Food is central to life. How we grow it affects the land, water and wildlife around us, as well as farm animals, our health and rural communities. It’s hard to resist cheap food or ‘buy one get one free’ offers but the environmental cost of the culture of intensive farming, over-production and over-consumption is enormous.
Genetic engineering enables scientists to create plants, animals and micro-organisms by manipulating genes in a way that does not occur naturally, often by taking DNA from one species and inserting it into another, completely unrelated one. Jellyfish genes have been inserted into pigs, firefly genes have been bred into tobacco plants, and bacterial genes are present in crops such as soya, maize and cotton.
These genetically modified organisms (GMOs) can spread through nature and interbreed with naturally-occurring organisms, replicating themselves and spreading through the environment in an unpredictable and uncontrollable way. Their release into the environment is a form of genetic pollution and a major threat because, once they’re out there in the wild, they cannot be recalled.
But because of the commercial interests of wealthy governments and biotech companies such as Monsanto and Bayer Cropscience, the public is being denied the right to know about genetically modified (GM) ingredients in the food chain and risks losing the right to avoid them.
Genetic engineering and GM foods are being sold as a way to provide crops that are disease and drought resistant as well as being able to provide more food for the world’s poor. However, after decades of research there are no GM food crops that live up to all this hype. The only notable effects of GM technologies have been an increase in herbicide use and a wealth of contamination scandals, either in shipments of non-GM foods or in cross-contamination of the crops themselves.
On top of all this, the multinational biotechnology companies own all patent rights to the crop varieties they develop, increasing their stranglehold on global agriculture and allowing them to generate vast profits.
While scientific progress on molecular biology has enormous potential to increase our understanding of nature and provide new medical tools, it should not be used as a justification to turn the environment into a giant genetic experiment driven by selfish commercial interests. The biodiversity and environmental integrity of the world’s food supply is too important to be put at risk.
A piece of international regulation called the Biosafety Protocol aims to regulate the use and movement of GMOs, but again biotech companies and governments sympathetic to their interests are attempting to disable it, making the familiar argument that environmental protection is a barrier to international trade.
We believe that GMOs should not be released into the environment. Scientific understanding of their impact on the environment and human health is not adequate to ensure their safety. We also oppose all patents on plants, animals and humans, as well as patents on their genes. Life is not an industrial commodity and when we force life forms and our world’s food supply to conform to human economic models rather than their natural ones, we do so at our peril.
Instead, we advocate a move away from industrial-scale agriculture towards locally-focused and sustainable models. Feeding the world without exhausting the planet’s natural resources is achievable, but the food security of local communities needs to be put ahead of commercial interests.