Yesterday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously approved S.384 The Global Food Security Act of 2009, which was sponsored by Dick Lugar (R-IN), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Bob Casey (D-PA). In my view, this is not good news. The bill specifies that the U.S. MUST fund GMOs and biotechnology. Additionally, the hearing about the bill was so heinous that the bill's intent is crystal clear - and it's not good.

UPDATE: In light of some of the very funny foodie April Fools jokes going around, I would like to clarify that this post is NOT an April Fools.

The bill authorizes $500mil for 2010 and it calls for the creation of a Special Coordinator for
Food Security (Global Hunger Czar?) to advise the Obama on international food security issues. It also calls for partnerships between U.S. universities and their counterparts in the developing world, or food aid to hungry people in other countries.

As for the language about GMOs and biotech, the bill amends Section 103A of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 to read:

Agricultural research carried out under this chapter shall
(1) take account of the special needs of small farmers in the determination of research priorities,

(2) include research on the interrelationships among technology, institutions, and economic, social, environmental, and cultural factors affecting small-farm agriculture, and

(3) make extensive use of field testing to adapt basic research to local conditions. Special emphasis shall be placed on disseminating research results to the farms on which they can be put to use, and especially on institutional and other arrangements needed to assure that small farmers have effective access to both new and existing improved technology

(4) include research on biotechnological advances appropriate to local ecological conditions, including genetically modified technology.

(The section you're reading is from the U.S. code Title 22: Foreign Relations and Intercourse; Chapter 32: Foreign Assistance; Subchapter 1: International Development; Part I—Declaration of Policy; Development Assistance Authorizations; § 2151a-1. Agricultural research. The change is in bold)

What worries me the most was that the hearing itself was a big lovefest for the Green Revolution. They lined up panelists that all agreed on absolutely every point, and when Sen. Kerry (D-MA) brought up organics he was shot down by several panelists and Senators. I recommend checking out my coverage of the hearing as well as the letter I wrote to the Senate Foreign Relations committee pointing them to a few sources that disagreed with the panelists from their hearing. If you'd like, check out Sen. Lugar's press release on the bill.

Please take action by writing your Senators about this bill (S.384) and asking that the vote against it when it comes before the full Senate. Below, I've listed some talking points. (You can also see a press release by the U.S. Working Group on the Food Crisis (PDF) on the bill and the hearing for additional info - I've included their talking points below my own).

My Own Talking Points:

  1. While the crisis in global hunger is clear, as is the need for our intervention in order to help those who are starving, the Senate Foreign Relations hearing was remarkably one-sided and failed to consider all of the various aspects of the current global food crisis.
  1. Proponents of GMOs and biotechnology rely on the idea that we need to increase food production & yield to combat hunger. Experts such as Frances Moore Lappe (Small Planet Institute) and Eric Holt-Gimenez (Food First) show that the main problem that causes hunger is not a lack of food production, but a consolidation of the means of food production by the powerful. In fact, as food productivity per capita has gone UP, hunger has also gone UP. This must be examined before accepting the idea that yield and productivity must be addressed in order to solve world hunger.
  1. Given the extreme destitution of subsistence farmers in Africa, it concerns me that biotechnology companies will force them to purchase seeds at a premium price and then will prevent them from saving seeds and will pursue them legally if they attempt to do so. Recently, the New York Times showed that biotechnology companies prevent independent research about their products. Other evidence has shown that GM seeds do not deliver the increased yields they promise. Assuming that GM seeds are not the silver bullet to increased yields, it is therefore possible that a starving farmer in Africa might have a bad crop one year, resulting in an inability to purchase seeds for the following year. Such a scenario would make the hunger situation worse, not better.
  1. The UN recently released a report saying that Africa's best hope for the future is organic agriculture. Yet the Senate hearing on the bill S.384 entirely disregarded this notion.
  1. Please consider Indian farmer suicides by consulting expert like Vandana Shiva. India had tremendous success in the Green Revolution by transitioning from sustainable techniques to unsustainable ones. When they began growing food in a way that depleted the air, water, and soil, they did well for a while - until the unsustainability of those practices were felt (just like we are feeling today in this country with the water shortages, soil erosion, etc.). Before exporting a Western technology to Africa, we should consider the effects our technologies have had on farmers in India and what role, if any, those technologies played in the epidemic of farmer suicides.
  1. When examining hunger in Africa & S. Asia, we must also look at the impact our trade policies have on their food security.

U.S. Working Group on the Food Crisis Talking Points:
The U.S. Working Group on the Food Crisis is a group  representing various sectors of the food system, including anti-hunger, family farm, community food security, environmental, international aid, labor, food justice, consumers and others. According to this group:

The [March 24 Senate Foreign Relations Committee] hearing relied primarily on testimonies from "Green Revolution" advocates for the industrial agriculture system, even though it is broken, and failed to address many of the real
causes and solutions to the food crisis.  
While the Committee summarized well what is at stake, particularly in Africa and South Asia— massive human suffering, political stability and economic development—the analysis and solutions offered by the stacked roster were a rehashing of pro-industrial agriculture technologies and practices that have failed again and again to address this human tragedy. Current reliance on
chemical-intensive agriculture and genetic engineering has deepened the gap between the haves and the have-nots, are further deepening the global climate crisis and threatening our planet’s natural resources.  

The U.S. Working Group on the Food Crisis asks that the Senate consider the following solutions to the global food crisis:

• Re-regulate commodity futures markets to end excessive speculation
• Stabilize commodity prices through international and domestic food reserves
• Halt expansion of industrial agrofuels in developing countries
• Direct farm policy, research and education, and investment toward biodiverse, agroecological farming practices  

The U.S. Working Group on the Food Crisis' press release goes into detail on each of these points if you'd like more information.

Originally posted to Jill Richardson on Wed Apr 01, 2009 at 10:12 AM PDT.

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