[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: 10 February 2005 10:36
Subject: 91: Questions 6a to 6f: Fiji
I am Permal Deo and work as a Lecturer at the University of South Pacific, Laucala Campus, Fiji Islands. I teach Food Science courses which include sections on GM foods. I must admit that the resource material provided before the session is very comprehensive and to me as an academic it is a good reference material.
I understand that Ruci Dakunimata (Message 73) did highlight Fiji (developing country) status in respect to GM foods and its concerns are still based on advocating (media and workshops) public. However, there is no concerns raised on the growers or farmers. Moreover, interest in this area has promoted the University to take a research project to address the continuing problem of Dalo (rootcrop) disease which is currently costing farmers a lot. This project will be undertaken in collaboration with Australian Universities.To address the issues as per the questions in Section 6 of the background document:
Giving priorities at all levels of decision making will bring more incentives for the rural farmers. Involving these vulnerable people wil raise incentives among themselves and hence their role under a wider scope of biotechnology. One might object to that, since most of the rural farmers are uneducated (certainly applicable to developing countries), however we should not forget that they have the skills hence translating information into laymans terms and into vernacular will create more healthy inputs at all levels.6b) "In which situations is it most important to include the rural people in decision-making regarding GMOs in developing countries?"
I certainly feel that while introducing a variety of crop or choosing the varieties that might best suit an area. These rural farmers will have ample knowledge on the crops they grow (cultivating).6c) "How can public participation opportunities be extended to groups in rural communities who are more difficult to reach or who have less access to communication channels (e.g., women, subsistence farmers)?"
Reaching to remote areas could be difficult due to geographical location and moreover if there are a number of small islands. However, use of community workers has proven to be a great success in relation to health information or agriculture. The same principles could be used where community advisors could be used. These advisors are regarded higher within the community and the locals will definitely feel comfortable working with this groups.6d) "Should specific considerations be given to involving indigenous communities in decision-making regarding GMOs? If so, how can this best be achieved?"
Involving rural community at all levels is important rather than targeting specific groups. However, special attention or special needs could be addressed when needed.6e) "What is the best medium (e.g. newspaper, radio, Internet etc.) for rural people in developing countries to access quality information about GMOs, that will allow them to participate effectively in the decision-making process?"
Further to Ruci Dakunimata's message (nr. 73), radio has proven to be a great success in advocating information. In Fiji, radio programmes are in the 3 main languages (English, Hindi and Fijian). In addition, special programmes are also aired especially in areas of agriculture and health related diseases. The programme of agricuture could be made a prime target since most rurual community workers use this.6f) "Which mechanisms can be used to ensure that relevant and reliable information/content is provided by the above media?"
Use of vernacular languages through the means of radio would be most appropriate. In addition, the community advisors would be another means since they would speak the same dialect of the farmers concerned.
Permal Deo, MAIFST, MIFST
Department of Biology
School of Pure and Applied Sciences
The University of the South Pacific
Laucala Campus, Fiji Islands
Ph: +679 3212567; 3212296 ; 3212415
Fax : + 679 3315601; Mobile: 9935533
Email: Deo_P (at) usp.ac.fj
Sent: 10 February 2005 11:25
Subject: 92: Leave the decisions on biosafety to the experts and national regulatory bodies
I am Dr. C.R. Bhatia (India), plant geneticist and breeder with over forty years involvement in genetic improvement of crops using hybridization, mutations, tissue culture and recombinant DNA (genetic engineering) methods. I have retired from field and bench research but continue international and national consultancy in agricultural biotechnology.
In general, all types of farmers, rich or poor, with large or small holdings, would like to have the freedom to choose the crop cultivars to grow. They will grow the cultivar/hybrid that enhances productivity, value, and in the end the net monetary return through reduced production cost, pesticide applications and labor. They will willingly pay higher cost of the seed for planting when convinced that the net returns would be higher. Only uncertainties of the growing season – drought or excess rain, and lack of cash to purchase seed, fertilizers and pesticides influences the investment decisions of farmers based on their own experience and estimation of risk–return. The farmers should always have the freedom to choose unless they opt for contractual farming.
How to arrive at the right choice? Even illiterate farmers in developing countries know very well what traits they would like in their crops – insect resistance, disease resistance, early maturity etc. However, they do not know what makes one cultivar resistant and the other highly susceptible and how resistant cultivars are developed. I wonder how anyone, including professional science communicators can explain genetic engineering to illiterate farmers who have no idea what is a cell, chromosome, or gene. I used to teach basic biology to engineering graduates, and believe me a majority would not know for certain how the sex of the child is determined, and the X and Y chromosomes. The ignorance is widespread even in literate population of the developed countries. Results of a survey in USA revealed that about 45% of the respondents were not aware that there are genes in the non GE crops. They carried the notion that the GE crops have the genes, and they would not like to eat genes. Farmers understand, and can differentiate between two resistant cultivars, but not the process – hybridization or genetic engineering - used for developing them. How can the possible environmental concerns of the gene conferring resistance transferred using GE versus that of another gene incorporated by hybridization be explained to the farmers?
The responses depend on the way the information is given, and the questions are framed. If it is told that the GE cultivar has been developed by the intrusion of the scientists (devils) in the God’s creation, the majority would say – NO; this should not be permitted at any cost. On the other hand, when they have experienced that a particular GE cultivar is not attacked by the insect pest, and is advantageous for them, they will go and plant it even if it is against the law as was the case of illicit Bt cotton in part of India.
Hence, to my mind the right approach should be to leave the decisions on biosafety to the experts, and the national regulatory bodies, as is followed in health care, foods and beverages, consumer goods and most other products. Does the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) obtain the opinion of the diabetics before approving recombinant human insulin in any country? No, to the best of my knowledge. After the approval, follow the participatory approach, organize demonstrations, and explain all the terms and conditions – high cost of seed, need to grow refugia etc. associated with the GE crop in a transparent manner.
Dr. C. R. Bhatia
Postal: 17 Rohini, Plot no. 29-30, Sector 9-A, Vashi,
New Bombay – 400 703,
e-mail: neil (at) bom7.vsnl.net.in
Sent: 10 February 2005 11:26
Subject: 93: Re: Choice, information and representation, yes, but focus on the right issues
It seems that Jorge Mayer (Message 88) forgets that the farmers are also consumers and forgets than in some countries the majority of the consumers do not want to eat GMOs. The reasons for this mistrust are various and as respectable as any other alimentation choice. One of these reasons can perfectly be the technical origin of the GMOs. Some people do not eat pork meat, some other have complicated alimentation rules, other prefer to eat organic products. All these choices are respectable and Jorge Mayer is wrong when he claims that denegating the GMOs for its technical origin is not also a respectable reason. There is nothing more cultural and more essential than food. In fact, most of the people that refuse the GMOs advance much more various and complex reasons, into which I don't want to enter here - other FAO conferences have been organized for this purpose.
This conference is on the involvement of the farmers. Clearly, as myself and others have already underlined here, the question of the content of unbiased information remains to be solved before asking how to involve the farmers. One of these pieces of information, for example, is to state that most of the European consumers refuse to eat GMOs products. Their rejection has not appeared in the USA because until now only less than half of Americans (48%) were aware that such products are currently for sale in supermarkets, and less than a third (31%) believed they had personally consumed GM foods (the Food Policy Institute, 2004). If some GMOs have been authorized in Europe recently, it is only because the USA have established a very strong push. This information of the non acceptance by the majority of the European consumers is important to communicate to the farmers of the South not only because it could make them think about the introduction of these type of plants in their consumption but because it can have direct consequences on their difficulty to export their products if they are GMOs.
Research Station on Date Palm and Oasis Farming Systems
Email: m.ferry (at) wanadoo.es
[The report referred to in the final paragraph is Hallman, W. K., Hebden, W. C., Cuite, C. L., Aquino, H. L., and Lang, J. T.. 2004. Americans and GM Food: Knowledge, Opinion and Interest in 2004. (Publication number RR-1104-007). New Brunswick, New Jersey; Food Policy Institute, Cook College, Rutgers - The State University of New Jersey http://www.foodpolicyinstitute.org/docs/reports/NationalStudy2004.pdf ...Moderator].
Sent: 10 February 2005 11:27
Subject: 94: Re: Choice, information and representation, yes, but focus on the right issues
This is Tracey McCowen from Canada. I am an independent bioethics consultant and a third generation farmer.
I would like to respond to Jorge Mayer's message 88. Although I like Dr. Mayer's point of empowering the farmer, I fear from experience that choice will not lead to farmer empowerment. I will use an anecdotal example to explain. Southern Ontario, where I live and farm, has a very high ratio of farmers growing Bt corn; well over sixty percent of corn acreage has been planted to Bt-corn in recent years. In 2003, strong winds and cool nights in September caused a tremendous amount of lodging. Everybody thought that the damage was ubiquitous, in time, though, it became apparent that it was over-whelmingly the Bt-corn that lodged, certainly some varieties of Bt-corn were stronger than others, but Bt-corn did not stand as well as non-Bt varieties. At the "farm Breakfast" the following February, we were told that the Bt varieties had not been bred for stalk strength, (that is what our seed distributor told us anyway.) The point is that the farmers had to cover the cost of a poor harvest. Small farmers, like farmers in developing countries, tend not to have crop insurance. With commodity prices at an all time low level, this leaves very little margin for bad harvests, or other calamities, such as BSE.
As a bioethicist I also have the unique position in conducting research. In an ongoing survey study of farmers growing Bt-corn in Ontario, I had the opportunity to ask farmers if, given the poor harvests, they would stop using the more expensive Bt technology. A number of farmers responded that they didn't feel that they had a choice since the seed companies were no longer producing non-Bt varieties suitable for their area. To be sure, this was not the majority response, but it points to the question of farmer choice raised by Jorge Mayer. Farmer "choice" is not such a straight forward option.
With regards to peer reviewed research; it takes a long time to collect data, and it is almost impossible to get funding; we are funded by a very small internal university grant.
Thank you for these informative conferences.
Tracey McCowen M.Be.
1314 King-Vaughan Rd
Maple, ON L6A 2A5
tmccowen (at) yahoo.com
Sent: 10 February 2005 11:28
Subject: 95: Re: Choice, information and representation, yes, but focus on the right issues
Jorge Mayer (Message 88) explained well the common views of the scientists involved in producing GM crops and these views are understandable. However, it needs to be understood that farmers can not have the choice to accept or reject the GM varieties simply because their choice to grow GM will impact negatively on other farmers. Contamination will happen, markets are rejecting GM crops and non-GM farmers will be negatively impacted accordingly. This is why government intervention is necessary to assess and manage the economic risk and ensure industry preparedness is adequate to manage the issues.
As farmers we received legal advice from our Federal government regarding liability issues and it is clear that the liability for contamination rests with the non-GM farmer for economic loss associated with another farmer growing GM crops. This is because of signed contractual agreements claiming a "non-GM" status for contaminated grain that is not considered "non-GM". Although the non-GM farmer could sue his neighbour for recompense (highly unlikely to happen in a third world country) the case would be very difficult to prove... which neighbour? were they negligent ? did they follow the crop management plan prepared by the company (which we already know will not address the problem) ? etc. See http://www.non-gm-farmers.com/news_details.asp?ID=1520. Just as governments will not promote the artistic sector by allowing them to vandalise property with graffitti, governments can not promote the research and development sector to the detriment of the agricultural sector by allowing the conventional crops produced by the farming sector to be contaminated with a GM product that markets are rejecting. As discussed, the key issue with GM crops that needs to be addressed is liability because the associated liability for the economic loss associated with contamination should not rest with those farmers that choose not to grow GM crops. It is not anarchy, it is fair risk management that must be addressed by governments and must be addressed prior to any GM crops being introduced. How governments address this problem is the challenge.
Network of Concerned Farmers
P.O. Box 6
Ph 08 98711562
Fax 08 98711584
email julie (at) non-gm-farmers.com
Sent: 10 February 2005 11:29
Subject: 96: Re: Modelling the farmer making adoption decisions in a social vacuum
From Tony Dunn:
Re Glenn Stone's contribution (Message 90) on 'social factors' in adoption:
I strongly agree with you Glenn. What you say is apt - in fact so much human behaviour is socially driven - even determined, and yet do I detect some Margaret Thatcherisms in the scientific debate we are having, namely ...there is no such thing as society...!
School of Agriculture
Charles Sturt University
Locked Bag 588
Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, 2678
e-mail: adunn (at) csu.edu.au