GM Freeze: Force Feeding? Second Edition February 2008
GM's Impact on the Global South
*What is the cause of the EU's animal feed shortage?
EU Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel is blaming the EU's slow regulatory system for the approval of GMOs for a perceived shortage of animal feed and rising prices.
The Commissioner says that the EU's failure to approve a number of GM maize varieties more quickly is preventing them from being imported from the USA. The EU has approved 11 GM maize varieties for import already, but there are many more in the regulatory pipeline. Fischer Boel claims that prices have risen 55%, and the Scottish NFU are on record as saying that prices could go up 600% by 2010 unless we allow in GM crops.
However, the FAO's reasons behind shortages of commodity crops are very different. Their analysis suggests that the rising demand for biofuels, plus increased demand for feed from the Far East (China in particular) and the drought in Australia, are causing shortages.
Recently the EU policy of setting targets for supplying biofuels in Europe has been criticised. Argentina has decided to use export taxes and credits to encourage their growing biofuels sector, so biofuel exports have a net tax rate of 2.5%, compared with an increase to 35% for soya beans exports and 32% for soya meal and oil. There is also a massive investment programme for biofuels in the country.
*GM soya expansion impacts in Paraguay
A documentary film shown at the Berlin Film Festival for the first time in November highlights the social and environmental impacts of the rapid spread of GM cultivation in Paraguay. Reports suggest that over two thirds of Paraguay's arable land is already under soya beans.
The film, Violation of Sovereignty, details how foreign landowners are buying up family farms (70% of farms are foreign owned, mainly by Brazilians). See: www.soyatech.com/news_story.php?id=5545
*Landmark access to information ruling in India
Brinjal, or eggplant, is native to India, hence when the seed company Mahyco (a subsidiary of Monsanto) produced a GM version, Indian campaigners were keen to see safety data. Access to this data was initially denied, but in November the Central Information Commission ordered that the information be released within 10 days.
*Biowatch South Africa hit by costs order
Biowatch South Africa have been ordered by the High Court in Pretoria to pay the legal costs of the Ministry of Agriculture, the Register of Genetic Resources, the Executive Council for GMOs and Monsanto South Africa, despite the fact that they won their suit for the right to get access to information about GM crops risk assessments, updates on fields trials and commercial planting and information on the legislation governing GM crops releases.
*Contamination and violence in South America
Despite the take up of GM crops by some farmers in Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, small and family farmers oppose their introduction fearing their land will be swamped by GM monocultures of soya and maize. In October a Brazilian farmer was shot dead while protesting about a test plot of GM maize when armed militia arrived at the farm close to the Iguaca National Park.
In Paraguay, where it is reported that an unhealthy two thirds of arable land is under Monsanto's RoundUp Ready Soya, land acquisition by Brazilian farmers has lead to violence on several occasions.
In Argentina the domination of GM soya is such that thousands have been left without proper nutrition, which had previously been provided by the mixed farming systems.
*UK Chief Scientist gets his GM facts wrong
Professor David King has appeared in the UK Media on several occasions recently putting forward the view that genetically modified crops are essential tools to tackle future population-driven food shortages, as well as misrepresenting the potential benefits of GM crops. On the BBC's Today Programme on 27 November he cited a number of examples:
-Plant pheromones used to attract pests away from maize crops on the shores of Lake Victoria in Kenya;
-Removal of food allergies, for example gluten from wheat; and
-The development of drought tolerant crops.
Unfortunately for Professor King, all of these proved to be poor examples to use.
-The project by Lake Victoria is not in fact a GM crop at all but a trial in companion planting.
-The removal of gluten from wheat would render it very poor for bread making, and sufferers of gluten allergies would still have to be very careful to avoid the non-GM wheat that would still be on the market. The Government's GM Science review, which Professor King chaired, was realistic about the chances of reducing the risks to people who are allergic to peanuts: 'Efforts to remove the allergen from peanuts would be beneficial to a substantial fraction of the population whose sensitivity to the protein can expose them to life threatening situations and work to this end is underway (Bannon et al.2001). Although this would be beneficial, it is not simple to achieve. Peanut contains potentially more than 20 allergenic proteins. The removal of one or two of them are unlikely to make the peanut safe to eat for all peanut allergy sufferers.'
In addition, people would have to be very wary about non-GM allergenic peanuts that would still be on the market.
-Professor King was also guilty of exaggerating the progress made in developing GM drought tolerant crops, which is proving difficult. Professor King's optimism is not shared by Professor Ossama El-Tayeb, PhD, Professor Emeritus of Industrial Biotechnology at the University of Cairo:
'I read with interest and respect Friderike Oehler's message (nr. 56) and fully appreciate her concerns and am similarly convinced of the potential of 'alternatives'. I wish to add that transgenicity for drought tolerance and other environmental stresses (or, for that matter, biological nitrogen fixation) are too complex to be attainable in the foreseeable future, taking into consideration our extremely limited knowledge of biological systems and how genetic/metabolic functions operate. Those who propagate the ideas that any biological function could be genetically manipulated are optimists who are probably victims of a consortium of 'arrogant' scientists and greedy business who have strong control on policy making and the media.
Having said that, I feel we should not lose hope of reaching such noble goals and should continue to fund such research whose fruits may be reaped by a future generation. These goals have been used by the proponents of currently available genetically modified organisms (GMOs) under the control of big business, who propose that GM crops will alleviate poverty soon while in fact currently available ones mostly contribute negatively to poverty alleviation and food security and positively to the stock market. The holders of intellectual property rights for present day GM crops keep teasing us about the potential of GMOs resistant to abiotic stresses and the like while doing nothing about developing such crops for this generation. These are simply not easily exploitable in a business market and are accordingly not on their agenda. Basic research in this area is being funded almost exclusively by public funds.'
*Mexican maize tariffs dropped from January - wither maize diversity?
News Year's Day 2008 could have been a black day for agricultural biodiversity in Mexico. This was the day chosen to drop all tariffs on maize and bean imports under NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement). Mexico already imports 10m tons of subsidized US maize per annum, a lot of which would be unlabelled GM. This decision will open the flood gates even wider.
Perhaps of greater concern is the announcement that the no sooner had maize genome mapping been completed (recently sequenced by Mexico's National Genetics and Biodiversity Laboratory) than it was promptly offered up for sale. After eight millennia of maize breeding, Mexico's genetic resources could provide conventional plant breeding programmes with ways to tackle many of the challenges facing farmers in the future, but only if they remain in public ownership.
*Opposition to Kenyan Biosafety Bill
The Kenyan Biosafety Coalition consists of 40 NGOs opposed to the current drafts of the country's biosafety laws. They have on on-line petition that sets out their criticisms of the draft laws. See: www.elci.org/Biosafetypetition%5Cbiosafety_petition.htm
Date Place Event
18-22 February 2008 Rome (FAO) Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice to the Convention of Biodiversity. One of the items on the Agenda is GM trees, for COP9.
12-16 May 2008 Bonn GM free Summit. See invite at www.gmo-freeregions.org/worldsummit2008.html
12-16 May 2008 Bonn COP-MOP4 Biosafety Protocol
19-30 May 2008 Bonn COP9 of Convention on Biodiversity. Liability and Terminator technology will be discussed.
GM Freeze is a not for profit company limited by guarantee, owned and controlled by our 55 member organisations.
The campaign is calling on the Government for a Freeze on:
*the growing of genetically modified plants and the production of genetically modified farm animals for any commercial purpose *imports of genetically modified foods, plants, farm crops and farm animals, and produce from genetically modified plants and animals *the patenting of genetic resources for food and farm crops
Force Feeding? Second Edition February 2008