The non-GM success stories (26/7/2007)

Research shows that stories reporting speculative GM solutions to apparently intractable problems are very widely published in all types of newspapers. This means, as Guy Cook, Professor in Language and Education at the Open University, has noted, that stories designed to promote the GM cause, such as 'GM breakthrough - allergy-free peanuts!', turn up even in newspapers which tend to be critical of GM. (Genetically Modifed Language)

Part of the trick in promoting such stories is the development of a crisis narrative. In the case of Africa, for instance, James Smith, an Africa specialist at the University of Edinburgh, reports that this type of "narrative prevails amongst a whole range of literature supporting biotechnological development in Africa." (Biotech's deceptive fiction)

The biotech solution is then proffered as the only way out of the crisis - nothing else can save us. And even though the claims being made are almost invariably speculative, they tend to be lapped up by the media, as Prof Cook's research shows.

To date it's rare for any of these speculative GM solutions to get as far as completed field trials. But New Scientist did report on what happened in the case of the massively hyped virus-resistant GM sweet potato:

"Three years of field trials have shown that GM sweet potatoes modified to resist a virus were no less vulnerable than ordinary varieties, and sometimes their yield was lower, according to the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute…

"The GM project has cost Monsanto, the World Bank and the US government an estimated $6 million over the past decade. It has been held up worldwide as an example of how GM crops will help revolutionise farming in Africa." (Monsanto's showcase project in Africa fails)

What made the New Scientist report still more striking was that it noted something that most journalists and commentators miss - that a non-GM solution was already available:

"Embarrassingly, in Uganda conventional breeding has produced a high-yielding [virus resistant] variety more quickly and more cheaply."

And this is the great unpublished story. Over the past few years, Hartmut Meyer has pulled together for the GENET list a long series of press releases and articles from universities and research bodies around the world reporting non-GM breakthroughs with precisely the kind of problems - drought-resistance, salt-resistance, biofortification etc. - that GM proponents claim only GM will be able to provide the answer to. And note that the list of non-GM success stories given below are reports on GENET from just the current year.

While GM 'miracle' stories win vast amounts of column inches, the non-GM stories generally get minimal if any reporting in the popular media. Without GM's often exaggerated crisis narrative and silver bullet solution, there is, it seems, no story.


Items from the GENET-news archive (for 2007) at http://www.gene.ch/genet/

*U.S. food scientist develops non-GM process for allergen-free peanuts
SOURCE: EurekAlert, USA
AUTHOR: North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, USA

*Non-GM approach to Striga-resistant cowpeas in Africa
SOURCE: University of Virginia, USA
AUTHOR: Press Release

*Non-GM salt-resistant wheat
SOURCE: Molecular Plant Breeding CRC, Australia
AUTHOR: Press Release

*Gates Foundation supports non-GM b-carotine rich sweet potato in Africa
SOURCE: International Potato Center, Peru
AUTHOR: Press Release

*Non-GM virus-resistant cassava for East and Central Africa
SOURCE: Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, USA
AUTHOR: International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Nigeria, Press Release

*Non-GM technology reduces aflatoxins in maize in Nigeria
SOURCE: Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, USA
AUTHOR: Story of the Month

*Iron-fortified non-GM maize cuts anaemia rates inchildren
SOURCE: SciDev.Net, UK
AUTHOR: Ochieng' Ogodo

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