A Fishy Tale: Part 3

GE Agriculture vs. GE Aquaculture

Industrial agriculture and industrial aquaculture have shifted largely sustainable forms of food production to entirely unsustainable monocultures. These monocultures are hooked into the global economy, requiring industrial inputs- including machinery, fossil fuels, chemicals and pesticides. Unsustainable monocultures have been actively promoted by western governments, MNC‘s and the World Bank. This process has been called the ‘Green Revolution‘ in agriculture, the ‘Blue Revolution’ in aquaculture. Both ‘Revolutions’ have actually increased world hunger and food insecurity by displacing traditional, locally adapted systems and creating food systems which are vulnerable to pests, disease, erosion, salination and the whims of global financial markets . As with industrial agriculture, industrial aquaculture consumes more resources than it produces including fish meal, chemicals, fossil fuels, drinking water and drugs (Shiva, 1999).

The Blue Revolution is younger than the Green Revolution. Even though the World Bank has been promoting industrial aquaculture since the 1970’s- the main growth has come in the last 15 years. International Aid to aquaculture jumped from $368 million from 1978-84 to $910 million between 1988-93 (FAO, 1995). The Blue Revolution has received less public, critical scrutiny than the Green Revolution. How many of those who eat fish, for example, are aware that since 1997 over half of the world’s salmon has been grown in fish farms? Indeed there are many plans to continue industrial aquaculture’s rapid expansion and GE appears set to increase this trend. The International Salmon Farmers Association, for example, predicts that there will be a three fold increase amongst the big 7 salmon producers (Schmidt, 1999).

The industrial monocultures of the Green and Blue Revolutions have devastated communities and ecosystems and brought debt, dependence and death the world over. When communities shift from local, diverse forms of food production, to providing casual labor on vast monoculture operations owned by MNC‘s the loss of diversity increases vulnerability to pests. Many studies have shown that less people can be supported by monoculture than by diverse forms of food production (Shiva, 1993). In aquaculture, for example it has been estimated that five grams of fish protein are required to produce one gram of farmed fish ! The shift towards monocultures in both agriculture and aquaculture has created conditions in which GE can thrive. The GE industry promises greater resistance to pests and disease, for example. Such claims remain entirely unproven and appear impossible in the longer term. They are only ‘needed’ because of the huge vulnerability to pests and diseases created by industrial monocultures. The Blue & Green Revolutions have led to the ‘GENE Revolution’.

Indian farmers alone have evolved 200 000 different kinds of rice! They have rice which grows 18 ft tall in the Ganges flood plain and salt tolerant rice which can grow along the coasts (Shiva, 1999). This diversity evolved over generations as farmers selectively bred and adapted the rice to specific local conditions. The Green revolution has displaced many of these varieties, so that the world’s rice supply is now dominated by a handful of varieties. Hybrid rice developed in a lab in the US is grown all over the world in places where it is totally unsuited to local conditions! Farmers thus become dependent upon toxic fertilizers and pesticides while pest epidemics thrive!

In addition, traditional food systems typically involve mixed uses. In India, for example, rice did not just produce grain, as Green Revolution varieties do. Traditional rice varieties also produced straw for compost, livestock, matting, construction, etc. Traditional varieties never grew in a monoculture, but amongst a range of crops which provided balanced, healthy diets (Shiva, 1993). Rather than looking to further technical, corporate led solutions through GE, mounting evidence suggests that farmer led solutions will prove far more effective and sustainable.

Whilst GE in both agriculture and aquaculture stems from the rise of the monoculture, GE is far less developed within aquaculture. In GE terms, fish stocks remain untapped, one of the last GE frontiers! This may soon change. Within the GE industry many feel they are ready to push their inventions on the wider world, to quote Shao Jun Du, a Canadian geneticist: “Technically, we’re ready. We can produce transgenic fish. The problem now is the public acceptance.’ (Quoted in Schmidt, 1999).

While public awareness of GE in agriculture is growing, the GE aquaculture story remains largely unknown, tune in tomorrow for one version of the GE fairly tale!

When communities shift from local, diverse forms of food production, to providing casual labor on vast monoculture operations owned by MNC‘s the loss of diversity increases vulnerability to pests.

Parts of the A Fishy Tale series:

A Fishy Tale: Part 1
A Fishy Tale: Part 2
A Fishy Tale: Part 3
A Fishy Tale: Part 4
A Fishy Tale: Part 5

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