Sunday, September 7, 2008

Plastic Bags or GMOs...?

Every time I buy a loaf of bread I cringe when the grocer puts it into a plastic bag before handing it to me. And I have never failed to return the plastic bag to the grocer. Yet, the next time I go to him, he too never fails to place the nicely packed bread into a plastic bag. This just doesn’t happen when we buy bread. The same scenario is repeated when we buy anything else that already comes in good packaging and can be neatly carried away. I have travelled quite a bit, but I must say, we Malaysians can beat the rest of the world flat in our consumption of plastic bags. Many countries have banned this material that do not degrade in the next hundred or thousand years and is one of the cruellest source of pollution. Data from US Environment Protection Agency shows the worldwide consumption of plastic bags in a year is between 500 billion to one trillion. It costs more to recycle plastic bags than to produce new ones. Plastic bags find their way into the ocean through sewage pipes and drains, and also when tonnes of rubbish are dumped into the ocean. These bags have been found floating north of Arctic Circle, near Spitzbergen, and as far south as the Falkland Islands.

You may wonder why I am suddenly writing about plastic bags... But this issue has made me wonder many times. Why hasn’t the government done anything to curb this problem which is disastrous to the environment? Ban the use of plastic bags? Make consumers who request for plastic bags to pay, perhaps 10 cent extra for each bag? I am sure measures can be taken to address this. Yet, much effort is spent in propagating the ‘risks’ of GMOs. Some even go to the extent of labelling it as ultra-hazardous. It is not only the case of plastic bags, how about cigarettes which is clearly linked to many diseases?

It is beyond me why the activist groups who claim to protect the environment and human health single out GMOs. I once attended a meeting related to GMOs and there was a lady from an activist group who kept pointing out how dangerous GMOs can be. During coffee break I spotted the same lady happily puffing her cigarette. She came back to the meeting and continued to bash GMOs and telling the rest we should not compromise human health and the environment. I just wondered if she knew what she was talking about. There is so much more hypocrisy practiced by opponents of GMOs worldwide which I will share in another article.

Up to 2007, 282.4 million acres worldwide have been cultivated with GM crops in 23 countries by 12 million farmers, of which 11 million farmers are from 12 developing countries. More than a decade has passed since the first commercial cultivation and consumption of GM crops and GMOs, yet no single data shows detrimental effects to human and animal safety and the environment. Farmers are typical businessmen who will only undertake practices that are profitable to them. I quote by bosses’ favourite phrase here, “You can cheat farmers once but never twice”. This is from Clive James, the author of ISAAA global status of commercialised GM crops which is the most cited source in agribiotech. Yet, we see activists who sit in posh offices across cities in Europe making decisions for resource-poor farmers. More and more farmers in the Europe want to experience the same benefits reaped by their counterparts in the US and other countries. They are pushing their governments to approve GM seeds and crops. How long will they be deprived from this technology is yet to be seen. Do we really think farmers in Africa will reject a technology that will give them more yield? Will they reject crop varieties that will thrive in marginalised land and in drought areas? Who decides for them is yet another issue.

I am sure the fund, time, manpower and other resources spent on consultations, meetings, travels and other activities related to GMOs and trying to ‘safeguard’ mankind and the environment can be better spent in many other more pertinent areas. When GMOs become the mainstream, which I strongly believe will happen soon, we will sit back and ponder how much of our resources were wasted.

Back to my argument on plastic bags, I truly hope the responsible ministry and agencies will take some serious measures to reduce its usage, production, and pollution. This will do more good to the environment than trying to curb the spread of GMOs.

-by Mahaletchumy Arujanan

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