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Thursday, February 2, 2023

The #ToxicAlliance & the Food Systems Summit

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Late last month, peasant movements, Indigenous peoples and civil society organizations (CSOs) sent two strong messages to those in charge of the UN Food Systems Summit (UN FSS) at a Pre-Summit event in Rome: Aย corporate-drivenย approach will not address the crises in our food systems. And neither will an alliance with CropLife International, the global trade association of the largest agrichemical, pesticide and seed companies.

There is no hiding that Big Ag corporations are driven by bigger market gains and product sales, with dire impacts for people and the planet resulting. Each year,ย 385 million farmers and farmworkersย suffer from acute pesticide poisoning, pesticides are a major driver of the unprecedented collapse of insect populations and biodiversity loss, and these petroleum-derived products contribute to climate change.

While that may seem devastating enough, industryโ€™s clear efforts to increase access to power in international policy arenas are also undermining democratic governance processes, and imperil the future of food systems worldwide.

FAO proposes a #ToxicAlliance

In October 2020, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) announced their intention to create a formal alliance with CropLife International. CropLife is made up of seven regional associations (America, Canada, Latin America, Brazil, Europe, Asia, Africa & the Middle East), with well over three hundred country-level associations and Big Ag member corporations.

Social movements immediatelyย pushed backย with demands that FAO Director General Dongyu Qu not enter this #ToxicAlliance with the worldโ€™s leading manufacturers of harmful and unsustainable agrichemical technologies, who all have longย track recordsย of poisoning farmers, workers, food, air and water โ€” and undermining food sovereignty.

So far, Director General Qu has ignored mountingย expressions of concernย about the alliance with CropLife. Similarly, the UNย plowed forwardย in the Summit with institutions that represent top-down, corporate, and biotech-driven approaches to addressing hunger in tow.

The problem with the UN Food Systems Summit

CropLife is set on using the September Food Systems Summit toย advanceย the โ€œrole innovation and technology can play in the sustainable intensification of agricultureโ€ โ€” in other words, the ways that Bayer, Syngenta, BASF, Corteva and other pesticide purveyors can push the most hazardous pesticides on communities across the world.

Indeed,ย sitting at the leadershipย of one of the UN FSSโ€™ Action Tracks is the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), and their donors include not only the biotech-driven Gates Foundation but also the pesticide company BASF. GAIN works on biofortification โ€” a technology that depends on market-based crops โ€œfortifiedโ€ with just a handful of nutrients. This promotes a poor diet based on monocultures, with little nutritional diversity. Not to mention that several โ€œbiofortifiedโ€ crops in the pipeline are genetically modified. Alarmingly, one of them โ€” Syngentaโ€™s GM vitamin A โ€œGolden Riceโ€ โ€” hasย just been approvedย for commercial propagation in the Philippines.

By virtue of the UNโ€™s strategic partnership with the World Economic Forum (WEF), CropLife members are among the many corporations that have been given even greater space and legitimacy through the Food Systems Summit toย push discredited false solutionsย to the food, biodiversity and climate crises, this time repackaged as โ€œinnovationsโ€ and part of โ€œfood systems transformation.โ€

CropLife and the cooptation of food systems transformation

The pesticide industryโ€™s narrative of food systems โ€œtransformationโ€ is clearly hinged on the marketing of their products. A CropLife Asia press releaseย claims that the lobby groupย โ€œechoesโ€ FAOโ€™s call for food systems transformation. Yet not surprisingly, its proposals are the same corporate techno-fixes of old.

In aย CropLife Asia tweetย during the UN FSS Pre-Summit, in which they claim that โ€œtechnology and innovationsโ€ will advance the UN Sustainable Development Goals, they promoted a project to develop genetically engineered cassava in Nigeria.

In anย Independent Dialogueย that CropLife organised in May as part of the UN FSS, it identified outcomes such as the โ€œneed for regulation to keep up with innovation, especially around topics like plant biotechnologyโ€ and โ€œfarmers must be supported and capacitated to adopt new technologies.โ€ Perhaps especially those โ€œinnovativeโ€ pesticide products their members sell?

CropLife also went so far as declaring member companies BASF and Sumitomo as โ€œFood Systems Heroesโ€ โ€” withย BASFย advocating for โ€œherbicides that enable minimum tillageโ€ andย Sumitomoย for โ€œhighly effective chemical and biorationalโ€ฆtechnologies.โ€

Global Mobilization against the UN FSS

Meanwhile, peasant movements, Indigenous peoples and CSOs across the world have been actively mobilizing to protest the UN FSS, highlighting how it further entrenches corporate interests into our diets, our lands, and our initiatives to protect biodiversity and the planet.

Theย Peopleโ€™s Counter-Mobilization to Transform Corporate Food Systemsย and theย Global Peopleโ€™s Summit on Food Systemsย led successfulย onlineย andย on-the-ground actionsย during the Pre-Summit, and these mobilizations will snowball into even bigger actions come September. These actions are being led by peoples of the Global South who produce the worldโ€™s food and bear the brunt of unjust, inequitable, unhealthy, and unsustainable food systems.

Ourย campaignย calling on the FAO to stop its #ToxicAlliance with CropLife is an integral part of this larger movement for genuine food systems transformation. Our food systems donโ€™t need poisons. We donโ€™t need obstacles to people-centered solutions such as agroecology, either โ€” and a huge, glaring obstacle is the increased access to power by pesticide purveyors.

Urge the FAO to stop its #ToxicAlliance with CropLife, add your name to theย global petition!

Watch our video messages:

Simone Adler is PANโ€™s Organizing Co-Director, bringing their grassroots experience to PANโ€™s national and international teams. Simone comes to PAN with a decade of experience organizing in local and global movements for food sovereignty and economic justice, and is deeply committed to building power through solidarity for our collective liberation. They enjoy making art for the queer revolution, and play clarinet in a Klezmer band, Shpilkis, in Seattle.

Ilang-Ilang Quijano is the communications officer of PAN Asia Pacific. Based in Manila, Philippines, she was a multimedia journalist before joining PANAP.

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