See our Photo of the Week (and archive of more) ... and the echo follows

Opinion Advertize Permission
To be notified of new articles Survey Store About Us
Farmers' Declaration on
Genetic Engineering in Agriculture

Fact Sheet on Genetic Engineering in Agriculture

Ariane Kissam
Washington, D.C.

Central Missouri farm land
Farmland in central Missouri. Photo by Nic Paget-Clarke.
Ariane Kissam writes on behalf of the National Family Farm Coalition.
  • Rapid rate of consolidation in the seed industry
  • Support of genetic engineering technology by taxpayers
  • Monsanto does not want to give farmers choices
  • Questionable markets
  • Rewards for Farmers
  • Farmers' Declaration on Genetic Engineering in Agriculture
  • Endorsers of the Farmers’ Declaration on Genetic Engineering in Agriculture

Rapid rate of consolidation in the seed industry

Two major companies in the United States, DuPont/Pioneer and Monsanto, control the bulk of the seed industry in the US. About five global partners control the seed trade in the world.

Support of genetic engineering technology by taxpayers

In March 1998, the USDA and Delta & Pine Land won a patent on a technique for genetic seed sterilization in 87 countries. The USDA has supported private sector companies and land grant universities in their research on genetic seed sterilization techniques. RAFI-USA.

Monsanto does not want to give farmers choices

  • Monsanto has been cracking down on farmers who save and replant seeds containing their "patented technology," and also farmers who "brownbag" those seeds (save seeds and sell them to other farmers).
  • 85% of farmers worldwide still save seed. RAFI-USA.
  • In the U.S. Monsanto has opened more than 475 seed piracy cases, generated from over 1800 leads. Rick Weiss, "Gene Police Raise Farmers' Fears," The Washington Post, February 3, 1999.
  • According to Monsanto's Kate Marshall, more then 250 of these cases are under active investigation by five full-time and a number of part-time investigators, and Pinkertons, a private detective firm.

Questionable markets

  • A two-tiered price system for crops has developed: a higher price for traditional, unmodified crops and a lower price for genetically engineered crops. For example, ADM is paying some farmers 18 cents less per bushel for genetically engineered soybeans than for traditional product. Melody Peterson, "New Trade Threat for U.S. Farmers," TheNew York Times, 8/29/99
  • Many companies have announced they will not put any genetically engineered crops into their products including Gerber, Heinz, Iams, Grupp Maseca (Mexico's leading producer of corn flour), and Edeka (one of the largest supermarket chains in Germany)
  • Consolidated Grain and Barge Company and Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) have called for segregation of GM and non-GM crops.

Rewards for Farmers

  • Charles Benbrook's study on Round-Up Ready soybeans shows that the amount of herbicide used for these beans is two to five times the amount of spraying for conventional beans. The same study shows a yield drag of 4.6 bushels for Round-Up Ready soybeans. "Evidence of the Magnitude and Consequences of the Roundup Ready yield drag from University-Based Varietal Trials in 1998," Charles Benbrook.
  • Recent data from the University of Wisconsin shows that Round-Up Ready soy yields are consistently lower than those of best-performing conventional varieties.
  • Infestations have to be high enough to cut yields by at least 5-8 bushels per acre before Bt-corn is economically competitive and justifies the extra expense on GE crops. (M. Sears and A. Schaafsma. 1998. "Responsible deployment of Bt corn technology in Ontario.")
Farmers' Declaration on Genetic Engineering in Agriculture

Genetic engineering in agriculture has significantly increased the economic uncertainty of family farmers throughout the U.S. and the world. American farmers have lost critical markets which are closed to genetically engineered products. Corporate control of the seed supply threatens farmers' independence. The risk of genetic drift has made it difficult and expensive for farmers to market a pure product. Genetic engineering has created social and economic disruption that threatens traditional agricultural practices for farmers around the world. Farmers, who have maintained the consumer's trust by producing safe, reasonably priced and nutritious food, now fear losing that trust as a result of consumer rejection of genetically engineered foods. Many scientists believe genetically engineered organisms have been released into the environment and the food supply without adequate testing. Farmers who have used this new technology may be facing massive liability from damage caused by genetic drift, increased weed and pest resistance, and the destruction of wildlife and beneficial insects.

Because of all the unknowns, we, as farmers, therefore:

  1. Demand a suspension of all further environmental releases and government approvals of genetically engineered seeds and agriculture products.
  2. Demand an immediate, independent and comprehensive assessment of the social, environmental, health and economic impacts of genetically engineered seeds and agricultural products.
  3. Demand a ban on the ownership of all forms of life including a ban on the patenting of seeds, plants, animals, genes and cell lines.
  4. Demand that agrarian people who have cultivated and nurtured crops for thousands of years retain control of natural resources and maintain the right to use or reuse any genetic resource.
  5. Demand that corporate agribusiness be held liable for any and all damages that result from the use of genetically engineered crops and livestock that were approved for use without an adequate assessment of the risks posed to farmers, human health and the environment.
  6. Demand that the corporations and institutions that have intervened in the genetic integrity of life bear the burden of proof that their actions will not harm human health, the environment or damage the social and economic health of rural communities. Those corporations must bear the cost of an independent review guided by the precautionary principle and conducted prior to the introduction of any new intervention.
  7. Demand that consumers in the U.S. and around the globe have the right to know whether their food is genetically engineered and have a right to access naturally produced food.
  8. Demand that farmers who reject genetic engineering should not bear the cost of establishing that their product is free of genetic engineering.
  9. Demand the protection of family farmers, farmworkers, consumers, and the environment by ending monopoly practices of corporate agribusiness through enforcement of all state and federal anti-trust, market concentration and corporate farming laws; by a renewed commitment to public interest agricultural research led by the land grant colleges; by an immediate shift of funding from genetic engineering to sustainable agriculture; and by expanding the availability of traditional varieties of crops and livestock.
  10. Demand an end to mandatory check off programs that use farmers' money to support and promote genetic engineering research and corporate control of agriculture.

What many farmers have found about genetic engineering:

Genetically engineered agricultural products were released on the market without a fair and open process to assess the risks on human health and the environment or the social and economic risks to farmers and rural communities.

Family farmers' livelihoods and independence will be further compromised by genetic engineering. Genetic engineering empowers corporate agribusiness to accelerate capital and chemical intensive agriculture at the expense of family farmers and rural communities around the world, increases corporate concentration in agriculture, and poses unknown risks to the safety and security of the food supply.

Genetic engineering disrupts traditional agricultural practices creating social upheaval in rural communities and threatening agrarian cultures throughout the world.

Consumers worldwide are rejecting genetically engineered foods, driving down farm prices. This will force significant numbers of family farmers out of business.

Family farmers have been unfairly forced to assume liability for genetically engineered products that were not adequately tested before being released into the environment and food supply.

The corporate ownership of genetic resources and the corporate use of genetic engineering in agriculture is not designed to solve the problems farmers face in agriculture such as increased weed resistance, growing staple crops on marginal land, or making traditionally bred crops available to farmers worldwide, but rather to enrich corporations.

Genetically engineered seeds increase costs to farmers, have failed to perform as promised by corporate agribusiness, and, in some cases, yields have been lower and crops engineered to be herbicide tolerant have required increased use of herbicides manufactured by the corporations that market the seeds.

The "terminator" gene, which renders corporate seeds sterile and was developed with USDA resources, is an unconscionable technology because it destroys life and destroys the right of farmers worldwide to save seeds, a basic step necessary to protect food security and biodiversity.

Genetic engineering defined*: Genetic engineering involves taking a gene from one species and splicing it into another to transfer a desired trait. This could not occur in nature where the transfer of genetic traits is limited by the natural barriers that exist between different species and in this way genetic engineering is completely new and incomparable to traditional animal and plant breeding techniques. Genetic engineering is also called biotechnology. Another name for genetically engineered crops is genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

(*Reference: Genetic Engineering, Food and our Environment by Luke Anderson, Chelsea Green Publishing Co., White River Junction, Vermont).

Endorsers of the Farmers’ Declaration on Genetic Engineering in Agriculture

  • American Corn Growers Association
  • California Sustainable Agriculture Working Group
  • Dakota Resource Council (ND)
  • Empire State Family Farm Alliance
  • Family Farm Defenders (WI)
  • Federation of Southern Cooperatives
  • Illinois Stewardship Alliance
  • Indiana Citizen Action Coalition
  • Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
  • Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement
  • Land Loss Prevention Project (NC)
  • Land Stewardship Project (MN)
  • Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association
  • Michigan Organic Food and Farm Alliance
  • Minnesota COACT
  • The Minnesota Project
  • Missouri Rural Crisis Center
  • National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture
  • National Catholic Rural Life Conference
  • National Family Farm Coalition
  • Northeast Organic Farming Association (VT)
  • North American Farm Alliance (OH)
  • Northern Plains Resource Council (MT)
  • Organic Growers of Michigan
  • Rural Advancement Fund International
  • Rural Coalition
  • Rural Vermont
  • Sustainable Cotton Project
  • Western Colorado Congress
  • Western Sustainable Agriculture Working Group
  • Women, Food and Agriculture

For further information or to contact groups individually, please contact the National Family Farm Coalition at (202) 543-5675

Also see:

Published in In Motion Magazine - November 28, 1999