[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: 18 January 2005 12:07
Subject: 11: Democracy
My name is Patricia L Farnese and I teach Agricultural Law at the University of Saskatchewan, in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.
I have been reading the comments of the fellow participants with interest. I have some comments I wish to share concerning what I have read so far.
First, we must be very careful not to assume that those who do not share our opinions are "uneducated" or that once "educated" they will change their views on the issue. For instance, there are many reasons, besides safety, that I am leery about the continued introduction of GMOs. Of particular concern is the movement of genetic resources out of the public domain and into private hands. In addition, the private control of GMO plant-genetic material is bordering a state of monopoly. No amount of information about the safety of GMOs will convince me that the monopolization of this sector is in the best interests of society.
I turn now to the bigger question of rural participation in decision-making regarding GMOs. Are they not citizens? True democracy requires that all citizens be engaged in the democratic process. Therefore, elected representatives have a duty to ensure that their actions are, in fact, representative of ALL voices. Citizens may not be involved in all government decisions, but that is because they CHOOSE not to be involved in issues of no concern to them. Democracy means, no matter what the reason, when citizens choose to become involved, they are entitled to participate in government and put any issue on the agenda. Democracy also means that citizens can regulate however they want, even if the motivations and results are irrational to the outsider. (Note: citizens often limit this right by signing treaties, constitutions, etc.) To date, only fundamental human rights and the sovereign rights of states exist in international law (outside of treaties) to limit the rights of citizens within a country to govern themselves. Corporations and GMOs do not have those rights, so in a true democracy, their interests in regulating GMOs would never replace the interests of the people.
So, my answer to the question of rural participation in decision-making regarding GMOs is that, without their voice, government regulation in the area is illegitimate.
I look forward to your comments.
Patricia L. Farnese, B.A., LL.B., LL.M.
Assistant Professor, College of Law
Senior Law Fellow, Centre for Studies in Agriculture, Law and the Environment
University of Saskatchewan
e-mail: plf472 (at) duke.usask.ca
Sent: 18 January 2005 12:07
Subject: 12: Malawi
My name is Charles Mkula. I am the executive secretary of the Agri-Ecology Media, an all media practitioners organisation on agriculture and the environment.
I think this conference will help shape our organisations’ direction on the GMO issue which up to now is not well understood by the general public including our legislators.
I strongly believe it is important to give the public, especially the people in the village, quality information that will help them make informed choices as to the pros and cons of GMOs.
In my country there has not been adequate debate involving the rural masses on GMOs. The issue has largely been taken care of by technocrats without input from farmers. If anything it is more of the urban population consumers that got involved, however, in household level discussion of GMO foodstuffs found in superstores that are not even found in the rural areas.
On the other hand, the farmer was denied appropriate information on GM seeds.
Phone +265 8 339 200 / +265 9 202 409
E-mail hyphenmedia (at) earthdome.com / c_mkula (at) yahoo.co.uk
Sent: 18 January 2005 16:36
Subject: 13: Re: Why should the public be involved...?
This is Edo Lin, independent consultant.
Both Diogenes Infante (Message 4, January 17) and Michel Ferry (Message 3, January 17) ask the question why the public (rural or not) should be involved in the decision making process regarding GMOs. I would like to indicate three different levels where decisions on GMOs are made and each of which have an impact on the livelihood of rural (and urban) people. These three levels are the international level (World Trade Organization, Convention on Biological Diversity, Codex etc), the national level (development of a national biotechnology strategy) and the local level (acceptance of GMOs for planting or consumption).
1. At the international level, many developing countries have signed up to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the related Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and are members of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Having signed up to these international conventions, countries have rights and obligations when it comes to GMOs (or LMOs (living modified organisms)) both within the context of their own development of GMOs as within the context of trade in GMOs or food and feedstuffs containing or derived of GMOs.
As I mentioned in my earlier message (nr. 10, January 17) the obligations under these conventions may limit the scope of what national governments can do with the outcomes of national debates and public decision making. For instance, risk assessments based on sound and transparent science versus ethical and social concerns or the precautionary principle.
Apart from a number of very vocal demonstrations against globalisation, I don't think that many poor people have been consulted in the decision making process on whether to join or not.
2. At the national level, countries will need to design a national policy for the development of biotechnology (not only for green but also for industrial and medical applications) which should include, inter alia, the role of biotechnology and GMOs within the framework of poverty alleviation and food security, appropriate biosafety regulations and risk assessments, intellectual property rights and money to be spent on biotech research in the long term.
At this stage very few developing countries have developed national biotechnology strategies although many are working with the help of UNEP/GEF (United Nations Environment Programme/Global Environment Facility) on the establishment of biosafety regulations.
At the national level, there is a need for all stakeholders and especially rural people to get involved in the discussion and decision making as the outcomes of a national biotechnology strategy will directly affect their livelihoods. For example, in Egypt several GM crops are reaching commercialisation. These include some of the main export earners such as rice, bananas, potatoes and cotton. In Egypt, 60% or more of these products are produced by small-scale farmers. The introduction of GM crops may have considerable impact on export of these commodities to, for instance, the European Community (EU) where none of these GM crops have yet been approved for food or feed. Another example is the increasing likelihood that food aid will at least partially consist of GMOs. In 2002 several Southern African countries refused shipments of GM maize sent as emergency food aid because of environmental and human health concerns. Although the GM maize was eventually allowed in (after milling) this was not the result of a reasoned debate or public decision making.
3. At the local level, biotechnology including GM crops still hold promise for increased food security and poverty alleviation. Informed choices (including the choice for alternatives to GMOs!) will have to be made and priorities set at the local level. In many developing countries there is no predominant production system, like for instance in the United States Mid West, but fields are mixed or intercropped, are close to neighbouring fields, seed saving and exchange between farmers is frequent etc. The introduction of GMOs will therefore not only affect individual farmers but whole communities. Individual and collective prioritizing and decision making is therefore a must.
Janaki Krishna (Message 1, January 17) gave the example of Andra Pradesh where an interactive bottom-up approach has been pioneered and has shown that also at village and community level, rural people understand complex issues and are able to prioritize. I hope that she will be so kind as to expand more on the actual process and outcomes during this conference.
309, rue de Bombon
lin.edo (at) free.fr
Sent: 18 January 2005 16:43
Subject: 14: Contribution from West Bengal
This is from Prof. S.K.T. Nasar, retired Director of Research, Bidhan Chandra Krishi Viswavidyalaya, West Bengal, and former Chairman, Department of Genetics, Rajendra Agricultural University, Bihar, and Miss Reshma Nasar, Fishery Extension Officer, Government of West Bengal, India. We are attached with awareness and programme implementation on agriculture including GMOs among rural communities for several years.
Firstly, public comprehension on GM crops/organisms is either superficial or missing. As a result, public participation in decisions on GMOs is largely the echo of the information ‘conveyed’ by lobbyists. These pressure groups take opposite and, at times, fundamentally extreme views. The casualties are the real issues and facts about GMOs. Public participation, unless based on informed decision-making, will only complicate the process.
Secondly, we agree with Janaki Krishna (Message 1, January 17) that in many parts of rural India, opportunities for people to be taught about current events outside their village around the world are limited due to inadequate communication system. Deprived communities have little time for, or access to, library, television, radio and print media. Likewise, computer, internet, video and cinema are yet to be used by the majority in the remote countryside.
Thirdly, in a democratic system, political and community leaders organise the masses in favour or against issues of public importance. Fortunately, in India the legislatures and the governments at the center and the states have taken well-informed stance. GMOs have been legislated upon through r-DNA Guidelines (operative), the Biological Diversity Act, the Plant Variety Protection and Farmers’ Rights Act (in process) and the modified Patent Act (under active and immediate consideration).
Fourthly and finally, there is a resolute suspicion not so much about the beauty, science, relevance and potential of GMOs as for its factual or perceived ‘politics of exploitation’. Unscrupulous GMO-developers surreptitiously thrust Bt-cotton in India leading to damning rhetoric followed by government disapproval, and then approval. Few influential, but inclined researchers undertook trials without due endorsement. The message penetrated public mind as persistent suspicion about GMOs. Deep-seated suspicion makes it difficult to organise an unbiased and a rational view of the matter for a meaningful participation of the public in decision-making.
It is crucial for the public to be well informed about GMOs. Most groups in rural communities, including women, subsistence farmers and village leaders have low capacity to undertake risks and are not easy to reach. Our awareness programmes in a participatory mode with Local Self Governments, Farmers’ Co-Operatives, and Farmers’ Groups that are well organised and active in the state of West Bengal were successful.
Empowering rural communities for decision making on GMOs is possible with two strategies in tandem: to make them aware about full and unbiased facts in terms of their own socio-economy and language followed by their tiered participation in the decision making process. It must be borne in mind that only an honest approach can succeed and that GMOs shall be blocked if seen as a means of exploitation.
The theme of this conference looks at the issue on a ‘global problem, local solution’ basis. This mind set has to be modified in the present context. GMO is a global public good. New Biology has an enormous future with fascinating and mind-boggling future. Its denial at the local level has negative global implication that must be addressed.
We propose that an independent international mechanism, preferably coordinated by FAO, should be organised to monitor without bias and to scientifically assess the impact of GMOs on local socio-economy and environment, and to make over the information to national systems. The national governments should take up massive-scale educational and awareness programmes in participation with local self governments, schools, other educational institutions, NGOs and farmers’ organisations. Each national government should publicise white papers especially for the political, scientific and community leaders. Rural communities should be encouraged to take informed decisions on GMOs communicated to national law makers for policy choice and implementation. This simply worded action plan will obviously entail huge cost and skilled manpower. National governments of developing countries should be drawn in to participate. Unless concerted efforts are made now, the entire idea of ‘'Public participation in decision-making regarding GMO’s in developing countries: How to effectively involve rural people” will remain yet another rhetoric.
S.K.T. Nasar & Reshma Nasar
sktnasar (at) hotmail.com