Groups: Beware Call for a 'Greener Revolution' From 'Purveyor of Poison'

Suzanne Ouedrago, a farmer from Fanka in Burkina Faso. (Photo: Pablo Tosco / Oxfam)

Groups: Beware Call for a 'Greener Revolution' From 'Purveyor of Poison'

"Their interests lie first and foremost in patenting life for profit."

Environmental groups are slamming a call for a "Greener Revolution" from a corporation they call a "purveyor of poison" as a plan for corporate profits above the needs of farmers and the environment, when the kind of real revolution needed in agriculture lies outside of the very agribusinesses that created the problems we have.

Liam Condon, CEO of Bayer CropScience, issued his call at the Global Forum for Food and Agriculture in Berlin this month, offering a five-pronged approach to this Greener Revolution that includes billions of dollars in investment in "cutting-edge chemistry" and "new areas of innovation."

"It is crucial that we pursue all available technologies to make a sustainable difference in helping to ensure food security," Condon stated.

At the AGCO Africa Summit, also in Berlin, held days after the Global Forum for Food and Agriculture, Christian Asboth, Senior Vice President for Africa, Middle East and CIS at Bayer CropScience reiterated the company's technology and stressed it had the know-how Africa needs. "We have excellent seed technology in several crops, such as in vegetables, cotton and hybrid rice," said Asboth. And in a release from Bayer, the ag giant projects future growth for the company on the continent, stating: "Within the next years, Bayer CropScience plans to establish legal entities in eight additional African countries and to increase its work force."

This high-tech paradigm of agricultural production gets the help of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and represents the kind of "partnerships" Bayer says is needed.

The Associated Pressreported on Tuesday that the Foundation was investing $108 million as part of a collaboration with the German government and corporations including Bayer CropScience and chemical giant BASF SE under the auspices of fighting hunger.

The Gates Foundation has a history of funding big agricultural corporations that push genetically modified seeds. Following the announcement in July from the Gates foundation for a $10 million grant to develop genetically modified (GM) crops for use in sub-Saharan Africa, Mariam Mayet of the African Centre for Biosafety in South Africa spoke out against the kind of foreign intervention efforts that are technologically dependent and take no account of African farmers' wishes. "African farmers are the last people to be asked about such projects. This often results in the wrong technologies being developed, which many farmers simply cannot afford. We need methods that we can control aimed at building up resilient soils that are both fertile and able to cope with extreme weather. We also want our knowledge and skills to be respected and not to have inappropriate solutions imposed on us by distant institutions, charitable bodies or governments."

Beware biotechnology CEOs calling for a "greener revolution," says Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch and author of Foodopoly: The Battle Over the Future of Food and Farming in America.

"Their interests lie first and foremost in patenting life for profit," stated Hauter.

Ronnie Cummins of the Organic Consumers Association also says Bayer's motives are clear. "Looking back at Bayer's history (including their ignominious role as a strategic player in the IB Farben cartel in Nazi Germany) as a purveyor of toxic chemicals, dangerous pharmaceutical drugs, pesticides, and now genetically engineered seeds, the only kind of Green Revolution Bayer really seems to care about is the green revolution of money and inordinate corporate profits."

Hauter adds that the company's promotion of genetically modified crops is a threat to food security. "The promotion of genetically engineered foods is not an agenda that has helped farmers or the environment. Rather, it has threatened the gene pool and our collective food security. The biotechnology industry is not well regulated, and most people don't even know they're eating genetically altered food on a regular basis. We need to rein in their power to greenwash food and development policy in this manner," stated Hauter.

We do need an agricultural revolution, notes Eric Hoffman, food and technology policy campaigner at Friends of the Earth.

"But it's not going to come from Bayer Cropscience or any other biotech and agribusiness giant that helped create the mess of industrial agriculture we have today. The revolution we need is one that supports sustainable agriculture solutions, like agro-ecology, organic farming, local and regional food systems, and allowing farmers to have a say in policies that effect their lives. A real revolution in agriculture would empower farmers and communities to develop a sustainable and just food system that is not dependent on expensive, risky genetically engineered seeds and toxic pesticides produced by Bayer and its biotech friends, or other high-cost patented technologies," stated Hoffman.

Mark Kastel, co-founder of the Cornucopia Institute, which works to support ecological principles in agriculture, also cautions against taking recommendations from "one of the world's leading manufacturers of poison. It has a major responsibility for damage to our planet's ecosystems, biodiversity and impact on human health."

"Many of the problems he now proposes to remediate were created by corporate agribusiness and agrochemical manufacturers," adds Kastel. "Our research and resources have flowed into creating patented chemicals, seeds and technology (including genetic engineering) at the expense of organic farming techniques where the knowledge isn't proprietary."

"Just think of how much safe and healthy food we could be creating if we invested a fraction of the research budget that goes into genetically engineered crops and chemical development in organics."

For organic-proponents like Cummins, the corporation leaves little to love.

"Whether selling neonicotinoid insecticides that that are killing off the word's bees, pushing controversial and hazardous genetically engineered crops, or contributing large sums of money to defeat the California Ballot initiative to label GMO foods, Bayer is quickly joining Monsanto as one of the most hated corporations on Earth," said Cummins.

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