Genetically Modified Business

(This article has been previously published on the alternative media portal “Presa Alternativa – The Spirit of Social Change” at www.presa-alternativa.ro – only in Romanian)

In a discussion that took place in Turin at the great Terra Madre 2006 meeting, an engineer from Zaragoza, Jorge Hernandez, owner of a traditional hacienda, said that the 100 global enterprises that trade food in the world promised that:

1.hunger shall be eradicated
2.environment shall be improved
3.nature’s errors (!) will be corrected

Their propaganda, says Hernandez, set aside social critique and failed in all three abovementioned points. The result of standardizations of plants and animals started over by the IMF in the 1970s were a continuous pauperization of almost a third of the world’s population, a decrease in the number of traditional farmers, and it gave absolute power to international trade, deteriorating people’s diets. Activist Vandana Shiva once said that the extreme image of today’s global development is composed by the obese American child and, on the other side, the skeleton-like body of the African.

Biotechnology offered big financial groups a path towards new sources of quick income, and the actual model of scientific domination augmented the cleavage between center and periphery, north and south, on a global scale.

Romania. Environmentalists vs. multinationals

US-based agricultural bio-tech giants Pioneer and Monsanto stand to lose millions of Euro in expected revenues when their commercial growth of genetically modified soy here comes to an end with an automatic ban as Romania joined the EU.

Gabriel Baeasu, Monsanto’s sales representative in South West Romania, acknowledged that the EU’s automatic ban on growing GM plants commercially, “represents a major loss for our company, it is quite a disruption to our operations here.” He added that “hidden economic interests at national and European level” wanted GM crops banned.

Local Greenpeace official, Gabriel Paun, told us that Monsanto was the only company that had patented GM soy seeds here. “It sold the GM soy seed patent to Pioneer so these are the only two companies that legally sell GM seeds in Romania. They reap royalties from local farmers and conduct experiments. The reason they wanted to penetrate the Romanian market is because this country is one of the largest traditional soy producers in Europe.” He added, “Genetically modified soy is now cultivated nationwide because the soil and climate are favorable. Farmers must register the GM cultivated area with the Ministry of Agriculture, then pay Monsanto and Pioneer.” Contacted by us, Pioneer declined to make any comments regarding the situation or their long-term commitment Romania after EU entry.

Adrian Tibu, spokesperson with the Ministry of Agriculture, told us that producers had been informed about the ban on cultivating GM soy that will come into force next year. “The only seed allowed will be certified traditional soy,” he said. “We have organized meetings with farmers using GM soy to inform them of that and have offered them payments in compensation.”Previously, the Ministry of Agriculture had rejected Monsanto’s request to grow GM corn for commercial purposes.
 

Illustration: Karolin Schnoor (www.karolinschnoor.co.uk/)

Illustration: Karolin Schnoor (www.karolinschnoor.co.uk/)

Slow Food salutes GM soy ban

Carlo Petrini, president of the global Slow Food movement, which protects organic and traditional foods, said that 80 per cent of the world’s soy is genetically modified. “I salute the decision of the Romanian government to ban GM crops. Land is still very cheap here and this allows multinationals to buy it too easily to grow hybrids,” he said. “Government policy should counteract multinational greed. It must help farmers keep their land for natural, healthy crops. GM foods are potentially dangerous and when pollen from such cultivated fields drifts miles away and pollinates conventional fields, farmers unwittingly put labor and capital into harvesting crops they didn’t plant. All products containing GM ingredients must require accurate labeling, allowing the consumer to make educated choices about what they eat.”

While Monsanto’s Baeasu said, “the effects of GMOs on the human body are not yet proven by scientific data,” Paun of Greenpeace, retorted, “Science is a step behind economic development. Traditional soy’s DNA is crossed with the nucleus of bacteria and there is a high probability that this hybrid could affect human health. It is imperative to seriously consider the risks.” Constantin Sin, a councilor in the Ministry of Agriculture, said, “The area cultivated with transgenic soy increased from 39,600 hectares in 2003 to 58,100 hectares last year. About 100,000 soy hectares, out of which half was used for GM products, were cultivated in Romania in 2004.” The soy is chiefly farmed in the southeastern part of the country, in counties such as Brailla, Calarasi and Ialomita.

Simon Barber, director of the plant biotech unit (PBU) of EuropaBio, the European Association for the Biotech Industry. “A large part of this crop was exported to the EU for use in animal feed. To deny Romanian farmers access to this technology would leave them at a competitive disadvantage versus Brazilian, Canadian and US soybean suppliers, who are already exporting this same product to the EU.”

EuropaBio argues that herbicide resistant soybeans have resulted in huge environmental benefits. It says that farmers in Romania have benefited by an average yield increase of 31 per cent, reduced costs of between 44.4 and 61.5 per hectare, and improved crop quality. But opponents argue that after ten years of GM crops, no benefits to consumers or the environment have materialized and that so-called rape seeds for GM areas are destroying healthy fields.

The Ecologist, a well-respected environmental magazine, said, Monsanto and Pioneer, “chose eastern Europe as a playground for their genetic experiments. Where better to exploit a culture of secrecy and oppression than in a region where decades of authoritarian rule has created a society afraid to assert their democratic rights to information and participation. These may be nominally democratic countries, but state officials there are still regarded with fear, rather than as public servants. The transnationals know that their activities are safe from public scrutiny and legal challenge. Many countries in the region still have no specific GM laws, and even in those that have laws, they are either weak or non-enforced.”

That’s why, it said, “Pioneer Hi-Bred, which specializes in maize seed, moved European maize seed production to countries like Romania, adding that since 1997, US seed companies have tested and registered seven varieties of GM crops there.” In 1999, the Ministry of Agriculture approved the commercial growing of GM soybeans and large-scale trials of potatoes, maize and sunflower seeds, despite the absence of any law on GM seeds at the time.

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