Tuesday, 29 January 2008

GM crops pose an issue of universal human rights.

The more I learn about farming in Cuba, the more impressive I realize the Cuban achievement is. I mentioned the organic agriculture of Cuba in a previous post. Using little mechanization and no pesticides or fungicides or synthetic fertilizers, Cuba has managed to produce enough food to feed its high population. In addition, the overall effect of living in the city (Havanna) with every available little space of land, and bigger allotment areas given over to the growing of lovingly cared for fruit and vegetables, this is something that environmentally has a positive psychological effect on communities. Britain has a lot to learn in this respect about land use, rather than using our unused bits of grassland and scrubland in towns and cities as dumping grounds for litter, or the UK government making it policy to build housing in gardens. With the problems of global warming this issue of land use is as vital for the western world as it is for Cuba.

Bharat Dogra, a respected journalist in India has written about the social, cultural, human health and environmental problems caused in his own and in developing countries, posed by intensive farming systems and GM crops.Talking about GM technology, Bharat says that ..."critics fear very serious and irreversible damage can be caused to our environment, to our food systems and to the health of millions of people".

His article in 'Mainstream Weekly entitled "How GM crops Endanger Environment and Agriculture" is an excellent summary of the main issues. For the purpose of this post I would just like to mention his comments regarding the social impacts on communities of a technology which is not only in effect stealing and destroying our universal human rights to preserve the genetic make up of our crops and all plant life, but also the right of farmers thoughout the world to farm their land according to their own sophisticated and deep knowledge derived from thousands of years of farming tradition, in their own geographical areas.

Bharat Dogra says GM .."technology is spreading so fast that very adverse consequences can result even before we have the time to understand the consequences"..He continues..."In this context the experience generally has been that the high expectations created by big companies promoting GM crops were not justified. In some cases the yields for a short initial period were indeed high, creating a rush for the new seeds, but after some time such expectations could not be maintained. On the other hand, there are many examples of farmers who invested their meagre resources and borrowed heavily to buy expensive GM seeds and other supporting inputs (for example, herbicides linked to these seeds) but later felt betrayed as the low yield left them indebted and saddled with debts. There were even reports of suicides by these farmers. There have been allegations of GM crops like Bt cotton being introduced in rainfed areas like those of Vidarbha (India) for which these were not suited."

One of the reasons the GM industry uses to justify its reductive technology is that less pesticides will be necessary to use with these crops. However, although this might initially be the case, throughout the world farmers are reporting that soon they are having to use more pesticides than ever.

At the end of his article Bharat quotes a paper written by Ricarda A. Steinbrecker (Science Director of the Genetics Forum UK) and Pat Roy Mooney (widely acclaimed winner of The Right to Livlihood Award).

.........." On March 3rd, 1998 the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and a little-known cotton-seed enterprise called Delta and Pine Land Company, acquired US patent 5,723,765 - or the Technology Protection System (TPS). Within days, the rest of the world knew TPS as Terminator Technology. Its declared goal is to promulgate plants that will produce self-terminating offspring-suicide seeds. Terminator Technology epitomises what the genetic engineering of food crops is all about and gives an insight into the driving forces behind the corporate campaign to control and own life.

The Terminator does more than ensure that farmers can’t successfully replant their harvested seed. It is the “platform” upon which companies can load their proprietary genetic traits—patented genes for herbicide-tolerance or insect-resistance and get the farmers hooked on their seeds and caught in the chemical treadmill.
Further this paper says:
Most alarming though is the possibility that the Terminator genes themselves could infect the agricultural gene pool of the neighbour’s crops and of wild and weedy relatives, placing a time bomb. Temporary “gene silencing” of the poison gene or failed activation of the Terminator countdown enables such infection.
Between 15 and 20 per cent of the World’s food supply is grown by poor farmers who save their seed. These farmers feed at least 1.4 billion people. The Terminator “protects” companies by risking the lives of these people. Since Terminator Technology has absolutely zero agronomic benefit, there is no reason to jeopardise the food security of the poor by gambling with genetic engineering in the field. Whether the Terminator works immediately or later, in either instance it is biological warfare on farmers and food security. The Terminator also portends a hidden dark side. As a Trojan Horse for other transgenic traits, the technology might also be used to switch any trait off or on. At least in theory, the technology points to the possibility that crop diseases could be triggered by seed exports that would not have to “kick in” immediately—or not until activated by specific chemicals or conditions. This form of biological warfare on people’s food and economics is becoming a hot topic in military and security circles.Clearly the threat from GM crops to natural farming systems and environment is so serious that any commercial release cannot be allowed. Even any experimental trials should be asked to wait till definite ways to avoid hazards can be found."

In terms of human rights alone, there are huge issues at stake with the advent of GM crops. Brutal corporate pressure is eager to recover their investments and make profit.

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