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Chechbiotech: Politicians, professors and protesters target sustainable, GM-free agriculture
Posted by: DR. RAUPP & madora (IP Logged)
Date: October 25, 2004 07:51AM ;

Many NGOs and politicians gathered to unite a surge towards a sustainable
agriculture platform for the future. Some even gave room for transgenic
crops, while others hardened their stance against them, October 2004 .

'We will continue with our fight against GMOs even if we have to be
punished and even if we have to go back to prison,' José Bové, a leading
French campaigner against genetically modified organisms, told a conference
of experts and policy makers in Brussels on 20 October.

Mr Bové was justifying a campaign of civil disobedience in France that has
so far resulted in the destruction of several experimental fields of
genetically modified crops, prompting condemnation by national research
heads. 'Individual, local and regional democracy [in France] isn't working.
If we can't work within the law, we will have to work outside it,' he

Mr Bové accuses the French government of seeking to introduce GM crops
without first holding the necessary public debate, and despite the fact that
'the majority of the French population has always been opposed to the
introduction of GM material in their food.' He argues that even when a
majority of municipal mayors and regional authorities declared their
territories GM-free, the government simply pressed ahead regardless.

Given that a number of environmental organisations argue that more research
into the health and environmental impacts of GMOs is needed, CORDIS News
asked Mr Bové to justify his destruction of field-based trials. 'I agree
that we need more fundamental research into the environmental and human and
animal health impacts of GMOs, but this can be done in laboratories and more
controlled environments,' he responded.

'The truth is that these field trials in France are being carried out on
behalf of industry, and what they are really investigating is the industrial
commercialisation of GMOs,' believes Mr Bové. He argues that throughout the
EU's de facto moratorium on GMO authorisations, private firms carried on
testing new varieties in order to certify them so that they could begin
marketing them as soon as the moratorium was lifted.

Ultimately, Mr Bové's opposition to GMOs is based on his view of sustainable
agriculture: 'There is no way that GM and non-GM can co-exist, because these
two fundamentally different approaches to agricultural practice cannot
co-exist, and we know that the day GM food enters the national system, there
is no stopping it.'

The concept of sustainable agriculture was referred to by a number of the
speakers at the event, which was subtitled 'science for a GM free
sustainable Europe'. Professor Peter Saunders, from King's College London,
said that modern farming should be based on the traditional knowledge that
we have developed over the past centuries.

'That's not the same as doing it the old way, as we have the benefit of
modern science. The problem with traditional knowledge is that companies
can't patent it, whereas with GMOs, companies are able to take out patents
on plant varieties,' he added.

By industrialising agriculture, Professor Saunders argues, we have removed a
resource that is plentiful - human labour - and replaced it with
non-renewable resources in the form of fossil fuels, 'all in the name of
efficiency'. He argues that GMOs don't increase yields, they require more
herbicides, and they only lead to more profits for seed producers - not for
farmers or consumers.

Professor Saunders' comments were echoed by Dr Mae-Wan Ho, director of the
UK Institute of Science in Society, who said: 'The model of agriculture
proposed by science in the last 40 years has focused on high yields through
high inputs, and has led to a loss of biodiversity. Yet biodiversity and
productivity go together - farmers have always known that. Research shows
that biodiverse fields are up to three times more productive than their
industrial equivalents.'

Representing the policy makers was Michael Meacher, UK Environment Minister
from 1997 to 2003, who launched an outspoken attack on the commercialisation
and politicisation of science that accompanied the introduction of GMOs.
'The science of GM is owned by a small minority of companies, and the
research they do is never even published if it conflicts with their
commercial interests, which is profoundly wrong,' he said.

Mr Meacher added that when the UK advisory committee on releases to the
environment (ACRE) said following field scale trials that 'there is no
evidence to indicate that GM crops pose any greater risk to human health or
the environment than non-GM varieties,' this is because the trials didn't
explicitly look for such evidence, and the authorities continue to rely on
research carried out by the biotech industry itself.

The former minister also attacked the composition of governmental advisory
committees and regulatory authorities, arguing that estimates suggest that
40 per cent of the members of these bodies have financial links with the
biotech industry. He called for funding for research into GMOs to come
entirely from public sources, and said that contributors to scientific
journals should disclose their current and prior funding sources.

Mr Meacher described US allegations in the World Trade Organisation (WTO)
that the EU's policies on GMOs were hindering the development of the
technology and contributing to world hunger as absurd. 'The US has other
motives - bullying other countries to fall into line with the interests of
its biotechnology industry, but its WTO challenge will backfire.'

In conclusion, though, Mr Meacher admitted that it was unrealistic to expect
an outright ban on GM cultivation and use in the EU. He argued that a new
approach should be taken, characterised by a systematic programme of
research into the environmental and health impacts of the technology,
extension of the criteria for non-approval of novel foods to include cases
that would damage the sustainability of agriculture, and a change in rules
on biodiversity making it impossible to patent plant varieties.


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