Guide The Future of Genetically Modified Crops: Lessons from the Green Revolution

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The document, A new approach to governing GM crops? After all, transgenic crops such as soybeans, cotton and maize are being grown by numerous farmers, including small-scale cultivators, in populous low- and middle-income nations such as China, India, Brazil, South Africa, Pakistan, and a handful of others. Unlike the well-fed Europeans, goes this argument, impoverished cultivators and hungry consumers in the global South cannot afford to turn up their noses at this vital, safe and productive technology.

The Durham University research used an innovative combination of social science research methods to put this narrative to the test. The project was carried out in collaboration with a team of academics from the countries concerned, and funded by the John Templeton Foundation , a philanthropic donor that likes to invest in the study of big social, philosophical and scientific questions.

The researchers spent time observing, interviewing and discussing GM crop issues with national scientists, groups of small-scale farmers and urban consumers in each of the three countries, culminating in deliberative workshops that brought these diverse groups and other stakeholders together. The researchers found that the spread of GM crop cultivation did not necessarily mean that farmers and consumers were all completely comfortable or satisfied with the technology. In fact, transgenic crop technologies have proved quite controversial, and unpopular with some stakeholders in all three of the focus countries.

Both growers and consumers said that they felt ill-informed about the technology, its environmental and socio-economic implications, and its prevalence in agriculture and the food system. They felt excluded from decision-making and suspected the motives of agribusiness companies, entrepreneurs, large-scale farmers, politicians, and regulators. Most of the transgenic crops on the market today, however, have been designed to meet the needs of industrial farmers and their customers in the West. Shiva and other opponents of agricultural biotechnology argue that the higher cost of patented seeds, produced by giant corporations, prevents poor farmers from sowing them in their fields.

And they worry that pollen from genetically engineered crops will drift into the wild, altering plant ecosystems forever. Many people, however, raise an even more fundamental objection: crossing varieties and growing them in fields is one thing, but using a gene gun to fire a bacterium into seeds seems like a violation of the rules of life. Vandana Shiva was born in Dehradun, in the foothills of the Himalayas.

A Brahmin, she was raised in prosperity. Her father was a forestry official for the Indian government; her mother worked as a school inspector in Lahore, and, after Partition, when the city became part of Pakistan, she returned to India. Their tactic was simple and, ultimately, successful: they would form a circle and hug the trees.

Shiva was, literally, one of the early tree huggers. The first time we spoke, in New York, she explained why she became an environmental activist. Shiva had studied physics as an undergraduate. She had just stepped off the plane from New Delhi, but she gathered energy as she told her story.

These people were talking about having to do genetic engineering in order to take patents.


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We have to have a global market, and that is why we need an intellectual-property-rights law. In contrast to most agricultural ecologists, Shiva remains committed to the idea that organic farming can feed the world. Owing almost wholly to the efforts of Shiva and other activists, India has not approved a single genetically modified food crop for human consumption. Europe remains the epicenter of anti-G.

Most say they would use such labels to avoid eating those foods. For her part, Shiva insists that the only acceptable path is to return to the principles and practices of an earlier era. Its use is like war, because it came from war. Like Gandhi, whom she reveres, Shiva questions many of the goals of contemporary civilization. Last year, Prince Charles, who keeps a bust of Shiva on display at Highgrove, his family house, visited her at the Navdanya farm, in Dehradun, about a hundred and fifty miles north of New Delhi. Shiva, too, invokes religion in her assault on agricultural biotechnology.

Navdanya does not report its contributions publicly, but, according to a recent Indian government report, foreign N.

1. INTRODUCTION

In June, the government banned most such contributions. Shiva maintains a savvy presence in social media, and her tweets, intense and dramatic, circulate rapidly among tens of thousands of followers across the globe. They also allow her to police the movement and ostracize defectors. The British environmentalist Mark Lynas, for example, stood strongly against the use of biotechnology in agriculture for more than a decade.

But last year, after careful study of the scientific data on which his assumptions were based, he reversed his position.

With that speech, and the publicity that accompanied it, Lynas became the Benedict Arnold of the anti-G. Shiva has a flair for incendiary analogies. Today, it is all of life being enslaved. All of life. All species.

Gene Revolution in Agriculture: 20 Years of Controversy

Shiva cannot tolerate any group that endorses the use of genetic engineering in agriculture, no matter what else the organization does, or how qualified its support. She has a similarly low regard for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has taken strong positions in support of biotechnology. When the U. When neither the U. On March 29th, in Winnipeg, Shiva began a speech to a local food-rights group by revealing alarming new information about the impact of agricultural biotechnology on human health.

She mentioned glyphosate, the Monsanto herbicide that is commonly used with modified crops. But no relationship between glyphosate and the diseases that Shiva mentioned has been discovered. Her claims were based on a single research paper, released last year, in a journal called Entropy , which charges scientists to publish their findings.


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The paper contains no new research. Shiva had committed a common, but dangerous, fallacy: confusing a correlation with causation. It turns out, for example, that the growth in sales of organic produce in the past decade matches the rise of autism, almost exactly. For that matter, so does the rise in sales of high-definition televisions, as well as the number of Americans who commute to work every day by bicycle.

Shiva refers to her scientific credentials in almost every appearance, yet she often dispenses with the conventions of scientific inquiry.

Science Of Genetically Modified Crops

She is usually described in interviews and on television as a nuclear physicist, a quantum physicist, or a world-renowned physicist. Shiva argues that because many varieties of corn, soybeans, and canola have been engineered to resist glyphosate, there has been an increase in the use of herbicides. That is certainly true, and in high enough amounts glyphosate, like other herbicides, is toxic. Moreover, whenever farmers rely too heavily on one chemical, whether it occurs naturally or is made in a factory, weeds develop resistance. In some regions, that has already happened with glyphosate—and the results can be disastrous.

But farmers face the problem whether or not they plant genetically modified crops. Scores of weed species have become resistant to the herbicide atrazine, for example, even though no crops have been modified to tolerate it.


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  8. The E. By this measure, glyphosate is two hundred and thirty times less toxic than atrazine. But since , when the crops were first planted, humans have consumed trillions of servings of foods that contain genetically engineered ingredients, and have draped themselves in thousands of tons of clothing made from genetically engineered cotton, yet there has not been a single documented case of any person becoming ill as a result.

    People in the rich world love to dabble in a past they were lucky enough to avoid—you know, a couple of chickens running around with the children in the back yard. But farming is bloody tough, as anyone who does it knows. It is like those people who romanticize villages in the developing world.

    Nobody who ever lived in one would do that. I drove east from Aurangabad on rutted roadways, where the contradictions of modern India are always on display: bright-green pyramids of sweet limes, along with wooden trinkets, jewelry salesmen, cell-phone stands, and elaborately decorated water-delivery trucks. Behind the stands were giant, newly constructed houses, all safely tucked away in gated communities. Regional power companies in that part of the country pay two rupees about three cents a kilogram for discarded cotton stalks, and, as I drove past, the fields were full of women pulling them out of the ground.

    Although India bans genetically modified food crops, Bt cotton, modified to resist the bollworm, is planted widely. Shiva says that two hundred and eighty-four thousand Indian farmers have killed themselves because they cannot afford to plant Bt cotton. That is why we need to reclaim the seed. That is why we need to get rid of the G.

    That is why we need to stop the patenting of life. When Shiva and I met in New York, for about an hour, I told her that I have often written favorably about agricultural biotechnology. She seemed to know that, but said that the only way I could understand the scale of the disaster would be to visit the region myself.

    She also proposed that I join the seed caravan in Europe and then travel with her to the Navdanya farm. We exchanged several logistical texts and e-mails, but by the time I got to Italy Shiva had stopped writing or responding to my messages. In Florence, where she spoke to me briefly as she walked to a meeting, she said that I could try to see her in New Delhi but she doubted that she would be free.

    When I arrived in India, one of her assistants told me that I should submit any questions in writing. I did, but Shiva declined to answer them. Shiva contends that modified seeds were created almost exclusively to serve large industrial farms, and there is some truth to that. But Bt cotton has been planted by millions of people in the developing world, many of whom maintain lots not much larger than the back yard of a house in the American suburbs. In India, more than seven million farmers, occupying twenty-six million acres, have adopted the technology.

    At first, the new seeds were extremely expensive. Counterfeiters flooded the market with fakes and sold them, as well as fake glyphosate, at reduced prices.

    Seeds of Life, Seeds of Hunger

    The crops failed, and many people suffered. Shiva said last year that Bt-cotton-seed costs had risen by eight thousand per cent in India since In fact, the prices of modified seeds, which are regulated by the government, have fallen steadily. Figures and Tables from this paper.

    Figures and Tables. Citations Publications citing this paper. Genetically modified crops and small-scale farmers: main opportunities and challenges. Ethiopia: A socio-economic study Haradhan Kumar Mohajan. Hennessy , William M. An analysis of Bt corn's benefits and risks for national and regional policymakers considering Bt corn adoption Felicia Wu.

    Falck-Zepeda , Guillaume P. References Publications referenced by this paper.