by Marc Morano
VALLE VERDE, Mexico, September 2003 — An effort to promote the safety and benefits of genetically modified foods during the World Trade Organization meeting mushroomed into a clash between free market activists and environmental groups in a small-impoverished village outside of Cancun on Friday, September 12.
The event, sponsored by the free market group Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT) degenerated in a shouting match, as environmental groups opposed to GM food technology crashed the event.
“We invited the media to come because we wanted this message to get out on the world stage,” David Rothbard, the president of CFACT, told CNSNews.com.
CFACT distributed bags of food containing GM rice and beans, sugar, corn oil and pasta — all of it bought at local stores. A local Catholic charity called the Foundation for the City of Joy aided in the food distribution effort.
Rothbard attacked the greens for what he sees as their efforts to keep the world’s poor nations from using the latest technologies such as GM foods.
“By opposing modern farming methods of agricultural chemicals and biotechnology, reliable energy sources like nuclear power and fossil fuels, and a whole host of other technologies that are crucial to a prosperous life, the greens show they do not want the poorest people of the world to ever attain a decent standard of living,” Rothbard said.
But about a dozen green activists crashed the event and disputed the claims of the free market activists. “This is a propaganda event to promote GM foods in a poor community,” Raul Benet of the environmental group Friends of the Earth told CNSNews.com. “These kinds of events can be very dangerous to the people,” he added.
The poor residents of the of the village of Valle Verde watched as activists from both sides of the GM food debate shouted at each other and held up competing banners. Green activists did convince some residents to reject the food because of safety concerns, but most of the residents happily accepted the food.
Several dozen school children seemed entertained by the crowd of activists and reporters gathered in their small village, which has no running water or electricity and a local schoolhouse with dirt floors.
Genetically modified crops are the result of altered seeds designed to increase yields and withstand drought with the use of fewer pesticides. Environmentalists have labeled genetically modified foods “Frankenfoods,” insisting that they have yet to be proven safe for consumption. GM foods have been consumed in the U.S. for the past seven years.
GM foods have been the focus of disputes between the United States and the European Union.
The free market groups that joined CFACT in sponsoring the food distribution event included the Congress of Racial Equality, Competitive Enterprise Institute and International Consumers for Civil Society.
Maj Fiil-Flynn of the Washington, D.C.-based Public Citizen joined the environmental groups in attempting to disrupt the GM food distribution in the village. Fiil-Flynn was appalled that GM foods even exist. “I think it shouldn’t exist. It’s killing local farmers, it’s killing bio-diversity, we should get rid of it,” Fiil-Flynn told CNSNews.com.
Erika Rosenthal, the legal advisor for the Pesticide Action Network, warned of the dire consequences of allowing the expansion of GM crops. “GM corn has already contaminated the native varieties [of corn] and it’s stronger than the native varieties in terms of being able to resist pests and competition from weeds,” Rosenthal said.
Rosenthal said that indigenous peoples of Mexico and elsewhere are going to lose their traditional way of life if the use of GM foods becomes more widespread.
“Local campesino communities rely on dozens of varieties of corn, one for medicinal purposes, one for human consumption, one for animal consumption. Without it, their local economy is going to fall apart along with their culture,” Rosenthal said.
But Rothbard believes residents of the developing world do not want to continue living in what he termed a subsistence lifestyle. “People throughout the developing nations want progress, they want prosperity. It’s only the rich nations in Europe and some the radical [green groups] that are trying to keep [the poor] from development,” he said, referring to the European Union’s opposition to GM foods.
Rothbard challenged the greens to live up to their concerns about preserving traditional ways of life for poor nations. ‘The traditional way of life for many of these people around the world involves poverty, misery and death,” Rothbard said.
“If this is the traditional way of life that these radical green activists support, then I believe that they are being immoral and that they themselves ought to go and live that lifestyle before they advocate that others should continue in that,” he added.
But Rosenthal refuted Rothbard’s assertion that the green movement wants to keep developing nations poor by rejecting new technologies. “They lie,” she said of the free market groups. “What is going to save the world is local diversified agriculture, local production for local consumption,” Rosenthal explained.
Rosenthal believes that the U.S agricultural system is in dire straits and that developing nations should instead focus on “integrated small, very diverse food production systems” that are “100 times more productive than big mono cultures that industrial agricultural promotes.”
But Rothbard countered that the high yield U.S. agricultural system as far superior to small scale farming. “High yield allows people to grow more food on less land. In the U.S. in the 18th century, some 60-70 percent of the population had to be involved in growing food, now only two out every 100 are. Yet in India today some 60 out of every 100 residents are still involved in agriculture,” Rothbard said.
“Freeing people up from being able to meet their basic needs, from having to work hard in the field allows them to pursue things like higher education and pursue business opportunities that will raise the standard of living for these nations,” he added.
Agriculture issues proved to be a major sticking point during the WTO negotiations in Cancun last week, with Europe and the U.S. facing pressure to cut the $300 billion in annual farm subsidies they pay to their farmers.
Anti-WTO forces declared victory over the weekend as the negotiations collapsed following failure of the developing nations and the industrialized nations to reach agreement on several key issues including trade rules and farm reforms.
The WTO talks formally ended on Sunday and it may take several years to recover from the setback in Cancun, according to U.S. trade officials.
Marc Morano is a senior staff writer for CNSNews.com of Alexandria, Virginia.