A quest to fulfill hunger of the body and mind post-2015: Is genetically modified food a solution?
Julie Mardin, CALL Freedom of Information in the Genetically Modified Food Age
Freedom of Information in the Genetically Modified Age
Lack of transparency might be the worst problem of genetically modified foods
Issue#30 - 2014
Gallery of The Light Millennium
(Front - 2013)

INSIDE (jpg)
The Light Millennium
has associated with the Department of Public Information of the
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Is genetically modified food a solution?

United Nations - Conference Building Trusteeship Council, Thursday, August 28, 201411:45 - 13:00pm.
This panel was presented as part of the 65th Annual UN-DPI/NGO Conference (August 27-29, 2014) entitled:
2015 AND BEYOND: Our Action Agenda: The role of civil society in the post-2015 development agenda

A quest to fulfill hunger of the body and mind post 2015
Photo credit: FOWPAL

Report by

Hande SUBASILAR, UN Representative of The Light Millennium
Notes taken by Humeyra KOCAK for The Light Millennium


Q: Representative of EarthSavers, UNESCO Artists for Peace from PhilippinesBeing a performance and media artist I would like to share how important this data and knowledge that you have given here, this must be spread out through media. How will this information be transmitted to the farmers, the ordinary people who need to understand this?

A: STEFANIE SACKSOne of the things we talk about is change at the policy level. It has to do with consumer change and it has to happen at the policy levels. There are some remarkable NGOs out there working to do it, but they need consumer support. That is what my work is all about, is making this information accessible to people. When you go and buy a new car, you look at the cars, test drive, not one but multiple cars. Then you decide. Nobody puts that amount of thinking as to what goes into their bodies. What we need to do is mobilize consumers to start thinking a little differently about what they put into their body and how they do it. They can only achieve this by having usable and understandable access to information.

Q: Representative from Nepal My question is about food security and sovereignty. How to get many of the people living in poverty into food security and sovereignty in terms of sustainability for the post 2015 agenda?

Food sovereignty is a very important topic. I would like to point out that in Nepal this is actively being pushed by ONPOP. There are many grass root organizations throughout the world trying to promote this vision of food sovereignty where they have the rights to land and food. It goes beyond food security and I believe they will be bringing this up at FAO to try to get some international convention on food sovereignty.

Q: Representative from New YorkIs there any movement or boycott against Monsanto? How much can we rely on the Non-GMO labeling?

There is a global movement that is called March Against Monsanto and it happens every May. Information can be found on their website. There is also Moms Against Monsanto. There are many movements that are going on. As I showed in my slides if you go to any of these websites you will get all this information. You have to sign up for their action alerts to be part of the solution and that is the way you can do it. They give you all the tools you need.

In terms of navigating products, it is tricky business. You have the non-GMO project that has put forth the certification, you have the USDA Organic. Both are supposedly for anything that is non-GMO. However there is no full proof testing available to really know if a crop has been contaminated. So we are kind of in this lose-lose situation when it comes to GMOs. You mentioned that Monsanto has been forcing GMOs on us. We have been consuming GMOs for decades. It goes back to consumer awareness. Many organizations and groups are raising awareness, just enlist yourself, get educated, and take action.

There has been a global movement going on for quite a while. The Consumers Union is one of the founding members of the Consumers International which was a global network of 220 member organizations and 115 member countries. Back in the 80’s there were some global movements that came out of the Consumers International. The first global meeting was in 1987, a declaration come out from that from Switzerland. In 2000 it came to the understanding that GE is different than conventional and there is a need for appropriate assessments. That was a huge fight because in the US we do not do any of these assessments so many countries are rejecting our crops.

For the labeling, it is easy to detect contamination. That can be done and there are ways to do traceability as European countries to get full labeling. That is the push that consumer groups all over the world have been trying to get through, we now have 61 countries.

In all the research I have done, speaking to many people and writing the book whether it USDA Organic or the GMO project, they both tell you there is no way they can fully test for GMO. It is so interesting for me to find out that is not a true fact.

MICHAEL K. HANSEN I think what they are saying is with organic there is no testing in organics. You cannot use any engineered ingredients in organics just like you cannot use synthetic pesticides. There is no testing of the produce afterwards. For the non-GMO project they actually test the ingredients that go into finished foods. There have not been any independent tests yet for those, to see how well they are following their guidelines, but I do believe there is some testing in progress.

Q:From Nightingale Initiative for Global Health, Ms. Paula Epsilon, New YorkTo JOHN KEMPFIs your expertise being utilized in agricultural colleges in North America and can it spread throughout the world to educate current and future farmers?

A: JOHN KEMPFAll the information that we have assembled and put together all comes from agricultural colleges and universities. The only thing we have done has been to put it all together into a comprehensive system. The challenge is that agriculture research and education focuses on areas of specialty. Sadly we are teaching our students more and more about less and less until they know everything on nothing. As a result these ideas are not being cross transferred. So we have simply pooled many ideas together. The same holds true for research on soil and plant systems, which are really integral systems. It is very difficult to do single factor analysis in agriculture, because agriculture does not work well by illuminating a single factor. We need to do revise our research to be system based research and not single factor. Reality is that there are challenges on many levels, but all of the information on plant immunity, disease resistance, and insect resistance is already in the public domain.

Q: A. Velasquez - What happens to countries where you do not have the freedom to voice your opinions, where people are forced to choose? How do we reach out to those people and let them know it is their right to say no?

This is the most important question, because as we know according to the UN statistics 3 billion of the world population still does not know how to read and write. Without having at least a high school diploma—because you heard the language, you heard the technology. How many of us will understand this information? Do we know fully, except the experts? That is why we are here today, to discuss how to proceed post 2015 moving forward to ensure that people get this information and understand it. We would like to propose our Action Agenda to be included as a fundamental part of the sustainable human development goals as the Article 19. Not as a suggestion but a binding authority.

Q: Youth Representative from Rutgers University: Are big corporations marketing GMO as a solution, if not a solution what are the potential solutions?

Yes, industries are marketing that genetically engineering is what we need to feed the world. Even though it has been pointed out if you look globally there is about twice the amount of calories harvested every year to feed every person in the world. The reason we have malnutrition or starvation is about access to food, basically a political and distributional issue, it is not a production issue. These engineered crops are really designed to expand the use of pesticides and herbicides because that is what 85% of global acreage is in. In this International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development report, people do not seem to know about it in this country. It was a global process just like the international act on climate change with hundreds of scientists, FAO, the World Bank, civil society and even some of the other peasant movements were involved. What happened is since the conclusions that came out of that were not something that the US and companies liked, they walked away from the process and so that document has gotten virtually no media attention. I urge people to look for this International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development. There are various recommendations to lend a hand to policy solutions. A few of them are: Revising policies in institutions to strengthen the small scale farm sector; Increasing investments in agriculture in particular in agro-ecological science and farming; Ensuring small scale farmers to have access to land, water, seeds, markets, infrastructure credit and information; Revitalizing local and regional food systems so we are not shipping crops halfway around the world. There have been groups of people promoting this sort of ecologically rational agriculture.

Raising awareness, changing the quality of food supplies can happen from the consumer’s direction and it can also happen from the farmer’s direction. The reality is that particularly in the US, where we have large corporate farms, there is a very small proportion of our population involved in the production of the food that we eat every day. The ultimate incentive is an economic incentive. And if we can provide economic incentives to produce healthier high quality food, that system will change very quickly. That can happen from many different directions. What is happening today, we are seeing some local food, organic food provide farmers with economic incentives, but as the cost of that technology increases there are incentives to move to genetically engineering. However the biggest incentive of all is production costs. For example the blue berry production in Michigan, the average cost of plant nutrition is $150-180 per acre. The pesticide cost for that same acre is $600-800. Apple production in Upstate New York, cost of plant nutrition $200-300 per acre, and the average cost of pesticide is $800-1000 per acre. That is only for average production. Improving plant health and immunity not only can be great for the cost of inputs but we can significantly increase yield as well, that is where we provide economic incentive to change the food supply at the farmer level very aggressively and very quickly.


After the Q&A section the moderator Ms. MARDIN moved on for the concluding remarks of the panelists starting with Dr. Hansen. Dr. HANSEN pointed out that there are some issues with the production of golden rice. Golden rice that has been produced in 2000-2005 is not the rice that the poor eat in Asia. There are two kinds of rice, the Japonicas, the dryland rice, which is the sticky rice, and then you have the Indicas, those are the flooded paddy rices, what is eaten in Indonesia, Philippines, India, Sri Lanka. That’s where the problem is. They don’t eat the Indica varieties. They were not able to engineer the ‘golden rice’ into the Indica varieties, it’s in the Japonica. And Erie has been trying to cross those genes into the Indica varieties and they have done field testing, and they just announced about three months ago that the Indica golden rices has lower yields than the non-engineered product, and they have to go back to the drawing board. So that means they’ve wasted millions of dollars on a technology that is not very useful. We’re going down this road now with these engineered bananas, these Vitamin A bananas, which are going to be fed to people in the US very soon, and intend to be grown in Uganda, when again it’s unclear whether they’ll work, and there are traditional things that work very well. Golden rice production is only propaganda for GMOs to say they can do something wonderful. I’d just like to say that over 85% of global acreage is in herbicide resistant crops, that means they’re designed to be used with pesticides, so genetic engineering is clearly not the answer; that’s the wrong way to go.

Then, Ms. SACKS said it is so important to understand the facts and thanked Mr. Hansen and the other panelists for sharing their experience. She concluded by saying we all have a role in making change and we should all take that seriously.

Next, farmers and food producers have a tremendous responsibility, said Mr. KEMPF. He added that farmers can do more to keep people healthy than all the doctors and hospitals combined. The opposite is also true, they can do more to make people unhealthy than everything else in the world. What was a breakthrough realization was that plants have an immune system that is an analogue of our immune system. When they grow in a healthy way they can transfer that function to people. He said it is possible to grow food as medicine.

Ms. CARLIN ended by asking, how can be save our food from those who have purely profit motives? If we allow the agro industry to continue abusing their power as they have done then we will not only be no closer to ending world hunger, we will be jeopardizing the future of humans, plants and all animals on earth.

Next, H.E. GARCIA expressed his concern that we still needed context for the day’s discussion, with regards to the upcoming post-2015 Development Agenda. He worried that we were still lacking the vision to integrate everything discussed into a comprehensive approach to these issues, because if you look at the segmented and fragmented seventeen clusters, it is very difficult to find out where these issues can be located. And this is very worrying, because if the international community is going to focus its attention on this very fragmented thinking, this issue will never come up to the public,. He pointed out that we should be able to try to connect these discussions with the overall post 2015 development agenda, and make sure that every member state and civil society organization be able to work together to address this issue.

At the end Ms. UNVER raised this question to the UN: How can a company hold 60% of humanity’s organic and conventional seeds. Should this not be a part of the climate change agenda, that no company or country have any more than 25% of any natural resources? She described this as leading us into another type of slavery because food is everything to survive. Then she announced the “What is My Action Plan?” project, which was launched by the Light Millennium towards sustainable human development goals in the Post 2015 agenda. She invited all the audience to take part in this project.

The moderator Julie MARDIN, thanked the panelists, audience and co-sponsors then closed the panel.



Special Thanks to Julie MARDIN for her editing points in this report.

This page is updated on December 20, 2014.

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