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August 20, 2000


GM crop production in developing countries


AgBioView - http://www.agbioworld.org, http://agbioview.listbot.com

As a newcomer to the present debate I was pleased to start by reading the
robust views of Tony Trewavas.

However, Tony does not go far enough with his declared contempt for
Greenpeace and FOE (and the rest) trying to impose their crop-yield-reducing
views globally. At least they believe what they preach, however mistaken.
There may be a far nastier anti-GMO agenda out there, related to global food
trade and the transfer of technology. It depends on the quite contrasting
economic interests of transnational companies and the state. Try this

1) GMO agricultural technology is increasingly in the hands of transnational
companies (the Monsantos etc.).
2) These characteristically export agricultural technology from their base
in developed countries.
3) This relatively minor-value export of seed technology (millions of
dollars) allows crop production increases in developing countries which
threatens the far bigger-value exports of crops from developed countries
(who characteristically subsidize their farmers and need to export billions
of dollars value of crop surpluses).
4) Anti-GM scare-mongering in developing countries by foreign NGOs is
therefore a rational attempt to protect home agriculture and its exports
(and even if only partly successful, should attract substantial funds -
presumably indirectly - from the state and other export interests).

Simply, this is transnational Luddism: smash up developing technology abroad
to protect your own production and export interests. In particular,
desperately try to stop your own national technology being exported to
potential competitors. In contrast to this transnational Luddism, the type
examples of Luddism in England two centuries ago, in weaving and
agriculture, were national. Luddism failed to protect hand-workers then
because the looming threat of foreign mechanized/low-cost competition - from
Germany in weaving and N. America for grain - forced England to go high-tech
or go under, lose exports, or even have to import, as happened eventually
anyway for cotton-goods and wheat (the latter now reversed by high use of
inorganic fertilizer). GMOs in developing countries are a target because a
combination of high (imported) GM technology, relatively cheap labour and/or
land, and sound national science will increase national crop production and
directly threaten the crop exports of developed countries. India meets these
conditions and should expect to be a special target for transnational
Luddism over GM technology.

Possible examples:

A: `Terminator' seed: a genetic protection system that would encourage
transnational agbiotech companies to export wheat seed technology to India,
Brazil etc. Scare-mongering by a Canadian `prairie' NGO - Canada exports 80%
of its wheat.

B: GM nematode resistance in potatoes. NGO attacks on Bolivian plans to
introduce this for peasant agriculture. Inevitable (and planned??) result,
greater losses of staple crop, greater food imports (and wheat is the most
overproduced/traded crop globally).

C: Transgenic cotton in India. There is a huge demand for raw cotton ($1+
billion) in e.g. Indonesia. There are three main sources of exportable
cotton: South-Central Asia (still a bit beyond the influence of
transnational NGOs); India; and the US. If NGOs in India can be induced to
attack national productivity-increasing GMO technology, there could be
substantial benefits to the other cotton exporters.

There is nothing new with scare-mongering to protect exports. Any attempt by
Brazil to increase its soya and wheat area (in inevitable competition with
Northern exports) is met by howls from foreign environmentalists about
threats to the Amazon Rain Forest. Some of these howls may be from genuine
concern, but how can we sort out the stooges? And who pays? Genuine NGOs may
have to do some house-cleaning, and no longer accept funds (with strings?)
from vested interests.

Rationality and facts have little to do with it. The Green Revolution is
still massively under attack from those located in North America and Europe
and overconsumers everywhere for every environmental and social sin
imaginable, but it has saved a billion ha of land (and all that wild
biodiversity) and fed a billion+ people in developing countries. The
well-fed don't want to know. Ditto for the potential of GM food.

We must accept that the situation has changed since a fine body of crop
scientists, notably from the US, worked with national scientists to increase
food production in developing countries. Other interests now have the ear of
politicians and the international transfer of GM crop technology will be
given a rough ride.

Dave Wood,
12a Prospect Row,
Kent ME7 5AL

tel. +44 (0)1634 827455