LONDON, Sept 17 - Genetically modified crops in
North America have been an economic disaster, which has caused
some farm groups there to call for a moratorium on GM wheat, the
next proposed crop to be altered, a report released on Tuesday
The study by the Soil
Association, Britain's leading organic organization, estimated that gene-altered
maize, soya and rapeseed may have cost the U.S. economy $12 billion since 1999
in farm subsidies, lower crop prices, loss of major export orders and product
Scientists have said that the advent of such crops could be the answer to
world hunger, but the report said claims of increased yields have not been realized
overall -- except for a small increase in some maize yields.
The report said farmers are not achieving the higher profits
promised by the biotech companies as markets for GM food
collapse, citing widespread GM contamination at all levels of
the food and farming industry as the source.
"Within a few years of the introduction of GM crops, almost
the entire $300 million annual US maize exports to the EU had
disappeared, and the US share of the soya market had decreased,"
the report said.
"The lost export trade as a result of GM crops is thought to have caused a
fall in farm prices and hence a need for increased government subsidies, estimated
at an extra $3-$5 billion annually," it added.
It found that severe problems with gene-spliced crops has
led more than 200 groups representing farmers and the organic
sector in North America to call for a moratorium on the
introduction of GM wheat.
For the last several years, leading biotech company Monsanto
has stressed the benefits its genetically modified
Roundup Ready wheat can bring to farmers.
The herbicide resistant strain, for which Monsanto is
currently seeking regulatory approval, could mean efficiencies
and potentially higher yields for farmers, according to the
Public opinion in Europe is wary of gene-altered crops after
a string of food safety scares, including mad cow disease, and
there is a three-year de facto ban in place on approvals of new
Soil Association Director Peter Melchett said the report came as a timely
note of caution to Britain ahead of a decision due next year on whether to commercialize
GM crops following its three-year field test program.
"With UK agriculture still suffering a deep economic crisis,
the temptation to seize a new technology is great," he told the
media at the report's launch.
"GM technology was introduced to the USA when farmers were
financially vulnerable. The biotechnology industry's claims that
their products would bring benefits were widely accepted, but GM
crops have now proved to be a financial liability," he added.
Melchett said he hoped the report would result in a better informed public
debate, and a more independent, less pressurized decision about the commercialization
of GM crops in the UK.
Britain's government formally launched a public debate on the issue earlier
this year, but trust in biotech companies took a battering recently with the disclosure
of small impurities in field trials for oilseed rape, which threatened to derail
the government's field trial program. on the environmental impact of such crops.
The blunder also prompted UK environment minister Michael
Meacher to break with the government's broadly GM-sympathetic
government line, saying that the country was being pressured by
the U.S. to allow commercial planting of gene-spliced crops.
"I do think it's right that there are people in the
government who are beginning to see that you cannot both promote
organic farming and promote GMO's at the same time," Melchett
Copyright 2002, Reuters News Service