The National Academy of Sciences’ National Research Council recently announced the proposed members of a committee that will carry out a study of the history of GE crops and their supposed negative and positive effects on farmers around the world. Unfortunately, the proposed committee lacks the expertise and diversity necessary to carry out such a study. Phil Bereano, a founding member of AGRA Watch, along with 63 other scientists and researchers from around the world have publicly questioned the NRC’s selection of committee members, and the proposed committee’s ability to provide objective, independent, and nonpartisan credible advice to U.S. policy-makers and others.
A Letter sent to the NRC on behalf of this group highlights the gaps in expertise and lack of diversity represented on the proposed committee. The group feels that based on the tasks of the study, and the complexity of the effects that GE crops have on farmers and rural populations, it is clear that the committee needs experts from a wide range of fields, almost most importantly from the social sciences. The group urges that it should include experts on the history of agri-food systems, health, anthropology and development, political economy, and it should include women and actual farmers. However, of the 19 members of the proposed committee, only one member has expertise in the social sciences, few have experience in occupational and community health, few have experience working in international contexts, zero are farmers, and only one is a woman. The vast majority of proposed members are experts in plants on the cellular or molecular level, some of whom come from institutions and agencies that promote technological approaches to achieving food security. The group finds the lack of expertise, and the potential for bias within the committee unacceptable, and urges the NRC to diversify it.
A second letter from the group of concerned scientists and researchers provides a list of experts who they say can contribute the expertise and diversity that the committee lacks. They encourage the NRC to invite these experts to present at the first public meeting and to join the committee.
The first public meeting of this study committee will be on September 15-16, click here to register to attend or view the webcast.
While momentum against GMOs builds throughout the global North, the Gates Foundation, profit driven multinational corporations like Monsanto, and a number of governments are setting the stage for the widespread adoption of industrial agriculture and the use of GMO seeds in different parts of Africa. As AGRA Watch and its partners are aware, commercial agricultural biotechnology and GMO seeds will have detrimental effects to smallholder famers and biodiversity.
In response to these pressures, an international coalition of NGOs recently called for the parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity and its Cartagena Protocol to implement binding regulations that would stop the spread of genetically engineered seeds. A primary concern for the coalition of NGOs, and the rest of the anti-GMO movement, is transgene flow and its effects on native crop varieties. In affecting the dynamics of wild and native varieties, transgene flow will have detrimental effects on smallholder farmers, who rely on their understanding of these dynamics to sustainably produce healthy and culturally appropriate food.
Learn more about the beginnings of an international call to stop the spread of genetically engineered organisms, and find contact information of activists who can help your organization join in this effort at stop-the-spread-of-trangenes.org.
AGRA Watch and its African partners are concerned about the Gates Foundation’s use of private wealth to support public policies which promote the values of late capitalism and benefit multinational corporations at the expense of other groups. Behind the benevolent philanthropist façade used by the Gates Foundation exists the familiar capitalist ambitions that contribute to income inequality, and actually perpetuate the poverty that the philanthropy claims to alleviate. The recent work of Gates and other mega-donors around the country has triggered widespread concern regarding current philanthropic practices. The importance of understanding the nature of philanthropy and the power that great private wealth has over public policy is discussed in a recent article in The Atlantic, written by Benjamin Soskis.
The article notes that throughout the history of philanthropy, there has been a direct relationship between the scale of philanthropy and the questioning of philanthropists’ ambitions. Historically, questioning has come from both sides of the political spectrum; the left has traditionally been concerned about philanthropy’s threat to the federal government, while the right has worried about the threat to small business and American capitalism. Recently, critical analysis has emerged as a result of the increased philanthropic activity and its clear effects on public policy.
Although Soskis focuses on how philanthropists affect domestic policies, AW and its supporters are well aware that the Gates Foundation’s power affects less-wealthy people all over the world. The broad reach of The Gates Foundation certainly heightens the need for the debate that Soskis calls for.
Big food’s most recent attempt to keep consumers in the dark, a bill that would prevent states from adopting Genetically Engineered food labeling laws, has been analyzed in a new report by the Center for Food Safety.
Because of legislation in the states, such as the recent Vermont law that would require the labeling of genetically engineered foods, the Grocery Manufacturers Association has introduced a bill that would block all states from enacting their own GE food labeling laws. If passed, this bill would make “voluntary labeling” the law of the land. The same voluntary labeling policy has been in place for 13 years, and unsurprisingly, it does not appear that a single company has volunteered to label their GE foods. It is clear that the continuation of this policy would not produce the labeling that the vast majority of consumers demand.
Please read the Center for Food Safety’s report to understand why CFS encourages Americans to urge Congress to drop this bill.
On April 5th, the Gates Foundation held a family-friendly event at the Visitor Center of the Foundation’s headquarters, called “Food for Good,” to which they invited several Seattle-based local food justice organizations, such as Lettuce Link, Seattle Tilth, Beacon Hill Food Forest and Fare Start, as well as international groups, including Heifer International and the ONE Campaign. Given the contradictions of the Gates Foundation promoting the idea of “food for good” when they are promoting high-tech solutions dependent on corporate control, CAGJ’s AGRA Watch campaign decided to carry out an action with several components.
First, we carried out a social media campaign, responding to their Twitter messaging based on the event’s name – #Food4GoodSEA – with our challenge to the foundation, asking “good for whom” (#Good4Who)? In addition to regular posts with both hashtags on Facebook and Twitter, we distributed a logo for the campaign (at the bottom of page), directing viewers to also “like” our AGRA Watch page. We were very successful! (If you have not already, please like our page now). Both hashtags were used, #Food4GoodSEA and #Good4Who, on the AGRA Watch page so that when people looked for the event, they also saw our critical or questioning posts, along with the events’ happenings.
Second, before the event we reached out to every organization that was going to table there, to propose a meeting to tell them about our campaign. Out of the organizations that we contacted, Lettuce Link and Beacon Food Forest have given us a positive response. Several groups told us they were torn about whether to participate, but decided it was worthwhile to connect to kids and to educate about their work.
Third, in order to alert the Foundation to our concerns, we distributed an online petition pressuring the Gates Foundation to support African-initiated programs rooted in indigenous farming practices, social equity and food sovereignty. Over 70 people signed the petition.
Finally, on the day of the event, we leafleted, sharing information with hundreds of participants. Flyers were generally well-received, with a few very positive conversations with people who were very concerned and supportive.
Overall, it was a great way to get information out to the public. Big thanks to all those who participated!
Gates Foundation hosts event to promote “FOOD FOR GOOD.” Find out how you can get involved to ask the Foundation, “GOOD FOR WHOM?”Posted: April 3, 2014
- Like Agra Watch (AW) on Facebook and Twitter
- Repost and retweet on Facebook and Twitter
- Read analysis from the AGRA Watch blog, (also posted on AGRA Facebook wall), and tell us what you think
- Tell us your experiences with “good food” on Facebook and Twitter, or shoot us an email – What does good food mean to you? How can food produce change and good in our world?
- Remember: Use both hashtags (#Food4GoodSEA and #Good4Who) when posting about the campaign.
In an article published in the Seattle Times, economics professor, William Easterly, writes that the end of global poverty will not come through technology but through ensuring poor people’s rights instead. “Gates believes poverty will end by identifying technical solutions. My research shoes that the first step is not identifying technical solutions, but enduring people’s rights,” states Easterly. The article continues to explain that true democracies, which allow people to freely vote and protest against harmful autocracies, are where an end to poverty can begin, not through technological fixes.
AGRA Watch also contends the Gates Foundation’s relentless support for biotechnology, although financially advantageous for shareholders, will prove to be futile in terms of ending global hunger and poverty. As research has shown, the answer does not lie solely with technological approaches like genetically engineered seeds, but rather non-technical methods which promote farmer knowledge, cooperation and ensure farmer’s rights to freely plant, harvest and save seeds.