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TITLE:  GM Crops and Developing Countries
SOURCE: UK Food Group, Briefing
DATE:   July 2003

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GM Crops and Developing Countries
A UK Food Group Briefing

"Claims that GMOs are necessary for the food security of poor people in
developing countries should not be used to promote public acceptance of
GM by the UK public. We believe such claims are misleading and fail to
acknowledge the complexities of poverty reduction and household food
security in developing countries." Directors of the British Overseas Aid
Group - BOAG - organisations (Action Aid, CAFOD, Christian Aid, OXFAM GB
and Save the Children UK) 1 Top of Page GM Crops are irrelevant to hunger

Eradicating poverty and hunger are core aspects of the work of many of
the UK Food Group's (UKFG) 32 member organisations, which work jointly in
these areas with local partners in developing countries and with
subsistence farmers. Our direct experience shows that in most developing
countries, whose small-scale, labour-intensive agriculture is
dramatically different from the UK, GM crops are at best irrelevant and
at worst can threaten local food production. We believe that there is no
scientific, economic or ethical justification for asserting that GM crops
are necessary for eradicating hunger in the developing world. Our
concerns about GM Crops

Our concerns relate principally to developing countries and to the
implications that GM crops present in relation to the livelihoods and
household food security of the world's poorest people -- the 1.2 billion
who live mostly in rural areas on less than a dollar a day.

1. The solutions to hunger and food security lie mainly in overcoming
social and economic barriers that limit poor people's ability to buy or
produce and sell food. New and costly technologies, such as GM crops,
risk increasing existing inequalities and the poverty and food insecurity
that result.

2. Too much power over the world's food is ending up in too few hands.
The development and marketing of GM technology, including patented seeds
that require proprietary chemicals to grow, is concentrating power over
food production in a very few companies. With little effective capacity
at national level and no mechanism at the international level to regulate
corporations, current trends raise serious questions about the influence
large transnational corporations may wield over every aspect of the
global food supply.

3. Too little is yet known about the potential effects of GM crops -
particularly in developing country situations - in relation to the
environment, health, agricultural systems and local livelihoods.

4. Too little time, opportunity and assistance is being given to
developing countries to debate and decide for themselves and build the
capacity to test and control GM crops. There is a danger that commercial
interests will override democratic decision-making and local control.
Recent experience demonstrates that the introduction and dissemination of
GM technologies is already proceeding in advance of developing country
capacity to assess the risks and benefits for themselves. Commercial
application in the UK/EU must not result in effectively precluding
developing countries from exercising their own right to examine the risks
and benefits and choose accordingly.

Our conclusions

Too soon
It is too early to make an assessment of the effects of GM crops in most
developing countries, let alone to take critical decisions that would
encourage the rapid spread of GM crops in these countries. It is
essential to take a precautionary approach in relation to the
introduction of GM crops into developing countries, as required by the
Biosafety Protocol, a new legally-binding treaty that will come into
force on 11 Sept 2003 and allow countries to refuse GM crop imports. The
US, which has not signed the Biosafety Protocol, is challenging the way
European and developing countries are implementing biosafety regulations.

What benefits?
While the potential benefits that are claimed for GM technology appear to
be almost unlimited, it is not clear how they could be delivered and what
risks will arise in terms of the technology itself or in terms of how it
is controlled. We believe, on the basis of our experience of how previous
technology packages impacted on the poor, that balance of benefits and
costs is very unlikely to favour poor communities in developing countries.

Skewed research
Overemphasis on GM crops and GM technology is drawing support away from
more sustainable farming methods. These have proved effective in feeding
the poor and improving their livelihoods and are based on local
knowledge, control and ownership of livelihood assets. These are
available now. The pattern of investment in agricultural research has
skewed research funding and focus towards high technology approaches that
are most suited for large-scale industrial agriculture and away from
support for sustainable agriculture approaches that meet the needs of the
poor and hungry in developing countries.

Knock-on effects
Considering the history of globalisation, the potential knock-on effects
of policy choices in the UK should be part of global public policy
decisions. We believe the implications of GM crop policy choices in the
UK/EU will be significant for many developing countries since they could
impact on the basic human right to food. These rights, realised through
local solutions, should be given preference over commercial gains by the
corporate sector.

Our solutions

Eradicating poverty
In relation to food, production must increase where there is hunger i.e.
in rural areas in developing countries, because of failures in markets
and other livelihood opportunities. Encouraging local sustainable food
production by poor farmers in developing countries is central to
eradicating hunger.

Promoting human rights
All people have a right to food. This means ensuring that people have
control over and access to the resources that enable them to get the food
they need.

Informed choice and participation
Experience shows that appropriate solutions to development problems are
those that can be controlled and managed through local and national
governance structures and which strengthen local markets and production
systems. Ensuring poor peoples' right to participate in decisions that
affect them, and to make informed choices, is vital.

Adopting a precautionary approach
It is vital to anticipate and take steps to avoid or mitigate the
potential risks of new technologies for poor households and communities.
Matching technology to local needs

For a technology to benefit the livelihoods and food security of poor
people it should build on their existing capabilities, it should enhance
and strengthen them and must be affordable and accessible. Poor
communities should be actively involved in the development of
technologies intended to meet their needs and not treated as passive

The livelihoods of poor people can be blighted by environmental damage
and pollution. Environmental protection contributes to their well-being
and helps to conserve the natural resources and biodiversity on which
many communities depend.

The GM crop debate in the UK is being overshadowed by global politics.
The trade war between the USA and Europe over GM foods, the dumping of GM
food aid by the USA on unwilling but hungry recipients and the headlong
rush into biotechnology by rich countries threatens the livelihoods of
the poor, the eradication of hunger and the sustainability of the
environment. For the sake of the hungry, now is the time for precaution
and the seeking of solutions through sustainable agriculture, not GM crops.

July 2003

1 From letter sent to the Prime Minister's GM Crops Team in the Strategy
Unit on 25 October 2002 as part of the continuing BOAG response to the
government's GM Crops dialogue. BOAG agencies are five of the 32 member
organisations of the UK Food Group - the UK platform on food security and
food sovereignty issues.

UK Food Group
PO Box 100
London, SE1 7RT, UK


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