Thursday, 8 Dec 2022

GMO-debat genbesøgt

Som det nok er de fleste bekendt, har vores fødevareminister varslet GMO-debat (måske er den allerede forbi). Men i hvert fald løb jeg forleden ind i en interessant GMO-debat på facebook. Kan man virkelig redde verden med genmodificerede planter? Bliver miljøet virkelig bedre, og kan folk syd for Sahara få mad på bordet? Og er GMO nu også en genvej til planteforædling?

Jeg tillod mig at stille spørgsmålstegn ved det sidste. For det første mener jeg at »et gen-en egenskab«-tankegangen, der ligger bag den version af genmodifikation vi kender i dag, ikke holder vand. Gener fungerer i samspil, og indsætter man et nyt gen, kan man påvirke andre gener i plantents genom – som måske gør den uproduktiv eller slår den ihjel.

Man ved fx at majs, der har fået indsat genet for Cry-protein fra Bacillus thuringensis, og dermed kan modstå insektangreb (bakterien producerer et giftstof, der slår insekter ihjel), producerer mere lignin, det ufordøjelige stof, der holder sammen på cellulose i blade og stængler, men man kender ikke sammenhængen.

Og et eksempel fra Kenya kan bruges til at sætte spørgsmålstegn ved påstanden om at genmodifikation er »hurtigere og mere præcist« end traditionelle planteforædlingsteknikker:

I 1990 begyndte KARI, Kenyan Agricultural Research Institute, i samarbejde med Monsanto og USAID et samarbejde om at udvikle en sødkartoffel, der skulle være resistent over for SPVD, en virussygdom, der forringer høstudbyttet betydeligt.

Mange, mange millioner dollars og fjorten år senere måtte projektet lægges på hylden. For det første var det ikke lykkedes at udvikle en overlevelsesdygtig sort. For det andet kan man med ret simple midler forhindre sygdommen i at brede sig. Og for det tredje havde lokale avlere i mellemtiden udviklet sorter, der var mere resistente – og som blev populære hos bønderne.

Derfor er genmodifikation jo ikke nødvendigvis ond. Men som ved alle teknologier skal man mere interessere sig for hvem der benytter sig af teknologien – og med hvilket formål – end for teknologien selv. Kunstgødning var fx engang en fantastisk teknologi – men den proces man bruger til at fixere nitrogen fra atmosfæren, Haber-Bosch-processen, er en våbenteknologi (og i nyere tid også udnyttet af folk som Timothy McVeigh og Osama Bin Laden).

Konklusionen på debatten synes jeg, jeg vil dele med verden her på bloggen. Så kan man lægge til og trække fra som man synes (det er på engelsk, thi debatten involverede finske bekendte). Den starter med en forklaring på hvorfor GMO-debatten meget tit kommer til at handle om GMO – men kommer også ind på hvorfor fødevareministerens påstand om miljø og hungersnød er noget fordrukkent sludder:

There are more than 80 million hectares of glyphosate-resistant crops in the world, and US use of glyphosate has risen from 1,8 kilotons in 1990 to 45 kilotons in 2008. That makes it quite a cash cow – but once your cash cow shows signs of being milked dry, you have two choices in capitalism (or market logic any term will do): Innovate or find a new market – the new market being Europe.

[Innovation lacks behind]: To my knowledge, Callisto, which Syngenta dubs "the tankmix partner of choice for residual, broadleaf weed control in glyphosate-tolerant corn" is the only new herbicide that has been introduced to the market since 1986.

In the US, research depends on private investment more heavily than in Europe – this has, according to scientists from UC Davis and University of Minnesota lead to underfunding of research in plants that are not soy, corn or cotton, but might be of higher nutritional relevance. In the US, RoundUp (as a synecdoche of GM) not only manifests the serfdom of farmers to biotech companies, it also represents a serfdom of the mind!

Advantages in present day GM crops mostly are of the "managerial" kind – it simply becomes easier to use herbicides when crops are herbicide resistant. No you dont get killed by RoundUp. It is a lot safer than other herbicides. But it is not good for aquatic organisms, and there may be unresolved issues concerning some of the passive ingredients.

But the key point regarding glyphosate / RoundUp: It is a thirty year old technology. The lock-in has in practice done two things:

  1. Blocked out research in new technology (and, in the US, research in plants other than those relevant in the framework of the technology)
  2. Effectively put patents on food supply for the benefit of very few companies


As in the Callisto-example: New technologies are developed in a "glyphosate-discourse", collaborations between the six crop protection companies evolve around the glyphosate resitance mechanism (LibertyLink, SmartStax), seed company investments are focused on glyphosate resistance potential (Monsanto, Cargill, WestBred).

In our part of the world, the sudden rush to speed up the approval of GM crops has nothing to do with »helping Africas poor« or »saving the environment« (arguments used by our, very blonde, minister of food, Eva Kjer Hansen). They are simply a result of the rising prices of non-GM feed and ingredients. Mariann Fischer-Boel, the Danish commissioner on food says it this way:

»The fundamental question here is not about liking or disliking GMOs, it’s about maintaining a competitive large-scale meat production in the EU or preferring to import our meat from third countries that do not have the same reluctance about GMOs. We simply do not have enough vegetal proteins to feed our livestock and we are dependent on imports from countries such as the US, Brazil and Argentina, who are more open than Europeans to GM technology."


Large-scale meat production? That has nothing to do with the hungry masses in Africa. Or sustainability. Or health for that matter …

As for organic production: Results from Ethiopia (Tigray province) shows that organic farming has the potential of doubling the yield of the farmers, while at the same time reducing their expenses to pesticides and fertilizers (farming was not organic to begin with). A recent report from FAO suggests that organic farming is not currently optimized, ant that there is a potential of more than 10 % increase in yields compared to the present status.

However, my point is agro-ecology, which is not necessarily the same as organic. Agro-ecology concerns optimising environmental sustainability, productivity and stability of farming – but of course has a lot in common with "organic" prodution, as the environmental factor is seen as important (and soil fertility should be maintained, not by using fertilisers, but by reintroducing organic materials.

Also – for a final note – diversity is a matter to be taken into consideration: Biodiversity is the key to life on the planet as such, whereas biochemical diversity is the key to our survival as organisms. Our diets – and farming – are currently monocultural, leading to the global paradoxical co-existance of obesity, malnutrition and hunger.

Future technologies must be evaluated from a holistic point of view. They must respect technical issues (health, safety), social issues (maintaining local cultures and social stability), as well as ethical issues (human rights, animal welfare) and environmental demands (low energy input). And to accept any technology – GM or other – firm proof of its ability to deliver, preferrably in the form of third party reports, must be available!

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