Tuesday, July 19, 2011

For GM Lobbyists like Lynas, East African Famine is Gap in Market

Mark Lynas, who used to be an environmentalist, has become a rabid pro-GMO commentator. The title of his recent article in Kenya's Nation newspaper is:'To abolish hunger and malnutrition, Africa must embrace GM technology'.

Firstly, Lynas should know that if the world wanted to abolish hunger and malnutrition, they would have done so by now. Hunger and malnutrition are caused by lack of access to affordable and nutritious food. Even East Africa, where there is such a serious lack of access to food, has produced more than enough food in recent years.

But another thing Lynas should be aware of are the various factors that are causing food prices to spiral beyond what poor people can afford, especially in the last four or five years. Rich speculators are betting on the price of food staples rising in a world where many other sources of easy profits are more risky right now.

Growing biofuels, which require viable agricultural land and water, other things many poor people don't have access to, is also increasing the cost of food. A number of food crops are actually used to produce fuel so that rich Westerners don't have to reduce their fuel consumption.

And one of the most pernicious factors of all, land grabbing, should be very familiar to Lynas, if he has paid the slightest attention to his history lessons. Much of the best agricultural land in developing countries is not owned by poor people. That's precisely why most of them are poor.

Big multinationals, various non-African countries, speculators, wealthy individuals, pension funds and the like are all speculating in land in African countries. And even without those malign influences, much of the best land was handed over to top politicians and their families at, or soon after, independence.

That's quite a few items on the agenda that could be discussed before genetically modified organisms need even raise their ugly head. And all these items are long term trends, not something that just cropped up recently. The very threat of drought, food shortages and even famine have been noted over and over again by agencies whose job it is to warn of such possibilities.

This claimed 'need' for GMOs didn't just arise in the last few weeks, since the big news agencies, who seem so anxious to interview Lynas the expert, started taking notice and raiding their photo archives for choice photographs of dying people in dry and dusty locations. There's a stink of news manufacturing here, and a very nasty smell that is.

Lynas seems to see the problem of aid agencies simply coming up with more unsustainable strategies to deal with hunger. But that's no reason for imposing GMOs, which represent the most unsustainable strategy yet. They cost phenomenal amounts of money when you take in the long term commitments they represent and what the farmer loses by embracing them.

Farmers will have to pay inflated prices for agricultural inputs, accept the huge risks that have destroyed so many farmers in India and other countries, face lower yields after the first few years, once resistance develops to the pesticides and the fertilizer has contaminated the land and reduced yields further. And they won't be selling their produce in Europe, either.

It's strange how specific Lynas is in mentioning what he sees as "myths about biotech crops" being "part of a nefarious plot by multinational seed companies such as Monsanto to dominate the world food chain." As a former anti-GM activist and current Monsanto backscratcher, he should be aware that Monsanto's entire GMO effort is to dominate the world food chain.

All multinationals aim to dominate their field or fields of interest. Monsanto is no different in that respect. They don't even make any secret or that, except to Lynas, it seems. Does he think that Monsanto has suddenly transformed itself into a great big philanthropy engine, a jolly green giant?

If Lynas wishes to let on to be so disingenuous, others are not convinced. The Tanzania Alliance for Biodiversity (TABIO), an alliance of organizations concerned with the conservation of agricultural biodiversity for livelihood security and food sovereignty, has sent a vigorous response to Lynas's prognostications to the English Times (though I don't think it has been published yet).

This feigned innocence in reporting the GMO line as if it were an honest weighing up of the arguments doesn't wash. Lynas is not unaware of the faultlines in his 'reasoning'. That doesn't explain why he should wish to put his name to such rubbish, or be so widely reported to be doing so. But it will take a bit more than classic greenwashing to sell GMOs to anyone who has taken the trouble to study the issues.


1 comment:

Simon said...

One of the most vocal opponents to land grabbing and GMOs is La Via Campesina:


An excellent place to find information on GMOs is GMWatch.org. They collect up articles on the subject and notify subscribers, which is a useful way of keeping up with the issues.

For instance, the GM industry uses the herbicide glyphosate (Roundup) in massive quantities. Their products are modified to resist it and this is how superweeds develop. Just ask an American Soy farmer!

But glyphosate has done poorly in tests and has been linked with birth defects, environmental degradation, water contamination and other serious hazards. It's just that no public watchdog has bothered to investigate and the industry is allowed to keep findings confidential, or not to even bother checking.


Someone with a background like Lynas's would be familiar with the numerous problems surrounding the GM industry, aside from the handful which they, perhaps rightly, say have never been proven.