DAILY News newspaper of January 25, 2017 carried two articles hyping genetically modified (GM) technology. One was titled: “Why GMO tech is ideal in crop production” and another “Bio-safety committee upbeat of crop technology”.
The views expressed in both articles leaves a lot to be desired. While first article describes GMO tech as ideal, 44,000 documents of biotech’s own scientists forced to be made public through a lawsuit in the United States revealed that GM technology is hazardous and far from ‘ideal.’
But, the industry chose to hide the truth from the public for self-interest. In the United States of America, thousands of doctors presently prescribe non-GMO diets to their patients while the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) has urged all doctors to do likewise, asking the government to “put in place a moratorium on GM food and implementation of immediate long-term safety testing and labelling of GM foods and urging Physicians to educate their patients, the medical community and public to avoid GM foods.”
In India, there has been a dramatic rise in suicides of small-scale farmers since the introduction of GM agriculture due to spiralling debts to the biotech companies, and so far no country in the world, which has tried GMO technology, has anything positive to boast of.
And if biotech companies are confidant of the safety of their technology, why have they recently pressurised the government to rescind the Strict Liability Clause from its statute books to introduce GM field trials in Dodoma – and indeed why has the government agreed to do so?
The law was a crucial safeguard for Tanzanians against possible harms from the use of GM technology. It stated: “....a person who imports, arranges transit, makes use of, releases or places on the market a GMO or a product of a GMO shall be strictly liable for any harm caused by such a GMO and that the harm shall be compensated.
” The Dodoma’s confined trials are actually a huge con-trick as once GM crops are planted, cross-pollination through wind, birds and insects will guarantee the spread of the GMOs well beyond the fields in the ‘confined’ trials.
If GM technology is accepted, the biotech companies will be free to degrade the country’s soils through intensive use of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides which the monoculture agriculture promotes.
According to a statement of November 2013 from the African Centre for Bio-safety (ACB), “..... failed GM corn from Monsanto is now being pushed on African countries (Tanzania, Mozambique, Uganda and Kenya) with help from the Gates Foundation.
This maize, known as MON810, has been grown in South Africa for 15 years, where it has ‘failed miserably.’ The statement further says that, not to waste the seed, Monsanto has donated the MON810 technology to a ‘philanthropic’ venture of the Gates Foundation and Monsanto - Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA), making it royalty-free.
It appears that even the philanthropic agency like Gates Foundation, which has vested interests in the biotech sector, is in league with, or has been hood-winked by, the biotech industry. Remember that there is nothing as free lunch.
Soon, our farmers will be locked into the vicious cycle of struggling to purchase seeds, fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides for killing the super-weeds, which result from the new technology. The referred two articles mentioned the high-ranking officials advocating GMOs in Tanzania.
Other advisors named are from WEMA project, the Open Forum on Agricultural Technology (OFAB) and some members of the Tanzania Bio-safety Committee. These may be impeccable citizens and highly-qualified in their respective fields of study.
But, as advisors to the government in agriculture, especially in GM technology, might have been misled too and not that they are ignorant; not aware of the well-documented havoc that GMO agriculture and GMO foods are presently wreaking around the world, not to mention the various studies conducted by independent scientists all over the globe, concurringly dismissing GMO agriculture as a “risk not worth taking.
” Introduction of GM technology is in effect turning Tanzania’s 50 million plus people into guinea pigs, or perhaps even worse. Since the dangers of GM foods are already known, is this decision to allow GM trials in Tanzania not in fact a sentence of incremental poverty, ill-health and even death to the citizens?
In addition to the great land and water give-away to multinational companies and foreign states which our government has blindly pursued over the past 30 years and which has led to land conflicts in many areas between small-scale farmers and agri-business, the wellestablished farming techniques which have been proven over centuries to be suitable to climate and culture will be sacrificed and even outlawed, under the biotech regime.
The tradition of all farmers saving seeds from one year to plant and harvest the following year will be effectively criminalised and small-scale subsistence farmers obliged to buy GM seeds from the biotech companies every year as they can only be used for a single season.
All fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides will need to be bought from the same companies as the only effective inputs on GM crops. So, why is the government prepared to risk the future health and economic well-being of the nation and in return facilitate multinational food and agrochemical corporations to rake in massive profits through the total take-over of the nation’s agricultural production? What led Tanzanian officials to ignore the solid, independent scientific warnings against GMOs and instead embrace the pro-GMO propaganda?
Just how safe are GM foods for us and our children? And why was it necessary for the biotech companies to carry out trials in Tanzania or indeed anywhere, when the UN completed a comprehensive four-year study on GM foods published in April 2008 under the auspices of the UN’s International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) and approved by 58 nations, including Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania?
After four years of practical research, the report supported agro-ecological farming methods and totally shunned GMO technology stating that: “Intellectual property laws surrounding GMOs tend to concentrate ownership in agriculture to the detriment of poor families. In particular, laws which prevent seed-saving reduce food security.
” The report pointed out that GMOs had nothing to offer in reduction of hunger and poverty, improving nutrition, health and rural livelihoods, and facilitating social and environmental sustainability.
The study brought together over 900 participants of whom 400 were top-ranking global scientists drawn from 110 countries. The project was the brainchild of the UN and co-funded by the World Bank, Global Environment Facility, Food and Agricultural Organisation, UN Development Programme, UN Environmental Programme, UN Education, Science and Culture Organisation, and World Health Organisation. Some biotech companies also funded the study.
They include Monsanto, Syngenta, Unilever, Crop Life International and Association of Global Agrichemical Companies. But, the biotech firms refused to certify the final report as it was against their work and the USA, Canada and Australia, though acknowledging the authenticity of the report, were also not final signatories.
Former US Medical Science Advisor, Dr Lawrence Plumee, condemned his government’s approval of GMO foods for human consumption without independent testing, saying: “I think this is the most alarming thing I have ever seen in Washington DC, that we would clear new unique products for human consumption without their careful, independent testing, I can only think that money is the reason.
” In Tanzania too, the only plausible reason why legislators and state functionaries could snub the UN report and independent scientists’ warnings against GM crops is probably the monetary motive. How can the nation justify relinquishment of food sovereignty?
To outlaw seed-saving to instead relay totally on foreign, commercial seed purveyors is like colonialism and our proud, small-scale farmers could well find themselves with no alternative but to labour on the large-scale plantations of multinational companies producing GM crops for they cannot afford to cultivate themselves. Is this not a seriously backward step for our nation?
The question which is still crying out for an answer is what data did Tanzania’s agricultural experts present to the government to support their notion of genetic engineering as the viable agricultural science! What material evidence did they have to disprove IAASTD’s findings that GM technology is risky, not worth pursuing?
President John Magafuli has already reversed other decisions and practices by previous administrations. He has, for instance, revived the national airline, which had been allowed to slowly wither away, has reversed the culture of tolerating indiscipline in the work place, has taken serious action to expose and punish the corrupt in public service.
But more importantly, he has halted what could have been potentially colonial-style relationship between Tanzania and European Union through the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA).
I therefore ask Dr Magufuli to lance this GMO boil once and for all by rescinding the decision to allow GM trials in Makotopora in Dodoma. For the sake of your legacy, amongst other reasons. Mr President, please revoke this GMO issue which is a threat to and a betrayal of , the good people of Tanzania.