EXCERPTS: Too much pressure is being applied and too little time and assistance is being given to developing countries to help them properly debate and decide for themselves whether to use GM crops.
Those in favour of GM crops often appear to dismiss the right of others to choose whether or not to grow GM crops or eat GM food by ignoring concerns that the widespread introduction of GM crops will effectively close off other, non-GM options.
It is clear that commercial and other interests are in danger of overriding public concern, democratic decision-making and local control.
Christian Aid and the GM crops debate
(Revised statement) 15 December 2004
Christian Aid is concerned about the possible effects of genetically modified (GM) crops on developing countries and on the poor in those countries - so many of whom depend on agriculture for their livelihoods and an adequate and reliable food supply.
Our first contribution to the GM debate, Selling Suicide: Farming, False Promises and Genetic Engineering in Developing Countries - http://www.christianaid.org.uk/indepth/9905suic/suicide1.htm , published in May 1999, showed how a handful of GM corporations are gaining increasing control over global food supply, and it also raised questions about the safety of the technology itself.
Selling Suicide played a major role in getting the concerns of developing countries and poor farmers about GM crops onto the public, media and political agenda here in the UK. Selling Suicide proved controversial, and there remains a range of often strongly held views about GM crops both in the UK and across the world.
This ongoing controversy, and the unresolved issues which lie behind it, justifies our continuing support to a call for a moratorium on commercial applications of GM crops to allow time for the issues to be further researched, discussed, agreed and implemented, not only at the national level but globally, particularly in terms of how they affect developing countries.
Proponents of GM crops argue that they could prove highly beneficial to poor farmers, and could help developing countries meet their future food needs:
*Increased drought resistance could enable crops to be grown on unirrigated and currently marginal lands, and reduce reliance on scarce water supplies.
*Engineered pest resistance could reduce reliance on expensive and environmentally damaging chemical pesticides, both in the growing and storage of crops.
*Making it possible for certain plants to use atmospheric nitrogen to help them grow into major food crops such as cereals could increase yields and reduce or perhaps even remove the need for chemical fertilisers.
The possibilities appear to be endless.
However, it is not at all clear whether or not such benefits can or will be delivered without accompanying and unacceptable costs, either in terms of the technology itself or in terms of how it is controlled. Nor is it clear what the balance of benefits and costs might be, or, most importantly, for whom.
Too much significance is placed on GM crops in terms of their ability to end hunger in the developing world. It has been claimed that GM crops are necessary for the future food security of poor people in developing countries. Such claims are misleading because they ignore the complexities of overcoming poverty and food shortages in such countries. The solutions to hunger and food insecurity lie mainly in overcoming social and economic barriers that limit poor people's ability to buy or produce and sell food. A costly technology such as GM crops, owned by powerful corporations, risks increasing such barriers, leading to more inequality, poverty and food insecurity.
Too much control over the worlds agriculture and food system is ending up in the hands of a small number of purely commercial interests. The development and marketing of GM technology, including patented seeds tied to proprietary agrochemicals, is leading to a smaller and smaller number of companies having more and more influence over food production and the global food system. There is no mechanism at international level to prevent this trend continuing and developing countries also lack the power to stop it.
Too little is known about the possible environmental, ecological, health or nutritional effects of GM crops, particularly in developing countries. As in many areas of science and its application, there are differences of opinion and indeed strong disagreements among those involved in GM crops. However, in this case the disagreements are not just academic. The widespread use of particular GM crops and foodstuffs may risk serious damage to the environment - to both wild and agricultural biodiversity - as modified genes are spread by cross-pollination, for example. They may even pose a threat to human health. It is therefore essential that adequate testing is carried out before GM crops are introduced.
Alternatives to GM crops are receiving too few resources in terms of agricultural research and support to farmers. With public funding cut and private interests dominant, research has become skewed towards GM crops and large-scale industrial agriculture. Alternative approaches to agriculture which are cheaper and more sustainable for small-scale and resource-poor farmers and which are designed to address their circumstances and needs are ignored. Hunger and malnutrition are unlikely to be adequately addressed unless local food security and the needs of the poor are prioritised.
Too much pressure is being applied and too little time and assistance is being given to developing countries to help them properly debate and decide for themselves whether to use GM crops. The legally binding international Biosafety Protocol is now in force allowing developing countries to decide whether or not to let in GM crops. However, the US has not signed the protocol and is constantly challenging the positions of other countries over both GM seeds and food. Those in favour of GM crops often appear to dismiss the right of others to choose whether or not to grow GM crops or eat GM food by ignoring concerns that the widespread introduction of GM crops will effectively close off other, non-GM options. It is clear that commercial and other interests are in danger of overriding public concern, democratic decision-making and local control.
GM food aid
In Zambia in 2002, the US and the World Food Programme (WFP) were accused of attempting to blackmail the country by refusing to offer a non-GM option. While we recognised in that immediate situation that the humanitarian imperative to provide food to those in need must take priority, we were also clear that this situation should not be allowed to occur again.
Christian Aid's position on GM food aid, therefore, is that:
*all countries have the right to refuse imports of GMOs (foods, crops and seeds), as per the provisions of the Biosafety Protocol to the UN Convention on Biodiversity
*it is unacceptable for countries or international organisations, especially the WFP, to try to pressure countries into accepting GM food aid rather than respecting their legitimate concerns
*food aid donors should be prepared to pay for the milling of grains which may contain GM material either before shipment or on arrival in their destination to ensure that no grains are planted
*food aid must not be used to achieve the back door introduction of GMOs into a country's agriculture, environment and food supply.
Christian Aid will continue to:
*dispute the simplistic claims that GM crops can solve the problems of hunger
*oppose increasing corporate control of agriculture and the global food supply
*urge caution in the introduction of GM crops before their effects are clearly understood
*press for time for adequate debate and for democratic decision-making and local control in developing countries
*uphold the right of countries to choose to receive non-GM food aid
*press for (and provide) more support to small farmers in developing countries to grow food in sustainable ways appropriate to their circumstances and needs.
Kevan Bundell, senior policy officer, Global Advocacy and Policy Division, 9.12.04 (revision of 'GM crops Christian Aid's concerns' - http://www.christianaid.org.uk/indepth/0206gm/gmcrops.htm - 06.02)
The Five Year Freeze Campaign
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