Playing politics with GMOs
Next, October 28 2010
In 2008, after three years of solid work, over 400 scientists, 30 governments from developed and developing countries, as well as 30 civil society organisations, concluded an epochal work under the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD). About 60 countries endorsed the report at a meeting in Johannesburg in April of that year.
The assessment process was initiated by the World Bank in partnership with others like the FAO, UNDP, UNEP, WHO, UNESCO, and national governments. The IAASTD examined the potential of agricultural knowledge, science and technology for reducing hunger and poverty, improving rural livelihoods, and working towards environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable development.
The report concluded that modern biotechnology would have very limited contribution to the feeding of the world in the foreseeable future. The conclusion was that a viable food future lies in the creative support of ecological agriculture in which small-scale farmers will continue to play a major role. Initially participating biotech industry sector pulled out of the IAASTD when they couldn’t impose their agenda on the study team.
Other studies have shown that the claim that genetically engineered (GE) crops have a higher yield than natural varieties is virtually a myth, and also the claim that GE crops lead to reduction in the use of pesticides and other agro chemicals.
Neither is it true that the way to overcome nutritional deficiencies must be through techno fixes.
The Cartagena Protocol (adopted in 2000) of the Convention on Biological Diversity requires that, at a minimum, every nation should exercise a precautionary principle when it comes to the introduction of GE crops or organisms into the environment. This protocol deals with Living Modified Organisms (LMOs) that may have adverse effects on the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity. It takes “into account risks to human health and specifically focusing on transboundary movements.” The term ‘living modified organisms’ is what is usually termed Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).
Besides these, the biotech industry and their backers have over the years vigorously resisted the labelling of GE products and would rather have them sneaked into people’s plates without their knowing. But the biotech industry does not want to go about it this way any longer.
Their argument is that GE crops and products are substantially equivalent to natural varieties. The question they always refuse to answer is, why do they insist on patent on GE varieties if they were similar to natural varieties?
The issue of the patenting of life, including modified life forms, is a matter for another discussion. But suffice to mention here that major players in the biotech industry, such as Monsanto, maintain a battery of lawyers who snoop around and sue farmers for infringing their patent rights, even when they (Monsanto) should actually be held liable for having their seeds contaminate the farms of farmers who choose not to cultivate GE crops.
The food aid agenda
Talking about this biotech industry giant brings to mind the specious philanthropic thrust that is seeking to open the African environment to GE crops and products. The Alliance for a Green Revolution for Africa (AGRA), sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has vigorously denied on various occasions that they intend to use modern biotech tools in their tackling of hunger in Africa.
Their denials have met scepticism and the recent revelation that the Bill Gates Foundation was making investments in Monsanto should send clear signals to perceptive Africans and African governments that this Alliance is based on the platform of philanthropic capitalism.
The other route has been through food aid as well as uncontrolled commercial imports. The food aid route became public in 2002 when Zambia exercised her right to choose what type of foods to allow into her territory and rejected genetically engineered maize as food aid. Zambia was vilified and pressured, but refused to buckle. Questions were asked as to why hungry people should choose to stay hungry rather than eat GE products. We note here that Zambia rejected GE food aid, weathered the storm, and produced a bumper harvest the following year.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is currently considering whether to approve a genetically engineered (GE) salmon, which contains a modified growth hormone gene, for sale to US consumers. Opposition to this fish has come from a wide range of groups including a group of 40 Representatives and Senators from the US Congress, who have called on the FDA not to approve the fish for human consumption. They are questioning the approval process and the lack of adequate public consultation.
Ignorant Nigerian Representative
While the world is advancing towards stricter control of GMOs, it is a different ball game in Nigeria where the chairman of the House committee on agriculture, Mr. Gbenga Makanjuola, has become a loose canon in his wholesale endorsement and push for the introduction of GE crops and products into Nigeria.
Rather than see the Biosafety Bill that the National Assembly has been considering as a legislation to ensure the regulation of genetically modified organisms in Nigeria, Mr. Makajuola and his team see the bill as the key that will throw caution into the winds and allow the pushers of GE crops and products to have a field day in Nigeria.
His recent and past public pronouncements have been shockingly based on discredited or at least unproven biotech industry claims. We have reasons to believe that the Biosafety Bill Nigerians will receive from the National Assembly would have been drafted solely to satisfy the interests of those who wish to push yet another nail into the coffin of the already prostrate Nigerian environment.
This is a matter about what we eat. It is a matter of life or death. We cannot afford to play politics or speculate on this.