GM's Impact on the Global South
This is the third edition of Force Feeding?, our online newsletter designed to keep readers up-to-date with GM and biotechnology issues that impact on the global South.
*Is the BT Bubble Set to Burst?
One of the main justifications for introducing GM insect resistant Bt crops was that they were supposed to reduce the need for chemical pesticides. Bt crops produce the toxic Bt protein in each cell of the plant, effectively making each plant a pesticide factory. So when the target pests attack the plant they cannot avoid getting a stomach full of pesticide. A number of problems are emerging, however, including that the Bt toxin is only effective against a small range of plant pests (beetle and moth/butterfly species). When assessing the amounts of pesticide used on GM crops, and in turn when the biotech industry make claims about 'reductions' in pesticide use, the amounts of Bt produced by the plants themselves have been ignored.
Early commercial cultivation of Bt cotton appeared to show a reduction in the amount of sprays used. More recently, however, emerging pesticide resistance and damage from secondary pests reveal more complex ecological effects of the inadequately-tested technology. These problems required increased chemical applications in China and India, the costs of which often overtake initial economic gains claimed for Bt cotton farmers.
Professor Dayuan Xue of the Nanjing Institute of Environmental Sciences, the Chinese State Environmental Protection Administration, first raised these issues in a report for Greenpeace in 2002. The Professor reported six main findings of research carried out on the extensive Bt cotton crops of China:
1. The populations of species parasitic on cotton pests are reduced in Bt fields.
2. Bt cotton is not effective in controlling many secondary pests, especially sucking pests, and some problems (like beet army worm, lygus bug, spider mite and whitefly) actually increase in comparison to conventionally-grown cotton.
3. Diversity of insect populations in Bt crops is lower than conventional fields of cotton, suggesting that outbreaks of some pest species were possible.
4. Both laboratory tests and field monitoring verified that cotton bollworm can develop resistance to Bt cotton. Based on these results, scientists concluded that Bt cotton would probably lose its resistance to bollworm in fields planted consecutively for 8-10 years.
5. Bt cotton demonstrates excellent resistance to second generation bollworm, and chemical control is not generally needed for the seedling period. However, the resistance of Bt cotton to bollworm decreases over time, and control is not complete in the third and fourth generations.
6. There are not yet any effective measures to postpone resistance development or to resolve the resistance problem.
In addition, researchers from University of NeuchÃ¢tel Institute of Zoology and a number of UK institutions have recently reported that aphids on Bt maize thrive in comparison to the non-transgenic equivalents. See www.plosone.org/article/fetchArticle.action?articleURI=info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.00600
Several media reports from the Indian State of Punjab indicate that this year's Bt cotton crop was hit very hard by the sucking insect mealy bug. Losses of 25% of yield are reported. The only controls being promoted are insecticides, including Methomyl (a carbamate) and the organophosphate Profenofos both of which act on the nervous system. One problem in the field is the lack of time farmers have to learn to use such sprays safely. See http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/News/Economy/Agriculture/Bug_makes_meal_of_Punjab_cotton_whither_Bt_magic/articleshow/msid-2330585,curpg-2.cms
To top it all, the high cost of Bt seeds and pesticides means that money is being drained out of the Southern Punjab. See http://www.countercurrents.org/jayaram310807.htm
*Has Kofi Annan upset the biotech apple cart in Africa?
Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, Chair of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), has recently been quoted as saying that the organisation 'will not incorporate GMOs in [its] Programmes'.
The AGRA position on biotechnology is very clearly set out on their website:
'Our goal is to develop 1000 new varieties as rapidly as possible, using conventional breeding and participatory methods in which plant breeders work closely with farmers need. AGRA is not at this time funding the development of new varieties through the use of genetic engineering. We have chosen to focus on conventional breeding techniques which can be quite technologically sophisticated for two main reasons:
1. We know that conventional plant breeding can bring significant benefits in the near term at relatively low cost. Until now, however, conventional plant breeding has not received sufficient attention or investment in Africa, leaving untapped the inherent potential available in African crops. With improved seed produced through conventional breeding methods, plant scientists and farmers could readily raise average cereal yields from one tonne to two tonnes per hectare making a major contribution toward ending poverty in Africa.
2. Conventional breeding fits within the regulatory frameworks now in place in most African countries, enabling relatively rapid dissemination to farmers of the new varieties they desire”¦
We do not preclude the future funding of genetic engineering as an approach to crop variety improvement when it is the most appropriate tool to address the important need of small scale farmers and when it is consistent with government policy.'
Reaction to Mr Annan's reported comment was swift, although never personal, and appears to be coordinated by the Africa Biotech Stakeholder Forum. This Forum was established by groups well-known for their proactive support for biotechnology in Africa including AfricaBio, Africa Harvest, Biotech Foundation International (AHBFI), Biotechnology-Ecology Research and Outreach Consortium (BioEROC) and the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA). Previously all of these organisations backed AGRA, which is supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation.
The Amsterdam-based Public Research and Regulation Initiative wrote to Mr Annan in July 2007 calling on him to correct media quotes and revisit the wording of its policy statement. See http://pubresreg.org/index.php?option=com_docman&task=doc_download&gid=388
In contrast, the Zambian Government made it clear they wish to maintain their right to exclude GM crops. The Zambian Minister of Agriculture and Cooperatives Ben Kapita said, 'We have always said that Zambia will not be used as a dumping place for GMO products.' See http://www.scidev.net/news/index.cfm?fuseaction=readnews&itemid=3793&language=1
In the first edition of Force feeding? we reported the rejection of an application to test GM sorghum in contained facilities in South Africa. An appeal has been lodged against this decision by GRAIN SA. See
*CARE shifts food aid policy
CARE, a major US aid provider, has decided to opt out of the USAid system of
'monetised food aid', a method by which grain is shipped from America to charities in the developing world who then sell the grain in the local market and invest the proceeds in their own programs. David Kauck, Senior Advisor at Care, told Time Magazine, 'If we are trying to limit people's vulnerability to food insecurity, we just couldn't see how we could continue [monetised food aid] in good faith.' See www.care.org/newsroom/publications/whitepapers/food_aid_whitepaper.pdf? and
*Biosafety legislation around the world
Many nations in the global South still lack the necessary legislation to control the use of GM crops and foods in their countries despite being signatories to Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. GRAIN and the African Biosafety Centre published a report on how corporations are seeking to shape the biosafety laws of individual countries by pressured lobbying during negotiations to establish bilateral Free Trade Agreements. See http://www.biosafetyafrica.net/portal/DOCS/bsp-fta-2006-en.pdf
USAid are also proactive in lobbying to ensure that any new laws comply with the US position. See http://www.biosafetyinfo.net/article.php?aid=75
UNEP continues to provide financial assistance in developing legislation through the Global Environmental Facility. See http://www.unep.org/dec/onlinemanual/Compliance/NationalImplementation/CapacityBuilding/Resource/tabid/683/Default.aspx
A good example of the lobbying which accompanies the drafting of national biosafety laws is the ongoing process in Kenya, which began about eight years ago. See http://www.scidev.net/Opinions/index.cfm?fuseaction=readOpinions&itemid=623&language=1
The Kenyan Biodiversity Coalition (KBC), an alliance of NGOs, is calling for:
- Adequate broadly-based public participation in the development process.
- Harmony with existing legislation, in particular the Environmental Management Conservation Act (EMCA).
- Inclusion of the guiding principles of natural justice, which include the precautionary principle, principle of public participation and international co-operation.
- Emphasis on Biosafety regulations, redress, risk management and utilization of existing institutions rather than the creation of a new Authority.
- The need to address socio-economic and cultural issues for all Kenyans.
*GM brinjal testing in India
The long running and controversial debate over GM brinjal (egg plant) has reached a new stage. Brinjal is a native of the subcontinent, so gene escape features strongly in the concerns of objectors. In June 2006 Aruna Rodrigues and others petitioned the Indian Supreme Court (SC) to halt field trails. The Court failed to halt the trials, and instead of requiring neighbouring crops to be tested to show no presence of GM (at 0.01%), they allowed a less exacting condition of a 200 metre separation distance, which would not completely rule out the possibility of contamination.
The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) has ordered the Brinjal trial to comply with this May 2007 SC decision while an application is heard by SC to get the decision modified to allow debate on the concept of no detectable contamination.
In the EU the European Commission has ruled out the adopting a very low GM threshold in non-GM crops by adopting 0.9% GM content of any ingredient of a food or feed product as the threshold for compulsory GM labelling. Campaigners in the EU are concerned that this will mean GM presence up to this level will become routinely accepted and attempts to avoid GM contamination altogether will be minimal. The UK's interpretation of the law on labelling, which sought to 'minimise' contamination rather than 'avoid' it, as required by law, was found to be 'fundamentally flawed' in a legal opinion sought by UK NGOs (see http://www.gmfreeze.org/uploads/CB2_coexistence_legal_summary.pdf )
For background on the Brinjal case see http;//www.financialexpress.com/news/GEAC-for-SC-ordermodification/211074/ and http://www.gmwatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=6833
Date Place Event
12-16 May 2008 Bonn GM free Summit. See invite at http://www.gmo-free-regions.org/worldsummit2008.html
12-16 May 2008 Bonn COP-MOP4 Biosafety Protocol
19-30 May 2008 Bonn COP9 of Convention on Biodiversity. Liability and terminator technology will be discussed.
GM Freeze is a not for profit company limited by guarantee, owned and controlled by our 55 member organisations. The campaign is calling on the Government for a Freeze on:
*the growing of genetically modified plants and the production of genetically modified farm animals for any commercial purpose
*imports of genetically modified foods, plants, farm crops and farm animals, and produce from genetically modified plants and animals
*the patenting of genetic resources for food and farm crops