Although there has been considerable concern expressed at the introduction of genetically modified foods it is not so well appreciated that the clothes that we wear are produced from cotton grown from G.M. (genetically modified) seeds. In fact a significant amount of seeds cultivated are from this source. There are two main reasons why genetically modified crops are grown they are tolerant to herbicides and resistant to insects. Weed control is supposed to be easier because the plants are able to tolerate non selective chemicals which kill all other natural vegetation. Unfortunately this has resulted in a decrease of beneficial insects as the plants that they feed on are also killed. The plants are resistant to insect pests as they have bacteria introduced within the plant by genetic modification which kills insects that feed upon them. It had been predicted that G.M. cotton crops would require less herbicides but this does not appear to have happened. It has been suggested that environmental effects require further studies. There are indeed concerns surrounding longer term pest resistance and the commercial monopoly exercised by some agri-business giants over G.M. seeds.
Decisions about growing G.M. cotton are made at high levels of government officials representatives of agri-business agencies and ‘experts’ and few are concerned about the farmer’s opinions. Transfer of genes to related wild species seems inevitable. Increases in the use of G.M. cotton presents a threat for organic cotton producers as the basic standards for organic agriculture prohibits the use of G.M. varieties. It has been established by PANUK that there is a growing call for organic cotton and supplies are now outstripped by demand. There are two reasons why this is the case-
- Organic cotton global production is still a small part of the industry which means that it is unable to meet sudden variations in demand.
- Cotton farmers need to go through a 3 year conversion before they are able to be certified organic.
Cotton growing highlights the unequal trade relations which have been set up where farmers in the E.U. and U.S are paid subsidies which give them a price which is two to three times higher than the world markets. In consequence North American and European growers produce cotton that is sold on the world market at a loss thus reducing prices for everyone.
There are dominant forces in G.M. technology; seeds are patented so that farmers are required to agree not to save seed and to pay royalties. Specific herbicides are linked to the seeds ensuring continuing revenue. Huge amounts of money have been spent by the biotech companies on research and they want to see an early return on their investments. Data which has been released is by the companies themselves and has been accepted by the authorities. G.M. technology is now being forced on to countries as quickly as possible even if local farmers are in opposition. Given the concerns that have been expressed about the speed with which genetically engineered crops are being adopted I would suggest that more unbiased testing needs to be done before we forge ahead with something which could change our environment irrevocably. It is surely far more feasible at this time to put money into organic crops which are what the public appear to want.
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