domingo, octubre 15, 2006

Cambio climático y transgénicos

GM/Biosafety mailout from Teresa Anderson at the Gaia Foundation -

UN Climate Conference - An Opportunity for GM?

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will be held in Nairobi, Kenya this year from the 6th-17th November.

Climate change is now acknowledged to be one of the biggest threats facing the planet, although some sections of business (the oil industry in particular) and some governments (e.g. the US) have been reluctant to acknowledge the devastating role that modern industry, transport and food systems have had in contributing to carbon dioxide emissions and climate change.

Deforestation is exacerbating the problem as there are fewer trees to absorb carbon dioxide for growth. As the atmosphere warms up due to increased carbon dioxide, climate responds by changing in different ways across the planet. We are already seeing changes in patterns of temperature and rainfall across Africa, as many of you who lament the loss of the reliable and regular rainy seasons well know.

At the UNFCCC, countries will attempt to implement mitigation measures to reduce the impact of climate change, while also discussing adaptation techniques. There are many controversies over the proposed measures put forward in the Kyoto Protocol, and NGOs attending the session will have their hands full in trying to push for solutions that truly address the problems and interests of the rural poor and not just big business.

As it happens, Nairobi provides a base to a number of groups that promote GM for African Agriculture: Africa Harvest (run by Florence Wambugu), Africa Biotechnology Stakeholders Forum (ABSF), African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), Africa Biotechnology Network Africa (ABNETA), Biotechnology Trust Africa and the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA). Furthermore USAID, Monsanto and Syngenta all have a strong presence there. It is therefore possible that the GM industry will be looking to turn the Nairobi UNFCCC COP-12 into an opportunity to promote GM technology as the next big solution to climate change.

The GM industry may push for the UNFCCC to endorse GM in a number of areas, such as biofuels, GM trees, and drought tolerant GM crops. However, it is vitally important that NGOs and country delegates attending the UNFCCC know the true story behind the hype, and the risks that GM technology can bring. Having lost the argument that GM will feed the world, the industry is now desperate to cast itself again as the global solution - but yet again GM offers only empty promises and more problems.

Biofuels - There is increasing talk of using Biofuels made from crops as ethanol instead of petrol and biodiesel instead of diesel. The crops absorb as much carbon dioxide (CO2) when they are growing, as they release when they are burned, so they are termed as "carbon neutral", and seen by some as an environmentally friendly option instead of fossil fuels. European countries aim to replace a percentage of their fossil fuels with biofuels, and the EU has a programme called "Partners for Africa" to encourage African countries to grow biofuels for export to Europe. The GM industry intend to capitalise on this new vision of African agriculture. Syngenta have developed a variety of GM maize that contains an enzyme that would speed up the conversion to ethanol, and a GM cassava is also being developed for use in biofuels.

However, according to a study by Cornell University, the amount of energy input required for fertiliser, machinery, processing and transport for ethanol from maize is actually greater than the energy in the resulting fuel. In Indonesia, the rainforest, a valuable ecosystem which helps to absorb carbon dioxide and reduce climate change, is being cut down and replaced with Palm Oil plantations for biofuels.

Furthermore, according to the Earth Policy Institute, the amount of grain for fuel required to fill one 4x4 SUV tank, would feed a person for a year. We are going to find ourselves in a situation where the best agricultural land in Africa is increasingly used to grow fuel for European cars, instead of food for Africans. Biofuels could therefore pose a threat to food security in Africa. If acceptance of biofuels allows backdoor entry to GMOs, this would pose an even greater threat to African farmers through cross-pollination and patented seed.

GM Trees - One of the approaches that has been taken up since the development of the Kyoto Protocol is the concept of "Carbon Sinks" - large tree plantations that can allow countries, businesses and people to "offset" their CO2 emissions. The carbon sinks tend to be grown in the South, in tropical countries such as Uganda, and paid for by wealthy industrial countries. This approach has been criticised as allowing business to continue as usual in the developed countries, and distracting policy makers from the need to actually reduce carbon emissions. Whether carbon sinks really reduce CO2 emissions or not is also a point of controversy. Some research suggests that they can be damaging to local communities and the environment. They many be monoculture plantations which affect the water table or have replaced forest that is already there.

The GM industry is also attempting to turn this crisis into an opportunity. Fast-growing GM trees may be pushed as the next solution to creating instant carbon sinks. However, the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) held in April this year, urged countries to take a very cautious approach to GM trees. Tree pollen can travel for hundreds of miles and could cross-pollinate with non-GM trees. Pine pollen can travel 2000 miles. Trees have such a long growth cycle we have little or no idea what the impact will be on their ecologies. But 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.

Drought Tolerance - When aiming to justify GM technology in agriculture, one of the most frequent arguments brought out is that GM will give us drought tolerant crops, which will be important in Africa and in the face of impending climate change. This has been repeated so often by lobbyists and ambitious scientists that the media, the public and the policy makers actually believe that drought-tolerant crops are almost a reality, and that there is a moral imperative to pursue GM technology for the sake of the hungry.

But the reality is that the genetic coding for drought tolerance is incredibly complex, and it is quite possible that understanding of genetic engineering will never gain the ability to harness the trait. There may be up to 60 different genes involved in drought tolerance, all interacting and reacting in a subtle and complex way. The successful transferral of many complex genes, which can respond to a variety of conditions, and not produce unwanted toxins and allergens, is a long way off for current scientific knowledge. That is why some geneticists admit that even hoping for drought tolerance in the next 10 or 20 years may be too ambitious. Even Monsanto has admitted that it will take 8-10 years - however this is likely to be a strategic understatement for the purposes of public relations.

In the meantime, African farmers already know that their traditional varieties can survive drought conditions more successfully than the bought hybrid varieties. Genuine strategies for ensuring drought tolerance and future food security need to preserve and encourage natural genetic diversity in seed, by encouraging seed saving programmes and traditional farmer breeding knowledge. By endorsing GM technology to find drought tolerance, valuable resources are being drained from the real solutions.

Please forward this information to any of your colleagues who work on climate change issues, or who are planning to attend the UNFCCC COP-12 in Nairobi this November. It is vitally important that the GM industry does not take advantage of the opportunity to get official UN endorsement through the back door.

Best wishes,



1. Starving the People To Feed the Cars
Article from the Washington Post. Date: 10 September 2006
Lester R. Brown

2. Cornell Ecologist's Study Finds that Producing Ethanol and Biodiesel from Corn and Other Crops is Not Worth the Energy Article from Cornell University News Service, US. Date: 5 July 2005 Susan S. Lang

3. Feeding Cars, Not People - Article from the Guardian. Date: 22 November 2004
George Monbiot

4. On Eve of Nairobi Climate Conference, New Book Exposes Scandal of Carbon Trading
Press Release from The Corner House. Date: 4 October 2006

5. GE Trees: No Solution to Climate Change, Articile from Gen-ethischer Informationsdienst. Date:
February/March 2005. Chris Lang

6. Drought-resistant GM seeds won't benefit Kenyans for the next
decade, says Monsanto
Comment from GM Watch. Date: 1 February 2006

7. Drought-Resistant GM Seeds Won't Benefit Kenyans for the Next Decade
Article from the Nation (Kenya). Date: 31 January 2006
Kevin J. Kelley



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