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9-Misc: Hunger for profit: the genetic modification of developingcountry agriculture

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TITLE:  Hunger for profit: the genetic modification of developing country
SOURCE: Christian Aid, UK
DATE:   Feb 6, 2003

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Hunger for profit: the genetic modification of developing country agriculture

Genetically modified food crops have been held up as a solution to hunger
in the developing world. Are the claims of the seed companies a practical
reality? Is this 'second green revolution' taking place in the interest
of farmers or the multinational corporations that produce and sell seeds,
pesticides and herbicides around the world?

Christian Aid looked into the biotechnology industry's involvement in the
rural economies of three developing countries and concluded that genetic
modification is being used to increase farmers' dependence on the
companies themselves. It also found that production for export to the
markets of the developed world is being promoted at the expense of food
production for local consumption.

Experience in Brazil and India shows that most biotechnology patents are
for seeds that produce crops with resistance to specific herbicides,
rather than higher yields. The same companies that register the seed
patents are also the producers of the herbicides, revealing a
consolidation of control over the food chain in the hands of a small
number of companies whose primary motivation is profit and not the best
interests of developing country agriculture.

Farmers are losing control over their crops and are becoming locked into
dependence on the seed companies. Traditional practices of saving seed
for planting the next season's crops are threatened by patents on seed
varieties, short-term pest resistance, built-in sterility and genetic
uniformity. Natural predators and companion plants are wiped out by the
agrochemicals, thus reducing biodiversity, and a dangerous monoculture of
a single variety of the plant brings the risk of devastating crop failure.

The example of Ethiopia, where agriculture is dominated by small-scale
farms producing food crops for local consumption, also supports this
finding. The agrochemical companies that produce and promote genetically
modified (GM) seed have largely stayed away from this country, where
there is little scope for intensive farming of export cash crops and
adaptability is essential in the face of increasingly severe droughts.

Research findings include:
* A concentration of ownership of the world's food supply is taking
place, with no effective means of controlling the emerging international
* All major corporations are promoting or developing 'genetically
sterilised or chemically dependent seed' which ends farmers' ability to
develop their own crops.
* The evolving international legal framework is allowing the effective
'biopiracy' of developing country plants and animals by US biotechnology
* Three-quarters of the world's food plant varieties have already been
lost, while many GM crops work with herbicides designed to wipe out other
* GM crops banned in the UK are being promoted in developing countries,
while trade rules may be used to force governments to accept GM crops and
* Expansion of GM soya in Brazil threatens one of the remaining sources
of unmodified soya for the UK market.
* There has been a general failure to assess GM technology against the
potential positive contribution of sustainable agriculture towards
tackling poverty, in addition to conventional high input farming.

The report offers the following policy recommendations:
* Genetically engineered crops must be treated with caution because of
uncertainty about their impact and an absence of regulation.
* A strong bio-safety protocol should ensure producers and suppliers take
responsibility for their products and protect the right to choose.
* Public investment and aid should promote sustainable farming that meets
the needs of hungry people; subsidies for inappropriate technology, that
strengthens the market control of big agri-chemical corporations, should
be brought to an end.
* Life must remain a public resource - the patenting by biotech companies
of poor country plant and animal resources is unacceptable biopiracy.
* Food plant biodiversity must be protected.
* Action is needed through the World Trade Organisation to prevent the
world's food supply falling under monopoly corporate control.

Contributor(s): Andrew Simms

'Selling Suicide - farming, false promises and genetic engineering in
developing countries', Christian Aid, by A. Simms, 1999 --- More information.
Soil Association report on the economic costs in North America of
introducing GM --- More information.

Funded by: Christian Aid

Date: 6 February 2003

Further Information:
Christian Aid 
PO Box 100 London SE1 7RT UK

Andrew Simms
New Economics Foundation
Cinnamon House 6-8 Cole Street London SE1 4YH UK
Tel: +44 (0)1273 877305
Fax: +44 (0)20 7407 6473

Other related links:
'GM crops: friend or foe?'
'Risky business: the politics of genetically modified food'
'Gene power. How relevant are GMOs for the South?'
'Forever facing famine? Rethinking food insecurity in Africa'
'Feeding the world: is there enough for everyone?'
Genetics Forum focuses on the use of new genetic technologies and public
'Science, medicine, and the future: genetically modified foods - is the
hysteria warrented?' from BMJ