Published on Tuesday, June 24, 2003 by Inter Press Service
Activists Say U.S. Manipulating Meeting to Promote GM Food
by Katrin Dauenhauer
WASHINGTON - Activists have gathered at a California conference this week to counter what they call the U.S. administration's attempts to force-feed genetically engineered (GM) crops on developing countries.
They reject Washington's argument that science and technology provide all the answers to fight against hunger.
”It is a myth that science and technology play a critical role in reducing hunger in developing countries. The claim that we must accept genetically engineered foods if we are to feed the poor in the Third World is simply 'poorwashing',” Anuradha Mittal of California-based Food First told IPS on Monday.
”Hunger is a complex phenomenon that cannot be solved by technology alone. We need political commitment and not technology. Countries suffering from hunger need basic social economic change,” she added.
A growing number of activists and Third World farmers and politicians challenge the value of genetically engineered (GE) food and instead stress the importance of access to food, local food sovereignty and capacity building as essential tools to solve the problem of hunger.
In a report prepared for the conference, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, its Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Department of State, activists say that the development of GE technology has not focused on feeding people but on securing markets for the world's largest agro-chemical and biotech companies.
”Genetically engineered crops are instruments of industrialized agriculture,” said Silvia Ribeiro of the ETC Group and one of the authors of the report, 'Voices from the South: The Third World Debunks Corporate Myths on Genetically Engineered Crops'.
”They benefit the richest people in the world, not the hungriest,'' he continued. ''GE crops are designed to take control of production of food away from local communities, by creating greater dependence on huge agribusiness corporations for seed and pesticides.”
The report says there is already enough food in the world to feed the population one and a half times over but that poverty and inequality are leading to starvation. In fact, almost 80 percent of the countries that face hunger are food-exporting nations, it adds.
The three-day Ministerial Conference and Expo on Agricultural Science and Technology, billed as the first meeting of its kind, has brought together ministers of agriculture, health and environment from over 120 nations. For three days, participants will discuss the role of science and technology in reducing hunger and poverty in the developing world.
On Sunday, protesters who took to the street in the city of Sacramento were met by a small army of riot policemen. Local news reports said 36 people were arrested and that larger demonstrations, of about 5,000 people, were expected Monday.
It comes as the United States is pressing the World Trade Organization (WTO) to force the European Union (EU) to accept genetically modified food (GMF), after having filed a formal complaint with the trade body last month.
”This ministerial is about U.S. arm twisting to force feed the world corporate controlled 'free trade' and genetically engineered food. Countries around the world are rejecting genetically engineered food because it is an unnecessary, dangerous technology which has been disastrous for small farmers, consumers and the environment,” said Doyle Canning of the Institute for Social Ecology's Biotechnology Project.
”What farmers in the developing world need are policies that give farming communities control over their own resources and build on local ecological knowledge,” said Timothy Byakola from Pesticide Action Network (PAN) Uganda.
Activists also argue that the root causes of hunger have to be addressed if policy makers want to solve the problem of hunger effectively.
”Malaria, like hunger, is a disease of poverty. When economic conditions improve, it disappears, just as it did in the United States and Europe,” said Food First's Mittal.
”The focus ought to be on the root causes of the problem, not the symptom. The hungry don't need a technological quick fix. They need basic social change.”
Copyright 2003 IPS