GM crops criticism unscientific
Z M SIDDIQUI
and technology skeptics have always rejected scientific
break-throughs in the history of human progress.
In recent times we have seen these skeptics oppose polio
vaccinations, DNA testing as evidence in criminal cases, and
the use of biotechnology in the fields of agriculture and
Lately, a campaign has been launched against the use of
biotechnology in agriculture, although many developed and
developing countries are using it to increase their yield in
an environ- mentally friendly way.
If the skeptics demanded proper rules and regulations for
introducing biotechnology in agriculture.
It would have been understandable, but their opposition
is based on hearsay, unscientific arguments and myths. Let
us review these myths against scientific and economic
Myth: GM crops will create a monopoly of big
Reality: In Pakistanís highly competitive seed market,
farmers are in control by deciding whether to purchase the
products or not.
They tend to buy seeds that bring them substantial benefits
in terms of yields and crop management. Pakistani farmers
are not fools, as presumed by NGOs.
They canít be forced to buy the seeds of big multinationals.
Technology not useful to the farmers concerned can never be
successfully marketed anywhere in the world.
Pakistan is no exception in this regard. Farmers always only
buy seeds developed to suit their local agronomic and
environmental conditions and based on their experience.
It is also a fact that today Pakistani cotton farmers are
suffering due to the non-availability of quality seeds of Bt
cotton, the only biotech crop approved for commercial
cultivation in Pakistan.
Had this technology been introduced in Pakistan through
formal channels, Bt cotton seeds would not have been an
issue and Pakistan would have reaped the benefits by getting
More importantly it is the farmersí right to choose from the
latest research methods available to them. So, anti-biotech
campaignersí propaganda only favours those who are
benefiting from the status quo.
According to a study conducted by Dr Neil Forrester,
Pakistan is lagging behind by 6-8 million bales of cotton
production owing to various challenges.
Myth: Patented seeds are
not good for Pakistanís agriculture
Reality: At a time when the availability of quality seeds to
farmers has become a serious issue, Pakistan needs patented
seeds to revolutionize its agriculture sector and increase
Today, Pakistan desperately needs a professional seed
industry, where there are preset qualification criteria for
a seed company, R&D, standards for seed quality. In any
industry, IP rights are the cornerstone for innovation and
In the next 40 years, the agriculture industry will need to
expand food production to meet the needs of 9 billion people
in the world. Achieving this requires a continuous pipeline
of new technologies that will help farmers grow their crops.
Strong IP protection will enable the plant science industry
to invest in the R&D required for producing these tools.
Myth: GM crops are not natural
Reality: Genetically modified crops are no different to
conventional crops. The scientific truth is that
biotechnology is just a refinement of breeding techniques
that have been used to improve plants for thousands of
years. It is only an evolution of traditional agricultural
methods; an extension of traditional breeding.
This technology is just a precise science, so scientists are
able to isolate a specific gene to make exact changes to a
Most existing genetically modified crops have been developed
to improve yield through the introduction of resistance to
plant diseases or of increased tolerance of herbicides. In
the future, genetic modification could be aimed at altering
the nutrient content of food, reducing its allergenic
potential, or improving the efficiency of food production
There is scientific consensus that GM crops are as natural
as their conventional counterparts.
Myth: GM crops are not
Reality: Scientists around the world agree that the risks
associated with crop plants developed using biotechnology
are the same as those for similar varieties developed using
traditional breeding methods.
In meeting stringent food safety requirements and standards,
biotech foods are among the most thoroughly tested foods
available. No other food crops in history Ė including foods
currently available on grocersí shelves Ė have been tested
and regulated as thoroughly as have foods developed through
The safety of these foods is reviewed by regulatory agencies
around the world according to international safety
assessment guidelines spanning multiple years and systematic
In contrast, when other foods (crop varieties, animal breeds
or micro-organisms) are developed by traditional breeding
methods, they are usually not subject to specific risk or
safety assessments by national authorities or through
international standards. There is not one proven or
suspected case of ďacute or chronicĒ effects from GMO
Myth: GM crops are
failing; there are crop disasters around the world
Reality: More and more farmers around the world are turning
to biotechnology so they can grow plants that yield more per
acre and reduce production costs while being resistant to
disease and insect pests.
Data shows that GM crop cultivation is growing. ďGlobal
biotech crop hectarage has increased from 1.7 million
hectares in 1996 to over 175 million hectares in 2013.
According to the
International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech
Applications (ISAAA) during the last 18-year period more
than a 100-fold increase of commercial biotech crop
hectarage has been reported.Ē
According to ISAAA report, more than 90 per cent, or 16.5
million, of farmers planting biotech crops are small and
resource-poor. Of the countries planting biotech crops,
eight are industrial countries and 19 are developing
For the second year, developing countries planted more
hectares of biotech crops than industrialized countries,
representing confidence and the trust of millions of
risk-averse farmers around the world that have experienced
the benefits of these crops. Nearly 100 percent of farmers
who try biotech crops continue to plant them year after
year, the report noted.
Myth: Biotech crops canít coexist with conventional crops
Reality: It is not true that biotech crops canít coexist
with conventional crops. Coexistence of different crops,
production systems and pest management systems in
agriculture and the supply chain is not new, nor is it
unique to plant biotechnology.
Different agricultural production systems have been
successfully implemented in proximity to one another for
many years with no impact on organic, conventional, or
Itís a myth that biotech
farmers are negatively impacting organic farmers.
In fact, organic production continues to grow in areas where
there are high rates of biotech adoption. Agri-biotechnology
has environmental benefits as well because biotech crop
varieties require less cultivation and fewer pesticide
applications, thereby saving fuel and reducing carbon
dioxide (CO2) emissions into the air. This also improves
soil health and water retention.
Myth: GM seeds are costly
Reality: It is true that genetically modified seeds are a
bit costly when compared with conventional seeds but if we
look at the socio-economic benefits they deliver to farmers
they donít seem expensive at all.
Rising adoption of GM seeds by millions of farmers,
especially resource poor farmers in developing countries
across the globe is testimony to the fact that GM seeds are
not expensive because they yield much higher when compared
with conventional counterparts, thereby increasing
Crop biotechnology has delivered an unparalleled level of
farm income benefit to the farmers, as well as providing
considerable environmental benefits to both farmers and
citizens of countries where the technology is used.