March 5, 2010
Brussels - Genetically modified (GM) foods appear to be back on the European Union's political menu - thanks to a potato.
Manufactured by the German chemical firm BASF, a potato named Amflora became the first GM crop to be authorized for cultivation by the EU's executive arm, the European Commission, in 12 years Mar. 2.
It is unlikely that the same length of time will elapse before the next such approval is granted by Brussels officials. Files relating to 17 other GM crops - including varieties of maize, oilseed rape and more potatoes - are on those officials' desk and awaiting a formal rubber-stamp.
Although many of the EU's governments are opposed to the introduction of GM foods, the Commission's most powerful representatives have long been eager to resume the approval of new varieties. Last year, it sought unsuccessfully to force France and Greece to ditch moratoriam they had placed on the planting of Mon-810, a corn variety developed by the American multinational Monsanto.
EuropaBio, a group representing the biotechnology industry, notes that some of the crops under consideration in Brussels have been grown in North America for nearly two decades. Willy de Greef, the group's secretary - general, said that food safety authorities have "thoroughly assessed" GM crops and found them to pose no threat. "But this has never stopped some of the anti-GM activists from selling the same old story," he told IPS.
Comment: 'food safety authorities have "thoroughly assessed" GM crops and found them to pose no threat? It would appear that EuropaBio's Willy de Greef is 'selling the same old story' that GM foods 'pose no threat'. Data suggests that there are many threats associated with GM technology. In particular there are several documented health concerns regarding genetically modified organisms or GMO's:
'EuropaBio, a group representing the biotechnology industry' obviously neglected to read the data surrounding the GM controversy, or ignored the science. Several countries in the European Union and around the globe are saying NO to GM technology based on science and research.
BASF, for its part, has wasted no time in announcing that it has developed other types of potatoes, including one resistant to the type of blight widely assumed to have caused a famine that killed one million Irish people - one eighth of the country's inhabitants - in the 19th century.
Claims that GM foods have been scientifically verified as safe and could cure global hunger will be familiar to anyone who has followed the often-heated debate about their effects. The cozy relationship between the scientists happy to give their blessing to these foods and the corporations that have invested heavily in them is not as well known.
Comment: Dr. Jeffery Smith from the Institute for Responsible Technology clearly states in his book, Genetic Roulette:
Industry-funded research is meticulously designed to avoid finding problems... they have bad science down to a science.
Dr. Smith wrote an article recently: The GMO Tipping Point in which he depicts the logic Agriculture policy makers use to promote GMO technology as solution to world hunger:
"The current (United States) Agriculture Secretary, Tom Vilsack, is the latest GMO cheerleader. As Iowa's governor, he gave Monsanto an award in 2000, and the next year was anointed Biotech Governor of the Year by the biotech industry trade organization."
"In October 2009, Vilsack tried to play the "feed the world" card at a conference sponsored by the Community Food Security Coalition. Bad move Tom. The people in the room were actually experts at feeding the world. Attendees included numerous PhDs and eminent scholars, such as the co-chairman and several leading authors of the authoritative IAASTD (International Assessment of Agriculture Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development) report, the world's most comprehensive evaluation of agriculture."
"This crowd knew that GMOs had no answers for world hunger. The IAASTD report, for example, concluded that the current generation of GMOs does not reduce hunger and poverty, does not improve nutrition, and does not facilitate social and environmental sustainability. A comprehensive analysis by the Union of Concerned Scientists concluded that GMOs do not increase yield; in fact, on average they reduce yield. A USDA study showed that farmers' income doesn't increase, and in some cases, it decreases. And it doesn't help the overall economy either. The United States federal government has been spending $3-5 billion per year to prop up the prices of the GM crops no one else wants."
Amflora's approval followed a positive opinion from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in Parma, Italy. Since its inception in 2002, the authority has delivered more than 40 assessments on genetically modified organisms (GMOs), all of them favorable. Its panel on GMOs is chaired by Harry Kuiper, a Dutchman who previously coordinated a scientific research program involving three leading biotech firms Bayer, Monsanto and Syngenta.
Greenpeace agriculture campaigner Marco Contiero complains that 18 of the 21 scientists tasked by EFSA with analyzing applications to plant GM foods are biochemists "with only one or two experts on the environment."
"If we talk about releasing living organisms into the environment, we must have the advice of scientists who know about this," he added. "The problem we have with EFSA is that it doesn't have the means to carry out risk assessments or independent analysis of data submitted by companies."
In relying on EFSA's counsel, the European Commission has glossed over contradictory information provided by other authorities. The World Health Organization and the European Medicines Evaluation Agency have both expressed concerns about issues related to Amflora, which contains a gene resistant to some antibiotics.
While the potato's starch is intended for industrial use - such as in glue manufacturing - biotech firms admit that its by-products are likely to be used for animal feed and could therefore enter the human food chain. Policy-makers on public health have warned that planting antibiotic resistant crops could undermine the effectiveness of several medicines deemed vital in treating diseases that affect humans.
The stakes could be particularly high in the case of Amflora, as it is designed to be resistant to neomycine and kanamycine, two drugs used to treat tuberculosis. Across the world 2 billion people are infected with TB, which takes 2 million lives per year. Yet John Dalli, the EU's new commissioner for public health has defended his authorization of Amflora. He told the TV channel Euronews that that the likelihood of the potato harming efforts to cut TB deaths is "so remote that the assessment is there is no danger at all to human life."
Contiero, however, dismissed claims that GM foods will ultimately benefit humanity, as "propaganda". Far from offering the possibility of wonder foods that will make hunger history, biotech firms are intricately linked to an industrialized system of agriculture that helps exacerbate hardship.
"Monsanto owns 90 percent of GMOs in the world," he said. "And together with Bayer and Syngenta, it owns almost 50 percent of all seeds. The fact is that three companies - Bayer, BASF and Pioneer - also own 65 percent of the pesticide market. Biotech companies buy seed companies because this gives them a direct control of food production and food prices. Decision-makers should look very seriously at how they control food prices. This is an issue that people tend to forget."
Comment: For a more in depth look at the GM issue read William Engdahl's Seeds of Destruction: The Hidden Agenda of Genetic Manipulation.
Stephen Lendman describes Engdahl's book as follows:
The diabolical story of how Washington and four Anglo-American agribusiness giants plan world domination by patenting life forms to gain worldwide control of our food supply and why that prospect is chilling. The book's compelling contents are reviewed below in-depth so readers will know the type of future Henry Kissinger had in mind in 1970 when he said: "Control oil and you control nations; control food and you control the people."