LONDON (IPS)–Protests were held around the world March 15 against genetically modified foods on World Consumer Rights Day.
Protest meetings were held by about 250 consumer organizations under the wing of the London-based Consumers International. Meetings reportedly were held in many cities across Europe, Africa and Asia.
In Jamaica, Consumers International launched a study into the prevalence of GM foods in the local markets, and will lobby for a regulatory framework to protect consumers. In Vietnam, events were held in 18 different provinces aimed at raising awareness around the issue of genetically modified (GM) foods.
Much of the protest was aimed at the U.S. company Monsanto. That is the company developing more than 90 per cent of GM foods.
Most GM food is being grown in the United States and Argentina, and to a smaller extent in Canada and China. These four countries produce about 99 per cent of the world’s GM food.
“But public concern outside of these countries, in Europe, India and other places seems greater than in the U.S. or in Argentina,” said Julian Edwards, director-general of Consumers International.
That is at least partly because GM products are increasingly being grown in many other countries. There are also fears around the world over new products. “Monsanto has already developed a form of genetically modified wheat, and is trying to gauge the right moment to release it in the market,” Mr. Edwards said.
About a third of the maize grown in the U.S. is reported to be genetically modified. Much of the GM crop was intended as animal feed, but there are increasing signs these foods are being developed for human consumption. The use of GM foods in the U.S. is already widespread, though the proportion of an average diet that it takes up is not very high.
In Argentina, some of the GM soy crop meant for animal feed has been diverted for human consumption, Mr. Edwards said.
There is little evidence so far of damage to health caused by GM foods. But that may not by itself be reason to feel reassured. “When the first pesticides were introduced in the thirties, we were all told by scientists that they were safe,” Mr. Edwards said. “Their effects began to surface 30 years later, and many of them are now banned.”
There are indications already of allergies from GM foods if proper pre-marketing tests are not carried out, Mr. Edwards said. “GM crops are something which nature would not do. There will have to be questions over something which challenges natural development.”
Consumers International has produced a report titled “Corporate control of the food chain–the GM link” to raise concerns over GM food. Development of these foods has an immediate bearing on both the environment and on economy, said John Madeley, author of the report.
“This is about controlling the food chain from the seed to production and even distribution. And its promoters are trying to gain economic and political control to influence governments,” he said.
If allowed to develop GM crops unchecked, they can begin to take over natural crops, Mr. Madeley said.
“Wind can spread pollen from these crops, and there is no limit how far it can spread. And patents will mean that producers will want to control all crops it spreads to,” he added. Millions of small farmers will be threatened, the Consumers International report warns.
In one such case a GM producer has successfully sued a farmer in such a case.