Big six pleased the GM genie has escaped the bottle
2.Feeding the world: GM is not the answer
3.Pepper-sprayed protester seeking $50k and final day in court
1.Big six pleased the GM genie has escaped the bottle
by Steve Dube
Western Mail, June 24 2008
THEY'VE done it again, those selfless do-gooders that are the six biggest agricultural chemicals and seeds companies. Some ne’er-do-well Luddites are trying to stop them solving food shortages, but it won’t work, thanks to people such as Phil Woolas.
"Who he?" I hear myself asking. A quick check reveals he is a UK Environment Minister and he's just had a private preliminary meeting with the half-a-dozen philanthropists, and left it as the latest government advocate of genetically modified food. He now joins the ranks of politicians and civil servants convinced the GM genie, conjured up by the Big Six, will feed the world.
Amazingly there are some who compare this message to the nuclear industry’s promise of free electricity and an end to war that failed to mention Chernobyl or the legacy of deadly waste to future generations. They think the Big Six may have an agenda that wants to corner the seed market for the six big staple crops and make stacks of cash without fretting about possible side-effects.
And it's not just a case of dumbos in dungarees trashing GM field trials or the media scaring people with talk of Frankenstein food. There are independent scientists such as Giles-Eric Seralini, Caen University's Professor of Biotechnology, who you’d think would know better. He used to like the idea of GM food because he could see the possibilities of drought-resistant crops, bigger harvests and reducing reliance on agro-chemicals.
But people such as Professor Seralini are not content to take advantage of such riches. He spends his time studying things such as glyphosate, better known as Round-Up, the world's top-selling herbicide, which, as the brand name suggests, aims to wipe out all the rotten weeds that clutter a decent crop.
He's got this crazy idea the widespread use of agro-chemicals in food production could play some sort of role in cancer. So he was miffed to discover the Big Six focus almost exclusively on developing crops that resist their own sprays and make it possible to use more of them.
Don't ask me why, but Professor Seralini seems incapable of seeing the benefits of enabling farmers to spray poisonous chemicals more fiercely on what we eat.
People like him forced the Big Six to cast competitiveness aside and dip into their profits to set up the Agricultural Biotechnology Council, which is dedicated to leaving no influential politician, civil servant or media outlet ignorant of the untold benefits of GM food. Phil Woolas is their latest convert.
And the bottom line of their message is a clincher: there's so much GM in animal feed and processed food that there's no point in being a Luddite.
The genie is out of the bottle anyway. Just treat him nice, and he'll shower us with riches and save the world.
2. Feeding the world: GM is not the answer
By Bob Phelps
Online Opinion, 24 June 2008
Starvation, malnutrition and poverty continually stalk vulnerable members of the human family. Yet on World Food Day 2007, the Director-General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, Jacques Diouf, confirmed that, "Our planet produces enough food to feed its entire population". More food production is not the only answer to world hunger.
Propaganda claims Genetically Manipulated (GM) crops, plants and animals will produce more food to “feed the world”. False GM promises take scarce resources away from solving the real systemic problems created by intensive GM, oil-dependent farming, including ecological disruption and hunger.
Multinational GM and agrochemical companies constantly exploit disasters and political upheavals - drought, famine, food prices and disease - to maximise their profits and to justify their private interests in the public's eyes. Without these false promises to allay our fears, GM products have little to offer and cannot be justified.
Corporate disinformation trumpets the 114 million hectares of GM crops grown last year. But that's just 1.3 per cent of the world's productive land area. And GM crops are not the global bonanza for farming that the GM industry claims. Nearly 95 per cent of all GM crops - soy, corn, canola and cotton - are grown in North and South America. The USA grows more than 50 per cent of all GM crops, and Argentina, Brazil, Canada and Paraguay grow most of the rest - mainly for animal feed.
Monsanto, the world's biggest commercial seed company, owns more than 90 per cent of all GM crops, a recipe for monopoly control and profits!
GM soy, corn, cotton and canola were launched in the USA in 1996 - with two traits - Roundup herbicide tolerance and insect killing toxins. In 2008, the same four GM crops and two traits are commercially available. GM crops have stalled as they are not a mature technology with potential to develop. If Windows 95 were still our operating system we'd be wondering too!
False promises about the future of GM in agriculture abound. After more than 20 years of effort, there is little in the GM development pipeline that can be commercialised in the next 10 to 20 years, if ever. Most promises - like the CSIRO's non-browning fruits and vegetables, weevil resistant field peas and invasive viruses to sterilise feral animals - were bright ideas that failed on practical, health and environmental grounds. They cost a lot of money that should have been invested in saving our soils and drought-proofing our farms.
Gene manipulation techniques are crude, unreliable and unstable. Though GM can be used to splice single gene traits such as herbicide tolerance between unrelated organisms, most traits are controlled by the interaction of multiple genes that cannot be cut and pasted. These include the oft-promised crops with salt tolerance, nitrogen fixation and nutritional value. GM is slower, more expensive and less successful than traditional breeding in most plants and animals.
The final report of the United Nations' International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) was launched in Johannesburg in April. More than 400 scientists worked for three years to take stock of the current state of farming globally and chart the path for a sustainable future.
The report calls for fundamental changes in agriculture to better address soaring food prices, hunger, social inequities and environmental catastrophe. Shifting from industrial agribusiness to sustainable farming is essential and means investing in research and development to help farmers optimise their use of land and water resources. Modern farming systems would enhance local traditional knowledge.
The report concluded that: "systems are needed that enhance sustainability while maintaining productivity in ways that protect the natural resource base and ecological provisioning of agricultural systems."
The 2,500 page report found no conclusive evidence that GM crops can increase productivity. Instead, several studies had reportedly found GM soybeans and corn suffer 5-10 per cent reductions in yield. GM crops could not play a substantial role in solving key problems of climate change, biodiversity loss, hunger or poverty. There were no other GM crops close to commercial use that might increase yields or resist droughts. GM companies were full participants in setting up the study but when GM crops were criticised they stormed out.
More than 60 countries endorsed the final report but three of those present refused - Australia, the USA and Canada. Again, Australia sided with our North American GM competitors against our GM-free customers in Asia, Europe and the Middle East.
These countries have repudiated GM crops, at least until the Cartagena Biosafety Protocol is fully implemented. It requires the Precautionary Principle to be applied to the international transfer, handling and use of living modified (GM) organisms and the latest negotiations in Bonn will introduce liability for damage. Among the few countries that have not signed the Biosafety Protocol are Australia, the USA and Canada, though it has the backing of more than 140 nations.
But aligning ourselves uncritically with US policy on GM is not in Australia's interests.
The USA has not even taken the first step to protecting the global biodiversity on which human communities depend, by joining the Convention on Biological Diversity. Interviewed before the APEC summit meeting in Sydney last year, one of three items on George W. Bush's agenda was promoting the property rights of US companies.
As the former Chair of CSIRO Professor Adrienne Clarke of Melbourne University lamented, foreign seed, chemical and food processing giants already own patents on most of the genes typically used in GM crops. These are the companies that have pushed farm mechanisation, synthetic chemicals and crop monocultures for the past 50 years, making farms dependent on increasingly scarce and expensive oil.
Using the patent and Plant Breeders Rights systems, their aim is monopoly control of the food and fibre-producing organisms that comprise the global food supply, creating a flow of royalties and profits for themselves.
By adding one gene to crops and animals, developed in the public domain over the past five millennia using traditional breeding, they claim patents for their “inventions” and privatise the global biological commons. In contrast, the GM giants resist all but minimal regulation by claiming their GM products just extend traditional breeding practices and are not radically new. They should not be allowed to have it both ways.
Australian governments have been hyper-optimistic about GM for a long time. In more than 20 years they have pumped billions of dollars of scarce public research and development resources into GM, with few discernible public benefits. It is time for a serious reality check on the costs, benefits and prospects for GM organisms.
The processes of setting research and development priorities must also be democratised so that public interest priorities are adopted. New technologies typically create as many new environmental, health and social problems as they solve and GM techniques are no exception. But the lure of patentable products drives the GM juggernaut onward.
Some Australian governments and research agencies are also the committed partners of transnational GM companies. For instance, the Office of the Premier of Victoria and the Victorian and Queensland Governments are members of the Washington DC-based Biotechnology Industry Organisation (BIO) that promotes GM techniques and GM products world-wide on behalf of the industry.
This week Victorian Premier Brumby will, for the fourth year straight, join 20,000 other delegates at the BIO Conference in the USA, despite ALP faction wars destabilising his leadership, according to journalist Peter Austin (The Age, June 13, 2008). Former Queensland Premier Peter Beattie is on an annual retainer of $250,000 as the Queensland Government's trade ambassador in the USA, particularly to promote GM.
The Howard government told previous Food Summits in Rome (1996 and 2001) that no country should seek to be self-sufficient in food as global free trade in food would resolve shortages. In particular, the Australians sought to pressure the Japanese on domestic rice production, which their government protects. It was claimed that we could supply any rice shortfall. But Australian production is now at such low levels through drought and the cost of water that we import Asian rice - an increasingly scarce and expensive food needed for local consumption. This lack of foresight should be a warning to the Rudd Government that food policy needs urgent review.
The epidemic of obesity and resource wastage in profligate communities is just so obscene that hungry people refuse to be silenced any longer. At long last, we hope that governments are belatedly forced to listen, but how will they act? Typically, they are still backing quick technical bandaid solutions for every problem. This props up the status quo to maintain their privilege and power, and the profits of corporations.
The world's human carrying capacity is fast surpassing the limits of world resources and ecological systems have been reached in all departments - resource depletion and degradation, pollution burden and social decay. Societies that depend on constant growth are all under ecological and economic stress. Human civilisations must now focus on sustainably repairing the dysfunctions in global life support systems and establishing sustainable systems to feed, house and clothe everyone, in perpetuity. We owe it to future generations.
Except as a useful laboratory technique, Genetic Manipulation cannot positively contribute to the process of creating a sustainable society. Our governments must stop right now, wasting scarce research money on GM crops and foods that objective analysis will show are not required and are almost certain to fail.
3. Pepper-sprayed protester seeking $50k's court day
Press Release: Global Peace And Justice Auckland, 24 June 2008
Pepper-sprayed protester seeking $50k has final day in court
Aucklander Simon Oosterman, who is seeking $50k in compensation for being pepper-sprayed at a GE-Free protest in 2005, is having his final day in the Rotorua District Court today, June 24 2008 at 2.15pm.
In 2005 he was pepper-sprayed at a GE-free protest against genetically engineered pine trees grown at the Forestry Research Institute on Sala St in Rotorua.
Mr Oosterman, the first New Zealander recorded as being pepper spray at a protest, says he was sprayed while "passively resisting" police after going to the aid of another protester he believed police were being "overly rough with".
Mr Oosterman was arrested and charged with obstruction but was later acquitted in court after pleading not guilty.
In the criminal case, the District Court Judge stated that the use of pepper spray on Mr Oosterman was a cause for real concern and found that officers had "failed to exercise tact, tolerance and restraint" in policing the demonstration.
The Police General Instructions A275(3) states that OC Spray is not to be carried by members rostered for duty at demonstrations unless specifically authorized by a District Commander.
In the civil case earlier this year the police witnesses admitted that the General Instruction A275(3) had not been complied with but the police argued that the general instruction did not apply to the officer as he was not rostered for protest duty at the time.
Mr Oosterman says: "This argument and attitude betrays the police's view on the importance of freedom of expression and makes a mockery of the Bill of Rights."
The Rotorua police had known for weeks about the protest, had liaised with the protesters and had officers on standby because outside main city centres there are not the numbers for police to be especially rostered for protest duty.
Mr Oosterman was pepper sprayed at point blank range when police do not use it closer than a metre in training.
He says he suffered an excruciating headache that continued for more than a week after the spraying.
Although Mr Oosterman is seeking $50,000 in compensation he says he is not after money but a ruling that shows the police need to "get real" on the Bill of Rights.
John Minto, Spokesperson for Global Peace and Justice Auckland, said: "When the police aren't following their own procedures with pepper spray we should be seriously concerned at the possible introduction of the deadly 50,000 volt Taser."
The Rotorua District Court Judge who original dealt with the matter sent a copy of the case to the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) which found that the officer wasn’t in the wrong even though the General Instructions say that pepper spray should not be used on passive resistance.
Importantly the PCA said nothing about the General Instruction banning pepper spray at protests.
Mr Oosterman says that he has yet to receive an apology or "courtesy" phone call from the police about the matter.