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Leading African Scientists Denounce GE Foods and Crops

Suspend GM Crops For 5 Years - Scientists

COMTEX Newswire

Nairobi (The East African, June 2, 2000) - Several countries, among them
Kenya, Uganda, Brazil, South Africa, and India, are making major human and
financial investments in biotechnology to improve food security and reduce poverty.
But the question remains whether genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or
living modified organisms (LMOs) - the products of biotechnology - are
indispensable for feeding the world, protecting the environment and reducing poverty in
developing countries, as biotechnology engineering companies claim.

A growing body of scientists, farmers, NGOs, institutions, and governments
opposed to the technology are convinced that it is designed to have the
opposite effect. They argue that the introduction of GMOs in developing countries
will exacerbate inequality and prevent the essential shift to sustainable
agriculture that can provide food security and health.

In a letter to delegates at the fifth Conference of Parties (COP5) on the
Convention on Biological Diversity at Gigiri, Nairobi, some 310 scientists
from both the developed and developing countries demanded a moratorium on the use
of GMOs and LMOs. They said they were concerned about the dangers these
products posed for biodiversity, food safety, human and animal health.
"We call for the immediate suspension of the release of genetically modified
crops and products, both commercially and in open field trials, for at least
five years, for patents on living processes, organisms, seeds, cell lines
and genes to be revoked and banned, and for a comprehensive public enquiry into
the future of agriculture and food security for all."

They argued that genetically modified crops intensify corporate monopoly on
food. In order to protect their patents, corporations continue to develop
genetic use restriction technologies (GURTs) like terminator and
trait-specific technologies.

Terminator technology makes seeds sterile in the second generation,
preventing farmers from saving and replanting seed, as is common in developing
countries.

Under the genetic technologies, farmers are dependent on the genetically
modified seed, which is protected under the intellectual property rights.
Trait-specific GURTs make it possible to switch on and off specific
characteristics of a plant, such as resistance to diseases. The result is
that farmers are obliged to apply particular chemicals to ensure that their crops
thrive.

The scientists said this not only increased farmer dependency on chemicals
andgenetic engineering companies, it was likely to drive many to destitution.
The consortium of more than 25 NGOs at the COP5 has expressed concern that
almost all the major companies that controlled agricultural engineering
technology markets - such as of the UK - have patents on the terminator technology. Despite
promises last year that they would abandon the technology, 50 new GURTs
patentshave been issued.

The scientists want the patents banned on grounds that they threaten food
security, sanction biopiracy of indigenous knowledge and genetic resources,
violate basic human rights and dignity, compromise health care, impede
medical and scientific research and work against the welfare of animals.

Products resulting from GMOs could be hazardous. The genetically modified
bovine growth hormone, injected into cows to increase milk yields, not only causes
excessive suffering and illness for the animals, but also increases IGF- 1
in milk, a substance linked to breast and prostate cancer in humans.

Secret memoranda of the US Food and Drug Administration revealed that it
ignored the warnings of its own scientists that genetic engineering is a new
departure and introduces new risks. According to the documents, the first GM crop to
be commercialised - the Flar Savr tomato - did not pass the required
toxicological tests.

In response to concerns on the potential risk of biotechnology and the
absence of control systems in developing countries, the legally binding Cartagena
Protocol on Biosafety is now in place to protect the environment from the
potential risk caused by LMOs. Some 63 governments, including Kenya, have
signed it.

Under the protocol, strict informed agreement procedures will apply to
seeds, live fish, and other LMOs introduced into the environment.

By Wandera Ojanji, Special Correspondent

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