The companies that profit from GM crops, and even some governments, claim that our health and the environment are not at risk. Many people, however, including independent scientists, believe that not to be true.
Agribusiness is working to cash in on new technology combining the "best" parts of many natural life forms. An example is using fish’ ability to tolerate cold, in strawberries which must be transported to markets far away. Or: using the ability to resist herbicides in crops that need to be heavily sprayed to eradicate weeds.
The risks posed by GMOs include many aspects: human health, threats to food sovereignty and biodiversity, the violation of farmers rights to breed, reproduce and exchange seeds, and the right of people to eat safe and healthy food. The use of ‘foreign’ genes in plants that we eat may undermine our ability to fight diseases. Health officials are also concerned about direct effects from consuming GM plants, such as increased food allergies.
Once new genes are introduced, they cannot be withdrawn. Research shows that GM plants might contaminate local or native seed varieties, threatening food sovereignty and the livelihoods of the majority of people in the global South. GM crops are also able to cross-pollinate with related wild plants; potentially passing on their herbicide resistant genes. Experts fear that this may create a new breed of “super-weed” which would require the use of even heavier chemicals and further imperil wildlife. Similar threats are posed by new insect resistant strains, whose introduction may cause the destruction of helper and benign species of insects such as ladybugs and Monarch butterflies. Read more about the risks posed by GMOs.
Given all the uncertainty about GMOs, how will producers and consumers maintain their right to decide what they grow and eat? Once GM crops are grown on a large scale it will be nearly impossible for farmers to guarantee their crops are GM-free. Organic producers are particularly at risk as their fields may get contaminated by neighbouring farmers. Consumers are similarly constricted. Current legislation where it exists, is full of loopholes. Read more about contamination.
The main beneficiaries of GM are the large agribusiness companies which promote it. GM food has not been found to be more nutritious or better tasting, and it will not help to fight global hunger. Read more about GMO food aid. Technologies such as the “terminator seed” are engineered to respond to particular fertilizers patented by companies. They do not produce fertile seeds, ending the ancient practice of saving seeds for replanting. This threatens the autonomy of small farmers by forcing them to spend more money on seeds while pushing them into debt. Read more about corporate control.
FoEI maintains that the question of hunger is not a question of productive capacity. In Europe, producers receive subsidies to not produce at their full capacity and they still have silos full of leftover products to rot. At the same time, the livelihoods of family farmers and peasants in the South are continuously threatened by subsidized food dumping on national and local markets. Hunger rather needs the right economics and political will, something GMOs cannot generate.
These are the demands of Friends of the Earth International with regards to GMOs:
- Banning all GM commercial crops
- Segregation and labelling of imported GM foods; with clear tracking from the field to the supermarket shelf
- An international ban on the use of antibiotic resistant gene markers
- A global ban on "Terminator" seed technology
- Reversion of patent laws
- A ban on biopiracy
What we do
Around the world, Friends of the Earth campaigns to keep GMOs out of our food and our environment, and to defend food sovereignty. In Europe, our groups call for the establishment of GMO Free Zones. In Africa, we call for a moratorium on GMO crops while in North America, we campaign for adequate labelling of our food. In Central America, Friends of the Earth monitors GM contamination in food aid and in commercial imports. In South America, our groups oppose GMO crops by promoting ecological peasant production and family farming. In some countries in the region, we are investigating the contamination by GM crops. Finally, in Asia FoE groups carry out a strong campaign against genetically modified papaya.