Monday, July 21, 2008

Oceania at Risk from Biotechnology Exploitation and Genetically-Modified Food

The biodiversity of Oceania is at high risk of exploitation by Biotechnology companies and Pacific Islanders maybe on the horizon of a major food security risk from genetically modified food

In December 2007, I represented the Pacific Conference of Churches at a Global Consultation on Genetics and New Biotechnologies and the Ministry of the Church in Johannesburg, South Africa, where I shared my concern that while economic development is important for the nations of Pacific; governments and churches need to examine the possible negative social, economic and health implications of the introduction of farming of genetically-modified crops for export or local consumption.

Looking at the devastation of communities, local economies and cultures by the actions of Biotechnology companies involved in Genetically-Modified crop farming such as Monsanto, in Mexico, Paraguay and Latin America, but also the impact of large-scale GM farming on small farmers in North America, the Pacific needs to heed the "writing on the wall" and be proactive in this area.

The danger of overlooking the health and social implications and focusing on the immediate economic benefits for a few, when looking to introduce the planting of GM crops, is real.

Already we have heard of the States of Victoria and New South Wales in Australia, not renewing the ban on growing genetically-modified crops. This has direct implications on Pacific Islanders as many of our countries import food products from Australia.

Genetically Modified Foods, Plants, Animals, Additives, Body Products, Fish, Crops and Trees have had their genes manipulated, changed, and put into other species that normally they would not mate with, blend with, consume, or grow in. Incredible combinations have been produced, and have been found to have mutations, diseases, abnormalities and trigger other diseases that otherwise may have remained dormant.

14 South Pacific countries - American Samoa, Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu - have recommended a moratorium on the import of GMOs pending the implementation of appropriate national risk assessment and risk management procedures. However, no firm actions have been taken although, Bhagwan noted, some local consumer councils have called for the labeling of products containing Genetically-Modified material.

As the sugar industry in Fiji continues to struggle, the possibility that the industry may turn to GM sugarcane for increased sugar quantity must be accepted and addressed. With the continuing exploitation of the biodiversity of Oceania and the repeated attempts by biotechnology companies to use Pacific Islanders as research subjects, as in the Cook Islands, and acquire rights to their DNA, as in Tonga, there is a need for Churches to provide ethical and theological advice to Governments in the region.

Churches need to be included in advisory committees within Environment and Agricultural departments and ministries dealing with biodiversity and the implementation of new technology. It is also important that consumer councils, NGOs and CSOs as well as mainstream media recognise the need for the public to be conscious not just about where their food comes from and how it was produced, but who has suffered in the process.

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