Globalization and Geneticallyt Engineered Organisms
The globalization war is heating up.............
Globalization and GMOs
by TOM HAYDEN
[The Nation June 23, 2003]
With the end of the Iraq war, the globalization war is heating up around
again, this time over the issue of genetically modified food. George W.
is once more attacking "Old Europe," claiming that it is denying food to
starving Africans, after several African countries declined US aid in the
of genetically modified food out of concern that it might taint their own
crops, thus making them unsalable in Europe. And once again the United
is opposing a United Nations approach, this time in the form of the
Protocol on Biosafety, signed by more than 100 nations, which establishes
rules to regulate GMOs.
Bush's trade representative, Robert Zoellick, has lodged a formal complaint
with the World Trade Organization (WTO) against European policies that
GMO consumer labeling. Zoellick says he is out of patience with those picky
European eaters who spread unfounded fears in the developing world about
Will America's independent farmers and consumers be the next to be smeared
"soft on the French"? Not likely, when the question is the right to know
what's in the food you eat.
The debate over corporate globalization prompted a June 1 protest by
around the G-8 meetings in Évian, France. That debate will grow louder June
23-25 in Sacramento at a US-sponsored extravaganza promoting biotechnology
the US corporate agenda in advance of fall WTO meetings in Cancún, Mexico,
of officials' negotiating the FTAA--an extension of NAFTA to Latin
Miami. The invitees to Sacramento are trade and agriculture ministers from
countries. Critics of corporate dominance of world agriculture will fight
inclusion in the closed official sessions while protesting on the outside.
US officials were stung by sharp criticism at the June 2002 UN meeting in
Rome, which called for cutting the number of the world's hungry in half by
2015, from some 800 million to 400 million. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan
wants to double aid to poor nations, but the United States is failing to do
its part, committing just 0.13 percent of its gross national product,
one-third the level of Europe's contribution. In addition, the Bush
Administration insists that aid recipients accept deregulation and
privatization and import GMO food from American farmers and corporations.
"For better or worse, we were right," is the cryptic summary of US
Secretary Ann Veneman of the past decade's attempts to force GMOs into the
marketplace without consumer labeling or adequate testing. At the
state agricultural agency, which Veneman ran before becoming Bush's point
person on biotechnology, there is still only one staff position to review
applications for biotech projects every year.
Veneman, who is hosting the Sacramento conference, is a former director of
Calgene (swallowed by Monsanto and now part of Pharmacia), the biotech
that heralded the world's first genetically altered food, the Flavr Savr
tomato. By removing a gene "that hastens the breakdown of tomato flesh,"
Calgene promised chemical ripening that would make the flavor last all the
to distant shelves. But then anti-biotech activist Jeremy Rifkin mobilized
public opinion, Campbell Soup pulled out of an agreement to use the
and the Flavr Savr was abandoned.
Like Zoellick, the industry blames consumers for falling for what lobbyists
call "environmental technophobia." US corn exporters like Monsanto claim to
lose $300 million annually because of Europe's resistance to unlabeled
But the "phobia" grows from the logical suspicion that an industry opposed
labels must have something to hide. Otherwise, why deny consumers a right
informed choice in the marketplace?
In addition to opposing labeling, Veneman is campaigning against any
acceptance of the "precautionary principle" by international bodies. The
precautionary principle, once endorsed by Bush's recently departed
environmental czar, Christine Whitman, allows countries to regulate
and GMOs on the basis of "better safe than sorry" risk assessments. The
principle, embodied in California's Proposition 65, adopted in 1986, shifts
the burden of proof to corporations for proving that a given chemical is
As one current example of the dangers of unregulated biotechnology, federal
officials are nearing approval of a transgenic species of Atlantic salmon
spliced with hormones to make it grow five times faster than normal.
have antifreeze genes thrown in to allow them to abide icy ocean water.)
project raises outraged cries from commercial fishermen, who believe the
larger Frankenfish will decimate wild species of salmon with their precious
genetic inheritance, which has evolved over millennia. Not to miss a buck
the novelty market, there are even plans to create glow-in-the-dark fish
koi that change colors.
Despite the Flavr Savr failure and the Frankenfish scare, the US corporate
prescriptions might be taken more seriously if the United States were a
of food security. But 36 million Americans lack enough food, mainly because
Food First's Anuradha Mittal, a lead critic of the Sacramento biotech
reminds her audiences that the so-called Green Revolution of the 1970s and
'80s may have increased food production but did not reduce the number of
starving people if the figures exclude China, which reduced hunger, Mittal
said, primarily through state-sponsored land reforms. In some villages in
native India, she says, every farmer has sold a kidney to feed his family,
some, in despair, commit suicide by consuming the pesticides they were told
use on their fields. Mittal is equally cynical about a corporate biotech
revolution. The state of Punjab, she laments, produces pet food for Europe
the state of Haryana grows tulips for export to pay off international debts
instead of building local agriculture.
Some of the strongest opposition in Sacramento will be from the global
the very countries the biotech advocates claim to be saving. While some
organizations are willing to bow to even more deregulation in exchange for
trade niches, the growing consensus among most Southern advocates is that
attempts to push GMOs as a condition of food aid (or HIV assistance) should
resisted and any expansion of WTO control prevented. A counterforce to the
"Washington consensus" is springing up, especially in Latin America, where
percent live in poverty and the number of unemployed workers has doubled in
ten years. In Brazil, the million members of the Landless Workers Movement
grow their own food--using the precautionary principle--while occupying
in a tacit alliance with the new president, Luiz Inácio "Lula" da Silva.
example is spreading.
The fight over GMO food is a major part of the battle against US efforts to
dictate policy on all aspects of international trade and development. Does
United States have the power to impose trade terms favorable to itself on
thirty-four Latin American countries with 800 million people, producing
than $11 trillion in goods and services? That is what will be debated in
Sacramento and fought out in Cancún and Miami. Get ready: The empire is
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