From my survey these were found to be the most common disadvantages people claimed about GM crops. The concerns here are very complicated and are involved not with the actual science as such but more with how it is administered and regulated. Currently the areas of the world where GM crops could be most beneficially is in 3rd world countries where there are food shortages and harsh growing environments. However, the science has been developed and is owned by large corporations from 1st world countries and thus a lot of issues arise from power these companies have over technology which has the potential to be very beneficial.
Firstly though I will focus on a topic closely linked to an issue mentioned in the environmental impacts post. There I spoke about the risk of gene infiltration into the local ecosystem. Now, imagine there are two fields of the same crop species growing next to each other. One field is owned by a farmer who owns an organic farm and the other by a company using GM technology. As mentioned, there is potential through vertical transfer that the genes from the GM crop could infiltrate into the organic farmers crops. Now there is a big issue. Firstly, the organic farmer can no longer sell his crop as organic as it contains genetic traits and currently regulations state that GM crops can not be classified as organic. This all means they will get a reduced price for their crop as they won’t get the organic premium price. Also there is now a whole debate over who actually owns the crop. This leads nicely onto the topic of corporate control which I am about to cover.
As I have mentioned there is a big concern over corporate power in GM technologies. Nowadays, companies are able to get patents out for genetic technologies which can even be as specific as covering a specific gene. A patent is a set of exclusive legal rights that provide a corporation with ownership over an invention. In the case of GM crops this can mean that a corporation with the correct patent would possess ownership over all crops which have been genetically modified to carry a specific trait. Unfortunately this is the reality in many cases and thus creating the problems so many people are worried about.
By now more than 75% of patents in agriculture are owned by companies in the private sector and of these the majority are owned by just a handful of multinational companies . This creates a lot of ethical issues. With so much power in the hands of so few it is easy to see how these technologies could be misused. These technologies have been invented to address the problems we are facing across the world but as things are currently it could be argued that the companies are developing them with too much focus on making a profit and not helping the people who need the help. Many people fear that the farmers are being exploited but is this really the case?
For the farmers to be exploited, two conditions must be met. Firstly, the patented technologies and seeds must be sold at price which is so high that the benefits gained by the farmers from using them are completely wiped out by the costs. Secondly, farmers must have no alternative than to use these technologies. However, it is unlikely that both these conditions will hold. The patents protecting the technologies will provide the companies owning the patents with complete control over the technologies and thus usually these technologies will be charged at a higher price than regular seeds, especially at first when the technologies are first introduced. However, these companies still want farmers to purchase these technologies from them and thus they can’t set the prices higher than those of alternatives (such as the original non-GM variants of the seeds) or the farmers won’t buy them and the companies will lose money. Even if the company tries to increase the prices, after starting off with them low to entice the farmers in, the farmers would simply change back to other alternatives as soon as the price rose above the benefits. Thus whilst other alternatives exist the first condition will always be met. Despite this, the premium price charged by the corporations does heavily eat into the benefits which the farmers gain from using the GM technologies. Thus whilst the technologies are still going to be beneficial, the companies have the power to and do severely restrict the level of benefit which is experienced.
The other concern is whether or not alternatives will always be available. There are now certain species of crops which have almost become entirely GM grown around the world. This may seem concerning but in fact many studies have been produced showing that the these cases occur when there are multiple companies selling variations of the same technology. In these cases, the companies are competing with each other and thus to get customers they have to keep their prices down. Thus when the second condition is met then the first becomes not applicable and exploitation can’t occur. The only feasible way in which exploitation could occur is if a singular company had complete control over an entire supply of a required seed/technology and this should always be avoided, but at the same time this apply to normal seeds not just GM varieties as well as countless other product in everyone’s life.
One other thing which is often not noted is that patents are nationally governed and thus in many cases a technology or seed may have a patent that is valid in the USA and other countries where the company operates but perhaps not in the developing countries where it is being used. This isn’t always the case though and is something which needs to be looked at in a case to case basis.
1 Genetically modified crops and agricultural development, Martin Qaim, 2016
2 Agricultural biotechnology and transatlantic trade, Isaac G.E, 2002