Claims of “increasing concern about genetically modified (GM) foods” voiced by Lorraine Jenks in the Engineering News edition of August 23 are unfounded. There are no agri- cultural research institutions, academies of science or medicine, government food regulatory authorities or faculties of science, medicine or agriculture anywhere in the world that support Jenks’s scientifically and medically unsubstantiated claims.
It must be pointed out that Jenks is not a scientist, agronomist, biologist, geneticist or nutritionist and is, therefore, not qualified to tell farmers what to plant or the public what to eat. Her assertion that there is no long-term study concerning the possible effects of GM crops on humans or animals and the environment is meaningless. No such study has been done with conventional food. How long is “long term”?
On the contrary, GM crops are the most extensively tested crops ever added to our food supply. After 17 years (15 in South Africa) of GM crop production, there have been no scientifically or medically substantiated reports of adverse effects on humans, animals or the environment anywhere in the world.
In South Africa, according to the Maize Trust, in the period 2000 to 2012, a GM accumulated maize crop of 40-million tonnes was produced. This grain was consumed each year by 50-million people, 800-million broilers, 1.4-million feedlot cattle and three-million pigs slaughtered at formal abattoirs without anybody complaining of so much as a stomach ache.
The European Union invested more than €300-million in research on the biosafety of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and reported: “The main conclusion to be drawn from the efforts of more than 130 research projects covering a period of 25 years and involving more than 500 independent research groups is that biotechnologies, in particular GMOs, are not per se riskier than conventional plant breeding technologies.” The World Health Organisation, the Royal Society of London and eight other academies of science worldwide concurred.
Concerns raised by Jenkins that glyphosate herbicide (Roundup Ready) sprayed over plants to kill weeds also kills insects feeding on the weeds and contaminates soil and rivers are nothing new. Years before the advent of glyphosate, farmers sprayed chemical herbicides on weeds to kill them and, unavoidably, insects feeding on the weeds would be killed and soil and rivers could be contaminated. Glyphosate has been on the market for over 30 years and is rated worldwide as the safest herbicide in use.
A further assertion by Jenks that “GM seeds are sterile so plants do not produce seeds naturally” is incorrect. Seeds from GM crops can be replanted and will produce a crop. The difference is that saved seed – GM or non-GM – loses up to 30% of its germinating vigour. That is why farmers prefer new seed for every planting.
According to researchers from Canada’s McGill University and the US University of Minnesota, organic farm yields are on average 25% lower than conventionally farmed produce. Organic farming could never feed the world.
Independent agricultural analyst and consultant to the agribiotech industry
Tel: 011 958 0828