“GMOs and the Pesticide Treadmill”
In a recent webinar hosted by entheos.com, Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, a senior scientist and director of the Grassroots Science Program at Pesticide Action Network, told us all about the ecological dangers, unknown health consequences, and the faulty science behind both genetically modified crops (GM crops) and agricultural chemicals.
Genetic engineering occurs when scientists splice bits of DNA from different organisms together to create “artificial gene units”. Companies like Monsanto and Syngenta insert these “artificial gene units” into plants hoping that the units will cause the plants to develop desired characteristics. When it comes to GM crops sold by agribusiness, the desired characteristics almost always involve resistance to chemical pesticides and herbicides. GM crops were created so that farmers could spray their crops with chemicals without killing the plants, thus producing double profits for companies like Monsanto and Syngenta that sell both GM seeds and industrial chemicals.
This grouping of GM crops and pesticides runs contrary to the tendency of many commentators who talk about GM crops and chemical farming as two separate issues. They were designed to be a profitable pair by agribusiness companies, and the pair has done an spectacular at producing profits for what PAN calls the “Chemical Cartel”. The Chemical cartel consists of 10 multinational corporations who control all but 18% of the global trade in agrochemicals. In 2004, the United Nations estimated the value of the global market for agrochemicals to be nearly $32.7 billion.
But besides producing profits from the sale of seeds and chemicals, GM crops have “failed to deliver on their promises.” Instead, they cause severe damage to the environment and local ecology by encouraging chemical use and exposing the environment to uncontrollable consequences, such as the spread of artificially modified DNA and increased plant susceptibility to disease. On PAN’s own website, they thoroughly document these dangers and they demonstrate why GM crops put farmers on a “pesticide treadmill.” Once they start using the GM + pesticide combo, farmers have to apply more and more chemicals each season until their fields become industrial wastelands.
Organizations like PAN recognize something that agribusiness corporations like Monsanto and Syngenta never did. It’s not the plants that need to be changed. Most traditional crops have survived and thrived for millennia with the aid of farmers using ecologically sustainable practices. What needs to be changed are the industrial methods that dominate the global food system, decimate the environment, and deprive small farmers of financial resources and knowledge of alternative ways of farming.