May 31, 2013

VIETNAM: Agent G.M.O. Should Monsanto Be Allowed To Bring Genetically Engineered Crops To Vietnam?

International Herald Tribune
written by Lien Hoang
March 26, 2013

HO CHI MINH CITY — It’s 5 a.m. and the streets already are buzzing. People know that the best time to shop at open-air markets is before daybreak. And they know to ask for fresh, firm vegetables grown locally, rather than in China, where dangerous pesticides are routinely overused.

Soon they also might be asking whether their potatoes and soybeans are genetically modified. Not only is the Vietnamese government considering lifting the current ban on genetically modified organisms, it hopes to blanket as much as one-third of the country’s farmland with genetically engineered crops by 2020.

This is too much too soon. Vietnamese officials are reasonably worried about how to feed a country of 90 million. But the policy change is based on one-sided information from those who would profit from G.M.O. sales, and it displays little concern for consumer protection.

What’s more, Monsanto, the chemical company that would help bring biotechnology to Vietnam, is the one that brought it Agent Orange during the war four decades ago.

Advocates say genetically modified seeds produce greater yields, in part because they are resistant to insects, herbicides and drought. Opponents say the promise of higher productivity is a myth and warn of overdependence on single-crop agriculture, damage to the environment and for consumers.

These are the kinds of costs and benefits that a country should weigh for itself. But in Vietnam the issue is barely being discussed, even though the state has a knack for public-service announcements. When politicians make a push for motorcyclists to wear helmets or teenagers to abstain from drugs, they slather the streets with Soviet-style posters and the newspapers with editorials.

Jeffrey Smith, director of the Iowa-based Institute for Responsible Technology, told me that government officials he met in Hanoi in 2011 seemed troubled by the dangers of genetic modification — and of their colleagues’ disregard for their concerns. The people Smith talked to, he said, worried that some members of the government “were basically taking dictation from Monsanto” and ignoring information that genetically modified foods are “potentially damaging to the economy and food sovereignty.”

Certainly some leaders are flippant about G.M.O.’s. At a conference earlier this year, the dean of biotechnology at a Vietnamese college dismissed health concerns outright. “I accidentally picked up and drank genetically modified soy milk in Europe in 1992,” Ngo Xuan Binh said. “Nothing has happened to me so far.”

Of course, it might take decades for scientists to be able to measure the health impact, if any, of genetically modified food. But that’s all the more reason for the government to give people in the meantime all the facts about what they’re eating. Other countries have asked food companies to indicate which products are genetically modified so that consumers can decide for themselves whether to buy them. As a Californian, I cast an absentee ballot in the November election for my state to require such labels.

Although that’s not feasible in Vietnam — supermarkets are still a new convenience, and 70 percent of Vietnamese live in rural areas where they buy produce at outdoor markets — officials could raise awareness with a public campaign.

Most people have no idea that chemical companies could soon be tinkering with their food. It has been reported that Monsanto has obtained a green light from the Vietnamese government to test how modified corn affects surrounding flora and fauna. The company denies this.

The American war veteran Chuck Searcy has spent years in Vietnam working to clean up the remnants of the conflict, including land mines and chemical pollution. “Like a lot of veterans in Vietnam with experience with Agent Orange, I don’t trust that company,” he said of Monsanto’s genetic engineering.

Monsanto has largely left it to the Vietnamese government to deal with the health problems that the use of Agent Orange during the war is believed to have caused. Few of the defoliant’s three million victims have taken Monsanto to court.

After I visited the company’s small, quiet office in a sleek Ho Chi Minh City high-rise — it has giant photos of green corn stalks on the walls — I received an e-mail from a representative that said, “Of course, we are interested in the opportunity to introduce biotechnology seed to Vietnamese growers in the near future when the Vietnamese government has completed its regulatory framework.” To Monsanto’s credit, it sent me information from both supporters and critics of genetically modified crops.

Still, I’m wary of a company that bribed an Indonesian official to block an environmental impact study of its genetically modified cotton, sued farmers for allowing Monsanto seeds accidentally blown onto their fields to grow, and helped defeat that California labeling proposition I voted for. Vietnamese regulators should be wary, too.


BBC news
written by Tom Fawthrop
Monday June 14, 2004

The Vietnam War ended in 1975, but the scourge of dioxin contamination from a herbicide known as Agent Orange did not.

"The damage inflicted by Agent Orange is much worse than anybody thought at the end of the war," said Professor Nguyen Trong Nhan, the vice-president of the Vietnam Victims of Agent Orange Association (VAVA).

Between 1962 and 1970, millions of gallons of Agent Orange were sprayed across parts of Vietnam.

Professor Nhan, the former president of the Vietnamese Red Cross, denounced the action as "a massive violation of human rights of the civilian population, and a weapon of mass destruction".

But since the end of the Vietnam War, Washington has denied any moral or legal responsibility for the toxic legacy said to have been caused by Agent Orange in Vietnam.

The unresolved legacy and US denials of responsibility triggered three Vietnamese to take unprecedented legal action in January 2004.

The plaintiffs alleged war crimes against Monsanto Corporation, Dow Chemicals and eight other companies that manufactured Agent Orange and other defoliants used in Vietnam.

The case has been brought by VAVA, which was set up to promote an international campaign to gain justice and compensation for Agent Orange victims.

Preliminary hearings began in January at the US Federal Court in New York, presided over by senior judge Jack Weinstein.

Birth defects

Agent Orange was designed to defoliate the jungle and thus deny cover to Vietcong guerrillas.

It contained one of the most virulent poisons known to man, a strain of dioxin called TCCD.

First it killed the rainforest, stripping the jungle bare.
In time, the dioxin then spread its toxic reach to the food chain - which some say led to a proliferation of birth deformities.

In a small commune in the heavily sprayed Cu Chi district, the family of 21-year-old Tran Anh Kiet struggles with the problems of daily living.

His feet, hands and limbs are twisted and deformed. He writhes in evident frustration, and his attempts at speech are confined to plaintive and pitiful grunts.

Kiet has to be spoon-fed. He is an adult stuck inside the stunted body of a 15-year-old, with a mental age of around six.

He is what the local villagers refer to as an Agent Orange baby.

In Vietnam, there are 150,000 other children like him, whose birth defects - according to Vietnamese Red Cross records - can be readily traced back to their parents' exposure to Agent Orange during the war, or the consumption of dioxin-contaminated food and water since 1975.

VAVA estimates that three million Vietnamese were exposed to the chemical during the war, and at least one million suffer serious health problems today.

Some are war veterans, who were exposed to the chemical clouds. Many are farmers who lived off land that was sprayed. Others are a second and third generation, affected by their parents' exposure.

Some of these victims live in the vicinity of former US military bases such as Bien Hoa, where Agent Orange was stored in large quantities.

Dr Arnold Schecter, a leading expert in dioxin contamination in the US, sampled the soil there in 2003, and found it contained TCCD levels that were 180 million times above the safe level set by the US environmental protection agency.

No comments: