[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: 25 January 2005 13:49
Subject: 40: Involved vs. consulted // Educating the public
I am Diógenes Infante, from Instituto de Estudios Avanzados (IDEA), Caracas, Venezuela.
Regarding the public participation in the decision making process, Edo Lin (Message 10, January 17) cited Article 23 of the Cartagena Protocol. In this article it is stated that the public should be consulted in the decision making process. Involved and consulted is quite different. Consultation must occur in any democratic society for important decisions. Nor it is stated that countries are able to refuse GMOs. [The text of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety is available, in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish, at http://www.biodiv.org/biosafety/protocol.asp . Article 23 concerns "Public Awareness and Participation" and states
"1. The Parties shall:
(a) Promote and facilitate public awareness, education and participation concerning the safe transfer, handling and use of living modified organisms in relation to the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, taking also into account risks to human health. In doing so, the Parties shall cooperate, as appropriate, with other States and international bodies;
(b) Endeavour to ensure that public awareness and education encompass access to information on living modified organisms identified in accordance with this Protocol that may be imported.
2. The Parties shall, in accordance with their respective laws and regulations, consult the public in the decision-making process regarding living modified organisms and shall make the results of such decisions available to the public, while respecting confidential information in accordance with Article 21.
3. Each Party shall endeavour to inform its public about the means of public access to the Biosafety Clearing-House."...Moderator].
I want to insist that the decision about GMOs has to be taken for people with the right expertise, in order to address all the concerns about. I want to point out that all the experts in biotechnology, especially from Africa, agree with this point. When you need to feed your population and the resources are scarce, GMOs are the prime choice, because the problem can be addressed with a very specific approach. Unfortunately, when you have something that can solve the problem, there is a wall of bureaucrats impeding the solution to be available, mainly because they are the target of anti-GMOs campaign.
On the other hand, the concerns about GMOs are completely speculative, in my opinion as a scientist working on the field for many years. For those concerned about biodiversity and GMOs, I want to cite a work during her doctoral training of one of IDEA scientist, Carolina Celis. She studied the effect of transgenic crops in a center of biodiversity (potato and Peru) and demonstrated that : .."there is no harm to many non-target organisms" and "Thus, scientific progress is possible without compromise to the precautionary principle". This work can be found in: Celis et al., Nature Vol. 432, Nov 11, 2004: 222-225.
Finally, I partially agree with Patricia L. Farnese, (Message 22, January 20) when she said "I really believe it is the scientist's duty to make her research findings accessible to the general public", partially because research is sometimes complicated to explain. However, to address this point we at IDEA published a book to educate the public (High School students) about the benefits of biotechnology (¡Que buena IDEA!, Biotecnologia para los más jóvenes) (How good IDEA!, biotechnology for younger people). Information about this book, available only in Spanish, can be found in our Web site (http://www.idea.org). Believe it or not this book has been the target of anti GMOs activist in Venezuela, asking for its retreat. A second book about biodiversity is in the press.
Dr. Diógenes Infante H.
Centro de Biotecnología
Instituto de Estudios Avanzados
e-mail: dinfante (at) idea.org.ve
Apdo. 17606 Parque Central
Caracas 1015-A, Venezuela
Carretera Hoyo de la Puerta
Sartenejas, Caracas 1080
Sent: 25 January 2005 13:50
Subject: 41: Rural farmers - good barometers for the usefulness of a policy regarding release of GM crops
This is Mallowa Sally Obura from Egerton University, Kenya, again.
The issues raised by Carol Keter (Message 34) about the usefulness of the crops to the African farmer are very relevant. The issue of whether or not GMO crops will be beneficial to the rural farmer and whether they should even be involved in the policy making at that level is important.
When the GMOs get to the farmers level they will serve as a good barometers as to whether the GMO crop is useful or not, and at this point their involvement in the policy making is necessary and valid. Is this a crop that should be released or not? Is it useful or not?
In western Kenya, Uganda Tanzania and several other countries in East and Central Africa, there has recently been a big problem with cassava mosaic disease (CMD) in the cassava crop, which is a key food security crop in the region. One of the key measures in the mitigation of the disease has been the multiplication and distribution of CMD-resistant varieties. It is interesting to note that at the peak of the pandemic in areas where the local material that was susceptible to the disease succumbed, the rural farmers readily accepted the material. In cassava growing areas of Busia and Teso [in Kenya...Moderator], farmers out of their own initiative went out of their way to get this material. In areas where the pandemic was still not a problem, the farmers did not persist in growing the crops until there was a problem and they needed it. The issues related to adoption had more to do than just the CMD resistance. Currently, in post pandemic areas where the disease pressure is much lower, the farmers have again gone back to planting their own local susceptible varieties. The issues involved in the adoption of these varieties are complex, and farmers are the best measure for such a test. So, if there was a mechanism whereby the farmers could be asked to choose whether they wanted a new variety or their same old variety but transformed for resistance to this disease (e.g. the virus resistant cassava mentioned by Glenn Stone being trialed out in Kenya, Message 33). I feel that their acceptability of the crop would be a good measure and the use of GE to improve the crop would probably have added to the integrated pest management (IPM) strategy, not only for cassava but for many farmer-preferred crops. And the best measure for whether this was useful would be the adoption by the farmers because, even with non-GM crops, adoption is not always guaranteed especially where the farmers were not first involved in the production and selection.
Mallowa Sally Obura
email: mallowa (at) yahoo.com
Sent: 25 January 2005 13:50
Subject: 42: Involving the rural public - Bahamas
My name is Bridget Hogg. I am a chemistry/biochemistry lecturer at The College of The Bahamas, in the Commonwealth of The Bahamas. I am also currently participating in ongoing national discussions on how the Bahamas will proceed in the GMOs issue.
As was indicated by others, I agree that it is important that all stakeholders, particularily the rural population, be involved. In my country, agriculture takes a back seat to our tourism industry. Our proximity to the USA makes it particularly important that we examine our approach to GMOs. Our visitors are likely to be accustomed to particular varieties already. Thus there is the challenge - do we offer them more of the same or attempt to give them a unique island low-GMO experience?
In some of our discussions, concerns have been expressed that the basic genetic materials are being harvested from the developing world, modified in the developed world, then sold at a profit back to the developing world. The country that provides the original material ends up losing control of its environmental heritage as cheaper GMOs compete with local materials, ultimately forcing the country to rely on GMO exports (and using up valuable hard currency). There is also the issue of losing genetic diversity as large international companies promote one or two selected varieties over others.
As regards who should pay, if we were discussing informing the public about a new brand of luxury car, the answer would be obvious......the seller pays to promote its product. However with GMOs, governments must contend with public fears, lack of interest, GMO seller profit margins, public safety and environmental factors. The financial burden must be shared. However, the greatest part must be borne by those who wish to promote the GMOs.
The process of involving the public must be at several levels and must answer, at the very least, six basic questions:
1. What are GMOs?
2. What are the advantages of GMOs over non GMOs?
3. What are the disadvantages of GMOs over non GMOs?
4. Who owns the genetic materials and/ or shares in the profit ?
5. Who will pay for any negative effects that develop as a result of introduction of GMOs into the nation diets?(The producer, the wholesaler, the retailer, the local government, an international organization)
6. Who will oversee/monitor safety issues with GMOs?
The approach must take the issues to the people, in plain language, without fanfare or opinion.......they must be encouraged to participate and contribute. Also, they must be LISTENED to. Too often, I think, communities are asked to share opinions but they are not really paid attention to, and their concerns may even be totally ignored.
The College of The Bahamas
adelphi (at) batelnet.bs