1. Laughing all the way to the Bank - NGIN
2. Technological fixes - editorial in The Hindu
3. U.N. Dead Wrong... Let the Third World Speak - Anuradha Mittal
4. Consumers globally oppose UNDP report about GMO food
5. UNDP's Stance on Transgenics Ignites Debate - IPS
1. Laughing all the way to the Bank
Reactions to the recent UNDP report <http://www.undp.org/hdr2001/>, with its imagery of the affluent in the industrialised north denying the starving south the biotech lifeline it so badly needs, have been nothing if not predictable.
The UN's courage in pushing biotech and globalisation has been saluted from the Times to the Economist, from the Financial Times to the Wall Street Journal, with a heady blend of ecstasy and inaccuracy:
"Developing countries will suffer without continued globalisation", ran the headline in The Times. While according to the Wall Street Journal:
"the U.N. has blown the whistle on the nutty fears over genetically modified foods, saying that the developing world can ill afford such self-indulgent hysteria... Mark Malloch Brown of the United Nations Development Program, which issued the survey, insists on the need to plant genetically modified staple crops -- rice, millet, cassava -- throughout the developing world... "These varieties have 50% higher yields, mature 30 to 50 days earlier, are substantially richer in protein, are far more disease- and drought-tolerant, resist insect pests and can even outcompete weeds," says Mr. Malloch Brown. "This initiative shows the enormous potential of biotech to improve food security in Africa, Asia and Latin America." " (Wall Street Journal, July 12, 2001 http://www.junkscience.com/july01/wsj-UN.htm)
With an equal delight the content and urls of such articles have been posted onto pro-biotech lists and contrarian websites around the globe.
Tellingly, however, the news that "UN Official Urges Rich Nations Not To Block Life-Saving Modified Crops" appears to have been greeted somewhat less euphorically in the developing world.
Consider the editorial below, for example, from India's 'The Hindu' (item 2). This carefully dissects what the UNDP report has to say and points up the obvious limitations in its analysis:
"Unfortunately, the understanding of technology is a very restrictive one ... there is little that the HDR offers beyond a few historical examples to suggest that these new technologies by themselves will do much more for development than innumerable other technological advances of the past."
"A more explicit and potentially more dangerous argument contained in the HDR is that the standards of risk and safety are different in rich and poor countries... It cannot be that there must be lax standards for poor societies and another set of stricter standards for the rich societies."
Hundreds of grassroots groups in the south have also reacted critically.
Obviously, as Anuradha Mittal notes below (item 3), "the UNDP and Mark Malloch Brown have done only part of their homework. While they have read up on the genetic engineering debate in the U.S. and Europe, they have ignored the even louder debate going on in the Third World."
After all, when the Cartagena Biosafety Protocol was being negotiated it was the countries of the south who pushed the hardest for firm regulation of the international trade and movement of GMOs. In doing so they faced fierce resistance from such major industrialised countries as the US, Canada and Australia. Where does any of this fit into Mark Malloch Brown's simplistic caricature of the debate?
There is, of course, an evident absurdity in the author of the UNDP report, Mark Malloch Brown, claiming to speak up for the south. Prior to his move to the UN Mark Malloch Brown was Vice President for External Affairs at the World Bank. The World Bank's President predicted that Mark would "do a wonderful job as head of the UNDP... I am certain that his appointment will further strengthen the partnership between the Bank and the U.N. system."
The World Bank is, of course, an institution long mired in controversy over its avidly pro-globalisation agenda and its failure to listen to the poor:
"We need to question all reports and documents and data coming from the World Bank which the media and others use as their source of truth about the South." - Michael Goldman, editor Privatising Nature, Political Struggles for the Global Commons
"... there are forces inside and outside the World Bank hostile to even a modest modification of the dominant paradigm on development. The Bank may want to signal that it is turning into a caring organization but, like a leopard and its spots, it cannot change even if it wants to." - The Hindu, 26 June, 2000
"it is essential that the Bank's policies and public pronouncements do not err too far from its main shareholder and political protector, the US Treasury." - Focus on Trade, Number 51, June 2000
"I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest-wage country is impeccable, and we should face up to that. Under-populated countries in Africa are vastly under-polluted." - Lawrence Summers, then chief economist for the World Bank (1991) and later U.S. secretary of the Treasury
A World Bank proposal to support the widescale introduction of highly industrialised "hi-tech" farming into the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh -- exactly the kind of development move championed by the UNDP report -- was recently presented over a five-day period to a jury whose members were drawn from the very communities the plan claimed to benefit. The jury decisively rejected the plan, including the use of GMOs, not excepting Vitamin A rice & Bt cotton http://members.tripod.com/~ngin/indfarm.htm http://www.guardian.co.uk/Archive/Article/0,4273,4217682,00.html
Interestingly, the World Bank refused to allow a single one of their staff to attend that citizen's jury in Andhra Pradesh, despite being given several months notice. Yet only this year Milan Brahmbhatt of the World Bank claimed, "China and India are globalizing not because anyone can tell these proud fiercely independent countries what to do - but because this is what THEY have figured out is good for THEMSELVES". And Brahmbhatt went on to dismiss critics of globalisation as heirs to the Nazis. http://www.panos.org.uk/environment/globalisation_and_poverty_online.htm
"One can see who is going to be laughing all the way to the bank, using this report!", Ashish Kothari commented this week. "Certainly not the poor and disprivileged millions, in whose name UNDP derives its credibility."
2. Technological fixes
The Hindu, Chennai/Bangalore/Hyderabad/New Delhi; July 13, 2001
IN MORE THAN a decade of publication, the annual Human Development Report of the United Nations Development Programme has usually steered clear of controversy while making out a case for expanding the understanding and measurement of development beyond the traditional approaches of increasing the gross domestic product of an economy. In the 2001 HDR, however, the UNDP has managed to anger its ``traditional'' support base of citizens' groups and organisations critical of the dominant development paradigm by suggesting, first, that modern technology can offer solutions to many of the problems of the developing countries and, second, that the benefits of biotechnology and transgenic crops probably outweigh the risks, especially when it comes to meeting the challenges of increasing food production.
To be fair to the HDR, it is explicit in its argument that technology is not a silver bullet for removal of poverty. Yet, if there is one running strand in the 2001 report it is that the advances in modern technology combined with the forces of globalisation - constituting the "networked society" - offer the developing countries an opportunity to leap-frog out of poverty. Unfortunately, the understanding of technology is a very restrictive one, with the discussion confined to information and communication technologies, biotechnology and in a very limited fashion to advances in medicine.
Besides, there is little that the HDR offers beyond a few historical examples to suggest that these new technologies by themselves will do much more for development than innumerable other technological advances of the past. As the report itself notes, many of the benefits of older technologies are yet to be distributed as illustrated, for example, in the fact that a third of the world's population is still without electricity and two billion people do not have access to low-cost essential medicines.
The UNDP study does argue that in biotechnology, as in other technologies, there is a need to weigh the benefits against the risks. But all the careful language does not hide the case that is made, in particular, for a more open welcome to transgenic crops in the developing countries. Yet, as the report itself notes, many of the world's national scientific academies have asked for a "thorough risk assessment" of the consequences of development of transgenic crop varieties.
A more explicit and potentially more dangerous argument contained in the HDR is that the standards of risk and safety are different in rich and poor countries. That is, while consumers in the advanced countries can afford to worry about the safety of transgenic crops, the citizens of the developing countries cannot afford to do so because their first priority is food. Safety concerns in a variety of areas in the developed societies on occasion are indeed taken to unreasonable and unrealistic levels. But more generally the relevant question is, are basic standards of safety breached by certain technologies? It cannot be that there must be lax standards for poor societies and another set of stricter standards for the rich societies.
The HDR 2001 contains, as usual, the latest measures of the human development index for most countries in the world. The picture over the longer term, since 1975, shows substantial progress in some, retrogression in a fairly large number and an unsatisfactory pace of growth in most countries in the developing world. The HDR's appraisal reveals a mixed record so far on the very modest United Nations goals for development for the year 2015 in income, health and education. In some areas (hunger and education), more countries are on track than falling behind in meeting the targets for 2015. In others, (infant, child and maternal mortality and access to safe water), the reverse is true because of an extremely slow pace of improvement.
3. U.N. Dead Wrong About Engineered Crops: Please Let the Third World Speak
by Anuradha Mittal
Comments about genetically engineered (GE) crops expressed in the just-released "Human Development Report 2001", the flagship publication of the United Nation Development Program (UNDP), and in accompanying press statements, reveal a shocking degree of Northern arrogance in tone and content.
The authors of the report urge rich countries to put aside their fears of genetically engineered (GE) food and help developing nations unlock the potential of biotechnology. UNDP head Mark Malloch Brown, praised the report, saying that it has moved in a new direction by challenging some cherished opinions about what the Third World needs. Yet as a citizen of India I ask, who nominated Mark Malloch Brown, in his New York office, to speak for the needs of poor countries and to say what we need?
The UNDP report accuses opponents of genetically-modified food of ignoring the food needs of the Third World. It goes on to say that the movement is driven by conservationists in rich countries, and claims that the current debate mostly ignores the concerns and needs of the developing world. Western consumers who do not face food shortages or nutritional deficiencies, or work in the fields are more likely to focus on food safety and the loss of biodiversity, but farming communities in developing countries emphasize potentially higher yields and greater nutritional value" of these crops, the authors say.
Obviously the UNDP and Mark Malloch Brown have done only part of their homework. While they have read up on the genetic engineering debate in the U.S. and Europe, they have ignored the even louder debate going on in the Third World. In my country, for example, the debate pits mostly U.S.-trained technocrats, seduced by technological fixes, against farmer organizations and consumers who overwhelmingly say no to genetically engineered crops. Surely it is worth noting when the people who are to use the modified seeds, and those who are to eat the modified food, want nothing to do with them?
This UNDP report further fails to acknowledge that despite overproduction, even a country like the United States faces massive problems of hunger with over 36 millions Americans food insecure and ignores the lives of millions of farm workers in the fields of this country, while converting all Americans into consumers of unlabelled modified foods.
The report rehashes the old myth of feeding the hungry through miracle technology, the mantra that has been chanted forever, whether it was to push pesticides or genetic engineering. The famous green revolution of Northern technology sent to the South may have increased food production, at the cost of poisoning our earth, air and water. But it failed to alleviate hunger. Of 800 million hungry people in the world today, an estimated 250-300 million live in India alone. It's not that India does not produce enough food to meet the need of its hungry, it's the policies that work against the working poor--slashing of social safety nets, for example, at the behest of Northern agencies like the IMF, that are the root cause of today's hunger.
Over 60 million tons of excess food grain-unsold-- because the hungry are too poor to buy it--rotted in India last year, while farmers in desperation burnt the crops they could not sell, and resorted to selling their body parts like kidneys or committing suicide, to end the cycle of poverty. A higher, genetically engineered crop yield would have done nothing for them. And if the poor in India cannot buy two meals a day, how will they purchase nutritionally rich crops such as rice engineered to contain Vitamin A? No technological fix can help change the situation. Only political commitment can.
The report compares efforts to ban GM foods with the banning of the pesticide DDT, which was dangerous to humans but was effective in killing the mosquitoes which spread malaria. The choice presented to the Third World then was the choice of death from DDT or malaria. Its appalling that even today the development debate in the North can only offer the Third World the option of dying from hunger, or from loss of livelihoods or unsafe foods.
The North ignored the cries from the South at the time of the DDT debate, that if our national health budgets were not slashed, perhaps we could deal with malaria differently. Malaria, like hunger, is a disease of poverty. When economic conditions improve, it disappears, just as it did in the U.S. and Italy. Why is the focus never on the root causes of the problem, but always on the symptom. Once again, UNDP has decided to focus on the symptom of hunger and not the root cause of poverty.
Yes, a debate that affects communities in the Third World should not be driven solely by conservationists in the rich countries. It should also not be driven by corporate apologists like Mr. Brown. It would do UNDP good to learn that the anti-GE debate is also driven by civil society in the Third World, which is concerned about corporate concentration in our food system, loss of livelihoods as corporations gain control of our biodiversity and seeds, and that several of our countries, including Sri Lanka, Thailand, Brazil, Mexico, and China, among others, have taken national action and imposed a moratorium on some or all GE crops. If UNDP indeed cares about the Third World, it would do much better by respecting the sovereign will of our nations.
Anuradha Mittal, a native of India, is co-director of Food First/The Institute for Food and Development Policy (http://www.foodfirst.org). Anuradha Mittal Co-Director Institute for Food and Development Policy/Food First 398 60th Street, Oakland, CA 94618 USA Phone: (510) 654-4400 (ext. 233) Fax: (510) 654-4551
4. Press info - European Consumers oppose UNDP report on GMO
AEC - Association of European Consumers, socially and environmentally aware
PRESS RELEASE / COMMUNIQUE DE PRESSE
The Consumers oppose UNDP report about GMO food
AEC - Association of European Consumers, socially and environmentally aware, today opposes the UNDP report "Making New Technologies Work For Human Development". We are surprised that UNDP in their report published 10 July, supports genetic engineering, a technology that has not in any way proven to give benefits to consumers or family farmers in countries were it has been introduced, such as the U.S., Canada and Argentina. The report also claims that concerns about GMO foods are a luxury for the industrialised countries. However, from our many contacts within Consumers International all over the World, we know that the concerns about GMO foods are actually even bigger in poorer countries. In less developed areas, consumers have much more to lose if their food turns out to be dangerous or if the harvest is damaged.
Within the United Nation the GMO food issue has been much debated, especially by Codex (FAO/WHO), and we have clearly seen how American interests influence this debate. We have participated actively in Codex meetings about GMO foods, where in spite of protests by delegates from the developing countries, it is usually the GMO industry and the American view that "wins". Some examples are the position against labelling, traceability and producer liability. Developing countries, who want to protect their agro-genetic resources have indeed reacted strongly against the American position on other UN agreements, such as the Rio agreements from 1992. We also note that Mark Malloch Brown, the author of the report, previously was Vice President for External Affairs at the World Bank. We do not want UNDP to become heavily influenced by such commercial interests.
AEC - Association of European Consumers welcomes the conclusions in the report about DNA patenting. UNDP's concern about intellectual property rights in the WTO is similar to the arguments that consumer, environment and development NGOs have been putting forward. In our view, patents give the transnational corporations a tremendous power over the farmers who will grow the World's food. Because the WTO agreement says countries must have patent rules also for DNA, including plants and animals, the developing countries will have enormous difficulties. We hope the UNDP report will make it possible to renegotiate the WTO agreement to make it possible to not award patents on life. AEC - Association of European Consumers will also continue to oppose the researchers and corporations that use developing countries and starving people to argue in favour of controversial and unnecessary GMO foods.
Responsible for this info is Bengt Ingerstam, president (tel. +46 495 49834) and Martin Frid, Food and Trade Policy officer (tel. +46 479 10713)
Association of European Consumers - AEC - Association Européenne des Consommateurs 70-72, rue du Commerce, B-1040 Bruxelles/ Brussels
Tel: 0032 (0)2 545 90 74, Fax: 0032 (0)2 545 90 76,
5. Development: UNDP's Stance on Transgenics Ignites Debate
13 Jul 2001 Inter Press Service (IPS/IMS)
MEXICO CITY, Jul 12 (IPS) - The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) entered rocky terrain when it asserted that genetically modified crops could be the key to combating world hunger, especially since it did so at a time when the proponents of these products appear to be back-pedalling. The total area in the world cultivated with transgenic seeds multiplied 25-fold between 1996 and 2000, but in the most recent biennial expansion dropped to just eight percent, a low rate compared to the 44-percent increase recorded from 1998 to 1999.
According to the UNDP, the environmental impact of genetically modified organisms has not been verified, and precautions should be taken. What is clear, says the UN agency, is that there are 850 million people in the world who suffer from hunger, and transgenic crops could be the key to feeding them.
We should not “hastily discard the possibilities provided by transgenics for high-yield crops,” and even less when hunger could intensify in Africa, Elena MartÃnez, UNDP director for Latin America, told IPS. “First we should ask ourselves whether or not the risk-laden transgenics are needed to combat hunger, if there are other possibilities in organic farming that are being ignored by the transnational seed companies, or if the problem is really a matter of global politics and economics,” commented Silvia Ribeiro, Latin American representative for the Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI).
The commercial transgenic crops existing today are soy, maize, cotton and canola, and are marketed by five transnationals based in the industrialised North that hold the patent rights to the seeds. Of the area planted with these genetically modified organisms, 98 percent is in Argentina, Canada and the United States.
Monsanto, Dupont, Syngenta, Aventis and Dow - leaders in transgenics and in the pharmaceutical, agro-chemical and seed industries - maintain that genetically modified crops represent the cure for world hunger.
Monsanto, responsible for 94 percent of the area planted with commercial transgenic seeds, announced in January that it is designing a campaign to promote its genetically modified products after recognising a decline in the market.
Biotechnology offers a unique and perhaps the best recourse for ecologically marginalized areas, says the UNDP in its Human Development Report, presented Tuesday in Mexico City.
The UN agency suggests that industry lobbyists exaggerate the potential short-term benefits of the genetically modified crops, while social and environmental activists overstate the risks involved.
In practice, the battle over transgenics is being waged by scientists working to develop new seed varieties and by powerful corporations, and civil society and environmental groups. In the middle of the fray are the governments of developing countries, which are under intense pressures as they debate how to confront this new technology. And there are the impoverished and hungry people who are seeking access to obtain more food.
The World Bank's food policy research institute warns that international food production today faces severe risks as a result of soil degradation, drought and contamination.
The promoters of transgenic technology (the introduction of a gene from one species into another) claim that it will permit the creation of economical, fast-growing crops with high protein content and will reduce the need for agro-chemicals.
But these promises have yet to become reality. Experiments are being conducted on several transgenic products, but only five different crops have reached the global market. And the production of transgenic seeds focuses on just two areas: tolerance against pesticides and insects.
Researcher Charles M. Benbrook, former head of the US Agricultural Sciences Academy concluded in a report released in May that genetically modified soy crops are not delivering what the transnational companies promised. Based on assessments of soybean fields in the United States, Benbrook discovered that the transgenic varieties produced five to 10 percent less than conventional varieties. Furthermore, he found that the genetically modified soy utilised 10 to 30 percent more herbicide than conventional soy.
RAFI spokeswoman Ribeiro said it is clear that there has been a global decline in the cultivation of transgenic crops, which indicates “that the furore over this type of seed is entering a crisis.”
The companies that sell transgenic seeds have attempted to put a global spin on the marketing of their products, but several countries - the European Union in particular - have erected obstacles to prevent imports of such products, and more and more are announcing the implementation of similar measures.
Some scientists - alongside social and environmental activists - caution that genetically modified organisms could serve as the vehicles of previously unknown diseases and constitute a threat to native plants and to biodiversity.
The UNDP says in its Human Development Report 2001 that it is aware of the risks involved with transgenics, but asserts that they should not be ignored as a potential source for feeding the world's hungry. The forces guiding the debate on the transgenic questions are public fear and commercial interests, says the UNDP. The agency's report states that the decline in malnutrition in South Asia - from 40 percent in the 1970s to 23 percent in 1997 - is a result of technological advances in farming practices and the use of fertilizers and pesticides, which led to a four-fold increase in rice and wheat yields.
The so-called Green Revolution, which since the 1960s has fostered the use of fertilizers and pesticides, and other advances that allowed an increase in agricultural production, prove that technological progress deeply influences development, adds the UNDP.
Studies by Peter Rosset, Joseph Collins and Francis Moore Lappé, of Foodfirst, a US-based NGO, show that between 1970 and 1990 the quantity of food available per person worldwide increased 11 percent and the portion of the global population suffering hunger dropped 16 percent. However, if China's data are excluded, the global figures indicate that hunger increased 11 percent in that 20-year span.
The Foodfirst experts maintain that the reduction of hunger in China - from 406 million to 189 million people in the period studied - was due to social and political reforms, not to the impacts of the Green Revolution. ''The solution to hunger and starvation lies elsewhere, not in technology,'' stressed RAFI representative Ribeiro.
Civil society lobbying groups maintain that transnational corporations have imposed the use of genetically modified seeds upon world agriculture because it represents a boost to their bottom line.
The answers to hunger could lie in organic farming practices and in traditional forms of crop improvement, but these possibilities have been cast aside because they involve farmers who are a long way from the global trade circuits, Ribeiro said.The UNDP, meanwhile, indicated that organic farming could be the most effective approach in some cases, but not in all situations. Governments should assess the costs and benefits of transgenic organisms, inform the population, establish effective regulations, share information with other countries and conduct more research, prescribes the UN agency.