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Around a hundred civil organizations throughout the world, like social movements, campesino people, environmentalists, research groups, etc., expressed alarm and concern regarding the implementation and potential consequences from the International Symposium on “The role of agricultural biotechnologies in sustainable food systems and nutrition” which starts on February 15th in Rome, organized by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
“We are concerned about the reason and timing by the FAO to carry out this symposium. We still remember the last disastrous attempt from the FAO to act as an undercover agent for biotech companies, by organizing the International Technical Conference on Agricultural Biotechnologies in Developing Countries in Guadalajara (Mexico) in 2010,” said the organizations, including Vía Campesina, the ETC Group, Grain and Friends of the Earth International.
They point out that “when biotechnology companies that produce transgenic seeds are merging, the corporate vision of biotechnology hovers in the FAO.”
Two of the keynote speakers at the FAO are known supporters of GMOs, and the program and side events of the three days include spokespeople for the Biotechnology Industry Organization (a US biotech trade group), Crop Life International (the agrochemical global trade association), DuPont (one of the largest global biotech seed companies) and CEVA (a veterinary medical corporation), among others.
The FAO invited just one speaker or panelist who is openly critical toward GMOs.
Worse yet, one of the two speakers at the opening session is an FAO ex-deputy director general who has pushed for Terminator seeds (i.e., transgenic seeds programmed to die at harvest time, forcing farmers to buy new seeds each season), as opposed to their own public statements. The second keynote speaker’s speech is entitled “Towards ending the misplaced global debate on biotechnology”, suggesting that the FAO symposium should be the time of closing biotechnology criticism.
With this biased Symposium, the FAO is bowing to the pressure from the industry, which intensified after international meetings on agroecology organized by the FAO in 2014 and 2015. The agroecology meetings were a model of openness to all points of view, from campesino people to the industry. But it seems the biotech industry now prefers having a meeting it can control. This is not the first time that FAO joins this game.
In 2010, the FAO convened a conference on biotechnology in Guadalajara, Mexico, vetoing the presence of farmers in the organizing committee, and then tried to prevent them from attending the conference itself.
“We are alarmed that the FAO once again joins the same corporations’ interests, just as these companies are talking about further mergers among themselves, which would concentrate the commercial seed sector in even fewer hands,” denounced the declaration of civil society organizations.
Agroecology activities are much closer to the way the FAO should act, says the Declaration, “as a center for knowledge exchange, without a hidden agenda in the name of a few.” Why does the FAO now limits itself again to the corporate biotech and denies the existence of farming technologies? The FAO should support rural technologies which offer the most innovative, open source, and effective way to end hunger and malnutrition. It’s time to stop supporting a strong corporate agenda, said the Civil Society. “The vast majority of the world’s farmers are campesino people, and it is them who feed the world. We need technologies based on them, not from corporate biotechnologies.”
“It is time for the FAO to end biopiracy and its support for genetically modified crops, which only serve to allow a handful of transnational corporations to patent and monopolize all existing biodiversity,” said Guy Kastler, leader of Vía Campesina.
“By contrast, the FAO should support farmers’ organizations and researchers working in collaborative plant breeding, serving food sovereignty and campesino agroecology.”
“With the new biotechnologies of genome editing, multinationals recompose these genes in order to patent them. They intend to forbid us to produce our own seeds and forcing us to buy annually their patented GMOs and toxic pesticides, which are essential for cultivating such GMOs. In livestock and fisheries, where there are salmons and transgenic pigs already, we look at the same scenario: a strengthening of the industrial production and an increased use of antibiotics,” the organizations say.
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