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2-Plants: Christian Aid (UK) demands a five-year freeze on GM crops

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TITLE:  Christian Aid demands a five-year freeze on technology
        and calls for block on 'suicide seeds'
SOURCE: Guardian, UK, by John Vidal
DATE:   May 10, 1999

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Christian Aid demands a five-year freeze on technology and calls for block on 'suicide seeds'

Genetically modified food: recent reports, links and background The introduction of genetically modified crops to the world's poorest countries could lead to famine instead of feeding more than 800m hungry people worldwide, says Christian Aid. In a major report today the charity argues that GM crops are 'irrelevant' to ending world hunger, will concentrate power in too few hands and will strip small farmers of their independence. It also condemns 'suicide seeds' that contain a terminator gene which makes the next generation of seeds sterile, forcing farmers to buy new seed every year. Currently, 80% of crops in the developing world are from saved seed. Christian Aid says the consequences of such massive influence on the world food supply could be one of the most serious developments in history. It says: 'GM crops are . . . creating classic preconditions for hunger and famine. A food supply based on too few varieties of patented crops are the worst option for food security. Mor!
e dependence and marginalisation loom for the poorest.'

The report, which used research in Brazil, India and Ethiopia, is a major challenge to the life sciences industry, led by a handful of giant chemical and agri-business firms. Companies like Monsanto, Novartis and the British corporation Zeneca argue that GM technology will play a major role in ending hunger. None was available for comment yesterday. GM crops of soya, maize, tobacco and cotton are grown widely in the US, China, Argentina and Canada. But the report says the market will move south where more than 50 other crops are being tested in more than 30 developing countries.

Predictions by the Rural Advancement Foundation International, a Canadian agricultural research group, says GM crops will jump from less than 20m hectares (50m acres) today to more 800m hectares by 2002. More than 600m hectares will be in poor countries. The report says the major corporations are moving swiftly into developing countries. In Brazil, Monsanto has spent more than $1bn in buying seed companies and plans a $550m factory to produce pesticide compatible with its GM soya crops. In India it has big holdings in the country's largest seed company and invested more than $20m in the country's leading science institution. It has also paid more than $1bn for the international seed operations of Cargill, the world's largest private grain sales company.

The big five GM corporations have patents in more than 90 countries on different versions of terminator technology. The US department of agriculture has a 5% share in one version of the terminator gene, and predicts that 'it will be so widely adopted that farmers will only be able to buy seeds that cannot be re-germinated'. There have been riots and crop burnings in Brazil and India. Christian Aid says that large farmers are the only ones to benefit from GM technology. Indian research showed that land reform and simple irrigation can boost crops by 50%, against 10% increases from GM crops. Christian Aid called for a five-year freeze on GM crops and for new resources to be put into sustainable and organic farming. 


-| Hartmut Meyer
-| Co-ordinator
-| The European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering
-| Reinhaeuser Landstr. 51
-| D - 37083 Goettingen
-| Germany
-| phone: #49-551-7700027
-| fax  : #49-551-7701672
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