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Biotechnology: Damage to Democracy and the Environment

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Have you ever wondered who in Canada assesses the introduction of newtechnologies that will change your health, your environment--your life? Why was genetic engineering (GE) implemented despite popular protest? Why have health concerns about the long-term effects of eating GE foods been dismissed? And why does the .

Have you ever wondered who in Canada assesses the introduction of newtechnologies that will change your health, your environment your life?

Why was genetic engineering (GE) implemented despite popular protest? Why have health concerns about the long-term effects of eating GE foods been dismissed? And why does the labelling of GE foods remain a contentious issue even when the vast majority of Canadians polled demand informative labels?

Genetically engineered food is made from crops (e.g., soy and corn) whose genes have been manipulated to have specific characteristics (e.g., pesticide resistance or prolonged shelf life). The message Canadians have been sent regarding GE food is that ignorance is bliss: No efforts have been made to enlighten citizens about the use of GE products, what environmental alterations ensue, why crops have been engineered and who actually benefits from these modifications. At best, it is ethically dubious and scientifically controversial. We should approach biotechnology with caution and not let it supplant other forms of agriculture such as sustainable and organic farming. It appears that technology decisions made in the "public interest" often follow a commercial logic rather than a social or democratic one. It's ironic that a technology posing potentially serious environmental and health risks has not been debated publicly.

The Real Board Of Directors

The Ram's Horn, an agriculture newsletter published by long-time writer and biotech activist Brewster Kneen, released a document in May 2002 tracing government interests in biotechnology. The document tracks biotechnology policy from the Mulroney Conservatives to the Chr?en Liberals.

The Real Board of Directors: The Construction of Biotechnology Policy in Canada, 1980-2002 is authored by Devlin Kuyek. The most revealing aspects of this report are the relationships between highly ranked politicians, federal bureaucrats, university scientists and administrators, bankers and the big players in the Canadian biotechnology industry. It seems that the federal government was attentive to industrial interests and quickly became biotech's largest supporter and most enthusiastic backer to the tune of a few billion dollars. The agenda guiding biotechnology policy was not defined through any type of democratic debate or process; instead, as Kuyek successfully demonstrates, it was constructed through closed deliberations between interested parties and non-elected bureaucrats, taking direct orders from the prime minister's office.

Kuyek recounts the events since 1980 that led to current debate and tracks important players in the private and public sectors. He also highlights key policy decisions that helped shape Canadian biotechnology and strengthened the hold of multinational corporations on our agricultural and health-care systems. The document provides great insight into biotechnology's "inner circle," reminding us of what can happen when the formulation of public policy doesn't consider citizens' views, especially when vital issues such as food and health care are at stake.

A well-informed and vocal public is critical to loosening the stranglehold of biotechnology on public policy. Learn more about biotech issues by reading Kuyek's report. The document is available in PDF format at ramshorn.bc.ca. Or contact ramshorn@ramshorn.bc.ca.

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