Nossal's leaky GM defence
2.GM patents exploit the poor
1.Nossal's leaky GM defence
Eureka Sreet, Vol 18 No 16
August 8 2008
In a commentary in The Age in June, Sir Gustav Nossal reported on genetically modified canola hearings in Victoria. This was one of a number of media outings, including an address to the National Press Club, in which Nossal reiterated the same biotech message that the pro-GM lobby has peddled for more than a decade.
The article claims that pro-GM farmers should be able to choose whether to grow GM crops or not. However, this ignores the fact that conventional farmers will be denied their choice because all crops face the threat of becoming contaminated by GM cross pollination and the mixing of seeds.
Nossal claims that GM and non-GM seeds can easily be segregated, ignoring the experienced opinion of farmers, carriers and seed merchants, as well as the extra costs involved in separating the seeds. Allowing pro-GM farmers a choice between GM and conventional crops takes choice away from opposing farmers and the consumers.
His article also claims that great financial benefits are promised from growing GM crops, paralleling a report on the potential benefits of GM crops presented by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics earlier this year. However, this ignores the real financial losses experienced by farmers who cannot get the premium prices given to certified non-GM canola.
Nossal suggests that farmers, consumers and anyone who expresses reservations about GM technology are against science. He suggests that critics believe GM 'is somehow against nature or God's plan'. This is far from the truth. Anti-GM farmers encourage scientific research, but they do not want to equate good science with GM.
In fact, farmers want more science, and praise research done by the CSIRO in the past. What they do not want is a reduction of funding to conventional agricultural research as is occurring under the Federal Labor Government.
Nossal also suggests that people who question the introduction of GM canola do not respect the democratic process. However, at the hearing, it was the pro-GM lobby which was the loudest and best funded. The opinion of the majority of farmers, expressed in surveys reported in The Land, is to continue the moratorium on commercial growing of GM-canola was ignored. This is hardly democratic.
The GM lobby argues that it is not really new but merely a 'high-tech extension of biotechnology processes used over millennia'. However, direct gene-swap between organisms through GM is totally new. Its proper name is revealing ”” 'recombinant DNA' and 'transgenic transfer'.
Individual genes can be compared to words, writes Steve Jones (The Language of Genes, 1993) ”” just as the meaning of individual words depends on their function within a language, a gene only functions properly within a living organism and its genome. GM 'distorts' this relationship.
The lobby also plays on people's hopes and fears by associating GM foods with genetic 'miracle cures'. However, the two processes are very different. In GM foods genetic information is passed on to following generations through breeding in the open environment. In therapeutic work genetic information usually stays with the particular human. The use of GM to produce such things as insulin stays in the controlled environment of the lab.
The most recent advocacy of GM plays on people's fears concerning climate change, suggesting that GM crops are better suited to withstand a changing environment. However, the genetic diversity preserved in conventional breeding has proven results and is cost effective while GM is only promises.
In his article, Nossal pushes the notion that GM foods will cure world hunger. The US embassy to the Holy See also used this argument in an attempt to get the Vatican to endorse GM technology. However, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization International Conference in 2007 concluded that organic agriculture remains the better choice between the two, being able to feed the world's poor better than GM promises.
Dr Charles Rue is a Sydney-based priest of the Columban Missionary Society, and coordinator of Columban JPIC (Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation).
2.GM patents exploit the poor
Eureka Sreet, Vol 18 No 11
May 26 2008
My work colleagues in Eastern Asia and Latin America have witnessed the negative effects of genetically modified crops on the farmers they work with.
Farmers in the developing world have been used as guinea pigs. Film stars, employed by biotech companies as PR agents, con farmers into buying GM seed with promises of increased crop yields.
This is a lie. Neither GM cotton yields in India nor GM soy bean yields in Latin America have increased.
Unsuitable cotton crops in India have failed. The net result is that the farmers who borrowed money to buy the failed GM seed cannot pay back their debts. Hundreds have committed suicide in despair.
GM also undermines farmers' practice of saving and swapping seeds for their next crop, by contaminating the traditional seed banks. The multiple varieties developed by these farmers over thousands of years to cope with varied soil and weather conditions were their insurance policy, but seed contamination destroys this insurance.
Destroying natural seed banks has worldwide implications for the bio-diversity of staple food crops, exposing nations to starvation as countries lose their food security.
Australia has aligned itself with countries such as the USA and Switzerland in implementing the Trade Related Intellectual Properties Agreement (TRIPs). GM companies use international patenting laws as their legal mechanism of control and extortion.
Often the seeds that are patented as GM varieties capture traits which were first bred into crops by farmers in the developing world. These poor farmers are robbed twice over.
GM companies claim that GM is needed to feed the hungry of the world. The Vatican was almost conned into supporting this PR line and was stopped three years ago by the lobbying of my fellow Columbans and Jesuits from southern Africa.
Rumour has it that the PR companies have again lobbied the Vatican for its support of GM on the pretext that it will feed the world. If so, this is blatant lying and must be opposed.
Brazil produces plenty of food, has large exports and, notably, grows plenty of GM crops. Yet 40 per cent of its people go to bed hungry. GM is about making money, not about feeding the hungry.
The proposal by GM companies to insert a terminator gene into living organisms to make them infertile and so guarantee company profits from patents shows how much they really care about feeding the hungry.
Some Australian states, including Victoria and New South Wales, have lifted the moratorium on GM crops, although it was extended in South Australia. When Australia permits the growing of GM crops locally and supports the international agreement on patenting laws, it is cooperating in ripping off the poor of the world.
I challenge the Federal Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Tony Burke, to stop listening to the pro-GM economic analysis from the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and listen to the experience of poor farmers in developing countries.
Dr Charles Rue is a Sydney-based priest of the Columban Missionary Society, and coordinator of Columban JPIC (Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation). This article is adapted from his speech at Wednesday's rally of MAdGE (Mothers Against Genetic Engineering) in Melbourne. Following short speeches by mothers and farmers, more than 200 people, escorted by police, marched from the State Library to the steps of Parliament House. Other speeches followed from political leaders, teachers, organic farmers, and Greenpeace.