GM and Golden Rice Discussion

For the fourth in our current series of reading discussion groups we have been discussing genetically modified (GM) crops and Golden Rice. This was based on two sections, pages 267-277, in the chapter titled ‘GM: Feeding people or factory farms’ in Farmageddon:? The True Cost of Cheap Meat, by Lymbery, P. and Oakeshott, I. (2014). There was also a second, alternative reading for this discussion for those who could not access the book: Wield, D., Chataway, J., and Bolo, M. (2010) Issues in the Political Economy of Agricultural Biotechnology, Journal of Agrarian Change. This reading is available here.

This post gives a summary of the points we discussed regarding GM crops.

  • There are myths of technology in the food system which the food industry share to keep themselves in business.
  • The contemporary capitalist system within the global food system is dysfunctional. However, democracy is active within some sectors of the food system, particularly evidenced through the food sovereignty movement.
  • Despite the food industry dominating influence on food policy and governance, civil society movements are having an impact at local, national, and international scales. For example, La Via Campesina have strengths in linking north and south. There is increasingly a consumer demand for organic, or alternative ‘healthier’ options, so the food industry has to respond.
  • However, most GM crops are fed to livestock. When people get weathy they want meat, but they wouldn’t want it as quickly if they weren’t being sold it at low prices by multi-national fast food retailers, for example Mac Donalds. The rapid change in diets with increased economic capacity increases the amount of livestock and therefore demand for GM to feed livestock.
  • Small farmers are producing enough for themselves and selling some in the market, making them a small business. Neo-liberalism is powerful because it pays.
  • Golden Rice – has the addition of betacarotenes to treat Vitamin A deficiency. The chapter in Farmageddon argues: there is a lack of understanding that there are other nutrients needed to absorb Vitamin A so Golden Rice doesn’t necessarily treat Vitamin A deficiency; providing Vitmain A in this source stops people looking for other sources of vitamins and therefore they can become deficient in other nutrients; there is a cheaper option of giving supplements to treat nutrient deficiency. Additionally, Golden Rice has been developed in the wrong variety of rice, not the variety which is most commonly eaten in local diets .
  • GM is private and for profit. The argument about GM is about models of development – pro-GM is about technology and anti-GM is about agro-ecology. An individual’s perspective on agro-food system as a whole determines their views on whether GM crops are appropriate. GM is a means to increase the industrialisation of the food system through monoculture and conforming. There is a sinlge model of the system, of farming, and of food produce.
  • There is an assuption in the private sector that the public sector will do research of the things that small-holder farmers need. GM crops which have benefitted poor societies are those which have reduced pesticide use and therefore costs of agro-chemical. However, pests develop resistance to the crops and eventually farmers experience the negative impacts of needing to use pesticides while also paying for the GM crop. Some GM crop varieities have traits which the farmers want such as those which farmers have been breeding into crops for generations, for example drought tolerance.
  • The food industry is mainly turning good food into rubbish.
  • Not going to get the best foods for people if the main reason you invent or develop them is for profit rather than human and environmental health.
  • There is a problem of GM science being highly secretive making it hard for the public and policy-makers to make a judgement on whether GM crops are appropriate.
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