Indonesian govt pressured to promote GM crops (20/7/2007)

GM WATCH comment: This is such a joke. The fact that the claims by the pro-GM lobby, who are busy trying to pressure the Indonesian government to open up to GM crops, bear absolutely no relation to reality is actually borne out by Indonesia's own experience.

Six years ago Indonesia became the very first Asian country to give commercial approval to a GM crop - Monsanto's GM cotton. By December 2003, however, the Indonesian Minister of Agriculture had announced that Monsanto had pulled its GM cotton out of the country.

The introduction of Bt cotton had been a disaster. In the first year of planting, the Bt cotton succumbed to drought and hundreds of hectares were attacked by pests. The drought had triggered a pest population explosion on Bt cotton, but not on other cotton varieties. As a result, instead of reducing pesticide use, farmers had to use larger amounts of pesticides to control the pests.

On top of that, it did not produce the yields Monsanto had boasted about. The poor yields trapped Indonesian farmers in a debt cycle; some 70% of the 4,438 farmers growing Bt cotton were unable to repay their credit.

One of the Indonesian farmers who grew Monsanto's GM cotton commented, "The company didn't give the farmer any choice, they never intended to improve our well being, they just put us in a debt circle, took away our independence and made us their slave forever."

But Monsanto didn't just leave behind a legacy of broken promises, there was also illegality - bribery on a massive scale involving "at least 140" officials.

Now Indonesia is being asked to let go of the reality and buy into hype from the usual suspects - the likes of Graham Brookes of PG Economics, a pro-GM outfit that specialises in producing feel good reports commissioned by the biotech industry that skew facts to support dubious conclusions.


Govt urged to get serious about promoting biotechnology
The Jakarta Post, 19 July 2007

Experts have called on the government to urgently start promoting biotechnology in order to ensure food security and improve the living standards of farmers.

Speaking Tuesday during a seminar organized by the Indonesian Biotechnology Information Center (IndoBic), economist Bustanul Arifin said that biotechnology had the potential to greatly increase the production of important food crops, such as rice, corn, soybean and sugar.

According to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, biotechnology, which involves the modification of an organism's genes so as to produce bigger and higher quality crops, could increase plant yields by 61 percent, nutritional content by 50 percent and food quality by 29 percent, and decrease the use of pesticides by 53 percent.

Speaking during the same seminar, Graham Brookes, a director of the U.K.-based biotechnology consultancy firm, PG Economics Limited, said that the use of genetically modified (GM) seeds could increase farmers' incomes by between 6 and 15 percent.

"Although transgenic seeds cost more -- they are around 15 to 20 percent more expensive than natural seeds -- farmers will be able to earn more as they will benefit from lower pesticide use," he said.

Brookes said the United States had reaped an economic windfall of some US$12.9 billion between 1996 and 2005 as a result of the use of the biotechnology.

The Agriculture Ministry has been setting aside about Rp 100 billion ($11.1 million) a year to fund biotechnology research.

Although such research has been going on for almost a decade, Indonesia has yet to grow any GM crops as the regulations that were issued on the subject have not been followed up by concrete initiatives.

"What I have noticed is that the government appears to be on and off about biotechnology," said Bustanul, referring to a lack of research focus.

In 2005, the government issued Regulation No. 21 on the biological safety of GM products, and their economic, social and environmental impacts.

However, the regulation cannot be put into effect as the envisaged biological safety commission to oversee the its application has yet to be established, said Eri Sofiari, an expert advisor on biotechnology to the Agriculture Ministry.

"We hope that Indonesia will be able to produce its first GM crops within the next three years," he said.

He also stressed the need for Indonesia to be able to produce GM seeds in the future, instead of importing them from major producers such as the United States.

"What we expect from this project is that Indonesia will become a producer not only of GM food, but also GM food [?]," said Eri.

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