Earlier this month, an article in the Des Moines Register announced the delay of Iowa State University’s human feeding trials of the genetically modified “Super Banana.” AGRA Watch and its partners have consistently raised concerns regarding the development of this GMO. We condemn the feeding trials because the human subjects are unlikely to be aware of the controversy surrounding this research, and are unlikely, themselves, to benefit; we also question the GMO’s supposed effectiveness in accomplishing its goal of preventing vitamin A deficiency. In the article, Tony Leys quotes a press release and open letter from AGRA Watch partner, the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa, and discusses the controversy surrounding the genetically modified fruit.
Mariam Mayet, Director of South African-based AGRA Watch partner, the African Centre for Biosafety, is quoted in the article and makes clear her disappointment that the open letter was not met with a response or greater transparency from Iowa State.
Also, for more information regarding the GM Banana, see this report from our partner, the African Centre for Biosafety.
Today, AGRA Watch partners, the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa and the US Food Sovereignty Alliance, released a press release discussing their open letter to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Dr. Wendy White from Iowa State University, and the Human Institutional Review Board of Iowa State University. The open letter, which is supported by more than 120 organizations from around the world, expresses widespread opposition to the Gates-funded human feeding trials involving genetically modified bananas.
Please find the press release and a link to the open letter below.
US Human Trials of GM banana for Africa Widely Condemned
Press Release issued by Alliance For Food Sovereignty In Africa and US Food Sovereignty Alliance
Kampala, Uganda and Seattle, Washington -
The Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) is a Pan African platform comprising civil society networks and farmer organisations working towards food sovereignty in Africa. Today it has submitted an Open Letter to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Dr. Wendy White from Iowa State University and the Human Institutional Review Board of Iowa State University expressing fierce opposition to the human feeding trials taking place at Iowa State University involving genetically modified (GM) bananas.
The Open Letter is supported by more than 120 organizations from around the world. Farmers, advocates, consumers and other communities from the United States are represented, including the US Food Sovereignty Alliance (USFSA), FoodFirst, AGRA Watch/Community Alliance for Global Justice and La Via Campesina North America, as well as many from Africa, Europe, Latin America, the United Kingdom, Asia and Australia. Dr. Vandana Shiva, Dr. Jeanne Koopman, Dr. Eva Navotny and Professor Joseph Cummins are among the prominent scientists and academics also supporting the Open Letter.
The GM banana human trials are funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and carried out by Iowa State University under the leadership of Dr. Wendy White. The human subjects of these trials are young female students from Iowa State University. Scientists at the Queensland University of Technology in Australia developed the GM banana, also with funds provided by the Gates Foundation. Touted as a ‘Super Banana’ the GM banana in question, has been genetically modified to contain extra beta-carotene, a nutrient the body uses to produce Vitamin A. The results of the human trials are designed to support the release the GM bananas into Ugandan farming and food systems. According to Iowa State University, “Vitamin A deficiency is a major public health problem in Uganda and other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and leads to decreased survival in children, impaired immune function and blindness.”
An outraged Bridget Mugambe, a Ugandan and AFSA Policy Advocate, says “Just because the GM banana has been developed in Australia and is being tested in the US, does not make it super! Ugandans know what is super because we have been eating homegrown GM-free bananas for centuries. This GM Banana is an insult to our food, to our culture, to us a nation, and we strongly condemn it.“
Iowa farmer George Naylor noted, “We’re told that GMOs are safe but we don’t even know if these genetically engineered bananas should be tested on humans. People who are malnourished need good food, not another public relations stint that clears the way for more corporate, patented, high-profit technologies.”
“As AFSA, we are vehemently opposed to GM crops. Africa and Africans should not be used as justification for promoting the interest of companies and their cohorts. We do not need GM crops in this changing climate. What we need is the diversity in our crops and the knowledge associated with them,” commented Dr. Million Belay, AFSA Coordinator.
AFSA, USFSA and others supporting the Open Letter have demanded that it be shared with the human subjects of the trials in the US.
Notes to Editors:
- AFSA members include the African Biodiversity network (ABN), the Coalition for the Protection of African Genetic Heritage (COPAGEN), Comparing and Supporting Endogenous Development (COMPAS) Africa, Friends of the Earth–Africa, Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordinating Committee (IPACC), Participatory Ecological Land Use Management (PELUM) Association, Eastern and Southern African Small Scale Farmers’ Forum (ESAFF), La Via Campesina Africa, FAHAMU, World Neighbours, Network of Farmers’ and Agricultural Producers’ Organizations of West Africa ( OPPA), Community nowledge Systems (C S) and Plate forme Sous gionale des Organisations Paysannes d’Afri ue Centrale (PROPAC).
- The Open Letter may be viewed here:
- Documents accessed from Iowa State University may be viewed here:
Mark Bittman, food journalist, author and columnist for The New York Times, recently published an article telling people, “Don’t Ask How to feed the 9 Billion.” Instead he suggests asking, “How can we help end poverty?” because, as Bittman argues, hunger and malnutrition are side effects of poverty and a flawed food system, not of agricultural underproduction. According to Bittman, increasing yields, the solution to hunger that AGRA and the Gates Foundation promote, will do nothing for underpaid and unemployed individuals who cannot afford to buy the food that is already produced and available. It is easy for Bittman to find an example that proves his point; The U.S., the most agriculturally productive country in the world, has the highest percentage of hungry people of any developed country, and this clearly is not due to inadequate food production. Bittman insists that in order to properly address hunger and malnourishment around the world, we need to focus on quality rather than yield, and we need to address the circumstances of the poor. If poverty persists, and our food system continues to pursue profit-maximizing production at the expense of peoples’ nutrition, hunger and malnourishment will persist too.
While this may be familiar rhetoric, Bittman’s piece sends an important message that AGRA Watch and its partners continue to spread; Hunger is a complex problem, rooted in poverty and disempowerment, and one that cannot be solved by simply increasing production.
On Oct 10-14, 2014 Community Alliance for Global Justice/AGRA Watch invited African leaders from six nations representing regional and continent-wide networks to Seattle to meet with leaders from over a dozen US organizations as part of the Africa-US Food Sovereignty Strategy Summit. The aim of the Summit was to promote farmer-led solutions to hunger and climate crises, share research, develop strategies and explore ways to protect communities faced with the consequences of industrial agriculture as promoted by the Gates Foundation.
On October 12th, summit participants took part in a major public event at Town Hall Seattle to voice their concerns.
Statement of the African and U.S. Food Sovereignty Summit
Seattle, Washington October 13, 2014
We are brought together by a shared belief in just, sustainable and equitable food for all. We share a concern over the dangerous loss of agricultural biodiversity and of the loss of dignified and viable livelihoods in the countryside.
In great appreciation of the wisdom we each shared coming from our diverse cultures, struggles and experiences that are all a reflection of our shared humanity:
We stand together against the corporate control of our food systems, the lack of accountability of global institutions like the G8 New Alliance For Food Security and Nutrition, the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP), the United States (US) government’s Feed the Future Initiative, the Grow Africa Partnership, the Gates Foundation and its Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), and others, that are forcing their policies and institutions upon the farmers of the world to open up markets and create spaces for multinationals to secure profits; against the monopolization of our seeds that criminalizes the historical farm practices of saving, sharing, selling and exchanging seeds; against the displacement and dispossession of small-scale farm producers and workers from their lands; against the new Green Revolution, the global Free Trade Agreements, “climate-smart agriculture” and “sustainable intensification”.
We pledge solidarity with the struggles of each of our organizations and with the global food sovereignty movement, and will work in mutual support to amplify the voices of the people on the ground fighting for food sovereignty, share information with the general public about food sovereignty and agro-ecology, and expose the myths underlying the false idea that corporate agriculture is necessary to “feed the world.”
African Centre for Biosafety
Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA)
Center for Food Safety
Community Alliance for Global Justice/AGRA Watch
Community to Community Development
Detroit Black Community Food Security Network
Family Farm Defenders
Friends of the Earth—Africa
Food & Water Watch
Growth Partners Africa
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP)
International Development Exchange (IDEX)
Kenya Food Rights Alliance (KeFRA)
National Family Farm Coalition
Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA)
Right to Agrarian Reform for Food Sovereignty Campaign
Rural Coalition/Coalición Rural
Rural Women’s Assembly (Southern Africa)
Surplus People Project
Trust for Community Outreach and Education (TCOE)
Zimbabwe Smallholder Organic Farmers Forum (ZIMSOFF)
Crosscut recently published an article discussing The Gates Foundation’s support of AGRA. Daniel Maingi, Kenyan food activist, Director of Growth Partners Africa, and one of the many participants in this weekend’s Africa-US Food Sovereignty Strategy Summit, was featured in the piece, voicing his concerns about the new green revolution in Africa. Maingi notes that AGRA often works in tandem with USAID, the US agency charged with foreign economic development. AGRA Watch would like to point out that the current Administrator of USAID, Dr. Rajiv Shah, previously served as the director of agricultural development at the Gates Foundation. This interlocking power network is one that AGRA Watch continues to research.
Join us on Sunday to hear first-hand from African food leaders and farmers about how corporate “philanthropists” like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are working to transform African small-holder agriculture into American-style industrial agri-business, with all its problems. Come and learn about the struggle for global food sovereignty and how we can work in solidarity to change these alarming trends.
Click here for more details about the event!
The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is a multilateral treaty, which addresses issues involving the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components, and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits that arise from the use of genetic resources. It entered into force in 1993. Included in its text is provision 19-3, which states that the parties of the convention shall consider the need for a protocol setting out procedures for transferring, handling and using any GMOs, which may have adverse effects on the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity. In 1995, two years after the CBD entered into force, the parties concluded that such a protocol was necessary, and after 7 years of negotiation, The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (CPB), an effort to satisfy this need, entered into force in 2003. The CPB attempts to protect biological diversity and human health from the risks associated with the transboundary movement, including importation, of genetically modified organisms. It embodies the precautionary principle in its governance of the transboundary movements of GE organisms and in establishing a procedure that allows countries to make informed decisions on whether or not to import GMOs.
As discussed in a recent Third World Network briefing, among the highly debated issues during the negotiation of the CPB was whether or not to include socioeconomic considerations in the assessments of the importing country. It was decided that socioeconomic considerations could be included, but whether it is mandatory to consider socioeconomic effects is still debated. A press release from the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, which outlines recent decisions to advance the implementation of the CPB, briefly discusses the lack of accord on this subject, and mentions the United Nations’ decision to “re-convene a group of experts to further develop clarity on this issue and to develop an outline for guidance on this subject.”
Although the CPB, and its parent treaty, the CBD both indicate the importance of considering socioeconomic consequences regarding GMOs, in the US, the USDA, FDA, and EPA do not consider any socioeconomic impacts, except for some health considerations under very limited circumstances. AGRA Watch feels strongly that all potential socioeconomic impacts should be considered in the production, import and export of all GMOs.
The New Yorker recently published an article entitled “Seeds of Doubt,” written by Michael Specter, which attempts to debunk Vandana Shiva’s stance on the use of GM seeds. Shiva is outspoken in her claims that the use of GM seed increases farmer debt and environmental degradation, and contributes to poverty, hunger, and suicide. In responding to Specter’s article, she did not hesitate to assert that the piece is merely a new and more sophisticated approach to the propaganda machine of the pro-GMO lobby. The exchange has received much attention and has been widely circulated around the Internet. Our colleagues at the Center for Food Safety critiqued Specter’s piece, debunking the myths about GE crops that Specter used as ammunition against Shiva throughout his article. AGRA Watch certainly agrees with the CFS and Shiva and feels that Specter is often wide of the mark in his piece.