[For further information on the Electronic Forum on Biotechnology in Food and
Agriculture see Forum website.
Note, participants are assumed to be speaking on their own behalf, unless they state otherwise.]
Sent: 02 February 2005 15:52
Subject: 71: The important role of the consumer movement - Consumers International
My name is David Cuming and I represent Consumers International.
Consumers International, a federation of 250 consumers organisations in 115 countries, with regional offices in Africa, Asia and Latin America, has grave concerns with the decision-making process regarding GMOs. Therefore we welcome the opportunity to discuss how this process can best serve the needs and interests of rural people in the developing world.
We have noted a dearth of consultation of consumers in almost all countries - despite strong consumer resistance to the introduction of GM crops and foodstuffs as measured by opinion polls and consumer behaviour. The wishes of governments, small producers and consumers are disregarded by the biotech industry which seems to have decided what is best for people without taking their views into account.
From our point of view it is important to keep in mind the fundamental rights of consumers, four of which are particularly applicable to the debate surrounding GMOs.
1. The right to a healthy and sustainable environment: The protection of present and future generations from potential environmental hazards can best be achieved by respect for the precautionary principle.
2. The right to be informed: Consumers need the facts to make informed choices. The absence of adequate labelling infringes this consumer right.
3. The right to safety: Consumers must be protected against products, production processes and services that are hazardous to their health.
4. The right to choose: Consumers should be able to select from a range of products in accordance with their beliefs and preferences.
Even if rural consumers are not aware of these rights, their governments must take them into account when making important decisions on genetically engineered agriculture and food aid.
Several contributors have emphasised the need for a network to reach out to rural people. The consumer movement is a vast network which spans the globe and plays such a role. Consumer organisations in the developing world are particularly active on food issues, most notably food safety, food security and genetic engineering. They serve an important role in informing and educating of rural people on the stakes involved in GM agriculture and act as a counterpoint to a biotech industry which extols the virtues of biotechnology, without educating people as to the disadvantages and dangers.
In recent years, consumer organisations have been active educating rural consumers and producers with respect to:
* the dangers of genetic engineering to biodiversity
* the nefarious impact of the patenting of seeds and the concomitant corporate control of the food chain
* the dangers of GM contamination to export markets and centres of origin
* the failures of GM agriculture, such as the empirical evidence of increased herbicide use
* Consumer rights with respect to non-GM food aid.
Finally, at the heart of the debate surrounding genetic engineering is the issue of consumer choice. Accordingly, consumer organisations in the developing and developed world have emphasised the need for labelling of products containing transgenes in order to safeguard consumer choice.
The efforts of the consumer movement to inform and educate rural producers and consumers constitute a veritable David versus Goliath-like battle. However poorly resourced, consumer organisations in the developing world have nonetheless taken up this challenge to promote sustainable agriculture and ensure consumer choice. They are an important resource for the development of genuine public participation regarding GMOs in the developing world. Their efforts should be encouraged.
Campaigns Manager - Biotechnology
24 Highbury Crescent
London N5 1RX
Tel: +44 20 7 226 6663 ext. 213
Fax: +44 20 7 354 0607
dcuming (at) consint.org
Sent: 02 February 2005 16:12
Subject: 72: Capacity building using a science based approach
Thank you to FAO for providing the facilities and moderator, and to the previous participants for this very interesting conference. My name is Anne Bridges and until recently I worked in the area of Food Quality and Safety with an international food manufacturer, I am currently an independent consultant.
While many of the contributions refer to the commodity feed crops like soy and corn, I think it is important to note that many developing countries have excellent research and development programs working on biotech crops that are most relevant to the local agricultural needs (FAO database lists many of these) of that country. In addition, the importation of grains and cereal derivatives from agricultural exporting countries is a reality today and will not cease in the foreseeable future, whether it is part of trade or food aid. There are also examples where food aid programs within a country would be impossible without using the GM crops presently in cultivation e.g. in soy milk in Argentina. [The FAO database referred to above is presumably FAO-BioDeC (http://www.fao.org/biotech/inventory_admin/dep/default.asp), which provides information on crop biotechnology products/techniques in use or in the pipeline in developing and transition countries. In addition to genetic modification, it also covers microbial products for agriculture (biofertilisers, microbial agents for biocontrol etc.), applied cell biology techniques (micropropagation, anther/pollen culture, embryo rescue etc.), molecular marker techniques and DNA and immuno-diagnostic techniques...Moderator].
Today there is no scientific “peer reviewed” publication that shows that the GM traits in cultivation today cause any new elevated health risks (accepting as we have done for centuries, that all foods and drugs carry some potential element of risk). There are however, many reports by scientific national academies that show there are no increased risks.
I agree that we can’t ignore the imported crops, but I do think that the challenge of rural participation can be achieved most effectively when the crops that are relevant in a particular area are discussed. Use the most relevant “local experience” and treat each case as it stands and not attempt to impose “generic education programs”.
Over the last five years, I have participated in many science-based training programs and workshops in the “nominated” developing countries for and with scientists and government personal working to understand the challenges of identifying and measuring GM traits in grain and food products. Regulations without a means to test or verify identity may be politically accepted, but they only serve to add significant costs to the food supply and frustrate the users when they have no scientific risk basis. In fact, labeling regulations have the potential to increase risk to marginal consumers due to higher costs and therefore reduced levels of nutrition.
Education of rural communities should be a priority, and needs to focus on the true “local” risks. All developing countries have scientific and technical personnel who are well able to separate the most important issues for their country. Allergen risks for people in developing countries are not likely to be different from those to people in developed countries, but the environmental situation might be very different. For example, the local typography or climate in Columbia may be very different to that in the North American midwest or other source country. Resources could then be best directed to test and evaluate the differences, rather than on dealing with “imported claims of risks and benefits”. The focus of education and discussion on the “different factors” also recognizes the value and credibility of the existing food regulatory agencies in a specific country or region.
Anne Bridges Ph.D.
Anne Bridges and Associates LLC
708 North First St
Minneapolis, MN 55401
annebridges001 (at) yahoo.com