Bangladesh - Review your biotech policy, prime minister (25/7/2006)

News from Bangladesh:
1.Review your biotech policy, prime minister
2.GM foods pose threat to health, environment

EXCERPT: creating a policy environment favourable to the promotion of the commercial transgenic crop, is part and parcel of American foreign policy. (item 1)

1.Review your biotech policy, prime minister
NewAge, July 25, 2006

The National Biotechnology Policy of Khaleda Zia is essentially to please the USA - for soliciting US support in the next election; it has been passed just a few months before the term of her government is completed and the Caretaker Government steps in to steer the statecraft.

It is not a new phenomenon for the regime has been constantly trying to please the USA. But the danger lies in the fact that creating a policy environment favourable to the promotion of the commercial transgenic crop, is part and parcel of American foreign policy. This policy is not merely economic in nature to benefit US biotech companies but alarmingly related to our security and survival, writes Farhad Mazhar

Prime minister Begum Khaleda Zia has recently presided over the meeting of the National Task Force on Biotechnology for the approval of the National Biotechnology Policy. According to the Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS) report, as published in New Age on July 20, the National Biotechnology Policy is aimed at 'increasing food production', 'alleviating poverty' and ensuring 'health and nutrition development'. The prime minister stressed on formulating a 20-year national road map on biotechnology on a priority basis for the development and flourishing of biotechnology in the country and she claimed 'proper use of biotechnology could help the country produce (a) huge (amount of) food grains'.

It was a high-level meeting with the presence of all relevant ministers including the ministers for health, environment & forest, agriculture, fisheries & livestock, ICT, commerce and law. The principal secretary of the prime minister was also present at the meeting. There were no representatives from the consumers or the farmers, who are going to be affected by such a controversial technology. The drafting of the policy document was done secretively and without any consultation with people with concern and expertise in the area but only with the lobbyists and promoters of transgenic crops, from both transnational corporations and their local beneficiaries.

The prime minister's speech, as we learn from the BSS story, is based on false notions and propaganda claims about biotechnology. She is not even objective as she made no comments on how it is going to affect the farmers and the consumers in general. There is total silence about the international concerns about 'biotechnology' nor is there any reference of the huge piles of literatures that repeatedly argued that until today biotechnology has failed to prove any agronomic value and that it could be disastrous for countries like Bangladesh.

The prime minister's confidence in the efficacy of biotechnology to 'feed 14 crore (140 million) people' is misplaced and shows her complete ignorance both in agriculture and science & technology. Not surprisingly, like any elite, anti-people and anti-farmer who have no idea about how food is produced, she has seen only the 'mouths of the people' and not their hands and productive ingenuity.

At least 70% of the 140 million people belong to farming communities who are presently producing food for the country and their success has largely come from their own ingenuity. They have been affected by the introduction of the agricultural technologies such as mechanised and chemical-based HYV technology and later on by the introduction of hybrid seeds. There are tons of critical literatures that argue that we need to distinguish the positive from the negative in green revolution technologies and that technological solution to food production has always been a bad proposition given the ecological and environmental destruction it has caused. So the shift should be towards socially, ecologically and environmentally responsible science and technology. Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering does not fit into this ideal.

Secondly, it is not the government who feeds the people, it is the farmers who are producing food and feeding the government and the people including the parasitic class who are engaged in looting our resources and destroying our biodiversity-based farming systems. Khaleda's National Biotechnology Policy would certainly benefit this parasitic commercial class who are eager to import transgenic crops and biotech product from the USA and other industrial countries.

A section of corporate-appointed scientists, who are eager to turn our public education and research institutions to the service of corporate interests, will also be benefited, but the farmers will be severely affected as has been witnessed in countries like Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, etc. In the neighbouring country India, the blind introduction of genetic engineered BT cotton has resulted in the suicide of over 100,000 farmers because of crop failures and high indebtedness, a widely known fact that perhaps did not reach the ear of the prime minister.

The National Biotechnology Policy of Khaleda Zia is essentially to please the USA - for soliciting US support in the next election; it has been passed just a few months before the term of her government is completed and the Caretaker Government steps in to steer the statecraft. It is not a new phenomenon for the regime has been constantly trying to please the USA. But the danger lies in the fact that creating a policy environment favourable to the promotion of the commercial transgenic crop, is part and parcel of American foreign policy. This policy is not merely economic in nature to benefit US biotech companies but alarmingly related to our security and survival. It is a systematic strategy of polluting the biodiversity-rich countries like Bangladesh so that they become permanently dependent on the USA, particularly the US biotech companies. Such uncritical biotech policy will permanently transform Bangladesh agriculture into industrial food production bringing the sector under the logic of global control of food chains and cripple the possibility of the agricultural sector to enter in the global market with ecological and organic product. While there is an increasing demand for safe food produced in ecologically-friendly methods in Europe and North America, Khaleda Zia is heading to destroy Bangladesh agriculture. This will seriously compromise our ability to attain food sovereignty.

A ploy to allow import of transgenic agricultural crops and products

According to USDA Foreign Agriculture Service GAIN REPORT (BG 5005, 7/15/2005), Bangladesh does not commercially cultivate any biotechnology crops. Scientists in the universities and government research institutes are trying to produce bioengineered varieties of rice, jute, pulses, oilseeds, and vegetables, mostly for higher yields, disease resistance, and salt tolerance; all these are only at the laboratory stage. However, tissue cultured crops of various forest plants, ornamental and fruit trees are in commercial cultivation.

The USDA report further says, 'Bangladesh officially prohibits the import of agricultural products containing bioengineered organisms.' Bangladesh is a food aid recipient country (mostly wheat), and is likely to remain so in the coming years. Commercial imports include wheat, rice, cotton, soybean oil (mostly from Brazil), soybean meal (from India), palm oil, and corn (from India). Crops grown using imported seeds include maize, cotton, potato, and some winter vegetables like cabbage, cauliflower, tomato, carrot, none of which are reported to be bioengineered.

The USDA report further says that the 'absence of a biotech regulatory system could pose a barrier for the exports of US agricultural commodities, such as corn and soybeans, to Bangladesh'. So, policy and regulatory instruments for biotechnology is in fact to allow import of transgenic agricultural crops and products into Bangladesh. It is clearly in the interest of the developed countries and their companies, who are finding it more and more difficult to sell genetically engineered products in their own countries, to have a market in Bangladesh.

Biotech products have not been proved safe. Here are a few examples from new research that are coming up challenging the claims of biotech industries:

a. Australian study of GM peas revealed immunological effects of genetic engineering with the transfer of a 'safe' gene to a different plant species producing allergic reactions in mice. A trial by Monsanto also indicated immunological effects with higher white blood cell levels in GM maize-fed rats.

b. the only long-term feeding trial (24 months, by an Italian team) found GMOs can affect key body organs, changing the cell structure and cell functioning of the liver, pancreas and testes of mice fed Roundup Ready soya. Similarly, a Monsanto trial found rats fed with GM maize Mon863 developed smaller kidneys.

c. a Monsanto trial found GM consumption affects the development of the blood with fewer immature red blood cells and changes in blood chemistry in rats fed with GM maize Mon863.

d. a Russian rat study found apparent generational effects of GMOs with very high death rates in the young of rats fed with GM Roundup Ready soya (56% died) and stunted growth in the surviving progeny.

e. a programme of UK studies funded by the Food Standards Agency found that genetic engineering routinely causes a large number of random genetic and chemical changes in GM plants, the health impacts of which are unknown.

f. two UK trials, one with humans and one with sheep, found that when GMOs are eaten some of the inserted genes move out and transfer into the gut bacteria.

These are only a few examples cited from a report: New Research on the Impact of GMOs on Health [SOIL ASSOCIATION, GA, 13.1.2006, GMbriefing19. Updated 13.4.2006]

The scientists and environmentalists around the world have continuously warned on the basis of scientific evidence from the use of biotech crops in different countries that GE technology contaminates other crops and damages the biodiversity and such detrimental feature is in the nature of the technology. Bangladesh is rich in biodiversity and belongs to the origin of diversity of many plants and crops of the world. To ensure bolstering her popular support Khaleda Zia should have created an enabling policy and regulatory environment to protect the biological wealth of Bangladesh and encourage scientific and technological innovation that could invigorate farming communities and bio-diverse agriculture. She could have taken into account the profound richness of our diversity in order not only to nurture a nutritionally healthy nation but create a thriving and robust agrarian sector. Instead, she preferred to join hands with the USA and biotech companies to destroy our farming systems and exposed our biological resources to the threat of bio-piracy by the same companies. Her undertaking of such a policy will not ensure her victory in the election, since she has forgotten that it is the farmers who could indeed vote her return to the power. This article is to put in the record the detrimental role she is playing against both the consumers and the farming communities.

Does the government have any right to introduce a technology which poses potential threats to the life and livelihood of the people? Should we allow a government to enact a policy, origin of which is not transparent and which lacks participation of the very people who are going to be affected negatively? These issues must be brought to the forefront. We may still hope and expect that the prime minister will reconsider the approval of the National Biotechnology Policy in the interest of the farmers, consumers and the future of Bangladesh.

2.GM foods pose threat to health, environment
Speakers tell dialogue
Daily Star, July 17 2006

A group of environmentalists and NGO activists yesterday expressed concern over gradual introduction of Genetically Modified (GM) foods in the country, saying that such foods are harmful to human health and environment and a means to marginalise the small farmers.

Some companies and NGOs are trying to promote GM foods, which pose a threat to biosafety, but the government has no policy in this regard, they said at a dialogue on 'Genetic Engineering in Food and Agriculture: Threat to Farmers and Human Health'.

Jagrata Juba Shangha (JJS) and ActionAid Bangladesh in association with Food Security Network and the European Commission organised the dialogue at Civic Inn in the city.

Farida Akter, executive director of Ubinig, said the USAID-supported Biotech Activities is trying to promote fruit and shoot borer-resistant eggplant, late blight-resistant potato and drought- and salinity-tolerant rice, while GM papaya is also on the list of import.

"This is very alarming both for the agriculture and human health," she said in her presentation citing a number of examples where such foods have negative impacts.

Biotech industry claims that GM crops have higher yields, but in reality they have a lower yield or at best the same yield as non-GM crops, she said.

The industry's claim that GM crops need less pesticides has also been proved false, Farida Akhter said, adding that intensification of such crops increases possibility of monocultures, which is true for Argentina. The country used to be a granary of the world, but now it has soy monocultures and has become the exporter of oil feed for cattle in Europe and Asia, she said.

Quoting from a publication, GM Contamination Report, she said 39 countries are known to have been affected by an incident of GM contamination, illegal planting or adverse agricultural side-affects since 1996.

Centre for Sustainable Development (CFSD) Secretary General Mahfuzullah said the claim that GM crops will meet the increasing demand for food worldwide is not true. "There will always be hunger, because it is not related to food production but to politics. Bangladesh has become self-reliant on food production, but 40 percent of people still could not afford more than two square meals a day."

The farmers and the traditional cultivation system will be destroyed due to the dominance of profit-driven multinational companies trying to promote GM foods, he noted.

Pieter Jansen of Both Ends, a Netherlands-based environment organisation, said that there can be co-existence of GM, traditional and organic crops as is there in the European Union, but that requires national legislation if it is to be applied in any other countries.

JJS Executive Director ATM Zakir Hossain and ActionAid's interim Country Director Shoyeb Siddique also spoke at the dialogue moderated by Syeda Rizwana Hasan, director of Bangladesh Environment Lawyers' Association.

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