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2-Plants: Taking care of business: The CGIAR and GM contamination

-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  Taking Care of Business: The CGIAR and GM Contamination
SOURCE: etc group, USA/Canada, News Release
DATE:   27 Aug 2004 

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Taking Care of Business: The CGIAR and GM Contamination

at the web page:
Download the PDF (137 kb)
Download the second PDF (980 kb)

In a remarkable departure from its role as a public science network, the
Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) is
huddling with the biotech industry (including Monsanto and DuPont) to
craft a policy response to the unwelcome and ongoing spread of DNA from
genetically modified plants to farmers' varieties. The meeting begins in
Rome on Monday and comes three years after scientists first confirmed GM
contamination in Mexico's maize crop - and two and a half years after
farmers' organizations and their civil society allies called upon CGIAR
and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to take action.
Farmers' organizations are not invited to the meeting.

[Note: The world's most important collections of seeds, the vast majority
of which were collected from farming communities in the South, are
maintained in a network of 16 gene banks overseen by the CGIAR. In 1994,
the FAO and CGIAR signed agreements placing most of the seed collections
under the auspices of the United Nations. At the meeting next Monday,
CGIAR will examine the implications of GM contamination for gene bank
collections it holds in trust for the international community.
Officially, the meeting is known as "The development of CGIAR policies to
address the possibility of adventitious presence of transgenes in CGIAR
ex situ collections."]

Policy workshop: Beginning next Monday in Rome, 30 invited participants
from the biotech industry and national and international agricultural
research institutes will sit down for 2.5 days to hammer out a strategic
policy response to the ballooning problem of worldwide GM contamination.

The meeting will hear formally from government institutes such as EMBRAPA
in Brazil, CGEN in Netherlands and the USDA. The agenda also calls for
presentations from three industry representatives including Monsanto and
DuPont - the world's two largest seed corporations. Missing from the
speakers list are the representatives of farmers' organizations, South
government policymakers, development agencies, and civil society
organizations (CSOs) familiar with the issues. FAO is invited but not
offered a place on the agenda. The workshop organizers defend their
limited invitation list stressing the "technical" nature of the
discussion although the invitation states that, "The emphasis of the
workshop should be on the policy and economic-related implications of
different approaches to the issue, with a lesser focus on potential
scientific, technical means." The timetable following the battery of
industry statements concentrates on "points of agreement" and
"controversial issues" as CGIAR and its national scientific partners look
for policy recommendations. (CGIAR's agenda and workshop description, as
received Aug. 20, are posted as PDF documents on ETC Group's website.)

 Paternalist turned partner-predator? "The CGIAR has mandated itself to
use science for 'poverty alleviation' but now seems to be more concerned
with helping the agbiotech industry get through the crisis created by
their own sloppy science," says Pat Mooney of the Canadian-based ETC
Group. "The CGIAR network has always had a paternalistic approach to
farmers and their organizations," Mooney adds, "but this is the first
time we have known them - as an international consortium of public sector
scientists - to side so thoroughly with industry. It is farmers' seeds
that are being contaminated. Industry's GM crops are causing the
contamination. Whose business is the CGIAR taking care of?"

 The workshop was proposed by the CGIAR's Genetic Resources Policy
Committee in February. The invitation states that a maximum of 30
invitees include "...representatives from (most affected) IARCs, NARS and
private companies, and experts." Belatedly recognizing that news of the
meeting would leak out, organizers opined earlier in the summer that they
might convene an electronic conference to appease stakeholders not
invited to the meeting. As the summer wore on, however, and as the
reaction to FAO's May report on agricultural biotechnology evoked
unprecedented outrage among farmers, CGIAR apparently decided to keep the
meeting as low-key as possible. Organizations of small farmers such as La
Via Campesina are being shut out. One farmer who sits on a CGIAR
committee in a private capacity may attend the final half-day of the
workshop along with the rest of the committee - but has not (perhaps
until now?) been asked to make a presentation.

Stakeholders and Steak-eaters: "Both from a political and from a
scientific point of view, the organizers have been breathtakingly
stupid," says Silvia Ribeiro of ETC's Mexico office, "a meeting between
the CGIAR and industry was bound to become known and widely-resented. It
is also profoundly insulting that the CGIAR - that claims to work with
and for farmers - does not realize that farmers' organizations have a
critical perspective on the GM contamination issue that cannot be
ignored. The CGIAR is seeking policy advice from the culprits and not the
victims. The decision not to invite farmers' organizations and CSOs was
political," Ribeiro concludes.

"This workshop is a case study in bad science," argues Hope Shand of ETC
in the USA. "With GM contamination," Shand adds, "the stakeholders are
the farmers whose very lives and livelihoods depend on their seed. The
companies do not have their lives at stake and they're the ones who
caused the contamination. Monsanto is a steak-eater not a stakeholder!"

Malicious presence: "The language of the agenda pretty well says it all,"
Pat Mooney notes. "Farmers and civil society organizations typically
refer to the unwanted intrusion of transgenes into farmers' fields as
'contamination.' Industry refuses to use the term and CGIAR has gone
along with them. They prefer 'adventitious presence,' which means
unintended and unavoidable presence and, ironically, even sounds a bit
like 'advantageous.' By adopting language manufactured by industry spin
doctors, CGIAR has made it clear whose side it is on."

Contamination controversy: The CG system can't claim that it didn't know
farmers and civil society were both well-informed and alarmed about GM
contamination - especially in Third World centres of genetic diversity. 

- In February 2002, 144 civil society organizations from 40 countries
signed an open letter to the Director-General of FAO and the Chair of the
CGIAR asking them to take up the issue of GM contamination; to advise on
how future contamination could be monitored and prevented; to explore the
feasibility of decontamination; to consider the impact of contamination
on farmers' varieties and their livelihoods; to review the protocols for
gene bank collections, grow-outs and exchange; and to examine the
complications brought about by intellectual property. CGIAR replied that
no specific action was required. FAO acknowledged in March 2002 that the
situation was serious and requested that CIMMYT investigate.. http://

- A second letter, signed by 302 CSOs from 56 countries was sent to the
Government of Mexico, FAO and CGIAR in November 2003. http://

- In June this year, more than 650 civil society organizations responded
to FAO's contentious report on agricultural biotechnology with yet
another letter of protest - which specifically mentions GM contamination
in Third World centres of crop diversity.

Reforms needed: 
Last week, CGIAR scrambled to invite a representative of the Ottawa,
Canada-based ETC Group to attend the Rome meeting. With barely a week's
notice, ETC shot back a sharp "no" and roundly criticized the organizers
for failing to involve farmers' organizations. "We're not a farmers'
movement," Hope Shand says, "and we certainly do not speak for them."

ETC Group believes the workshop should be cancelled and then convened
under other auspices with the full participation of farmers'
organizations on a newly formed planning committee. However, since the
gathering begins Monday, cancellation is unlikely. "The workshop should
be downgraded to a meeting to discuss a future workshop that will engage
the real stakeholders from farmers to South governments," Pat Mooney
proposes. "Next week's meeting should be a meeting of FAO, CGIAR, and
national public sector institutes only. The industry people should be
dis-invited immediately. It is simply unacceptable for CGIAR to convene a
GM policy meeting with the private sector and without civil society or

For further information:
Pat Mooney, Canada, Phone: 1-613-241-2267 email:
Silvia Ribeiro, Mexico, Phone: +52 55 55 63 2664 email:
Hope Shand, USA, Phone: 1-919-960-5223 email:

The Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration, formerly RAFI,
is an international civil society organization headquartered in Canada.
The ETC group is dedicated to the advancement of cultural and ecological
diversity and human rights. The ETC group is also a
member of the Community Biodiversity Development and Conservation
Programme (CBDC). The CBDC is a collaborative experimental initiative
involving civil society organizations and public research institutions in
14 countries. The CBDC is dedicated to the exploration of community-
directed programmes to strengthen the conservation and enhancement of
agricultural biodiversity. The CBDC website is

Attachments as pdf documents:
Workshop agenda as of August 20th;
Workshop description received August 20th


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