Former Microsoft CEO and mega mogul Bill Gates has long utilized his vast fortune to push genetically modified organisms (GMOs) through his Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, but Gates’ efforts have been met with sharp criticism from millions of grassroots activists both home and abroad.
The debate around GMOs has become increasingly one-sided in recent years, with activists spreading the word about the health dangers of genetically modified foods as well as the environmental risks (see here and here) of the lab-created crops via social media.
Pro-GMO corporations have adjusted, attempting to fight back with their own PR campaigns (including this one where Monsanto offered money “mommy bloggers” to attend a presentation).
Now, in an effort to “depolarize” the GMO debate, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is making a multi-million dollar donation to one of America’s most prominent universities.
Cornell University to Lead New International GMO-Focused Effort
Cornell University, a private New York state-based Ivy League college, is expected to lead a new international effort that “will seek to add a stronger voice for science,” according to an article in the school’s Cornell Chronicle.
The program, made possible through the Gates Foundation’s $5.6 million grant, reportedly seeks to help inform decision-makers an consumers through an online information hub as well as training programs, with the goal of educating on “how (agricultural technology, presumably GMOs) works,” as well as the “potential impacts” of agricultural technology.
Multimedia resources including videos of farmers using the technology will be included as well.
Sarah Evanega, senior associate director of International Programs in Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS), who will lead the project according to the report, said that “pro-biotech activists share a lot of the same anti-pesticide, low-input, sustainable-agriculture vision as the organic movement.”
While that may be true, it remains to be seen whether or not the Biotech industry can come close to living up to its promises, and to quell widespread concerns regarding the health and environmental problems its crops are reputed to cause.
According to a report from the USDA, a notoriously pro-Biotech organization, for example, the amount of herbicide use on GM corn increased from around 1.5 pounds per ace in 2001 to more than 2 pounds per planted acre in 2010, in direct opposition to repeated statements to the contrary by GMO companies.
Herbicide use has been on the rise for the past 9 years according to one major recent study as Forbes noted, on the heels of another similar study.
The rise of herbicide-resistant “superweeds” has also been linked to GMO adoption, so much so that the state of Texas requested (and was denied) a banned chemical to stop an outbreak on a whopping three million acres of genetically modified cotton.
And while the Biotech industry often claims it’s helping to “feed the world,” a major UN report recently said that small-scale organic farming is actually the best way to do just that rather than using GMOs.
Will Objectivity Be Included in New Program?
Considering Gates’ clear bias in favor of GMOs, can we reasonably expect to see any sort of objectivity in Cornell’s upcoming program?
Gates has long touted them as a world hunger solution despite evidence to the contrary, while ignoring the dramatic role that imperialism has played in African countries where he’s attempting to spread the GMOs he is so deeply invested in, as well as the promise of small-scale independent farming mentioned above.
The “GMO debate” is already firmly slanted in favor of non-GMO farming among the general populace of most countries and GMO crop cultivation is declining worldwide because of it.
While the stated aim of the program is to diffuse “controversy,” independent science, recent results and public opinion are already firmly in support of organic and non-GMO food.
Genetically modified foods have proliferated in the U.S. almost exclusively due to a lack of labeling and overall transparency.
Regardless of whether or not Cornell’s new program will be even remotely objective considering the funding behind it, one thing’s for sure: the consumer is becoming smart enough to make up their own mind on GMOs, and that development is likely to be a problem for the Biotech companies’ bottom lines going forward.