Gene Giants: Climate saviors or profiteers?
A recent report by an agricultural advocacy group says that some of the world’s largest biotechnology
companies such as Monsanto, BASF, and Syngenta are seeking hundreds of patents on seeds
designed to withstand the environmental stresses of global warming. While industry representatives say
that traditional farming practices won’t withstand the impact of sea level and drought, the report is wary
of past failures of genetically engineered seeds.
REKHA VISWANATHAN (VOICEOVER): Some of the world’s largest biotech companies are seeking hundreds of patents on plants that can withstand drought and other environmental stresses. A recent report by an agricultural advocacy group says that companies such as Monsanto, BASF, and Syngenta have filed 530 applications for climate-related plant genes. Report coauthor Hope Shand is concerned that patents will further concentrate corporate power and are a bid to control more of the global seed market. The top ten seed corporations currently control 57 percent of the commercial seeds worldwide. She adds that the latest claims made by biotech firms follow a long line of unfulfilled promises.
HOPE SHAND, RESEARCH DIRECTOR, ETC GROUP: We think really what’s happening here is that we’re seeing a very opportunistic public relations campaign to convince farmers and to convince reluctant consumers that genetic engineering is going to be the essential strategy that we need to adapt to climate change. One of the reasons we say that is that we’ve been following issues related to biotechnology for just about two decades, and we recall when the biotech industry first told us that their genetically engineered crops were going to clean up the environment, and then they told us that genetically engineered crops were going to feed hungry people, and none of those things came to pass. It’s important to remember that these companies are in the business of selling a product; they’re not in the business of humanitarian aid.
VISWANATHAN: According to the report, the climate-ready seeds are directed towards the world’s poorest countries, many already affected by climate change. Monsanto asserts that genetic engineering is the only way that farmers can protect agricultural production from the adverse affects of global warming. A spokesperson for the company told The Washington Post that traditional farming methods aren’t able to address these new challenges. Shand warns that there is no silver bullet, adding that tried and tested farming practices should not be ruled out.
SHAND: We’ve seen these kinds of patents inhibit research, and I think most important of all is that these patented technologies undermine the right of farmers to save and exchange seeds from their harvests. And this is precisely what farmers need to do in the midst of a global food crisis and with climate change looming. These are the most important things. There is a lot possible based on farmer-led research that does what farmers have been doing for thousands of years, and that is adapting their crops to meet changing and adverse environmental conditions.
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