Nnimmo Bassey of Environmental Rights Action (Friends of the Earth Nigeria) has a piece in last weeks Pambazuka News entitled "Conned with Corn" in which he describes the "onslaught of the biotech industry" in Africa as a modern day "scramble for Africa".
Genetically engineered food has been presented as the ultimate weapon against hunger in Africa and the world. This is also seriously suggested in the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), meaning that this may be the direction efforts will be concentrated in the years to come. African leaders have largely been co-opted into thinking this way because they are warned that since the so-called Green Revolution train left Africa standing at the station they should not miss the gene train. It has been noted that the Green Revolution required extensive chemical and equipment inputs and although food production increased in some areas, small scale farmers were marginalised, the environment took a beating and on the aggregate hunger was boosted in the world.
Zambia is one African country that has refused to accept GM foods or crops (see BL "Genetic Modification") The case as Bassey states demonstrated that "every country has the sovereign right to determine what type of food to eat irrespective of whether it is purchased in the market or donated as aid".
The Pushers: Monsanto and US Aid (the same people behind the push to market cassava, Nigeria’s main staple food) as an export crop. Example – Monsanto’s genetically engineered cotton called Bt Cotton has been planted in India and South Africa. According to Monsanto this has been a great success but there have been many reports of farmers recording low yields and going into debt. Monsanto and US Aid are now pushing Bt Cotton on Tanzania which will join Tunisia, Egypt, Zimbabwe, Burkina Faso and Kenya in conducting field trials.
The food and crops: Apart from Bt cotton, GM food is being sent to Africa, Asia and Latin America via food aid. Example – "In 2003 Nigeria received 11,000 metric tons of soy meal as food aid from the US under the title "Food for Progress". Taking into account that around 60% of soybeans in the US is GM it is quite likely that Nigeria has been receiving GM food through the back door so to speak. Another example Bassey gives is in Latin America where corn varieties not authorised for human consumption have been found in food aid sent in 2002 and in 2005.
Concerns: Eight years after accepting biotech crops, the EU is only now beginning studies to examine the possible "cumulative long-term effects" that these crops might have on humans and animals. In short we do not know the effects of these foods and crops.
Bassey also points out that the Biotech industry itself is out of control and does not know the affects of what it is producing. He gives the example of a case that was only recently made public whereby an
"untested experimental crop, from Swiss agrochemicals multinational group, Syngenta, called Bt10, has been illegally planted from 2001 until 2004 in the USA. This illegal variety contains antibiotic resistance marker genes, which the British Medical Association recommended not to commercialise due to the potential risks for human health. ………..Initially Syngenta had claimed that Bt10 and Bt11 (an already commercialised variety of GM corn) were virtually identical, and therefore there were no risks, but later on it was verified as false since Bt10 contained antibiotic resistant marker genes, while that was not the case with the Bt11 type. What other areas have confused the biotech industry?
Bassey concludes by calling on everyone,
Nigerian, Tanzanian, Togolese, Camerounian, or Swazi to stand up and defend our collective right to live in dignity and to choose what seeds to plant and what foods to eat. We cannot afford to place our future in the hand of an industry that has lost control of its Frankenstein. Our governments, if they represent us, must begin now to ask questions, and to act. Tomorrow will be too late