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No Mention of GMOs on World Food Day

UNITED NATIONS, Oct 16 2013 (IPS) - This year, thousands of people around the globe are marking World Food Day in a spirit of somber reflection. With 860 million people going hungry every year, the question of how to feed the planet’s population has never been more pressing.

In a press release issued on Oct. 16, the World Food Programme of the United Nations (WFP) called attention not only to the one in eight people suffering from chronic hunger, but also to the two billion who lack the necessary vitamins and minerals needed to live a healthy life.

WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin drew attention to the plight of “undernourished girls and boys [who] face barriers in health, in school performance and later, in the workplace, which limit their human potential and their capacity to contribute to the societies in which they live.”

But the organisation was silent on an issue that has, in the week leading up to World Food Day, brought thousands of citizens in over 50 countries and 47 U.S. states onto the streets: the issue of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

Organised by a coalition calling itself ‘March Against Monsanto’, protestors are calling for an end to all GMOs and “other harmful agro-chemicals”. In particular, activists and other concerned citizens, farmers’ groups and peasants’ networks have singled out Monsanto, a U.S.-based biotech and agricultural corporation, for its “predatory business and corporate agricultural practices, [which] threaten this generation’s health, fertility and longevity.”

La Via Campesina, a global network comprised of over 20 million landless peasants and smallholder farmers, have also denounced the company for disregarding the “social and environmental” impacts of their policies, which include forcing a model of large-scale agri-business on countries where small farmers form the backbone of the food chain.

So far, GMOs have been banned or partially banned in “Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Japan, Luxembourg, Madeira, New Zealand, Peru, South America, Russia, France, Switzerland and Costa Rico, and are currently labeled in 62 countries”, according to the coalition’s website.

The protestors have been urging those governments that have so far failed to conduct comprehensive scientific studies into the health and environmental impacts of genetically engineered crops to impose a moratorium on GMOs.

Earlier this year, the Institute of Science in Society (ISIS) published an open letter, signed by 828 scientists from over 80 countries, to “all governments of the world”, expressing concerns over the “hazards of GMOs to biodiversity, food safety and human and animal health.”

An ISIS report entitled ‘Ban GMOs Now’ pointed out that the “the global area of genetically modified (GM) crops reached 170.3 million hectares (420 million acres) in 2012; a 100-fold increase since commercialisation began in 1996”, despite “decisive evidence about the unsustainability and destructiveness of conventional industrial agriculture, of which GM [genetic modification] is the most extreme.”

As policy makers move beyond yet another World Food Day, citizens around the world are urging them to consider the latest threat to food safety and security.

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