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9-Misc: Globalization and GMOs

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TITLE:  Globalization and GMOs
SOURCE: The Nation, USA, by Tam Hayden
DATE:   Jun 23, 2003

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Globalization and GMOs

With the end of the Iraq war, the globalization war is heating up around
trade again, this time over the issue of genetically modified food.
George W. Bush is once more attacking "Old Europe," claiming that it is
denying food to starving Africans, after several African countries
declined US aid in the form of genetically modified food out of concern
that it might taint their own crops, thus making them unsalable in
Europe. And once again the United States is opposing a United Nations
approach, this time in the form of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety,
signed by more than 100 nations, which establishes rules to regulate GMOs.

Bush's trade representative, Robert Zoellick, has lodged a formal
complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO) against European
policies that favor GMO consumer labeling. Zoellick says he is out of
patience with those picky European eaters who spread unfounded fears in
the developing world about GMOs. Will America's independent farmers and
consumers be the next to be smeared as "soft on the French"? Not likely,
when the question is the right to know what's in the food you eat.

The debate over corporate globalization prompted a June 1 protest by
thousands around the G-8 meetings in Évian, France. That debate will grow
louder June 23-25 in Sacramento at a US-sponsored extravaganza promoting
biotechnology and the US corporate agenda in advance of fall WTO meetings
in Cancún, Mexico, and of officials' negotiating the FTAA--an extension
of NAFTA to Latin America--in Miami. The invitees to Sacramento are trade
and agriculture ministers from 180 countries. Critics of corporate
dominance of world agriculture will fight for inclusion in the closed
official sessions while protesting on the outside.

US officials were stung by sharp criticism at the June 2002 UN meeting in
Rome, which called for cutting the number of the world's hungry in half
by 2015, from some 800 million to 400 million. UN Secretary General Kofi
Annan wants to double aid to poor nations, but the United States is
failing to do its part, committing just 0.13 percent of its gross
national product, one-third the level of Europe's contribution. In
addition, the Bush Administration insists that aid recipients accept
deregulation and privatization and import GMO food from American farmers
and corporations.

"For better or worse, we were right," is the cryptic summary of US
Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman of the past decade's attempts to force
GMOs into the marketplace without consumer labeling or adequate testing.
At the California state agricultural agency, which Veneman ran before
becoming Bush's point person on biotechnology, there is still only one
staff position to review 350 applications for biotech projects every year.

Veneman, who is hosting the Sacramento conference, is a former director
of Calgene (swallowed by Monsanto and now part of Pharmacia), the biotech
company that heralded the world's first genetically altered food, the
Flavr Savr tomato. By removing a gene "that hastens the breakdown of
tomato flesh," Calgene promised chemical ripening that would make the
flavor last all the way to distant shelves. But then anti-biotech
activist Jeremy Rifkin mobilized public opinion, Campbell Soup pulled out
of an agreement to use the tomatoes and the Flavr Savr was abandoned.

Like Zoellick, the industry blames consumers for falling for what
lobbyists call "environmental technophobia." US corn exporters like
Monsanto claim to lose $300 million annually because of Europe's
resistance to unlabeled GMOs. But the "phobia" grows from the logical
suspicion that an industry opposed to labels must have something to hide.
Otherwise, why deny consumers a right to informed choice in the marketplace?

In addition to opposing labeling, Veneman is campaigning against any
acceptance of the "precautionary principle" by international bodies. The
precautionary principle, once endorsed by Bush's recently departed
environmental czar, Christine Whitman, allows countries to regulate
pesticides and GMOs on the basis of "better safe than sorry" risk
assessments. The principle, embodied in California's Proposition 65,
adopted in 1986, shifts the burden of proof to corporations for proving
that a given chemical is not a carcinogen.

As one current example of the dangers of unregulated biotechnology,
federal officials are nearing approval of a transgenic species of
Atlantic salmon spliced with hormones to make it grow five times faster
than normal. (Others have antifreeze genes thrown in to allow them to
abide icy ocean water.) That project raises outraged cries from
commercial fishermen, who believe the larger Frankenfish will decimate
wild species of salmon with their precious genetic inheritance, which has
evolved over millennia. Not to miss a buck in the novelty market, there
are even plans to create glow-in-the-dark fish and koi that change colors.

Despite the Flavr Savr failure and the Frankenfish scare, the US
corporate prescriptions might be taken more seriously if the United
States were a model of food security. But 36 million Americans lack
enough food, mainly because of poverty.

Food First's Anuradha Mittal, a lead critic of the Sacramento biotech
event, reminds her audiences that the so-called Green Revolution of the
1970s and '80s may have increased food production but did not reduce the
number of starving people if the figures exclude China, which reduced
hunger, Mittal said, primarily through state-sponsored land reforms. In
some villages in her native India, she says, every farmer has sold a
kidney to feed his family, and some, in despair, commit suicide by
consuming the pesticides they were told to use on their fields. Mittal is
equally cynical about a corporate biotech revolution. The state of
Punjab, she laments, produces pet food for Europe and the state of
Haryana grows tulips for export to pay off international debts instead of
building local agriculture.

Some of the strongest opposition in Sacramento will be from the global
South, the very countries the biotech advocates claim to be saving. While
some organizations are willing to bow to even more deregulation in
exchange for trade niches, the growing consensus among most Southern
advocates is that attempts to push GMOs as a condition of food aid (or
HIV assistance) should be resisted and any expansion of WTO control
prevented. A counterforce to the "Washington consensus" is springing up,
especially in Latin America, where 44 percent live in poverty and the
number of unemployed workers has doubled in ten years. In Brazil, the
million members of the Landless Workers Movement grow their own food--
using the precautionary principle--while occupying land in a tacit
alliance with the new president, Luiz Inácio "Lula" da Silva. Their
example is spreading.

The fight over GMO food is a major part of the battle against US efforts
to dictate policy on all aspects of international trade and development.
Does the United States have the power to impose trade terms favorable to
itself on thirty-four Latin American countries with 800 million people,
producing more than $11 trillion in goods and services? That is what will
be debated in Sacramento and fought out in Cancún and Miami. Get ready:
The empire is being renegotiated.


about Tom Hayden

Former California State Senator Tom Hayden, the Nation Institute's Carey
McWilliams Fellow, has played an active role in American politics and
history for over three decades. Described as "the conscience of the
Senate", he is author of more than 175 Congressional measures and eleven
books, including Irish Hunger and his autobiography, Reunion. He is the
editor of The Zapatista Reader (Nation Books).


European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

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