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Third World Nations Fight Back Against GMO Food

Some countries are fighting back against the GMO assault. Some countries are fighting back against the GMO assault.

 

Since the first genetically modified foods were unveiled in the ’80s, proponents have celebrated the technology as the silver bullet for providing nourishment to the earth’s growing population. So why are so many places in the developing world duking it out over the health and ecological repercussions of GMOs? Third-world countries are stepping up and saying no to Frankenfood, and biotech giants like Monsanto have started paying very close attention to nations like Kenya, Bolivia and Thailand, all of which have legislated tighter controls on the production, import and labeling of genetically engineered food.

No matter how small their collective GDPs may be, it’s clear that the stakes in these countries are high. They understand what larger, more powerful nations refuse to accept: Genetically engineered food production creates a tenuous dependency on the multinationals that own the seeds of that production. These often poor and powerless countries would rather risk the short-term loss of foreign investment than irrevocable loss of food sovereignty and biodiversity in their homelands. Meet the underdogs:

BOLIVIA

Last fall the Bolivian government formalized a whopping environmental package titled the Law of the Rights of Mother Earth. This novel legislation defines nature and the environment as a living system with rights of its own, instead of an object for exploitation. Included in the law is the prohibition of the use of genetically engineered seeds. This move, spearheaded by leftist president Evo Morales, effectively evicts Monsanto’s Roundup Ready soy strain from the soils of Bolivia, which has been used in the country for almost a decade.

As is expected, opposition has come mostly from soy farmers who fear that yields will diminish without the aid of genetic engineering. But yield is exactly what the government of Bolivia wants to de-emphasize. At the core of this legislation is a return to the indigenous value of living well, even if it means merely having enough instead of having a lot.

ZIMBABWE

This past year, the Zimbabwean government reaffirmed its longstanding ban on the production of GMO crops within its borders. The government has committed to alternative, more traditional farming directives (irrigation, fertilization and non-GMO seed banks) to assist the production of food in Zimbabwe. The obvious challenge of funding these initiatives is that foreign investors (such as Americans) are less likely to piggyback on traditional agriculture because there’s less to gain from the sale of non-patented seeds.

When asked if his country would accept GMO food aid from the U.S.-endorsed World Food Programme, Agriculture Minister Joseph Made told reporters, “You cannot use the Zimbabwean population as guinea pigs.”

Zimbabwe’s reluctance to accept genetically engineered food handouts has been labeled as stubborn and misinformed. Supporters of Zimbabwe’s GMO lockout criticize countries like the United States for pushing their surplus of GMO food on the poor countries of the world and labeling it charity.

SRI LANKA

This island country introduced a ban on all GMO foods in 2000. Under George W. Bush, the U.S. threatened to use World Trade Organization sanctions if the Sri Lankan government did not rescind the ban. It was not until 2007 that the amended legislation passed, making it mandatory to label all GMO food in Sri Lanka.

Symbolically, the move is a big step for the country, but the actuality of a national labeling scheme is still on the horizon. Lack of funding and the sheer volume of product testing means that Sri Lankans are still consuming GMO products, especially those imported from countries like the U.S. and Canada, where genetically engineered food remains unlabeled.

THAILAND

Following suit with Sri Lanka, Thailand has imposed an all-out ban on the growing and importing of GMO seeds, and has implemented labeling of genetically engineered products. 2011 saw the renewal of the country’s Rice Action Plan, which protects Thailand’s rice heritage by keeping GMO seeds out of the paddies. Without the aid of genetic tomfoolery, Thailand maintains its position as the world’s largest exporter of jasmine rice.

PERU

After a 2011 decree welcoming GMO crops into Peru was met with massive protests, the incoming Peruvian government drafted new anti-GMO legislation. The 10-year moratorium, signed by Peru’s newest president, OllantaHumala, makes it illegal to produce or import genetically engineered seeds, livestock or fish. The move safeguards Peru’s rich agricultural biodiversity (the country boasts almost 4,000 varieties of potatoes alone) and bolsters its position as a leading producer of organic foods. The South American powerhouse earned over $300 million in organic exports last year alone.

KENYA

In late November of 2012, Kenya banned the import of GMO foods. The move was immediately criticized by pro-GMO factions as a setback to Kenya’s modernization. Kenya’s Ministry of Health has been accused of “falling for” a contested French study that linked GMO corn to cancer among rats. The opposition maintains that saying no to cheap, abundant genetically engineered imports is like shooting yourself in the foot, as opposed to a step towards food sovereignty. But Kenya knows better.

PARAGUAY

Paraguay has long been a bastion of big agribusiness. This changed after the 2008 democratic election of left-leaning president Fernando Lugo, who was less willing to stand back and allow Monsanto’s takeover of Paraguayan farmland. Under Lugo, Paraguay refused the approval of genetically modified seeds for commercial use. But bad things can happen when you go up against the creators of Agent Orange. Lugo was impeached in June 2012 and replaced by Vice President Federico Franco, who within one month of gaining leadership, green-lighted the commercial release of several varieties of transgenic corn and cotton, which, not surprisingly, are patented by Monsanto.

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Last modified on Monday, 02 September 2013 02:51

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