The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation continues to throw its support behind risky genetically modified (GM) seeds as a means for feeding hungry Africans, ignoring safer and more reliable technologies that already exist.
Not long after publicly blaming GM critics for prolonging hunger in Africa, Gates announced that his foundation is partnering with DuPont subsidiary Pioneer Hi-Bred to develop higher yield GM strains of corn. Two years ago, the Gates Foundation also partnered with Monsanto to develop drought-tolerant GM corn.
The companies claim that these GM seeds will be delivered to small farmers free of charge. Yet Monsanto says its drought-tolerant corn will not be ready until 2012, at which point it will be introduced into the commercial market. It will not be made available to poor African farmers until 2016.
Pioneer is using conventional (non-GM) breeding techniques to produce higher yielding corn by 2014. There is no projected date for when a GM version of this new strain will be developed.
“It’s hard not to think that Monsanto, Dupont and their ilk are turning into the Bernie Madoff of agriculture,” writes “Grist” blogger Tom Laskawy. “Convince gullible foundations along with the federal government to send billions in research dollars their way based on a promise of magically awesome results. Sometime down the road, of course.”
As Laskawy notes, the Nigeria National Variety Release Committee has already developed — without the use of biotechnology — various new corn strains that are resistant to drought, pests, disease, and poor soil fertility. These conventionally bred seeds do not pose any of the well-documented risks of GM crops, such as toxic health and environmental effects; the production of “super-weeds” and contamination of organic crops through cross-pollination; increased pesticide use; or encouraging monocultures and a loss of seed diversity.
“If only Bill Gates, not to mention USDA Chief Tom Vilsack or Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, would spend some of their money getting those Nigerian seeds into farmers’ hands today,” Laskawy writes. “Instead, they’d prefer to funnel billions of dollars to biotech giants because, well, 2016 isn’t really so long to wait.”