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Important reasons why farmers should avoid biotech crops

(January 11, 2001 – Cropchoice news)-- In a July 1999 article, University of Guelph plant agriculture specialist E. Ann Clark offers10 important reasons why farmers should avoid sowing genetically engineered crops.

Clark’s points range from questionable yield and profitability gains, to the production, legal and financial ramifications of cross pollination.

To begin with, farmers must be sure that pest infestations are high enough to justify planting a transgenic crop. For example, Canadian researchers found that conventional corn varieties grew as well as Bt-corn under moderate corn borer infestation.

Speaking of pests, they are already developing resistance to crops such as Bt-corn. “Pesticidal plants like Bt-corn are no different than DDT or atrazine - insects and diseases, and to a lesser extent weeds, are extremely well adapted to evolve resistance whenever faced with a powerful and efficient "screen" - like tens of millions of hectares of cropland all expressing the same toxin,” Clark says.

She also questions whether genetically engineered crops reduce production costs and offer higher yield and profitability. In one survey, farmers growing genetically engineered soybeans reported lower yield (and lower costs, as well).

Non-industry funded research repeatedly has pointed out that genetically engineered crops often don’t produce more than conventional varieties. Clark offers one explanation: “…not all genetic backgrounds within a given crop will tolerate a transgene, and those that will are not necessarily the highest yielding ones.”

Clark also raises the problem, the inevitability, of genetically engineered crops cross-pollinating with conventional varieties. Of course this affects farmers who wanted to sell their conventional crop of corn, soy, canola or whatever for more money (that non-biotech premium at work) but now can’t because pollen from crops in the next field or even miles away has contaminated it. This raises production, financial and legal issues.

Clark ends her paper, Ten reasons why farmers should think twice before growing GE crops, with this conclusion:

“So, when deciding whether or not to grow GE crops next year, I'd encourage you to consider:

1. Do you really need what they offer, and is GE the best way to deal with it, given the likelihood of higher costs and lower yields?

2. Be very aware of insurance/liability risks from neighboring farmers (for genetic pollution), environmentalists (for Monarch butterflies and other issues), and consumers (for food safety).

3. Don't assume that because it is in the marketplace, that it is "safe", has been tested for "environmental risk (a la Monarch butterflies), or is necessarily in your best interests. Government is not asking the right questions. Trade interests are taking precedence over the interests of producers, consumers, or the environment. The world doesn't want our grain. Don't get caught in the middle.

4. Industry proponents often state proudly that twenty years of intensive research ensure the safety and effectiveness of field crop GE. If that is so, one can only wonder how they missed all these critical problems now being uncovered by independent (not industry funded) scientists almost every week. Twenty years, nay 1000 years of research would be useless in safeguarding either the environment or human health if the objective is "how to make it work" instead of "what happens when it does", or even better "why are we doing this in the first place". And that, in truth, is why we are where we are today. The financial viability of commercial producers is ill-served by those who persist in denying the substance of consumer concerns - and hence the marketability of GE crops - around the world.”