Terra Madre: GMOs, nutraceuticals, organic/biodynamic farming

I paid a fleeting visit to a session on GMOs, functional foods and nutraceuticals, both areas of concern for Slow Food, whose No-GMO campaign was visible during the week.

A few snippets:

Marcello Buiatti:

  • more is spent on marketing than researching GMO products;
  • GMO is a technology of failure, because only 4 plants have been successfully modified since 1987, and these use the same processing methods as the nineties, so no advancement in the ten years 1997 to 2000;
  • plants evolve in ways that GMO do not; there is the same cross contamination between regulatory bodies and biotech firms in Europe as there is in the US, for example the marketing manager for Syngenta came from the European agency responsible for risk analysis and testing of GMOs.
  • the “3 sisters” (why the feminization?) Monsanto, DuPont and Syngenta with the other five (including Pioneer, Hasbro, Sogeti) control most of the seed companies in the world, and have made alliances with pharmaceutical companies who develop fungicides;
  • and that Monsanto earns more from royalties than it does from plants and seeds.

Manuela Giovannetti from the University of Pisa spent some time explaining the “substantial equivalence” myth

which has been contested since the nineties, and yet is still in use to allow GMOs into our countries. There are many other sources of information which call into question the science upon which the policies pursued by governments are based. And with that I had to flee to a tasting, about which more another time.

Paid an even briefer visit to the Earth Workshop on organic and biodynamic farming, which was underway when I arrived.

I caught some discussion of a 21-year study (1977-1998) in Switzerland which compared organic, biodynamic and conventional farming methods using 7 year crop rotations. The study was funded by government rather than multinationals, a dangerously rare situation nowadays. According to the speaker, the soil fertility findings were of particular interest because biodynamics came out far ahead of any other method, showing an increase in soil fertility, which he attributed to biodynamic methods of composting. The trials showed organic methods caused a drop in soil fertility of 10% over the 21 years; conventional methods, using chemicals as well as manure, dropped soil fertility 8%, and conventional using only artificial inputs dropped 15% while biodynamics increased soil fertility 1% (after an initial drop of 4%).

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