GM farmers "destroying neighbouring produce and causing sickness" (15/4/2004)

The New Scientist has an article in its current edition, "ARGENTINA'S BITTER HARVEST: Genetically modified soya promised so much for hard-pressed farmers. Now it has all gone horribly wrong" (p.40) The accompanying editorial struggles to maintain the magazine's pro-GM line. It extracts some comfort from its disturbing report by declaring it's not the technology's fault things have gone horribly wrong. The technology is simply being "mishandled". But this is a technology prone to being mishandled in this way given the rush to introduce it globally, and given that the selling point to farmer's is its supposed convenience, when it in fact requires complex management.

GM Farmers 'Mishandling Technology'
By Vik Iyer, PA News

Genetically modified crop farmers in South America are using weedkiller so heavily that it is destroying neighbouring produce and causing sickness, it emerged today.

Farmers in Argentina, who began growing herbicide-resistant soya crop in the late 1990s, are now facing the prospect of soil becoming inert because of the herbicides.

In 2002, almost half of Argentina's arable land, 11.6 million hectares, was planted with soya, with almost all of it GM.

The main benefit to farmers is that by making the crop herbicide resistant, all weeds can be wiped out by one single broad-spectrum substance.

However, seeds from the previous season will still have to be killed with a different weedkiller.

Furthermore, if a crop is grown in the same field over a period of seasons, weeds which are naturally resistant to the main herbicide take over.

According to the New Scientist journal, farmers are fighting off these problems with quantities of herbicides which are ‚ "destroying neighbours' crops" and "making people sick".

In one example, the toxic weedkillers caused eyes to smart, brought rashes out on children's legs and left a huge swathe of crops damaged in a rural village which neighboured GM land.

Scientists later confirmed that over-spraying of weedkiller was the culprit.

But, in its editorial, the journal insists that this does not necessarily reflect badly on GM crops.

It said: "But the real story is more complex. For one thing, any farmer who sprays herbicides with such abandon that nearby crops and people are affected is being reckless and should face legal penalties.

"Argentina's troubles are caused more by a mishandling of the technology than by technology itself.  

"Turning over large areas of farmland to just one crop, relying on one method of weed control, and failing to take precautions such as rotating crops, is asking for trouble.  

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