Summarizing complex issues, such as all those concerning food and agriculture, is not easy, nor is it necessarily a good thing. However I believe that it could be helpful to list the reasons why we and others say “no” to GMOs. Not because of ideological positions or prejudices, as those who think they are the only repositories of knowledge love to claim, but for serious and justifiable reasons, shared by many researchers and scientists.
1) CONTAMINATION: Here in Italy, and in many countriesl, safely cultivating GMOs is impossible because of our small farms and lack of adequate natural barriers to protect organic and conventional crops. Additionally, agriculture is part of a living system which includes wild fauna, the water cycle, the wind and the reactions of microorganisms in the soil; GM crops cannot be confined to the surface of the field in which they are being cultivated.
2) FOOD SOVEREIGNTY: How could organic, biodynamic and conventional farmers be sure that their products are not contaminated? Even the limited spread of GM crops in open fields would change forever the quality and the current state of our agriculture, destroying our freedom to choose what we eat.
3) HEALTH: It has been shown that animals fed with GMOs can develop health problems.
4) FREEDOM: GM crops denature the role of farmers, who have always improved and selected their own seeds. GM seeds are owned by multinationals to whom the farmer must turn every new season, because, like all commercial hybrids, second-generation GMOs do not give good results. It is also forbidden for farmers to try to improve the variety without paying expensive royalties.
5) ECONOMY AND CULTURE: GM products do not have historical or cultural links to a local area. In Italy for example, a significant part of its agricultural and food economy is based upon identity and the variety of local products. Introducing anonymous products with no history would weaken a system that also has close links to the tourism industry.
6) BIODIVERSITY: GM crops impoverish biodiversity because they require large surface areas and an intensive monoculture system. Growing only one kind of corn for human consumption will mean a reduction in flavors and knowledge.
7) ECO-COMPATIBILITY: Research on GMOs has so far focused on two kinds of “advantages”: resistance to a corn parasite (the corn borer) and resistance to a herbicide (glyphosate). Supporters of GMOs say that they allow the reduced use of synthetic chemicals. But crop rotation is the only real way to fight the corn borer, and herbicide resistance will only lead to freer use of the chemical in the fields, given that it harms only undesirable weeds, not the actual crops.
8 ) CAUTION: Around 30 years since GMOs began to be studied, results in the agricultural sector concern only three crops (corn, rapeseed and soy). In fact the plants do not support the genetic modifications very well and this science is still rudimentary and partially entrusted to chance. We would like to see a more cautious and careful approach, as in Germany and France, where some GM crops have been banned.
9) PROGRESS: GMOs are the result of a myopic and superficial way of seeing progress. The role of small-scale agriculture in the protection of local areas, the defense of the landscape and the struggle against global warming is increasingly clear to consumers, governments and scientists. Instead of following the siren call of the market, modern research should support sustainable agriculture and its needs.
10) HUNGER: When it comes to hunger, the United Nations says that family agriculture will protect the sectors of the population at risk of malnutrition. Multinationals instead promise that GMOs will feed the world, but since they began to be marketed around 15 years ago, the number of starving people in the world has only grown, just like the profits of the companies that produce the seeds. In countries like Argentina and Brazil, GM soy has swept away energy-providing crops like potatoes, corn, wheat and millet on which the daily diet is based.
By Carlo Petrini
First published in L’Espresso on February 11, 2010.