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The Promises of the Biotech Industry: Ignorance or Deception?

The Promises of the Biotech Industry: Ignorance or Deception?


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By Adelita San Vicente Tello

Let us remember that the transgenic seeds present on the market have only two characteristics: tolerance to herbicides, present in more than three quarters of the transgenics that are marketed in the world, and resistance to pests due to the expression of the toxin Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) . When it comes to solving world hunger, it is assumed that this technology will increase yields, and this approach is completely false; this has been recognized by the companies themselves, who say: "there are still no transgenic crops on the market that intrinsically increase yields."


In recent years we have witnessed a costly dissemination and marketing campaign by the biotechnology industry and its civil representation in the country, Agrobio, in which they reiterate that transgenic seeds are the solution to multiple problems. They affirm that this technology will allow everything from reversing the critical situation in the Mexican countryside and the adversities caused by climate change to meeting the need for more food due to the increase in the planet's population.

Let's see if the promises of this industry are a solution, if their arguments are wrong, or even more so, if they are deceived.

Although the modern biotechnology industry is vast - since it includes developments for biomedicine, bioremediation, pharmaceuticals and agriculture - here the point of debate is the transgenic seeds that will be sown outdoors.

Let us remember that the transgenic seeds present on the market, as well as those undergoing experimentation in Mexico, have only two characteristics: tolerance to herbicides, present in more than three-quarters of the transgenics that are marketed in the world, and resistance to pests due to the expression of the toxin Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt).

When it comes to solving world hunger, it is assumed that this technology will increase yields, and this approach is completely false; this has been recognized by the companies themselves, who say: "there are still no transgenic crops on the market that intrinsically increase yields."

Let's take a look at the big issue that companies have publicized: drought-resistant plants that can tackle climate change and feed humanity.

In 2007 in a trip paid to journalists to its plant in St. Louis, Missouri, “Monsanto assured that it was developing a drought-resistant white corn to 'help' developing countries, which to use it should not wait for it to be endorsed in first world nations, since that process takes up to ten years. " (Angélica Enciso, in La Jornada, May 22, 2007). At that time, more emphasis was placed on regulation than on how resistance would be conferred.


Later in 2009, celebrating the International Day to Combat Desertification and Drought, Monsanto and BASF announced the discovery of a gene that confers drought tolerance in corn plants. In a bulletin and with paid inserts in the press they revealed that “the cold shock protein B (cspB) gene - cold shock protein B - which is found naturally in Bacillus subtilis bacteria, can contribute to the tolerance of corn plants drought conditions and stabilize their yield in periods of scarce water supply ”.

Monsanto noted that "a significant part of this investment is channeled into identifying and evaluating genes with promising characteristics in terms of performance and tolerance to stress conditions." This issue is central, because although Monsanto has the technology to insert genetic information, this information is found in the plants themselves, most of which are cultivated by farmers who, with a lot of dedication and work, year after year, have produced varieties resistant to various conditions. It is knowledge developed over millennia.

This information has been collected for years in various germplasm banks, but that of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) stands out, and not so much because of its size, but because, being a non-governmental institution, the material it stores is used by various researchers around the world without any control by the Mexican government.

This is observed in different studies. For example, a text published in the journal Crop Science, of the Crop Science Society of the United States, indicates that scientists from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology used grain varieties developed by CIMMYT in Mexico for their study. This study evaluated whether different varieties of corn have the genetic mix that allows them to adapt to droughts.

Likewise, in the Monsanto report on its project for the development of a corn that makes efficient use of water - which is carried out with investment from the Gates Foundation and Howard Buffett - it is noted that CIMMYT participates by offering its varieties of high-yielding maize, adapted to African conditions and with their experience in conventional "breeding" and drought tolerance tests.

On the other hand, in terms of the dimension of the problem to be attacked, the researchers studying this phenomenon have reiterated that tolerance to drought is complex, controlled by several genes that possibly act in an organized manner. Furthermore, it is not determined exclusively by genetic characteristics, since agricultural production systems constitute a very important factor in the development of crops in dry environments. Therefore, it is very difficult to influence this feature. And that is why the only transgenic crops that have managed to position themselves in the market on a large scale so far are those that involve simple genetic traits (which are inherited through a single gene) such as tolerance to herbicides and resistance to the insects.

Thus, companies present in a reductionist way a solution to a complex problem. When analyzed, more than a wrong approach, it seems a deception, since what we observe in the background is the search and appropriation of these genes that resist drought and extreme weather conditions, which are found in varieties created, reproduced and safeguarded by farmers.

This is deduced from the report presented last October 2010 by the ETC organization, which states that “BASF, Monsanto, Bayer, Syngenta, Dupont and partners from the biotechnology industry filed 532 patent applications (a total of 55 patent families ) on genes called "weather resistant" in patent offices around the world. The bet is to apply for broad-spectrum patents on genes related to environmental pressures. Monsanto (the world's largest seed company) and BASF (the world's largest chemical firm) formed a colossal $ 1.5 billion partnership to genetically engineer stress tolerance in plants. Together, the two companies account for 27 of the 55 patent families (49 percent) identified ”.

It is clear that we are not only faced with a false promise from the biotech industry, but a real hoax. Far from helping the "poor" of the world, they seek to appropriate the wealth of our peoples.

So gross is their deception that in the aforementioned 2009 press release, we find a caption in small print that warns that what has been said may change over time: “Warning about information regarding future expectations: Certain statements included in this presentation are with a view to to the future (…)". These statements, which are effective only as of the date of their submission, should not be relied upon.

Little by little we are unraveling the deception of these companies and their real objective. We are clear that the complex problems facing the rural sector in Mexico, the hunger that affects millions of people in the world and climate change itself, are the product of their greed, which seeks to control humanity, and of their false solutions that far from ending problems they create and deepen them.

Adelita San Vicente Tello Agronomist, aspiring teacher in Rural Development. Director of Semillas de Vida, AC - The field day.


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