SAN FRANCISCO - June 4 - BIO 2004, in San Francisco from June 6 -9, will be a gala publicity affair boosting biotech. But agricultural biotechnology has failed to benefit most farmers or the hungry, and is proving more expensive than conventional agriculture, according to Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy.
Genetically modified crops and new biotechnologies have been developed largely at public expense, but most are now controlled by private corporations. With over $40 billion in losses over the past 24 years in pharmaceutical and agricultural biotechnology, these industries are scrambling for profits, leaving little incentive to develop crops to help the poor, according to Food First.
"Crop biotechnology has not 'fed' anyone but the biotech industry itself," said Kathleen McAfee, executive director of Food First. "When commercial biotech crops were introduced in 1996, the U.S. Department of Agriculture told congress that biotech's boon would come from increased farm productivity and sales of farm products and inputs by U.S. agribusiness."
According to Food First's research, agricultural biotechnology has focused on large-scale commercial production. Much of the research has gone to engineering crops that can withstand herbicides such as Monsanto's Roundup, an input that costs farmers but does not increase crop yields.
"Giant biotech and agrochemical firms profited immensely from sales of brand-name herbicides, the patented seeds that go with them, and licenses for their use," said McAfee. "The only benefit is for the large-scale farmer who can use herbicides more freely on seeds engineered to survive spraying. But even this benefit is temporary. Weeds become resistant to Roundup, like any pesticide. Crop genetic engineering is just another arm of industrial agriculture, complete with environmental problems."
The crops biotech companies tout that will help the poor are either bound up in patent disputes or are not yet developed. Furthermore, these crops will only provide one nutrient, which ignores other micronutrient deficiencies that cause malnutrition. But, given the proper support, small family farmers, the majority of the world's farmers, can grow produce with all the nutrients a community needs, as they have been doing for generations.
Agricultural biotechnology is pushing aside these more affordable and practical agricultural solutions. According to Food First research, proven agroecolocigal farming that builds upon local knowledge and relies less on expensive inputs has led to more productive farming while preserving the environment.
"There are much better ways to grow food and address problems of hunger," said McAfee. "Crop biotechnology is a costly solution looking for a problem to solve - profitably."
For more information on BIO 2004 and agricultural biotechnology, visit: www.foodfirst.org
To read more about agroecological, sustainable and organic farming, visit:
Toward an Agroecological Alternative for the Peasantry http://www.foodfirst.org/progs/global/ge/agalternative.html
Alternatives to Genetic Engineering http://www.foodfirst.org/progs/global/ge/alternatives.html
Cuba: A Successful Case Study of Sustainable Agriculture http://www.foodfirst.org/cuba/success.html
The Multiple Functions and Benefits of Small Farm Agriculture http://www.foodfirst.org/pubs/policy/pb4.html