Monsanto, with the aggressive backing of the U.S. embassy and State Department, has been busy lobbying the Vietnamese government to introduce its GMO crops into the country. Events are moving along at a good pace for Monsanto who, along with Syngenta and DuPont, has been pushing their ‘frankenseeds’ into developing countries for years. Monsanto tested its first seeds here in 2011.
Eight years ago, the government in Viet Nam issued a blueprint regarding agriculture which envisioned having 30-50% of the country’s arable land planted with GMO crops by 2020. With such a momentous change on the horizon for Viet Nam, its farmers, its land, its food and its people, you might think that there is a robust debate going on within the media, the government agencies responsible for coordinating food policy and in the general populace. You would be wrong. In fact, almost no one in Viet Nam is even familiar with the term ‘GMO’, let alone aware that there is a global debate raging over the harmful effects of these seeds on human health, the environment, animals, and plants. In my random sampling of locals here in Ho Chi Minh City, I did not encounter a single person who could tell me what a GMO is.
This is dangerous, and potentially catastrophic for the country. Decisions about the introduction and widespread implementation of GMO crops are being made by a tiny handful of government officials, who have been engaged in many closed-door meetings with executives from Monsanto, Syngenta and DuPont. Furthermore, with the current government wanting to maintain warm relations with the Obama regime, it behooves them to be friendly with some of Obama’s biggest supporters.
The government has done absolutely nothing to inform the population of what GMO seeds are and the science surrounding them. So, it is left up to the local media to bring some awareness to the issue. In that regard, a local paper, Thanhniennews has run some admirably hard-hitting pieces in the last few months, finally calling the government to task on this. The local English language paper, Viet Nam News has done a pathetic and criminally negligent job of covering this story, only running pieces that blithely quote government mouthpieces who work for the ministry of natural resources and the environment and the ministry of agriculture and rural development. We have people like Le Dinh Luong, professor of genetics at Hanoi University, who gleefully trumpets the benefits of GMOs and says that activists shouldn’t ‘make a fuss’ over the hazards of these scientific monstrosities. Another scientific stooge, Professor Nguyen Lan Dung warned Viet Nam was ‘too cautious’ in planting GMOs on a wide scale. I guess he’s never heard of the cautionary principle.
The fact that GMOs are being embraced so enthusiastically by the government and upper scientific establishment here is not too surprising given the overall direction that they hope to push agriculture in. Since I arrived here, I have been collecting articles on food and agriculture printed in the local media, and looked thru them while preparing to write this piece. In every one, the government talks only of improving agriculture with ‘modern technology’, ‘hi-tech agriculture’, ‘bio-technology’ , and ‘applying advanced technology to agriculture products.’ More machines. More chemicals. More fertilizers. More technology. The direction is clear, and in this context, it is natural that they would jump on the GMO bandwagon, even without the arm twisting of Monsanto and the U.S. State Department.
Viet Nam sits at a crucial juncture. GMO corn is set to be planted in seven provinces in the North, Central Highlands, and South. If these crops are allowed to be planted in the next couple of years, there really will be no turning back. Neighboring fields will quickly become contaminated. It is much more difficult to rip them out of the ground and try to go back to organic crops than it is to halt this whole process at the beginning. However, there is little chance of a grass-roots movement getting started in time, given how ignorant and uniformed the population is.
The impoverished and uneducated farmers who have been subsistence farming for hundreds of generations will be easy targets, as company PR flaks, accompanied by agricultural officials from the government, will entice them with golden promises of higher yields, less work, less pests and crucially- more money.
Instead of working toward truly sustainable models , such as permaculture- based systems, which rely on building up the health of the soil, crop rotation, and the implementation of polyculture systems to make the land resilient to pests, the government is heading in the wrong direction: to a high-tech , machinery dependent, high external input- based agriculture system geared toward the export market and not toward a reliable food supply for the Vietnamese people.
Most of the population is not even aware that Monsanto was the biggest producer of Agent Orange, used to such devastating effect during the war in the 1960s. When they are made aware of that connection, most of them realize that they don’t really want a chemical weapons manufacturer to be responsible for providing their rice.
Apparently, a GMO labeling law was enacted some years ago, but like many laws here, it is not enforced in any way, and therefore useless. A ‘Non-GMO’ label has yet to make an appearance on a store shelf in Ha Noi or Ho Chi Minh City.
As global elitists such as Henry Kissinger have long said, “Food is a weapon.” And that weapon is set to be unleashed on Viet Nam.