- A handful of companies is moving towards owning
every stage of the global food system, writes Gyorgy Scrinis.
- Public opposition to genetically modified foods has
been a stumbling block to the commercialisation of GM crops and
animals. The agri-biotech industry is hoping GM foods with
"consumer-friendly" traits might overcome some of this
- But they have also been running big advertising
campaigns in an attempt to convince the public that GM foods will be
required to "feed the world". These are the kinds of predictable
arguments being aired at the International Congress of Genetics in
- In reality, the new genetic technologies will
largely be used to feed the power and profits of agri-food
corporations, and they are more likely to exacerbate - rather than
alleviate - the problems of widespread hunger and malnutrition in the
- GM products are primarily being developed to fit
into large-scale, chemical-intensive, mechanised and capital-intensive
farming systems. Any increase in yields of crop and animal products
will be headed for its usual destination: well-off consumers.
- Research and development of GM products is largely
aimed at adapting crops and animals to the requirements of the global
food industries. For example, producing non-softening fruits for
long-distance transport so well-off consumers can have access to
year-round supplies of out-of-season fruits.
- Genetic technologies are also facilitating the rapid
corporate integration and concentration of the food system, as a
handful of corporations move towards the ownership and effective
control of every stage of the global food system. One such strategy
for monopoly control is the patenting of all GM crops, with the aim of
preventing farmers from saving and replanting their own seeds.
- Overall, genetic technologies are facilitating a
shift from a chemical-industrial to what I call a "genetic-corporate"
form of agriculture - and this food system is undermining the food
security of the world's poor and malnourished.
- Widespread hunger already exists today, in the
context of a global oversupply of food. This is one of the cruellest
ironies of the contemporary era. Most countries with the greatest
incidence of poverty and hunger are net exporters of food. Growing
more food can, in fact, exacerbate food insecurity for the world's
poor depending on how, where and by whom this food is produced.
- Genetically engineered crops and animals further
threaten the food security of the poor in a number of ways. First, to
the extent that they enable large-scale, chemical-industrial farms to
increase their productivity or profitability, this competitive
advantage will enable the further squeezing out of small-scale
- Second, GM crops may accelerate the erosion of farm
labouring work in poor rural areas through the further introduction of
- Third, by engineering crops to be sterile, and
buying out smaller seed companies, agri-food corporations aim to
diminish the availability of unpatented and self-reproducing
- Proponents of GM food have celebrated the
engineering of vitamin A rice (so-called "golden rice") as an example
of a crop that - if and when it is made freely available in a decade
or so - will help alleviate malnutrition in the Third World. Here is a
breath-taking example of what I call the "ideology of genetic
- Such arguments effectively promote the idea that
malnutrition is the result of the nutritional inadequacy of
non-modified foods, and can be alleviated through the nutritional
modification of these foods, rather than the result of a lack of
access to an adequate and diverse diet.
- This isn't to deny that genetic technologies could
be used to modify traditional crops in ways that may benefit
small-scale, capital-poor farmers. But that is to miss the big picture
in terms of the primary direction of GE research, and in terms of the
primary causes of hunger and malnutrition.
- What is actually required is a redistribution of
fertile land, of incomes and of economic power, rather than access to
- There is an obscene arrogance in the idea that GM
crops will "feed the world", or that the poor need to be fed by us.
For, in reality, poor people and communities around the world will
either feed themselves, or they will not feed at all.
- Genetic-corporate agriculture is, in fact, a system
for feeding on the world rather than for feeding the world. It is
about corporations and well-off consumers continuing to feed on the
food, the cheap labour and other extractable resources of the Third
World; about large-scale industrial producers consuming and displacing
more small-scale and subsistence producers and rural communities; and
about transnational agri-food corporations feeding on the work of more
farmers by swallowing up and patenting the seeds and knowledge
developed by traditional farmers over thousands of years.
- Dr Gyorgy Scrinis is a research associate in the
Globalism Institute at RMIT University.
- Copyright © 2003. The Sydney Morning Herald.