it's worth it in the end and it might even be fun. I found yet another reason to stick to organic as much as possible and now I'm dreaming of a greenhouse...too bad the winter is so long in the nordics though:-(

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