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16.10.2005 Feature Article

Time Bomb Crisis Faces our Food Systems: Tragedy of modern science

Time Bomb Crisis Faces our Food Systems: Tragedy of modern science
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As the dominance for power deeps across the globe, so is the issue of food becoming a political decision. But as politicians exercise their will power over consumers the question still remains unanswered. Who should decide what an individual eats and should the rich have access to a more healthy and nutritious food and the poor eats anything to quench a sterling hunger? This is where the dualism exists between the rich and the poor, the powerful and the powerless, the ruler and the ruled.

It is interesting to note that as politicians are grossly interested in determining which science and technology is best fit for bringing food to the table, the environmentalists, nutritionists, health professionals and consumers are much concerned about the social and ecological ramifications these technologies could bring about.

World agriculture is at a stand still so is the future of food threatened. The world agriculture is so infiltrated with the so-called hi-tech that is believed to have brought about magic in food production. One such claim is the vigorous pursuit of agri-biotechnolgy. The relentless growth of Genetically Modified crops continued, through a combination of hype, half-truths and outright falsehoods and corruption. The issue at stake is not about the quantities of food produced, but the quality of food produced and the health of the environment supporting the production systems, which is linked to the quality of life of the people.

Modernization of agriculture has become a common theme in use in every spectrum of political arena and has lost significance and meaning it deserves in its entirety. People believe that the best way to rationalize and to make agriculture more productive is to fully embrace agriculture biotechnology and genetic engineering. As the world is thrown into confusion and the ongoing embattled debate concerning genetically modified food across the globe, poor developing countries have now become the damping target since they have less apparatus to resist the western powers. We are convinced that it would end hunger, increase food production and cure many diseases.

The blatant truth is that evidence has existed for years that genetically modified (GM) crops have lower yields, perform poorly in the field, use more pesticides and result in reduced profits for farmers. In addition, the failures of Bt crops experienced by farmers all over the world have recently been amply confirmed: ineffective against insect pests, harmful to health and biodiversity, yield drag, pest resistance (“Scientists confirm failures of Bt crops”

Problems with GM crops tolerant to glyphosate or Roundup (Monsanto's formulation of the glyphosate herbicide) first emerged in 1998 – two years after Roundup Ready (RR) soya was introduced to market – and have been building up ever since.

Damning evidence against RR crops and glyphosate herbicide Glyphosate application is linked to sudden crop death. Glyphosate is linked to cancers, neuro-defects, spontaneous abortions (reviewed in The Case for a GM-Free Sustainable World,, is toxic to human placental cells at concentrations below agricultural use, Roundup at one-tenths of the recommended agricultural dosage.

Glyphosate application is further linked to acrylamide release from the polyacrylamide added to commercial herbicide mixtures to reduce spay drift (“Acrylamde in cooked food: the glyphosate connection”). A new report released earlier this year by United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Health Organization (WHO) stated: “The neurotoxicity of acrylamide in humans is known from high occupational and accidental exposure when acryalmide is used in industrial processes in the production of plastics and materials. Studies in animals have also shown that acrylamide causes reproductive problems and cancer.”

It recommended that, “efforts to reduce acrylamide levels in foodstuffs should continue.” But there was still no mention of glyphosate connection RR soya showed yield drags averaging 6.7 percent compared with non-GM varieties in a study based on 8 200 trials in US universities in 1998; this finding was confirmed in numerous other reports published between 1997 and 2000. Yield drag in soya was associated with problems in root development, nodulation and nitrogen fixation, particularly in drought or infertile conditions, as the bacterial symbiont responsible for nitrogen fixation is sensitive to both Roundup and drought.

Should poor developing countries continue to swallow the baited bitter pills of the technology as a concept of modernizing agriculture? Would they be able to take responsibilities for the ramifications? Are we going to sit unconcern until certain strange sickness and diseases begin to spread like wild fire before we look up to the western world for aid with high debts accumulating for the next generations? Emergency ambulances can be prevented now when we shift focus, reject and resist these unacceptable practices and redirect our energy for sustainable agricultural practices.

Ghana has been in some ways inconsistent with GMOs issues even though it ratified its national policy in that regard early this year. Let me say that the setbacks to the adoption of these technologies far exceed the merits as pointed out earlier.

In reference to the General News of Saturday, 30 July 2005 of the Ghanaweb which captioned: Ghana stops importation of GM foods, the Food and Agriculture minister, Mr. Ernest Debrah said the country would reject without hesitation, the importation of any genetically modified foods, crops and materials into the country. It added that although it might solve the famine problems being experienced, especially in the northern part of the country. The question is, is food importation the only means to solve famine even if it poses great risk to life and the environment? Absolutely no. I want to add that we must all make frantic effort to wipe GM crops off the globe now and shift comprehensively to non-GM sustainable agriculture.

Modern sciences should deal with ethical issues and the integrity of what we bring to the table we called food. For instance, in 13 April 2005, the Green Peace reported of the illegal contamination of Chinese food chain with a new genetically modified/engineered rice. It was discovered that human genome was added to the rice. The GE rice has not been approved for human consumption and may have contaminated Chinese rice exports. In the report “The GE industry is out of control,” said Greenpeace GE campaigner Sze Pang Cheung noted that a Greenpeace research team discovered unapproved GE rice being sold and grown illegally in the Chinese province of Hubei. Interviews with seed providers and farmers indicated that GE rice seeds have been sold over the past two years. Samples of rice seed, unmilled and milled rice have been collected from seed companies, farmers and rice millers. Testing by the international laboratory Genescan has confirmed the presence of GE DNA in 19 samples.

The evidence from the lab, combined with field reports, confirms that some of the illegal GE varieties are Bt Rice – which is genetically engineered to produce an inbuilt pesticide. Greenpeace estimates that at least 950 to 1200 tons of GE rice entered the food chain after last year's harvest, and that up to 13,500 tons may enter the food chain after this year unless urgent action is taken.

Dr Janet Cotter (Green peace International Scientist) lamented that, it was a very serious problem requiring urgent Government action: “There are strong warning signs that this GE Bt rice could cause allergenic reactions in humans. It has been shown that the protein produced in Bt rice (called Cry1Ac) might have induced allergenic-type responses in mice and to date, there has been no human food safety testing of Bt rice.”

This is the bottom line, should we continue to allow a small group of rogue scientists to take the world's most important staple food crop into their own hands and subject not only the Chinese public but also the people of the world to a totally unacceptable experiment? Think about that and let us join force to re-ignite and redirect the world agriculture to where it belongs. Conventional industrial agriculture has been showing signs of collapse from decades of unsustainable practices, including massive reductions in grain yields for four successive years. With water already depleted in the major bread baskets of the world, and oil rapidly depleting, and global warming predicted to further compromise crop yields, there is a real threat of not producing enough food to feed the world, which is why we cannot afford to waste any more time with GM crops. Revolution is needed now.

GM crops are industrial monocultures writ large: more damaging to the environment, more genetically uniform and hence more prone to disease, use more pesticides, according the US Department of Agriculture's own data and according to farmers' experience from all over the world, require more water and are less tolerant to drought than non-GM varieties. Persisting with GM crops now will have catastrophic consequences on world food security.

Now you know where l am provoking your thinking process to and calling you to responsible collective action. Do me a favour. Help rescue the world food systems and safeguard the environment from the tyranny of the profit-motivated corporations who wedge power, becoming richer and richer and the majority wallowing in abject poverty. A balance of power is needed and proper redistribution of wealth from God's free gift to mankind. No one has the right to take control over such natural resources. We need the integrity of our food to be intact. We want our food to taste naturally. Give us health and not illness and strange diseases. Be proactive and sensitive to the call to wipe off GM crops from the food systems. We are sitting on a time bomb as the world agriculture continues to deteriorate and our food systems heavily polluted. The solution; a hurricane of change needs to sweep through our agriculture systems not only to make it more sustainable, but also environmentally friendly, ecologically sound and socially just. Raymond K. Bokor (Ecological Agriculture Activist-Austin Texas USA) Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

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