Sent: Monday, November 06, 2000 3:18 PM
Subject: Third World hunger: an alibi for GMO development
[Thanks to Michel Ferry, from Spain, for his views on the place of biotechnology scientists and private biotechnology companies in the debate on hunger in developing countries...Moderator]
We should not leave the debate on developing countries hunger to be dominated by biotechnology scientists and by the private firms.
The biotechnology scientists are generally very specialised people. They are sometimes so hyper-specialised that, even in biology, their knowledge could be very narrow. Because of this specialisation, they are not at all competent on the complex question of the developing countries present or future hunger. If the debate on this question is left to them, it will be poor and dangerous. A good example is the way in which some projects on genetically modified (GM) rice are often presented : many people, eating rice, are suffering from a lack of vitamin A, the solution is very simple: a modified rice that integrates a beta-carotene gene. This type of mechanical reasoning is perhaps adapted to molecular biology methods but it is quite insufficient to assess a social question and to propose adapted solutions.
The biotechnology scientists (those who have still the freedom of doing research for passion and not for the unique benefits of private financial interests) are not always to be blamed. It is not their job to look for the best solution to socio-economic problems. The solution that they are able to propose is in direct relation with the technique that they dominate or try to dominate. They are not trained nor have time to study the value of the arguments that they present to justify their research. By the way, in most of the scientific papers, these arguments are presented shortly and as evidences.
The basic question is how it is decided which research has to be done, for whom and with which priority. If we leave this decision to the biotechnology scientists or, worse, to the private biotechnology firms, the risk of mistake is considerable. But, where are the counterbalances to the force of this discipline (molecular biology) in the biological sciences and to the weight of the private companies, which is much more powerful than the public research institutions and always more involved in the functioning of these public institutions?
The private companies have evidently got too much power and weight in deciding what research has to be done, what technique has to be developed and, more generally, what world we live in and what future is prepared.
Concerning the poorest people of the developed and developing countries, and worst, the hungry people in the world, this situation is dramatic. Who is ingenious enough to really believe that this group of people could interest these companies? The use that they make of the hunger in the world has something very indecent about it. It's evidently a marketing operation...and it works: the present or planned future hunger is one of the most-used arguments for the development of GMOs. It becomes the alibi of public institutions and the public research itself.
Reductionism, simplism, unique thought, technological approach, miraculous GMOs are sweeping out all the reflection and experience accumulated on the question of development.Michel FERRY
[To contribute to this conference, send your message to email@example.com For further information on the FAO Electronic Forum on Biotechnology in Food and Agriculture see http://www.fao.org/biotech/forum.asp ]-----Original Message-----
As someone involved in Biotechnology (with forest trees currently, but for scientific explorations only [Dr. Fenning has previously sent some good contributions to Conference 2 of the Forum on biotechnologies for the forestry sector....Moderator]), I would like to point out that I do not disagree with any of the issues raised in previous messages, but in tone maybe slightly.
It is indeed most important to keep in mind the problem, and then to seek out, test, and apply appropriate solutions (whatever they may be), rather than to try to bend a situation to suit the 'solution' one wishes to use. It is a classic human error (including many scientists !) to become technologically dazzled into using the latest whizz-bang technology, when sometimes a simpler approach might be more successful.
That said, there will probably be occasions where the application of biotechnology (not just transgenics, of course) will yield a worthwhile benefit, and as such its' use should not be ruled out either. Ultimately, as our view (and knowledge) of biotechnolgy matures, we will be free to use it - or not - as and when needed, as with any other tool, in developing and developed countries. For example, it is correct to note that insufficient iron and b-carotene in the diet of people in many areas overly dependent upon rice could be met by general improvements in diet or by handing out tablets, but as this has not happened, giving those people something which will let them help themselves might be no bad thing (i.e. the modified rice). But I will not hazard a guess as to how this example will work out yet.
As noted, the difficulties in food supply in some areas of the developing world today are not due to lack of overall availability, but rather due to complex interwoven political, social, cultural, climatic, and economic issues. But as populations and expectations of living standards continue to grow, this may not always be the case. Also, even in the many areas where supply is adequate, 'conventional' agricultural practice can generate problems - for example the issue of pesticide poisoning - and so alternatives should always be under consideration.
In short, one should not wait for a predictable crisis to occur before looking for possible solutions, without being prescriptive about what they may be.Dr Trevor Fenning.
[To contribute to this conference, send your message to firstname.lastname@example.org For further information on the FAO Electronic Forum on Biotechnology in Food and Agriculture see http://www.fao.org/biotech/forum.asp ]