Articles de La Guinguette - 2004 - mars - actualité

Titre La lutte contre les OGM est relancée
Année 2004
Mois mars
Catégorie actualité
Traducteur Catherine Mills
Dernière mise à jour10 February 2010

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The Fight Against Genetically Modified Organisms is Relaunched

We are integrated with those who sell us the products and it is the same people who buy our products back afterwards... And they say to us: "the manure or the seeds we sell to you they are worth so much and you can say nothing because you are too small and you are all alone". And they buy again your cereals or your milk or your pork. They say "We buy it from you at this price and you can say nothing because you are all alone and too small, etc. So there you are in the middle, you haven't even the security of a salaried worker. A salaried employee he has at least the security of a salary".

The farmers must restore the rural economy to be linked in a special way with nature. The farmers, for many centuries were closely tied to nature, and then because of chemistry, these last 40 or 50 years, has made us move away from land management, with GMOs it's a step too far.

Gerard Boinon, from the farming federation explains his anger against GMOs - the genetically modified organisms - and against the system of industrialising farming of which they have become the symbol.

The surveys show that a great majority of Europeans are opposed to their introduction on the continent. And yet the European Commission is preparing to give their importation the green light. You don't have to be a prophet to notice that difficult conflicts approach. Herve Kempf, a journalist with Le Monde and author of "Le Guerre Secrete des OGM":

Well, there is, on the commission's side a strong willingness to pass the GMOs and to show the regulatory process for authorisation is functioning, and the governments, some of them, are for GMOs, moreover often for international political reasons in order to avoid clashing with the United States or because they believe that GMOs and the bio-plant technology is the technology of the future, and that you mustn't oppose it.

We always have the question of the effect on health, for example, on allergies which are fast developing in all the developed countries from transgenic foods which people consume over a long period, regularly, what effect will that have after 5, 6, 7 years? And that we don't know, and we don't know because there are not sufficient studies carried out on the subject. We know that for some plants, for example the rape, there are very strong possibilities of dissemination and transformation, in some way, of the GMO plant, the transgenic plant in weeds, that's to say invasive grasses, and besides, the GMOs which are resistant to pesticides - it's difficult to explain in a few words, but roughly, we see on the ecological front the resistance to herbicides are going to pose a problem and that, in some ways, the character of the transgenic plant starts to be inefficacious. So there are always ecological and environmental questions which are asked about GMOs and which are going to come to light, I think, more and more clearly.

At first sight, the behaviour of a technocrat who doesn't listen to the will of the people doesn't give a good image of modern democracy in Europe. But...

Its complicated. It shows already that the European democracy functions better than the United States since in the United States they haven't had a debate and the GMOs have been passed on the sly without Parliament having been consulted, without having a real debate, without there being information for the opinion of the media or the associations. Even so in Europe we are in a position where there have been an enormous amount of debates, there have been laws, there have been regulations and so the debate continues. So that's it, democracy, it's being established if you like. It is not something in the past or in the future, it is... democracy, it is here.

The British Government has said it is ready not only to import the GMOs but to allow commercialisation of their culture. In France, it is inevitable, it is ironic, the enthusiasm with which the British are ready to adopt the projects coming from across the Atlantic, even though in the case of Blair it is always complex.

Mr Blair's government has done something very interesting, as he has launched long term studies which have lasted three years, he has started a debate and a consultation to compare opinions, and he has released very interesting results. One of the results released is that in the scientific area the GMOs pose problems with regard to biodiversity and moreover with regard to public opinion, it has shown that there was a very strong reticence from the English people to the proposal. So there, we have a real exercise in democracy and I salute it because it is not done much in other countries. Yet Mr Blair's government remains favourable to GMOs, without doubt because the want to maintain a very special with the United States.

In France we have seen the celebrated Jose Bove go to prison for his actions against GMOs and other proceedings are in progress:

The three from Saint-Georges, that is three farmers from the farmers' confederation who are under examination. The proceedings are going to take place close to Vienna in the coming months. They cut down thina field of GMO rape in 1997, which was the first field harvested in France. It was a field which was not legitimately declared correctly. It was not declared at the Marie. There were mistakes, for example telling everyone. Afterwards a collective was established. They alerted the authorities, the ministries demanded that the field be cut down, but as it hadn't taken place they decided to do it themselves. They risked heavy penalties, prison or heavy fines. So it was for that that a support committee was created to give moral and financial support.

The defenders of GMOs in advance showed how the productivity would be improved. Less pesticide would be needed when you work with GMOs so perhaps more efficient. These arguments had trouble convincing the French farmers.

Today, to produce you must always produce more. The more we make, the more products we produce, the more the price level falls. So to compensate for the fall in the price of agricultural products, well, we produce a bit more. I think it is a vicious circle, and so, the more we make, the more we resort to product inputs like chemicals to be able to produce more. So today we must ask ourselves the question: Is there a real need to produce more?

The same questions are asked in the developing countries. Some see in the GMOs a solution to the problems of food shortage which persists in the world today. Others say that the problem of lack of food in the world is linked more to the question of distribution than to the question of production. It is said also that the countries with largely agricultural populations do not really have need of technology of which the principle advantage is to decrease the need for labour: their economies would not be in a position to manage the unemployment which would result.

Who is right, who is wrong? It would be a sin to refuse a technology which could really help people in difficulty. For many people in the scientific community there is a real debate. For them, the problem rests largely in the way the questions are asked. Serge Le Bec:

And I really think that the perception that the population has, and moreover I understand it, of these issues is altogether distorted by (the lack of knowledge) and money. Moreover, I see it myself in the pharmaceutical companies and in the pharmaceutical world in which I work. And besides, that sometimes makes me uneasy because there are some problems which are really global problems of which the solutions aren't necessarily particularly costly but which are not going to bring in money so no-one commits to these programmes. When we see that the W H O has managed to eradicate polio, in fact no-one, no private company would take on itself the enormous work which has been done in finding locations, the vaccination, following the effectiveness, the revaccinations in areas where there are pockets of resistance. So (civil) society must involve itself and ask the scientific community, always within the bounds of the civil society, to carry out work of which the goal clearly would be to resolve the problems of the civil society, and so the goal wouldn't be to make money immediately for anyone. I think that the problem of GMOs is only the foreshadowing of other problems which are going to come up, in a word, which are in the end going to raise the same issues. And I think that we would do well to think about how best to resolve the problems of GMOs. Because, if we find a way of confining the research to global well-being and not to the enrichment of one or another company, as well as integrating the research in a more global way by saying "it isn't all about GMOs, there are other solutions, it is necessary to have a balance. And so I think that if we manage an integrated model with the great power of public and civil society as its driving force and control, we would find the solutions to face the problems of tomorrow, as well as the problems and challenges which arrive tomorrow".

As to the future, Herve Kempf thinks that the debate is far from being over:

One thing which strikes me is that we seek to almost impose the GMOs wearily but not really from conviction - you will find very few real defenders of GMOs in Europe - and on the other hand we are aware through different channels for example the fact that more and more towns and regions are declaring themselves opposed to GMOs and say we want to be free of GMOs we want to make regions of culture without GMOs. It happens in Italy, it happens in Austria, it happens in England, it happens in Wales, it happens in France it happens in a great many countries and so we really feel that behind this business of GMOs now there is opposition between what the people want, what the European people want, and what they want, what we could call the bureaucrats, the people who decide etc who are not in touch with what the people want. I am a journalist, so I try already to speak of the present more or less correctly and of the past, that is quite simple, but I am very suspicious of the future. Simply, I have the impression that behind the GMOs one definitely senses there is an important question which arises for the industrial society, on the type of agriculture, on the north - south reports and that moreover one strongly feels that it is an agricultural technology which comes and like many of the new technologies present themselves as miraculous and which, when we talk about it and examine it closely, it's not as miraculous as all that. And that I think that all this group of questions have passed into the collective awareness and that these collective interrogations are going to remain. And so, I don't want to predict the future but what I state simply is that 10 years ago the people who spoke about GMOs were absolutely persuaded that GMOs would overrun, in some way spread over the whole world and we are now almost 10 years since the first transgenic plant and it has not spread throughout the world. It has spread to only a few plants and only some countries, even if there is a push to the right and the left of such and such type, but the GMOs have not invaded. I think that in the future as well, if this thinking and this democratic debate on which we are talking continues - and I think it is going to continue because there are very important questions to be asked following the GMO it isn't going to have... we are not going to enter a world completely GMO where the question is not asked any more and would appear like an archaeological fantasy.

Some hope then for the militants, who in any case have not the least intention of letting go.

There are very big lobbies behind them. There is a lot of money. We are too small. It's a bit like one individual struggling against the authorities. But we mustn't throw in the towel.

I have enormous confidence and it is because of that that I am campaigning to make changes. I fought. For more than 30 years I have battled; I will continue to fight as long as I have breath but I have tremendously... because these last years we notice that the civil society is starting to take in hand all these phenomenon, as we saw in Lazac there were 40,000 people in July last year who came out and the politicians, those who have to do with politics and the real politicians, are obliged to take into account this movement of opinion which is being born in our country.

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Updated 10 February 2010

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