This spring, scientists, development experts and more than 100 groups from around the world joined Pesticide Action Network in urging U.S. senators to strip what they termed a GMO giveaway to ag biotech companies embedded in the Global Food Security Act (S. 384). Sponsored by Senators Casey (D-PA) and Lugar (R-IN), the bill is intended to reform aid programs to focus on longer-term agricultural development, and restructure aid agencies to better respond to food crises.
After months of sustained advocacy by PAN and partners, the controversial clause on GMOs (genetically modified organisms) has been revised. As of June, the Global Food Security Act now directs that funding shall support agricultural research “appropriate to local ecological and social conditions” and includes ecological agriculture along with conventional breeding and genetically modified technology [sic] in a list of approaches that could be supported. The bill has been presented to the Senate and awaits final approval. "Once signed into law," notes Kathleen McNeely of the Maryknoll Office of Global Concerns, "the bill would provide a degree of Congressional oversight over how research funds are actually spent. Without passage of the amended bill, the public loses this important lever to hold the Obama administration accountable for the direction and impacts of its Feed the Future initiative—the administration’s multi-billion dollar approach to addressing global food security." Statements about the new initiative by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack and USAID Director Rajiv Shah (formerly of the Gates Foundation) suggest that the U.S. approach to ending world hunger still focuses largely on increasing productivity through U.S. "discovery" and "dissemination" to poor farmers of "breakthrough technologies" such as biotechnology.
"The challenge going forward," observes PAN senior scientist Dr. Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, "lies in ensuring that U.S. development aid actually shifts from favoring top-down ‘solutions’ like GMOs and the ‘Green Revolution’ model of agriculture towards ecologically sound farming systems that can feed the world without destroying either local culture or the very ecosystem functions on which life depends. Farmers’ in-depth knowledge of local agroecosystems must inform the quest for solutions to today’s complex problems." However, signals from the U.S. State Department—which has announced an intention to “confront the naysayers” of GMOs and press ahead—do not indicate that any such shift is imminent, Ishii-Eiteman warns.
Meanwhile, the United Nations Special Rapporteur for the Right to Food, Olivier de Schutter, speaking in Brussels at an international conference on agroecology and food security, argued that agroecological farming has a proven capacity to increase food production and farmers’ income, while protecting soil, water and climate. Citing the success of such approaches in Brazil, Cuba and across Africa, de Schutter explained that increased investments in agroecology are urgently needed to meet the world’s food needs, “Anything short of this would be an exercise in futility,” he concluded.