To learn more, see Vandana Shiva’s article Bill Goes Bananas!
Although, organizations such as the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) suggest that new seeds being developed will be freely shared to benefit smallholder farmers, AGRAWatch contends that the reality of imposing restrictive, neo-colonial regulations on the heart of Africa’s agriculture will only perpetuate insecurity and conflict for peasant farmers.
For more information on Glenn Ashton’s piece, please visit The South African Civil Society Information Service.
The on-going debates regarding whether or not GM food is safe for human consumption involve GM proponents relying on short-term research studies which do not allow for sufficient data collection to gauge the long-term and multigenerational effects of GM food consumption. Because some other studies have indicated that there are likely to be adverse health effects after long-term GM consumption AGRA Watch believes that independent scientific long-term research studies must be performed in order to enlighten the GM debate.
In a recently published article titled, “The State of Science“, Dr. Stuart Newman highlights the proliferation of GM crops despite the absence of long-term studies analyzing the effects of these crops on human health. According to Dr. Newman’s analysis, proponents of genetically modified foods are quick to dismiss opponents’ “reservations about the massive introduction of GM food into the food chain” as “scientifically ignorant, economically suicidal, and cruel to the world’s hungry.” Consequently, the biotech industry has relied upon lax regulations and superficial “scientific” studies to achieve lucrative profits from the transformation of traditional US crops to GM crops. Dr. Newman succinctly summarizes the issue and states, “To protect its investment against a skeptical public, the biotech food industry has depended on compliant regulators, on its proponents’ ridicule of biotech industry critics’ supposed scientific ignorance, and on expensive campaigns against labeling of prepared foods that would draw undue attention to the presence of GM components.”
The bill is set to expire in six months, and it remains unclear whether or not the provision will be short-lived. However, as Gurian-Sherman asserts, “Once a country throws open its doors to the biotech industry, it can expect a similar effort to weaken regulations for food safety and environmental protection.”
If interested in learning more, a recent Salon article titled How Monsanto Outfoxed the Obama Administration, also discusses how the biotech industry influences government regulations.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has granted the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines $1.3 million to help develop Golden Rice, a genetically modified strain of rice containing beta-carotene which the body may be able to convert to vitamin A.
In recent weeks, two news stories broke hyping up the expectations of Golden Rice.
In a response to the exaggerated news stories, the International Rice Research Institute issued a clarifying statement.
Michael Hansen, senior scientist at Consumers Union, has also discussed the hype regarding Golden Rice’s claim to combat vitamin A deficiency. According to Hansen, there have been three versions of the genetically modified rice varieties to date. The first version (GR1) had low levels of beta-carotene– a precursor to vitamin A–so low in fact, that a report by Greenpeace exposed that an individual would have to consume TEN pounds of the rice in order to get the desired levels of beta-carotene. Although the second version (GR2) had higher levels of beta-carotene, the real issue, Hansen states, was that because the genes were easier to insert in japonica varieties of rice, people in South Asia (who were accustomed to indica rice) would not eat the new variety. “It wasn’t until 2010 that they had been able to cross GR2 with local indica varieties and get plants out into the field to test. We still don’t know the levels of beta-carotene in the GR indica varieties. In addition, they still haven’t done the proper safety testing…” says Hansen.
Furthermore, according to Vandana Shiva, in one village she is familiar with, over 350 varieties of plants grow (dismissed as “weeds”) which are dietary sources of vitamin A. It is also likely that without other nutrients in a balanced diet, the child’s body may not be able to manufacture vitamin A from the precursors.
Regrettably, if an adequately nutritious and safe to consume variety of Golden Rice is ever developed, it would be foolish to assume that this technology would be made available to those who need in most, without prioritizing corporate interest. In a piece posted on GM-Free Cymru, Dr. Brian John writes, “The idea that Golden Rice is being ‘given to the world’ as a grand humanitarian gesture, with the high-profile support of the Rockefeller and Gates Foundations, is a scam — as realised by many observers even in the early days of the project. Syngenta owns the patents and the commercial rights in Golden Rice. It is not ‘giving away’ the technology but sub-licensing it with very specific conditions…So Syngenta keeps ownership, spreads the financial risk, accepts no liability, undermines the regulatory system, puts moral pressure on those who stand in the way of its ambitions, and still stands to make a killing if anybody (other than a small farmer) grows any Golden Rice hybrid in the future.”
Last week the Supreme Court heard the case of farmer Vernon Hugh Bowman vs. Monsanto regarding the legal question of whether the sale of a patented seed falls under the general doctrine of “exhaution” of the patent monopoly (that the sale of a patented item ends the patentee’s control over its uses), or if a seed should be treated differntedly from a manufactured artifact.
To ensure farmers will buy new seeds each season, Monsanto requires that farmers only plant the company’s genetically engineered seeds for one season. Bowman planted Monsanto’s GE soybean seeds from a local elevator and consequently violated Monsanto’s restrictions. He appealed the decision to pay the seed giant company $84,000 to the Supreme Court.
The questioning of the lawyers by the Justices during the hearing indicated that the Court will probably conclude that patent control of seeds extends past their sale (ie, that “exhaustion” does not apply to “self-replicating” patented items).
Groups such as Save our Seeds (SOS) and the Center for Food Safety (CFS) submitted briefs to support Bowman and challenge Monsanto’s restrictive policies. CFS Executive Director, Andrew Kimbrell, states, “Mr. Bowman’s case represents a systemic crisis in U.S. agriculture. Through a patenting system that favors the rights of corporations over the rights of farmers and citizens, our food and farming system is being held hostage by a handful of companies. Nothing less than the future of food is at stake.”
Two of the world’s richest men, Bill Gates and Carlos Slim, participated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony for new laboratories at the headquarters of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (generally known by its name in Spanish, Centro Internacional de Mejoramiento de Maíz y Trigo, CIMMYT) Please see http://mg.co.za/article/2013-02-14-gates-and-slim-open-new-research-centre-to-aid-global-food-security [mg.co.za].
In a statement put forth by Bill Gates, the new facilities are perceived to ensure “CIMMYT’s continued leadership in developing high-yielding maize and wheat varieties equipped to tolerate the stresses of climate change… [as well as the] ability to develop and deliver resource-conserving farming practices…enabling poor farming families to increase their productivity and income.” Please see http://www.thegatesnotes.com/Topics/Development/Mexico-Will-Lead-Innovation-in-Agricultural-Development-for-the-World [www.thegatesnotes.com]
Although the two articles referenced above, and in particular the latter article by Gates, suggest that CIMMYT promotes “sustainable” solutions to world hunger, AGRA Watch’s research shows projects previously funded by the Gates Foundation do not promote sustainable or agroecological approaches to farming. So skeptisism here appears warranted.
For more information, please review Phil Bereano’s correspondence with the Gates Foundation’s Roy Steiner on AGRA Watch’s September 27th blog, “AGRA Watch Challenges Gates Foundation’s Claims to Support Agroecology”
For more background, especially on Carlos Slim, see http://seattletimes.com/html/nationworld/2020379618_gatesslimxml.html
Nnimmo Bassey, Executive Director of Environmental Rights/Friends of the Earth Nigeria, has authored a paper detailing the myths and propaganda behind the promotion of GMOs in Nigeria. Bassey debunks several myths pertaining to GMOs and states that the fictitious information persists due to the biotech industries’ seizures of policy institutions and regulatory agencies. The paper also challenges claims suggesting that genetically modified foods are substantially equivalent to conventional crops and therefore pose no serious harm to the environment, biodiversity or human health. In this regard, the author asks nations to exercise the Precautionary Principle (please see https://www.cbd.int/doc/articles/2008/A-00637.pdf [www.cbd.int])
Bassey contends that food security for Nigeria will not be achieved through corporate control of food but rather through ecological agriculture, a view AGRA Watch also holds.
Monsanto recently joined an organization called The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD). To many, this seems highly ironic since so many of Monsanto’s activities clearly undermine sustainable development. Its agricultural development initiatives have led to soil degradation, contributed to a viciously cyclical dependency on Monsanto products and further impoverished the very same people they claim to help.
Monsanto will be joining other WBCSD members with highly publicized incidents of exploiting vulnerable populations and the environment such as Coca-Cola Company, Dow Chemical, DuPont, General Electric, Syngenta, Nestle and BP.
For more information, please visit http://www.wbcsd.org/about/members.aspx.