Open Letter on GMOs, the Pacific and Climate - New Zealand

April 2016

Open letter to the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Federation of M?ori Authorities and aid agencies

To all whom it may concern:

We are calling on the New Zealand Government and aid agencies to support the Pacific peoples cultural and economic security by ensuring that their indigenous agriculture is protected today and for future generations.

The New Zealand Aid Programme delivers New Zealand’s official support and provides considerable agricultural knowledge and skills to developing countries in the Pacific.  It is important that sustainable development includes the ability to maintain indigenous cultural farming methods that include the ability to grow without costly inputs and chemicals as well as being able to save and plant seed for the next season.  This will reduce poverty and secure an equitable and prosperous future for the Pacific communities.

Inaction on climate change has exacerbated natural disasters in the Pacific, with more frequent and severe cyclones and droughts affecting Small Pacific Island Countries, and rising saline water tables in many places. New Zealand aid to these countries must help the people affected and not magnify the impacts of natural disasters. [1][2][3]

In 2015 after cyclone PAM hit Vanuatu, hybrid, imported seeds were distributed to local farmers; six months later insects devastated the crops. From being chemical free, Tanna province has now become pesticide dependent. The ill-adapted seed imports created a demand for chemicals, the start of a familiar treadmill that leads to increased pesticide use, increased pest resistance and damage to the soil and water [4].

More recently in February this year, cyclone WINSTON devastated Fiji archipelago. The Fijian agriculture ministry recently said the cyclone has completely destroyed crops across the island. International and New Zealand Aid have started to converge in ways that may have negative consequences for recipient communities [5].   

Dangers arise when this negative Aid undermines the resilience and security of our farming systems and biodiversity.  Our people have protected their seeds by breeding from cultivars, landraces, heirloom varieties and wild plants that have the best germplasm.  Our economic livelihoods are seriously threatened by the introduction of sterile hybrids, which have been granted patents and plant breeder’s rights.

In this context, we ask the New Zealand government and associated aid agencies to:

  1. Provide only seeds and assistance that guarantee the continued availability of farmer saved cultivars, landraces and wild germplasm;
  2. Protect and help establish seed banks that are solely for public use and cannot be commercialised;
  3. Support the development of agro-ecological systems for farming and seed production, and guarantee the preservation of heritage crops and traditional agriculture of the Pacific.

Since the 1970’s seed breeding and ownership has been transferred from publicly funded plant breeders and thousands of small seed companies to being controlled by a handful of global corporations [6]. The damage to world seed stocks has been accelerated in the past 20 years by the creation of genetically manipulated (GM) seeds, and the concentrated ownership and control of commercial seed. To avoid a global food tragedy the conservation of a diverse seed base, in public hands, is essential.

The emphasis has been on growing uniform, high-yielding varieties; this has led to the loss of 75% of genetic diversity in cultivated plants since 1900. These hybrid seeds depend for their performance on chemical and phosphate-based inputs, but these non-renewable resources, which are too expensive and scarce to be economic for agricultural purposes [7].

The conditions for catastrophic collapse of the industrial food system results from this narrowing of the gene pool and increases the frequency and intensity of shocks to agricultural systems due to climate change [8]. GM seeds and hybrids dependent on costly inputs must not be used as a Trojan horse to impose industrial agriculture onto vulnerable and unsuitable locations.

Seed breeding and innovation are important but GM crop development threatens the integrity of indigenous agriculture. GM corporations offering free or discounted GM and hybrid seed after disasters also undermines local agriculture e.g. in Timor-Leste [9].

For instance, the Seeds of Life project in East Timor introduced fertilizers and sprays and commercial seed [10]. Farmers now pay US$1.50 for a kilo of seed that was previously saved and was free. In India the introduction of the seed market has led to indebted farmers who are unable to use their traditional seed, falling prey to moneylenders leading to unpayable debts and suicide. The Green Revolution replaced locally saved seed with seed dependent on increased fertiliser and pesticide inputs. Now the Punjab has infertile soils and a ‘cancer train’ taking people for treatment when they are made ill by agrichemicals [11]. In Haiti after the earthquake in 2010, the National Peasant Movement (MPNKP), called Monsanto GM seed aid "a very strong attack on small agriculture, on farmers, on biodiversity, on Creole seeds..., and on what is left of our environment in Haiti." The seeds were rejected. This shows that unethical aid the creates dependence can turn the disaster it is supposed to relieve into catastrophe [12].

None of the Pacific Island Countries have regulations for Living Modified Organisms (LMOs) despite their ratification of the Cartagena Protocol. Introducing GM crops into those countries through aid and humanitarian programs would be contrary to the protection provided by the Protocol and a serious breach of their rights.

The disruption from climate disasters creates openings for industrial seed that may be GM or hybrid, prohibited or useless to save for replanting. These are often treated with neonicotinoid and other systemic pesticides, are experimental or expired, with negative impacts on bees and poor yields. Seed corporations and research institutes skirt the issues by using promotional terms to sell their “improved”, “bio fortified” or “climate adapted” seeds. They do not exercise appropriate institutional caution or accept responsibility, as in the case of the discredited “Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture” that provides false solutions [13] [14] [15] [16].

Emergency aid or rural development programs must prioritise food sovereignty, safety and security and apply the Precautionary Principle to evaluations of the long-term effects of their strategies [17]. International Aid must support seed sovereignty and farmers’ rights, not undermine them.

Yours sincerely,

Claire Chauvet and Frederique Guerin,  STOP OGM Pacifique

Bob Phelps, Gene Ethics

Claire Bleakley, GE Free NZ in Food and Environment

Jessica Harrison, GM-Free Australia Alliance Inc

Fran Murrell, MADGE Australia Inc

Ref :

[1] http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/nov/02/pacific-islands-make-last-ditch-plea-to-world-before-paris-climate-change-talks    

[2]http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-09-01/villagers-facing-food-shortages-as-el-nino-brings-drought-frost/6740160 
[3]http://www.radionz.co.nz/international/programmes/datelinepacific/audio/201770505/el-nino-tightens-grip-on-pacific

[4] http://reliefweb.int/report/vanuatu/one-month-cyclone-pam-seeds-resilience-being-planted-across-vanuatu and http://www.lnc.nc/article/vanuatu/un-nouveau-fl%C3%A9au-ronge-tanna (French)

[5] http://www.reuters.com/article/us-cyclone-fiji-idUSKCN0VX0C0

[6]http://www.etcgroup.org/content/just-3-companies-control-more-half-53-global-commercial-market-seed

[7] http://www.fao.org/docrep/007/y5609e/y5609e02.htm

[8] http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14735903.2013.806408

[9]http://aciar.gov.au/article/aciar-policy-statement-biotechnology

[10]http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-06-08/farmers-saving-the-economy-in-easttimor-through-seeds-of-life/6518046

[11] http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2015/01/cancer-train-india-pesticides-20151411811508148.html

[12] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/beverly-bell/haitian-farmers-commit-to_b_578807.html

[13] http://aciar.gov.au/content/harvestplus-biofortification-seminar-8-june-2012

[14] http://www.fao.org/gacsa/about/en/

[15] https://www.grain.org/article/entries/5270-the-exxons-of-agriculture

[16]http://viacampesina.org/en/index.php/actions-and-events-mainmenu-26/-climate-change-and-agrofuels-mainmenu-75/1920-climate-real-problem-false-solutions-no-4-climate-smart-agriculture

[17] http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0013/001395/139578e.pdf