16 September 2002
BRITAIN FUNDS POUNDS 13.4M GM PROGRAMME IN THIRD WORLD
"Dodgy industries selling dubious wares have long headed for the Third World when their activities have been questioned in the West. The biotech industry has been following this well-trodden path ever since consumers in Europe turned against GM food and crops. And these wares have had unprecedented backing from the US government, which has relentlessly bullied reluctant governments in developing countries to accept them." Independent on Sunday: Leading Article: GM by the back door, September 15, 2002
1. Britain funds pounds 13.4m GM programme in Third World
2. Independent on Sunday: Leading Article: GM by the back door
Britain funds pounds 13.4m GM programme in Third World
Independent on Sunday, September 15, 2002
Clare Short's overseas aid department has quietly funded a pounds 13.4m programme to create a new generation of GM animals, crops and drugs throughout the Third World.
The so far unpublicised programme has financed research in more than 24 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe into at least 80 GM projects ranging from long-life bananas to fast-growing pigs and fish, from disease-resistant rice to stopping tsetse flies carrying sleeping sickness.
The scale of the long-running programme has taken even experts by surprise. Dr Sue Mayer, director of the charity Genewatch UK and a government adviser, said that Ms Short's Department for International Development (DFID) had "deceived" the public about the full scale of the research programme.
She said: "They have got to be completely open. They have given us isolated snapshots of the programme, but this gives a distorted picture of the direction of the research and of what actually has been done."
Ms Short retorted that her department was merely helping poor countries to keep pace with GM crops and medicines being created by Western governments and companies. British charities, she said, had no right to tell less developed nations what to do.
"It would be wrong to block research which might bring real benefits to the poor," she said. "We believe that they and their governments should decide if such knowledge is useful to them."
But developing states are increasingly rejecting GM technology. Four years ago the representatives of every African country, except South Africa, signed a statement at a conference on GM crops and foods in Rome saying that they "strongly objected" to having their poverty used "to push a technology that is neither safe, environmentally friendly, nor economically beneficial to us".
This summer, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique refused to accept GM grain as aid from the US, despite an impending famine which threatens 10 million people in southern Africa. And when Secretary of State Colin Powell attacked their stance in his speech to this month's Earth Summit in Johannesburg, he was heckled by delegates.
The DFID programme stretches back to the early days of GM crop research, when its predecessor department, the Overseas Development Administration, funded projects to create disease-resistant cassava and groundnuts in the late 1980s.
Under John Major, the ODA gave China money to help it develop faster- growing, leaner "transgenic" pigs. It also spent nearly pounds 500,000 on experiments to genetically modify the tsetse fly, to stop it carrying the "sleeping sickness" which affects humans and cattle across sub-Saharan Africa.
But from the mid-1990s, DFID's programme has massively expanded, leading to research projects on four continents, from Cuba and Malaysia to Sri Lanka and Kenya. Although 24 countries are listed as partners, some projects are expected to involve up to 22 other countries. Projects include virus and parasite-resistant rice in Africa and India, goat and cattle vaccines for Ethiopia and India, GM tilapia fish in Thailand, weevil-resistant potatoes for Bolivia and GM maize roots in Tanzania.
Included in these schemes are projects linked to a controversial pounds 65m DFID aid programme in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. Critics allege the aid will help push 20 million subsistence farmers off their land. Yet little has been disclosed about the scale of its programme, in a move which has disturbed some senior DFID officials.
Earlier this year, the department compiled a list of 59 projects, worth pounds 10.3m, which involved "the potential release of genetically modified organisms" and a handful of studies into the economical and political issues posed by biotechnology in developing countries. Yet this list failed to mention another 22 DFID projects worth more than pounds 3.1m: in total, DFID has spent at least pounds 13.4m on GM research.
Environment groups have applauded Ms Short for aggressively attacking firms such as Monsanto for including "terminator" genes in GM crops. Yet DFID's studies have added to campaigners' suspicions that it is forcing GM on the Third World, in step with biotech companies. Pete Riley of Friends of the Earth called for MPs to conduct an inquiry into DFID's spending. "In public, the Government says we're approaching GM technology with caution, but overseas they are gung-ho. The level of the Government's hypocrisy knows no bounds," he said.
Additional research by Steve Bloomfield
Copyright © 2002 Independent Newspapers (UK) Limited.
GM by the back door
Independent on Sunday Leading Article
September 15, 2002
Dodgy industries selling dubious wares have long headed for the Third World when their activities have been questioned in the West. The biotech industry has been following this well-trodden path ever since consumers in Europe turned against GM food and crops. And these wares have had unprecedented backing from the US government, which has relentlessly bullied reluctant governments in developing countries to accept them.
The latest example is the row over the refusal by Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique to accept GM food in aid from the US despite facing famine. Their attitude was presented by the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, in his speech to the Earth Summit in Johannesburg, as a bloody-minded willingness to let their people starve rather than eat food that had been safely consumed by Americans for years. But it is much more complex than that. The safety of GM food is still in doubt - any effect will not show for many years yet - and African countries are worried that their peoples, whose immune systems have already been impaired by HIV/Aids, may be especially vulnerable. More important, they fear their farmers will illegally plant grain given as aid, introducing GM crops to their countries. Their genes would spread until all their harvests were contaminated, and then they would be unable to sell their produce to Europe. Something of the kind has already happened in Mexico, and from this perspective the US insistence on providing GM aid looks more like an unscrupulous attempt to introduce the technology by the back door.
Against this background, the revelation that the Department for International Development has funded a huge programme of GM research across the Third World is deeply disturbing. The projects range from the apparently benign, such as attempting to stop tsetse fly passing on sleeping sickness, to the downright dangerous, such as developing GM pigs and fish that would rapidly spread their altered genes by interbreeding. The whole programme legitimises and promotes technology still opposed by many Third World governments and their peoples.
Britain has no business doing this. And it certainly should not continue
without subjecting the work to the kind of public debate that ministers
have rightly decided must be completed before any decision is taken to
commercialise the technology at home.
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