36 Organic Mega-Countries vs ISAAA's inflated figures
2.The GM Bubble - the low-down on ISAAA
EXCERPT: "The [ISAAA's] 2005 report indicates that there were 14 biotech mega-countries in 2004 countries where more than 50,000 hectares or biotech crops are being grown. The figures, however, are dubious."
1.36 Organic Mega-Countries Global Organic Agriculture Crop Area Reaches 26 Million Hectares
Organic Sector Calls for Strict Liability Under the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety
INTERNATIONAL FEDERATION OF ORGANIC AGRICULTURE MOVEMENTS
Bonn, May 30th 2005 Organic farming, the systematic conversion of land to certified practices that ensure food safety and security from the farm to the table, a comprehensive and fully traceable system, is developing rapidly throughout the world. According to the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movement’s study The World of Organic Agriculture: Statistics and Emerging Trends 2005, 36 countries achieved organic mega-country status in 2004, meaning that over 50,000 hectares of certified organic land are currently being cultivated. In total, over 26 million hectares of land are currently certified worldwide, generating over $25 billion in revenue in 2003.
558,449 farms in 108 countries are currently certified, and many millions of people are involved in the production, marketing, processing and distribution of organic products, generating immense income for a great number of people while simultaneously enhancing biodiversity and protecting the environment for future generations.
Organic agriculture is a holistic system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles, and soil biological activity. Certified organic products are those which have been produced, stored, processed, handled and marketed in accordance with precise technical specifications (standards) and certified as organic by a certification body. The use of GMOs within organic systems is not permitted during any stage of organic food production, processing or handling.
The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) issues an annual report on the amount of global biotech crop acreage. The 2005 report indicates that there were 14 biotech mega-countries in 2004 countries where more than 50,000 hectares or biotech crops are being grown. The figures, however, are dubious. For instance, whereas the report claims that 500,000 biotech hectares are being grown in South Africa, a report from Agricultural Biotechnology in Europe, an industry coalition, and a survey team from the University of Reading in the UK show that the ISAAA's figures are exaggerated by factors of 20 and 30 respectively, and a recent report from GRAIN (www.grain.org) demonstrates that out of 3,000 farmers who originally grew Bt cotton there, only 700 continue to do, and many farmers who chose to grow the cotton are now perilously in debt. Also, 98% of the world's GM crops are still grown in only four nations - USA, Canada, Argentina and a bit in China, which has remained the same for the last five years.
Biotech crops grown in so-called biotech mega-countries are planted indiscriminately without any substantive regulatory framework, increasing reliance upon dangerous herbicides and pesticides, creating super-weeds and destroying biodiversity in order to increase yields in the short term, but ultimately rendering the cropland useless, while simultaneously contaminating the world's major food crops with undesirable characteristics.
This contamination is not something the biotech industry should flaunt, but rather, the biotech industry should be held strictly liable for all such contamination under the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. Biotech crops have been riddled by scandal, from StarLink corn, which was not approved for human consumption but nevertheless entered the food supply, prompting the recall of over 300 contaminated food products from shelves
in the USA and continues to linger in the food supply, to the illegal entry of a 1000 tons of Bt10 into the European Union, also not approved for human consumption, and the recent publication of internal Monsanto documents, reviewed by EU scientists, revealing serious health damage to laboratory animals fed Monsanto's new genetically engineered "rootworm-resistant" corn. Rats who consumed the mutant corn developed smaller kidneys and exhibited blood abnormalities.
Biotech crops containing industrial enzymes, pharmaceuticals, viruses, antibiotic resistance markers and other traits have been planted in large-scale field tests for years in the USA, but tests for those experimental crops do not exist, and thus it is likely that contamination of agricultural crops is much more widespread.
Alternatively, organic agriculture ensures food security and safety for future generations, distributing income equitably among those involved in the chain of production, and credibly backing up its claims with thorough documentation. Organic agriculture also increases or stabilizes yields in developing countries, particularly in marginal and semi-arid areas, increasing productivity without dependency on unaffordable chemicals. The IFOAM Basic Standards include social standards that ensure the protection of workers' rights. IFOAM Accredited certifiers (www.ioas.org) adhere to these social standards, and IFOAM is working together with the International Social and Environmental Accreditation and Labelling (ISEAL) Alliance (www.isealalliance.org/) to improve the effectiveness and compatibility of social and environmental standards and verification systems.
IFOAM calls for strict liability to be imposed for the introduction of GMOs. To insure that the costs of injuries resulting from defective products are borne by the manufacturer that put such products on the market rather than by the injured persons who are powerless to protect themselves, strict liability for GMOs is warranted. Strict liability ensures that organic farmers and consumer receive protection from problems of proof inherent in pursuing negligence, placing the burden of loss on manufacturers rather than injured parties who are powerless to protect themselves. IFOAM applauds the inclusion of a GMO liability regime in the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, an idea that originated from African nations and other Third World nations, and is opposed by the USA and Canada.
IFOAM's Position on Genetic Engineering:
To purchase a copy of The World of Organic Agriculture: Statistics and Emerging Trends 2005, go to the IFOAM website www.ifoam.org.
Additional information can be requested from the IFOAM Head Office (Charles-de-Gaulle-Str. 5, 53113 Bonn, Germany, phone +49-228-92650-10).
IFOAM Press Release, responsible Gerald A. Herrmann, Executive Director
IFOAM Head Office:
Charles-de-Gaulle-Str. 5, 53113 Bonn, Germany
Tel: ++49-228-926 50 10 - Fax: ++49-228-926 50 99
2.The GM Bubble
Science in Society issue 22, summer 2004
Claire Robinson questions ISAAA's inflated figures of GM crop uptake and planting
"India a key GM crop cultivator" ran a headline in the Times of India back in January. "India has made it to the list of top ten transgenic crop-growing nations," the paper reported, alongside what it called the "glowing figures" on "the global acreage of transgenic crops" and the number of farmers planting them - seven million in 18 countries, up from six million in 16 countries in 2002.
The Times of India was not alone in its breathless account of GM crop expansion. Headlines around the world declared, "Frankenfood flourishing" and "Biotech crops continue rapid global growth". Every January, similar headlines appear when the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Association (ISAAA) publishes its "Annual Global Review of Commercialized Transgenic (GM) Crops." They are drawn directly from press releases sent out by ISAAA's agri-centers around the globe plus country-specific media briefings via worldwide teleconferences. ISAAA stands at the front line of a major public relations war, and as with all wars, the first casualty is the truth.
Fortunately, a few are not taken in. India's Financial Express reported that despite ISAAA's hype about India being "a key GM crop cultivator", the actual area planted with India's first GM crop, Bt cotton, is minuscule in terms of the total area devoted to cotton in India. According to an internal report of the country's agriculture ministry, "In 2002-03, the first year of its approval for commercial cultivation, Bt cotton covered an area of only 38,038 hectares, representing only 0.51 per cent of the area under cotton in the period. In 2003-04, with good monsoon rains, the area under Bt cotton increased to 92,000 hectares. This area coverage under Bt cotton is almost negligible as compared to over 9 million hectares under cotton crop in the country. This points to the low acceptability of Bt cotton by farmers."
As well as engaging in selective spin about the popularity of GM crops among farmers, ISAAA stands accused of pumping up the planting figures. ISAAA's Southeast Asia director, Dr Randy Hauteau, while briefing the media, quoted ISAAA figures for Bt cotton plantings in India in 2003-04 of 100,000 hectares - a nearly 10% inflation of the agriculture ministry's figures. When questioned about the data and methodology underlying this claim, the Financial Express reported that Hauteau refused to comment. Hauteau was also unable, the paper reported, to justify claims made in the ISAAA study that "in 2003-04 almost one-third of the global biotech crop area was grown in developing countries."
Although ISAAA's figures are quoted routinely by official bodies and even governments, the organisation is vague about how its figures are generated, referring only to their being "based on a consolidated database from a broad range of sources, including government agencies and other organizations in the public and private sector".
But Aaron deGrassi of the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex has shown the questionable validity of ISAAA figures. Analysing GM cotton farming in South Africa, he notes, "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 [from the University of Reading, UK] suggests 3,000 ha." In other words, ISAAA's GM plantings figures are 20 times higher than even those claimed by a biotech industry source and more than 30 times greater than those from an academic survey.
ISAAA's figures claiming increased profits to South African farmers from Bt cotton are also dubious, deGrassi points out. ISAAA argued that switching to Bt cotton allowed farmers to make an extra US$50 per hectare, whereas the University of Reading survey team found that farmers gained only US$18 in the second year. But deGrassi notes that in the first year, "Bt cotton non-adopters were actually $1 per hectare better off".
As well as exaggerating the extent of GM plantings and profitability, ISAAA has given misleading figures on yields that have been discredited by subsequent scientific research findings. For instance, ISAAA's "Global Review of Commercialized Transgenic Crops" for 1998 claimed yield improvements of 12% for GM soy over conventional soy, as reported by American farmers. However, a review of the results of over 8 200 university-based controlled varietal trials in 1998 showed an almost 7% average yield reduction in the case of the GM soy - the diametric opposite. It later transpired that ISAAA's figures were based on nothing more substantial than producer estimates.
Who pulls ISAAA's strings?
ISAAA is supported by cash from the GM industry. Its funders include Bayer CropScience, Monsanto, Syngenta, Pioneer Hi-Bred and the BBSRC (the UK's Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council). In other words, ISAAA's reports should not be considered as coming from an independent source.
ISAAA's multi-million dollar budget is matched by high-profile industry board members past and present, such as Monsanto's Robert Fraley, Wally Beversdorf of Syngenta, and Gabrielle Persley, Executive Director of AusBiotech Alliance and advisor to the World Bank. ISAAA has no representatives, however, from farmers' organizations in areas like Africa.
One of ISAAA's goals is to "facilitate a knowledge-based, better informed public debate." To that end, ISAAA has three "Knowledge Centers": the "AmeriCenter" based at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York; the "SEAsiaCenter" in Los Banos, Laguna, Philippines; and the "AfriCenter" in Nairobi, Kenya. ISAAA's Africa office was originally headed by Florence Wambugu, the Monsanto-trained scientist who hyped the company's GM sweet potato around the globe until it was exposed as a failure earlier this year (see "Broken promises", this series).
Aaron deGrassi says that in Africa the ISAAA has "spun off a number of innocuously named pro-biotech NGOs", such as the African Biotechnology Stakeholders' Forum and the African Biotechnology Trust. Pro-biotech Western aid agencies have joined with these organizations to quietly conduct one-sided conferences at upmarket venues around the continent, such as Kenya's Windsor Golf and Country Club, aimed at swinging high-level officials in favour of GM.
But critics allege that these forums are facades for large corporations; the NGOs consist of little more than a website and a few staff. In a report on ISAAA's activities in Asia, GRAIN concluded that its role was one of "promoting corporate profit in the name of the poor".
Claire Robinson is an editor with GM Watch www.gmwatch.org