Bill Gates’ support of GM crops is wrong approach for Africa

By Glenn Ashton
Special to The Times

Bill Gates’ support of genetically modified (GM) crops as a solution for world hunger is of concern to those of us involved in promoting sustainable, equitable and effective agricultural policies in Africa.

There are two primary shortcomings to Gates’ approach.

First, his technocratic ideology runs counter to the best informed science. The World Bank and United Nations funded 900 scientists over three years in order to create an International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD). Its conclusions were diametrically opposed, at both philosophical and practical levels, to those espoused by Gates and clearly state that the use of GM crops is not a meaningful solution to the complex situation of world hunger.

The IAASTD suggests that rather than pursuing industrial farming models, “agro-ecological” methods provide the most viable means to enhance global food security, especially in light of climate change. These include implementing practical scientific research based on traditional seed varieties and local farming practices adapted to the local ecology over millennia.

Agro-ecology has consistently proven capable of sustainably increasing productivity. Conversely, the present GM crops generally have not increased yields over the long run, despite their increased costs and dependence on agricultural chemicals, as highlighted in the 2009 Union of Concerned Scientists report, “Failure to Yield.”

For example, experimental “drought-resistant” corn, supported by Gates and Monsanto, is far less robust than natural maize varieties and farming methods requiring less water. Thus, Gates’ GM “solutions” depend on higher-cost inputs — such as fertilizers, pest controls and the special seeds themselves — distracting attention from proven, lower-cost approaches.

Secondly, Gates sponsors compliant African organizations whose work with multinational agricultural corporations like Monsanto undermines existing grass-roots efforts to improve local production methods. He has become a stalking horse for corporate proponents of industrial agriculture which perceive African hunger simply as a business opportunity. His Gates Foundation has referred to the world’s poor as the “BOP” (bottom of pyramid), presenting ” … a fast growing consumer market.”

Olivier De Shutter, the U.N.’s special rapporteur on the right to food, reinforces the IAASTD research. He, too, concludes that agro-ecological farming has far greater potential for fighting hunger, particularly during economic and climatically uncertain times.

Poverty is the result of a dominant global economic system that considers traditional farmers, who produce mainly for local consumption, not export, as not contributing to the gross domestic product. To force these “BOPs” into the industrial agriculture system ignores their requirements. Gates’ philanthropy is undemocratic at both ideological and practical levels. It ignores democratically derived African solutions to our food security problems. Further, it runs counter to the traditional methodology of bi- and multilateral foreign aid, which is obliged to consider local policies and sensitivities.

Africa suffers from well-intended but poorly considered agricultural policies imposed by external “experts.” For one of the world’s wealthiest men to presume he can provide all of the solutions is arrogant. His “near-religious faith in technology” (as described in a recent business journal) conflicts with the practical work of the IAASTD, De Shutter and grass-roots democratic agronomic movements.

While successful in his chosen field, Gates has no expertise in the farm field. This is not to say that he and his fellow philanthropists cannot contribute — they certainly can. However, some circumspection and humility would go a long way to heal the rifts they have opened. Beating Africans with the big stick of high-input proprietary technology has never been requested; it will perpetuate neo-imperialism and repetition of foreign-imposed African “failure.” Africans urge Bill Gates to engage with us in a more-broadly consultative, agro-ecological approach.

Glenn Ashton is a South African agricultural consultant and researcher who has worked with grass-roots organizations across a broad range of social interests in the region. He may be reached at ekogaia@iafrica.com

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USDA panel gets altered-crops pay plan

Washington — California voters this fall will decide a ballot measure that would require labeling of foods containing genetically engineered material. But the Department of Agriculture is already tied in knots over how to deal with the contamination of organic and conventional foods by biotech crops.
On Monday, a USDA advisory panel will consider a draft plan to compensate farmers whose crops have been contaminated by pollen, seeds or other stray genetically engineered material. The meeting is expected to be contentious, pitting the biotechnology and organic industries against each other.
The draft report acknowledged the difficulty of preventing such material from accidentally entering the food supply and concerns that the purity of traditional seeds may be threatened.
It also cited fears on both sides that official action to address contamination could send a signal to U.S. consumers and export markets in Europe, Japan and elsewhere that the purity and even safety of U.S. crops are suspect.
An official who was not authorized to speak for the record described the current stalemate as “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
Known as AC21, the Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture consists of representatives from across agriculture. Its current incarnation was created by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to appease critics after his decision in January 2011 to approve genetically engineered alfalfa, a plant that can spread easily.
Genetically engineered crops are also known as genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. Genetic engineering entails the insertion or deletion of genes, often from different species, into a plant to produce a desired trait. Up to now the chief traits are resistance to insects and herbicides.
U.S. corn 90% biotech
Bioengineered crops dominate U.S. commodities, including 90 percent of U.S. corn. In some states, penetration is all but complete, including 99 percent of the Arkansas cotton crop. Most processed foods contain genetically engineered material.
USDA’s organic certification does not permit bioengineered material unless trace amounts show up despite a farmer’s best efforts to avoid it. Many food companies do their own testing and have rejected contaminated shipments.
The biotech industry, which includes Monsanto, DuPont and other seed companies, argued that contamination is minimal. Organic growers, they said, get a premium for their crops and should “assume the economic risks associated” with certifying that their crops meet organic standards.
The organic industry said biotech companies should be responsible for containing their own genes and that contamination threatens the right of farmers to choose how to farm.
Vilsack directed the advisory committee to find a way for the two sides to co-exist. The panel has wrestled with the issue for more than a year but remains divided. The draft suggests using taxpayer-subsidized crop insurance to compensate farmers whose crops have been contaminated.
Lisa Bunin, organic policy coordinator for the Center for Food Safety, a Washington nonprofit that opposes genetic engineering, said crop insurance would put the burden of proof and the cost on the victims of contamination. She said the focus should be on preventing contamination, and that California’s Proposition 37, which would require the labeling of genetically modified foods, shows that people are “waking up to the realization that there are hidden ingredients in their food.”
Compensation is “just a way to hide the effects of … contamination,” Bunin said, calling the draft a “last-ditch attempt by the biotech industry to institutionalize transgenic contamination.”
No guarantee
Panel member Isaura Andaluz, head of Cuatro Puertas, a nonprofit heritage seed bank in Albuquerque, issued a blistering critique of the draft earlier this month. Andaluz said she was shocked that the panel’s report said “it is not realistic to suggest that commercial seed producers can guarantee zero presence” of genetically engineered material in seed varieties that are organic or not genetically engineered.
If that is true, she wrote, Vilsack’s co-existence plan already has failed.
The biotech industry fears that setting a suggested threshold of 0.9 percent engineered content, above which a product would be considered contaminated, would imply a safety limit, falsely signaling to consumers and export markets that bioengineered crops are unsafe.
The draft report said methods have been developed to keep “gene flows” segregated, citing the example of sweet corn grown in fields next to popcorn.
Environmental groups worry, however, that bioengineered crops threaten wild plants, too. Engineered canola and grasses spread easily in storm winds and floods, turning up miles from where crops are planted.
Oversight is split among three agencies, USDA, the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency. Under a rule developed in 1992 under former Vice President Dan Quayle, bioengineering is presumed safe for food and the environment.
Carolyn Lochhead is The San Francisco Chronicle’s Washington correspondent E-mail clochhead@sfchronicle.com

Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/science/article/USDA-panel-gets-altered-crops-pay-plan-3814480.php#ixzz25etipAVA

“No trust in farm biotech,” India’s Parliament Calls for End of GMO Crops, Cites Concerns Over Health and Environment

A decade after India officially allowed GM crops to be cultivated, a parliamentary panel said it had no confidence in farm biotechnology. The panel cited concerns over health and environment issues.

The report poses a fresh policy dilemma for the government and the seed industry with implications on the farm economy. The parliamentary standing committee on agriculture, led by CPM’s Basudeb Acharya, which tabled the report “Cultivation of Genetically Modified Food Crops – Prospects and Effects” also called for a reversal of the policy.

“The committee has come to the conclusion that since concerns on the potential and actual impacts of GM crops to our food, farming, health and environment are valid, GM crops are just not the right solution for our country,” Acharya said.

Criticising the haste with which the government had promoted GM crops, Acharya said the government “should stop parroting the promotional lines of the biotechnology and seed industry and their cronies within the technocracy and stand by scientific reasoning and greater public good”.

The committee had travelled across the country and consulted various stakeholders including farmers, biotechnology industry on the issue.

The report states that Bt cotton, India’s only commercially cultivated GM crop, had not improved the socio-economic condition of cotton farmers in the country and had intensified their distress especially in the rainfed areas of the country which forms the majority of cotton and farmer suicide belt.

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300,000 Farmers Seek Legal Protection from Monsanto’s GMO Seeds

In efforts to protect themselves and their farms from a potential legal backlash by Monsanto, more than 300,000 individuals and family farms have taken “preventative” legal action against the multinational GMO seed and chemical company, which has a history of suing farmers for patent infringement.

The group filed a legal brief with the United States Court of Appeals in Washington D.C. on July 5th hoping to reverse a lower court ruling earlier this year that dismissed the group’s attempt to seek protection from Monsanto. The group claims that Monsanto routinely targets farmers who’ve been the victims of crop drift—genetically modified seeds from other farms pollinating on their property—which can land the farmers in a legal tangle over patent infringement of Monsanto’s seeds. Monsanto has brought suit against hundreds of farmers and settled with hundreds more out of court.

In a statement, Dave Murphy of Food Democracy Now!, a grassroots farming community and co-plaintiff in the suit, said, “It’s time to end Monsanto’s scorched earth legal campaign of threats and intimidation against America’s farmers. Family farmers should be protected by the courts against the unwanted genetic contamination of their crops.”

Seeds and pollen can drift as far as 15 miles from a farm, which puts both conventional and certified organic farmers at risk of Monsanto’s lawyers, and contamination that can turn non-GMO crops into trans

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Syngenta Charged for Covering up Livestock Deaths from GM Corn

Corporation faces criminal charges for concealing own study in which cows died after eating its genetically modified corn.

Biotech giant Syngenta has been criminally charged with denying knowledge that its genetically modified (GM) Bt corn kills livestock during a civil court case that ended in 2007 [1].

Syngenta’s Bt 176 corn variety expresses an insecticidal Bt toxin (Cry1Ab) derived from the bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) and a gene conferring resistance to glufosinate herbicides. EU cultivation of Bt 176 was discontinued in 2007. Similar varieties however, including Bt 11 sweet corn are currently cultivated for human and animal consumption in the EU.

The charges follow a long struggle for justice by a German farmer whose dairy cattle suffered mysterious illnesses and deaths after eating Bt 176. They were grown on his farm as part of authorised field tests during 1997 to 2002. By 2000, his cows were fed exclusively on Bt 176, and soon illnesses started to emerge. He was paid 40 000 euros by Syngenta as partial compensation for 5 dead cows, decreased milk yields, and vet costs (see [2] Cows ate GM Maize and Died, SiS 21). During a civil lawsuit brought against the company by the farmer however, Syngenta refused to admit that its GM corn was the cause, claiming no knowledge of harm. The case was dismissed and Gloeckner remained thousands of euros in debt.

Gloeckner continued to lose cows and many more had to be put down due to serious illnesses, compelling him to stop using GM feed from 2002. He approached the Robert Koch Institute and Syngenta to conduct a full investigation. However, only one cow was ever analysed and the data are still unavailable to the public. Unsurprisingly, no causal relationship between the GM feed and deaths was determined; and there is still no explanation for the deaths.

But in 2009, the farmer learned of a feeding study allegedly commissioned by Syngenta in 1996 that resulted in four cows dying in two days. The trial was abruptly terminated. Now Gloeckner, along with a German group called Bündnis Aktion Gen-Klage and another farmer turned activist Urs Hans, have brought Syngenta to the criminal court to face charges of withholding knowledge of the US trial, which makes the company liable for the destruction of the farmer’s 65 cows. Syngenta is also charged with the deaths of cattle in the US trial and on Gloeckner’s farm, which should have been registered as “unexpected occurrences”. Most seriously, the German head of Syngenta Hans-Theo Jahmann, is charged for withholding knowledge of the US study from the judge and from Gloecker in the original civil court case.

Gloecker’s cows not alone

This is by no means the only account of mysterious deaths associated with Bt GM feed.

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