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> home - action - genetics

Poverty Express
From Schnews, 4th July 2003

"Hunger is a complex phenomenon that cannot be solved by technology alone. We need political commitment and not technology." - Anuradha Mittal Food First.

Last week was a busy one for the biotech industry. In Sacramento, California a $3 million shin-dig organised by the US Department of Agriculture was attended by government ministers from 112 countries, with the aim "to bring countries together to launch a major new front in the battle against global hunger and poverty."

All very noble except the solution is being provided by the big biotech corporations who want to solve world hunger by stuffing genetically mutated foods down all our throats and lining their own pockets.

The conference was closed to the public and surrounded by robocops with helicopters and a tank. Luckily some 'killer tomatoes' and a few thousand other protestors including farmers gathered to vent their disapproval that all was not well in their cosy world of corporate gene-fiddling.


Walt Kessler, a dairy farmer said "The truth about GE crops and their impacts on family farmers is being buried in the slick multi-million dollar public relations campaign being waged by the biotechnology industry and promoted by the US Dept of Agriculture," while Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farmworkers Union told a rally "This isn't about feeding people throughout the world.

It's about Monsanto or other large corporations making profits from selling GE food.

If they really wanted to feed us, they would feed us healthy food. In fact, a lot of food is thrown away in the U.S. because it's considered surplus."

Even the big man Bush himself has been busy trying to feed the world (well it makes a change from bombing it).

He told 5,000 delegates at the Biotechnology Industry Organisation conference in Washington that European opposition to GM food was impeding efforts to fight starvation in Africa - and nothing to do with the fact that the US has a huge surplus of GM crops it wants to offload.


However not everyone believes that GM foods will help reduce African poverty. Amadou Kanoute of Consumers International Office for Africa argued that it "will plunge Africa into greater food dependency."

In fact the argument that GM will feed the world is the last throw of the dice for a desperate industry fed up with stubborn resistance to its technology and falling sales.

In many research studies GM crop yields have been significantly lower than conventional ones. Worse, research has revealed an alarming spread of GE corn genes in Mexico in fields many miles from where GM corn was planted.

The drift of GE crop genes to fields planted with organic and conventional crops is something that is impossible to contain.


In 1998 a delegation representing every African country except South Africa put a joint statement to a UN conference on genetic research.

The delegates had been 'inspired' by a Monsanto campaign that used images of starving African children to plug its technology.

The statement read "We strongly object that the image of the poor and hungry from our countries is being used by giant multinational corporations to push a technology that is neither safe, environmentally friendly nor beneficial to us.

We do not believe that such companies or gene technologies will help our farmers to produce the food that is needed in the 21st Century.

On the contrary, we think it will destroy the diversity, the local knowledge, and the sustainable agricultural systems that our farmers have developed for millennia, and that it will undermine our capacity to feed ourselves."


A new report by Food First argues that there is already enough food in the world to feed the population one and a half times over and that it is poverty and inequality that is leading to starvation.

In fact, almost 80 percent of the countries that face hunger are food-exporting nations.

As one of the report's authors Silvia Ribeiro put it "They benefit the richest people in the world, not the hungriest...GE crops are designed to take control of production of food away from local communities, by creating greater dependence on huge agribusiness corporations for seed and pesticides."

In the US this has already happened with farmers under the control of a handful of multinational corporations such as Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer and DuPont.

Legally binding agreements force them to buy expensive new seeds from the biotech corporations each season, as well as the corporations' herbicides - and company inspectors check up on farmers land to see if any crops have re-seeded.

They can then claim that farmers are growing unlicensed crops and infringing their 'intellectual property rights'! Already some farmers have been given huge fines and there are legal actions pending against 550 North American farmers.


With the European Union this week voting that all genetically modified foods must be traceable and clearly labelled - and America pressing the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to rule that this is an unfair barrier to trade - it's going to be fireworks at the WTO's next big meeting in Cancun, Mexico this September.

This is set to be one of the WTO's most important rulings, and may start a huge trade war with the US.

It is also a big test to see who the WTO will side with: elected officials and ordinary people, or US corporations?

If the past is anything to go by it doesn't look good...


* Read 'Voices from the South: The Third World Debunks Corporate Myths on Genetically Engineered Crops'

* Check out the excellent GeneWatch site to find out about some of the questions and issues that exist around GM crops and food And get yerself a copy of this months 'Ecologist' magazine 01795 414963

* Find out about the protests planned at the WTO in Mexico

* On 29th Jun 2003, sixty protestors ripped up Syngenta's trial of genetically modified wheat at its Jealott's Hill Research Centre near Bracknell just before it was due to pollinate and spread to the surrounding countryside. This is the latest in a successful line of crop trashings this year.

Sustainable agriculture projects have led to millet yields rising up to 154 per cent in India, millet and sorghum yields rising by 275 per cent in Burkina Faso and maize yields increasing by 300 per cent in Honduras.

Combined with land reforms, protection from subsidized food and moving food production away from export to growing for local communities, sustainable farming could feed the world.
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