What are GMOs for? What can be done to give consumers, communities and countries the free choice to decide for themselves whether or not they want to cultivate and eat GMO crops?
These were the questions debated today at the Salone del Gusto, in a conference held together with Terra Madre. The panel discussion was moderated by Roberto Burdese. Slow Food Italy’s president, he was speaking today as the coordinator of the GMO-Free Italy-Europe Coalition which brings together 32 organizations representing 10 million people.
The case against GMOs was forcefully put by geneticist Marcello Buiatti, a professor at the University of Florence. “From a scientific point of view GMOs are a total failure,” he stated. GMOs use out-dated technology, do not increase production of useful food crops, do not help fight famine and do not do what their patents claim. They are a symbol of what he termed the “wicked economy,” based on the exchange of money instead of material products. In his view GMOs serve only to make their owners rich as farmers have to pay royalties to the multinationals to use their seeds.
Specific examples of the failure of GMOs to help solve problems of poverty, hunger and environmental destruction came from Mexico and Kenya. Raúl Hernández Garciadiego explained the need to rediscover ancient crops and restore the water table through traditional irrigation techniques in the mountainous Mexican region of Tehuacán. Samuel Karanja Muhunyu described some of the past “goofs” of the scientific and political community in Kenya which have led to, among other environmental disasters, the complete loss of biodiversity in Lake Victoria. “We need participatory development involving communities,” he said, lamenting the African habit of copying Western lifestyles, including food cultures, and imposing laboratory-developed solutions to solve food crises, when the answers lie in the traditions of rural small-scale farmers.
Finally two European politicians, Joseph Stockinger from Austria and Marie-Hélène Aubert from France, described the work of the European GMO-Free Regions Network and its efforts to get legal recognition from the European Union so that regions can be implement their own decisions about GMOs.