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Transgenics: advance or threat to the planet?

Transgenics: advance or threat to the planet?


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By Liliane Spendeler

Despite the fact that transgenic crops and foods are already very present in our fields and dishes, there is still a great ignorance of what they are and of their repercussions in areas as diverse as agriculture, health, production and distribution of food or the protection of the environment.

Despite the fact that transgenic crops and foods are already very present in our fields and dishes, there is still a great ignorance of what they are and of their repercussions in areas as diverse as agriculture, health, production and distribution of food or the protection of the environment.

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) - or transgenic organisms - are obtained by inserting genes from another living being into their genetic material, which implies that they develop properties that they would not naturally present. For example, the transgenic corn called Bt has within its genes the gene of a bacterium and this causes the plant to produce a toxin used to fight insect pests in the field. This technique artificially creates new living beings that could not develop in nature.


GM crops have entered agriculture a decade ago but their use has been limited to fewer than 20 countries, with three major producers, the US, Argentina and Canada. Spain is a particular case within the European Union, since it is the only country that has produced genetically modified crops on a relatively large scale for subsequent commercialization: it has been sowing between 20,000 and 30,000 hectares of Bt maize every year since 1998. It also imports large amounts of transgenic soy and corn, which enter directly or indirectly in the food we consume.

The transgenic crops that are currently being used are of two types:
-Bt crops, designed to control pests by producing a toxin;
-the herbicide tolerant crops that support large amounts of a certain chemical used to kill all the vegetation in the field except the crop.
Therefore, the artificially caused properties in the GMOs marketed today play a role in the field, in the control of pests and weeds, but do not add any added value to the food obtained from them.


Although at first glance these agronomic properties may seem interesting to the farmer, the experience of ten years of cultivation of GMOs is showing that the expectations of improvements for agriculture are not being met. With regard to Bt plants, after a few years, the Bt pest control property begins to fail due to the emergence of resistant, stronger and more difficult pests to combat.

Regarding the increase in productions, in the US, it has not been found that the average yield is higher with transgenic plants, but in many cases the opposite phenomenon occurs. On the other hand, it has been possible to establish a direct relationship between the introduction of transgenic crops and the increase in the use of chemical products in the field, with the obvious consequences for the environment, both of contamination of soils, aquifers, etc. as of the disappearance of biodiversity.

However, these crops pose risks to the environment. The increase in chemicals dumped into nature due to transgenic crops is already a reality in some countries. Regarding Bt crops, there are many investigations that show effects of the toxin on soil microorganisms, beneficial insects or other types of animals. One of the most worrying phenomena associated with the cultivation of transgenic varieties is genetic contamination.

By the dispersal of pollen or by seeds that fall from machines or remain in the field after harvest, transgenic varieties transmit their added genes to non-transgenic crop varieties or wild species. Being living beings, this genetic contamination has the ability to reproduce and expand: once in the environment, it cannot be "cleaned".

The genetic contamination of non-transgenic crops is a very serious issue for the future of agriculture and it is already a reality. In the US, it has recently been shown that more than 50% of conventional corn and soybean seeds and more than 80% of rapeseed seeds are already contaminated by genetically modified material. In Spain, cases of contamination have been detected in seeds, crops, crops, feed and conventional or organic foods.


This phenomenon calls into question the continuity of a GM-free agriculture and diet, which is essential to be able to turn back since there are still many uncertainties about the safety of GM foods on human health.

To the negative impacts for the environment and agricultural production, there are added social problems derived from the monopoly of very few large companies on the sale of transgenic seeds. This means that, as it is being considered, the introduction of transgenics in agriculture and food currently presents more risks than benefits for the planet and does not respond satisfactorily to the great unsolved problems of humanity.

* Coordinator of the Biotechnology Area
Friends of the Earth Spain

For more information, visit the Friends of the Earth website www.tierra.org or contact Friends of the Earth by email [email protected] or by phone 91 847 92 48.


Video: Topical Discussion; Risks and Precautions of GMOs (May 2022).