Proposed US law to mandate GMOs?

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The Global Food Security Act of 2009, S.384 has a few clauses that have anti-biotech activists all worked up. What do the changes really mean? Is the US government really part of a Monsanto-led conspiracy to force the impoverished into a cycle of dependency on patented seed and pesticides?

The Pesticide Action Network of North America sums up their view of the situation in their newsletter:

After its introduction in the Senate a year ago, Bill Gates and Bill Clinton have been quietly pressing for this piece of legislation that aims to fight global hunger with one hand while orchestrating a giant taxpayer subsidy to pesticide and ag biotech companies with the other. The bill, also known as the Lugar-Casey Act — for Senators Richard Lugar (R-IN) and Robert Casey (D-PA) — would refocus aid programs on agricultural development, with a caveat: public funding of genetically engineered (GE) seeds is what this bill means by “agricultural development.”

I don’t know if PANNA actually read the Act, because there’s a lot in there about agricultural development that has nothing to do with genetic engineering, as you’ll see in this post.

Genetic engineering ≠ Corporations

One of the biggest arguments against improved seed, whether biotech or simply hybrid, is that it is developed by corporations. To be fair, this is often true in the United States. The US government decided decades ago to leave crop improvement to corporations. The USDA still does a little work in crop improvement, but this work doesn’t result in many released varieties.

It doesn’t have to be this way. In countries around the world, including Brazil, India, and China, much public funding goes into crop improvement. If you think that it’s dangerous to leave all seed improvement and production to a few companies, and if you want more public funding for crop improvement, then let your representatives know.

Ironically, the changes proposed in the Global Food Security Act of 2009 will lead to more public funding for crop improvement, genetically engineered and otherwise. It will also lead to funding of agricultural research in other countries, something that is very necessary if those countries are to ever stand on their own when it comes to food.

What the Act says

This is an amazing piece of legislation that has the potential to help a lot of people, so I hope you’ll take a moment to read the whole thing. I’m personally very excited about the funding for public agricultural research both in the US and in developing countries listed in Title III. I’m disappointed that it’s taking this long for the Act to be made into law.

In this post, I’ll just discuss Title II, where the controversial language appears. Titles I and III don’t mention biotechnology or any other specific farming or research methods, so they haven’t raised any controversy to my knowledge. Title II lists quite a few changes that most would argue are favorable for agriculture in developing nations.

Let’s actually look at the changes and try to determine what they really mean. Am I the only one who has noticed that the petitions and blog posts in uproar over the Act don’t actually show the Act or even link to it? It’s not that hard to find on websites such as Thomas. At the end of this post, you can find the relevant section of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (pdf, pages 40-42) with the changes made in red, then the proposed changes as they appear in the Global Food Security Act of 2009 (pdf).

The first set of edits in Title II of the Global Food Security Act of 2009 add three additional goals to the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961:

1. Find ways for impoverished people who don’t have access to agriculture to improve their economic situation, while providing those persons health and nutrition assistance.
2. Fund development and implementation of sustainable agricultural techniques that work under the stresses of climate change, including drought.
3. Improve nutrition of the most vulnerable people, specifically “children under the age of two years old, and pregnant or lactating women.”

Sounds good so far.

The second section allocates funds for all of the aid activities in the Foreign Assistance Act. In billions of US dollars: 0.75 for 2010, 1 for 2011, 1.5 for 2012, 2 for 2013, and 2.5 for 2014.

Sounds expensive, but it’s not much when put in the perspective of military spending (more than $650 billion, not including additional funds for current overseas activities).

On to the controversial part.

The current Act states that agricultural research under the Act will do the following:

1. Take needs of small farmers into account when determining research priorities.
2. Include research on factors affecting small farms including interplay between technological, institutional, economic, social, environmental, and cultural factors.
3. Use field tests to adapt research to local conditions – in other words, don’t develop something that works in one country and expect it to work in another country!
4. Produce results that can be disseminated to small farms (both info and technology) and that can actually be used on small farms.

The proposed changes would add one additional clause, requiring research to include “biotechnological advances appropriate to local ecological conditions, including genetically modified technology.” Frankly, I don’t know why the authors enumerated any specific technologies or methods. They could have left out that last clause, still considered biotechnology as an option, and everyone would have been happy. However, Senator Lugar has seen the potential that biotechnology has to help people and wants to move that forward.

There are already examples of public-private partnerships that have been making great progress toward developing crops specifically for farmers in developing countries. Two of them were discussed by Marianne Bänziger, Director for CIMMYT’s Global Maize Program, at the Maize Genetics Conference in March: WEMA (water efficient maize for Africa) and IMAS (improved maize for African soils). Publicly funded flood tolerant rice is already out there helping farmers, with help from Biofortified editor Pam Ronald. What more could be accomplished with additional funds?

What the Act doesn’t say

The Act does not say “include genetic engineering to the exclusion of anything else”. It doesn’t even say “include biotechnology to the exclusion of anything else” (biotechnology includes marker assisted selection (pdf) as well as genetic engineering and other techniques). That means breeding remains a funded means of crop improvement, and leaves in the goal of improvement of farming methods as well. The Act specifically states that any biotech research will be appropriate to local environmental conditions, as well as taking needs of small farmers into account. That does leave out funding for any crop or method development that would be too expensive for small farmers to use, so royalty-free releases would presumably be required.

Looking at GM crops currently on the market, this excludes Roundup Ready crops because small farmers in impoverished countries often can’t afford Roundup and/or don’t have access to markets that carry pesticides. However, it includes Bt crops because they require no additional inputs and have been shown to be safe for people and safe for non-target organisms while reducing yield loss due to insect pests. It would also include traits that improve nutrition and environmental traits such as drought tolerance or salt tolerance. These are careful, thoughtful distinctions, ones that must be made before biotech is even considered, according to the Act.

While conspiracy theorists are happy to put words in Senator Lugar’s mouth, no where does the Act claim that genetic engineering is a silver bullet to solve the food crisis (on the contrary, the Act emphasizes small, locally adapted solutions – the opposite of a silver bullet). No where does the Act propose that seeds with biotech traits be forced on countries that do not want them (on the contrary, the Act aims to improve the economic situation of impoverished farmers, which obviously can’t be done by encouraging farmers to plant seed that they can’t sell). No where does the Act ask for short term technological fixes (on the contrary, the Act aims for long term self-sustainability for impoverished farmers and countries).    …you get the idea.

The language of the Act is clear

Farmers in developing countries need changes that will work for them and that will work long term. While most of us admire the great accomplishments of the Green Revolution, most of us know that those same strategies of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides can’t be used again. To truly help the farmers, we must work with them to develop appropriate farming improvements for their situation – exactly what this bill says.

Don’t want to take my word for it? Ask Senator Lugar. He’s listed his goals for the legislation in full on his website: Lugar Clarifies Food Security Bill for Colleagues (or see pdf in case the post has moved). In the Senator’s own words: “Hungry people are desperate people, and desperation often sows the seeds of conflict and extremism.” Not only do we have a moral imperative to help impoverished people, but it is in the interests of peace to help ensure that every person has the ability to feed themselves and their families.

He’s taken time to spell out why the biotech clause is in the Act:

The research would include work on the appropriate uses of GM technologies in different environments. While much research has already been done on the development of GM seeds, with profound benefits for agricultural productivity in developed countries, there is a dearth of research on its development and applicability in developing countries. Those countries may have environmental and other challenges that differ from those encountered in the United States. The bill advocates strengthening the local capacity of university and research institutions to find localized solutions to agricultural productivity and food security.

Without advances in technologies that are adaptive to local and regional environmental conditions, the world’s farmers will be hard pressed to meet projected demand of the nearly 9.2 billion people that will inhabit the planet by the year 2050. The development and dissemination of technology, whether it be traditional, biotechnological, or GM, is vital to raising both farm productivity and incomes of poor farmers. Further, without the gains in production per acre that can come from advanced technology, it is likely we will only be able to meet future food demand by greatly expanding the amount of land under cultivation, a development which would necessarily involve substantial forest destruction as well as environmental degradation. GM represents one important tool in this endeavor, and we must do the research to determine where and when it works best.

The bottom line is that a provision of the Lugar-Casey bill directs U.S. assistance in developing local technological solutions to advance agricultural productivity in countries suffering from chronic hunger. It does not require that these solutions be GM, but it does not preclude it, where appropriate.

Widespread support

Don’t believe me or the Senator? Take a look at the groups supporting the Act (pdf) – no less than 25 well-known NGOs that work with impoverished people and/or environmental issues, most of which have a global reach. ONE, a prominent organization that works against hunger and AIDS in Africa, is positively enthusiastic about this potentially historic Act. The National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges has endorsed (pdf) the Act, likely due to it’s support for education and research. CARE (Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere, Inc.) applauds the Act’s support for women and girls. Oxfam urges people to tell their members of Congress to co-sponsor the Act. The Friends of the World Food Program call the Act an essential part of the Roadmap to End Global Hunger. Dr. Thomas Lovejoy of Population Action International and Jim Harkness of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy argue that it’s time to stand up for people who are most in need, especially now that the health care debate is over. (IATP supports the House version of this legislation in this editorial, not the Senate version.)

The Act has also done something that few pieces of legislation can anymore: inspire bi-partisan cooperation.The authors of the bill are a Republican and a Democrat, and they have the support of people from both parties in the House and in the Senate. For example, the House version of the Act was introduced by Representative Betty McCollum (D) along with Donald Payne (D) and Jo Ann Emerson (R).

Follow the money

Finally, let’s look closely at the authors of the bill. Are they being paid off by Monsanto to push this legislation?

In short, no. Looking at Senator Lugar’s campaign contributors at OpenSecrets.org, there’s a striking lack of any biotech company donors later than 2002, when Monsanto contributed $14,250. Senator Lugar does have some donors from agribusiness, such as Archer Daniels Midland which donated $8,000 in 2008 and $6,000 in 2010 – hardly enough to buy special legislation for nefarious purposes, and completely unsurprising considering that he is a Senator for Indiana. Senator Casey doesn’t have any contributions from Monsanto or agribusiness. Any conspiracy theories regarding the authors of the bill fall flat as soon as you look at the data.

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Let’s see this Act for what it really is – an honest effort to make real changes in the way the US aids poor farmers in impoverished countries. Contact your elected officials to let them know what you think about the Act.

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proposed changes to Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (22 U.S.C. 2151a-1)

2151a. Agricultural development in rural areas

(a) Authorization to President to furnish assistance; appropriations

(1) In recognition of the fact that the great majority of the people of developing countries live in rural areas and are dependent on agriculture and agricultural-related pursuits for their livelihood, the President is authorized to furnish assistance, on such terms and conditions as he may determine, for agriculture, rural development, and nutrition—

(A) to alleviate starvation, hunger, and malnutrition;

(B) to expand significantly the provision of basic services to rural poor people to enhance their capacity for self-help; and

(C) to help create productive farm and off-farm employment in rural areas to provide a more viable economic base and enhance opportunities for improved incomes, living standards, and contributions by rural poor people to the economic and social development of their countries; and

(D) to expand the economic participation of people living in extreme poverty and those who lack access to agriculturally productive land, including through productive safety net programs and health and nutrition programs, and to integrate those living in extreme poverty into the economy;

(E) to support conservation farming and other sustainable agricultural techniques to respond to changing climatic conditions and water shortages; and

(F) to improve nutrition of vulnerable populations, such as children under the age of two years old, and pregnant or lactating women.

(2) There are authorized to be appropriated to the President for purposes of this section, in addition to funds otherwise available for such purposes, $760,000,000 for fiscal year 1986 and $760,000,000 for fiscal year 1987. Of these amounts, the President may use such amounts as he deems appropriate to carry out the provisions of section 316 of the International Security and Development Cooperation Act of 1980. Amounts appropriated under this section are authorized to remain available until expended.

Authorization of Appropriations- There is authorized to be appropriated to the President to provide assistance under section 103 of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (22 U.S.C. 2151a) for the purpose of carrying out activities under this section, in addition to funds otherwise available for such purpose–

(1) $750,000,000 for fiscal year 2010; (2) $1,000,000,000 for fiscal year 2011; (3) $1,500,000,000 for fiscal year 2012; (4) $2,000,000,000 for fiscal year 2013; and (5) $2,500,000,000 for fiscal year 2014.

*Note – I’m not sure where the above belongs, but it seems to fit well here.*

(3) Of the amounts authorized to be appropriated in paragraph (2) for the fiscal year 1987, not less than $2,000,000 shall be available only for the purpose of controlling and eradicating amblyomma variegatum (heartwater) in bovine animals in the Caribbean.

(b) Use of assistance primarily in aid of rural poor; multilateral infrastructure projects; forestry projects

(1) Assistance provided under this section shall be used primarily for activities which are specifically designed to increase the productivity and income of the rural poor, through such means as creation and strengthening of local institutions linked to the regional and national levels; organization of a system of financial institutions which provide both savings and credit services to the poor; stimulation of small, labor-intensive enterprises in rural towns; improvement of marketing facilities and systems; expansion of rural infrastructure and utilities such as farm-to-market roads, water management systems, land improvement, energy, and storage facilities; establishment of more equitable and more secure land tenure arrangements; and creation and strengthening of systems to provide other services and supplies needed by farmers, such as extension, research, training, fertilizer, water, forestry, soil conservation, and improved seed, in ways which assure access to them by small farmers.

(2) In circumstances where development of major infrastructure is necessary to achieve the objectives set forth in this section, assistance for that purpose should be furnished under this part in association with significant contributions from other countries working together in a multilateral framework. Infrastructure proj ects so assisted should be complemented by other measures to ensure that the benefits of the infrastructure reach the poor.

(3) The Congress recognizes that the accelerating loss of forests and tree cover in developing countries undermines and offsets efforts to improve agricultural production and nutrition and otherwise to meet the basic human needs of the poor. Deforestation results in increased flooding, reduction in water supply for agricultural capacity, loss of firewood and needed wood products, and loss of valuable plants and animals. In order to maintain and increase forest resources, the President is authorized to provide assistance under this section for forestry projects which are essential to fulfill the fundamental purposes of this section. Emphasis shall be given to community woodlots, agroforestry, reforestation, protection of watershed forests, and more effective forest management.

(c) Increased agricultural production in least developed countries

The Congress finds that the greatest potential for significantly expanding availability of food for people in rural areas and augmenting world food production at relatively low cost lies in increasing the productivity of small farmers who constitute a majority of the agricultural producers in developing countries. Increasing the emphasis on rural development and expanded food production in the poorest nations of the developing world is a matter of social justice and a principal element contributing to broadly based economic growth, as well as an important factor in alleviating inflation in the industrialized countries. In the allocation of funds under this section, special attention shall be given to increasing agricultural production in countries which have been designated as “least developed” by the United Nations General Assembly.

(d) Coordination with population planning and health programs

Assistance provided under this section shall also be used in coordination with programs carried out under section 2151b of this title to help improve nutrition of the people of developing countries through encouragement of increased production of crops with greater nutritional value; improvement of planning, research, and education with respect to nutrition, particularly with reference to improvement and expanded use of indigenously produced foodstuffs; and the undertaking of pilot or demonstration programs explicitly addressing the problem of malnutrition of poor and vulnerable people. In particular, the President is encouraged—

(1) to devise and carry out in partnership with developing countries a strategy for programs of nutrition and health improvement for mothers and children, including breast feeding; and

(2) to provide technical, financial, and material support to individuals or groups at the local level for such programs.

(e) Use of local currency proceeds from sales of commodities

Local currency proceeds from sales of commodities provided under the Food for Peace Act [7U.S.C. 1691 et seq.] which are owned by foreign governments shall be used whenever practicable to carry out the provisions of this section.

(f) National food security policies and programs; bilateral and multilateral assistance

The Congress finds that the efforts of developing countries to enhance their national food security deserves encouragement as a matter of United States development assistance policy. Measures complementary to assistance for expanding food production in developing countries are needed to help assure that food becomes increasingly available on a regular basis to the poor in such countries. Therefore, United States bilateral assistance under this chapter and the Food for Peace Act [7 U.S.C. 1691 et seq.], and United States participation in multilateral institutions, shall emphasize policies and programs which assist developing countries to increase their national food security by improving their food policies and management and by strengthening national food reserves, with particular concern for the needs of the poor, through measures encouraging domestic production, building national food reserves, expanding available storage facilities, reducing postharvest food losses, and improving food distribution.

(g) International Fund for Agricultural Development; participation and contributions; availability of appropriations

(1) In order to carry out the purposes of this section, the President may continue United States participation in and may make contributions to the International Fund for Agricultural Development.

(2) Of the aggregate amount authorized to be appropriated to carry out subchapter I of this chapter, up to $50,000,000 for fiscal year 1986 and up to $50,000,000 for fiscal year 1987 may be made available, by appropriation or by transfer, for United States contributions to the second replenishment of the International Fund for Agricultural Development.

2151a–1. Agricultural research

Agricultural research carried out under this chapter shall

(1) take account of the special needs of small farmers in the determination of research priorities,

(2) include research on the interrelationships among technology, institutions, and economic, social, environmental, and cultural factors affecting small-farm agriculture, and

(3) make extensive use of field testing to adapt basic research to local conditions. Special emphasis shall be placed on disseminating research results to the farms on which they can be put to use, and especially on institutional and other arrangements needed to assure that small farmers have effective access to both new and existing improved technology., and

(4) include research on biotechnological advances appropriate to local ecological conditions, including genetically modified technology.

Global Food Security Act of 2009, S.384

SEC. 201. AGRICULTURE, RURAL DEVELOPMENT, AND NUTRITION.

(a) Authority- Section 103(a)(1) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (22 U.S.C. 2151a(a)(1)) is amended–

(1) in subparagraph (B), by striking ‘; and’ and inserting a semicolon;

(2) in subparagraph (C), by striking the period at the end and inserting ‘; and’; and

(3) by adding at the end the following new subparagraphs:

‘(D) to expand the economic participation of people living in extreme poverty and those who lack access to agriculturally productive land, including through productive safety net programs and health and nutrition programs, and to integrate those living in extreme poverty into the economy;

‘(E) to support conservation farming and other sustainable agricultural techniques to respond to changing climatic conditions and water shortages; and

‘(F) to improve nutrition of vulnerable populations, such as children under the age of two years old, and pregnant or lactating women.’.

(b) Authorization of Appropriations- There is authorized to be appropriated to the President to provide assistance under section 103 of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (22 U.S.C. 2151a) for the purpose of carrying out activities under this section, in addition to funds otherwise available for such purpose–

(1) $750,000,000 for fiscal year 2010; (2) $1,000,000,000 for fiscal year 2011; (3) $1,500,000,000 for fiscal year 2012; (4) $2,000,000,000 for fiscal year 2013; and (5) $2,500,000,000 for fiscal year 2014.

Sec. 202. Agricultural Research.

Section 103A of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (22 U.S.C. 2151a-1) is amended in the first sentence–

(1) by striking ‘, and (3) make’ and inserting ‘, (3) make’; and

(2) by striking the period at the end and inserting ‘, and (4) include research on biotechnological advances appropriate to local ecological conditions, including genetically modified technology.’.

Anastasia is a Board Member of Biology Fortified, Inc. and the Co-Executive Editor of the Biofortified Blog. She has a PhD in genetics with a minor in sustainable agriculture from Iowa State University. Her favorite produce is artichokes! Learn more about Anastasia at about.me. Disclaimer: Anastasia's words are her own and views expressed do not necessarily represent the views of her employer(s). She is not paid to blog or conduct any social media activities. Any mention of a specific company or product does not indicate endorsement of that company or product.


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35 comments to Proposed US law to mandate GMOs?

  • Excellent exposition, Anastasia. I’ll certainly be linking to it. I can’t believe the lies I hear about this bill. And if my politically active friends can lured to sign a petition against funding academic agricultural research in the developing world as I have seen activists do–they should be mortified.

    The bill is remarkably readable, actually. I wish they would read it and then decide.

    The clearest part of Lugar’s page for me:
    Let me be clear. The bill does not require the use of GM technology by any farmers, implementing partners or government agencies. It does not condition the receipt of food aid on a recipient country’s adoption of GM. The use of any technology must ultimately be left to individual farmers based on their particular circumstances.

    I’ve seen the blog posts and emails that claim it conditions aid on GMOs. I am stunned to find my reality-based community falling for them.

  • pdiff

    Agree with Mary on that, Anastasia. Very nice (i.e. rational) take down of the misinformation out there.

    “… if my politically active friends can lured to sign a petition against funding academic agricultural research in the developing world as I have seen activists do–they should be mortified.”

    Perhaps, but the conditioning and pull from that side is strong. The negative connotations of merely combining “Congressional legislation”, “government aide”, “corporations”, “bio-tech”, etc in a sentence and contrasting it to the grandiose “Environmentalism” can automatically cause people to have forgone conclusions. That is, they red loop without justification ( http://www.biofortified.org/forum/?vasthtmlaction=viewtopic&t=8.0) :-)

  • Any bill that even remotely touches on agriculture is written by Monsanto lawyers. The whole HRwhateverthehellnumber it was food safety bill should have cemented that in anyones head.

    Just more evidence of not dealing with the reality based community.

    In terms of purely cut throat business I can’t think of anything that’d go down worse than hearing that your potential market for the next 20 years is going to get government funded research thrown at it to the tune of billions of dollars.

  • @Ewan: oh, yah, HR 875–another one of my favorite battles on the intarwebs.

    I’ve tried that argument too: do you want to create a vacuum of research and information that will be filled by Monsanto? This gets no traction in my experience. But I keep trying.

    PS: I keep adding spaces to my comments which are eaten by Monsanto or Rahm Emmanuel after preview. Can we fix that?

  • Andrew Apel

    The position of the activists is discussed in detail by agricultural economist Robert Paarlberg in:

    Starved for Science: How Biotechnology Is Being Kept Out of Africa
    Foreword by Jimmy Carter and Norman Borlaug
    March 2008
    http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Starved-for-Science/Robert-Paarlberg/e/9780674029736

    Excerpt of synopsis:

    In Starved for Science Robert Paarlberg explains why poor African farmers are denied access to productive technologies, particularly genetically engineered seeds with improved resistance to insects and drought. He traces this obstacle to the current opposition to farm science in prosperous countries. Having embraced agricultural science to become well-fed themselves, those in wealthy countries are now instructing Africans—on the most dubious grounds—not to do the same.

  • M. Davis

    I’d like to hear Clinton, Gates, Obama, et al say outright that such foreign aid IS NOT contingent on GMO technology uses. That would refute easily and clearly, any misunderstandings. However, it seems that all waters must be muddied un-needlessly (but perhaps on purpose)

    Why is there no independent testing? To consumers, it seems that the producers triage-d reports are the only reports being studied?

    Why is there no labeling of GMO containing products. If it’s so great, and claims can be proven, why hide it? Keeping the truth from us just creates mistrust and fear of our food. But on the other hand, confusion about our food, and inability to learn the truth, will (theoretically) make us throw up our hand and give in! Is that what Big Ag is counting on? Never!!!!! Many of us still care.

    Much was not addressed in the latest report, because, of course, more funding for further research, is always needed by scientists. (sarcasm intended) Isn’t it time after 20 years that they come clean and release all reports- good and bad. (Oh, wait! _ this is not a reality based idea)

    Much has been written on both side of the argument (just like the cigarette argument). I’ve chosen to fight GMOs because I have not been convinced of the pros, and prefer the Precautionary Principle. Convince me with independent testing and I am willing to change my mind.

    The majority says that we don’t want GMOs on our plate. What about that! What about democracy!

    • Um…M — as I quoted, the author of the legislation said it:

      Let me be clear. The bill does not require the use of GM technology by any farmers, implementing partners or government agencies. It does not condition the receipt of food aid on a recipient country’s adoption of GM. The use of any technology must ultimately be left to individual farmers based on their particular circumstances.

      I bolded the part that says it for you.

      Here’s the link: http://lugar.senate.gov/food/legislation/ It was already in Anastasia’s post.

    • Why is there no labelling of products packaged by left handed people. That’s what I want to know. Where is the independant testing? Why shouldn’t I have the choice about whether or not to eat food that has been handled by the left handed?

      Oh yeah, it’s because it categorically makes no difference, and the only way I could make it make a difference is to completely ignore all the evidence to the contrary.

      Which is precisely what you do.

      Why aren’t GMOs labelled? Because they pose no safety risk. Labels are about things which pose a safety risk. (at least in the US, other than the recent Country of Origin labelling which imo is ridiculous) Labelling of GMOs in the current environment would be counterproductive – it would imply a risk, and therefore set back the debate in favor of magical thinking rather than anything based in reality.

      What exactly do you mean by releasing all reports? Which reports haven’t been released? Isn’t it time that after 20 years the green, and the ‘precautionary principle’ brigade pull their heads out of their posteriors and admit that there is categorically no evidence of harm caused by GMOs, no logical reason to believe that the current commercially available GMOs would pose a health risk (seriously, give a reasoned arguement as to why a protein which is broken down in human digestion very easily but is specifically targetted to certain groups of insects would be harmful, likewise why an enzyme with a slightly altered physical structure making it impervious to an inhibitory molecule but which is otherwise the same as the plant enzyme would be even potentially harmful)

      I also don’t believe that the majority don’t want GMOs on their plates – there’s a vocal minority, most people seriously don’t care either way – and would be far more opposed to hikes in food prices and increases in the environmental impact of agriculture.

      • Party Cactus

        Exactly. Science aside, I always found mandatory GMO labeling to be a lot like mandatory labeling for Halal or Kosher products. If you want to follow those rules, more power to you, but don’t try to bend the law for your own beliefs, and don’t try to pass those beliefs off as fact. I don’t see Muslims & Jews demanding mandatory labeling of their dietary laws, just imagine the reaction we’d see if they did. No one deserves a free pass here. If you want food labeled as X, that’s fine, whatever the free market will bear, but do it with your own wallet, not mine.

  • Madeleine

    Number 4 looks like mandated money to GM to me. Seems completely unneccessary – I’m sure points 1-3 could’ve covered GM if they thought it could be helpful.

    • In order for there to be funding mandated for research on genetic engineering, it would have to say so. It does not. Instead it says that it is an option – something that can be included as something to be funded. (see what Karl says below)

  • From what I understand of the purpose of #4, projects involving biotechnology (which includes genetic engineering and marker-assisted breeding, etc) were not explicitly included as being eligible for funding, and in the past they managed to fit it in somehow into other parts of the existing law. But when it comes to stuff like this, unless something is explicitly spelled out as being eligible for funding by government programs it is hard to actually fund it. If you had a specific idea for a research project that is not in the list of things that are eligible for funding you would be hard-pressed to get that money for your research.

    #2 is worded in exactly the same way, yet no one is saying that “research on the interrelationships among technology, institutions, and economic, social, environmental, and cultural factors affecting small-farm agriculture” is MANDATED. And it shouldn’t be mandated (even though it is good to fund such research) because during years where there is limited funds, mandated destinations reduce the government’s flexibility in choosing what research is most important. This often comes up during budget discussions in other areas of politics.

    Let us be absolutely clear on this bill, the idea that the bill “mandates” research on genetic engineering is being used cynically to argue opposition for an act that even if it said “This does not mandate research on biotechnology or GM” the same people would be arguing against because it even allows research on GM. There’s a simple test that can be made of anyone arguing against this provision in the bill: ask them if they would oppose this part of the bill if it explicitly stated that the research was eligible for funding but not mandated (the point of contention) – their answer will tell you the real reason. The very fact that they are saying that the provision should be “stripped” and not “fixed” tells us what is going on.

  • To me, this is EXACTLY the same as the health care bill’s supposed mandate for death panels.

    There were very clear clauses calling for optional end-of-life care counseling with the goal of helping people to make decisions far in advance so as to reduce emotional (and yes, sometimes financial) burden on family members.

    We all watched in horror as some people with clear agendas took these clauses to mean things that they were NEVER meant to mean.

    How is this any different? The Food Security Act of 2009 will easily save more lives than the health care bill, it is just as much a moral imperative. Yet some people with a clear agenda are purposefully making up things that are simply not there in order to stop the Act’s passage.

    I think it’s disgusting. It was disgusting with health care and it’s disgusting with the Food Security Act.

    • Yes, I was thinking about the health care bill responses, too. For instance, there is a part in the health care bill where it said that the act authorizes the system to “enable electronic transfers” of money to make payments. The protesters were claiming that the health care bill would make the government take money out of your bank account electronically whether you want to or not. That part of the health care bill was designed to make the government set up the ability to make electronic transfers if you so choose it. It’s weird that they have to spell out that electronic transfers are ok before it can happen, but that the language can be so easily misconstrued politically to mean something that it does not.

  • For people who might be interested in a viewpoint on this legislation by someone who has a deeper understanding of Africa and agriculture than a lot of people who chatter about it — you should see the testimony given on this bill by Dr. Gebisa Ejeta. James talks about it here:
    Dr. Gebisa Ejeta on Investing in Agriculture

  • Douglas M

    Anastasia and Karl,
    I’m not quite following the arguments here about how the bill’s language is structured. The beginning of (22 U.S.C. 2151a-1), into which the provision for transgenic research is added, says the funded research SHALL [do (1) -(4)]. “Shall” equates with “required.” It does not equate with “optional”. I read it that all of the things listed are in fact required to be done by the research conducted through this legislation. Thanks for explaining.

    • The key word here isn’t “shall” but “include”.

      The word include means:

      * have as a part, be made up out of; “The list includes the names of many famous writers”
      * consider as part of something; “I include you in the list of culprits”

      In this Act, it says biotechnology shall be included in the research, along with many other potential agricultural improvements.

  • pdiff

    I would say Douglas M is correct, in that “Shall”, in this case, equates to “required”. From Websters on the definition of shall: (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/shall)

    ” … b —used in laws, regulations, or directives to express what is mandatory”

    But what exactly is mandatory? The sentence in section (4) uses the word include twice, first referring to biotechnology, then again as “including” in reference to genetically modified technology.

    “(4) include research on biotechnological advances appropriate to local ecological conditions, including genetically modified technology.”

    I think it is clear the “Shall” clause would directly apply to the first, that is, “biotechnology will be required for research”, but the interpretation of the second use, “including”, is not as definite for me. It could be taken as: “both biotechnology and genetically modified technology are required”, but it could also be taken as I think Karl argues “biotechnology is required and that does not exclude GMT” or “biotechnology is required, a subset of which is GMT”.

    For me the intention is not clear. Lugar does state that “The research would include work on the appropriate uses of GM technologies …”, implying that it will be there. The only times he explicitly says it is not required, he is referring to aid or applied solutions.

    • The intention is clear to me. Some amount of all of the research that is conducted will include biotech, if it is appropriate.

      As Karl referred to, research on social ramifications of agriculture shall be included in the body of research as well. That doesn’t meant that every research dollar will be spent on this subject, nor does it mean that every single research endeavor will include sociology.

      • pdiff

        “As Karl referred to, research on social ramifications of agriculture shall be included in the body of research as well. That doesn’t meant that every research dollar will be spent on this subject, nor does it mean that every single research endeavor will include sociology.”

        I’m not so sure. In common language, it might, but in legal, legislative language, it might not. From my very limited understanding in that area, I think it could. Research shall take those social things into account. Perhaps the issue is in my interpretation of what “research” means here. If it is, as you say, “the body of research”, then I can see the mandate use of shall, but if it is meant to be applied to individual research projects, it doesn’t make sense.

        The real problem to me, however, is that the stipulation goes to far. Suppose a clause was added after the phrase in (2):

        “cultural factors affecting small-farm agriculture”

        to read

        “, including religious beliefs”.

        Think there might be objections then? I do. If they had done this, they would be raising the same kind of questions as (4) has, and it would be, IMO, unnecessary.

        I am not arguing against GM tech, but I do think the wording is poor and too explicit. Why mention GM at all? I find it hard to believe that “biotechnology” would not cover GMT. What’s more, it could be too limiting in that specific use of GMT might turn out to be a bad approach for the problem. Just leaving it at biotechnology keeps all the doors open. Now, however, they have put themselves in a corner. If they simply eliminate that GMT phrase, anti-GM advocates will claim it is not allowed. The only way to change the bill would be to explicitly state that GMT may be used.

        • I agree that biotechnology probably shouldn’t have been mentioned specifically, just as I wouldn’t have specifically mentioned radiation mutagenesis or wild relative introgressed lines as methods of crop improvement. Why not just say “crop improvement” and let breeders and researchers decide what are the best methods?

          Senator Lugar has explained why he included the clause:

          In fact, only one provision (Sec. 202) in the entire bill even mentions GM technology. The United States provides a small amount of funding for agricultural research activities at national and international research centers. The provision in question would highlight research on biotechnology, including GM, as eligible for U.S. assistance. The research would include work on the appropriate uses of GM technologies in different environments. While much research has already been done on the development of GM seeds, with profound benefits for agricultural productivity in developed countries, there is a dearth of research on its development and applicability in developing countries. Those countries may have environmental and other challenges that differ from those encountered in the United States. The bill advocates strengthening the local capacity of university and research institutions to find localized solutions to agricultural productivity and food security.

          Without advances in technologies that are adaptive to local and regional environmental conditions, the world’s farmers will be hard pressed to meet projected demand of the nearly 9.2 billion people that will inhabit the planet by the year 2050. The development and dissemination of technology, whether it be traditional, biotechnological, or GM, is vital to raising both farm productivity and incomes of poor farmers. Further, without the gains in production per acre that can come from advanced technology, it is likely we will only be able to meet future food demand by greatly expanding the amount of land under cultivation, a development which would necessarily involve substantial forest destruction as well as environmental degradation. GM represents one important tool in this endeavor, and we must do the research to determine where and when it works best.

          The bottom line is that a provision of the Lugar-Casey bill directs U.S. assistance in developing local technological solutions to advance agricultural productivity in countries suffering from chronic hunger. It does not require that these solutions be GM, but it does not preclude it, where appropriate.

          Of course, what the author intend doesn’t actually matter. Legislation that has multiple possible interpretations may eventually need to have one interpretation or another decided by the courts. Perhaps it would be in the best interests of Senators Lugar and Casey to make the language more clear, as you say. I do wish that people would simply ask for clarified language (which is ironic because this is so clearly written compared to most legislation) instead of making up craziness about mandated acceptance of GMOs.

          The language “shall include” is pretty common in legislation, so it might be helpful to see how it’s been interpreted in other cases. As far as I can tell, it can be interpreted two ways:

          1. Each individual research project “shall include” genetic engineering, as well as research on cultural factors, etc.

          2. The entire body of research (the sum of all of the individual projects) “shall include” all those things.

          Still, even with the question of interpretation I think the claims being made in these petitions and articles are out of control, serving agendas rather than reality.

          • Exactly–if every research project has to have all 4 pieces (1-4), those are gonna be some unwieldy projects and hard to combine with field work and some of those other pieces…so that seems silly to me (that’s option 1).

            But if not, then 75% of the fundable projects are unencumbered by genetic engineering, right? That’s hardly a mandate….

          • pdiff

            But don’t we already apply all 4 in the arguments above? For example, aren’t we saying above that if the hypothetical “Big-Ag-asanto” wanted to use a high priced, high input, IP restricted GE variety in relation to this aid, they could not because it violates sections (1), (2), and (3)?

  • pdiff

    “Still, even with the question of interpretation I think the claims being made in these petitions and articles are out of control, serving agendas rather than reality.”

    Ha! Ha! Well, have you turned on the news lately? It seems to be the norm no matter what side you take on an issue. The “truth may be out there”, but no one is looking for it anymore.

  • Thinking a little about it, was GM perhaps included specifically so that it could not be excluded at a later date? Ie when funding is being doled out if the bill did not explicity say the funding should/could/would be used for GM technology then is there a risk that at some later date, under a less than favorable distributor of monies, that a project could be excluded entirely because it involved GM technology (as opposed to any other aspect of biotechnology) whereas when the letter of the law is explicit that GM technology is included then it becomes harder to withold funding over this.

    So while the bill does not mandate that funding absolutely must go to research into GM exclusively (which would be a bad thing) it does to an extent mandate that where appropriate funding will go towards GM research (which in my opinion is a great thing – policy absolutely should be geared towards including all the available tools – if this requires convoluted legalese to make sure something as polarizing as GM is not excluded – and let’s make no mistake here, the reason GM is highlighted as opposed to MAS, mutagenesis or such like is because it is such a polarizing technology and at risk of being excluded entirely on ideological grounds)

  • Ben Lilliston

    A point of clarification in this article, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy is listed in a paragraph on organizations supporting the Senate bill. The article linked to by IATP’s Jim Harkness is referring to the House version of the bill, which does not include the GMO language. IATP objects to the GMO language in the Senate bill, views it as unnecessary, and would like to see it removed.

  • I’m at BIGMAP talking to people from many different organizations about biotech. One topic I keep bringing up is the Global Food Security Act to see what people think about it. Interestingly, many people here don’t even know about it, which leads me to believe that this Act contains no conspiracy to push biotech where it’s not wanted – if there was, at least some of these guys would have known about it. Anecdotal evidence, ’tis true, but I totally expected people here to know about it and have opinions about it.

    A representative of IATP wasn’t as down on biotech as I thought he might be based on Ben’s comment (I will strike out that part of the above post). He’s not a fan of corporate seed development or of glyphosate but those are separate issues. After reading some things on IATP’s website, I have to wonder if there are some misconceptions about biotech that have gotten repeated too many times so that people believe they are true. There may be some potential there for Biofortified posts to clarify the science.

    I also spoke to a representative of Lutheran World Relief who was very enthusiastic about the Act, saying it (and its House sister) is the only legislation out there that aims to help people, especially farmers, in Africa. LWR believes the biotech clause will only take up a small portion of the total funding in the Act. They also believe it won’t even have an effect in most African countries because most countries have no framework for regulating biotech. No one can introduce a biotech trait if the country has no way to accept it legally (see below).

    In a talk by Sally McCammon, a science advisor for biotech in the USDA, she made clear that there are no efforts to create an international regulatory body for biotechnology. It would be convenient to have a standardized system, but the sovereignty of each country to develop whatever regulatory network they want is not something that anyone in USDA, Codex, or other international bodies has any desire to infringe on.

    To bring that back to the Act and what the rep from LWR said, the size of the biotech research funded seems to depend on the countries that are receiving aid more than anything else. The Act doesn’t say anything about changing biotech regs in those countries so spending must abide by what is already in place.

  • Lugar responds to the claim, again:

    http://thehill.com/opinion/letters/95017-rep-lugar-no-mandate-for-genetic-modification

    The opinion piece by Drs. Herren and Ishii-Eiteman (“Genetically modified crops are not the answer”, The Hill, April 23, 2010) perpetuates a falsehood about the Lugar-Casey Global Food Security Act. Contrary to their assertion, the legislation does NOT include a mandate that U.S. foreign aid be spent on research into genetic modification technology. It does NOT require the use of GM technology by any farmers or government agencies. Under terms of the bill, the use of any technology is left to individual farmers, based on their particular circumstances. To be clear: There is no mandate for GM crops.

  • That’s a good point, Ewan. Some have questioned why it must be mentioned specifically as an option, and it could be to prevent exclusion of such projects for political purposes just as much as it will highlight the research as being eligible for funding.

  • food aids are badly needed by third world countries and we really need to give something to the poor.`';

  • […] Proposed US law to mandate GMOs?, I posted the actual text of the The Global Food Security Act of 2009, S.384, introduced by […]

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