Farmer networks, global research groups reject corporate agenda as solution to looming hunger pandemic

August 6, 2020

by MASIPAG National Office

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Stop Golden Rice Network, an Asia-wide campaign network of organizations campaigning against Golden Rice, hosted an online forum on the state of hunger and malnutrition, and the corporate agenda on agriculture in the time of the pandemic yesterday, August 5, through a live broadcast on their Facebook page.

Titled “From Gates to your Plates,” the webinar tackled issues such as the hand of corporations and “pseudo-philanthropist” billionaires particularly the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation in shaping the food system in response to the health crisis brought by COVID-19.

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Speakers came from different countries and highlighted topics within their advocacies.

Corporatizing the food and agricultural industry 

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Jakarta-based researcher Kartini Samon of GRAIN talked about “Agro-imperialism in the time of COVID-19”. “We are not in the same boat” said Samon, revealing how industries profited off from the “perfect storm” created by the pandemic. Samon further presented data that showed a 3 Billion USD grant of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) in the agriculture sector, noting how these grants affect policies in the global food system. 

“It’s not just about the money, but also having a say in how this money can and should be used,” she added, noting the doubled net worth of Bill Gates despite the huge sum of “aids” by the foundation. “The Gates Foundation has effectively privatized international bodies in charge of creating food and health policy, transforming it into a vehicle for corporate dominance and weakening public health and food systems,” said Samon. 

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Davao-based development and policy researcher Neth Daño of Erosion, Technology, Concentration (ETC) Group discussed “Big Tech, Philanthro-Capitalism and Global Food System Governance.” Dano outlined how tech companies are now venturing into the food industry to amass more profits from the people. “Big Tech expansion and domination are not just about reaping profits but also influencing and shaping global agenda and priorities, as in the BMGF model,” said Dano.

“The pandemic has also been used as an opportunity to rapidly expand e-commerce in food retail,” added Samon. She further underscored the “propaganda” by corporations and governments that genetically-modified crops are pushed as the solution to the looming hunger pandemic. Kartini asserts that some governments claimed that the COVID-19 health emergency made GM seeds a necessity for their country.

Golden rice and people’s fight

One of the GM products pegged to solve hunger and malnutrition is the Golden Rice. Golden Rice, touted as the solution to Vitamin A deficiency among women and children, is actively being pushed in Bangladesh, Philippines and Indonesia. Golden Rice is heavily funded by the BMGF thru the biofortification program.

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“At least 130 Million USD has been expended in the Golden Rice project with very little positive results to show,” Cris Panerio of MASIPAG noted in his presentation.

Despite claims for the nutritional content of Golden Rice, Panerio presented that around 84% of beta carotene is lost during storage, with a further loss of  17%-24% of beta-carotene content after cooking. Beta Carotene is a nutrient found in several food items that is converted to Vitamin A.

“Risk assessment report (of the Golden Rice project) is insufficient,” said Panerio. He claimed that there is not enough studies and analysis to show differences in nutritional composition, uptake of potentially toxic elements and levels of intermediate compounds in the engineered pathways of carotenoids.
“We are now at the stage where consumers should be active opponents of Golden Rice. We need to develop strategies to counter its production, specifically lobbying governments to pass resolutions and policies to ban Golden Rice” said Panerio. “It should be the duty of the governments to protect its people against dangerous products.” 

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Sarojeni Rengam, Penang-based Executive Director of Pesticide Action Network Asia Pacific (PAN AP), followed Panerio’s call in her reaction in the forum. “In some countries, the military is used to safeguard the need of big businesses and unfair conditions for workers,” Rengam said.

This is definitely facilitated by the response of our governments to the pandemic by authoritarian means and even laws that curtail any form of dissent and critical analysis,” she adds, citing several instances of state violence including the China-backed security law in Hongkong, and the Terror Law in the Philippines.

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Luxembourg-based advocate Julie Smit, executive member of People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS), in summary shared that “we’re fighting against a very big enemy, a very strong one, this whole group of capitalist agri-business companies getting bigger and stronger hold on power and policy influencing globally. But on the other hand, we have a strong civil society, strong people’s movements throughout the world”.

“We need to be even more united than before however difficult it is in the time of COVID-19 health pandemic. And it showed through Black Lives Matter that it is possible to get organized in new means by making use of technologies at our disposal,” she added.

The webinar is part of the week-long commemoration of the historic international Day of Action against Golden Rice on August 8, now in its 7th year. 

For more information, visit the Stop Golden Rice Network facebook page or email the secretariat at stopgrnetwork@gmail.com.