Portfolio 21, an investment management group based in Portland, OR, recently released a 20-page white paper entitled The Case Against GMOs: An Environmental Investor’s View of the Threat to our Global Food Systems.
The White Paper provides an overview of the history and context for the development of Genetically Modified crops, the aggressive, long-term strategy of Monsanto for dominating the regulatory environment, and Monsanto’s strategy for targeting markets in primarily developing economies in South America, India, and Africa.
“All things considered, the risks associated with GM agriculture outweigh the benefits,” the white paper concludes, adding, “while genetic modification as a tool is neither inherently negative nor positive, the history of its use indicates that the GM product is largely deployed to increase short-term profits for agricultural biotech corporations at the expense of consumers, small farmers, and the environment.”
Environmentally, “GM agriculture and its systemic effects reinforce many of the most damaging aspects of monoculture and mechanization. These include biodiversity loss, agro-chemical use, and accelerated soil exhaustion. Additionally, the foreign genetic material can spread beyond its intended area through cross-pollination and interbreeding, as well potentially migrate across species.” Socially, “the demographic shifts that have accompanied the marketing and adoption of GMOs show disturbing patterns, especially in developing countries. Small farmers often become trapped by seed licensing fees and other rising input costs. Furthermore, the switch to crops that then get exported for processing can exacerbate local food supply and quality issues.” From the perspective of governance and regulation, “the intellectual property system allowing for corporate patents on organisms opens the door for a range of ethically problematic business practices. Also, agricultural biotech companies have repeatedly used their undue influence on regulators to gain product approval, circumvent regulations, and suppress dissenting independent studies.”
Taken in totality, the reputational and financial risks are that “consumers are becoming increasingly educated on their eating habits and the consequences of these choices. In addition to raising questions concerning the health effects of consuming GMOs, the spread of this information builds up negative perceptions of the agricultural biotech corporations and the industry as a whole. Given the information and the choice, an increasing number of consumers (and the companies that cater to them) are becoming less accepting of GMOs. The market, especially among consumers in wealthy countries, has pushed GM crops to the low end of the market, where they are now a cheap choice for animal feed, biofuel feedstock, and heavily processed food. Additionally agricultural biotech companies must contend with litigation costs, settlements, and “restructuring charges” arising from failed deployments.”