World Watch Magazine: Nov/Dec 2002

GM CORN THREATENS FOOD AND CULTURE AT ITS CENTER OF ORIGIN

Washington, D.C.— The discovery of genetically modified corn in Mexico spells trouble, not only for this highly diversified and reliable food source, but also for the lives of thousands of farmers in the very region where the crop was first domesticated 8,000 years ago, reports the November/December edition of World Watch magazine.

The human-engineered varieties of corn showing up in the state of Oaxaca point to the first case of Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) contamination of a major crop at its center of origin, writes Claire Hope Cummings, the author of Risking Corn, Risking Culture.

"Scientists worry that if these plants become infected with GMOs, and if the artificial genes persist they could dangerously contaminate, and possibly wipe out, the natural genetic basis of the world's most important crops," writes Cummings. Trade arrangements such as NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement), which probably brought the GMOs to the Mexican cornfields in the first place, could also simultaneously wipe out local farming and cultural practices

States Cummings: "Under NAFTA, Mexico ended price supports and subsidies for its farmers. The United States, however, under the most recent farm bill, will be paying its commodity producers $180 billion over the next six years. GMOs are part of this subsidized commodity system. The resulting overproduction means that farmers in the United States get rock-bottom prices, while poor farmers in other countries get cut out of the market."

"Unfortunately, in the case of agricultural biotechnology, science has been hijacked by technology, a commercial technology that does not take into consideration the social, environmental or cultural impacts of its products."


CITY LIVING REACHES NEW HIGHS AND LOWS

One out of every seven people on earth now lives in a slum. And in some of the world's largest cities— Bombay, Bogotá and Cairo, for example—the population of slum dwellers now outnumbers the population of people living in formal housing. (See graph.)

As more people than ever before leave rural areas and move to urban centers, slum residents are organizing to: address inherent livelihood problems, recognize slum residents' rights to the land where they live, create new sources of employment within the slum areas, and strengthen their representation in government.


AFGHANISTAN, AGAIN


The reconstruction of Afghanistan is not going as smoothly as the U.S. Government hoped. A little historical perspective suggests that there may be a long—and perhaps treacherous—road ahead, writes Elizabeth Bast, in her essay, Afghanistan Again.

According to U.N. sources:
- One in four Afghans has access to safe water
- One in ten has access to adequate sanitation
- One in 20 has electricity
- Half of Afghan children are malnourished
- 30,000 people are dying each year from tuberculosis
- Only one trained gynecologist practices in all of southern Afghanistan

Donor countries promised $4.5 billion to the Afghan government over the next five years, but the U.N. and Afghan government report that as of July, only $500 million of the $1.8 billion due this year has been delivered.

"Meanwhile, the United States continues to spend $2 billion a month on military operations in the war-battered country, resulting in numerous civilian deaths and further destruction of infrastructure," writes Bast. "U.S. military operations have killed as many as 3,500 civilians in Afghanistan—more people than were killed in the World Trade Center attacks."



MATTERS OF SCALE: THREATS TO SECURITY


When 3,000 people died in the "9-11" attacks, Americans went into deep shock and declared that "the world had changed." Here's how the event compares with some other recent and ongoing causes of death and destabilization in the United States and other countries.

In the U.S.:  
Killed by cigarette smoking, per year, on average: 430,700
Killed by obesity, per year, on average: 300,000
Killed by adverse reactions to prescription drugs, per year, on average 32,000
   
In other countries:  
Sudan: Killed by the ongoing civil war 2,000,000
China: Killed by pesticide suicides of despairing farmers, per year 125,000
Japan: Killed by two atomic bombs dropped by U.S. planes in 1945 103,000


ALSO IN THE NOVEMBER/DECEMBER ISSUE:


Environmental Intelligence: Nigerian women pressure oil companies; Peruvian town rejects planned gold mine; Bhopal court upholds criminal charges against former Union Carbide CEO
Update: AIDS epidemic makes new inroads
Interview: China scholar Judith Shapiro unearths Mao's environmental legacy

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