GM Crops: what does ‘GM’ Stand For?

I know that GM stands for Genetically Modified. There is a wonderful Wikipedia entry on this, to which I refer you for further information: what it is, how it is done, et cetera.

The basic idea is to incorporate, into a plant’s very DNA, one or more extra genes. Early attempts made tomatoes stay firm longer. Later successes included adding a bacterial insecticide, and resistance to the general weed-killer RoundUp.

In the Wikipedia article (which I strongly recommend you actually read, please) you will find out that measures to prevent resistance to the above kind of GM crop are needed. Eventually resistance will develop, just as it does for antibiotics. As with antibiotics, resistance develops faster the more widespread the prescribing, or in the crop case, planting, is done.

I have several problems with GM crops, and the likely, almost certain, arrival of resistance to the benefits (weed killer immunity, insect immunity) is one of my issues.

GM crops have been made to actually increase food value (see Golden Rice in the Wikipedia article). So why am I against these ‘frankenfoods?’

GM will eventually stand for, Growing Monopoly. To plant GM crops, you must purchase GM seeds. Even though patents will run out, the possibility of competition against the GM Giants seems pretty low. So, farmers all over the world (especially in Asia) will be giving up the old ways of planting the best seed from last year, and simply buying more GM seed again this year. Once there is clearly insufficient old-seed to revert to old-seed practices, the GM seeds will in effect have a monopoly on the relevant crop plantings. All over the world.

GM is starting to stand for, Government Manipulation. Several jurisdictions have limited GM crops, and the GM crop community is actively lobbying, of course, to reverse this. There is some detail on this in Wikipedia also, search for ‘government’ or ‘regulation.’

GM crops appear not to be dangerous for human consumption. Generally the modification produces a single protein / chemical / enzyme in the modified plant. For example, immunity to the general plant-killer RoundUp™ is achieved by supplying an alternate pathway to the one RoundUp cripples. Thus the GM plant can survive RoundUp. The immunity to insects is achieved by producing a compound that the bacteria use to kill insects – probably in order to consume their carcasses. In these cases, the added capability of the GM plant is well understood. Testing the individual compound for human health risk is relatively straightforward.

GM crops are supposedly not going to spread their abilities to neighbouring crops. This is incorrect. Some fields adjacent to GM fields are already losing their all-green status as food producers. Complex trials using chloroplast genetic modification (there are no chloroplasts in pollen, and pollen is the most mobile deliverer of genetic information to the next generation) have shown that, the pollen modification somehow, occasionally, gets into the nuclear DNA and is indeed transmitted via pollen to neighbouring fields.

So, eventually, GM will stand for, Global Migration.

In summary:

  • GM crops potentially/eventually can create seed monopolies.
  • GM crop companies will be lobbying to help this happen.
  • GM crops will eventually be subject to resistance: their advantage will dissipate like the advantages of new (and old) antibiotics.
  • GM crop modifications will escape into ‘wild’ populations.

It is perhaps worth dwelling on the latter complication. Once RoundUp resistance is widespread, that weed killer could become worthless. As it is legal in Ontario for use against noxious weeds, I use it as my only defence against poison ivy. While I am apparently immune, my spouse and grandchildren are not. Once RoundUp is useless, I will have no sensible way to control a toxic weed. Farmers dependent on RoundUp resistant crops will be in a similar state of dismay.

Now for the dumb questions:

  • Can you imagine a regulatory regime that would avoid monopoly power for the seed sellers?
  • Can you imagine a regulatory regime that would ensure that GM traits do not escape into the wild?
  • Can you imagine a regulatory regime that would manage and prevent GM-modification resistance?

and finally,

is it better to have wide diversity in crop seeds, managed all over the world by crop growers, than to exploit an advantage that may be both temporary and fallible, with single-source GM seeds for each crop?

Any lobbyists out there willing to take this topic on? Please advise.

as always, responses here must do only three things: provide a real eMail (kept secret); have decent spelling and grammar; and, actually say something of interest.

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