UNNGO WORKSHOP: A QUEST TO FULFILL HUNGER OF THE BODY AND MIND POST-2015:
Final REPORT on:
Is Genetically Modified Food A Solution?
65th Annual UN DPI/NGO Conference - Trusteeship Council, United Nations, August 28, 2014
Sponsored and Presented by: The Light Millennium
Co-sponsored by: Federation of World Peace and Love, Advancing Eco Agriculture and Stirring the Pot Productions
A QUEST TO FULFILL HUNGER OF THE BODY AND MIND POST-2015:
Is genetically modified food a solution?
Part 1/2: INTRODUCTION, PANEL & INTERVENTION SECTION (in this page)
Part 2/2: INTERACTIVE SESSION AND CONLUDING REMARKS
[September 20, 2014, Lightmillennium.Org] The Light Millennium led and presented a panel at the 65th Annual DPI/NGO Conference that explored whether Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are the solution towards eradicating world hunger, especially in the context of the secrecy that surrounds them. Their proprietary nature, the ineffectiveness of mainstream media, private sector influence, are some of the factors that work against full transparency. The panel benefited from a diversity of voices, from diplomat to nutritionist to scientists, including one who has found a way to increase yield by reverting to and building upon less toxic tools. As far as we are aware, this topic was raised for the first time in the UN DPI/NGO forum.
The workshop, single panel exhibit on the first floor of UN’s main conference building, along with the organization’s current GMO-themed website, calling for submissions from all walks of life, and from all parts of the world, are all part of the organization’s efforts to create awareness, and remove some of the secrecy surrounding genetically modified seeds and food production. By reaching for a more healthful food system paradigm, we can protect the environment, eradicate global hunger and foster sustainable human development.
The panel/workshop is sponsored and presented by The Light Millennium, which is associated with the Department of Public Information of the United Nations. It is co-sponsored by: the Federation of World Peace and Love, Advancing Eco Agriculture and Stirring the Pot Productions. Conceived and directed by: Bircan Unver and Julie Mardin.
REPORT ON THE PANEL DISCUSSION
“A Quest to Fulfill Hunger of the Body and Mind Post-2015: Is genetically modified food a solution?” began by brief welcoming remarks of the moderator Ms. JULIE MARDIN, Artist-Activist and Independent Researcher. She indicated that the panel would benefit from a diversity of voices from diplomats, nutritionists, and scientists. This topic was being raised for the first time in the UN DPI/NGO forum. She also added that the panel was extended with an intervention section that would include new voices from countries around the globe such as El Salvador and Indonesia, as well as two representatives from global-based civil society organizations. Then Mardin gave the floor to Dr. MICHAEL K. HANSEN, Senior Scientist with Consumers Union for his speech.
Dr. Hansen first explained what the main traits of genetically engineered (GE) crops are. The two traits which have been globally commercialized are Herbicide Resistance (HR), where the plants are designed to be sprayed with an herbicide that consists primarily of the chemical Glyphosate. These are also known as Roundup Ready crops, after the name of Monsanto’s #1 selling herbicide; the second main trait is Insect Resistance, which incorporates a toxin from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis. These are called Bt crops. There is also a small amount of acreage of virus tolerant crops. In the US herbicide and insect resistant crops are over 99.9% of all the acres grown for GMO crops.
According to 2014 reports the main crops that are engineered in the US are: Soy beans (HR) 94%, Sugar beets (HR) 95%, Corn (Bt and HR) 93%, Canola (HR) 93%, Cotton (Bt and HR) 96%, Papaya (virus tolerant) 80% (Hawaii), Squash/zucchini (virus tolerant) 13 % (2005).
There are more pesticides used for engineered crops than un-engineered crops
Dr. Hansen continued by asking this very important question: Do these crops increase yields and do they reduce pesticide use? Yes they do is what the industry says. But if we look clearly at the data that shows it is not the case. He pointed to a study by the Union of Concerned Scientists which indicated more pesticide use for engineered crops than un-engineered crops. According to the research GE has not increased intrinsic yield, which is the inherent potential within each plant, and has delivered only minimal gains in operational yield. Also experimental high-yield GE crops have not succeeded.Then he referred to Dr. Charles Benbrook’s research (2012, www.enveurope.com/content/24/1/24) and explained that during first 9 years, pesticide use on genetically engineered crops increased by a total of 122 million pounds. By 2011, Bt corn and cotton has reduced insecticide use by 123 million pounds, but herbicide resistant crops have increased herbicide use by 527 million pounds, for an overall 404 million pounds increase over the 16 years. So, for 1996-2004, 122 million pounds more pesticide was used on GE compared to non-GE crops. For 2005-2012, an additional 282 million extra pounds were applied. He also pointed out that the use of Glyphosate resistant crops have been increasing every year in the US and globally.
Although the industry tries to say GM food is perfectly safe review shows the opposite.
Another important issue is the safety of genetically modified foods. According to feeding studies that measured thousands of parameters, significant differences appeared in the liver, kidney and bone marrow. Dr. Hansen highlighted the importance all these systems, for instance the bone marrow produces the white blood cells of the immune system when it is defending the body, and the liver and kidney are the primary organs for toxin elimination. Although the industry tries to say GE food is perfectly safe, further review shows the opposite. Dr. Hansen strongly indicated that the 90-day-long tests are insufficient to evaluate chronic toxicity, and the signs highlighted in these three organ systems could be indicating the onset of chronic diseases. However, no minimal length for the tests is yet obligatory for any of the GMOs cultivated on a large scale, and this is unacceptable in terms of consumer health protection.
Answer for the future is farmer centered, ecologically rational agriculture.
In conclusion Dr. Hansen informed the audience about the alternatives to genetically engineered crops. He called to our attention a multi-agency and government report called the IAASTD (International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development) that was published in 2008. The IAASTD said basically that the answer for the future of food is farmer centered, ecologically rational agriculture. The answer is not higher technology, genetic engineering or nanotechnology. The IAASTD also pointed out problems with the patent issue. In the US genetically modified crops cannot be saved and replanted, as that would be considered theft of the company’s intellectual property. And yet many of the traits and plants they are using are actually developed in the farmer’s fields. So there are indigenous farmers and others saying they are concerned that their intellectual property is functionally being stolen. There is also a global campaign calling for no patenting to be allowed on genetically engineered plants or organisms.
Afterwards Ms. STEFANIE SACKS, Culinary Nutritionist, Author and the Host of Stirring the Pot Radio show, explained genetically modified foods from a Chef’s point of view. She first asked, Do we know what we are eating and can small changes in food choice make big everyday changes? Then she quoted from Frances Moore Lappé and Anna Lappé’s book Hope’s Edge: “All around me experts were predicting famine, saying we’d reached the earth’s limits to feed ourselves. More chemicals, Bigger Farms, More Technology were the mantras of the day. Yet, in the basement university library where I had gone to pursue my curiosity as to how we might feed this small planet, I discovered that what I was hearing—the experts’ call-to-arms—was, frankly, wrong. Not only was there enough to feed us all; there was more than enough. Worse than that, the strategies touted to bring us plenty—the chemicals, the large scale farms, the technology—might actually make the food crisis worse.”
Yet, in the basement university library where I had gone to pursue my curiosity as to how we might feed this small planet, I discovered that what I was hearing—the experts call-to-arms—was, frankly, wrong. Not only was there enough to feed us all; there was more than enough. Worse than that, the strategies touted to bring us plenty—the chemicals, the large scale farms, the technology—might actually make the food crisis worse.”
1/3 of the food wasted (300 million tons) is sufficient to feed the world’s 900,000,000 hungry.
Sacks stated that Monsanto, the world’s leading biochemical giant, producer of pesticides and GMO seeds says: GMOs are a silver bullet. They are the solution. Their reasoning for this is the growing population and need for more nutritious food. The question is, “Are they really the answer?” According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations 1/3 of the food wasted (300 million tons) is sufficient to feed the world’s 900,000,000 hungry. Golden rice which is a genetically modified to produce Vitamin A is not so golden; it had never been introduced to the market. Because there is not enough testing on it. More chemicals are being used and Monsanto and other biochemical giants are actually profiting. We are not getting fed, in fact we are getting sicker and sicker every day.
We may be the lab rats of the biggest human experiment of all time.
Then Ms. Sacks continued on expanding the subject of GMOs and health. Although GMO producers indicate that there is no evidence to indicate human safety concerns, during the course of her professional life, Ms. Sacks said she has been seeing more and more people getting sick with allergies, and food sensitivities in children. We have been eating GMOs without even realizing it, or knowing what it might be doing. She strongly suggested that we may be the lab rats of the biggest human experiments of all time. She also mentioned that in 2013, Dr. Don Huber, world renowned plant pathologist wrote a letter to Tom Vilsack, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, that Monsanto’s Roundup Ready corn and soy has been harboring a new pathogen which appears to be causing infertility and spontaneous abortions in epidemic proportions in cattle. Ms. Sacks said “if our animals are eating foods that are causing this, what is happening to us, we are eating the same food.” She listed the reasons to oppose GMOs: Loss of biodiversity and small farms, increased use of chemicals and the lack of true understanding of the long-term health effects for humans, animals and the environment.
Then Ms. Sacks continued on expanding the subject of GMOs and health. Although GMO producers indicate that there is no evidence dispute human safety during her profession Ms. Sacks said she sees more people getting sicker such as allergies, food sensitivity in children. We have been feeding with GMOs without necessarily knowing. She strongly suggested that we may be the lab rats of the biggest human experiments of all time. She also mentioned that in 2013, Dr. Don Huber, world renowned plant pathologist wrote a letter to Tom Vilsack, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture that Monsanto’s Roundup Ready corn and soy has a new pathogen appears to be causing infertility and spontaneous abortions in epidemic proportions in cattle. Ms. Sacks said “if our animals eating foods that are causing this, what is happening to us, we are eating the same food.” She listed the reasons to oppose to GMOs: Lost of biodiversity and small farms, increased use of chemicals anthe lack of true understanding of the long-term health effects for humans, animals and the environment.
[In the US] State by state the demand for labeling the GMOs has been denied.
Looking from the social perspective Ms. Sacks highlighted the importance of “the right to know.” Unlike the US, 64 countries around the world require labeling of genetically engineered foods. State by state the demand for labeling GMOs has been denied. So to navigate the GMOs is important for educating the consumers. Consumers should avoid top GMOs such as canola, cotton, corn, papaya, soy beans, and sugar beets. They need to understand that packaged foods today contain many GMO ingredients. She said stay away these foods as much you can. Your right to know is valued. Speak up.At the end of her speech, Stefanie Sacks announced the release of her upcoming book, What the Fork are You Eating?
At the end of her speech, Stefanie Sacks announced her upcoming book release called What the Fork are You Eating?
Next, H.E. CARLOS GARCIA, Founder & CEO, CG Global Consultant and Former Permanent Representative of El Salvador to the UN, focused on genetically modified food in El Salvador and the effects on the health of farmworkers and consumers, and on the country’s food sovereignty. According to the definition of the World Health Organization GM foods are produced by “organisms in which the genetic material has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally.” The use of biotechnology in food production is one of the most controversial subjects in modern agriculture. A key piece of information needed to fully understand the controversy and create appropriate public policy is an estimate of consumer demand for genetically modified food.
Using GM crops, has the potential to bring crops that should not be consumed by humans, for one reason or another, into supermarkets.
H.E. Garcia pointed out that additionally, consumers are concerned about GM food accidentally mixing with other species of plants and animals. Out crossing or the movement of genes from GM plants into conventional crops, as well as the mixing of crops derived from conventional seeds with those grown using GM crops, has the potential to bring crops that should not be consumed by humans, for one reason or another, into supermarkets.
When it comes to El Salvador the GMO issue is important because there is no proper policy for agriculture in El Salvador. He indicated that this goes back to colonial times. For example the Spanish conquistadors transformed all farmland for export crops, such as, indigo, cacao and others. The Americans in the 60s introduced the Green Revolution: the large plantations that rely on planting hybrid seeds, use of large amounts of pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers on sugarcane monocultures, cotton, banana, and others along with the large scale production of meat, eggs and milk. Between the 60s and 70s the indiscriminate use of pesticides in the cotton plantations of the east of the country were promoted and the country is still suffering its effects through the destruction of the salty forests, the pollution of aquifers, soil and chronic health problems among the population.
In most developing countries agriculture is the basic source of life.
GM food has a tremendous impact on issues of economy and sovereignty as well. In most developing countries agriculture is the basic source of life. The implementation of what has been called the green revolution meant concentration of land ownership and the production of transgenic seed has meant the concentration of land in the hands of multinational corporations. This has meant the replacement of peasant and indigenous agriculture by commercialized agriculture aimed at generating wealth, regardless of if the population has a healthy, nutritious diet.
H.E. Garcia highlighted the importance of comprehensive rural development policy on agriculture. Then he explained two very important laws that have been adopted by El Salvador: the Seed Act and the Consumer Law. In the Seed Act there was a particular article, Article 30, which prohibited the importation and distribution of genetically modified seeds. Article 28 of the Consumer Law demanded the labeling of transgenic products. These two important laws have been abolished. This has allowed companies like Crisitani Burkard and Fertica to import GM seeds. The two major companies that will benefit in El Salvador are minted with Monsanto.
Farmers are forced to buy seeds every season, the local crop varieties are decreasing and human health issues are increasing.
H.E. Garcia concluded his speech by pointing out that although the excuse for the development of such crops is to end hunger, poverty and malnutrition in the world, the reality is very different. Farmers are forced to buy seeds every season, the local crop varieties are decreasing and human health issues are increasing.
After H.E. Garcia’s remarkable speech Mr. JOHN KEMPF, Founder and CEO of Advancing Eco Agriculture (AEA), presented another vision of how agriculture could be done. As a farmer growing fresh market fruits and vegetables using very intense pesticide applications for disease and insect control he faced increase of disease from insects in the early 2000’s. For three years disease constantly increased until they were not economically able to grow those crops, and pesticides were no longer controlling the disease. This situation forced him to look for alternatives. Then he began experimenting what was possible to produce crops without using pesticides. Working with a number of leading plant physiologists he learned there were many things that can be done with plant nutrition, to produce plants that have a functional immune system which are completely resistant to disease and insect pests.
GMOs are not the only answer to provide food for growing population.
Kempf then mentioned that GMOs are not the only answer to provide food for a growing population. Ecological agriculture and regenerative agriculture systems significantly can outperform what can happen with genetically modified crops. His experience of working with many different farmers showed that the use of Glyphosate is contributing significantly to disease susceptibility and it degrades very slowly in the environment. Glyphosate remains in the soil anywhere between two months to two decades depending on the condition of soil. The degradation pathway of Glyphosate can also have microbial impacts in the soil system.
GM crops and their dependency on pesticide support are not a sustainable option for the futureKempf stated that GM crops and their dependency on pesticide support are not a sustainable option for the future. The great deal of research on plant immune systems has not been transferred into application. When we learned about bio-technology and genetics we thought we would be able to control a lot of diseases in people, animals and plants through manipulating genetics. As we learn more about genetics we realized that we did not really know what we thought we knew. From genetics emerged the science of epi-genetics. Epi-genetics can be simply defined by saying environment determines genetic expression. He also mentioned that plant nutrition can have significant impact on yield, quality, and immunity. If the plants are healthy enough they can produce very strong plant yields even in very stressed situations. Most importantly Mr. Kempf highlighted that it is possible to grow plants that are resistant to diseases and insect pests and it is possible to regenerate soils while growing a healthy crop. It is possible to produce food as medicine.
GM crops are not safe for the environment
Next, Ms. DEBORAH CARLIN, student at Muhlenberg College, talked about why GM crops don’t seem to be doing their job, and suggested a few alternatives that could have positive results for both people and the environment. She underlined that whether or not GM crops are safe for humans, what needs to be kept in mind is they are not safe for the environment. Additionally she said over-spraying Roundup seeds has caused a decrease in the presence of milkweed, which is the main food source and habitat for monarch butterfly larvae that have been in decline for at least a decade.
Carlin focused on two questions in her speech. First, “If the idealistic goal of GM crops is to give more people access to fresh foods, then why not just grow that food locally, using sustainable, urban agriculture practices?” Then she explained urban agriculture could vary from rooftop farming, to vertical greenhouses, to backyard gardens, and could be the answer in terms of environmental benefits, most facilities recycle their water and waste, avoid using chemical pesticides and herbicides, and follow other organic growing standards. She also gave an example on hydroponic systems which is a method of plant growing that does not use soil, and relies on water, nutrient solutions, and alternative growth mediums.
We would not be able to survive without other species
The second question Carlin asked was “Have GM supporters even considered other alternatives to current rural agricultural practices? She highlighted that while GMO advocates were promoting it as a solution for world hunger, they ignored the question of how to utilize agricultural land. She mentioned that according to the FDA about 80% of agricultural land in the world is used for the production of livestock and that most of this animal feed is genetically modified. Carlin suggested that decreasing livestock production would benefit the environment. She said “We need to start creating the mindset that everything on earth is connected, and that includes humans. No matter how indestructible we think we are, we would not be able to survive without other species.” She concluded by saying “If we allow the agro-industry to continue abusing their power, then not only will we be no closer to ending world hunger, but we will be jeopardizing the future of all species on earth.”
The last speaker of the panel was The Light Millennium’s Founding President and Permanent Representative to the United Nations Ms. BIRCAN UNVER. Considering the GMOs she first asked, “What we know about it, do we know what are we eating, do we know what is in it, do we know what it is going to do to us?” An example of unknown risks was the flu vaccine which had been withdrawn from the market because of the side effects, the dangers of which came out only after 10 years. Ongoing research showed that there are many different types of flu viruses and the vaccine is preventing/curing only a few of them, said Unver.
Not knowing what is inside a product that we buy and eat, is a violation of our own “right to know”
Unver then highlighted that today we do not know how genetically modified food and agriculture have and will affect our body, health, mind, water and environment. How can we be certain that the genetically modified age will not modify and mutate our cells and us as humans? She strongly emphasized that “access to information” is the key for us to take necessary precautions. Unver also mentioned the label issue, not knowing what is inside a product that we buy and eat is a violation of our own “right to know”.
Then she made a connection in between annual flu vaccine campaigns and the GM based-forced agriculture. She continued on the effects of annually genetically modified seeds in a diverse and intergenerational demographic on a national and international basis. In this context, farmers have been forced to plant a new set of genetically modified seeds on their lands on an annual basis, which contains each year a different combination or formula of pesticides in order to kill insects and wild plants. With that farmers are completely forced to be dependent on the GM seed providers that they even cannot go back to conventional, or organic farming either, because their land/soil is contaminated by pesticides. She added that in this context, all the farmers who are tied in with this restrictive approach have given up their basic right on what to plant each year. Their “right to choose” option has been taken away from them.
Unver also expressed her concerns about not having the full spectrum of information on the research that has been conducted, even those by the manufacturers themselves, which are only required to span 90 days, as Dr. Hansen had outlined.Then she expressed the aim of the workshop was to create an awareness of the technology, with its difficult terminology, which makes it even more difficult to follow. She suggested that we should start somewhere to educate ourselves so that we can then demand from our government(s) to prevent its potential risks on health and environment on us and future generations.
No patent on life… Right to live, right to choose, right to know
Recalling Dr. Hansen’s remarks, she pointed out that “no patent on life” will only be possible through having access to the information in full transparency. Then based on that information, consequently, we could take up necessary measures and required paths in order to demand a right path on this, right policies and processes to be implemented, and to be able to hold onto our own basic rights, mainly that is: “Living…right to live, right to choose, right to know.”
Unver concluded her remarks saying “freedom of expression, freedom of information, and free flow of information, is also definition of the ARTICLE#19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. So, in this house, fundamental institution and the document of the Article#19, still we are not able to access to full information on the GM seeds and its consequences!
After Unver’s speech the panel was concluded and moved on to the intervention session.
Current food production is enough for everybody in the planet.The intervention session started with remarks by Mr. PURNOMO A. CHANDRA the Minister Counsellor Permanent Mission of the Republic of Indonesia to the UN and Former Chair of FAO’s Committee for Constitutional and Legal Matters. Agreeing with the panelists he stated that the productivity of food is enough for everybody on the planet. But the fact is the number of hungry has never been lower than 600 million people because there is plenty of structural problems in the world. Mr. Purnomo, then added that Indonesia has already identified the GMOs back in 1996 with a very conscious approach. He gave the example of the burning of a warehouse belonging to Monsanto back in the 1990s by the farmers.
GMO is not a sustainable solution
Then he emphasized that GMO is not a sustainable solution. We also need to have a good policy to address other issues such as trade policies, bio-safety information for the public is very important and to promote a healthy life style. He concluded by announcing an important conference on Nutrition organized by WHO-FAO in November (2014) in Rome, Italy.
Next, the President of the Federation of World Peace and Love Dr. TAO-TZE HONG presented his article on “The Critical Moment of 2014, An Era of Conscience is the Framework for a Sustainable Future.” He strongly emphasized that climate change and unsustainable farming practices have degraded the ecological system, resulting in poor food quality and food supply shortages. Post 2015 agendas should be based upon human-centered principles rooted in conscience and justice.
Dr. Hong highlighted the importance of conscience especially in this chaotic time and he suggested as more world citizens participate in the movement of "An Era of Conscience” with a promise to apply the positive influences of conscience, the world will become safer and more livable. He said, “Only when nations are united, and conscience and wisdom are used to solve conflicts will human beings have a chance to overcome our difficulties.
The food issue is imperative to the world we want and creating the culture of peace.
The last speaker of the intervention session was the Representative of the Global Movement on Culture of Peace Ms. IRIS SPELLINGS. Spellings first mentioned the UN Declaration and Programme of Action on Culture of Peace [A/RES/53/243] which was adopted by consensus on 13 September 1999 by the UN General Assembly and then quoted Article 1 that states: “A culture of peace is a set of values, attitudes, traditions and modes of behavior and ways of life based on: (a) Respect for life…(e) Efforts to meet the developmental and environmental needs of present and future generations;…(h) respect for and promotion of the right of everyone to freedom of expression, opinion and information. Article 3 states: “The fuller development of a culture of peace is integrally linked to: (j) Ensuring free flow of information at all levels and enhancing access thereto.”
Spellings concluded the intervention session by saying “We need to remind our representatives how resolving these important food issues are imperative to the world we want and creating the culture of peace.”
The floor opened for the Interactive Session.
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End of Part 1 of 2
Part 2 of 2:
NEXT Page: Interactive Session and Concluding Remarks
FOR THE FULL PRESENTATIONS AND AUDIO FILES
More on the 65th Annual UN DPI/NGO Conference on Lightmillennium.org:
2015 AND BEYOND: Our Action Agenda: The role of civil society in the post-2015 development agenda
PHOTO ALBUM of the EVENT - Photograps provided by Federation of Love and Peace - FOWPAL
Special Thanks to Julie MARDIN for her editing points in this report.