Gary Martens

Do GMO’s have a role in food security?

 

Food Security Conference Panel Discussion on GMO foods with Bruster Kneen and Curtis Rempel

Gary Martens

Plant Science Department

University of Manitoba

204-474-8227

gary_martens@umanitoba.ca

 

The issues are different in the developed world compared to the developing world. I will discuss a few of the issues as they relate to the developed world.

 

In the developed world the creators of GMO technologies are the primary beneficiaries of the technology. I agree with Richard Gray, a farm economist at the University of Saskatchewan when he says that “Once the innovation works its way through the system [that is, everyone has adopted it] you’re more or less back where you started [that is, no benefit to the user].” The primary traits of GMO plants to this point are herbicide resistance. The users of the technology, the farmers, get better, less expensive weed control and therefore usually get higher yields. Obviously the farmers like GMO technologies in canola because they have rapidly adopted the technology. In 1995 zero percent of acres had GM cultivars while in 2003  74% of acres, excluding the Clearfield technology (15% of acres) was dedicated to GM cultivars. Only 10% of canola acres in western Canada used conventional cultivars in 2003.

 

I have a number of concerns about the adoption of GM technologies.

  1. Transgene movement especially when we get pharmecutical traits into foods will cause cross contamination of food products with pharmecutical characteristics that may not be desirable for all people.
  2. Choice is denied non adopters of GMO technology by this transgene movement. Non-GM markets, especially organic markets are vulnerable to the uncontrolled movement of transgenetic traits.
  3. The development and use of GM technologies allows for continued dependence on finite pesticides delaying the necessity to relearn integrated pest management (IPM) and cultural farming methods that are less costly to the farmer’s income. When herbicides were first introduced in the 1950’s the return to one dollar spent on herbicides was $16. Today the return is approximately $2 for every dollar invested in herbicides.
  4. The restrictive contracts that farmer’s must sign to use the technology. Before Plant Breeder’s Rights (1981) a farmer had the right to save his own seed for subsequent planting, after 1981 the farmer was allowed to save his own seed, with some GMO’s it is piracy to save your own seed. The farmer must adopt an innovation to remain competitive in his envirnment, but most of the economic benefits of the new technology are captured by the developer of the technology. The farmer is left, according to Richard Gray “…more or less in the same place”, I would say less, because now the farmer has more risk than before.