NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


September 27, 2004

Misinformation about genetically-modified foods (GMs) has created a climate of global climate of fear. In Australia, there are concerns that GM foods will damage eco-systems, promote "greedy" multinational corporations and hurt farmers' export sales, says agriculture economist Phillip Killicoat.

These fears are based on some half-truths, says Killicoat. For example:

  • Anti-GM activists claim environmental damage from GM foods based on an Iowa State University study where butterflies died from eating large amounts of insect-resistant corn leaves
  • Accusations against multinational corporations come from a 1997 case in Canada where a man was accused by Monsanto company of illegally growing a type of canola developed by Monsanto; Canadian courts sided with Monsanto.
  • Australians fear that growing GM crops will tarnish their image as being "clean and green," and they will lose market share in exporting crops to Europe; indeed, the European Union (EU) Parliament prohibits the importation of crops that are not certified as "GM-free."

However, consider the other side of the stories:

  • In the University of Iowa study, it was basically ignored that butterflies do not have an affinity for corn leaves and they were fed far more than they would normally eat; the study has since been discredited.
  • In Monsanto's suit against the canola grower, the defendant became the "poster child" for accusations that multinational companies are greedy and their products should be banned, even though the Canadian court ruled that Monsanto was correct.
  • Concerns over the EU's refusal to import GM crops are not based on safety concerns, but are a simply a way for the EU to keep out further competition from imports.

Ironically, it would seem that those concerned about the environment would support GM foods. After all, Australian farmers would be able to reduce their chemical use on plants by 70 percent with the adoption of pest-resistant GM crops, says Killicoat.

Source: Phillip Killicoat, "Food Phobias: Behind the Fuss Over GM Crops," Policy, Vol. 20, No.1, Autumn 2004, Center for Independent Studies.


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