August 26, 2004

Taking Care of Business: The CGIAR and GM Contamination

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  (30.08.2004)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.

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