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 Biotech in the third world: A hostage of eco-propa

Biotech in the third world: A hostage of eco-propaganda?

CHICAGO, July 20 (AFP) - The United Nations' recent intervention in thegreat debate over genetically-modified foods has provided a welcome boostto the embattled advocates of the technology.Just a few weeks before the UN Development Program came out touting thebenefits of GM crops for the developing world, biotech supporters had beenpounding out the same message at an industry gathering in San Diego,California.But where UN officials argued that Western-generated fears about biotechshould not prevent the developing world from capitalizing on thetechnology, industry advocates say that this opposition has already put acrimp in research funding and closed borders to exported GMO products.Environmental groups like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, theycharged, are standing in the way of scientific advances which could helpmeet the food needs of 1.3 billion people who live on less than one dollara day."It's what's putting the brakes on further development of the technologyin developing countries," said C. S. Prakash, director of the Center forPlant Biotechnology Research at Tuskegee University in Alabama.The groups are part of "a protest industry," whose main product is "fear,"added Prakash, a speaker at BIO 2001 in June in San Diego.Those fears have turned consumers in the West, notably in Europe, againstfoods which contain even the slightest trace of GMOs making some nationsreluctant to allow the cultivation of GMO crops for fear of jeopardizingtheir export markets.Thailand, the world's number one rice-exporting nation, banned commercialcultivation of GMO crops in 1999, but that was because of the uncertaintyover the safety of GMO foods, Thai officials insist -- not worries aboutlosing their lucrative export markets.The UN's Development Program went so far as to say that GMO crops could bea useful tool in dealing with the malnutrition that affects 800 millionpeople worldwide, in a report issued July 9.The debate about GMOs should not be driven by conservationists in the richcountries alone, it warned.The GMO lobby, however, claims that is precisely what has happened inspite of a lack of any hard scientific evidence demonstrating that foodscontaining GMOs are dangerous to humans, according to the GMO lobby."There are 44 million hectares of GM crops under cultivation, up to 10,000field trials of GM crops are carried out every year and yet there is noscientific evidence to show GMO products present a threat to humans," saidFlorence Wambugo, head of ISAAA, Cornell University's agri-biotechresearch center."All we have is hearsay."GMO critics respond that the onus to prove these foods are safe lies withthe producers and the Monsanto's of this world, not consumers."Where are the long-term studies on the impact of GM crops on human healthor the environment?" queried Greenpeace spokesman Craig Culp."There is no mandatory labeling of foods containing GM products, so thereis no way to identify the effect of those GMOs on humans."GMO critics also worry about the manufacturers of GM seeds monopolizingthe market in these agricultural inputs.But scientists such as Prakash point out that public-sector institutionsin countries such as the Philippines and Kenya are working on high-yieldrice, virus-resistant sweet potato and more nutritious strains of cassava-- crops that are staples in developing countries.Genetically-enhanced crops that are easier to cultivate (insect andpesticide-resistant), deliver higher yields and are less perishable, arean obvious way to boost local and regional agriculture in order to meetlocal food needs, he said.

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