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There Are Better Ways to Feed Africa Than With GM Crops

By Dulcie Krige
Sunday Times (Johannesburg)
March 2, 2003

CAN Africa feed itself? Many people will answer this question in the negative, prompting the biotechnology industry to insist that genetic modification is the way to increase crop yields.

But this argument is based on a lack of understanding of the realities of food production in Africa.

The problem is not a lack of food. It is that areas of surplus are often deficient in infrastructure (roads, railways) to convey food to the places where crops have failed.

Ethiopia, often thought of as a place of famine, has generally produced more than enough food to meet its needs. However, droughts last year reduced crop production in some areas, and Ethiopia did not have the transport infrastructure to redistribute the food.

Similarly, the European Union has pointed out that GM-free locally produced grain is available in abundance in Southern Africa and that it is EU policy to buy this grain and pay for its transport to the areas where there are shortages. This has the advantage, for African farmers, of providing a market for their crops.

A problem with using biotechnology to alleviate African famine is that no GM seeds have been commercially developed with the purpose of increasing yields. Some 80% of the seed produced commercially is designed to resist herbicides. These can then be used extensively on crops to kill weeds.

However, this does not lead to improved yield but may decrease the labour requirements for crop production - a distinct disadvantage in Africa.

The biotechnology industry has overlooked the high cost of GM seed. How will farmers purchase seeds when poverty is the major limitation on small farmer production throughout Africa? Without money to erect fencing, they suffer neighbours' goats eating their crops. Without money for pipes and small pumps, they have to carry water from rivers during periods of low rainfall. Without transport they cannot get their crops to markets, and without storage facilities they cannot keep a surplus from one year to the next.

GM seed does nothing to remedy these limitations.

Another problem is that GM seeds are patented. It is difficult for a farmer who has used his own seed for generations to understand that, as a result of policies determined in the US, there are intellectual property rights over living organisms. Policing these rights on behalf of Western multinationals would further deflect Africa's resources from where they should be directed: at feeding the poor.

Another issue which needs attention is the impression that Africa's rejection of GM crops and seeds has been instigated by Europe. In fact, the seven Zambian scientists who recently investigated the acceptability or otherwise of GM food aid visited the US and South Africa, in addition to Europe. They made their decision on the basis of food safety issues, including antibiotic resistance and the possibility of allergies. Dr Mwananyanda Lewanika, a biochemist, pointed out that, as maize is a staple food for the poor in Africa and people already have low immune systems, deleterious effects of consuming GM food were more likely than in the US.

So is there a way in which Africa can increase its food output without resorting to expensive technology?

Scientists have developed a natural system which dramatically reduces losses from stem borer beetle and from the Striga weed. These interventions have slashed losses from 40% to 4.6%.

The introduction of a wasp has reduced stem borer infestation by 53%. And these methods cost the farmer nothing

. Food shortages in Africa are a complex interplay of drought, poverty, lack of transport and storage infrastructure, shortages of agricultural extension officers and political instability. It is simplistic to contend that the biotechnology industry can alleviate these shortages by selling more of its expensive seed to the small farmers who produce more than 70% of Africa's food crops.

A final thought: what would happen if the R180-million that our government plans to spend annually promoting private sector biotechnology development were spent instead on removing constraints facing small farmers? Could we lead Africa into a food-production renaissance? - Dulcie Krige

Krige is a development consultant who has researched poverty in Southern Africa


Farmers Welcome GM Crop Ban

The Courier Mail - Australia
March 4, 2003

A GROUP of Australian farmers has commended the NSW Government for its decision to slap a three-year ban on the commercial introduction of genetically modified (GM) food crops.

Premier Bob Carr yesterday announced the ban on the production of GM food crops such as canola, clover, mustard and field peas until 2006. Group spokesman Scott Kinnear said the ban was sensible.

"It is a precautionary decision and it proves that the Government is listening to farmers," he said in Sydney.

But the farmers joined the Australian Greens in expressing concerns about trials of GM food crops, and their potential cross-contamination with non-GM crops.

Queensland farmer Julie Newman questioned whether the farming industry was ready for GM crops, and said farmers were being misled when they were told they would make more money from them.

"Non-GM crops are offering a lot more," she said.

"(GM crops) will cause serious industry damage.

"The biggest thing consumers should remember is that if farmers can't grow non-GM crops, consumers can't buy non-GM crops."

Canadian farmer Bob Willick is leading a class action of 1000 farmers against Canadian companies Monsanto and Bayer for damages caused by the release of GM canola in Canada.

Today in Sydney Mr Willick warned there would soon be no canola, mustard, and perhaps wheat grown organically in Canada.

"It could be the end of organic farming in Canada," he said.

Mr Willick said Australia had a great opportunity to export to different markets with the banning of GM crops.

Tests on GM crops were acceptable, but only under secure conditions, Mr Kinnear said.

"If they are going to have open field trials, where there is the possibility for cross-pollination and cross-contamination, then we would have a problem with that."


2003 Town Meeting:
36 More Vermont Towns Against Genetic Engineering

Wednesday press conference at Gardener's Supply, Intervale Rd.
March 4,2003

Nearly 40 Vermont towns, from Brattleboro north to Bakersfield, voted at Town Meeting this week for resolutions opposing the genetic engineering (GE) of food and crops. As of 10:30 PM Tuesday evening, 36 have supported their resolutions, 4 have tabled the issue and 3 voted against it. A total of 69 Vermont towns have now gone on record against GE foods, beginning in 2000.

The details of the resolutions vary considerably from town to town, but all the resolutions call upon legislators and congressional representatives to support the labeling of GE foods. Most also support legislation for a moratorium on the planting of GE crops. Many towns have also declared that companies developing GE crops should bear legal liability for all harm resulting from these crops, instead of individual farmers. At least nine towns passed language either calling for a moratorium on the planting of GE crops in the town, or actively discouraging the planting of GE crops.

"This is an important milestone toward making Vermont the first state to go GE-Free," said Jim Moulton of Jamaica, Vermont, a volunteer organizer with the Windham County Genetic Engineering Action Group. "This would be a tremendous boon to our state's farm economy and to the integrity of Vermont's environment." The groups that make up the Town-to-Town Campaign are supporting legislation that has been introduced in the Vermont House, as well as working closely with farmers and local communities across the state that are wanting to take local action.

The following towns have passed resolutions this year (final language will be available in a few days):

Andover, Bakersfield, Brattleboro, Brownsville, Cabot, Chester, East Montpelier, Eden, Fletcher, Glover, Goshen, Halifax, Hardwick, Hartford, Hartland, Johnson, Landgrove, Londonderry, Middlebury, Morristown, Newark, Plymouth, Peru, Rochester, Rockingham, Royalton, Salisbury, Shoreham, Sharon, Tunbridge, Underhill, Vershire, Westford, Weston, Weybridge, Windham.

Resolutions were tabled in Albany, Arlington, Peacham and Fairfield, and voted down in Cornwall, Barnet and Wilmington.

Representatives of the sponsoring organizations, and people from towns that passed resolutions, will be speaking to the press at the Gardener's Supply greenhouse on Intervale Road in Burlington at 10:30 AM on Wednesday. There will be a rally on the State House lawn at noon on Thursday, March 13th.

The Town-to-Town Campaign is a grassroots initiative supported by the Institute for Social Ecology Biotechnology Project, Vermont GE Action Network, Rural Vermont, and the Windham County GE Action Group. Continuing updates are available at


Organic Farmer Says USDA Must Investigate Economic
Effects Of Biotech Wheat Before Approving It

by Robert Schubert, CropChoice editor

(Tuesday, March 11, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- North Dakota organic wheat grower Donald Vig wants the U.S. Department of Agriculture to carefully study and consider the economic consequences of genetically engineered hard red spring wheat before allowing its sale. So does Montana farmer Helen Waller.

That's why they and other wheat growers signed onto a petition that several farm and rural advocacy organizations sent to the USDA's Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) today.

The Dakota Resource Council, Northern Plains Resource Council, National Family Farm Coalition, Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Society, and the Western Organization of Resource Councils want APHIS to prepare a full Environmental Impact Statement focused on the economic impacts of introducing genetically engineered wheat. With previous biotech crop varieties, APHIS has carried out environmental assessments that don't consider socio-economic issues. Failure to address the concerns with transgenic wheat could set the stage for a lawsuit, says Joseph Mendelson, legal director for the Center for Food Safety; he filed the petition for the groups.

In December, Monsanto petitioned APHIS to deregulate the wheat it engineered to resist the glyphosate herbicide, marketed under the trade name Roundup. Deregulation would clear the way for commercial planting of Roundup Ready wheat, which Monsanto would like to see by 2005. Although no one from the company would comment on this story, they have publicly stated that the wheat will not be commercialized without market acceptance.

USDA failure to consider the economic issues would signal to Donald Vig that "it's not protecting farmers."

The organic certification agency that tests his wheat before it enters European markets maintains a zero tolerance for genetically modified traits. Were his wheat to be contaminated, Vig says he'd go from making more than $7 per bushel to $2 or less per bushel. He could end up selling the wheat as conventional livestock feed.

That would cripple his farm.

"Organic farming is crop rotation," he says. "You eliminate enough crops in the rotation and you don't have a farm anymore." He used to grow soybeans but stopped when most of his neighbors began planting Roundup Ready varieties. Vig knew about the experience of Tom Wiley, who also signed the biotech wheat petition. A few years ago, Wiley was growing specialty soybeans for the Japanese market. When his crop tested positive for transgenic traits, the buyer canceled the contract. Wiley lost $10,000.

Helen Waller shares Vig's concern about the possible negative economic fortunes in store with Roundup Ready wheat.

"If we lose our markets, then our farm and many others will not be economically viable," says Waller, who has grown wheat in eastern Montana for 50 years.

Europe and Asia, which currently buy the majority of U.S. hard red spring wheat, have often said that they will reject genetically engineered varieties.

A report prepared by grain-outlook specialist Robert Wisner, an Iowa State University economics professor, backs up farmers' fears. According to Wisner's report, the price of hard spring wheat could drop by about one-third if a genetically modified variety is introduced commercially into Montana or North Dakota in the next two to six years.

"Every available indicator of foreign consumer demand points to a high risk of GM wheat rejection in export markets," Wisner says.

The USDA petition and a copy of Robert Wisner's report are available at


Florida Appeals Court Orders Akre-Wilson Must
Pay Trial Costs For $24.3 Billion Fox Television

The Agribusiness Examiner
March 7, 2003, Issue #227

Couple Warns Journalists Of Danger To Free Speech, Whistle Blower Protection

Jane Akre and Steve Wilson, the two former FOX Television (WTVT-13) journalists have filed appeals of a ruling that they must pay the legal costs and fees the broadcaster incurred defending itself in a landmark whistleblower case the reporters filed in 1998. The journalists estimate FOX spent than a million dollars on its defense.

The ruling assessing the fees came on the heels of a ruling overturned a August 2000 jury verdict and $425,000 award to FOX investigative reporter Jane Akre. Although jurors concluded she was pressured by FOX lawyers and managers to broadcast what the jury agreed was "a false, distorted or slanted story" and was fired for threatening to blow the whistle, the jury decision was reversed on a legal technicality when a higher court agreed with FOX that it is technically not against any law, rule or regulation.

In setting the jury verdict aside, the appeals court ruled that in order to be protected by Florida's Whistleblower Act, the alleged misconduct must violate a written law. The court said the FCC's prohibition against news distortion is merely a policy.

Fox lawyers had made the same argument on at least six occasions when it was rejected each time by three different judges in the trial court proceedings.

"First, the jury's decision is overturned on a technicality and a very narrow reading of the Whistleblower protection law, then the court sets the stage for FOX to destroy us financially," Wilson said. "This is cannot be consistent with the intent of state lawmakers who wrote a Whistleblower law to encourage and protect people who have the courage against all odds to stand up and call attention to wrongdoing."

"Nothing in the decision that reversed the verdict at trial absolved FOX of what the jury found to be misconduct in pressuring a reporter to go on the air with a false story just to protect it's advertisers," said Akre. "They may call it vindication but overturning a jury's decision on a technicality that it's not illegal to lie on the public airwaves is not vindication in the mind of any honest and ethical journalist.

"The truth is Rupert Murdoch and the big-money Washington law firm [Williams & Connelly] that represented FOX here have forced us to make another difficult decision about appealing these decision that set a dangerous precedent in two important areas," Akre continued.

"Our lawyers have told us there are ample grounds to appeal the decision that overturned the jury verdict. Left to stand, no other journalist can ever prevail even when, as in this case, he or she is pressured to deliberately lie on the air," said Akre. "What will that mean for honesty in future broadcasts when unethical station owners and managers put their own interests ahead of honest reporting?

"But also of vital importance," Wilson continued, "is the state's ruling that sets the stage for future, well-intentioned whistleblowers who do not ultimately prevail in court to be saddled with the employer's legal fees and court costs. This is a precedent that will hush-up ever Florida whistleblower not only in journalism, but in medicine and finance and every other walk that can victimize residents of our state.

"Given the tens of thousands of dollars it costs to appeal to Florida's Supreme Court, we are forced to choose one appeal or the other," Wilson said. "We have chosen to seek reconsideration of the ruling we see as the most dangerous of the two --- the one that could discourage all future whistleblowers."

The appeal on the issue of legal fees was filed on behalf of the journalists Friday, February 28. The motion asks for reconsideration of the issue by the same judges, by all of the appeals judges in the Second District, or for a writ to take the issue to the Florida Supreme Court.

"If we had Rupert Murdoch's money [$5.5 Billion], we could continue the fight on both fronts," Akre said. "We are just one family trying our best to stand up for what we believe is right. And we will not drop the issue that allows broadcasters the right to pressure reporters to lie distort the news.

"We are continuing to prepare a complaint to the Federal Communications Commission where we shall also challenge FOX's license renewal in wake of their misconduct here," she said.

"At the very least, if there is no law, rule or regulation against using the public airwaves to knowingly present news that is false and distorted, it's time the FCC or the Congress write one," Wilson added. "Clearly, our case shows you cannot count on all broadcasters to act ethically and honestly in reporting the news and putting the public interest ahead of their own."


US Justice Department Probing Monsanto Antitrust Issues

Reuters March 14, 2003

ST. LOUIS, Mo. - Monsanto Co. said on Friday that the U.S. Department of Justice was investigating possible antitrust violations in the herbicide market, in which the agrochemical company is a leading player.

"The Department of Justice has initiated an inquiry about possible anti-competitive conduct in the glyphosate industry," said Monsanto spokeswoman Lori Fisher.

Fisher said the government was seeking information from a number of companies that make and distribute glyphosate, the basic ingredient in Monsanto's top-selling Roundup herbicide.

Monsanto's patent on glyphosate expired three years ago and the company's sales have been coming under increasing pressure from competitive products and pricing.

Monsanto stock was down $2.20 or 13 percent to $14.38 on the New York Stock Exchange Friday afternoon.


USDA Mulls Strict Rules For Monsanto Biotech Wheat

(Sunday, March 16, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- Randy Fabi, Reuters, 03/15/03: WASHINGTON - The U.S. Agriculture Department said on Saturday it may impose strict requirements on Monsanto Co to ensure it was abiding by its pledge not to sell biotech wheat until foreign markets accepted it.

Monsanto's "Roundup Ready" wheat, which would be the first genetically modified wheat in the world, is under review by the U.S. and Canadian governments and could be approved for commercialization within the next two years.

Critics have said consumer attitudes about genetically modified wheat are so negative that both domestic and foreign buyers are likely to shun all U.S. wheat if it is sold.

Even if the wheat is approved by the United States, Monsanto has promised not to sell it until at least Canada and Japan accept it. The St. Louis-based company said a secure segregation system must also be in place to ensure the separation of genetically modified and traditional wheat.

"We understand this is a sensitive issue and we will get the approvals before we market any of these products," Monsanto wheat expert Michael Doane told a biotech advisory committee that advises the National Association of Wheat Growers, U.S. Wheat Associates and Wheat Export Trade Education Committee.

The new Monsanto wheat has been engineered to withstand herbicide so weed control is easier for farmers. The United States is the world's largest producer of biotech crops. Corn and soybeans are its biggest sellers.

The USDA said Monsanto may have to meet certain requirements if and when the government approves the product.

U.S. wheat exporters currently sell their wheat to foreign markets with a USDA-approved statement saying no biotech wheat is commercialized in the United States.

"If we are going to continue to issue a statement, we need assurances that statement is correct," said David Shipman, deputy administrator for the USDA's Federal Grain Inspection Service.

USDA is considering a proposal to require that Monsanto submit to independent audits "from the top all the way down" to ensure no biotech wheat was being sold, Shipman said.

The company would also have to sign a statement before every marketing year that it would not commercialize the genetically modified wheat. And Monsanto would need to provide information so DNA testing could be conducted by USDA.

Monsanto could face felony charges if it knowingly violates any of these proposals, Shipman said. Monsanto said it was too early to comment on USDA's proposal.

Monsanto field-tested Roundup Ready wheat on 35 acres (14.16 hectares) in the United States last spring. Doane said it would plant some this year in Montana, North Dakota, and perhaps Idaho.

Growers and environmental groups last week filed a petition with the USDA demanding a moratorium on the Monsanto wheat.

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