Hitherto unregulated, the use of genetically modified organisms in animal feed will soon be legalized despite warnings about the harm they cause
A woman holds a sign during one of many worldwide "March Against Monsanto" protests against genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and agro-chemicals, in Los Angeles, California October 12. Vietnam is set to issue a circular on regulating GM grains used in animal feed which critics say legalizes the use of GMO. PHOTO: REUTERS
Genetically modified (GM) grains can only be used in animal feed if they are certified by a specialist council as posing no risk to the health of humans and livestock, a proposed circular to take effect by year end is expected to say.
They can also be used if at least five countries do so, but this is just the thin end of the wedge, critics say, in allowing farmers to grow GM food despite warnings about environmental impacts and reliance on foreign seed companies.
The government in fact plans to cover half of the country's arable land with GM crops by 2020.
Henk Hobbelink of GRAIN, an India-based international nonprofit advocating community-controlled and biodiversity-based food system, said it is "clearly the result of the GM lobby["˜s efforts]."
"First they want countries to accept GM animal feed, and then they will push on to allow the growing of any GM food crop. They do that everywhere," he told Vietweek.
Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Le Quoc Doanh said the new regulation is only a safety measure since Vietnam imports four million tons of soy and 1.5 tons of corn for animal feed every year from Brazil, Argentina, and the US, including genetically modified varieties.
"The [draft] regulation aims to ensure food safety when using the grains for human consumption and animal feed," he said at a conference held in Hanoi on October 10 to discuss the circular.
Vietnam has no regulations governing GMOs though exporters in many other countries have to obtain permission to export GM crops.
The proposed legalization of GM grains in animal feed is in line with an ambitious plan to develop GM crops approved in 2006 by then Prime Minister Phan Van Khai as part of a "major program for the development and application of biotechnology in agriculture and rural development."
The plan envisages the cultivation of some GM crops by 2015 and covering 30-50 percent of the country's farmlands with them by 2020.
Pham Van Du, deputy director of the Cultivation Department, told the media recently that mass cultivation of GM corn will be done in 2015.
"Field trials showed that BT corn has high yield and pest resistance," he said.
On October 1, the agriculture ministry set itself a target of meeting 30 percent of farmers' needs for GM seeds and studying at least eight GM rice varieties by 2020.
While the government is formalizing the right to grow GMOs, farm export industry groupings warn their members that importing countries may refuse entry to GM crops exported from Vietnam.
Vo Tong Xuan, a well-known agriculturist, who used to tout the benefits of GM maize for the animal feed industry, has now become an opponent of GMOs.
Many countries have become cautious when importing farm produce because of concerns over GM crops, Phap Luat Thanh Pho Ho Chi Minh (Ho Chi Minh City Law) newspaper quoted him as saying.
"Europe, Japan, and some others have always rejected GMOs, and if Vietnamese enterprises cannot control the quality of inputs, they could accidentally export GMOs to these markets.
"Then these markets would shut the door on Vietnamese exports."
Xuan said European countries are planning to scrutinize imports for GMOs, especially seafood. Last year the Japanese media reported that GMOs were found in rice noodles imported from a Vietnamese company.
He said the government should strictly control GMOs and require them to be labeled.
"Vietnam should pay more attention to the issue, especially following warnings from Japan and the EU," he added.
According to Hobbelink, the government should be aware that the push for GM is based on false myths and promises.
"Accepting GM is accepting that powerful transnational companies take control of Vietnam's agriculture. Instead, the government should support Vietnam's small farmers."
According to GRAIN, "myths and outright lies" about the alleged benefits of genetically engineered crops persist only because the multinationals that profit from them have put so much effort into spreading them around.
"They want you to believe that GMOs will feed the world, that they are more productive, that they will eliminate the use of agrichemicals, that they can coexist with other crops, and that they are perfectly safe for humans and the environment," the organization wrote in a recent article that "debunked these myths."
GM crops are controlled by a few companies like Monsanto, Dupont, Syngenta, BASF, Bayer, and Dow which dominate research and patents and control 60 percent of the world seed market and 76 percent of the world agrichemical market, according to GRAIN.
Monsanto and Dow are also producers of dioxin or Agent Orange, the defoliant used widely during the Vietnam War.
Many activists have said it would be ironic if Vietnam allows a "lethal" product made by the same US companies.
Between 2.1 to 4.8 million Vietnamese were directly exposed to Agent Orange and other chemicals that have been linked to cancers, birth defects, and other chronic diseases during the war that ended in 1975, according to the Vietnam Red Cross.
A researcher at an international food-sustainability NGO, who wished to remain anonymous, said hybrid and GMO seeds promoted and produced by companies like Monsanto can only be planted once, meaning farmers would have to buy them from Monsanto or the other companies each time.
"A dependency will be created for farmers on these companies. And it is most likely that the cost of the seeds will keep rising as demand for them increases.
"In the long run, the companies will be in control of Vietnam's food security and sovereignty because Vietnam will be heavily dependent on these seeds.
"Agriculture in Vietnam seems to be highly influenced by multinational companies "¦ Vietnam should look critically at this relationship."
Inflammation, tumors, leukemia
Several studies released in the past few months warn about the harmful consequences of GMOs.
A group of researchers in France recently found Monsanto's Roundup-Ready corn caused a host of negative health effects in rats, including tumors and premature death, according to a report on motherearthnews.
The study involved 200 rats and spanned two years, the normal life expectancy of the particular species of rat, and investigated how eating Monsanto's Roundup-Ready corn and any Roundup herbicide traces that may come with it affected the rats' health.
The researchers said they found "severe adverse health effects, including mammary tumors and kidney and liver damage, leading to premature death" caused by Roundup-Ready corn and Roundup herbicide, whether consumed separately or together.
A study by a team of Australian and US researchers released in June found pigs fed a diet of only genetically modified grain showed markedly higher stomach inflammation than pigs who dined on conventional feed.
Another study released in July underscored the potential "leukemogenic" properties of the BT-based biopesticides used in almost all GM foods that are currently grown in the US.
Corn, soy, sugarcane, and other GM crops carry what is known as Bacillus thuringiensis, also called Cry toxins, which causes several problems like blood abnormalities, hematological malignancies (blood cancer), suppression of bone marrow proliferation, and abnormal lymphocyte patterns, according to the study recently published in the Journal of Hematology & Thromboembolic Diseases.
"Many of these crops are shipped to other countries who have not yet banned GM imports, so the prevalence of their use on US soil affects the whole planet," it said.
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