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Genetically Engineered (GE) Food - What You Need to Know

Science of Nature
Genetic engineering is different from conventional breeding. It requires intensive genetic overwriting to allow for genetic changes that cannot occur in nature, such as combining genes of bacteria and viruses with genes of plants, or combining genes from different species of animals.[1] The effects? We don’t yet know.

Ownership and Patenting of Seed/Nature
Biotech corporations can patent genetically engineered seed and animals, and own it. Three companies control more than half (53%) of the global commercial market for seed.[2] If a farmer is the victim of "genetic pollution" (GE pollen drifts onto his/her field, or seed falls off a truck onto a farm field), the company can sue that farmer for patent infringement.[3]

Increased Dependence on Agricultural Chemicals
GE crops have failed to deliver on promises of reduced herbicide use. Biotechnology corporations generally sell GE seed and herbicides as a package, since many GE crops are engineered to be resistant to specific herbicides. During the first 13 years of commercial use, GE crops were responsible for an increase of 383 million pounds of herbicide use in the US (1996- 2008).[4]

Proof of Safety
GE crops are not required to be tested for safety in the US, because our regulatory system considers GE crops to be “substantially equivalent” to conventionally bred crops.[5] But if they’re different enough to allow patenting, why aren’t they different enough to require safety testing?

Farming for the Future
GE crops failed to deliver on promises of higher yields and many GE crop varieties have been shown to be less drought resistant.[6] Agricultural experts advising the United Nations urge the widespread adoption of organic farming methods as a sustainable way to feed the world.[7] Whereas GE crops promote chemical-intensive monoculture, organic methods build soil health, protect top soil and create diverse, resilient and productive farms.

Superweeds and Pollution
Biotech companies promised that GE crops would decrease herbicide use. Instead, "superweeds" have emerged: weeds that are resistant to herbicides that accompany GE crops. Companies that own seed must now sell more toxic pesticides to farmers,[8,9] - a bandaid solution that will work only until new superweeds emerge.

Justice for Farmers Worldwide
Adopting Green Revolution methods, including GE, leads to indebtedness of farmers who must buy expensive seed, fertilizers and pesticides.[10] In India, an epidemic of suicides by indebted farmers continues.

Labeling, Transparency and Disclosure
Biotechnology corporations and food manufacturers collectively spent over $46 million to fight mandatory labeling in California [11] and $21 million in Washington.[12] Why spend millions to keep us in the dark, when 64 countries [13] label GE foods?

Complexity of Nature
To build vibrant, resilient and economically viable farming systems, we must take into account the complexity and diversity of local communities and ecologies.[14] The underlying ideology of GE technology ignores ecological complexity and local knowledge, and instead promotes monoculture and seed monopolies.

[1] GMO Myths and Truths. 2012 report by Earth Open Source.

[2] Who Will Control the Green Economy? 2011 report by ETC Group.

[3] Seed Giants vs. US Farmers. 2013 report by Center for Food Safety and Save Our Seeds.

[4] Benbrook C (2012) Impacts of genetically engineered crops on pesticide use in the US - the first sixteen years. Environmental Sciences Europe 24:24.

[5] Food and Drug Administration. 1992. Statement of Policy - Food derived from new plant varieties.

[6] Failure to Yield: Evaluating the Performance of Genetically Engineered Crops. 2009 report by Union of Concerned Scientists.

[7] Agriculture at a Crossroads, Synthesis Report. 2009 report by International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development.

[8] Neuman W and Pollack A. Farmers Cope with Roundup Resistant Weeds. New York Times May 3, 2010.

[9] Mortensen DA, Egan JF, Maxwell BD et al (2012) Navigating a Critical Juncture for Sustainable Weed Management. BioScience 62(1): 75-84.

[10] Gill, S Economic distress and farmer suicides in Rural Punjab. Journal of Punjab Studies. 12(2): 219-238.

[11] Pollack A. After loss, the fight to label modified foods continues. New York Times. November 7, 2012.

[12] Connelly J. Why big companies are spending $21 million to beat I-522. Seattle PI October 28, 2013.

[13] International Labeling Laws. Center for Food Safety.

[14] Organic Agriculture: African Experiences in Resilience and Sustainability. 2013 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

Copyright © 2003-2012 by Consumers Union of United States., Inc., 101 Truman Avenue, Yonkers, NY 10703, a nonprofit organization. No downloading, transmission, photocopying, or commercial use permitted. Visit www.GreenerChoices.org.