Ignore poverty and hunger crises today, and dream of a new tomorrow with more biodiversity — that’s the ticket!

posted in: Syndicated | 22

Biodiversity doesn’t feed people, but GM crops do
March 30, 2011, ACSH Despatch

During a United Nations meeting in Bali to discuss a treaty on plant genetics, La Via Campesina, which according to an article in The Atlantic, is said to be an international farmers’ movement comprised of 150 organizations in 70 countries, decided not to waste time addressing real agricultural problems like the rising cost of food, starvation in underdeveloped nations and the poor crop yields in certain areas. Instead, the group decided that “real” peace of mind can only be achieved when biodiversity is protected, which includes further restrictions and bans on the use of genetically-modified (GM) seeds.

In the article, reporter Anna Lappé further promulgates these anti-agricultural biotech ideologies by quoting from a 2006 report by Doug Gurian-Sherman, currently a member of the Union of Concerned Scientists: “With the recent approval of genetically engineered alfalfa in the United States, organic farmers here are ever more concerned about such a ‘genetic trespass.’”

“Organic farmers are concerned all right — about protecting their ‘organic turf’ and protecting their crops from ‘contamination’ with non-organic genes, not feeding millions of malnourished people worldwide or preventing the hundreds of thousands of deaths occurring annually due to starvation,” fumes Dr. Ross. “This is nothing more than pseudoscience since it is well-known that GM products increase crop yields and have the potential to actually enhance the nutritional benefits of crops. That is, if they were allowed to be harvested in the EU or several African nations, where they are currently barred from use.”

Likewise, the banana industry in Uganda finds itself at such a crossroads. Thirty percent of its banana crop has been infected with banana Xanthomonas wilt (BXW), a disease that is wiping out entire plantations — and that’s not okay for a country that is the second largest producer of bananas in the world. But scientists from the National Banana Research Program have found an answer to a problem that conventional methods were unable to solve. Using genes from a sweet pepper plant, they created bananas resistant to BXW, which sounds great — except that GM crops are illegal in Uganda, even though 95 percent of farmers are willing to grow them.

So perhaps activists such as La Via Campesina — and Ms. Lappé, albeit her agenda is less obvious — should stop pushing a political program posing as science policy and start representing what real farmers are asking for, such as Ugandan farmer Arthur Kamenya: “When someone is hungry, they’ve got to eat now! If people are going to die of hunger today, then we cannot be talking about the future, and if GM is going to provide that solution, then as Africa, we need to embrace that.”

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David Tribe is an applied geneticist, teaching graduate/undergrad courses in food science, food safety, biotechnology and microbiology at the University of Melbourne.