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By Liliane Spendeler
The transgenic crops and foods currently marketed do not present outstanding advantages for the farmer and none for the consumer, instead they present risks to the environment and the survival of a non-transgenic agriculture.
Biotech companies have invested billions in recent years in the development of genetically modified - or transgenic - crops, thus inventing plants with genes from other species and new characteristics. These varieties, which could not have been obtained with natural crossing methods, are already being used on a large scale in mainly three countries: the USA, Argentina and Canada. A dozen other countries have had some experience with GM crops since they were introduced into agriculture ten years ago. The transgenic plants that are currently used are soybeans, corn, cotton and rapeseed. In Spain, a type of genetically modified corn has been cultivated since 1998 and approximately 4 million tons of transgenic soybeans and between 0.5 and 1 million tons of transgenic corn have been imported each year. These raw materials go into the manufacture of feed and food.
In the ten years of existence of transgenic crops, citizen resistance has been increasing in many parts of the world, particularly in Europe. Official European Commission surveys show that 94.6% of EU citizens want to have the right to choose, 85.9% want to know more about GMOs before consuming them and 70.9% simply do not want to consume GM foods. But the economic interests of companies and countries are so important that the pressures are enormous to achieve a massive introduction of transgenics in agricultural and food production.
The companies that have developed transgenic crops are those that were already in the market for seeds and chemicals for agriculture. In recent years, we have witnessed several mergers and acquisitions of companies, which have concentrated the market for transgenic seeds in the hands of five large multinationals. These are the five largest agrochemical companies in the world: Syngenta, Bayer CropScience, Monsanto, DuPont and Dow. Monsanto is by far the company that sells the most transgenic seeds with more than 90% of the market.
More than 70% of transgenic crops have been developed to be tolerant to a specific herbicide, meaning that in the field, they can withstand large amounts of this chemical without being affected. In this way, companies take advantage of this type of genetically modified crops to increase their sales of chemical products. The experience of the United States is showing that for example the use of herbicides increases by 5% in transgenic soybeans compared to conventional soybeans. Likewise, a recent study shows that the sowing of 220 million ha. of transgenic corn, soybeans and cotton since 1996 has resulted in an increase in herbicide use to around 22 million kg.
The interests at stake for countries that grow transgenic varieties are also considerable. For example, since the US grows GM corn, it has seen its exports to Europe drop by more than 99%.
This context, in which companies have to make profitable investments and producing countries have to sell their transgenic crops, has led to all kinds of strategies and political pressure to impose transgenics on the world market, from the intentional contamination of non-transgenic crops or the threat to countries to withdraw restrictive regulations until the elimination of transgenic agricultural surpluses through food aid.
The most serious episode of the trade battle is currently taking place within the World Trade Organization (WTO). In May 2003, the US, Canada and Argentina filed a complaint against the EU with the WTO for blocking all new approvals since 1998. The US claims compensation of $ 1.8 billion for understanding that the blockade of approvals hurts your economy. If the WTO rules against the EU, we European citizens will have to pay millionaire compensation to the claimant countries, with the dire consequences that this may have for our economy and employment, and the EU will probably have to open its market even more. to transgenic products against the will of the vast majority of consumers.
The transgenic crops and foods currently marketed do not present outstanding advantages for the farmer and none for the consumer, instead they present risks to the environment and the survival of a non-transgenic agriculture. However, the economic interests at stake mean that they have already been introduced on a large scale in some countries and are trying to impose themselves on the rest of the world. Going to this extreme would be very dangerous for humanity, as the world's food would fall into the hands of a handful of large companies.
* Coordinator of the Biotechnology Area
Friends of the Earth Spain