A former Ugandan minister for agriculture who is now a senior official at the International Food Policy Research Institute used a colourful speech last month to state that failure to accept GM crops in Africa is both unjust and based on irrational fears.
Addressing a meeting on biotechnology and biosafety in Entebbe, Uganda on 18-20 April, Wilberforce Kisamba-Mugerwa said that delaying the enactment of laws that promote biotechnology to fight hunger is a glaring denial of justice to the poor.
He said that policymakers and legislators who fail to create laws to accommodate the use in food of biotechnology products such as genetically modified organisms are "accomplices in murdering" African children who die of hunger and malnutrition.
"Lawyers say justice delayed is justice denied, but it is also true that food delayed is killing people," said Kisamba-Mugerwa. "We are becoming murderers by delaying quick access to genetic resources."
The former minister pointed out that industry began using biotechnology some time ago and that drugs used to treat diseases "are all products of biotechnology, modified in one way or another".
"But in agriculture, we are over-regulating and mainly citing risks. Why should we overplay the risks and not the opportunities?" he asked.
He illustrated his point by saying that another product of technology, the aeroplane, is the fastest means of transport but also has risks.
"If we were to hype up the risks of flying, I would not be here for this meeting," he said, adding that to reach Entebbe he had flown from France, via Nigeria, Ethiopia and Kenya.
According to Kisamba-Mugerwa, biotechnologists are themselves partly to blame for the perception of risk surrounding GM crops because of the way they have communicated about genetically modified organisms.
"Genetic modification has been stigmatised, so we need to package it in a very different way," he said. "Our communication strategy must change for our products to be acceptable. Otherwise, genetically modified organisms are viewed as poisonous."
He argued that including a range of professionals, such as environmental scientists, legislators, communicators and teachers in making decisions about biotechnology would reduce suspicions and resistance to GM organisms.
The National Agricultural Research Organisation co-organised the meeting, which was funded by the United States Agency for International Development.
Kisamba-Mugerwa is director of the International Food Policy Research Institute's International Service for National Agricultural Research, known as ISNAR, which is based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
FIND Out Why this Lady Don't Like GM
An Interview with Tracy, Marchioness of Worcester
Lady Tracy Worcester is an ecologist. She lives in Badminton, and campaigns for farmer's land rights and livelihoods in developing countries, and for local food markets in this country. As Associate Director of the International Society for Ecology and Culture, and a trustee of the Gaia Foundation, she's working to shift development from dependence on giant banks and corporations to local interdependence between people and their real needs.
"Genetically modified food is not the answer to climate change and a burgeoning population," she says. "We need to work with nature rather than with big companies that want to control the food economy for their own ends."
"I'm anti genetic engineering fundamentally because I think it is a progression for agri-industries, like Monsanto and Cargill and a handful of others, who already control our food from seed to plate. They own the patents on genes, the seed companies, the agri-chemical industry and the companies who buy the farmers' production. They control a centralised system of production and distribution that pits farmer against farmer across the globe. This system keeps the survivors in straightjackets, while consumers pay ever higher prices at the supermarket and through taxes for food we no longer trust. The next generation of this type of agriculture is GM. But, as Einstein said, "you cannot solve the world's problems in the same mind set that caused the problems in the first place"." (Continued)
Prime Minister Meles Defends Genetically Modified Crops
Speaking after an international summit on hunger, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said traditional technology and biotechnology could be used in tandem. "Should we rule out GM crops or biotechnology as a weapon in our arsenal? No. Why should we rule out any technology? GM technology is like every [other] technology," Meles told journalists. "It could be used well, or it could be misused. The issue is how to use it well. I think it can be used well if is used safely and if it does not increase the already big power of huge multinationals at the expense of the small-scale farmer."