American farmers and consumers have been fed a steady stream of misinformation about biotechnology, especially from those who stand to profit from it (1,2,3,7,8,9). Common myths include:
Don’t believe it. There is an abundance of evidence to the contrary. For example, “Diet for a Small Planet” author, Frances Moore Lappe, warns us not to believe corporate agriculture’s line that we need GMOs to feed the growing global population. The Food and Agriculture Organization recommends instead a worldwide shift to organic agriculture to protect against pollution, fight world hunger and tackle climate change (10).
1. Yield less or equal to traditional crops.
2. Limit seed choices and promote monoculture which harms the soil, environment, plant and human health.
3. Increase pesticide use due to the development and spread of resistant "superweeds."
4. Threaten non-target species with toxins.
5. Introduce new toxic compounds and allergens.
6. Benefit the biotech industry because they sell more herbicides, charge more for seeds and hold seed patents.
7. Need long term safety tests.
Robert Kremer, soil scientist at the University of Missouri says: “the old worn-out assumption that glyphosate (Roundup) is neutralized or immobilized in the environment does not hold anymore” (11). He explains that glyphosate harms soil biology, root structure and function. Prolonged glyphosate application has been shown to increase plant diseases and infections. Plus, glyphosate can enter our waterways.
Kremer also shares his concern about the loss of protective plant biodiversity when we come to depend on one seed variety (RR), or mono-cropping systems. “Remember the Irish potato famine?” he asks (11).
Bill Wenzel, National Director of the Farmer to Farmer Campaign on Genetic Engineering says when it comes to the big three crops, there’s "no way to put the genie back in the bottle" (12).
In other words, a significant problem with biotechnology is that it hasn’t been contained. Wind and birds can carry pollen for miles, and the resulting environmental impact has never been fully evaluated. E. Ann Clark, professor of plant agriculture at the University of Guelph in Ontario agrees that “GM crops are uncontainable.” She also believes the industry should be held accountable for their harm (13).
In 2002, the National Academy of Sciences noted “serious deficiencies in USDA’s regulation of GE crops,” says the Center for Food Safety. And USDA's failure to adequately monitor and regulate GE field crop tests “clearly puts the environment and public health at risk" (14).
Prince Charles says increased use of genetically modified crops could lead to environmental disaster, placing impossible burdens on nature and driving small farmers out of agriculture. The Prince owns an organic farm.
Source: Touch the Soil, Sept./Oct. 2008. pg. 4
A Union of Concerned Scientists study shows that despite 20 years of research and 13 years of commercialization, genetic engineering has failed to significantly increase U.S. crop yields.
See the study
Biotechnology, bioengineering, and genetic engineering describe recombinant DNA technology, which allows scientists to cross species barriers. For example: inserting bacterial DNA into a plant to deliver traits such as pest or herbicide resistance.
GMO: Genetically modified organism
GE: Genetically engineered
RR: Roundup Ready
Bt: Bacillus thuringiensis