Presentation on theme: "GM foods in their political and scientific context Erik Millstone February 2013."— Presentation transcript:
GM foods in their political and scientific context Erik Millstone February 2013
My briefing asked: 1)how did we arrive at the current top-down approach to agricultural science and technology? And 2)Why have technological solutions become increasingly dominant over the decades?
3) Why have technologies with evident adverse effects on public and environmental health, animal welfare and been allowed to dominate northern food production? and 4) Are we […in danger of…] imposing this failed system on the rest of the world without any meaningful consultation?
Outline answers: Industrialisation in eg the UK and continental Europe required rapid increases in food availability from a diminished domestic agricultural workforce, when reliance on imports was problematic, both economically and militarily.
In the USA, the influx of European immigrants mostly settled in cities and worked in manufacturing, so in 1862 Congress passed the Homestead Act (65 acres for a home and 5 years labour and $10) and the Land Grant Act, creating colleges to develop agricultural science and technology, and to diffuse new innovations.
In the colonies, agricultural policy focussed on feeding the colonialists and exporting cash crops ‘mother’ countries, eg UK, France, Spain, Portugal & the Netherlands. In all those contexts, governments invested public funds in promoting agricultural science and technology for yield increasing and cost reducing innovations; they were remarkably successful – in the short-run.
But those technology-push policies, in combination with market liberalisation, contributed to exacerbate price volatility and intermittent disruptive rural impoverishment. But wars change policies. During both World Wars, and since 1945, governments of industrialised countries have intervened to stabilise domestic food prices, maintain domestic farm incomes, and exploit overseas suppliers.
One dominant tactic has been to subsidise R&D for domestic productivity enhancing and cost reducing technologies, and similar tactics for exported cash crops in UDCs. Eg ARC, AFRC, BBSRC, MAFF & DEFRA. They define(d) problems in terms of scarcity and production. They neglected R&D for UDCs’ domestic self-reliance/self-sufficiency.
Those policies have been beneficial for, and so endorsed by, plant and animal breeders and ag. supply companies, agrichemical corps., agricultural machinery suppliers and the oil companies. As well as the large food processors and retailers. But they have done nothing to reduce domestic poverty or hunger in UDCs.
Those policies and innovations have had numerous adverse effects on public and environmental health, as well as contributing to poverty in developing countries. Eg ‘we will import your raw coffee beans, but not instant coffee’.
In liberalised markets, the costs of those adverse effects have been (as economists say) ‘externalised’, ie they do not directly affect the prices earned by producers or paid by consumers, so those problems have often been ignored or discounted. The rural poor, the flora and fauna are not powerful constituencies. They need the support of others, eg PINGOs, to help influence policies, even if only marginally.
The second set of questions are: 3. Why have technologies with very clear negative effects for health, the environment, animal welfare and the economy been allowed to dominate northern food production? and 4. Are we in danger of imposing this failed system on the rest of the world without any meaningful consultation?
The illusion that problems in the global food system are mainly ‘supply side’ problems is deeply engrained in incumbent institutions and authorities. The myth persists despite the fact that there is more than enough food in the world to feed everyone, and over the past 200 years aggregate food supplies have consistently grown more rapidly than total population. Malthusianism has been mistaken and refuted, but it fails to die. It is a ‘zombie’ ideology.
Solving problems of hunger in the UDCs is routinely mis-represented as problems of scarcity, to which only increased production can provide solutions. Cf The Green Revolution and now eg WEMA & DTMA. Although recently instead of just talking about intensifying production, the phrase ‘sustainable intensification’ has emerged; though it too misunderstand the ‘demand- side’ issues: poverty and landlessness.
An alternative ‘demand-side’ view implies that there is a need for eg land redistribution in UDCs, but that is ‘politics’, which is controversial and contested, so the incumbent powers prefer ‘technological solutions’. They do not threaten incumbent institutions, even if they may be ineffective or counter- productive.
The industrialised countries have been imposing (or trying to impose) high technological solutions on to the UDCs via, eg The World Bank, the CGIAR, the G8/G20. The same trajectories are now supported by eg the BMGF. Those approaches are however contested by eg the UN CFS, farmers groups such as Via Campesina, the Food Sovereignty Movement, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food and PINGOs in both the South and the North.
The attempt to persuade UDCs to accept and adopt GM foods has recently run into considerable problems in eg China, India and Kenya. Even though China and India had accepted varieties of GM cotton, they are far more cautious about GM foods.
In China, there has been very heavy public investment in GM crop technology, alongside a deep distrust of eg the USA, the EU and Monsanto. Much of the initial investment went on cotton and tobacco. Subsequently more focus on soya, rice, wheat, maize, potato, cabbage and tomato. But there are high levels of resistance from domestic critics, esp. after melamine in milk etc. The Chinese government is peering over the precipice, hesitantly and anxiously…
In India, more than 380 varieties of GM cotton are being cultivated, and while productivity has risen, impacts in incomes have been uneven (cf Matthew Effect). When it came to GM foods, the first to be approved was an aubergine, aka ‘Bt brinjal’, produced by an India-US industrial collaboration. In 2008 Mahyco applied for consent for the commercial release of Bt Brinjal.
Initially the Indian government agreed, on advice from GEAC. But that provoked a massive debate about the possible risks to public and environmental health, and to the livelihoods of poor farmers, as well as about the limits of the GEAC review. In Oct 2009 the Minister for Environment and Forests revoked the proposed consent, and demanded more information and far more careful testing. Mayhco asked: how much more? But the Indian government has not yet answered.
More recently, in India, an expert panel advising the Supreme Court, recommended a 10-year moratorium of GM foods. Little clarity, but much rhetoric, can be expected this side of the 2014 Indian General Election.
Kenyan agriculture policies have been dominated by a supply-side productionist paradigm, and a focus on feeding the towns and cities, with blame for chronic rural hunger being ascribed to climate change and a lack of ‘modernisation’. The Kenyan government consistently appeared enthusiastic about GM crops, and adopted legislation to regulate GM crops, despite widespread opposition from local PINGOs.
On 21 st Nov. 2012, the Kenyan Ministry of Public Health ordered public health officials to remove all genetically modified (GM) foods on the market and to enforce a ban on GM imports. The minister recommended an immediate ban on GM imports and products in Kenya citing the work by Seralini et al in September 2012 that linked cancer in rats to the consumption of GM foods. The Kenyan Medical Research Institute, supported the ban and President Kibaki accepted the recommendation. Few decisions will be made before the March general election.
A cabinet meeting chaired by Kenya's president, Mwai Kibaki…[8 November 2012]…directed the public health minister to ban GMO imports until the country is able to certify that they have no negative impact on people's health. In a statement to the press, the cabinet said there was a "lack of sufficient information on the public health impact of such foods". (emphasis added: http://www.scidev.net/en/sub-suharan- africa/news/scientists-torn-over-kenya-s-recent- gm-food-ban-1.htmlhttp://www.scidev.net/en/sub-suharan- africa/news/scientists-torn-over-kenya-s-recent- gm-food-ban-1.html
In short, there is a lot of pressure on the UDCs to accept and adopt GM crops, but there is also a lot of resistance, and a great deal of official hesitation.