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Opinions Sun, 17 Oct 2010

Why Kofi Annan's "Green Wash" In Africa Does Not Wash!

Part One.Feature Article

By Nana akyea Mensah, The Odikro.

http://twitter.com/TheOdikro

Introduction: "Father of GM Food" Receives a TKO on BBC's "One Planet"?

LISTEN BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE!

"The father of GM foods, bolivian seeds and wildebeest



Dr Roger Beachy, the father of GM foods on scientific ignorance and our

moral obligations

Read full summary ,

ListenDuration:

28 minutes"

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00b2rgn

By way of introduction, I would like very much to hurriedly draw your

attention to this programme, and pray, you make it a point not to miss it,

while it is available.The accuracy or otherwise of the following

transcription is still verifiable. Currently running on the website of the

BBC is an important humiliation of the arrogant "Monsanto scientists"

President Obama seems to rely upon to take charge of US Department of Food

and Agriculture. You may want to call it the most up-to-date public debate

(last broadcast, Sun 10 Oct 2010, available to listen online for a few more

days) on allowing genetically modified organisms into our food chain.

Another claim one can successfully make about this debate is the fact that

it brought together, some of the best brains on the opposing sides of the

issue in a broadcast that was beamed to millions of people across the globe.

I have decided to write about this as an introduction to a special focus on

the threat of GMO invasion on the African continent. The reason why I

urgently want to bring this out is because even though I have improvised a

transcription, owing to the importance of the issue the debate covers, it is

still possible to listen to the discussion online. It goes off forever after

a few days!

On "One Planet", a BBC World Service "Factual and Science and Nature

Programme", Dr. Roger Beachy, the man reputed to have made the first

genetically food crop, also described by the presenter as "the father of GM

Food", "the man appointed by Barack Obama to head the National Institute of

Food and Agriculture" (www.csrees.usda.gov), answers the following question

from BBC's Mike Williams. I like very much the style of the presenter. He

takes his time to let his listeners know the experience and qualifications

of the people he is interviewing. To Dr. Beachy he asks:

"You have been called 'the father of GM food' how does that feel like?", Dr.

Beachy confirms with admirable humility, "But then so have a number of other

people, I am one of the members of the club, I guess, of those of us who

adopted the science nearly twenty five years ago. And I was privileged

enough to be at the right place at the right time with the right idea."

"And with the help of the company, Monsanto, you made the first genetically

modified food crop?" Mike wants us to know whom he is talking to,

"We did, successfully," Dr. Beachy's answer is in the affirmative, "and

then had the first field trial of genetically engineered food plant, that

was a tomato that was resistant to a virus disease. The field trial was held

in 1987."

Then comes the long-awaited question:

"Does it bother you that there is resistance, people are scared, some

people, are scared of this technology, concerned about it?"

Here is Dr. Beachy's answer:

"You know, there is a recent article that was published about why people

make decisions about accepting cell-phone technology, or driving a fast

car,, or GM crops, or having a vaccine for measles. And there are always

some who will choose against all facts, against all knowledge, simply not to

participate for some other reason, reason in their hearts, in their heads,

in their souls, they choose not based on science. so, maybe you want to turn

the question around. How have they taken those attitudes, where do those

attitudes come from?

"If they hold those attitudes strongly and honestly," an obviously surprised

Mike Williams would only mildly ask, "It's, I'm sure, you would accept that

it's not your job, not trying to change that?"

"Exactly right," Dr. Beachy responds, "the job of the scientist is to

discover new solutions. What we would hope is that decisions that are made

by the public are based upon their knowledge and understanding of the

science. And, clearly, we know that that is not happening in many cases. We

know in the case of vaccines, that some people simply wont take vaccines for

reasons that are not based on science but for something else."

"Forgive me, if I..." Mike tries to intervene without success.

"Then on the other hand, we know that people will not take new food, who

will not accept a new food variety because they believe that it should be

grown in a certain way. And I think those decision-making process is often

in the absence of science. Now, one could say that, perhaps, we should have

started fifty years ago, and maintained our level of science education, so

that when new facts come along, it would be more understood and so forth,

but we haven't done that."

At this stage, I simply can't wait to bring you with me to Mike, back in

London, inside the laboratory of Dr. Michael Antoniou, as a molecular

geneticist, surely a man no one can call a "scientific illiterate", whose

opposition to GM food is not only "based on science", but also has a ring of

credibility completely absent in Dr. Beachy's hocus pocus on the reasons why

there is resistance to the attempts to impose GM crops on the world. What

makes the rebuttal of Dr. Antoniou so sweet is not simply because he happens

to be an expert in the field, but also the manner in which he tears the

arguments of Dr. Roger Beachy and Mr. Jack Bobo, "Senior Advisor for

Bio-Technology in the US Department of State.". So, I continue with the

interview in Washington before we come back to London.

"Can I just bring you back to that reference to vaccines which the science

shows to be beneficial to them? what you can then do is to put the vaccine

in the water and I think one of those arguments people make about GM crops

is that there are concerns that those genes would spread and end up

ingesting genetically modified material. That is what they are concerned

about."

"You know," Dr. Beachy replies, "I gave a talk in Dublin a number of years

ago, and a young man was really, really concerned about potatoes. And we

said we were mostly talking about corn and cotton. He said the corn pollen

would contaminate the potato. He didn't know that the corn pollen couldn't

pollinate potato. Which gets us back the issue of illiteracy about science.

It is very easy to promote fear and distrust when there is lack of knowledge

in those who are reading or listening. So in the case of cross-pollination

as issue, if you had a guy who was exporting organic weet corn, and somebody

next door is producing commercial corn for cows and other uses, the sweet

corn has a different pollination time than does the commercial corn. So, the

chances for contamination in that example are non-existent or can be managed

very nicely. If the farmer, that is, one or the other, says I am going to

plant my crop a little bit later, then, yes, there is no cross-pollination.

My point is by knowing about the biology of organisms and how they are

grown, one can find ways that side-by-side, we can have a safe organic

production or commercial production and bio-tech,. It is straight science

knowledge and the inability not to vilify but to get along with each

other."

"Joining us here is Jack Bobo, Senior Advisor for Bio-Technology, US

Department of State," Mike turns his attention to Jack Bobo, "Erm, Mr.

Bobo," Mike asks, "can I just ask you about United States policy? I mean, it

seems clear that the United States is interested in promoting genetically

modified food world-wide, tell me why?"

"Actually, I would say that the United States is interested in promoting

agriculture world-wide, and bio-technology just happens to be one of those.

We promote organic agriculture, and bio-technology. But as an export issue

and as a development issue, I think there is a particular importance though,

trying to address the issue of acceptance of bio-technology both from a

farmer perspective, and consumer perspective."

"I wonder whether you would agree", Mike fires, "that, we are, in the West,

exporting Western consumerism to the rest of the world, and the GM crops is,

perhaps, an attempt to export a solution to that particular problem?"

"The fact is, we need a double food production between now and 2050. that is

a huge challenge." Mr. Bobo confidently explains, "Climate change means

there is going to be a 27% decline in productivity. We need to double

production and we have declining productivity. How are we going to do about

that? And so we need all the technology that are available in order to do

that, and so the developing world desperate need of technologies that are

going to reduce the variability of yields, and that would allow them to

produce their own food. this is not about exporting consumerism. This is

about production and self-sufficiency."

"I would like to add," Dr. Beachy interjects, "that I think this is an area

that the developed nations must collaborate on. This partnership in

knowledge sharing and in building the ability of countries to feed

themselves is our responsibility, it's your responsibility, and should be

based on science. It should not be based on a demonization of technology per

se. It should be based on the best science that meets the needs of the

world. And I think that is a responsibility that goes beyond philosophy,

whether it is GM, organic, or conventional. It becomes a moral obligation of

not feeding people but educating them so that they can feed themselves."

"Do yo think that the technology has been demonized?" Mike asks.

"I think it has been, largely." Dr. Beachy replied. "In our country, it has

been demonized because it is a way to value something else more. An organic

product costs more than conventional product. That 20, 25, maybe even in a

hundred per cent premium on an organic banana compared to conventional,

allows somebody to make more money. It is about finances in that case. And I

would like to see this come down to what is safer for the environment, safer

for people, and more economic so that those who don't have as much as you

and I have, sitting here around this table, with a biscuit and a cup of tea,

can say that the woman who has less, has the same capabilities of feeding

herself and her kids, as we do sitting around the table. And I think that's

only going to come when we adopt the safest and best technologies of

whatever type, to help to make things happen. And then we can put that

responsibility behind."

"Some of the problems you are fighting to overcome through genetically

modified food seem to many, to have come about because of monoculture and

that monoculture has caused the problem and that GM monoculture isn't going

to provide the solution."

"Modern agriculture is by definition a monoculture." Dr. Beachy would

surrender no grounds, "You can drive around through - I love driving through

- the southern parts of England and watching the fields of wheat. That is

monoculture. Don't pretend it's not. But don't blame that on GM, blame it on

modern, high output agriculture. The wheat is cheap because we grew them in

the wheat fields. Our beef isn't expensive because they grow a lot of corn

in large monoculture so that we can feed at lower cost than if we had it in

small plots. So, it is agriculture that you are talking about. You are not

talking about GMOs or conventional agriculture."

Thus it was that my hopes that this could be an opportunity to hear what I

needed to know to understand the best and the most current argument making

the case for GM food passed by in vain. Unfortunately, instead of squarely

confronting the real issues surrounding the biology, politics, and the

economics of GM technology the advocates only insult our intelligence. If I

was looking for any insight or argument that would have effectively

addressed my own apprehensions about GM crops, I was alarmingly

disappointed. Dr. Beachy is no doubt a brilliant geneticist, but as an

advocate of his wares, he is certainly not the best in town. The fundamental

choice of ignoring the highly informed and science-based opposition to the

current push to promote genetically modified organisms into our food chain

with lower and lower restrictions, and the erosion of the precautionary

measures installed to safeguard against possible hazards must be rightly

considered a crime against humanity.

I call on all the people's of the world to uphold the precautionary approach

contained in Principle 15 of the "Rio Declaration on environment and

Development" as relates to the current uncertainties surrounding GMOs. The

principle states:

"Lack of scientific certainty due to insufficient relevant scientific

information and knowledge regarding the extent of the potential adverse

effects of an LMO on biodiversity, taking into account risks to human

health, shall not prevent a Party of import from taking a decision, as

appropriate, with regard to the import of the LMO in question, in order to

avoid or minimize such potential adverse effects." Annex III on risk

assessment, which notes that "Lack of scientific knowledge or scientific

consensus should not necessarily be interpreted as indicating a particular

level of risk, an absence of risk, or an acceptable risk." (Article 10.6 and

11.8).

I was expecting answers that go beyond questions raised by advocates of GMO

particularly in Africa, such as summarized in the following abstract: "Even

after more than 15 years of the emergence of modern biotechnology in

agriculture, much of Africa remains reluctant if not hostile to it. Some

view modern biotechnology as the new messiah to lift Africa from starvation

and food insecurity while others hold the contrary view and advise Africa to

stay away from the technology for reasons ranging from health and

environmental concerns to economic considerations. They fear that the

unfolding ‘gene revolution’ is destined to fail on its promises because of

the existing complex economic, social, and political circumstances in Africa

as was the case in the green revolution." (Presented at the SIEL 2010

Conference in Barcelona., Birhanu, Fikremarkos Merso, Biotechnology and the

Future of Africa’s Agriculture (June 30, 2010). Society of International

Economic Law (SIEL), Second Biennial Global Conference, University of

Barcelona, July 8-10, 2010. Available at SSRN:

http://ssrn.com/abstract=1633009)

In his response to the question, "Does it not bother you that there is

resistance, people are scared, some people, are scared of this technology,

concerned about it?" Dr. Beachy chose to blame the resistance to what he

calls "scientific illiteracy". Said Dr. Beachy:

"You know, there is a recent article that was published about why people

make decisions about accepting cell phone technology, or driving a fast car,

or GM crops,or having a vaccine for measles, and there are some who wil

choose against all facts, against all knowledge, simply not to participate

for some other reasons, reason in their hearts, in their heads, in their

souls, they choose, not based on science. So maybe, you want to turn the

question around. How have they taken those attitudes? Where do they come

from?"

It is a pity that Dr. Beachy had clearly not read Crossed Crocodiles, "Why

Is Kofi Annan Fronting For Monsanto? GMO Assault On

Africa".

If he had done that, he would have been ably to give a more intelligent

response, or at least one that is not as stupid and insultingly arrogant, as

as this one. I am not a geneticist, and I do not cease to be amazed by the

brilliant contributions to knowledge particularly in fighting disease, but I

bet I know where my concerns about GM food are coming from! These have

nothing to do with "scientific illiteracy"! They are coming from the bitter

experiences of over twenty five thousand farmers in India who committed

suicide with Monsanto''s pesticides after being misled into the believing

that genetically modified cotton was the key to higher yields and bigger

profits.

They are coming from reports that scientists working for Monsanto refused to

drink the milk that they themselves had helped to invent. As Jeffrey M.

Smith puts it, "former Monsanto scientist said that after company scientists

conducted safety studies on bovine growth hormone, all three refused to

drink any more milk, unless it was organic and therefore not treated with

the drug. They feared the substantial increase of insulin-like growth factor

1 (IGF-1) in the drugged milk. IGF-1 is a significant risk factor for

cancer." - Monsanto: The world's poster child for corporate manipulation and

deceit, Friday, July 30, 2010.

http://www.naturalnews.com/029325_Monsanto_deception.html.

Our fears also come from the fact that GMOs remain inside of us. "The only

published human feeding study revealed that even after we stop eating GMOs,

harmful GM proteins may be produced continuously inside of us; genes

inserted into Monsanto's GM soy transfer into bacteria inside our intestines

and continue to function.(64) If Bt genes also transfer, eating corn chips

might transform our intestinal bacteria into living pesticide factories."

"Un-recallable contamination: In spite of the enormous health dangers, the

environmental impacts may be worse still. That is because we don't have a

technology to fully clean up the contaminated gene pool. The

self-propagating genetic pollution released into the environment from

Monsanto's crops can outlast the effects of climate change and nuclear

waste."

For Dr. Beachy to simply brush all these legitimate, and many more

science-based concerns aside, with the ridiculous claim that opposition to

the acceptance of GM crops in our food chain is largely based upon our

ignorance is the cheapest way to avoid the hard questions which tip the

debate against GMOs. What makes this particular programme very interesting

is the fact that the "One Planet" also interviewed a molecular geneticist,

Dr Michael Antoniou, Kings College London (www.kcl.ac.uk). The beauty of

this lies in the fact that Dr. Antoniou is himself a genetic engineer and as

such can not be deemed to be "scientifically illiterate".

"Dr. Antoniou, what is it do you do here?" The question was asked whilst

inside a laboratory of King's College, where Dr. Antoniou works.

"What we do in my research group", Dr. Antoniou responds, "is to investigate

fundamental mechanisms of how human gene systems are controlled, and then we

exploit those discoveries to design safe and efficacious gene units to be

used within a therapeutic context, within a human gene therapy context, for

treating for example, inherited diseases such as immune deficiencies,

thalassemia, sickle disease, cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy, and so

on."

"The people who create GM crops use very similar techniques to yours,

different applications though, are you comfortable with that?"

"I am not comfortable at all with the way that GM is being used in

agriculture". Dr. Antoniou answer categorically, "because compared to what

we do in a clinical context, where not only research is done under contained

genes, they are non-replicated. They can't reproduce and spread and cause

harm. In agriculture the same technique is used in open fields, the organism

can spread in an uncontrolled way and we suffer with the consequences of

that forever."

"You use this technology to device medical therapy to help people to live

longer and healthier lives, to keep more of us on the planet for longer,

what is wrong with other scientists using these same techniques to fed those

extra millions and billions? They say - you heard the argument - that

there was a need, a moral moral obligation?", Dr. Antoniou responds:

"Indeed, the world has a moral obligation to feed itself. What is invariably

ignored by advocates of GM crops in explaining why almost a billion of

people in the world go to bed, each day, hungry, is that actually, we have

more than enough food to feed everybody now. In fact, we have have doubled

the amount of food to feed everybody in the world now, but people don't have

access to food. And in terms of meeting future food needs, specifically in

the face of climate change, then the latest United Nations Food and

Agriculture Organisation sponsored report clearly pointed that the future in

meeting future food needs lie in applying agro-ecological methods. They said

that genetic engineering would play little or no role in meeting immediate

food needs of the world and future food needs of the world. Which is why the

Americans were not signatory. But 62 other nations, actually signed up,

including the UK, signed up to that report. We have to take on board, the

report compiled by 400 independent scientists from around the world, in all

manner of expertise and discipline, which said go forward with low-input,

agro-ecological, sustainable agriculture, not GM, because GM simply does not

fit the bill."

We shall be focusing on Bolivai and the GMO debate soon. This is what I

call, a "technical knock-out"! And the winner is... Bravo! Dr. Michael

Antoniou!!! Thanks, Mike, and the BBC for this eye-opener!

Forward Ever! Backwards Never!!!

Cheers!



Nana Akyea Mensah, The Odikro

Twitter: /twitter.com/TheOdikro,

Blogs: Feature Articles: nanaakyeamensah.blogspot.com,

Comments: theodikro.blogspot.com)

Columnist: Mensah, Nana Akyea