The Center for Food Safety Pushes Back Against Gates Foundation “Feed the World” Propaganda

by Center for Food Safety

The Center for Food Safety (CFS) pushed back today against longtime biotech crop supporter, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, over its announcement that it has invested nearly $2 billion in a campaign to fund the development of genetically engineered (GE) crops in an attempt to address global hunger.  The Gates Foundation has been widely criticized by food security and public interest groups for promoting GE crops in developing countries rather than investing in organic and sustainable local models of agriculture.

“The biotech industry has exploited the image of the world’s poor and hungry to advance a form of agriculture that is expensive, input-intensive, and of little or no relevance to developing country farmers,” said Andrew Kimbrell Executive Director for the Center for Food Safety.  “It’s long past time that the Gates Foundation redirect its investments in biotech companies like Monsanto, and its funding of dead-end GE crop projects, to promote agroecological techniques with a proven record of increasing food production in developing countries.”

Since their introduction in the mid-90s, developers of GE crops have claimed their crops will reduce agriculture’s environmental footprint, provide benefits to farmers and meet the needs of a hungry planet.  Yet across the board GE crops have failed to deliver results.  GE crops have remained an industrial tool dependent upon costly inputs, such as patented seeds and synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, that farmers in the most food insecure regions can ill-afford.  For instance, 5 out of every 6 acres of GE crops worldwide are herbicide-resistant varieties designed explicitly to increase dependence on expensive herbicides, and this remains the major R&D focus of the industry.[i]

In contrast, the emerging consensus of international development experts is that real solutions to addressing global hunger must be inexpensive, low-input and utilize local/regional resources as much as possible[ii] – all areas where GE crops fail to deliver.  For instance, the UN and World Bank’s 2008 International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), which engaged some 400 experts from multiple disciplines, concluded that biotech crops have very little potential to alleviate poverty and hunger.[iii]  Instead, IAASTD recommended support for agroecological approaches and food sovereignty.

In 1998, African scientists at a United Nations conference strongly objected to Monsanto’s promotional GE campaign that used photos of starving African children under the headline “Let the Harvest Begin.” The scientists, who represented many of the nations affected by poverty and hunger, said gene technologies would undermine the nations’ capacities to feed themselves by destroying established diversity, local knowledge and sustainable agricultural systems.[iv]

Developing nations also object to seed patents, which give biotech firms the power to criminalize the age-old practice of seed-saving as “patent infringement.”  Thousands of U.S. farmers have been forced to pay Monsanto tens of millions of dollars in damages for the “crime” of saving seed.[v]  Loss of the right to save seed through the introduction of patented GE crops could prove disastrous for the 1.4 billion farmers in developing nations who depend on farm-saved seed.[vi]

It is increasingly understood that poverty, inadequate access to land and food, and unfair trade policies are the major causes of hunger in the world, rather than absolute shortage of food.  Additional factors contributing to food insecurity include declining investments in infrastructure (storage facilities, roads to markets) and increased diversion of food crops for biofuels and animal feed.  The UN World Food Program notes many farmers in developing countries cannot afford seed or other materials for crop production,[vii] so GE seeds, which cost twice to over six times the price of conventional seed, are even less affordable.

The Center for Food Safety is a national, non-profit, membership organization founded in 1997 to protect human health and the environment by curbing the use of harmful food production technologies and by promoting organic and other forms of sustainable agriculture. More information can be found at

[i] CFS-FOE (2008).  “Who Benefits from GM Crops: The Rise in Pesticide Use,” Center for Food Safety and Friends of the Earth International, 2008.

[ii] United Nations Environment Programme – United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. 2008. Organic Agriculture and Food Security in Africa.  UNCTAD/DITC/TED/2007/15. ; United Nations and World Bank (2009) The International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (ISTAAD). Island Press.  Washington, D.C.

[iii] Sullivan, D. (2008).  “Groundbreaking report offers holistic remedies for famine relief and environmental protection in developing countries,” The Rodale Institute, April 18, 2008.; for report and commentaries, see:

[iv] “Let Nature’s Harvest Continue!” African Counter Statement to Monsanto, at the 5th Extraordinary Session of the FAQ Commission on Genetic Resources, June 12, 1998.

[v] CFS (2005 & 2007).  “Monsanto vs. U.S. Farmers,” Center for Food Safety, 2005; updated 2007.

[vi] Grain (2007) The End of Farm-saved Seed? Industry’s Wish List for the Next Revision of UPOV, February 2007.

[vii] World Food Programme of the United Nations, Website “What Causes Hunger?” Accessed March 25, 2010.

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