BIODIVERSITY/ EUROPE WAS WARNED OF BIO-PIRACY DANGERS
May 14, 1998
LONDON - Inter Press Service via NewsEdge Corporation : The London-based
Gaia Foundation, the Dutch Coalition Against Patents on Life and other
European NGOs are worried that the new European directive on life patents
will spell disaster to developing countries, particularly their farmers.
The directive was cleared by the European Parliament in Strasbourg May 7.
It will put the right to patent life forms into European law for the first
time, and bring Europe in line with the extensive freedom to patent for
commercial exploitation already allowed in the United States and Japan.
For developing countries, this may give a free hand to Western
multinationals to come and patent a variety of indigenous plants and seeds.
Posted by: Australian GeneEthics Network <email@example.com> (Bob Phelps)
WILL BIOTECHNOLOGY FEED THE WORLDS POOR?
By: Tom Campbell, Lecturer in Environmental Studies, Development Studies
Centre, Kimmage Manor. Dublin. Republic of Ireland.
One of the biggest myths perpetuated by the biotechnology industry is that
genetically engineered crops are likely to provide a solution to world
hunger. Companies like ICI Seeds, Britainís largest seeds merchant,
proclaim that biotechnology will be the most reliable and environmentally
acceptable way to secure the worldís food supplies .
Elsewhere, executives from the Monsanto Corporation have gone as far as
to promote themselves as part of the solution to the worldís food and
environmental problems: ìsustainable agriculture is only possible only
with biotechnology and imaginative chemistryî , they claim in a 1990
article entitled ëPlanetary Patriotismí Similarly, a recent advertisement
from Monsanto depicts maize growing in the desert with the caption: ìWill
it take a miracle to solve the worlds hunger problems?î. Implicit in
these messages is that to oppose biotechnology is to reject the best hope
for a solution to world hunger and to perpetuate the suffering of starving
Despite the evidence that genetically engineered crops may provide higher
yields in the short term (it remains to be seen whether they do so in the
long term) there are a number of good reasons why these arguments simply do
not stand up to analysis. On the contrary there is plenty of evidence to
suggest that biotechnology will more than likely reduce food and
livelihood security for the worldís poor. Here are six reasons why
biotechnology and food security can never be compatible:
1) Biotechnology can never be a cure for hunger - Famines are not caused by
lack of food but by lack of access to food and alternative sources of
income in times of crisis. There are ample reserves of food in the world
today yet the numbers of malnourished run into hundreds of millions.
Increasing agricultural production (even assuming that this is possible
through biotechnology) whilst leaving the structural causes of poverty and
hunger unaddressed is a recipe not for feeding the world but for
continuing to starve sizeable numbers within it.
2) Biotechnology creates dependency - Biotechnology goes hand in hand with
intensive agriculture, with single crops in large fields. The majority of
Third World farmers are small-scale, farming a variety of crops. By
switching to genetically engineered seeds they have to change their
practices and become dependent on the companies which provide the
ëpackageí of seeds, herbicides, fertilisers, irrigation systems, etc. In
India, farmers using Monsantoís genetically engineered seeds pay an extra
$50 - $65 per acre as a ëtechnical feeí over and above the price of seed.
Farmers who do business with Monsanto must sign a contract stating that
they will not buy chemicals >from any one else.
3) Biotech Companies can not be trusted - There is nothing in the
environmental record of Corporations like Du Pont or Monsanto, who are
leading proponents of biotechnology, to suggest that they should be
trusted now. These same companies have always promoted non-sustainable,
industrial, socially inequitable agriculture. Monsanto remains one of the
largest polluters in the United States. The company was responsible for 5%
of the 5.7 billion pounds of toxic chemicals released in to the US
environment in 1992
4) Biotechnology reduces diversity - Biotechnology reduces diversity by
promoting certain species over others, so reducing the genetic pool even
further. We are already massively over-dependent on a handful of food crop
varieties. Genuine sustainable agriculture on the other hand promotes
multi-cropping and companion planting as the best resistance to pests,
viruses and changes in climate. Traditional varieties of subsistence food
crops are often more nutritious than the high-yield varieties promoted by
the agro-chemical and seed companies.
5) Biotechnology encourages ëBiopiracyí - Business interests and chemical
companies use research into unusual genes from plant, animal and even human
genes, as a means of getting control over local genetic resources - once
they have manipulated that gene they reinforce control, and earn massive
profits, by ëpatentingí. Many developing countries were opposed to this
at GATT/World Trade Organisation negotiations and continue to express
concern at the way ëtrade related intellectual property rightsí (TRIPS)
work in favour of the industrialised countries. The creation of monopoly
rights to biodiversity utilisation can have serious implications for
erosion of national and community rights to biodiversity and devalue
indigenous knowledge systems . Sustainable food and livelihood security
in the Third World is likely to be weakened rather than strengthened as a
6) The worldís starving do not make good customers - What evidence is there
to show that 20 years of biotechnology research, a billion dollars of
expenditure and countless hours of scientific labour has benefited the
worlds hungry or resource poor farmers in the South? Science-based
biotechnology research has so far tended to benefit the high external input
agriculture of the North. Most biotech products have been aimed at
consumer niche markets in the North - Calgeneís $25 million ëFlavr Savrí
tomatoes for example, whose only advantage over competitors is three -
five daysí extra shelf life. A fraction of the money that has been poured
into biotechnology research could have a far greater impact if it was
invested in strengthening and promoting the huge variety of sustainable and
alternative agriculture possibilities that already exist in the world.
Richard Wolfson, PhD
Consumer Right to Know Campaign,
for Mandatory Labelling and Long-term
Testing of all Genetically Engineered Foods,
500 Wilbrod Street
Ottawa, ON Canada K1N 6N2
tel. 613-565-8517 fax. 613-565-1596
Our website, http://www.natural-law.ca/genetic/geindex.html
contains more information on genetic engineering as well as
previous genetic engineering news items
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