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WORLDWIDE GM UPDATE
"Since genetic engineering manipulates the basis of life,
the risks involved are more frightening than any other developed
so far... We feel it is unjust of the richest of the world to expect
us to bear the risks of their experimentation." - Tewolde Egziabher,
Ethiopian Delegate (CBD).
In April UN delegates will be yapping about the state of the world's
biodiversity resources over two-headed salmon and champagne at the
sixth meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in
Holland. Set up during the UN Rio Earth Summit in 1992, the CBD
have only just agreed on the useless Biosafety Protocol and The
Law of the Seed. Neither will have the power to stop the legal or
illegal spread of GMOs, protect farmers rights or stop finite resources
being plundered for profit. This is because these UN organisations
didn't have the power or force of will to fight powerful biotech
corporations and the World Trade Organisation.
But the global commercialisation of genetically engineered crops
and the complete control of our food chain by large multinationals,
is still far from a foregone conclusion. In fields, boardrooms and
courtrooms around the world the GM giants aren't getting an easy
ride. Here's a short round up of just a few of the memorable events
that ruffled the feathers of the biotech giants in the last 12 months.
International Day Of Farmers' Struggle Against GMO
April 17th 2001 was declared 'International Day of Farmers Struggle
Against GMOs' by Via Campesina (www.vicampesina.org), an
international movement for small farmers, rural people, and indigenous
communities. This day marked the launch of their International Alliance
Against Agrochemical Transnatioanl Corporations, GMOs and Patents
on Life, and the start of protests against the Free Trade Area of
the Americas (FTAA) in Quebec City, Canada (see SchNEWS 302).
In February 2002 twelve nations including China, Brazil and India,
agreed to join the alliance against bio-piracy and vowed to press
for rules protecting their peoples' rights to genetic resources
found on their land. The declaration - also signed by representatives
of Indonesia, Costa Rica, Colombia, Ecuador, Kenya, Peru, Venezuela,
and South Africa - echoed complaints long voiced by Indians and
environmentalists: that wealthy nations are "prospecting"
for species in order to patent or sell them. There are absolutely
no concessions or benefits offered for the local people. Together
the 12 nations in the alliance contain 70 percent of the world's
FTAA - Green Light For GM
The International Day of Farmers Struggle Against GMOs coincided
with the Summit Of The Americas in Quebec where the finishing touches
were put to the FTAA - a free trade agreement which believe it or
not favours GM corporations and mass-scale agro-industry rather
than small farmers. In the weeks leading up to the creation of FTAA
the US government and its corporations attempted to reverse GM regulations
introduced in several Latin American nations.
* In MEXICO the Senate had unanimously agreed to introduce
labelling of GM foods but food corporations in the USA threatened
sanctions and legal action through the North American Free Trade
Area (NAFTA) unless they revoked the law.
* ARGENTINA, the country in South America most up-to-its-eyeballs
in GM, where 90% of soya crops are GM, was threatened with sanctions
by Monsanto unless it removed all its remaining regulations covering
* BRAZIL, where agricultural exports are booming because
consumers groups and foreign importers demanded a ban on GM crops,
Monsanto threatened legal action using WTO rules to force the nation
to open its doors to GM. In Florianopolis, 800 miles south of Brasilia,
2000 Brazilian women blockaded a supermarket that was selling GM
The FTAA is now the world's largest trade bloc and promises
to operate like the World Trade Organisation, with tough sanctions
for any nation whose environmental or health & safety regulations
threaten the profits of multinational corporations. Like the WTO,
the FTAA is almost completely controlled by the USA (where about
30 years worth of environmental regulations have just been scrapped)
and it is feared that the USA will try to use the FTAA to ban the
labelling of GM food throughout North and South America because
such labels are an 'obstacle to free trade'. The WTO has taken away
precautionary principles that GMOs have to be proven safe, leaving
pro-GM lobbyists suggesting consumers spend their own money on the
testing of GMOs.
French farmer Jose Bove appeared in Quebec City at the FTAA protest
meeting, despite 'wanted' posters of him being displayed at every
airport and customs post in the nation. There, on behalf of farmers'
unions around the world he urged Canadians to destroy genetically
modified 'seeds of death' and attack laboratories where GM crops
were being developed. He said "people here must also join the
resistance movement and not just make speeches. This means that
GM crops must be destroyed, this means that the laboratories that
continue to make these seeds of death must be attacked, this means
that Monsanto and Novartis facilities must be attacked, they must
not be given five minutes of peace. We have to fight against this
because if it goes ahead, it means farmers won't be able to decide
any more what they are going to grow. This is a fight which must
be fought every day and in doing so you should not be afraid to
break the law... all forms of combat are possible."
"What's frightening is how fast it has spread" said Yolanda
Lara, spokesperson for Oaxaca's non-governmental Rural Development
Agency about the spread of GM corn in Capulalpan, a village in the
hills of Mexico's Oaxaca State. Normally locals might be thankful
for this new source of corn, the staple food of villages in the
area. But they now know this corn is GM, which is surprising because
GM crops have been banned in Mexico since 1998. Berkeley scientists
have confirmed that this new corn is the spawn of Monsanto: it has
the same DNA as the biotech giant's commercial GM maize. David Quist,
responsible for the study suggests that "It's more likely that
the contamination came from food aid brought into these regions.
A lot of it comes from the United States and a lot of it is transgenic."
So under the guise of offering support to poverty stricken villagers
in remote parts of Mexico, the US has managed to off-load tonnes
of subsidised GM maize on unsuspecting shopkeepers and subsistence
farmers. Locals are worried that the GM corn, which they say has
been around in their shops for several years, will out-compete native
varieties. The Berkeley study confirms their fears, suggesting that
GM corn is likely to dominate local corn and may also threaten the
research of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre,
home to the largest variety of endangered maize in the world. Quist
believes a well-enforced ban on imported GM corn and a programme
to encourage traditional habits of swapping and testing wild seeds
is the way forward.
On the 29th August 2001, 800 people including many local farmers
stormed one of Monsanto's experimental fields in South Cotabato,
Mindanao. The operation took about ten minutes leaving police helpless.
"Faster! Faster!" were the shouts as the protesters
hurriedly uprooted the GM corn in the 1,700-sq/m experimental field
of Bt-corn ('Bt' - Bacillus thuringiensis - genetically modified
for pest resistance).
In October 2001, 300 people rallied in Isabela to protest against
Monsanto's continued field testing of the genetically modified Bt-corn
in the province. The protesters massed in front of the marketing
office of Monsanto in Cauayan City and staged a noise barrage. Also
that month, Swiss corporation Novartis AG confirmed allegations
from Greenpeace that some samples of baby food it sold in the Phillipines
did contain genetically modified soybean. Beau Baconguis of Greenpeace
Asia said, "We should not be forced to feed our children with
food the rest of the world is increasingly rejecting."
On 3rd January 2002 activists in the Philippines occupied unloading
equipment to prevent over 17,000 tonnes of genetically engineered
soya from entering the South East Asian food supply. In an early
morning raid four people chained themselves to the largest soya
factory in the Philippines where recent tests show widespread GM
contamination. Protesters on inflatables then attached a large banner
to the hull of the cargo ship, which was waiting to unload its contaminated
cargo from America. The banner read "USA - Stop Dumping
GMOs in Asia". A year ago President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's
government promised to give consumers GM food labelling. Unsurprisingly
nothing has happened yet.
India is the biggest cotton producer in the world so it was big
news when, in 1998, 500 farmers committed suicide in Andhra Pradesh,
a state in southern India, because of the failure of their cotton
crops. Dr. Pushpa Bhargava, an Indian biologist, told the Indian
Science Congress that the failure of the cotton seed in Andhra Pradesh
in 1997 and 1998 should be investigated since Monsanto could have
been using local seed companies to market bad seed in order to destroy
the supply system. "The destruction of the seed supply and
Monsanto's purchase of Indian seed companies would have ensured
that Indian farmers had no option but to buy Monsanto's Bt cotton
and in future Monsanto's terminator crops." The Indian farmers
ain't taking this lying down and in 1998 the Karnatka farmers union
occupied and burned down the three fields of GM cotton and 500 farmers
occupied Cargill, the biotech multinational offices, throwing loads
of their processing kit out of windows. They did loads of other
actions too as part of 'Operation Cremate Monsanto' and hundreds
of farmers and activists took part in the Intercontinental Caravan,
which toured through Europe.
Vision 20/20: Short sighted
Vision 20/20 is a scheme to give large chunks of semi-arid Andhra
Pradesh over to mass scale GM agro-industry. The area - with a population
of 75 million - will see a reduction in farming labour as the area
goes to mass scale farms, which could see 20 million rural people
kicked off land. Farmers are to be encouraged to plant GM crops,
including Bt cotton and vitamin A rice and a 600 sq km site in the
so-called 'Genome Valley' is being set aside where biotechnology
companies such as Monsanto will be invited to carry out trials.
The scheme is a hi-tech, export-orientated project funded by the
World Bank and British aid money, and is being carried out by the
International Food Policy Research Institute. Read their website
(www.ifpri.org) and find out
what their agenda is."The potential role of genetic engineering
to assure food security in developing countries while maintaining
acceptable biosafety is an important aspect of this work.".
In September 2001 they had an international conference in Bonn promoting
Vision 20/20 and the sponsors were - guess who - Aventis CropScience,
Cargill, Syngenta and Novartis (Wot no Monsanto? - ed).
The long sighted scheme shifts production in the semi-arid area
from traditional, sustainable staples such as millet and sorghum
onto the more lucrative crop of rice - which would require three
million more wells to be sunk in an area that suffers from crippling
droughts. This 'vision' also includes soy bean crops with Monsanto
poised to introduce a progression of GM strains.
On Monday 18th March Indian women farmers were in London
to challenge British Government aid to the Vision 20/20 programme.
This action opposed the Memorandum of Understanding signed by Chief
Minister of AP and Monsanto, which will give the company free rein
to plant GM crops throughout Andhra Pradesh. The findings of an
AP Citizen's Jury were presented in the House of Commons which unsurprisingly
describes another resource grab by TNCs, opened up by free trade
arrangements, a displacement of people, and a privatisation and
commandeering of traditional food crops (read the findings in full
To find out what you can do contact GAFF (Grassroots Action on
Food and Farming) 01865 793 910 email@example.com
Despite pressure from the Brazilian government and Monsanto, the
moratorium on commercial growing of GM crops still remains in place.
This is thanks to a strong independent judiciary that was set up
to prevent another dictatorship, and has resulted in the country
having some strong biodiversity laws.
At the beginning of the year two Canadian organic farmers from
Saskatchwan launched a class-action suit to get an injunction which
would stop Monsanto and Aventis from proceeding with tests of GM
wheat. They are also seeking losses from the company for the contamination
of their crops. The two farmers allege that contamination in the
region has become so widespread it is almost impossible for growers
to certify their products GM free. Thanks to genetic engineering,
rapeseed has now become a noxious weed in Canada. The local organic
farmers group said ".losing wheat to genetic contamination
would devastate organic farming.our very future is at stake."
In April 2001a judge ruled that a Canadian farmer, Percy Schmeiser,
violated Monsanto's patent by "unknowingly and unwillingly
growing genetically modified (GM) oil seed rape." He now faces
a bill for $105,000 and after 40 years of saving seeds and developing
his own strain has had to purchase new seed wasting a lifetime's
work. (see SchNEWS 300) Under Canadian patent law, as in the US
and many other industrialised countries, it is illegal for farmers
to re-use patented seed, or to grow Monsanto's GM seed without signing
a licensing agreement. If biotech bastards such as Monsanto get
their way, every nation in the world will be forced to adopt patent
laws that make seed saving illegal. Schmeiser is in the process
of an appeal of this decision - find out the latest on the case
On 29th August 2001, police in anti-riot gear prevented activists
from taking down three fields of experimental maize. After a series
of daylight actions, which were watched but not disrupted by small
numbers of cops, the Prime Minister publicly criticised the destruction
of GM tests and urged activists to stop. Undeterred some 100 radical
farmers from the union Confederation Paysanne and other groups arrived
at a test site in Sigalens and were met by between 100 and 150 officers
carrying riot shields and truncheons. The protesters placed their
tools on the ground in front of the police, but said they would
be back. "There is no question of having a confrontation.
If we can't act today, we'll come back another day", one
of the protest organisers said. A similar reception awaited the
100 or so activists who had planned to cut down two fields of maize
near the village of Saint-Martin-la-Riviere, in west central France.
In January a rally was held outside the Korean Food and Drug Association
(KFDA) to demand that visiting U.S. trade officials stop pressuring
South Korea into easing regulations on genetically modified organisms
(GMOs). While visiting the KFDA U.S., trade officials were said
to have requested that South Korean government ease labelling restrictions
on imported GMO products by raising the adventitious threshold level
to 5 percent from the current 3 percent. In the EU the GMO free
level is 1 percent.
On April 10, 2001 the Sri Lankan government bravely but in place
the world's toughest ban on the imports of all GE foods. Unfortunately
under pressure from the World Trade Organisation the ban had been
Farmers are rallying to oppose GM rice - their group UBINIG (Policy
Research for Development Alternatives) stating that "Bangladesh
farmers will resist it by any means, we want the farmers of Asia
to take a united position against genetically engineered rice".
Grassroots campaigns are fighting the misinformation which is helping
spread the myth across Asia about Golden Rice being a 'wonder crop'.
Monsanto the evil biotech giants were found guilty in February
this year of decades of pollution in the small town of Anniston,
Alabama. The verdict proved that the river in the town had been
being pumped with nasty chemicals PCB's, which have been linked
to cancer. The decision will now open the door for massive claims
for compensation against the company.
May 13-20th 2001 was National Biotechnology Week in the US, and
in California over fifty activists were tear-gassed by riot police
while planting their own beans and corn at Syngenta's HQ. Meanwhile
trials of GM strawberries, tomatoes and onions by DNA Plant Technology
Holdings were destroyed by Night-time Gardeners.
"The government has betrayed the majority of New Zealanders.
They sold out to the GE lobby. That leaves the public no option
but civil disobedience to protect our country from GE accidents
and contamination." - Logan Petley Green Gloves anti-GM campaign
In March 1999 twelve people broke into a laboratory in an early
morning raid and destroyed an experimental crop of rot-resistant
toad-silkworm-potatoes and ruined Lincoln's Crop and Food Research
Centre's NZ$200,000 project. This was the country's first major
act of environmental sabotage in years.
The stakes are high because around 42 percent of New Zealand's
exports involve food, and the pro-GM lobby have peddled a line about
getting "left behind" in the global marketplace. Last
year the Fonterra Co-operative Group - the dairy company which is
also the country's largest transnational - said it would move its
operations overseas if GM research didn't go ahead.
The pace of protest snowballed as the Government continued to ignore
anti-GM campaigns. Last April a Research Centre was firebombed by
a molotov cocktail. Just in case anyone misinterpreted the attack,
a shed was graffitied with "No GE. Stop the tests," by
a group called the Shadow Ministry for the Environment.
In October 2001 over a hundred Maori GMO protesters and their families
set out from the far north of the North Island for a month-long
march to parliament in Wellington. The day they arrived Labour Prime
Minister Helen Clark announced that there would be GM field trials,
and activists unveiled plans to stop it including 3000 who signed
up to undertake non-violent direct action against genetically engineered
crops. A month later forestry giant Carter Holt Harvey abandoned
a field test for genetically modified pine trees and sheep.
In the latest big action this January, over 1000 genetically engineered
potatoes were destroyed at the same Crop and Food Research complex
that was first targeted by activists.
For the full stories and to keep up-to-date with the latest GM
news around the world check out www.connectotel.com/gmfood
See also www.geneticsaction.org.uk