FAO Declares War on Farmers not on Hunger - sign on to this Open Letter (29/5/2004)

Here is an invitation to sign-on to an excellent open letter in response to the recent highly biased FAO report, which is correctly described here as having ignored the "available evidence of the adverse ecological, economic, and health impacts of genetically engineered crops".

From: Patrick Mulvany <[email protected]>

Dear friends & colleagues,

A few of us around the world have taken the initiative to draft an  open letter to the Director General of FAO to express our disagreement with the report "Agricultural biotechnology: meeting the needs of the poor?" that FAO launched on 17th May - an unprecedented move by FAO's publicity machine in support of genetic engineering..

The letter is pasted below and is attached. We invite everybody (individuals and organisations) to sign-on to the letter. Spanish and French versions will be circulated later on. This mailing is being sent to all those involved in the UK Food Group and its Working Groups. Please pass on to your colleagues and to other networks and especially those you know in the South.

To sign on, please send an email [email protected] your name, your organisation and your country. Please indicate whether you sign-on personally or in the name of your organisation. The deadline for signing-on is Monday 7th June.

Thanks for your support!

René Segbenou, Coalition pour la Protection du Patrimoine Génétique Africain, Côte d'Ivoire

Elfrieda Pschorn-Strauss, Biowatch, South Africa

Sarojeni Rengam, Pesticides Action Network Asia and the Pacific, Malasia

Elisabeth Bravo,  Red por una América Latina Libre de Tansgénicos, Ecuador

Silvia Ribeiro, ETC Group, Canada

Patrick Mulvany, ITDG, United Kingdom

Henk Hobbelink, GRAIN, Spain

FAO's press release about the report can be read at:http://www.fao.org/newsroom/en/news/2004/41714/index.html

The full report can be downloaded from: http://www.fao.org/docrep/006/Y5160E/Y5160E00.HTM

NB: The sub-head for the FAO Press Release that created the global media response was: "Bioengineered food crops have real potential as a tool in the war on hunger, but so far that potential remains largely untapped." From Beijing to Buenos Aires and Vancouver to Vanuatu, news media have carried top-line messages such as "UN agency praises genetic crops" and "UN food agency endorses biotech crops for Third World". http://www.fao.org/newsroom/en/focus/2004/41655/index.html ------

FAO Declares War on Farmers not on Hunger
(An open letter to Mr. Jacques Diouf, Director General of FAO )

Dear Mr Diouf,

We, the undersigned organisations, movements and individuals involved in farming and agricultural issues, wish to express our outrage and disagreement with the FAO report released Monday, May 17th (Agricultural biotechnology: meeting the needs of the poor?). This report has been used in a politically-motivated public relations exercise to support the biotechnology industry. It promotes the genetic engineering of seeds and the further skewing of research funding towards this technology and away from ecologically sound methods developed by farmers.  The way in which the report has been prepared and released to the media, sadly, raises serious questions about the independence and intellectual integrity of an important United Nations agency. The report turns FAO away from food sovereignty and the real needs of the world’s farmers, and is a stab in the back to the farmers and the rural poor FAO is meant to support.

We are deeply disappointed that FAO has breached its commitment (and your own personal pledge) to consult and maintain an open dialogue with smallholder farmers' organizations and civil society. By failing to consult such organizations in the preparation of this report FAO has turned its back on those who are most directly affected by the technologies it promotes.

Rather than recommending the strengthening of the role of smallholder farmers in the management of their agricultural biodiversity and improvement of crops vital to their livelihoods, which some of FAO’s field work actively and successfully promotes, this report proposes a technological "fix" of crops critical to the food security of marginalized peoples - calling for the development of transgenic cassava, potato, cowpea, millet and teff.

Hunger in the world is growing again despite the fact that global per capita food production has been higher than ever before. Issues of access and distribution are far more important than technology. If we have learned anything from the failures of the Green Revolution, it is that technological 'advances' in crop genetics for seeds that respond to external inputs go hand in hand with increased socio-economic polarization, rural and urban impoverishment, and greater food insecurity. The tragedy of the Green Revolution lies precisely in its narrow technological focus that ignored the far more important social and structural underpinnings of hunger.  The technology strengthened the very structures that enforce hunger. A new 'gene revolution' will only exacerbate the worst errors of the Green Revolution. Has FAO learned nothing?

History demonstrates that structural changes in access to land, food, and political power - combined with robust, ecological technologies via farmer-led research - reduce hunger and poverty.  The 'gene revolution' promises to take us in the opposite direction.  It is based on astronomically costly, elite, industry-dominated research using patented technologies.  The same resources, if directed to farmer-led, participatory research networks, would generate far more equitable, productive and ecologically sound technologies.

Although the 200-plus page document struggles to appear neutral, it is highly biased and ignores available evidence of the adverse ecological, economic, and health impacts of genetically engineered crops. For example, the report bluntly states that transgenic crops have delivered large economic benefits to farmers and helped reduce the use of pesticides. This assertion is based on field data from a highly selective set of studies of Bt cotton. Contradictory research is ignored. The data used from India are based exclusively on field trials conducted by Monsanto in 2001. The report ignores data collected from farmers' fields by several state governments and other independent researchers during the 2002 season (the year Bt cotton was released). These show that Bt cotton failed. The small, inconclusive studies of Bt cotton in Mexico, Argentina and South Africa are disingenuously used to bolster support for transgenic cotton varieties.  Reference to another study suggesting benefits for cotton farmers in Burkina Faso and Mali concludes without much of a base that West Africa - already under unjustifiable trade pressures - will lose millions of dollars if they do not embrace Bt cotton.

Although the FAO report does mention that genetic engineering is dominated by corporations, it overlooks the fact that only one company - Monsanto - owns the GM seed technology sown over 90% of the total world area sown to transgenics. Five companies make up virtually 100% of the transgenic seed market. This represents an unprecedented dependence of farmers on global agribusiness that FAO should view with alarm and for which FAO should propose alternatives.  Just proposing that more public research funding is dedicated to it, is not a solution. More investment in this technology - as the FAO recommends - will inevitably increase corporate monopoly control over the world’s food supply.  Impoverished countries will be forced to accept patent laws, contracts and trade regimes that weaken their internal capacity to fight hunger.  Four days after your report was published, the Supreme Court of Canada shamefully sided with Monsanto against Canadian farmers Percy and Louise Schmeiser simply because the corporation’s patented seed contaminated their farm.  In a number of countries contamination is already resulting in cases where farmers are threatened or prosecuted because genetically engineered pollen blew in their field!

The more farmers are dependent on the biotech industry, the fewer options they will have to support and further develop their own farming and livelihood systems.  It is unacceptable that FAO endorses the need for intellectual property for corporations.  This amounts to FAO support for corporate biopiracy since the genetic resources that corporations seek to patent result from the collective breeding work of farmers over thousands of years.

Genetic contamination is polluting the very heart of the world's centres of crop diversity.  Yet FAO brushes aside this tragedy with hardly a comment. Yet, for the very cultures that created agriculture this is an aggression against their life, against the crops they created and nurture, and against their food sovereignty. For several decades the FAO has been leading an international debate to address the issue of genetic erosion. With the advent of genetic engineering the threat of erosion has increased.  As the normative intergovernmental institution for genetic resources, FAO should be developing policies to prevent genetic erosion and take action to address the negative global implications.

We are stunned to find that, to prevent gene contamination (while protecting corporate monopoly), the report supports the absurd option of using Terminator technology, a technology that would prevent farmers from saving and re-using harvested seed.  Farmers organizations, civil society organizations, many governments and scientific institutions have condemned this technology. As Director General of FAO, you stated in 2000 that FAO was against genetic seed sterilization. Incredibly, your report endorses a technology that would risk the food supply of the 1.4 billion people who depend upon farm-saved seed around the world.

These biases, omissions and unsubstantiated conclusions turn this report into a disgraceful public relations tool for the biotech industry and for those countries that seek to export this technology. It is an insult to those FAO member governments that, courageously, have been resisting industry and political pressure and who are developing viable alternatives for long-term seed security and food sovereignty. It is a rejection of the efforts of those scientists and policy makers - some within FAO - who have contributed to the new participatory technology development, agro-ecological methodologies, sustainable productivity and other approaches that put the role and rights of farmers first.

We believe that FAO has broken its commitment to civil society and peasants' organizations to consult on issues of common concern.  There was no consultation with smallholder farmers' organisations, yet there appears to have been extensive discussion with industry.  For those of us in civil society organisations and social movements that considered the FAO as an institution that we could relate to and a forum to debate these issues and possibly move forward, this is a tremendous setback. Farmers and civil society organizations will meet and consult in the coming months to determine what further actions should be taken regarding FAO and the negative repercussions of this report.

Yours Sincerely, (people and organisations signing on)

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