Thursday, April 26, 2012

Gates and high-tech ag

When Bill Gates pushes high-tech agriculture, who benefits?
By Eric Reguly
Globe and Mail
April 26, 2012

Microsoft chairman’s recipe for boosting world food output may fatten Big Ag’s bottom line, but not small farmers

When Bill Gates speaks, the world tends to listen. The second-richest man on the planet is treated like a god when he opens his mouth. He’s still chairman of Microsoft. The billions of dollars of donations he has made through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have captured the attention of the World Health Organization and set the agenda for vaccine development and inoculation over the past decade. Now, through sheer wealth-driven clout, his plan to reduce world hunger has found a rapt audience in the United Nations’ food agencies.

Gates descended on Rome, home of three UN food agencies, in February like a rumpled angel. In a speech at the International Fund for Agricultural Development (disclosure: my wife is an employee), and at a related media event, two themes emerged: technology and big business.

His talk was peppered with phrases and references to “yield,” “global productivity target” and “digital agriculture.” He mentioned some of the biggest food processing corporations, among them Procter & Gamble and Nestlé, and seemed enthusiastic about their potential role in the food development chain. “I’m a huge believer in the private sector and drawing them in,” he told the dazzled crowd.

But I was left wondering whether Gates’s agenda would contribute to the public good or the good of big business. Philanthrocapitalism, as it has been dubbed, has a dark side. Relying on genetically modified (GM) crops and chemicals to push up output per acre may help Monsanto (which was one of the stocks in the Gates Foundation’s investment portfolio), Syngenta and other tech-driven food biggies, but won’t necessarily support those who need the most help-poor smallholder farmers and underdeveloped countries. Making them part of Big Ag’s global supply chain might not help either.

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New U.S. “Bioeconomy”

In New U.S. “Bioeconomy”, Industry Trumps Environment
By Carey L. Biron
IPS (Inter Press Service)
April 26, 2012

WASHINGTON - The White House on Thursday announced the formulation of the National Bioeconomy Blueprint, aimed at shoring up the U.S. commitment to bioscience-related research.

But critics warn that the new programme focuses too much on economic concerns, placing too little emphasis on either social issues or on the environment itself.

“We’re disappointed to see what finally came out,” Eric Hoffman, a Washington-based campaigner with Friends of the Earth, an international NGO, told IPS. “This report largely seems to be an endorsement for the biotechnology industry to rush ahead without any real oversight.”

The biotechnology industry “says that it has been calling for this type of legislation for long time,” Hoffman notes. “That makes sense, given that the industry stands to gain the most from the types of policies laid out in the Blueprint.”

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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Death knell for ‘Enviropig’

Death knell may sound for ‘Enviropigs’
Rod Nickel
April 03, 2012

Group pulls funding, genetically modified animals may be euthanized

Pigs that might have become the world’s first genetically modified animals approved for human consumption may instead face an untimely end, as key backers of Canada’s “Enviropig” project withdrew their support for the controversial engineered animal.

Scientists at the University of Guelph, 90 km west of Toronto, bred the first GMO pig that was developed to address an environmental problem in 1999. The animal - known as Enviropig - digests its feed more efficiently than naturally bred pigs, resulting in waste that may cause less environmental damage to lakes and rivers.

The project has produced eight generations of Enviropigs, including the current herd of 16 animals. But they may be the last of their kind, after Ontario Pork - an association of hog farmers in the eastern Canadian province - yanked their funding last month.

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Monday, February 27, 2012

Bill Gates and Africa

Bill Gates’ support of GM crops is wrong approach for Africa
By Glenn Ashton
Special to The Times
February 27, 2012

Guest columnist Glenn Ashton argues that Bill Gates’ support of genetically modified crops conflicts with scientific research funded by the World Bank and the United Nations, and with grass-roots agronomic movements, on what is best for Africa.

Bill Gates’ support of genetically modified (GM) crops as a solution for world hunger is of concern to those of us involved in promoting sustainable, equitable and effective agricultural policies in Africa.

There are two primary shortcomings to Gates’ approach.

First, his technocratic ideology runs counter to the best informed science. The World Bank and United Nations funded 900 scientists over three years in order to create an International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD). Its conclusions were diametrically opposed, at both philosophical and practical levels, to those espoused by Gates and clearly state that the use of GM crops is not a meaningful solution to the complex situation of world hunger.

The IAASTD suggests that rather than pursuing industrial farming models, “agro-ecological” methods provide the most viable means to enhance global food security, especially in light of climate change. These include implementing practical scientific research based on traditional seed varieties and local farming practices adapted to the local ecology over millennia.

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Sunday, February 5, 2012

Congressman’s discovery

Congressman hurt to discover lobbyist not really his friend
The Onion
February 4, 2012

This satire is very close to the truth!

WASHINGTON — According to Capitol Hill sources, Rep. Bobby Schilling (R-IL) came to the painful realization this week that agribusiness lobbyist Stephen Fischer, who had been kind and generous toward him for months and had often met up with him for drinks after work, was not, in fact, his friend.

“Steve used to call all the time to catch up and ask about my family and chat about the genetically modified feedstock industry, but now, nothing,” said Schilling, who admitted he was still struggling to accept that all their “good times” together at Washington steak houses and nightclubs had not been part of a sincere friendship. “He was such a likable guy—sociable, funny, and he always somehow managed to find great seats to sold-out concerts.”

“I thought we were really tight,” Schilling added. “But now I can’t help but think he was just using me to get stricter seed-patent protections.”

[Read More…]

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