South rejects GM food and farming
DEVELOPING COUNTRIES REJECT GM FOOD AND FARMING
Scientists and others tell President of Mexico, NO A LOS TRANSGENICOS!
UniÃ³n de CientÃficos Comprometidos con la Sociedad
(Union of Socially Engaged Scientists) [Mexico], 29 October 2009
New Agribusiness Colonialism Threatens Africa
AllAfrica.com, 27 October 2009
Pressure groups rise against use of GMO, agrofuels to boost farm yield
The Guardian [Nigeria], 28 October 2009
South Africa: GMOs - Strategic Priority in Whose Interest?
Inter Press Service News Agency, 27 October 2009
Development: New types of plant and animal patents pose threats
Riaz K. Tayob
South-North Development Monitor (SUNS), Issue #6800, 26 October 2009
Trouble on the plate
The Financial Express [India], 25 October 2009
Response to the FAO: How to Feed the World in 2050
If the FAO is to Seriously Engage in this Effort it Must Get Rid of the Distraction of GM Crops
Aruna Rodrigues, 24 October 2009
GM crops no panacea for food security: US scientist
By Shahid Husain
The News International [Pakistan], October 24 2009
For-Profit Seeds Hurting Farmers, Biodiversity
Inter-Press Service, 23 October 2009
Press conference by Special Rapporteur on right to food
Relief Web (source United Nations Department of Public Information), 21 October 2009
Bill Gates reveals support for GMO ag
GRIST, 21 Oct 2009
Global alert against 'Monsantosizing' our food
UN General Assembly to discuss patents on seeds and right to food
No Patents on Seeds, 21 October 2009
The Royal Society is wrong: GM technology will never deliver food security
Press Notice from GM Free Cymru (Wales, UK], 21 October 2009
Activists drape Mexico's Independence Monument in black to protest biotech corn plantings
Asoociated Press, 18 October 2009
Peasants Worldwide Rise up Against Monsanto, GMOs
La Via Campesina - International Peasant Movement, 16 October 2009
Genetically modified crops call for caution, bishop tells synod
The Pilot (official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Boston) [USA], 8 October 2009
GMOs could do more harm than good in Africa: Lewis
The StarPhoenix [Canada], October 6 2009
Norman Borlaug's Unsustainable Green Revolution
Commonweal Institute [USA], 5 October 2009
GM climate craze seizes African food
Media Release by the African Centre for Biosafety
Johannesburg, 1 October 2009
Scientists and others tell President of Mexico, NO A LOS TRANSGENICOS!
UniOn de CientÃficos Comprometidos con la Sociedad
(Union of Socially Engaged Scientists) [Mexico], 29 October 2009:
President of Mexico, Mr. Felipe de JesÃºs CalderÃ³n Hinojosa:
This year you stand in a historical position to prevent irreversible damage to one of the World's most precious resources: Mexico's maize diversity. We observe that your Administration may be rushing to introduce genetically modified (GM) maize into the Mexican environment and we are convinced, from our understanding of the scientific evidence, that this move represents a disproportionate risk which should be avoided for the benefit of Mexico and the World. Joined together in our well-informed concern, we urge you to move aggressively to ensure that no GM maize is planted in Mexico, the Center of Origin and Diversification of this important crop.
We are scientists, intellectuals and artists with expertise ranging from biology, biotechnology, agronomy and ecology, to the humanities, social sciences, anthropology, economy, biosafety, policy and jurisprudence; our joint expertise is the minimum that would be needed to understand the complexities posed by the agroecological as well as socioeconomic and cultural significance of maize in Mexico. We have noted with dismay that well-founded scientists and cultural experts’ pleas to apply best scientific and social practices to the question of whether to introduce GM maize into the Mexican environment have gone largely unheeded. Indeed, experimental evidence produced in Mexico 15 years ago in trials leading to a justified moratorium on GM plantings from 1998 to 2003, has been set aside in a new drive towards unbridled release of GM maize in Mexico.
We are compelled to write this letter, given the latest element of a scientifically unjustifiable drive, embodied in the publication of amendments to the Law for the Biosafety of Genetically Modified Organisms (published by the Diario Oficial de la FederaciÃ³n on March 6, 2009), which disable the Special Protection Regime for Maize and other crops, for which Mexico is center of origin and diversification. Such amendments prepare the legal grounds to authorize field releases of GM maize varieties in the states of Sinaloa, Sonora, Tamaulipas, Jalisco, Nayarit and Chihuahua. Given the proven capacity of the maize germplasm to disperse through pollen or seed-flow, we can be certain that such release will lead to the increased presence of transgenic materials elsewhere throughout the Mexican territory.
After a quarter-century of experimental releases and more than a decade of commercial distribution of transgenic maize, there is plenty of evidence that the benefits offered by such lines do not compensate for the risks posed by their release. A review of the scientific literature and even the expert opinions offered by some of us through the official consultation of the Mexican Ministry of Agriculture agencies (SENASICA) makes this fact clear. Many other governments in the world have taken this experience into account to stop the planting, and in many cases even the importation of transgenic maize materials, making the position of your government, Mr. President, even more puzzling and unjustifiable.
The risks of GMO release may escalate at centers of crop origin and diversification. Here, transgenes will inevitably become inserted in a variety of different landraces (with diverse genomic contexts and backgrounds).
Below you will find a detailed listing of concerns and problems associated with the possibility of transgenic maize being released in Mexico, but we would like to highlight here a few particular examples. We are specially concerned by the fact that maize is currently used as a "bioreactor", a biological factory planted in the field to yield not food, but industrial products such as plastics, industrial oils, biofuels and pharmaceuticals. Because of the open cross pollination nature of maize reproduction and the specific conditions of the Mexican agroecosystem, it is to be expected that transgenic bioreactor materials will permeate the human food-chain, a risk of enormous consequences for the Mexican and world human populations. Accidental mixing of non-transgenic seed by bioreactor transgenic maize from experimental and commercial plantings has already occurred in seed storage silos in the United States.
Equally troubling are the consequences of the penetration of patented transgenes into maize lines cultivated by most farmers in Mexico, opening the prospect of complex, large and expensive liabilities for individuals that use, trade or exchange maize seed or grain containing them. These examples add to the possibility of transgene contamination of the Mexican teosinte (the wild relative and ancestor of maize), which in itself implies potential negative impacts to the genetic pool of the species and the agronomical management of teosinte.
Unlike chemical pollution, the transgenic transformation of maize germplasm, a heritage stewarded by indigenous people and farmers in Mexico, might be irreversible and likely to accumulate of transgenes in its genome, making the responsibility of our generation towards future populations even greater. Because there is no visible difference between GM and non-GM maize varieties, which nevertheless hold extremely different physiological qualities, the responsibility of producers and regulators, farmers and food processors to protect the environment and the public is also much greater than for other kinds of pollution. Because there is no visible difference between GM and non-GM maize varieties, which nevertheless hold extremely different physiological qualities, the responsibility of producers and regulators, farmers and food processors to protect the environment and the public is also much greater than for other kinds of pollution. Furthermore, given the complex structure of native
maize populations resulting form the informal seed sector and gene flow via pollen, a reliable tracing system in Mexico for segregating GM and non-GM maize lines at any typically acceptable level is not available or indeed possible. Therefore, release of GM lines into the open field in Mexico will only increase the chance of introgression and accumulation of transgenes in the genomes of native maize stocks. This will remove the possibility of a responsible involvement of farmers, food-processors and consumers in ensuring that their stocks remain free of unwanted transgenic elements. Yet despite this increased onus of responsibility on producers of transgenic lines and regulators, the introduction of GM germplasm into Mexico is done with only partial or no consultation, and the details of the materials introduced are not disclosed due to business interests.
Also, the infrastructure that would be necessary to review proposed releases and to monitor the panoply of potential damages caused by such releases is not available in Mexico or elsewhere. We believe that under these circumstances, the only justifiable protection of the invaluable Mexican maize germplasm is to establish an official and effective moratorium on the cultivation of GM maize cultivars until long-term research on the impact of transgenic maize in Mexico is conducted. Such research should not imply the risks that wanted to be avoided.
In sum, Mr. President, we beseech you to engage actively with your administration to achieve the following goals that we believe are reasonable, easily achievable and scientifically justified as the most basic requirement to ensure the safety and long-term availability of key genetic resources for Mexicans and for the world:
1. Establish an official banning of any and all field releases of commercial GM maize varieties, and at the same time, support rigorous scientific investigation on the potential of diverse and alternative agro-technologies in Mexico, as well as the risks implied in their use in centers of origin and diversification. That research must be designed and performed in public institutions and/or by independent scientists free of conflicts of interest.
2. Increase to a level of scientifically-sound efficacy the infrastructure necessary to monitor and independently evaluate seed and grain entering Mexico from countries that produce GM maize varieties.
3. Adopt a clear and effective policy to ensure that no food plant, such as maize, will be used as a bioreactor to produce non-edible substances in Mexico or in any other country.
We are ready to provide more detailed scientific data or expand the arguments that further support our statements, as well as to collaborate in initiatives that guarantee the prevention of transgene accumulation in the world's maize genetic resources.
Looking forward to your response concerning this urgent and delicate matter,
NAME FIELD OF STUDY INSTITUTION POSITION & AWARDS COUNTRY
1. Antonio Serratos, PhD., BiotecnologÃa y Bioseguridad, Universidad Autonoma de la Ciudad de Mexico 1er Premio de ICyT DF (2009), Mexico
2. Elena Alvarez-Buylla Roces, PhD., Genetica Molecular de Plantas, Instituto de Ecologia UNAM, Premio Ciudad Capital: "Heberto Castillo MartÃnez" ICyTGDF 2008
[for all the signatures: http://www.unionccs.net/comunicados/index.php?doc=sciencetrmaize]
New Agribusiness Colonialism Threatens Africa
AllAfrica.com, 27 October 2009 :
Abuja [Nigeria] - A new form of colonialism driven by agribusinesses has been unleashed on the African continent and it is threatening livelihoods, ecological balance and portends new forms of resource conflicts on the continent.
This declaration was part of a communiqué issued at the end of the Conference on Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), Land Grabs and Non-Ecological Agriculture in Abuja.
Participants at the conference were hosted by the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN).
The conference discussed the challenge posed by the AGRA - an initiative of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation - and the need to build knowledge and resistance to land grabs on the continent and other non-ecological agriculture that threaten African agriculture and food sovereignty.
ERA/FoEN's Executive Director Nnimmo Bassey said that the novelty christened AGRA, and the GMO/Agrofuels initiatives promoted by big agribusinesses only aim to erode Africa's traditional systems of farming and contamination of indigenous seeds in favour of engineered varieties.
Bassey noted that the convergence of all the agricultural initiatives of the biotechnology industry and their allies in the donor-driven research institutions towards Africa is targeted at re-colonizing the continent and entrenching hunger by undermining its food sovereignty.
At the end of deliberations, participants observed that enormous tracts of land on the African continent have been taken over by trans-nationals for agribusinesses, governments and individuals interested only in profits and not in the interest of smallholders' livelihoods
Participants therefore strongly recommended for urgent need for public debate/awareness on GMO/Agrofuels and AGRA, and that Africa should not be a dumping ground for unverified technologies such as genetically modified crops.
Pressure groups rise against use of GMO, agrofuels to boost farm yield
The Guardian [Nigeria], 28 October 2009:
A CONSORTIUM of pressure groups from Africa has dismissed use of Genetic Modified Organism (GMO) and agro fuels promoted by top stakeholders in agribusinesses, noting that the practice would erodes the continent's traditional systems of farming and contaminates indigenous seedlings.
According to stakeholders at a four-day conference on AGRA, Land Grabs and Non-Ecological Agriculture, held in Abuja recently, the convergence of all the agricultural initiatives of the biotechnology industry and their allies in the donor-driven research institutions towards Africa, is targeted at re-colonizing the continent and entrenching hunger by undermining its food sovereignty.
In a communiqué issued at end of the deliberation and made available to The Guardian, participants observed that enormous tracts of land on the African continent have been taken over by trans-nationals for agribusinesses, governments and individuals interested only in profits and not in the interest of smallholders' livelihoods.
The communiqué jointly signed by participating interest groups from Africa, stated that agricultural systems proposed by most donor/transnational agencies and implemented by African governments have so far proven to be unsustainable and not pro-farmers.
They added: "GMOs have failed to produce promised results such as higher yields, producing more nutritious crops and reduction of chemical inputs, including herbicides.
"Up to 80 per cent of GMOs currently produced in the world are destined for animal feeds, not to fight hunger and malnutrition. Also the use of GMOs imply the use of a lot of agrochemicals, which contaminate our food, lands, water and peoples".
The group said that African governments have failed to sufficiently fund farmers and indigenous solutions to boost farm yields. "Instead, they hobnob with neo-liberal research institutions that promote alien solutions to traditional African problems. Agro fuel are false solution to climate change and are neither climate- friendly nor are they replacement for fossil fuels", they said.
The group therefore recommended that Africa should not be a dumping ground for unverified technologies such as genetically modified crops.
Governments in Africa, they said must initiate, implement and sustain policies that guarantee the protection of small-scale farmers and provide them subsidies and needed inputs to ensure increased food production and general food sovereignty.
"African governments must adequately fund local research to boost agricultural yields. They must also shun all donor-driven funds that will not support indigenous solutions to hunger in Africa.
"The capacity of local scientists must be built to strengthen home-grown approaches to agriculture that is suitable for the environment and economy.
"The capacity of communities, journalists and food advocacy groups must be strengthened to enable them adequately play their roles as watchdog in the society. The media must be allowed unfettered access to information through initiation of laws that will guarantee freedom of information".
They also emphasized the need for transparency in government dealings on biotechnology industry with citizens.
The group added that laws on land policy on the continent must be reviewed to eliminate all forms of diplomatic immunity or unnecessary privilege conferred on investors in community lands.
"We demand that African governments take adequate steps to protect local farmers and the entirety of Africans from unhelpful schemes that have created hunger and food shortages on the continent."
South Africa: GMOs - Strategic Priority in Whose Interest?
Inter Press Service News Agency, 27 October 2009:
CAPE TOWN - The South African government is in the process of drafting regulations to police genetically modified organisms (GMO) as part of the national Consumer Protection Act, but environmental experts are worried the GMO section of the new Act, which was signed into law last April, will not be put into practice.
"Even if we are having good laws, we are not sure who will implement and monitor them," cautioned Charmaine Treherne, director of the South African Freeze Alliance on Genetic Engineering (SAFeAGE).
She spoke to IPS during a panel discussion between parliamentarians and anti-GMO lobbyists on the implications of GM crops on sustainable livelihoods and food sovereignty at the Centre for the Book in Cape Town.
"For example, the law stipulates that GMO crops need to be inspected, but we have only one inspector for the whole of South Africa," Treherne lamented. "So if we want the necessary monitoring, the onus is on NGOs (non-governmental organisations) to act as watchdogs."
This is almost impossible to do on a national scale, she said, because it costs about $200 to test the safety of a single crop. "It's too expensive for us NGOs to do government's job," complained Treherne.
The safety and nutritional value of a GMO crop are assessed by comparing the crop's DNA with the DNA with a currently consumed, plant-derived crop that is generally accepted as safe.The South African government is a big proponent of GMO crops. It commercially released genetically modified maize, cotton and soy several years ago and has started experimental trials on sorghum, potatoes and a range of other seeds and plants, including vines.
The South African government is a big proponent of GMO crops. It commercially released genetically modified maize, cotton and soy several years ago and has started experimental trials on sorghum, potatoes and a range of other seeds and plants, including vines.
"South Africa is forging ahead with GMO. It's seen as a key strategic priority, but it's questionable in whose interest this really is," confirmed Michelle Pressend, research, policy and advocacy coordinator of environmental NGO Biowatch, suggesting that government concern for economic gain was larger than its concern for the health of its citizens and equal access to food. "We are only in the beginning stages in terms of legislating GMO. There is little transparency. We are in danger of multi-national concerns driving our food policy," she added.
Lance Greyling, chief whip of opposition party Independent Democrats and a Member of Parliament (MP), is also worried the regulatory environment favours GMO companies. "The GMO Amendment Act is progressive legislation, but the presently drafted regulations might bring this down. It is of great concern to me that the control of food production by GM companies entrenches skewed power relations that breed inequalities in South Africa."
"If we want a more sustainable world, we need to change the way we produce food," Greyling added. "If we were serious about GMO, the onus should be placed on companies to prove products are safe, not on us to prove that they are unsafe."
Environmental institutions, such as Biowatch and SAFeAGE, demand more research on the impact of GMO food on human health. They also lobby against multi-national companies applying for patents for seeds, call for detailed labelling of products that contain GMO and a threshold for GMO contamination of food.
Moreover, NGOs ask for more public consultation by government. "We need better mechanisms for public participation. We need to get to a point where our government takes notice of what we say, instead of holding public hearings to tick of the box (but ignoring our input)," said Treherne.
Wide-reaching public education campaigns to inform South Africans about the potential dangers of GMO are necessary to be able to pressurise government to be more transparent and consult all levels society on a wider scale.
Former chair of the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), Jody Kollapen, says institutions such as the SAHRC, should play an important role in broadening public debate on issues of people's access to food and promised to recommend to the commission to place GMO on its agenda.
"There has hardly been public debate on GM crops in South Africa because decisions about GMO don't take place in a neutral power setting. The control of genetic resources gravitates to the hands of a few. It's a chilling prospect," said Kollapen, referring to companies, like American biotechnology giant Monsanto, which are systematically trying to patent seeds to control food production on an international scale.
Stone Sizani, MP of South Africa's ruling party African National Congress (ANC) and chair of rural development of the Land Reform Portfolio Committee, promised to advocate in parliament to ensure the issue of GMO crops "is taken further".
He encouraged NGOs to lobby portfolio committees within government to protect South African citizens from GMO food, claiming this was a problem mainly inherited from previous governments and driven by federal commercial agribusiness organisation AgriSA. "AgriSA is one of the main propagators of GMO in South Africa in the name of progress and technology," said Sizani.
He said organisations, such as AgriSA, are pushing for commercial farming of monocultures as well as export-driven farming, despite the fact that small-scale farming would benefit many more South Africans and address issues of poverty and food security. "We need to look at agriculture from the point of view of rural development," he recommended.
"GMO should be excluded from agricultural activity," concluded Sizani, agreeing with the other panellists that the country's lawmakers have the interests of GMO giants at heart instead of the interests of their citizens.
He also called for more transparency, pointing to the fact that South Africa is currently testing genetically modified potatoes in six secret locations. In multiple countries, GMO trials are being conducted in secret locations because GMO producers say they are worried the plants may be vandalised by anti-GMO activists.
However, not having access to information about the details of such trials "is not in the interest of the people," said Sizani, complaining: "Here we are, secretly testing GM potatoes that the Americans have said 'no' to."
Development: New types of plant and animal patents pose threats
Riaz K. Tayob
South-North Development Monitor (SUNS), Issue #6800, 26 October 2009:
Geneva, 23 Oct -- A global civil society coalition sent a public warning to the UN General Assembly that a new class of patents covering plants and animals endangers both innovation and food security, echoing the sentiments of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food.
The "Global alert against Monstantosizing' our food" was released on 21 October by the "No Patents on Seeds" coalition, coinciding with the presentation of similar concerns by the UN Special Rapporteur, Olivier de Schutter, on the Right to Food, at the Third Committee (dealing with Social, Humanitarian and Cultural issues) in New York.
The alert was initiated by the organisations Berne Declaration, Swissaid, Misereor No Patents on Life (Switzerland), Greenpeace and The Development Fund (Norway), supported by farmer organisations from Europe, South America and Asia. They include Coldiretti in Italy, COAG in Spain, dairy farmers from Germany, Federacion Agraria Argentina and Bharat Krishak Samaj, an Indian farmer organisation.
Directed at governments, parliaments and patent offices, the alert warns about a new class of patents covering plants and animals derived from conventional breeding. "These patents even claim harvests and derived food products such as milk, butter and bread," the report revealed.
By speaking of "Monsantosizing", the signatories to the alert warned that the whole chain from seed to food production might be controlled by a few big international corporations like Monsanto, DuPont and Syngenta, leading to a process of oligopolies and increasing concentration.
"A radical change in both patent legislation and the practice of patent offices is needed to eliminate patents on plants and farm animals," said Francois Meienberg of the Berne Declaration.
"Corporations should not be allowed to continue to misappropriate and monopolise seeds, plants and farm animals via patent law. If they are, these patents will become a major threat to global food security, food sovereignty and innovation."
"The big companies are about to control seed, harvest, trade and even food production," warned Luis Contigiani at Federacion Agraria Argentina.
"We can see how Monsanto tries to license fees on soy production, imposing embargoes on European importers of Argentinean soy and derivatives based on patents that are not valid in our country. This is an example of the consequences when genetic resources are subjected to the logic of monopolisation by patent rights."
The alert quotes from the background report by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food (A/64/170), de Schutter, which also raises concerns that seed patents might increase food crises. Citing de Schutter, "The oligopolistic structure of the input providers' market may result in poor farmers being deprived of access to seeds, productive resources essential for their livelihoods, and it could raise the price of food, thus making food less affordable for the poorest."
At a press conference in New York prior to appearing before the Third Committee to present his report, de Schutter raised concerns about increased monopolization of seeds through patents, declining biodiversity, speculation in commodity markets, and the ongoing fallout from the global food crisis. A challenge was the impact of intellectual property rights on seed systems and the policies States should adopt to provide access for farmers to the seeds they needed.
It was important to move away from the idea that the right to food was about people being fed to the idea that the right to food was about the ability to produce, he said.
He emphasised that commercial seed varieties could be extremely useful as they improved yields and nutritional values, and were disease-resistant, and at the same time, they could increase farmers' dependency on those seeds and threaten their income. "The top-ten agricultural companies, all based in the North, controlled 67% of the global proprietary seed market," he pointed out.
The vast majority of patents were retained by northern-based companies such as Monsanto and their oligarchic structure was worrisome, as it increased farmers' dependency, de Schutter said.
Those companies, moreover, had no choice but to expand. Legislation to address the issue was taken at the national, rather than global level. Antitrust legislation should be strengthened, also at the regional and international levels.
The commercial seed system might also be a threat to agro-biodiversity. He noted that today, there were barely 150 cultivated crops. Genetic erosion was a source of vulnerability and agro-biodiversity could be a source of resilience against the impacts of climate change.
While the UN has no position on the debate about organic versus genetic-based farming, a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report indicated that agro-ecological approaches could significantly improve yields in a sustainable matter, de Schutter said. His concern about intellectual property rights-based agriculture was that no investments were made in other means of food production.
Intellectual property rights had been strengthened significantly over the years, contributing to the risk of farmers' dependency. He therefore advocated that Governments should choose intellectual property (regimes) suited to development needs instead of giving in to incentives.
He also urged adoption of compliance legislation going beyond the minimum requirements of the WTO's Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement. Intellectual property rights might also be an obstacle to further research, even though it was defended as a way for innovation, he said. Research must use pre-existing genetic resources, which were more and more difficult to obtain.
He said that research in breeding rewarded by intellectual property rights was mostly addressing the needs of rich farmers in developed countries. It neglected tropical crops on which many people were dependent. Since most seed companies were situated in the North, intellectual property rights resulted in resource transfers from the South to the North and from food producers to the owners of the patents.
He recommended that States do more to implement the farmers' rights under Article 9 of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, which would provide for protection of traditional resources and for farmers' participation in decision-making processes on legislation on intellectual property. Further, he said that States should provide funds necessary to support the flourishing of farmers' seed systems.
States should also re-examine their seed regulations in order to make them more hospitable to traditional farmers' rights. They should also develop local seed exchanges. Research should involve farmers at all stages.
De Schutter said that the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) had indeed called for a 70% increase in food production by 2050 in order to meet increasing demands. The debate was open on how and by whom that increase should be achieved. The promises of scientific developments in that regard had been unfulfilled.
The huge potential in training farmers in agro-ecological techniques such as water-harvesting, agro-forestry, inter-cropping and the use of nitrogen-fixing plants had not been used. Although those techniques were labour intensive, they had the potential for hugely increasing productivity.
It was in principle a good thing that after thirty years, the private sector was again investing in agriculture as a potential source of profit, he continued. There was, however, no real debate about the ownership of agricultural policies and the risk that national policies would not be taken into account when the direction of research and investments was guided by private interests.
Governments should not develop policies dictated by the private sector, de Schutter said.
Financial speculation in the commodity market was a major problem that had not been addressed, he further added. Although he had submitted proposals on this to the Human Rights Council, nothing had been done. States should further re-establish food reserves they had abandoned during the nineties, which could be done at the national and regional levels.
To a question at the press conference, de Schutter said that some progress had been made on regulating the transnational buying of farms, and that the World Bank and the FAO were addressing the issue. A number of Governments now believed it was necessary to develop an international framework on this.
The deeds often unfairly favoured investors and the rights of local and indigenous people were often not protected. Later this year, there would be a West Africa regional meeting where Governments would try to share good practices in that area. West Africa could become a laboratory on the issue, he said.
Asked about funding for implementation of his recommendations at the press conference, he said significant amounts had been pledged over the past months. The recent Group of Eight (G-8) meeting in Pittsburgh had pledged to invest $20 billion over three years to support agriculture in developing countries.
The money pledged by the G-8 would be used in a way that strengthened and increased the incomes of small farmers in developing countries, whose needs were not necessarily the same as those of the large producers with access to global markets. Their productivity could be significantly improved with not very significant investments, he said. The question was however, to do what, and for whom.
[A New York Times editorial dated 22 October stated that "following a decade of unchecked consolidation, it is time for the (US) Justice Department to take a hard look at potentially anti-competitive behaviour" starting with Monsanto which is currently in a dispute with DuPont over genetically engineered soybean genes that are patented by Monsanto.
The patent disputes among giant agribusiness corporations are increasing, and while these expose the increasing problems with intellectual property rights systems that disproportionately favour private interests, the deep implications for small farmers, especially from developing countries, and for agro-biodiversity and innovation still do not receive sufficient attention.]
Trouble on the plate
The Financial Express [India], 25 October 2009:
The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) of the Ministry of Environment in India, the statutory body for biosafety regulation, approved the commercialisation of Bt brinjal [auberine] on October 14, 2009, in spite of its threat to independent science, public health, farmers' survival, the environment, and democracy. Members of the 'expert' panel that 'approved' the Bt brinjal for biosafety are themselves involved in research on Bt brinjal. This creates a major crisis for the integrity of science. Such conflict of interest has no place in any regulatory system, least of all in biosafety regulation which is intended to avoid harm to public health and the environment from genetically engineered organisms.
Genetically engineered (GE) Bt crops such as Bt cotton and Bt brinjal have a gene for producing Bt toxins from a soil bacteria bacillus thuringensis. Unscientific biosafety assessments rest on the false assumption of "substantial equivalence" which treats GE organisms as equal to the naturally occurring organism. This assumption is false because while the naturally occurring Bt in the soil organism is an endotoxin and needs to be processed in the gut of the caterpillar family, the transgene (or GE) Bt engineered into plants is a ready-made, active toxin. It is therefore toxic not just to the bollworm and other caterpillar pests, but to non-target species, including mammals and micro-organisms. Reports on animal deaths from Andhra Pradesh as a result of feeding on Bt cotton need to be studied in depth because what is killing animals is also a threat to humans.
Navdanya Research Foundation for Science, Technology, and Ecology undertook a survey to compare soils on which Bt cotton had been grown with those without Bt cotton soils. Beneficial soil organisms, such as bacteria that decompose biomass and enzymes that fix nitrogen had decreased by 20%. No such study has been done by Monsanto Mahyco, the company introducing Bt brinjal and cotton. While the Bt brinjal used a hybrid of two toxins, Cry1Ab and Cry1Ac, the tests done by the company used only Cry1Ac proteins. This is totally unscientific. Further the toxicity tests were restricted to only 90 days, which do not show long-term impacts, such as the risks of cancers and tumors. Bt brinjal contains 16-17 mg/kg of Bt insecticide. It is a recipe for feeding Indian citizens poison. Bt brinjal also has an antibiotic resistance marker which induces resistance to the antibiotic kanamycin. This could be a public disaster since it could increase antibiotic resistance.
Bt brinjal is based on the same toxin as the one used in Bt cotton. The only difference is that we eat brinjal, but not cotton (though Bt cotton seed has been blended with edible oils without traceability and labeling). We have seven years experience of commercial application and four years of field tests with Bt cotton. The socio-economic and ecological impact is there to see.
India used to have 1,500 cotton varieties. Now you can go to Vidharbha and find only Bt cotton (Bollgard) sold under names of different companies licensed by Monsanto. India is a centre of diversity of brinjal with thousands of varieties. Just as the Bt cotton displaced indigenous cotton varieties, Bt brinjal will displace indigenous brinjal varieties, leading to a severe loss of biodiversity. Since biodiversity is natures and farmers' capital, the replacement of local seeds with genetically engineered seeds patented by Monsanto-Mahyco will have serious socio-economic impact on farmers. Two lakh farmers have committed suicide in India in the last decade. Most of these suicides are concentrated in the Bt cotton areas. Vidharbha with the highest suicides (4,000 per year) also has the largest area under Bt cotton.
If small vegetable farmers become trapped in debt due to Bt brinjal just as cotton farmers became trapped in debt due to Bt cotton, the epidemic of farmer suicides will increase. How many millions of farmers does Monsanto-Mahyco want to push to suicide to harvest super profits?
Just on the ground of farmer suicides and indebtedness, GE crops should be banned in India. India is a land of small farmers. The only reason corporations are genetically engineered crops is because they can take patents and claim intellectual property rights to collect royalties from farmers. But the super profits of the companies are based on robbing the farmers of their incomes and their lives.
The 'expert' group has argued that Bt brinjal is "safe" because it provides an alternative to pesticides. This is a false argument for two reasons. Firstly, a toxic sprayed a few times from outside the plant is a lesser hazard than a toxic produced in the plant, all the time by every cell. Further, when pesticides are found to be hazardous they can be banned. However, a toxic GE plant released into the environment can never be recalled.
Secondly, the expert group totally ignores the real alternative to pesticides-organic farming. Navdanya produces organic vegetables, including diverse varieties of brinjal, without pesticides and toxins, and our farmers have no pest problems. Indian farmers and consumers need more organic farming-not toxic pesticides, nor toxic Bt brinjal.
The environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, has assured the country that Bt brinjal will not be commercialised in a rush on the basis of the GEAC approval. In January and February he is inviting inputs from all interested parties, both those for and those against GE crops. We welcome this democratic input. I would also call on the minister to make the basic assessment as an assessment between organic farming and GE. This assessment should include socio-economic aspects as well as ecological and public health dimensions. The introduction of Bt brinjal, the first GE food in the Indian diet, will open the floodgates to other GE foods that are under experimentation-okhra, cabbage, cauliflower, mustard, chick pea, potato, rice, amaranth, and many more. Our food decisions cannot be left to biased and compromised 'experts.' Food democracy demands that every citizen gets involved. It also demands that regulatory agencies are independent of commercial interests, and put the public interest above
corporate interests and profits.
The writer is Director and founder of, Navdanya, a network of seed keepers and organic producers spread across 16 states in India. http://www.navdanya.org.
Response to the FAO: How to Feed the World in 2050
*If the FAO is to Seriously Engage in this Effort it Must Get Rid of the Distraction of GM Crops
Aruna Rodrigues, 24 October 2009:
In 1943 Sir Albert Howard, (Formerly Director of the Institute of Plant Industry Indore, and Agricultural Adviser to States in Central India and Rajputana), considered to be the grandfather of the modern organic farming movement, published 'An Agricultural Testament', which was based on his years of patient observations of traditional faming in India. "Instead of breaking up the subject into fragments, and studying agriculture in piecemeal fashion by the analytical method of science, appropriate only to the discovery of new facts, we must adopt a synthetic approach and look at the wheel of life as one great subject and not as if it were a patchwork of unrelated things."
Almost 70 years later, with the advent and adoption of GM crops succeeding the mislabelled 'Green Revolution', these words have returned to haunt us. "Today, as a consequence of technologies introduced by the green revolution, India loses six billion tons of topsoil every year. Ten million hectares of India's irrigated land is now waterlogged and saline. Pesticide poisoning has caused epidemics of cancers. Water tables are falling by twenty feet every year. The soil fertility and water resources that had been carefully managed for generations in the Punjab were wasted in a few short years of industrial abuses. If India's masses have avoided starvation, they have endured chronic and debilitating hunger and poverty".1 India exports food, but 200 million of mainly rural, women and children go to bed hungry (Global Hunger Index). The ongoing commercialisation of agriculture in India continues, with the US extracting many pounds of flesh through trade agreements like the Indo-US Knowledge
Initiative in Agriculture and US AID and USDA investments in agricultural universities to bring Indian agriculture under the full sway of genetically modified crops controlled by Monsanto the 90% market leader. Monsanto is also on the Board of this 'Initiative' representing US interests, along with other agri giants.
Global hunger already at an unprecedented level is growing. Those who are the most hungry are the farmers who produce our food. The causes are mainly man-made attributable squarely to the free trade policies championed by the WTO, and manoeuvred through the chicanery of these processes to the detriment of the developing nations and backed by the IMF and the World Bank. The FAO contributes to this through its ambivalent stance, refusing to provide the kind of clarity that would encourage real solutions to the crises. Developing Countries have been forced to open up their markets to western agri-business giants and face a price war on cotton for example in India, because of huge US subsidies provided to American farmers exporting mainly GM cotton to India. We have the astonishing spectacle of poor Indian farmers not being able to compete with US farmers and they are committing suicide. It is called 'competitive advantage', which essentially means the Indian government is not able to
protect our markets under the WTO policies, doesn't feel obliged to provide the right level of support prices and/or just can't compete with the magnitude of US government handouts to their farmers. Indian farmers are also GM cotton farmers facing higher input costs and of course, without the competitive advantage of their American counterparts. They also seem to have lost or have been deprived of the "more sophisticated agricultural wisdom that has served Indian farmers for centuries."1 (emphasis mine)
Corporations now own 98 per cent of patents in agriculture, own seed monopolies, and are extending their control of genetic stock (plant and livestock).2 Unless this trend is reversed, whole communities and countries will lose control over the production of their food and national food security. Fortunately, strongly echoing Sir Albert Howard, we have a new 'avatar' of him in the collective effort of 400 scientists, to champion our cause of how to produce enough to food to feed the world over the next 50 years.
The UN International Assessment of Agricultural Science & Technology for Development sees no role for GM crops or Modern Biotechnology, in a road map for agriculture for the next 50 years. Authored by 400 and scientists and signed by 60 countries, including India, it took four years to complete. In its published conclusions in 2008, it states that there is no evidence that GM crops increase yield. Some biotech companies were so disgruntled by the report's lack of support that they pulled out of the entire process. The IAASTD makes it clear that the road map for agriculture for the next 50 years must be through localised solutions, combining scientific research with traditional knowledge in partnership with farmers and consumers. The report calls for a systematic redirection of investment, funding, research and policy focus toward these alternative technologies and the needs of small-farmers. Therefore, the IAASTD has clearly shown the international response to the WAY FORWARD which
sustainable agriculture that is biodiversity-based.
In his widely referenced report, 'Organic Agriculture is the Future', Doug Gurian Sherman of the Union of Concerned Scientists shows that organic farming systems round the world are often as productive as current industrial agriculture not only in developed countries, but more so in the developing world; that green and animal manures employed in organic agriculture can produce "enough fixed nitrogen to support high crop yields."
"These highly productive methods are needed to produce enough food without converting uncultivated land-such as forests that are important for biodiversity and slowing climate change-into crop fields. They build deep, rich soils that hold water, sequester carbon, and resist erosion. And they don't poison the air, drinking water, and fisheries with excess fertilizers and toxic pesticides. Some have dismissed the promise of these methods. Among these are State Department Science Advisor Nina Federoff, who in recent interviews characterized organic agriculture as some kind of retreat to a quaint past. She and others characterize organic farming and similar systems as inherently unproductive, sometimes suggesting that such methods are capable of supporting only about half the current world's population.
Federoff's view is at odds with the latest science, and represents a status quo kind of thinking. Today's dominant industrial U.S. agriculture relies on huge monocultures of a few major crops like corn and soybeans, and requires large inputs of fossil-fuel based synthetic chemicals to control pests and fertilize the crops. Such an agriculture churns out a lot of commodity crops (most of which are turned into meat and processed foods) while also contributing greatly to air and water pollution. Industrial agriculture is a major contributor of heat-trapping emissions and a major cause of so-called dead zones such as that in the Gulf of Mexico. And industrial agriculture is ultimately its own worst enemy, as it causes massive degradation of the very soil that is vital to farming itself. This kind of agriculture is unsustainable."
The MYTH of High Yields
GM Crops will neither feed India nor the world. After 20 years of research and 13 years of commercialisation, genetic engineering has not demonstrated sustainable benefits to farmers. 99% of GM crops, which have been commercialised, are either engineered (a) to contain the Bt gene, or (b) are herbicide tolerant (HT) GM crops as in Roundup Ready soybean. Neither of these is engineered for intrinsic yield gain. This is the plain science. The US Department's Agriculture's Review of 10 years of GM crop cultivation in the States, which has the longest history of GM crops, has concluded:
"Currently available GM crops do not increase the yield potential... In fact, yield may even decrease if the varieties used to carry the herbicide tolerant or insect-resistant genes are not the highest yielding cultivars... Perhaps the biggest issue raised by these results is how to explain the rapid adoption of GE crops when farm financial impacts appear to be mixed or even negative."
'Failure to Yield' released by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) considers the technology's potential to increase food production over the next few decades.
"The intrinsic yields of corn and soybeans did rise during the twentieth century, but not as a result of GE traits. Rather, they were due to successes in traditional breeding... Cutting through the rhetoric, overall pesticide use (herbicides, insecticides and fungicides) has not been reduced through GE... recent U.S. data suggest that herbicide use in GE crops is now significantly higher than it was prior to their introduction. Weeds that have developed resistance to the herbicide used with GE crops now infest several million acres, forcing greater herbicide use. Insect-resistant GE crops have reduced overall insecticide use somewhat, but on balance GE crops have not reduced our dependence on pesticides... It makes little sense to support genetic engineering at the expense of technologies that have proven to substantially increase yields, especially in developing countries... these include modern, conventional plant breeding methods, sustainable and organic farming and other
sophisticated farming practices that do not require farmers to pay significant upfront costs..." (emphasis mine)
Agriculture that is Biodiversity-based: The Irrelevance of GE Crops
These reports bring us full circle to the evidence provided by Howard 70 years ago, as well as to the agricultural science and wisdom of Indian farming practices, which find their counterpoint in the wisdom of farmers in all traditional cultures and which scientists like Gurian-Sherman and of the IAASTD describe as "sophisticated."
Our health and nutrition are tied in with seed quality, variety and abundance. In over 10,000 years of agriculture, farmers have selected seed, exchanged seed, preserved biodiversity and delivered safe crops. It is noteworthy and a tribute to their acumen that over the past many centuries, not a single plant has been added to the list of major domesticated crops. On the other hand, with GM crops we cannot make an "outcome prediction of the type that can be made when crossing two strains such as wheat that have been safely eaten for two thousand years."3 In the span of 12 short years of GM crops, we are faced with major problems of safety and testing and billions of dollars are being spent in damage control and clean-up operations. GM is also drawing a disproportionate quantum of investment in research despite its weak performance to date. Instead, these billions of dollars of public money should be invested in now proven, modern alternative agricultural technologies.
* The urgent question that must be asked is how much more of our scarce research dollars will be diverted to this controversial and unproven technology?
The health and ecological risks of GM crops are well documented in the scientific literature. Now, the research on their contribution to CC (Climate Change) is gathering momentum. The new report published by GRAIN4 on the 7th Oct '09, shows that agriculture has a pivotal role in sequestering carbon, and that it is small farmers that hold the key to 'cooling the world'. The evidence highlights the fact that the global industrial food system is the most important "single factor behind global warming, responsible for almost half of the world's greenhouse gas emissions" and that its role in the climate crisis has been seriously underestimated. Soils contain enormous amounts of organic matter and therefore, carbon. Calculations in the report show that the organic matter that has been lost over the past decades can be gradually rebuilt, if policy is oriented to agriculture in the hands of small farmers and their ability through alternative farming practices to restoring soil fertility. "In
50 years the soils could capture about 450 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, which is more than two thirds of the current excess in the atmosphere", a huge contribution to resolving CC. "The evidence is irrefutable. If we can change the way we farm and the way we produce and distribute food, then we have a powerful solution for combating the climate crisis. There are no technical hurdles to achieving these results, it is only a matter of political will."5
On the other hand, with GM crops we face a dangerous pincer attack that we must demolish if we are to survive and thrive: (a) on the one hand, the massive disinformation that GM crops will feed the world including India through mythical high yields and without harm, is reminiscent of the 30 years of disinformation that surrounded Climate Change. The IPCC Report (with Pachauri as Chairman) though almost too late, was nevertheless required to change those perceptions and get consensus across borders on urgent climate mitigation solutions. Fortunately for the world, the International solutions for agriculture proposed by the IAASTD Report and the evidence for the potential contribution of agriculture in the carbon sequestering solutions of organic farming and the role of small farmers, are TIMELY. We must heed these; and (b) on the other hand, a comprehensive deregulation of the kind that led to the melt down of global financial markets. The clear evidence is that the US has similarly
shown the way to a dangerous and unscientific deregulation of GM crops first in the US and that role-model is being pushed in India and other developing countries.
The FAO must take note of the sanity of these road maps for urgent change, and the great irrelevance of GM crops, which are seriously and it must be said, dangerously hindering that vital focus and redirection of resources that are required in agriculture. If the FAO will lead this process for change, then it must encourage and broker that change without ambivalence, and support national and sovereign governments in India and the developing world in these solutions, no matter what pressures a 'misguided' US policy may impose on all parties.
On the 'hope' that the IAASTD generates:
While here I stand, not only with the sense
Of present pleasure, but with pleasing thoughts
That in this moment there is life and food
For future years.
William Wordsworth, Tintern Abbey
GM crops no panacea for food security: US scientist
By Shahid Husain
The News International [Pakistan], October 24 2009:
KARACHI: Senior US scientist Dr Michael Hansen has said genetically modified crops are not the panacea for food security. Rather, the answer to food security lies with small-scale, ecologically rational, sustainable agriculture that focuses on local food systems.
"If you look carefully at global data, the most engineered crop is soybean. Ninety per cent of US acreage, 98 per cent of Argentina acreage and 60 per cent of Brazil are engineered," he said.
"Scientific data show that on an average Roundup soybean has 10 per cent lower yield than non-engineered soybean. So if you want to feed more people, genetically-engineered soybean will not be the answer," he said.
In an exclusive interview with The News recently, Dr Hansen, who is associated with the Consumers Union (USA), a non-profit publisher of consumer reports, said: "There is a global agreement under the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTDI) and it basically answers the question what kind of agriculture will be most useful in feeding the poor of the world. This four-year assessment, involving 400 scientists, concluded that 'business as usual is not acceptable.' They say the answer is not high technology such as genetic engineering or nano technology; rather the answer lies with small scale, ecologically rational agriculture that focuses on local food systems, reforms of trade laws and enabling policy environment and paying attention to gender issues."
Asked to comment on giant US multinational Monsanto's claim that Bt cotton requires less water and is pest free, he said: "It's wrong! In 2002, Bt cotton smuggled from Australia was planted in Sindh. A detailed survey of 138 farmers in four districts reporting growing Bt cotton on 4,249 hectares showed that local cotton variety non-engineered NIAB-78 received six irrigations while Bt cotton received 11 to 12 irrigations which resulted in increased cost of 1,750 rupees per acre. That clearly shows that Bt cotton uses more water.
"Similarly, in 2002, farmers were surveyed in five districts in Punjab. There the cost in terms of rupee per acre for water was Rs2,600 for Bt cotton and Rs2,100 for non-Bt cotton. Bt cotton used 25 per cent more water in Punjab than non-Bt cotton and almost 100 per cent more water in Sindh."
Asked to what extent the apprehension was true that with the introduction of Bt cotton and other genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) seed business in Pakistan is likely to be monopolised, he said: "The answer is yes."
Citing a report of the US Department of Agriculture and the Pakistan Annual Cotton Report released in May 2009, he said Monsanto has gained approval for a plan to introduce advanced genetically-modified crop technology and hybrid technology in Pakistan.
"Approval was granted by the Economic Coordination Committee of the Cabinet. In exchange, Monsanto would bring advanced genetically-modified hybrid seed technology to Pakistan.
The government has promised a law called the Plant Breeders Rights and Seeds Act and they will vigorously enforce that law. Such a law will effectively give Monsanto monopoly control over the seed industry in Pakistan since Monsanto is the largest seed company in this country."
Asked to what extent the claim that GMOs are drought-resistant is true, he said: "While it is true that transnational chemical corporations such as BASF and Monsanto are taking out patents on 'climate ready genes' such as genes from drought tolerance, heat tolerance and flood tolerance, Monsanto's field test of drought tolerant corn and drought tolerant maize shows that under drought conditions, the drought-tolerant maize has higher yields. However, under normal conditions, maize has less yield than conventional seeds.
Then there are also other problems with tolerant crops: work with drought-tolerant wheat shows the same results. Increased yields under drought but lower yields when there is normal rainfall."
He said in the meantime, in the last 10 years the International Centre for Improvement of Maize and Wheat (CIMMYT) has released 50 variations of either hybrid or open pollinated maize varieties. So that means that genetically-engineered hybrid has not produced any useful drought-tolerant wheat varieties while conventional breeding has produced them.
"It makes more sense to go with the conventional technology such as traditional plant breeding that has already shown results in this area while genetically-modified technology has produced no useful results," he said.
For-Profit Seeds Hurting Farmers, Biodiversity
Inter-Press Service, 23 October 2009:
UNITED NATIONS - Large biotechnology firms are not only depriving poor farmers of inputs essential for their livelihoods, but are also pushing up food prices, according to a new U.N. report.
"Excessive protection of intellectual property rights in agriculture is an obstacle rather than an incentive for innovation," says Olivier De Schutter, the U.N. special rapporteur on the right to food, who authored the report released Tuesday.
In "Seed Policies and the Right to Food", presented to the General Assembly body tasked with discussing human rights issues, De Schutter pointed out that the world's proprietary seed trade is dominated by a mere 10 companies.
There are currently two ways for farmers to access seeds - storing them from one year to the next and exchanging them locally, or depending on commercial systems that market "improved seeds" certified by regulatory authorities.
The traditional seed system, according to the report, is rapidly deteriorating due to neglect of agricultural policies. The commercial system, on the other hand, is flourishing as a result of globalisation and the strengthening of intellectual property laws by institutions like the World Trade Organisation.
"This trend must be reversed," said De Schutter, adding, "We need both systems for a successful approach to food security and climate change. Indeed, each of these systems has specific function to fulfill, and each corresponds to different needs."
The 22-page report suggests that improved certified varieties of seeds can produce high yields and may present certain desirable traits. However, it also recommends that farmers' local seed systems be encouraged.
"The vast majority of farmers still depend on these systems," said De Schutter. "When you combine the experience of small farmers Ã» who know their fields and their needs Ã» with the best of what science can offer, tremendous progress can be made."
The report warns that overuse of commercial seeds could lead to further loss of biodiversity. Citing numerous studies, it says the world has already lost about 75 percent of plant genetic diversity due to the weakening of traditional seed systems.
In addition to their adverse impact on agro-biodiversity, the problem with genetically modified seeds is that they are very expensive. Research shows that in poor countries, many small farmers become hostage to debt.
De Schutter said small farmers need greater legal protections from governments, adding that otherwise the current situation would lead to "a serious threat" to food security.
"The intellectual property regime is not working for poor farmers in the developing world," he said.
Calling for an end to the global trade imbalance, he noted that rich countries of the North still play a dominant role in shaping policies while many developing countries remain marginalised despite their hefty contribution to agricultural production.
"Ninety-seven percent of patents are owned by the companies of the North," he said.
"We see vertical concentration, which is a very serious threat," De Schutter told IPS. "Countries should re-examine their seed regulations. They should set up local seed banks."
The top 10 seed companies account for 67 percent of the global propriety seed market. The world's largest seed company, Monsanto, alone accounts for 23 percent. Monsanto, Syngenta and DuPont combined control 47 percent.
De Schutter's report was welcomed by independent researchers who have been calling for bringing the intellectual property rights regime of the World Trade Organisation in line with the U.N. treaty on biodiversity.
That 1992 treaty ensures the conservation of biodiversity and "the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources".
"There is a lot involved in it," said Eric Holt-Gimenez, executive director of Food First, a U.S.-based policy think tank. "Monsanto and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are promoting biotechnology. It increases production for a while. But it doesn't solve the problem."
Last month, Holt-Gimenez and colleagues released a study entitled, "Challenging industrial agriculture and the Green Revolution," in which they arrived at, more or less, at the same conclusions as those in the latest U.N. report.
The study suggests that hunger is linked more to the distribution of food rather than farmers' capacity to produce, an argument that De Schutter also shared with the U.N. press corps and delegates at the General Assembly's third committee.
The Gates Foundation has embarked on an effort to transform African agriculture. It helped establish the so-called Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) in 2006, and since then has spent more than one billion dollars on grants.
In Holt-Gimenez's view, however, this strategy isn't going to work because it is modeled on the 1960s model of agricultural development which doesn't take into account local concerns and choices for crop production.
"In a number of grants, for instance, one corporation appears repeatedly - Monsanto," he wrote in the study, noting that "both corporations [Gates's Microsoft and Monsanto] have made millions through technology and aggressive defense of proprietary intellectual property."
The Food First study noted that Robert Horsch, a former senior vice president at Monsanto, is now interim director of Gates's agricultural development programme.
Protected by the intellectual property rights regime, Monsanto and other biotech companies spend billions of dollars on research and development, yet very little of that research ends up benefiting poor farmers in developing countries, critics say.
"There is too much emphasis on developing plants, genes and seeds, and too little on harvesting technologies, water technologies, agro-forestry, and agro-ecological techniques that can raise yields without involving the use of high technologies," de Schutter told delegates.
"Farmers can make a good living" under the right conditions, he said, adding that "this issue should be placed high" on the agenda of the food security meeting due next month.
Press conference by Special Rapporteur on right to food
Relief Web (source United Nations Department of Public Information), 21 October 2009:
Speaking to reporters at Headquarters today, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to food warned that increasing dependency on commercial seed varieties monopolized by a few very powerful multi-national companies could severely impact small farmers in developing countries.
Olivier de Schutter raised his concerns about increased monopolization of seeds through patents, as well as about declining bio-diversity, speculation in commodity markets, and the ongoing fallout from the global food crisis during a press conference on his report to the General Assembly (A/64/170), which he would introduce to the Third Committee (Social Humanitarian Cultural) later in the day.
He said that as a result of the global food crisis, Governments had invested massively in agriculture and had sought to provide farmers with the means to produce food. A challenge was the impact of intellectual property rights on seed systems and the policies States should adopt to provide access for farmers to the seeds they needed.
In many developing countries, two seed systems existed: a commercial seed system of improved varieties that could be catalogued and certified by Governments; and the traditional seed systems emerging from farmers exchanging seeds on informal markets. Commercial seed systems were threatening the balance between the two, as traditional seeds could not be catalogued and certified.
Emphasizing that commercial seed varieties could be extremely useful as they improved yields and nutritional values, and were disease resistant, he said that, at the same time, they could increase farmers' dependency on those seeds and threaten their income. The top-ten agricultural companies -- all based in the North -- controlled 67 per cent of the global proprietary seed market.
The commercial seed system might also be a threat to agro-biodiversity, Mr. de Schutter warned, noting that today, there were barely 150 cultivated crops. Genetic erosion was a source of vulnerability and agro-biodiversity could be a source of resilience against the impacts of climate change.
Intellectual property rights had been strengthened significantly over the years, contributing to the risk of farmers' dependency. He therefore advocated that Governments should choose intellectual property suited to development needs instead of giving in to incentives. He also urged adopting compliance legislation going beyond the minimum requirements of the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) agreement. Intellectual property rights might also be an obstacle to further research, even though it was defended as a way for innovation. Research must use pre-existing genetic resources, which were more and more difficult to obtain.
Moreover, he said research in breeding rewarded by intellectual property rights was mostly addressing the needs of rich farmers in developed countries. It neglected tropical crops on which many people were dependent. Because most seed companies were situated in the North, intellectual property rights resulted in resource transfers from the South to the North and from food producers to the owners of the patents.
He recommended that States do more to implement the farmers' rights under Article 9 of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, which would provide for protection of traditional resources and for farmers' participation in decision-making processes on legislation on intellectual property. He further recommended that States provide funds necessary to support the flourishing of farmers' seed systems. States should also re-examine their seed regulations in order to make them more hospitable to traditional farmers' rights. They should also develop local seed exchanges. Research should involve farmers at all stages.
Answering a correspondent's question, he said the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) had indeed called for a 70 per cent increase in food production by 2050 in order to meet increasing demands. The debate was open on how and by whom that increase should be achieved. The promises of scientific developments in that regard had been unfulfilled. The huge potential in training farmers in agro-ecological techniques such as water-harvesting, agro-forestry, inter-cropping and the use of nitrogen-fixing plants had not been used. Although those techniques were labour intensive, they had the potential for hugely increasing productivity.
The vast majority of patents were retained by northern-based companies such as Monsanto, he answered to another question, and their oligarchic structure was worrisome, as it increased farmers' dependency. Those companies, moreover, had no choice but to expand. Legislation to address the issue was taken at the national, rather than global level. Antitrust legislation should be strengthened, also at the regional and international levels. Progress had been made, however, in research done in the South-by- South-based institutions, which usually was cheaper.
Although the United Nations had no position on the debate about organic versus genetic-based farming, a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report indicated that agro-ecology could significantly improve yields in a sustainable matter, he said. His concern about intellectual property rights-based agriculture was that no investments were made in other means of food production.
It was in principle a good thing that after thirty years, the private sector was again investing in agriculture as a potential source of profit, he continued. There was, however, no real debate about the ownership of agricultural policies and the risk that national policies would not be taken into account when the direction of research and investments was guided by private interests. Governments should not develop policies dictated by the private sector.
Financial speculation in the commodity market was a major problem that had not been addressed, he said in response to a question. Although he had submitted proposals to the Human Rights Council in that regard, nothing had been done. States should re-establish food reserves they had abandoned during the nineties, which could be done at the national and regional levels.
Asked about funding for implementation of his recommendations, he said significant amounts had been pledged over the past months. The recent Group of Eight (G-8) meeting in Pittsburgh had pledged to invest $20 billion over three years to support agriculture in developing countries. The question was however, to do what, and for whom. It was important to move away from the idea that the right to food was about people being fed to the idea that the right to food was about the ability to produce.
He urged that the money pledged by the G-8 would be used in a way that strengthened and increased the incomes of small farmers in developing countries, whose needs were not necessarily the same as those of the large producers with access to global markets. There productivity could be significantly improved with not very significant investments.
Turning to another question, Mr. de Schutter said that some progress had been made on regulating the transnational buying of farms, and that the World Bank and the FAO were addressing the issue. A number of Governments now believed it was necessary to develop an international framework on that issue. The deeds often unfairly favoured investors and the rights of local and indigenous people were often not protected. Later this year, there would be a regional meeting where Governments of the region would try to share good practices in that area. West Africa could become a laboratory on the issue, he added.
For information media ”¢ not an official record
Bill Gates reveals support for GMO ag
GRIST, 21 Oct 2009:
As it has come to dominate the agenda for reshaping African agriculture over the years, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has been very careful not to associate itself too closely with patent-protected biotechnology as a panacea for African farmers.
True, the foundation named 25-year Monsanto veteran Rob Horsch to the position of "senior program officer, focusing on improving crop yields in sub-Saharan Africa."
Yet its flagship program for African ag, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), explicitly distances itself from GMOs. "AGRA does not fund the development of GMOs," the organization's Web site states.
But AGRA - co-funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, proud sponsor of the original Green Revolution - is just part of what Gates does around African ag. What precisely is the foundation getting up to over there? Is it pushing GMOs on African smallholder farms?
[I have a call into the foundation to ask directly about the role GMOs play in its efforts. I'll report on the response.]
It has been surprisingly hard to say. Until now.
In a speech at the World Food Prize gathering last week (see video below), Bill Gates himself chided the critics of GMOs - and shed some sunshine on the foundation leadership's philosophy on ag development. At one point, he declared, "some of our grants [in Africa] do include transgenic approaches, because we believe they have the potential to address farmers' challenges more efficiently than conventional techniques."
Gates' speech seems like a significant event to me - the World Food Prize website describes it as his "first major address on agriculture." One of the major knocks on the foundation's Africa efforts is the lack of democratic accountability and transparency. Since the foundation's careful message management makes it hard to figure out precisely what it's getting up to, I'm glad to see its leading light airing his views freely.
Gates opened with a standard-issue awestruck paean to Norman Borluag, recently deceased architect of the original Green Revolution. Gates delivered a rather unnuanced assessment of Borlaug's legacy. Gates declared: "He [Borlaug] proved that farming has the power to lift up the lives of the poor."
Really? To be sure, Borlaug's "dwarf" hybrid seed varieties, when coupled with the heavy fertilizer and pesticide doses they need to thrive, dramatically increased yields in the places where the Green Revolution took root - the main success story being India.
But higher yields drive down crop prices - and increased use of imported inputs requires the taking on of debt. Rather than boosting the fortunes of most farmers in its purview, the Green Revolution drove hundreds of thousands into ruin. The survivors consolidated land holdings. The big got bigger and the poor tended to leave the land - too many of them ending up as excess labor in urban slum zones.
Maybe Gates didn't mean that Borlaug's efforts improved the lives of farmers, but rather the lives of non-farming urban dwellers. As he later says in the speech, also in the context of Borluag's legacy, "better farming can end hunger and poverty and lift whole countries out of poverty."
To be sure, many people were predicting famine for India in the 1960s, and the availability of cheap grain engendered by the Green Revolution no doubt forestalled widespread starvation. But it's demonstrably wrong to claim that the Green Revolution ended hunger and poverty in India.
Indeed, hunger rates remain appalling in India - site of the Green Revolution's greatest putative success. From a 2008 report by the International Food Policy Research Institute:
"According to the 2008 Global Hunger Index, India ranks 66 out of 88 nations (developing countries and countries in transition). Despite years of robust economic growth, India scored worse than nearly 25 Sub-Saharan African countries and all of South Asia, except Bangladesh." [Emphasis added.]
The bit about India faring worse than "nearly 25 Sub-Saharan African countries" is particularly noteworthy, given that the Gates Foundation is explicitly spearheading a "new Green Revolution for Africa." Of course, the original Green Revolution in India lies in shambles - the water table has been tapped near dry by massive irrigation projects in the zones where the Borlaug program took hold, and the remaining farmers there are struggling mightily with crushing debt loads and heightened pesticide-related cancer rates.
To be fair, Gates did point to "excesses" of the first Green Revolution, naming "too much irrigation and fertilizer" as examples. He vowed to avoid those mistakes in Africa. He insisted, more than once, that ecological sustainability was critical to the foundation's project. Yet he repeatedly emphasized that increasing gross production - the Borlaug project of squeezing as much yield out of a piece of land as possible - was the key.
And that led him to the most fiery moment of his speech (if this dour man's demeanor can ever be described as "fiery"): the part where he denounced unnamed "environmentalists" who are somehow blocking GMO seeds from entering Africa.
"This global effort to help small farmers is endangered by an ideological wedge that threatens to split the movement in two," Gates declared. He decried what he called a "false choice" between a "technological" approach geared to boosting productivity and an "environmental" one geared to sustainability. "We can have both," he said.
He went on: "Some people insist on an ideal vision of the environment which is divorced from people and their circumstances. They have tried to restrict the spread of biotechnology into sub-Saharan Africa without regard to how much hunger and poverty might be reduced by it, or what the farmers themselves might want."
The Gates Foundation, by contrast, isn't so demure. In an apparent reference to this project with GMO seed giant Monsanto, Gates allowed that "one of our [unnamed] private-sector partners" is working on a genetically modified drought-tolerant corn variety for African farmers. The seeds will be available to farmers royalty-free - meaning that farmers will pay market price for the seeds themselves, but not pay the hefty biotech premium Monsanto normally slaps on top. It's unclear whether seed-saving will be allowed under the arrangement.
According to the above-linked press release, the magic seeds are expected to come online in 2018. Gates emphasized repeatedly that as climate change proceeds apace, greater and greater swaths of Africa will face persistent drought conditions. In pushing for drought-tolerant seeds, Gates is swinging for the fences - looking for a single big solution to feed Africa's drought-stricken areas.
For me, this deal raises questions that cut to the heart of the Bill Gates approach to African ag.
First of all, it can't be noted often enough that a) GM agriculture's much-hyped ability to boost yields, taken as a given by Gates, has thus far proven purely spectral; b) there's serious evidence, despite a paucity of cash for critical research and heavy-handed control of research by seed companies, that GMOs cause health problems; and c) GMOs have so far proven quite proficient at generating unintended ecological consequences, such as the rise of "superweeds."
There's no room for any of that in Gates' discourse.
Further, I absolutely agree with Bill Gates that there's no zero-sum tradeoff between productivity and sustainability. But I urge him to tear his gaze away from the biotech lab and train it toward the field, where the best research on organic ag is being done. Indeed, one of the great benefits of organic farming is its long-term focus on soil health - and healthy soils can increase productivity over time without massive ecological externalities.
Here's a summary of a 2005 paper published in Bioscience comparing yields of organic and conventional corn. The 22-year study compared yields of corn and soy for the following systems: 1) conventional chemical-based agriculture; 2) organic ag using manure for soil fertility; and 3) organic ag using "green manure" (nitrogen-fixing cover crops) for fertility. From the summary, here's the key nugget of the study:
"First and foremost, we found that corn and soybean yields were the same across the three systems," said [researcher David] Pimentel, who noted that although organic corn yields were about one-third lower during the first four years of the study, over time the organic systems produced higher yields, especially under drought conditions. The reason was that wind and water erosion degraded the soil on the conventional farm while the soil on the organic farms steadily improved in organic matter, moisture, microbial activity and other soil quality indicators. [Emphasis added.]
Note well the "especially under drought conditions" bit. Here is a technology for "drought-tolerant" corn that's ready right now - no need to wait until 2018. It doesn't rely on the benevolence of Monsanto to waive a technology fee; and there are no questions about seed-saving. It asks no one to accept a drop in long-term productivity as the price paid for sustainability. And not only does it help farmers adapt to climate change with its drought-tolerant qualities, but it helps mitigate climate change by sequestering carbon. From the summary:
The fact that organic agriculture systems also absorb and retain significant amounts of carbon in the soil has implications for global warming, Pimentel said, pointing out that soil carbon in the organic systems increased by 15 to 28 percent, the equivalent of taking about 3,500 pounds of carbon dioxide per hectare out of the air.
Moreover, in a 2008 paper (PDF), the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) endorsed organic ag as a way to boost food security and improve farmer livelihoods in Africa. Concluded the FAO:
Organic agriculture can increase agricultural productivity and can raise incomes with low-cost, locally available and appropriate technologies, without causing environmental damage. Furthermore, evidence shows that organic agriculture can build up natural resources, strengthen communities and improve human capacity, thus improving food security by addressing many different causal factors simultaneously ... Organic and near-organic agricultural methods and technologies are ideally suited for many poor, marginalized smallholder farmers in Africa, as they require minimal or no external inputs, use locally and naturally available materials to produce high-quality products, and encourage a whole systemic approach to farming that is more diverse and resistant to stress. [Emphasis added.]
Gates cash could go a long way in dispersing the skills and (relatively low-cost) equipment needed for effective organic farming in Africa. Why not, for example, fund a dramatic expansion of the Soil, Food, and Healthy Communities project that's proving so successful in Malawi?
So where's the Gates cash, and the fiery speech from the foundation's leader defending organic ag from its critics? Now, it's true that the Gates Foundation does fund research into alternative, low-input agriculture. Just this past spring, the foundation awarded $1.3 million to World Watch to study such techniques for improving ag productivity in Africa.
But let's look at funding levels. The above-mentioned Monsanto GMO corn project got $42 million from Gates - and an additional $5 million from the Howard Buffet Foundation, run by the son of investor/insurance magnate Warren Buffet. The Worldwatch grant is loose change in comparison. (When I get a Gates official on the phone, I'll ask about other organic-style programs they're funding.)
Given the pro-high-technology thrust of Gates' speech, this imbalance is hardly surprising. As I took in the video of Gates' speech and heard him go on about the "needs of small farmers" and the critical role of biotech in serving those needs, I couldn't help but think of him as a kind of unelected agriculture commissioner for the African continent. And I wondered how many African farms will survive the embrace of the great software magnate.
Global alert against 'Monsantosizing' our food
”¢ UN General Assembly to discuss patents on seeds and right to food
No Patents on Seeds, 21 October 2009:
Today a global alert is being filed by farmers and development and environmental organisations warning about a new class of patents covering plants and animals and endangering innovation and food security. It is being presented on just the same day as the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier de Schutter, is presenting his new report in front of the UN General Assembly, warning that seed patents might increase food crises. New rules to restrict patents on seeds and animals therefore have to be enacted urgently.
The global appeal is being filed by the international coalition "no patents on seeds", organised and supported by farmers and development and environmental organisations. The alert is directed at governments, parliaments and patent offices like the European Patent Office, and warns about a new class of patents covering plants and animals derived from conventional breeding. These patents even claim harvests and derived food products such as milk, butter and bread. By speaking of 'Monsantosizing' the signatories are warning that the whole chain from seed to food production might be controlled by a few big international companies like Monsanto, DuPont and Syngenta, leading to a process of oligopolies and increasing concentration.
"A radical change in both patent legislation and the practice of patent offices is needed to eliminate patents on plants and farm animals," says FranÃ§ois Meienberg of the Berne Declaration. "Corporations should not be allowed to continue to misappropriate and monopolise seeds, plants and farm animals via patent law. If they are, these patents will become a major threat to global food security, food sovereignty and innovation."
The alert was initiated by the organisations Berne Declaration, Swissaid, Misereor No Patents on Life , Greenpeace and The Development Fund (Norway), and is supported by farmer organisations from Europe, South America and Asia. They include Coldiretti in Italy, COAG in Spain, dairy farmers from Germany, Federacion Agraria Argentina and Bharat Krishak Samaj, an Indian farmer organisation. "The big companies are about to control seed, harvest, trade and even food production," warns Luis Contigiani at FederaciÃ³n Agraria Argentina. "We can see how Monsanto tries to license fees on soy production , imposing embargoes on European importers of Argentinian soy and derivatives based on patents that are not valid in our country. This is an example of the consequences when genetic resources are subjected to the logic of monopolisation by patent rights."
In a vein very similar to the global alert, the background report by the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food (A/64/170), Olivier de Schutter, raises concerns that seed patents might increase food crises. As it explains: "The oligopolistic structure of the input providers' market may result in poor farmers being deprived of access to seeds, a productive resources essential for their livelihoods, and it could raise the price of food, thus making food less affordable for the poorest."
The No Patents on Seeds coalition and its supporting farmers' organisations welcome the UN report. "We will keep on fighting against patents on seeds and animals," says Miguel LÃ³pez Sierra, General Secretary of COAG , one of the biggest European farmers' organisations. "We are urging the European Union and the European Patent Office to stop granting these patents, which steal the common goods of farmers and traditional breeders. The concerns as raised by farmers, NGOs and the report of the United Nations no longer can be ignored."
Download of the global alert:
Download of the UN Report "Seed policies and the right to food"
Christoph Then, expert for Greenpeace, +49 15154638040
The Royal Society is wrong: GM technology will never deliver food security
Press Notice from GM Free Cymru (Wales, UK], 21 October 2009:
GM Free Cymru has issued a strong condemnation of the Royal Society for arguing that GM crops are needed to prevent a catastrophic food crisis by 2050 (1). The eight authors of the Report say that where GM has been proved effective at either increasing yields or else proving to be resistant to diseases, it should be used in the UK; and that GM crops and foods must be used to avoid "catastrophic food crises" by the year 2050.
Commenting on this Report, GM Free Cymru said that it was part of a coordinated attempt by the Government and the GM industry to force GM crops and foods on a British public which has said, over and again, that it wants nothing to do with them. Speaking on behalf of the organization, Dr Brian John said: "This is a cynical and opportunistic campaign, involving the Food Standards Agency, the UK Government, Prof John Beddington and the organizations promoting GM, using the threat of climate change and food shortages to make claims for GM that are clearly fanciful. For more than twenty years the GM industry has made wild promises of "wonder crops" that will increase yields, prove resistant to droughts and saline growing conditions, and bring benefits to small farmers. And what has it delivered, after the wastage of many million pounds of taxpayers's money? Nothing. Not a single food product that is safer, more nutritious, tastier, cheaper, or easier to process than
conventional or non-GM counterparts. The great GM enterprise has headed up a blind alley, and that is where it is stuck."
GM Free Cymru also pointed out (2) that there are no yield increases with any crop, anywhere in the world, that are associated with an introduced GM trait. The only traits introduced thus far have been directed at herbicide resistance and toxicity for certain target (and non-target) insects. Where there have been apparent yield increases, they have been a direct result of selective non-GM breeding and the use of the most productive varietal lines. The organization says that the suggestion that GM lines are "high yielding" is a confidence trick perpetrated by the GM industry -- one which should never fool any serious scientist.
Dr John also highlighted the Royal Society's appalling record in using corrupt and fraudulent science in the course of its long-standing pro- GM campaign (3). he said: "The Royal Society pretends that it is an august scientific organization with a reputation for objectivity and sound science. Some of the science it supports may be just that, but in the GM field the Society has been involved in the vilification of scientists whose experiments have shown up the deficiences and the dangers of GM, and it has displayed a massive bias in favour of the GM industry. Quite frankly, any Report conducted or commissioned by the Society deserves to be closely scrutinized and taken with a hefty pinch of salt. GM will do nothing whatsoever to enhance global food security; it will simply impoverish the developing countries, reduce biological diversity, negatively affect man's capacity for adaptation to change, and increase the risks of food-related catastrophes in the future. "
Dr Brian John
Tel + 44 (0)1239 820470
(1) In the report entitled 'Reaping the benefits: towards sustainable intensification of global agriculture' the authors, led by Chairman Sir David Baulcombe, of the University of Cambridge, outline the steps which governments need to adopt to ensure that in coming decades farmers in the developed and the developing world are fully equipped to feed their growing communities.
Professor Baulcombe is reported as saying: "If we are to take full advantage of the benefits which science can offer to food production, then we must act now, by identifying valuable science technologies, investing in research, and by laying the regulatory framework to bring these technologies to market." In contrast, the IAASTD report, produced by 400 international scientists and supported by 60 governments, including the UK, backed organic agriculture and similar 'agro-ecological' approaches as part of a 'radical change' in the way the world produces food.
(2) A lecture given by Prof Ann Clark which shows that there are NO yield increases associated with the GM traits introduced into GM crops -- yield increases, where they occur, are down to conventionally bred characteristics which are deliberately incorporated into the same "GM packages." The non-GM isolines (which would boost yield anyway) are then deliberately not released onto the market -- which is something Monsanto and the other GM corporations can decide on quite cynically because they control the seed trade. This point is deliberately ignored and misrepresented by the biotech industry. The spokesmen still pretend that they insert "yield enhancing" genes, which they patently do not.
(3) In 2001 the Royal Society made this fraudulent citation: "the only way to clarify Dr Pusztai's claims would be to refine his experimental design and carry out further studies to test clearly defined hypotheses focused on the specific effects reported by him. Such studies, on the results of feeding GM sweet peppers and GM tomatoes to rats, and GM soya to mice and rats, have now been completed and no adverse effects have been found (Gasson & Burke, 2001)". That was a deliberate and carefully constructed deceit. Gasson and Burke did not refine or repeat the Pusztai experiments. Dr Pusztai has repeatedly pointed out that neither the Gasson-Burke paper, nor the papers they cite, may be used to support the contention of "no adverse effects".
The Royal Society was also heavily criticized in 2003 for attempting to "rig" the GM science debate at that time, and for seeking to misrepresent the findings of the Government's FSE programme of GM field trials. The Society made no proper arrangements for public involvement in its GM discussion process, and actively discouraged the participation of "outsiders" in meetings. It was also accused of orchestrating a press campaign to "flag up" a series of very dubious conclusions about the supposed environmental benefits of a GM crop management system developed at Brooms Barn Research Station, in spite of the demonstrable inadequacies of the brief scientific paper on which these conclusions were based. It also attempted to "sabotage" the publication of the Report on the Health Impacts of GM Crops published by the Scottish Parliament's Health Committee, by issuing its own press release on the Brooms Barn study on the same day.
Activists drape Mexico's Independence Monument in black to protest biotech corn plantings
Asoociated Press, 18 October 2009:
MEXICO CITY - Environmental activists have draped Mexico City's Independence Monument in black to protest approval of genetically modified corn plantings.
Members of Greenpeace Mexico have drapped black banners from the 35-meter (yard) tall column and placed black arm bands on statues of national heroes on the monument, which is topped by the image of an angel.
Protester Aleira Lara says "today, the angel of Independence is in mourning."
Mexico approved the first two experimental plantings of biotech corn Thursday in controlled areas where officials say no native corn varieties exist.
Protesters said Sunday that modified genes could spread and contaminate genetically valuable native varieties of corn, which originated in Mexico.
Peasants Worldwide Rise up Against Monsanto, GMOs
La Via Campesina - International Peasant Movement, 16 October 2009:
La Via Campesina carries out Global Day of Action against Monsanto
MEXICO - Today, International World Food Day, as declared by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, La Via Campesina is mobilizing globally along with allies in an overwhelming expression of outright rejection of Monsanto and Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), in the name of food sovereignty.
In the United States today, protests and teach-ins against Monsanto are taking place in Maine and Wisconsin. In Brazil, Via Campesina members are carrying out actions in the headquarters of Monsanto and Syngenta. In Europe, where nine countries have prohibited GMOs, Via Campesina organized an anti-Monsanto brigade traveling throughout the region. In India, thousands of farmers and allies are carrying out hunger strikes and occupying lands. Actions are being carried out in at least 20 countries and all nine regions where La Via Campesina is present.
Meanwhile, world leaders are preparing to meet at the FAO World Food Summit in Rome in November, where the powers of global governance and agribusiness will utilize the desperation of starving nations to accelerate the expansion of GMO-based agriculture throughout the world. The Obama administration's proposal to dedicate over a billion dollars of emergency funding to developing countries for agriculture, and the U.S. government's Global Food Security Initiative are thinly veiled efforts to this end.
Peasants, landless workers, migrants, indigenous peoples and consumers, identified transnational corporations, especially Monsanto, which, together with Syngenta, Dupont and Bayer control over half of the world's seeds, and are thus the principal enemies of peasant sustainable agriculture and food sovereignty for all peoples. La Via Campesina is in a daily struggle to protect native seeds, patrimony of humanity, from corporations and patents. Today, October 16, the strength of the movement is pushing the public opinion to reject Monsanto's take-over of the food system.
"It's time for all civil society to recognize the gravity of this situation, global capital should not control our food, nor make decisions behind closed doors. The future of our food, the protection of our resources and especially our seeds, are the right of the people," said Dena Hoff, coordinator of Via Campesina North America.
Globalize Hope!! Globalize the Struggle!!
The principal objective of La Via Campesina is to develop solidarity and unity among small farmer organizations in order to promote gender parity and social justice in fair economic relations; the preservation of land, water, seeds and other natural resources; food sovereignty; sustainable agricultural production based on small and medium-sized producers.
Genetically modified crops call for caution, bishop tells synod
The Pilot (official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Boston) [USA], 8 October 2009:
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Africa should be cautious in its approach to genetically modified agriculture "even if it promises economic salvation" for the impoverished continent, a bishop from Cameroon said. Bishop George Nkuo of Kumbo said Oct. 7 that because the long-term impact of such new technology on human and environmental health is still not clear, "we in Cameroon suggest that Africa should not rush blindly to embrace it."
Speaking at the Synod of Bishops for Africa, Bishop Nkuo emphasized that poverty poses "one of the great obstacles to justice, peace and reconciliation" and is "the single greatest cause of hunger" in Africa. Increased food production using better agricultural methods on the continent is key to pulling its people out of extreme poverty, he said.
But while new discoveries in science must be part of the solution, Bishop Nkuo said, serious questions regarding the safety of the new GMOs (genetically modified organisms) need to be addressed. On the other hand, he said, the new methods promise that "not only will the quality of life for the poorest people be improved, but they will also begin the process of economic development" so important to Africa.
GMOs could do more harm than good in Africa: Lewis
The StarPhoenix [Canada], October 6 2009:
World-renowned humanitarian Stephen Lewis said Tuesday that leaders should proceed cautiously in using genetically modified organisms to combat an agricultural crisis in Africa, which has been ravaged by HIV-AIDS.
Food aid and dedicated research into agricultural development must be two parts of an effort to assist countries in crisis, particularly in Africa, said Lewis, the keynote speaker for the National Agriculture Awareness Conference, an event aimed at raising the profile of agriculture in Canada, that is being held in Saskatoon this week.
Lewis was critical of Bill Gates' role in developing Africa and his partnership with Monsanto Corp. Countries in the European Union are opposed to the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and Lewis believes "caution" is needed when adopting GMOs in agriculture.
"I'm not expressing outright condemnation," he said. "I have a natural apprehension about the behaviour of multinational corporations. Nothing that has happened in the last two years makes me confident about corporate social responsibility."
Monsanto is already working with developing nations, often in a philanthropic role, a Monsanto spokesperson said Tuesday.
"We have technologies that have a 13-year history of safe use. They're used widely all over the world, including places in Africa and many other developing world areas," said Trish Jordan, spokesperson for Monsanto Canada.
Jordan lists projects such as giving growers in Malawi hybrid corn seeds, tripling their yields. [GMW: They're non-GM]
She said these projects are not an attempt to secure future business success in these areas.
"Ultimately everybody has the potential to be a customer. But that's not the point I'm making.
. . . Growers have a choice every single day about the seeds they purchase. We're not the only player in this market," she said.
Lewis bases his hesitation on concerns about the safety and environmental impact of GMO-based agriculture.
"I might be embracing a higher yield in the present, which would result in damage down the road that would then prove even more difficult for these famers," Lewis said.
Africa is struggling with food production because farmers, mainly women, have died in staggering numbers due to the HIV-AIDS pandemic, he said. This lost generation of farmers means lost knowledge about food production.
"The natural transfer of knowledge and expertise, of values and background that we take for granted from mother to child, just isn't happening. There's a whole generation that doesn't get the agricultural knowledge," Lewis said.
Intense droughts and rainfall also compromise agricultural development, coupled with "looming" consequences of climate change, he said.
The conference continues today.
Norman Borlaug's Unsustainable Green Revolution
Commonweal Institute [USA], 5 October 2009:
Last month, the world lost a Nobel laureate. In the many tributes following his death, Norman Borlaug was credited with saving more lives than any man in history. Borlaug's legacy was the Green Revolution - bringing industrial agriculture to Mexico, India, and Pakistan. Pesticides, ammonia fertilizer, irrigation, and hybrid seeds resulted in a predictable outcome: lush green fields full of high-yielding crops. At last, mankind had the tools at its fingertips to overcome hunger.
And yet, hunger has not been banished from the developing world, or even the developed world. Four decades after the Green Revolution the world produces enough food to feed everybody, and yet an estimated billion people are hungry. In his last year, Borlaug joined policy makers in calling for a "Second Green Revolution." While a global effort to stamp out hunger is needed, a repeat of the first Green Revolution is a bad idea.
The unsustainable technologies that produced the first Green Revolution are just that - unsustainable. These technologies work for a period of time, until the soil and water are depleted. In India, the Green Revolution was an initial success. Today, farmers are struggling because the inputs for their crops (seeds, fertilizer, pesticides) are so expensive. Many are running out of water, or spending more money to drill for water. One bad harvest is enough to leave them unable to plant the next year's crops, and without access to affordable credit, they borrow from exploitive local moneylenders. This cycle of debt is the cause of a decade-long epidemic of farmer suicides in India. The same technologies that once gave them bountiful harvests are now literally killing them.
The International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science, and Technology for Development (IAASTD), a report sponsored by the World Bank and the UN, found that the best hope for developing nations lies in agroecological farming methods. While those calling for a Second Green Revolution champion genetically modified seeds, the IAASTD report found them incompatible with the needs of developing world farmers.
Currently available GMO technology is best suited to large scale monoculture and the seeds do not reliably make good on the promises biotech companies make about them - promises like decreased pesticide use or increased yield. Furthermore, the private companies seek to maximize profits on their seeds, and developing nations often lack the intellectual property laws and enforcement to protect their investments. Biotech companies promise GM seeds with drought resistance, but so far they have failed to deliver. IAASTD lead author Jack Heinemann summarizes, "stress tolerance involves the interaction of many different genes working in a complex, environmentally-responsive network... genetic engineering is unlikely to produce reliable drought tolerance in most crops grown in actual field conditions because it is unable to mix and match so many genes at once."
Rather, the IAASTD report encourages solutions that provide small-scale subsistence farmers with access to technology, knowledge, and credit. The report's call for spreading technology in the developing world refers to agroecological methods of farming that preserve biodiversity and do not deplete the soil or pollute the air and water. In studies, these methods exceed the potential of GM seeds alone to produce high yields or resist drought.
Advocates of genetically modified seeds dismiss sustainable agriculture as technologically backward, but actually the opposite is true. Although sustainable agriculture uses many time-tested growing methods, we now understand why they work because of modern science. Our ancestors lacked the science to understand why crop rotation, composting, and cover crops worked so well, but today we do. With the latest science and technology, we can improve upon the farming methods used by generations before us, without abandoning those methods entirely.
Borlaug gave the developing world the latest science of his time. We should honor his memory and his legacy by following through with his goal of solving hunger by giving the developing world the tools to grow their own food, but we need not use his outdated Green Revolution technologies to do it. Rather, we will honor him far more by using agroecological methods and accompanying them with economic and social reforms needed to bring his dream to fruition.
This article was produced as part of Commonweal Institute's Progressive Op-Ed Program
GM climate craze seizes African food
Media Release by the African Centre for Biosafety
Johannesburg, 1 October 2009:
The African Centre for Biosafety (ACB) has today released a report exposing the patents and players involved in appropriating key African food crops to produce genetically modified (GM) climate crops. According to the report, biotechnology is being used to identify "climate genes" in African crop plants, which are able to withstand the stresses that are likely to become prevalent as the world's climate changes. By patenting genes that can withstand stresses like drought, heat and salinity corporations are positioning themselves to turn a fat profit.
Monsanto, working through strategic partnerships, is at the forefront of patenting key African food crops such as sorghum, maize, peanut, cotton, wheat, manioc, sugar cane and banana for their 'climate' properties including stress tolerance, biomass accumulation and drought tolerance.
Israeli company Evogene, partially owned by Monsanto, is claiming more than 700 "climate gene" sequences in a single patent application. The claims extend to the use of gene sequences in key crops in Africa such as millets and sorghum, and even targets African Teak wood species. Another Monsanto partner, US based Ceres Inc, is aggressively filing patent monopoly on a wide variety of climate-related genes for both agrofuels and food crops.
Swiss Syngenta, Monsanto's GM competitor is standing in line for patents in respect of drought tolerance in sorghum and rice. Pioneer Hi Bred, Du Pont Corporation and BASF are also involved in filing numerous climate change related patents.
"It is clear that Monsanto, Syngenta and others are positioning themselves to penetrate African agriculture markets clutching the climate change banner. We condemn the expediency of the biotechnology industry in trying to profit from impending tragedy to further its own selfish corporate interests," said Mariam Mayet, Director of the ACB.
The ACB calls on African governments to investigate the patent claims, especially those resembling classic 'biopiracy' in asserting ownership of African genetic resources that are then sold elsewhere for profits.
The Full Briefing titled Patents, Climate Change and African Agriculture: Dire Predictions can be downloaded from
Contact Mariam Mayet for further information on 083 269 4309
GM-FREE IRELAND NETWORK
Knockrath, Rathdrum, Co. Wicklow
tel: + 353 404 43 885
mobile: + 353 87 799 4761
This e-mail and any files and attachments transmitted with it are confidential and/or privileged. They are intended solely for the use of the intended recipient. The content of this e-mail and any file or attachment transmitted with it may have been changed or altered without the consent of the author. If you are not the intended recipient, please note that any review, dissemination, disclosure, alteration, printing, circulation or transmission of this e-mail and/or any file or attachment transmitted with it, is prohibited and may be unlawful. If you believe you received this e-mail or any file or attachment transmitted with it in error please notify GM-free Ireland Network by return e-mail or to the address above.