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November 2000

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September 14, 2000

  Contacts: Jerry Pennick/Heather Gray, (404) 765-0991

  The Jury Is Out On Genetic Engineering:
  World Hunger Is Best Addressed By Self-Help Strategies

  ATLANTA, GA -- Since 1967, the Federation of Southern
  Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund has assisted Black family farmers throughout the South to hold on to their land and sustain their communities and families. We have accomplished this through cooperative self-help development. In our development work we also encourage farmers in sustainable agriculture practices and to diversify their production
  as much as possible. We assist family farmers with debt-
  restructuring, marketing, and financial information. Much
  of the history of agriculture in the Black community has
  been plagued with challenges, which is a rationale for our
  program. Just a few decades ago thousands of our farmers
  were sharecroppers - farming at the behest of someone else
  and as a result many are not farming today. Most of our
  farmers today own their own land and are independent
  operators often, and importantly, working cooperatively
  with other farmers. But threats remain on the horizon -
  genetic engineering happens to be one.

  Genetic engineering involves taking a gene from one species and splicing it into another to transfer a desired trait. This could not occur in nature where the transfer of genetic traits is limited by the natural barriers that exist between
  different species and in this way genetic engineering is
  completely new and incomparable to traditional animal and
  breeding techniques. Genetic engineering (or GE food) is
  also called biotechnology. Another name for genetically
  engineered crops is genetically modified organisms (GMO's)."
  (Reference: "Genetic Engineering, Food and our Environment" by Luke Anderson, Chelsea Green Publishing Co., White River Junction, Vermont).

  A further development is that as corporations alter seeds
 they invariably patent them and claim ownership of the seed
  through "Intellectual Property Rights", as if corporations
  developed our historic seed and food base and nothing   could be further from the truth.


  Small Family Farmers and Sustainability

  Most of the world's farmers are small family farmers and
  most of them are women. Most are highly knowledgeable and
  skilled. Black farmers and small family farmers the world
  over are generally known for their efficiency compared to
  large corporate farms. In their stewardship of the land,
  they are also recognized for their role in protecting the
  integrity and diversity of the food chain. Small family
  farmers are close to the land. As their families live on
  the land, they have a vested interest in it. Year after
  year crops are grown on their land. Because of this close
  relationship between small farmers and the land, invariably the soil, which ultimately is the core of our sustenance, is better cared for compared to large corporate ventures. Small farmers are noted for this - thankfully! Biogenetics threatens this important balance between farmer and land, and between farmers themselves.


  Food Safety

  Our food safety is directly linked to our soil, seeds and to the availability of food.


  Soil and Seeds

  Some 13,000 years ago agriculture evolved thanks to our
  hunting and gathering ancestors who noted the growing
  patterns of some plants (Reference: Guns, Germs and Steel:
  The Fate of Human Societies by Jared Diamond, WW Norton &
  Company). Our ancestors, then, began the cultivation and
  domestication of these wild species. Early farmers worked
  closely together by sharing seeds and information, both of
  which are important in the adaptation of seeds to differing soil types and environments - a practice maintained by present day farmers. For thousands of years, we as humans world-wide have domesticated countless and diverse varieties of plants to adapt to our differing climates and soils. This keeps us safe. The larger the diversity of our food chain the safer we are from disease or environmental degradation that might strike our seed base. Throughout the world we have also developed sustainable practices to replenish our soil.

  This tradition that has sustained us for thousands of years is now challenged by the untested genetically modified
organisms. This technology will further erode the diversity
of our food chain; threaten us with the potential evolution
of unknown weeds due to genetic drift; reduce the yield of
crops in some instances; require more chemicals for some
crops - as for some genetically engineered crops claimed
to be herbicide tolerant, more herbicides, in fact, are
required. All of this negates our efforts to adequately
feed our communities, threatens our food safety and serious
  questions remain about health factors. It is important
  to note that for thousands of years we as humans have
  successfully sustained ourselves without the assistance
  of genetic engineering that evolved this century and
  largely just within the past few decades.


  Availability of Food

  Throughout the world farmers successfully grow crops and
  sustain their families and communities. The lack of food is
  not usually the issue regarding the availability of food.
  In most instances, lack of access to food is because of
  poverty. Poverty impacts lack of: transportation to those
  who need food; technical assistance for family farmers;
  credit for farmers to maintain their farming operations;
  marketing assistance, etc. We question the viability of
  genetic engineering to help address world hunger. Depending on the circumstances, the infusion of vast amounts of food (genetically engineered or not) to an area is not necessarily helpful as it can be disruptive of local cultures and economies and usually harmful to the local agriculture systems. Also, regarding African agriculture and genetic engineering, these
  altered seeds have never been adequately tested therefore
  marketing them into areas of Africa where food security
  is fragile needs serious consideration by all concerned,
  especially since fewer US farmers are growing GE food
  because of the above uncertainties - not to mention the
  growing concerns of consumers. Underdeveloped countries
  should not be the corporate testing ground for crops
  and markets.


  Contract Farming or Sharecropping

  Sharecropping is not a fair system. Black farmers who were
  sharecroppers were always vulnerable to the whims of the
  land owners, particularly when sharecroppers began to
  express their independence and democratic rights. In the
  southeast US when sharecroppers began to vote many were
  kicked off the land, which is one of the reasons the
  Federation/LAF purchased its "Rural Training and Research
  Center" in Alabama - to provide a place for ousted share-
  croppers to live. Today, a system comparable to share-
  cropping is developing with genetic engineering. In this
  scenario famers would "contract" with agribusiness to
  purchase seeds and produce crops similar to chicken and
  hog contractors. In this scenario farmers are vulnerable to
  corporate controlled seed and chemical companies who claim
  ownership of genetically engineered seeds and that create
  seeds that sometimes require more chemical in-puts. This
  system often increases the costs for farmers; because of
  the restrictive "Intellectual Property Rights" does not
  allow farmers to share seeds as they have always done -
  even making criminals of farmers who do so; and because of
  the less diverse seed base, makes farmers vulnerable to the
  corporations that produce and distribute these seeds and
  chemicals. Once again farmers become sharecroppers and
  this time to agribusiness.


  Summary

  We contend that family farmers throughout the world are best assisted through programs that help them in sustaining their families and communities through self-help economic development, not by making them dependent on corporations for their sustenance or by introducing technologies that have not yet been tested. The Federation/LAF's assistance in the United States is comprehensive as mentioned above, and we have expanded our work to Africa, specifically in Gambia. We are also in the process of developing a farmer-to-farmer exchange and marketing program in Ghana and Senegal. Further, we recognize the importance of protecting the
diversity of our food chain by saving our traditional seeds and encouraging communities throughout the world to do so.

Finally, the unprecedented patenting of our life forms should be banned as it makes farmers and all of us throughout the world vulnerable to just a few corporations that will then determine the food we eat, how we grow it and how much we pay for it."

  "World hunger and rural economic development are best
  addressed by enhancing opportunities for family farmers to
  become independent", said Ralph Paige, Executive Director. "Family farmers world-wide have always sustained us - for
  their sake and our own food safety we need to help farmers
  sustain themselves."

  Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund
  2769 Church Street
  East Point, GA 30344
  (404) 765-0991

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