GMO myths debunked with Marker Assisted Selection (MAS)

New Greenpeace report outlines how MAS is better, safer


Manila, 13 November 2009 – A new Greenpeace report released today in Manila effectively puts genetic engineering where it belongs—into the dustbins of history.

The report “Smart Breeding: Marker Assisted Breeding, a non-invasive biotechnology alternative to genetic engineering of plant varieties” focuses on the technical possibilities of Marker Assisted Selection or MAS and its strengths compared to genetic engineering. Particular attention is given to rice crops, drought tolerance, harnessing of biodiversity and breeding for better nutrition. The report shows how MAS renders genetic engineering—which is expensive and unsafe—obsolete and completely unnecessary.

“Genetic-engineering (GE) has been widely publicized in recent years by agro-chemical companies as the ‘future’ of agriculture. But MAS has already gone through many silent successes that have in fact overtaken the promises of GE. GE, with its unsuccessful tests, contamination scandals, patent claims and risks to environment, health and food security, should be written off as what it is—a failed experiment,” said Daniel Ocampo, Greenpeace Southeast Asia Sustainable Agriculture Campaigner.

“MAS offers several advantages over GE: MAS respects species barriers, and raises less safety concerns, particularly about irreversible environmental harm and long-term negative health effects intrinsically associated with GE,” said Dr Arnaud Apoteker, Greenpeace International Sustainable Agriculture Campaigner.

In the past two decades there has been much publicity on genetically-modified (GMO) rice. However, to date only three GMO rice varieties have passed regulatory approval for cultivation but only in the USA. At the same time, while two GMO rice strains (Bayer LL601 and LL62) have received commercial approval in some countries, the said GMO varieties are not produced commercially, but approved merely as a consequence of GMO contamination (1).

In contrast, the first MAS-developed rice cultivars are already being commercially grown by farmers in the developing world. More recent varieties that have been developed, or are currently being developed, take much less time and cost much less compared to GMOs. In short, MAS can do what genetic engineering can—but faster, cheaper and without threatening to cause irreversible harm to environment or to human health.

Greenpeace believes that MAS plays a big role in a future of ecological agriculture in ways that GE inherently cannot—particularly if MAS is harnessed within farming systems that are bio-diverse and accompanied by a range of policy cornerstones to support rural livelihoods and long term sustainable farming (2).

The launch of the Greenpeace MAS report comes ahead of the inauguration of the 50th anniversary of the Philippine-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and its 6th Rice Genetics Symposium in Manila. IRRI’s programs include GMO research.

“With this report, Greenpeace is calling on the IRRI to abandon the development of GMO rice strains and focus on safe alternatives such as MAS. Governments should also stop funding GMO research. The way humanity has nearly tripled agricultural outputs over the past 50 years has come at unbearable costs for the environment, public health and social welfare. Industrial farming, with its dependency on fossil fuels, toxic inputs and ignorance for common good, has proven to be a destructive, dead-end road. Fundamental changes are needed in to make our farming and food systems ecological. GMOs do not figure in this equation,” said Ocampo.

The production of rice today is at a critical crossroads—rice eating populations are growing even as rice production is faced with threats of substantial declines due to the impacts of climate change. Greenpeace campaigns for a future of ecological rice production that ensures biodiversity, protects soils, water and natural habitats, safeguards the rights of farmers and consumers, and helps mitigate climate change even as it adopts to its impacts.