Tuesday, 20 January 2009

GM – NOT the answer (whatever the question) - by Rianne ten Veen

Though in core GM is playing with genes (an ‘environmental’ issue – though NOT part of natural cross-breeding as it crosses the significant line of mixing species!), it not only has environmental impacts, but also health and very worrying social justice impacts.

The economic liberalisation policies of the IMF and the Worldbank have prevented many poor countries from providing significant support for local agricultural production. The WTO’s Agreement on Agriculture and other trade agreements let large agri-businesses compete against small local producers for access to domestic markets, while prohibiting protection of local markets, driving ever more people into poverty (as poor farmers can’t compete with subsidised imports and go bankrupt).

The Third World Network says “[the prevailing approach] is astonishingly aggressive. It is to force developing country markets open to allow European and American companies to come in and take over their markets. This will damage or destroy local economies, and will lead to even more instability, poverty and hunger” (see: here for a short video)

International civil society organisations, farmers and others who see through the do-good PR-washing know that as a result of decades of agricultural liberalisation, the primary problems we are dealing with today are the result of transforming food “… from something that nourishes people and provides them with secure livelihoods into a commodity for speculation and bargaining” (Bello, Walden. How to manufacture a global food crisis: lessons from the World Bank, IMF. The Nation. June 2, 2008).

So while the number of hungry people grows (as is clear from many recent UN appeals!), profits of agri-business have never been higher: three companies (Cargill, Archer Daniel Midlands (ADM) and Bunge) control the vast majority of global grain trading. All three posted profit increases for 2007, at the beginning of the price hikes, at between 36% and 67% above the preceding year. Bunge alone announced profits for the last quarter of 2007, of 77%, or US $245 million, above the same time period the previous year. And Cargill posted profits for the first quarter of 2008 - at exactly the same time as the food crisis went from serious to life-threatening for millions - at 86% above the same time period last year. Large grain trading companies in Asia are forecasting profit increases of up to 237% (!) for 2008. In an unregulated global ‘free’ market these companies have gained enough market share that their actions can set the direction of global prices and send shockwaves through the entire system.

And it is not just the grain traders at the end of the supply chain who are profiting from this situation, but the agri-business multinationals at the start of the chain as well (and, surprise, surprise, often these are the same companies). Cargill’s Mosaic Corporation, one of the world’s largest fertilizer companies, posted profits for their most recent quarter at USD2.1 bn (!), or 68% above the same quarter a year earlier. Profits at Potash Corporation, the world’s largest potash producer for fertilizers, posted a bottom-line gain of 181% for the first quarter of this year, at the height of the food price surge.

And now these profits are not enough, so to add insult to injury, the bio-tech/ agri-business present themselves as ‘solvers of the food problem’… these are profit-driven corporations not charities and in reality often prevent farmers from planting the local native seeds they have been using for generations (and making the seeds of the GM crops they sell infertile to force farmers to keep buying - click here for a video, just 2.5 minutes)

So while the average family in the UK throws away 450 pounds’ worth of food per year, and the above, it’s clear the world does not have a food problem, we have a hunger problem. So solving our greed and international trade injustices are what we need to look at, NOT giving those that already hold so much of our means of survival (food production) even more opportunities to make us dependent on them, and them to make profit…and the poorest losing first (who already regularly can’t afford food and, as farmers, will be made even more dependent on the global market whims of agri-business)!

Instead, we should take the statement by faith based organisations as shared at the June 2008 UN Food and Agricultural Organisation conference to heart and action on: “We advise caution against ‘short-term’ solutions. A clear focus, respecting the integrity of creation, must be kept on eliminating poverty and unjust social structures, the root causes of hunger. ... We support proactive approaches inspired by ‘food sovereignty’ and the ‘primary right to food’.”

This article has gratefully used data from ‘Food System in Crisis’, Development and Peace, June ’08 (click here for the full document)


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