(Beyond Pesticides, June 5, 2008) While the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) High Level Conference on Food Security in Rome convenes June 3-5, 2008, some nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are trying to shed light on the fact that as hundreds of millions of people throughout the world are hungry, agrochemical companies that make pesticides and genetically engineered seeds are making record profits. Although UN chief Ban Ki-moon has declared the summit a success with “a clear sense of resolve, shared responsibility and political commitment among member states to making the right policy choices and investing in agriculture in the years to come,” many NGOs fear that the policies will only continue in the model of the green revolution, which ushered in the widespread use of pesticides and fertilizers in farming. This model favors large agrochemical companies that manufacture pesticides and genetically engineered seeds and perpetuates the environmental and social devastation that goes hand in hand with industrial agriculture.
The Food Summit in Rome follows the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science, and Technology for Development (IAASTD) (also sponsored by the FAO) conference held in April of this year, which stressed the importance of agroecological and organic approaches to farming in order to alleviate poverty and improve food security. Corporate representatives, though invited to participate in this assessment, were dissatisfied with the results, which stated that: “Technologies, such as high-yielding crop varieties, agrochemicals and mechanization have primarily benefited the better resourced groups in society and transnational corporations, rather than the most vulnerable ones.” Deborah Keith, a scientist from chemical giant Syngenta walked out of the proceedings and called instead for actions similar to those taken during the green revolution, highlighting the industry’s view of the importance of biotechnology.
With this as the backdrop, Monsanto, maker of pesticides and genetically engineered seeds, announced an initiative today to “help increase global food production in the face of growing demand, limited natural resources and a changing climate.” Among the benefits Monsanto pledges to do produce is to “improve farmers’ lives.” When many farmers’ and peasants’ organizations are calling for changes to the corporate control of agriculture and the industry has ignored the recommendations of the IAASTD that incorporated farmer input as to bettering their lives and livelihoods, this statement forces one to ask who really benefits from the scientific “advancements” companies develop. As millions struggled to feed their families, Monsanto posted record profits last year of nearly $1 billion, up from just over $700 million the year before. Syngenta also posted record profits in 2007 of $1.1 billion, up over 60% from 2006.
Producers of genetically engineered seeds claim they will reduce pesticide use and increase drought resistance, among other things, but many studies have emerged since their widespread adoption in the 1990s showing otherwise. Insect resistance, weed resistance (the development of “super weeds”), and cross contamination of other crops have been documented. These impacts threaten the sustainability of agriculture.
TAKE ACTION: Don’t let corporations continue to gain control over agriculture, spreading the use of toxic chemicals and genetically engineered seeds. Vote with your dollars and buy organic, fair trade items that support better farming practices and sustainable livelihoods.