|Suffocating the truth over GM in Africa (8/12/2005)|
1.SUFFOCATING THE TRUTH
1.SUFFOCATING THE TRUTH
There's something about the GM food aid issue that seems to bring out the very worst in biotech proponents. Zambia, in particular, has shown that for the GM lobby there are no limits, even when it involves rewriting history. And with Zambia facing maize shortages once again at the moment, there is a new flurry of unpleasant propaganda of the sort I chronicled in my article 'Fake Blood on the Maize'.
Its author, Greg Bodulovic, concludes that it has. He argues that the rejection of GM crops by countries like Zambia stemmed essentially from, on the one hand, disinformation put into circulation by European NGOs and, on the other, from concerns about loss of access to European markets. Bodulovic also blames disinformation for the fact that European markets became closed to GM foods in the first place.
When it comes to considering why the Zambians rejected GM food aid, this cavalier approach to the facts seems less incidental than wilful. While Bodulovic acknowledges that the decision not to accept GM food aid was made only after a delegation of Zambian scientists had obtained information and advice from various experts in Europe and the United States, he only lists 'Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth and several other groups fundamantally opposed to agricultural biology (Wilson 2002)'. Bodulovic then focuses on the advice of a little known group - Farming and Livestock UK - 'which is reported to have told the delegation that the virus used in the creation of most GM crop varieties could cause a retrovirus which in turn could cause symptoms similar to HIV (Wilson 2002)'. Bodulovic concludes, 'Given unsubstantiated and clearly misleading information such as this about health effects, it is unsurprising that the delegation's report took a negative view of agricultural biotechnology'.
Bodulovic's source (Wilson 2002) is this time a piece in the Daily Telegraph, a right-wing British newspaper with a strongly pro-GM editorial outlook that is clearly reflected in the article. Interestingly, even this press piece turns out to be less cavalier with the facts than Bodulovic. The article mentions, for instance, that the Zambian delegation took advice from Prof David KIng, the Chief Scientific Advisor to the British government, as well as from the government's pro-GM Department for International Development (DfID).
Bodulovic's attitude is something more than just patronising. The sub-text here is straightforwardly racist: it would be unsurprising if a delegation of African scientists were to be taken in by unsubstantiated and misleading information (particularly perhaps if given to them by Europeans).
This assumption of African ignorance and gullibility is actually spelt out later in the article:
'the reluctance to accept this technology [in southern Africa], even in the form of food aid, despite over a decade of safe consumption of the same varieties, can be attributed to two major factors, namely fear and lack of knowledge.'
The kind of concern Bodulovic assumes will have turned Dr Lewanika and his delegation against GMOs fails to tally with the terms in which Dr Lewanika has expressed Zambian concern over the GM food aid issue. He, and others, have pointed to the lack of national biosafety regulations and to Zambia's lack of adequate capacity to carry out reliable risk assessments, in the absence of evidence of safety to human health.
Are we really to believe, then, that this article, apparently connected to a doctoral thesis, and submitted to Functional Plant Biology in early March and only accepted five months later in August 2005, was really subjected to months of critical scrutiny by a whole series of fellow academics? And, is it reasonable to also assume, that none of them spotted any of Bodulovic's factual inaccuracies or his cherry-picking of questionable source material, let alone that his sources might not actually support claims made in the article?
While the disinformation at the heart of Bodulovic's thesis on Zambian and European decision-making turns out to be his own, the uncritical platform given to it by a 'highly cited international journal' of biology is truly depressing.
2.Is the European attitude to GM products suffocating African development?
Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Integrative Legume Research, Genomic Interactions Group, Research School of Biological Sciences, Australian National University, PO Box 475, Canberra, ACT 2601, Australia. [email protected]
Abstract: Currently, parts of Southern Africa are experiencing the third major drought in five years. The previous two droughts greatly affected food production, resulting in food shortages, which necessitated the provision of food aid to the region by developed nations. However, some of the food aid included genetically modified (GM) crops, the supply of which triggered hostile reactions by southern African governments, and in one case resulted in food aid being withheld from people on the verge of starvation.
This article will examine the background and reasons behind the condemnation of GM crops by southern African nations, and will consider whether the lack of support of agricultural biotechnology by European nations has contributed to this situation. Furthermore, the necessity of agricultural biotechnology in future African development will be considered.
Functional Plant Biology 32(12) 1069-1075