| Two sources I've been reading criticize the notion that biotech and GMOs are THE solution to "feed the world." The first is a paper called "Undying Promise: Agricultural Biotechnology's Pro-Poor Narrative, Ten Years on" by Dominic Glover. The second is Hope not Hype: The Future of Agriculture Guided by the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science, and Technology for Development by Jack Heinemann (a book I HIGHLY recommend!).
Below, I've shared some quotes from each of them.
|The Heinemann book covers the IAASTD report, which was the largest and most comprehensive assessment of agriculture ever undertaken. Here's a quote I particularly like that talks about cultures around the world (including indigenous cultures and those in developing countries that we might consider to be "less advanced" than the U.S.):
Everything these cultures learnt and did is also not necessarily less sophisticated of successful than anything in modern industrial agriculture. These agricultures are therefore not to be judged as failed; each has its own history and local criteria for success. Indeed, as argued in these pages, the diversity of agricultures is itself a strength of humanity, rather than, as often implied, an artifact of societies in need of rescuing through homogenization with American or European approaches to industrial agriculture. - p. x
Among his "Key Messages" on page 1, chapter 1, Heinemann says:
1. The modern biotechnologies coming from developed countries favour large-scale farming of a small number of mega-crops. This range of crops does not fit the type and purpose of farms of subsistence and poor farmers.
6. The potential agronomic advantages of many GM crops are not realized by subsistence farmers who grow a large diversity of crops in close proximity, and GM crops make industrialized farmers and consumers vulnerable to the effects of monocropping, environmental damage from intensification, and loss of agro- and bio-diversity.
The Glover paper offers less of a clear repudiation of GMO crops, but makes it clear that while GMOs may have some successes, they are NOT the silver bullet they are often said to be. Furthermore, he cites flawed studies as one of the reasons why GMOs have been touted as such a success when in reality he believes the results of GMOs are more mixed.
Many people and organisations have sought to promote genetically modified (GM, transgenic) crops as a 'pro-poor' technology. However, developing-country farmers experiences with GM crops have been mixed. Some farmers have certainly benefited, but others have not. Predictably, the performance and impacts of transgenic crops depend critically on a range of technical, socio-economic, and institutional factors. By themselves, genetically modified seeds are not enough to guarantee a good harvest or to create a sustainable and productive farm livelihood.
In spite of this emerging picture of complex and differentiated impacts, the simplistic narrative of GM crops as a uniformly 'pro-poor' technology has proved to be extraordinarily resilient. Why has it persisted? Part of the reason is that a substantial number of econometric studies have claimed to demonstrate that GM crops are a technological and economic success in the developing world. But methodological and presentational flaws in those studies have created a distorted picture of both the performance and the impacts of GM crops in smallholder farming contexts. This has seriously distorted public debate and impeded the development of sound, evidence-based policy.