Devinder Sharma in US, warns about GM and food security
International activist warns about food security
Times Argus, November 13, 2003
By Stephen Mills
TIMES ARGUS STAFF
WAITSFIELD - Food will be a weapon in future political, economic and strategic conflicts, an international activist warned at a public forum Wednesday.
Indian journalist, author and critic Devinda Sharma said control of the world's staple crops by a handful of multinational corporations already poses significant threats to world stability and the fight against hunger. He said wars of the future could be fought without weapons by using food as leverage instead.
"Those who control the staple foods don't need any weapons," he said.
Sharma said using food as a weapon is not new, citing the 19th century potato famine in Ireland, which he said was more about deliberately poor distribution than a food shortage.
Sharma participated in a broad discussion about global trade and biotechnology in agriculture and their impacts on the environment and human health. He urged Vermont farmers to continue to oppose the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) that pose a significant economic threat to organic producers. He said there is growing evidence GMOs are harmful to the environment and contribute to hunger in Third World countries.
About 60 people packed into The Inn at the Round Barn to hear Sharma lecture during a three-day visit to the area, with stops in Plainfield, Waitsfield, Burlington and Hanover, N.H.
Trained as an agricultural scientist, Sharma has been "development editor" of the Indian Express, the largest circulation English language daily in India and has written several books on food and trade issues.
Sharma was introduced by Brian Tokar, a professor at the Institute for Social Ecology (ISE) in Plainfield, where Sharma spoke on Monday. He said Sharma's visit was timely because of the growing controversy in Vermont over the use of GMOs in farming. Both the Legislature and the Department of Agriculture are closely involved in attempts to regulate the use of GMOs in the Vermont.
"The more we learn about the ecological consequences of GMOs, the more it confirms our worst fears," said Tokar.
Sharma said an extreme example of the impact of global food trade on hunger in India was the export of the 65 million tons of grain in 2001 as cattle feed to the United States. At the same time, he said, India had to import cattle fodder to feed millions of starving Indians.
"What a remarkable development program we're in," said Sharma. "We owned food being exported to feed cattle (in America) and converted cattle feed (from America) to feed humans."
In Africa, he said attempts by American companies to deal with famine are actually making the problem worse. He said GMO grain does not reproduce, forcing poor farmers to buy new seed each year, with millions facing starvation as a result.
GMOs also posed significant threats to human health and the environment, he said. Studies have shown that GMOs may pose serious health hazards, such as allergic reactions, immune system damage, digestive tract irritation and harm to the growth of vital organs. He also said GMOs might lead to harmful changes in the environment, leading to mutations and severely increasing antibiotic resistance to medicines to treat illness.
Sharma described ongoing biotech experiments - such as genes from animals to plants - that lend validity to concerns about so-called "Frankenfoods." Many heirloom species of plants are also being adulterated in gene experiments, risking the diversity and health of the natural environment, he added.
"The common sense in science is being replaced by nonsense," said Sharma. "It's going on at such a pace that even people like me are getting lost."
Sharma's lecture was sponsored by the GE-Free Coalition, Green Mountain Global Forum, the University of Vermont and Dartmouth College.
For more information, call ISE at 454-8493.