[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: 11 February 2005 09:51
Subject: 97: Contribution from Madagascar
This is from Xavier Rakotonjanahary, a plant breeder using mostly conventional methods (hybridization, mutation) for many years and I am currently working on rice and legumes in a national research center. My country, Madagascar, is economically agricultural-based and rice is the main crop. I have been following the debate with much attention as GM plants are becoming more and more important, not only in industrial crops but also in food crops. Many things have been said and maybe, I will probably repeat what was said. I thank the participants who have been giving their comments and the organizers for this interesting conference.
The involvement of rural people in decision-making regarding GMOs in developing countries is not an easy task as it embraces many aspects from education to seed and food markets and agro-technical concerns. Regarding specific questions in Section 6 of the background document:
Question 6a: The priority governments should give to involving the rural people in decision-making regarding GMOs in developing countries is education, information, public awareness and promotion of GMO. A pre-requisite for that is governments and public officers are convinced that GMO are definitely better than non GMO.
Question 6b: The most important situations in which the rural people in decision-making regarding GMOs would be included are that GMO are efficient for improving the income and livelihood of rural people.
Question 6c: The public participation opportunities are 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) in the traditional ways: this is mainly exchange from farmer to farmer and from farmer organizations.
Question 6d: Specific considerations which should be given to involving indigenous communities in decision-making regarding GMOs are the cost of GMO. Usually, new technologies are expensive that poor farmers cannot afford; so, this could be achieved at least for the first step of spreading GMO by providing GMO quality seeds at a reasonable price.
Question 6f: The mechanisms which could be used to ensure that relevant and reliable information/content is provided by the above media are field demonstrations, and/or at least video projections in order to familiarize the rural people with GMO.
Question 6g: The main information and communication needs of the rural people related to GMOs are a simple, but complete and unbiased information. To respond to these needs, farmer organizations are needed. Of course, most appropriate approaches are information, field demonstration and GMO seed promotion. Field demonstration will show technical advantages over traditional varieties (herbicide resistance, pest resistance, etc,...). Local languages will be more appropriate.
I would like to add that GMO could be distinguished as GM crops (or animals) and the GM foods (derived from living organisms). Whereas for the former, risks are contamination of non-GM crops in the surrounding fields and seed dependance on big companies, for the latter, risks of toxicity and allergenicity were propagated by anti-GMO groups. Personnally, I am convinced that in the future, science will wipe out these drawbacks. However, I would like to finish by raising some questions, which maybe are beyond the scope of this conference. What is exactly the reality about toxicity and allergenicity ? If it is true, is there progress in reducing allergenicity/toxicity of GM foods? How costly are the GM seeds compared to conventional seeds? About rice, I understand that there are two GMO varieties: the Bt and the Golden rice. How is the extension of cultivated area under these varieties ? What may be needed to improve the GM rice varieties ?...[No GM rice varieties have been commercially released to date. Participants wishing to respond to Xavier's points/questions raised in this paragraph are asked to reply to him personally and not to the conference...Moderator].
National Center of Applied Research for Rural Development
BP 1690, Antananarivo 101
e-mail: r.xavier (at) simicro.mg
Tel: 261 20 22 602 38
Sent: 11 February 2005 11:28
Subject: 98: GMOs and decision-making in Africa
I am Gabriel Mbassa, a Professor of veterinary anatomy and cell biology, researcher on biotechnological control of a cattle disease East Coast Fever, and production of other biotechnology product, Sokoine University of Agriculture, Morogoro, Tanzania.
First, I thank FAO for organizing this e-conference on “Public participation in decision-making regarding GMOs in developing countries: How to effectively involve rural people" (and on other themes in the past).
Before coming to specific theme questions, I would like to discuss some factual issues related to development, uses, decisions, marketing and acceptance of GMOs. Why GMOs for only developing countries, why not developed countries? Edo Lin (Message 13) says that none of the GM crops have been approved for food or feed in EU. The theme of the conference gives an impression that a decision has already been made, that there are GMO producers seeking for markets in developing countries. This is obviously not suprising, from the events we see in our developing countries. This leads us to another question: who is the beneficiary of GMOs, the producers or the people in the developing countries? Obviously, the former are the beneficiaries, a market problem for a GMO producer is turned into a problem of deemed client, particularly the weak developing countries. But a good product markets itself. It does not need to formulate an agenda to force people to use it. It does also not need the World Bank or FAO to decide on who to use it. The theme of the conference shows also that FAO is extremely far away from reality of peasants in Africa (other developing countries may be different). African peasants are powerless, information-less, starving, and in abject poverty living on less than 20 USA cents a day. Africa has not moved an economic development inch. In fact, majority of people are worse off today than 1990’s, but there has developed a post-colonial institution of corruption and robbery; a community of highly corrupt people who are non-farmers, non-producers but are major recipients of so called donor aid which they consume in urban areas in allowances and fuel, together with donors themselves. [Section 2 of the background document to the conference gives a brief overview of the current status regarding GMOs in the crop, forestry, livestock, fisheries and agro-industry sectors. It indicates e.g. that "Estimates for 2003 indicate that the United States, Argentina, Canada, Brazil and China accounted for 63, 21, 6, 4 and 4% respectively of the global transgenic acreage, and that GM soybean, maize, cotton and canola comprised 61, 23, 11 and 5% respectively of the 68 million hectares" and that "The commercial release of GM trees has been reported only in China (ca. 1.4 million poplar trees in 2002)"...Moderator].
Rural communities in development countries are different from country to country. In Africa, rural people have no food, water, no roads or any other infrastructure, medical care and their priority is to find food and water for that day. So how do you tell people in such harsh living to decide on GMOs, which they don’t know what they are?
There are only a few “researchers” in Africa (most countries) who know about GMO; the public rural or urban does not know and does not seek to know for very basic reasons, poverty and lack of education. Food production in rural Africa is done by the same poor peasants for years and years in their struggle for survival on their own. Even if you give them free of charge super-GMOs they have no appropriate land system and the means to produce. No formal systems are available to facilitate production by rural people. In fact they struggle even to keep a small piece of land, otherwise it would be taken by officials and fake officials.
The governments are tightly gripped by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank under force to sell companies, guarantee tax free mineral exploration for direct transportation to the West. The African educated people employed at miniature salaries, and the business population survive by manipulating donor funds, government contracts and government money collected from taxes under laws that are strict for poor people only. The educated, employed, business groups have no interest in knowing what GMOs are and don’t care whether a decision is reached for or against use or distribution of any GMO. To impart any success in African development, including GMO, African countries have to be brought to a level of education and governance that cares for the people. Colonially set governing systems that care for a few individuals must be dismantled, groups of selfish people colluding with foreigners/donors to rob resources while pretending to help the poor people must be eradicated. These are the first steps to bring dignity and prosperity to the people of Africa.
I wish also to give comments on who holds decisions in most of African countries. In the perceived poor countries of Africa, decisions on all matters or are not entirely national, including therefore GMO. The national level decision advanced by Edo Lin (Message 13) is only a theoretical process. The key players on everything are IMF and World Bank or the West. African governments are only told to sign. It then follows that public participation or what we call involving rural people on decision making is just pretence or hypocrisy. Yes we can ask the rural people some questions, then so what? If they decide against a certain GMO will their decision be honored? No, the World Bank will overrule, FAO will overrule, the producers will lobby or bribe the World Bank and government so that they sell whatever GMO product they pretend to have developed including fake GMO.
Department of Veterinary Anatomy,
Sokoine University of Agriculture,
mbassa (at) suanet.ac.tz
Sent: 11 February 2005 11:34
Subject: 99: Rural people must be consulted and given the right information
I am Antonio M. Claparols, president of the Ecological Society of the Philippines.
I would like to thank FAO for the debate and trust that it would result to a better world.
Having heard many arguments, I agree that rural peoples/farmers must be consulted and given the right information. The farmers are smart people - they know their farms, soils, the weather patterns best. They have been doing it for centuries. With reference to how rural folks can get involved in the decision process: It is very hard as they are not given proper and accurate information as well as they are pushed against the wall making them unable to participate in the decision making process properly. The information and transparency must be given to them for them to properly participate.
Antonio M. Claparols
Ecological Society of the Philippines
53 Tamarind Rd.
Forbes Park, Makati City
jamc (at) mozcom.com
Sent: 11 February 2005 12:38
Subject: 100: The need for independent oversight of GMO introduction
I am Glenn Ashton, a founder member of SAFeAGE – the South African Freeze Alliance on Genetic Engineering - networking a widely representative group of civil society groups, from faith based, to unions, NGOs and scientists, who demand a ban on GMOs until such a time as the necessity, desirability and safety of GMOs has been transparently demonstrated. SAFeAGE is biggest national network of GM sceptics on the continent. The views expressed are my own.
It is worth noting that even in free and democratic nations like South Africa that GMOs have been forced upon the populace, urban and rural, with no consultation or biosafety monitoring whatsoever, all against strong national democratic opposition.
I remain somewhat nonplussed by the sharp divide between proponents and those who are not necessarily opposed but who express concerns - not just about the relevance of the technology but about how GMOs are proposed to be evaluated, decided upon and then, if accepted as relevant, how they are to be delivered and monitored.
I am concerned to see many scientists – who often have a stake in the technology – standing upon the pulpit of science and insisting that only science based issues can be considered, while ignoring relevant and well-founded counterarguments. Worse, the blind rejection of economic, social, biosafety or cultural concerns as irrelevant is arrogant, racist and cynical.
There appears to be an inherent sense of elitism amongst GMO proponents. It is presumptuous to consider that scientists or the educated elite possesses superior levels of wisdom than less educated members of the general population. It is even more presumptuous to assume that the smoke and mirrors of ‘sound science’ can trump human and societal values. It is unacceptable in 2005 to maintain such positions or to suggest that people who do not understand genetics are incapable of gaining a good grasp of the agronomic, economic, social and practical consequences of GMOs.
Some of the most important contributions in this conference have emanated from social scientists and ethicists who have provided precisely the sort of analysis needed to properly unpack this technology for its intended recipients.
How do we inform rural people about the technology? Firstly those imparting the knowledge should not be stakeholders, such as TNCs (transnational corporations). Secondly, informants should work with relevant members of local communities through train-the-trainers programmes, imbizos (information sharing sessions) and through open debate. [A South African imbizo is traditionally “a gathering called by a traditional leader” but also “a meeting or workshop” http://www.safrica.info/what_happening/news/features/saoxford.htm ...Moderator].
We cannot allow, as in South Africa, the pursuit of public-private-partnerships between state and corporate interests in a perverse attempt to redress extension shortcomings. Major GMO TNCs are shamelessly working with and through front companies, producing newsletters supplying highly biased material, running training programmes for emerging farmers, all the while promoting their interests.
There are also cases of TNC working with state agrarian reform programmes, supplying a full range of government subsidised inputs that apparently includes herbicide resistant seed and chemicals, coupled to their ‘extension services’. Thus hopelessly skewed information is imparted to unsophisticated remote rural farmers who have never before seen an extension officer. There is no independent oversight, nor are baseline or comparative data produced or shared in many of these cases. Product promotion and producer dependence is the primary aim of such programmes.
It would be far more relevant for local/regional evaluation projects to be run, using direct methods of comparison of various agricultural technologies, each supplied with matching resource levels. Proper datasets must be agreed upon and supplied by independent agronomists in order to ascertain valid parameters, suitable to local needs and environments.
Local farmer participation will ensure that only those technologies that are relevant and sustainable to local needs are adapted. Rural farmers must be led by practical example, not by the nose.
P. O. Box 222
phone 27 (0) 21 7890 1751
ekogaia (at) iafrica.com
Sent: 11 February 2005 12:50
Subject: 101: bottom-top or top-bottom approach
I am Gabriel Mbassa, again.
It is not difficult to involve rural and urban people in any decision at all. All rural and urban people can be reached by visit, house to house. Any genuine mechanism to involve them to decide can be made, for to reach a decision, provided there is a genuine GMO product and the will of responsible people. There should be a clear proof that people are mobilized to decide on a genuine GM material not on a matter that carries a hidden motive to exploit or rob them, as normally happens in developing countries, Africa in particular. If there is any doubt on composition, on safety, on qualification, or motive of introducing any GMO there is no need even to involve the people. It should be rejected at international level to save the countries where laws and control is overrun by World Bank and IMF or irrelevant international organs.
In this case any GMO must provide all information. There should not be confidential information at all. The confidential information is the disease.
Is there real bottom-top approach or top-bottom approach? Generally there is no real bottom-top approach in any system and any community. People move from the top to the bottom to tell the bottom people what to do in order be seen by the donor as bottom-top decision. But any representative selected or appointed invited to a seminar, workshop, conference, meeting by the project donor, paid for allowances, transport accommodation and meals speaks in favour of the donor, not the people. In addition to this, the proceedings are written by project staff with words and conclusions, decisions, recommendations framed by project staff, designed to please the donor to continue to give funds. The whole system is top-bottom, with middle agent operating and manipulating top and bottom groups.
People have to be brought to a level of development, human freedom and economic freedom to choose what they want. At the moment it is premature to web poor people on advanced matters intended to benefit developed countries.
Department of Veterinary Anatomy,
Sokoine University of Agriculture,
mbassa (at) suanet.ac.tz
Sent: 11 February 2005 16:08
Subject: 102: Re: The need for independent oversight of GMO introduction
Me again, John Nishio.
I am concerned by recent postings about the integrity of science and scientists during the present conference. In Message 100, Glenn Ashton writes: "I am concerned to see many scientists - who often have a stake in the technology - standing upon the pulpit of science and insisting that only science based issues can be considered, while ignoring relevant and well-founded counterarguments. Worse, the blind rejection of economic, social, biosafety or cultural concerns as irrelevant is arrogant, racist and cynical."
One could say, "And vice versa." To wit, "I am concerned to see many Anti-RMO proponents - who often have a stake in the organic food industry - standing upon the pulpit of sustainability and the environment and insisting that only socio-economic and health based issues can be considered, while ignoring relevant and well-founded counterarguments. Worse, the blind rejection of science as irrelevant is arrogant, racist and cynical."
From Message 100: "There appears to be an inherent sense of elitism amongst GMO proponents. It is presumptuous to consider that scientists or the educated elite possesses [sic] superior levels of wisdom than less educated members of the general population. It is even more presumptuous to assume that the smoke and mirrors of 'sound science' can trump human and societal values. It is unacceptable in 2005 to maintain such positions or to suggest that people who do not understand genetics are incapable of gaining a good grasp of the agronomic, economic, social and practical consequences of GMOs."
Recently in the fall 2004 election in Butte County California, an anti-GE initiative was soundly defeated by the voters. The folks leading the "pro-GE" cause were the producers and ranchers. Anti-GE funds came from San Francisco and Idaho, but the pro-GE people raised almost all their funds locally. NO funds from any of the players such as Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow, etc. contributed. The local farmers were very effective in their efforts to defeat the Anti-GE initiative here. The producers in Butte County, California, who understand the “agronomic, economic, social, and practical consequences of GMO’s” might take offense to being called “elitist”.
[This thread is now cut - participants wishing to continue it can contact the message authors personally. On another issue, John Nishio also points out that a statement by Gabriel Mbassa in Message 98 is incorrect i.e. "Edo Lin (Message 13) says that none of the GM crops have been approved for food or feed in EU". The website of the European Commission states "Until 18 April 2004, GM food was regulated as novel food, and food derived from eighteen GM events have been approved so far (essentially maize and soy derivatives, oilseed rape oil and cottonseed oil). There was no specific legislation covering GM feed, but nine GM events (five maize varieties, three rape varieties and one soy variety) have been approved under the EU environmental legislation so far, and these approvals include the use as or in feedingstuffs". More details can be found on that website (http://europa.eu.int/comm/food/food/biotechnology/authorisation/index_en.htm) ...Moderator].
John N. Nishio
Biocompatible Plant Research Institute
College of Natural Sciences
California State University
Chico, CA 95929--0555
JNishio (at) csuchico.edu
Sent: 11 February 2005 17:34
Subject: 103: Involving rural people at household/farm or national level
My apologies for coming in at the back end of the discussion. I’m Maria Protz, a development communications consultant based in Jamaica. I recently had the privilege of providing some modest technical advice to support the Government of Grenada’s process of public involvement in biosafety (as part of the support provided through FAO’s Biosafety Capacity Building initiative). My thoughts are set within this specific Caribbean context.
I’ve been very impressed with the geographical range of the comments and the diversity of experience represented - farmers, scientists, lawyers, academics, anthropologists, activists, communicators, bioethics specialists, consumer affairs specialists and would like to thank FAO and congratulate them for hosting this conference.
I have found the dialogue extremely interesting and highly indicative of the challenges that do in fact face ‘public participation’ in general about GMOs. It is a highly emotive and complex subject, but its urgency makes it imperative to find concrete ways of focusing and ensuring that healthy dialogue does in fact take place.
My attention is first drawn back to the specific task we were asked to address in the Background Document: "...discussion in the conference will not consider the issues of whether GMOs...should or should not be used or the attributes, positive or negative, of GMOS themselves, but instead how the rural people in developing countries can be effectively involved in the decision-making process regarding production, release or import of GMOs".
So as a confirmed practitioner, I wish to offer a few reflections on what has been said, and to humbly offer some practical contributions to the questions we were asked to address in Section 6 of the Background Document:1. Question (6a) - Concerning the level of priority that governments should give to involving the rural people in decision-making regarding GMOs in developing countries.
At the first level (i.e. (1) above), the answer is obviously yes - as several persons have noted, but it is also true to say here that scientists and biotechnology experts, researchers, environmental experts, lawyers and other experts should be equally involved and that they may have much more of the upfront loading work to do in the process, as the experts. Do farmers need to understand detailed scientific information about genetic structure, specific laboratory techniques, all the nitty gritty details and ‘hard science’ behind GMOs and so forth - no, probably not. But they do need to be involved in confirming or rejecting certain legislative and regulatory structures for a number of reasons I’d like to soon mention in addressing Question (6b).
At the second rural or farm household level (i.e. (2) above) - the answer is obviously also yes, that rural people should be involved as the primary stakeholders, but here the technocrats will have little use. Farming by performance (a la Richards)- as well as science - is how the farm family ultimately makes the decisions. However, these farm-level decisions will be influenced or constrained by those at the first order, higher legislative and regulatory level, so it is important that rural people are involved at that level as well.2. Question (6b). In consideration of ‘which situations are most appropriate” to include rural people in decision-making regarding GMOs in developing countries, the level of priority addressed in Question (6a) becomes even clearer.
Several situations or ‘issues’ are critical for feedback of rural people in the GMO debate. Those at the household or farm level are perhaps most obvious because they affect rural people most directly:· Issues of marketing and distribution - as Julie Newman (Message 5) noted, are very important. In addition, what harvesting and post-harvesting techniques will need to change? Be added? How will packaging change? How will labeling change? Agro-processing? Who will pay for this transition?
In short - there are several orders of decision-making that are involved - not just one question that needs to be answered 'yes' or 'no' as other commentators have noted. These are just a few of the practical issues that need to be addressed with farmer input and which justify their involvement in decision-making.
Maria Protz, Ph.D.
Development Communications Consultant
P.O. Box 291, St. Ann's Bay
Jamaica, West Indies
Phone: (876) 972-2352
Cell: (876) 878-5326
protz (at) mail.infochan.com