According to some readers, the only criticisms of agricultural giants who employ the usage of genetically modified crops come from hipsters or uninformed journalists. These same readers may argue that without GMCs, humankind’s current way of life could not be sustained. If you asked them to explain their belief, they’d probably say that the demand for food surpasses the actual supply of food without GMCs. They’ll probably add that agribusiness, as some like to call it, is essential to further societal progress.
Do you agree with any of these points?
Well, according to a very reputable source other than opinionated hippies, you might just be wrong if you agree with any of the points above. The U.N.’s Conference on Trade and Development, or UNCTAD, just published its 2013 Trade and Environment Review, and the results may surprise a lot of people.
The 300-plus-page report takes issue with the “perception that there is a supply-side productivity problem,” revealing that “hunger and malnutrition are mainly related to lack of purchasing power and/or inability of rural poor to be self-sufficient.” According to the UNCTAD’s findings, sustainable economic development in regions that would otherwise have enough food is skewed by “powerful commercial interests” and “lack of political resolve.” It recommends that countries adopt laws to help small and mid-sized farmers obtain easier access to agricultural markets, adding that corporate consolidation should be reduced.
The report then warns of the specific agribusiness companies that have a major influence on national and global public policy. Monsanto Company (NYSE:MON)’s 2005 violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act for its actions in Indonesia is mentioned. The following peers are also chided: BASF SE (ADR) (OTCMKTS:BASFY), E I Du Pont De Nemours And Co (NYSE:DD), Syngenta AG (ADR) (NYSE:SYT) for its role in “pressuring” the Malaysian government to reverse a ban on a “highly toxic chemical herbicide,” and The Dow Chemical Company (NYSE:DOW) for an influential seat it holds on one EPA committee.
The point that the U.N.’s report is trying to make is that there’s a clear “revolving door,” in its words, between the world’s largest agribusinesses and various national governments. In many instances, like the case of a former Monsanto attorney (page 64, link above) playing a crucial role in Brazil’s decision to accept a pro-genetically engineered biosafety law, for example. Or the time when an EU Food Safety Authority official who worked on GE-specific cases represented Syngenta at an EU hearing. According to the report, “her move violated the EFSA’s required two-year waiting period.” She’s now Syngenta’s Head of Biotech Regulatory Affairs for Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.
The examples of corruption go on, and we provided quotes from the report so you would understand how demonstrative it really is in its claims.
If there’s no supply-side problem, why do some people go hungry?
As the Motley Fool explains in its analysis of this same report, the global imbalance in food supply originates in the very rural areas where many of the crops are grown. In their interpretation of the U.N.’s analysis, they write, “for years, they [Chinese, Indian and sub-Saharan farmers] have been encouraged by their governments to produce cash crops for export,” adding they “now only receive a pittance of what they need to purchase a balanced diet.” The report also offers solutions.