Every January and for almost two decades GM crop proponents celebrate the arrival of report of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech (ISAAA) on commercialised GM crops. The truth is that nothing has changed since they started issuing these reports. They have been making the same claims since 1996: more GM crops, more countries, and more hectares cultivated. Interestingly this is something that ISAAA and the biotech industry see as the ultimate proof of the benefits those crops have for farmers around the world.
This year ISAAA claimed “18 million farmers in 28 countries planted more than 181 million hectares in 2014, up from 175 million in 27 countries in 2013”. When it is said in this manner it would seem that GM crops are infesting the entire planet. However, solid facts indicate that GM crops are still mostly cultivated in a few countries and only a few traits have reached the commercialisation stage.
The Canadian Biotechnology Action Network makes a good interpretative summary of the data put forward by ISAAA and as usual the conclusions of ISAAA report are not must be taken with a pinch of salt. The truth remains that after more than two decades of political and commercial pressures, GM crops are grown only by a handful of countries.
Where does ISAAA’s message come from?
The ISAAA is simply doing the job of their donors. A look at their funders is self-explanatory of the reasons why ISAAA is over-optimistic and often unrealistic in their claims about the acceptability of GM crops. Academic institutions and private sector companies such as Monsanto and Bayer Cropscience sponsor ISAAA. Their funds also come from organisations such as CropLife, and government agencies such as USAID, USDA and even the US Department of State. It is indeed curious to see among the donors the US Department of State, a department that operates the diplomatic missions of the US abroad and is responsible for implementing the foreign policy of the country. In understanding the consistent push to place GMOs on our dining tables it is essential to note that the success of this enterprise (GM crops) is a State matter for the U.S. government.
With those donors it is not difficult to explain why ISAAA very rarely reports any problems with GM crops. If they do at all they simply misreport them. For instance this year ISAAA reports that a drop in cultivation of GM cotton in China is due to low prices and high food stockpile in China. However Xinhua news media says that “China GM crop planting areas declined in 2014 amid heated discussions over safety concerns”.
2016 will mark the 20th anniversary of the ISAAA report of GM commercialised crops. However, you can bet that there will be no surprises. They will repeat what they have always claimed: more GM crops, more countries, more hectares, more benefits. They will continue their work of convincing the convinced, and serving the biotech industry. At the same time organisations critics of GMOs will have to continue passing the message with the truth behind GM crops and ISAAA. While American citizens desire to have GMO labelling grows, paradoxically their money is spent via the US Department of State and other agencies in organisations like ISAAA and similar to ensure that the truth is hidden.
The politics and the pressures behind selling products of doubtful benefits should raise serious concern with governments in Africa and elsewhere. Scholars and government officials, including ministers in charge of agriculture, should read between the lines in the dubious claims of the biotech industry and their mouthpieces. It is time to call the bluff and tell the ISAAAs of this world that GMOs are not the solution to food production. In this Year of the Soil, we need wholesome food cultivated in agro-ecological ways and not based on toxic chemicals and artificial inputs as promoted by the biotech industry.
Some facts about GM crops in the world that ISAAA does not tell
The world’s GM crops are still grown largely by a handful of countries:
- The US, Brazil and Argentina still account for 77% of the total global GM crop acreage.
- The top 10 countries that grow GM crops still account for 98% of all the GM crops grown.
- The list of top 10 countries growing GM crops remains the same (2010-2014).
Of the 28 countries growing GM crops, many grow few GM acres that account for a fraction of global GM area:
- 19 countries account for less than 1% of total global GM acreage each
- This includes countries such as Sudan, Colombia and Spain, which grow approximately 100,000 hectares of GM crops each.
- Many of these countries devote only a fraction of their agricultural land to cultivating GM crops. For example, Sudan’s GM acreage accounts for 0.9% of its agricultural land, Columbia’s 0.2%, Australia’s 0.1%, and Spain’s 0.3%
- GM crops are grown on less than 4% of global agricultural land and 13% of global arable land.
There was a global increase of 6.3 million hectares of GM crops from 2013, an increase of 3.6%.
- 8 countries had a slightly larger area under GM crops, 4 had less, and the rest had the same as in 2013.
- The US and Brazil accounted for much of the total increase. The US grew 3 million more GM hectares than the year before. Brazil grew 1.9 million hectares more.
- ISAAA says that the US “maintains (a) leadership role” – this means that the US still grows 40% of all GM crops in the world, the same as in 2013.
- Four countries – Argentina, China, South Africa and Australia – reduced their overall acreage, also by a very small amount.
By Juan Lopez (for Health of Mother Earth Foundation – HOMEF)