Update on commercial release of BT Cowpea and GM rice in Ghana: Very disappointing decision announced on 29 October 2015 by the Human Rights Court on Food Sovereignty Ghana’s request for a temporary ban on the commercialisation of two GM crops in Ghana. The judge ruled in favour of the defendants, noting that “the Defendants have demonstrated they will suffer greater harm if the Application is granted. “I am satisfied that the Applicants have failed to prove that they would suffer an inconvenience if the Application is refused. The Defendants will rather suffer irreparable damage and hardship if they are restrained from performing their statutory function specified under the Biosafety Act.” Simply amazing.
Food Sovereignty Ghana’s response makes interesting reading and they have very good grounds for appeal. Let’s hope they win this time, and protect Ghanaian agriculture, food, farmers and consumers from the unique risks that GM technology poses for our health, farmers’ livelihoods and the environment. Read FSD’s announcement of their intention to appeal here…
Genetic modification: why many people don’t want it and none of us need it
Genetic modification (GM) of crops is highly contested across the world. The benefits promised by the biotech companies remain unfulfilled, yet they continue to press their technologies on people everywhere, backed by dubious claims, irregular practices, and the power of the US government. They’re pushing hard to extend their market in Africa, particularly with the promise of new nutrient-enhanced crops. Seed systems across the continent are still largely in the hands of communities, so the agri-corporations see a huge market potential in supplying seeds to Africa.
Biotech companies have promised that GM crops will improve the livelihoods of small farmers around the world, but experiences from many countries show the opposite. Many small farmers who invested in GM seeds and their necessary inputs have found themselves in deep debt due to spiralling production costs and declining crop yields. Most often, farmers are not allowed to save seeds from previous harvests due to conditions in the GM companies’ contracts, and so are tied to buying seeds from the companies every year, which is costly especially when compared to saving seeds.
GM crop producer countries are facing big economic impacts. More than 60 countries – especially the whole of the EU, Australia and Japan – now have restrictions or complete bans on the import, production and/or sale of GM crops and foods. Many countries in Africa have also put in place bans. These have caused huge disruptions to countries’ exports especially for the USA, which can no longer guarantee any of its crops are not contaminated by GM crops.
There are also the risks to people, animals, and the environment. Comprehensive studies show these concerns are very real, including increased pesticide use compared to conventional crops, unknown impacts on people and animals consuming GM food, and contamination of crops and food supplies across the world. As yet, insufficient research has been carried out to understand the impacts of GM on human health. Studies of animals fed with GM feed have revealed some very disturbing results, with several reporting negative effects on the immune systems of mammals.
The biotech companies claim humanitarian concerns are a driving force behind GM development, including food security, improved livelihoods for poor farmers, and more nutritious food for malnourished people. However, they have been commissioning research to estimate the profitability of further adoption of their technologies throughout the world. Profit maximisation seems to be a prime motive driving the expansion of their markets.
There is a wide range of environmental, social and economic concerns associated with GM crop development and use. These are the major ones:
- Increased herbicide use: Rather than reducing inputs of toxic chemicals as promised, GM crops have actually increased them. Herbicide resistance and the emergence of secondary pest species have resulted in increasing amounts of pesticide and herbicide being applied to GM crops. The companies making the chemicals required by GM crops are the same companies producing GM seeds, so their profits have been growing rapidly
- Contamination: GM crops have crossed with conventional ones in the field, so it is difficult in some countries to know which crops are really GM free. The biotech companies have also developed pharmacrops to produce vaccines and drugs, and it’s possible these could also enter the food chain by crossing with food crops of the same species. The impacts of this on human health and the environment are also not known. Contamination undermines our right to choose what we grow and what we eat
- Reduces diversity and farmers’ capacities to adapt to climate change: GM crops are grown in monocultures. This undermines food security and weakens farmers’ capacities to adapt to climate change and also reduces on-farm biodiversity. Growing a diversity of fruits, nuts, vegetables, legumes and grains ensures that at least some crops will survive in times of flood or drought. This is also what’s needed to ensure people get a nutritionally rich diet
- Corporate control of food systems: GM technology, including seeds and inputs, is mostly in the hands of a few giant agri-corporations, and Monsanto has a near-monopoly supply of GM seeds. Most people unsurprisingly don’t want the control of their food systems to be in the hands of profit-oriented agri-businesses
- Lack of choice: without product labelling, which is opposed by the GM corporations, and with the contamination of non-GM crops, our right to choose to avoid GM foods is rapidly diminishing
- Reduced food security: Biotech companies have promised that GM crops will strengthen food security. But the reality is that GM crop yields actually decline over the years compared to conventional crops
- Food for export: the majority of GM crops are grown for export, and much of this is for animal feed. GM’s real contribution to the food security of hungry people is further diminished
- GMOs are not yet proved safe for human consumption: Many studies have shown that GM foods have a negative impact on mammals’ immune systems, and the increased chemical use leaves residues on the crops as well as contaminating water supplies and soils. It has yet to be proved that GM foods are safe for consumption by people and animals
- Improved nutrition: Claims that crops such as Golden Rice can address malnutrition and nutrient deficiencies have also not been fulfilled. A better way to improve nutrition is to support people to improve their diets in a natural way by eating more nutritional and diverse foods. But this does not bring the same profits to big agri-business.
- GMO detracts from the real solutions: The concentration of funding and research on GM crop development detracts from attention towards funding for alternative and environmentally beneficial food production systems such as agro-ecological methods and agroforestry, which gain comparatively little support
- Farmers debt: Farmers experience mounting debts due to the higher costs of inputs, the need for increased applications of pesticides and herbicides, and declining yields and incomes
- Employment: GM supporters claim GM crop production creates jobs; reality shows the opposite. Small farmers with insecure land tenancies are pushed off the land to make way for GM crop production, while others lose their farms due to mounting debts caused by their investments in GM crops
- Declining incomes: GM supporters claim huge economic benefits for small farmers; reality shows small farmers slip deep into debt due to mounting input costs for GM crops and declining yields
- Potential loss of exports: the EU is a key trading partner for Africa, but many EU countries have a ban on GM seeds, foods, feeds and crops. The US and Canada lost millions of dollars in annual exports within just a few years of introducing GM crops because they lost their export markets
In the US, many farmers have been abandoning GM corn and soybean crops and switching back to the conventional crops. And it’s not for any ideological reasoning. It’s simple economics: they get the same or better yields from non-GM crops, they spend less money on seeds and other inputs (e.g. chemicals), and they get paid premiums on non-GM crops too because their market share is consistently increasing (Off the Grid News).
The biotech companies are wrong to say we need their GM crops and inputs to achieve food security for everyone. Several studies by the UN and the World Bank have also concluded that genetic engineering is not needed to feed the world and that GM crops are not even contributing to increased yields. Support for small-scale subsistence farmers, who are actually the people who produce the food in food-insecure communities, should be given towards agro-ecological methods that increase yields while also being environmentally, socially and economically sustainable, and provide safe, nutritious and healthy foods. The techniques also strengthen farmers’ capacities to adapt to climate change. They include, for example: composting, green manures and nitrogen fixing crops to improve soil fertility; Integrated Soil Fertility Management (ISFM); Agroforestry to increase on-farm diversity; use of perennial crops; rainwater harvesting and storage; soil and water conservation; crop rotations; reduced tillage; integrated pest management (IPM); composting; and small livestock and fish farming.
To say that GM can increase food and nutrition security for hungry people is misguided. There is a diverse and complex mix of causes that result in people being hungry. It’s not simply a matter of crop yields and food availability. People are hungry because they don’t have access to land and resources to produce their own food and they don’t have money to buy the food that’s available in the markets. Inequitable food distribution, conflict, farm subsidies in rich countries, trade and economic policies that favour food production for export rather than for local people, and lack of political will by governments to confront and prioritise the root problems of hunger and malnutrition are also all part of this complex mix. GM food and crops cannot address these problems. Even if GM could increase crop yields, it can never address this diverse mix of causes that result in hunger and malnutrition.
Resisting GM crops
To resist the widespread introduction of GM seeds, crops and foods into Ghana, we have been part of various awareness raising activities to help Ghanaians understand the implications of GM for Ghana’s food security and food sovereignty and health so they can join the resistance. We have held press conferences and press briefings, published statements in the media, participated in radio discussions, and held workshops for stakeholders including consumers’ associations, farmers’ groups, and the media so they can raise awareness more widely across the general public.
Africa doesn’t need or want GM. Farmers don’t want it and consumers don’t want it. So let’s make sure we keep GM seeds, crops and food out of Ghana and out of Africa, and instead follow the sustainable way to food production.
The Food Sovereignty Ghana website is a very good place to keep up-to-date with what’s happening around GMOs and many other food-related issues in Ghana.