There have been reports that Tanzania, after a long time of listening to the anti-GMO movement, may be giving in and introducing them into the agricultural system formally. This is a concern for people like me who have our doubts about the whole situation.
It isn’t a simple yes or no: The fact is, there are a lot of scientists who back them up and tell us that GMO products are as safe to eat as any alternative. I believe them.
Humans have been practising genetic modification of plants and animals since we started agriculture; we just couldn’t do it very fast and had no access to some of the stuff that frightens conservatives like me such as when they cross genes from one species to another.
Remember that time when glow-in-the-dark piglets were created by Chinese scientists who used some kind of jellyfish DNA? Fun to look at, but also the stuff of nightmares in many ways.
Crossing pigs and jellyfish is just so alien, and the fact that it can be done to a mammal with whom we share so much of our DNA means that it could happen to us? Genetically modified children, selected for certain traits the way we can now breed farm animals? Science not-so-fiction?
This is why I don’t really want to know what’s happening with the rogue scientists who can’t even report what funky science they are up to because it is probably violating ethics.
But back to the more mundane GMO debate that affects us all: So GMOs aren’t in and of themselves harmful. I however don’t feel the same way about the big companies that have used intellectual property rights to manufacture scenarios where centuries of free crop and seed sharing among farmers and local foodways are compromised by Large Agriculture’s greed.
The most obvious being ye Monsantos with their killer seeds and pesticides and then legal tools to prevent farmers from sharing or even saving seeds for the next crop.
If we adopt any of these philosophies and practices, what would it mean in a country where the majority of us are still agriculturalists?
I sometimes look at the stories of farmers in the developed world, especially the US, where only a tiny minority is able to produce such a vast amount of crops and animal protein thanks to technology.
I think of monocropping and corn syrup and the great loss of bees who are still essential for pollination as well as the production of honey.
I think of cheap and plentiful but not nutritious foods, the obesity problem, the outspoken environmentalist and alternative living movements who are trying to roll things back to a smaller, more human scale. And I wonder if Tanzania is ready for all that could possibly come with adopting Big Pharma’s ways.
It is never the technology, is it, it always comes down to the policies and the applications?
Of course it is easy to sell the potential advantages of better seeds, better fertilisers etc. But it is also possible to sell the advantages of staying small and local, embracing food variety over monocropping, being dedicated to adapting to various ecosystems rather than trying to domesticate the environment.
Elsie Eyakuze is a consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report. E-mail: [email protected]