The US Senate is currently working on legislation to redefine how it administers food aid to poorer countries. In an opinion piece published in the DC political daily The Hill, a pair of agriculture and development experts warn that Monsanto's lobbying muscle threatens to turn a vehicle for positive transformation into a Trojan horse designed to break developing countries resistance to genetically modified crops.
According to Drs. Hans Herreman and Marcia Iishi Eiteman, the millions of dollars that USAID has already poured into GM crops have yielded little of the success that would warrant further investment. A recent report by the non-partisan Union of Concerned Scientists raised serious doubts about the basic premise behind GM crops: that they substantially increase yields. Further, a 2008 collaboration of 400 scientists from 80 countries, sponsored by the UN and World Bank emphasized structural issues such as access to markets and sustainable, low-input farming techniques, while noting that increased yields in and of themselves often do little to alleviate poverty.
The original stated intent of the Global Food Security Act included increasing the share of US aid dollars that support collaborative research and technical capacity-building, in an effort to promote more resilient, independent agricultural systems in developing countries. With $7.75 billion at stake in this bill, however, it's not surprising that biotech giants like Monsanto, Syngenta and others would clamor for a piece of the pie.
Which brings us to the present moment. With Earth Day just behind us, I encourage readers to consider a revision of the well-worn environmentalist adage: as we act locally through CSAs, farmers markets and urban farms, let's link globally with other communities affected every day by US foreign development policy.
With its five-year, 7 billion dollar reach, this bill will do much to set the course of US development policy for years to come. As written, it includes an important shift in emphasis toward empowering small farmers who would see economic benefits from locally adaptive, environmentally appropriate farming methods. But our Senators have to hear that voters won't accept the latest biotech boondoggle in place of a real and long-awaited shift toward a meaningful policy of foreign assistance.
Grassroots International has made it easy to connect with your legislator and send a message for real development, not the latest chapter of dependency on global monopolies. Click here to use your voice on this issue.