[For further information on the Electronic Forum on Biotechnology in Food and
Agriculture see Forum website. For further information on agricultural biotechnology,
see the FAO biotechnology website.
Note, participants are assumed to be speaking on their own behalf, unless they state otherwise.]
Sent: 01 February 2005 17:40
Subject: 69: Public participation - vast power asymmetries
This is Karl Beitel. I'm the policy analyst with The Institute for Food and Development Policy, and have been following the discussion with great interest.
Regarding the issue of public participation, I believe that Joanna Goven (Message 59) and Prashant Joshi (Message 61) touch key issues. What needs further elaboration is the underlying realities of private market power and corporate business strategies driving the development and dissemination of GMOs. The question of how to insure meaningful participation by the rural poor in discussing the benefits and drawbacks of GMOs cannot be abstracted from vast power asymmetries that characterize global and regional food systems - in particular, small growers lack of access to land, cultural appropriate and scale-relevant infrastructure and technology, and market opportunities on fair terms. The manner in which GE technologies are developed reinforces these inequalities - techniques are selected on the basis of their promise to extend private proprietary control over seed markets and expand market shares for proprietary herbicides; these technologies are then "presented" to the poor as the means of insuring higher yields, with discussion limited to the virtues, or lack thereof, of their further application/dissemination. To the extend these techniques are adopted prior to an extended and informed public debate (as is the case in fact today), the effect is to spur further consolidation of multinational control over the global food supply chain. This in turn tends to impose a pre-emptive closure on the parameters of debate, given the restricted choices available to poor rural farmers and Southern governments that lack independent research and development capacity.
Choice - real democracy - always implies the existence of a meaningful alternative and access to economic resources that support farmer's ability to exercise choice in a meaningful manner. This is the crux of the issue. In the absence of shifts in the balance of power, even the most well-intended dialogue will tend to reinforce such inequities and will fail, once again, to eliminate hunger. The Green Revolution is a stunning example of this fact - introduction of better technologies, absent meaningful land reform and redistribution of income, did not eliminate poverty or hunger, and in fact worsened the level of social polarization within the rural sectors of most developing countries.
The typical - and reasonable - response of scientists to such objections is that they can't change social realities, but they can help produce better technologies that might offer real benefits to the poor. What this ignores, however, is the fact that GMOs are driving a heretofore unimaginable extension of corporate property rights over the basic substance of life. It strains credibility to assert that meaningful democratic participation in shaping crucial issues of public policy will be possible once this process is complete. I think that biologists working in this domain have a unique social obligation to insure that these techniques remain within the public domain, and are not developed as the private property of corporations. Only then will it be possible to consider how to structure meaningful participation by poor rural farmers (amongst others) in debating the relative merits and drawbacks of GE seeds. And even then, significant problems will persist in communicating the social realities of the rural poor to scientists, and insuring that the cutting edge frontiers of scientific research are developed in a manner that is relevant to the real problems and constraints confronting farmers.
Karl Beitel, PhD
The Institute for Food and Development Policy
398 60th Street, Oakland, CA 94608
Tel: 510-654-4400 Fax: 510-654-4551
kbeitel (at) foodfirst.org
Sent: 01 February 2005 17:41
Subject: 70: Grassroots involvement extension methodologies
From Tony Dunn.
I am not sure what Jorge Mayer (Message 66) means when he writes "The trend for “politically correct” grassroots involvement is, in my view, the result of anti-GMO activism seeking to block the process of adoption by creating the chaos that is inherent in a decision carried by millions".
If by ‘grassroots involvement’ he means Farming Systems Research, Sondeo, Rapid Rural Appraisal, Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) and the whole range of extension and participatory research methods are just a politically correct social movement to ‘block the process of adoption’ of GMOs, then I disagree with him. In this context, I would recommend the excellent FAO publication: Collinson M (ed), 2000, A history of Farming Systems Research. FAO and CABI Publishing and the work done at the International Potato Center (CIP) on farmer-back-to-farmer – work done by Rhoades and Booth. Their paper also had an interesting and relevant sub title for this debate; ‘…a model for generating acceptable agricultural technology’ !
The literature and the experience of these methodologies has emerged over 30 years – well before GMOs were developed and it’s there for all to read and understand. I have alluded to seminal references in previous mails, and argued that GMO release is also a question for the social sciences, extension and other disciplines such as applied ethics. I would like to say that in Australia, the grassroots involvement extension methodologies acquired from the sources quoted and our own Landcare movement (also grassroots) are the driving forces for research and social change in complex problems such as land and water degradation. Aren’t we talking about a similar situation with GMOs?
Senior Lecturer in Extension
School of Agricultural and Veterinary Sciences
Charles Sturt University
e-mail: adunn (at) csu.edu.au
Sent: 02 February 2005 15:52
Subject: 71: The important role of the consumer movement - Consumers International
My name is David Cuming and I represent Consumers International.
Consumers International, a federation of 250 consumers organisations in 115 countries, with regional offices in Africa, Asia and Latin America, has grave concerns with the decision-making process regarding GMOs. Therefore we welcome the opportunity to discuss how this process can best serve the needs and interests of rural people in the developing world.
We have noted a dearth of consultation of consumers in almost all countries - despite strong consumer resistance to the introduction of GM crops and foodstuffs as measured by opinion polls and consumer behaviour. The wishes of governments, small producers and consumers are disregarded by the biotech industry which seems to have decided what is best for people without taking their views into account.
From our point of view it is important to keep in mind the fundamental rights of consumers, four of which are particularly applicable to the debate surrounding GMOs.
1. The right to a healthy and sustainable environment: The protection of present and future generations from potential environmental hazards can best be achieved by respect for the precautionary principle.
2. The right to be informed: Consumers need the facts to make informed choices. The absence of adequate labelling infringes this consumer right.
3. The right to safety: Consumers must be protected against products, production processes and services that are hazardous to their health.
4. The right to choose: Consumers should be able to select from a range of products in accordance with their beliefs and preferences.
Even if rural consumers are not aware of these rights, their governments must take them into account when making important decisions on genetically engineered agriculture and food aid.
Several contributors have emphasised the need for a network to reach out to rural people. The consumer movement is a vast network which spans the globe and plays such a role. Consumer organisations in the developing world are particularly active on food issues, most notably food safety, food security and genetic engineering. They serve an important role in informing and educating of rural people on the stakes involved in GM agriculture and act as a counterpoint to a biotech industry which extols the virtues of biotechnology, without educating people as to the disadvantages and dangers.
In recent years, consumer organisations have been active educating rural consumers and producers with respect to:
* the dangers of genetic engineering to biodiversity
* the nefarious impact of the patenting of seeds and the concomitant corporate control of the food chain
* the dangers of GM contamination to export markets and centres of origin
* the failures of GM agriculture, such as the empirical evidence of increased herbicide use
* Consumer rights with respect to non-GM food aid.
Finally, at the heart of the debate surrounding genetic engineering is the issue of consumer choice. Accordingly, consumer organisations in the developing and developed world have emphasised the need for labelling of products containing transgenes in order to safeguard consumer choice.
The efforts of the consumer movement to inform and educate rural producers and consumers constitute a veritable David versus Goliath-like battle. However poorly resourced, consumer organisations in the developing world have nonetheless taken up this challenge to promote sustainable agriculture and ensure consumer choice. They are an important resource for the development of genuine public participation regarding GMOs in the developing world. Their efforts should be encouraged.
Campaigns Manager - Biotechnology
24 Highbury Crescent
London N5 1RX
Tel: +44 20 7 226 6663 ext. 213
Fax: +44 20 7 354 0607
dcuming (at) consint.org
Sent: 02 February 2005 16:12
Subject: 72: Capacity building using a science based approach
Thank you to FAO for providing the facilities and moderator, and to the previous participants for this very interesting conference. My name is Anne Bridges and until recently I worked in the area of Food Quality and Safety with an international food manufacturer, I am currently an independent consultant.
While many of the contributions refer to the commodity feed crops like soy and corn, I think it is important to note that many developing countries have excellent research and development programs working on biotech crops that are most relevant to the local agricultural needs (FAO database lists many of these) of that country. In addition, the importation of grains and cereal derivatives from agricultural exporting countries is a reality today and will not cease in the foreseeable future, whether it is part of trade or food aid. There are also examples where food aid programs within a country would be impossible without using the GM crops presently in cultivation e.g. in soy milk in Argentina. [The FAO database referred to above is presumably FAO-BioDeC (http://www.fao.org/biotech/inventory_admin/dep/default.asp), which provides information on crop biotechnology products/techniques in use or in the pipeline in developing and transition countries. In addition to genetic modification, it also covers microbial products for agriculture (biofertilisers, microbial agents for biocontrol etc.), applied cell biology techniques (micropropagation, anther/pollen culture, embryo rescue etc.), molecular marker techniques and DNA and immuno-diagnostic techniques...Moderator].
Today there is no scientific “peer reviewed” publication that shows that the GM traits in cultivation today cause any new elevated health risks (accepting as we have done for centuries, that all foods and drugs carry some potential element of risk). There are however, many reports by scientific national academies that show there are no increased risks.
I agree that we can’t ignore the imported crops, but I do think that the challenge of rural participation can be achieved most effectively when the crops that are relevant in a particular area are discussed. Use the most relevant “local experience” and treat each case as it stands and not attempt to impose “generic education programs”.
Over the last five years, I have participated in many science-based training programs and workshops in the “nominated” developing countries for and with scientists and government personal working to understand the challenges of identifying and measuring GM traits in grain and food products. Regulations without a means to test or verify identity may be politically accepted, but they only serve to add significant costs to the food supply and frustrate the users when they have no scientific risk basis. In fact, labeling regulations have the potential to increase risk to marginal consumers due to higher costs and therefore reduced levels of nutrition.
Education of rural communities should be a priority, and needs to focus on the true “local” risks. All developing countries have scientific and technical personnel who are well able to separate the most important issues for their country. Allergen risks for people in developing countries are not likely to be different from those to people in developed countries, but the environmental situation might be very different. For example, the local typography or climate in Columbia may be very different to that in the North American midwest or other source country. Resources could then be best directed to test and evaluate the differences, rather than on dealing with “imported claims of risks and benefits”. The focus of education and discussion on the “different factors” also recognizes the value and credibility of the existing food regulatory agencies in a specific country or region.
Anne Bridges Ph.D.
Anne Bridges and Associates LLC
708 North First St
Minneapolis, MN 55401
annebridges001 (at) yahoo.com
Sent: 03 February 2005 10:10
Subject: 73: Public participation - Fiji
I am Ruci Dakunimata, Senior Consumer Officer-Research at the Consumer Council of Fiji.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank FAO for introducing this conference which allows those accessible to such technology to participate. Fiji lies at the heart of the South Pacific between longitudes 175 and 178 west and latitudes 15 and 22 south. This is roughly directly north of New Zealand and north east of Sydney, Australia. The country is made up of approximately 330 islands which are distributed over 1.3 million square kilometres of ocean. Only 16% of the country’s land mass is suitable for intensive agriculture and they are found mainly along coastal plains, river deltas and valleys. 54% of the country's population still lives in rural areas.
The subject of GMO is new to Fiji and the local consumers. The Consumer Council of Fiji, being the only consumer organisation in the country, had been raising the issue in 2000 and 2003 in its Consumer Rights Day celebrations and activities. We still feel that there is yet more awareness programs needed on GMOs. Given the country's scattered islands, it is difficult to reach out to these outer and remote islands in terms of visits. However, our radio programs had been used to relay the message across to them.
The Government's Ministry of Agriculture had set up a division on GMO which would look into the GMO issue. However, involving the public would be more meaningful as we try to follow a more participatory approach. That is, the rural people to participate and be part of the decision making as far as GMO is concerned. They are the vulnerable groups and it is very important for them to be informed about GMO. Most of the goods flooding the Fiji market now are imported goods and we find labelling to be a problem in most of these goods. The consumers are accessible to these goods. So who knows the make up of these goods and ingredients used? This is where the involvement of all stakeholders at all levels is crucial, and more importantly, involving the public.
Senior Consumer Officer-Research
Consumer Council of Fiji
Private Mail Bag
e-mail: consumer (at) connect.com.fj
Sent: 03 February 2005 10:21
Subject: 74: Information, transparency and on an ethical basis
My name is Sezifredo Paz and I represent Brazilian Consumers Institute Defense (IDEC).
IDEC is a consumers association and has noted, in Brazil, all the consumers concerns described by David Cuming (Message 71). We support the Consumers International's position and would like to add others aspects about the issue.
In Brazil, the biotech industries and some governmental actors make an information campaign on the rural people (producers), usually using misleading information about GMOs advantages. Our organization has noted that rural people are not aware of the dimensions and the consequences of the dependence if they adopt GMOs (royalties, contracts), not even enviromental risks, health risks and others aspects. Therefore, for us, the development of public participation regarding GMOs in the developing world must be developed under correct information, transparency and on an ethical basis.
In respect to the health safety of GMOs, the decision-making process regarding GMOs is not reliable for the public opinion. For example, IDEC has noted little governmental interest in the aplication of the Codex Alimentarius FAO/WHO principles and guidelines for risk analysis and for safety assesment of foods derived of GMOs. [As noted in Section 4 of the background document to this conference, at its 26th session, held in Rome in summer 2003, the Joint FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius Commission adopted guidelines that lay out broad general principles intended to make the analysis and management of risks related to GM foods uniform across Codex's members (169 member countries). Considering risk communication, the "Principles for the risk analysis of foods derived from modern biotechnology" state: "Effective risk communication is essential at all phases of risk assessment and risk management. It is an interactive process involving all interested parties, including government, industry, academia, media and consumers. Risk communication should include transparent safety assessment and risk management decision-making processes. These processes should be fully documented at all stages and open to public scrutiny, whilst respecting legitimate concerns to safeguard the confidentiality of commercial and industrial information. In particular, reports prepared on the safety assessments and other aspects of the decision-making process should be made available to all interested parties. Effective risk communication should include responsive consultation processes. Consultation processes should be interactive. The views of all interested parties should be sought and relevant food safety and nutritional issues that are raised during consultation should be addressed during the risk analysis process" (http://www.fao.org/es/ESN/food/risk_biotech_taskforce_en.stm) ...Moderator]Thanks to FAO for sponsoring this debate.
Instituto de Defesa do Consumidor (IDEC)
Rua Dr. Costa Júnior, 356
Sao Paulo - SP
Tel +55 11 38624266
sezi (at) idec.org.br
Sent: 03 February 2005 10:29
Subject: 75: Re: Capacity building using a science based approach
Anne Bridges (Message 72) states "Today there is no scientific "peer reviewed" publication that shows that the GM traits in cultivation today cause any new elevated health risks (accepting as we have done for centuries, that all foods and drugs carry some potential element of risk). There are however, many reports by scientific national academies that show there are no increased risks."
Anne could you please give reference to those many reports - I've been searching and asking for this very information from the biotech companies themselves to no avail. In particular any peer reviewed data in relation to canola, canola meal and canola oil.
My name is Helen Chambers. I farm in central Victoria, Australia with my husband and his parents. We have 3 small children. I have followed this international debate on GMOs for the past 2 years and must say I'm disappointed with the way our governments and farming organisations in this country have followed the lead of the biotech companies without and/or little regard of farmer or consumer choice.
My questioning of the science and the ensuing peer reviewed research and safety testing puts me in the 'anti-GM brigade' and very often shunned particularly in forums run by governments and our farming organisation using those very words of Anne - talk about the absence of evidence. It is my opinion that if the biotech companies used their Public Relations dollars more constructively by actually carrying out the peer-reviewed long-term health safety testing in the first place and allowed full transparency - consumers would not be so mistrustful of the GM product. We farmers need to remember that the consumer is king and we need to grow what they demand!
As for improved nutrition in these GMO foodstuffs - where's the scientific evidence of this? True nutrition required for human survival and sustainability comes from the soil - a healthy, well balanced and mineralised soil. Humans are part of that biological cycle and perfecting and understanding that cycle, I believe, is where the future sciences should be directing their attention not playing around with transgenics willy-nilly and exposing humankind to the end results without the long-term impacts being researched and peer reviewed.I too, have been enjoying the dialogue from the e-conference.
Farmer, Mother and Consumer
email: lyndale.park (at) bigpond.com
[As this conference is devoted to the subject of public participation in decision-making regarding GMOs for food and agriculture in developing countries, considering in particular how rural people can be effectively involved in the decision-making process, this thread on the health risks and/or improved nutrition of GM products is now cut...Moderator].
Sent: 03 February 2005 10:42
Subject: 76: Pertinent points on this subject
This is from Jeffrey A. McNeely, Chief Scientist at IUCN (The World Conservation Union) headquarters in Switzerland.
I have greatly enjoyed this email conference, and thanks to FAO for convening it. I would like to add my views on the subject of public participation in decision-making regarding GMOs for food and agriculture in developing countries. The following points seem especially pertinent:
1. The developing countries often seem to be under very considerable pressure from those with an interest either for or against GMOs, often making it difficult for them to determine which policy is most beneficial to their country. The pro or con arguments often are based on idealogical issues rather than scientific ones.
2. It is well recognised that the problem of hunger in developing countries is especially one of food distribution rather than simply food production. Technologies that enhance production without dealing with the distribution issue are unlikely to have the desired impact on hunger. The 800 million or so people going hungry are not given many opportunities to influence decision-making on agricultural policy, and it seems unlikely that they would be involved in decisions about GMOs. This is not to argue against such consultation, but simply to make the observation that the rural poor most in need of better agricultural support are usually the last to be consulted.
3. One argument that has received insufficient exposure in this conference is indirect consultation in terms of consumer behaviour. That is, farmers who find that a new crop or technology is an improvement over their present crop or technology are likely to adopt it. Farmers are practical, and their decisions about such matters are often directly relevant to their survival, or at least prosperity. If they see the prospect of a better livelihood, then they are likely to change their behaviour. And of course, informed decisions are better than decisions based on only partial information. The rapid acceptance by farmers of some persistent organic pesticides provide an excellent example of where perception was based on insufficient information, much less consultation.
4. The key factor is to provide objective information from a credible source (or multiple sources), in languages that are relevant to the local people. With the improvement in communications technology, this should not be an overwhelming task for a government agricultural agency. It needs to be recognised, however, that government sources will also be augmented by the private sector agro industries promoting GMOs and non-governmental organisations who are arguing against GMOs. A government agency is probably the most appropriate intermediary and likely to be trusted by the local people, when that agency has proven its credibility over time.
5. If quality information is provided, then involving the public in decision-making is unlikely to involve additional costs. They will make their own decisions on the basis of the information they have received.
Jeffrey A. McNeely
IUCN-The World Conservation Union
rue Mauverney 28, 1196 Gland
E-mail: jam (at) iucn.org
Tel.: +41 22 999 0284
Fax: +41 22 999 0025
Sent: 03 February 2005 15:20
Subject: 77: Re: Pertinent points on this subject
This is Javier M. Claparols, Director of the the Ecological Society of the Philippines, a member of the IUCN-World Conservation Union. My friend Jeff McNeely (Message 76) should have mentioned that the IUCN in it's last World Conservation Congress held in Bangkok on November 2004 passed a Policy Resolution on a Moratorium on Further Release of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).I would like to add the following concerning the 5 points in his message:
Javier M. Claparols
Ecological Society of the Philippines
53 Tamarind Road, Forbes Park
Makati City 1200
Tel: 63 2 6339626
Fax: 63 2 6317357
Email: jmc1 (at) mozcom.com
Sent: 04 February 2005 10:13
Subject: 78: Experiences from the UK
I am Derek Burke, living in Cambridge UK, now retired from my last position as a University Vice Chancellor. I have followed this debate with interest, since this issue has been active here.
Helen Chambers (Message 75) asks (in response to a comment by Anne Bridges, Message 72) what evidence is there about the safety of GM foods and I refer her to two exhaustive reports produced by the UK Government at http://www.gmsciencedebate.org.uk/ . The introduction states: "Government has been promoting a national dialogue on genetic modification (GM) issues. One part of this was a review of the science of GM, led by Sir David King (the Government's Chief Scientific Adviser) working with Professor Howard Dalton (the Chief Scientific Adviser to the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), with independent advice from the Food Standards Agency. This 'GM Science Review' has now concluded its work".
This e-mail conference has identified the need to consult consumers in a balanced way, still a major difficulty in the UK. I was chairman of the Government’s Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes from 1989 to 1997, and it was our responsibility to advise Ministers about the safety of all novel foods, including those derived by genetic modification. I was not allowed to have any connection to any food company and all members of the Committee had to declare any such interest annually. The Committee was made up of experts plus a consumer representative and an ethical adviser, in order to bring societal and ethical views to bear on the advice we were giving. We published an Annual Report, held an annual press conference, and I was available to radio, TV and press at all times. This procedure worked well until GM soya came to Europe when public confidence in Ministerial decisions, already damaged by the BSE affair, coupled with a vigorous campaign run by several newspapers and the failure of Monsanto to offer consumer choice persuaded the public that GM soya was unsafe to eat. The Advisory Committee has continued to experiment with ways of establishing public confidence, meeting in public, publishing its minutes on the web immediately after the meeting, and adding a second consumer representative, but consumer concerns continue.
A further experiment, initiated five years ago, was the formation of the Agricultural and Environmental Biotechnology Commission, chaired by a lawyer, made up of scientists, drawn from both universities and businesses, together with four senior members of anti-GM NGOs. This group has produced a number of reports, available on the web, but little agreement was reached, and the Government has very recently decided to discontinue this Commission. My view is that since the anti-GM NGOs have a non-negotiable position, placing them on a committee which was intended to work by consensus effectively gave them a veto on decisions, and it is unsurprising that agreement could not be reached. So the Government is now looking for other ways of trying to assess the true state of public opinion, influenced as it is by claim and counterclaim, and in a situation where the safety of GM foods comes about number 25 on the list of public concerns.
So in summary, we in the UK have been unable to find a mechanism which leads to conclusions satisfactory to companies, scientists and NGOs. The public has become confused and I think rather bored by the whole debate, and my judgement is that GM foods will slowly enter the British market, as and when they offer a consumer advantage since the evidence from the United States is that GM soya can be eaten safely. But we have not solved the public acceptance issue.
Professor Derek Burke
13, Pretoria Road
Cambridge CB4 1HD
Tel/Fax 01223 301159
dcb27 (at) cam.ac.uk
Sent: 04 February 2005 10:24
Subject: 79: Re: Pertinent points on this subject
This is from David Steane, a retired FAO officer in Animal Production and Animal Genetic Resources, now living in Thailand.
I am enjoying this conference and, once again, congratulate FAO on providing the opportunity for debate on a crucial issue. Much of the debate addresses how information should be transferred but, from reading submissions and experience, it is clear that there is very little good information on GMOs despite some vague assertions to the contrary. The issues are not simply with food safety but also with the growing of crops. Very few countries have carried out comprehensive trials of sufficient replicates to allow even a reasonable statistical view to be taken on the affects of growing GM crops. The UK (Royal Society) has reported some trials with very interesting results showing the necessity for careful study of each GM crop in the environments relevant to that country. For most countries, the situation is that there is no proper scientifically relevant information on which they can base a long-term decision taking into account all aspects of agricultural production.
My original comment on the pressures has just been well made by Javier Claparols (Message 77) who added some points to those of Jeffrey McNeely (Message 76). The issue of who should provide information and to whom is well addressed by Jeffrey McNeely but his proviso regarding government agencies "when that agency has proven its credibility over time" is absolutely crucial - particularly given the recent experiences with Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and with Avian Influenza in SE Asia. [Point 4 of Jeffrey McNeely's message was "The key factor is to provide objective information from a credible source (or multiple sources), in languages that are relevant to the local people. With the improvement in communications technology, this should not be an overwhelming task for a government agricultural agency. It needs to be recognised, however, that government sources will also be augmented by the private sector agro industries promoting GMOs and non-governmental organisations who are arguing against GMOs. A government agency is probably the most appropriate intermediary and likely to be trusted by the local people, when that agency has proven its credibility over time"...Moderator].
The question of who pays is also difficult but not beyond solution. Field trails to study the effects and on a scale which can allow reliable statistical analysis should be shared by the interested parties - government on behalf of its agricultural community and its own self interest and by the GM companies who wish their crop to be considered for use in that country. They, after all, will benefit from the years of protection they are given by patents unless their crop is shown to create too much harm relative to the benefits - in which case the company should not benefit other than having a good scientific evaluation of its product (and at a subsidised cost!). [Question 6.k in the background document about "who pays" was however about participation i.e. "Involving the public in decision-making processes can be costly. Who should pay?"...Moderator].I look forward to further debate on this subject,
99 Moo 7 Baan Rong Dua, Thakwang,
SARAPHI, Chiang Mai 50140,
Tel/fax (66) 53 42 99 18
desteane (at) loxinfo.co.th
Sent: 04 February 2005 11:53
Subject: 80: 'Knowledge is power' and 'power is knowledge'
I picked up a text on action research this afternoon when I was meeting with another supervisor and 'our' Post Grad student. The book fell open at a chapter by Andrea Cornwall who is well known in the Farmer-First/bottom-up extension circles. I was struck by 2 headings which may be relevant to this debate 'knowledge is power' and 'power is knowledge'. I intend reading this chapter as I am sure it will have a bearing on if and how farmers inputs to deciding on GMO release happens. Action Research is about what changes, not what the scientific facts may or may not be. After all the facts do change with the people and what use is made of them.
School of Agriculture
Charles Sturt University
Locked Bag 588
Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, 2678
e-mail: adunn (at) csu.edu.au
[Work by Andrea Cornwall was referred to previously in Message 53. The farmer first extension model emphasises the important role that farmers have to play in research and extension from the bottom up (e.g. Foster et al, 1995, http://www.joe.org/joe/1995august/a1.html). Action research is a family of research methodologies which pursue action and research outcomes at the same time, having therefore some components which resemble consultancy or change agency, and some which resemble field research. (e.g. Dick, 2000, http://www.scu.edu.au/schools/gcm/ar/arp/guide.html ...Moderator].
Sent: 06 February 2005 12:58
Subject: 81: Who pays for the public involvement in decision-making
This is David Steane again.
Regarding 'who pays' at the level of public involvement in decision making: Once sound evidence is available (as discussed already), then further discussion will depend to some extent on the results. Given that an assessment of benefits and costs (not simply direct economic costs) is required, then again this should be part of the whole process and the government and involved companies should pay along with whoever else is directly involved in the planning, operating and scientific evaluation and reporting of results (this is part of the costs of the trials!). Once comprehensive, scientific information is available it makes the whole process much simpler. The methods of communication will depend on the country and its culture etc. but published data which can then be put into simple terminology makes it easier to do.
99 Moo 7 Baan Rong Dua, Thakwang,
SARAPHI, Chiang Mai 50140,
Tel/fax (66) 53 42 99 18
desteane (at) loxinfo.co.th
Sent: 06 February 2005 13:16
Subject: 82: How far should the rural public be involved
I am Yoel T Mesghenna again.
I just noted the interesting topic from message 43 (by John Nishio) about how far the public should be involved. I think it is how far the puplic is involved that has made the computer and recombinant technology to be old and new. Maybe there is no need to tell a rural farmer how a gene is transferred in the lab. What they want to know is how applicable and sustainable this technology is to their condition (seeing from biophysical apects, social and ethical issues etc ); what advantages will they get; Can they always go back to their own technology (e.g. their traditional non-GM crop) whenever the GMOs did not work for them or if they "did not like them" (like in the computerized world someone still can use hard copies or, in in case of drugs, communities are still using their own traditional medicines whenever they feel like or cannot afford to buy modern medicine..matter of individual choice!); What risks (to their ecology, health and other socio economic aspects) are involved and who will take care of such risks; are they compatible with their ethical laws?; Who will subsidize the technology in case they are not affordable (at least in their first implementation but also in maintaining or providing them like GMO seeds) by the rural people etc. Rural People need to know about this and not about its complex scientific background.
After doing this we will have different responses with regard to the acceptance of GMOs: Either directly adopted, modified in the way we use (e.g. rural people may want to have such technology on their non-edible crops but not on the others or farmers may want to grow them in separate areas...); or the rural people may want to continue with other technologies already available to them.
As long as clear, simple and understandable information on biotech and/or GMOs are not shared and discussed with the rural people the issue will always remain "NEW". And new implies a technology that has still to be adopted!
How many of the rural people are to be involved? Well I don't see why some of the comments are suggesting that the rural population is too large and it is a difficult process to involve them. GMOs is not the only issue that needs participation. Many other technologies and development programs have been tried, implemented together with public participation and there is enough experience on that - how many people and when, who and how are involved from the rural people. For instance, depending on the available and suitable system in that given area, the involvement may start with model farmers, community leaders or representatives, target farmers whatever we may call them and, depending on time and resources, the education, discussion and involvement will be expanded. Of course once it starts, the farmer to farmer information transfer will also be there. The difference of GMOs from other development initiatives is that the general public in developing countries has much less common knowledge and needs quite a lot of information ahead.
At the end, for me, rural people involvement does not necessary will mean a vote of "Yes" or "No" for GMOs. Otherwise it will require as to do a kind of referendum and get every individuals view, which simply is not practical. However the rural peoples involvement will enable us to understand the attitude/position and concerns of our rural public towards GMOs and see how to deal with it :- to go ahead with GMOs, try to adopt it with some modifications (for e.g. which crops?) or pull back from GMOs for that matter. This still means the rural people are involved in the decision making!
Yoel T Mesghenna
E.mail: Mty1973 (at) yahoo.com
Sent: 07 February 2005 10:10
Subject: 83: Re: Who pays for the public involvement in decision-making
[Thanks to Craig Harris for the message below. I would like to remind you that we are now entering the last week of this 4-week long e-mail conference and that the final day for receiving messages for posting in the conference is Sunday 13 February. In this last week, we especially encourage those of you who have not already done so to contribute to this exchange on "Public participation in decision-making regarding GMOs in developing countries: How to effectively involve rural people", by addressing any of 15 questions listed in Section 6 of the background document and/or commenting on some of the many excellent messages that have already been posted in the conference...Moderator].
This is Craig Harris, a sociologist at Michigan State University, United States. I study the processes of social discourse that lead to beliefs and attitudes about biotechnology, and to public and private decisions about policies and programs concerning biotechnology.
It seems to me that the line of thinking in this thread assumes that it is possible through science to approach one correct answer, i.e., one fairly consensual estimate of the impacts, fairly unitary agreement on the costs and benefits of those impacts, and concurrence on the likelihood of those impacts. With this assumption, as David Steane (Message 81) says, published data and results can be put into simple terminology and distributed to the public.
I think this line of thinking is flawed for three reasons.
First, if we accept the "one correct answer" assumption, this is still only the beginning of public involvement in decision making. Each actor will still use her/his values and interests to calculate whether s/he is for or against the proposed biotechnology. These clashes of values and interests may still be highly contentious and rancorous, so public involvement will still need to be managed.
Second, I do not see much basis for the "one correct answer" assumption. It seems to me that, at all levels of scientific quality, the literature is still replete with widely divergent estimates of the impacts of various biotechnologies, their costs and benefits, and their probabilities. I think this is at least partly because these significant aspects of biotechnology are highly contextual, and thus difficult to estimate with laboratory studies or limited field trials.
Third, while it might be possible to reach some consensus on these scientific aspects, it is not clear that the scientists would have asked all the questions that public social decision makers want answered. That would suggest that, if one wants to try to achieve a scientific consensus, that science should itself be produced through a discursive or dialogic process involving public social decision makers. Some of the questions posed by social decision makers may be context specific; others may have to do with the comparison of biotechnology with alternative agricultural technologies for accomplishing the stated goals.
Craig K Harris
Department of Sociology
Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station
Ntional Food Safety and Toxicology Center
Institute for Food and Agricultural Standards
Michigan State University
Craig.Harris (at) ssc.msu.edu
Sent: 07 February 2005 17:17
Subject: 84: Public involvement should not be aimed for a Yes/No answer
Thank you FAO for hosting this excellent conference with such diverse global expertise, it is very interesting and relevent.
Jorge E. Mayer (Message 66) has confidence in the regulatory process, promotes alliances between governments and companies and has confidence that information about agrichemicals and land management provided by the "experts" of the companies who sell the products is reliable. As a farmer I have serious concerns regarding the level of alliances between governments and companies as it appears to influence outcomes, have little trust in most countries regulatory process because it is reliant on such a narrow definition of health and environment and can certainly prove the promotional hype of GM does not accurately reflect reality.
Generally, governments are limited to inadequate assessment of health and environment when considering GM crops (hence Federal approval in Australia). However, Australian state governments are charged with authority over land use and can assess economic and market concerns including industry preparedness (hence States imposing moratoriums). I would recommend this inclusion in any legislation in order to address the issues more completely but some form of accountability needs to be integrated to ensure alliances between companies and governments does not influence outcomes.
Seeking a Yes/No answer on GM crops is too simplistic yet an unmanaged "Yes" is a desired outcome of the biotech industry. As mentioned by Atefeh Fooladi Moghaddam (Message 63) "If we suppose they were well informed about the pros and cons of this new technology, their decision would be yes or no. They would accept the new technology or deny it." and as pointed out by Prashant Joshi (Message 61) "Some developing countries accepted and some of them rejected the idea of GMOs." If preparing legislation, any public involvement should not be aimed for a Yes/No answer as the answer is obviously dependent on who you ask. Those with a vested interest in GM crops are understandably going to be on the supportive side of GM crops and those that will be impacted negatively by GM crops (consumers or farmers wishing to avoid GM foods or crops) will be opposed to its introduction. The majority of the public will be between these polarised views dependent on who they have relied on for information. Therefore public participation based on a Yes/No answer will be totally irrelevent and is nothing more than a spot poll to see who has distributed information the best.
We can learn from the mistakes that have occurred to date in the decision making process and public participation attempts. As mentioned by Joanna Goven (Message 59) many postings indicate a desire to persuade the rural population to accept GMOs which is a "mere legitimation exercise" and while this is the intention of those pushing GM crops, I agree it is irresponsible. Edo Lin (Message 56) explained the public participation in debates in 3 European counties, where the UK debate involved 20,000 people, yet "...none of the debates were efforts towards public decision making." This expensive exercise could have been aimed at a more practical approach of managing the problems identified. Health concerns were identified yet there appeared to be no resolution to find what health testing would be necessary to allay consumer fears. Contamination was identified as an issue yet there appeared to be no attempt at resolving the issues regarding contamination problems and associated fair coexistence protocols. To introduce a GM crop and to expect non-GM farmers to accept liability for economic loss associated with contamination with a product they do not want, needs to be reversed and the risks managed. If EU succumb to the US pressure under WTO, will they have resolved these critical issues in time? While Germany is prepared with a strict liability regime, how will other member states manage?
As mentioned by J. Lynne Brown (Message 52): "Risks and benefits are almost always biased by ones location in the hierarchy or food chain so a risk to one person is a benefit to another." While the GM industry will gain significantly from contamination because it will remove the competition from non-GM commodities, farmers and consumers will lose and accordingly government must intervene to address this imbalance.
Legislation must be based on accurate identification of risk and preparation of required risk management. To avoid being misled by the hefty promotional campaign, it is also essential to investigate how accurate the benefit claims are and if these benefits can be achieved by alternative means. Information relevent to adequate assessment must not be withheld for any reason. Before even calling for public involvement, this information should be investigated by contacting the relevent industries that can help with this information. In Australia, I have found the information required to investigate these issues thoroughly is not available and in many cases information required is claimed to be "commercial in confidence". Further intense investigation has revealed that the information withheld reveals the inadequacies of the GM crops which explains the reluctance to share this information. Information regarding performance and costs is the practical information farmers need and must be revealed.
Public involvement should then be asked to guage if the prepared risk management is considered adequate to address the risks involved and the information gained will assist the farming community to make unbiased decisions regarding growing the crop. This method of information collection and distribution will be a far cheaper option as it will involve far less confusion and avoid irreversible confusion and controversy.
Network of Concerned Farmers
Phone 08 98711562
julie at non-gm-farmers.com
Sent: 08 February 2005 14:19
Subject: 85: The Cartagena Protocol and public participation
This is Edo Lin, independent consultant.
Several contributors to this conference have suggested that it is the big multinationals that drive the biotechnology agenda in developing countries. Although it is certainly true that multinational companies have a vested interest (and not to forget the influence of donor countries and agencies), I think it might be useful to mention the legitimate desire expressed by developing countries to have access to biotechnology by referring to Article 16 of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) which states (inter alia) that "Each Contracting Party, recognizing that technology includes biotechnology, and that both access to and transfer of technology among Contracting Parties are essential elements for the attainment of the objectives of this Convention, undertakes...". The CBD has now been ratified by 187 countries. (for the full text of the Convention see http://www.biodiv.org/convention/articles.asp).
The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety is an outcome of the CBD and, as already discussed in the background document to the conference and in several messages, it obliges the Contracting Parties to create public awareness etc. The UK Institute for Development Studies (IDS) reviewed in 2002 the Public Participation and the Cartagena Protocol in 16 countries representing a variety of different political cultures, regulatory structures and social attitudes towards technology and participation. The full report or the case studies can be downloaded at http://www.ids.ac.uk/ids/env/biotech/pubsNBFs.html. One of the conclusions of the review is that promoting, consultation, participation and awareness raising requires taking into account the unique characteristics of each particular country's political, social and economic environment. These contextual factors will ultimately determine what is possible, realistic and desirable. This in particular means that it is vital to avoid the common mistake that particular policy models that appear to work well in one context may easily be imported or adopted in another setting. [The abstract of the report, by Glover, D. Keeley, J. Newell, P., McGee, R. et al., states "This commissioned report presents the findings of a review of the experience of different countries in fulfilling their obligations, under Article 23 of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, to promote and facilitate public awareness and participation in the design and implementation of their national biosafety regulatory frameworks. The main part of the report discusses lessons to be learned from previous experience of involving the public in development policy, drawing on examples from 'poverty reduction strategy processes' and processes to elaborate 'national strategies for sustainable development'. Part 2 of the report presents short case studies from sixteen countries, including both developed and developing countries and parties and non-parties to the Biosafety Protocol. The countries discussed are Brazil, Canada, China, Denmark, Estonia, Ethiopia, India, Kenya, Malaysia, Mexico, Namibia, New Zealand, Norway, the United Kingdom, the United States and Zimbabwe"...Moderator].
309 rue de Bombon
e-mail: lin.edo (at) free.fr
Sent: 08 February 2005 14:29
Subject: 86: Views from Cuba
I am Ms Luis Plácido Ortega Izquierdo, head of projects in Augusto Cesar Sandino Cooperative in La Habana, Cuba. It is a cooperative of agricultural producers (190) growing mainly vegetables (8000 ton. a year) in over 700 ha. In our plans of development we are studying a large group of strategies which includes GM crops.
Unfortunately the amount of messages in growing into such a large number that it is getting very difficult to follow all of them. I think Michael Ferry and Sylvia Kosalko touched the most sensible points. In my opinion, politics and decision making should remain in goverments hands in each country, as far as they were appointed for this job by their voters. For this, of course, they should be capable of receiving the most accurate expert evaluation, and at the same time coordinating national strategies with global or international approaches. It absolutely does not mean that people, including farmers, should not be involved. I consider that people involvment requires in the first place an adequate education and an appropriate system of information (includes all possible ways, up to face-to-face if required) regarding the goverment decisions (and it not only refers to GMOs) and the criteria for it. Them the people, farmers or not, through their organizations could evaluate and judge how effectively their apointed have taken into acount their needs.
Luis Plácido Ortega Izquierdo Ms, MBA
Augusto Cesar Cooperative
Carretera La Salud, Km. 3 1/2.
San Antonio de los Baños.
email: cpaacsandino (at) sih.cu
Sent: 09 February 2005 14:30
Subject: 87: Relevant and reliable information
Good Day to everyone that has participated in this conference. It is encouraging to see the variety and intensity of input. Thanks for the joint efforts. I am Bridget Hogg, Chemistry Lecturer at The College of The Bahamas.
I wish to speak about question 6.f in the background document: "Which mechanisms can be used to ensure that relevant and reliable information/content is provided by the above media?"
It is easy to "scare" the public or lull them into a "sense of security". It is so much more difficult to "inform and educate". I believe that the way to ensure that the content delivered is relevant and reliable is to make sure that the formal and informal media are provided with data that is unbiased, consistent and relevant. This can be done if there are national/regional bodies set up to prepare FACT SHEETS, that are just that, rather than opinion discussions. The fact sheets could also contain questions for discussion and for data gathering e.g. What do you (Rural citizen) know about GMOs, What are your current concerns about your farming/food purchasing/ etc practices ? What assistance, if any, do you need in improving your agricultural products / nutritional intake? etc. In this way, people would share a common knowledge base and have this base as a starting point for discussion of GMOs as relates to their individual and community situations. This would serve to define the terms and the issue.
Who should pay for distribution of information ? The GMO producers, local and national government and non governmental agencies should all contribute to the costs. Newspapers, TV, videotapes, websites, community leaders are all potential sources of information.
The College of The Bahamas
adelphi (at) batelnet.bs
Sent: 09 February 2005 15:37
Subject: 88: Choice, information and representation, yes, but focus on the right issues
From Jorge Mayer, Golden Rice Project Manager, Campus Technologies Freiburg, Germany.
I am worried that some messages in this conference have expressed deep mistrust in governments and scientists, and used that as a reason to involve the rural population in decision making processes far removed from their expertise. Errors and abuses are committed everywhere, the more so in incipient democracies, no doubt about that. Yet, the consequence cannot be to take over the reins in every decision of everyday life (in my message (number 66) I already mentioned pharmaceuticals or novel foodstuff as examples); this level of involvement amounts to anarchy.
Having confidence in democratic structures does not mean absence of involvement. Appropriate representation at all levels must guarantee the working of control mechanisms, e.g. having peer-reviewed scientific opinions, morally and politically balanced decision making, and expert feedback in all these processes (farmers will be probably involved here). Decisions made by those who represent us at different levels must be transparent, and those who make them must be accountable for their deeds. If a level of control is missing, there must be mechanisms to establish that missing control point. Once those mechanisms are in place, there is no need for the general public to be involved in the minutia pertaining to that area.
In my former message, I have tried to avoid discussing topics that were handled in preceding conferences, like the equivalence of GMOs and their non GMO counterparts. This conference seems to take off from the premise that field performance of a trait generated through genetic manipulation is a priori different from one generated by other means—like introgression from the wild or mutagenesis; hence this conference is asking for the general public to judge the technology as such. [The aim of this conference, as with the other 11 that have been hosted so far, is to take one particular subject relevant to agricultural biotechnology in developing countries and provide a neutral platform for a moderated exchange of views/experiences on the subject. The subject of public participation in decision-making regarding GMOs is one receiving increasing attention by policy makers in recent years, where e.g. many developing country governments have recently adopted international agreements/guidelines with specific provisions regarding public awareness and participation. In this context, the hosting of an e-mail conference on this subject seemed timely and appropriate...Moderator].
Farmers can adopt or reject new varieties, GMO or non GMO. They can choose to use a new herbicide or not. A decision will be made based on economic and management considerations, not on how the gene was introduced. If a farmer will be made liable for “contaminating” the neighbour’s fields with its GM crop, then s|he may decide that the situation is unmanageable and therefore the variety will not be adopted. Such a decision would not have anything to do with the fact that it was a GM crop.
Without any doubt, I support the notion that farmers should have a choice — competition amongst companies as well as availability of public varieties — and plenty of information. They also deserve that strict adherence to international standards is observed by their respective countries in respect of handling and registration of agrichemicals, phytosanitary regulations, distribution channels, etc.
I would like to remind some participants that this conference is about farmers in developing countries. In my own experience, if a kid from a small farm finishes high school, s|he will usually leave the farm for a better paid job in a city. We have a moral responsibility to make sure that the information that reaches farmers is correct to the best of our knowledge. At the same time, we must consider our level of expectation if we want to let them vote on every new farm product, because that is the level of consequence we should derive from this conference. If we’re asking for small farmers in developing country to decide whether they want GMOs or not, we must let them decide on every innovation we’d like to introduce into their farms. I would like to make this one point clear to the participants: I don’t want to disempower the farmers, I only want you to focus on the right issues. Most people have already made up their minds in respect of GMOs. If you think that GMOs are dangerous by virtue of the technology applied, then make sure that they are rejected already at the highest levels, don’t wait until they reach the fields. If, on the contrary, you believe that the trait is what counts, then again, meet the registration decisions at the official level and let the farmers decide on the usefulness of the trait.
By allowing everyone to have their say, sound projects can be delayed and sometimes even made impossible. In this way, opponents of the technology can achieve their goal by the tactic of 'divide et impera' (divide and rule).
Dr Jorge E. Mayer
Golden Rice Project Manager
Center for Applied Biosciences
University of Freiburg
Stefan Meier Str 8
jorge.mayer (at) zab.uni-freiburg.de
Ph +49 (761) 203 5022
Fax +49 (761) 203 5021
Sent: 09 February 2005 16:53
Subject: 89: Indigenous people
This is Edo Lin, independent consultant.
Question 6d of the conference background paper addresses the question of indigenous people (i.e. "Should specific considerations be given to involving indigenous communities in decision-making regarding GMOs? If so, how can this best be achieved?").
The International decade of the world's indigenous people (1994-2004) has just ended and a draft UN Declaration on the rights of indigenous people will hopefully be finalised soon. In Article 30 of this draft, indigenous people have the right to determine and develop priorities for the development or use of their lands, territories and other resources. Chapter 26 of Article 21 (Rio Earth Summit) states, inter alia, that arrangements shall be made for indigenous people to participate in national formulation of policies, laws and programmes related to resource management and development that may affect them. There are many other International fora which have expressed the rights of indigenous people regarding the ownership, management and use of their natural resources and the right to consultation prior to, during and after, development activities are implemented.
I think that it therefore clear that indigenous people should also be consulted in matter of biotechnology and biosafety. This is especially important when you take into account that there are several kinds of knowledge needed in the debate and that traditional or indigenous knowledge can make an important contribution.
How to involve indigenous people in the debate is another question which needs addressing. Indigenous people are often marginalised in society and law. On 17-19 January of this year, the Secretariat of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (SPFII) organised an expert workshop on "Methodologies regarding free, prior and informed consent and indigenous people". The workshop proceedings are not yet available but could give a better insight into the question of how we can facilitate the full participation of indigenous people.
309, rue de Bombon
[- Official documents relating to the draft United Nations declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples can be found at http://www.ohchr.org/english/issues/indigenous/groups/groups-02.htm.
- At the UN Conference on Environment and Development, held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, participating countries signed three agreements not binding in international law (Agenda 21, the Rio Declaration, Statement of Forest Principles) and two legally binding conventions (Framework Convention on Climate Change, Convention on Biological Diversity). Chapter 26 of Article 21 is available at http://www.un.org/esa/sustdev/documents/agenda21/english/agenda21chapter26.htm
- The draft agenda of the meeting referred to in the final paragraph is available at http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/panels/freeprior_training.htm ...Moderator].
Sent: 09 February 2005 17:39
Subject: 90: Modelling the farmer making adoption decisions in a social vacuum
This is Glenn Stone, again.
Jorge Mayer (Message 88) writes "Farmers can adopt or reject new varieties, GMO or non GMO. They can choose to use a new herbicide or not. A decision will be made based on economic and management considerations, not on how the gene was introduced. If a farmer..". This greatly oversimplifies the factors affecting adoption, especially in developing countries.
Farmers adopt partly for cultural reasons. A good recent example appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), 102(3), 2005: "Maize diversity and ethnolinguistic diversity in Chiapas, Mexico" by Perales, Benz and Brush. It shows that ethnolinguistic groups plant their own landraces of maize that aren't necessarily the best adapted to their area.
I am studying adoption of cotton types in Andhra Pradesh (both GM and conventional) and finding strong local preferences that have little or no agronomic basis. The local favorites have more to do with social processes. (There is a group of anthropologists, led by Boyd and Richerson, who have written about some of these processes.)
Farmers tend to rely increasingly on social processes (e.g. emulation, or seeking out others' interpretations of agricultural phenomena) as information becomes more variable and outcomes less predictable. In Andhra Pradesh, there is a much stronger pattern of local "noneconomic" favorites in cotton production -- where all the variables are highly variable and results unpredictable -- than in rice or gram production.
So you can't model the farmer as making adoption decisions in a social vacuum based on adequate agro-economic information. You have to look more synthetically at the system. If you're interested in GMOs, you can't simply ask how the Bt affects bollworms, you have to ask the broader question of how the introduction of GM crops affects the farmers' information environment. The more the technology and all the hoopla surrounding it increases the variability and unpredictability of agricultural information, the more farmers will rely on social processes rather than individual environmental assessments.
Glenn Davis Stone
Prof. of Anthropology and Environmental Studies
St. Louis, MO 63130
stone (at) wustl.edu
Sent: 10 February 2005 10:36
Subject: 91: Questions 6a to 6f: Fiji
I am Permal Deo and work as a Lecturer at the University of South Pacific, Laucala Campus, Fiji Islands. I teach Food Science courses which include sections on GM foods. I must admit that the resource material provided before the session is very comprehensive and to me as an academic it is a good reference material.
I understand that Ruci Dakunimata (Message 73) did highlight Fiji (developing country) status in respect to GM foods and its concerns are still based on advocating (media and workshops) public. However, there is no concerns raised on the growers or farmers. Moreover, interest in this area has promoted the University to take a research project to address the continuing problem of Dalo (rootcrop) disease which is currently costing farmers a lot. This project will be undertaken in collaboration with Australian Universities.To address the issues as per the questions in Section 6 of the background document:
Giving priorities at all levels of decision making will bring more incentives for the rural farmers. Involving these vulnerable people wil raise incentives among themselves and hence their role under a wider scope of biotechnology. One might object to that, since most of the rural farmers are uneducated (certainly applicable to developing countries), however we should not forget that they have the skills hence translating information into laymans terms and into vernacular will create more healthy inputs at all levels.6b) "In which situations is it most important to include the rural people in decision-making regarding GMOs in developing countries?"
I certainly feel that while introducing a variety of crop or choosing the varieties that might best suit an area. These rural farmers will have ample knowledge on the crops they grow (cultivating).6c) "How can public participation opportunities be 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)?"
Reaching to remote areas could be difficult due to geographical location and moreover if there are a number of small islands. However, use of community workers has proven to be a great success in relation to health information or agriculture. The same principles could be used where community advisors could be used. These advisors are regarded higher within the community and the locals will definitely feel comfortable working with this groups.6d) "Should specific considerations be given to involving indigenous communities in decision-making regarding GMOs? If so, how can this best be achieved?"
Involving rural community at all levels is important rather than targeting specific groups. However, special attention or special needs could be addressed when needed.6e) "What is the best medium (e.g. newspaper, radio, Internet etc.) for rural people in developing countries to access quality information about GMOs, that will allow them to participate effectively in the decision-making process?"
Further to Ruci Dakunimata's message (nr. 73), radio has proven to be a great success in advocating information. In Fiji, radio programmes are in the 3 main languages (English, Hindi and Fijian). In addition, special programmes are also aired especially in areas of agriculture and health related diseases. The programme of agricuture could be made a prime target since most rurual community workers use this.6f) "Which mechanisms can be used to ensure that relevant and reliable information/content is provided by the above media?"
Use of vernacular languages through the means of radio would be most appropriate. In addition, the community advisors would be another means since they would speak the same dialect of the farmers concerned.
Permal Deo, MAIFST, MIFST
Department of Biology
School of Pure and Applied Sciences
The University of the South Pacific
Laucala Campus, Fiji Islands
Ph: +679 3212567; 3212296 ; 3212415
Fax : + 679 3315601; Mobile: 9935533
Email: Deo_P (at) usp.ac.fj
Sent: 10 February 2005 11:25
Subject: 92: Leave the decisions on biosafety to the experts and national regulatory bodies
I am Dr. C.R. Bhatia (India), plant geneticist and breeder with over forty years involvement in genetic improvement of crops using hybridization, mutations, tissue culture and recombinant DNA (genetic engineering) methods. I have retired from field and bench research but continue international and national consultancy in agricultural biotechnology.
In general, all types of farmers, rich or poor, with large or small holdings, would like to have the freedom to choose the crop cultivars to grow. They will grow the cultivar/hybrid that enhances productivity, value, and in the end the net monetary return through reduced production cost, pesticide applications and labor. They will willingly pay higher cost of the seed for planting when convinced that the net returns would be higher. Only uncertainties of the growing season – drought or excess rain, and lack of cash to purchase seed, fertilizers and pesticides influences the investment decisions of farmers based on their own experience and estimation of risk–return. The farmers should always have the freedom to choose unless they opt for contractual farming.
How to arrive at the right choice? Even illiterate farmers in developing countries know very well what traits they would like in their crops – insect resistance, disease resistance, early maturity etc. However, they do not know what makes one cultivar resistant and the other highly susceptible and how resistant cultivars are developed. I wonder how anyone, including professional science communicators can explain genetic engineering to illiterate farmers who have no idea what is a cell, chromosome, or gene. I used to teach basic biology to engineering graduates, and believe me a majority would not know for certain how the sex of the child is determined, and the X and Y chromosomes. The ignorance is widespread even in literate population of the developed countries. Results of a survey in USA revealed that about 45% of the respondents were not aware that there are genes in the non GE crops. They carried the notion that the GE crops have the genes, and they would not like to eat genes. Farmers understand, and can differentiate between two resistant cultivars, but not the process – hybridization or genetic engineering - used for developing them. How can the possible environmental concerns of the gene conferring resistance transferred using GE versus that of another gene incorporated by hybridization be explained to the farmers?
The responses depend on the way the information is given, and the questions are framed. If it is told that the GE cultivar has been developed by the intrusion of the scientists (devils) in the God’s creation, the majority would say – NO; this should not be permitted at any cost. On the other hand, when they have experienced that a particular GE cultivar is not attacked by the insect pest, and is advantageous for them, they will go and plant it even if it is against the law as was the case of illicit Bt cotton in part of India.
Hence, to my mind the right approach should be to leave the decisions on biosafety to the experts, and the national regulatory bodies, as is followed in health care, foods and beverages, consumer goods and most other products. Does the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) obtain the opinion of the diabetics before approving recombinant human insulin in any country? No, to the best of my knowledge. After the approval, follow the participatory approach, organize demonstrations, and explain all the terms and conditions – high cost of seed, need to grow refugia etc. associated with the GE crop in a transparent manner.
Dr. C. R. Bhatia
Postal: 17 Rohini, Plot no. 29-30, Sector 9-A, Vashi,
New Bombay – 400 703,
e-mail: neil (at) bom7.vsnl.net.in
Sent: 10 February 2005 11:26
Subject: 93: Re: Choice, information and representation, yes, but focus on the right issues
It seems that Jorge Mayer (Message 88) forgets that the farmers are also consumers and forgets than in some countries the majority of the consumers do not want to eat GMOs. The reasons for this mistrust are various and as respectable as any other alimentation choice. One of these reasons can perfectly be the technical origin of the GMOs. Some people do not eat pork meat, some other have complicated alimentation rules, other prefer to eat organic products. All these choices are respectable and Jorge Mayer is wrong when he claims that denegating the GMOs for its technical origin is not also a respectable reason. There is nothing more cultural and more essential than food. In fact, most of the people that refuse the GMOs advance much more various and complex reasons, into which I don't want to enter here - other FAO conferences have been organized for this purpose.
This conference is on the involvement of the farmers. Clearly, as myself and others have already underlined here, the question of the content of unbiased information remains to be solved before asking how to involve the farmers. One of these pieces of information, for example, is to state that most of the European consumers refuse to eat GMOs products. Their rejection has not appeared in the USA because until now only less than half of Americans (48%) were aware that such products are currently for sale in supermarkets, and less than a third (31%) believed they had personally consumed GM foods (the Food Policy Institute, 2004). If some GMOs have been authorized in Europe recently, it is only because the USA have established a very strong push. This information of the non acceptance by the majority of the European consumers is important to communicate to the farmers of the South not only because it could make them think about the introduction of these type of plants in their consumption but because it can have direct consequences on their difficulty to export their products if they are GMOs.
Research Station on Date Palm and Oasis Farming Systems
Email: m.ferry (at) wanadoo.es
[The report referred to in the final paragraph is Hallman, W. K., Hebden, W. C., Cuite, C. L., Aquino, H. L., and Lang, J. T.. 2004. Americans and GM Food: Knowledge, Opinion and Interest in 2004. (Publication number RR-1104-007). New Brunswick, New Jersey; Food Policy Institute, Cook College, Rutgers - The State University of New Jersey http://www.foodpolicyinstitute.org/docs/reports/NationalStudy2004.pdf ...Moderator].
Sent: 10 February 2005 11:27
Subject: 94: Re: Choice, information and representation, yes, but focus on the right issues
This is Tracey McCowen from Canada. I am an independent bioethics consultant and a third generation farmer.
I would like to respond to Jorge Mayer's message 88. Although I like Dr. Mayer's point of empowering the farmer, I fear from experience that choice will not lead to farmer empowerment. I will use an anecdotal example to explain. Southern Ontario, where I live and farm, has a very high ratio of farmers growing Bt corn; well over sixty percent of corn acreage has been planted to Bt-corn in recent years. In 2003, strong winds and cool nights in September caused a tremendous amount of lodging. Everybody thought that the damage was ubiquitous, in time, though, it became apparent that it was over-whelmingly the Bt-corn that lodged, certainly some varieties of Bt-corn were stronger than others, but Bt-corn did not stand as well as non-Bt varieties. At the "farm Breakfast" the following February, we were told that the Bt varieties had not been bred for stalk strength, (that is what our seed distributor told us anyway.) The point is that the farmers had to cover the cost of a poor harvest. Small farmers, like farmers in developing countries, tend not to have crop insurance. With commodity prices at an all time low level, this leaves very little margin for bad harvests, or other calamities, such as BSE.
As a bioethicist I also have the unique position in conducting research. In an ongoing survey study of farmers growing Bt-corn in Ontario, I had the opportunity to ask farmers if, given the poor harvests, they would stop using the more expensive Bt technology. A number of farmers responded that they didn't feel that they had a choice since the seed companies were no longer producing non-Bt varieties suitable for their area. To be sure, this was not the majority response, but it points to the question of farmer choice raised by Jorge Mayer. Farmer "choice" is not such a straight forward option.
With regards to peer reviewed research; it takes a long time to collect data, and it is almost impossible to get funding; we are funded by a very small internal university grant.
Thank you for these informative conferences.
Tracey McCowen M.Be.
1314 King-Vaughan Rd
Maple, ON L6A 2A5
tmccowen (at) yahoo.com
Sent: 10 February 2005 11:28
Subject: 95: Re: Choice, information and representation, yes, but focus on the right issues
Jorge Mayer (Message 88) explained well the common views of the scientists involved in producing GM crops and these views are understandable. However, it needs to be understood that farmers can not have the choice to accept or reject the GM varieties simply because their choice to grow GM will impact negatively on other farmers. Contamination will happen, markets are rejecting GM crops and non-GM farmers will be negatively impacted accordingly. This is why government intervention is necessary to assess and manage the economic risk and ensure industry preparedness is adequate to manage the issues.
As farmers we received legal advice from our Federal government regarding liability issues and it is clear that the liability for contamination rests with the non-GM farmer for economic loss associated with another farmer growing GM crops. This is because of signed contractual agreements claiming a "non-GM" status for contaminated grain that is not considered "non-GM". Although the non-GM farmer could sue his neighbour for recompense (highly unlikely to happen in a third world country) the case would be very difficult to prove... which neighbour? were they negligent ? did they follow the crop management plan prepared by the company (which we already know will not address the problem) ? etc. See http://www.non-gm-farmers.com/news_details.asp?ID=1520. Just as governments will not promote the artistic sector by allowing them to vandalise property with graffitti, governments can not promote the research and development sector to the detriment of the agricultural sector by allowing the conventional crops produced by the farming sector to be contaminated with a GM product that markets are rejecting. As discussed, the key issue with GM crops that needs to be addressed is liability because the associated liability for the economic loss associated with contamination should not rest with those farmers that choose not to grow GM crops. It is not anarchy, it is fair risk management that must be addressed by governments and must be addressed prior to any GM crops being introduced. How governments address this problem is the challenge.
Network of Concerned Farmers
P.O. Box 6
Ph 08 98711562
Fax 08 98711584
email julie (at) non-gm-farmers.com
Sent: 10 February 2005 11:29
Subject: 96: Re: Modelling the farmer making adoption decisions in a social vacuum
From Tony Dunn:
Re Glenn Stone's contribution (Message 90) on 'social factors' in adoption:
I strongly agree with you Glenn. What you say is apt - in fact so much human behaviour is socially driven - even determined, and yet do I detect some Margaret Thatcherisms in the scientific debate we are having, namely ...there is no such thing as society...!
School of Agriculture
Charles Sturt University
Locked Bag 588
Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, 2678
e-mail: adunn (at) csu.edu.au
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
Sent: 14 February 2005 16:41
Subject: 104: Listening to women's voices in GMO decision-making
I'm Sophia Huyer, Senior Research Advisor with the Gender Advisory Board of the UN Commission on Science and Technology for Development (GAB-UNCSTD). Recently the Gender Advisory Board convened two expert workshops to examine the gender dimensions of biotechnology research and development, in Pretoria and Islamabad, with funding from the Canadian International Development Research Centre (IDRC). The meetings were co-hosted by the University of Pretoria and the Pakistan National Commission on Biotechnology respectively. Discussions in Pretoria focused largely on the effects of GMOs on small farmers, of which women farmers make up the majority in Sub-Saharan Africa. Experts at both meetings agreed that although the issue hasn't been looked at closely, there are gender dimensions uniquely relevant to biotechnology R&D, especially in relation to agriculture and GMOs: women tend to grow different crops from men, and to date, men's crops have been targetted, with unknown results both for the crops women grow and concerning the repercussions for their livelihoods.
The expert workshops covered a wide range of issues around health, agriculture, environment and industry -- the report will be available soon at http://gab.wigsat.org. For the purposes of this conference, I will present some of the results of the discussions which pertain to the questions asked by the moderator, relating to whether or not rural people should be included in GMO decision making:
There was consensus at both meetings that governments should give high priority to involving rural people in GMO decision-making, particularly women. Women haven't always benefitted from past agricultural revolutions, which have tended to be focused on the crops men grow to the detriment of those grown by women, often for family subsistence. Women are responsible for 60-80% of the food production in the developing world and they tend to make up the majority of small farmers, but their concerns and interests have not been adequately incorporated in technology introduction. Women grow different crops than men for different purposes, and the introduction of these technologies has the potential to negatively affect the income-earning ability of women as well as their ability to feed their families. The introduction of agricultural technologies should recognise and take into account the agricultural production roles, knowledge and responsibilities of women, in addition to their decision-making power and ability to benefit from proceeds in the household and farm.
It is important to include rural people in all situations of GMO decision-making; and to make particular efforts to include women at all levels, from local to national and international.
In terms of working with rural people, the group emphasised that “we need new ways of interacting with farmers,” and biotechnology should be a tool to tailor innovations for farmers based on their socioeconomic context, resources, and concerns, and recognising their knowledge and needs. This involves giving them the information they need to make appropriate decisions and to make the connections between the links in the agricultural production chain. It also involves basing technology choice on farmers' interests, situation, access to resource and choice, which requires the engagement of women farmers and women’s groups as well as an understanding of local cultural and gender roles and patterns of knowledge.
GMO decision-making should also include the option of saying no. Use of "older" biotechnologies, or taking advantage of the properties of existing seed varieties should also be a part of the decision-making process.
When working with farmers on these questions, we need to ask whose knowledge is being privileged or prioritised, and whose knowledge is not recognised. This is relevant in terms of "expert" vs. local knowledge, as well as in terms of women's vs. men's knowledge -- experience has shown that women's knowledge tends not to be valued as highly as men's. For example, in many cases it is the women who possess the knowledge about plant and seed varieties and local environmental and agricultural conditions and processes, but they are not present at community decision-making sessions, or in the meetings with government and/or development officials.
For these reasons, particular efforts need to be made to ensure that women are present and active in local-level decision-making on whether and how to introduce GM crops to local farmers, using participatory extension techniques. This is an area where more research needs to be done: on how to recognise and work with gender relations and expectations in a community in a non-intrusive or destructive way, so that both men and women are comfortable with the results.
In addition to participatory methodologies of farmer consultation, adding women to extension teams can make women farmers feel more comfortable about stepping forward. This is particularly important in communities where it is not socially acceptable for women to talk to men outside of their family.
Non-formal science education programmes targetted at women in rural areas, disseminated through ICTs (information and communication technologies) such as radio and cyber centres, as well as books and short training courses, can in the longer-term enable women to participate in GMO decisions on their farm, in their community, and in the nation at large.
Thanks to the organisers for a very stimulating discussion.
Senior Research Advisor
Gender Advisory Board, UNCSTD
204 Ventress Road
Brighton, Ontario K0K 1H0
Tel +1 905-355-5124
Fax +1 905-355-3229
shuyer (at) wigsat.org
Sent: 14 February 2005 16:42
Subject: 105: Do as the developed world does
My name is Diogenes Infante, from the Institute for Advanced Studies in Caracas; Venezuela. I have been working on genetic modification for the last 20 years, doing research in Venezuela (my country), Mexico, USA and France. My interest in genetic modification started in 1979, as a biology student when I found an article about the production of human interferon in a bacterium.
My experience comparing the decision-making process in countries like France and USA, is that people with the highest level possible are involved in the decision-making process. That is what development means. In my opinion, the main difference between developed and undeveloped countries is the quality of the people taking the decisions. There are different ways concerned people are consulted, as must occur in democracy, but the final decision is taken by a panel of experts, especially in technical issues.
At least in my country I have faced this limitation in discussing the issues related to genetic modification, because the people in charge of the decisions lack the knowledge, especially in the Ministry for Environment, which is in charge after the Cartagena Protocol of the GMO issue. They do not care about agriculture.
In two other countries I have visited, Colombia and Argentina, the fact that they sow transgenics is due to the quality of the people in charge of analyzing and approving/refusing transgenic crops. The result is Colombia and Argentina export agricultural products and Venezuela imports 72% of the food, including transgenic soybean from Argentina and Brazil. Obviously the limitation of our agriculture is not only due to the lack of transgenics, but transgenics can be very useful to surmount the problems, as many experts from Africa pointed out during this conference.
To finish, I have followed this conference with attention, and disagreement, because the main topic of this conference is aimed to push my country to act in a different way than USA and France, which is to eliminate the panel of experts and let everybody participate in the decision process. Even if I found the discussion very useful, I disagree with the topic because the discussion wasn’t IF the local people should be involved, it was HOW to involve, asserting the involvement of the local people. “Muchas manos en la sopa ponen el caldo morado” we say (too many hands on the soup make it purple).
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: 14 February 2005 16:43
Subject: 106: Contribution from Nigeria
I am Olayinka Edema from Nigeria. I am a food/applied microbiologist and I teach the same at the University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, Nigeria.
I would like to make my contributions to some of the questions being addressed in this conference as follows:
For rural people to be effectively involved in the decision-making process regarding production, release or import of GMOs, governments must first of all bridge the wide gap of communication and get these people informed about what GMOs are all about. To be able to make any meaningful contribution, rural dwellers must understand the details of the whole idea as much as possible. The ways to go about this include:
1. Governments in developing countries should make funds available in appropriate quarters. I believe that governments in developing countries should make it top priority to involve the rural people in decision-making regarding GMOs and if its top priority, it should be budgeted for adequately to be effective.
2. Public participation opportunities can be extended to groups in rural communities who are more difficult to reach or who have less access to communication channels by carrying out extension services. Institutions of higher learning in developing countries can assist governments in this regard.
3. Regarding the best medium for rural people in developing countries to access quality information about GMOs: newspaper, radio or Internet may not work because of the poor educational background of the people in question. Direct one-on-one contact may be more effective as far as Nigeria is concerned.
4. There should be proper monitoring and follow-up of discussions with rural dwellers so that the government can get new information across and also collect feedback from the rural people in terms of questions, contributions or new developments.
5. As much information as possible should be given to the public and I do not think that any kind of information should be withheld from public. This would give them more confidence in the GMOs.
Regarding the question: Is public participation regarding GMOs in developing countries more important for some food and agriculture sectors than others? I’d like to say yes, because these sectors are very important in developing countries where starvation stares large numbers of the populations in the face.
Lastly, I wish to agree with Michel Ferry in Message 3 that consumers are as much or more concerned and should be involved in decision-making too.
Olayinka Edema PhD
University of Agriculture,
P.M.B. 2240, Abeokuta,
E-mail: moedemao (at) yahoo.co.uk
Sent: 14 February 2005 16:46
Subject: 107: How to best extend opportunities for participation to rural groups
This is Maria Protz again.
Regarding Question (6c) in the background document to the conference, on how to best extend opportunities for participation to rural groups, I agree with Tony Dunn (Message 64) that social scientists are needed in this effort. Vagner Augusto Benedito (Message 2) has pointed out that rural people are not all the same and hence, the approaches for involving them will also be different. He also outlined several different types of farmer groups that was very useful.
In the Caribbean, many other factors are also at play - race, class, age, gender, and religion - and need to be considered as the characteristics, and the 'knowledge, attitudes and practices' (KAPs) of each group will also likely be different. Although Tamala Tonga Kambikambi (Message 29) is concerned about how the criteria for selecting different rural groups will be determined, again - this is where social scientists and communication practitioners are key experts to involve. There are a variety of social science methods and PLA/PRA (Participatory Learning and Action / Participatory Rural Appraisal) tools to use for conducting diagnostic assessments and for getting at the different views of different groups quite straightforwardly.
Once the needs, and KAPs, of different rural groups have been determined, extending opportunities for participation in the GMO debate thus sometimes means working on a one-by-one basis with key clusters. For example, in the Caribbean, soybeans are an important food source for both Seventh Day Adventists and Rastafarians. However, little of the demand for soybeans is supplied within the region. It is possible that much of the supply are GMOs - a sensitive fact that may likely not sit well with the religious beliefs of either of these two groups. Any discussion about GMOs will have to take these sensitivities into account.
For this reason, religious leaders and churches are important means for extending the discussion and debate on GMOs, as Yoel T. Mesghenna (Message 55) has already pointed out. Religious leaders can also help to lend credibility, trust and authority to the discussion.
But ultimately, extending participation requires a multi-disciplinary effort that will involve all of the relevant civil servants, NGOs, and sectors that work in the rural context. The importance of involving extension officers has already been mentioned (Hastings Zidana, Message 17) as has the contribution that teachers can make (Carole Keter, Message 34), but other field staff from other ministries can also play a role. For example, environmental health officers, nutrition officers, Bureau of Standards staff, health clinic staff, and others - will likely all have a role to play in the biosafety framework and are also quite likely to be regularly active in rural areas as well.
A multi-disciplinary approach to extension will also have to be well co-ordinated. Frontline field officers will all need appropriate training if they are to help facilitate the involvement of rural people. And they will also have to coordinate their own activities. In the Caribbean, for example, it is not uncommon for Bureau of Standard staff, nutrition officers, extension officers, and others to each request meetings with farmer groups on a regular monthly basis. That makes for a lot of meetings - often with the same rural audiences. Rural people are busy and therefore, it is important that all of the field staff who may play a role in the facilitation effort - share the duties and collaborate with one another.
Each ministry is also likely to have its own public awareness activities on a regular basis (be it radio announcements, cable TV programmes, newspaper pages, special speakers, fairs, exhibits, keynote speakers, special calendar events, and so on). If GMOs are to be discussed through all these means, care must be taken to avoid duplication and/or competition among the various agencies. It may be best for specific agencies to take the lead on a rotating basis.
It is also critical not to overlook the important role played by farm supply stores and their staff. In the Caribbean, these are often the main source of technical information for farmers. Farm stores and seed suppliers will also have a critical role to play in the distribution of GMO seeds - therefore, they too will need training to provide proper information and to encourage farmer involvement in the debate as it takes place.
Finally, again in the Caribbean - rum shops are very important venues at which rural men and youth at least, gather to discuss the most important issues of the day. Women gather more at church, clinics, schools and markets - all important venues for extension.
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
Sent: 14 February 2005 16:48
Subject: 108: Role of indigenous peoples
Regarding Question (6d) in the background document and the role of indigenous peoples: Yes, they definitely do need to be involved as they frequently still possess indigenous germplasm and practice traditional farming methods that might be most at risk with the introduction of GMOs. It may also be that they are more suspicious of biotechnology in general. And it may further be that the genetic agricultural resources that indigenous people manage might offer some of the most useful and exciting opportunities for improving non-indigenous crop production. Issues of intellectual property rights would be at play in this scenario.
It would also be important to ensure that the introduction of GMOs does not encroach or impede the traditional lifestyle of indigenous peoples or alter their heritage lands in any way and that they are involved in determining mechanisms for ensuring that this does not happen. Compensation issues will also emerge in the case of breaches and/or damages that might ensue.
Thus, one of the best ways for involving indigenous groups in decision-making about GMOs, might be to ensure that they serve a monitoring function. If GMOs are going to be introduced within a range where indigenous people still wish to practice traditional agriculture for example, then they should be involved in determining what is an appropriate buffer zone distance or parameter, for instance, and should also be involved in monitoring practices within that zone. Disposal of GMOs waste (through groundwater, for example) will also need to be regulated and controlled to ensure that it does not interfere with indigenous property.
Designing and developing a regulatory biosafety framework that incorporates the rights of indigenous people will require their involvement, and also their participation in compliance and enforcement measures.
Most organized indigenous groups have clearly identified leaders that represent them. They also have their own processes for discussion and decision-making - usually methods that involve wide debate by all members and which encourage consenus and build on their own social capital. These processes should be respected and adopted for the purposes of decision-making around GMOs as well.
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
Sent: 14 February 2005 16:49
Subject: 109: Views from Egypt
From Egypt, this is Kasem Zaki Ahmed, Professor of Genetics and Director of Minia Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, Faculty of Agriculture, Minia University, El-Minia, Egypt.
First of all, in my opinion, it has been an excellent conference so far, with many insightful and informative contributions, from a wide range of different perspectives. However, we have to know that most of the developing countries are still far from complete application of democracy in most life affairs. Moreover, people in rural areas have often more limited access to information than their counterparts in urban areas, due to e.g. remoteness, higher illiteracy rates and poorer infrastructure. These kinds of factors similarly have a negative impact on the ability of rural people to access and influence policy-makers and the decision-making process. Although, the GMO well beneficial for developing countries more than developed countries, the vast majority of people in developing countries believe that the GMOs and their producers (big companies) may become a new colonization form. Moreover, GMOs are still facing concerns even with people of urban areas (in developed countries too).
With respect to the questions in Section 6 of the background document to be addressed during the conference, I have brief comments as follows (see numbers):
Question 6a) Governments should give HIGH priority to involving the rural people in decision-making regarding GMOs in developing countries (they are producers and customers).
6b) In production or importation situations, it is most important to include the rural people in decision-making regarding GMOs in developing countries.
6e) With higher illiteracy rates, I guess radio and TV are the best medium for rural people in developing countries to access quality information about GMOs, that will allow them to participate effectively in the decision-making process.
6f) Maybe lectures, document films and drama mechanisms can be used to ensure that relevant and reliable information/content is provided by the above media.
6h) Personal contact is the best medium for rural people in developing countries to provide their inputs, if requested, to the decision-making processes regarding GMOs.
6k) I guess, the GMO producer should pay the cost of involving the public in decision-making processes.
6m) Concerning requests for approval of individual GM products, all information should be for public disclosure.
6n) Regional and national public participation activities in developing countries are important regarding GMOs acceptance.
6o) Public participation regarding GMOs in developing countries is more important for some food and agriculture sectors, as follows (livestock > crop > agro-industry > forestry > aquaculture).
Kasem Zaki Ahmed, Ph. D. (Professor of Genetics)
Director of Minia Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (MCGEB),
Faculty of Agriculture,
Tel (work): ++ 20 (86) 2 36 23 33
Mobile:++ 20 (12) 10 37 504
Fax (work):+ + 20 (86) 2 36 21 82
e-mail: ahmed.kz (at) link.net
Sent: 14 February 2005 16:50
Subject: 110: Re: The need for independent oversight of GMO introduction
This is Professor J Ralph Blanchfield, a professional food scientist with no links with the biotechnology industry or "TNCs", no axe to grind, and neither root-and-branch for GM nor root-and-branch against GM. A scientist should not be root-and-branch anything except for the methodology of science.
My position, which coincides with that of the Institute of Food Science and Technology in the UK and of the International Union of Food Science and Technology, is that "Food scientists and technologists can support the responsible introduction of GM techniques provided that issues of product safety, environmental concerns, information and ethics are satisfactorily addressed. Only in this way may the benefits that this technology can confer become available, not least to help feed the world's escalating population in the coming decades."
I do not recognise myself or any of my professional colleagues in the caricatures of "scientists" or the straw men about them that have been paraded by some participants. I certainly do not consider that only science should be taken into account, and I support the involvement of rural people and communities in developing countries, However, much confusion has been sown by failing to distinguish among the three parts of risk analysis.
Risk analysis (RA) consists of
1. Risk assessment, a task for scientists who are experts both in the topic and in the modern methodology of risk assessment. Risk assessment should take account of the likelihood of a risk occurring and its seriousness if it does occur, and should be applied not only to a potential course of action, but also to failure to take that action and to alternative courses of action. To say that this is a task for experts is not a matter of "elitism" or assumed "greater wisdom". If I require brain surgery, I want it to be done by someone with the necessary training, experience and skill, not by my neighbour who may be much wiser but lacks those attributes;
2. Risk communication, a multi-directional interchange of information among legislators, the risk assessors and the public (i.e.the rest of society), which should be an ongoing process; and
3. Risk management, for legislators to carry out on behalf of society in the light of 1 and 2.
The relationship involving these three activities in not a linear one but one of dynamic and ongoing interplay. It is involvement in the risk communication interchange where the participation of the rural people is valuable and essential. They have local "on the ground" knowledge of what are their needs and problems, and this is a crucial input to the eventual decision-making process. They do not need detailed scientific knowledge about GM (any more than we need to have detailed technical knowledge of the workings of the internal combustion engine in order to drive a car competently). Insofar as they participate, however, it must not be seen as a one-way process in which information is "imparted" to them" but a two-way process in which they are listened to, and the information that is imparted to them is to discuss how the various "tools" at the disposal of agriculture today (of which GM is just one) can be used (or research could be directed towards using) to help meet their needs. Who would/could oversee this? Nominally in each country it ought to be a government responsibility as representing society there, but I suspect few would regard that as a satisfactory answer. Perhaps FAO itself has demonstrated, by its promotion and conduct of this excellently planned and executed series of on-line discussions, that it is well-fitted to "hold the ring".
The thing that rural communities do not need is misinformation or disinformation fed to them by vested interests at either extreme ends of the GM/anti-GM spectrum. For such activist groups to claim to actively educate rural consumers and producers is akin to the fox claiming to guard the henhouse -- just as it would be if Monsanto made a similar claim.
Prof J Ralph Blanchfield, MBE
Food Science, Food Technology and Food Law Consultant
Chair, External Affairs and Past President, IFST
President Elect, International Academy of Food Science and Technology
Member of IUFoST Governing Council
Chair, IUFoST/FAO Database Task Force
Personal Web address www.jralphb.co.uk
e-mail: jralphb (at) easynet.co.uk
Sent: 14 February 2005 16:51
Subject: 111: GMOs - The rural people of Nigeria
I am Dr O.U. Ezeronye, Professor and Head of Department of Microbiology, Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike, Umuahia, Nigeria.
I have been following very keenly the discussions of this FAO conference though unable to make any contributions until this very last day of the conference. According to the background document, the issue to be addressed is on "how the rural people in developing countries can be effectively involved in the decision-making process regarding production, release or import of GMOs".
As a scientist and intellectual, I think it is imperative to involve the rural people. But as a Nigerian I think the major handicap here is the politicians and their ability to mislead the gullibly ignorant illiterate rural people. In our context, we have dispersed uneducated rural communities who can easily accept new ideas if properly enlightened. So to get them involved a lot of public enlightenment needs to be done via the scientists and biotechnology experts, researchers, environmental experts, lawyers and others not the politicians. This means that a lot of efforts need to be put in to empower this group to over-ride the political class and reach this people. A world body like the FAO, UN etc. must come in to help.
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: An informed government should give full support and priority to get the rural people involved in policies that will concern them as end users. Our experience here is that we have an uninformed political class who are not able to concretize solutions to our problems.
Dr O.U. Ezeronye,
Professor and Head of Department of Microbiology,
Michael Okpara University of Agriculture,
ezeronyeob (at) yahoo.com
Sent: 14 February 2005 16:51
Subject: 112: Effective risk communication
A few last minute thoughts - Maria Protz again.
Regarding Question (6g) in the background document, about what are the most appropriate approaches to respond to the information needs of rural people.
The background document identified several guiding principles for effective risk communication, which have been little touched on in the debate thus far but I think it is important to elaborate on them further [As mentioned in Section 3 of the background document, Points 1-8 below are principles for effective risk communication identified by a joint FAO/WHO expert consultation held in 1998 on the application of risk communication to food standards and safety matters - see Chapter 3 of the meeting report http://www.fao.org/docrep/005/x1271e/x1271e00.htm ...Moderator].
1. Know the audience
KAP (Knowledge, Attitude and Practice) survey's are critical and cannot be over-emphasized as Cleofe S. Torres (Message 38) pointed out, particularly in this instance when there is so much mistrust and suspicion. Far too many assumptions are often made about what rural people know and don't know, do and don't do, believe and do not believe. KAPs are the only way to also get an understanding for the differences among rural people so that effective communication strategies and participation approaches can be designed. KAPs can reveal not only people's attitudes and beliefs surrounding GMOs - beliefs that will need to be addressed in any strategy - but will also identify gaps in knowledge so that strategies can be focused and targeted. They can also reveal the best ways to get messages to people, places to meet them, their media preferences, and so on - all critical base data for addressing most of the questions being posed in this discussion. Hence, social scientists are critical here.
2. Involve the scientific experts
This is critical to ensure that facts are correct and knowledge is sound. But also to ensure transparency. The problem with raising awareness about GMOs is, as the old adage says, that a "little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing." Without a whole picture, a little bit of knowledge can generate more fear and distrust. This is partly what has happened in so many instances. This is also why communicating GMOs and Biosafety has to be done with the utmost care. Once out, thoughts, attitudes and concepts can be set in stone and will be difficult to refute later on.
3. Establish expertise in communication
Scientific technical information needs to be translated into simple, easy to understand terminology as Cleofe S. Torres (Message 38) has noted - but pitched to the specific focus and gaps in knowledge that the KAP survey will reveal. Messages and materials need to be pre-tested with specific key groups representative of the rural audiences. This is the expertise of communication professionals - not scientists.
4. Be a credible source of information
This is also critical. It is important that unbiased, apolitical credible mouthpieces are used to convey any public media messages. Another important step for ensuring credibility and transparency is to establish multi-agency advisory groups to present the information. Credible sources will vary from culture to culture, local context and rural audience to rural audience. Churches and/or religious leaders may play a key role here.
5. Share responsibility
The background document mentions the multiple players in the process - but farmers also have a role to play in ensuring that GMOs are introduced safely. They need to be involved in the decision-making about what level of responsibility that will entail. And again, a coordinated effort among several of the front-line field officers who are in most direct contact with rural people (nutrition officers, health officers, extension officers, bureau of standard officers, etc.) will ensure that the responsibility is shared.
6. Differentiate between science and value judgement
Present the 'facts'. Julie Newman (Message 50) made the plea for accurate practical information. Essentially, communication and public involvement about GMOs must answer the same standard questions of who, what, where, when, why and how? What is a GMO? What is biosafety? What is a biosafety framework? What will be required of me as a farmer? What will I have to do differently on my farm if I adopt GMOs? What type of contractual arrangement will I need to sign? What will happen if I don't introduce GMOs properly? Who will I buy GMO supplies from? Who will monitor the practices I adopt? And so forth. Bridget Hogg (Message 42) commenced some of these points that need to be covered. Working through the specific questions to ask is the starting point for developing messages and for beginning dialogue.
7. Assure transparency
This can only be done through transparent multi-stakeholder advisory groups and regulatory boards that include farmer representatives. Transparency also demands that information is paced and that people have a chance to digest the new information in manageable chunks. For example, in the Caribbean generally, but also in rural areas, people do not know what GMOs actually are - there is confusion among the words "biosafety' and biodiversity for instance. People first need to become biosafety literate before they can fully participate in the debate and make the harder decisions regarding policy, adopting, regulation, etc. Communication, participation and decision-making need to be done in managed stages in order to be fully participatory and transparent.
8. Put the risk in perspective
This is critical and the only way to give rural people something concrete to chew on and consider. Several contributors have mentioned various 'cases' where GMOs have been introduced and a case study approach can be very useful for comparison purposes. Suggested examples of case studies - Roundup Ready soya monocrop (Michael Ferry, Message 27); Bt cotton in Andhra Pradesh, India (Glenn Stone, Message 33); Starlink Corn (John Hodges, Message 49). Case studies can help to illustrate risk scenarios more easily.
9. Post-release monitoring - rural people will have to play a role here - on their own farmers and in monitoring one another. But skill levels, changed behaviours and practices will also have to be monitored. For example, even reading labels is likely to be a 'new skill' that will have to be adopted by both farmers (as producers) in selecting GMO planting material, and as consumers. Again, if a thorough KAP survey is done at the beginning - baseline data will allow for concrete evaluation and monitoring at a later date in all areas of knowledge, attitudes and practices.
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
Sent: 14 February 2005 16:52
Subject: 113: Media approaches
Some additional thoughts - Media Approaches.
Use a multi-pronged communication approach - Information and communication technologies (ICTs), mass media - but also one-on-one visits, drama, traditional media.
Drama is good because it can help to ease or disperse some of the emotional intensity surrounding GMOs and can use humour to dispel the tense issues. Dramatic vignettes can also deal with the 'fear and suspicion' issues in ways that are non-threatening and perhaps even humorous.
In the Caribbean, larger farmers are already very savvy with respect to ICTs and conduct their own research on the web. They would have no problem contributing to e-forum debates, website discussion and other electronic mechanisms for garnering feedback on GMOs.
But smaller farmers, and those who are less literate, still prefer one-on-one visits from their extension officers or as part of farmer group discussions. Given the seriousness of the GMO debate, these type of discussions will also need to be continued and even intensified.
If this is done together with a multi-media strategy - that includes simple, factual printed materials (fact sheets, brochures), telephone hot lines, radio and T.V. spot announcements, farm fair exhibits, and so on - then wide participation and discussion can be achieved.
Thank you for an excellent conference.
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
Sent: 14 February 2005 16:53
Subject: 114: Re: Choice, information and representation, yes...
From Jorge Mayer, Golden Rice Project Manager, Freiburg, Germany.
C.R. Bhatia (Message 92) touches on a very delicate point, related to sociocultural beliefs and superstition. These aspects are leading much of the GM discussion in the developed world, so it isn’t hard to imagine how much more complicated it is in environments where primary school level education prevails.
Referring to Michel Ferry (Message 93), I must say that I find nothing respectable in flatly rejecting a technology without reasonable grounds which I’m sure is not what he’s saying there. Interviews in Europe have also shown that a high percentage of the population believes that there is no DNA in their food (and other barbarities). These are the same people who vote against the introduction of GMOs. The argument by many that there is not enough information around — not brought up in this conference — is totally wrong, the problem is simply that science programmes on TV have a very low viewer rate when compared to soccer games (let’s not speak about books). I was very pleased to see already about five years ago that my kids were getting excellent information about genetic engineering in high school in Australia. As with many other technologies, younger generations become familiarised with new technologies early on, so their arguments are based on knowledge rather than pure perception (knowledge-based perception is fine).
Dr Jorge E. Mayer
Golden Rice Project Manager
Center for Applied Biosciences
University of Freiburg
Stefan Meier Str 8
jorge.mayer (at) zab.uni-freiburg.de
Ph +49 (761) 203 5022
Fax +49 (761) 203 5021
Sent: 14 February 2005 16:53
Subject: 115: Why such a hurry?
I am Birgit Müller, a social anthropologist working with the Centre National de la Recherche Scientific in Paris, France. I did research on peasant and State relationships in Nicaragua and on farmers and biotechnology in the cereal plains in Canada.
I would like to react to two points made by Gabriel Mbassa (Messages 98 and 101) and others throughout this conference: 1) If there would be no doubt about the safety and about the motives behind introducing GMOs there would be no need even to involve the people. 2) Consulting people to give their opinion on GMOs does not mean that they can effectively decide or even influence decisions on the "production, release or import of GMOs".
1.) Why such a hurry? Most of the comments in this conference about the safety of GMOs depart from the example of already existing, either herbicide resistant or Bt-producing, GMOs. We are however only at the beginning of what plant geneticists euphorically call the biotech revolution and there are thousands of patents granted or pending for new GMOs. Because there are patents on these GMOs, there is an urgency to exploit them as rapidly as possible. The biotechnology corporations push for lower external quality control and for the acceptance of the principle of substantial equivalence with conventional varieties to escape lengthy impact assessments. At the same time, biologists, agrologists and environmental scientists are becoming increasingly aware of the complexity of biological systems and insist on the need of taking the time to evaluate GMOs in the different environments. It is this culture of urgency that arises out of the strife for profit that does not allow scientists to properly evaluate the technologies invented. It is absurd that while scientists are not given the time to evaluate and to distinguish useful GMOs from useless and dangerous ones, rural people should decide.
2.) To request rural people to give an informed opinion on GMOs means to appeal to their common sense and practical knowledge. The farmers of the cereal plains of Canada very largely rejected the introduction of GM glyphosate resistant wheat which had been developed by Monsanto in cooperation and co-financing with the Canadian Ministry of Agriculture with the argument that they would not have any cheap chemical to combat the volunteer wheat plants of the next generation. But to make this opinion heard it required a strong coalition of farmers organisations with environmental groups, the organisation of GM wheat websites and the support of the Canadian wheat board that, based on market analysis, showed that GM wheat would have been rejected by most of Canada's customers. Monsanto ultimately held back its application for the authorisation of GM wheat, but the cost in terms of time and money invested to get critical opinions listened to was enormous. This is an example from a technologically highly developed country where access to electronic media is generalised, roads are paved and air traffic is common. Canada prides itself to be a democratic country. The illiterate farmers confronted with highly corrupt governments and without the means of communication have shown an amazing capacity all over the world to make their opinion heard nevertheless, but their practical knowledge and their suspicion of GMOs has been undervalued by scientists, biotechnology promotors (including in this conference) and often ignored by their governments.
To sum up, this conference has been very interesting for the very select public with access to the internet that has had the information that this conference was actually taking place. We should not lure ourselves into thinking that this has been already an exercise in democratic participation. If this exercise should go on, the next theme for a FAO electronic conference on biotechnology should be: how can citizens in developed and developing countries make their governments that may be democratic or authoritarian and that are always under pressure from large bio-science corporations, adopt strict liability laws concerning the development, distribution and production of GMOs.
Maison des Sciences de l'homme
54, bd. Raspail
Tel. +331 49542199
Fax. +331 49542190
bmuller (at) msh-paris.fr
Sent: 14 February 2005 16:54
Subject: 116: Why public participation // Citizen panels
My apologies for joining this interesting and thoughtful debate only at the end. My name is Regina Birner, I am an agricultural economist at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), which co-organized the African Policy Dialogues on Biotechnology mentioned by Edo Lin (Message 68).
I would especially like to comment on the first question in the background document to the conference: "6a) What priority should governments give to involving the rural people in decision-making regarding GMOs in developing countries?":
This question is related to the "why participation?" issue, which has been controversially discussed during the conference. My view is that consulting different stakeholders is essential to make good decisions on an issue that is as controversial as GM crops, even if elected policy-makers usually remain the legitimate body to finally make decisions on GMOs or to delegate these decisions to regulatory bodies (In the European Union, this is described as giving people "a voice, not a vote"). Decisions on GM crops involve value judgments, and - as has been pointed out by several participants - there is no scientific consensus on the risks involved in GMOs and on their socio-economic and environmental costs and benefits in the long run. Therefore, it is useful if decision-makers are aware of the views and opinions of different groups of society, and of the extent to which there is consensus or disagreement on the different questions involved (biosafety, food safety, trade issues, role of multi-national companies, etc.).
Special efforts to elicit the views of the rural people, especially small-holders and poor consumers, are justified because they are usually less able to organize themselves and voice their interests and views. There is the danger that only lobby groups of the GM industry, international environmental NGOs and donor organizations get the ear of the decision-makers. I think that the state or international donors should bear the costs of it (question 6k).
Another important reason for public participation is the creation of awareness and transparency. This may help to fight against efforts of the GM industry to use corruption in order to get through the regulatory process (Monsanto was fined in January 2005 because Monsanto Co. affiliates made more than $700,000 in illicit payments to Indonesian government officials between 1997 and 2002 in Indonesia, see http://www.stltoday.com/stltoday/business/stories.nsf/story/FF9A2B7143FB9C7186256F82001D1855).
Question 6c), "How can public participation opportunities be 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)?", is related to the first question and particularly challenging. One approach that has been used in Europe, especially in Nordic countries, is to use "citizen panels" composed of lay persons. The panel first receives comprehensive information from different groups of experts, and then deliberates on contested issues. In this process, the panel is able to consult with experts as the panel feels necessary. While this approach is not representative in a statistical sense, the European experience has shown that it is low-cost that does elicit valuable information on citizens' views and judgements. Experimenting with this approach in developing countries appears justified, and perhaps FAO can take a lead on this.
Finally, I would like to mention that together with Gabriela Alcaraz, I reviewed the experience of public participation and stakeholder consultation in some European countries to derive insights for developing countries (compare Edo Lin's Message 56). The paper is available at http://www.ifpri.org/africadialogue/pdf/policydialoguespaper.pdf.
Many thanks to John and FAO for organizing this very important and insightful conference.
International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)
Development Strategy and Governance Division (DSGD)
2033 K Street, NW
Washington, DC 20006-1002
e-mail: r.birner (at) cgiar.org
Sent: 14 February 2005 17:02
Subject: End of FAO conference on public participation in decision-making regarding GMOs
The last message (number 116), from Regina Birner, has been posted so Conference 12 of the FAO Biotechnology Forum, entitled "Public participation in decision-making regarding GMOs in developing countries: How to effectively involve rural people", is now officially closed.
FAO established this Biotechnology Forum in 2000 with the aim of providing quality balanced information on agricultural biotechnology in developing countries and to make a neutral platform available for people to exchange views and experiences on this subject. We hope that you found this conference informative, interesting and of value. All the messages posted will remain on the Forum website, in daily and monthly webpages, for people to read in the future, at http://www.fao.org/biotech/logs/c12logs.htm. We strongly encourage you, as Forum Members, to widely disseminate information from this conference so that the voices of the people that participated in the conference can be heard. As is standard practice with conferences in this Forum, we will also prepare a Summary Document in the future to provide a summary of the main issues discussed during the conference, based on the messages posted and circulate it widely.
For your interest, we can provide some figures about participation in the conference. It ran for four weeks, from Monday 17 January to 13 February 2005, and a total of 508 people subscribed. Of the 508 people, 70 (i.e. 14%) submitted at least one message. The messages came literally from all corners of the world - with 24 of the 70 messages (i.e. 21%) from people living in Europe; 23 (20%) from Africa, 20 (17%) from North America, 17 (15%) from Latin America and the Caribbean and 16 messages each (14%) from people living in Asia and Oceania. The messages came from people living in 35 different countries, the greatest numbers coming from the United States, Australia, India, France, Canada, Jamaica, Spain, Kenya, Philippines and the United Kingdom respectively. A total of 58 messages (i.e. 50%) each were posted from participants living in developing and developed countries.
This conference was a success due to the active participation of the 70 people who sat down and invested their time and effort in sharing their views and experiences with the conference on the many diverse issues involved in the "how, what and why" regarding participation of the public in decision-making regarding GMOs. To each one of you, our very special thanks.
Before signing off, I would like to remind you that the next e-mail conference (number 13) of this Forum will take place later in the year and will be dedicated to the theme of "The role of biotechnology for the characterisation and conservation of crop, forestry, animal and fishery genetic resources". As part of the build up to this e-mail conference, a workshop with the same title is being co-organised by the FAO Working Group on Biotechnology on 5-7 March 2005 in Turin, Italy. The deadline for registration has been extended to 25 February and there is place for 50 more registrations. The full programme and workshop details are available at http://www.fobiotech.org/FAO_2005.htm. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
John Ruane, PhD
FAO Working Group on Biotechnology,
FAO website http://www.fao.org
Forum website http://www.fao.org/biotech/forum.asp
FAO Biotechnology website http://www.fao.org/biotech/index.asp