embedded in a foreign aid bill which is expected to hit the Senate floor soon. The "Global Food Security Act" (S.384), sponsored by Senators Casey (D-PA) and Lugar (R-IN), is intended to reform aid programs to focus on longer-term agricultural development, and restructure aid agencies to better respond to crises.
While lauding the bill’s intentions, the petitioners object to a clause effectively earmarking one agricultural technology (genetically modified – GM crops) for potentially billions of dollars in federal funding. $7.7 billion in U.S. funds are associated with the bill and no other farming methods or technologies are mentioned.
Monsanto has lobbied more than any other interest in support of this bill. The company is one of two or three dominant corporations in the increasingly concentrated biotechnology industry likely to benefit from the new research funding stream as well as from future profits from their patented products (both seeds and pesticides).â€¨â€¨
Today, scientists, development experts spanning a dozen countries, and 100+ groups representing anti-hunger, family farm, farmworker, consumer and sustainable agriculture delivered a letter urging the Senate to reject the "Global Food Security Act" until the bill is made technology-neutral. Their specific concern: language in the bill that would amend the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 to read “Agricultural research carried out under this Act shall . . . include research on biotechnological advances appropriate to local ecological conditions, including gm technology."
"The bill’s focus on genetically modified technology simply makes no sense," stated Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, Senior Scientist at Pesticide Action Network. "Independent science tells us that genetically modified (GM) crops have neither increased yield nor reduced hunger in the world. The most credible and comprehensive assessments of agriculture to date say that if we want to end global poverty and hunger, we’ll need to focus on increasing the biodiversity and ecological resilience of small-scale farming systems."â€¨â€¨
"Here in Africa, pressure to import GM crops is wreaking havoc on our local economies," explained Mariam Mayet of the African Centre for Biosafety. "In South Africa, we are now dumping GM corn into other countries, disrupting local markets and undermining the livelihoods of family farmers there. As a result, Zimbabwe has imposed a ban on GM corn imports, and Kenya—which has a bumper crop of GM-free corn and doesn’t need any imports—is now grappling with a massive, illegal and unwanted shipment of 280,000 metric tons of GM corn from South Africa. A handful of powerful agribusinesses’ obsession with GM is pitting African countries against each other, with Monsanto and international grain traders reaping the benefits and ordinary farmers losing out. The last thing we need from the U.S. is a bill legislating yet more money for GM crops."
Concerned groups and individuals note that if Congress singles out one technology and attaches it to a pool of foreign aid money, the pressure on developing countries to ignore other priorities and scientifically valid options—and to open their markets to that one technology—will be substantial.
“At the end of the day, the GM mandate has more to do with breaking open markets for American biotech corporations than fighting hunger," explained Annie Shattuck of the Institute for Food and Development Policy. "To get at the root of the global hunger crisis, we need to tackle poverty, something no technological silver bullet can ever do.” â€¨
Ben Burkett, National Family Farm Coalition president and Mississippi family farmer, added, "Corporate control over inputs and the free trade agenda have destroyed the livelihoods of so many farmers at home and abroad. That’s why farmers worldwide are calling for food sovereignty—the right to choose fair and sustainable farming practices that protect our local food and livelihood security. This is what works best for our farms and communities."
The letter delivered to senators today calls for agricultural research funding to be focused on addressing local challenges faced by small-scale farmers, instead of mandating a specific and narrow technological fix—particularly one with little prospect of success and increasingly rejected by countries around the world. â€¨â€¨
The bill was passed through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on March 31, 2009 and the Senate is expected to vote on it soon.
flickr image by ViaMoi