On 25-26 February the UK environment secretary Owen Paterson “confirmed” that he will leave flood-ridden Britain to attend an event persuading Africans – in the name of science – to accept GMOs.
As the biotech industry is in retreat in Europe, with corporations like BASF, Syngenta and Monsanto all halting the development and commercialisation of GM crops here, it is looking further afield.
The European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC), which published a report on GM last June, has organised the event in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. An extract from page 9 conveys its stance:
The leading speaker is Professor Anne Glover, Professor of Molecular biology and Cell biology at the University of Aberdeen and Chief Scientific Adviser to the President of the European Commission.
She is regarded as a pro-GM scientist and MEP Corinne Lepage, a former French minister for the environment, has called for her resignation on the ground of conflict of interest; Professor Glover is a shareholder in a biotech company and set up the firm Remedios, which was named Scotland’s “Best New Biotechnology Company” for Biotech Scotland by its industry peers.
Professor Glover said in an interview with EurActiv on 24 July: “There is no substantiated case of any adverse impact on human health, animal health or environmental health, so that’s pretty robust evidence, and I would be confident in saying that there is no more risk in eating GMO food than eating conventionally farmed food”, adding that the precautionary principle no longer applies.
Will the serious problems of GMOs be outlined?
- the millions of acres of US farmland choked by herbicide-resistant superweeds,
- the insect pests who have become resistant to chemicals used,
- the animal studies that have shown health risks
- an epidemic of suicides among Indian farmers, plunged into debt from high seed and pesticide costs, and failing crops.
Only two African speakers have been proposed; one is Calestous Juma, who has been based in the US for years and directs the Agricultural Innovation in Africa Project funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, an investor in Monsanto and agribusiness commodity giant, Cargill.
There are reports that African farmers and civil society have repeatedly rejected GM crops, some asked their governments to ban them and the last word was given in the Guardian, earlier last year:
On the Keiyo escarpment
Esther Bett, a farmer from Eldoret in Kenya, said last week: “It seems that farmers in America can only make a living from GM crops if they have big farms, covering hundreds of hectares, and lots of machinery. But we can feed hundreds of families off the same area of land using our own seed and techniques, and many different crops.
“Our model is clearly more efficient and productive. Mr Paterson is wrong to pretend that these GM crops will help us at all.”
* On the 14th it was announced that Paterson will no longer be travelling to Africa