Global Harvest Initiative Seeks Not to Feed People, But to Bolster Big Ag Profits | Civil Eats

Global Harvest Initiative Seeks Not to Feed People, But to Bolster Big Ag Profits

The Global Harvest Initiative, founded by agribusiness interests DuPont, Monsanto, Archer Daniels Midland, and John Deere, will meet today beginning at 9:00 am for a daylong symposium at which the focus is said to be on finding “ways to sustainably double agricultural output to meet rapidly growing global demand as anticipated by the United Nations.” Are big corporations finally seeking to do what is right by the nearly billion people who are currently food insecure in the world, or is this another instance of corporate green washing bought into by our politicians? Indeed, this so-called initiative needs a bit of parsing.

Hunger looks on the surface to be the most bipartisan policy issue on our collective plates. We can all agree that the fact that hunger persists today is a global tragedy and that something needs to be done about it. But from there the discussion diverges into two distinct schools of thought.

The thinking that has been dominant since Norman Borlaug was sent to Mexico with his hybrid wheat in the 1940s has been that hunger is related to a lack of food supply. Those who espouse this thinking believe that through research and technology taking place behind the closed doors of corporations, this crisis can be solved. But despite a lax regulatory environment, bucket loads of marketing that confuses the public on the issues, a revolving door bringing former private sector employees into positions of policy making, and control over the research of their techniques and products — corporations still have yet to find any long term solutions to our global hunger woes. In fact, more people are food insecure today than they were when Borlaug (who died just over a week ago) took up the hunger gauntlet, and the argument could be made that it was his work was a short term solution that directly contributed to growing the population, increasing and pushing off the inevitable suffering to the future.

The Global Harvest Initiative falls squarely into this first category. DuPont, Monsanto, ADM and John Deere realize the days of jaw-dropping profits are numbered if they don’t change tactics. So under the guise of humanitarianism, these giants have come together and invited receptive politicians like Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) with the distinct strategy of furthering their aims worldwide: to these corporations, the US has been conquered by industrial agriculture (it may be worth noting that 40 million US citizens are currently food insecure) — so now they must spread what isn’t working here abroad to continue to make ever larger profits.

The opposing ideology on creating food security in the world is to place the focus on equity — when food is first a right, not just a commodity, we stop thinking about it solely in economic terms. Therefore the focus shifts to creating the pathways for access to food — because right now there is enough food grown in the world to feed the world, it is just not getting into mouths.

By their own admission, these four companies are spending “$9 million a day in research and development.” After all the money that has been spent on shiny new technologies, we are still far from feeding the hungry. In addition, the USDA’s grants for research almost always require matching funds of 50% or more, meaning a grantee often goes knocking on the doors of the private sector, which is willing to invest in research that suits its interests. We must ask ourselves: has leaving research up to the big corporations historically resulted in an equal share of wealth?

A reliance on technology alone means that local, not-so-profitable means of addressing hunger are ignored. Most often, farmers in developing nations cite infrastructure, like new roads, and access to markets as the biggest barriers to food access. The Green Revolution assumed that genetically modified seed would save the day, but in fact it has only created the conditions that increased soil and environmental degradation, contributed to health issues in local populations, and produced more dependence on petroleum and corporate products. Is it fair for one country to come into another with the products of its economy and thereby create future dependence when there are more self-sufficient, locally adapted answers on the ground?

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Lugar has been in the Senate for over 30 years, and serves as the ranking Republican member of the Senate Agriculture Subcommittee on Hunger, Nutrition and Family Farms, and is also a ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee. In that time, he has become the go-to person on hunger issues. Everyone in the Senate defers to Lugar on hunger, and most have been unwilling to stand up to him, even when he is making a bad decision — like prioritizing GMO technology in the Lugar-Casey Global Food Security bill. (Check out Elanor Starmer’s take on the bill here.) Lugar is also a big recepient of agribusiness campaign donations — he received $376,000 from agribusiness (dwarfed only by the catagory ‘other’ $594K, finance $587K and lawyers & lobbyists $482K) between 2003-2008 according to And today, he will be the keynote speaker at the Global Harvest Initiative symposium, further displaying his support for the industrial agriculture complex.

Another speaker is Dan Glickman, former Secretary of Agriculture under Bill Clinton who originally signed off on GM seeds as “substantially equivalent” to other seeds, and who continues to be a GMO apologist a decade later. To that end, he will be giving a speech entitled, “The Politics of Agriculture: Breaking the Commercial Vs. Small-holder Myth.”

Also look out for former Gates Foundation ‘New Green Revolution’ pusher Rajiv Shah, who now serves as Under Secretary of Research, Education and Economics and as Chief Scientist at the USDA speaking about the role of technology in food security, and then stay tuned for what promises to be a boilerplate CEO panel discussion.

You can watch the meeting yourself on the live webcast, beginning at 9am today and going through 5pm. Then, contact your senators and tell them to take on Lugar’s status quo, agribusiness-as-saviour-for-starving-masses ideology.

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Paula Crossfield is a founder and the Editor-at-large of Civil Eats. She is also a co-founder of the Food & Environment Reporting Network. Her reporting has been featured in The Nation, Gastronomica, Index Magazine, The New York Times and more, and she has been a contributing producer at The Leonard Lopate Show on New York Public Radio. An avid cook and gardener, she currently lives in Oakland. Read more >

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  1. sally oakley
    thanks for this article paula, i posted it in FB!!
  2. We see evidence of the profit slant when Congress works on the Food and Farm Bill and foreign aid. Almost all foreign food aid legislation requires that much of the donations be made in the form of U.S. agricultural products, which is then shipped on U.S.-flagged ships. Packaging, shipping and distribution add significant costs, resulting in less food than if goods were purchased from local farmers. Somewhere I saw figures showing that $1000 would purchase 2 or 3 times more food if the money was spent locally instead of buying U.S. corn/wheat/soy and shipping it around the world. The last Food and Farm bill authorized a little bit of local food purchases, but the foreign aid part was still primarily a stimulus for U.S. ag and shipping.
  3. IT HAS been a challenging 12 months for all industries, but agriculture has ridden the storm of global financial uncertainty and emerged as a career..
  4. You know, the public and the government took the unfounded claims of Big Tobacco at face value for decades, despite growing evidence that not only were cigarettes and other tobacco products hazardous to your health, they were also highly addictive.

    Maybe someday the public and politicians will see past the unfounded platitudes and faux-humanitarianism of Big Ag and see that it is instead destroying our environment, our rural communities, and our health. The only difference is that Big Ag affects ALL Americans (and millions of other people around the world), not just smokers. Hope I'm still alive when the big Monsanto class action lawsuit comes around.

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