Leaked documents show the British Government thinks it can sell its GM commercialisation in terms of the urgent need for the technology in the developing world. The following articles mercilessly expose the truth behind the PR hoax.
1.GM Crops Irrelevant for Africa - Jonathan Matthews
2.BIOTECHNOLOGY WILL BYPASS THE HUNGRY - Devinder Sharma
3.Monsanto's showcase project in Africa fails - New Scientist
4.Golden Rice: Mirage of GM's golden promise - BBC
1.GM Crops Irrelevant for Africa
The Institute of Science in Society
Damning report concludes GM crops do not address the real causes of poverty and hunger in Africa. Jonathan Matthews writes.
Careful analysis of the evidence from the biotech industry's flagship projects in Africa shows that GM crops are irrelevant for Africa. The analysis comes in a damning report from Aaron deGrassi, a researcher in the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The flagship projects analyzed include Monsanto's GM cotton in the Makhitini Flats in South Africa, Syngenta Foundation's GM maize project in Kenya, and another Kenyan project with GM sweet potatoes involving Monsanto, the World Bank and USAID. All have been showcased by the industry as huge successes for small-scale African farmers.
Significantly, deGrassi shows that the benefits from GM crops are much lower than can be obtained "with either conventional breeding or agroecology-based techniques" from just a tiny fraction of the investment in research.
The excitement over GM crops, the author shows, stems in reality from a PR strategy by the biotech industry trying to give itself the public legitimacy to help reduce "trade restrictions, biosaftey controls, and monopoly regulations."
DeGrassi's analysis receives corroboration from a surprising quarter. An Associated Press article in June profiling Robb Fraley, Monsanto's chief technology officer and Robert Horsch, its vice president of product and technology cooperation, notes that Horsch manages a Monsanto program designed to help farmers in developing nations improve their farming methods. Horsch is reported to have said his mission is twofold: "create goodwill and help open future markets."
DeGrassi's carefully referenced report details the GM lobby's extensive PR use of South African GM cotton farmers such as 'Bt Buthelezi'
"Buthelezi was by Zoellick's side when the Trade Secretary formally announced a US WTO case against EU restrictions on GM imports. A month later, the Administrator of USAID, Andrew Natsios, described Buthelezi before a Congressional panel on plant biotechnology in Africa....The Council for Biotechnology Information calls him a "small farmer", and others describe his life as "hand-to-mouth existence". Administrator Natsios described him as a "small farmer struggling just at the subsistence level".
"However, independent reporters have revealed that, with two wives and more than 66 acres, he is one of the largest farmers in Makhathini and chairs the area's farmers' federation encompassing 48 farmers' associations."
DeGrassi reports that for Monsanto, Buthelezi and his stories are part of the firm's declared strategy of "gaining global acceptance of biotechnology". Just before President Bush's May 2003 speech claiming that Europe's import restrictions exacerbate African hunger, Monsanto flew four black South African GM crop farmers to London, where they spoke at a private conference hosted by the Commonwealth Business Council, before heading on to Denmark and Germany. Like Buthelezi, these "representative farmers" read statements carefully scripted by Monsanto and own dozens of acres of land. Several actually spend most of their time working at their day jobs as school administrators.
Other pro-biotech campaigners have caught on: CropGen, an industry-funded group of academic scientists in the UK, for instance, celebrates another South African farmer, Mbongeni Nxumalo.
De Grassi states,"These South African farmers - whom representatives of Monsanto and other businesses call "basically representative farmers" and "representatives of the African smallholding community" - are plucked from South Africa, wined and dined, and given scripted statements about the benefits of GM. In an area where most farmers cultivate just a few hectares, and only half the population can read, Monsanto's "representative" farmers are school administrators and agricultural college graduates, owning dozens of hectares of land. Monsanto has been criticized for using these farmers as a part of a deliberate attempt to distort public debate on biotechnology. Critics have coined the nickname "Bt Buthelezi", to illustrate this farmer's unconditional support to Bt cotton: during a trip to Monsanto's headquarters in St. Louis, Buthelezi was quoted as saying, "I wouldn't care if it were from the devil himself.""
Meanwhile, conventional crop breeding methods, which cost much less and produce better results, have failed to attract attention from both African governments and biotech companies.
More alarming is the amount of money earmarked for these crop innovations, when cotton and sweet potato are not even major crops in Africa and thus will not in any way solve Africa's poverty/hunger problems.
The report shows how the industry's PR spin is often farcically inexact. Here's just one example in relation to GM cotton in South Africa: "ISAAA implies that small farmers have been using the technology on a hundred thousand hectares. Agricultural Biotechnology in Europe - an industry coalition - suggests 5,000 ha of "smallholder cotton". The survey team suggests 3,000 ha.
"In addition to conflicting data on the area and numbers of farmers, the profits gained by switching to Bt cotton are unclear." DeGrassi writes. "CropGen says farmers gain $113 per hectare. Monsanto says farmers gain an extra $90. ISAAA argues that switching to Bt allows farmers make an extra $50 per hectare. University researchers calculate $35, whilst the survey team found farmers gained only $18 in the second year, but in the first year, "Bt cotton nonadopters were actually $1 per hectare better off". [emphasis added]"
Meanwhile, the very crop that has been reported to be giving small farmers an easier and more affluent life, turns out to have not only failed to solve Makhathini farmers' existing problems with debt, but to have actually deepened and widened indebtedness. The expensive crop have helped to saddle them with debts of $1.2 million!
Despite that, CropGen claimed GM cotton has turned the area from one that wasn't viable for agriculture into "a thriving agricultural community". Monsanto says, "The region has become an example to the world of how plant biotechnology can help the smallholder farmers of Africa". Not to be outdone, Steven Smith, Chairman of the UK's Agricultural Biotechnology Council, has said of the project, that "small farmers are realizing huge economic benefits". A group of academics in South Africa have even claimed that projecting the results across the entire continent shows that "it could generate additional incomes of about six billion Rand, or US$600 million, for some of the world's poorest farmers." ISAAA's claims, according to deGrassi who details the various claims in his carefully referenced report, are apparently even more fantastical.
The report shows that GM cotton is, in truth, at best irrelevant to poverty in the area, and at worst is "lowering wages and job prospects for agricultural laborers, who are some of the most impoverished people in South Africa."
The other showcase project that deGrassi looks at in detail centers on GM sweet potatoes in Kenya. Again deGrassi demonstrates the total gap between the supposed 'evidence' and hyperbole - "Transgenic Sweet Potato Could End Kenyan Famine" - and the wholly unimpressive reality.
"The [GM] sweet potato project [which may increase production by as much as 18%] is now nearing its twelfth year, and involves over 19 scientists (16 with PhDs) and an estimated $6 million. In contrast, conventional sweet potato breeding in Uganda was able in just a few years to develop with a small budget a well-liked virus-resistant variety with yield gains of nearly 100%."
Yet it has been claimed that the virus in question "is a classic example of a problem that cannot be solved through conventional breeding," and that "the time and money spent actually developing GM varieties are less than for conventional varieties."
DeGrassi also notes: "Another surprising example of advocacy trumping facts is C.S. Prakash, the influential biotechnology advocate who has advised the US Trade Representative. Prakash has repeatedly cited sweet potatoes as a positive example of the benefits of GM for African countries, but has confessed to having no knowledge of the results of scientific trials in Kenya."
Prakash issued a press release ahead of the Sacramento ministerial meeting in June demanding that international leaders ignore the protesters and "let sound science determine the future of agricultural technologies in developing countries".
DeGrassi mercilessly exposes the kind of 'sound science' that has been used to lobby leaders around the world and to mislead the rest of us. Read deGrassi's report. The truth is out!
Genetically Modified Crops and Sustainable Poverty Alleviation in Sub-Saharan Africa: An Assessment of Current Evidence by Aaron diGrassi, published by Third World Network, Africa
For the section on the biotech industry's PR use of Africa: http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=1006
2.BIOTECHNOLOGY WILL BYPASS THE HUNGRY
By Devinder Sharma
India’s former Prime Minister, the late Mr Morarji Desai, strictly followed an unwritten principle. He would not inaugurate any conference, whether national or international, which did not focus on rural development. It so happened that it was during his tenure that the aircraft industry had planned a conference in New Delhi. For the aircraft industry, the inauguration of the international conference by anyone other than the Prime Minister was not palatable and for obvious reasons.
Knowing well that the Prime Minister would not make an exception, the aircraft industry came out with an imaginative title for the conference: "Aerodynamics and rural development"!
The global community market forces and its supporters too are following Morarji Desai’s prescription. Agricultural biotechnology advances are being desperately promoted in the name of eradicating hunger and poverty. The misguided belief that the biotechnological silver bullet can "solve" hunger, malnutrition and real poverty has prompted the industry and the development community, political masters and the policy makers, agricultural scientists and the economists to chant the mantra of "harnessing technology to address specific problems facing poor people" And in the bargain, what is being very conveniently overlooked is the fact that what the world’s 840 million hungry need is just food, which is abundantly available.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) annual Human Development Report 2001, entitled "Making New Technologies Work for Human Development" is yet another biotechnology industry-sponsored study that categorically mentions on the one hand that "technology is created in response to market pressures not the needs of poor people, who have little purchasing power," and yet, goes on unabashedly to eulogies the virtues of an untested technology in the laboratories of the North, which are being pushed onto the gullible resource-poor communities of the South and that too in the name of eradicating hunger and poverty.
The report states that emerging centres of excellence throughout the developing world are already providing hard evidence of the potential for harnessing cutting-edge science and technology (as biotechnology is fondly called) to tackle centuries-old problems of human poverty. But what the report does not mention is the fact that the biggest challenge facing the global community is increasing hunger and poverty in the developing countries, which need to be tackled by a social and political commitment rather than a market-driven technological agenda.
To say "if the developing community turns its back on the explosion of technological innovation in food, medicine and information, it risks marginalising itself”¦" is in reality a desperate effort to ensure that the American economic interests are not sacrificed at the altar of development. Such is the growing desperation at the growing isolation of the United States in the global food market because of its "transgenic’ food that all kinds of permutations and combinations, including increased food aid to Africa’s school-going children, are being attempted. The deft manipulation of the prestigious UNDP’s Human Development Report (HDR) to push forth the American farm interests, however, will cast an ominous shadow over the credibility of the future UN programmes for human development.
In agriculture, the HDR cites plant breeding promises to generate higher yields and resistance to drought, pests and diseases. Biotechnology offers the only or the best ‘tool of choice’ for marginal ecological zones left behind by the green revolution but home to more than half the world’s poorest people, dependent on agriculture and livestock. It is true that green revolution left behind the small and marginal farmers living in some of the world’s most inhospitable areas. But the way the tools of the cutting-edge technology are being applied and are being blindly promoted, biotechnology will certainly bypass the world’s hungry and marginalised.
A third of the world’s hungry and marginalised live in India. And if India alone were to launch a frontal attack on poverty eradication and feeding its 320 million hungry, much of the world’s hunger problem would be resolved.
Never before in contemporary history has the mankind been witness to such a glaring and shameful ‘paradox of plenty’. In India alone, more than 60 million tonnes of foodgrains are stacked (in 2001-02), bulk of it in the open, while some 320 million go to bed hungry every night. In neighbouring Bangladesh and Pakistan too, food silos are bursting. And yet, these three countries are home to nearly half the world’s population of hungry and the marginalised. While none of these countries has shown the political courage to use the mountains of foodgrain surplus to address the age-old problem of hunger, the international scientific and development community too is equally guilty by turning a blind eye to the biggest human folly of the 21st century.
After all, science and technology is aimed at removing hunger. The green revolution was aimed at addressing the problem of hunger, and did a remarkable job within its limitation. And now, when we have stockpiles of food surpluses, the global community appears reluctant to make the food available to the marginalised communities who cannot afford to buy the rotting stocks. No aid agency, including the so-called philanthropic ones: Ford, Rockefeller, ActionAid, Christian Aid, Oxfam, British BFID and the likes are willing to take the bull by the horn. The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), which works for reducing hunger, too has shied away from this Herculean task. It has instead convened a meeting of the Heads of State at Rome in November, five years after the World Food Summit, to reiterate its promise of halving world’s hunger by the year 2015.
The reality of hunger and malnutrition is too harsh to be even properly understood. Hunger cannot be removed by producing transgenic crops with genes for Vitamin A. Hunger cannot be addressed by providing mobile phones to the rural communities. Nor can it be eradicated by providing the poor and hungry with an ‘informed choice’ of novel foods. Somehow, the authors of the HDR have missed the ground realities, missed the realities from the commercial interests of the biotechnology industries. In their over-enthusiasm to promote an expensive technology at the cost of the poor, they have forgotten that biotechnology has the potential to further the great divide between the haves and have-nots. No policy directive can help in bridging this monumental gap. The twin engines of economic growth the technological revolution and globalisation will only widen the existing gap. Biotechnology will, in reality, push more people in the hunger trap. With public attention and resources being diverted from the ground realities, hunger will only grow in the years to come.
It does not, however, mean that this writer is against technology. The wheels of technological development are essential for every society but have to be used in a way that helps promote human development. Technology cannot be blindly promoted, as the UNDP report does, in an obvious effort to bolster the industry’s interests. Ignoring food security in the name of ensuring ‘profit security’ for the private companies, can further marginalise the gains, if any. And herein lies a grave danger.
While the political leadership and the development community is postponing till the year 2015 the task to halve the number of the world’s hungry, the scientific community too has found an easy escape route. At almost all the genetic engineering laboratories, whether in the North or in the South, the focus of research is on crops which will produce edible vaccines, address the problems of malnutrition or ‘hidden hunger’ by incorporating genes for Vit A, iron, and other micro-nutrients. But what is not being realised is that if the global scientific and development community were to aim at eradicating hunger at the first place, there would be no ‘hidden hunger’.
Take, for instance, the much-touted ‘golden rice’, the rice which contains the genes for Vit A. It is true that there are 12 million people in India alone who suffer from Vit A deficiency. To say that ‘golden rice’ would provide the poor with a choice of such ‘novel foods’ is to ignore the realities. It is also known that almost the entire Vit A deficient population in India lives in marginalised areas and comprise people who cannot or who do not have access to two square meals a day. If only these hungry people were to get their adequate dietary intake or the two square meals a day, they would not suffer from Vit A deficiency or for that matter any other micro-nutrient deficiency. If these poor people cannot afford to buy their normal dietary requirement of rice for a day, how do we propose to make available ‘golden rice’ to them is something that has been deliberately left unanswered.
And this reminds me of what exactly another former Indian Prime Minister, the late Mrs Indira Gandhi, used to do when it came to addressing problems. If the ethnic crisis confronting the northeast Indian State of Assam becomes unmanageable and goes out of her hands, she would create another problem in northwestern Punjab. In simple words, the national attention gets diverted to the fresh crisis confronting Punjab, and the country would forget Assam. And when terrorism in Punjab goes out control, create another problem in down south, in Tamil Nadu. And slowly, people would forget about Punjab. For political leaders, Mrs Gandhi’s proven mantra does provide an easy escape route. And this is exactly what they intend to do when the Heads of State of 170-odd countries would gather at the World Food Summit Plus Five in Rome in November.
Scientists, development agencies and the policy makers (and now of course the United Nations) too seem to have derived their futuristic vision from the political sagacity of Mrs Indira Gandhi. After all, the only way to divert the attention of international community from the more pressing and immediate problems of abject hunger and poverty is to either postpone the priorities for removal of hunger (and that too by only a half) to the year 2015 as the FAO has done or is to talk of the virtues and potentials of biotechnology for eradicating ‘hidden hunger’ and malnutrition in the next two decades.
Who will take on the biggest challenge of all times the elimination of hunger which forms the root cause of real poverty and the lopsided human development is an issue no one is willing to stick his neck out for. With even the UNDP buckling under industrial pressure, the monumental task to feed the hungry and that too at a time when food grains are rotting may eventually be left to the market forces. The underlying message is very clear: the poor and hungry will have to live on hope. #
3.New Scientist - Monsanto's showcase project in Africa fails
New Scientist, Vol 181 No. 2433, 7 February 2004
A showcase project to develop a genetically modified crop for Africa has failed.
Three years of field trials have shown that GM sweet potatoes modified to resist a virus were no less vulnerable than ordinary varieties, and sometimes their yield was lower, according to the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute.
Embarrassingly, in Uganda conventional breeding has produced a high-yielding variety more quickly and more cheaply.
The GM project has cost Monsanto, the World Bank and the US government an estimated $6 million over the past decade. It has been held up worldwide as an example of how GM crops will help revolutionise farming in Africa. One of the project members, Kenyan biotechnologist Florence Wambugu (see New Scientist, 27 May 2000, p 40), toured the world promoting the work.
Aaron deGrassi of the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex, UK, says the researchers went wrong by concentrating on resistance to an American strain of the virus. In any case, the virus is only a small factor limiting production in Kenya, he says. "There was too much rhetoric and not enough good research."
Monsanto says it plans to develop further varieties.
The World's No.1 Science & Technology Magazine http://www.newscientist.com
[for how the Monsanto project was promoted through a massive campaign of hype and disinformation: http://www.gmwatch.org/profile1.asp?PrId=131]
4.Golden Rice: Mirage' of GMs' golden promise
By Alex Kirby
BBC News Online environment correspondent
Golden rice burst on a world ready and eager for a new beginning.
Announced with a flourish in January 2000, it promised to save millions of people from blindness and disease.
It can certainly help to improve nutrition and health in many developing countries.
But, as the publicists' dust settled, it became clear that golden rice was never going to be a silver bullet.
It is a genetically modified (GM) strain of rice that has been engineered to produce beta-carotene. That not only gives it its eponymous golden colour, but enables people eating it to produce vitamin A.
The World Health Organisation estimates about 250 million people globally are deficient in vitamin A, increasing their risk of blindness, immune problems and other serious conditions.
Improving on Nature
So golden rice sounded like a real answer to a genuine problem, especially since the biotech company responsible, Zeneca, said it would offer the seeds freely to farmers in poor countries.
The reality, though, appears a little more prosaic. For a start, the genes for beta-carotene are already present in conventional rice. It is just that they do not work as well in the - natural - varieties as in the novel version.
Beyond that though, poorly-fed people are unlikely to be able to absorb beta-carotene even when they eat golden rice. To use it, they need a diverse diet, including green leafy vegetables.
But the sorts of vegetables people used to be able to find have declined in number as the green revolution of the 60s and 70s emphasised monocultures of new varieties.
Household consumption of vegetables in India has fallen by 12% in two decades.
The prospects for golden rice receded a little further in 2002, when scientists published the draft sequences of the rice genome.
That promised quicker results from conventional plant breeding, partly because it established where the beta-carotene pathway sat in the rice code. A scientist from the biotech company Syngenta, which now includes Zeneca, said "All the genes are present in rice. One could make a non-GM vitamin-A rice simply by studying those genes in a more focused way."
Golden rice may prove part of the answer to vitamin A deficiency, though not the comprehensive solution it seemed to be.
But it would be an answer that came with a hefty price-tag the persistent concerns about the safety of GM technology to human health and to wild species.
Golden rice looks like being a special case, anyway, because the biotech industry is unlikely to give poor farmers free access to all its inventions.
People who campaign against GM crops are sometimes accused of wanting to deny the wretched of the Earth the chance to escape poverty and disease, all in the name of their own ideological obsession. But some impressive figures echo their concerns.
Dr Richard Horton, editor of the British medical journal The Lancet, said "Seeking a technological food fix for world hunger may be... the most commercially malevolent wild goose chase of the new century."
And from the biotech industry itself, Steve Smith, who worked for Syngenta Seeds before his death in June 2003, said "If anyone tells you that GM is going to feed the world, tell them that it is not... To feed the world takes political and financial will - it's not about production and distribution."
Every day 800 million people go to bed with empty stomachs. Every day more than 30,000 under-fives die, from easily prevented diseases or from hunger.
The world is out of joint, and it will stay that way until those of us who are well-fed care enough to wage a war on hunger as ferocious as that against terrorism.
Science, perhaps including GM technology, can provide the weapons for that war - but that won't ever be a silver bullet.
Story from BBC NEWS http//news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/1/hi/sci/tech/3122923.stm