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Q&A: "It Is Upon Us to Pave the Way for Sustainability"

January 24, 2008
IPS - Inter Press Service

By Anuradha Mittal

NEW YORK, Jan 24 2008 (IPS) - Anuradha Mittal is an internationally renowned expert on trade, development, human rights and agriculture. In 2004, she founded the Oakland Institute, a policy think tank focused on social, economic and environmental issues.

A native of India, Mittal is the author of numerous books and essays, including "America Needs Human Rights"; "The Future in the Balance: Essays on Globalisation and Resistance"; "Voices From the South: Third World Speaks Out Against Genetic Engineering"; and "Food Aid or Food Sovereignty: Ending World Hunger in Our Time".

IPS correspondent Rajiv Fernando recently spoke with Mittal about the significance of this weekend's Eighth World Social Forum, and the connection between development and democracy.

IPS: You have been an eloquent advocate of the idea of "economic human rights", and recently wrote that the George W. Bush administration deserves a "failing grade" on this question. Are you hopeful that the situation for poor and working people in the United States can improve with the 2008 elections?

AM: President Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt played a key role in the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It was President Roosevelt who declared that freedom from want is as important as freedom from fear. However, with the start of the Cold War, there was a systematic effort to get rid of the notion of economic, social and cultural rights in the U.S. The problem that we face today is not as simple as getting rid of Bush and his cronies and suddenly we will have a different kind of regime in this country. When we look at the policy positions, whether it is the Democrat or the Republican presidential candidates, one finds the concept and the framework of human rights missing. We cannot forget that it was President [Bill] Clinton who signed the so-called Personal Responsibility Act, the welfare reform – or what some of us would call the welfare deform – act. However, the fact that we're heading into another election is a really good opportunity for advocates of social economic justice, for people involved in any struggle, whether it is for access to clean drinking water, or farm workers' rights or immigrant rights, to bring back the framework of human rights to guide our policy discussions.

IPS: According to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications, an industry group, global biotech crop acreage expanded to 252 million acres in 2006 – 90 percent of it in developing countries. As a critic of biotech, how do you think civil society groups can be most effective in responding to this trend?

AM: ISAAA has been making unsupported claims, inflating its figures and ignoring the negative impacts of GM crops. Its report is nothing but bogus PR tactics. In 2007, it listed Iran as growing 50,000 hectares of commercial GM rice, which is not approved and is not being grown. Romania was listed as growing 100,000 hectares of GM soybean but this crop was banned and the country was being decontaminated to return it to GM-free. ISAAA claims commercial GM crops are a global industry but their own figures showed 99 percent grew in just eight countries in 2006 [the United States, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, India, China, Paraguay, and South Africa]. The range of GM crops also stalled in 1996 when four broad-acre commercial crops – soy, corn, cotton and canola – were first grown. Not one has been added since.