GMOs In The Dock: Investigation Turns Spotlight On Gene Editing

Led by Vandana Shiva, agribusiness monitor Navdanya International probed the worldwide deregulation of gene editing and the strategies of the agrifood industry behind the new generation of GMOs.

Spotlight on gene-edited GMOs

September 25, 2023: As the clock counts down to Tuesday, when the Supreme Court will take up the case surrounding the Indian government’s stand to allow cultivation of GM mustard, an investigation carried out by the agri-food watchdog, Navdanya International, sheds light on gene editing, the newest technology in GMOs, especially GMO crops. The monitor is piloted by firebrand food equality and farmer rights activist Vandana Shiva.

In a report it recently released, Navdanya International probed the strategies of the agribusiness industry behind a new generation of GMOs, created through gene editing. On July 5, 2023, the European Commission released a proposal to exclude a large part of organisms genetically modified through new genetic editing techniques, from existing regulations for GMOs that require traceability, labelling, and risk assessment for genetic engineering products.

What is really at stake? Why is agribusiness investing billions in this sector and lobbying European politicians? Are “new GMOs” really new and as safe as the industry claims, or should an independent investigation be undertaken following the European precautionary principle? What will happen to the growing organic market and to our biodiversity after this irreversible choice? Is our food and seed sovereignty under threat?

The Navdanya International report, titled ‘Nothing New in New GMOs’, came up with the following observations:

The so-called gene technologies are essentially second-generation GMOs: 

Policy makers and corporations are using terms such as “science-driven policy”, and “scientifically-based technical decision-making”, which attempts to give a scientific and moral high ground to highly risky technologies, by elevating these technologies above nature, ecosystem functions, and the purview of farmer’s contributions.

The advent of these new technologies are only allowing companies to widen patentable material. Biotech enthusiasts see this new economic sector as the panacea that could solve all our ecological, climate, biodiversity, health and economic crises. Thanks to gene editing technology they can now mobilise a previously inaccessible part of nature to produce economic output for their benefit.

Limited and controlled lab-based data: 

It is chosen as evidence of success and innovation that are then proposed as solutions to global threats. Establishing all knowledge, except the industry-funded scientific knowledge, as irrelevant for the promotion of sustainable agriculture enables the industry to control the narrative of the “right and appropriate” solution.

Lobby groups:

They have started to move to change overall regulations on labelling GMOs. Labels such as “Organic” and “GMO-free labeling” would disappear in favour of ‘healthy’ or ‘sustainable’ labels, regardless of the process used to create the product. In the wake of several countries now having legislation to label the presence of GMO ingredients in foods, interest groups are seeking ways to bypass or change these labels to better market their biotech products.

Lack of traceability of gene edited organisms:

The lack of traceability and the roping off of genetic material placed into direct threat the survival of organic and agroecological agriculture, along with traditional and native agro-diversity. This represents a further attack on food sovereignty, understood as the fundamental right of the public to healthy and safe food produced by ecological methods, and to adequate information on the origin and production methods of food.

Cross contamination:

It could be potentially unknown. Any genetic mayhem, or destruction that could happen due to an altered organism could quickly pass on to a wild or conventional counterpart. It could result in a domino effect of possible consequences.

The same narratives that were used in the 1990s for the imposition of the first generation of GMOs: 

The same old narratives are now being used to execute this deregulation. It is a series of false promises: the promise of increased climate sustainability, increased yield for greater food security, pest resistance, greater health and so on, that have all, with time, been proven completely false.

Big question mark over GMOs

Considering the devastating consequences already caused by the industrial food system, pushed through the same false promises of food security, sustainability, and climate adaptation, there is little reason to believe this new era of gene edited organisms will be any different.

Food systems are deeply intertwined with natural systems, as well as with culture and local economies. The attempt to erase the ways in which food is produced, is a play to erase the consequences of this industrial paradigm. In order to maintain business as usual and not lose profit by allowing the real solutions to come to the forefront, a new iteration of the same failed technologies are being pushed globally.

New gene editing technologies continue to shift attention away from these real alternatives that can drive ecological regeneration. Now it is more important than ever to protect our food and seed sovereignty. To demand that our democratic governments actually listen to the will of the people, and protect farmers and citizens from the risks of these new technologies, as well as hold corporations responsible for the destruction they’ve caused. The real solutions lie in the creation of ecologically integrated systems based on biodiversity, care and a science that understands and respects the interconnections between life and nature.

(Get the full report by Navdanya International here).


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