[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: 20 January 2005 14:30
Subject: 22: Extension service // Plain language movement
This is Patricia Farnese from Canada again.
I have read all your comments with great interest and I am enjoying the dialogue. I agree with the comment made by Hastings Zidana (Message 17, January 19) that extension agents have a critical role to play in providing balanced, unbiased information about GMOs to the rural people. In Canada, we have seen a significant reduction in the number of government extension agents. Most farmers rely on representatives of their seed and chemical dealers who have a big presence in rural areas. In fact, this kind of "extension" work provides summer employment to a significant number of University students studying Agriculture. Are other countries seeing the same dramatic shift of extension services from the public to private sphere like Canada? The implications of that shift warrant some attention, but may be a topic better left to another discussion. [This topic can obviously be given further attention in this e-mail conference, provided it is discussed in the context of its implications etc. for the involvement of rural people in decision-making regarding GMOs in developing countries...Moderator].
In addition, I just want to say something about the comments that lay people do not have the capacity to understand the scientific information surrounding GMOs. If that is in fact the case, I really believe it is the scientist's duty to make her research findings accessible to the general public. This is particularly true if her research occurs in public universities or is at all funded by public sources. I am a lawyer, and for the last number of years, there has been a "plain language" movement in my field. There has been a concerted effort to make our discourse accessible to lay people, so they are not excluded from fully participating in the legal system because of an inability to understand the language. I believe scientists will need to be asked to do the same, if public participation in science-based decision making is ever going to be achieved.
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: 20 January 2005 14:31
Subject: 23: Enjoying the discussion
I am a peasant farmer in Bangladesh. I have 2 acres of land for homestead full of biodiversity. The land is the main source of housing, fuel wood, fruits. I grow vegetables within the homestead and the piece of land adjacent to the homestead. Normally, I try to grow mixed and year round vegetables. So that I have a continuous support of vegetables for family and friends. Sometime I sell the products of course. Also a large part of family's nutrient comes from uncultivated vegetables those still are abundant. I have a multipurpose pond. It provides local fish for 8 months. Rest four months, I grow rice there. I have two cows and few chickens. During the boro season (November-February), I grow rice on other’s field on share cropping basis. Of course I have some off-farm income. So that I can send children to school.
I don’t know too much about GMO or LMO. But in the meantime I have started to enjoy the lively discussion. Hope to enrich my wisdom on agriculture and the latest technological commodities.
Krisoker Saar (Farmers' Voice)
Email: krisokersaar1 (at) fastmail.fm
Sent: 20 January 2005 14:31
Subject: 24: Factual information essential
From Julie Newman, an Australian farmer:
This conference has been excellent in exposing what the real issues are in the involvement of farmers and the public in decision making processes. There is a common thread by participants involved in research that there is a need for quality information but the intention appears to only give the quality information that is needed in order to support the introduction of GM crops rather than quality unbiased information that gives farmers and decision makers the information they need.
Governments should stand firm and gain the quality unbiased factual information needed, then assist in distribution of this quality information prior to calling for public input. For example, we have a situation where, globally, farmers are informed that the main benefit for GM crops is yield improvement (even up to 300%) but there is no scientific reason why these current GM crops would produce higher yields or feed the hungry better than non-GM crops. These GM crops are produced by adding specific gene constructs to existing non-GM varieties to either give herbicide tolerance (which can also be achieved through non-GM methods) or pesticide tolerance (the plant produces its own pesticide rather than requiring chemical application). Any yield benefit can and is being achieved with non-GM plant breeding or by alternative weed management, but GM crops will encourage corporate investment into plant breeding which could have the potential of producing higher yielding varieties.
It is essential that any information that is used to influence decision makers in the preparation of an information document must be accurate, if not, there must be serious penalties incorporated within legislation to enforce this. When accurate information is distributed, then is the time to call for consultation from the now well informed industry representatives who have received feedback from the people they represent on the specific issues relevant to their sector that will be affected by any government decision. If accurate information is distributed, there would be far less polarisation in the GM debate and the information gained from public consultation could then be of genuine use to the governments concerned.
Network of Concerned Farmers
Newdegate, West Australia
julie (at) non-gm-farmers.com
Sent: 20 January 2005 14:32
Subject: 25: Re: Why should the public be involved...?
This is from John Hodges, an author and consultant in Austria, retired. Formerly at FAO Rome, responsible for Animal Breeding and Genetic Resources. Earlier Professor of Animal Genetics at University of British Columbia, Canada.
I respond to the questions posed by our colleague Diogenes Infante from Venezuela (Message 4, January 17) who says that decisions on GMOs should be made only by specialists. He says that the public are not involved in decisions over the use of new Drugs etc. Why should they decide about GMOs?
The answer is that the medical patient can choose not to use a medical drug after hearing from the doctor or reading about the possible side-effects. Each person can make a choice after evaluating the benefit and risk.
Food is different. No-one can opt out of eating. If GM food is everywhere in the food chain - the choice has gone. Thus approval by specialists takes away the democratic right for an individual to choose not to eat GM food. Removing the right to choose is contrary to Market Economy Capitalism which is based upon the principle that the market decides. By contrast, specialists involved in deciding on the use of GM food are often employed by a seller of GM food and seeds. Market Economy Capitalism is also based upon the principle that the person who takes the decisions bears the risk - and does not pass it to others.
e-mail: hodgesjohn (at) compuserve.com
Sent: 20 January 2005 14:33
Subject: 26: Contribution from New Zealand
This is from Zelka Vallings, of Northland, New Zealand. My husband and I are horticulturists, farming in the northern part of New Zealand (NZ).
Since a problematic and inappropriately contained GE field trial (involving GE tamarillos) occured in our region, and other botched GE field trials like King Salmon (GE salmon) have had to be shut down in NZ, we have become involved with other farmers, foresters and orchardists in attempting to ensure that the needs of rural communities/primary producers are respected, that proper notification and consultation takes place, that good science (with input from independent scientists not indentured to the industry) not flawed science by those with a vested interest primarily interested in short term profit)/best practice is followed and that those who wish to be involved with GE field trials and releases in NZ are fully accountable and finacially liable in the event of any unintended or unforeseen adverse impacts (on our unique biodiversity, biosecurity, existing primary producers- conventional, integrated pest management (IPM) and organic, and key markets).
Unfortunately, there is a lack of consultation with rural people/primary producers/farmers (despite the fact that their livelihoods may be adversely affected) and central government has failed to adequately address important issues like liability, compensation, risk management and so forth.
One of the key questions in this conference is "how rural people can be effectively involved in the decision-making process" but in our view (as rural people who are in the business of sustainably producing safe, clean food of the highest quality and who are very conversant with the issues) farmers are targeted by those with vested interests and the unbiased information farmers and policy makers need in order to make decisions is not freely available.
We agree with Julie Newman (Message 5, January 17) that "A priority for any government to introduce any legislation in the application of biotechnology in the agricultural industry in any country should be to ensure these new novel crops do not jeopardise market opportunities or impose unreasonable costs or market risk on existing producers. Farmers should be surveyed to gain an understanding of how they react to the specific details of how GM introduction will affect them. If decisions are going to negatively impact on farmers income or livelihood, governments must involve farmers in order to negotiate issues such as adequate compensation if imposing economic liabilities."
Multinationals should not be allowed to prevent farmers from saving their own seeds. We share the concerns of others regarding the movement of genetic resources out of the public domain and into private hands.
It is important that farmers/rural communities are not only surveyed and that proper consultation takes place, but that action is taken to ensure farming families and primary producers are protected and that a strong committment is made to truly sustainable primary production (both in forestry and food production).It is important that scientists and decision makers (in government and elsewhere):
It is critical that we have: Protection of basic human rights/control of our own genetic material
Considering some of the questions in Section 6 of the background document to the conference:
6d) "Should specific considerations be given to involving indigenous communities in decision-making regarding GMOs? If so, how can this best be achieved?"
YES. Consulatation is best achieved with (in NZ) representatives of the Maori people chosen by the Maori. Consultation also must take place with TE WAKA KAI ORA-national Maori farming organisation, with a strong focus on sustainable primary production/organics.
6i) "How should local languages of the rural people be dealt with in a public participation exercise?"
In New Zealand, that means bilingual materials (in English and Maori)
6j) "Who can best represent the interests of the rural people in stakeholder discussions?
Democratically elected representatives of farming groups (like RURAL WOMEN NZ), foresters etc and local communities - i.e. ratepayers associations, community groups.
arboreus (at) ihug.co.nz
Sent: 20 January 2005 17:08
Subject: 27: Re: Why should the public be involved...?
Regarding Message 13 (January 18) of Edo Lin: Unfortunately, I think that the obligation to accept the import of GMOs if no "scientific" arguments are presented against it is not a question of international regulation but of political issue and scientists honesty and ethic. According to me, the need to involve the public (when we know how irrealistic it is to imagine that the public could understand all the issues involved - issues on which control the scientists themself, except the biotechnologists of course, disagree) is based on the fear to avoid what has occured in Europe. To maintain that there really is a way of involving the farmers in this complex question is not a neutral position.
There is a very strong push from the United States and their biotech corporation to introduce GMO in Africa offcially for the help of the poor farmers in Africa. This is a huge hypocrisy when in the same time because of the USA cotton dumping policy they are "killing" the small farmers in the same countries. Clearly, USA do not want anything more that imposing the GMO in as many countries as possible to be able to sell their GMOs without difficulty abroad.
Regarding scientists honesty, we know that the debate on GMOs is complex and that in fact the assessment at least on the short term of the validity of the GMOs need a complex and long study. In most cases, the results of these studies are not known or even the studies have not started yet. When the scientists are sufficiently honest to recognize that situation (and their ignorance), they request a moratorium.
That is why I consider it not sound and a bit hypocritical to ask the question about how to inform the farmers when unbiased and rigorous information (on the ecological, health and economical possible consequences of an GMO introduction and on the evidence that this GMO has really more advantage that other solution) is not yet available. One big concern for me is the huge risk that GMOs, because they will generally be much more beneficial (in the short term at least: the ecological consequences of Roundup Ready soya monocrop grown in Argentina start to be discovered. Too late?) to the big farms, will participate to the degradation of the small farmers.
Regarding Message 15 (January 19) of Shanthu Shantharam: this is a very nice point of view if the scientific debate regarding the risk concerning the GMOs was closed. In the present situation, is it a scientific and responsible approach to leave to the farmers and the consumers the role of guinea-pig in addition without informing them? Furthermore, they will not be able to evaluate all the consequences of the introduction of a new technique but the consequences that interest them and also in a short term approach. For example, the farmers are not able and it is not their role to evaluate on the medium term the environmental and health consequences of the use of the GMOs.
Research Station on Date Palm and Oasis Farming Systems
Email: m.ferry (at) wanadoo.es
Sent: 20 January 2005 17:08
Subject: 28: Re: Why should the public be involved...?
This is Shanthu Shantharam, again.
So far, so good! It is becoming clear that everyone wants to be properly informed about GMOs and biotechnology and be allowed to participate in decision making. Who can argue against a reasonable democratic practice? There are so many words and phrases being used and that needs to be clarified. Public participation, public input, public comment, public right to know, and public decision making. I guess except for public decision making, everything else can be reasonably accommodated. But, still decision making must be left to a small group of decision makers (they could be specialist or regulators or administrators). Otherwise, only chaos will reign. In any democratic set up, it is only fair to provide for a mechanism that will facilitate information flow.
Just look at all other fields of endeavor in all democratic societies, one does not go for public referendum for every issue. What lies at the root of all this controversy is lack of proper and responsible governance in many countries. By building trustworthy, reliable and responsible institutions, can the citizenry expect proper decisions for the welfare of the people.
In my opinion, this controversy about GMOs is not biosafety, but mostly about political ideology and value systems. It so happens that GMOs manufactured by capitalistic multinationals have come in handy for those who oppose globalization and privatization. If one looks at the safety issues dispassionately and objectively, there is sufficient scientific evidence to show that GMOs are safe as any other variety of crops that have been introduced in the last one hundred years. If one chooses to ignore that evidence and bring in all sorts of political, metaphysical and ideological reasons to bear, we can all be arguing and debating until we are blue in our faces and the problem will not be resolved. But, let this E-forum churn on and let us all see how the issues get ferreted out.
Dr. Shanthu Shantharam
Biologistics International, LLC
9800 Old Willow Way
Ellicott City, MD 21042
sshantharam (at) biologistics.us
Sent: 20 January 2005 17:09
Subject: 29: From Zambia
My name is Tamala Tonga Kambikambi and I am an agronomist with the University of Zambia - hence from Zambia, a country that needs no introductions in the GMO debate.
I am glad to join this discussion and gratified that so far there are a number of people who are expressing some of my favoured opinions. I particularly strongly agree with Diogenes Infante (Message 4, January 17). Indeed, there are lot of things where public participation is not sought but rather expert panels are organized to deal with them and then a refined product is passed on to the intended recipients [with appropriate oversight mechanisms]. I do believe that is the way to go.
Besides, a number of other discussants have said the rural folk would need to be educated for them to effectively participate! That will considerably increase the final cost of the product to be put on the market (if at all the product would get to the market since most debates in this part of the world do tend to go on and on!). In which case, who benefits apart from those who are in the business of carrying on debates?
Further, it has been said that the rural people are not a homogenous group, so how is the selection going to be done and who is to set up the criterion? All these are complications that I believe will just deter progress while the needy are further confused instead of being helped.
A good illustration is what happened in Zambia in 2002 when a 'national consultation' on whether the country should accept GM maize food aid was organized by government and adverts were placed in the national daily newspaper inviting all concerned citizens to come and give their say. Firstly, the government organized a background paper which was in line with the presidential pronouncement - that GMOs were bad. The misinformation that was in that gathering was unbelievable! Scientists who had knowledge of the subject were booed and threatened while politicians with no knowledge of the topic whatsoever were given prominence.
With such an experience, I would be very sad to see a repeat of such a scene - which is probably what most of these meetings on public participation would end up being like. In fact, since that meeting, some prominent scientists in the nation are being given a wide berth when there are any discussions on GMOs because they have contrary views to what should be the national view.
Tamala Tonga Kambikambi
Crop Science Department
School of Agricultural Sciences
University of Zambia
Great East Road campus
P. O. Box 32379
tkambikambi (at) agric.unza.zm