Great GM hoax exposed (9/3/2004)

Leaked documents show the British Government thinks it can sell its GM commercialisation in terms of the urgent need for the technology in the developing world. The following articles mercilessly expose the truth behind the PR hoax.

1.GM Crops Irrelevant for Africa - Jonathan Matthews
3.Monsanto's showcase project in Africa fails - New Scientist
4.Golden Rice: Mirage of GM's golden promise - BBC

1.GM Crops Irrelevant for Africa
The Institute of Science in Society

Damning report concludes GM crops do not address the real causes of poverty and hunger in Africa. Jonathan Matthews writes.

Careful analysis of the evidence from the biotech industry's flagship projects in Africa shows that GM crops are irrelevant for Africa. The analysis comes in a damning report from Aaron deGrassi, a researcher in the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The flagship projects analyzed include Monsanto's GM cotton in the Makhitini Flats in South Africa, Syngenta Foundation's GM maize project in Kenya, and another Kenyan project with GM sweet potatoes involving Monsanto, the World Bank and USAID. All have been showcased by the industry as huge successes for small-scale African farmers.

Significantly, deGrassi shows that the benefits from GM crops are much lower than can be obtained "with either conventional breeding or agroecology-based techniques" from just a tiny fraction of the investment in research.

The excitement over GM crops, the author shows, stems in reality from a PR strategy by the biotech industry trying to give itself the public legitimacy to help reduce "trade restrictions, biosaftey controls, and monopoly regulations."

DeGrassi's analysis receives corroboration from a surprising quarter. An Associated Press article in June profiling Robb Fraley, Monsanto's chief technology officer and Robert Horsch, its vice president of product and technology cooperation, notes that Horsch manages a Monsanto program designed to help farmers in developing nations improve their farming methods. Horsch is reported to have said his mission is twofold: "create goodwill and help open future markets."

DeGrassi's carefully referenced report details the GM lobby's extensive PR use of South African GM cotton farmers such as 'Bt Buthelezi'

"Buthelezi was by Zoellick's side when the Trade Secretary formally announced a US WTO case against EU restrictions on GM imports. A month later, the Administrator of USAID, Andrew Natsios, described Buthelezi before a Congressional panel on plant biotechnology in Africa....The Council for Biotechnology Information calls him a "small farmer", and others describe his life as "hand-to-mouth existence". Administrator Natsios described him as a "small farmer struggling just at the subsistence level".

"However, independent reporters have revealed that, with two wives and more than 66 acres, he is one of the largest farmers in Makhathini and chairs the area's farmers' federation encompassing 48 farmers' associations."

DeGrassi reports that for Monsanto, Buthelezi and his stories are part of the firm's declared strategy of "gaining global acceptance of biotechnology". Just before President Bush's May 2003 speech claiming that Europe's import restrictions exacerbate African hunger, Monsanto flew four black South African GM crop farmers to London, where they spoke at a private conference hosted by the Commonwealth Business Council, before heading on to Denmark and Germany. Like Buthelezi, these "representative farmers" read statements carefully scripted by Monsanto and own dozens of acres of land. Several actually spend most of their time working at their day jobs as school administrators.

Other pro-biotech campaigners have caught on: CropGen, an industry-funded group of academic scientists in the UK, for instance, celebrates another South African farmer, Mbongeni Nxumalo.

De Grassi states,"These South African farmers - whom representatives of Monsanto and other businesses call "basically representative farmers" and "representatives of the African smallholding community" - are plucked from South Africa, wined and dined, and given scripted statements about the benefits of GM. In an area where most farmers cultivate just a few hectares, and only half the population can read, Monsanto's "representative" farmers are school administrators and agricultural college graduates, owning dozens of hectares of land. Monsanto has been criticized for using these farmers as a part of a deliberate attempt to distort public debate on biotechnology. Critics have coined the nickname "Bt Buthelezi", to illustrate this farmer's unconditional support to Bt cotton: during a trip to Monsanto's headquarters in St. Louis, Buthelezi was quoted as saying, "I wouldn't care if it were from the devil himself.""

Meanwhile, conventional crop breeding methods, which cost much less and produce better results, have failed to attract attention from both African governments and biotech companies.

More alarming is the amount of money earmarked for these crop innovations, when cotton and sweet potato are not even major crops in Africa and thus will not in any way solve Africa's poverty/hunger problems.

The report shows how the industry's PR spin is often farcically inexact. Here's just one example in relation to GM cotton in South Africa: "ISAAA implies that small farmers have been using the technology on a hundred thousand hectares. Agricultural Biotechnology in Europe - an industry coalition - suggests 5,000 ha of "smallholder cotton". The survey team suggests 3,000 ha.

"In addition to conflicting data on the area and numbers of farmers, the profits gained by switching to Bt cotton are unclear." DeGrassi writes. "CropGen says farmers gain $113 per hectare. Monsanto says farmers gain an extra $90. ISAAA argues that switching to Bt allows farmers make an extra $50 per hectare. University researchers calculate $35, whilst the survey team found farmers gained only $18 in the second year, but in the first year, "Bt cotton nonadopters were actually $1 per hectare better off". [emphasis added]"

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