GE Not the Answer - Straight from the Farmer's Mouth

Feature story - 15 October, 2009
From the paddy fields of Thailand, 62-year old rice farmer Samnieng Huadlim joined Spanish and Swedish farmers in Brussels to present the EU Commissioner for Health Androulla Vassiliou with our 180,000-signature-strong petition against potential legislation authorising the introduction of GE rice; along with a selection of delicious organic tapas.

Rice farmer Samnieng Huadlim hands EU Health Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou the petition.

Both from Albacete in Spain, Fernando José Llobell Bisbal, president of the association of organic consumers 'La Tierrallana' and Eduardo Campayo García, an organic farmer like Peter Nilsson from Kristianstad in Sweden, are worried about the future of their livelihoods.

While agri-chemical giants like BASF, Monsanto and Bayer ratchet up the pressure on Brussels to allow genetically engineered (GE) crops, farmers, campaigners and food-lovers everywhere are saying "no to GE".

With their personal accounts from the field, documented in a Greenpeace report "Testimonies of Contamination", the farmers shed light on some of the disastrous consequences of GE contamination, as well as promoting the benefits of switching to organic and ecological agriculture.

Sustainable agriculture or bust

Ecological farming produces nutritionally rich and chemical-free food, at the same time as protecting biodiversity and nutrient-rich soils. In contrast, the heavy use of chemical herbicides required for GE and conventional agriculture is damaging to crops and the environment. But that's not all. As Samnieng Huadlim explained, from her life-long experience as a rice farmer in Thailand, becoming dependent on chemical herbicides not only banished the earth worms from her field; it also drove her into insurmountable debt.

Switching to organic farming has only led to benefits for Ms. Huadlim. Peter Nilsson, who grows organic potatoes and broccoli among other things, also found that turning to organic brought him better yields. For him, farming is about working with nature, not against it.

Fernando José Llobell Bisbalborn from Albacete, Spain. Since 2002 he has been President of the La Tierrallana, the association of Organic Consumers in Albacete.

Fernando José Llobell Bisbalborn from Albacete, Spain. Since 2002 he has been President of the La Tierrallana, the association of Organic Consumers in Albacete. "I want my government to prohibit the production, distribution, export and import of genetically engineered food until we have a proper and independent evaluation of its risks to human health and its impacts on the environment."

However, if new legislation allows the approval of GE crops, it poses a serious threat to organic farmers, via contamination. "Organic maize may disappear because of GE crops. My experience with maize is that pollen travels more than the Spanish Agriculture Ministry's studies say it does, and maize is contaminated much more often than reported.

In my case, the closest maize is 500 metres from my field - it is not GE, nevertheless my crop has been contaminated" explained Eduardo Campayo García. After finding out his produce was contaminated, Mr Campayo Garcia had to cover the costs of recalling it from the buyer himself.

Our organic breakfast petition comes as part of an ongoing campaign against the authorisation within the EU of Bayer's genetically engineered GE rice, known as LL62, one of the products bio-tech corporations like Bayer have been lobbying hard to see allowed. Others include BASF's GE potato and Monsanto's MON810 GE maize.

Read the Greenpeace report on herbicide resistant rice, "Bayer's Double Trouble."

As the world famous Ifugao rice terrace in the Philippines, a UNESCO world heritage site, was declared GE free in March earlier this year, Greenpeace volunteers in Thailand planted the first 'Rice Art' project, as a celebration of Southeast Asia's long heritage of rice cultivation, and to raise awareness about the importance of this staple crop, on which so many of the world's population depend.

GE is not the answer

Contrary to suggestions that GE crops will help to mitigate the impacts of climate change, a study on GE soya showed that the modified plants needed 2-5 times more herbicides; a boon for the companies who make both the seeds and the herbicides.

The current industrial farming system, which is dependent on fossil fuels and chemical inputs and gives scant regard to common goods, is not sustainable from an environmental, economic and social point of view.

The costly development of technologies like GE as 'solutions' to world hunger or climate change, mask their real socio-economic, environmental and political causes.

"Farmers are rejecting GE crops and are turning to ecological farming. They do not want to be at the mercy of bullying multinationals that are threatening to take control of our food," says Greenpeace's EU agricultural policy director, Mark Contiero. By signing the petition against GE rice, "people have shown that they do not want GE food on their plates."

Contrary to the picture created by the legislation - that agricultural land can be neatly divided into GE here and organic there, nature undermines this; no legal borders will prevent the carriage of GE seed in the wind, and as it blows, it takes from farmers and consumers the choice about what they eat and who they buy it from.

Sign the petition

Stand up for your rice -- we are still collecting signatures to protest Bayer plans for genetically engineered rice.

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