Keep the Moratorium: First Quantify GM Advantages

The GM Moratorium needs to be extended until long-term, generational studies become part of the OGTR regulations for approval. GM has to be treated as an introduction of a self-reproducing chemical. Marketing and trade of Australian products will be severely affected once health and environment impacts of GM become quantified and public. R&D has to be directed to a productive and resilient biological agriculture producing mineral dense food for the health and wellbeing of citizens in a regenerated landscape with biodiversity. Such farming systems are profitable, drought tolerant and able to adapt to climate change. In a world with diminishing oil supply they markedly reduce the dependence on synthetic chemicals and fertilisers, and can feed the world.

Why did GM, genetic modification, involving the random mechanic insertion of a gene from an unrelated species, remain in the news during the moratorium? Why did the public education campaign since 1999 of the pro-GM chemical industry through Agrifood Awareness Australia barely increase the support of producers and consumers? No quantified answers were provided to important questions. Just general statements about how good GM is and how well regulated. Why wasn’t research targeted to get answers? In lifting the moratorium without such answers, what does the present offer of an “informed choice for producers and consumers” really mean?

‘Just segregate and you can choose’ is the option given to both producer and consumer. However, segregation by producers becomes very expensive to obtain more certainty but is nearly impossible for small seeded canola. For example, 50% of Canadian registered seed (under strict standards) of non-GM canola varieties was already contaminated with GM by 2003. Also, canola contaminated with GM has already been accidentally released in Australia by a company.

‘Substantial equivalence’ is the comparison between the itemized content of GM and conventional food, and if not significant different the GM is assumed safe. However, it is not the absolute content but the packaging of the molecules which is important. We need objective science to give us the real answers regarding long-term environmental and food safeties. Such studies, however, are not publicly available and have not been published in science journals. Only 30-90 day animal feeding studies and one to three-year environmental studies during GM introduction have been published.
So, who is in control of GM science? Vested interests have been in charge of the GM approval process and public awareness over past decade.GM science is not guiding us past pitfalls through use of appropriate risk assessments. Risk is a principle calculated with numbers. However, such numbers don’t exits for GM and risk is based on assumptions based on limited measurements. Studies are being conducted with the aim of getting GM approved and scientists tend to design experiments to get the answers they want.

Safety concerns involve the long-term, generational effects of GM. Animal feeding studies should be conducted over four generations to determine the impact on health and fertility, and environmental studies over 10 years to determine cumulative impacts on microbes and insects, the foundation of life on Earth.

Fertility of farm animals is affected. Some unofficial reports show toxic reactions in the digestive tract and liver, kidney and pancreas damage in mice or rats fed with GM food. The CSIRO GM pea, for example, was already judged ‘substantial equivalent’ before a new test showed allergies in mice. Is that new allergy test now performed on all GM food crops?
New diseases and pests are appearing with GM cropping as ecosystems adapt over time to the introduced GM chemicals. Many weeds are now becoming resistant ten years after herbicide-tolerant GM crops were introduced. Insects will become resistant after, say, 20 years? What then?

GM is a commercial venture needing markets in shortest possible time. Federal regulators and research organizations seem willing partners. GM is a short-term solution with long-term costs. Who benefits? Who pays?

Genes don’t fix our degraded soils. Single genes are but a small part in complex production systems. Genes are interacting and switching on or off due to circumstance. There is no proven yield advantage for GM, certainly not related to drought tolerance or disease resistance. GM genes, such as herbicide tolerance or insect resistance, are not directly related to yield. In released GM varieties these are stacked on high-yielding non-GM traits. In a 2002 survey only 19 percent of Canadian GM canola growers gave as reason ‘better yield, better return, more profit’. Where are the tables with yield results of to-be-released GM and our best local current varieties in the same trial?

Any yield improvement can be achieved by skillful breeding using markers, the useful tool in gene technology. This is in conjunction with appropriate agronomy and the creation of healthy soils that increase drought tolerance and eliminate dryland salinity. In northern America, however, yield traits are increasingly not becoming available in non-GM varieties which are thus slowly disappearing. The seed bank diversity is being reduced whilst it should be highly diverse with climate change.

Promised advances through GM are stalling, such as drought and salinity tolerance, and higher and better nutrition.  Even in the USA there is no GM wheat being trialed because of food safety concerns and consumers finally start to question GM food. Herbicide tolerance was in 2006 accounting for as much as 81% of global GM crop acreage of soybeans, corn, canola and cotton. Only in the first years after introduction was there a reduction in herbicide use. In subsequent years the weeds not killed by glyphosate become a problem, followed by glyphosate resistance in others. Analysis of USDA data revealed increased pesticide use in the US by 60 million kilograms from 1996 to 2004. The 67 million kilograms of increased herbicide use off set by 7 million kilograms reduction in use of insecticide. 
hich farmer will be the winner of the political decision on GM technology? Who is liable for GM contamination and costs of testing? Do we have to wait until problems become obvious on our farms? The costs of new technologies are borne by the users! Thus farmers and consumers will be the losers.

GM technology is working on a symptom of our problems in agriculture. It does nothing to the cause, soil degradation, which will keep affecting productivity under GM. We need to re-generate our soils, increase soil organic carbon content and re-activate soil biology to achieve sustainable farming. This can not be achieved in the high-input industrial farming.

Once soil carbon goes up with associated soil biology, then plants become resistant to insects and diseases under biological management. Such living soils will allow adaptation to impacts of climate change. This biological farming is already achieving the outlandish promises with GM.

Biological farming is the transition from current to organic farming systems as it allows some use of microbe-friendly fertilisers and herbicides, as-need-be, but no insecticides. It thus reduces the heavy dependence on petrochemical inputs with their ever increasing costs and diminishing availability past Peak Oil. Dryland salinity can be alleviated to full production and drought tolerance is achieved.
The higher mineral and nutritional contents of food provide us the required resistances through (slow) food. This research field is ignored here in Australia but gathers momentum in public funded science overseas.  

Before lifting the moratoria, we need quantification and public exposure of all safety testing results for each individual GM case, including generational animal feeding studies. Long-term environmental impact should be obtained from GM cotton in Australia and from results becoming gradually available in the USA and Canada.    

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