ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

22 August 2002


from Friends of the Earth
Press Briefing



Although genetically modified (GM) crops and foods are not explicitly on the agenda at the Earth Summit in Johannesburg, there is no doubt that the biotechnology industry will be using the Summit as an opportunity to promote GM crops. This briefing shows how the industry, with the support of the US Government, is attempting to hijack moves towards sustainable farming by masquerading as an NGO.

The Earth Summit Agenda

Draft Plan of Implementation
The draft ‘Plan of Implementation’ for the Earth Summit does not directly refer to GM crops and foods, but there is a danger that some of the text will be used by the biotech industry to force GM crops into developing countries. The industry is in trouble in many parts of the world and the concern is that they will now use any texts coming out of Johannesburg to justify and promote their products. For example, while text such as, "Improve the transfer of technologies to developing countries" and "Create partnerships conducive to investment and technology transfer… to assist developing countries… to enhance… agricultural productivity" (Para 91) look innocent enough, they could also be the finger prints of successful biotech lobbying.  Friends of the Earth International is arguing that governments at the Earth Summit should insist that sustainable agriculture must rely on methods that are predictable, affordable, and controllable. They should make clear that, in consideration of our current lack of knowledge about the impacts of GMOs on health and the environment, the biotechnology industry will be kept out of sustainable agriculture.

One of the main outcomes of the Earth Summit will be a set of small scale limited scope "Partnership Initiatives". These are based on voluntary agreements between governments, business, civil society or other stakeholders, but will not be part of the formal negotiations.  However many fear that they represent the failure of governments to achieve a substantial agreement and that they put big business in the driving seat.

By the 12th August 2002, twelve Partnership proposals in the field of agriculture/food security and rural development had been made public.  None of the partnerships presented mention directly the use of genetic engineering in agriculture. Nevertheless, a closer look reveals that some partnership proposals are using these initiatives to promote GM crops as one of the tools to achieve "sustainable agriculture".

A serious cause for concern is the partnership proposal by CropLife International. CropLife is the Brussels-based global federation representing the plant science industry. It is led by GM companies such as Bayer CropScience, Monsanto and Syngenta.

At the Bali preparatory meeting for the Earth Summit, CropLife presented themselves at one workshop on Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security as promoters of something called "Green Biotechnology". They distributed a leaflet called "Creating opportunities for sustainable agriculture" with several references to biotech projects that Monsanto, USAID and others are currently conducting in Kenya on GM sweet potato, and in South Africa on GM cotton.

Their partnership proposal does not mention GM crops. It doesn’t need to. Instead they refer to promoting "appropriate technology" and aim to bring this to agricultural professionals in developing countries who are "best positioned too help farmers access the information and knowledge they need to reap the benefits of knowledge-intensive, sustainable management practices...".

The GM lobby at the Summit

International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) ISAAA is a biotech industry initiative whose objective is "the transfer and delivery of appropriate biotechnology applications to developing countries".  Amongst its supporters and funders are UK Science Minister Lord Sainsbury’s charity The Gatsby Foundation, and the UK Government’s science research council (BBSRC) whose budget is decided by Sainsbury.  ISAAA’s institutional supporters include the main biotech companies - Monsanto, Bayer and Syngenta.

ISAAA is involved in the development of GM crops such as bananas, maize and sweet potatoes in Africa.

ISAAA has put forward nine recommendations to the Earth Summit promoting GM crops and is calling on the Summit to "recognize the potential contribution of biotechnology as a tool for future food security and sustainable development."  ISAAA also wants the Summit to "support policies and measures to increase the level of public awareness and acceptance of the potential, processes and the products of biotechnology". Bizarrely, they even call on the Summit to recognise biotechnology as "an important tool for unpacking and enhancing biodiversity".

ISAAA’s partner in crime at the Earth Summit is AfricaBio. Monsanto and Europe’s main biotech lobby group, EuropaBio, call AfricaBio a "partner".  Whilst masquerading as an NGO representing African civil society - according to their website they claim they represent schools in South Africa - they are, not surprisingly, keen promoters of GM crops in Africa. They are doing their best to undermine the South African NGO coalition, SANGOCO, and the work done representing the true voice of African civil society in the run up to the Earth Summit. Expect to see more of AfricaBio in Johannesburg.

The US Government
George Bush has maintained Clinton's habit of stacking his Cabinet and other sensitive positions with former Monsanto employees. For example Ann Veneman, Secretary for Agriculture is a former Director of Calgene (makers of Flavr Savr tomatoes, one of the first GM foods) which is owned by Monsanto. Estimated "soft money" (ie. unofficial) contributions to the 2002 Republican election campaign included $38,000 from Monsanto, $760,661 from the Monsanto subsidiary Eli Lilly and $1,195,894 from the Monsanto parent company Pharmacia.

But the US looks set on collision course with many countries in Africa. While US Agriculture Secretary Anne Veneman asserted that "biotechnology has tremendous potential*[in] areas of the world where there is persistent hunger,"  many countries, including Zambia and Mozambique, have rejected US food aid containing GM crops. As South Africa's Agriculture Minister, Thozo Didiza, said, "The signal they [the US] have indicated does not bode well for developing countries and reducing hunger in the world".

Friends of the Earth is concerned at the way this powerful lobbying combination uses international summits, like the Earth Summit, to further the biotechnology industry by locking the world into agreements on "appropriate technology" a US euphemism for agricultural biotechnology. The United States used the recent World Food Summit to promote GM crops as the solution to famine. They succeeded in persuading the Summit to formally endorse biotechnology as a way to address hunger. The Declaration of the Second World Food Summit stated openly that "We are committed to study, share and facilitate the responsible use of biotechnology in addressing development needs." It also called for advancement of "research into new technologies, including biotechnology". Civil society and governments must ensure that the US and the biotech industry do not get away with this a second time.

For solutions to the African food crisis and the increasing levels of world hunger, delegates should look no further than Ethiopia, where the notorious photos of starving people were taken in 1985, capturing the image of Africa in a helpless, endless cycle of starvation.  Large areas of this dry region have been recuperated through regenerating the ecosystems (water harvesting, water source protection, prevention of erosion, control of grazing etc.). According to Dr Tewolde Gebre Egziabher, head of the Ethiopian Environmental Protection Agency:

"Ethiopia shows that diverse, ecologically and culturally adapted food production systems, generated and controlled by millions of small farmer households, provide food security and protect the people and the country from foreign and commercial control of food.  Self-reliance in food at the household and country level, is the foundation on which democracies can be built."

Arian Bebb 0113 389 9952 (m) 07712 843211
Eve Mitchell 020 75661681  (p) 07654 663 773
Press Office 020 7566 1649
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