Carbon Credits Used to Fund GMOs?

Submitted by SadInAmerica on Mon, 02/25/2008 - 6:03pm.

Are you thinking to use carbon offsets as a means of reducing the impact of your business activities or personal lifestyle? Are you planning to pay a little more for your next flight, with the hope this will help counter the environmental consequences of your trip?

Well, soon your offsets may contribute to financing the spread of genetically modified foods and the further growth of large corporate agribusinesses — companies that also happen, incidentally, to be the largest contributors to climate change and environmental degradation.

The Guardian ran an article yesterday on moves by a US biotech firm, Arcadia Biosciences, to get their genetically modified rice into China. The company hopes to get pulled under the banner of the new Kyoto agreement:

… to reward farmers in China that grow the firm's genetically modified (GM) rice, with carbon credits that they can sell for cash.

The credits would be sold on the global carbon trading market set up under the Kyoto protocol, the international agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions, which is used by governments, companies and individuals to offset their pollution. Arcadia plans to expand the Chinese scheme to more crops in other countries, including Britain. — Guardian

As the Guardian article points out, agriculture is the largest greenhouse gas emitter — releasing more than the transport sector — something I've emphasised many times.

How on earth can genetically modified foods be getting subsidised by people's good intentions, I hear you ask?

Arcadia Biosciences have developed a genetically modified version of rice that takes up more nitrogen than normal. Substituting conventional rice with their modified version would enable farmers in China (and ultimately elsewhere) to use less nitrogen fertilisers — thus reducing the energy required to produce and transport this input as well as reducing emissions of nitrous oxide from fields. Nitrous oxide is a particularly potent greenhouse gas.

At face value, it all sounds great. Unless of course you have a little background knowledge on the consequences of GMOs (see here, here, here, here, here and here for example).

Aside from the potential for horizontal gene transfer (i.e. DNA corruption of other crops and wild plants - something we posted about just today) and unknown direct or indirect health risks, there are known health risks associated with plants having an increased nitrogen content.

A passage I quoted in a previous post on soil science highlights this point well:

Pesticide residues are not the only problem arising from modern agricultural techniques. Increasingly, nitrate levels in vegetables are causing concern, although most attention so far has been focused on nitrates in water supplies…. About 70% of average daily nitrate intake comes from vegetables, compared with only 20% from drinking water. Nitrates are taken up very readily by crops, and if they are not utilised immediately in the formation of protein, they are stored in the cells in their original form. There is then the risk that when nitrates are ingested or cooked, they convert to nitrites which can potentially combine with amines to form carcinogenic nitrosamines. — Organic Farming, Nicholas Lampkin p.565 (emphasis added)

Then again, I guess we probably could save the planet if we manage to kill off the human population….

Aside from many other benefits, one of the reasons to encourage the consumption of organic produce is that they contain less nitrates (see point #12). And, as expressed in the above-mentioned soil science post, when soil health is the focus, soil micro-organisms "˜feed' plant roots balanced quantities of nutrients — in contrast to soluble chemical fertilisers which are taken up by plants too readily.

Excess nitrogen is known to have many consequences, not least of which is weakening of plant health, increasing disease and in turn necessitating the need for more pesticides.

This is yet again a profit-focused approach.

But there's even more to it than that. The genetically modified method to farming is simply a stubborn attempt at patching the failures of our conventional farming systems. Persisting means more monocultures (which translates to more food miles, ever-larger more centralised farming, the dismantling of local farming communities and more urbanisation, with its resulting lost knowledge and greater detachment from nature) and less biodiversity (which translates to less natural stability and, again, more pesticides). We need more farmers, not less — and rather than speeding the transition of environmentally damaging western agricultural techniques to developing nations, we would do well to, instead, strengthen and aid traditional farmers by supplementing their knowledge, not supplanting it.

Incidentally, there is another method of cultivating rice (the "˜rice intensification' method, or SRI) — proven in more than a dozen countries (PDF) — that not only reduces emissions (and not just nitrous oxide, but also methane), but increases yields (significantly), uses less water and removes the need for chemical fertilisers. But, of course, how then would the biotech and other agribusiness companies survive? Damn, I'm just not thinking.

In this post I haven't even got into the whole aspect of the patenting of life and the corporate domination of our food supply that is inherent with genetically modified seeds.

It's scary what gets promoted in the name of saving the planet.


by Craig Mackintosh - January 9, 2008 - posted at

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Submitted by SadInAmerica on Mon, 02/25/2008 - 6:03pm.