Opinion pieces: genetically modified organisms in agriculture--the arguments for & against: International Trade Forum asks two leading experts to present the case about genetically modified organisms.
Animal feeding and feeds (International trade)
Animal feeding and feeds (Laws, regulations and rules)
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Name: International Trade Forum Publisher: International Trade Centre UNCTAD/GATT Audience: Trade Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Business; Business, international; Economics Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2011 International Trade Centre UNCTAD/GATT ISSN: 0020-8957
Date: July-Sept, 2011 Source Issue: 3
Event Code: 640 Foreign trade; 930 Government regulation; 940 Government regulation (cont); 980 Legal issues & crime Advertising Code: 94 Legal/Government Regulation Computer Subject: Government regulation
Product Code: 2048000 Prepared Feeds; 3523860 Livestock Feeders NAICS Code: 311119 Other Animal Food Manufacturing; 333111 Farm Machinery and Equipment Manufacturing
Organization: European Union
Geographic Scope: United Kingdom Geographic Code: 4EUUK United Kingdom

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Communications Officer

Green Biotechnology Europe, EuropaBio


THE CASE FOR GMOs: The global trade in agricultural commodities: GM crops are here to stay

In the spring of 2011, newspapers reported that animal feed imports to the European Union (EU) would soon be allowed to contain trace amounts (0.1%) of genetically modified (GM) material not yet approved in the EU. There were conditions, of course: the GM material must be approved in the exporting country and be under review by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). The legislation that provided this 'technical solution' to GM low-level presence was the result of efforts to avoid trade disruptions due to the EU's 'zero tolerance' policy, such as the 2009 disruption of soy exports from the United States when trace amounts of two unapproved GM maize varieties were discovered. This new 0.1% tolerance level, which still technically maintains the zero tolerance policy, is most likely only a stop-gap solution and a workable tolerance level will be necessary. The legislation does not cover food imports, despite their unrealistic separation from feed. Food companies are rightly concerned that they will have shipments turned away from European ports and have made their concerns clear to EU politicians.

The story of the EU and imports is incomplete without considering why a real tolerance level is necessary in the first place. One crucial factor is the overwhelming global popularity of GM crops. 15.4 million farmers around the globe currently grow GM crops such as maize, soy, oilseed and cotton, an increase of 10% since 2009. (1) Each year since GM crops were introduced, plantings have risen. These farmers, 90% of whom are smallholders, cultivate 148 million hectares of GM crops, roughly the size of the territory of France, Germany and Spain combined. In August, the most recent statistics from Brazil (2) revealed that in 2011-12, 82.7% of Brazilian soybeans will be GM, an annual expansion of 13%--four times the amount predicted. With the momentum for new GM approvals in North and South America, Asia, and increasingly in Africa, regions that are slower to approve GM crops or imported products are falling behind. The odds are simply higher that trace amounts of GM products that are not yet approved in the EU could be in shipments.

Exporting countries are taking the segregation of GM and non-GM material seriously, particularly since it has profound effects along the value chain: farmers, processing facilities, shipping companies and their customers are all affected if segregation is not handled properly at each stage. On a recent visit to Canada, I examined the segregation process and learned firsthand why a workable tolerance level for unapproved GM material is essential. Jim and Judy Gowland, farmers near Toronto, grow non-GM soy, primarily for export to Japan, a non-GM soy niche market. They also grow GM maize. In order for their soybean harvest to be accepted for processing, they have to ensure that any GM material from maize harvesting is not mixed with the soybeans. However, they, and others, pointed out that no method of segregation is perfect; some level of tolerance for as yet unapproved GM material is needed to avoid trade disruptions.

Interestingly, the Gowlands did not approach GM or non-GM crops ideologically; rather, they plant the crops that ensure their farms' viability and profitability. They supply the markets that they find attractive--after all, farming is a business. Speaking with Dale Mountjoy, another farmer near Toronto, I learned that his GM maize yields much more than conventional maize, earning up to 86 [euro] more per acre. The crop requires less tillage, fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides. It saves him time and money, and he uses less fuel, helping reduce carbon emissions.

Though some may still question the benefits of GM crops, many see clear benefits for farmer income, efficiency and the environment. One thing is clear: GM crops are here to stay.

(1) James, C (2010), Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/ GM Crops. 2010, ISAAA-brief 42. www.misaaa.org/resources/publications/briefs/42/default.asp

(2) Celeres (2011), Biotechnology Report. www.comunique.se com.br/deliverer_homolog/arq/cli/arq_1198_76582.pdf



Research Institute of Organic Agriculture


THE CASE AGAINST GMOs: Innovative agri-ecological solutions--how organic farming shows the way

The challenge of achieving food security is not so much a matter of producing more food but rather of improving access to what is already being produced and incorporating modern technologies into agri-ecological farming systems to improve livelihoods in rural areas--in a sustainable way. Organic farming, mistakenly believed by some policymakers and scientists as lacking innovativeness, offers many advantages. Progress in biological-molecular, nanotech, information, robot, GPS and sensor sciences must also be taken into account.

In feeding more people it is vital to dramatically reduce the degradation and irretrievable loss of ecosystem services and to respond to the imminent scarcity of energy and non-renewable raw materials like phosphorous. The goal is best pursued through high nature value (HNV) agriculture. HNV recognizes that certain types of farming--typically low-intensity, low-input farming systems, often with high structural diversity--are extremely valuable for biodiversity. Organic farming has been the best example of such a concept and has been proven manageable by 1.8 million farmers on all continents. (1)

The 2008 International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) report also advances agri-ecology as a solution for food insecurity and not technologies like genetic engineering. (2) Additionally, a multi-disciplinary group of leading scientists warned in 2009 that modern agriculture and the load it places on the environment might threaten the very stability of the planet. (3)

People should not be going hungry anywhere in the world as sufficient amounts of food are already being produced. There are political, economic and social obstacles in the way of enabling satisfactory access to this food. The solutions lie with political and economic leaders and organizations. There is also a responsibility at the people's level with farming systems marshalling natural, human and social capital in rural communities that are more powerful than expensive technologies for increasing yields. The 2008 study by the United Nations Environment Programme and United Nations Conference on Trade and Development in Africa gathered data from 1.9 million farmers on 2 million hectares of land documenting how effective organic and near organic farming is for improving livelihoods and access to food. (4)

Genetic engineering is meant to be a powerful tool for plant breeding. Doubts have been raised about the extent of yield increases achieved by the use of genetically modified plants. Traditional breeding methods have been equally successful in addressing complex goals, such as how to best cope with environmental change and water, phosphorous and nitrogen scarcity. Whether the genetic modification of plants is really a macro-economically efficient solution, and whether or not it creates unintended externalities for the environment, social coherence and human health, are still controversial, even in the scientific community.

At the moment, no-till cropping systems with GMO crops are promoted to be the most advanced solution to reduce soil erosion and mitigate climate change. Crops like canola, soybean, cotton, corn or sugar beet are genetically modified to prevent harm by total herbicides so that no soil tillage is needed. This technique is recommended by many Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), EU and national government policy papers. However, this practice excludes many agri-ecological techniques such as more diverse crop sequences, the integration of nitrogen-fixing legumes, the recycling of organic matter and nutrients from livestock systems, and the use of urban compost. These techniques are recommended by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's 2007 agricultural report for mitigating climate change. (5)

Rather than simple technology fixes, innovative agri-ecological solutions focussing on resilient farms are more promising in addressing the future challenges of securing food production. I am convinced that modern and further developed organic farming systems will offer powerful solutions for farmers and will become a high priority on the agenda of national and international agricultural policy.

Urs Niggli is also Honorary Professor for Research Management in International Agriculture at Kassel University Germany.

(1) Willer H. and Kilcher, L. (Eds.) (2011), The World of Organic Agriculture Statistics and Emerging Trends 2011, IFOAM. Bonn, and FiBL, Frick

(2) Reports from the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) (2008), www.agassessment.org

(3) Rockstrom et al., (2009), 'A safe operating space for humanity', Nature 461. 472-475 (24 September 2009) | doi:10.1038/461472a: published online 23 September 2009

(4) UNEP-UNCTAD Capacity building Task Force on Trade, Environment and Development (2008). Organic Agriculture and Food Security in Africa www.unctad.org/en/ducs/ditcted200715_en.pdf

(5) Smith, P., D Martino, Z. Cai, D. Gwary, H. Janzen, P. Kumar, B. McCarl, S. Ogle, F. O'Mara, C Rice, B. Scholes. O. Sirotenko (2007), Agriculture', in Climate Change (2007): Mitigation. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Metz. B., Davidson, OR., Bosch, P.R., Dave, R, Meyer, L.A. (eds)], Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA. Available at www. ipcc-wg3.de/publications/assessment-reports/ar4/files-ar4/ Chapter08.pdf/view
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