On October 29 (2016), the New York Times ran a piece on how the biotech industry has failed to deliver on its promises for GMO crops. The article followed less than a month after the biotech industry asked congressional leaders for $3 million in taxpayer-provided funding to “educate” the public about biotechnology and agricultural production.
Congress should turn down this request for two reasons. First, the biotech and food industries should spend their own money to market their products. And second, Congress shouldn’t use taxpayer money to promote what scientists and international organizations have said for years, and the latest investigation by the Times reveals, is a technology that not only doesn’t live up it its hype, but is counterproductive to resolving the critical issues of global food sovereignty and global warming.
As reported by Farm Futures, 56 groups, including biotech and food industry lobbying organizations, wrote a letter asking four members of the Ag Appropriations Committee to include $3 million in the 2017 Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act in order to “ensure key federal agencies responsible for the safety of our nation’s food supply – the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) – are able to more easily convey to the public science- and fact-based information about food.”
The groups justify their request for consumers to foot the bill for industry’s marketing campaign by stating that: “These benefits are passed on to consumers who reap the advantage of affordable food prices, greater access to nutritious food, an improved environment, a strengthened rural economy, and enhanced domestic and international food security.”
In their letter, the groups claim “there is a tremendous amount of misinformation about agricultural biotechnology in the public domain.” We would argue, and the Times investigation confirms, that much of that “misinformation” comes from industry itself, in the form of false promises.
Specifically, as the Times reports, GMO crops have not led to higher yields, while they have led to greater, not reduced, use of pesticides.
That’s not news to those who track issues of world hunger and the harm, to the environment and to human health, of higher and higher volumes of increasingly toxic pesticides.
The United Nations Human Rights Council is just one international organization that has reported on the failure of GMO crops to feed the world, and the fact that the only path toward global food security is agroecology, or regenerative agriculture. In its “Agriculture at the Crossroads” report, the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) drew the same conclusions.
Next week, governments, scientists and activists will gather in Marrakech for the COP22 Climate Summit. Thanks to French agriculture officials, who launched the 4 per 1000 Soils for Food Security and Climate Initiative last year at the Paris Climate Summit, the COP22 agenda will include discussions about the potential for regenerative agriculture to draw down and re-sequester carbon in the soil.
This soil carbon sequestration strategy, recently hailed by climate scientist James Hansen, requires healthy soils in order to work, the kind of soils that can only be generated by regenerative agriculture practices—not GMO monocultures.
The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development‘s 2013 Trade and Environment Review estimates that the industrial food system generates 43-57 percent of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.
We must reduce fossil fuel emissions. But we also must draw down the legacy carbon already in the atmosphere. Regenerative agriculture practices provide our best hope for achieving that, while at the same time providing food and economic security to populations at risk.
Admittedly, $3 million is peanuts in the overall scheme of congressional spending bills—especially for an industry that, according to 2015 report, “has spent hundreds of millions of dollars over the past few years on stealth PR tactics and deployed over a dozen front groups to push coordinated messages to attack organic food, defend pesticides and the routine use of antibiotics, and promote GMOs — messages that are making their way, day after day, to the pages of the largest media outlets.”
GMOs have been on the market for more than 20 years. Yet the number of hungry people in the U.S. is on the rise. Congress should allocate money to support the type of agriculture we know will lead to food security, at home and abroad, not to what has already proven a failure.
Katherine Paul is associate director of the Organic Consumers Association (OCA). OCA’s Regeneration International project team is attending the COP22 Climate Summit in Marrakech, Nov. 9-19.