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for a responsible, fair & sustainable food system

Losing the Battle and the War – Annual ISAAA “State of Play” report a fudge

Immediate release (7 Feb 2012)

Calls to: Pete Riley 07903 341 065

Today’s annual International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) report Global status of Commercialized biotech/GM Crops once again trumpets the “success” of GM farming, but this year has to peddle fast to gloss over the problems the technology is causing. [1]

Overall the report is little different to reports the ISAAA has released for more than a decade, pushing promises into the future and neglecting the setbacks, including the significant retreats in Europe by BASF and Monsanto in recent weeks, as well as ongoing failures to get GM rice into China or GM brinjal into India. [2]

The ISAAA report is funded by the biotech industry.

The Executive Summary of the report makes bold claims for GM technology, including:

Biotech crops can overcome abiotic stresses (through drought and salinity tolerance) and biotic stresses (weed, pest and disease resistance) in environments made unproductive by climate change because of variations in temperature, water level leading to more damaging epidemics and infestations which preclude the growing of conventionally bred crops (for example, several countries have discontinued growing conventional cotton in some areas due to excessive losses from bollworm). (p 22)

This ignores the reality experienced on the ground by farmers growing GM crops including:

  • There are no drought or saline tolerant GM crops commercialised anywhere in the world, and many question the feasibility of such crops. [3]
  • Escalating weed resistance in GM crops now affects some 21 weed species worldwide, and 13 confirmed resistant weeds covering hundreds of thousands of fields in the US. Duke and Powles note, “Most of the documented cases of evolved GR [glyphosate resistant) weeds in the past 6 years have been in GR crops.” [4]
  • Pest resistance in GM crops is also growing after Monsanto initially announced pink bollworm resistance in Indian cotton in 2010. [5]

Other problematic issues for the ISAAA include:

  • The boast of an “accumulative reduction in pesticides” (p 19) as a result of GM crops that ignores the reality of escalating chemical use as well as the growing body of scientific evidence of harm to human health and the environment caused by glyphosate, the chemical used on the majority of GM herbicide tolerant crops. [6]
  • The claim that GM crops are, “[C]onserving soil and moisture by optimizing the practice of no till through application of herbicide tolerance,” (p 19) cannot be reconciled with analysis finding, “Because glyphosate is the herbicide most often used in no-till and minimum-till systems, GR [glyphosate resistant] volunteer crop plants and glyphosate-resistant or tolerant weeds will jeopardize the sustainability of those systems.” [7]
  • Among the outright falsehoods in the report is, “Conventional breeding of potato is very expensive in time and resources, and alone, has not, and will not, result in durable resistance to late blight.” (p27) As GM Freeze has repeatedly pointed out, the Welsh-grown suite of Sarvari non-GM potatoes do just this. [8]
  • GM technology does not increase crop yields. [9]

The ISAAA promises GM will be even better in the future, including saying:

Similarly, there are advanced biotech cotton products in the R & D pipeline with more than one herbicide tolerant gene, that provide tolerance to a broader range of herbicides, which in turn allows more effective control of weeds that develop resistance to specific herbicides. (p24)


In contrast to the first generation biotech crops that realized a significant increase in yield and production by protecting crops from losses caused by pests, weeds, and diseases, the second generation biotech crops will offer farmers additional new incentives for also improving quality of products. (p 30)

But the ISAAA has been saying this for a decade or more. In 2002 it reported:

The most compelling case for biotechnology, and more specifically GM crops, are their capability to contribute to: increasing crop productivity and thus contribute to global food, feed and fiber security; conserving biodiversity, as a land saving technology capable of higher productivity; more efficient use of external inputs and thus a more sustainable agriculture and environment; increasing stability of production to lessen suffering during famines due to abiotic and biotic stresses; to the improvement of economic and social benefits and the alleviation of abject poverty in developing countries. In 2002, coincidental with evidential confirmation that GM crops continue to deliver significant economic, environmental, and social benefits to both small and large farmers in developing and industrial countries… [10]

It is, perhaps inconveniently, simply not borne out by the facts.

Commenting Pete Riley of GM Freeze said:

We’ve heard all the promises before from the ISAAA, but the evidence is against them.

The fact is GM undermines the very farming systems it claims to support by accelerating the spread of resistant weeds that force farmers to resort to hand weeding and trapping them on a pesticide treadmill. GM ends up costing them more in both time and money – it just doesn’t deliver on its promises.

BASF knows ‘it does not make business sense’ to pursue GM in markets where consumers know where it is, so they’ve pulled out of Europe. Even Monsanto has stopped trying to force French farmers to grow GM maize. We need to stop wasting time chasing GM pipe dreams and get on with the research we need to drive forward the genuinely sustainable farming we all need. This would be a better ‘service’ to poor and hungry people than wishing on a star.


[1] International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications, 7 February 2012. Global status of Commercialized biotech/GM Crops. All page references refer to this Executive Summary.

[2] GM Freeze press release, 11 July 2011. “BASF Pulls the Plug on New GM Crop Development in the EU


GM Freeze press release, 25 Jan 2012. “Monsanto Bow to French Ban on GM Maize Seed in 2012

[3] GM Freeze, 31 July 2008. GM and Drought Tolerance


GM Freeze, 30 July 2008. GM and Saline Tolerant Crops

[4] GM Freeze, 19 October 2011. Weed Resistance in RR Crops – An update

[5] India Today, 6 March 2010. “Bt cotton has failed admits Monsanto

GM Freeze, 10 November 2011. Insect Resistance to Bt Toxins in GM Insect Resistant Crops

[6] Duke SO and Powles SB, 2008. “Glyphosate: A once-in-a-century herbicide”. Pest Management Science 64: 319-325 cited in GM Freeze and Greenpeace International, 30 June 2011. Herbicide Tolerance and GM Crops – Why the world should be ready to round up glyphosate

[7] Mallory-Smith C and Zapoila M, 2008. “Gene flow from glyphosate-resistant crops”. Pest Management Science 64: 428-440

[8] GM Freeze, 31 March 2010. A Tale of Two Spuds: The tasty alternative to GM potatoes

[9] GM Freeze, 31 May 2011. Plant Breeding and Crop Yields – Can we rely on GM to increase yield?

[10] ISAAA, 2002. Global Status of Commercialized Transgenic Crops: 2002