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Body Unpolitic

By Dishonourable Ember
The latest synonym for "Devil", "Lucifer" and " Armageddon" seems to be a little three-letter acronym that has the whole (so far mostly Western) world against it: GMO Scientifically, a genetically modified organism (GMO) is an organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques.

Organisms that have been genetically modified include micro- organisms such as bacteria and yeast, insects, plants, fish, and mammals. GMOs are the source of genetically modified foods, and are also widely used in scientific research and to produce goods other than food.

In general, there seem to be ever more scary horror tales about GMO. It's true, of course, that some of our present-day foods already have been modified to survive longer in a harsh climate or stay optimal longer when on a supermarket shelf or even to let some produce ripen more quickly or be more resistant against various pests. Nobody has really made a big hullabaloo about this because the added features really do enhance the product in a number of ways.

For instance, genetically modified fish have been developed with promoters driving an over-production of "all fish" growth hormone for use in the aquaculture industry to increase the speed of development and potentially reduce fishing pressure on wild stocks. This has resulted in dramatic growth enhancement in several species, including salmon, trout and tilapia.

There is no denying that the introduction of some GM crops have resulted in substantially better harvests, but the controversy raging throughout the world - including in Namibia - concerns the risk of harm from GM food, whether GM food should be labeled, the role of government regulators, the effect of GM crops on the environment, the effect on pesticide resistance, the impact of GM crops for farmers, including farmers in developing countries, the role of GM crops in feeding the growing world population, and GM crops as part of the industrial agriculture system.

The main bugbear in the whole issue is the company Monsanto, a large agricultural corporation focused on providing genetically modified seeds to farmers and agribusinesses. They have applied biotechnology techniques to the farming industry that include modifying the DNA of seeds such as the "terminator seed" which will produce plants that will never yield fertile seeds.The seeds are also some 10 times more expensive than natural seeds.

That will, of course, make farmers - both small-scale and large-scale - totally dependent on the company for seeds for the next crop. Another absolute monopoly!

It means that the days when our subsistence farmers consciously saved part of the harvest every year in order to have seeds for the following planting season could, some time in the foreseeable future, be a thing of the past - and with that the relative independence of subsistence farmers everywhere.

So, should we be against GMO crops per se? Or should we be selective about where such seeds are acceptable and where not. Is strict control by government via and agricultural board the answer? These are questions to which answers still have to be found and agree to.

Although Africans have varied opinions on the inclusion of GM crops in their farms, they are forced to sit back and wait while richer countries - once again - decide their fate. It is true that GMOs are resistant to some types of disease, for instance. But the possible loss of biodiversity and the (as yet unknown) health risks could cause undue strain on Africans.

Bioengineered seeds would make it harder for Africans to compete in the global market, and create a dependency we can ill afford.


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