Thursday, February 26, 2009

Another Country Falls For Lies About Genetically Modified Crops

Kenya has just become the fourth African country to give in to the pressure to produce and use genetically modified (GM) crops. If the GM evangelists are right, in a few short years Kenya will be entirely self-sufficient and food secure and will no longer need the vast quantities of food and aid money for food that they currently receive.

This decision follows the signing of the long discussed biosafety legislation. A National Biosafety Authority will be formed to oversee the implementation of the legislation. So everything should be fine because if there is safety legislation, nothing can go wrong, everyone will behave as they should and Kenyans will all live happily ever after, right?

GM evangelists have been using food shortages and famine to leverage their arguments for the need for GM. It's a bit like producers of a well known brand of baby milk formula distributing their produce free of charge in hospitals. The recipients return home to find that they have to pay for the product and infants subsequently die of water born diseases. Some die later because they haven't acquired resistance that they would have acquired from being breast fed.

It could be objected that the baby milk formula producers don't do that any longer. However, their tricks continue, albeit more subtly. And they can afford to spend a lot on publicity to convince people that they are really nice companies. Besides, people get tired of particular issues, so they have probably tired of that one by now.

Well, GM evangelists also pay out a lot for publicity, lobbying and downright lies. There is no evidence that GM crops produce greater yields, reduce the need for pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers, grow well in poor conditions or are in some way better for the environment. They have no advantages that cannot also be found in non-GM agricultural techniques.

There are also serious disadvantages associated with accepting GM. GM increases dependency. The last thing Kenya needs now is to increase its dependency on donors to whom they are already in debt for the foreseeable future. When farmers buy GM seeds, they also need to buy GM fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. These are very expensive and need to be bought every year. So do the seeds. It is not possible to put by seeds for the following year, they must be purchased every year.

GM also poses a serious risk to the environment. At present, much of Kenya's arable land is committed to some form of monoculture, such as tea, sugar, sisal, cashews, rice, etc. This has been the situation for many decades, so biodiversity is already very low in many areas. But GM has a trick to reduce biodiversity even further.

If Kenya buys a particular 'variety' of GM maize, for example, that will become the only variety in many areas, if not throughout the whole country. Coupled with that, GM pesticides and herbicides kill everything except the GM crop. That's what they are designed to do. Everything in a GM field except the GM crop dies. This is not even counting the flora and fauna that are affected by run-off from the field.

Even the oldest of the GM evangalists must have learned about ecological balance when they were at school. They must have learned about how the smallestand seemingly insignificant organisms are part of the same system as human beings, how wiping out everything in an area leads to total and probably irreversible destruction.

GM evangelists even have the cheek to claim that there are substantial economic, environmental and welfare benefits offered by GM and this is why use of the technology has increased. They claim that "biotech crops can contribute to some of the major challenges facing global society, including: food security, high price of food, sustainability, alleviation of poverty and hunger, and help mitigate some of the challenges associated with climate change." What they don't say is that GM will increase these problems.

Using the current food shortages in Kenya and other developing countries to push the argument for GM is cynical beyond belief. GM multinationals are deliberately rolling out a technology that they know will make poor countries poorer and will also destroy the environment. They are doing it, not just because it makes them very rich, but because it also puts them in control of food producers. And the dependency associated with GM is far more serious than that associated with baby milk formulas. It will affect everyone, for their whole lives.

In addition, most Kenyan farmers are small farmers. They produce for their own needs and sell their surplus locally. GM is designed for mass production. Mass producers in Kenya do not, on the whole, benefit the majority of people. They employ few labourers, mainly on a casual basis and pay them very little.

What makes the Kenyan government think that this would be good for the country? Is it sheer desperation because of the food shortage and the global food price explosion? Or have they been nobbled by the GM evangalists? Well, the consequenses will be the same, whatever the reasons for the decision.

The government, it seems, has seen enough evidence to be convinced that GM crops are safe for human consumption. Well, that evidence took many years and a lot of money to manufacture. However, there is absolutely no evidence that GM will solve any of the countries problems and plenty of evidence that it will cause immense social, economic, environmental and other problems.


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