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Stop Global Food Security Act Promoting GMOs

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Biotech corporations and mega-charities are promoting the GMO agenda as US foreign policy, and it must be stopped.

June 21, 2010   Dr. Mae-Wan Ho The Institute of Science in Society

The GM clause to food security

The US Global Food Security Act of 2009 (S. 384) sponsored by Richard Lugar (Indiana, Republican), Robert Casey (Pennsylvania, Democrat) and seven other US Senators in February 2009 is [1, 2] “A bill to authorize appropriations for fiscal years 2010 through 2014 to provide assistance to foreign countries to promote food security, to stimulate rural economies, and to improve emergency response to food crises, to amend the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, and for other purposes.”

However, the proposed amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act (FAA) of 1961 has proven controversial. It would “include research on biotechnological advances appropriate to local ecological conditions, including genetically modified technology.”

The bill is supported by the US land grant colleges as well as InterAction (American Council for Voluntary International Action) and its 26 member organizations including WWF, Oxfam, Bread for the World CARE, Save the Children, and ONE [3]. The bill was passed through the Senate foreign Relations Committee on 31 March 2009, and the Senate is expected to vote on it soon in 2010.

Widespread opposition to GM mandate

In April 2010, 140 civil society groups, scientists, and development experts signed an open letter to US Senators, urging them to “strip the GM mandate” from the Global Food Security Act [4]. While the petitioners applaud the bill’s intention to reform aid programmes to focus on longer-term agricultural development and restructure aid agencies to better respond to crises, they object to the clause effectively earmarking one agricultural technology – genetic modification – for billions of dollars in federal funding. US$7.7 billion goes with the bill, and no other farming methods or technologies are mentioned.

Not surprisingly, Monsanto has lobbied the hardest to support the bill. The US company is the world’s leader in the increasingly concentrated agricultural biotech industry, which is already subject to an anti-trust inquiry (see [5] US Farmers Oppose ‘Big Ag’ in Anti-Trust Hearing, SiS 46). Monsanto is likely to benefit most from the new research funding stream, and to profit from its patented products (both GM seeds and pesticides).

The petitioning groups represent the anti-hunger, family farms, farm-workers, consumers and those practicing and supporting sustainable agriculture. The letter delivered urges the Senate to reject the bill until it is made technology-neutral, and calls for agricultural research funding to concentrate on addressing local challenges faced by small-scale farmers, instead of mandating a specific and narrow technological fix, particularly one with little prospect of success and increasingly rejected by countries around the world.

“Independent science tells us that genetically modified (GM) crops have neither increased yield nor reduced hunger in the world,” said Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, Senior Scientist of Pesticide Action Network. “The most credible and comprehensive assessments of agriculture to date say that if we want to end global poverty and hunger, we’ll need to focus on increasing the biodiversity and ecological resilience of small-scale farming systems.”

Mariam Mayet of the African Center for Biosafety based in South Africa pointed out that pressure to import GM crops is wreaking havoc on local economies in Africa.“In South Africa, we are now dumping GM corn into other countries, disrupting local markets and undermining the livelihoods of family farmers there. As a result, Zimbabwe has imposed a ban on GM corn imports, and Kenya, which has a bumper crop of GM-free corn and doesn’t need any imports, is now grappling with a massive, illegal and unwanted shipment of 280 000 metric tons of GM corn from South Africa. A handful of powerful agribusinesses’ obsession with GM is pitting African countries against each other, with Monsanto and international grain traders reaping the benefits and ordinary farmers losing out. The last thing we need from the US is a bill legislating yet more money for GM crops.”

“At the end of the day, the GM mandate has more to do with breaking open markets for American biotech corporations than fighting hunger,” explained Annie Shattuck of the Institute for Food and Development Policy. “To get at the root of the global hunger crisis, we need to tackle poverty, something no technological silver bullet can ever do.”

Ben Burkett, President of National Family Farm Coalition and Mississippi family farmer, added, “Corporate control over inputs and the free trade agenda have destroyed the livelihoods of so many farmers at home and abroad. That’s why farmers worldwide are calling for food sovereignty—the right to choose fair and sustainable farming practices that protect our local food and livelihood security. This is what works best for our farms and communities.”

Interlocking interests of big business, big philanthropy and US foreign aid

A closer look reveals how the Global Food Security Act is designed to promote the interlocking interests of big business, big philanthropy, US foreign policy and US aid, as AGRA Watch discovered [6].

AGRA Watch was founded in 2008 to challenge the Gates Foundation’s participation in Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) (see [7] Beware the New “Doubly Green Revolution”, SiS 37), and to  support instead, sustainable, agro-ecological alternatives already practiced in Africa.

In his opening statement before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee [8], Senator Lugar argued that worldwide food security is critical to US national security, especially in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Sudan where he says hunger has fuelled conflict and extremism He believes that agricultural development in these ‘troubled’ regions will ensure more peaceful conditions, and he is “excited by [the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s] vision” and their “beneficence”.

Bill Gates and Bill Clinton have both expressed their support for Lugar-Casey bill before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

AGRA Watch points out that the Lugar-Casey bill overlooks key findings of the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), initiated by United Nations agencies and the World Bank, and involved over four hundred scientists and representatives from governments and civil society organizations around the world [9]. The IAASTD found that agro-ecological methods (research, extension and farming) offer enormous potential, and that a multi-faceted approach to agriculture is needed, rather than a narrow focus on GM technologies (see [10] “GM-Free Organic Agriculture to Feed the World”, SiS 38).

The Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation are partners in AGRA, and are also involved in numerous other projects aimed at spreading GMOs in Africa. InterAction works closely with the Gates Foundation, ostensibly to help small farmers improve their livelihoods through more productive agriculture, breakthrough technologies, and better markets [11].

The Gates Foundation gave US$5.4 million to the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center to set up a ‘Biosafety Resource Network’ [12], which focuses on the use of “appropriate technologies to increase nutrients in local crops” and serves as “a blueprint for other institutions and companies seeking to introduce nutritionally enhanced crops in the countries that will most benefit from approving and growing them.”

‘Nutritional enhancement’ is indeed a major area of GM development, the most notorious being the ‘Golden Rice’ engineered to express pro-vitamin A in the rice endosperm, which was exposed as a costly and morally bankrupt public relations exercise for the GM industry [13, 14] (The ‘Golden Rice’, An Exercise in How Not to Do Science, ISIS Report; The Golden Rice Scandal Unfolds, SiS 42). Genetic modification for nutritional enhancement has been re-launched as ‘metabolic engineering’ in recent years, and our review has indicated that it would introduce other health hazards (see [15] GM Crops and Microbes for Health or Public Health Hazards? SiS 32).

According to AGRA Watch [6], the Danforth Center receives key funding from Monsanto Fund, the ‘philanthropic’ arm of Monsanto Company; and its main goals includes ‘Nutritional Improvement through Agriculture’.

The agenda of biotech corporations and mega philanthropies are clearly linked to each other and to US policy. More accurately, perhaps, the common agenda of corporations and mega philanthropies is turned into US policy, thereby gaining legitimacy and enormous influence over the rest of the world.

Stepping up the deadly GMO agenda when GM crops are failing

The Global Food Security Act is clearly a desperate attempt to step up the aggressive agenda of pushing GMOs to Africa when GM crops are failing all over the world, especially in the USA, the heartland of GM. Major crops genetically modified for just two traits – herbicide tolerance and insect resistance – are ravaged by super weeds and secondary pests, and farmers are fighting a losing battle with more sprays and increasingly toxic chemicals [16] (GM Crops Facing Meltdown in the USA, SiS 46).

The same is happening in China. The mirid bug has emerged as a serious secondary pest with outbreaks in multiple crops correlated with wide spread adoption of Bt cotton [17].

The situation is bad enough for farmers in the United States and China; but it is deadly in India, where farmers do not have any state subsidies, unlike their counterparts in the USA and China, and many are already caught in a cycle of indebtedness from the ‘green revolution’ agriculture that depends on high chemical inputs. Bt cotton, approved for commercial planting in 2003, spread rapidly throughout the country despite strenuous protests from farmer and consumers. Crop failures or bad harvests for two successive seasons on top of the exorbitant costs of GM seeds would be enough to build up debt to a level that drives farmers to take their own lives.

Bt cotton soon created secondary and new pests, as well as resistant pests, new diseases and above all, soils so depleted in nutrients and beneficial microorganisms that they may cease to support the growth of any crop in a decade [18, 19] (Farmer Suicides and Bt Cotton Nightmare Unfolding in India , Mealy Bug Plagues Bt Cotton in India and Pakistan, SiS 45).

The Bt cotton crisis in India has galvanised the entire nation to oppose the introduction of Monsanto’s Bt brinjal (egg-plant). In response, Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh carried out a nation-wide consultation, at the end of which, he announced a moratorium on commercial planting until further health and environmental safety tests can be conducted [20] (Bt Brinjal Halted, SiS 46). Ramesh achieved the status of a national hero for standing up to intense pressure from the USA and its agents that had already manipulated India’s national Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) to approve commercial planting of Bt brinjal [21]. Ramesh pointedly renamed GEAC to Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee on announcing the moratorium.

Along with the unfolding ecological disasters is accumulating evidence of adverse health impacts, both of which have been predicted by critics right from the start, as described in my book Genetic Engineering Dream or Nightmare first published in 1997 [22]. The health hazards, both inherent to the genetic modification technology and specific to transgenes involved, have been corroborated both by the limited number of experiments independent scientists are able to conduct in the laboratory with inadequate support, and by experiences of farm and other workers in the fields, as documented in a dossier of reports [23] GM Science Exposed. (ISIS CD book). Sicknesses and deaths have occurred in fields where people and livestock were exposed to GM crops. In the laboratory, whenever and wherever independent scientists perform feeding trials, they find increased deaths, sterility, stunting, and a range of organ dysfunction, regardless of the transgenic crop or transgenes involved, and in a variety of animal species. The same disturbing findings emerge when independent scientists have been able to reanalyse raw data submitted by companies for transgenic varieties that have been approved as ‘substantially equivalent’ to and hence as safe as the non-GM counterparts. This applies to the data submitted for Bt brinjal that gained commercial approval [24] (see  Bt Brinjal Unfit for Human Consumption, SiS 41) before the moratorium was imposed.

In his detailed report announcing the Bt brinjal moratorium [20], Ramesh highlighted organic non-pesticide management as superior to the Bt technology, for it eliminates the use of pesticides altogether. It is clear that for India, as for the United States and China, the only rational exit from the ecological crisis is to switch comprehensively to organic, non-GM agriculture, as recommended by the IAASTD [9, 10] and ISIS report [25] Food Futures Now: *Organic *Sustainable *Fossil Fuel Free .

No GMOs for Africa

In challenging the Lugar-Casey bill, Eric Holt-Gimenez, executive director of Food First, said [26]: “Past public-private partnerships on GM crops for Africa have proven to be colossal failures. The failed GM sweet potato project between Monsanto, USAID and a Kenyan research institute is a good example of fourteen years’ worth of wasted money and effort.”

Nevertheless, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Syngenta Foundation are jointly funding the Insect Resistant Maize for Africa Project (IRMA), at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) [27]. IRMA, KARI, and the International Maize and Wheat Centre (CIMMYT) are currently preparing to release genetically modified maize on a large scale to Kenyan farmers in 2011, with a ‘pre-release’ set for 2010.

In January 2010, Dreyfus Commodities Ltd, an international grain handling company, received an export permit from South Africa to bring 40 000 metric tons of GM maize varieties into Kenya. In April, South Africa authorised another 240 000 tonnes after GM opponents blocked the initial shipment in the port of Mombasa [28]

When the Kenyan government opened a window for importing duty-free maize in late 2009, it was predicated on anticipated food shortage [29] However, at the time of the recent importation, Kenya was experiencing a bumper harvest of cereals. In early April 2010, MP John Mututho, Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture, protested the importation, arguing that [30] “The government should buy the surplus maize from the farmers. We have maize rotting in farms…As the Parliamentary Select Committee chairman on agriculture, I willlead a protest and the people who are importing … should take back this maize.” Mututho echoes the concerns of civil society groups: Kenya does not need to import grain, and there has not been an adequate assessment of the potential risks of GMOs to human and environmental health.

The Kenya Biodiversity Coalition (KBioC), an alliance of nearly seventy organisations from farming, animal welfare, youth and other sectors, have expressed similar concerns. In response to the major influx of imported grain, the KBioC asked: [31]: Why did the government extend the window to import duty free maize when farmers in Kenya are struggling with lack of storage facilities and low prices of their recently harvested cereals?” This question supports the repeated calls for a critical exposé of the political and economic forces involved in GM technology, food aid, and agricultural development in Africa.

Africa should learn from the lessons of GMO disasters in USA, India, China, and elsewhere around the world, and stay clear of GMOs.

People in the USA should make sure their Senators vote to remove the GMO clause from the Global Food Security Act. The rest of us will do our utmost to resist the corporate GMO agenda disguised as US policy and mega-philanthropy.


1. S.384 – Global Food Security Act of 2009, OpenCongress, accessed 18 May 2010, http://www.opencongress.org/bill/111-s384/show

2. Global food Security Act of 2009, Wikipedia, 6 June 2010, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_Food_Security_Act_of_2009

3. InterAction letter to Senators Lugar, Casey, and Drubin on the global Food Security Act (S.384), InterAction, 10 November 2009, http://www.interaction.org/document/interaction-letter-senators-lugar-casey-and-durbin-global-food-security-act-s384

4. “140 groups & scientists urge Senate to oppose GM clause in Global Food Security Act” , Community Alliance for Global Justice, 16 April 2010, http://www.seattleglobaljustice.org/2010/04/140-groups-scientists-urge-senate-to-oppose-gm-clause-in-global-food-security-act/

5. Novotny E. US farmers oppose ‘Big Ag’ in anti-trust hearing. Science in Society 46, 30-31, 2010.

6. Fent A, Talbot K and Bereano P. The Lugar-Casey Global Food Security Act, genetic engineering and the Gates Foundation, Pambazuka issue 485, 10 June 2010, http://pambazuka.org/en/category/comment/65080

7. Ho MW. Beware the new “doubly green revolution”. Science in Society 37, 26-29, 2008.

8. Lugar RG. The Global Food Security Act, Richard G. Lugar, United States Senator for Indiana, accessed 19 June, http://lugar.senate.gov/food/legislation/

9. The International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development, Island Press, 2010, http://www.islandpress.org/iaastd

10. Ho MW. “GM-free organic agriculture to feed the world”. Science in Society 38, 14-15, 2008.

11. “Bill Gates visits IFAD headquarters for talks with Kanayo Fl Nwanze”, IFAD, 11 May 2009, http://www.ifad.org/media/press/2009/nwanze_gates.htm

12. “Danforth Center to set up biosafety resource network”, Crop Biotech Update, ISAAA, 23 January 2009, http://www.isaaa.org/kc/cropbiotechupdate/article/default.asp?ID=3645

13. Ho MW. The ‘Golden Rice’ – An Exercise in How Not to Do Science. TWN Biotechnology and Biosafety Series No. 6, Third World Network, Penang, 2002. http://www.i-sis.org.uk/onlinestore/books.php#276

14. Ho MW and Cummins J. The golden rice scandal unfolds. Science in Society 42, 4-7, 2009.

15.  Cummins J and Ho MW. GM crops and microbes for health or public health hazards? Science in Society 32, 30-33, 2006.

16. Ho MW. GM crops facing meltdown in the USA. Science in Society 46, 24-27, 2010.

17. Lu Y, Wu Kn Jiang Y, Xin B Li P, Feng H, Wychjuys KAR and Guo Y. Mirid bug outbreaks in multiple crops correlated with wide-scale adoption of bt cotton in China. Science 2010 328, 1151-4.

18. Ho MW. Farmer Suicides and Bt Cotton Nightmare Unfolding in India. Science in Society 45 , 32-39, 2010.

19. Ho MW. Mealy Bug Plagues Bt Cotton in India and Pakistan. Science in Society 45 , 40-43, 2010.

20. Ho MW. Bt Brinjal halted but Fight against GM Colonialism Continues. Science in Society 46, 22, 2010.

21. “How Bt brinjal was cleared, Anti-GM groups say expert panel acted under pressure”, Savvy Soumya Misra. Down to Earth, accessed 4 April 2010, http://www.downtoearth.org.in/full6.asp?foldername=20091231&filename=news&sec_id=4&sid=3

22. Ho MW. Genetic Engineering Dream of Nightmare? The Brave New World of Bad Science and Big Business, Research Foundation for Science Technology & Ecology & Third World Network, Third World Network (TWN), Gateway Books, MacMillan, Continuum, New Delhi, Penang, Malaysia, Bath, UK, Dublin, Ireland, New York, USA, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2007 (reprint with extended Introduction TWN). http://www.i-sis.org.uk/genet.php

23. GM Science Exposed: Hazards Ignored, Fraud, Regulatory Sham and Violation of Farmers’ Rights, ISIS CD book, 2007, updated to March 2009, http://www.i-sis.org.uk/GM_Science_Exposed.php

24. Burcher S. Bt brinjal unfit for human consumption. Science in Society 41, 50-51, 2009.

25. Ho MW, Cherry B, Burcher S and Saunders PT. Food Futures Now, Organic, Sustainable, Fossil Fuel Free, ISIS/TWN, London/Penang, 2008. http://www.i-sis.org.uk/foodFutures.php

26. U.S. working group on the food crisis. Press Release 16 April 2009, http://www.panna.org/files/Press-Release-G8-16May09.pdf

27.  “ Kenya: Govt wants to impose GMOs ‘by force’”, Johan Mbaria, allAfrica.com, 5 October 2008, http://allafrica.com/stories/200810060873.html

28. “GM maize for Kenya remains on cargo vessel”, Reuters, 13 April 2010, http://www.iol.co.za/index.php?art_id=nw20100412223452635C732103

29. “Maize import strain blamed on GMOs”, Business Daily, 7 October 2009, http://www.businessdailyafrica.com/Company%20Industry/-/539550/668996/-/u6gpadz/-/index.html

30. “Flood of GMO maize on way from S. Africa”, Chrispinus Wekesa, Mars Group Kenya Media, 3 April 2010, http://www.marsgroupkenya.org/multimedia/?StoryID=287174

31. “Africa: Standing up for food sovereignty”, Ashley Fent, Katie Talbot and Phil Bereano, Pambuzuka News, 10 June 2010, http://allafrica.com/stories/201006101099.html?page=2

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