The Independent on Sunday, one of Britain’s leading newspapers, published the following report about a secret meeting in which each of the Prime Ministers of the EU’s 27 countries were asked to nominate a representative to attend a secret meeting designed to develop strategies to force GMOs on a vigorously resistant public.
In the EU, all GMO foods and ingredients must be clearly labeled although animals fed GMO feeds are not labeled despite the fact that their meat and other products contain GMO materials.
Predictably, there is a growing push back movement in the EU against this food tyranny. There needs to be more or same here since, according to a New York Times article, 87% of the American people want clear identification of any GMO products or ingredients in the “foods” they are eating.
More than 80% of all foods consumed in the US contain unlabeled and unidentified GMOs.
Gordon Brown and other EU leaders in campaign to promote modified foods
By Geoffrey Lean
Sunday, 26 October 2008
GM corn growing in France, which has since suspended cultivation of modified crops
Gordon Brown and other European leaders are secretly preparing an unprecedented campaign to spread GM crops and foods in Britain and throughout the continent, confidential documents obtained by The Independent on Sunday reveal.
The documents â€“ minutes of a series of private meetings of representatives of 27 governments â€“ disclose plans to “speed up” the introduction of the modified crops and foods and to “deal with” public resistance to them.
And they show that the leaders want “agricultural representatives” and “industry” â€“ presumably including giant biotech firms such as Monsanto â€“ to be more vocal to counteract the “vested interests” of environmentalists.
News of the secret plans is bound to create a storm of protest at a time when popular concern about GM technology is increasing, even in countries that have so far accepted it.
Public opposition has prevented any modified crops from being grown in Britain. France, one of only three countries in Europe to have grown them in any amounts, has suspended their cultivation, and resistance to them is rising rapidly in the other two, Spain and Portugal.
The embattled biotech industry has been conducting a public relations campaign based round the highly contested assertion that genetic modification is needed to feed the world. It has had some success in the Government, where ministers have been increasingly speaking out in favour of the technology, and in the European Commission, with which its lobbyists have boasted of having “excellent working relations”.
The secret meetings were convened by Jose Manuel Barroso, the pro-GM President of the Commission, and chaired by his head of cabinet, Joao Vale de Almeida. The prime ministers of each of the EU’s 27 member states were asked to nominate a special representative.
Neither the membership of the group, nor its objectives, nor the outcomes of its meetings have been made public. But The IoS has obtained confidential documents, including an attendance list and the conclusions of the two meetings held so far â€“ on 17 July and just two weeks ago on 10 October â€“ written by the chairman.
The list shows that President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany sent close aides. Britain was represented by Sonia Phippard, director for food and farming at the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
The conclusions reveal the discussions were mainly preoccupied with how to speed up the introduction of GM crops and food and how to persuade the public to accept them.
The modified products have to be approved by the EU before they can be sown or sold anywhere in Europe. But though the Commission officials are generally strongly in favour, European governments are split, causing the Council of Ministers, on which they are represented, to be deadlocked.
In that event the bureaucrats on the Commission wave them through anyway. They are legally allowed to do this, but overruled governments and environmental groups are unhappy.
The conclusions of the first meeting called for the “speeding up of the authorisation process based on robust assessments so as to reassure the public”, while the second one added: “Decisions could be made faster without compromising safety.”
But the documents also make clear that Mr Barroso is going beyond mere exhortation by trying to get prime ministers to overrule their own agriculture and environment ministers in favour of GM. They report that the chairman “recalled the importance for prime ministers to look at the wider picture”, “invited the participants to report the discussions of the group to their heads of governments”, and “stressed the importance of drawing their attention to ongoing discussions in the Council [of Ministers]”.
Helen Holder of Friends of the Earth Europe said: “Barroso’s aim is to get GM into Europe as quickly as possible. So he is going straight to prime ministers and presidents to tell them to step on their ministers and get them into line.”
The conclusions of the meetings on public opposition are even more incendiary. The documents ponder “how best to deal with public opinion” and call for “an emotion-free, fact-based dialogue on the high standards of the EU GM policy”. And they record the chairman emphasising “the role of industry, economic partners and science to actively contribute to such a dialogue”. He adds that “the public feels ill-informed” and says “agricultural representatives should be more vocal”. And in a veiled swipe at environmental groups he says that the debate “should not be left to certain stakeholders who have a legitimate but vested interest in it”.
Day 3, April 19, 2008
We landed today in Cotonou, the capital of Benin and the shoving began: African airports are like airports everywhere, but worse. Everyone apparently needs to be first, whether there is any point to being first or not.
I donâ€™t need to be first and neither do General Stubblebine or Tyson, so we were pretty close to last â€“ last off the airplane, last through customs, last to get a baggage cart, last to get our luggage.
Tyson, however, was nearly the first of our party to get vaccinated! I am strongly averse to vaccination and, to my mind, the more you study any one particular vaccine, the more you NEVER want to take that preparation. That is certainly the case with Yellow Fever Vaccine. Although many countries in Africa require proof of vaccination against this devastating disease (unnecessary, really, for people who have access to good health, Vitamin C and silver solutions) for entry. Bert, Tyson and I were able to produce exemption letters for our visas and secured our visas for Benin without any difficulty.
I had forgotten that, once you clear passport control and get your entry stamp in Benin, there are two guys in (what once were) white coats asking to see your Yellow Fever Vaccination card with a valid stamp on it. We speak English. They speak French. The possibility of communication was nill to none. Gen. Stubblebine and I tried the words for â€œExemption letterâ€ in as many ways as we could think of. We failed miserably. Finally, ready to go home, I suppose, since we were close to the last people on the plane, the two vaccine police men gave up in exasperation and waved their hands, shouting, â€œGo! Go!â€ and waving us through the door.
Tyson, however, was separated from us and was not so lucky. Before he knew what had happened, he was sitting in the Health Officer’s Office being asked in French for something (he does not speak French). He, too, kept saying that he had an exemption letter (from me, in fact!) but there seemed to be no uptake on that. He looked up from getting out the letter from his papers and saw that the Health Officer was bending over a refrigerator from which he took a vial and a syringe. “No! NO!” Tyson said and waved his letter of exemption around (probably a little wildly – I know that is the way I would have waved mine!). The man got out a yellow International Vaccination Card, stamped it and said, in perfect English, “Give me 10 Euros [ Approximately $16 US].
Tyson gave him the Euros and the man waved him out of the office WITH a vaccination card but WITHOUT the vaccination!
Once we got through the pushing and shoving at the luggage conveyor, we exited past a Beninese guard who checked every single one of our luggage tags to make sure they matched the numbers on our luggage. With all the people ahead of us, can you imagine how long that took?
Finally we exited the baggage area only to realize that the customs people were opening every suit case of every traveler. I stopped dead and looked around in utter dismay: It was already 9:45 PM and we were clearly going to be here for hours. For some reason (I have no idea what it might have been), the customs official nearest to me looked up, saw me and said, again, “Go! Go!” and we made our way out into the crowd waiting to greet their friends and relatives, associates and colleagues. There was a gentleman in a brilliant and distinctive African suit waving a very welcome “Songhai” sign. We clustered around him and he led us to the van he had brought to pick us up from Songhai.
Because our plane had not come in the night before, his two hour round trip to the airport (and the fuel which is so important in this very poor country) was wasted. He was, however, gracious and helpful nonetheless.
When we got to Songhai Center about an hour later, we were greeted in this oasis of plenty and prosperity in the middle of want and hardship by Father Godfrey Nzamjou, the man whose inspiration lives and breaths in Songhai. Although the restaurant closes at 10, he and his staff had kept it open for us (how different from Paris!) and we had an hour or so to converse and orient ourselves.
We were led to a modern building with suites and bedroom, each with a shower and private bath.
The next day, we toured the compound in the morning and saw the ingenuity, love and tenderness, yes, tenderness with which this land has been turned from a desert into a Garden, perhaps a Garden of Eden. Today, in a world where food riots are becoming more commonplace daily, the fertility which has been coaxed from the land is an urgent lesson for possibilities and a call to action. The Panama Santa Clara Project will follow the Songhai model for farming without waste or pollution. Imagine what we can do with land that is so abundantly fertile!
The heat was truly ferocious and about 11:00AM we retired indoors because anywhere outside was impossibly hot. We had more excellent food, all grown here, and waited for Fr. Godfrey to come back to us for more discussion.
Around 4 PM he arrived and said, “OK. Now you know what we have at Songhai. What are you looking for?” We spoke at depth and at length and videotaped the discussion. I think it is important that you see that and will mount it as soon as we have enough bandwidth to make that possible. It was a wonderful conversation in which we expounded on our dream and Fr. Godfrey said that this was what he had been waiting for.
We agreed that we must support each other’s work and he reaffirmed that he will, without a doubt, come to Panama to set up the design for the zero emissions farm complete with bio-digester and bio-gas for fuel independence as well as power independence. Fr. Godfrey is the proud “papa” of the largest bio-gas facility in Africa. Cheap, easy and clean, bio-gas can heat our water, run our generators, pump our liquids, grind our grains, etc. And we will learn from a master!
But Songhai is much more than just a fuel independent system. Please take a moment when the tape is mounted to watch it and capture the shared dream of this world leader whose Center is a recognized United National Center Excellence in Africa.
After more chat and dinner (outstanding, of course), Tyson, General Bert and I set to working through the immense number of details for our community in Panama, the Santa Clara ARC, with the clear understanding that what we are doing now is highly preliminary since the community will ultimately make these decisions for itself.
That took us late into the night and we fell asleep quite exhausted. Oh, by the way, there was still no internet connection.
Day 4, April 20, 2008
Today was our “BIG DAY” at Songhai Center. Father Godfrey is immensely busy and he agreed to give us most of a full day to discuss our plans and possible working together in considerable detail – that is a large part of why we came.
We began with breakfast at 8 AM in the restaurant which serves about 200 meals per day to visitors. All food served here is grown here or on other Songhai Centers so everything is not only fresh, but free of pesticides and all other types of synthetic, chemical additives. It is wonderful knowing that every bite was grown by the labor of people who love the land and understand how to nurture it so it can nurture them. We are very eager to replicate that loving relationship between our food and our selves as we come to create the farm and farm school which will be a core activity of the Santa Clara ARC.
We took a tour of the facility including the foundry, the kiln, the fields, the food processing areas, the store, the animal sheds, the fish pond, the composing area, the bio gas facility, etc., etc. All of this amazing integrated farming has been created here in the total absence of fertile soil. Fr. Godfrey told us that he had worked 15 years of the 20 that he has been here to create this astonishing fertility. We start in Panama with astonishingly fertile land!
Songhai’s rich productivity daily feeds 1500 people (300 workers and their families, which average 5 people), about 100 students who are in training, typically for 18 months, and the 200 guests who come to the African and Western restaurants. I think it is an easy leap to conclude that our fertile farm will be producing much more than we members of the community, guests and health center clients can consume so it is reasonable to expect that one center of profit for the Santa Clara ARC will be the distribution and sale of outstanding food!
Because of the intense heat, everything stops for several hours during the middle of the day. Everything, that is, except lunch. We wove our way from shade spot to shade spot to the restaurant for lunch and much talk about what we have seen. Tyson is a black smith/iron worker so he was particularly fascinated by learning what he needs to know to make the bio gas apparatus and by the machines which Songhai designs and makes on site.
Later, Fr. Godfrey came to where we are staying, where there is, mercifully, air conditioning and we started to talk together. I asked him how many other groups like ours had come to set up sister facilities as we are doing.
Tyson had the foresight to set up a video camera to film this discussion and it was a great decision. The video is not compatible with my computer so we have to download it to a disc and upload it that way. Clearly we do not have the opportunity here in Songhai, but we will do so shortly.
The upshot of the discussion was that we are what Fr. Godfrey has been waiting for as a partner community! We will bring our experience in order to work toward sister health centers in Parakou, Benin and Santa Clara, Panama. He will use his experience to make Santa Clara a full zero emissions facility farming center and school.
Meanwhile, we had missed our appointment with Col. Mikode, the Codex Contact Point for Benin because we arrived more than a full day late. This delay winds up having significant impact on Codex. Read on.
Dinner, then more intense discussion and off to bed.
Day 5, April 21, 2008
Today we started the day with meeting for about an hour during breakfast with Fr. Godfrey. By the way, Songhai makes its own delicious yogurt. After about an hour, he had other things to do before heading off to Nigeria to meet with government officials there to replicate the Songhai model there. There are also two people from separate projects doing similar things in Nigeria. One is, like Gen. Stubblebine, a General.
Sometime later, Col. Mikode and Pascal, the head of the Benin Horticultural Research Station came to see us. They had good news and bad news for us.
The good news was that they had prepared a budget and program for the agricultural project using magnets to treat the water used to grow plants. Preliminary results suggest significant increases in crop yield, nutrient density, plant vigor and significant decreases in water utilization. Given the rapidly worsening shortage of food in the word due to climate change and diversion of food crop acreage to biofuels (which cost at least 29% more energy than they produce so the bargain is a very, very bad one for the planet, its carbon balance and its people) the ability to increase yield and nutritional value, while eliminating all requirements for pesticides and other chemicals, is a very important asset. Equally important, perhaps, is the reduction in water usage to get stronger and more vigorous plants.
I had been perplexed by the fact that nothing was happening with the agricultural magnet project – nothing. I had designed a simple (and, I hope, elegant) design which would test the hypotheses of increased crop yield, increased nutrient density, increased plant vigor and decreased water usage but they require actually being carried out to show anything. I could not understand it when I got an email saying that the project was postponed until they got the money to carry it out.
When Pascal presented me with the document outlining the costs, I nearly fell off my chair. Instead of 6 test beds, there were 33. Instead of raised beds edged with scrap lumber of corrugated tin or sand bags, they were asking for 4.2 metric tons of concrete, thousands of bricks, etc.
It was clear that we needed to talk!
The next interesting meeting was a telephonic one with Dr. Koura, who was supposed to serve as the Beninese delegate to the Codex Committee On Food Labeling next week in Ottawa. She had informed the Codex Contact Point, Col. Mikode, that she would not be funded by the WHO Trust Fund at 11 PM on Saturday evening but that email was not read until 9 AM Monday morning (yesterday). That means that Benin will not have a voice at this important Codex meeting where the initiative begun by the African nations at the meeting in Ghana in February this year to demand labeling of Genetically Modified Organisms was pushed forward so impressively.
I asked our Natural Solutions Foundation Trustees if we should not host (i.e., pay for) the Beninese delegate to make sure that there was a strong voice from this country at the Codex meeting. We quickly agreed and the next thing we needed to do was convince Dr. Kora and the Beninese government that this was a good idea.
Col. Mikode had no problem with it and said that if Dr. Koura was willing, so was he.
Day 6, April 22, 2008
Early this morning Tyson, General Stubblebine and I set off with a translator to visit Pascal at the Horticultural Research Station to find out what had gone wrong with the Agricultural Magnet project and retrieve 20 pairs for use here at Songhai.
Because we had a translator with us this time, as opposed to the last time we talked with Pascal, we discovered what the problem was: Language difficulties led to Pascal believeing that since we had identified 11 potential crops for the experiment, he would need to conduct the experiment with 3 beds of each crop. The undertaking would be huge and he wanted to build structures to make it possible. I explained that we wanted to choose 2 crops from the 11 and Pascal heaved a huge sigh of relief. We walked out to the fields to see where the projects would take place and Pascal has already applied the magnets to a buried rigid water pipe in preparation for our visit. Once we got the miscommunication out of the way, it became clear that a real project using amaranth and tomatoes would be carried out and carried out well.
We are eager to get those results and the results from the Songhai application. It is our hope that the results are robust enough that we can begin to change agricultural practices in many places in the world. It is essential, the Natural Solutions Foundation believes, to reclaim food production, eliminating pesticides and other dangerous chemicals, and making ti clear that the best crop yield is produced by natural means, not by GM crops. Dr. Koura, on the other hand, when we finally did get together this afternoon, was not so sure it was a good idea. She had “turned off” the process by telling her bosses that she was not, after all, going and was adamantly reluctant to tell them that she could now go under our sponsorship.
We tried every which-a-way to Sunday to persuade her, but she was not movable. We got ready to write to the US and UN Ambassadors from Benin to see if they could provide a person to attend the meetings (it is much easier to get a Canadian visa from the US) when we got a piece of very bad news, indeed.
This information makes us think that we are seeing a pattern: The Ugandan Codex delegate had taken the ball into his own hands and arranged an African strategy session on GM labeling the day before the CCFL meeting was to begin. He is a credentialed delegate from a member nation. Canada denied him a visa twice.
The strategy of the power brokers is clear: fix it so the opposition cannot show up and then claim that the process is legitimate. That is pretty much the same as arresting the opposition and claiming that your election was democratic (or counting the votes on a programmable electronic voting machine with a predetermined outcome, for that matter!)The Codex process is far from legitimate. Our Trustees have just spent an extended period on the phone working out our next strategic moves to deal with this new tactic.
What Do the FrankenFood/FrankenCrop/FrankenAnimal Defenders Have to Say for Themselves?
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Reason Magazine may be a voice of libertarian politics and economics, but, at least on the issue of Genetically Modified Crops, it has made a serious mistake. Kerry Howley, a Senior Editor at Reason, http://www.reason.com/news/show/125722.html, has somehow forgotten a critical element when writing an ringing apologia full of industry propaganda for the apotheosis, the pinnacle in the triumph of free market over sense or, indeed, reason (and perhaps survival) itself. What he has forgotten is science. Fact, the handmaiden of science, lies trampled in the dust as well. And so does health, yours, mine and the planet’s.
In fact, although unbridled free market economics is the central chord of the libertarian song, the chorus is “As long as your freedom does not hurt me”. And therein lies the rub: Genetically Modified ANYTHING hurts me, and you, and every sufferer of Morgellon’s Disease and every biological function of the earth. But, at least until recently, it certainly has been good business!
But since when is damaging the biosphere not hurting me?
Since when is modifying bacteria which take up residence in our soil and in my gut with potentially lethal long and short term consequences, not harming me?
Since when is creating corn which ensures permanent male sterility and mixing it, unlabeled, into my food, not harming me?
Since when is altering crops to produce so much of a natural pesticide that farmers and their families die from the allergic reaction they experience to breathing the crop’s pollen not harming me?
Since when is introducing “food” into my body, without my consent, which increases allergic reactions, including deadly ones, by 50% not harming me?
Since when is modifying fish so that they are larger, more aggressive and breed earlier in their life cycle so that they will replace native, unmodified fish in the wild, leaving me no choice to eat non GM FrankenFish (because they have been made extinct) not harming me?
Since when is inserting unstable genes into my food which then, undigested by a gut not prepared by long acquaintance to digest them, wander around my body and insert themselves in unpredictable locations in my genes and those of a baby I am carrying if I am pregnant not harming me?
Since when is creating materials which infect and infest me with pseudo life forms bringing a new plague upon the earth, the horrifying and disfiguring Morgellon’s Disease, not harming me?
Since when is creating foods whose wandering genes turn on, or off, my own genes in a totally unpredictable way leading to disruption of the orderly process of genetic control in my body not harming me?
Since when is introducing genetic material which, in the random context of where it happens to land this time in this or that cell, produces proteins never before made inside of any living body (or, perhaps, outside of one, either) without my explicit permission not harming me?
Since when is lowering fetal survival rates though the food the pregnant woman eats during pregnancy, or ate during her own child hood, perhaps, not harming me?
Since when is introducing food into my children’s diet which, in laboratory studies, has been shown to cause damage to the gut, the kidneys, the immune system and the survivability of the young not harming me?
Since when is creating super weeds through genetic drift not harming me?
Since when is creating bugs which, in response to super pesticide production in genetically modified crops, have become resistant to pesticides and capable of new crop devastation without available control not harming me?
Since when is invading farms where non GM crops are growing and destroying their millennia-old genetic material (which I have the enzymatic capacity to digest) not harming me?
Since when is providing food which contains enzymes which confer tolerance for deadly pesticides to a genetically modified plant, but which, in my gut, may transform to produce the same deadly pesticide (a known cause of cancer, infertility and other highly dangerous conditions) they were altered to tolerate not harming me?
Who asked my permission to introduce these things into my body and my world. I would remind Mr. Howley that it is, indeed my world, as well as the world of his commerical free market buddies.
I do not recall signing an informed consent to be a trial subject for the greatest (and possibly most deadly) experiment in human history. Interestingly, I also do not recall signing a contract to allow the degradation and dangerous contamination of 75-80% of every bit of food that I eat with Genetically Modified ingredients. Do you recall signing those documents? So the libertarian chorus, “As long as it does not harm me” seems a little flat in this particular song. Dead flat.
When then-President George H. W. Bush declared that GMOs were equivalent to non GM food and determined public policy, do you recall any safety testing used to guide that decision? Neither do I. When the FDA permits GM foods on the market – that means in your body and mine – without ANY safety testing or a review of the internal safety assessment of the companies that have patented these foods, do they ask us to concur with their decision to allow GMOs in our food which are either under moratorium or banned in a large part of the world, developed or not? But here, in what is alleged to be the most developed nation in the world (with little to back that up in the health and food safety areas!), we are subjected to “foods” and crops and animals which are simultaneously declared to be exactly the same as unmodified foods yet sufficiently unique to patent. And those products of innovation and free market success are, according to the FDA’s website, to be judged in their safety and product liability through the sorting out process of the Court system.
Of course, without traceability there can be no liability. Without labeling there can be no traceability. Thanks for nothing.
So where is the free market, libertarian ethic here? What it comes down to in Mr. Howley’s underlying, structural view is that if you can get away with selling it, not only must that be a good thing to do (“free market”), but hey, “caveat emptor”, let the buyer beware – if they can get away with selling the stuff, they sell it, so it must be good. Of course, the ever-industry-friendly FDA and USDA tie the buyer’s hands and blindfold their eyes by making sure that the consumer has no knowledge whatsoever of what foods do and do not contain GM ingredients. They actually specifically prohibit such labeling because they know full well that consumers will shun the contaminated, altered and potentially very dangerous products which their industry friends have created if they know what they are eating or buying.
Full Free Market Speed ahead and Damn the Facts
GM food crops which have been modified for pesticide tolerance lead to more, not less, pesticide use. Since they are proffered by the maker of the very pesticide they tolerate so well, farmers are encouraged to use more and the free market gets another boost while the food supply, both the consumer’s and the farmer’s health and the environment all take substantial hits.
I attended a meeting in Africa at which Sylvia Matsebo, then Minister of Health of Zambia, was present and we had a chance to talk. I do not know when I have met a more clear sighted and dedicated woman in public life, unless it was the Minister of Health of Kenya, also present at that meeting. When President Levy Mwanawasa of Zambia rejected GM food for his people, as referenced by the article below, I cannot but believe that Ms. Matsebo was at the head of his advisers, telling him what was good for his people, not for his pockets. Would that our advisers and our leaders had the courage and wisdom on this issue of President Mwanawasa!
In 2004, author Robert Paarlberg noted, “Roughly 90 percent of the cotton and soybeans produced in the US are genetically modified. Fifty or 70 percent of the corn is genetically modified. If you look at the products on a retail store shelf, probably 70 percent of them contain some ingredients from genetically modified crops. Mostly corn or soybeans.” Today the situation is worse with more products and more percentages of crops grown in the US and elsewhere modified to the point that the supply of GM ingredients to manufacture organic foods is not in jeopardy. For Natural Solutions Foundation concerns, see above.
Reason rests its comfort level with this technology on the assertion that Mr. Paarlberg makes that there are no studies showing the danger of GM foods. That is as patently false as the statement made to me, personally, in a meeting on June 9, 2005, by Dr. Edward Scarborough, the US Codex Contact Point, that there is simply no literature showing the impact of nutrients on health. I sent him, in response, a bibliography containing references to 10s of thousands of peer reviewed articles and books showing the impact of nutrients on health, a good part of them sponsored by grants, or conducted directly by, the US Government. He never responded, of course. My letter, and that bibliography, were published through our website, www.HealthFreedomUSA.org and the bibliography was referenced in our Citizens Petition to the FDA to compel them to cease their illegal “HARMonization” of US dietary supplements to Codex standards. You can join this legal challenge to US Supplement Codex policy here (http://drrimatruthreports.com/index.php?page_id=184).
Mr. Paarlberg exudes joy over the fact that plants modified to make their own pesticides do so at levels up to 10,000 time the amount made by the organism that manufactures it in nature. It is quite effective at the lower level in nature but at these enormous concentrations not only do insects, both crop pests and beneficial ones, die, but the impact on our bodies when we eat the food from the crops – or wear the clothing made from these fibers – modified in this way, is completely unknown. What is know is that the pollen can cause pneumonia and kill people exposed to it as happened in the Phillipines during cotton pollination time.
What is also missing from this enthusiastic recounting of the wonders of this technology is the 22,000 farmers who have killed themselves in the State of Gujerat (India) in their final grim protest against what this crop has done to them – driven them off the land because they cannot afford to pay the intellectual property tax added to the cost of the seed after they were given the seed free for the first year, destroyed their cultures and devastated their families. Somehow that does not count in the economium of free market thinking.
Happily publishing Mr. Paalberg’s unsubstantiated (and inaccurate) assessment that there is no damage to the environment, in the face of well-documented information to the contrary, and blithly accepting the premise that “gene flow”, aka “contamination” is no different from natural crop cross pollination (which does not require the payment of taxes to the “owner” of the natural gene), and the prohibitions against saving seed because of intellectual property rights which accrue to the owner of the patented genes), Reason has lost its reason.
On the issue of organic farming, things get even weirder. Instead of using vermicluture (adding worms to soil) and returning nutrients and soil organisms (or adding them for the first time) through natural means such as composting (every village produces waste: using it properly returns nutrients to the soil – see the Songhai videos here (http://www.youtube.com/naturalsolutions) – the answer of this industrial agriculturalist and Reason seems to be using synthetic fertilizers which deplete the soil more and more with each growing cycle, leading to green, but non nutritive plants. Both Mr. Howley and Mr. Paarlberg seem to have forgotten, or have never known, that organic agriculture replenishes and enriches the soil as a basic technique of food production, rather than wresting contaminated and demineralized plants from an increasingly devitalized soil. Their intentions may be good, but their information, and hence their conclusions, make no biological sense whatsoever. True, they make free market sense. That’s the problem, as I see it.
However, despite his frustration with the lack of penetration of GMOs in Africa, Mr. Paalberg genially recounts that he sees hope on the horizon “Just last week in Nairobi the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and African Agricultural Technology Foundation announced that they would be going forward with the [GMO] drought-tolerant maize project.” Mr. Paalberg may find hope in that. I find it depressing and frightening in light of the aptly named “Doomsday Vault” in which native seeds are being stored by the hundreds of millions in the frozen wastes of Norway above the arctic circle in the bowels of a hollowed-out mountain. The Doomsday Vault was sponsored, in part, by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the same people who brought nearly universal vaccination to the children of Africa.
If you are a believer in the wonders of vaccination, that is a generous and humanitarian project. If you are familiar, however, with the literature, not just the propaganda, on vaccination and the impact it has on human populations (autism, cancer, immune collapse, heavy metal poisoning, auto immune disease, etc.), then this “generosity” becomes a cause for concern. The concern is, in my mind, equal to the concern on learning that Mr. and Mrs. Gates have chosen yet another way to forward the biological nightmare of genetically modified foods in yet another vulnerable population.
The Natural Solutions Foundation will attend the 2008 Codex Committee on Food Labeling (April, Ottawa) where the African nations will deal, once again, with the US attempt to push unlabeled GM foods on them through both product and seeds. We will be actively engaged in supporting their leadership to prevent this effort from succeeding. In February, at a meeting on this issue in Accra, the African nations created a de facto coalition which elicited the support of Norway, Russia, Japan, the EU and Switzerland. They, unlike the free market folks, understand that governments have a role to play in protecting the health of their people from corporate desires to expand markets.
How fear of life-saving technology swept through Africa
Kerry Howley | March 28, 2008
In May 2002, in the midst of a severe food shortage in sub-Saharan Africa, the government of Zimbabwe turned away 10,000 tons of corn from the World Food Program (WFP). The WFP then diverted the food to other countries, including Zambia, where 2.5 million people were in need. The Zambian government locked away the corn, banned its distribution, and stopped another shipment on its way to the country. â€œSimply because my people are hungry,â€ President Levy Mwanawasa later said, â€œis no justification to give them poison.â€
The corn came from farms in the United States, where most corn producedâ€”and consumedâ€”comes from seeds that have been engineered to resist some pests, and thus qualifies as genetically modified. Throughout the 90s, genetically modified foods were seen as holding promise for the farmers of Africa, so long as multinationals would invest in developing superior African crops rather than extend the technology only to the rich. When Zambia and Zimbabwe turned away food aid, simmering controversy over the crops themselves brimmed over and seeped into almost every African state. Cast as toxic to humans, destructive to the environment, and part of a corporate plot to immiserate the poor, cutting edge farming technology is most feared where it is most needed. As Robert Paarlberg notes in his new book, Starved for Science: How Biotechnology is Being Kept Out of Africa (Harvard University Press), in 2004 the Sudanese government â€œtook time out from its genocidal suppression of a rebellion in Darfur to issue a memorandum requiring that all food aid brought into the country should be certified as free of any GM ingredients.â€
Starved for Science includes forwards by both Jimmy Carter and Norman Borlaug, the architect of Asiaâ€™s Green Revolution and the man credited with saving more human lives than anyone else in history. Paarlberg, a Professor of Political Science at Wellesley and a specialist in agricultural policy, wants the West to help small African farmers obtain promising technologies just as it helped Asia discover biological breakthroughs in the 60s and 70s. Instead, he says, a coalition of European governments and African elites are promoting a Western vision of rustic, low-productivity labor.
reason: Was there a particular experience with African farmers that led you to write this book?
Robert Paarlberg: Partly it was the strong impression made on me by my own visits to rural Africa, working with African organizations, working with USAID, working with International Food Policy Research Institute. I started visiting small farms in Africa 15 years ago. Iâ€™d seen a lot of poor farmers in Asia and Latin America but absolutely nothing like this. There was simply no uptake of any modern productivity-enhancing technologies at all in some cases. And I wondered why I hadnâ€™t been aware of this. And then, when I saw more and more narrative in the NGO community and the donor community that was frankly hostile to science, I thought â€œI have to put this down and write a book for younger people in the donor community who may not remember the importance of technology uptake in Asian agriculture 40 years ago.â€
reason: You suggest that your understanding of modern ideas about food production arises from interactions with your students. What is it that they want?
Paarlberg: My students know just what kind of food system they want: a food system that isnâ€™t based on industrial scale monoculture. They want instead small farms built around nature imitating polycultures. They donâ€™t want chemical use; they certainly donâ€™t want genetic engineering. They want slow food instead of fast food. Theyâ€™ve got this image of what would be better than what we have now. And what they probably donâ€™t realize is that Africa is an extreme version of that fantasy. If we were producing our own food that way, 60 percent of us would still be farming and would be earning a dollar a day, and a third of us would be malnourished. Iâ€™m trying to find some way to honor the rejection that my students have for some aspects of modern farming, but I donâ€™t want them to fantasize about the exact opposite.
reason: Can you give an example of a genetically modified seed or organism, something in use today?
Paarlberg: Bt crops have been engineered to contain a gene from a naturally occurring soil bacterium that expresses a certain protein that cannot be digested by caterpillars. Mammals can digest the protein with absolutely no problem, but caterpillars cannot. When the caterpillars eat the plant, they die.
Whatâ€™s wonderful about this is that itâ€™s so precisely targeted at the insects eating the plant. The other insects in the field arenâ€™t affected. Using conventional corn instead of Bt corn, you have to spray the whole field and you end up killing a lot of non-targeted species. With this variety, you donâ€™t have to spray.
reason: That sounds less scary than â€œGenetically Modified Organism.â€
Paarlberg: The book makes the argument that the overregulation of this technology in Europe and the anxieties felt about it in the United States are not so much a reflection of risks, because there arenâ€™t any documented risks from any GM crops on the market. I explain that reaction through the absence of direct benefit. The technology is directly beneficial to only a tiny number of citizens in rich countriesâ€”soybean farmers, corn farmers, a few seed companies, patent holders. Consumers donâ€™t get a direct benefit at all, so it doesnâ€™t cost them anything to drive it off the market with regulations. The problem comes when the regulatory systems created in rich countries are then exported to regions like Africa, where two thirds of the people are farmers, and where they would be the direct beneficiaries.
reason: How pervasive are genetically modified foods in the U.S.?
Paarlberg: Roughly 90 percent of the cotton and soybeans produced in the US are genetically modified. Fifty or 70 percent of the corn is genetically modified. If you look at the products on a retail store shelf, probably 70 percent of them contain some ingredients from genetically modified crops. Mostly corn or soybeans.
reason: Are there documented safety risks that merit caution?
Paarlberg: There arenâ€™t any. Itâ€™s like the first ten years of aviation without a plane crash.
reason: What about environmental risks? Donâ€™t GM crops affect surrounding plantlife?
Paarlberg: The only impacts they have different from conventional crops are beneficial to the environment. They allow you to control weeds and insects with fewer sprayings of toxic chemicals. And they donâ€™t require as many trips through the field with your diesel tractor, so you burn less fossil fuel. And there is more carbon sequestered because youâ€™re not tilling the soil the way you otherwise would.
There are environmental impacts; there is gene flow. The pollen from a genetically modified maize plant will flow into a neighboring field and will fertilize the crops in that neighboring field. Some of the seeds, as a consequence, will contain the transgene, but thatâ€™s no different from pollen from a conventional maize plant flowing into the next field. Itâ€™s only if you decide arbitrarily to define gene flow from genetically modified crops as â€œcontaminationâ€ and flow from all other crops as natural. Only then does it start to become describable as an adverse effect.
The worst environmental damage ever done by American agricultural was the dustbowl of the 1930s, when we plowed up the southern plains to grow wheat, and all the topsoil blew away. The way we increased production back then was to expand crop area, which was environmentally disastrous. It was a calamity. That was the way we tried to increase production before we had high yielding crops, before we had high yielding wheat varieties, before we had hybrid maize, before we learned to increase the productivity of the land already under cultivation.
reason: Can you give us a sense of what an average African farmer in, say, Zambia, is currently working with?
Paarlberg: It would be a woman and her children primarily, and they would plant not a hybrid maize, but a traditional openly pollinated variety, and they would time the preparation of the soil and planting as best they could for when they thought the rains would come. But the rains might not come in time, or they might be too heavy and wash the seeds out of the ground. Itâ€™s a risky endeavor. They canâ€™t afford fertilizer, and itâ€™s too risky to use fertilizer because in a drought the maize would shrivel up and the fertilizer would be wasted. They donâ€™t have any irrigation. As a consequence, even in a good year their yields per hectare will be only about one third as high as in Asian countries, 1/10 as high as in the United States.
reason: Just as it used to be in Asia.
reason: Right, everywhere. But Asia has moved on in recent memory. The Green Revolution introduced new biological breakthroughs to Asian agriculture to the point where no one today thinks of South Korea as a rural backwater. Why was Africa not a part of this?
Paarlberg: One reason is that Africa is not easily irrigated. The big irrigated crops like rice arenâ€™t to be found in Africa and the big investments in the Green Revolution went into improving Asian crops like rice. The crops Africans grow werenâ€™t the crops that were being improved during the green revolution.
But I donâ€™t blame it all on the Asia-focus of the original green revolution; we have had plenty of time to invest in scientific research for Africaâ€™s crops, and to make investments in rural public goods like roads or power to make it affordable for African farmers to purchase fertilizer. But African governments have not done that job. In my book I show that typically African governments will spend less than 5 percent of their budget on agriculture even though thatâ€™s where two thirds of their citizens work. And if you donâ€™t have larger public sector investments than that, there is just not going to be any uptake in the countryside. But then I go around and show that you canâ€™t blame African governments, entirely, because prosperous donor countries are no longer supporting agriculture in Africa.
reason: No African government other than South Africaâ€™s has made it legal to plant GMOs. You call this â€œout of characterâ€ for the same governments.
Paarlberg: They have not yet enacted the law, set up the biosafety committee, and granted approval, which is the laborious process that [the United Nations Environmental Program] and the European governments have coached them into adopting.
Itâ€™s interesting. In no other area are governments in Africa particularly concerned about hypothetical environmental risks. They know better than to invoke the precautionary principle when it comes to unsafe food in open air markets. They know that they need to first get rid of actual food shortages and raise income; then and only then can they afford to impose the same extremely high standards of food safety on open air markets that are imposed on supermarkets in Europe. Yet curiously when it comes to GMOs they adopt the highly precautionary European standard, which makes it impossible to put these products on the market at all. I take that as evidence that this is not an authentic African response, itâ€™s a response imported from Europe.
reason: So the romanticization of bucolic farm landscapes unmarred by scientific advance has an American and European pedigree.
Paarlberg: Itâ€™s not what we do at homeâ€”only two percent of agricultural products in the US are organically grown. And many of those that are organically grown are grown on industrial scale organic farms in California that donâ€™t bear any resemblance to small bucolic farms. But itâ€™s the image we promote in our new cultural narrative. Itâ€™s something that affects the way we give foreign assistance.
reason: Many of the anti-agricultural science gurus you mention in your book have a spiritual dimension. Can you talk a bit about Sylvester Graham?
Paarlberg: Sylvester Graham, the father of the modern graham cracker, was opposed to the modern flour milling industry. He didnâ€™t like the industrialization of bread production, and he wanted women to go back to grinding flour. He was a religious man, a minister, and he had all of the narrow minded prejudices we might associate with a New England clergyman from the 19th century. He thought that women should stay in the home, he believed people should be vegetarians because that would keep their sexual appetite back. We sometimes forget what goes along with the food purist zealotry. Itâ€™s often zealotry about more than just a certain kind of food to eat.
In Zambia today there are expatriate Jesuits from the United States who have come to believe genetic engineering is against Godâ€™s teaching, though this is not a belief that is embraced by the Vatican. They believe that all living things, including plants, have a right not to have their genetic makeup modified. Of course we have been modifying the genetic makeup of plants ever since we domesticated them 10,000 years ago, but these particular fathers are focused only on genetic engineering.
reason: Isnâ€™t it paternalistic to blame Europeans for the decisions of African governments? Is this something African elites are at least as complicit in?
Paarlberg: Itâ€™s a codependency. The African elites depend upon Europe for financial assistance, they depend upon European export markets, they depend on NGOs for technical assistance, itâ€™s just easier for them to follow the European lead than to go against that lead. And to some extent the European governments depend upon having dependents in Africa that will, despite the difficult experience of colonization, continue to imitate and validate and honor European culture and taste.
reason: What exactly have European NGOs done to discourage productivity in farming? You quote Doug Parr, a chemist at Greenpeace, arguing that the de facto organic status of farms in Africa is an opportunity to lock in organic farming, since African farmers have yet to advance beyond that.
Paarlberg: Some of it is well intentioned. The organic farming movement believes this is an appropriate corrective to the chemical intensive farming that they see in Europe. In Europe, where prosperous consumers are willing to pay a premium for organic products, it sometimes makes sense to use a more costly production process. So they think, â€œWell itâ€™s the wave of the future here in Europe, so it should be the future in Africa as well.â€
So they tell Africans who donâ€™t use enough fertilizer that instead of using more they should go to zero and certify themselves as organic. Thatâ€™s probably the most damaging influence â€” discouraging Africans from using enough fertilizer to restore the nutrients they mine out of their soil. They classify African farmers as either certified organic, or de facto organic. Indeed, many are de facto organic. And their goal is not to increase the productivity of the organic farmers, but to certify them as organic.
I just find that to be lacking in moral clarity.
reason: But there are functioning organic farms. If I decide to buy only organic food from Africa, what will I be buying?
Paarlberg: It wouldnâ€™t be grown by small fair-trade-type poor farmers. It would be grown through a vertically integrated, probably European, company that would bring in the machinery, bring in the seeds, bring in the fertilizers, set up a production system that would more nearly resemble a colonial-era plantation than a small independent African farm.
reason: Weâ€™ve seen similar resistance to GMOs in India and Brazil, both of which now have legalized the use of genetically modified crops. What happened?
Paarlberg: Farmers were planting them illicitly before the final approvalâ€”thatâ€™s one reason they were forced into the approval. The technology worked so well that farmers were planting them on their own and you couldnâ€™t criminalize all Brazilian soybean growers so you had to approve them. Similarly in India, Bt cotton spread on its own and performed so well that the government was eventually shamed into approving it.
reason: You arenâ€™t just calling for people to get out of the way. You want increased aid for agricultural research. But why would any of this require aid? If itâ€™s going to prove profitable, shouldnâ€™t the incentive for private investment be there?
Paarlberg: The farmers who need the technology in Africa donâ€™t have enough purchasing power to be of interest to private companies. Or theyâ€™re growing crops that arenâ€™t a part of a commercial seed market that would interest private seed companies. The only way to reach them, really, is to consider the crops that they grow, for example tropical white maize or cassava. Itâ€™s a little bit like the orphan disease problem. Itâ€™s really something that has to be done as a public good by the public sector.
Thatâ€™s how the green revolution proceeded in India in the 1960s. It was a wonderful success, and it wasnâ€™t really driven by the private sector. It was driven by philanthropic foundations and public investment. Also you need not just seed improvement, but more rural farm-to-market roads, electrification, and things that really governments and only governments are incentivized and capable of doing.
There was a time, before scare stories about technology spread, when the concern was a much more legitimate one: that weâ€™ve handed this technology over to private companies to develop, and they wonâ€™t have any incentive to get it to Africa. And to some extent thatâ€™s still a legitimate concern. There was never any fear that Brazilian farmers or Canadian farmers wouldnâ€™t be able to get the technology, because theyâ€™re big commercial growers. The concern was originally that Africans would want the technology but wouldnâ€™t be able to get it because they didnâ€™t have the purchasing power or the investment climate that could attract private companies.
reason: The book is 200 pages of frustration. Are there any glimmers of hope ahead?
Paarlberg: Just last week in Nairobi the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and African Agricultural Technology Foundation announced that they would be going forward with the drought-tolerant maize project that I describe in chapter 5 of my book. Iâ€™m very pleased that the Gates Foundation has seen the opportunity that this new technology provides. It would be too bad if drought tolerant corn were being grown in Iowa in 2010 and not available to the farmer who really needed it in Africa.
Drought in Africa pushes small farmers back into poverty whenever it strikes. They have to sell off all their household possessions to buy the food their families need until the next season. It blocks the escape from poverty that they might otherwise achieve. Anything that puts a safety net under crop yields is going to protect small African farmers from that periodic decapitalization and let them start accumulating assets for a change.