Ten reasons why biotechnology will not ensure
protect the environment and reduce poverty in the developing world
Miguel A. Altieri, University of California, Berkeley and
Peter Rosset, Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy, Oakland, California
Biotechnology companies often claim that genetically modified organisms
(GMOs) -- specifically genetically altered seeds -- are essential scientific breakthroughs
needed to feed the world, protect the environment, and reduce poverty in developing
countries. This view rests on two critical assumptions, both of which we question. The
first is that hunger is due to a gap between food production and human population density
or growth rate. The second is that genetic engineering is the only or best way to increase
agricultural production and thus meet future food needs.
Our objective is to challenge the notion of biotechnology as a magic
bullet solution to all of agriculture's ills, by clarifying misconceptions concerning
these underlying assumptions.
There is no relationship between the prevalence of hunger in a given
country and its population. For every densely populated and hungry nation like Bangladesh
or Haiti, there is a sparsely populated and hungry nation like Brazil and Indonesia. The
world today produces more food per inhabitant than ever before. Enough is available to
provide 4.3 pounds every person everyday: 2.5 pounds of grain, beans and nuts, about a
pound of meat, milk and eggs and another of fruits and vegetables. The real causes of
hunger are poverty, inequality and lack of access. Too many people are too poor to buy the
food that is available (but often poorly distributed) or lack the land and resources to
grow it themselves (Lappe, Collins and Rosset l998).
Most innovations in agricultural biotechnology have been
profit-driven rather than need-driven. The real thrust of the genetic engineering industry
is not to make third world agriculture more productive, but rather to generate profits
(Busch et al l990). This is illustrated by reviewing the principle technologies on the
market today: a) herbicide resistant crops such as Monsanto's "Roundup
Ready"soybeans, seeds that are tolerant to Monsanto's herbicide Roundup, and
b)"Bt" crops which are engineered to produce their own insecticide. In the first
instance, the goal is to win a greater herbicide market-share for a proprietary product
and in the second to boost seed sales at the cost of damaging the usefulness of a key pest
management product (the Bacillus thuringiensis based microbial insecticide) relied upon by
many farmers, including most organic farmers, as a powerful alternative to insecticides.
These technologies respond to the need of biotechnology companies to intensify farmers'
dependence upon seeds protected by so-called" intellectual property rights,"
which conflict directly with the age-old rights of farmers to reproduce, share or store
seeds (Hobbelink l991). Whenever possible corporations will require farmers to buy
company's brand of inputs and will forbid farmers from keeping or selling seed. By
controlling germplasm from seed to sale, and by forcing farmers to pay inflated prices for
seed-chemical packages, companies are determined to extract the most profit from their
investment (Krimsky and Wrubel l996).
The integration of the seed and chemical industries appears destined
to accelerate increases in per acre expenditures for seeds plus chemicals, delivering
significantly lower returns to growers. Companies developing herbicide tolerant crops are
trying to shift as much per acre cost as possible from the herbicide onto the seed via
seed costs and/or technology charges. Increasingly price reductions for herbicides will be
limited to growers purchasing technology packages. In Illinois, the adoption of herbicide
resistant crops makes for the most expensive soybean seed-plus-weed management system in
modern history -between $40.00 and $60.00 per acre depending on rates, weed pressure, etc.
Three years ago, the average seed-plus-weed control costs on Illinois farms was $26 per
acre, and represented 23% of variable costs; today they represent 35-40% (Benbrook l999).
Many farmers are willing to pay for the simplicity and robustness of the new weed
management system, but such advantages may be short-lived as ecological problems arise.
Recent experimental trials have shown that genetically engineered
seeds do not increase the yield of crops. A recent study by the USDA Economic Research
Service shows that in 1998 yields were not significantly different in engineered versus
non-engineered crops in 12 of 18 crop/region combinations. In the six crop/region
combinations were Bt crops or HRCs fared better, they exhibited increased yields between
5-30%. Glyphosphate tolerant cotton showed no significant yield increase in either region
where it was surveyed. This was confirmed in another study examining more than 8,000 field
trials, where it was found that Roundup Ready soybean seeds produced fewer bushels of
soybeans than similar conventionally bred varieties (USDA l999).
Many scientists claim that the ingestion of genetically engineered
food is harmless. Recent evidence however shows that there are potential risks of eating
such foods as the new proteins produced in such foods could: act themselves as allergens
or toxins, alter the metabolism of the food producing plant or animal, causing it to
produce new allergens or toxins, or reduce its nutritional quality or value as in the case
of herbicide resistant soybeans that contained less isoflavones, an important
phytoestrogen present in soybeans, believed to protect women from a number of cancers. At
present there is a situation in many developing countries importing soybean and corn from
USA, Argentina and Brasil, in which genetically engineered foods are beginning to flood
the markets, and no one can predict all their health effects on consumers, most unaware
that they are eating such food. Because genetically engineered food remains unlabeled,
consumers cannot discriminate between GE and non-GE food, and should serious health
problems arise, it will be extremely difficult to trace them to their source. Lack of
labeling also helps to shield the corporations that could be potentially responsible from
liability (Lappe and Bailey, l998).
Transgenic plants which produce their own insecticides closely follow
the pesticide paradigm, which is itself rapidly failing due to pest resistance to
insecticides. Instead of the failed "one pest-one chemical" model, genetic
engineering emphasizes a "one pest-one gene" approach, shown over and over again
in laboratory trials to fail, as pest species rapidly adapt and develop resistance to the
insecticide present in the plant (Alstad and Andow l995). Not only will the new varieties
fail over the short-to-medium term, despite so-called voluntary resistance management
schemes (Mallet and Porter l992), but in the process may render useless the natural
pesticide "Bt," which is relied upon by organic farmers and others desiring to
reduce chemical dependence. Bt crops violate the basic and widely accepted principle of
"integrated pest management" (IPM), which is that reliance on any single pest
management technology tends to trigger shifts in pest species or the evolution of
resistance through one or more mechanisms (NRC l996). In general the greater the selection
pressure across time and space, the quicker and more profound the pests evolutionary
response. An obvious reason for adopting this principle is that it reduces pest exposure
to pesticides, retarding the evolution of resistance. But when the product is engineered
into the plant itself, pest exposure leaps from minimal and occasional to massive and
continuous exposure, dramatically accelerating resistance (Gould l994). Bt will rapidly
become useless, both as a feature of the new seeds and as an old standby sprayed when
needed by farmers that want out of the pesticide treadmill (Pimentel et al l989).
The global fight for market share markets is leading companies to
massively deploy transgenic crops around the world (more than 30 million hectares in l998)
without proper advance testing of short- or long-term impacts on human health and
ecosystems. In the U.S., private sector pressure led the White House to decree "no
substantial difference" between altered and normal seeds, thus evading normal FDA and
EPA testing. Confidential documents made public in an on-going class action lawsuit have
revealed that the FDAs own scientists do not agree with this determination. One reason is
that many scientists are concerned that the large scale use of transgenic crops poses a
series of environmental risks that threaten the sustainability of agriculture (Goldberg,
l992; Paoletti and Pimentel l996; Snow and Moran l997; Rissler and Mellon l996; Kendall et
al l997 and Royal Society l998):
The trend to create broad international markets for single products,
is simplifying cropping systems and creating genetic uniformity in rural landscapes.
History has shown that a huge area planted to a single crop variety is very vulnerable to
new matching strains of pathogens or insect pests. Furthermore, the widespread use of
homogeneous transgenic varieties will unavoidably lead to "genetic erosion," as
the local varieties used by thousands of farmers in the developing world are replaced by
the new seeds (Robinson l996).
b. The use of herbicide resistant crops undermine the possibilities
of crop diversification thus reducing agrobiodiversity in time and space (Altieri l994).
The potential transfer through gene flow of genes from herbicide
resistant crops to wild or semidomesticated relatives can lead to the creation of
superweeds (Lutman l999).
There is potential for herbicide resistant varieties to become
serious weeds in other crops (Duke l996, Holt and Le baron l990).
Massive use of Bt crops affects non-target organisms and ecological
processes. Recent evidence shows that the Bt toxin can affect beneficial insect predators
that feed on insect pests present on Bt crops (Hilbeck et al l998), and that windblown
pollen from Bt crops found on natural vegetation surrounding transgenic fields can kill
non-target insects such as the monarch butterfly (Losey et al l999). Moreover, Bt toxin
present in crop foliage plowed under after harvest can adhere to soil colloids for up to 3
months, negatively affecting the soil invertebrate populations that break down organic
matter and play other ecological roles ( Donnegan et al l995 and Palm et al l996).
There is potential for vector recombination to generate new virulent
strains of viruses, especially in transgenic plants engineered for viral resistance with
viral genes. In plants containing coat protein genes, there is a possibility that such
genes will be taken up by unrelated viruses infecting the plant. In such situations, the
foreign gene changes the coat structure of the viruses and may confer properties such as
changed method of transmission between plants. The second potential risk is that
recombination between RNA virus and a viral RNA inside the transgenic crop could produce a
new pathogen leading to more severe disease problems. Some researchers have shown that
recombination occurs in transgenic plants and that under certain conditions it produces a
new viral strain with altered host range (Steinbrecher l996)
Ecological theory predicts that the large-scale landscape
homogenization with transgenic crops will exacerbate the ecological problems already
associated with monoculture agriculture. Unquestioned expansion of this technology into
developing countries may not be wise or desirable. There is strength in the agricultural
diversity of many of these countries, and it should not be inhibited or reduced by
extensive monoculture, especially when consequences of doing so results in serious social
and environmental problems (Altieri l996).
Although the ecological risks issue has received some discussion in
government, international, and scientific circles, discussions have often been pursued
from a narrow perspective that has downplayed the seriousness of the risks (Kendall et al.
1997; Royal Society 1998). In fact methods for risk assessment of transgenic crops are not
well developed (Kjellsson and Simmsen 1994) and there is justifiable concern that current
field biosafety tests tell little about potential environmental risks associated with
commercial-scale production of transgenic crops. A main concern is that international
pressures to gain markets and profits is resulting in companies releasing transgenic crops
too fast, without proper consideration for the long-term impacts on people or the
There are many unanswered ecological questions regarding the impact
of transgenic crops. Many environmental groups have argued for the creation of suitable
regulation to mediate the testing and release of transgenic crops to offset environmental
risks and demand a much better assessment and understanding of ecological issues
associated with genetic engineering. This is crucial as many results emerging from the
environmental performance of released transgenic crops suggest that in the development of
"resistant crops", not only is there a need to test direct effects on the target
insect or weed, but the indirect effects on the plant (i.e. growth, nutrient content,
metabolic changes), soil, and non-target organisms. Unfortunately, funds for research on
environmental risk assessment are very limited. For example, the USDA spends only 1% of
the funds allocated to biotechnology research on risk assessment, about $1-2 million per
year. Given the current level of deployment of genetically engineered plants, such
resources are not enough to even discover the "tip of the iceberg". It is a
tragedy-in-the-making that so many millions of hectares have been planted without proper
biosafety standards. Worldwide, such acreage expanded considerably in 1998 with transgenic
cotton reaching 6.3 million acres, transgenic corn: 20.8 million acres and soybean: 36.3
million acres, helped along by marketing and distribution agreements entered into by
corporations and marketers (i.e. Ciba Seeds with Growmark and Mycogen Plant Sciences with
Cargill), in the absence of regulations in many developing countries. Genetic pollution,
unlike oil spills, cannot be controlled by throwing a boom around it, and thus its effects
are non-retrievable and may be permanent. As in the case of pesticides banned in Northern
countries and applied in the South, there is no reason to assume that biotechnology
corporations will assume the environmental and health costs associated with the massive
use of transgenic crops in the South.
As the private sector has exerted more and more dominance in
advancing new biotechnologies, the public sector has had to invest a growing share of its
scarce resources in enhancing biotechnological capacities in public institutions including
the CGIAR and in evaluating and responding to the challenges posed by incorporating
private sector technologies into existing farming systems. Such funds would be much better
used to expand support for ecologically based agricultural research, as all the biological
problems that biotechnology aims at can be solved using agroecological approaches. The
dramatic effects of rotations and intercropping on crop health and productivity, as well
as of the use of biological control agents on pest regulation have been confirmed
repeatedly by scientific research. The problem is that research at public institutions
increasingly reflects the interests of private funders at the expense of public good
research such as biological control, organic production systems and general agroecological
techniques . Civil society must request for more research on alternatives to biotechnology
by universities and other public organizations (Krimsky and Wrubel l996). There is also an
urgent need to challenge the patent system and intellectual property rights intrinsic to
the WTO which not only provide multinational corporations with the right to seize and
patent genetic resources, but that will also accelerate the rate at which market forces
already encourage monocultural cropping with genetically uniform transgenic varieties.
Based on history and ecological theory, it is not difficult to predict the negative
impacts of such environmental simplification on the health of modern agriculture (Altieri
Although there may be some useful applications of biotechnology (i.e.
the breeding drought resistant varieties or crops resistant to weed competition),because
these desirable traits are polygenic and difficult to engineer, these innovations will
take at least l0 years to be ready for field use. Once available and if farmers can afford
them, the contribution to yield enhancement of such varieties will be between 20-35%; the
rest of yield increases must come from agricultural management. Much of the needed food
can be produced by small farmers located throughout the world using agroecological
technologies (Uphoff and Altieri l999). In fact, new rural development approaches and
low-input technologies spearheaded by farmers and NGOs around the world are already making
a significant contribution to food security at the household, national and regional levels
in Africa, Asia and Latin America (Pretty l995). Yield increases are being achieved by
using technological approaches , based on agroecological principles that emphasize
diversity, synergy, recycling and integration; and social processes that emphasize
community participation and empowerment (Rosset l999). When such features are optimized,
yield enhancement and stability of production are achieved, as well as a series of
ecological services such conservation of biodiversity, soil and water restoration and
conservation, improved natural pest regulation mechanisms, etc (Altieri et al l998). These
results are a breakthrough for achieving food security and environmental preservation in
the developing world, but their potential and further spread depends on investments,
policies , institutional support and attitude changes on the part of policy makers and the
scientific community, especially the CGIAR who should devote much of its efforts to assist
the 320 million poor farmers living in marginal environments. Failure to promote such
people-centered agricultural research and development due to diversion of funds and
expertise to biotechnology, will forego a historical opportunity to raise agricultural
productivity in economically viable, environmentally benign and socially uplifting ways.
[Source: Institute for Food and Development Policy.]
KCTU denounces Government's interference
on Organsing Trade Unions In Bangladesh
On November 4, 1999, the KCTU issued a statement following a newspaper
report concerning the Korean government's intervention in the Export Processing Zone in
Bangladesh. In the statement, the KCTU denounced the action of the Korean government
attempting to pressure the government of Bangladesh to prohibit the organisation of trade
unions in the export processing zones. The KCTU statement condemned the Korean government
for trying to "export" its repressive labour policies of the past twenty years
that resulted in the imprisonment of thousands of workers.
Nov. 12 Declared Black Friday
Kontra Kartel, a coalition for a pro-Filipino oil industry, declared
Nov. 12 'Black Friday'. The coalition distributed black ribbons and stickers in four
strategic areas in Metro Manila as part of a day-long protest-action to express their
disgust over the series of oil price hikes and prevent a repeat this November.
Members of the oil cartel Petron, Shell, and Caltex -- have been raising prices almost
monthly. From April to October, the total amount of the increases has gone up by almost
P2.50 per liter. As a result, prices of
commodities have also gone up.
"We hope that by focusing public opinion on the issue, we can force the oil cartel to
roll back oil prices or at least stop this month's planned increase," said Kontra
Kartel spokesperson Carol Almeda. The broad coalition of anti-oil cartel groups has urged
the people to make the Black Friday Protest a habit. A signature campaign was also
launched during the coalition's press conference today to press Congress, Malacaņang and
the Supreme Court to do their role in preventing the oil cartel's "obscene and
immoral monopoly practices."
Burmese workers 'unpaid captives'
Some Thai factory owners on the Burmese border have refused to release
or pay their Burmese workers amid a government crackdown on illegal labourers. The
factory owners claim they are forced to keep many workers in their dormitories because the
border is closed. The truth is many of them are prisoners. Some can't leave even if they
Scores of textile and garment-making businesses are facing bankruptcy after being forced
to suspend operations 10 days ago. Their vulnerable, mostly young and female workers are
often not being paid. About 300 Burmese gathered outside the Kings Body Concept clothing
factory in Mae Sot this week to demand the two months' salary they claim to be owed. Some
1,000 employees of the nearby TK Garment factory made similar demands.
Burma has broken with normal international behaviour by refusing to take back many of the
refugees because it is angry with Thailand for what it perceives as the soft treatment of
five dissidents who seized its Bangkok embassy for 25 hours a month ago. Rangoon swiftly
closed the border after Thailand allowed the five to slip away into the border jungle.
The expatriated migrants usually have no option other than to return to Thailand, where
they are often deported again. As a result of these revolving-door detentions and
deportations, migrants are being placed at great risk.
The bodies of eight Burmese who were forced to cross the Moei River have so far been
found. Five Thai border police raped a woman and molested others on a river bank near Mae
1000 Largest Companies in Asia
ASIAWEEK reports on Asia's Largest 1000 Companies Ranked by Sales,
Profits, Assets and Employees. Only 23 non-Japanese owned companies were featured in the
top top 100 companies.
Where are they located?
680 - Japan
73 - Australia
70 - South Korea
35 - Singapore
31 - China
27 - Taiwan
21 - Hong Kong
20 - India
12 - Malaysia
10 - Thailand
8 - New Zealand
7 - Philippines
4 - Indonesia
2 - Pakistan
Ten Companies with Most Employees
421,300 - Jiangsu Sup. & Mktg. Co-op., China
328,351 - Hitachi Ltd., Japan
282,153 - Matsushita Electric Indl., Japan
262,535 - Daqing Oil Mgt. Bur., China
200,000 - East China Electric Power, China
198,000 - Toshiba Corp., Japan
188,000 - Fujitsu Ltd., Japan
183,879 - Toyota Motor Corp., Japan
177,000 - Sony Corp., Japan
175,000 - Jardine Matheson, Hong Kong
Delorme, Jacky (1999). 'Third World Debt',
Trade Union World' No. 8, p.21, International Confederation of Free Trade Unions,
The G8 Summit in Cologne last June did not decide to cancel Third World debt. This year
the poor countries will once again send nine times more money to their creditors in the
North than they receive from them in international aid.
(for a copy write to firstname.lastname@example.org )
Boff, Leonardo (1999), 'Liberation Theology and Globalization'
CPC Information, Praha.
Liberation Theology asks: where do the poor fit into the globalization process? From an
economic point of view, globalization responds to the needs of capital, whereby the
private acquisition of profit and the maximization of income are the most important
elements. As a consequence, economic globalization leads to the exclusion of the masses.
Between 1965 and 1990, when the globalization process began to accelerate, global
prosperity increased tenfold, while the world population only doubled. And during the same
period, the share of the rich counties in this global prosperity increased from 68% to
72%, while the population of these countries dropped from 30% of the world population to
(For a copy contact email@example.com )
Walsh, Pat (1999), 'East Timor - A Model Among Mini-States For the next
Millennium?, Disaming Times, Pax Christi Australia, Sydney.
Despite all the material shortcomings and other challenges it faces, East Timor is
emerging from its baptism of fire with leaders of internationally recognized caliber, a
strong Church, and a people who have demonstrated extraordinary resilience, creativity and
character. These are great assets. East Timor is becoming the first new state of the third
(for a copy write to Pax Christi Australia, Sydney branch, P.O. Box A899 Sydney Sth 2000)
Melanchthon, Monica J., (1999). 'Empowerment of Women in Asia: Celebration and
Lament Illustrated with the Case of Women in India', PTCA Bulletin, Program
for Theology and Cultures in Asia, Vol.12, No.1and 2, Hong Kong.
One of the strengths of the feminist movement is its concern for all marginalized peoples,
women and men, and the creation. Unless all oppressed peoples irrespective of class,
caste, or ethnic identity are empowered and liberated from the shackles that bind them,
feminism has not arrived at its goal. While we have definitely made strides, our journey
has not ended; the road ahead is rocky, dented and treacherous. We need to derive
hope and be strengthened from the small winnings and continued in the many faceted
struggles that is ours and will continue to be ours for a while still.
(for a copy write to firstname.lastname@example.org )
Raghavan, Chakravarti (1999). 'From 'Terminator' to 'Traitor' Technologies',
Third World Network Features, Third World Network, Penang.
First the 'Terminator' technology and now the 'Traitor' technology - the few
Northern-based transnational corporations are just determined to strengthen their grip on
the world seed market.
(for a copy see www.twnside.org.sg )
'Heightening TNC Domination'(1999), Ibon Facts and Figures, Vol.
22, Nos. 9-10, pp. 12-13. Ibon Foundation, Manila.
Transnational Corporations (TNCs) control 75% of total world investments. The
richest TNCs are highly concentrated in developed countries. The list of the world's top
TNCs did not change significantly over the years. Most of them still come from the US,
Japan and other "G7" countries.
(For a copy write to email@example.com )
Ediger, Max (1999).'Meeting the Grassroots in their Struggle',
Burma Issues, Vol. 9, No. 5, Bangkok.
For some 'grassroots' refers to anyone who is not directly working within government
structures. Others might say that it includes those working for change in 'non-government
organization' as well as those at the very bottom of society who are at a distinct
disadvantage in participating in or getting services. A more sharply focused definition is
that 'grassroots' refers only to those people in society who are in the periphery in terms
of participation. They have little, and sometimes no, opportunity for education, jobs, a
voice in the decision making and social benefits.
(for a copy write to firstname.lastname@example.org