Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)
Genetically engineered crops pose a considerable threat to farmers and food security in developing countries, according to ActionAid, a highly respected development organization in Great Britain. The group recently issued a report, GM Crops--Going Against the Grain, that compares the promises of biotech companies with the real performance of genetically engineered (GE) crops in Asia, Africa and Latin America. It concludes that the new technology will lead to more hungry people, not less.
ActionAid released the report as part of a national debate about GE food soon to begin in the UK. The debate has been made even more important by the mid-May announcement that the U.S. will file a World Trade Organization (WTO) case against the European Union for its moratorium on biotech crops. President Bush has gone so far as to assert that Europe's refusal to allow food from GE crops into their markets has discouraged Third World countries from using this technology and thus undermined efforts to end hunger in Africa.
Matthew Lockwood of ActionAid warned, "The UK public should not be duped into accepting GE in the name of developing countries. GE does not provide a magic bullet solution to world hunger. What poor people really need is access to land, water, better roads to get their crops to market, education and credit schemes." ActionAid is one of the UK's largest development organizations, working with poor and marginalized people in 30 countries around the world to eradicate poverty.
The report states that nearly 800 million people go hungry every day because they cannot grow or buy enough food. One in seven children born in the countries where hunger is most common die before they reach the age of five. The biotechnology industry says that GE crops will solve the problem of world hunger by increasing food production. Yet the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) finds there is more than enough food in the world to meet current global needs, both now and several decades into the future. The causes of food insecurity are political and economic; many people are too poor to buy food, lack the land or other resources to grow food themselves, or are unable to obtain food through existing distribution systems.
Four GE crops, maize (corn), cotton, canola (oilseed rape) and soya (soybeans), account for 99% of all commercial GE crops in 2002. With the exception of cotton, these crops are used primarily for animal feed. Soy and the vegetable oils derived from canola are used in processed foods.
ActionAid reports the pesticide industry has been the driving force behind GE agriculture, as four multinational corporations--Monsanto, Bayer CropScience, DuPont and Syngenta--have purchased seed and biotechnology companies around the world and now control most of the GE seed market. The global market for GE seeds is on the rise, with 2002 estimates at US$4.25 billion, up from US$3.8 billion in 2001. GE seeds represented 13% of the global commercial seed market in 2001.
Despite the biotech industry's claims that genetic engineering is an essential tool to combat hunger, GE research in Africa, for instance, focuses on export crops such as cut flowers, fruit, vegetables, cotton and tobacco. In Kenya, only one out of 136 patent applications for plants was for a food crop; more than half were for roses.
Genetically engineered seeds threaten the practice of saving and replanting seeds, which is common in many countries around the world. Up to 1.4 billion people, including 90% of farmers in Africa, depend on saved seed. Yet GE seeds must be bought each season, and biotech companies charge farmers royalty fees and force them to sign contracts that they will not save or replant seeds, use only the corporation's chemicals on the crop, and provide access to their property to verify compliance. These companies also continue to develop "Terminator technologies" which makes plants produce sterile seeds.
The report also contradicts biotech companies' claims that GE crops will lower use of dangerous pesticides, reporting that chemical use per hectare in Argentina has more than doubled on GE soy fields compared to conventional varieties. Also, GE technology will enable corporations or farmers in wealthy countries to grow crops currently grown only in tropical climates. Such "crop substitutions" would deprive export-producing countries of valuable income and employment. For example, corporations are currently developing canola genetically engineered to produce oils to replace coconut and palm oils grown in the developing world, devastating coconut oil production in India and oil palm producers in Malaysia and Ghana.
Sources: GM Crops--Going Against the Grain, ActionAid, 2003, available for free download at: http://www.actionaid.org/; Press Release, May 28, 2003, Press Release, Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, May 13, 2003.
Contact: ActionAid (44-20) 7561 7627, Hamlyn House, Macdonald Road, Archway, London N19 5PG, UK; phone (44-20) 7561 7561; fax (44-20) 7272 0899; firstname.lastname@example.org; Web site http://www.actionaid.org.
PANUPS is a weekly email news service providing resource guides and reporting on pesticide issues that don't always get coverage by the mainstream media. It's produced by Pesticide Action Network North America, a non-profit and non-governmental organization working to advance sustainable alternatives to pesticides worldwide.