In the October 25, 1998, New York Times Magazine, there is an article titled “Potato-Playing God in the Garden”By Michael Pollan. This article explains that Monsanto has genetically engineered a potato (Labeled “New Leaf”) that is immune to insects that attack potatoes.
Monsanto has genetically engineered a naturally occurring pesticide into this new breed of potatoes. Thus this potato is considered a pesticide by the FDA, under present law, and this means that consumers do not have to be told that they are eating a pesticide.
Monsanto see genetic engineering as a way to get off “the pesticide‡ treadmill”and to have environmentally safe agriculture. But this course has many pitfalls.
In past articles I have explained that prior to the large scale introduction of pesticides one third of all crops were lost to insects, weeds and bacteria. Today, the loses are exactly the same because insects, bacteria, and weeds multiply quickly and develop immunity to the pesticides. This has led to more and more pesticides being used and continuously higher costs for agriculture.
The great tragedy is that humans (unlike insects) do not reproduce fast enough to develop immunity to the chemicals used in farming. We now know that many pesticides cause cancer after long term exposures. Unfortunately, there has been no extensive testing about the long-range effects of consumption of this pesticide.
One of the Monsanto executives interviewed by Michael Pollan in response to questions about this issue said: “Trust Us.?!”
Monsanto, it must be remembered, was one of the manufacturers of “Agent Orange”which Monsanto considered safe to spray on civilians and soldiers during the Vietnam War.
Monsanto also produces other similar products: Roundup and rBGH. rBGH is used to increase milk production in cows. Monsanto wants us to “trust them”that t≈his compound, too. is safe.
rBGH,when injected into cows, produces milk that contains rBGH. And when rBGH is consumed it becomes IGF-1 in the body. Recent scientific studies have shown that IGF-1 increases the risk of breast cancer and prostrate cancer.
When Monsanto made their genetically engineered bovine growth hormone, they noticed a couple of problems right towards the end — right before approval. They noticed that laboratory animals were getting cancer, and they noticed that cows were getting mastitis, ulcers in their udders. They were putting more pus and bacteria into the milk. So Monsanto arranged — We’ve heard from Dr. Maryanski this morning, and Dr. Maryanski talked about the Pure Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act but what he didn’t tell you was that in 1958, Robert Delaney, a congressman from New York, added the Delaney Amendment which was named after him. The Delaney Amendment stated that if a food additive caused cancer, it was not to be approved — a pretty good law — right? — Monsanto got their attorney, Michael Taylor from the firm of King & Spalding — By the way, when they started in 1979, they groomed their attorney who is now in the Supreme Court, Clarence Thomas, from the same law firm — Anyway, Monsanto’s attorney, Michael Taylor, wrote and minimized the Delaney Amendment- he wrote a scientific paper that was published in the “Journal of Toxicology”. Lawyers — they write in law review journals, but this lawyer wrote in the “Journal of Toxicology”: “a De-Minumus interpretation of the Delaney Amendment” became the new protocol, the new standard operating procedure at FDA. They minimized cancer. Michael Taylor was hired by the Food & Drug Administration, and became the second most powerful man there. Monsanto’s attorney — he wrote the standard operating procedure. In other words, if you see cancer, ignore it. Margaret Miller and Suzanne Sechen, Monsanto’s scientists, were hired by the FDA to review Monsanto’s own research. Margaret Miller knew cows were getting mastitis. The first week at the FDA, December 3, 1989, she was given broad power, and here’s an effect of genetic engineering nobody has considered. She knew cows were getting sick from the genetically engineered hormone. She changed the amount of antibiotics that farmers could have in their milk. She changed it from 1 part per 100 million to 1 part per million — this is a fact! She increased it by 100 times. — Robert Cohen FDA Testimony December 14, 1999
Dr. Samuel S. Epstein at the University of Illinois in Chicago has criticized the FDA for doing nothing. In a paper published in the 1996 INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF HEALTH SERVICES (Vol. 26, No. 1), he wrote:
. . . with the active complicity of the FDA, the entire nation is currently being subjected to an experiment involving large-scale adulteration of an age-old dietary staple by a poorly characterized and unlabeled biotechnology product [rBGH]. …Disturbingly, this experiment benefits only a very small segment of the agrichemical industry while providing no matching benefits to consumers. Even more disturbingly, it poses major potential public health risks for the entire U.S. population.
The question is: will men and women who, in their youth, drank this milk get prostate cancer or breast cancer at an earlier age? Is it worth the risk? Of course not!
Yet, Monsanto and other chemical companies are putting products on the market that are not independently tested for risks to human beings. It will only be after the “body count”that the government regulatory agencies will declare a disaster.
Monsanto, in its quest to capture the milk market, has even gone to court against dairies that label their milk as free from rBGH. According to Peter Montague, editor of Rachel’s Environmental Health Weekly:
(The) “FDA has sided with Monsanto in opposing labeling of milk produced by drug-treated cows, and has gone one step further. FDA opposes labeling of products that are free of rBGH. FDA has even threatened legal action against milk suppliers and grocers who label their milk as free from the rBGH drug. FDA continues there is “no significant difference ” between milk from rBGH-treated cows and milk from cows not treated, and thus, a label saying “rBGH-free ” would imply a difference that did not exist, and this would constitute false labeling.
“Monsanto has filed two lawsuits against milk processors who labeled their product as free of rBGH and has mailed warnings to others who might be tempted to label their milk as rBGH-free.  The FDA’s position on labeling was developed under the direction of Michael R. Taylor, a lawyer who joined FDA in 1991 after almost a decade as a partner in the law firm that Monsanto hired to gain FDA approval of rBGH and that last month brought Monsanto’s lawsuits against milk producers who labeled their products rBGH-free.”
Montague also pointed out: “In the fall of 1996, award-winning reporters Steve Wilson and Jane Are were hired by WTVT in Tampa to produce a series on rBGH in Florida milk. After more than a year’s work on the rBGH´ series, and three days before the series was scheduled to air starting February 24, 1997, Fox TV executives received the first of two letters from lawyers representing Monsanto saying that Monsanto would suffer “enormous damage” if the series ran. WTVT had been advertising the series aggressively, but canceled it at the last moment. Monsanto’s second letter warned of “dire consequences” for Fox if the series aired as it stood.” When these two emmy award winners, refused to change their reports-they were forced to leave the TV station and have since filed a law suit. The story was aired, but all mention about harmful effects such as cancer were deleted from the story.
In the past year, Monsanto wrote a threatening letter to Vital Health Publishing in Bloomingdale, Illinois over the proposed publication of AGAINST THE GRAIN, a book by Marc Lappé and Britt Bailey. Monsanto said the new book would libel its best-selling pro´duct, the herbicide Roundup (glyphosate).
Like rBGH, Roundup, becomes part of the products that humans consume. We do know that this pesticide causes eye injuries in farm workers, that some tests by Monsanto raise the possibility that it can cause cancer.
Once again, Monsanto is the only company that has tested this product. Monsanto and the government regulatory agencies are playing Russian Roulette with our future.
Recently, The Ecologist, a world renown environmental magazine for the past 25 years, wrote an in depth study of Monsanto and its genetic engineering. But the magazine’s printing company, fearing a lawsuit, turned all of the copies that it had printed into pulp before they could be distributed.
The human tragedy is that Monsanto and other large capitalist enterprises are unregulated by government. They will do anything for profit, including large scale murder of people that consume their products.
“Butterflys Are Free”
Many poems have been written about being as “free as a butterfly,” fluttering from one flower to another with reckless abandon. Yet recent studies by scientists demonstrate that human development of genetically engineered plants has restricted the freedom of monarch butterflies.
It was recently reported in the journal Nature that the pollen from genetically engineered corn containing a toxin gene called Bt killed 44 percent of the monarch butterfly caterpillars who fed on milkweed leaves dusted with it. Caterpillars fed with conventional pollen all survived.
Since nearly 25 percent of the U.S. corn crop now contains this gene and the Corn Belt states of the Midwest are where half of the monarch butterflies are produced each year, there is a distinct possibility that the number of monarchs will drastically decline.
Due to the unexpected results of the monarch butterfly study, scientists are now beginning to question the potential environmental effects of scores of other genetically engineered crops being introduced into the agricultural fields.
The question that is raised is: Why weren’t such studies done before introducing genetically engineered corn, soy, cotton, and other crops over millions of acres of farm land? Are these dying caterpillars like dying canaries in a mine warning us of danger?
Will Benefits Outweigh the Costs?
Since these studies have not been done, the British Medical Association (BMA) has recently issued a statement regarding genetically modified food. They begin their statement (“Agriculture, Food and Health”) with a quote that gives an overview on evolution and genetic engineering:
” The BMA then goes on to propose several steps to insure safety:
Since these studies have not been done, the British Medical Association (BMA) has recently issued a statement regarding genetically modified food. They begin their statement (“Agriculture, Food and Health”) with a quote that gives an overview on evolution and genetic engineering:
‘Evolution is all about assembling the improbable by tiny steps; and not until the unlikely has been reached do we notice just what it can do. Genetically engineered organisms will, like any other creature, evolve to deal with their new condition.’It is fairly certain that some of them will cause problems. Low risk is not no risk. The question is one which is universal in economics-will the benefits outweigh the costs?’ (Steve Jones, 1993.)” They continue, “Genetic modification (GM) involves the insertion of genes from one organism into another to produce altered genetic material (DNA). The technology is being used to alter certain properties of food crops-for example, to make plants herbicide resistant, or delay rotting in tomatoes. As its use has become more widespread and sophisticated, there is increased public concern over the safety of genetically modified plants, within the food chain and within human foodstuffs.” The BMA then goes on to propose several steps to insure safety: The precautionary principle [that a new food additive is presumed unsafe until established safe through standard scientific procedures] should be applied in developing genetically modified crops or foodstuffs, as we cannot at present know whether there are any serious risks to the environment or to human health involved in producing GM crops or consuming GM food products. Adverse effects are likely to be irreversible; once GMOs are released into the environment they cannot be subject to control. It is therefore essential that release does not take place until the level of scientific certainty is sufficient to make the risk acceptable.
The BMA also recommends that a moratorium be placed on the commercial planting of GM crops in the UK until there is general scientific agreement about the potential long-term environmental effects. GM foodstuffs, they say, should be segregated at source and adequately labeled to enable identification and traceability of GM products.
All of the above procedures do not seem to be that complicated. Unfortunately, in the United States, although the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act incorporates the precautionary principle, the FDA does not apply this principle to genetically engineered foods. (It ruled in 1992 that genetically engineered foods are not new food additives.) This is not hard to understand since Monsanto and Dupont are the main corporate producers of these foods. Unfettered by the precautionary principle, these gigantic chemical corporations are now conquering farming through genetic engineering.
Their products have led to larger yields of food products in the short term. Just as in the past, their chemicals have led to short-term increase in farm productivity. With this increase in productivity, these corporate giants are now attempting to establish a monopoly over all agricultural production throughout the world.
In the course of this endeavor they have patented their products and the seeds, so that farmers have to buy seeds from them every year. They have sued farmers who have kept seeds for future harvest and they are producing a “terminator gene” so that their products will not produce fertile seeds.
In this manner, all production of food will eventually be under their control. From past experience with these companies, profits have always come before consumer and environmental safety. They are not concerned about any long-term effects that their products may have on humanity or the rest of the world. In fact, the insurance companies, being aware of these facts, have refused insurance coverage for any long-term effects of genetically engineered products.
Cuban Science Versus Monsanto
In Issue #1, March 1999, of the Monsanto Monitor, there is an interview with a Cuban geneticist. In this interview, Rebecka Milestad, of the Research School in Ecological Land Use at the Department of Rural Development Studies, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, wrote: “‘If Monsanto came to Cuba, we would never sell ourselves to them.
Cuba is more important than money,’ claimed Eduardo, a geneticist at the agricultural university in Havana Province, where I visited him and his colleagues in January this year.
“Their laboratory facilities are run down and they complain that other research institutes in Cuba receive more resources for genetic engineering research. Yet he still would not work for a company like Monsanto.
“So I asked how Monsanto practice differs from that what he and his fellow researchers do. He replied, ‘they wouldn’t dream of trying to develop herbicide-resistant crops, for example, that are only designed for the big companies to make money.
“‘In Cuba,’ he continued, ‘we only use biotechnology and genetic engineering for the good of our people and our country. And there is no limit to what we can achieve with this technology.'”
Cuba has been in the forefront of developing organic farming along with their biotechnology. Due to the blockade, they have been forced to move away from chemical agriculture.
In fact, the Cuban experiment in agriculture should be carefully observed. In my opinion, the results that they have already achieved demonstrate that their approach shows the way to combine science and technology for the benefit of the environment and humanity.”Butterflies are free, and so are we…” are the words to a song by Leonard Gershe in his play “Butterflies are Free.” We and the butterflies can only be free if we are safe in our own habitat.
Cuba: “The Road Not Taken”
Lately, I have been reading “Toxic Deception: How the Chemical Industry Manipulates Science, Bends the Law, and Endangers Your Health”. This book, written by Dan Fagin and Marianne Lavelle and “the Center for Public Integrity”, is a clear “snapshot” of how Industry set up its own scientific institutions to counter the gains of the environmental and health and safety movements of the 1970’s. ( Spending hundreds of millions of dollars to defend their chemicals.)
The authors describe the book as “…the story of how the chemical industry has managed to keep so many of its toxic products on the market, even in the face of mounting evidence of their danger and emerging-and safer- alternatives. It is also the story of how the federal agencies that are supposed to be the public’s watchdogs have been deranged by the chemical industry’s pressure tactics, which include junkets and job offers to government regulators, major contributions to politicians, scorched-earth courtroom strategies, and misleading multimillion-dollar advertising and public relations campaign.”
Two of the four toxic chemicals that they use to prove their point are Astrazine and Alachor. Both chemicals are used as pesticides extensively in agriculture. Both chemicals have been banned in other countries because of their association to breast cancer and other female cancers. They have not been banned in the United States due to the economic power political clout of agribusiness and the chemical industry.
Pesticides, fertilizers, and other chemicals and mechanization are the basic ingredients of agribusiness in the United States. The initial thrust into large scale farming resulted in a large increase in productivity of food. But industry has gotten on the chemical treadmill where larger and larger capital investments of more and more fertilizers and pesticides are needed to maintain production while water supplies are becoming more and more polluted by these chemicals. The chemicals not only get into the water supply-they also become part of our food supply. One by-product of food production is cancer.
Prior to the introduction of large-scale chemical farming, one third of all crops were lost to weeds, bacteria, and insects. Today, after the constant increase in chemical use, one third of all crops are still lost to weeds, bacteria, and insects as they become resistant to the chemicals.
Thus, the “chemical treadmill” has kept us in the same place at greater costs in capital investment and human lives. (We do not reproduce fast enough to become resistant to the chemicals.) This model has become one of ever-increasing costs and declining levels of production.
To reverse this process would be to stop large scale farming conducted by agribusiness which requires a one crop, fully mechanized, fully fertilized, and fully-pesticided approach to agriculture. Huge capital investments in farming and industry would be lost. That is why the toxic chemicals described by Fagin and Lavelle are considered by the government to be a “protected species”. In the long run, this type of farming is the least efficient even though it is the most profitable.
Recently, agriculture ecologists, who are aware of the “treadmill”, have been advocating a different model for farm production. This model is based on smaller farms rotating crops and breeding livestock. This is a natural (organic) method of controlling weeds, insects, and bacteria that feed on farm produce. Until recently, there have been no large scale models to demonstrate the alternative form of agriculture.
Unfortunately, the “Socialist Block”model also embarked on the “chemical road”for agricultural production along with “forced collectivizations”. The Soviet Union was an underdeveloped country with little technological skills which basically copied the science and the agricultural models found in the Industrialized countries. In the Soviet Union there was no science or mechanism to do otherwise and still feed the population in the context of a civil war and a blockade. In the case of Cuba, the chemical models of both the United States and the Soviet Union was continued.
The 38 year economic blockade of Cuba hampered the development of the Cuban economy. To the credit of the Cuban Revolution they did not carry out any forced collectivizations. They did copy the Soviet model of large chemically dependent state farms. When the “Socialist Block” stopped all trade with Cuba, the Cuban economy was severely crippled. They could no longer import the amount of oil,fertilizers, and pesticides to continue large scale mechanized food production. They had to move in the direction of the alternative model of agriculture that I previously described.
In response to a huge drop in pesticide and fertilizer imports, Cuban agriculture is being transformed. Cuba is presently undertaking the largest national conversion from conventional agriculture to large scale alternative farming in history.
I attended the “Dialogue With Cuba”conference at the University of Berkeley on March 23,1998. I went to the panel discussion on agriculture in Cuba and saw the film; “The Greening of Cuba”. In that film one can see the dramatic transformation that is taking place in agriculture. Normally it takes 3-5 years, after the transition, to begin to achieve the previous levels of productivity. Cuba had the task of feeding its population while undergoing this transformation.
“The Greening of Cuba” is a documentary on how well the Cubans have met the challenge. One of the gains of the Cuban Revolution has been the development of education. Although Cuba has only 2% of the population of Latin America, it has 11% of the Ph.Ds in Latin America.
Cuban scientists were mobilized-not to protect chemicals as in this country-but to develop the alternative organic model . In the past few years Cuban scientists and planners have accelerated this process by using sophisticated biotechnology techniques, such as the mass production of naturally occurring local organisms to create biopesticides and biofertilizers. Among the alternative tactics being used for pest control, the most important are conventional biological controls based on mass releases of parasitic and predatory insects and the use of biopesticides.
Cuba produces numerous formulations of bacterial and fungal diseases that attack insect pests. These are applied to crops in lieu of chemical insecticides. At present, 218 biotechnology centers are located on agricultural cooperatives, where the workers are typically people in their twenties who were born on the cooperative and have received some university-level training. Industrial production of these biopesticides is under way for larger- scale operations aimed at export crops. Many biopesticides are applied to crops in place of chemical insecticides.
Cuba is also one of the world leaders in the use of biofertilizers, including the standard Rhizobium inoculants for leguminous crops, as well as free-living bacteria that make atmospheric nitrogen available for non-legumes, and solubilizing bacteria that liberate phosphorus for uptake by plants.
It is unclear whether the widespread implementation of an alternative model of agricultural development will, in conjunction with other government policies, allow Cuba to emerge from the crisis wrought by the collapse of the socialist bloc. The continued and growing success of the experiment in alternative agricultural currently underway in Cuba is unprecedented, with potentially enormous implications for other countries suffering from the declining sustainability of conventional agricultural production. Hopefully, Cuba will soon be self-sufficent in food production.
The movie captures the still living dynamics of the Cuban Revolution and the fighting spirit of the population as they started from scratch to rebuild their farms and introduce urban agriculture.
The Cuban could have followed the road of the Soviet Union and China towards capitalist restoration. Instead, they chose the road of extending and deepening their socialist revolution. In the process they had to give control over the development of farming to the scientists and the those working the farms. The success of organic farming is the product of the combined efforts of a people determined to protect their independence from the United States. The film is a testimony to the capacity of humanity to work socially to solve its problems of survival and to act for the social good of all. “What a piece of work is humanity!” Viva Cuba!
The Other Cuban Revolution
An October, 1999 news release from from Food First, announced that the Right Livelihood Award Organic Farm in Cuba http://blog.albertsorganics.com/?p=934 Promoting the Organic Revolution. This group was the Grupo de Agricultura Organica (GAO), the Cuban organic farming association, which has been setting the standard for sustainable agriculture for the world.
In accepting this award, Dr. Fernado Funes-Aguilar, President of GAO said:
“This award is truly an honor for Cuba, for GAO, and for all the farmers, researchers, and policy makers who have struggled to make organic farming work in Cuba. We hope that our efforts will demonstrate to other countries that conventional chemically-dependent agriculture is not the only way to feed a country.”
In the press release, Peter Rosset, executive director of Food First, said: “This award shows the enormous potential of sustainable agriculture, which is so under exploited in other countries. The whole world should learn from Cuba.” Dr. Rosset went on to say that “in Cuba, organic is for everyone, not just for those who can afford it.
In past articles I have written on the importance of the Cuban developments in agriculture. That the chemical dependent agriculture for profit in Capitalist society is making cancer part of our food chain based on an ever increasing use of pesticides.
This award supports that conclusion.
I have also written that how the Cuban Socialist Revolution has been a revolution to establish harmony between science and nature to establish a sustainable economy and environment.
Researchers around the world are now beginning to recognize these achievements of the Cuban Revolution.
If a small socialist country can make these achievements, just think of the potential if the whole world would become a socialist world with science in harmony with nature.
The Cuban developments should be a guide for environmentalists through out the world.
The Other Cuban Revolution By Elizabeth Agnew (August 1999)
Having survived years of careless exploitation and tumultuous political and social change, Cuba is setting an example to the whole of the western hemisphere with its enlightened environmental policies.
Havana, Cuba: This island has had its share of disasters, delivered by both nature and man, but one of the country’s most consistent strengths lies in its natural resources. Cuba boasts the highest number of plant and endemic species in the West Indies. It is a land of extremes with some of the smallest existing species of wildlife, such as the butterfly bat and the bee hummingbird, as well as the world’s largest shrews.
The socioeconomic development policies in the first half of this century have left Cuba a poor country – like many of its neighbors in Latin America. A few powerful individuals and foreign corporations controlled the country’s wealth, while illiteracy, poverty and lack of medical services contributed to a desperate situation among a large proportion of the population.
In 1959 the island’s natural resources were severely damaged when there was a massive shift from mixed agriculture to sugar cane, leaving natural vegetation in only 14 per cent of the country. Further threats to Cuba’s capacity for long-term sustainability came from poor land-use practices, pollution and over logging, often driven by short-term economic and political demands. This has resulted in deforestation, loss of wetlands and rampant tourism, which is growing at a rate of 30 per cent annually.
The socialist revolution addressed social needs in Cuba, and the one-party regime transformed all aspects of society. One highly significant change was a drive for environmental conservation rare in Latin American countries. This emphasis led the country to take a longer-term view of planning while stressing integrated approaches to sustainable development.
Since the revolution, vegetative cover has increased to just over 17 per cent, and Cuba now has the lowest deforestation rate in Latin America and the lowest human population growth rate.
These statistics are a source of pride and encouragement to Cubans engaged in the conservation struggle. More than 2 per cent of the world’s flora are found in Cuba, and approximately 51 per cent of Cuban flora is endemic. New species are still being discovered in the more remote areas.
Opportunities for success in conservation and sustainable use are probably higher in Cuba than anywhere else in the western hemisphere. This is because Cuba has accepted sustainable development as an official government policy with the goal of seeking solutions to its needs in both the short and long terms.
“Cubans are not only highly trained and professional, they are extremely motivated to work hard and to co-operate with one another,” says Steven Price, international program director of WWF-Canada.
For more than ten years, the conservation organization WWF has been funding conservation and development projects in Cuba. Its Cuba Program has a five-year conservation plan to restore ecosystems and encourage conservation of the island’s natural treasures. The plan aims to advance the conservation of biological diversity, to promote sustainable use of natural resources while reducing environmental contamination and waste, and ultimately to safeguard essential ecological processes.
Other WWF initiatives include support for the infrastructure of Turquino and Desembarco del Granma National Parks, and projects to band and analyze the habitats of migratory birds as well as to protect parrots and sandhill cranes. WWF is also increasing protection of the Alejandro von Humboldt National Park, and supporting the Cuban National Museum of Natural History.
In addition, the Canadian International Development Agency recently joined WWF on a conservation and development project in the largest and most important wetland in the Caribbean, the Cienaga de Zapata. This 500,000- hectare wetland is home to thousands of migratory species, as well as several endemic birds, such as the bee hummingbird.
WWF plans to increase its conservation investment in Cuba in the coming years. “A modest investment of funds yields a tremendous conservation dividend,” says Steven Price. (Elizabeth Agnew is Cuba Program Director for WWF, based in Toronto,Canada, www.panda.org )
STOCKHOLM and OAKLAND: The Grupo de Agricultura Organica (GAO), the Cuban organic farming association, which has been at the forefront of the country’s transition from industrial to organic agriculture, was named as winner of a major international prize–the Right Livelihood Award–commonly known as the ‘Alternative Nobel Prize.’
The Grupo de Agricultura Organica is one of four winners of the 1999 Right Livelihood Award, chosen from more than 80 candidates from 40 countries. GAO brings together farmers, farm managers, field experts, researchers, and government officials to develop and promote organic farming methods. Its aim is to convince Cuban farmers and policy-makers that the country’s~ previous high-input farming model was too import-dependent and environmentally damaging to be sustainable, and that the organic alternative has the potential to achieve equally good yields.
“This award is truly an honor for Cuba, for GAO, and for all the farmers, researchers, and policy makers who have struggled to make organic farming work in Cuba,” said Dr. Fernado Funes-Aguilar, President of GAO. “We hope that our efforts will demonstrate to other countries that conventional chemically-dependent agriculture is not the only way to feed a country.”
During the 1990s Cuba overcame a severe food shortage caused by the collapse of its trade relations with the former Soviet-bloc and the on-going U.S. trade embargo. Self-reliant organic farming played a significant role in overcoming the crisis.
GAO was founded in 1993 as the Asociación Cubana de Agricultura Organica (ACAO), but recently changed its name when it was legally incorporated as part of the Cuban Association of Agricultural and Forest Technicians (ACTAF). Over the past five years it has built up an impressive program of lobbying, training courses, workshops, documentation centers, demonstration farms, and exchange visits for farmers, and has held three international conferences.
“I hope this award will awaken the world to the amazing achievements Cuba has made in organic farming and food security”, said Martin Bourque, Sustainable Agriculture Program Director of Food First/The Institute for Food and Development Policy. “Through their hard work,innovation, and scientific excellence, GAO and the whole Cuban agricultural sector have demonstrated that low-input sustainable agriculture can work on a national scale.” Food First has had a scientific and technical exchange program with GAO for several years, and will co-sponsor GAO’s Fourth National Encounter on Organic Agriculture in May of the year 2000.
GAO is the first Cuban winner of the Right Livelihood Award. It shares the prize money of SEK 1,800,000 (approximately USD 225,000) with a Colombian network, Consolidation of the Amazon Region (COAMA), working for indigenous rights and biodiversity, and with Chilean-Spanish lawyer Juan Garces, who is honored for his untiring efforts over many years to bring the former Chilean dictator, General Pinochet, to justice. One of the world’s leading promoters of solar energy, Hermann Scheer, receives an honorary award.
The prizes will be presented at a ceremony in the Swedish Parliament on December 9, the day before the conventional Nobel Prizes. Founded in 1980, the Right Livelihood Award has honored more than 80 outstanding individuals and organizations for work contributing to a better future for the world.
Peter Rosset, executive director of Food First, said: “This award shows the enormous potential of sustainable agriculture, which is so underexploited in other countries. The whole world should learn from Cuba.” Dr. Rosset went on to say that “in Cuba, organic is for everyone, not just for those who can afford it.”
For more information on GAO or Food First, you can contact Food First staff members who are available for comment, and access: www.foodfirst.org/progs/global/cuba