GMOs - in depth

Where they are grown, GM crops are linked to massive increases in herbicide use, the extension of mono-cultural farming practices, and increased costs all along the food chain. The resulting social, environmental and economic impacts are severe – contributing to small farmers losing their land and livelihoods, and failing to alleviate poverty.

Public opposition has so far meant that GM crops are not widespread in Europe, with most GM crops grown for animal feed in Spain. However agri-business has submitted dozens of applications to grow many more GM crops in the European Union, making this a major threat to European farming, our right to choose and the environment. GM crops do not tackle hunger or poverty.

Continued industry promises about the ability of GM crops to tackle the world's growing social problems are pure myth: there is still not a single commercial GM crop with increased yield, drought- or salt-tolerance, enhanced nutrition or other 'beneficial' traits. GM crops are confined to a handful of countries with highly industrialised agricultural sectors – where GM-cash-crops are grown for profit, to be sold on the world market for textiles, feed and fuel, and not to feed people.

Corporate control

GM crops are patented – allowing research, breeding and ultimately the entire food chain of GM crops to be controlled by a few multinational companies such as Monsanto, Bayer, Syngenta, Pioneer and Dow. The GM market is driven by these companies' desire to sell herbicides as well as seeds; their aggressive pursuit of profit.

GM technology does little to benefit resource-poor farmers. The majority of the world's farmers who farm less than ten hectares do not grow GM crops. Traditional crops and local varieties in combination with modern plant breeding are invariably better suited to local conditions. Patented GM seeds are more expensive than conventional and require continued investment for new seeds and pesticides.

Devastating agricultural biodiversity

Patenting genetic material has shifted the balance of economic power towards the big business. Farm-saved seeds, crucial for maintaining local varieties of crop plants and biodiversity, are under threat. Over one billion people depend on food from farm-saved seeds.

Increased pesticide use

GM crops need more pesticides and herbicides, causing increased costs for farmers as well as environmental and health problems, affecting poorer communities who live near large GM farms in developing countries, as well as pollution. In North and South America, most GM crops have been designed to resist sprays from certain chemical herbicides. However, this system of intensive farming is starting to fail dramatically. The weeds that were supposed to have been killed by the sprays have started to become resistant to the herbicides themselves. A vicious circle has begun, with farmers having to spray even more herbicides to control these new super-weeds. Not surprisingly, more and more pesticide residues are being detected in water systems.

Ongoing contamination

The cultivation and trade of GM crops adds costs not only for farmers but also for companies in the organic and conventional food and feed supply chain. The costs of segregation and testing seeds, crops and products for GM presence is borne by the non-GM producers. This is profoundly unfair – essentially placing the economic burden on the victim, not the polluter.

Successful rejection in Europe

The large majority of consumers and farmers have recognised that GM crops offer no added value –only added environmental and health risks. Several European governments have bans on the cultivation of GM crops. There are GM-free regions in nearly every European country, some countries almost entirely covered in them. Few shops sell food contains GM ingredients.

Better alternatives exist

Instead of risky and unneeded techniques, Friends of the Earth Europe campaigns for food and farming solutions that provide livelihoods and healthy food for people, protect our biodiversity, and don't pollute the environment. GM crops do not form part of the solution. The fight to end hunger, without endangering the climate, must include traditional methods of farming. Food and farming should feed the needs of people and the environment, not the desire of big business for profit.

This campaign is part of our Food, Agriculture and Biodiversity Programme to halt biodiversity loss and to challenge unsustainable food and farming. We advocate for an ecological and fair agriculture that protects wildlife and natural resources, supports family farms, and reduces our impact on developing countries. We coordinate four campaigns: to protect biodiversity; reform the European Union's agriculture policy; halt the growing of genetically modified crops; and prevent the expansion of agrofuels. As part of our vision, we play an active role in building a movement for food sovereignty.