The True Food Network is reporting that US biotech companies are lobbying to stop the Australian Government from labelling genetically engineered (GE) products, on the basis that this would be ‘an undue restriction on trade with the US’.
The Trans Pacific Free Trade Agreement (TPPFTA)
Australia is currently in negotiations over the TPPFTA with:
WeAreChange Western Australia – a grassroots peace and social justice movement that aims ‘to expose and resist the lies of the government and corporate elite’ and whose members have no affiliation with the True Food Network or Greenpeace – are also concerned and report:
“The US biotech industry group’s submission on TPPFTA calls for no GE labelling that could restrict trade of biotech products with the US. The group also calls for countries to do-away with any local safety testing on GE products, as according to the biotech lobby group, they have already been proven safe in the US and local testing requirements create an undue regulatory burden on business.
Australian Trade Minister Simon Crean has said that everything is on the table for these negotiations, even as the Federal Government continues it’s review of food labelling laws. You can take action now to protect Australia’s health and environment against the profit-seeking motives of US biotech firms. Greenpeace is supporting a campaign by the Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network which calls on the Australian Government to put the interests of its citizens before the profits of the multinational companies.”
TWO ARTICLES OF INTEREST IN THIS AREA
Will the Hungry Profit From Biotechnology? written in 2002 by Elisabeth Abergel, a trained molecular biologist and a food and biotechnology analyst with a PhD in environmental studies, puts a clear case for doubt as to one of the main pro GE arguments.
A 2010 media release from the Food And Agriculture Organisation (FAO) states that today there is too much focus on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and that the focus of modern and conventional biotechnologies should be redirected so as to benefit poor farmers in poor countries and not only rich farmers in rich countries.
1. Will the Hungry Profit From Biotechnology?
The ‘biotech will feed the hungry’ argument is often used to rationalize genetically engineered (GE) crops and to justify the export of these crops and genetic technologies to developing countries. But will genetically engineered crops feed the world’s hungry? Doubtful. In fact, GE food might actually limit people’s access to healthy food through corporate control of the world’s genetic resources.
It is generally recognized that GE foods are not intended for the world’s poor and hungry. In fact, the push for GE crops is purely commercial. Currently, the majority of GE grain crops are used for animal feed. And first generation GE foods were mostly aimed at improving crop production, not quality or nutrition. Second generation crops, often described as nutraceuticals or functional foods, may be the next magic bullet, but boosting natural foods with vitamins through genetic engineering, such as vitamin A rice, may create serious health problems.
It is also clear that the multinational corporations behind GE foods are in business to increase profits. GE crops are not cheap. Farmers who grow GE crops have to pay a technology fee on top of buying seed and other inputs. Consumers may also have to pay more.
Altruism or Greed?
The ‘green revolution’ has radically transformed the environment, agriculture and food systems (including traditional diets and farming practices) of developing countries, leaving them even more dependent on western technology and aid. The gene revolution now promises to do the same.
It is clear that many GE-derived products were created in one place to replace existing native or local production of key ingredients in another place. Canola oil, for instance, directly competes with the production of coconut and palm oils. Cocoa, vanilla and coffee are other crops at risk of being supplanted by foreign GE products. Considering the number of indigenous people subsisting from the production of these crops, it is difficult to see how genetic technologies will improve local economies.
Hungry for Profits
The promise of feeding the hungry also justifies the presence of multinational corporations and other gene prospectors in the developing world. This provides an excuse for biotechnology companies to access and use the genetic resources found there, where remaining stocks of biodiversity might enclose the industry’s next ‘innovation’. This has been called biopiracy.
Natural and farm biodiversity are nevertheless threatened by the presence of GE crops. The problem of genetic pollution is arising on a global scale, potentially displacing traditional breeds of agriculturally important crops such as corn, wheat and grain crops. Native plant species are poor competitors for GE plants.
In addition to displacing native crops and local industries and uses, traditional knowledge of plants and their cultivation methods are also slated for corporate control. Through intellectual property rights or patent rights, multinational corporations and biotechnology researchers are able to own genetic resources, some previously obtained through the labour and ingenuity of local farmers and indigenous people over generations. While pharmaceutical and agri-chemical companies have been reaping profits from these plants, local and indigenous people have yet to benefit from products derived from genetic materials collected on their land.
Companies are now also developing “self-sterilizing” crop plants (dubbed ‘terminator technology’) that block seed formation. This essentially stops farmers from saving seeds, a practice that ensures food availability. In other words, biotechnology effectively turns crops into non-renewable resources, thereby threatening the world’s poorest and hungriest.
Genetic engineering involves taking genes from one species of plant or animal and inserting them into another in an attempt to transfer a desired trait or characteristic. alive Magazine has always taken a hard-line stance against this experimental technology, which offers more financial rewards to giant companies than safety records to concerned citizens and scientists.
2. Biotechnologies Should Benefit Poor Farmers In Poor Countries
At the recent Agricultural Biotechnologies in Developing Countries conference in Mexico, the US Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) was looking at conventional biotechnology applications in food and agriculture. It
is calling for a new approach to agricultural research.
“The focus of modern and conventional biotechnologies should be redirected so as to benefit poor farmers in poor countries and not only rich farmers in rich countries, FAO said today.
“Modern and conventional biotechnologies provide potent tools for the agriculture sector, including fisheries and forestry,” said Modibo Traore, FAO Assistant Director-General, addressing the international technical conference on Agricultural Biotechnologies in Developing Countries in Guadalajara, Mexico.
“But biotechnologies are not yet making a significant impact in the lives of people in most developing countries,” Traore said. “At present, there is a lack of appropriate and useful technologies, policies, technical capacities, and requisite infrastructure for their development, evaluation and deployment in most developing countries.”
The conference in Guadalajara is reviewing past successes and failures of biotechnologies across the different food and agricultural sectors in developing countries. The meeting is not focused on genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
Too much emphasis on GMOs.
According to FAO, biotechnological innovations can be of significant assistance in doubling food production by the year 2050 and in addressing the uncertainties of climate change. “In the past few decades, the field of biotechnologies has advanced at a formidable speed and generated numerous innovations particularly in the field of pharmaceuticals and some in the field of agriculture,” Traore said.
The innovations in agriculture include highly successful rice hybrids for Africa that have doubled rice yields, the use of artificial insemination to raise dairy cattle milk yields in Bangladesh and the use of DNA-based methods to detect shrimp diseases in India.
But most biotechnologies cannot be fully exploited because “often, there is emphasis on genetically modified organisms only, which overshadows all other biotechnologies and their potential contribution to agriculture. In addition, the synergy between the public and private sector remains to be harnessed.”
FAO called for a new approach to agricultural research and development supporting the wider and wiser use of agricultural biodiversity to promote development and improve food security.
“New technologies should make their contributions also through efficiency gains from better management of inputs and biodiversity. This will require greater involvement of farmers, institutions and communities. It will require other enabling factors such as policies, institutional support, and investment in human and physical capital and in-country capacity building. FAO focuses its activities on support to smallholders in order to sustainably increase agricultural productions, improve access to markets and enhance livelihoods,” Traore said.
The international community should play a key role in supporting developing countries by fostering partnerships and providing a framework for international cooperation and funding for the generation, adaptation and adoption of appropriate biotechnologies.”