The National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy (NCFAP) describes itself as 'a private non-profit non-advocacy research organization'. However, an article in the science journal Nature describes NCFAP as 'a pro-GM industry group' and, looking at the invariably industry-supporting claims emerging out of NCFAP stiudies, it may seem difficult to be certain where reseach ends and advocacy begins.
NCFAP conducts studies in four areas: biotechnology, pesticides, international trade and development, and farm and food policy.
NCFAP's Program Director and Senior Research Associate is Leonard Gianessi. Curiously, Gianessi's only academic qualification appears to be a Bachelor of Arts degree in Public Affairs from George Washington University.
Prior to joining NCFAP in October 1993, Mr Gianessi spent seventeen years as a researcher at Resources For the Future (RFF), a Washington-based 'conservation' research organisation with funding from major US corporations. Sponsors include Dupont and Union Carbide as well as a number of oil companies. RFF's Director of Risk, Resource, and Environmental Management is Michael R. Taylor, Monsanto's former vice-president for public policy who was at the centre of a major controversy over conflicts of interest in relation to Monsanto's genetically engineered cattle drug rBGH (Revolving doors: Monsanto and the regulators). Resources For the Future turned their attention to agriculture in 1984 with funding from the Kellogg Foundation.
NCFAP was spun out of RFF as an independent organization in 1992 and Gianessi moved with it. Gianessi's focus was particularly on pesticide use though not exclusively so. In 1999 he was cited as 'a water quality scientist and the developer of the water quality modeling method used to measure feedlot and confinement livestock waste' when he took the Environmental Protection Agency to task for what he called 'a bad case of shoddy data' in their concern over the impact of livestock waste. (The problem with pigs, August 1999)
Mostly though, Gianessi has been involved in defending pesticides - speaking on The Value of Pesticides in US Crop Production, expressing concern about the loss of organophosphate and carbamate insecticides on minor crops, and touting the benefits of herbicide use. CropLife America (CLA), a trade organization representing agro-chemical manufacturers, is among those that have commissioned studies which have inspired often evangelical farm press coverage: 'thank God for the chemicals that beat back the ever threatening, yield-sapping tide of weeds. Because of such chemicals there's food available to feed the world... according to the data compiled in the [NCFAP] report, there's no going back to the good, old, pre-chemical days.'
Gianessi has shown a talent for producing eye-catching figures, arguing for instance that herbicide-free agriculture would require 'up to 7 million workers to hand remove weeds' while still causing the loss of '300 billion pounds of food and fiber'. Organic agriculture on anything but the smallest scale is a non-starter. Herbicides, Gianessi says, are absolutely essential for maintenance of high yields and, 'If we truly wanted to maintain current yields and do away with herbicides, 70 million additional hoe-toting farmhands would be patrolling fields. That would mean one of every four U.S. citizens chopping weeds for a month every year. There just isn't a future for a vast expansion of organic agriculture,' says Gianessi. (NCFAP study touts herbicide benefits)
NCFAP began to focus on GM crops in 2000. Its main biotechnology research programme was launched in the spring of 2001 with financial support from the Rockefeller Foundation, the Biotechnology Industry Organisation, Monsanto, the biotech-industry funded Council for Biotechnology Information (CBI), the Grocery Manufacturers of America, and CropLife America. It is also said to receive money from the US Department of Agriculture.
According to NCFAP, 'researchers began an ambitious project to estimate the realized and potential impacts of 40 separate case studies of biotech crops.' NCFAP's findings were as usual eye-catching. According to the report, during the 2001 crop year, eight GM crops in production had increased crop yields by 1.8 billion kg (4 billion lb), saved growers US$1.2 billion by cutting production costs, and reduced pesticide use by 21 mil. kg (46 mil. lb).
The NCFAP report did not stop there but looked to the future, considering the potential of 27 GM crops in the U.S., some of which were still being developed, to increase annual production, improve farm income, and reduce pesticide use. (PLANT BIOTECHNOLOGY: CURRENT POTENTIAL IMPACT FOR IMPROVING PEST MANAGEMENT IN U.S. AGRICULTURE, AN ANALYSIS OF 40 CASE STUDIES, NCFAP, June 200)
The report drew enthusiastic press coverage. One article, National Study Finds Biotech Does It All, told its readers the report showed GM crops meant farmers could 'sharply increase crop production', 'significantly reduce' pesticide use and 'generate truckloads of additional cash' - 'It's a win-win-win combination that reads like a proponent's wildest hope, but is, in reality, the prediction of an expert group based on extensive results from 40 studies of 27 biotech crops all across the U.S.A.' The article described NCFAP's summary report as 'eye-popping', its predictions for the future as 'visionary' and the predicted pesticide reductions (70 mil. lb plus) as 'whopping'. (emphasis added)
Gianessi followed up his 'eye-popping' report with a U.S. speaking tour. The Associated Press reported, 'Leonard Gianessi... has been barnstorming across the