[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: 09 February 2005 14:30
Subject: 87: Relevant and reliable information
Good Day to everyone that has participated in this conference. It is encouraging to see the variety and intensity of input. Thanks for the joint efforts. I am Bridget Hogg, Chemistry Lecturer at The College of The Bahamas.
I wish to speak about question 6.f in the background document: "Which mechanisms can be used to ensure that relevant and reliable information/content is provided by the above media?"
It is easy to "scare" the public or lull them into a "sense of security". It is so much more difficult to "inform and educate". I believe that the way to ensure that the content delivered is relevant and reliable is to make sure that the formal and informal media are provided with data that is unbiased, consistent and relevant. This can be done if there are national/regional bodies set up to prepare FACT SHEETS, that are just that, rather than opinion discussions. The fact sheets could also contain questions for discussion and for data gathering e.g. What do you (Rural citizen) know about GMOs, What are your current concerns about your farming/food purchasing/ etc practices ? What assistance, if any, do you need in improving your agricultural products / nutritional intake? etc. In this way, people would share a common knowledge base and have this base as a starting point for discussion of GMOs as relates to their individual and community situations. This would serve to define the terms and the issue.
Who should pay for distribution of information ? The GMO producers, local and national government and non governmental agencies should all contribute to the costs. Newspapers, TV, videotapes, websites, community leaders are all potential sources of information.
The College of The Bahamas
adelphi (at) batelnet.bs
Sent: 09 February 2005 15:37
Subject: 88: Choice, information and representation, yes, but focus on the right issues
From Jorge Mayer, Golden Rice Project Manager, Campus Technologies Freiburg, Germany.
I am worried that some messages in this conference have expressed deep mistrust in governments and scientists, and used that as a reason to involve the rural population in decision making processes far removed from their expertise. Errors and abuses are committed everywhere, the more so in incipient democracies, no doubt about that. Yet, the consequence cannot be to take over the reins in every decision of everyday life (in my message (number 66) I already mentioned pharmaceuticals or novel foodstuff as examples); this level of involvement amounts to anarchy.
Having confidence in democratic structures does not mean absence of involvement. Appropriate representation at all levels must guarantee the working of control mechanisms, e.g. having peer-reviewed scientific opinions, morally and politically balanced decision making, and expert feedback in all these processes (farmers will be probably involved here). Decisions made by those who represent us at different levels must be transparent, and those who make them must be accountable for their deeds. If a level of control is missing, there must be mechanisms to establish that missing control point. Once those mechanisms are in place, there is no need for the general public to be involved in the minutia pertaining to that area.
In my former message, I have tried to avoid discussing topics that were handled in preceding conferences, like the equivalence of GMOs and their non GMO counterparts. This conference seems to take off from the premise that field performance of a trait generated through genetic manipulation is a priori different from one generated by other means—like introgression from the wild or mutagenesis; hence this conference is asking for the general public to judge the technology as such. [The aim of this conference, as with the other 11 that have been hosted so far, is to take one particular subject relevant to agricultural biotechnology in developing countries and provide a neutral platform for a moderated exchange of views/experiences on the subject. The subject of public participation in decision-making regarding GMOs is one receiving increasing attention by policy makers in recent years, where e.g. many developing country governments have recently adopted international agreements/guidelines with specific provisions regarding public awareness and participation. In this context, the hosting of an e-mail conference on this subject seemed timely and appropriate...Moderator].
Farmers can adopt or reject new varieties, GMO or non GMO. They can choose to use a new herbicide or not. A decision will be made based on economic and management considerations, not on how the gene was introduced. If a farmer will be made liable for “contaminating” the neighbour’s fields with its GM crop, then s|he may decide that the situation is unmanageable and therefore the variety will not be adopted. Such a decision would not have anything to do with the fact that it was a GM crop.
Without any doubt, I support the notion that farmers should have a choice — competition amongst companies as well as availability of public varieties — and plenty of information. They also deserve that strict adherence to international standards is observed by their respective countries in respect of handling and registration of agrichemicals, phytosanitary regulations, distribution channels, etc.
I would like to remind some participants that this conference is about farmers in developing countries. In my own experience, if a kid from a small farm finishes high school, s|he will usually leave the farm for a better paid job in a city. We have a moral responsibility to make sure that the information that reaches farmers is correct to the best of our knowledge. At the same time, we must consider our level of expectation if we want to let them vote on every new farm product, because that is the level of consequence we should derive from this conference. If we’re asking for small farmers in developing country to decide whether they want GMOs or not, we must let them decide on every innovation we’d like to introduce into their farms. I would like to make this one point clear to the participants: I don’t want to disempower the farmers, I only want you to focus on the right issues. Most people have already made up their minds in respect of GMOs. If you think that GMOs are dangerous by virtue of the technology applied, then make sure that they are rejected already at the highest levels, don’t wait until they reach the fields. If, on the contrary, you believe that the trait is what counts, then again, meet the registration decisions at the official level and let the farmers decide on the usefulness of the trait.
By allowing everyone to have their say, sound projects can be delayed and sometimes even made impossible. In this way, opponents of the technology can achieve their goal by the tactic of 'divide et impera' (divide and rule).
Dr Jorge E. Mayer
Golden Rice Project Manager
Center for Applied Biosciences
University of Freiburg
Stefan Meier Str 8
jorge.mayer (at) zab.uni-freiburg.de
Ph +49 (761) 203 5022
Fax +49 (761) 203 5021
Sent: 09 February 2005 16:53
Subject: 89: Indigenous people
This is Edo Lin, independent consultant.
Question 6d of the conference background paper addresses the question of indigenous people (i.e. "Should specific considerations be given to involving indigenous communities in decision-making regarding GMOs? If so, how can this best be achieved?").
The International decade of the world's indigenous people (1994-2004) has just ended and a draft UN Declaration on the rights of indigenous people will hopefully be finalised soon. In Article 30 of this draft, indigenous people have the right to determine and develop priorities for the development or use of their lands, territories and other resources. Chapter 26 of Article 21 (Rio Earth Summit) states, inter alia, that arrangements shall be made for indigenous people to participate in national formulation of policies, laws and programmes related to resource management and development that may affect them. There are many other International fora which have expressed the rights of indigenous people regarding the ownership, management and use of their natural resources and the right to consultation prior to, during and after, development activities are implemented.
I think that it therefore clear that indigenous people should also be consulted in matter of biotechnology and biosafety. This is especially important when you take into account that there are several kinds of knowledge needed in the debate and that traditional or indigenous knowledge can make an important contribution.
How to involve indigenous people in the debate is another question which needs addressing. Indigenous people are often marginalised in society and law. On 17-19 January of this year, the Secretariat of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (SPFII) organised an expert workshop on "Methodologies regarding free, prior and informed consent and indigenous people". The workshop proceedings are not yet available but could give a better insight into the question of how we can facilitate the full participation of indigenous people.
309, rue de Bombon
[- Official documents relating to the draft United Nations declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples can be found at http://www.ohchr.org/english/issues/indigenous/groups/groups-02.htm.
- At the UN Conference on Environment and Development, held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, participating countries signed three agreements not binding in international law (Agenda 21, the Rio Declaration, Statement of Forest Principles) and two legally binding conventions (Framework Convention on Climate Change, Convention on Biological Diversity). Chapter 26 of Article 21 is available at http://www.un.org/esa/sustdev/documents/agenda21/english/agenda21chapter26.htm
- The draft agenda of the meeting referred to in the final paragraph is available at http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/panels/freeprior_training.htm ...Moderator].
Sent: 09 February 2005 17:39
Subject: 90: Modelling the farmer making adoption decisions in a social vacuum
This is Glenn Stone, again.
Jorge Mayer (Message 88) writes "Farmers can adopt or reject new varieties, GMO or non GMO. They can choose to use a new herbicide or not. A decision will be made based on economic and management considerations, not on how the gene was introduced. If a farmer..". This greatly oversimplifies the factors affecting adoption, especially in developing countries.
Farmers adopt partly for cultural reasons. A good recent example appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), 102(3), 2005: "Maize diversity and ethnolinguistic diversity in Chiapas, Mexico" by Perales, Benz and Brush. It shows that ethnolinguistic groups plant their own landraces of maize that aren't necessarily the best adapted to their area.
I am studying adoption of cotton types in Andhra Pradesh (both GM and conventional) and finding strong local preferences that have little or no agronomic basis. The local favorites have more to do with social processes. (There is a group of anthropologists, led by Boyd and Richerson, who have written about some of these processes.)
Farmers tend to rely increasingly on social processes (e.g. emulation, or seeking out others' interpretations of agricultural phenomena) as information becomes more variable and outcomes less predictable. In Andhra Pradesh, there is a much stronger pattern of local "noneconomic" favorites in cotton production -- where all the variables are highly variable and results unpredictable -- than in rice or gram production.
So you can't model the farmer as making adoption decisions in a social vacuum based on adequate agro-economic information. You have to look more synthetically at the system. If you're interested in GMOs, you can't simply ask how the Bt affects bollworms, you have to ask the broader question of how the introduction of GM crops affects the farmers' information environment. The more the technology and all the hoopla surrounding it increases the variability and unpredictability of agricultural information, the more farmers will rely on social processes rather than individual environmental assessments.
Glenn Davis Stone
Prof. of Anthropology and Environmental Studies
St. Louis, MO 63130
stone (at) wustl.edu