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        Global Voices Online - The world is talking. Are you listening?
        Monday, March 27, 2006
        GM sorghum for hungry Africans
        A team of African scientists is tweaking sorghum in Iowa to come up with a drought-resistant variety to help drought victims in Africa. If successful, the crop is supposed to help 300 million people who rely on sorghum as a food source.

        The first thing that came to my mind when I saw the first paragraph of this article was "I hope this would turn out to be less confusing and controversial than genetically modified soy." I really do hope that it will be safe for the millions of people in Africa. Still, I could not help googling what the fuss was about GM soy.

        The first site I read started the article mentioning an Iowa soy company which is netting $14 billion per year from soy sales, and the hype about the health benefits of soy. Then the article delves, rather unceremoneusly, into the discussion of suspecious dealings by the companies which monopolize the production of genetically modified soy are also the biggest producers of herbicides such as glyphosate. Monsanto is such company along with Dupont and Eli Lily which produce glyphosate. Dupont, by the way, is the company that is talked about in The Constant Gardener. The point that this article is making, very strongly, is that apart from being toxic (and being allowed to poison freely by the US and Europe)glyphosate is destroying less-herbicide-resistant plants and crops. Actually, it really sounds like the Nile perch that the British dropped in Lake Victoria which drove other fish to the documentary Darwin's Nightmare. The bigger issue is labelling. Monsanto can brag about the health benefits of soy, but is not obliged to say which foods contain soy let alone glyphosate.

        Then I found this site by Dr. Joseph Mercola, who sells health books. In his site, he talks about the FDA's (Food and Drug Administration)internal division regarding the effects of soy on health, which GM soy producers deny. Dr. Mercola also focuses on labelling.

        To make matters worse it is now legal in the US to label any kind of soy (GM or otherwise) as beneficial for reducing heart disease risk, but illegal to label it as genetically modified. God Bless America - land of the "fee".
        The new labeling arrangements follow a petition submitted to the FDA by the American Soybean Association (ASA), whose corporate partners include the following biotechnology/agro-chemical companies - American Cyanamid, Bayer, Dow, Du Pont, Monsanto, Novartis and Zeneca (

        Wanton Know Info tells us what the danger of GM soy is: "The new genes allow the crops to survive applications of herbicide, create their own pesticide, or both". It also reminds us of the difficulties of monitoring and the effects of fiddling with plant genes has on humans.

        The FAO seems to choose to ignore the political factor of transparency out of the equation, and eager to expand GMO production especially in developing countries. While aware of the complications of the issues surrounding the safety of GMOs, FAO (naively?)believes that "the international community needs to ensure that GM crops make an optimal contribution to world food security, to food safety and food quality, and to sustainability, and that they remain available to the public at large."

        There is also a Russian view which is against GM soy, and they offer scientific proof how harmful it can be. I really do not know what they would benefit if the US' GM soy goes off the market. However, in their experiments, rats die and there are underweight births... because of GM soy. CBS' Stephen Strauss is cautious of endorsing the Russian findgs because it has not been backed by other scientists and media which typically would have grabbed this and run with it, did not mention it and the report was published online (instead of a medical journal, I guess.

        There is obviously an information gap regarding GM soy. To me the significance of all this is that if, with all the technology and wealth, the US cannot or is not willing give clear information to its citizens, what chance do 300 million poor African people have in finding the truth. Again, my hope is GM sorghum is not going to pose threats and confusion like GM soy has. I also hope that the African scientists would be able to come up with more credible and clear information about GM sorghum.

        I much prefer the Norwegian approach to crops. They are building a vault, nicknamed 'doomsday vault' which is designed to serve as a seed bank in case the world's seed are wiped out due to natural or manmade causes. (Link from
        swampcottage_archive.html). Perhaps the Doomsday Vault can be modified and re-named Droughtsday Vault, and used to store grains which can be used in time of drought in Africa. If sperm can be stored, I am sure so can grain.

        Background information about sorghum
        posted by Fikirte @ 11:12 PM   Digg!
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