FAO: New GMOs Rising In Developing Countries; Public Sector Key

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Contributions of participants at a recent e-conference organised by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) on new genetically modified organisms show that a considerable number of new GMOs are likely to be released in developing countries in the next five years.

The e-conference, which ran from 5 November to 2 December, was on “GMOs in the pipeline” in the crop, forestry, livestock, aquaculture and agro-industry sectors in developing countries. According to the summary [pdf] of the e-conference written by moderator John Ruane of the FAO Research and Extension Branch, the new GMOs expected to be released are dominated by the crop sector, but also with an increased focus on new areas such as fish, insects, and trees.

The e-conference was the 18th of the sort hosted by the FAO Biotechnology Forum since its launch in the year 2000, according to the summary. The conference drew some 770 subscribers, of which 59 participated actively through 109 messages, coming from people living in 24 different countries. The largest contributors were from India, followed by the United States, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Brazil, the Netherlands, Peru, Spain and Switzerland, coming from various work environments such as universities, non-governmental organizations, research centres, and the private sector.

All the e-messages of the conference were compiled in a pdf file made available by the FAO. According to the summary, some countries have strong GMO programmes, such as Brazil, China, India and Iran, in which the public sector is playing a key role. A contributor to the e-conference, Thomas Nickson, international policy lead for Monsanto, mentioned the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) project as a good example of a public-private partnership.

The project is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, in-kind support from Monsanto and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, and led by the African Agricultural Technologies Foundation (AATF), a multi-stakeholder group that brings together foundations like Gates and Buffett, and the US and UK governments, along with guidance from industry, academia and developing countries.

In the near term, Nickson said, “public-private partnerships financed by philanthropic and in-kind contributions will be an important vehicle to advance biotechnology traits/crops into the developing world.” He also mentioned the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), which provides information to existing biotech products and those under development. ISAAA also provides a database of biotech/GM crop approvals.

Another contributor to the FAO e-conference, Denis Murphy, professor in the Division of Biology at the University of Glamorgan, UK, raised the question of crop varieties labelled as GM containing other trait combinations resulting from other forms of breeding technology, such as mutagenesis, wide crossing, or marker-assisted selection.

In some cases, Murphy said, incorporation of a transgenic trait, such as herbicide-tolerance, which benefits from patent protection, “caused the new varieties to be labelled as GM although their new traits were unrelated to GM technology.”

In the future, he said, “this could lead to almost any new crop variety being classified as GM simply because a transgene from an older variety had been crossed in at some stage of the breeding programme.”

“Due to existing patent regulations,” he said, “biotech companies can more readily protect seeds via intellectual property rights if they contain transgenes.

“Agribusiness giants Monsanto, DuPont and Dow are plotting the boldest coup of a global food crop in history.” – ETC Group

Resistance in Some Developing Countries, Civil Society Wary

Some resistance to GMOs is still evident in developing countries. One contributor to the conference, Michael Farrelly, programme officer for climate change and gender for the Tanzania Organic Agriculture Movement, told Intellectual Property Watch that the GMO debate was on-going in Tanzania, and the Minister of Agriculture recently declared that Tanzania was not ready for GMOs.

According to All Africa, the Tanzania government said in November, while the National Assembly passed a bill proposing establishing “The Plant Breeders’ Rights Act, 2012,” that it was not ready to adopt the GMO foods and organisms technology.

The Tanzanian position comes “around the same time that neighbouring regional-trendsetting Kenya announced a ban on GMO imports,” Farrelly said. Also in November, a 10-year moratorium on GMOs voted in 2011 became effective in Peru, according to Andina, the Peruvian News Agency.

In the meantime, civil society groups have long fought GM crops as endangering biodiversity.

In December, the ETC Group said in a release that “Agribusiness giants Monsanto, DuPont and Dow are plotting the boldest coup of a global food crop in history,” referring to Monsanto, DuPont Pioneer Hi-Bred International, and Dow AgroSciences having allegedly applied to the government for the planting of 2,500,000 hectares of transgenic maize in Mexico.

The National Union of Autonomous Regional Peasant Organizations of Mexico (UNORCA) has also been protesting the planting of GM maize, supported by La Via Campesina, a global farmers’ movement.

Catherine Saez may be reached at info@ip-watch.ch.

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