The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) is funded by Northern developers of GMOs, with the aim of helping developing countries in the South take up GM technology.
Funders include Bayer CropScience, Monsanto, Syngenta, Pioneer Hi-Bred and the BBSRC .
ISAAA's multi-million dollar budget is matched by high-profile board members, past and present, such as: Monsanto's Robert Fraley, Wally Beversdorf of Syngenta, and Gabrielle Persley, Executive Director of AusBiotech Alliance and advisor to the World Bank . ISAAA has no representatives, however, from farmer organizations in areas like Africa.
One of ISAAA's goals is to 'facilitate a knowledge-based, better informed public debate.' To help it achieve its aim ISAAA has three 'Knowledge Centers' - the 'AmeriCenter' based at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York; the 'SEAsiaCenter' in Los Banos, Laguna, Philippines; and the 'AfriCenter' in Nairobi, Kenya, Florence Wambugu headed ISAAA's Africa office before establishing her own biotech advocacy organisation - A Harvest Biotechnology Foundation International.
Aaron deGrassi of the Institute of Development Studies says that in Africa the ISAAA has 'spun off a number of innocuously named pro-biotech NGOs, such as the African Biotechnology Stakeholders' Forum and African Biotechnology Trust. Pro-biotech Western aid agencies have joined with these organizations to quietly conduct one-sided conferences at up-scale venues around the continent, such as Kenya's Windsor Golf and Country Club, aimed to swing high-level officials in favor of GM. But critics charge these forums are facades for large corporations. The NGOs consist of a website and a few staff, they charge.' In a report on ISAAA's activities in Asia, GRAIN concluded that its role was one of 'promoting corporate profit in the name of the poor'.
According to GRAIN, 'ISAAA is a valuable tool for the biotech industry. On the one hand, it supports a constant stream of public relations exercises to propagate hype about humanitarian motives behind biotechnology. On the other hand, it concentrates on generating the proper business climate for the biotech industry's market expansion in important developing countries. It is not surprising, then, that the industry provides funding and other resources to ISAAA and plays an important role in directly governing the institution.'
GRAIN also notes, 'The institution is not transparent and cannot be since it carries responsibility for corporate security, both in its constitution and in the deals it brokers. What it boils down to is that, through ISAAA, industry is using local people - from illustrious scientists to anonymous small farmers... to promote biotechnology and expand markets for its own benefit.'
ISAAA’s chairman is Clive James. ISAAA's annual reports on the global uptake of GMOs, 'Global Review of Commercialized Transgenic Crops', commissioned by the biotech industry and conducted by James, are widely reported in the media. However, there are serious question marks overe the accuracy of their claims as regards the extent of the uptake of GM crops around the world and the supposed benefits experienced by producers. Many claims are made purely on the basis of producer estimates and some have been shown to be contrary to the findings of properly controlled scientific studies.
Aaron deGrassi provides an example of how questionable ISAAA figures are in relation to GM cotton farming in South Africa: 'ISAAA implies that small farmers have been using the technology on a hundred thousand hectares. Agricultural Biotechnology in Europe - an industry coalition - suggests 5,000 ha of smallholder cotton. The survey team suggests 3,000 ha.' In other words ISAAA's figures are 20 times higher than even those claimed by a biotech industry source.
It is also possible to compare some of the figures in previous ISAAA's Global Review of Commercialized Transgenic Crops with scientific research findings. For instance, in the 1998 Global Review a figure of 12% was given by American farmers for GM soy yield improvements. However, a review of the results of over 8,200 university-based controlled varietal trials in 1998 showed an almost 7% average yield reduction in the case of the GM soy, ie the diametric opposite.