GM (genetically modified, genetically engineered) crops are a fact of life by now. In our interconnected world (remember the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, TTIP, which might be finalised soon) I think that people who oppose GM crops may have lost this war. These arms races: biotechnology against evolution, corporations against people. What can we do now?
This week we’ve heard of a GM canola (oilseed rape, rapeseed, Brassica napus) resistant to the popular weedkiller Roundup (glyphosate) made by Monsanto, which ‘cannot coexist with organic and non-GM conventional crops’. Also this week, we’ve heard of a GM soya (soybean, Glycine max) resistant to an older and nastier weedkiller, 2,4-D (sold as Frontline) which has been submitted for approval by Dow AgroSciences.
This soya is necessary, we hear, because Roundup Ready crops aren’t working so well any more. Thanks to the evolution of ‘superweeds’. We hear also that Monsanto’s insect-killing Bt crops aren’t working so well any more. Thanks to the evolution of ‘superbugs’.
These particular stories are part of a much bigger picture. The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) tells us that GM and other biotech crops are now being grown in nearly every part of the world. Where they’re not grown, notably here in Europe, GM products are imported for industrial uses and livestock feed.
The successful GM crops so far have been the crops which are currently popular. That makes business sense for Monsanto, Dow and the other chemical/biotech giants.
But some farmers keep growing biodiverse crops, raising biodiverse fish and insects, and some foragers and hunters keep gathering biodiverse wild foods. As the world’s population increases, at least for the next few decades (it’s expected to peak around 2050, then fall slightly) I think we need to think more broadly.
As the great Monkombu Swaminathan said, we should remember the ‘forgotten crops’. Or neglected crops, or orphan crops, however you call them
Is biodiversity the way forward for our hungry world? Yes, probably it is. Will people make this happen? I hope so.