/fontfamily>EXCERPT: "Both from a political and from a scientific point of view, the organizers have been breathtakingly stupid," says Silvia Ribeiro of ETC's Mexico office, "a meeting between the CGIAR and industry was bound to become known and widely-resented. It is also profoundly insulting that the CGIAR that claims to work with and for farmers does not realize that farmers' organizations have a critical perspective on the GM contamination issue that cannot be ignored. The CGIAR is seeking policy advice from the culprits and not the victims."
For a GM WATCH profile of the CGIAR:
Taking Care of Business
The CGIAR and GM contamination
Friday, August 27, 2004
In a remarkable departure from its role as a public science network, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) is huddling with the biotech industry (including Monsanto and DuPont) to craft a policy response to the unwelcome and ongoing spread of DNA from genetically modified plants to farmers varieties.
The meeting begins in Rome on Monday and comes three years after scientists first confirmed GM contamination in Mexico's maize crop and two and a half years after farmers' organizations and their civil society allies called upon CGIAR and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to take action. Farmers' organizations are not invited to the meeting.
[Note: The world's most important collections of seeds, the vast majority of which were collected from farming communities in the South, are maintained in a network of 16 gene banks overseen by the CGIAR. In 1994, the FAO and CGIAR signed agreements placing most of the seed collections under the auspices of the United Nations.
At the meeting next Monday, CGIAR will examine the implications of GM contamination for gene bank collections it holds in trust for the international community. Officially, the meeting is known as "The development of CGIAR policies to address the possibility of adventitious presence of transgenes in CGIAR ex situ collections."]
Policy workshop: Beginning next Monday in Rome, 30 invited participants from the biotech industry and national and international agricultural research institutes will sit down for 2.5 days to hammer out a strategic policy response to the ballooning problem of worldwide GM contamination.
The meeting will hear formally from government institutes such as EMBRAPA in Brazil, CGEN in Netherlands and the USDA. The agenda also calls for presentations from three industry representatives including Monsanto and DuPont the world's two largest seed corporations.
Missing from the speakers list are the representatives of farmers organizations, South government policymakers, development agencies, and civil society organizations (CSOs) familiar with the issues. FAO is invited but not offered a place on the agenda.
The workshop organizers defend their limited invitation list stressing the "technical" nature of the discussion although the invitation states that, "The emphasis of the workshop should be on the policy and economicrelated implications of different approaches to the issue, with a lesser focus on potential scientific, technical means."
The timetable following the battery of industry statements concentrates on "points of agreement" and "controversial issues" as CGIAR and its national scientific partners look for policy recommendations. (CGIAR's agenda and workshop description, as received Aug. 20, are posted as PDF documents on ETC Group's website. http://www.etcgroup.org)
Paternalist turned partner-predator?
"The CGIAR has mandated itself to use science for
'poverty alleviation' but now seems to be more concerned with helping the agbiotech industry get through the crisis created by their own sloppy science," says Pat Mooney of the Canadian-based ETC Group.
"The CGIAR network has always had a paternalistic approach to farmers and their organizations," Mooney adds, "but this is the first time we have known them as an international consortium of public sector scientists to side so thoroughly with industry. It is farmers' seeds that are being contaminated. Industry's GM crops are causing the contamination. Whose business is the CGIAR taking care of?"
The workshop was proposed by the CGIAR's Genetic Resources Policy Committee in February. The invitation states that a maximum of 30 invitees include "representatives from (most affected) IARCs, NARS and private companies, and experts.
Belatedly recognizing that news of the meeting would leak out, organizers opined earlier in the summer that they might convene an electronic conference to appease stakeholders not invited to the meeting. As the summer wore on, however, and as the reaction to FAO's May report on agricultural biotechnology evoked unprecedented outrage among farmers, CGIAR apparently decided to keep the meeting as lowkey as possible.
Organizations of small farmers such as La Via Campesina are being shut out. One farmer who sits on a CGIAR committee in a private capacity may attend the final half-day of the workshop along with the rest of the committee but has not (perhaps until now?) been asked to make a presentation.
Stakeholders and Steak-eaters: "Both from a political and from a scientific point of view, the organizers have been breathtakingly stupid," says Silvia Ribeiro of ETCs Mexico office, "a meeting between the CGIAR and industry was bound to become known and widely-resented. It is also profoundly insulting that the CGIAR that claims to work with and for farmers does not realize that farmers organizations have a critical perspective on the GM contamination issue that cannot be ignored. The CGIAR is seeking policy advice from the culprits and not the victims. The decision not to invite farmers organizations and CSOs was political," Ribeiro concludes.
"This workshop is a case study in bad science," argues Hope Shand of ETC in the USA. "With GM contamination," Shand adds, "the stakeholders are the farmers whose very lives and livelihoods depend on their seed. The companies do not have their lives at stake and they're the ones who caused the contamination. Monsanto is a steak-eater not a stakeholder!"
Malicious presence: "The language of the agenda pretty well says it all," Pat Mooney notes. "Farmers and civil society organizations typically refer to the unwanted intrusion of transgenes into farmers' fields as 'contamination.' Industry refuses to use the term and CGIAR has gone along with them. They prefer 'adventitious presence,' which means unintended and unavoidable presence and, ironically, even sounds a bit like 'advantageous.' By adopting language manufactured by industry spin doctors, CGIAR has made it clear whose side it is on."
Contamination controversy: The CG system cant claim that it didn't know farmers and civil society were both well-informed and alarmed about GM contamination especially in Third World centres of genetic diversity.
* In February 2002, 144 civil society organizations from 40 countries signed an open letter to the Director-General of FAO and the Chair of the CGIAR asking them:
- to take up the issue of GM contamination;
- to advise on how future contamination could b
Go to a Print friendly Page
Email this Article to a Friend
Back to the Archive