by Jill Richardson
October 31, 2011
from AlterNet Website
Even as increasing scientific evidence
concludes that biotechnology and its arsenal of genetically modified
crops may be doing more harm than good, companies like Monsanto are
still pushing them hard and they are getting help from the U.S.
Here's a recent example: Assistant Secretary of State Jose W. Fernandez, addressing an event of high-level government officials from around the world, agribusiness CEOs, leaders from international organizations, and anti-hunger groups said,
Many scientists would disagree with these statements, which are more controversial than Fernandez let on.
The Union of Concerned Scientists found that biotech crops did not lead to reliable yield increases compared to conventional, non-GMO crops and that biotech crops actually required more pesticides than conventional crops.
These conclusions are reiterated by the scientists who authored the "International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science, and Technology for Development" (IAASTD) report, a 2008 study written by 400 scientists from around the world concluding that agroecology was the best way to feed the world.
And a recent 30-year study by the Rodale
Institute found that organic methods provided excellent drought
protection, whereas drought-tolerant GMOs are mostly still an idea
of the future.
His background prior to working at the State Department was as a lawyer specializing in international finance and mergers and acquisitions, particularly in Latin America.
Now he heads up the State Department's Bureau of Economic, Energy, and Business Affairs (EEB), which works,
And part of such prosperity, according
to EEB, includes promoting GMOs around the world.
The word "biotechnology" was added to the office's name in 2003.
ABT seeks to address,
Among other things, ABT is responsible for doling out half a million dollars per year in Biotechnology Outreach Funds.
This amounts to pennies compared to the overall federal budget, but it goes a long way, as grants are often around $20,000 apiece, especially considering the cumulative impact of their use in promoting biotechnology around the world each year since 2003.
Biotech Outreach Fund requests for 2010 included:
The requests above were revealed in secret cables leaked by WikiLeaks.
While the cables did not divulge which requests were accepted, they do tell the story of State Department employees whose jobs consist of promoting biotechnology around the world.
Between 2005 and 2006, then senior adviser for agricultural biotechnology Madelyn E. Spirnak traveled to,
...to promote biotechnology.
The private sector representatives referred to include Monsanto and Cargill.
According to a leaked State Department memo, Spirnak learned that the government of South Africa was planning to hire several new people to work on GMOs.
The memo reads:
The State Department promotion of biotechnology comes from the top.
In December 2009, Clinton wrote,
ABT's work dovetails with that of another State Department agency, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID.)
USAID's work on biotechnology has focused on two main goals:
Biosafety laws, a common theme in leaked State Department memos discussing biotechnology, basically mean,
USAID's work funding the development of
GMOs began in 1990, when it funded the Agricultural Biotechnology
Support Project (now known as
ABSP I), a project based at Michigan
State University's Institute for International Agriculture that ran
until 2003 but was continued in a successor project (predictably
ABSP II) that continues today.
However, unlike ABSP I, it is led by Cornell University. ABSP II, which is ongoing, includes among its partners a number of U.S. universities, research organizations in partner countries, NGOs, foundations, and several corporations - including Monsanto.
ABSP II projects include the development
and commercialization of GM crops like a disease-resistant potato in
India, Bangladesh and Indonesia; Roundup-Ready Bt cotton in Uganda
(similar to the GM cotton already grown in the United States); and
perhaps the most controversial, Bt eggplant, intended for India,
Bangladesh and the Philippines.
Like the bacteria, the eggplant will produce a toxin that kills insects that prey on it. Bt is a commonly used organic insecticide. When the bacteria is applied by organic farmers, it lasts for a short time in the environment, killing the insects but ultimately having little impact on the agroecosystem, and giving the insects no real opportunity to evolve resistance to the toxin.
When the gene is engineered into a crop,
the crop produces the Bt toxin in every cell during the entire
duration of its life. As of 2011, there are now reports of insects
evolving resistance to Bt in genetically engineered crops in the
India is the center of origin for eggplant, the country where the crop was first domesticated, and home to incredible biodiversity in eggplant.
Adoption of Bt eggplant
threatened both the loss of biodiversity as farmers traded their
traditional seeds for new GM ones, as well as the genetic
contamination of traditional seeds and perhaps even wild eggplant
The Filipino NGO SEARICE (Southeast Asia
Regional Initiatives for Community Empowerment), which works on the
conservation of traditional varieties and on expanding farmers'
rights, also opposes the introduction of Bt eggplant. (And, back in
India, the government of India has now gone on the offensive, filing
biopiracy suit against Monsanto over the Bt eggplant.)
For a government department that
frequently calls for "science-based" policy, ignoring the totality
of evidence on biotechnology is not very science-based.