La Via Campesina, ETC and GRAIN media release | 15 February 2016
Corporate vision of the future of food promoted at the UN: More than 100 civil society organizations raise alarm about FAO biotechnology meeting
(Rome, Monday 15 February, 2016) Just when the biotech companies that make transgenic seeds are merging, the corporate vision of biotechnology is showing up at FAO. At today’s opening of the three-day international symposium on agricultural biotechnologies convened by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in Rome, more than 100 social movement and civil society organisations (CSOs) from four continents have issued a statement denouncing both the substance and structure of the meeting, which appears to be another attempt by multinational agribusiness to redirect the policies of the UN agency toward support for genetically-engineered crops and livestock.
The global peasant and family farm movement, La Via Campesina, invited CSOs to sign the letter when the symposium’s agenda became public. Two of the FAO keynote speakers are known proponents of GMOs, and the agenda and side events over the three days include speakers from the Biotechnology Industry Organization (a biotech trade group in the USA), Crop Life International (the global agrochemical trade association), DuPont (one of the world’s largest biotech seed companies) and CEVA (a major veterinary medicine corporation), among others. FAO has only invited one speaker or panelist openly critical of GMOs. Worse, one of the two speakers at the opening session is a former assistant director general of FAO who has pushed for so-called Terminator seeds (GMO seeds programmed to die at harvest time forcing farmers to purchase new seeds every growing season), in opposition to FAO’s own public statements. The second keynoter’s speech is titled, “Toward ending the misplaced global debate on biotechnology”, suggesting that the FAO symposium should be the moment for shutting down biotech criticism.
In convening the biased symposium, FAO is bowing to industry pressure that intensified following international meetings on agroecology hosted by FAO in 2014 and 2015. The agroecology meetings were a model of openness to all viewpoints, from peasants to industry. But the biotech industry apparently prefers now to have a meeting they can control. This is not the first time FAO has been drawn into this game. In 2010, FAO convened a biotechnology conference in Guadalajara, Mexico, that blocked farmers from its organising committee, and then tried to prevent their attendance at the conference itself.
“We are alarmed that FAO is once again fronting for the same corporations, just when these companies are talking about further mergers amongst themselves, which would concentrate the commercial seeds sector in even fewer hands,” the CSO statement denounces.