GM patents exploit the poor
Dr Charles Rue*
Eureka Street, 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.
MAdGE (Mothers Against Genetic Engineering)
Columban Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation