GM Crops May Spell Death to Bio-Diversity

by Wan A.Hulaimi
NewStraitsTimes
October 3, 2011

If you wake up in the morning to find that your brinjals are no longer yours, what would you do?Take a case in point. Prabeer Kumar, a farmer in Karnataka, India, suddenly discovered that he had no seeds to sow and for his next crop he had to buy from a giant multinational. Farmer Kumar doesn’t exist — I have just made him up — but Karnataka does, and India and that giant multinational, they are all real. Some other Kumars in India found that they had a piece of paper in hand that made them promise to buy only GM seeds from one big company. GM seeds that will bear fruit and die so that farmer Kumar will have to go to the shops again and again ad infinitum until he himself dies for want of more rupees.

I have made up farmer Kumar because he represents many thousand farmers in the state of Karnataka who have unwittingly signed pieces of paper that have bound them to genetically modified (GM) seeds, nature tampered by big money-grabbing multinationals and then thrust back upon them at a price to be grown in land that they have not yet patented, thank God, to yield genetically modified crops to feed us all.

You have heard the benefits of GMs already even if we do not yet know their effects on our environment, health and wealth. This is the solution for world hunger, they say. But who knows? Take a simple question: if farmers have to go back to the shops after each yield, it will? But oh no, they’ll say, crops will be grown in huge quantities by big companies. Oh yes? Oh dearie me!

They introduced Bt cotton in India, a non-renewable genetically modified cotton seed with claims about insect resistance and the usual spiel. We do not know what this tampering with nature to ‘control’ the assault of nature is doing to our birds and our bees and our butterflies, but many Indian farmers — a quarter million according to some sources — committed suicide as a result of the high price of seeds which they once got for nothing from the last crop. Non-renewability of GM seeds sends farmers out to the shops, and shopping for tailor-made goods, as you know, costs a big wad of rupees.

Yet it keeps moving on as more and more of our natural species are being tampered with, their genes added to and readjusted to make them safe for big companies to make proprietary claims on them all. India has close to eight per cent of the world’s living species. They tried to patent basmati rice so that only they will be able to sell them to farmers, but they failed, and their next trick is with the humble brinjal which you could have taken from your neighbour’s garden and planted in yours for just a chat and a smile. They are now trying to patent the brinjal in India so that you will no longer be your next door’s good neighbour because you and they and your friendly local farmer will soon have to buy GM ‘bt brinjal’ for your curry. And bully for India, they are taking Monsanto to court for ‘bio-piracy’ which, in this context, means stealing indigenous plants, genetically modifying them, and giving nothing — but misery — in return to the people. This is the first time in the world that a nation is taking such a step against a multinational. Other countries in the world with huge bio-diversity reserves would be well advised to sit up and listen well.

What will GM crops do besides giving untold wealth to giant seed monopolising companies? We don’t know, but more than a few suspicions have been expressed and they should all be looked into.

In 2009, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM), a body of medical clinicians from various specialities, called for a moratorium on GM foods. “GM foods pose a serious health risk” they said in their position paper. And more: “there is more than a casual association between GM foods and adverse health effects”. And more: “GM foods pose a serious health risk in the areas of toxicology, allergy and immune function, reproductive health and metabolic, physiologic and genetic health.”

Very little long term research has been done on the health and ecological effects of GM seeds. But if you have time and the search engine, do go and look up Dr Arpad Pusztai and his experiment in Scotland in 1998 with rats and the GM potato.

So is GM food safe or is it not? We don’t know, but if you had baked beans for breakfast this morning, chances are it was GM product down your tummy-tee-tee. That GM food inside you now is sweeping the world, stealing the livelihood of our farmers, depleting our heritage and may even be the death of our bio-diversity.

Farmer Prabeer Kumar may not exist, but the real Shri Prabeer Kumer Basu is India’s agricultural minister. Email him now at secy-agri@nic.in to say how much you appreciate his call.

Wan A. Hulaimi also wrote A Map of Terengganu, under the pen name Awang Goneng. He may be reached at elsewhere@columnist.com

Brazil is GMO Country

PRNewswire
August 3, 2011

The area in Brazil planted with transgenic seeds is now growing at a faster pace than the growth of the entire planted area for crops of soybeans, corn and cotton – the three crops with genetically modified varieties that have been approved, as indicated by the 1st review of the adoption of biotechnology in the 2011/12 harvest, conducted by the consulting firm Celeres.

The area planted with transgenic soybeans for the next harvest will be 13.4% greater than it was in the 2010/11 harvest, occupying 20.8 million hectares (82.7% of the total area projected). With the approval of a new event in 2010, there are now four technologies that have been released in Brazil, including herbicide tolerance (TH), insect resistance (RI) and combinations.

“This growth is the result of constant improvement of the biotechnological varieties, which are increasingly well adapted to the different productive regions of the country,” observes Anderson Galvao, managing partner at Celeres and coordinator of the study. He emphasizes that for the first time in the history of Brazilian agriculture, with 8.8 million hectares, the Central Western region – traditional producer of conventional soybeans – has exceeded the Southern region in absolute terms for area allocated to transgenic soybeans.

GM cotton, for its part, which had three new events approved in the past year, will occupy 606 thousand hectares, equivalent to 39% of fields under cultivation (an increase of 62.7% over the previous cycle). Cotton seeds with RI, TH and combined technologies are currently available to growers. “The growth in the adoption of biotechnology for cotton crops shows that certain gaps that existed in the supply of technologies are beginning to be filled, supplying the real needs of cotton growers. When the producer sees competitive advantages in the technology, he adopts it immediately,” Galvao says.

In the case of corn, GM hybrids will be present in 9.1 million hectares, or 64.9% of the area under cultivation, including summer harvests (4.5 million hectares, or 54% of the area under cultivation) and winter harvests (4.6 million hectares, equivalent to 80.4% of the area under cultivation). Brazil now has 16 GM events approved (including RI, TH and combined technologies), five of them having been approved by the CTNBio in the last 12 months.

To Galvao, corn cultivation has been the most successful by far in adopting biotechnology in Brazil: in four years, it already occupies more than half of the land where corn is grown. He also notes that a substantial portion is planted with materials thought of as low-tech, especially in the Northern and Northeast regions. “Considering only the hectares planted with high-tech materials, transgenic hybrids account for more than 70% of the area planted,” he underscores.

“This rapid pace in adopting biotechnology for the growing of corn is a reflection of the direct and indirect benefits that transgenic hybrids reap for growers, who can now compete as equals in the international market,” he stresses. A second review of the adoption of biotechnology for this harvest is scheduled for December, after work on the summer harvest crop is finished.

The Shocking Reality About GMOs

by Dave Opiyo
AllAfrica.com
July 12, 2011

The spectre of people developing new and strange allergies, indigenous seeds losing their genetic codes and disappearing altogether, farmers making bumper harvests — or no harvests at all — is in the air.

Two weeks ago on July 1, Kenya became the fourth African nation to permit imports of GMO crops, joining South Africa, Egypt and Burkina Faso.

Supporters of the move say it is essential in helping to stabilise prices and feed millions of hungry Kenyans, but matters are not that straightforward.

The online encyclopedia Wikipedia defines a genetically modified or genetically engineered organism (GEO) as one “whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques.”

These techniques, generally known as recombinant DNA technology, explains the encyclopaedia, use DNA molecules from different sources, which are then combined into one molecule to create a new set of genes.

This DNA is then transferred into an organism, giving it modified or novel genes. Transgenic organisms, adds Wikipedia, are a subset of GMO organisms which have DNA that originated in a different species.

To put it more clearly, think of an orange with tomato genes. The coming into force of the Bio-Safety Act, 2009 on July 1 that allows the growing and sale of genetically modified crops has elicited mixed reactions.

GMOs are modified in the laboratory to enhance desired traits such as increased resistance to herbicides or improved nutritional content.

But, as expected, anti-GMO lobbyists have kicked up a storm, saying the safety of genetically engineered crops has not been proven beyond reasonable doubt.

“The developers of GMOs have exerted great pressure to ensure that the Bio-Safety Act serves the interests of foreign agribusiness, rather than farmers and consumers,” Ms Anne Maina, an advocacy coordinator for African Biodiversity Network (ABN), says.

Recently, anti-GMO lobbyists, mainly from the ABN, Unga Revolution and Bunge La Mwananchi, protested the move, urging the government to revoke it.

 On May 25, Jeffrey Smith, who describes himself as a “consumer advocate promoting healthier, non-GMO choices”, argued in a blog:

“When US regulators approved Monsanto’s genetically modified “BT” corn, they knew it would add a deadly poison into our food supply. That’s what it was designed to do.

“The corn’s DNA is equipped with a gene from soil bacteria called BT (Bacillus Thuringiensis) that produces the BT-toxin.

“It’s a pesticide; it breaks open the stomach of certain insects and kills them.” Monsanto is a market leader in bio-technology and production of GMOs.

According to the blogger, Monsanto and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) swore up and down that it was only insects that would be hurt.

The BT-toxin, they claimed, would be destroyed in the human digestive system and not have any impact on all of the trusting, corn-eating consumers.

“Now,” he continued, “doctors at Sherbrooke University Hospital in Quebec found the corn’s BT-toxin in the blood of pregnant women and their babies, as well as in non-pregnant women.”

This is one of the many fights in Monsanto’s hands. In its website, the firm says food derived from authorised genetically-modified (GM) crops is as safe as the conventional (non-GM-derived) version.

Putting the matter into perspective, Monsanto says the first large acreage plantings of GM crops — herbicide-tolerant soybeans and canola — took place in 1996 after successfully passing US regulatory review.

Since then, additional GM crops with herbicide tolerance, insect tolerance and virus resistance have been given clearance for planting and consumption.

 These include varieties of corn, sugar beets, squash and papaya. All of these crops have been assessed for food and feed safety in producing countries, “and many more countries have approved the import of food or food ingredients that contain GM products”.

Hundreds of millions of meals containing food from GM crops have been consumed. There has not been a single substantiated instance of illness or harm associated with GM crops, the company argues.

According to Monsanto, some of the negative health effects associated with GMOs could be caused by other considerations.

In one response, it says: “There has been an increased interest in food allergies. Unfortunately, there are no stable diagnostic criteria for testing for food allergies and food intolerance.

“Together, these two factors have probably resulted in an increase in reporting of allergies. Therefore, rates of allergies may not have actually increased as much as it would appear.”

Implications on health

Such is the nature of the GMO controversy Kenyans will soon find themselves embroiled in. Anti-GMO groups say scientific evidence has shown that continued consumption of GM food is likely to have serious implications on not only health, but also the environment and food production.

Studies such as the one by Sherbrooke University Hospital have shown that those who eat genetically modified foods tend to see an increase in their allergic reactions to the types of foods they are already allergic.

Further, by eating these genetically modified foods, people also form allergies to foods which they were never allergic to before.

 Naturally, Monsanto refutes such findings with its own, sometimes poking holes on the research methodology and the findings by its critics.

In lab tests done on animals, there were cases where once the animals ingested genetically modified food, they became completely sterile in a matter of weeks.

In other cases, experimental animals died in a matter of weeks of liver, kidney and pancreatic complications. But that’s one side of the story.

The University of Nairobi’s Centre for Biotechnology and Bio-informatics Director, Prof James Opiyo Ochanda, was quoted in the Business Daily recently as saying that the use of GMOs could be beneficial to Kenya’s attainment of food security because genetically engineered crops are resistant to pests and diseases that often require expensive and harmful chemicals to eradicate.

“Instead of applying chemicals, scientists have engineered the plants to introduce genes or molecules that allow the crop to protect itself.

This is better than the application of chemicals that pollute the environment and harm the body, thus posing dangers to our systems,” he said.

Similar remarks were also made by Prof Samuel Gudu, a plant breeding specialist and Moi University’s Deputy Vice chancellor in-charge of planning and development.

In an interview with the same paper, Prof Gudu reckons that GM technology could help Kenya increase the production of key crops such as maize.

“GMOs are meant to improve the quality of maize. They can protect the crop against insects and what Kenyans should be asking for are the details of the consignment to be brought in as opposed to fear-mongering,” he says.

However, increasing yields and food safety are come at a risk, as the Sherbrooke University Hospital findings show.

And, as the debate rages, the National Bio-Safety Authority (NBA), which is tasked with ensuring that GMOs imported into Kenya are safe both to human beings and the environment, has called for caution.

“Propaganda should not be used as justification as to whether to accept or deny individuals from using GMOs in the country…. We are solely relying on scientific facts,” says NBA chair Prof Miriam Kinyua.

“We have to make sure that what is brought into the country is safe. By doing so, we have to ensure that the risk assessment is well done scientifically,” adds Prof Kinyua, who is also a lecturer at Moi University’s Department of Biotechnology.

“If the importer proves to us that the GMO is good, we approve it and inform the public of the same. If we have reservations because of some findings, we shall say ‘Sorry’.”

According to the Bio-Safety Act, the regulatory authority will communicate its final decision of approval or rejection of an importing license after three months of receiving the application.

After allowing an importer to place a genetically modified organism on the market, the law also allows any person to submit a written opposition within 30 days from the date the notice is posted.

Organisations and individuals opposed to the importation of GMOs will most likely seize this opportunity.

“Is Kenya ready for GMOs?” we asked Prof Kinyua, and she curtly replied that the fact that the government had created a specialised institution and “put in place systems means that we are moving somewhere”.

But “moving somewhere” certainly doesn’t mean full capacity. According to Prof Kinyua, the authority is yet to publish regulations that will guide the process, but that will be done soon.

How will the authority ensure that GM seeds don’t end up in the stomach unprocessed — or the shamba, because Kenyans tend to eat what they grow?

Dr Roy Mugiira, the acting head of the National Bio-Safety Authority, says millers licensed to import genetically modified maize must ensure that this does not happen to avoid the possibility of anybody planting them as seeds. A tall order, this one.

Any lapse on their part that could allow the seeds to be planted will lead to a fine of more than Sh20 million or 10-year prison terms or both. If this happens unintentionally, they will have to meet the cost of removing such seeds from circulation.

According to Dr Mugiira, one of the options being considered is to have the maize milled at the point of landing and then transported as flour, hence avoiding any deliberate or accidental escaping of seeds.

 Widespread opposition

GMO seeds, just like conventional maize, have the capacity to germinate and produce.

Initially, bio-technology firms sterilised GM seeds to forestall germination; but the technology, called terminator, was never commercialised following widespread opposition.

The maize being targeted by the millers has been engineered to develop resistance against weeds and pests.

Another type of GM maize is being tested in Kenya for drought resistance, but it is not yet ready for commercialisation.

If the current bio-safety laws are to be followed strictly, then the earliest the first GM maize can land in to the country legally is around October.

 In 2008, The Daily Mail published a story to validate a claim by Prince Charles that Indian farmers were killing themselves after the improved yields promised by a bio-technology firm failed, therefore ruining the farmers economically.

Some had borrowed heavily. A farmer, Shankara Mandaukar, couldn’t take it anymore when a promised unheard-of-harvest turned into two crop failures after he abandoned indigenous seeds.

“Ranged against the Prince” reported the papers, “are powerful GM lobbyists and prominent politicians, who claim that genetically modified crops have transformed Indian agriculture, providing greater yields than ever before.”

Humanitarian crisis

“However”, wrote the paper, “official figures from the Indian Ministry of Agriculture do indeed confirm that, in a huge humanitarian crisis, more than 1,000 farmers kill themselves here every month.

“It seems many are massively in debt to local money-lenders, having over-borrowed to purchase GM seed.”

Pro-GM experts blamed the suicides on rural poverty, alcoholism, drought and ‘agrarian distress’.

Back to Monsanto, the bio-technology market leader says claims from anti-biotechnology activists that genetically-modified crops don’t increase yields, and that GM crops actually have lower yields than non-GM ones are simply false.

“In agriculture, desirable crop characteristics are known as traits. One of the most important traits is yield.

“Improving crop yield can be accomplished through both breeding and bio-technology. GM crops generally have higher yields due to both breeding and bio-technology,” explains Monsanto.

True, but Indian farmers will tell you of the other side of increased yields.

More grounds on banning genetically-modified crops

People’s Daily
July 7, 2011

The European Parliament had approved a new package of legislation, giving more grounds to member states on banning genetically-modified (GMO) crops.

Under the new regulation, more choice would be given to its member states to decide whether they wish to allow planting EU-approved GMO crops in their territory or not.

In fact, the new rules would allow national authorities to cite environmental grounds if they want to restrict or ban such cultivations. These grounds should strengthen legal protection against possible World Trade Organization challenges to GMO bans.

GMO crops authorized in the EU are cotton, maize, bacterial protein, yeast strains, oilseed rape, potato, soybean and sugar beet.

So far, Austria, France, Greece, Hungary, Germany and Luxembourg have banned planting of these crops, citing the “safeguard” clause included in the 2001 Directive on the deliberate release into the environment.

The legislation needs approval from European Council. If the proposal on GMO crops is to be adopted, the member states will be able to ban cultivation, citing agro-environmental grounds, such as pesticide resistance, the invasiveness of certain crops and a threat to biodiversity.

However, when the proposal went to the vote in the Parliament on Tuesday, the Council had not reached an agreement yet, said Christopher Coakley, an official working at the Parliament’s Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee.

“The Council will discuss the proposed legislation although it is unlikely they will approve 100 percent of the text from the Parliament,” Coakley added.

Wildlife Refuges to be Planted with GMOs

by Barbara H. Peterson
Farm Wars
June 17, 2011

It is becoming increasingly difficult to find animals that haven’t been force-fed GMO grain. To top it all off, even Alfalfa, which is a staple cattle feed in America, will be genetically engineered thanks to Land  O’ Lakes, Forage Genetics and Monsanto. But that isn’t enough for this administration. Now they are going after wildlife too.

Washington, DC — The Obama administration has endorsed genetically engineered agriculture on more than 50 National Wildlife Refuges, with more GE-refuge approvals in the works, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. (PEER)

It is clear that we need to wean ourselves off mass-produced food and start getting serious about growing our own veggies and fruit, and raising our own animals. We are literally being surrounded with weapons of mass destruction  in the form of DNA-altering GMOs (genetically modified organisms) that cause infertility, severe health problems, and premature death.

The proposal for the Midwestern Refuges would allow more than 20,000 acres to be cultivated with no limits on how many acres could be GE crops. The public comment deadline for that plan is today [Feb. 14, 2011]. In its comments, PEER argues that the GE operations risk harm to wildlife, refuge plants and soil, while contending that there is no refuge purpose for which GE crops are essential, as required by FWS policy.

“These plans are based on the curious notion that wildlife benefit from having the small slivers of habitat set aside for them covered by genetically engineered soybeans,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting the Midwest refuges are already surrounded by row crops, most of which are now GE. “To boost U.S. exports, the Obama administration is forcing wildlife refuges into political prostitution.” (PEER)

So, say goodbye to GMO-free wild game, courtesy of your friendly neighborhood mass murderers in charge of our government. Too strong of a statement? I don’t think so. Look up the Georgia Guidestones, then think again…