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Asia Farm & Consumer Groups Denounce UN FAO Support for GMOs

International Planning Committee Asia (IPC)
Press Release

Genetic Engineering is NOT meeting the needs of the poor!

18 May 2004 (Beijing/China)- "FAO is retrogressing from the global momentum
against genetic engineering in food and agriculture" says Sarojeni Rengam of
the International Planning Committee (IPC) Asia of the NGO/CSO, referring to
Food and Agriculture Organisation's (FAO) recently launched report endorsing
genetic engineering in the midst of Monsanto's withdrawal of genetically
modified (GM) wheat due to strong opposition from North American farmers.

In the FAO report which drew strong criticism from members of the IPC Asia,
entitled "The State of World Food and Agriculture 2004", it urged
significant private and public investments in new genetic technologies for
major food crops of the poor such as rice, wheat, white maize, potato and
cassava and the so called "orphan crops" which include cowpea, millet,
sorghum and teff.

FAO's recommendation comes despite increasing evidence on the adverse
ecological and health impacts of genetically engineered crops and
resistance from governments and farmers to the technology.

"We are not guinea pigs", says Philippine farmer leader Danilo Ramos,
reacting to FAO's report which explicitly endorsed bio-engineered food crops
as a tool in the war on hunger.

In 2002, Zambia rejected genetically engineered corn food aid from the US
despite being confronted by hunger and starvation. The call of Zambians was
"Better dead than GM-fed". Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe rejected the
shipment of GM food aid to their countries as well.

Genetically engineered crops have been commercialized without the benefit of
comprehensive safety tests and impact studies. Recent studies
have shown alarming health findings such as the transfer of DNA from GM food
to the human gut which proponents earlier assured as an impossibility.

Social movements, particularly farmers, have strongly opposed genetic
engineering in food and agriculture due to health concerns and the potential
impacts of GM crops in undermining the rich agricultural biodiversity in
farmers' fields which constitute the base of world food security.

Leaders representing small food producers have been claiming that GM crops
promote farmers' dependence on transnational corporations for seeds as all
GM seeds in the market today are owned and sold by the
world's biggest players in seeds and agro-chemicals which also enjoy virtual
monopoly control over all processes, products and tools involved in genetic
engineering through intellectual property rights.

"This fact debunks FAO's claim in the report that genetic engineering will
benefit the poor if public institutions control the technology. Control of
genetic engineering by public institutions will also not erase the health
and environment hazards that come with the technology", explains Rengam, who
is also the Director of the Pesticide Action
Network Asia and the Pacific (PANAP).

Proponents of GM crops, including FAO in its report, proclaim that genetic
engineering will reduce the use of chemical pesticides and herbicides by
farmers, and thus would be beneficial for human health and the environment.

However, recent studies in the US contradict this showing that there is a
substantial increase in the use of herbicides on herbicide-resistant crops
over the past three years. Dr. Charles Benbrook of the Northwest Science and
Environmental Policy Center found that many farmers planting
herbicide-tolerant crops have led to incrementally spray more herbicides to
keep up with tougher weeds that evolved and the emergence of resistance in
certain weed populations.

The claim of proponents on increased production through the use of GM crops
has also been shattered by recent experiences in developing countries. The
state of Andra Pradesh in India declared Bt cotton as a failure, yielding
less and shorter staple size than ordinary hybrid cotton.

"The FAO report trumpets the entry of the so-called Gene Revolution from the
Green Revolution, completely ignoring the devastation caused by the latter
technology" says Elenita Dano of SEARICE who also attended the NGO/CSO

She explained that the Green Revolution package of technology consisting of
high-response modern varieties, chemical pesticides and petroleum-based
fertilizers have jeopardized the environment through genetic uniformity and
the erosion of the genetic base of major food crops, soil degradation,
contamination of ground water, and massive pest and disease infestations.
Dependence on chemical inputs and commercial seeds has brought millions of
farmers to indebtedness, landlessness and further impoverishment. Farmers
and farming families have also been exposed to the hazards brought by
chemical pesticides to human health.

The promised potential yields of Green Revolution crop varieties were never
really attained in actual field conditions, and actual yields have reached a
plateau since the 1990s. While it is true that public research institutions
led the Green Revolution, the technology that it promoted
has paved the way for the emergence and later expansion of a few giant
agri-chemical and seed transnational corporations.

"When will FAO ever learn?" asks Dano. She explained that decades after the
Green Revolution, the number of hungry and malnourished people has
ironically increased despite the substantial jump in yield and production of
major food crops such as rice.

"FAO's report is contradictory to the statement of Assistant Director
General of the FAO for Asia-Pacific, Dr. He Changchui" says Dano, referring
to the keynote delivered to the NGO/CSO meeting in Beijing recently where
the ADG expressed that "the world now lives in a paradox of hunger in the
midst of plenty".

"We urge the FAO and Governments to realize the principles of food
sovereignty, which gives rights to farmers and communities to produce their
own food and make decisions on food and agriculture" says Irene Fernandez of
Tenaganita, also an IPC member. "The Green Revolution experience shows that
the problems in food and agriculture do not
require technological solution but systemic social and political
transformation that directly addresses the unequal distribution of the
world's resources", concludes Fernandez.

Contact: Sarojeni Rengam, Executive Director of Pesticide Action Network
Asia and the Pacific, P.O. Box 1170, 10850 Penang, Malaysia; URL:, email:, handphone: (60) 16 478 9545