by Stephen Meno
It can be argued that Bill Gates is probably one of the smartest men alive. So, it’s a strange feeling for me to come out and say that Bill Gates is wrong. He, like many other people around the world, has been captivated by this fallacy that genetically modified organisms (GMO) will feed the world. And really he is not to blame. Multinational corporations, like Monsanto (in which, interestingly Bill Gates owns 500,000 shares), have been campaigning and misleading the public with this idea to maintain their image and ensure that they will reap countless dollars in profits.
The marketability of GMOs comes from their resistance to pesticides, which makes it easy to believe that they increase agricultural productivity greatly. But unfortunately, they are having the opposite effect at disastrous costs.
Monsanto brought GM cotton to India, claiming it would produce 1,500 kilograms, or over 3,000 pounds, per acre. Instead, it produced 400 kg (a 73% decrease!), or over 800 pounds. This led to the financial ruin of many small farmers, 200,000 of whom committed suicide in the past decade. Poverty and limited access, not lack of food, are the primary causes of global starvation and malnutrition. Fixing economic systems, not destroying them with GMOs, would do much more to feed people.
If all of this wasn’t bad enough, acclaimed environmentalist, activist, and author Dr. Vandana Shiva points out that GM food isn’t even more nutritious. Abroad, a major GM crop is Golden Rice, which is engineered to have 34 micrograms of vitamin A. But plants like coriander and curry leaves have 1,400 micrograms. So, people eating GMOs are actually at more of a risk of malnutrition. A balanced and diverse diet, not putting all our nutritional eggs in one basket, is the solution.
Furthermore, planting GMOs coincide with a 30% reduction of soil microbiology, thus destroying nutrient levels. The Bt-toxin added to many plants has been responsible for killing cattle and bees. (For more on nutrition and GMOs, please watch this three part video series with Dr. Vandana Shiva here) While it may be helping profits for major corporations, everyone else from the little microbes in the soil to the people eating them are being harmed. A farm’s ecology is just as delicate and just as important as any other, so thinking of GMOs as any sort of answer only contributes to environmental and health problems.