Super Rice or Monster Rice? Why GM crops can’t feed the world

RICEI had sent in a letter to the Editor of “The Straits Times,”  Singapore’s National Newspaper, in response to the following article published on December 25th, 2009, entitled “Super Rice under Development” which has been reproduced in entirety in Wild Singapore’s blog. The article by Alastair McIndoe refers to the C4 project of the International Rice Research Institute to develop a super strain of genetically modified rice, as a solution to world hunger.


Since then another article has appeared in the same newspaper, on Jan 2nd 2010, under the heading, ” Seeding a second green revolution“  (again reprinted in Wild Singapore’s space.)  The article is strongly in favour of genetic modification of crops to create a “second green revolution” in agriculture.


My response to the first article was published today in the Straits Times under “Why GM crops can’t feed the world.”  I’ve printed here the entire letter, and the part in italics is what has been edited out.


“It was with great concern that I read the article by Alastair McIndoe entitled, “Super rice under development” in the Straits Times dated December 25th 2009.


Genetically engineered or modified crops (GM for short) are often touted as a “solution to world hunger,” promising increases in yield through resistance to pesticides and high tolerance to flooding, drought and salinity.


A closer look at the entire GM industry reveals an altogether different story. A handful of large corporations control over 80% of the food supply chain. It is worth asking who really benefits from GM foods.


In genetically modified seeds, traits from alien species are very selectively chosen and fused into the crop. Tuber moth genes which are the main pests of the potato plant are fused with potatoes to provide resistance. The genes of the artic char fish which has anti-freezing properties are merged with strawberries to prevent the fruits from freezing in the cold.  GM rice is engineered to be resistant to the herbicide glufosinate that kills the weeds around the plant.  GM crops are designed not to benefit the consumers, but rather the mass producers of these crops by making them resistant to the very same pesticides that the agro chemical companies manufacture. Also, the claims that the use of pesticides is lessened in GM crops is wrong because the weeds eventually become resistant to these chemicals, requiring ever increasing doses of pesticides.


The tests done by the companies are far from conclusive as to the safety of GM crops, either for the environment or for human health. The danger lies in the potential for new viruses and bacteria to be created, and the disruption of genes in animal and human cells. We are biologically creating something that the body’s immune system begins to attack, leading to auto-immune disorders. Nutritionists are discovering that food sensitivities are increasingly coming from traditionally benign foods that could have their source in GM ingredients. 


APPLE ON STEROIDSWe are not creating funky food as Dr.Zeiglar claims. These are Frankenstein foods with unknown, far reaching and irreversible consequences for the future of food and to borrow the words of the writer, we are entering “unchartered scientific territory.”  We are playing with Nature, and natural living systems which have evolved over millions of years. What is worse is that consumers lose total control over what they put on their plates, as much of GM products is pushed as unlabelled for fear of consumers not accepting these.


There is no conclusive evidence that yields increase because of GM agriculture. Studies have shown that the same or better results can be achieved through integrated pest management and sustainable agricultural practices by promoting a biodiversity of crops.  In fact, GM is a big threat to food security as large monocultures dependent on very few traits within selected species of crops can lead to catastrophic shocks in the system,  as we saw in the case of famines in Ireland in the 19th century or in Ethiopia in the latter part of the 20th century. Many farmers in Ghana and parts of India have reduced crop failures by cultivating different types of drought resistant varieties of the same species, which also leads to better water management and reduced pesticide use.


GM seeds are patented and sold at a hefty premium to farmers who also have to pay a huge technology fee. Intellectual property rights mean that farmers get a license to use the seeds only for one year, and can’t save seeds as they have been doing for centuries. The heavy dependence on agrochemical companies for patented seeds, and the fossil fuel intensive fertilisers and pesticides, leads to a heavy cycle of dependence, often cited as the reason behind the spate of farmer suicides in countries like India.


Hunger is not a technological problem. Hunger is a distribution problem, as food is concentrated in the hands of the wealthy and does not reach those who need access to them.  GM is a strategy which will only perpetuate poverty and hunger, as it destroys small farmer livelihoods and self-suffiency.”



Civil Eats:  What you need to know about Genetically Engineered Food

Union of Concerned Scientists: FAILURE TO YIELD – Evaluating the Performance of Genetically Engineered Crops

The Organic Center: Impacts of Genetically Engineered Crops on Pesticide Use: The First Thirteen Years

Alternet article: Sorry Monsanto, You’re wrong: More GE crops mean more Pesticides

Guardian article: Biodiversity – insurance against hunger 

Greenpeace report: Agriculture at a crossroads: Food for Survival

Greenpeace report: Food Security and Climate Change: The Answer is Biodiversity

Down to Earth : GM food can cause cancer

Ban GM Foods:  10 Reasons why we don’t need GM foods

BNB Blog: Scientific Evidence Documenting The Negative Impacts of Genetically Modified (GM) Foods on Human and Animal Health and the Environment

Digital Journal: It’s green vs. biotech as India promotes organic agriculture


The World according to Monsanto: Part 1 of 8  (the links to the other parts are in the video)

Jeffrey Smith: The Health Dangers of Genetically Modified Foods Part I ;  Part II ; Part III

Vandana Shiva: Seeding Deep Democracy

David Suzuki: The Silent Forest


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Posted by on Jan 4 2010. Filed under Biodiversity, Sustainable Agriculture/GMO/Organic. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

3 Comments for “Super Rice or Monster Rice? Why GM crops can’t feed the world”

  1. Genetically Modified food is all over. Its just that we don’t know. I recently visited a sugarcane farm near Bangalore, India and the expert adds a serum to the flower just as it blooms ( 3-4am) to increase the sweetness of the sugarcane. He is an sugar expert and is a consultant to all major Chocolate manufacturers in India. And according to him its not new. He has been doing this for the past 25 years.

    We as consumers have very little choice.

  2. what has been edited out tells a story by itself!

  3. Yes, Swarna…that’s why we have to push for better labelling standards. Pradipta, interesting isn’t it? Having said that..I also think I exceeded the word limit :)

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