questions + answers
- What is genetic engineering (GE)?
- How does it differ from cross-breeding or other forms of biotechnology?
- Which foods are currently genetically engineered?
- Who is behind GE foods?
- Are GE crops grown in Australia?
- How do GE crops affect the environment?
- What are the health concerns?
- Are GE crops good for farmers?
- Will GE crops feed the world?
- Are GE foods labelled?
- What is organic food?
- Why is animal feed important?
- Does GE food have any health benefits?
Three multinational chemical companies virtually control the entire Australian market in genetically engineered food:
These companies also produce toxic chemicals such as pesticides. Their pesticide production is often the basis for producing GE food crops — seed is genetically engineered to become resistant to their commercial herbicide.
An American company, Monsanto has a long history of producing toxic chemicals such as PCBs and Agent Orange (the notorious pesticide used during the Vietnam War).
The company’s powerful weed-killer, "Roundup", kills almost all plant life except Monsanto’s own GE crops.
Monsanto produces GE soy, corn, cotton and canola, with GE canola commercially released in Australia for the first time in 2008. The chemical company, Nufarm, currently holds the licence to market Monsanto’s GE canola in Australia.
Bayer has been repeatedly criticised for its corporate behaviour. For example, in 2003 it was revealed that a Bayer subsidiary continued to sell blood-clotting medicine for haemophiliacs to Asia and Latin America for over a year after the product had been withdrawn in the West, due to evidence that it was infecting haemophiliacs with HIV.(1)
Another investigation found that Bayer had fed students a highly hazardous pesticide linked to serious disorders. Bayer tried to use the results of the study to argue that restrictions on pesticide use should be eased because no immediate adverse effects were suffered.(2)
In 2004, it was revealed that Bayer had kept its anti-cholesterol drug, Baycol on the market for four years after it first became aware of the dangers associated with it. The drug has been associated with approximately 100 deaths and 1600 injuries worldwide from side-effects, including severe muscle wasting and kidney damage.(3)
Swiss-based Syngenta was formed when two other chemical companies — Astra Zeneca and Novartis – decided to fold their genetic engineering divisions into a new company.
Syngenta has attracted criticism for its continued manufacture and sale of the insecticide Gramoxone or paraquat. A number of countries in Europe and the global south have banned or resticted the use of the chemical. Workers and farmers regularly exposed to paraquat experience serious problems with their health. The high toxicity of the chemical can lead to serious ill-health, and even death, following exposure.
There are also a number of organisations in Australia that speak on behalf of GE companies or GE food. Key groups include the following.
- CropLife – the peak body of the agricultural chemicals industry.
- Agrifood Awareness Australia – a pro-GE lobby group founded by CropLife Australia, in conjunction with the Grains Research and Development Corporation and the National Farmers Federation.
- Grains Research and Development Corporation – has strategic partnerships with Bayer and Monsanto.
- The Institute of Public Affairs – right-wing think tank that receives funding from the GE industry.
- The Producers Forum – a GE industry front group.
- Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) – invests in GE crop research and has strategic partnerships with Bayer and Monsanto.