Monday, April 5, 2010

Foreign aid bill mandates genetic engineering

PANUPS, April 2 2010

The "Global Food Security" bill is back. After its introduction in the Senate a year ago, Bill Gates and Bill Clinton have been quietly pressing for this piece of legislation that aims to fight global hunger with one hand while orchestrating a giant taxpayer subsidy to pesticide and ag biotech companies with the other. The bill, also known as the Lugar-Casey Act -- for Senators Richard Lugar (R-IN) and Robert Casey (D-PA) -- would refocus aid programs on agricultural development, with a caveat: public funding of genetically engineered (GE) seeds is what this bill means by “agricultural development.”

Last spring Pesticide Action Network joined Food First, Union of Concerned Scientists and other partners in commending the overall intention of the bill, while calling for the removal of the corporate give-away clause buried in its language. The Lugar-Casey Act directs some $7.7 billion to agricultural research and development, much of which could go directly into the coffers of corporations like Monsanto because of one clause mandating that research funds “shall” go towards GE crop research. Monsanto (the world’s largest purveyor of GM seeds) has done more lobbying on the Lugar-Casey Act than any other interest.

USAID would be responsible for implementing the bill. Over the last two decades, this agency has spent millions of taxpayer dollars on developing GE crops, with not one success story to show for it. A highly touted partnership between USAID and Monsanto to develop a virus-resistant sweet potato in Kenya failed to deliver anything useful for farmers. After fourteen years and $6 million, local varieties vastly outperformed their genetically modified cousins in field trials.

“At the end of the day, GE crops don’t have much to offer — especially to farmers in the developing world,” notes PAN senior scientist Dr. Marcia Ishii-Eiteman. The bill’s single-minded focus on promoting GMOs runs directly counter to the scientific findings from the most comprehensive analysis of world agriculture to date, the IAASTD. This landmark report highlights the need to strengthen agroecological research to support small-scale farmers, while decreasing corporate control of seeds and the food system. “We will be working with partners in the coming weeks to mobilizing a strong message to the Senate reiterating our call to strip the GM clause from the bill,” adds Ishii-Eiteman.

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