Seeking world dominance

The Northern Corridor Economic Region (NCER) will be launched today by the Prime Minister, Dato’ Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi today in Alor Star. The over RM 100 billion development plan, especially giving a lot of focus on agriculture based industries will encompass the four northern states; Perlis, Kedah, Pulau Pinang and northern Perak. Sime Darby Bhd. is taken to task to be the lead player for this ambitious program.

Some of the programs introduced to the farmers include co-operative managed farming and genetically engineered crops such as industrial maze for poly-chemicals industries, in between regular maze and paddy seasons. Some skepticism are thrown towards how these crops meant for industries affect the ecological system of the food chain.

Sira Habibu, The Star bureau head in Alor Star published this piece “Seeking world dominance” in The Star on 18 Nov 2002. I am reproducing it here again in commemoration of the launch.

Byline: Stories by SIRA HABIBU

ARE we really being used as guinea pigs to assess the
safety of genetically engineered (GE) food? Some
people ask this question because they find it hard to
believe that the authorities would ever let this

But people, including Asians, Americans and
Australians, are already being “force fed” with
unlabelled GE products.

Under the pretext of finding a solution to feed the
world, industry advocators are astutely influencing
authoritative bodies to lay the foundation to pave the
way for corporate giants to dominate the global food
and seed market.As history has shown that even the
medical fraternity has abused its position to conduct
dangerous experiments on unsuspecting civilians and
military personnel, it should be of no surprise that
the corporate sector, buttressed by powerful political
and economic forces, has turned the world into a
borderless laboratory with people as the guinea pigs.

New York-based Consumer Policy Institute consumer
report publisher Dr Michael Hansen said in a recent
conference in Kuala Lumpur that the US Food and Drug
Administration “does not require safety testing for
genetically engineered plants”.

“The FDA had, thus far, not stated its opinion related
to the safety of genetically engineered crops; it only
states what the companies believe perhaps assuming
that the companies are responsible corporate citizens
who had conducted the necessary safety tests prior to
commercialising their products,” he said.

None of the genetically engineered crops on the market
in the United States, including GE maize, has been
assessed using the protocol set last year by the Joint
Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United
Nations (FAO)/ World Health Organisation (WHO) Expert
Consultation on Allergenicity of Foods Derived from
Biotechnology, said Dr Hansen.

Scientific findings had revealed that the sequence of
endotoxins found in Bt maize and Bt cotton (plants
designed to self-produce insecticide) is similar to a
known human allergen vitellogenin (main precursor to
egg yolk protein) and the sequence of endotoxin found
in Bt potatoes is similar to beta-lactoglobulin (a
major milk allergen).

Other studies had also shown that the endotoxin from
Bt cotton is a mucosal and systemic adjuvant as potent
as the cholera toxin, he said.

Dr Hansen said another study concluded that it is
necessary to perform toxicological tests on
“self-insecticide transgenic plants” to demonstrate
the safety of the endotoxins for the mucosal tissue
and for the immunological system of animals.

“Global agreement (Codex Alimentarius guideline) has
been reached on what constitutes proper safety
assessment of foods derived from GE plants, yet such
suggested studies have not been carried out on GM
(genetically modified) maize or any other GE crop
approved in the US,” he added.

It is apparent that the companies have adopted the
“innocent until proven guilty” philosophy as they
thrust GM products into the market, challenging
concerned groups to prove that the products are

Citizens Alliance for Consumer Protection (South)
Korea (CACPK) can attest to this. Its president, Kim
Jai Ok, said the alliance protested the approval of GE
maize to be introduced into the South Korean market,
“and the KFDA (South Korean Food and Drug
Administration) has asked us to show scientific
evidence that the product is hazardous to health”.

“The KFDA told us that there are no articles or
evidence to show that GE maize is harmful to health.
How can there be any evidence when such research had
not been carried out? They are putting the onus on us
to prove otherwise.

“But in (South) Korea it is difficult to find
scientists to conduct independent studies as most of
them support genetic engineering because they are
getting their research grants from corporations,” she

Kim said she would not rest until she gets the
evidence needed, “and then the alliance will sue the
KFDA if the GE substances are proven to be harmful.”

Both Hansen and Kim were among the 26 speakers at the
First International Peasant Scientist Conference held
in Kuala Lumpur which was jointly organised by the
Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific (PAN
AP), Malaysia Programme on Sustainable Agriculture and
Pesticide, ERA Consumer and Tenaganita.

The conference with the theme Science for the People:
Challenging GE and Agrochemicals attracted 95
participants from Thailand, Indonesia, the
Philippines, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka,
Japan, South Korea, the United States, England,
Australia and Malaysia.

Debunking corporate propaganda

The biotechnology industry is thrusting “designer”
food, crops and seeds into the market under the
pretext that such technology is needed to increase
agriculture productivity to feed the world.

PAN AP executive director Sarojeni V. Rengam said
people with vested interests were fooling consumers
into thinking that biotechnology was the answer to
food security, environment protection and poverty

“In fact, the world produces more food per inhabitant
than ever before. Today, 800 million people are
malnourished because of poverty, inequality and lack
of access, not because there is not enough food,” she

Further, the use and patenting of GE food and farming
technologies in developing countries could have
extremely serious economic complications, she said.

Forum For Biotechnology and Food Security (India)
chairman Devinder Sharma said 230 million people in
India go to bed hungry “because they can’t afford to
buy food”.

“Some 65 million tonnes of unsold food are rotting in
India, yet we are still importing food,” he said,
adding that farmers in
India were committing suicide
because they could not make ends meet.

Devinder said farmers in Indonesia, the Philippines
Vietnam are also finding it increasingly difficult
to compete with cheap produce imported from the

“We have been forced to open our markets via the WTO
(World Trade Organisation) and other agreements. We
are told that we need GE crops to enhance our
competitiveness. But how can we compete with farmers
from the North who are given huge subsidies,” he said,
stressing that the determinant factor in
competitiveness was subsidy not productivity.

He said people must realise that the countries of the
North do not want the South to be self-sustaining
where staple produce is concerned.

“They have cleverly set the agenda to ensure farmers
find it more profitable to plant cash crops than
staple crops,” he said.

Concurring with this, Farmer Companies Federation
Indonesia (FSPI) manager Nur Lela Djohan said there
were increasing numbers of Indonesian farmers who were
opting to plant cash crops.

“Planting padi is not lucrative at all. Farmers are
not earning much from it,” she said, adding that
globalisation was effectively destroying the
Indonesian agriculture sector.

Indonesia is rich with fertile soil, with 60% of the
220 million population involved in the agriculture
sector. But we are heavily dependent on food imports.
Last year we imported 3.5 million tonnes of wheat, 1.2
million tonnes of maize and two million tonnes of

FSPI trainer Rustam Affendi said costs of production
have increased with the rising consumption of

“The pests are becoming more and more resistant and we
have to either increase the dosage or use more
powerful pesticides,” he said, adding that the pests’
biological enemies were also killed in the process.

“Moving from multi to monoculture farming is
undermining the farmers’ self-sustainability, not to
mention the increasing use of pesticide is also
affecting their health,” he said.

Fighting corporate manipulation

Former Indonesian president Suharto had in 1987 issued
a decree banning 57 pesticides used in padi
plantations following advice from scientists from the
FAO and the International Rice Research Institute
(IRRI) to check massive brown-plant-hopper

Devinder Sharma said Suharto’s move was heavily
criticised by the pesticide companies and even the US
Embassy in

“Suharto was told that Indonesia‘s food security was
in danger and famine will hit
Indonesia if he
proceeded with the bans. But the president (whose
parents were poor farmers from Kemusuk village in
Central Java) stood his ground,” he said, adding that
the move was unprecedented as no other world leader
had ever banned so many pesticides at one go.

Two years later, rice production in Indonesia had
increased by 20%, consumption of pesticide was down by
65% and cost of cultivation reduced by 50%.

Suharto has shown that political will is all it takes
to make a difference in meeting the needs of the

The focus is now on the governments in Asia which are
being coerced to adopt policies and put in place
regulatory and legislative frameworks to legitimise GE
food, crops and seeds.

University of Queensland contemporary studies
programme lecturer Dr Richard Hindmarsh said
governments in Asia are being pressured to put the
regulatory framework in place, including Intellectual
Property Rights (IPR) laws, to facilitate local
testing and commercialisation of the golden rice (a
beta-carotene enhanced transgenic rice designed to
address Vitamin A deficiency).

“Bio-colonisation is already taking shape in Asia and
Africa with the Rockefeller Foundation, CGIAR
(Consultative Group on International Agricultural
Research), various rice institutes (including IRRI),
Asean and A-IMBN (Asia-Pacific International Molecular
Biology Network) and the African Rice Initiative
playing central roles,” he said.

Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA)
research and communications director Ellen Hickey said
even school children were not spared by the industry
with corporations spending millions in advertising
campaigns to drive home message that GE is a cool

She said the US system of regulating GE crops is very
complicated and completely inadequate, adding that
public disclosure or comments on the products were not

“It is next to impossible to tighten the regulation on
any of these crops. No matter how strong our case,
even a small victory is usually overturned within a
matter of months as a result of industry pressure.

“It is difficult to fight against GE products in the
regulatory and political arena, given that the
industry has deep ties with powerful allies,” she

She said corporate campaigning against GE foods “is
still the best bet”, adding that farmers stopped
growing GE potatoes following an announcement by
McDonald’s that it would not use the produce for its
French fries because of consumer concerns.

“The biotechnology companies were a bit surprised when
grass-root opposition to GE crops began to surface.
They expected Americans to accept these crops with no
questions asked,” she said, adding that corporations
have a great deal of power to influence US government

PAN AP campaigns and media co-ordinator Jennifer
Mourin said the conference was concluded with a
two-page unity statement and plan of action.

“The participants stated that they are committed to
unmasking corporate propaganda and tactics of
domination, harassment and repression,” she said,
adding that institutions and universities are also
challenged to develop people-centred science curricula
and programmes apart from promoting and developing
community-based research.

The action plan includes monitoring, exposing and
challenging the influence of trans-national
corporations on governments as well as challenging the
co-option of NGOs and institutions by corporations.

Mourin said agrochemical companies were “growing
larger by the year” following mergers and acquisition
of smaller companies.

“Top on the list is Syngenta, which recorded a
whopping US$5.4bil (RM20.5bil) in sales last year,
followed by Aventis Crop Science (RM14.6bil), Monsanto
(RM14.3bil), BASF (RM11.8bil), Dow AgroSciences
(RM9.9bil ), Bayer (RM9.2bil) and DuPont (RM7.3bil),”
she said.

CACPK president Kim said South Korea, which accepted
the International Monetary Fund package, lost most of
its seed companies to trans-national corporations
during the 1997 Asian currency crisis.

It seems that agrochemical companies are casting their
webs firmly over the seeds, with apparent attempts to
control the source of life at its root. Food for
thought – he who controls the seeds controls the

Published in: on July 30, 2007 at 14:01  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Bro,

    Amazing, don’t you think? For someone who does not care for “mega” projects, our PM has launched two really big uns in less than a year. The Johor South Corridor, which is now called the Iskandar Development Region, was earmarked to get RM15 billion once launched. It’s being dangled like a carrot to Singapore because the region won’t fly otherwise. now the North corridor. RM170 billion in 17 years to be pumped in by the government and through PFIs. 1.5 million jobs. Combine the two, bro, and we have something real massive. Where’s the money coming from? Sime Darby is supposed to undertake the Northern corridor. But I thought Sime Darby is on the verge of being merged with Golden Hope and Guthrie. What’s the company called? Yes, Synergy Drive.

    So, was Synergy Drive conceived with the North corridor in mind?
    Or is the North corridor being conceived to make sure Synergy Drive serves a purpose after the merger?

  2. […] Sime Darby introducing ‘genetically engineered’ food onto our dining table? See BigDog’s take on this. Plus Professor K.S. Jomo’s (the United Nations Department of Economic and […]

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