Climbing the DNA Ladder
The Third System: Perspective from the South
Anwar Fazal Past President of the International Organisation of Consumers Unions, chaired the Geneva Symposium on the impact of the new biotechnologies, which followed the Bogeve Workshop. A summary of his presentation of the discussions at Bogeve is reproduced here.
The Bogeve meeting was a very important beginning, whose participants accepted that they were meeting one of the greatest challenges to humanity-biotechnology. It has two major areas that concern us: the first is the structural transformations accompanying the biotechnology revolution. This includes structural transformation in the areas of science, economics and politics.
While the structure of science is changing significantly, substantial changes in the field of economics will also take place. Pat Mooney reminded us that some 40 per cent of the world's manufacturing is based on biological materials. This 40 per cent is bound to be seriously affected by the technology transformation. Whole industries are involved, and millions of human beings will have to experience the effects.
Concomitantly power structures will be transformed and the rules of the power game are being changed. We already experience new systems of blackmail and corruption done at the global level by governments in order to get their way. Biotechnology is a new, powerful tool on the way to controlling the world.
The second area of concern is safety, which involves two main issues. On the one hand human health, the environment, the food chain, which can be endangered by accidents and mismanagement of the new biotechnologies. On the other hand the deliberate use of them for biological warfare-or what used to be called germ warfare- which is a very real and imminent threat.
We looked at these two clusters and tried to work out a common response to them. We realized that biotechnology is a global issue-not a Third World issue only, or a link-with-the-North-issue, but an all-comprising one. So we have to deal with it at the global level.
It is global for a variety of reasons, which emerged throughout our meeting, including that the actors are working in the global arena and that the technology itself, the products and manipulated organisms will not be respecting borders. The speed at which the technology and the scope of application are moving is again a common threat to which we have to adapt the style and strategies of our response.
Another frightening aspect is that the biotechnology industry is rather invisible. A nuclear power station you can see; you can see when it blows up. But biotechnology does not have distinctive plants. And if an accident happens, such as the inadvertent escape of a manipulated organism, it could easily be hidden from the public and nobody would be able to predict the scope and entirety of its effects, nor the borders of the area affected. It is frightening that we might have to wonder about the possibility of being surrounded by insidious germs not knowing where they are, where they come from, where they will go, where they have already gone and whether they are here at all.
And this technology is in the clutches of those who are hungry for profits, those whose main goals are trying to make money out of it rather than working for the public good. This fact together with the previous three points becomes extremely important for us.
There are, from the interventions at our meeting, several things we should keep in mind. Jiraporn Limpananont reminded us of three very simple 'Ds' which are useful for us to remember as specific concerns that we shall have. The first D was 'Dependency', the second was 'Dumping'-the way in which the Third World can become the dumping ground for biotechnological products and pay high prices for them while they displace our own products, and the dumping of the technology itself, such as testing processes that will be involved-the third D is the `Dominance' of transnational corporations, the dominance of the powers, who are managing, controlling, and bargaining in the market place.
Annelies Allain talked about the experiences of one campaign, including three points that would also be useful for us in trying to deal with biotechnology: first we must have some kind of `Vision', where we are going, what kind of structure we want to see and what the alternatives are. Without alternatives there is no vision. It is like trying to focus a camera with no film in it. It is no point trying to focus if you do not know where you want to go.
Annelies' second point is `Visibility'. How do we make a campaign like this public? We talked about various strategies, both in terms of information in the media, and how to get it on the UN agenda. The issue has to become as visible as possible. If we cannot make it visible, if we cannot translate it into the lives of ordinary people in such a way that the media and the governments are going to be interested, we are not going to move anything or anyone. The issue will be considered rather remote.
The third point is that `Victims' have to get together, which means we have to identify them and help them to speak up and be heard.
These three `Vs', Vision, Visibility, and Victims, are going to be important ingredients in our campaign. So the campaign will have to have proactive forces looking at the alternatives we want, active ones and reactive ones certainly, because of the world that we live in. If we cannot react sufficiently, we have to seek those solutions that give us the power to do things our own way. And those alternatives must be concurrently developed.
It was also useful that Martin Abraham reminded us that there was a Green Revolution, which, as a lot of people will certify, has gone wrong, and that there are still people celebrating it as a victory-amazingly. (I suppose it takes time to communicate these kinds of things.) We must not forget the lessons of the Green Revolution, as this new revolution-'gene revolution' is about to begin.
But more important than that, the revolution we should be concerned with is our own revolution-you can say the peoples' revolution-and our ability to organize and respond to the biorevolution. It is a revolution that will have to bring not only the PhDs together. It will also have to bring together what I call the BSTs, the 'Blood, Sweat and Tears people', the farmers, the peasants and ordinary people, who don't have PhDs but have their blood, sweat and tears to contribute. It will also have to bring together what you may call the YOSs, the `Your Obedient Servants'. These are the people who, in fact, control institutions-international or national ones-the public servants, who are there paid by the structure in order to serve humanity as `obedient servants'.
Can we get all the elements together to start our peoples' revolution? I think we can. We have a vision, the Bogeve Declaration demonstrates that. It has a very important ingredient in being rooted in people and being rooted in the environment. We also have a symbol. Vandana Shiva contributed the symbol the Seed. We think of the seed, in all its forms, including the seed for our work, for our own revolution. We also have an organization, considering the four major global citizens' networks represented at Bogeve (PAN, HAI, SAN and IBFAN) and the issues they are concerned with: pesticides, pharmaceuticals, seeds and babyfood, which are all affected by the biotechnology issue. So we have a structure with hundreds, maybe thousands of other groups that are working in these areas.
We have developed out of Bogeve a personally linked solidarity and a light
participatory support structure that will help, we hope, get this revolution
going. This is what we have begun. I hope out of this action we will see biotechnology
used as a tool only with caution and in a critical, rational and people-oriented
way. Then perhaps it may be able to make some contribution to people's well-being.