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[SANET-MG] UN backs GM crops
When the UN spokesperson, an agricultural economist, was asked by a
Canadian radio reporter
"who owns the seeds once it is purchased' the UN bureaucrat replied
laughing" the farmer does!"
I think the UN bureaucrat was laughing at the poor farmer who will be
pursued by corporate goons, lawyers and other such low lives if that
farmer dares to save and replant seed. Indeed the goons may pursue the
farmers and steal their land for having their crops polluted with pollen
from GM crops.
UN backs GM crops despite concerns that benefits do not reach the
By Michael McCarthy, Environment Editor
18 May 2004
Genetically modified crops were given a cautious endorsement as a means
of solving world hunger by the UN's food agency yesterday, in a move
that will prolong the controversy over GM technology.
The backing, from the Rome-based UN Food and Agriculture Organisation
(FAO), is at variance with the views of many leading aid agencies, which
say that such claims made for GM are misleading.
The FAO was at pains to point out that benefits from GM developments had
still not reached small farmers or the world's poor, because the
technology was so far concentrated on a few lucrative cash crops such as
soya beans, rather than on staples such as potatoes. But it gave a
favourable view of GM as a whole.
Its report - "Agricultural Biotechnology: Meeting the Needs of the
Poor?" - continues the UN's position of recognising the potential of
transgenic crops to help fight world hunger, while stressing that
case-by-case studies were needed to assess the risks. Its general view
of the subject, however, is positive.
It says that GM crops currently on the market are safe to eat, and notes
that scientists disagree on their environmental impact - accepting genes
from GM crops can be transferred to wild species. However, it says
scientists differ on whether that in itself is a bad thing, and says
that what is needed most is more research to asses the environmental
consequences of the so-called "gene flow."
The report also points out environmental and health benefits from GM
crops, claiming that an associated reduction in pesticides and toxic
herbicides has had "demonstrable health benefits" for farm workers in China.
In addition, it says some GM crops, especially insect-resistant cotton,
"are yielding significant economic gains to small farmers." It notes
that while private companies have been largely responsible for selling
transgenic seeds, "it is the producers and consumers who are reaping the
largest share of the economic benefits of transgenic crops," adding:
"This suggests that the monopoly position engendered by intellectual
property protection does not automatically lead to excessive industry
Dr Harwig de Haen, assistant director-general of FAO's economic and
social department, said yesterday that biotechnology was not a panacea
to fight world hunger, but it could help in three major ways: by raising
farmers' production and incomes, by increasing food supplies and thus
reducing prices, and by contributing to the nutritional quality of crops.
But he said greater regulation was needed, and that governments, not
just private corporations, must be more involved in the research and
development of new seeds to ensure the poor benefit. "FAO believes that
biotechnology, including genetic engineering, can benefit the poor, but
that the gains are not guaranteed," he told a news conference.
The views of some of the world's leading aid agencies are far more
sceptical. Eighteen months ago Britain's top aid charities told Tony
Blair that genetically modified foods would not solve world hunger, but
might increase poverty and malnutrition.
A submission signed by the directors of Oxfam, Christian Aid, Save the
Children, Cafod and Action Aid said claims that GM crops could feed the
world were "misleading and fail to address the complexities of poverty
reduction". The charities said that GM crops were likely to create more
poverty, pointing out that hunger was not caused by a shortage of food,
but because the poor could not afford to buy it; and it was rich farmers
who tended to take up new agricultural techniques.
They feared that introducing GM technology would have catastrophic
effects because it is dominated by a few multinational companies. Salil
Sheehy, the director of Action Aid, said at the time: "Farmers will be
caught in a vicious circle, increasingly dependent on a small number of
giant multinationals." Prince Charles, a noted GM opponent, said that
the argument GM would feed the world was "suspiciously like emotional
Yesterday's FAO report does squarely address the fact that the poor have
not yet felt any GM benefits. It says that the private sector is so far
focusing too much on technology for crops that benefit big commercial
interests, such as maize, soybean, canola (oilseed rape in England) and
cotton - the four main transgenic crops, which are engineered for only
two traits, insect-resistance and herbicide-tolerance.
Basic food crops for the poor, such as cassava, potato, rice and wheat
have received little attention from scientists, it says. These are
"orphan crops", not favoured by the $3 billion a year spent by business
on research into agricultural biotechnology.
"Other barriers that prevent the poor from accessing and fully
benefiting from modern biotechnology include inadequate regulatory
procedures, complex intellectual property issues, poorly functioning
markets and seed-delivery systems and weak domestic breeding capacity,"
said Jacques Diouf, the FAO's head.
Last year six countries accounted for 99 per cent of the total planted
area of GM crops: Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China, South Africa and the
United States. In many countries, especially in Europe, food safety and
environmental fears have held back the spread of GM, and earlier this
month the cause suffered a blow when Monsanto, the US agribusiness giant
which is the leader in the field, pulled out completely from the
development of GM wheat after European flour millers said they would not
• Greenpeace activists dressed as pantomime cows occupied part of the
London headquarters of supermarket giant Sainsbury's yesterday, claiming
that the company supplies milk from cows fed on genetically modified
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