martes, noviembre 14, 2006

Biocombustibles y transgénicos

Open letter to African COP-12 delegates from a number of NGOs

13th November 2006

Dear Delegate

A warning for Africa at COP-12: Biofuels, Genetic Engineering and Climate Change

The issue of Biofuels is gaining increasing currency at the UNFCCC COP-12, and in talk of environment and development solutions for Africa. Genetic Engineering (GE) or Genetic Modification (GM) technology may also be promoted in the form of GM crops and GM trees, by those who see the technology as helping to achieve fast growth or more efficient fuel conversion.

A number of NGOs would like to urge caution, and point out some of the many flaws with these arguments, and urge UNFCCC delegations and national policy makers not to embrace unsustainable large-scale biofuel plantations and potentially risky GM technology. Dependence on Biofuels and GM technology may in fact exacerbate the problems of climate change, environmental degradation, social inequality and poverty, particularly in Africa.


Large-Scale Biofuels Threat to Food Security

* Using important agricultural land and water to grow biofuels instead of food for domestic consumption will have a detrimental effect on food security in Africa.

* The amount of grain required for one tank of bioethanol in a 4x4 SUV would feed one person for a year (1).

* In 2006, an increase in the use of grain worldwide for conversion to biofuels led to a 60% increase in global grain prices and speculator interest in what had previously been a stably priced commodity. (2)

* While African countries may yet explore the possibilities of small-scale farming of biofuel crops for local household and domestic grid energy use, the consequences of growing fuel for export to the wealthy developing countries instead of food for Africans could be severe.

Energy Inefficient

* Some studies from the US found that the amount of fossil fuel energy required to produce and process biofuel crops such as soya and maize (fertilizer, farm machinery, processing and transport) is almost as much as the amount of energy contained in the fuel produced. (3)

* Biofuels therefore give us very little carbon saving and low energy saving.

Deforestation and Destruction of Peatlands

* Soya grown in the Brazilian Amazon is driving deforestation.

* The forested regions of Indonesia and Malaysia are being cut down for Palm Oil plantations.

* Wetlands Intenational have shown that destruction of SE Asian peatlands for Palm Oil plantations, which cover 0.2% of the global land surface, is responsible for 8% of the global CO2 emissions. (4)

* The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) currently allows for peatland areas that have been burned and cleared to create biofuel plantations to be eligible for CDM funding.

* On Kalangala Islands in Uganda, large areas of tropical forest are being converted into BIDICO palm oil plantations, which will be used to produce biodiesel. BIDICO are currently lobbying government to be able to further expand their plantations into other forested areas.

Genetically Engineered Biofuel Crops?

* The Genetic Engineering industry is keen to use acceptance of biofuels as a strategy to speed up GM acceptance in Africa, and the industry is working on a number of GM biofuel crops.

* Currently South Africa is the only African country that grows GM crops commercially, as the rest of Africa has been wary of integrating a potentially dangerous technology into the core of food security policy.

* Most African countries have yet to develop biosafety policies on GM crops, and are cautious of the difficulties in regulating and monitoring this novel food system, which could easily cross-pollinate and contaminate conventional agriculture.

* If the UNFCCC were to endorse GE as a technology, this would reverse years of hard-fought resistance by African governments and citizens to prevent GM contamination of agriculture.

The Dangers of GM Crops:

* GM crops are patented by the corporations that sell them, making seed saving illegal.

* Monsanto corporation (which owns 95% of global GM crops) has successfully sued farmers for patent infringement when their crops were cross-pollinated by neighbouring GM farms. (5)

* In Africa, 80% of small farmers save their seed. Food security and livelihoods in rural areas are likely to be negatively affected with the advent of patented GM seed.

* GM crops can easily cross-pollinate with local varieties and wild relatives, which means that genes from other species may accidentally and irreversibly contaminate the food chain and environment. Local varieties will be lost, and scientists do not know what the impact of these GM genes will be on ecological systems.

* GM crops have barely been tested for human or environmental safety, in spite of the large possibility of new toxins or allergens created through the insertion of new genes. The few animal tests that have been carried out have raised cause for concern. (6,7)

* Consumers in Europe and Japan have rejected GM crops for food and agriculture. Due to the risk of contamination, these countries may reject imports from countries that are growing GM crops.

* If GM crops are developed for biofuel use, new genes will be inserted for the plant to create chemicals that are not intended for human consumption. The likelihood of these biofuel crops contaminating conventional crops is, however, very high and over a hundred cases of contamination have been officially registered around the world. (8)

* If second generation ligno-cellulosic technology is commercially developed, the processing will be GM-intense involving specially produced enzymes to break down cellulosic material– the effects of accidental or intentional release of such materials into the environment is also unknown.

GM Trees

* Genetically Engineered trees, with traits for insect resistance, fast growth, increased cellulose or reduced lignin are not yet grown commercially anywhere. However, GM tree plantations have been promoted by the US as carbon sinks, which may be grown in Africa.

* Tree pollen can travel for hundreds of miles and could cross-pollinate with non-GM trees, potentially spreading the genes for low lignin (which helps trees to stand up) or insect resistance.

* Trees have such a long growth cycle that we have little or no idea of what the impact on their ecologies will be.

* Trees provide the planet’s most important ecosystems for keeping climate in the balance. It seems insanity to use this untested technology as a so-called "solution" when there is a large chance that it could harm global forest systems and create even more long-term chaos.

* GM tree plantations are likely to have the same effect as many exotic tree plantations and carbon sinks in Africa, which have only replaced current forested areas and reduced biodiversity, drained water tables, and prevented local people from accessing the trees traditionally important to their livelihoods and cultures

Precautionary Decision on GM Trees at UN CBD COP-8 2006

* The social and ecological threat from GM trees was acknowledged at the UN Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) in April 2006, urged a precautionary approach.

* The decision states in part: "The Conference of the Parties, recognizing the uncertainties related to the potential environmental and socio-economic impacts, including long-term and trans-boundary impacts, of genetically modified trees on global forest biological diversity, as well as on the livelihoods of indigenous and local communities, and given the absence of reliable data and of capacity in some countries to undertake risk assessments and to evaluate those potential impacts… recommends parties to take a precautionary approach when addressing the issue of genetically modified trees."

We therefore urge delegates to oppose large-scale biofuel plantations and Genetic Engineering technology at the UNFCCC COP-12 negotiations, particularly as part of the CDM and technology transfer initiatives. While there may be a role for small-scale and local biodiesel production for domestic consumption (e.g. Jatropha), where it does not displace food crops, forest or indigenous people, the inherent damage caused by large-scale plantations must be considered. Furthermore, under no circumstances should GM technology be endorsed at the UNFCCC.


The Gaia Foundation, UK (Teresa Anderson, Global Forest Coalition, Paraguay (Simone Lovera) Global Justice Ecology Project, US (Anne Petermann and Orin Langelle) Tropical Forest Group, Uganda (John Begumana) Large Scale Biofuels Action Group, UK (Andrew Boswell,

(1) Lester Brown, Earth Policy Institute, "Starving the people to feed the cars," 10 September 2006

(2) "Speculators buy up drought-hit wheat crops to earn their daily bread.",,1933832,00.html

(3) Robert Rapier, "E85: Spinning Our Wheels", R-Squared, May 2006 –


(5) Center for Food Safety report "Monsanto vs Farmers", June 2005

(6) New Scientist "GM pea causes allergic damage in mice" 21 November 2005

(7) "Genetically Modified Soy Affects Posterity: Results of Russian Scientists' Studies" Regnum News Agency, Russia. 12 October 2005



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