Genetically modified crops that benefit consumers or the environment are yet to materialise despite renewed promises by biotech corporations, according to a new report by an environmental group.
The biotech industry continues to misleadingly claim that GM crops play a role in solving world hunger, the Friends of the Earth International report said.
"Contrary to the promises made by the biotech industry, the reality of the last 10 years shows that the safety of GM crops cannot be ensured and that these crops are neither cheaper nor better quality. Biotech crops are not a solution to solve hunger in Africa or elsewhere," said in Nnimmo Bassey of Friends of the Earth Nigeria.
The 100-page report said the world's largest producer of GM seeds, Monsanto, has an objectionable influence over agriculture and food policies in many countries and international bodies.
Titled Who Benefits from GM crops? Monsanto and its Corporate Driven Genetically Modified Crop Revolution, the report concludes that the increase in GM crops use in a limited number of countries has largely been the result of the aggressive strategies of the biotech industry.
However, Monsanto, a US biotech giant, rejected the report's conclusion, saying there were thousands of documented benefits of GM technologies in South Africa, China, India and parts of America.
"With the exception of South Africa, which still produces a surplus of food, no other African, poverty-stricken country has yet had the opportunity to plant transgenic food crops - they are still in the process of implementing regulatory legislation," Andrew Bennett, a Johannesburg-based Monsanto official, told Reuters.
"So, clearly, these technologies have not had the opportunity to impact hunger and poverty. It is not coincidental that the only country in Africa that has approved transgenic crops is the only one with a surplus of grain and is also able to supply food to its neighbours," Bennett added.
Monsanto says farmers in India
are benefiting from GM tech
The Friends of the Earth International report comes just a day before the release of the Global Status of Commercialised Biotech report of the industry-sponsored International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications - which promotes GM crops as a key solution to hunger and poverty - and a week before the January 17 annual shareholder meeting of Monsanto.
The report said GM crops in Africa would not solve hunger because most crops so far available were meant for animal feed and did not target hunger or poverty.
It said the GM sweet potato in Kenya, presented by researchers as a key crop to help African agriculture, had shown little success by the end of January 2004.
It also said that after 10 years of GM crop cultivation, more than 80% of the area cultivated with biotech crops was still concentrated in only three countries - the US, Argentina and Canada.
"The biotech industry seems to be running out of new ideas, with the decline in the number of GM crop field trials and a return to conventional breeding for some of its most promising new crops"
Friends of the Earth International report
Intensive cultivation of GM soybeans in South America contributed to deforestation, and had been associated with a decline in soil fertility and soil erosion, the report added.
"The biotech industry seems to be running out of new ideas, with the decline in the number of GM crop field trials and a return to conventional breeding for some of its most promising new crops," the report said.
Monsanto's Bennett said his group and other biotech corporations were profit-driven but gains from their work could be traced around the world where seven million farmers in 17 countries had planted 81 million hectares of transgenic crops.