Food experts warn genetically modified crops are 'false miracles'

Food safety is this year’s theme for World Health Day, an annual health awareness day held each April 7 and sponsored by the World Health Organization. Food experts around the world have taken this year's day as an opportunity to warn about genetically modified crops, calling them “false miracles.”

Thirty-nine winners of the Right Livelihood Award -- also known as the Alternative Nobel Prize -- endorsed April 1 a declaration regarding the future of nutrition, stating that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are “false miracles” toward food security.  

The statement was originally drafted by Vandana Shiva, the 1993 winner of the Right Livelihood Award, along with several coalitions of women in India in relation to this year’s International Women’s Day (March 8).

"Genetically engineered Golden Rice and GMO Bananas are being proposed by corporations hiding behind the cloak of academia as a solution to hunger and malnutrition in the Global South. But these are false miracles," the statement said. 

“Indigenous biodiverse varieties of food grown by women provide far more nutrition than the commodities produced by industrial agriculture,” the declaration said, adding that compared to biodiverse alternatives, genetically engineered Golden Rice is 350 percent less efficient in providing Vitamin A.

“When we consider the number of patents involved in these initiatives, it becomes all too clear that the only beneficiaries of these supposedly ‘people-led’ ventures are large companies operating for profit – not for people,” the statement read. “This needs to stop now.”

Related: "Challenges identified in feeding, thinking about the world's hungry"

The Alternative Nobel Prize has been awarded since 1980 and, according to its website, is given to those who offer “practical answers to the most urgent challenges facing us today.” There are currently 158 laureates from 65 countries.

While the statement endorsed by the 39 Alternative Nobel Prize winners was written bearing India in mind specifically -- as the country’s nutritional crisis is manifested in the one in four Indians who went hungry in 2011 -- GMOs have become a global controversy. Advocates argue that engineered food has proved safe while helping end world hunger in its ability to multiply crop yields; opponents, however, say the increased use of herbicides negatively affects the environment and are skeptical regarding the long-term safety of these foods and the claimed benefits.

In Latin America fields of GM corn and soybeans, the primary genetically modified crops in the region, have displaced peasants and indigenous peoples, said Carlos Vicente, the 2011 Right Livelihood recipient and an information and outreach coordinator for GRAIN, an international small farmer advocate non-profit, in a press release. In addition, herbicides and other sprays involved in transgenic agriculture have led to health risks.  

Related: "Turkson addresses World Food Prize," Nov. 12, 2013; "Turkson to talk to both sides in GMO debate," Oct. 7, 2013

The endorsed statement outlined six processes industrial farming utilizes, which “robs food of its nutrition”:

  1. “Industrial breeding is based on uniformity, long distance transport, and industrial processing,” causing foods low in quality and diversity compared to those grown by native women.
  2. Monoculture in place of biodiversity “reduces the amount of nutrition per acre.”
  3. Added chemicals and synthetic fertilizers destroy the soil’s health, leading to nutritionally empty plants.
  4. “GMOs are also leading to a decline in nutritional availability, because the biotechnology industry is growing commodities, not food. Ninety percent of GMO corn and soya goes to biofuel and animal food, not human food.”
  5. Vital minerals in “gut-brain connection” are removed from crops, speculated to contribute to autism, according to a study by Shiva.
  6. “Mechanistic reductionism in agriculture combined with mechanistic reduction in nutrition, undermines the ecological processes through which our farms grow nutrition and our bodies are nourished through a balanced diet.”

The statement ends by saying that they will “not allow further degradation of our food systems and knowledge systems. We do not have to go down the road of replacing our biodiversity with GMO monocultures and our rich knowledge of food and nutrition with scientific and ethical fraud. We will not sacrifice our seed and food sovereignty for corporate control and profits.”

[Soli Salgado is an NCR Bertelsen intern. Her email address is]

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