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GM crops: both sides of the debate

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GM crops: both sides of the debate

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To go further into the GM crop debate, we’re joined by two people with plenty of knowledge on the matter. In Paris, Dr. Christian Vélot, a researcher in molecular biology. And in Seville, Agusti Mariné, president of the Association of Corn Producers in Spain, a country where 20 percent of corn production is genetically modified.

Mr Mariné actually produces conventional corn but defends the right of other producers to choose what they grow. Why do some farmers prefer genetically engineered corn?

Agusti Mariné:

“Let’s say that each farmer makes a decision every year about what corn he will grow in his fields. Over the last 11 years we’ve noticed that those who use GM corn have a bigger harvest because those crops are attacked less by insects. So every year around 70-75 percent of farmers who use GM rather than conventional seeds decide to use them again the following year.”

euronews:

“Are the production costs higher?”

Agusti Mariné:

“Yes, production costs are higher. But when you add it all up, it costs us a bit more to buy the seeds but the cost of insecticides is much less. We found an increase in harvests of anywhere up to 20 percent.”

euronews:

“Christian Vélot, we often hear the argument that farmers are dependent on the big seed companies. From a purely economic point of view, do you think GM crops are damaging?”

Christian Vélot:

“Yes because GM crops only exist so that companies can put trademarks down and control the world food market. They pretend to feed the planet but in fact they are enslaving the world’s farmers.”

euronews:

“Mr Mariné, but hasn’t this dependence existed for a long time, ever since we started making hybrid seeds that require a trademark. And that started long before GM crops did it not?”

Agusti Mariné:

“I am 40 years old and I have only ever known hybrid seeds. If ever there were non-hybrid seeds, that must be more than 30 years ago. Now it doesn’t exist in any case not in the market for cattle feed.”

Christian Vélot:

“Yes but the trademark is a judicial tool to make farmers dependent on the seed companies. And when Mr. Mariné says that GM crops are beneficial because they are more insect resistant, what you must remember is that that is true for intensive cultivation, for monoculture. If you practice polyculture and crop rotation, you avoid the problem of insects. GM crops are responding to an environmental problem which itself is a consequence of a specific agricultural method.”

euronews:

“The other fundamental question is that of the co-existence of GM and non-GM crops. Mr Mariné there have been several cases of accidental contamination in Spain and elsewhere. How do we stop this happening?”

Agusti Mariné:

“Firstly, I don’t like the term ‘contamination’ because we are not really contaminating anything. It’s insemination or cross-pollenation. You can get cross-pollenation in fields. That happens. Not often but it happens. But mixtures can also come from combine harvesters or sowing machines…”

euronews:

“And to stop this?”

Agusti Mariné:

“We analyse the seeds to make sure there will be no transgenic seeds mixed in, and then we clean the seeding machines thouroughly. And we make sure the field that has been sown has a security buffer, so there is at least 20 metres between one field and another. I’ve been planting non-GM crops in a region that’s 75 percent GM and I have never had a problem providing my customers with non-GM produce.”

euronews:

“Christian Vélot, what’s your opinion on that? Can we avoid dissemination by following such procedures.”

Christian Vélot:

“Coexistence isn’t really practical. So when Mr. Mariné says that in 20 years he hasn’t had a problem supplying non-GM corn. But the corn is guaranteed to be non-GM beyond a certain level. That level is a political compromise and is currently 0.9 percent, but even at 0.8 percent GM, the corn is already contaminated.”

euronews:

“I’d like to talk about the potential health risks. Mr. Vélot, for scientists, what are the dangers GM crops pose to humans?”

Christian Vélot:

“Well, the GM corn in question is insecticide corn, meaning it’s been genetically modified to constantly produce its own insecticide. So it would be logical for you to test these plants like you would insecticides or pesticides. That would mean two years testing on rats to find out their effects. But at the moment, no GM crop is is tested for more than three months on one animal species. So we don’t know the chronic effects and allowing GM crops is like using people as guinea pigs.”

euronews:

“Monsieur Mariné, what would you like to say?”

Agusti Mariné:

“The only thing I can tell you is that for food safety, what we do for example, what we have to do, is test the pesticide residue and test for mycotoxins. We have seen that there is less pesticide residue and fewer mycotoxins in GM seeds.”