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Subject: World Food and Farming Congress 2002
Date: Tue, 10 Dec 2002 23:30:55 -0600
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AgBioIndia Mailing List
11 December 2002

Subject: World Food and Farming Congress 2002

Few people will have heard of the World Food and Farming Congress, which
held its inaugural conference in London at the end of November. And at
£1000 a ticket, this was an event for a privileged few, of which there
were about 200 (including those who had attended through sponsorship).

The conference aimed to bring together "global agribusiness companies,
leaders of global NGOs, scientists, farmer and consumer leaders to
deliberate, discuss and listen to the views of the many sides in this
debate." The subject under discussion was the global agenda in world
agriculture for trade, development and the environment, and agricultural

An indication of the aspiring importance of the conference was the
presence of the Director General of the World Trade Organisation, Dr
Supachai Pantichpakdi of Thailand, who addressed delegates on the first

>From the point of view of the ongoing food debate, however, attendance at the conference gave the ominous feeling of entering the lion's den. The conference's sole sponsor was the 'International Policy Council' (IPC) a Washington based food and agricultural trade 'think-tank'.

The IPC think-tank runs to 38 principal members. Thirty are from the
developed world, of which over a quarter are from the US. Many are
current and former executives of powerful corporate players in global
agribusiness including ag-biotech giants Monsanto and Syngenta.

Certainly the list of congress delegates provided plenty of reason for
caution -- most of the big names in the agricultural genetic engineering
sector were represented along with other major forces in global trade
such as Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill, Nestle, Unilever and Universal

It was clear throughout the conference that whatever enthusiasm there
may be in certain quarters for the use of genetic engineering in
agriculture, there was widespread recognition that its deployment still
requires the broad approval of society as a whole -- a considerable
change in circumstances compared to what might have been expected had
such a gathering been held only two or three years ago.

The conference was opened by Lord Henry Plumb (who as former president
of the National Farmers Union, and former President of the European
parliament, is regarded as the elder statesman of British Agriculture)
together with Lord Whitty, British Minister for Food and Farming. It was
closed by Piet Bukman, former Minister of Agriculture, Holland.

Below are some selected points of interest from the various papers (due
to be posted on the Congress web site shortly) and additional comments
made by their authors at the Congress, followed by some concluding
observations. We bring you this exhaustive report from Mark Griffiths:

Inaugural World Food and Farming Congress, Nov 25-26, 2002.

"What next, if not biotech?"
Denis Avery, Hudson Institute, US

"There's is a limit to the application of science and technology"
Lord Plumb, Congress Chairman, UK

"The enormous power of multinational companies"
Matt Dempsey, Irish Farmers Journal, Ireland

"WTO means 'We Take Over'"
Devinder Sharma, Agriculture and Food Trade Analyst, India

"The rich are robbing the poor"
Jeremy Hobbs, Oxfam, UK

"Article 34 of TRIPs turns those whose crops are contaminated by pollen
from patented GE varieties into criminals"
Tewolde Berhan, Environmental Protection Authority, Ethiopia

"The prospects for agriculture have never been brighter"
Allen Andreas, Archer Daniels Midland, US


Session 1: Future world demand and supply - Chair Matt Dempsey (Ireland:
Editor, Irish Farmers Journal)

Dr Per Pinstrup Anderson (Denmark: Immediate Past President,
International Food Policy Research Institute)

* Environmental activists show an unwillingness to recognise some of the
problems faced by global agriculture
* Equally the promotion of the use of genetic engineering in agriculture
can be sometimes be characterised as a 'solution in search of a problem'
* There are increasing signs of unhealthy western diets being introduced
into developing countries; meat consumption is forecast to increase
* In the EU and to a lesser degree the US, there is growing interest in
'natural food' and a desire for more information about food (labelling
* In the US fruit consumption is expected to increase, and beef
consumption to decrease
* Are WTO negotiations really about seeking trade liberalisation, or
rather about negotiating individual trade advantage?
* Trade distorting policies should be phased out with greater public
investment in public goods and institutions (research, education,
health, marketing, rural infrastructure etc)
* Genetic engineering is only one aspect of modern biotechnology

Professor Jikun Huang (China: Director of the Centre for Chinese
Agricultural Policy at the Chinese Academy of Science)

* China had been substantially reducing the protection of its domestic
agriculture (tariffs etc) well before entry into the WTO in September
2001; the impact of entry on the agricultural sector has therefore been
* Agriculture in China has fallen from 40% of GDP in the 1970s to 16%
* The average size of farm holding is 0.5 ha and increasing farm incomes
are coming from part-time employment off-farm
* Chinese interest in biotechnology is intense with a major increase in
its development budget scheduled for the next five years
* 20 GM crops are in the pipeline awaiting commercial approval, although
only Bt cotton is currently grown by 5 million farmers on 2 million ha
(note: no performance data was provided or information on how refuge
management to prevent insect resistance is executed on such small plots)

Devinder Sharma (India: Food and Trade Policy Analyst; Forum for
Biotechnology and Food Security, New Delhi)

* Despite millions of hungry, India currently has a grain surplus of 65
million tonnes much of it rotting out doors
* Some is waiting for export to developed countries where it will be fed
to animals, whereas rice crop bi-products normally fed to animals are
being processed to feed to the hungry at home; 300,000 Americans die
every year of obesity
* The issue of hunger in India, which has the world's largest number of
hungry, has little to do with the inability to produce food (politicians
are actually telling farmers to produce less food); the cause is poverty
* In this context attempts to promote genetic engineering in India are a
misconceived policy which can only reduce the self-reliance of Indian
farmers where the average farm size is 1.47 ha; India has a quarter of
the world's farmers
* Efforts by multinational corporations to patent even naturally
occurring genetic sequences in plants is restricting the ability of
India to develop its own plant breeding programmes for the benefit of
its people - 'scientific apartheid against the third world'
* The economics of Indian agriculture is being destroyed by the dumping
of subsidised products from overseas; the collapse of the Indian grain
price is leading to the phenomenon of 'produce and perish' with
increasing levels of farmer debt
* With one sixth of the world's population, India provides one billion
dollars of subsidies a year to its agriculture; the OECD countries
provide the same amount each day
* India has already supplied food aid to Afghanistan and has sufficient
surplus to supply it to African countries as a substitute for American
GM food aid if there is the political will
* The developing world must feed itself; this is possible now with the
necessary political will; it is not necessary to wait for new technology

Session 2: Trade issues and the globalisation of farming - Chair Robert
Thompson (United States: Chairman, IPC; Senior Adviser, Agricultural
Trade Policy, World Bank)

Dr Supachai Panitchpakdi (Thailand: Director General, WTO)

* 2001 was the first year since 1992 that there has been a slow down in
world trade
* WTO agriculture negotiations must been seen in the context of the
whole of the Doha trade round (including other goods, services,
competition, government procurement transparency etc) - 'nothing is
agreed until everything is agreed'
* Special concessions will be agreed for developing countries
* Over 100 parallel environmental agreements need to be dealt with under
the WTO negotiations (note: a delegate from the floor pointed out that
where trade disputes arise over the movement of GMOs across national
boundaries the Cartagena Biosafety Protocol will have equal strength to
the WTO potentially leading to clashes between the two regulatory
* Agricultural trade is the most important sector to developing
countries (more than 50 have more than half their foreign trade in
* Only two years are left for negotiations with critical deadlines in
March 2003 ('Final Modalities Agreement' for agriculture), September
2003 (Ministerial meeting in Cancun, Mexico) and January 2005 (Final
agreement deadline)

Jeremy Hobbs (United Kingdom: Executive Director, Oxfam)

* More 'free trade' is not enough; more 'equitable' trade is what is
required; unfair agricultural trade is the biggest cause of global
* Trade tariffs cost developing countries $100 billion a year - double
what they receive in aid
* Trade barriers against developing countries are estimated to be four
times higher than against developed nations
* A 1% increase in Africa's share of world exports would generate five
times the combined amount of aid and debt relief it receives
* Large cartels use anti-competitive practices to force down commodity
prices - 'the rich are robbing the poor'
* Whilst coffee roasters are making profits of up to 26% the average
price paid to coffee producers is below the average cost of production -
the market is not working
* The developed world operates unjust double standards; it subsidises it
own farmers whilst at the same time using the WTO to prise open access
to vulnerable rural economies where it can dump subsidised produce
* The world cotton price would rise by 11% with the removal of US
subsidies, which are three times the entire USAID budget for the whole
of Africa
* The price of sugar in the EU is three times the world price with
surpluses being dumped on other countries; it is the world's largest
exporter of sugar despite being a high cost producer
* When a person in a developing country loses their livelihood there is
no social security system to fall back on
* The is no way poor countries can break out of poverty without access
to basic health and education services
* If the WTO negotiations fail even greater dangers of inequity lie in
the potential proliferation of multilateral trade agreements
* Oxfam is calling for a comprehensive ban on dumping, defined as the
sale of products below the cost of production
* Oxfam recognises that the removal of subsidies will have an impact on
farmers in rich countries and calls for the restructuring of domestic
support to assist their small farmers
* There must be an end to anti-competitive behaviour that squeezes out
small farmers, whether by countries or corporations

Allen Andreas (United States: Chairman, Archer Daniels Midland)

* Archer Daniels Midland is a US company which trades and processes farm
commodities on a global basis (1000 facilities in 60 countries)
* Its principal customers are the major food companies - Unilever,
Nestle, Mars etc
* There are fewer and fewer national boundaries for free trade
* Few reservations about GMOs but consumer demand for segregation has to
be addressed
* GM technology is 'clearly the long term solution to global hunger'
(note: there was no elaboration on this claim, one which even the
biotechnology companies no longer usually make)
* 'The prospects for agriculture have never been brighter' (note: it was
not apparent from the presentation how this conclusion was reached,
although clearly the prospects for global merchanting of agricultural
products have never been brighter)

Philip Freiherr von dem Bussche (Germany: President, German Agricultural

* EU farmers are facing increasing global competition at a time when
they are having to comply with environmental and other requirements that
their overseas competitors may not have to satisfy
* Are there opportunities for standards to merge on a global level?
(note: this is something organic farmers have been working on for their
own sector for some time)
* There is a need for multinational companies to commit to a policy of
'international fairness'
* Few reservations about GMOs but only have a role if consumers want
them (farmers are not the consumers)
* Unsure as to whether globalisation desirable for rural areas - there
will be winners and losers (already Denmark has lost most of its poultry
industry because domestic welfare standards increase the competitiveness
of imports)
* More than 50% of German farms are part-time and 3-4% of farmers give
up every year

Session 3: The balance and transfer of knowledge and experience - Donald
McGauchie (Australia: Chairman, Woolstock Australia)

Dr Margaret Karembu (Kenya: Technology Diffusion Advisor and Lecturer,
Kenyatta University)

* Africa looks to Europe for leadership in many areas, not just
* But food issues in Africa quite different to Europe
* 80% of Kenyans are farmers
* The land consolidation process removes people's only property and
dignity; it is unlikely to convince Kenyan farmers to give up their
* 80% of earnings in Kenya are spend on food (12% in US)
* There is more to biotechnology than just genetic engineering, but
people are ignorant and confused about this
* Transgenic sweet potatoes are undergoing biosafety trials, but are
probably three years away
* Marker assisted selection is being used to tackle plant disease
* The African Biotechnology Stake Holders Forum is being establish to
discuss issues and make information available the developed world should
not dictate to the developing world

Nestor Osorios (Columbia: Executive Director of the International Coffee

* Coffee is a leading commodity for many developing countries with
strong political and social aspects the challenge is how to secure a
sustainable future for producers
* The International Coffee Organisation was created in the 1960s in
order to introduce a supply management system as protection for
developing countries, and the creation of price stability (an advantage
both to producers and processors)
* The developed world applied pressure to remove the associated quota
system, resulting in oversupply and large falls in incomes - there is
currently no end in sight to this situation with a large over supply
* As a proportion of retail sales the amount that growers receive for
coffee has fallen dramatically since the early 1990s (from one third
down to less than one tenth); low farm prices have not resulted in lower
prices to consumers
* Plantations and the people who tend them are deteriorating. Investment
is research is falling. Illicit cropping (narcotics) is increasing in
* Developing nations are too dependent on supplying commodities (esp
cotton, coffee, cocoa etc) without adding value - a partnership with
processors is required (note: a delegate from Syngenta recommended
diversification into vegetables, fruit, maize, rice, flowers and

Hans Johr (Switzerland: Corporate Head of Agriculture, Assistant Vice
President, Nestle Company)

* 500 food processing factories in 84 countries, with 230,000 employees
* Aims to have decentralised business structure, with training provided
to own staff and suppliers (including farmers)
* Sources raw materials from 550,00 farmers directly, but increasingly
relying on primary processors (ADM, Cargill etc) as well as
* Nestle has produced a position statement on sustainable agriculture
* On average it costs 40,00 -50,000 Swiss Francs to subsidise a Swiss
farmer each year, compared to 70,000 - 80,000 SF to support someone who
is unemployed
* Switzerland is discussing the possibility of changing its farming
subsidy system
* It is not realistic to expect the food industry to take on the role of
educating the public about biotechnology because of the issue of
'obvious bias'; this has to be the role of public institutions

Session 4: The conflict between the affluent consumer and the need of
the majority - Chair Lord Selborne (United Kingdom: Former Chairman,
House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology

Pedro de Camargo Neto (Brazil: State Secretary for Production and
Commercialisation of the Ministry of Agriculture and Supply)

* Is the affluent consumer really a problem for developing countries?
* Developing countries need to make investments to produce food
according to the desires of consumers in developed countries
* Transparency in the food chain is essential - information must be made
available to the public: 'The consumer is sovereign'
* Large supermarkets are increasingly taking on the role of processing,
eliminating intermediary processors and associated transparency
* The WTO will always have a credibility issue until the most basic of
trade issues continues unresolved - export subsidies by developed
* It is unrealistic to think that more complex issues (animal welfare,
food safety, 'geophysical indication', labelling, and the application of
the precautionary principle) can be tackled when the simple ones remain
outstanding - e.g export subsidies
* These more complex issues are also important and need to be addressed
- organic labelling is an example of success

Dr Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egziabher (Ethiopia: General Manager of the
Environmental Protection Authority of Ethiopia)

* Ethiopia supplies 85% of the water going into the Nile river system
* Despite the current famine there is food in the country, but transport
is an obstacle and people have no money to buy food when food is
available; the state has also been too poor to buy up substantial
surpluses for a strategic reserve
* America should be condemned for using the current famine to promote
the introduction of their own GM food stocks into Africa with the
intention of forcing their long term use through pollution of local
seeds - there are other solutions which can be applied first (note: the
US policy has also been denounced by the UK government's chief scientist
as well as major UK overseas aid charities)
* Of extreme concern is Article 34 of the WTO TRIPs agreement, where the
burden of proof on patent infringement is reversed onto the farmer in
the event of crop contamination by patented DNA (note: one farmer in the
US has just had $780,000 awarded against him as a result of an
infringement of a Monsanto transgenic DNA soya patent on his farm. The
case is now going to the US supreme court. At the same time transgenic
contamination has even been discovered in foundation seedstocks at North
Dakota State University.)
* The Cartagena Biosafety Protocol does not recognise the adequacy of
the GMO biosafety assessments carried out in the US.
* The individual citizen of neither the countries of the south nor those
of the north are aware of the impact on Africa of the WTO developing
countries hold only 0.2% of intellectual property patents
* The patenting of living organisms (or their components) leads to
economic control by northern based multinational corporations, and
threatens the further development of breeds and varieties suitable for
local conditions; a change in international law is required.
* African soils are no better or worse than tropical soils generally but
globalisation has encouraged their destruction globalisation is based on
total privatisation with the danger of losing national food sovereignty
to external forces
* Europe is to be thanked for subduing the hype over genetically
engineered crops
* The WTO requires reform to achieve justice, peace and co-operation in
the world; injustice is a dynamic of the institutions inherited from the
past; it is not the fault of the individual citizens of the north
* Globalisation for the purposes of furthering co-operation is
acceptable; globalisation for the purposes of domination is not

Dr Dennis Avery (United States: Director of Global Food Issues
Department, Hudson Institute)

* Removal of subsidies from agricultural production in the northern
hemisphere essential
* Subsidies go mainly to the largest farmers
* The blame for the famine in Africa rests with the well-fed of Europe
and their opposition to GMOs
* Globalisation cannot be avoided
* Trade and technology raise incomes
* The terrorist attacks of September 11 demonstrate the need to offer
the developing world economic opportunities
* EU rejection of hormones in meat is not scientifically justified
* The banning of DDT is not scientifically justified
* Organic agriculture requires the use of more land with consequential
impact on the environment
* There is no answer other than biotechnology

Ben Gill (United Kingdom: President of the National Farmers Union;
President of CEA; Vice President, COPA)

* The EU cannot defend export subsidies, but what about 'food aid' and
export credits from the US?
* Currency devaluations can change the competitive trading positions to
the disadvantage of others overnight
* UK farmers are not living on profitability but depletion of their
capital base
* Farmers are not happy anywhere in the world
* The precautionary principle has been used as a barrier to trade
* The application of internal regulation is exposing EU farmers to
unfair outside competition
* Food is fundamentally different to steel or domestic appliances - you
cannot have unregulated trade in agricultural products
* Multinationals are dominating farmers even without biotechnology;
corporate concentration is going on day by day; to counter this farmers
have to be organised
* The distance in the food chain between farmer and consumer is
* The consumer has lost trust even though risks in other areas of life
are greater than from food; dialogue with consumers is essential
* Genetic engineering can be used to deal with plant diseases
* Climate change has to be tackled
* The challenge is to secure profitability whilst meeting society's
* A vision is needed for where we are going

Coming principally from the perspective of farmers in the European Union
the closing remarks of Ben Gill were nonetheless applicable to much of
global agriculture. Even if many do not share his enthusiasm for genetic
engineering, few in the developing world would disagree with him that
farmers everywhere are unhappy, that multinationals are a major threat
and that a vision for global agriculture is desperately needed (a
substantially different view to that of the Chairman of ADM who Mr Gill
did not hear speak the previous day).

Many diverse views were expressed during the conference but perhaps the
most striking presentations were from Devinder Sharma, Margaret Karembu
and Dennis Avery.

Dr Sharma's presentation was impressive both for its content and the
fluid delivery carried out without the aid of either notes or visual
aids. From comments afterwards it was clear that his commentary was a
revelation to many, including Lord Plumb. The lucidity was such that one
delegate remarked that it was like 'a song'.

To some degree Margaret Karembu's paper was the most significant given
the heat that is usually generated in the debate concerning

In addition to her role at Nairobi University Dr Karembu is a researcher
for the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech
Applications (ISAAA) Africenter, an institution regarded by critics as
something of a Trojan horse for the biotechnology industry from which it
receives much of its funding, in addition to USAID. Despite such
potential pressures Dr Karembu went to some effort to demonstrate that
there is much more to biotechnology than genetic engineering (something
often unappreciated, or ignored, by both sides of the GM debate).

Her presentation provided the opportunity to raise a question from the
floor about appropriate priorities for the biotechnology sector. In so
doing it was pointed out that senior figures in both industry and
academia have drawn attention to the fact that marker assisted selection
offers much greater overall potential for the future of world
agriculture than genetic engineering (for example, annual improvements
in wheat yields from the use of this technology are predicted to arise
at twice the rate previously anticipated by the FAO). Moreover - and
most importantly - it is a technology for which it is difficult to find
objection from either consumers or environmental campaigners.

So the question was posed: if the most promising biotechnology is also
one which is acceptable to society at large should that not be the area
where attention is focused rather than genetic engineering?

For the complete report visit:

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