By Mariano Cereijo Gelo
Sometimes solidarity can become the worst enemy of millions of poor people in the world. The "Alliance for a GMO-Free Nicaragua" opened Pandora's box.
Sometimes solidarity can become the worst enemy of millions of poor people in the world. The "Alliance for a GMO-Free Nicaragua" opened Pandora's box. Two surprising finds shake and show the grotesque aims of apparently impeccable organisms, which shamelessly raise the flag of solidarity and cooperation with the most disadvantaged. On the one hand, this alliance found genetically manipulated (transgenic) corn in the food aid that reaches Nicaragua, and which is donated through the UN World Food Program (WFP). On the other hand, two random samplings led this alliance to strongly suspect the introduction of transgenic seeds, in some departments of Nicaragua, through the Seed Improvement Project (PROMESA). This project was recently canceled, and although it was part of a Nicaraguan government program, it was funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). To learn about both stories, I cybernetically contacted Julio Sánchez Gutiérrez, coordinator of the biodiversity program at the Humboldt Center (one of the seven organizations that make up the alliance).
First of all, note that in the food aid, all the corn samples that were analyzed contained transgenic corn. In the European Union, if the amount of transgenic corn exceeds 0.5% of the total, it must be labeled or it can even be withdrawn from markets, stores and shopping centers. However, in Nicaragua, a sample that contained more than seven times this percentage was detected. And if this were not enough, one of the transgenic varieties found in the samples is owned by the controversial multinational Monsanto, and is totally prohibited in Europe, regardless of the quantity and percentage of it.
According to Mr. Sánchez, the vast majority of the samples analyzed came from food aid granted by the United States, through USAID and distributed by the WFP.
However, a transgenic maize variety was also detected, in a grant funded by Germany. Under Community law, in Europe, such a sample should have been clearly labeled. However, this did not happen in Nicaragua.
And it is that according to the version of Mr. Sánchez, the European Union and some of its countries, could also be indirectly responsible for this whole situation. This would happen, if the WFP bought with European funds, food aid with transgenics, in other countries where they are more allowed. At the moment, all are hypotheses and assumptions, which if true, would leave the solidarity policies of the European Union and its countries in a very bad place; and they should lead to better control over the food that WFP obtains with European money.
Nowadays, there is scientific bibliography, which questions the innocence of transgenic foods in human health. That is why thousands of organizations, scientists and citizens of the world, are demanding from the competent authorities, precautions and moratoriums on the trade of these crops and seeds, until their health, social, and environmental consequences are known in greater depth and accuracy. political and economic. However, the hidden shadow of multinationals prevails in politicians and is imposed on the popular will and the precautionary principle, which should be taken into account, taking into account the recognized risks of these foods and crops.
Mr. Sánchez points out that the food aid samples in which the transgenic components were found were destined for very vulnerable sectors of the Nicaraguan population. First of all, because the recipients were very poor people and communities. Second, because the food was aimed at pregnant mothers and preschool-age children. They are precisely the ones who have the least access to decent and adequate health, and to a rich and balanced diet. Any adverse effect would have more tragic and harmful consequences in these people. Imagine how a mother would take her son to a hospital, suffering from an allergy caused by some transgenic food, if he can hardly buy the daily food. Junk food has been given to the hungry, and the health of those who cannot afford an aspirin have been put at risk.
Another aggravating factor in this gruesome story is the silence and silence with which it has been carried out. Nobody knew anything. Not the citizens, not the NGOs, and not even the Nicaraguan government (at least, that's what they allege). Foods capable of producing nutritional imbalances and medical damage have been introduced in a cowardly and vile way. Without informing, without warning, and without giving anyone the option to take measures to prevent future negative consequences on the population.
The presence of this corn in food aid is due to two hypotheses explained by Mr. Sánchez
On the one hand, the United States (1) has gotten out of hand with the control of transgenic foods. The most scandalous case is that of the transgenic StarLink corn, which is only allowed for animal consumption. But due to poor regulations and control measures, it was detected in the human diet in August 2000, allegedly causing allergies in dozens of people in the United States. These organizational and legislative deficiencies would have allowed the filtration of corn in food aid. The second theory, and possibly the most likely one, is that the US government has bought surpluses from companies that cannot place their product on the market, to later send them as food aid. Whatever the reason, society is alarmed. In Nicaragua there is no strict legislation that prevents the entry of transgenics. There are only protocols, mentions and agreements, which added to the seriousness of the case, should lead to an immediate moratorium on the entry of said products, by the liberal government of Mr. Enrique Bolaños.
Nicaragua has not been the only country where food aid with the presence of transgenics has been found. The Bolivian Forum for Development and the Environment (FOBOMADE) has denounced that in samples of food donated by USAID and distributed by WFP in Bolivia, the presence of StarLink maize has been detected. In Guatemala, the Madre Selva Collective found three varieties of transgenic corn in food aid, totally prohibited for human consumption in the European Union (2). Other countries such as Ecuador and Colombia were also victims of this peculiar form of solidarity (3).
According to Mr. Sánchez, FAO policy does not prevent the distribution of this type of food, as long as it is certified in the country of origin. USAID has never denied this entire scandal. It has simply limited itself to defending itself, arguing that these foods are consumed in the United States (4). Mr. Oliver Garza, a former US ambassador to Nicaragua, went further. In an attitude between interventionist and prophetic, he publicly stated that GMOs are the only solution for Nicaragua to survive. In addition, he recognized that 40% of the food aid that reaches Nicaragua contains transgenic percentages. Apparently, the opinion, vision, testimonies, fears, suspicions and concerns of Nicaraguans are not in the least interested in this whole matter. If manure were eaten in the United States, to Mr. Garza, WFP, and USAID, it would make sense for the poor to feed their children manure. And above all, all this is called cooperation, solidarity, _____________, (put one); and all that string of words prostituted and kidnapped from dictionaries by politicians and strategists. But this is not all. If you've been surprised by what you've read so far, get ready for the second story. It's no less creepy.
Mr. Sánchez tells us that the Alliance for a GMO-Free Nicaragua detected alleged transgenic seeds in the PROMESA experimentation fields. This project was suspended a few months ago. It is suspected that the discovery made by the Alliance was decisive for its cancellation. However, Mr. Sánchez warns that similar projects can be developed in other countries under other names.
He stresses that they could never claim the existence of transgenic crops. They had a strong presumption. For this reason, they were going to carry out new tests to confirm it at the Genetic ID laboratory, in Iowa (United States). The same one that detected transgenic corn in the food aid, and the same one that raised suspicions of the existence of transgenic seeds in Nicaraguan fields.
His fear was not based simply on scientific evidence. The fact that some multinationals were involved in this whole affair, as well as the US government itself, led them to reach the very frontier of security and absolute certainty. In addition, the top secret that enveloped this story gave free rein to any opinion or hypothesis, however far-fetched it might be.
Had the existence of these seeds been confirmed, one of the main problems Nicaraguan farmers would have faced was genetic contamination. That is, the new genes added to the seeds (transgenic) could be acquired very quickly by the autochthonous corn crops (non-transgenic); thus threatening the existence, characteristics and properties of endemic Nicaraguan species. It is like a toxic spill in a tributary of a river. It spreads through other rivers at high speed. On its way, it pollutes wells, aquifers, lakes, etc ... And finally, it ends up threatening the life of ecosystems and humans. Out of nowhere, you pass into thousands of cubic meters of contaminated water in a matter of days. In our case, from a small plantation of transgenic corn, large areas of native corn could be contaminated. But ... What would happen if the polluting genes were dangerous for humans? (Remember the case of StarLink corn.) The result would be tragic: Large areas of corn, contaminated with genes dangerous to human health, in countries with significant and unlikely sanitary and nutritional deficiencies. If necessary, all tons of contaminated corn should be removed from the market to avoid an increase in medical problems. The socio-economic consequences on the peasantry and society could be disastrous. Fluctuations in the price of corn, tension and panic in society in the face of the new epidemic, more unemployment in countries with rates above 50%, hunger, poverty, etc ... Although the project was canceled, there is the possibility that during its operation, the supposed transgenic crops will contaminate other crops. For this reason, the Alliance does not rule out the possibility of conducting studies in this regard.
And all this ... Why? What reason leads rich countries and multinationals to hang by a thread the health, well-being and autonomy of the poor? What Machiavellian plan hides behind all this solidarity conglomerate? Mr. Sánchez is clear and gives us the answer. The sole and final objective is to monopolize food in the world. That something as essential, basic, important and primary as food, depends on the economic and political interests of a few. The machinery of the multinationals is very strong, the information is scarce, and the poor and desperate farmer turns out to be easy prey. First, transgenic varieties are introduced under the veneer of solidarity and development cooperation. They are promoted to their last consequences. The farmer is tricked into giving up his traditional seeds. Succulent crops or herbicide reduction are some of the apologies used to tempt him. It must be emphasized because it is vital to understand this whole plan, that transgenic seeds are patented. They are owned by the multinational that provides them. For this reason, when the farmer has decided on transgenic varieties and has abandoned his own, he begins to depend on the multinational that sells him the seeds. Monopoly starts. The food, the economy and the development of some countries that are already dying are subordinated solely and exclusively to the conditions, interests, prices and whims of the multinational that owns the seeds. If there is already hunger in the world, imagine the future, when the food of a Central American child is conditioned by the screams and stress of the aliens on Wall Street.
Neoliberal agendas complete this magnificent cake. With the FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas) that the George Bush government wants to impose on the rest of Latin America, multinationals are given more power than the states themselves. Labor and environmental laws will be sweetened. Subsidies and aid are cut. The product external to the premises prevails. And social expenses are reduced, among many other lashes. GMOs + neoliberalism = death penalty for the poor. Mr. Sánchez points out that "Who rules food, rules the world." And all this, in the context of countries whose most ancient beliefs, narrate that humans are children of corn. Today, in the XXI century, the forces of money and the most visceral and unscrupulous human insanity threaten the Central American genesis, to introduce their dominance and their products full of contraindications and anti-person mines. Have we hit rock bottom as a species? or ... can we still dig a hole to sink further?
What is a Gene ?. What is a Genetically Modified Organism ?.
A gene is each of the pieces of DNA that contains information about the functioning and reproduction of any living being. For example, the color of the eyes, the texture of a certain fruit or the growth of stomach cells are determined by the genes of each individual. A genetically modified organism is a living being of a certain species that has had one or more genes cut from its DNA chain, and one or more genes from another species have been added to give it properties and characteristics unprecedented in its species . For example, there is a tomato to which a gene from another species was added in order to make its skin take longer to mature and rot, thus giving it a strange and new property in its species. That tomato becomes transgenic.
Not all that glitters is gold
Years ago, numerous advertising campaigns proclaimed that transgenic crops were going to bury hunger and poverty in the world. It was the image that multinationals and servile politicians wanted to give to society, so that it would end up accepting this new invention. Foods with better nutritional properties, crops with less water needs, or more productive crops. They were (and still are) some of the arguments used to humanize what can hardly be humanized.
Far from bringing heaven to earth, multinationals continue to seek to maximize their interests above all else. First, because transgenic seeds are not the heritage of humanity. They are patented. They have a master. You have to sign contracts and clauses. You have to buy them. Second, because the largest group of transgenic crops is not the "miracle of fish and bread." 60% of agrobiotechnological research tries to develop plants that resist herbicides in high doses (5). While the "weeds" perish from the effects of the herbicide, these crops are modified to resist high amounts. The paradox of the case is that the same multinational sells the seed and the herbicide. The benefit of the multinational is twofold, the dependence of the farmer as well, and in a few years, poverty and hunger in the world, maybe the same.
Health and nutrition in Nicaragua
In Nicaragua, the food and health system are seriously deficient. The population has the right to an elementary medical service, but not to basic medicines. That depends on the pocket of each one, and Nicaragua is the second poorest country in Latin America after Haiti. Therefore, it is not difficult to see patients leaving health centers, aware that they will not be able to afford the doctor's prescriptions; or people suffering severe pain in hospital beds, because painkillers cannot be paid for. Hospital facilities present unprecedented deficiencies. For this reason, it is common for two convalescent patients to occupy the same bed. The total lack of means means that the patient is forced to provide everything from bed sheets to alcohol, cotton and gauze to heal a certain wound.
According to UNICEF, the infant mortality rate for 2001 was 38 for every 1,000 live births in Nicaragua. While the lowest in America corresponded to Canada with 6, Cuba with 6.2, and the United States with 7.
Life expectancy at birth, according to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), was 66.22 years in Nicaragua in 1995. While in the period 1995-2000, and according to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the first two places were occupied by Costa Rica and Cuba with 76 years.
Regarding the maternal mortality rate, in Nicaragua the index was 127 dead mothers for every 100,000 live births, in 1996 according to PAHO. In the period 1996-2000 and according to ECLAC, Cuba registered the lowest index with 32, followed by Panama and Costa Rica with 55, and Uruguay with 86.
Regarding the nutritional profile, the FAO indicates that 14% of Nicaraguan children under 5 years of age were malnourished in 1998. The Nicaraguan population faces problems of growth retardation, vitamin A deficiencies, and anemia due to lack of iron. in children, schoolchildren and adult women. It has a deficient intake of calories, protein and animal products, as well as other sources of iron and vitamin A such as fruits and vegetables. The general consumption of calories in Nicaragua is approximately 2,190 Kcal / Day per person, when the minimum recommended by the World Health Organization is 2,700.
Food Aid: The Great Farce
One of the clauses specified in the FTAA prohibits "state policies aimed at favoring the use of national assets or local and sectoral development" (6). These types of rules of the game prevent subsidies and subsidies to local farmers, thus leaving them to the fate of the market.
The United States, the country most interested in signing Free Trade Agreements and imposing the FTAA in Latin America and the Caribbean, is curiously the first to breach all these premises. Simply because for example in agriculture, it could not compete in good conditions with the rest of the American countries. In this way, the United States adopts protectionist measures, subsidizing its farmers or buying surplus crops, in order to avoid price drops and crises.
Mr. Sánchez did not tremble for a moment when he clearly stated that the food aid is nothing more than the surplus production of the countries that donate it. It travels thousands of kilometers by sea and land, to reach poor municipalities and communities, in which the type of food that comes in the form of aid from the United States is grown. The logic and the true spirit of solidarity would imply that the food aid that is given to people in need, be obtained in the same municipalities and countries where it is going to be consumed. If this were the case, more tons of food could be obtained, local agriculture would be strengthened, jobs would be created among the poor themselves, the economy would grow, transportation costs would be saved, etc ...
Someone close to WFP explained to me that food aid has sometimes reached local markets, competing at a clear advantage with local production. This fact has provoked strong protests from local farmers and ranchers.
Under the halo of food aid, there is also a kind of "garbage truck". Certain countries get rid of what does not serve them by providing it to other countries in the form of food aid. Recently, numerous agencies reported that the United States was ditching StarLink corn as food aid (7).
ONG’S: Cooperation for Underdevelopment
Ask yourself the following question: What good is it for an NGO to build a hospital in Nicaragua, if the introduction of GMOs can dramatically increase the number of patients and the need for medicines?
In a few months, it would take a new NGO to build a new hospital, which would provide care for those suffering from allergies or other diseases, supposedly caused by the consumption of transgenic corn. At this rate, there is no progress in the development of the sister countries of the south; on the contrary, it recoils with more force and speed. This situation is aggravated by neo-liberal measures and agreements, which are sinking poor countries more and more.
So, is the line of work of some NGOs effective? Is the commitment to the development of some NGOs real? Obviously not.
Some NGOs play within the system. There are also others who, apart from carrying out development projects in southern countries, denounce and work to avoid situations like the one currently happening in Nicaragua. They fully understand that the full development of these countries is not only in the assistance and interventions through projects. You have to go further. It requires a change in the system and in the relations between the north and the south.
It is precisely these NGOs that are currently suffering persecution and censorship from the government in our country (Spain). They get in the way because they denounce all their dirty movements and those of their colleagues from multinationals. They bet on the other NGOs. The most famous. The richest. The ones that only build hospitals. Those who pay homage and remain silent when they see a multinational drowning and deceiving farmers. Those who wash consciences and sell solidarity sleeping pills to citizens of rich countries, so that they sleep, shut up and think that by sponsoring a child, they are fixing the world.
The best pack that the first world offers to the countries of the third. 2X1. First the crisis is created and then comes the supposed solidarity of some NGOs. Behind all this paraphernalia, new packs waiting at the doors of the third.
(1) FRIENDS OF THE EARTH: "Stop the exports of contaminated corn", at http://www.foe.org/safefood/esppr.html
(2) VARIOUS ORGANIZATIONS: "Illegal GMOs in Food Aid Sent to Developing Countries by WFP and USAID", International News Cable, World Food Summit, Rome, June 10, 2002.
(3) ALLIANCE FOR A GMO-FREE NICARAGUA: "A Confirmed Reality: GMOs in Nicaragua", May 24, 2002.
(4) SANCHEZ, E.:"Aid denies introduction of transgenic seed "in Nuevo Diario, Managua, Nicaragua, June 7, 2002, p. 5
(5) CC.OO CONFEDERAL ENVIRONMENT DEPARTMENT: Genes in the laboratory and in the factory, coordinated by Alicia Durán and Jorge Riechmann. Editorial Trotta, Madrid, 1998, p. 308.
(6) ARENAS, H.J. (Fundación América Latina, Bogotá): "What is the FTAA and what are its consequences?", At http://www.alcaabajo.cu
(7) FRIENDS OF THE EARTH: "Stop the exports of contaminated corn", at http://www.foe.org/safefood/esppr.html
* Mariano Cereijo Gelo Spanish environmental consultant and ecologist