The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) made a U-turn in support of organic agriculture after lobbying by the biotechnology industry, according to documents seen by the Ecologist.
In May 2007, the FAO held a widely reported conference on organic agriculture and food security. The press release and conference materials clearly stated that ‘new models suggest that organic agriculture has the potential to secure a global food supply, just as conventional agriculture is today, but with reduced environmental impact’.
The conference materials endorsed a new scientific study that showed a global organic agricultural system could provide as much as 132 per cent more food than current systems. Within two months, the FAO had received an angry letter from CropLife International, a biotechnology lobby group that represents chemical giants Monsanto, Syngenta and Dupont, among others.
The letter was addressed to the FAO’s directorgeneral, Dr Jacques Diouf, and described the FAO’s pro-organic position as ‘misleading’ and contrary to the FAO’s role in promoting ‘improved pesticide management practices and products and new plant varieties’.
Its author, CropLife International chairman Christian Verschueren, called on the FAO to ‘clarify its position on the role of organic agriculture, vis-a-vis the need for modern technologies and inputs.’
In December 2007, the FAO issued another press release, playing down its earlier statements. ‘FAO has no reason to believe that organic agriculture can substitute for conventional farming systems in ensuring the world’s food security,’ it reads, calling repeatedly for ‘judicious use’ of ‘chemical inputs’. The release is a complete denial of material from the papers presented at its conference. When asked why it had reneged on its published support for organic farming, the FAO told us:
‘. . .the impression was erroneously created that FAO endorsed [organic agriculture] as a substitute for more conventional farming systems. FAO subsequently published a press communiqueìeì to correct that mistaken impression and to reiterate its long-standing position that producing enough food to feed a growing world population requires the judicious use of fertilizers. These happen to be the views of eminent scientists such as the Nobel Prizewinner Norman Borlaug. But you may rest assured that the press communique was not published at his behest – nor at CropLife’s.’
This article first appeared in the Ecologist May 2008