GREAT NEWS: Corporate Mafia
Pulls Out of GM Project
Let the few corporate NGOs cry over loss of their
but sleeping with the enemy never has been beneficial for the
Firms Pull Out of Sh70m
The East African Standard (Nairobi)
3 February 2008
Monsato and Syngenta have apparently pulled out of an ambitious,
Sh70 million (US$10-million) agricultural project because it does
not emphasise or recognise the significant contribution of modern
biotechnology in agricultural development and poverty reduction.
The four-year project - the International Assessment of
Agricultural Science and Technology - aims to do for hunger and
poverty what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has
done for another global challenge.
The scale of the ambition is clear both in the project's promised
outcome, as well as in its internal workings. When published later
this year, its reports promise to map how science, technology and
accumulated good-farming practice can be used to reduce hunger and
improve quality of life for rural people in developing countries,
according to an Editorial in the January issue of Nature.
The editorial - Deserting the hungry? - explains that the writing
and review teams (some 4,000 experts in all) comprise a grand
coalition including scientists, government officials,
representatives from seven UN agencies, farmers' groups, a rainbow
of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and industry, including
chemicals manufacturer BASF and agri-biotech giants Monsanto and
However, the decision by Monsanto and Syngenta to abandon the
project has been widely criticised, even by the anti-GMO crusaders
The editorial in Nature is categorical. "Monsanto and Syngenta are
wrong to withdraw from an international assessment on agriculture."
Bob Watson, director of the project for the creation of an
International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology
for Development (IAASTD), is quoted in the Guardian stating that
he is "very disappointed" that Monsanto and Syngenta have
withdrawn from the project.
But these last two, part of the assessment from the beginning,
have now decided to quit. No public statements have been offered,
but the spokesman for CropLife told Nature that the decision was
prompted by the inability of its members to get industry
perspectives reflected in the draft reports. One of these
perspectives is the view that biotechnology is key to reducing
poverty and hunger, and it is based in part on high (and rising)
levels of demand for biotech crops from farmers across the
Ms Denise Dewar of Croplife International, of which Monsanto and
Syngenta are members, is quoted in the Guardian stating, "We were
concerned with the direction the draft was taking and that our
input was not being taken appropriately. We were looking to see
references to plant science technology and the potential role it
A spokesman for the agriculture-industry body CropLife
International told Nature, "This is a most reluctant decision."
"If they can bring evidence forward that we have not been
objective, or that the language is biased, then we could discuss
that," Watson said.
Insiders agree that the current draft is decidedly lukewarm about
the technology's potential in developing-world agriculture. The
summary report, for example, devotes more space to biotechnology's
risks than to its benefits. The report says that evidence that
biotech crops produce high yields is not conclusive. And it claims
that if policy-makers give more prominence to biotechnology, this
could consolidate the biotech industry's dominance of agricultural
R&D in developing countries. This would affect graduate education
and training, and provide fewer opportunities for scientists to
train in other agricultural sciences.
CropLife says that it does not take a "dogmatic" position and
remains open to rejoining the assessment if the other team members
are willing to be more even-handed. "But the views outlined in the
draft chapter on biotechnology, although undoubtedly over-cautious
and unbalanced, nonetheless do not represent the rantings of a
fringe minority," Nature argues
The idea that biotechnology cannot by itself reduce hunger and
poverty is mainstream opinion among agricultural scientists and
policy-makers. For example, biotechnology expansion was not among
the seven main recommendations in Halving Hunger: It Can Be Done,
a report commissioned by former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan.
The writing team for this report included Kenya's Florence Wambugu,
perhaps the strongest proponent for biotechnology in Africa.
However, Nature is of the opinion that the assessment's
secretariat and chairs, too, need to ask themselves some searching
questions. For starters: how come these founding members of the
assessment got to the point of walking out? This is not the first
time an initiative has sought to find common ground between NGOs
and industry on a major issue involving science and public policy.
There are many lessons that can be learned by talking to, for
example, the organisers of the Mining, Minerals and Sustainable
Development project, or the World Commission on Dams, both of
which produced consensus reports that have had far-reaching
impacts, Nature observes.
If Monsanto and Syngenta maintain their current position, it will
be a blow to the credibility of an important scientific assessment.
Whatever happens next, the status quo is not an option. A meeting
to agree the final text is expected to take place in April.
Monsanto and Syngenta must get back to the table before then. If
they maintain their current position, it will be a blow to the
credibility of an important scientific assessment. In addition,
public confidence in the biotech industry and in its ability to
engage with its critics will have been undermined, argues Nature.
Nature adds, "Perhaps most important of all, believing as they do
that biotechnology is an essential response to hunger, the two
companies will be letting down those that they most want to help."
Greenpeace, a member of the assessment project, said it urges the
biotechnology companies to reconsider. "This assessment goes far
beyond genetic engineering, it is about setting solutions for
global agriculture and the world's poor and hungry. It is such a
shame to withdraw from such a good initiative, simply because your
business plans do not fit with sound science and experts voiced a
more balanced opinion than yours," said Jan van Aken, a GM
campaigner with Greenpeace International.