Years ago, the Editor of Investment News saved Kenya’s coffee industry from complete destruction by an American multinational Dupont which anxious to offload huge quantities of its discredited coffee spray chemical, Benlate. Only the intervention of the Kenya Parliament following the publication of my story saved the country’s coffee industry. And what’s bad, all the while, Dupont was using local agricultural scientists.
Now we have another American multinational at our doors once again. And the issue is about GMOs an acronym for genetically modified organisms GMOs – a reference to foods whose genes have been altered. These controversial foods, particularly maize, were banned in Kenya, and in many other countries of the world, following a study by respected biologists which showed that GMOs cause serious diseases. But the powerful American multinational behind the GMO technology, Monsanto, discredited for its corrupt operations in many countries, has pitched camp in Nairobi. What protection do we, as Kenyans, have against a giant multinational?
By November of this year, GMO crops will probably be legal in Kenya, if Deputy President William Ruto, will have his way. And Mr. Ruto is not alone. In Kenya, many public bodies, including the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization, support GMOs as the solution to the maize shortage in the country.
GMOs have been around since the last century but have been met with resistance from governments and organizations all over the globe. Monsanto, the largest company associated with this kind of technology has actually been banned in a good number of countries: Austria, Bulgaria, Greece, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Japan, Madeira, New Zealand, Peru, South Australia, Russia, France and Switzerland. This mostly has to do with the health issues associated with their products.
But is it just a fear of a new and unknown technology as some have claimed or are there serious negative medical and economic issues that come along with the legalizing GMOs?
Monsanto itself holds strong in its claim that the GMO engineered products are perfectly safe for human consumption. But then that’s what everyone expects them to say of their own products. Monsanto has, over the years, been demonized for its deceitful methods. Tobacco and alcohol companies make a lot of money killing people but then, they never claim to produce safe products. In the USA, Monsanto has been lobbying for the enactment of laws against labeling products as either GMO or organic (organic is the label for natural foods free from alterations and chemicals). In other words, the Americans should consume their poison, if there is any, in complete ignorance.
In the USA, it is not hard to see why GMO’s are even legal in the first place. Being a key market for their products, the US government is full of former Monsanto employees or people sponsored by Monsanto to lobby for their interests. The Food Safety section of the Food and Drugs Administration is, for example, headed by a former Vice President and attorney of Monsanto. Unfortunately, the US is still viewed as the Big Brother that guides the rest of the world in making big decisions.
Being a rather new form of technology, little research has been done by parties other than Monsanto but the few that exist as reputable sources are still worth considering.
Gilles-Eric Seralini Research
Gilles-Eric Seralini, a molecular biologist, carried out a study that actually led to the ban of GMO crops in Kenya three years ago. The study which was published in Food and Chemical Toxiology reported that genetically modified corn caused serious diseases, including cancer, in rats. However, later, the findings were retracted by the journal. Seralini claims that this was done as a result of the appointment of Richard Goodman to the journal. Richard previously worked for Monsanto for about 7 years.
The Oz Show
Doctor Oz is one man who has proven to be trustable as he is a master of controversy and rarely ever seems compelled to side with the medical elite. The American Health Association has actually threatened to kick him out of the association because of this.
He has been on the spotlight for the labeling of GMO foods in the USA. In general, he does not believe that GMO foods are safe for human consumption and strongly advises his audience to consume organic foods. According to him, if GMOs have to be made legal, at least everyone should have a right to choose whether to consume organic or genetically engineered foods.
GMO Myths and Truths
Michael Antoniou, PhD and John Fagan, PhD are two of the scientists who took part in this highly critical and in-depth scientific research. The research came up with the following facts regarding genetically engineered foods:
- They are made using methods totally different from the natural breeding process and therefore come with a different set of risks from organic crops
- They are not regulated adequately to ensure safety
- They don’t increase yield potential
- They increase need for pesticides
- They harm soil quality and reduce bio diversity while disrupting eco systems
- They cannot solve the hunger problem but will distract us from its real cause
Dr. Shiva Vandana, in a research, originally published in The Atlantic, tells us a frightening story. During the Second World War, genetically modified crops and pesticides were used to destroy rice farms in Japan. According to him, GMO crops are modified to resist the chemical used on them and in this way, everything but the GMO crops are destroyed by the chemicals.
The GMO Myth and Truths research indicates three potential sources of health risks in GMOs. First is the modified gene which may be toxic. Continous use may result in a situation similar to that of the polio vaccines which are now actually causing the disease they should prevent.
Genetic transformation process of the organism may result in mutagenic effects or other effects that result in new toxins and allergens. This may also affect the nutritional value of the crop. Third, the farming practices that come along with cultivation of GMO’s may result in toxic residues. Already an example of this exists in the herbicide Roundup.
Studies show that use of the herbicide can lead to birth defects, cancer, neurological imbalances, embryonic deaths, DNA damage and fetal deaths. Recently, a report from Japan showed a practical case of mentally incapacitated offspring resulting from the consumption of GMO foods by Japanese soldiers.
GMO’s and Kenya’s Economy
Another aspect of the GMO issue often ignored is the economic implication of the technology.
By now, most of us know that Monsanto and other similar companies are planning to stay in business by making sure that seeds cannot be replanted. In other words, they will prevent the growing of seeds which have not been purchased directly from them. A ‘suicide’ gene that destroys the reproductive capability of the crop will accomplish this.
It is also important to acknowledge the fact that farmers who choose to stick to their traditional seeds will have to suffer if and when cross-pollination takes place as the gene will be carried to the offspring.
That will leave Kenyan farmers with no option but to keep purchasing seeds from the GMO companies. Monsanto will end up controlling our seed and agriculture.
Of course, if the seeds eventually fail, as they occasionally do in India, the only economic losers will be the farmers and the Kenyan government. And that’s not the only way farmers lose. The fact that GMO agriculture depends heavily on chemicals supplied only by the GMO companies means that soil fertility deteriorates consistently creating a circle of dependency on the companies. One research estimates that 75% of soils have been degraded as a result of GMO fertilizers.
Then the farmers have to deal with the health problems resulting from exposure to these chemicals. Cancer is possibly one of the diseases caused by exposure to the fertilizers. In India, reports say there is a train that constantly carries cancer patients from Punjab to Rajistran. Usually, these are farmers that are exposed to the agricultural chemicals.
Almost everyone pays in some way for all these damages, except, of course, the companies producing the seeds and chemicals.
These are enough reasons for Kenyans to support anti-GMO campaigns. We will all suffer if we do not. We have already begun to see the effects of anti-polio vaccines. Let us not introduce complications by adding GMOs.