[New from GRAIN] Open letter to the FAO - please sign on!
- -------- Original Message --------
Subject: [New from GRAIN] Open letter to the FAO - please sign on!
Date: Fri, 28 May 2004 11:03:11 -0400 (EDT)
New from GRAIN
28 May 2004
FAO DECLARES WAR ON FARMERS NOT ON HUNGER
(An open letter to Mr. Jacques Diouf, Director General of FAO )
Dear friends & colleagues,
A few of us around the world have taken the initiative to draft an open
letter to the Director General of FAO to express our disagreement with
the report "Agricultural biotechnology: meeting the needs of the poor?"
that FAO launched on 17th May - an unprecedented move by FAO's publicity
machine in support of genetic engineering.
We invite everybody (individuals and organisations) to sign-on to the
To sign on, please send an email to openletterfao@... indicating
your name, your organisation and your country. Please indicate whether
you sign-on personally or in the name of your organisation. The deadline
for signing-on is Monday 7th June.
Thanks for your support!
René Segbenou, Coalition pour la Protection du Patrimoine Génétique
Africain, Côte d'Ivoire
Elfrieda Pschorn-Strauss, Biowatch, South Africa
Sarojeni Rengam, Pesticides Action Network Asia and the Pacific, Malasia
Elisabeth Bravo, Red por una América Latina Libre de Tansgénicos, Ecuador
Patrick Mulvany, ITDG, United Kingdom
Henk Hobbelink, GRAIN, Spain
FAO's press release about the report can be read at:
The full report can be downloaded from:
PLEASE SIGN ON TO THIS OPEN LETTER!
If you or your organisation wants to sign on to this letter, please send
an email to
indicating your name, your organisation and your country. Please
indicate whether you sign personally or in the name of your organisation.
The deadline for signing on is Monday 7th June.
Translations of this letter will be available in Spanish
(www.grain.org/es/) and French (www.grain.org/fr/).
FAO DECLARES WAR ON FARMERS NOT ON HUNGER
(An open letter to Mr. Jacques Diouf, Director General of FAO)
Dear Mr Diouf,
We, the undersigned organisations, movements and individuals involved in
farming and agricultural issues, wish to express our outrage and
disagreement with the FAO report released Monday, May 17th
("Agricultural biotechnology: meeting the needs of the poor?"). This
report has been used in a politically-motivated public relations
exercise to support the biotechnology industry. It promotes the genetic
engineering of seeds and the further skewing of research funding towards
this technology and away from ecologically sound methods developed by
farmers. The way in which the report has been prepared and released to
the media, sadly, raises serious questions about the independence and
intellectual integrity of an important United Nations agency. The report
turns FAO away from food sovereignty and the real needs of the world's
farmers, and is a stab in the back to the farmers and the rural poor FAO
is meant to support.
We are deeply disappointed that FAO has breached its commitment (and
your own personal pledge) to consult and maintain an open dialogue with
smallholder farmers' organizations and civil society. By failing to
consult such organizations in the preparation of this report FAO has
turned its back on those who are most directly affected by the
technologies it promotes.
Rather than recommending the strengthening of the role of smallholder
farmers in the management of their agricultural biodiversity and
improvement of crops vital to their livelihoods, which some of FAO's
field work actively and successfully promotes, this report proposes a
technological "fix" of crops critical to the food security of
marginalized peoples - calling for the development of transgenic
cassava, potato, cowpea, millet and teff.
Hunger in the world is growing again despite the fact that global per
capita food production has been higher than ever before. Issues of
access and distribution are far more important than technology. If we
have learned anything from the failures of the Green Revolution, it is
that technological 'advances' in crop genetics for seeds that respond to
external inputs go hand in hand with increased socio-economic
polarization, rural and urban impoverishment, and greater food
insecurity. The tragedy of the Green Revolution lies precisely in its
narrow technological focus that ignored the far more important social
and structural underpinnings of hunger. The technology strengthened the
very structures that enforce hunger. A new 'gene revolution' will only
exacerbate the worst errors of the Green Revolution. Has FAO learned
History demonstrates that structural changes in access to land, food,
and political power - combined with robust, ecological technologies via
farmer-led research - reduce hunger and poverty. The 'gene revolution'
promises to take us in the opposite direction. It is based on
astronomically costly, elite, industry-dominated research using patented
technologies. The same resources, if directed to farmer-led,
participatory research networks, would generate far more equitable,
productive and ecologically sound technologies.
Although the 200-plus page document struggles to appear neutral, it is
highly biased and ignores available evidence of the adverse ecological,
economic, and health impacts of genetically engineered crops. For
example, the report bluntly states that transgenic crops have delivered
large economic benefits to farmers and helped reduce the use of
pesticides. This assertion is based on field data from a highly
selective set of studies of Bt cotton. Contradictory research is
ignored. The data used from India are based exclusively on field trials
conducted by Monsanto in 2001. The report ignores data collected from
farmers' fields by several state governments and other independent
researchers during the 2002 season (the year Bt cotton was released).
These show that Bt cotton failed. The small, inconclusive studies of Bt
cotton in Mexico, Argentina and South Africa are disingenuously used to
bolster support for transgenic cotton varieties. Reference to another
study suggesting benefits for cotton farmers in Burkina Faso and Mali
concludes without much of a base that West Africa - already under
unjustifiable trade pressures - will lose millions of dollars if they do
not embrace Bt cotton.
Although the FAO report does mention that genetic engineering is
dominated by corporations, it overlooks the fact that only one company -
Monsanto - owns the GM seed technology sown over 90% of the total world
area sown to transgenics. Five companies make up virtually 100% of the
transgenic seed market. This represents an unprecedented dependence of
farmers on global agribusiness that FAO should view with alarm and for
which FAO should propose alternatives. Just proposing that more public
research funding is dedicated to it, is not a solution. More investment
in this technology - as the FAO recommends - will inevitably increase
corporate monopoly control over the world's food supply. Impoverished
countries will be forced to accept patent laws, contracts and trade
regimes that weaken their internal capacity to fight hunger. Four days
after your report was published, the Supreme Court of Canada shamefully
sided with Monsanto against Canadian farmers Percy and Louise Schmeiser
simply because the corporation's patented seed contaminated their farm.
In a number of countries contamination is already resulting in cases
where farmers are threatened or prosecuted because genetically
engineered pollen blew in their field!
The more farmers are dependent on the biotech industry, the fewer
options they will have to support and further develop their own farming
and livelihood systems. It is unacceptable that FAO endorses the need
for intellectual property for corporations. This amounts to FAO support
for corporate biopiracy since the genetic resources that corporations
seek to patent result from the collective breeding work of farmers over
thousands of years.
Genetic contamination is polluting the very heart of the world's centres
of crop diversity. Yet FAO brushes aside this tragedy with hardly a
comment. Yet, for the very cultures that created agriculture this is an
aggression against their life, against the crops they created and
nurture, and against their food sovereignty. For several decades the FAO
has been leading an international debate to address the issue of genetic
erosion. With the advent of genetic engineering the threat of erosion
has increased. As the normative intergovernmental institution for
genetic resources, FAO should be developing policies to prevent genetic
erosion and take action to address the negative global implications.
We are stunned to find that, to prevent gene contamination (while
protecting corporate monopoly), the report supports the absurd option of
using Terminator technology, a technology that would prevent farmers
from saving and re-using harvested seed. Farmers' organizations, civil
society organizations, many governments and scientific institutions have
condemned this technology. As Director General of FAO, you stated in
2000 that FAO was against genetic seed sterilization. Incredibly, your
report endorses a technology that would risk the food supply of the 1.4
billion people who depend upon farm-saved seed around the world.
These biases, omissions and unsubstantiated conclusions turn this report
into a disgraceful public relations tool for the biotech industry and
for those countries that seek to export this technology. It is an insult
to those FAO member governments that, courageously, have been resisting
industry and political pressure and who are developing viable
alternatives for long-term seed security and food sovereignty. It is a
rejection of the efforts of those scientists and policy makers - some
within FAO - who have contributed to the new participatory technology
development, agro-ecological methodologies, sustainable productivity and
other approaches that put the role and rights of farmers first.
We believe that FAO has broken its commitment to civil society and
peasants' organizations to consult on issues of common concern. There
was no consultation with smallholder farmers' organisations, yet there
appears to have been extensive discussion with industry. For those of us
in civil society organisations and social movements that considered the
FAO as an institution that we could relate to and a forum to debate
these issues and possibly move forward, this is a tremendous setback.
Farmers and civil society organizations will meet and consult in the
coming months to determine what further actions should be taken
regarding FAO and the negative repercussions of this report.
(people and organisations signing on)
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28 May 2004
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