More than 100 civil society organizations alert on FAO's biotechnology meeting

More than 100 civil society organizations alert on FAO's biotechnology meeting

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By Press Release - La Via Campesina, ETC and GRAIN

Just as the biotech companies producing transgenic seeds are merging, the corporate vision of biotech looms at FAO. On the opening day of a three-day international symposium on agricultural biotechnologies, organized by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in Rome, more than 100 social movements and civil society organizations (CSOs ) from four continents have issued a statement denouncing both the essence and the structure of the meeting, which appears to be yet another attempt by multinational agribusiness to reorient the policies of the UN agency towards supporting genetically modified crops and animals.

The global peasant and family farming movement, La Via Campesina, invited CSOs to sign the letter (link) when the symposium program was made public. Two of FAO's keynote speakers are well-known GMO advocates, and the three-day program and side events include spokespersons for the Biotechnology Industry Organization (a US biotechnology trade group), Crop Life International ( the global agrochemical trade association), DuPont (one of the world's largest biotech seed companies) and CEVA (a large veterinary-medical corporation), among others. FAO has only invited one speaker or panelist openly critical of GMOs. Worse still, one of the two speakers at the opening session is a former FAO deputy director general, who has lobbied for so-called Terminator seeds (transgenic seeds programmed to die at harvest time, forcing farmers to to buy new seeds each season), contrary to FAO's own public statements. The second keynote speaker's speech is titled, "Ending the Deviant Global Debate on Biotechnology" - suggesting that the FAO symposium should be the closing moment for criticism of biotechnology.

In convening the biased symposium, FAO is yielding to pressure from industry that intensified after the international meetings on agroecology organized by FAO in 2014 and 2015. The agroecology meetings were a model of openness to all points of interest. view, from farmers to industry. But the biotech industry apparently prefers to have a meeting now that they can control. This is not the first time that FAO has entered this game. In 2010, FAO convened a conference on biotechnology in Guadalajara, Mexico, where it vetoed farmers from its organizing committee, and then tried to prevent them from attending the conference itself.

"We are alarmed that FAO is once again taking the lead with the same corporations, just when these companies are talking about new mergers among themselves, which would concentrate the commercial seed sector in even fewer hands," the statement from the OSC.

It is clear from the Civil Society Statement that industry wants to use FAO to relaunch its false message that genetically modified crops can feed the world and cool the planet, while the reality is that nothing has changed in the biotech front. GMOs do not feed people, they are mostly grown in a handful of countries on industrial plantations for biofuels and animal feed, increasing the use of pesticides, and driving peasants off the land. Transnational biotech companies are trying to patent the planet's biodiversity, which shows that their main interest is to make huge profits, and not to guarantee food security or sovereignty. The industrial food system promoted by these companies is also one of the main culprits for climate change. Confronted with the rejection of GMOs by many consumers and producers, the industry is now inventing new, and possibly dangerous, techniques to genetically modify plants, without calling them GMOs. By doing so, they are trying to bypass GMO regulations and mislead consumers and farmers.

Agroecology activities were much closer to the way FAO should act, the Declaration notes, "as a clearinghouse for knowledge, with no hidden agenda on behalf of the few." Why is FAO now limiting itself again to corporate biotechnology and denying the existence of peasant technologies? FAO should support peasant technologies, which offer the most innovative, open source, and effective way to end hunger and malnutrition. It is time to stop supporting a narrow corporate agenda, says Civil Society. "The vast majority of the world's farmers are peasants, and it is the peasants who feed the world. We need peasant-based technologies, not corporate biotechnologies."

"It is time for FAO to end biopiracy and its support for genetically modified crops, which only serve to allow a handful of transnational companies to patent and monopolize all existing biodiversity," said Guy Kastler, leader of the Via Peasant. "Rather, FAO should support peasant organizations and researchers working on collaborative plant breeding in the service of food sovereignty and peasant agroecology."

The declaration and the list of signatories can be downloaded here.

Media contacts in Rome:

Guy Kastler and other leaders of La Via Campesina

Telephone numbers: + 39 329 665 53 44 and +39 331 188 64 35

E-mail: [email protected]

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