GM crops benefit big business, not hungry Africans (17/8/2006)

1.GM crops and DDT – connect the dots... - Glenn Ashton
2.Astroturf uncovered in grassroots protest - James MacKinnon

COMMENT: An edited version of this article by Glenn Ashton appeared in the South African newspaper The Cape Times under the heading "GM crops benefit big business, not hungry Africans" (August 16 2006) http://www.capetimes.co.za/index.php?fSectionId=273&fArticleId=3395428

The article is a response to one by the Free Market Foundation, South Africa's very own neoliberal think-tank and one with a special talent for exploiting the poor for ideological purposes - see item 2.

1.GM crops and DDT – connect the dots……..
By Glenn Ashton

Jasson Urbach attempts, on behalf of the neo-liberal Free Market Foundation (FMF), to make a case that genetically modified (GM) crops are necessary to improve the food security of Africa (African farmers have most to gain from GM crops, Cape Times, August 10, 2006).

This is not the first time Urbach has attempted to hoodwink the public with pseudo-science. He recently (Cape Times, July 10) penned a paean of support for DDT as a mechanism to reduce the incidence of Malaria in Africa. In that article he directly compared the toxicity of DDT to coffee, beer and peanut butter and went so far as to claim that there was no substantial evidence to show DTT was dangerous to humans.

Besides the tacit admission that DDT thus does affect other living organisms besides humans, Urbach’s claim of lack of evidence of danger to humans is incorrect. A study by the University of Berkley showed the ability of DDT to slow childhood development. Another study by the National Institute of Environmental Health Services showed a strong relationship between prematurely delivered and low birth weight babies and mothers' blood levels of DDE, the metabolic breakdown product of DDT. It is not by chance that international health interests have called for its total withdrawal.

In his new crusade for the adoption of GM crops for Africa, Urbach is just as determined not to allow a few facts stand in his way. He blithely ignores that since GM cotton was adopted in South Africa we have lost over 56, 000 jobs in what is a small local agricultural sector. Job losses in the rest of our commercial agricultural market have been equally precipitous.

GM crops have been developed in order to increase the efficiency of mechanised and chemical dependent agriculture, not to benefit African people. While South Africa has grown GM crops since 1997, we have seen no concurrent increase in food security in relationship to their adoption.

Urbachs claims that GM crops yield higher and reduce chemical use are equally flawed. The worlds most widely grown GM crop, Monsanto’s herbicide (weed killer) resistant soy, has a demonstrably lower yield than most conventional varieties and since its introduction into Argentina, the use of this herbicide has increased from 13.6 million litres in 1998 to over 150 million litres in 1995.

The free market foundation, by these and other claims, simply demonstrates its credentials as a comprador for unfettered corporate intervention. It is notable that both DDT and GM crops are pushed by chemical corporations such as Monsanto, which controls the licence on the vast majority of GM seed sales in South Africa.

The FMF epitomises what President Mbeki recently referred to as ‘market fundamentalism’ in his notable Nelson Mandela lecture, which he hinted at replacing with a more developmental model.

This is precisely what opponents of GM claim – that GM agricultural crops were developed for intensive, industrial agricultural models. They are absolutely the wrong solution for Africa, which needs more people-centred, developmental state intervention for and on behalf of local farmers.

Resistance to GM crops in the Southern African region exist not simply because of their health and environmental dangers, but equally because they are devised in order to consolidate control of the agricultural supply chain. State support for GM technology should be replaced by direct support for our farmers in adoption of non-dependent, relevant technology.

GM crops are not, as asserted, rejected for frivolous reasons. After all what could be more frivolous than Urbachs claim that biosafety – necessary for the containment and management of potential hazards of GM crops – is not meant to avoid risks? I suppose we simply wish to manage these unique, man-made organisms to produce more food then? Full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes?

What about African heirloom maize varieties, bred for their local vigour and pest resistance, which stand to be lost to contamination by patented genetic traits, aggressively punted by both northern corporate and state interests? What about the supposed genetic 'improvement' of sorghum, a crop endemic to Africa, facilitated by precisely the same interest groups, echoing the same snake oil sales talk as Urbach?

The solution to African problems is not necessarily dependent upon the wholesale adoption of western models of development. Contrarily, it can be shown that these have all too often failed to achieve their aims – look no further than the Green Revolution that failed spectacularly in Africa.

The new green revolution – the supposed genetic revolution in farming – will fail just as certainly, for its is based on the same flawed premises and assumptions. But it will fail at far greater cost to our people than ever before, at a time when our people need a variety of wholesome foods, not a glut of intensively farmed monoculture crops, devised for commodity and export markets.

Africa can feed itself. Countless remarkable examples have been demonstrated to increase food crop yields by up to 300%, simply by using relevant and applicable technological interventions to suit local needs. Instead of being adopted they are sidelined by this obsessive focus on GM crops by vested interests.

Africa can provide for itself, but not by being taught to fish by self-interested corporate 'welfare'. It can, and must provide for itself using modern tools. These may include biotechnology, which Urbach yet again dishonestly equates to GM, when GM is really a specific sub-set of the technology, founded on outdated science, that again, just happens to be controlled by corporate interests.

The FMF is a wolf in sheep's clothing if ever there was. GM crops shift focus from real solutions to our local hunger crisis. Such simplistic statements as "Subsistence and small-scale farmers in Africa have the most to gain from adopting these tech

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