One-sided Islamic GMO Workshop

The participating scholars of the December ’10, International Workshop of Islamic Scholars (Workshop) held in Malaysia, on the theme of “Agribiotechnology:  Shariah Compliance,” wholeheartedly approved of biotechnology. In fact, the participants issued a fatwa stating that genetic modification is permissible in Islam. They also agreed that biotechnology and genetic engineering is a “collective obligation,” has positive impacts on agriculture and should not be neglected from the Shariah point of view. Similarly, the Workshop participants concluded that genetic engineering methods of plant improvement are not intrinsically different from other plant improvement techniques from the Shariah point of view.

A done deal, right?! Not so fast.

Dig a little deeper and you will find that the international Workshop that purported to represent an estimated 1.57 billion Muslims worldwide, failed to represent a variety of views and concerns that this issue undoubtedly demands. We have previously discussed some of those concerns here.

The Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences (IFEES), in a strongly worded article, decried that the event was little publicized, one-sided and was limited to the halal/haram debate. The event was organized by The Malaysian Biotechnology Information Centre (MABIC) and the International Halal Integrity Alliance, and attended by biotechnology professors, as well as an Agriculture Specialist from the U.S. Embassy, a representative of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agribiotech Applications (ISAAA), and biotech industry members.

According to GMWatch, which authored this PowerBase article, ISAAA is an entity funded by Northern developers of GMOs, with the aim of helping developing countries in the South take up GM technology. Its past and present members include Bayer, CropScience, Monsanto, Syngenta, Pioneer Hi-Bred, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), U.S. Department of Agriculture and USAID. The BBSRC, United Kingdom’s public funding body for research and training in the “non-medical life sciences,” has been previously accused of preventing all publicly funded researchers from speaking out on concerns about GM foods. MABIC is a Malaysian NGO that promotes biotechnology.

It should surprise no-one that such a closed circle of biotech supporters would perpetuate the very same myths about genetic engineering that have already been debunked. For example, the Workshop concluded that the “use of biotechnology has proven to reduce hunger and poverty,” that “farmers in Argentina and Brazil have enjoyed the benefits of biotechnology,” and that “India, once a net importer of cotton before biotechnology was introduced, is now the largest producer and exporter.”

If a more diverse group was participating, it would have undoubtedly pointed out that 15 years of GM soy in Argentina produced profits for the few large companies and transnational corporations that form an agribusiness system, while the “benefits” for the rest included: increased pesticide use and the associated health problems, massive forest clearing, loss of biodiversy, forced evictions, land concentration and even murder. Hundred of villages in Argentina’s soy areas have also united to form the ‘Paren de Fumigar’ campaign (Stop the Spraying), which denounces the environmental and health effects of agrochemicals.

Those not on industry payroll also know that the use of biotechnology does not reduce hunger or poverty nor does it decrease the use of pesticides. The recent report entitled, The GMO Emperor Has No Clothes, A Global Citizens Report On The State of GMOs-False Promises, Failed Technologies (“Report”) summarizes the currently available information on the “contributions” made by GMOs. The aptly named report shatters the industry myths echoed at the Workshop and elsewhere GMOs are promoted.  “Contrary to the claim of feeding the world, genetic engineering has not increased the yield of a single crop,” states the Report. It further points out that:

The fable that GMOs are feeding the world has already led to large-scale destruction of biodiversity and farmers’ livelihoods.  It is threatening the very basis of our freedom to know what we eat and to choose what we eat.  Our biodiversity and our seed freedom are in peril.  Our food freedom, food democracy and food sovereignty are at stake.

The Report also highlights that “[v]igorous research demonstrates that agroecological, organic methods of farming can produce yields equal to or greater than industrial agriculture yields.”

Similarly, Greenpeace recently noted in its article, Busting the GM Myths: A View From Greenpeace, that

The evidence is clear that GM plants are unlikely to play any effective role in increasing food security. In fact, the expense and risk of GM crops could actually decrease food security. GM seeds are subject to patent claims which will indirectly increase the price of food; this will not alleviate poverty or hunger and will pose a threat to food sovereignty.

And irrespective of what India’s status is regarding production and export of cotton, biotechnology has come at a high cost. Being trapped in a cycle of debt, “more than 250,000 Indian farmers have been pushed to suicide in the last decade and a half. Most of the suicides are in the cotton belt where Monsanto has established a seed monopoly through Bt cotton.” According to the Center For Human Rights And Global Justice, for example, in 2009, suicides rates by Indian farmers was one every thirty minutes. And even “these figures considerably underestimate the actual number of farmer suicides taking place. Women, for example, are often excluded from farmer suicide statistics because most do not have title to land…”