New Food Aid Bill Raises Concerns

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Although a complete overhaul of U.S. foreign assistance seems to have stalled, legislators wasted no time in addressing international food aid reform. On February 5, the Lugar-Casey Global Food Security Act (S. 384) was introduced on the Senate floor. The bill takes a longer-term view of agricultural production in the developing world and will improve U.S. capability to respond to emergency food crises. But the Lugar-Casey bill is not quite as sweet as it sounds. Though there are many elements of the legislation that should be celebrated (particularly buying food aid locally), it also expands the private-public partnership with the genetically modified crop research industry.

For the past decade, AFJN has followed the emergence of genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) with great concern. The first “Green Revolution” failed to bring true food security primarily because it was based on high-tech, top-down approaches to agriculture. Now, as the biotechnology industry places its new emphasis on the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) and GM seeds, we have even more reason to worry. 

The claim that GM seeds increase crop yields has proven false, though under the right conditions, they may reduce crop losses. However, GM seeds are far more expensive and no more effective than traditional methods of pest control. What GM seeds have proven is the ability to put small-scale farmers into debt because they cannot afford high-tech seeds and the fertilizers that necessarily come with them. Concerns around the health and sustainability of GMO’s are further reasons to resist their use in Africa. The Kenya Biodiversity Coalition has been working to prevent GM seeds from being used in the country, though a new bio-safety bill that authorizes their use recently passed the Kenyan Parliament. Despite widespread protests among unions and consumers, Kenya is now open to the biotech industry. Kenya also happens to be the hub for AGRA’s new agricultural trials.

The Lugar-Casey bill does not specify exactly how much funding will go toward new GMO technologies, but the number could be in the billions. As a result, biotech underpins every facet of the new development strategy. According to a recent report from Food First, “funding for agricultural research under Lugar-Casey is essentially a subsidy to corporate research and development goals, and is not targeted toward the most effective, appropriate, or cost-efficient technologies.” African countries should not be forced into accepting genetically modified agricultural products as part and parcel of the United States’ food aid policies.

Many humanitarian aid agencies are heralding the Lugar-Casey Act as the best solution to the developing world’s food problems. Though we appreciate the effort toward locally-bought aid and other aspects of the bill, AFJN is deeply concerned about such strong support for GMO’s. Industrial agriculture tends to push small farmers out of business rather than helping them produce more food. If the U.S. truly wished to increase food security around the world, it would base its policies on sustainable, non-industrial, bottom-up practices. As it is, the rich biotech industry will benefit while African farmers will face yet another infringement on their food sovereignty. 

AFJN encourages you to write or call your Senators to tell them not to support the Lugar-Casey Global Food Security Act unless funding for genetically modified crop research is entirely dropped from the bill.

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