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TITLE:  Biotech brokers penetrate asia
SOURCE: GRAIN, News Release
DATE:   October 30, 2000

------------------ archive: http://www.gene.ch/genet.html ------------------


Biotech brokers penetrate asia Farmers grow cynical with the corporate push 
behind genetic engineering

30 October 2000 -- The controversy surrounding genetic engineering is 
heating up in Asia, as the transnational food and agriculture industry, 
worth over $700 billion a year, moves to bring its patented biotechnologies 
into the region's farmlands. Big corporations are starting to enlist the 
efforts of a number of international non- profit agencies to facilitate the 
transfer of these technologies and help secure the necessary political and 
legal landscape for their worldwide adoption.

The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications 
(ISAAA) is one of the most focused promoters of gene technologies in Asia. 
ISAAA portrays itself as helping to transform the lives of small farmers by 
acting as an "honest broker" to mediate the flow of patented genetic 
engineering applications from transnational companies to rural communities 
in the South. But, according to a new report from a joint research project 
involving farmers' groups, nongovernmental organizations and independent 
scientists across Asia, the reality is that ISAAA is helping carry out an 
agenda set by transnational corporations in the name of the region's rural 
poor.

Through ISAAA, industry is using local people across Asia -- from 
illustrious scientists and high-level policymakers to anonymous small 
farmers -- to promote biotechnology and expand markets for its own benefit. 
According to the new report, ISAAA in Asia: Promoting Corporate Profits in 
the Name of the Poor, "ISAAA's most critical failing has been that it has 
never stopped to ask small farmers -- its supposed target group -- what 
they think the problems and solutions are, and what role, if any, 
biotechnology can play. This raises fundamental questions about ISAAA's 
accountability and legitimacy."

Some of the "lowlights" of ISAAA's projects:

In Malaysia, ISAAA has been involved in the introduction of genetically 
engineered (GE) papaya varieties resistant to papaya ringspot virus. This 
disease is not a problem faced by small farmers, but on recently 
established export-oriented papaya plantations. The GE fruits have raised 
concerns in the region about biosafety and about their viability for trade 
because of poor quality.

In Indonesia, the main achievement of ISAAA has been to edge open the doors 
to the deployment of GE crops in general, through the delivery of tomatoes 
resistant to spotted wilt virus. The tomatoes were developed by the Swiss 
agrochemical giant Novartis and Wageningen Agricultural University in the 
Netherlands. The benefits to Novartis, which wants the seed market, and 
Wageningen, which holds the patent, are clear. What is in it for Indonesian 
farmers? According to ISAAA, "a solid biotechnology infrastructure."

In Mexico, from where ISAAA's projects took off, the agency brokered a deal 
to transfer Monsanto's virus resistance genes into potatoes grown by small 
farmers. But seven years into the work, no mechanisms have been identified 
to actually achieve this and farmers say that the viruses the potatoes are 
engineered against are not a problem for them anyway.

Farmers across Asia are increasingly cynical about the technological fixes 
pushed onto them, allegedly to overcome production problems and reap big 
profits.

Orly Marcellana, a farmer in Quezon province, the Philippines, says, 
"Nobody from the government, nor from these companies, ever asked us what 
our problems are. I'm sure they don't even care. All they want is to make 
profit. For us farmers, it's a never ending story with these improved 
seeds. Every time they are introducing a new miracle' variety, after some 
time it turns out to be not so miraculous after all. And then, there they 
are with yet another 'miracle' and again they promise us that we will be 
the first to benefit. But after all these 'miracles' our conditions are 
still the same. We are poor as ever. Do they really think that the farmers 
still believe in these 'miracles'?"

In the eyes of Shaban Ali, a farmer in Shekher Dair, Bangladesh, "The 
problem is that farmers are helpless because government and the scientists 
are collaborating with the companies to destroy us. This is not science, it 
is politics."

Witoon Boonchado, a farmer leader in Roi Ed, Thailand, has a similar 
assessment. "The GE crops are happening because of the greed of 
[transnational corporations] TNCs. This cannot give us any benefit. TNCs 
are the sole beneficiaries. There are many alternatives and sustainable 
ways to solve farmers problems." 
______________________________________________________________________

ISAAA in Asia: Promoting corporate profits in the name of the poor (October 
2000) was researched by Devlin Kuyek for a group composed of Biothai 
(Thailand), GRAIN, KMP (Philippines), MASIPAG (Philippines), PAN Indonesia, 
Philippine Greens and UBINIG (Bangladesh), plus, in their individual 
capacities, Drs. Romeo Quijano (UP Manila, College of Medicine, 
Philippines) and Oscar B. Zamora (UP Los Ba–os, College of Agriculture, 
Philippines).

 The report is available on the web at http://www.grain.org/adhoc.htm

For further information:
BIOTHAI: biothai@pacific.net.th or Tel (66-2) 952 73 71
KMP kmp@quickweb.com.ph or Tel (63-2) 922 09 77
MASIPAG masipag@mozcom.com or Tel (63-49) 536 55 40
PAN Indonesia: biotani@rad.net.id or Tel (62-21) 829 65 45
UBINIG: ubinig@citecho.net or Tel (88-2) 811 14 65
Devlin Kuyek: intku@hotmail.com



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