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Gene Giants Try to Push into Asia

News Release - 30 October 2000

Biotech Brokers Penetrate Asia
Farmers grow cynical with the corporate push behind genetic
engineering

30 October 2000 -- The controversy surrounding genetic engineering
is heating up in Asia, as the transnational food and agriculture
industry, worth over $700 billion a year, moves to bring its patented
biotechnologies into the region's farmlands. Big corporations
are starting to enlist the efforts of a number of international non-
profit agencies to facilitate the transfer of these technologies and
help secure the necessary political and legal landscape for their
worldwide adoption.

The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech
Applications (ISAAA) is one of the most focused promoters of gene
technologies in Asia. ISAAA portrays itself as helping to transform
the lives of small farmers by acting as an "honest broker" to
mediate the flow of patented genetic engineering applications from
transnational companies to rural communities in the South. But,
according to a new report from a joint research project involving
farmers' groups, nongovernmental organizations and independent
scientists across Asia, the reality is that ISAAA is helping carry
out an agenda set by transnational corporations in the name of the
region's rural poor.

Through ISAAA, industry is using local people across Asia -- from
illustrious scientists and high-level policymakers to anonymous small
farmers -- to promote biotechnology and expand markets for its own
benefit. According to the new report, ISAAA in Asia: Promoting
Corporate Profits in the Name of the Poor, "ISAAA's most
critical failing has been that it has never stopped to ask small
farmers -- its supposed target group -- what they think the problems
and solutions are, and what role, if any, biotechnology can play.
This raises fundamental questions about ISAAA's accountability
and legitimacy."

Some of the "lowlights" of ISAAA's projects:

In Malaysia, ISAAA has been involved in the introduction of
genetically engineered (GE) papaya varieties resistant to papaya
ringspot virus. This disease is not a problem faced by small
farmers, but on recently established export-oriented papaya
plantations. The GE fruits have raised concerns in the region about
biosafety and about their viability for trade because of poor
quality.

In Indonesia, the main achievement of ISAAA has been to edge
open the doors to the deployment of GE crops in general, through the
delivery of tomatoes resistant to spotted wilt virus. The tomatoes
were developed by the Swiss agrochemical giant Novartis and
Wageningen Agricultural University in the Netherlands. The benefits
to Novartis, which wants the seed market, and Wageningen, which holds
the patent, are clear. What is in it for Indonesian farmers?
According to ISAAA, "a solid biotechnology infrastructure."

In Mexico, from where ISAAA's projects took off, the agency
brokered a deal to transfer Monsanto's virus resistance genes into
potatoes grown by small farmers. But seven years into the work, no
mechanisms have been identified to actually achieve this and farmers
say that the viruses the potatoes are engineered against are not a
problem for them anyway.

Farmers across Asia are increasingly cynical about the technological
fixes pushed onto them, allegedly to overcome production problems and
reap big profits.

Orly Marcellana, a farmer in Quezon province, the Philippines, says,
"Nobody from the government, nor from these companies, ever asked
us what our problems are. I'm sure they don't even care. All they
want is to make profit. For us farmers, it's a never ending story
with these improved seeds. Every time they are introducing a new
miracle' variety, after some time it turns out to be not so
miraculous after all. And then, there they are with yet another
'miracle' and again they promise us that we will be the first to
benefit. But after all these 'miracles' our conditions are still the
same. We are poor as ever. Do they really think that the farmers
still believe in these 'miracles'?"

In the eyes of Shaban Ali, a farmer in Shekher Dair, Bangladesh,
"The problem is that farmers are helpless because government and
the scientists are collaborating with the companies to destroy us.
This is not science, it is politics."

Witoon Boonchado, a farmer leader in Roi Ed, Thailand, has a similar
assessment. "The GE crops are happening because of the greed of
[transnational corporations] TNCs. This cannot give us any benefit.
TNCs are the sole beneficiaries. There are many alternatives and
sustainable ways to solve farmers problems."
______________________________________________________________________

ISAAA in Asia: Promoting corporate profits in the name of the poor
(October 2000) was researched by Devlin Kuyek for a group composed of
Biothai (Thailand), GRAIN, KMP (Philippines), MASIPAG (Philippines),
PAN Indonesia, Philippine Greens and UBINIG (Bangladesh), plus, in
their individual capacities, Drs. Romeo Quijano (UP Manila, College
of Medicine, Philippines) and Oscar B. Zamora (UP Los Baños,
College of Agriculture, Philippines).

The report is available on the web at http://www.grain.org/adhoc.htm

For further information:
biothai@pacific.net.th or Tel (66-2) 952 73 71
kmp@quickweb.com.ph or Tel (63-2) 922 09 77
masipag@mozcom.com or Tel (63-49) 536 55 40
PAN Indonesia: biotani@rad.net.id or Tel (62-21) 829 65 45
ubinig@citecho.net or Tel (88-2) 811 14 65
Devlin Kuyek: intku@hotmail.com

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