Useful summary of FAO biotech forum (23/1/2005)

Pro-GM lobbyist and former Syngenta man, Dr Shantu Shantharam has been encouraging subscribers to AgBioView to "visit" the FAO's forum on Rural Public Participation in Decision Making on GMOs, which has one more week to run.

You may want to do the same.

For further information on this FAO Biotechnology Forum, see http://www.fao.org/biotech/forum.asp

Thanks to Julie Newman of Network of Concerned Farmers for this very useful summary of what's been going on.

Have been participating in the FAO forum. The forum has been running for a week and has one more week to go.

Archives of the message posted are now available, at http://www.fao.org/biotech/logs/c12logs.htm.

I have prepared a brief summary of some of the comments and recommend accessing the archives for clarity on the quotes:

1. Biotechnology consultant from India Biotechnology "If the GMO that is to be introduced by any means affects the livelihoods of rural people, as a follower of participatory approaches in technology development, I feel it is advisable to involve rural people right from priority setting including selection of crops/varieties/traits/products for genetic modification. If not, they should at least be consulted during the decision making process at developing regulatory frameworks and approving for commercialization."

2. Researcher from Brazil: "One first big problem to involve rural people in the decision-making process is their capacity of organization. If they are organized at the national level (which in Brazil is largely difficult due to the country size), they can demand their needs or make their opinions listened to."..."A third problem I see in this theme is leadership control. It is easier to lead a people without involving them..." GMOs are a reality in many places of the world and much has been already said by political and scientific experts and so little has been listened from the farmers (excluding, of course, large-scale producers, which made a huge difference in releasing transgenic soybean in Brazil). My personal concern is about small-scale producers, which so far are rarely inquired about themes that make huge differences in their lives."

3. Agronomist from Spain: "The question on how to involve the rural people on the issue of GMOs seems to me a bit strange. Before asking how, perhaps could it be interesting to ask why? Why give to this issue a special place in the issues regarding rural development?" "The push of the USA and their multinationals to obtain the agreement of the African countries for the introduction of GMO is strong and often indecent. National authorities have difficulty in resisting. To facilitate this agreement, is not one of the solutions to pretend that the rural people have been consulted?"

4.Researcher from Venezuela: "There is a demagogical campaign again GMOs, especially in Venezuela. In order to be effective, a demagogue needs uneducated public. So the only reason I found to involve the public in the decision making process for GMOs, is that they are the target of the demagogues anti GMOs. Consequently, instead of promoting the public participation in the decision making process of GMOs, organizations like FAO should promote decision panels conformed by experts at the highest level. So, the conference desirable is : What kind of expertise is needed in a panel of expert for approval/refusal of

5. Farmer from Australia: "farmers are heavily targetted by those with vested interests and the unbiased information farmers and policy makers need in order to make decisions is not freely available."..."A priority for any government to introduce any legislation in the application of biotechnology in the agricultural industry in any country should be to ensure these new novel crops do not jeopardise market opportunities or impose unreasonable costs or market risk on existing producers. Farmers should be surveyed to gain an understanding of how they react to the specific details of how GM introduction will affect them. If decisions are going to negatively impact on farmers income or livelihood, governments must involve farmers in order to negotiate issues such as adequate compensation if imposing economic liabilities."

6. Researcher from Cuba: "In my opinion, I think that the rural people need to know which are the advantages that the GMOs have that they will sow that has gone by different studies and that these doesn't represent any problem for the and her family and that GMOs will allow him to increase the yields without having to apply pesticides. Nevertheless it is necessary to create culture in people of the field on the GMOs so that they are in favor of the same ones. But it needs
time and to teach to them."

8. Researcher from Africa "A big issue is how to make public participation representative of a diversity of opinion. I think that public participation must be organized if we want it to be representative. If not, we will have as many opinions as individuals. The trap is taking individual's opinion for people's one."

9. Student studying agriculture from Zimbabwe "The main problem now is the ignorance in terms of knowing what GMOs are, their benefits and everything about them."

10. Independent consultant (seed and biotech area) from France. "In spite of the pressures to develop regulatory frameworks and product approval it seems to me that the development of a national policy for biotechnology based on public consensus and decision making is the priority. Several case studies on a participatory priority setting approach toward national biotechnology programmes such as the citizen jury (developed in India) and the Interactive Bottom-Up approach (developed in several countries in cooperation with the Netherlands) involved key stakeholders and potential beneficiaries of biotechnology and provide examples of public decision making."

11. Teacher of Agricultural Law from Canada. "First, we must be very careful not to assume that those who do not share our opinions are "uneducated" or that once "educated" they will change their views on the issue. For instance, there are many reasons, besides safety, that I am leery about the continued introduction of GMOs. Of particular concern is the movement of genetic resources out of the public domain and into private hands. In addition, the private control of GMO plant-genetic material is bordering a state of monopoly. No amount of information about the safety of GMOs will convince me that the monopolization of this sector is in the best interests of society." ..."To date, only fundamental human rights and the sovereign rights of states exist in international law (outside of treaties) to limit the rights of citizens within a country to govern themselves. Corporations and GMOs do not have those rights, so in a true democracy, their interests in regulating GMOs would never replace the interests of the people. So, my answer to the question of rural participation in decision-making regarding GMOs is that, without their voice, government regulation in the area is illegitimate."

12. Executive secretary of the Agri-Ecology Media from Africa "I strongly believe it is important to give the public, especially the people in the village, quality information that will help them make informed choices as to the pros and cons of GMOs."

13. Independent consultant from France "As I mentioned in my earlier message (nr. 10...) the obligations under these conventions may limit the scope of what national governments can do with the outcomes of national debates and public decision making. For instance, risk assessments based on sound and transparent science versus ethical and social concerns or the precautionary principle."..."At the national level, countries will need to design a national policy for the development of biotechnology (not only for green but also for industrial and medical applications) which should include, inter alia, the role of biotechnology and GMOs within the framework of poverty alleviation and food security, appropriate biosafety regulations and risk assessments, intellectual property rights and money to be spent on biotech research in the long term."

14. Retired Director of Research from West Bengal, former Chairman, Department of Genetics, Bihar, and Fishery Extension Officer from India, all attached with awareness and programme implementation on agriculture including GMOs among rural communities for several years: "The theme of this conference looks at the issue on a 'global problem, local solution' basis. This mind set has to be modified in the present context. GMO is a global public good. New Biology has an enormous future with fascinating and mind-boggling future. Its denial at the local level has negative global implication that must be addressed."... "Firstly, public comprehension on GM crops/organisms is either superficial or missing. As a result, public participation in decisions on GMOs is largely the echo of the information 'conveyed' by lobbyists. These pressure groups take opposite and, at times, fundamentally extreme views. The casualties are the real issues and facts about GMOs. Public participation, unless based on informed decision-making, will only complicate the process." ... "Fourthly and finally, there is a resolute suspicion not so much about the beauty, science, relevance and potential of GMOs as for its factual or perceived 'politics of exploitation'."... "Deep-seated suspicion makes it difficult to organise an unbiased and a rational view of the matter for a meaningful participation of the public in decision-making. It is crucial for the public to be well informed about GMOs. Most groups in rural communities, including women, subsistence farmers and village leaders have low capacity to undertake risks and are not easy to reach. Our awareness programmes in a participatory mode with Local Self Governments, Farmers' Co-Operatives, and Farmers' Groups that are well organised and active in the state of West Bengal were successful. Empowering rural communities for decision making on GMOs is possible with two strategies in tandem: to make them aware about full and unbiased facts in terms of their own socio-economy and language followed by their tiered participation in the decision making process. It must be borne in mind that only an honest approach can succeed and that GMOs shall be blocked if seen as a means of exploitation." ..."We propose that an independent international mechanism, preferably coordinated by FAO, should be organised to monitor without bias and to scientifically assess the impact of GMOs on local socio-economy and environment, and to make over the information to national systems. The national governments should take up massive-scale educational and awareness programmes in participation with local self governments, schools, other educational institutions, NGOs and farmers' organisations. Each national government should publicise white papers especially for the political, scientific and community leaders. Rural communities should be encouraged to take informed decisions on GMOs communicated to national law makers for policy choice and implementation."

15. International consultant on biotech affairs and management from USA : "Does the public really care? Or is that some self-appointed interlocutors make loud noises on behalf of the "public" and therefore, we all need to worry about it? What is the credibility of these interlocutors for articulating the "public" views? I bet most of the public don't even understand or know what is it that all this squabbling about in biotechnology!"..."My experience with developing country farmers is that if you show clear economic benefit with the use of technology and it is easy to use or adopt, they will give it a try."..." Seeking general public input is really not going to serve any purpose as there would not be any. But, by stratifying the public into focus groups and surveying them for their perceptions and opinions on a continuous basis will be valuable in developing both public policy on biotechnology and to the industries to direct their inventions to meet the felt needs of the public (rural included)."

16. Developer of educational workshops on nutritional issues from USA. "Before we begin to educate the rural people on GMOs, we must first ask ourselves why. Why are we involved in this issue of entire cultures food dependency? Do any of us have the right to make a decision as important as this for another culture, or for that matter, even one human being? Perhaps, before this question of how to introduce the GMOs into their world is considered, they should be consulted to see if they even want the interference in their countries. Who benefits the most from the introduction of these organisms. Is it not the multi-national corporations who have a vested interest in assuring a new market for their product? Perhaps the world of academia has an interest also as millions of dollars of research monies are being funneled to their biotech projects from these corporations, in addition to the intellectual standing in their communities."

17. Researcher in Fish Breeding and Genetics section at Malawi National Aquaculture Centre, Zomba, Malawi. "Firstly the extension staff, who are going to coordinate the involvement of the rural people should understand what subject they are dealing with. The government and private sector should make an effort so that these extension staff are well informed on GMO issues before they are going to coordinate. They should be able to understand both the scientific and ethical issues involved... The rural people will listen more to their extension staff than the government researcher."

18. Consultant, Biotechnology Unit from India: "While providing information on new technologies like recombinant DNA (rDNA) technology, the source of information has to be well scrutinized and validated by the concerned persons and editors responsible for publishing or telecasting. In this regard, media can also be sensitized on the 'pros and cons of GMOs' by involving them in debates, scientific conferences relating to GMOs, not just for the purpose of publicity but involving them as one of the stakeholders."

19. Department of Biochemistry and Biotechnology from Kenya."For the rural people what really matters are the final products. As for crops, they would like to farm them as easily and productively as possible and therefore, given a choice, they would opt for the GMOs, until the anti-GMOs lobbyists strike with their alarmist remarks. As a lecturer in biotechnology I have a chance of sharing information on GMOs with lay persons and what I find interesting is how easy it is to accept GMO once you tell them of the positives (in the context of poverty and food security)."

20. Director for the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) in Switzerland: "The Biosafety Protocol does contain important public participation provisions. However, as the Cartagena Protocol focuses specifically on the transboundary movement of GMOs, it is of a more limited application than the Aarhus Convention. The Protocol is also yet to be implemented. It is thus considered important for the public participation requirements under the Aarhus Convention to be developed as fully as possible."

21. Food Scientist from Belgium: "The local authorities suspected a link between this variety and the appearance of the diseases. They decided that it was ethical to inform the population. This lead to a panic and the population destroyed all of their stocks and they don't want any more new technologies and new variety!!!. But today we have a solution for this... But, because they were informed prematurely that the variety caused their diseases, they lost confidence in the new technologies. Because of this, we are in a situation where we have spent a lot of money and energy, and the solution is available but there is no means to introduce the technology anymore and help them. I think, if they were not informed, this would not have been the case and the problem of food insecurity in this area, at least partially, would have been solved. So the question remains, "do we need to inform populations about those complex subjects that the majority of our rural population do not understand?"."..."If it's possible to introduce GMOs which have been authorized by scientists and international or national authorities, this seems enough and there is no need to inform the population."

22. Assistant Professor, College of Law, Canada: "Most farmers rely on representatives of their seed and chemical dealers who have a big presence in rural areas." ... "In addition, I just want to say something about the comments that lay people do not have the capacity to understand the scientific information surrounding GMOs.... I am a lawyer, and for the last number of years, there has been a "plain language" movement in my field... I believe scientists will need to be asked to do the same, if public participation in science-based decision making is ever going to be achieved."

23. Peasant farmer from Bangladesh: "I have 2 acres of land for homestead full of biodiversity. The land is the main source of housing, fuel wood, fruits. I grow vegetables within the homestead and the piece of land adjacent to the homestead. Normally, I try to grow mixed and year round vegetables. So that I have a continuous support of vegetables for family and friends. Sometime I sell the products of course. Also a large part of family's nutrient comes from uncultivated vegetables those still are abundant. I have a multipurpose pond. It provides local fish for 8 months. Rest four months, I grow rice there. I have two cows and few chickens. During the boro season (November-February), I grow rice on other's field on share cropping basis. Of course I have some off-farm income. So that I can send children to school. I don't know too much about GMO or LMO. But in the meantime I have started to enjoy the lively discussion. Hope to enrich my wisdom on agriculture and the latest technological commodities."

24. Farmer from Australia: "Governments should stand firm and gain the quality unbiased factual information needed, then assist in distribution of this quality information prior to calling for public input. For example, we have a situation where, globally, farmers are informed that the main benefit for GM crops is yield improvement (even up to 300%) but there is no scientific reason why these current GM crops would produce higher yields or feed the hungry better than non-GM crops." "It is essential that any information that is used to influence decision makers in the preparation of an information document must be accurate, if not, there must be serious penalties incorporated within legislation to enforce this."

25. Retired author and consultant from Austria: "The answer is that the medical patient can choose not to use a medical drug after hearing from the doctor or reading about the possible side-effects. Each person can make a choice after evaluating the benefit and risk. Food is different. No-one can opt out of eating. If GM food is everywhere in the food chain - the choice has gone. Thus approval by specialists takes away the democratic right for an individual to choose not to eat GM food. Removing the right to choose is contrary to Market Economy Capitalism which is based upon the principle that the market decides. By contrast, specialists involved in deciding on the use of GM food are often employed by a seller of GM food and seeds. Market Economy Capitalism is also based upon the principle that the person who takes the decisions bears the risk - and does not pass it to others."

26. Farmer from New Zealand: "Unfortunately, there is a lack of consultation with rural people/primary producers/farmers (despite the fact that their livelihoods may be adversely affected) and central government has failed to adequately address important issues like liability, compensation, risk management and so forth. One of the key questions in this conference is "how rural people can be effectively involved in the decision-making process" but in our view (as rural people who are in the business of sustainably producing safe, clean food of the highest quality and who are very conversant with the issues) farmers are targeted by those with vested interests and the unbiased information farmers and policy makers need in order to make decisions is not freely available." ... "It is important that farmers/rural communities are not only surveyed and that proper consultation takes place, but that action is taken to ensure farming families and primary producers are protected and that a strong committment is made to truly sustainable primary production (both in forestry and food production)."

27. Scientific Director from Spain: "There is a very strong push from the United States and their biotech corporation to introduce GMO in Africa offcially for the help of the poor farmers in Africa. This is a huge hypocrisy when in the same time because of the USA cotton dumping policy they are "killing" the small farmers in the same countries. Clearly, USA do not want anything more that imposing the GMO in as many countries as possible to be able to sell their GMOs without difficulty abroad." "In the present situation, is it a scientific and responsible approach to leave to the farmers and the consumers the role of guinea-pig in addition without informing them? Furthermore, they will not be able to evaluate all the consequences of the introduction of a new technique but the consequences that interest them and also in a short term approach. For example, the farmers are not able and it is not their role to evaluate on the medium term the environmental and health consequences of the use of the GMOs."

28. Dr / Biologistics from US: "Just look at all other fields of endeavor in all democratic societies, one does not go for public referendum for every issue. What lies at the root of all this controversy is lack of proper and responsible governance in many countries. By building trustworthy, reliable and responsible institutions, can the citizenry expect proper decisions for the welfare of the people. In my opinion, this controversy about GMOs is not biosafety, but mostly about political ideology and value systems. It so happens that GMOs manufactured by capitalistic multinationals have come in handy for those who oppose globalization and privatization. If one looks at the safety issues dispassionately and objectively, there is sufficient scientific evidence to show that GMOs are safe as any other variety of crops that have been introduced in the last one hundred years. If one chooses to ignore that evidence and bring in all sorts of political, metaphysical and ideological reasons to bear, we can all be arguing and debating until we are blue in our faces and the problem will not be resolved."

29. Agronomist from Zambia: "Indeed, there are lot of things where public participation is not sought but rather expert panels are organized to deal with them and then a refined product is passed on to the intended recipients [with appropriate oversight mechanisms]. I do believe that is the way to go. Besides, a number of other discussants have said the rural folk would need to be educated for them to effectively participate! That will considerably increase the final cost of the product to be put on the market (if at all the product would get to the market since most debates in this part of the world do tend to go on and on!). In which case, who benefits apart from those who are in the business of carrying on debates?"

30. Research scientists from USA, Mexico, Guatemala and Cuba who have collaborated on a field study interviewing small-scale farmers in Mexico, Cuba and Guatemala about their practices, knowledge and values concerning transgenes and genetically engineered (GE) maize. " Ultimately, farmers' knowledge and values brought into the discussion through research like ours, or in other ways, will need to be evaluated as part of a larger analysis that includes benefits as well as costs of currently available GE crop varieties, compared with the benefits and costs of conventional modern varieties, farmers' traditional local varieties, as well as with alternatives (transgenic local varieties, 'organic' varieties, etc). This means that if the goal is improving the welfare of farmers in traditionally-based agricultural systems, often among the poorest people in the population, the question of how the money spent on GE crops could otherwise be used is also very relevant. Such an inclusive and balanced analysis is the only way to ensure that the needs of TBAS farmers and communities will be met effectively, and that farmers will have access to potential benefits and be able to protect themselves from potential harm of GE crop varieties."

31. Farmer from Australia "The main information needs of the rural people related to GMOs is liability as sustainability is dependent on fair allocation of liability. Governments need legal advice in order to consider a strict liability legislation to balance between farmers rights and corporate obligations as there is certainly a tradeoff for accepting corporate investment to plant breeding. While it is essential that farmers maintain long term sustainability, it is a legislated priority for corporate companies to maximise returns to their shareholders which has led to little consideration for the adverse impact caused by global exploitation of resources. Governments must investigate the liability issue thoroughly to determine who is legally liable for adverse impacts (economic, health or environmental) caused by the introduction of GM crops." "Public education and consultation is essential to establish if those expected to be liable for the implications understand the consequences and agree or disagree with that obligation."

32. National Project Coordinator Development of the National Biosafety Framework Project from Ecuador: "In our country and probably in others of Latin America, the local people are very weak (or receptive) to the influence of many people or organizations with any specific criteria about some themes, in this case the GMOs. Despite the lack of a proper and objective information, the rural people use to support sometimes radical positions like a whole moratorium for GMOs, without the possibility to participate and expose their arguments in public forums, just only the instructions to say NO. Probably, here we can identify a lack of the goverments, academic sector etc. to reach the rural sector with correct information about GMOs."

Go to a Print friendly Page

Email this Article to a Friend

Back to the Archive