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article: transgenic crops, gene patents

TOPICS under debate: Free Citizen, Long Term Vision, Preamble
The following article presents one side of the the debate around
the "terminator gene", gene patents, and related material.

Comment is invited.


Genetic Engineering and Third World Livelihoods
By Sonia Shah

Agricultural and environmental organizations are sounding the alarm
about genetically engineered crops the lack of labelling or wide-scale
testing of these profit-motivated products pose a great unknown risk
for consumer health, animals, and the environment.  Western consumers
may grapple with the health and moral implications of genetically
engineered foods. But for Third World farmers, the implications are
clear: these products are killing livelihoods, cultures, and

For instance, 70% of the population of India are small farmers who
subsist by collecting and harvesting seeds passed on from generation
to generation.  These seeds the source of the world's biodiversity are
the heritage, legacy, and security for farming communities. Given the
seed's central place in their economy and culture, many agricultural
communities consider the seed to be sacred.  But chemical companies
such as Monsanto which brought the world Agent Orange and DDT are
aggressively seeking to disrupt this natural cycle of regeneration for
small Third World farmers. By buying up local seed companies and by
claiming to own (by patenting) native seeds, Monsanto, as the world's
largest producer of agrochemicals and transgenic seeds, is attempting
to pirate this age-old, self-sustaining method of farming and

Small farmers must now buy the seeds they once harvested themselves
from their own crops. Or they may buy genetically engineered seeds,
such as Monsanto's wheat, corn, and soy which have been engineered to
be resistant to the company's own broad-spectrum poison “Roundup.”
Monsanto sells both the poison and the transgenic seed together in the
same package the seed is useless without the poison.  Monsanto
propaganda asserts that genetic engineering will result in more
sustainable farming, but in fact most transgenic crops are developed
to be impervious to the continued use of herbicides. To more fully
curtail farmers' ability to replant their own seeds, Monsanto is
currently developing seeds with a “Terminator” gene, so that the seeds
are sterile. This corporate strategy of forcing small Third World
farmers to use dead or poison-dependant seeds, while profitable for
Monsanto, pushes farmers into an ill-afforded corporate dependence and
further contaminates their land.

Over much resistance, the Indian government allowed Monsanto to test
its pest-resistant Bt cotton seeds in India. Last year, 95% of these
seeds did not sprout for farmers in the state of Andhra Pradesh;
hundreds of farmers commit suicide. In December 1998, Indian farmers'
organizations which have been organizing resistance to corporate
agriculture at least since GATT negotiations started launched a
"Cremation Monsanto" campaign, uprooting Monsanto-engineered crops and setting
the fields afire.

That very same month, President Clinton bestowed the nation's highest
honor for technological achievement on the Monsanto scientists that
developed Bt cotton. The U.S. exports 80% of the world's genetically
engineered materials, and has successfully stymied any attempts to
regulate this trade.  The impacts on consumer health and the
environment are disturbing unknowns; but for Third World farmers, the
future is all too clear.

Sonia Shah is the editor of Dragon Ladies: Asian American Feminists
Breathe Fire, and an editor/publisher in the South End Press

Sources Biopiracy: The Plunder of Nature and Knowledge, by
Vandana Shiva (South End Press, 1997).

North and South Face Off Over Genetic Engineering, InterPress
Third World News Agency, 2/16/99

Goldburg, R., et al, Biotechnology's Bitter Harvest: Herbicide
Tolerant Crops and the Threat to Sustainable Agriculture,
Council for Responsible Genetics, Cambridge, MA

AP Asks Monsanto to Stop Trials in Cotton Fields,
Deccan Herald 12/4/98

Scientist suspects foul play, wants CBI to probe cotton
suicides, Times of India, 1/18/99

Prof. Nanjundaswamy,
Cremation Monsanto the campaign, web posting

The 1998 National Medal of Technology, Scientific American,
March 1999, p.47.

US Government Sued Over Genetic Crops, InterPress Third World
News Agency,
See also
The Monsanto Machine, by Jeffrey St. Clair,
In These Times, 3/7/99, p. 4

Monsanto: Playing God by Kirkpatrick Sale,
The Nation, 3/8/99, p. 14, and
Vermont, the Pure-Food State, by Daniel Bellow,
The Nation, 3/8/99, p. 19

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