Genetic Engineering of Food Protagonists Term Paper

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Harry Collins with Delta & Pine Land asserts that "protection systems" (the terminator seed) will "…help farmers in all areas of the world gain access to the most technologically advanced tools and products" allowing them to produce "more profitable crops" (Shand, 3). Collins goes on to insist that "traditional farming practices" -- using saved seeds to plant next season's crops -- brings "a gross disadvantage to Third World farmers" because they get "locked into obsolete varieties" (Shand, 4). However, Shand explains that farmers that are "resource-poor" are unlikely to buy terminator seeds and yet they may well wind up with "sterile seed after exchanging or buying seed from better-off farm neighbors." Neth Dano of the Southeast Asian Institute for Community Education (SEARICE) believes that these revolutionary seeds "…could drive millions of farmers out of plant breeding and, since no one else will breed for their needs, out of agriculture altogether" (Shand, 5).

Defending & questioning genetically engineered seeds and crops

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) seems on the side of GM seed expansion -- with some qualifications -- in general, and asserts that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are "here to stay" (Fresco, 2001, p. 1). That said, Fresco adds that while scientists in the private and public sectors see GMOs as "a major new set of tools" and industry views an "opportunity for increased profits" -- the public in many parts of the world "distrusts GMOs" and views them as part of "globalization and privatization" (Fresco, 1). Moreover, citizens and conservationists approach GMOs as being "anti-democratic" and they see the GMO movement as "meddling with evolution," Fresco explains on page 1. In addition, many governments have not as yet developed and put in place regulatory infrastructures, the author goes on.

At the time of this report (2001, eleven years ago) the number of hectares that had been planted in GM crops was 44.2 million (up from 11 million hectares in 1998). The FAO believes that there is a need to "guarantee access" to farmers and breeders in the developing world. Too few challenges vis-a-vis GM seeds have been addressed in developing worlds, Fresco continues. Also, the FAO states that genetic modification "is not a good in itself," but rather it is a "tool integrated into a wider research agenda" (Fresco, 2).

How will Third World countries benefit or be harmed by GM food?

How do the policies of the WTO support the transnational corporations' grip on the food market? An article in the Third World Quarterly takes the position that because developing countries have not engaged in deep research in the area of biotechnology, and hence these Third World countries have "had no need to introduce domestic legislation to allow the patentability of life forms" (Plahe, 2003, p. 31). And so the fate of developing countries with regards to their ability to protect their plant genetic resources and their right "…to control and enjoy the benefits of their traditional knowledge" will be in the hands of the World Trade Organization, Plahe explains. There is another glaring example of how poor countries are being stepped on in the entire GMO milieu and it is a result of actions by the International Union of the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) -- the group that "harmonises international standards on plant-breeders' rights (PBRS) (Plahe, 32). The UPOV grants "exclusive rights to plant breeders to produce, offer for sale, and market propagated material of a new variety" (Plahe, 32).

There are however numerous food rights and farmers groups in developing countries that believe the UPOV convention "…has been a lobbying vehicle used by rich countries" in order to shove down the throats of poor countries the adoption of "patent like" exclusive rights over new plant varieties. In fact the UPOV has not "generally been endorsed by developing countries," Plahe continues, because Third World nations believe the UPOV -- through the introduction of "private property rights" -- would introduce legal and economic restrictions on the livelihoods of poor farmers in their countries (32). In addition, the developing nations' view is that in any event, small farmers "would be the last to benefit from a private system of rights," which would only assure exclusive rights to those farmers (think corporate-owned farms) that could produce a "stable, distinct and uniform variety" (Plahe, 32).

Still on the subject of GM food and the poor, Ian Scoones writes that due to exploding populations, urban sprawl, and rising incomes, by the year 2020, there will be "a 40% escalation of demand for cereals" (Scoones, 2002, p. 115). If this scenario is valid, that means there must be a "doubling of imports of grains to the developing world," especially in sub-Saharan Africa, where people are "least able to deal with the consequences of declining yield growth," Scoones explains (115). Will the pro-GM food production organizations and corporations be able to provide adequate supplies of safe, nutritious foods to the sub-Saharan African nations? This question could not be more pertinent to contemporary problems in Africa, because according to an article in The Sydney Morning Herald "Up to 13 million people are at risk of starvation in Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda and Djibouti" today because of the worst drought in 60 years (Gartrell, 2011).

The CEO of World Vision, Tim Costello, is quoted in the Gartrell piece saying "Two million children are said to be malnourished and at the risk of death." "This is the worst humanitarian disaster on the planet today," said Australia's Africa-based representative Scott Martin (Gartrell, 1). Costello witnessed the "world's biggest refugee camp" (in Kenya) that was built to providing shelter for 90,000 people but today it is home to about 400,000 people. "There's this huge tent and mudbrick city the size of Canberra, with 400,000 people. That shocks you," Costello remarked (Garetrell, 1).

Meanwhile, Scoones asks the questions that are on the minds of millions of people: will technological solutions "deliver real benefits to the poor, and so eliminate hunger and famine? Is the science up to it? Are the political and economic conditions right?" (115). On page 116 Scoones outlines the ten "key assumptions" that pro-GM food advocates put forward vis-a-vis providing Third World countries with adequate food from the emerging biotechnologies. The ten (paraphrased and shortened) are: a) priorities for fighting food insecurity should start with "focused technological transfer" (not through "broader institutional reforms"); b) famine is caused by declining yield growth in the major food crops; c) modern biotechnology is "drought tolerant" and can deliver solutions; d) farmers will accept GM seeds through public education and through the "improved returns"; e) biotechnology is cost-effective and sustainable and investing money (even in tight economic times) will "pay dividends in the longer run"; f) funds will be available from international public research organizations and scientists will also be available to establish labs in the developing world; g) private corporations (think Monsanto) with "proprietary rights over key genes or processes" will give up exclusive rights for the "public good"; h) count on the private sector to help deliver the needed biotech solutions; i) producing crops through GM technologies won't be any different than "traditional plant breeding" so there should be little resistance from poor farmers; and j) as to regulatory issues, they will be "dealt with throughout the world by international 'capacity building' efforts" (Scoones, 116).

While some of these ten assumptions are probably reasonable, others are based on wild speculation and faith in corporations, which is an enormous stretch of credulity. For example, projecting that corporations like Monsanto will "give up exclusive rights for the public good" is truly pie-in-the-sky idealism. And assuming that the private sector will willingly come forward with money and technical support is totally without substantiation. Still, the very fact that journalists and other authors are thinking along the lines of helping developing countries can't be all bad, in fact, raising issues for debate is a healthy approach notwithstanding the realism therein.

Erik Millstone and Patrick van Zwanenberg explain that one big problem in terms of regulatory policy-making on GM crops and food that there is "the extreme difficulty in reliably forecasting the ways in which the technologies will evolve" and how the evolution of those biotech products will "impact food security" and the very structure of agricultural economies in developing countries (Millstone, et al., 2003, p. 655). When the developing nations go about setting standards for the GM seeds and crops that will be used in their countries, they may fear that the same standards used by the producers of the GM seeds will be forced upon them, Millstone continues.

In any event, developing nations and fully developed industrial nations alike will be beholding to some degree on WTO and CPBS (the Cartagena Protocol on Bio-Safety) rules, notwithstanding whatever local rules are put in place in those…

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