[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: 19 January 2005 13:21
Subject: 15: Re: Why should the public be involved...?
I am Shanthu Shantharam, an international consultant on biotech affairs and management.
There is no question and there is no doubt that public participation must be facilitated to implement agricultural biotechnology in all countries. Public includes rural people. Now what does it mean by public participation? How to go about it? Does the public really care? Or is that some self-appointed interlocutors make loud noises on behalf of the "public" and therefore, we all need to worry about it? What is the credibility of these interlocutors for articulating the "public" views? I bet most of the public don't even understand or know what is it that all this squabbling about in biotechnology!
As far as I can see, biotechnology involves three distinct but contiguous phases. Laboratory R&D, field testing for efficacy and safety and commercialization. I am a votary of assessing social and economic impacts of any technology that will be made available to the public, but wonder how useful it will be for untrained and uninformed (science and technology wise) public to provide for public participation in research and technology development. They will not be able to make any useful contribution. It makes no difference whether they are rural or urban public or they are educated or not. They have to have expert knowledge in the subject to make useful contributions. Safety analysis and decision making can only be done by the experts but one can ask for public comments. My experience in the United States by allowing public input on regulatory decision making has been that they have not be very useful. In fact, public is not really interested unless there has been a media expose on the topic momentarily.
Public input may be critical at the commercialization stage to gauge their perception. Social and economic assessments must also be made available to the public. Public must be informed and must be allowed to provide input.
Even now, public opinion is not sought for developing pharmaceuticals and drugs, introducing new varieties of plants and animals and new chemical insecticides and pesticides and many other endeavors. The same rural farmers have not objected to them and what is so special about GMOs that they would do so now unless some interlocutor might provoke them as it is going on now. My experience with developing country farmers is that if you show clear economic benefit with the use of technology and it is easy to use or adopt, they will give it a try. If it proves to be what it said it will do, they will adopt it, otherwise, they won't. Stealth Bt-cotton in India is the best example of this instance. Then, you cannot keep it away from them.
Seeking general public input is really not going to serve any purpose as there would not be any. But, by stratifying the public into focus groups and surveying them for their perceptions and opinions on a continuous basis will be valuable in developing both public policy on biotechnology and to the industries to direct their inventions to meet the felt needs of the public (rural included).
e-mail: sshantharam (at) biologistics.us
Sent: 19 January 2005 13:25
Subject: 16: Re: Why involve the rural people on the issue of GMOs
I am Sylvia Kosalko. I develop educational workshops on nutritional issues in the USA.
I believe education should be the first step in any new proposed change. However, I believe Michel Ferry (Message 3, January 17) to have hit the nail squarely on the head with this one. Before we begin to educate the rural people on GMOs, we must first ask ourselves why. Why are we involved in this issue of entire cultures food dependency? Do any of us have the right to make a decision as important as this for another culture, or for that matter, even one human being? Perhaps, before this question of how to introduce the GMOs into their world is considered, they should be consulted to see if they even want the interference in their countries. Who benefits the most from the introduction of these organisms. Is it not the multi-national corporations who have a vested interest in assuring a new market for their product? Perhaps the world of academia has an interest also as millions of dollars of research monies are being funneled to their biotech projects from these corporations, in addition to the intellectual standing in their communities. In order for these under developed countries to fully understand the complexities of this issue, it would take an enormous mass educational undertaking that would encompass all individuals involved, from those of an understanding age to older adults. It would necessitate a multi-media approach such as the well-developed countries have, in addition to a more intimate approach such as a basic door-to-door, one individual at a time, education project. It would or should involve reaching the masses at their elementary levels. You can realize the magnitude and the expense of such an undertaking. This would take many years in order to allow the rural class to fairly decide such an important cultural change. Let us not deceive ourselves into thinking that there is not more at stake here. Once you change a society's basic food culture, you change the rest of their society. As Patricia Farnese (Message 11, January 18) so succinctly stated, they have the right to be democratically involved in this process, in their language, and in their time frame. To do anything less is not morally, ethically or legally, correct.
Good 4 You Nutrition
P.O. Box 372
skosalko (at) verizon.net
Sent: 19 January 2005 13:28
Subject: 17: Extension system
My name is Hastings Zidana, I am a fisheries researcher in Fish Breeding and Genetics section at Malawi National Aquaculture Centre, Zomba, Malawi.
In the case of my country Malawi, if you want to involve the rural people in decision making regarding GMOs, the best way will be to use the structures which have already been laid down by the Ministry of Agriculture. These are community sections called extension planning area (EPA'S), which are used as a platform to give information of new technologies in agriculture for my country. Each extension area has got staff of field-specific expertise e.g. veterinary, fisheries, health, crops and animal health. The staff houses are strategically located right away in the villages and they are part of the rural community.
How is Malawi affected by GMO products? This is through aid like the GMO maize and through imports which have GMO ingredients in it.
As we can see from the webpage on "Biotechnology Policy Documents of FAO Members", as of April 2004 only 12 country documents have been finalised. It means many countries, Malawi included, need to have some regulations on GMO e.g. National Policy on GMO. It is during such times that the rural people need to be involved. However, for the rural people to have a full participation in a specialised field like GMO, they need to be well informed on what is involved. [The reference here is to a webpage (http://www.fao.org/biotech/country.asp) of the FAO Biotechnology website which aims to bring together on-line biotechnology policy documents from FAO members. The majority of documents there are national policy documents, but regional (within country) documents are also included. When last updated in April 2004, it had links to biotechnology policy documents from Australia, Canada, Chile, Finland, India, Ireland, Namibia, Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa and Sweden, as well as the European Community. If there are any missing or new documents, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org with the details...Moderator].
Firstly the extension staff, who are going to coordinate the involvement of the rural people should understand what subject they are dealing with. The government and private sector should make an effort so that these extension staff are well informed on GMO issues before they are going to coordinate. They should be able to understand both the scientific and ethical issues involved. These extension staff acts like guiders to the rural people and the rural people have got more trust in the information given by the extension staff in their area than any other stranger e.g. a government staff member from a research institution coming to give a lecture on GMOs, the same lecture given by the local extension staff. The rural people will listen more to their extension staff than the government researcher. This is why there is a need to invest more in these extension workers. Another advantage is that these extension workers are staying in the villages with the rural people and they work on a day to day basis with these rural people, so its easy for these extension workers to give information regarding GMOs to rural people than other government officials, who can only come once to the village to give this information.
After the extension workers are well informed on GMOs, then they can hold meetings with the rural people to disseminate the information on GMOs. The extension workers will be able to identify those who are able to synthesis the information based on their meetings and these type of rural people should be the ones to represent their areas in the National forums which are discussing issues on GMOs like formulation of National policy.
Many countries have got different extension system set ups and it may be difficult to generalise how to effectively involve the rural people through a structure like the extension system. Hence this scenario is based on the Malawi extension system.
It is high time for the GMO information to start to reach the rural people. This is because a scenario I have explained above is based on planned circumstances, like you want to formulate a National Policy. What about in a situation like, the other one whereby Malawi would like to recieve aid of GM maize. You do not have enough time to consult the rural people whether the country should receive this aid or not.
With the dwindling resources towards extension activities and new policies like privatisation of extension services, the system is suffering heavy loss of staff nad capital resources, but important issues like GMOs are coming up and the debates are increasing day by day. There is need for a combined effort to reach the rural people on this issue. Donor countries should invest more as well, to enable these extension messages reach the rural people.
The response is based on my experience working with the rural Malawian communities for some years.
National Taiwan Ocean University,
Department of Aquaculture,
202, Pei-Ning Road,
MP: + 886 0925956484
hzidana2004 (at) yahoo.co.uk
Sent: 19 January 2005 13:32
Subject: 18: Questions 6f - 6j in the Background Document
I am Janaki Krishna from India, again.
The conference is turning out to be interesting. I feel that we have crossed the stage of ‘why to involve rural people in decision making with regard to GMOs’. Now the question is on ‘how to effectively involve them’, otherwise we would be making rounds in the conference on 'WHY'.
From the messages I came to know that some participants are curious to know about Andhra Pradesh Netherlands Biotechnology Programme. It is an innovative Dutch-funded Programme working towards improvement of quality of life of resource poor through development of agricultural biotechnologies. The Programme is being implemented by the Biotechnology Unit, Institute of Public Enterprise, Hyderabad, India. The process at every stage involves various stakeholders in the technology development i.e. right from priority setting to technology development, refinement, adaptation and evaluation. For details, I request interested participants to kindly visit the website http://www.apnlbp.org wherein the details on the objectives, approach, organizational structure and projects funded are provided. As of now, the website is quite functional.
I agree with the views of Edo Lin (Message 10 (January 17) and 13 (January 18)), Mamadou Khouma (Message 8, January 17), S K T Nasar and Reshma Nasar (Message 14, January 18) and Patricia Farnese (Message 11, January 18) wherein lot of insights were provided. Especially the message from Julie Newman (nr. 5, January 17), wherein she suggested that fundamentally market interests of farmers are important with regard to introduction of GMOs is very much appropriate.
With regard to my views on the set of other five questions in Section 6 of the Background Document:
6f) "Which mechanisms can be used to ensure that relevant and reliable information/content is provided by the above media".
While providing information on new technologies like recombinant DNA (rDNA) technology, the source of information has to be well scrutinized and validated by the concerned persons and editors responsible for publishing or telecasting. In this regard, media can also be sensitized on the ‘pros and cons of GMOs’ by involving them in debates, scientific conferences relating to GMOs, not just for the purpose of publicity but involving them as one of the stakeholders.
6g) "What are the main information and communication needs of the rural people related to GMOs? How can local capacity building be built to respond to these needs? What are the most appropriate approaches to respond to these needs?"
Through interesting public awareness campaigns on GMOs in the villages organized by neutral agencies who have credibility in dealing with the issues of rural people. All the stakeholders in this new technology may be involved in providing information with regard to GMOs in these campaigns. There should be a common communication centre in each village to inform and also to have feedback on these issues as part of other common issues. The local governments and civil society organizations are more responsible in providing right information about the potential benefits/risks of GMOs. As part of capacity building, some of the peoples representatives who can act as service providers/spokespersons may be sensitized through orientation programmes on GMOs. Establishing community radios, distributing pamphlets in local languages on GMOs informing about the myths and realities of GMOs are important in making the rural people knowledgeable about these technologies.
6h) "What is the best medium for rural people in developing countries to provide their inputs, if requested, to the decision making processes regarding GMOs?"
First, they should be sensitized about the merits and demerits about the GMOs. After awareness creation, they might be engaged in decision making either by involving them in answering questionnaires, voting, or inviting them to the formal communication channels like radio, television etc. to provide their views in order to facilitate decision making.
6i) "How should local languages of the rural people be dealt with in a public participation exercise?"
Either by organizing the meetings in local language or by engaging true translators. Preferably, the background information should be provided in local language.
6j) "Who can best represent the interests of the rural people in stakeholder discussions?"
The local representatives who have credibility in the villages and nominated by the people in the village for this purpose can best represent in stakeholder discussions. Also, credible large civil society organizations who have network at the village, state and national level and do not have one-sided pre-conceived notions about the GMOs are best suited. However, these representatives should really do some home work with regard to sensitizing the rural people on these issues and obtaining their views and flout consensus opinion while they represent on behalf of these people.
P S Janaki Krishna,
Biotechnology Unit, Institute of Public Enterprise,
Hyderabad - 500 007,
Email: jankrisp (at) yahoo.com
Phone: 040 - 27097018/27098148
Sent: 19 January 2005 17:41
Subject: 19: Re: Why should the public be involved...?
I am Alice Muchugi from the Department of Biochemistry and Biotechnology, Kenyatta University, Kenya. I am fortunate to come from an African country where the issue of biotechnology has been received quite soberly and have produced a transgenic sweet potato in collaboration with international organizations.
I have been going through the various contributions being posted to this conference with a lot of interest and it looks like this 'great monster called GMOs --as the lobbyists would say' will always generate a lot of heat in any given forum. In my opinion, I agree with Diogenes Infante (Message 4, January 17) that what the developing countries need is strong institutional framework of experts (all inclusive - biotechnologists, legal, policy makers etc.) to ensure proper checks and balances of the introductions of the GMOs. It is indeed difficult to say that the rural (read as common man!) will have much say on the GMOs. In developing countries like ours it is the people's representatives (the members of parliament) who are involved with the decision making and, though representing people, we do know that their decisions are not always for the people.
I also feel that signing up to the various treaties and conventions may limit the scope of what national governments can do with the outcomes of national debates and public decision making as other authors have suggested. [See Edo Lin's messages 10 (January 17) and 13 (January 18)...Moderator]. It would therefore make sense if these governments have strong bodies of experts that can argue out issues on GMOs.
For the rural people what really matters are the final products. As for crops, they would like to farm them as easily and productively as possible and therefore, given a choice, they would opt for the GMOs, until the anti-GMOs lobbyists strike with their alarmist remarks. As a lecturer in biotechnology I have a chance of sharing information on GMOs with lay persons and what I find interesting is how easy it is to accept GMO once you tell them of the positives (in the context of poverty and food security). The concern should therefore be on how the technology is taken up by the rural folks considering there setback such as issues on seed availability and species diversity which the GMO promoters may not reveal to them. So it is my hope from this conference that FAO, the World Bank and others will see the need for strong institutions comprising experts to conceptualize the issue of GMOs within the framework of poverty alleviation and food security, biosafety regulations and risk assessments, intellectual property rights and foster biotech research as well. In this way a good decision will be made which will benefit the rural people.
Department of Biochemistry and Biotechnology,
a.muchugi (at) cgiar.org
Sent: 19 January 2005 17:41
Subject: 20: Aarhus Convention
My name is Maria Julia Oliva and I work for the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) in Geneva. My comments refer to the relevance and importance of international instruments relating to public participation and GMOs, particularly the Aarhus Convention.
As explained by the background document to the conference, decisions on GMOs are expressly excluded from the binding requirements on public participation set out in the Aarhus Convention, which provides they will only apply to decisions on whether to permit the deliberate release of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into the environment "to the extent feasible and appropriate". This weak provision resulted from a lack of agreement on the issue between the Parties during the negotiation of the Convention. Nevertheless, as also mentioned, there are guidelines on access to information with respect to GMOs and a working group on GMOs.
The non-binding Guidelines are to be monitored and a report made to the Second Meeting of the Parties, which will be held in May 2005, on their usefulness. The Secretariat has recently been mandated to develop and circulate a questionnaire to delegations for their comments. Comments were to be provided prior to 15 January 2005.
The Working Group on GMOs has met several times to develop and discuss various options for a legally binding approach in the field of GMOs. The last meeting, held on 18-20 October 2004, featured significant debate, with clear divisions apparent between EECCA countries (the countries of Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia) and environmental NGOs on one hand, and the European Union (EU) and industry and biotechnology associations on the other. EECCA countries and environmental NGOs supported options that would make public participation on decisions regarding GMOs mandatory and which set out precise requirements on the nature of the public's participation. Netherlands, on behalf of the EU, appeared to favor a non-binding, broad option that would allow countries considerable latitude domestically when choosing how public participation should be provided for (industry and biotechnology associations present also supported a non-binding, broad approach). Indeed, of real concern was that a new proposal put forth by the EU would be even weaker than the current non-binding approach of Article 6(11), limiting coverage to decisions on GMOs regarding deliberate release and placing on the market and including a broad exception for "confidential information". Although several amendments were proposed during the working group, the EU requested that its two options be referred to the Parties in their original form. The EU also requested that a "zero option", i.e. the option of making no amendment to the Convention, be maintained.
Many participants considered the EU was thus attempting to lessen the Aarhus Convention's role in ensuring public participation in the field of GMOs. In addition, although Parties had agreed that the Aarhus Convention provides "the most appropriate international framework for further developing access to information, public participation and access to justice in the field of GMOs," the EU requested that the wording "an appropriate framework", rather than "the most appropriate framework", be used. Furthermore, the first of the EU's new proposals was stated to be without prejudice to requirements developed under the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. The Biosafety Protocol does contain important public participation provisions. However, as the Cartagena Protocol focuses specifically on the transboundary movement of GMOs, it is of a more limited application than the Aarhus Convention. The Protocol is also yet to be implemented. It is thus considered important for the public participation requirements under the Aarhus Convention to be developed as fully as possible.
Maria Julia Oliva
Director - Project on Intellectual Property and Sustainable Development
Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL)
15 rue des Savoises
1205 - Geneva, Switzerland
joliva (at) ciel.org
[The full text of the Aarhus Convention (i.e. the UNECE Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters) is available in Arabic, Bulgarian, Chinese, Czech, Dutch, English, French, Georgian, German, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Latvian, Lithuanian, Macedonian, Romanian, Russian, Spanish, Slovak and Ukrainian at http://www.unece.org/env/pp/treatytext.htm...Moderator].
Sent: 19 January 2005 17:41
Subject: 21: Re: Why should the public be involved...?
I'm DJOULDE DARMAN Roger, Food Scientist, Researcher at the Institute of Agricultural Developement (IRAD), Maroua, Cameroon.
I want to focus my reflection on the same area as Diogenes Infante (Message 4, January 17) and Michel Ferry (Message 3, January 17) who asked the question why the public (rural or not) should be involved in the decision making process regarding GMOs. Instead of coming back to all pertinent arguments which were given previously to illustrate their opinion, I would like to share with you a practical situation we face regarding this!
I’m from a Sudano-Sahelian zone where drought is mostly caused by pests and insects which destroy every year hectares of crops especially cereals (like sorghum) and leading to long standing “food insecurity”. We faced this situation in 1970 and the local authorities asked researchers to do something. After a lot of studies the researchers managed to introduce a new variety of Sorghum which was resistant to these pests and insects. They just modified the genome responsible for production of cyanogenetic glycoside (dihurin) one of the natural defence system of sorghum against pests and insects. However, the new variety of sorghum became toxic for humans as the amount of cyanide release seems too high to be metabolised by the human body. This lead to the emergence of some new diseases related to cyanide toxicity (cretinism, neuropathies…etc).
The local authorities suspected a link between this variety and the appearance of the diseases. They decided that it was ethical to inform the population. This lead to a panic and the population destroyed all of their stocks and they don’t want any more new technologies and new variety!!!. But today we have a solution for this because in a recent study we showed that fermentation of this sorghum decreases significantly the amount of cyanogens. This means the population can consume the new variety of sorghum after processing (fermentation). But, because they were informed prematurely that the variety caused their diseases, they lost confidence in the new technologies. Because of this, we are in a situation where we have spent a lot of money and energy, and the solution is available but there is no means to introduce the technology anymore and help them.
I think, if they were not informed, this would not have been the case and the problem of food insecurity in this area, at least partially, would have been solved.
So the question remains, "do we need to inform populations about those complex subjects that the majority of our rural population do not understand?". Even our government (in developing countries) signed a lot of conventions related to GMOs, sometimes it seems it’s just to do like the neighbour or to conserve their friendship with developed countries. I think these decisions do not address the real needs of the livelihood of rural populations.
Lastly, I don’t quite agree with Edo Lin (Message 13, January 18) who indicated that "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 they don’t even know what GMOs are. If it’s possible to introduce GMOs which have been authorized by scientists and international or national authorities, this seems enough and there is no need to inform the population.
DJOULDE DARMAN Roger
B-9000 Gent Belgium
djouldedarman (at) yahoo.fr