- A prominent British development agency,
Christian Aid, has warned that biotechnology companies' efforts to sell
genetically-modified (GM) seeds to Third World farmers will do little to
allay world hunger.
- It says the companies' tactics may also
rob Western consumers of their freedom to choose or refuse GM foods.
- In a report entitled Selling Suicide:
Farming, False Promises and Genetic Modification in the Developing World,
Christian Aid says GM crops will not help to feed the hungry.
- "The false promise of genetic modification
is that it will benefit small farmers. The reality is that high-tech farming
may make them more vulnerable," it says.
- Rising costs
- The charity says the increased levels
of debt incurred by Indian farmers from using expensive hybrid strains
of cotton have already driven hundreds of them to suicide.
- "Christian Aid-supported organisations
there fear that GM crops could lead to worse problems as rising costs of
seeds and inputs may drive farmers further into debt."
- The report says one of the most worrying
characteristics of GM seeds is what is known as the "terminator technology",
by which seeds produce crops that are themselves infertile.
- This means that farmers cannot collect
seeds for the following year's crop, although at the moment 80% of crops
planted in the developing world are from saved seeds.
- The authors say the basic purpose of
the terminator technology is to maximise seed company royalties. It has
been rejected by India.
- "But campaigners fear that regulation
is inadequate to prevent its infiltration of the market."
- "They say that seed-saving is so
fundamental to Indian rural society that any threat to the practice is
a threat to the society itself."
- Issue of control
- The report, based on investigations in
India, Ethiopia and Brazil, says there are several concerns over GM crops:
- They threaten to damage the livelihoods
and the lives of millions of small farmers They will put too much control
over the world's food into a few hands since 10 companies control 85% of
the global agro-chemical market They could end UK consumer choice over
- Some British supermarkets refuse to use
GM foods, while most are careful to label them so shoppers can refuse them.
- The report says one third of UK soya,
used in almost all processed foods, comes from Brazil, the world's second
largest soya producer.
- At the moment Brazil is free of GM crops.
But "a concerted drive by all the major biotech companies" may
soon change that.
- GM battleground
- One of the authors, Andrew Simms, says:
"The developing world has become a battleground".
- "The enormous marketing clout of
the main biotechnology companies makes this a story of David and Goliath,
with the small farmer facing an overpowering push to embrace the new technology.
- "The fate of farmers in poor countries
is directly linked to ours. If GM crops are forced upon them, then the
food we import from them will be GM.
- "Like it or not, labelled or not,
the food in our supermarket trolleys will be genetically modified."