|For I Was Hungry and You Deceived Me (7/6/2006)|
1.For I Was Hungry and You Deceived Me - GM Watch
Ag-biotech and Hunger - Piero Morandini
1.For I Was Hungry and You Deceived Me: Ag-biotech's bag of lies
Piero Morandini is a biotechnologist and Roman Catholic who has repeatedly used his religion as a springboard for lobbying for GM crops.
Typical of his antics is his involvement in CS Prakash's AgBioWorld attacks on the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection and the Jesuit-run Kasisi Agricultural Training Centre in Zambia. Morandini co-authored a report - with amongst others Greg Conko of the Monsanto-backed lobby group, the Competitive Enterprise Institute - that accused the Jesuits of 'Tricks not Truths' and 'Junk Science'. http://www.agbioworld.org/pdf/To_Die_or_not_to_Die.pdf
But as the article below shows, it is actually Morandini who engages in tricks not truths, implying GM can magic away the problems facing poor farmers.
"A striking bonus about ag-biotech is that the technology is built 'in the seed.' To reap the benefits of the technology, one needs nothing more, in most cases, than the engineered seed. Obviously, fertilizers or hybrid seeds can further improve yields, but such things are not essential for the technology to work (with the exception of herbicide tolerant crops, where an additional input, the herbicide, is needed)."
Note carefully the exception bracketed away at the end of that paragraph almost as it it were an afterthought. 80 per cent of the GM crops planted globally possess some form of herbicide tolerance. That makes for one hell of an exception!
In fact, all the GM crops that are actually on the market almost invariably *require* additional - and often expensive - inputs. Take Bt cotton, for instance. It resists certain pests but not others which require spraying. Poor cotton farmers who've been taken in by the lie that Morandini promotes - "the technology's in the seed" - can end up losing their crops to secondary pests despite having paid vastly more for expensive GM seeds. The result can mean ruin. Indeed, some of these secondary pests may even be exacerbated by Bt crops and the way they alter insect communities.
Bt crops also require special management practices - some of which are particularly challenging for poor farmers. Take the need to plant refuges to slow down pest resistance with Bt crops. How practical is that for farmers with very small plots of land?
Ag-biotech's bag of lies
But none of this complexity exists in the fairytale world conjured up in Morandini's article. He even assures his readers that, "Ag-biotech will allow greater food availability where it is most needed with limited or no additional input than a bag of seeds."
Ironically, the photos accompanying Morandini's article come from the World Council of Churches. Earlier this year the WCC - an international fellowship of Christian churches from more than 120 countries and from virtually all Christian traditions - came out strongly against GM.
In their statement the WCC challenged Christians involved in "promoting genetic engineering to reflect upon the implications of their work in the light of the Gospel's concern for truth and justice."
2.For I Was Hungry and You Fed Me: Ag-biotech and Hunger
To well-fed (sometimes overfed) people in Western countries, it is certainly odd to think of food as a life-saving medicine. But for those suffering from chronic hunger and malnutrition, the idea is a reality. It is repeated over and over again that the amount of food produced in the world is enough to feed all the hungry people in the world ; hence, the solution to hunger is not to increase production but to improve distribution of what is already being produced. As sensible this statement might seem, it is of no help to the hungry.
Large amounts of food are indeed produced in the West, but this is mainly used to feed animals that eventually become food themselves. Granted, the conversion is quite inefficient, requiring ten kilos of feed (mostly maize and soy) to produce one kilo of meat. In principle, it might make sense to stop feeding the animals and use the maize and soy to feed the hungry. But for such a thing to happen, it would first be necessary to convince all meat-eaters to reduce their food consumption. Secondly, all the maize and soy producers would have to donate their product - since they are not making a profitand ship it where it is needed. And thirdly, the handlers would have to effectively deliver the food to the needy - usually a daunting task - and to do so without destroying the local agriculture and trade market. In essence, those who advocate redistribution rather than better production methods are not interested in feeding the hungry in a sustainable fashion; they are actually interested in institutionalizing perpetual alms for the hungry.
For those with the gift of plenty, there are, of course, situations where alms are not only good but morally imperative. Alms, however, cannot be the rule. Rather, it is important that every country tries to produce enough food or other goods to trade for food. We do no one a favor if we make them dependent on us for their survival.
So to suggest that the redistribution of existent food is the solution to the tragedy of hunger is to shift the demand of a solution to others, thereby implying someone else is at fault for 850 million hungry people. But unfortunately these "others" are not going to change their habits to satisfy the needs of the poor. Western consumers are probably not going to eat less meat, nor are farmers going to donate their harvest, nor are traders going to pay for the shipping, nor are handlers going to redistribute it carefully enough. If all these prerequisites could be achieved simultaneously, the strategy could be effective - the hungry could be fed. I could even commend it and start, as a consumer, to pursue it. But nevertheless, I am quite skeptical about the chances of success. Many li