Blair government launches new scheme to promote GM in developing world (30/7/2006)

1.Genetically Modified Crop Impoverishes Developing Countries
2.Launch of new scheme to promote biotech in developing countries

COMMENT: Last week the UK's Department for International Development (DFID) announced a new scheme for promoting biotechnology in Third World agriculture.

DFID's new scheme is a joint one with the UK public funding body, The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). The BBSRC's chairman until January 2002 was Peter Doyle, a director of the GM giant Syngenta. This was not considered a conflict of interest. In fact, the BBSRC has many biotech industry figures, including Syngenta representatives, sitting on its boards.

Doyle's replacement as head of the BBSRC is Prof Julia Goodfellow, the wife of the head of discovery research at biotech/pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline. Needless to say, GSK also has representatives on BBSRC boards.

And if anyone thinks Tony Blair's in the US at the moment just to cosy up to George Bush over Lebanon, then an Associated Press article explains, "Promoting Britain's biotech industry tops British Prime Minister Tony Blair's agenda when he meets with California's government and industry leaders over the next few days."

So it's more than ironic that on the same day as DFID announced its joint scheme with the BBSRC for promoting biotech, the Secretary of State for International Development, Hilary Benn, issued a written statement on the disturbing "Humanitarian Situation in Gaza and Lebanon", ie the places where Blair has failed to either call for an immediate ceasefire or pressure Bush to do so.

There couldn't be a clearer illustration of how government policies can inflame rather than resolve the world's most pressing humanitarian problems.

In the case of GM crops, there is growing evidence of how they are not only failing and impoverishing farmers in the developing world - see item 1 below - but wasting precious resources.

As Dr Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egziabher, the head of Ethiopia's Environmental Protection Authority, has said, "The policy of drawing funds away from low-cost sustainable agriculture research, towards hi-tech, exclusive, expensive and unsafe technology is... ethically questionable. There is a strong moral argument that the funding of GM technology in agriculture is harming the long-term sustainability of agriculture in the developing world."


1.Genetically Modified Crop Impoverishes Developing Countries

The Soil Association has condemned new British Government plans to promote genetically modified crops in developing countries. This announcement comes at the same time as new research showing that the GM 'miracle crop', Bt cotton, has proved an economic and environmental failure in China. Peter Melchett, Soil Association policy director said:

"It is completely irresponsible of the Government to promote this unwanted technology to the developing world. GM cotton has been a complete failure in China - it has lowered the income of farmers and failed to reduced pesticide use. Consumers in Europe have overwhelmingly rejected GM food and now it appears that the GM industry, with the help of our Government, are using the developing world as a dumping ground for GMOs."

The first long-term study of the economic impact of Bt cotton - genetically modified to resist certain pests - exposes the claims of the GM industry that it can reduce pesticide use and increase farmers' profits. After seven years of growing GM cotton, farmers in China have had to use over 400% more pesticides to kill new 'secondary' pests, according to new independent research by Cornell University. The costs of increased pesticide use and expensive GM seeds have resulted in GM farmers receiving 8% less net income than conventional farmers.

In spite of these findings, the Government is determined to pour more money into promoting GM crops to developing countries. This scheme is part of a GBP100 million strategy from the Department for International Development (DFID), who are working with the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) to fund research which they claim will "make significant differences to the lives of poor people in Africa and Asia". The difference GM crops have made for China's 5 million GM cotton farmers is to reduce their income and create new pest infestations. If GM crops are adopted more widely in the developing world, it will have dire consequences for the 2.5 billion people who rely on agriculture for their income. 600 million people work on the land in India alone, as well as 400 million in Africa.

2.Launch of new scheme for research on Sustainable Agriculture for International Development
Press Release, 25 July 2006

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Department for International Development (DFID) have announced a new scheme to promote biotechnology and biological sciences research that addresses the challenges of agriculture in developing countries. The scheme will strengthen collaboration between BBSRC and DFID to support research that provides answers on how to increase agricultural productivity and food security so as to make significant differences to the lives of poor people in Africa and Asia.

This scheme is one of the new initiatives being implemented under DFID's GBP100 million Strategy for Research on Sustainable Agriculture, announced in March this year. When announcing the Strategy earlier this year, the Secretary of State for International Development, Hilary Benn said:


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