The UNDP Exploits the Poor and Hungry to Push Genetic Engineering
By Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific
July 24, 2001
The Human Development Report 2001, 'Making Technologies Work For Human
Development,'commissioned by the United Nations Development Programme
(UNDP), reads like a PR dossier full of pro-corporate technology
propaganda, gift wrapped in the guise of helping the developing world
'harness the tremendous potential' of information technology and
The Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific (PAN AP) objects to
the exploitation by the UNDP of the image of the poor and hungry as a
public relations strategy to push biotechnology and the use of
genetically engineered (GE) crops.
'Genetic engineering is unsafe, environmentally unfriendly, of no
benefit socio-economically to small-marginalised farmers and it will not
feed the world', asserts Sarojeni V. Rengam, PAN AP Executive Director.
People in developing countries don't want genetic engineering
The UNDP report ignores the concern and opposition to genetic
engineering by farmers, agricultural workers, consumers groups, and
concerned fisherfolk, scientists, and indigenous peopleís in both
developing and developed counties.
* Kilusang Magbubukid Ng Pilipinas (KMP), the Peasant Movement of the
Philippines, with a membership of 800,000 landless peasants, small
farmers, agricultural workers, fisherfolk, rural youth and peasant
women, have been actively protesting the development of GE rice by
the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and are against
the field-testing of other GE crops in the country.
* Some 800 farmers and other anti-GE advocates from all over
Indonesia rallied on the International Day of Farmerís Struggles
Against GMOs on April 17, 2001, in front of Monsanto and the
Ministry of Agriculture in Jakarta. The farmers called for the
destruction of Indonesiaís first GMO field trial of Monsantoís
cotton and other GE products in the country, no further releases of
Bt cotton seeds by the government, and the eviction of Monsanto
from the country.
* Thousands of farmers and other anti-GE advocates participated in
the Long March for Biodiversity, principally against GE rice, which
travelled across Thailand for 11 days during September 2000.
Farmers in the Thung Kula Ronghai area, well known for the
cultivation of jasmine rice, said they were very worried that the
introduction of GE crops into the country would have a serious
impact on the poor rural majority.
* In 1998 Monsanto and the State Government of Karnataka, India,
carried out experiments in farmerís fields of GE crops without
knowledge of the majority of farmers. On November 28 thousands of
farmers occupied three fields and burnt the illegal crops. This
action marked the beginning of a campaign of civil disobedience
called Operation "Cremate Monsanto" in Karnataka and other Indian
How can the UNDP not listen to the voices of farmers, agricultural
workers and fisherfolks in the developing world?
The UNDP report also conveniently ignores actions taken against genetic
engineering by some developing world governments. This includes
governments in Asia that have developed or are developing regulations
stop the importation of GE seeds and foods across their borders. Others
have taken positions on labelling, traceability and producer liability.
The recent ban against the importation of GE food by the Sri Lankan
government has been described as one of the toughest restrictions
against GE food in the world.
What happened to the right to safe food?
The UNDP report asserts that undernourished poor people can not afford
to indulge in the unrealistic notion of health concerns ? people need
food no matter what the cost!
Everyone has a right to safe food whether they are from developing or
developed countries. The UNDP has no right to push an unproven and
unsafe technology on the developing world.
Dr. Arpad Pusztai, one of the worldís foremost expertís
studies with 12 scientific books and close to 300 primary peer-reviewed
scientific papers published, says there has been little scientific study
into the health risks associated with GE foods. He argues the safety
testing of GE foods is inadequate to assess potential harm, that GE
foods can carry unpredictable toxins and that they may increase the risk
of allergenic reactions.
A worst case scenario of what can possibly go wrong with GE food has
already been indicated in the US and Europe in 1999 when a batch of the
amino-acid food supplement L-typtophan manufactured using GE microbes
entered the market. It killed 37 people and permanently crippled some
1,500 others with a new nervous system disorderóeosinophilia myalgia
Moreover, the UNDP report perpetuates the myth that technological fixes
such as genetic engineering will alleviate poverty and feed the world.
Unfortunately, the solution to world hunger is not so simple.
In many developing countries there is in fact an over supply of food,
which is not readily accessible to the poor -- they simply canít
it. In a country like India, that fully embraced the ëmiracleí
Revolution farming, some 320 million people go hungry when 60 million
tonnes of grain lie idle in grain stockpiles.
The problem of poverty and hunger is not technological in nature, but
is rooted in basic socio-economic and political realities, including
inadequate food distribution, the lack of resources to grow food, the
lack of farmers rights and land rights, and political will.
Genetically Engineered crops offer no benefits to farmers
Contradictory to the UNDP report that farmers may need to use less
chemical inputs, the reality is that the use of herbicide tolerant and
insect resistant crops will create more dependence on expensive
chemicals and will increase the chemical poisoning of our bodies, food
and the environment.
In 1996, nearly half of about two million acres of Bt cotton planted
the United States became heavily infested. Farmers were advised to
salvage the crop with emergency spraying. A legal firm representing 17
of the farmers claimed Monsanto misrepresented the product.
Biotechnology expert Dr. Charles Benbrook (of the US Northwest Science
and Environmental Policy Centre), in a recent report on Roundup Ready
soybeans, not only reaffirms previous studies that weeds are growing
resistant to Roundup, but that farmers are using considerably more
herbicide than farmers cultivating non-GE varieties. Benbrookís
also found that Roundup Ready soybeans produce less of a yield (5-10 per
cent) than conventional soybeans.
In the article ìTransgenic Insecticidal Corn: Beyond Insecticidal
Toxicity to Ecological Complexity,î published in the May 2001 edition
the journal BioScience, it is reported that several studies show that
the use of Bt corn in the United States has not significantly reduced
insecticide use or increased yields.
In India a study by the New Delhi based Research Foundation for
Science, Technology and Ecology (RFSTE) estimates that farmersí
would increase by as much as nine times if they switched from
traditional seeds to GE cotton seeds. Bt cotton is currently under field
trial in India. An application by Mahyco/ Monsanto for the
commercialisation of itís Bt cotton was recently rejected by the
government based on insufficient data as to the agronomic advantage of
the commercialisation of the Bt cotton and insufficient environmental
safety and socio-economic studies.
In Indonesia Monagro/ Monsantoís Bt cotton field trials failed
out-perform the indigenous variety in all but one of nine districts in
South Sulawesi. The Bt cotton also succumbed to drought and pest
infestations. Indonesian farmers have protested against the Bt cotton
and the NGO Coalition for Biosafety and Food Safety representing 72 NGOs
has taken legal action against a government decree allowing the limited
release of the Bt cotton seed in South Sulawesi.
While herbicide tolerant and insect resistant crops exacerbate the
continuation of the pesticide-treadmill, the genetic engineering
industry is also working on the development of GE seeds that render
crops sterile (ëterminator technologyí) and/ or control their
development via chemicals (ëtraitor technologyí). Sterile,
dependent crops trap farmers into an expensive seed and chemical package
with no alternatives.
Sterile seeds will deny farmers the right to save seeds for replanting
-- crucial for the food security of communities. Approximately 1.4
billion farmers rely on saved seeds.
Another GE product enthusiastically promoted in the UNDP report, as
helping to alleviate malnutrition, is ëgolden rice.í The development
this is far off in the future with many doubts as to if it really offers
any significant solutions to nutritional problems. Many believe this is
simply another PR strategy by a morally bankrupt genetic engineering
The reality is that the genetic engineering industry has funnelled the
vast majority of its investment into the development and
commercialisation of a limited range of products, which are of little
relevance to the needs of the worldís poor and hungry. One hundred
cent of the area planted to GE crops in 2000 were dominated by herbicide
tolerant (73 percent) and insect resistant crops (22 per cent) or the
two traits combined into the one crop (5 per cent).
ìInstead of looking to as yet unproven as well as non-existent
biotechnology breakthroughs, the UNDP should be looking into the many
proven examples of ecological agriculture in developing countries based
on pro-people technologies that work for resource poor communities and
not against them,î maintains Rengam.
It is all too evident that genetic engineering and GE foods and crops
serve the short-term capital interests of a multi-billion dollar
industry at the expense of our health and the environment.
Corporations basically have only a financial motive in developing
genetic engineering -- to create a new round of capital accumulation.
is deeply disturbing that the UNDP has become a conduit for this motive.
The needs and wants of the poor and hungry have been ignored yet again.
People's Caravan 2000
This information service is facilitated by PAN AP
Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific
P.O. Box 1170, 10850, Penang, Malaysia.
Tel: (604) 657 0271/ 656 0381 Fax (604) 657 7445
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