Against GMO - A Struggle for Life
by Confederation paysanne
SAND IN THE WHEELS (n*96)
ATTAC Weekly newsletter - Wednesday 19/09/01
The Confederation of Peasants/Small Farmers refuses to accept the use of GMOs in agriculture and in the agro-alimentary chain. For the detractors of the movement this would mean irrevocably cutting themselves of from "the benefits of scientific progress that has issued from genetic engineering". To oppose it, they say, is to flirt with the forces of obscurantism, to fall prey to ancestral fears and consequently throw away all research. These conclusions are so reductionist and simplistic that they are a caricature of the position of the GMOs refuseniks.
The battle being fought on the subject of authorising the importing or growing of various GMOs is passionate, and the very fact that it involves different actors in civil society passionate shows that it is an extremely vital social question that requires a much more democratic and transparent frame of consultation than is the case at present.
The overwhelming majority of European consumers refuse GMOs at whatever level they are present (level of tolerance) in food. They ask themselves what risks (particularly toxicological risks) these products might pose to their health.
Environmental protection organisations, and researchers in the public sector, have shown that there is a risk for irrevocable ecological changes linked to the uncontrolled propagation of "foreign" genes (i.e. genes that are placed outside their normal context). These include changes in biodiversity, which is already threatened (for instance biodiversity of food crops).
Farmers, who are and will remain the first link in the human food chain refuse to use a technology that brings no demonstrable benefit, but that places them under the yoke of the large agro-chemical and seed firms, as is already the case in USA and Canada.
The aim of the powerful trans-national societies is financial. They want to conquer and develop the seed and food markets so that their genetic technology will find a market. Their insistence that they are protecting the environment or satisfying the food needs of the world are merely crude decoys!
Forbidding GMOs will not suffice to end an era of exponential development of industrial agriculture. But authorisation of GMOs would be a heavy blow for our resilient and sustainable peasant agriculture.
The Confederation of Small Farmers calls for research in the public domain to direct its efforts towards real social demands. Small-scale farming is the source of progress for both peasants and the general population.
Patents and the ownership of life
The rise of genetic engineering in the eighties made possible modification of genetic information and also opened the possibility of taking patents on genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The first patent was on a bacterium in 1980 in the USA. Patenting was gradually extended to all living organisms (animals, plants etc). Although the identification of a gene or a gene sequence is recognised as a discovery, the clarification of the function of the gene is considered to be an invention and can be patented. By a trick of semantics the original function of patenting has been reversed. The battle for the ownership of genetic information has begun. Today there are 9 364 patents covering 126 672 genes and gene sequences.
Monsanto and infringements of patenting
Monsanto has brought a Kentucky farmer to court for infringing their patent for Roundup Ready Soja. The farmer had grown this soja and sold seed from it to his neighbour. The farmer has been condemned to pay 35 000 dollars to Monsanto. Monsanto has to date brought 500 cases of "patent infringement" to court, the farmers having signed contracts with Monsanto when they bought seed not to sell seed from their harvest to other farmers.
Can GMOs feed the world and save people from famine?
No, because famine and the failure of food security are primarily linked to the dysfunction of the market economy, to access to food and to distribution. Where the use of GMOs has been proposed it is for producing food for export and for feeding livestock, and the GMOs are designed to express their potential under the conditions that obtain in industrial agriculture (irrigation, artificial fertiliser, pesticides and herbicides). GMOs do nothing to improve the essential food needs of those who are most exposed to hunger. The technology is out of reach for small peasants.
The case of Golden Rice
AstraZeneca, together with the representatives of Swiss laboratories in the public sector, announced that they had created a rice that was genetically modified to contain beta-carotene, which they claimed would alleviate vitamin A deficiency in Asian countries. This rice is known as Golden Rice. This miracle solution proves to be deception. To have the intake of the 750 micrograms of vitamin A that an adult requires daily he or she would have to consume 2.27 kilos of rice daily! Besides, there are a variety of non-GMO solutions available, the simplest being to increase the availability of locally grown vegetables rich in vitamin A.
Do GMOs present risks for the environment?
Yes, because genetic manipulation can induce changes in functions in plants including the production of new toxins. Genes for resistance to anti-biotics (used as markers in the production of GMOs may be spread far and wide. Controls for toxicity of GMOs are not being made. Most of the GMOs on the market are varieties that are resistant to pesticides or that contain insecticides. When the crops are freed from weeds by spraying them with the pesticide to which they are resistant the residues of pesticides can be accumulated in the food chain and may have long term effects. Moreover, resistant varieties of pest species may develop.
The Arpad Puztai affair
The British biochemist Arpad Puztai fed rats for 10 days with GM potatoes modified to produced lectine. He found that their digestive system was damaged. He mentioned his results on a television interview. Days later he was dismissed from his laboratory.
The US government was forced to halt export maize contaminated with a GM maize called Starlink, deemed to be unfit for human consumption.
More resistant varieties of rape