Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Czechs cheer for GMOs, America's mission closer to accomplished

Last week, the Biology Centre of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic released a document, supporting the farm production of genetically modified crops. This is a small win for US business interests, specifically the biotech lobby.

The paper published by the team of Czech scientists, entitled White Book: Genetically Modified Crops, Scientific opinion of Czech researchers working with GMO, is based on a twelve-year study of GM crops and their effects on the environment. In a nutshell, the authors of the study concluded that the positive benefits of growing GM foods outweigh the negative.

In sharp contrast, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) nearly simultaneously released a statement calling for an immediate moratorium on genetically modified foods. AAEM argues that "GM foods pose a serious health risk." The press release states:

Citing several animal studies, the AAEM concludes "there is more than a casual association between GM foods and adverse health effects" and that "GM foods pose a serious health risk in the areas of toxicology, allergy and immune function, reproductive health, and metabolic, physiologic and genetic health."

The Czech study, which focused predominantly on the effects of GM crops on the environment, argues that: "in the case of commercialized GM crops, scientific evidence as well as practical experience has [sic] demonstrated that they bring considerable economic benefits to farmers and are more environment-friendly than comparable technologies."

Furthermore, the authors contend that there is no need to regulate GMO production: "There are no scientific data showing the exceptional position of plants expressing a trait based on transgenesis. Thus there is no ground for their regulation to be any different to [sic] plants obtained by traditional breeding methods." Public opinion, in the eyes of the White Book team, should not be given much weight, as implied in this statement: "The involvement of citizens ought to be proportional to their knowledge of the issue."

Though the scientists behind the White Book report acknowledge that "the deployment of GM crops may bring, as other technologies, certain benefits (and) it may also damage the environment and human and animal health," their goal is to dispel fears of GM farming, so prevalent in Europe. The study incorporates a disclaimer that it "is neither an advertisement nor an advocacy for the deployment of GM crops," but instead "a call for the use of critical intelligence and knowledge in the decision making process on this technology." However, the text reads very much like a cheerleader chant for GMO production. Case in point, associate professor Jindřich Bříza, one of the authors of the study, was quoted in a report by the Czech Radio as saying:

"In Europe the situation concerning genetically modified crops is very negative and the public is constantly influenced into thinking GM crops are something bad. . . We don't think our publication will change anything, but we want to give a clear signal about what the situation is from the perspective of the scientific community. We want to be the first pebble which will unleash an avalanche and we will convince the public that genetically modified plants have largely a positive role."

By some, including this blogger, the study could be viewed as a wink and a nod to the powerful and aggressive agri-business biotech industry which has been attempting to make inroads into Europe, renowned for its fierce resistance to GMO farming, marked by, for instance a 2% decline of the area with GM crop cultivation over the last year, and 35% decrease for all of Europe in the last 4 years. Currently, GM maize, which is the only GM crop approved, constitutes a mere 0.21% of agricultural land in the European Union.

In a recent informal reader poll by the Czech business daily, E15, 45% of voters, said they would not buy GM foods, citing fears of negative consequences on human health. Another 45% of those polled, however, said they have no problem with GMOs. In the last Eurobarometer poll, conducted in 2005, a majority of Europeans (58%) voted against the development of GM foods, seeing such foods as "not being useful, as morally unacceptable and as a risk for society." The Czech Republic is one of the few EU countries, in which GMO supporters outnumbered the opponents in the Eurobarometer survey.

While the majority of Europeans are opposed to GM food and feed production, the Czechs nearly lead the pack in the amount of GM crop grown in the country. The Czech Republic is now the second largest grower of Bt corn in the EU. According to the United States Department of Agriculture Service's Global Agriculture Information Network report, "acreage of Bt corn in the Czech Republic has been substantially increasing every year for the last four years, as well as (the) number of growers. In 2008, 171 farmers planted Bt corn on a total of 8,380 hectares."

The USDA report continues:

(Though) Bt corn is the only GM crop approved for commercial planting in the EU, other varieties have been waiting for approval. Several of them have also been tested in the Czech Republic on test plots, for example genetically modified flax and potatoes with a higher content of starch. Since Czech farmers have had a [sic] very good experience with genetically-modified corn, they would welcome other GM crops as well, mainly GM rapeseed, and the above mentioned GM potatoes for industrial use.

The readers of the report are further informed that the Czech Ministry of Agriculture has been preparing an amendment to the Law on Agriculture, hopefully making it easier for Czech farmers to grow GM crops. This government report, prepared by the U.S. Embassy in Prague and approved by the U.S. Embassy in Poland, concludes with a call for biotechnology companies to invest into the Czech biotech industry.

The logical question arises of why U.S. embassies would be publishing documents directly encouraging biotech investment in countries outside the US. A report by Food & Water Europe, a nonprofit consumer organization working to ensure clean water and safe food, answers that question. The report, published last month, details how US Embassies push GMOs throughout Europe and reveals how successful such a tactic has been in particular in the Czech Republic and Poland.

The Food & Water Europe report explains:

Throughout the EU, US diplomats have been pressuring members of parliaments, threatening trade retaliation and criticising scientific findings that question the safety of GMOs. As inappropriate as these tactcis may seem, . . . they are part of a coordinated effort by US diplomats to promote GMOs. These efforts were orchestrated by Robert Zoellick, a former high-ranking foreign policy adviser to President George W. Bush and current president of the World Bank.

Zoellick, a staunch proponent of the idea of securing America's hegemony through the establishment of trade policies favoring US-based business, has said: "American trade policies are connected to our broader economic, political and security aims. This intellectual integration may confound some trade scholars, but it follows in the footsteps of reconstruction after 1945."

According to Toni Solo's November 2003 article in the Dissident Voice, "Zoellick works to benefit giant US agri-business biotech companies."

Food & Water Europe further exposes the role of US officials in pressuring Europe to open up its markets to GM farming:

In January 2002, Zoellick, then the US Trade Representative, sent 14 pages of instructions to US ambassadors throughout the world claiming that proposed EU measures to trace and label GMOs "are not workable or enforceable, would be very expensive to implement, and would not achieve the stated objectives." According to Zoellick, who played a key role in the lengthy GMO dispute between the EU and the US, such measures would unduly impair trade in products already approved in the United States."

The EU-US dispute referred to above dates back to May 2003 when the Bush administration, along with Canada and Argentina, all three the world's largest growers of GMOs, officially accused the European Union of violating international trade agreements in blocking imports of U.S. farm products through its long-standing ban on genetically modified food. It was Robert Zoellick who announced the filing of a formal complaint with the WTO challenging the moratorium. The formal WTO case challenging the EU's regulatory system was in particular lobbied by U.S. biotechnology giant Monsanto as well as by big agricultural groups such as the National Corn Growers Association.

In his 2006 article for Global Research, F. William Engdahl writes:

The issue of breaking resistance barriers in the European Union to the proliferation of GMO crops has been a matter of the highest strategic priority for those controlling policy in Washington since 1992 when then-President George H.W. Bush, issued an Executive Order proclaiming GMO plants such as soybeans or GMO corn to be ‘substantially equivalent’ to ordinary corn or soybeans, and, therefore, not needing any special health safety study or testing.

That ‘substantial equivalence’ ruling by President Bush in 1992 opened the floodgates to the unregulated spread of GMO across the American agriculture landscape. As basis for its 2003 WTO filing against the EU, Washington, on behalf of agribusiness interests including Monsanto, Dow, DuPont and others, charged the EU with violation of the American ‘substantial equivalence’ doctrine!

Unfortunately, three years after the 2003 complaint against the EU, "a private organization with unique powers over world industry, trade and agriculture," as Engdahl terms the WTO, issued a ruling on the case brought by the Bush Administration. In this February 2006 ruling by a secretive tribunal, the World Trade Organization ruled that a six-year European ban on genetically engineered crops violates international trade rules. The ruling was widely touted as a victory for the US pro-biotechnology lobby hoping to penetrate the EU market. However, it is important to point out that as Friends of the Earth, the world's largest grassroots environmental network argues, "the WTO ruling is not a victory for the US administration and the biotech giants" because the WTO failed to win most of the arguments and because the ruling did "not prevent countries from restricting or banning GM foods."

In fact, the European Union's battle against GMOs continues. The timeline of the latest GMO-related news and legislation can be seen on the Friends of the Earth Europe website.

The Food & Water Europe report concludes:

Given the significant role of American diplomats in promoting genetic engineering throughout the world, it is difficult not to question their motives. The official story is that biotech crops can bring higher yields and therefore feed more people. But even though GM crops are widespread globally, they have not made a noticeable impact toward reducing malnutrition and starvation. Worse, in may cases GMOs have become the only crops offered as aid to countries with malnutrition problems. As American food aid often comes with strings attached, the US's global support of GMOs places US food policy into a completely new light.

Further, given that many biotech companies are now struggling to develop new markets as they back away from markets that are drying up, it is difficult to ignore the likelihood that US diplomats are being used to drum up business for a select few companies that have very little impact on the broader US economy. Further, given the ongoing trade dispute between the US and EU, any European farmer who grows and promotes GMOs will become a de facto tool in US political ambitions.


GMO Journal said...

Very interesting article! Curious to see of Obama's ambassadors will be as ardent GMO promoters as were their predecessors.

GMO Journal

GMO Journal said...

and here's something of interest:

GMO Journal

Usame said...

I produce a TV show called WORLD IN AMERICA for Ebru TV.

We just aired our new episode on the Czech Americans.

It is also available on our website.
I invite you to view it and share with others you might think will be interested in it.