Global Policy Forum

The War of the World:


By Devinder Sharma

August 7, 2003

The spread of GM technology across the developing world is not a neutral process but one shaped by powerful commercial interests and enforced by the weapons of diplomacy.

After taking control over one-third of the world's crude oil supplies and that too after a futile search for ‘weapons of mass destruction', the United States president, George W. Bush, appears ready to take over the world's food market. Here too the world is being misled. In this case, the US government is manipulating the world with an argument aimed at our emotions – that genetically-modified (GM) foods are the key to eliminating hunger.

The argument has begun with the president accusing Europe of undercutting efforts to feed starving Africans by blocking the use of genetically-modified crops which could ‘dramatically' boost productivity. The American administration fired the first missile by formally announcing to launch a complaint with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) against the European Union for its five-year ban on approving new biotech crops. This has set the stage for an international showdown over an increasingly controversial issue.

"Our partners in Europe are impeding this effort. They have blocked all new biocrops because of unfounded, unscientific fears," Bush said. "This has caused many African nations to avoid investing in biotechnologies for fear that their products will be shut out of European markets. European governments should join – not hinder – the great cause of ending hunger in Africa."

The US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick added that the European policy is illegal, harming the US economy, stunting the growth of the biotech industry and contributing to increased starvation in the developing world. Coinciding with the frontal attack through the WTO dispute panel, there is also a seemingly harmless exercise to close ranks around flawed economic policies. Senior officials of the WTO-IMF-World Bank met in Geneva in May 2003 to deliberate on how to bring greater ‘coherence' in their policies through ‘liberalisation of trade and financial flows, deregulation, privatisation and budget austerity'. It seems that the loan conditions of the IMF/World Bank that have forced developing countries to lower their trade barriers, cut subsidies for their domestic food producers, and eliminate safety nets for rural agriculture, have not been enough to satisfy the US.

The WTO Agreement on Agriculture could be used very effectively to allow the US – and twelve other food-exporting countries – to dump unwanted genetically altered foods, thereby destroying food self-sufficiency in developing countries and expanding markets for the large grain exporting companies.

Science in the service of commerce

Trade and financial manipulations are not the only tools being used to open up markets for GM produce. Science – and this includes almost the entire agricultural science research infrastructure in North America – is under the control of the corporate world, and the agribusiness industry is now getting restless at the way in which developing country governments are obstructing the fast-track destruction of food self-sufficiency in the developing world. After all, as long as developing countries remain self-sufficient, GM crops will not have an opening. The focus therefore is not on how to strengthen the food self-sufficiency movement in the developing world but on how to make these countries dependent on the GM food produced in the technology-rich countries.

Growth in food production subsidies and the resulting dumping of grains have already forced millions of small and marginal farmers in the developing world out of agriculture, making them move to the urban slums in search of a living. Highly subsidised agriculture in America and the rest of the OECD is the root cause of growing hunger, destitution and poverty in the majority world. GM foods, produced by the biotechnology corporations, will further exacerbate the food crisis. Their effect will be to eliminate not hunger but rather the hungry.

Ironically, it is the reality and the risk of famine that has become the basis for the official campaign to promote unwanted and highly risky genetically-altered crops and foods. In India, where hunger co-exists with overflowing food stocks, the entire scientific community (and the food industry) is busy diverting national attention from the more pressing problems of food insecurity to promoting biotechnology. Unwanted crops – like Bt cotton and GM mustard – are therefore being promoted by hoodwinking gullible farmers with lies, damn lies and GM statistics.

As Afsar Jafri and Vandana Shiva have pointed out in the recent openDemocracy article, the secretary of the department of biotechnology has gone on record as saying that Bt cotton increases the yield by as much as 80%. She has even said that GM potato (which is still under trials) will contain 40% protein. In reality, Bt cotton does not increase crop yield (not even in China which has a huge area under genetically-modified crops and where the negative impacts have begun to show) and GM potato contains only about 2.5% proteins.

At the international level, the global offensive is based on coercion. Three ministers from each of the 180 invited countries – holding the portfolios of trade, agriculture and health assembled at downtown Sacramento in California from June 23-25. The invitation, which came from the US agriculture secretary, Ann Veneman, is all about educating (in reality, intimidating) these democratically-elected representatives on the virtues of GM foods, and why they must back the US multinational corporations' ‘fight against global hunger'. Ann Veneman will explain the consequences – both economic and political – of not accepting the fruits of cutting-edge technology, as genetic engineering is fondly called.

The long war for GM

The overt and covert machinations to push unhealthy and risky GM foods began a decade ago. The US has so far opposed the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, which has been signed by over 100 countries and was intended to ensure through agreed international rules and regulations that countries have the necessary information to make informed choices about GM foods and crops. With the WTO appearing on the scene, the Cartagena Protocol has become meaningless. Since the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) has not been ratified by the US, it is not under any obligation to follow the Biosafety Protocol.

At the same time, agricultural research, which has been instrumental in ushering in food self-sufficiency in many of the developing countries in the post-green revolution era, is being dismantled. The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) is under tremendous pressure from the agri-business corporations, which sees it as the main obstacle in the process of control and manipulation. With research priorities shifting from national requirements to servicing the biotechnology industry, as in India, it is a matter of time before developing countries begin to return to the frightening days of ‘ship-to-mouth' existence.

Even food aid is being used as a tool to promote GM foods. Aid is no longer about humanitarian needs of starving populations but about the commercial interests of the international corporations. The US first found an outlet for its mounting food surplus through the midday meal scheme for African children (force-fed through the World Food Programme), then arm-twisted four African countries to accept GM food at the height of the food scarcity that prevailed in central and southern Africa in 2002. It even tried to force the International Red Cross Federation to airlift unwanted GM food as part of an international emergency so as to feed the hungry. It did not work. Zambia and Zimbabwe led the resistance against GM foods, saying that it would prefer its poor to die than to feed them with unhealthy food. Meanwhile, Sudan too has decided not to accept GM food aid.

Faced with this resistance, the US has been searching for a way to force the African countries into submission. The US Senate has passed a bill – "the United States Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Act of 2003" (HR 1298) – which in a diplomatic way links financial aid for combating HIV/ Aids with GM food acceptance.

Section 104A of the bill declares: "individuals infected with HIV have higher nutritional requirements than individuals who are not infected with HIV, particularly with respect to the need for protein. Also, there is evidence to suggest that the full benefit of therapy to treat HIV/AIDS may not be achieved in individuals who are malnourished, particularly in pregnant and lactating women." The next sentence reads: "It is therefore the sense of Congress that the US food assistance should be accepted by countries with large populations of individuals infected or living with HIV/AIDS, particularly African countries, in order to help feed such individuals."

This is not an isolated effort. In 1986, the US enacted legislation, called Bumpers' Amendment, that prohibited "agricultural development activities, consultation, publication, conference, or training in connection with the growth and production in a foreign country of an agricultural commodity for export which would compete with a similar commodity grown or produced in the United States." As a result, American support for research and development for crops, which competed with those grown in the US, was stopped. With national research programmes closing down for paucity of funds, the field is now open for the biotech industry to take over.

Diplomacy as force

To push GM crops, another outlet has now been created. The Rockefeller Foundation, in collaboration with the US-based Madison Institute, has launched a project called the Madison Initiative. Under the guise of humanitarian aid and support, the Madison Initiative is aimed at pushing GM crops to tide over the increasing food insecurity arising from the growing vulnerability of HIV/Aids-affected economies.

The basic premise is that HIV/Aids has taken a heavy toll of able-bodied rural males in most parts of Africa. As a result, there is not enough manpower left in the rural areas to undertake agricultural operations such as spraying of pesticides. Therefore, these countries must accept GM crops like Bt cotton which (it is claimed) require fewer chemical sprays!

This initiative is being executed by CGIAR as an active partner. Such was the desperate urgency behind it that agricultural scientists had met former President Moi of Kenya to push their case. Moi agreed officially to support the Madison Initiative' s extension to other African countries, including South Africa, and then to India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Thailand and to other parts of south-east Asia. Never before has any government stepped in to force the world into accepting what it produces. Never before has the world been forced to accept technologies (however risky these might be) in the name of feeding the poor and promoting sustainable development. Never before has any country tried to force feed a hungry continent by creating a false scenario of an impending famine. Never before has the independence of science and technological research been sacrificed in such a shameful manner at the altar of commercial growth and profits.

The world has been made to forget the age-old saying: "if you want to feed a man for a day, give him fish. But if you want to feed him for life teach how to catch fish." The ability to catch fish or in other words to produce food locally has been gradually destroyed. The hungry are now expected to buy food produced by biotech companies. And therein lies a grave danger.

More Information on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)
More Information on World Hunger
More Information on the World Trade Organization

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FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.