GM crops 'may push poorest farmers into debt'

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Genetically modifided crops will not tackle world hunger and could threaten the livelihoods of Third World farmers, a new study has said.

The report is published today by the charity ActionAid, before the start of the Government's long-awaited debate on GM next week.

US President George Bush claimed last week the EU had blocked efforts to use GM crops to fight famine because of "unfounded, unscientific fears".

But the research found that the new technology threatened to push poor farmers deeper into debt. Using evidence from Asia, Africa and Latin America, the report concludes that rather than alleviating world hunger, GM is likely to lead to more hungry people, not fewer. Matthew Lockwood, ActionAid's head of policy, said: "GM does not provide a magic bullet solution to world hunger. "

Among the findings are that GM seeds are more suited to the needs of large-scale commercial, rather than poor farmers, and that expansion is driven by corporate profit of four multinationals - Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer CropScience and DuPont.

Farmers are not allowed to save GM seed from one harvest to the next. "Terminator technology", which produces sterile seeds, is also being developed. There is also "no consistent evidence" that GM crops yield more and require fewer chemicals.

In Pakistan, ActionAid has investigated how poor farmers have been enticed to buy GM cotton seeds. The results have been disappointing, with many farmers losing their crops.

The US biotech industry spends $250m a year promoting GM. "What is causing world hunger is poverty and inequality. Money would be far better spent tackling these problems than poured into GM technology," said Adriano Campolina Soares from ActionAid Brazil.