Blind faith – Biotech scientists’ report skews off target

The UK’s Foresight report, Global Food and Farming Futures, delivered by the UK’s Chief Scientist John Beddington on 24 January 2011, provides few surprises and offers no new proposals.

It could have been different and saved the taxpayer a lot of money had government and the scientific establishment not been so ‘willfully deaf’ about recognising and taking forward the findings of the World Bank and UN sponsored global scientific assessment of the future of agriculture – the IAASTD reports (International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development) – approved by the UK government and 57 others in 2008.

IAASTD confirmed the proposals of the small-scale farmers’ movement La Via Campesina for securing future food and realising food sovereignty. It found that small-scale, more agroecological and organic production methods, based on local knowledge and especially women’s skills and protected from damaging globalised markets, were the way forward to avert hunger, improve equity and restore the environment now and in the next 40 years.

What the Foresight report does do, though, is make the almost desperate plea that for UK science to be involved in what it claims is globally relevant research for food and agriculture the UK must embrace GM foods – a somewhat odd conclusion given that most people in the world eat GM-free food produced locally by small-scale food providers – farmers, livestock keepers, artisanal fishers. Perhaps that is the motivation for investing so much time and money in the Foresight process – to force acceptance of GM foods in the UK? Once accepted, and it does not matter if the GMOs proposed by Beddington et al are ecologically attuned or patented or not, it will open the floodgates for the Monsantos and Syngentas to swamp British and European agriculture and our food system with their single gene and rather ineffective seeds and the GM food products that result. Watch the documentary “Food Inc” and its portrayal of the dysfunctional GM dominated US food system that forces farmers to brink of existence, if you want to know what could lie in store

The way forward, as we are informed by the small-scale food providers themselves, is to secure future food through biodiverse, climate-resilient, ecological practices of the majority of local food providers, protected within the framework of food sovereignty. These are the most productive methods using land and water efficiently, increasing agricultural biodiversity and maximising ecosystem functions in every locality. If UK science could get off its biotech pedestal and find ways of supporting social movements, that are working to strengthen their members’ local, diverse small-scale food systems, then it might become relevant.

Practical Action has first-hand experience over more than 40 years of working with small-scale food providers of their ability of to grow enough food for themselves, their communities and provide excess for the market. What they say is their priority is to have protection of their rights: to have access to, and to be able to grow, food, using their GM-free seeds and livestock breeds; to access and use their land and the water they need for their crops, livestock and fish ponds; to have exclusive access to their coastal fishing grounds, which should be protected from industrial fishing boats; and to have their markets protected from speculators and underpriced imports. They want these rights guaranteed in the framework of food sovereignty, and research to support their ecological food provision, so that they can continue to feed the world. Now, there’s a challenge for UK science and for the UK government in its advocacy in international negotiations.

Patrick Mulvany, Senior Policy Adviser, Practical Action
Brussels, 24 Jan 2011

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