Concerns over GMOs in Middle East and Africa
2.AFRICA: 'Tread carefully on GMOs', warns Kenya's Lands Minister
3.AFRICA: GM seeds pose more problems than natural varieties
EXTRACT: "Authorities in the GCC countries will develop standards for GM foods, these foods will be effectively monitored and tested. The foods or seeds that do not meet these standards will not be allowed into the GCC markets and all GM foods will carry clear labels to help consumers decide on what to eat." - Dr Mohammad Abdul Qader, the technical advisor for the Emirates Standards and Metrology Authority.
1.GCC nations 'will control entry of GM foods'
By Samir Salama, Associate Editor
Gulf News, August 26 2008
Abu Dhabi: The UAE [United Arab Emirates] and other GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] member countries will control the entry of genetically modified foods into their markets, top officials said on Tuesday.
"The GCC countries will develop regulations through independent statutory bodies with the power to ban releases of genetically modified foods until agreed standards have been met," said Dr Mariam Harib Sultan Al Yousuf, executive director of policy and regulation at the Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority.
Dr Mariam stressed that control of gene technology should not be left to scientists and commercial organisations.
With the prospect of a global food crisis looming, it may be that industry claims about the capacity of genetically modified foods to ensure abundant supplies will eventually be justified.
"By the end of this year," Dr Al Yousuf said, "the GCC countries will come up with a system under which the placing of genetically modified (GM) crops on these countries' markets will require a regulatory approval supported by a thorough safety evaluation, which will be applied to all GM crops before they enter our markets."
Dr Al Yousuf was speaking on the sidelines of a meeting of the GCC sub-committee for genetically modified foods, held in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday.
A passionate debate is under way all over the world over the use of genetically modified foods - crops into which "foreign" genes are introduced to make them resistant to pests and adverse weather conditions, according to professor Mohammad Abdul Menem, Faculty of Food and Agriculture at the Emirates University.
"The GM food controversy is a dispute over the advantage and disadvantages of genetically modified food crops. However, there is a lot of research that shows GM foods are safe, while there is very little research which argues that people should not be offered food that may carry some degree of risk," said Professor Abdul Menem.
He said plant and animal breeders have always mixed and matched genetic material to create the species of vegetables, fruit and cattle. Those modifications, though, were carried out among closely related species through selection processes using cross-pollination and cross-fertilisation.
"What is unique about today's genetically modified foods is that we can move across species barriers, so that in order to achieve the results we want, we can take genes from a crop or an animal and place them in a crop."
He agreed that the effect foreign gene might have on people who eat the food remains a critical question.
"The same applies to genetically modified crops such as soya, corn and potatoes. They have been developed by multinational chemical firms, which now prefer to describe themselves as "life science companies."
All this is worrying enough, to the extent that genetically modified foods have been dubbed "Frankenstein foods".
Dr Mohammad Abdul Qader, the technical advisor for the Emirates Standards and Metrology Authority, said consumers in GCC countries, which import more than 90 per cent of their foods, have a right to know what they eat and how it is produced even if there is a global consensus that genetically modified foods are safe.
"Authorities in the GCC countries will develop standards for GM foods, these foods will be effectively monitored and tested. The foods or seeds that do not meet these standards will not be allowed into the GCC markets and all GM foods will carry clear labels to help consumers decide on what to eat," said Dr Abdul Qader.
2.'Tread carefully on GMOs' Minister warns
Kenyan Broadcasting Corporation, September 2 2008
Tread carefully on the introduction of Genetically Modified Organism in the country.
This is the advice by Lands minister James Orengo gave to his counterpart in the Ministry of agriculture William Ruto.
Orengo says the government should not haste the introduction of GMOs into the country before their effects on health and environments authenticated.
Thenister's sentiments come in the wake of a spirited effort by Minister William Ruto agitating for the adoption Frankenfoods.
The two Ministers seem not to be reading from the same page but the same book.
In his effort to cushion the country against the perennial food shortage the Ruto has launched a campaign that will see the introduction of the foods.
But on the other hand the lands Minister says even though we cannot runaway from technology the government should do more research on the frankefoods before it's forced down on the population.
The Minister says the country should cultivate all the idle land in the country which he belief could be the solution to the food security in the country.
The Minister is further urging the agricultural ministry to engage all the stakeholders in the industry before the introduction.
Since the American Bio-Technology research firm Monsanto discovered the new technology there has been an intense debate on the safety of the GMOs.
In the Biosafety bill-awaiting debate in parliament the government seeks to establish a National Biosafety Authority and the National Biosafety Committee, which will regulate all GM activities in the country.
3.GM seeds pose more problems than natural varieties
Business Daily (Nairobi), August 28 2008
Throughout the 20th century, the so-called Green Revolution has entered people's lives with promises of abundant and cheap food.
This has been the case especially since the end of the Second World War, with proponents basing their claims on three pillars.
The first is chemical fertilizers to "improve" the availability of nutrients in the soil; The second is Pesticides and herbicides to fight plant diseases and weeds and the third is Genetic improvement of food crops while moving towards better varieties and hybrids. This article will focuses on the last of the three.
The processes of hybridization involving repeated combinations of genetic material were limited for a long time by the fact that natural reproduction only takes place between plants of the same species. But Genetic Engineering took off with the unravelling of the full structure of the DNA 20 years ago. It became possible to insert a gene of one species into the DNA of another, thus offering immense agricultural possibilities.
Some examples include the modification of plants that fix the nitrogen of the air without belonging to the Leguminous family, plants resistant to certain diseases or to dry environments; the possibility of producing drugs and vaccines by genetically modifying bacteria, and many others.
Farmers were thus promised higher incomes; traders were promised lower costs of production and better quality of produce; and the companies producing such foods saw huge profits appearing on the horizon through monopolies and patents of such modified 'foods.' Naturally, their 'research' showed that there was no difference between the natural and engineered 'foods,' that these were safe, and that they would solve the problem of famine in the world.
But if GM foods were all that their producers claimed them to be, why was the process conducted by stealth and sprung on the public without notice? This policy of the fait accompli began with the US government, which neither informed nor consulted its citizens about GM crops nor, worse still, did it require GM foods to be labelled, so as to give the public the democratic choice of whether to buy or not. After this GM foods were imposed on one country after another, in the same utterly undemocratic atmosphere of secrecy.
For a full understanding of the import of GM foods, two sets of results need to be considered: social results on the countries that have adopted them and biological results of the genetically modified foods. Further, GM foods must be analysed as part and parcel of the much touted 'globalization,' to which we now turn.
Rules of robbery
Dr Vandana Shiva is an India physicist, founder and president of the Research Foundation for Science Technology and Ecology, and one of India's leading activists. She describes in one of her papers how the transformation of peasant agriculture in India to a globally industrialized model, which has GM foods as a supporting pillar, has reduced food security, threatened local businesses and biodiversity, driven farmers off their lands, and opened the door for global corporations to take over the nation’s food processing.
The common claim by globalization enthusiasts is that it is natural, inevitable, and evolutionary. Dr Shiva sees it otherwise. Globalization is not a natural process of inclusion. It is a planned project of exclusion that has siphoned the resources and knowledge of the poor of India onto the global marketplace, stripping people of their life-support systems, livelihoods, and lifestyles.
Global trade rules, as enshrined in the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Agriculture (AOA) and in the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) agreement, are primarily camouflaged rules of robbery.
The WTO's overall goal: promoting "market competition" serves two purposes. First, it transforms culture, biodiversity, food, water, livelihoods, needs, and rights into commodities for sale to be conveyed to markets. Second, it justifies the destruction of nature, culture, and livelihoods in terms of 'rules of competition.'
Its officials attack ethical and ecological rules that sustain and promote life, dubbing them as "protectionist" barriers to trade.
Globalized food and agriculture in effect, means the corporate takeover of the food chain, the erosion of food rights, the destruction of the cultural diversity of food and the biological diversity of crops, and the displacement of millions from land-based, rural livelihoods.
This process surreptitiously began in Kenya in colonial times, with disparaging remarks aimed at 'subsistence agriculture' and accolades for 'cash crops' that would make farmers rich. It had begun in Europe towards the end of the 19th century, with the result that very few Europeans today would know what to do if thrown onto their own agricultural land. Kenyans would do well to verify the impact of the above policies on India, learning from her experience.
In India export-oriented policies have made the country shift from producing food crops to producing commodities for export, such as cotton. Its cultivation was expanded to semi-arid areas such as Warangal in Andhra Pradesh, where farmers traditionally grew paddy, pulses, millets, oil-seed and vegetables.
Enticed by promises that cotton would be like 2white gold," yielding high profits, Warangal farmers nearly tripled the amount of land under cotton in the past decade, while slashing production of traditional food grains like jawar and bajra.
As trade liberalization has also caused the drying up of low-interest credit, peasants have had to take high-interest loans from the same companies that sell them hybrid seeds and pesticides. Thus, the corporations have become money lenders, extension agents, seed suppliers, and pesticide salesmen all rolled into one.
US soybeans and oil are cheap not because of low costs of production but because of subsidies. The price of $155 a ton is possible because the US government pays $193 a ton to US soybean farmers, who would not otherwise be able to stay in business. But this subsidy helps not so much the farmers as the corporations, which then dump soybeans on the countries of the South.
As heavily subsidized soybeans flooded India's domestic market, prices crashed by more than two thirds. The local mills, from small-scale "ghanis" to larger ones, started to close down. Domestic oilseed production declined, and domestic edible oil prices crashed. Some farmers protesting against the collapse of their markets were shot and killed.
The TRIPs agreement, introduced during the Uruguay Round of GATT, set enforceable global rules on patents, copyrights, and trademarks. TRIPs rules extend to living resources: genes, cells, plants, seeds, and animals can now be patented and “owned” as intellectual property. The US made use of the Round to insert its patent system into the WTO, thus imposing it on the rest of the world.
By extending the rules to living resources, self-reproducing forms were redefined as machines, as if made and invented by the corporation patentee. A seed corporation thus enjoys a monopoly that prevents others from making, using, or selling seeds. Seed saving by farmers has been criminalized as stealing “property,” according to Article 27.3 (b) of the TRIPs agreement.
Chemical companies have bought up seed and biotechnology companies, reorganizing themselves as Life Science corporations, claiming patents on genes, seeds, plants and animals.
Ciba Geigy and Sandoz have combined to form Novartis; Hoechst has joined with Rhone Poulenc to form Aventis; Zeneca has merged with Astia; Dupont has bought up Pioneer HiBred; and Monsanto now owns Cargill seeds, DeKalb, Calgene, Agracetus, Delta and Pine Land, Holden, and Asgrow. Thus 80 per cent of all GM seeds planted are Monsanto’s “intellectual property.”
And Monsanto owns broad species patents on cotton, mustard, and soybean ”” crops that were not “invented” or “created” by Monsanto but evolved over centuries of innovation by farmers working in partnership with nature.
Recently the US government granted a patent for the anti-diabetic properties of karela, jamun, and brinjal to two nonresident Indians and a foreigner. That these substances control diabetes is common knowledge in India. Their medical use is documented in authoritative treatises like Wealth of India, Compendium of Indian Medicinal Plants and Treatise on Indian Medicinal Plants.
One, or two, cases of such false claims to 'invention' could be called 'errors.' But they are legion. Herbs and spices like Neem, haldi, pepper, harar, bahera, amla, mustard, basmati, ginger, castor, jaramla, amaltas, new karela and jamun have all been 'patented.'
Costs of biopiracy
Suggestions that piracy happens because Indian knowledge is not documented are the exact opposite of the truth. Indigenous knowledge in India, in fact, is so systematically documented as to have made piracy a lot easier. Even folk knowledge orally held by local communities deserves to be recognized as collective, cumulative innovation.
The social costs of biopiracy to the poor of the South are very high, since two thirds of the people there depend on free access to biodiversity for their lives and needs.
A full 70 per cent of healing, for instance, is performed with indigenous herbal medicine. A patent system that instead of rewarding inventiveness and creativity systematically rewards piracy, should be immediately stopped and reviewed.
Jeffrey M. Smith, the author of Seeds of Deception, a book packed with information about GM foods, concludes that they are inherently unsafe. Many assumptions by biotechnology companies used to back up their safety claims are either untested, or have been proved wrong by independent labs with dangerously few safety tests on GM 'foods.'
The GM's Industry safety tests are typically rigged to avoid finding problems even after independent in-depth studies have shown serious damage to lab animals.
Sadly, many scientists, both in the public and private sector, who discover these dangers or express concern, have been attacked and silenced.
To impose the technology on Kenya, GM companies, US agents and their Kenyan accomplices, took care of 'briefing' the legislators, with methods unknown but easily imaginable. Providentially, President Kibaki dissolved Parliament one day before they were slated to pass the Bill, which could have made GM foods all the more accessible.