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WWF - loyal ally to agribiz

By Javiera Rulli
Geneva, 12 February 2010

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) seems to have become a sort of environmental secretariat for agribusiness companies, as it is playing an increasingly dubious role in greenwashing the operations of global agribusiness.  

WWF is leading Round Tables on the so-called "sustainable" production of some of the most damaging global agricultural monocultures. The most controversial case is the Round Table on Responsible Soy (RTRS),[1] which includes corporations such as Monsanto, Syngenta, Cargill, Bunge and ADM among its members. The RTRS has approved GM soy as sustainable according to their own criteria. A mega-greenwashing operation is underway to cover up the environmental and social destruction caused by soy production in South America; impacts include deforestation, environmental pollution and poisoning of people. WWF has also ignored numerous accounts of Human Rights violations, perpetrated by agribusinesses in order to preserve High Conservation Value Areas (HCVA). WWF has integrated itself in the main lobby groups of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to promote the privatization of the world's remaining forests and to encourage the role of meaningless environmental certification.

The soy producers' demand to be compensated for producing 'responsible' soy became clear at the fourth RTRS Conference in May 2009. At the same time, however, it is unclear who will be willing to pay a premium price for this product on the world market. Therefore, during the final speech of the event, WWF proposed to open compensatory mechanisms and carbon markets for soy agribusiness.

The speech was given by Jason Clay, Director of WWF's marketing department and the WWF-US Vice President. Clay is an enthusiast of market-based mechanisms to tackle environmental problems and a fervent promoter of agrofuels. He views the carbon market as an opportunity for agribusiness. In the climate negotiations, Clay promotes the inclusion of RTRS-certified soy through two possible financial mechanisms: the REDD[2] mechanisms, which make it possible for soy producers to potentially be rewarded for maintaining a certain area of their land in forest, or access to carbon credits for agricultural practices that could be considered to be "carbon-conserving".

In June 2009, in a press release from the Round Table for Responsible Soy, Jason Clay said:

"The challenge now is to find mechanisms to reward producers who protect forest and soil by allowing them to sell carbon alongside with their soy. This is a win-win-win situation. Forest and soil are protected, producers have an additional source of income and retailers and brands can now buy responsible soy as a way to reduce their carbon footprint. Preliminary calculations suggest that producers in forest areas can net more income selling carbon than soy. This fundamentally change soy and makes it a new kind of commodity."[3]

A recent report from Utrecht University reveals that the operation is to obtain carbon credits for soy. According to Clay this is the way to preserve the viability of the RTRS. He maintains that at present, there are neither large incentives nor direct benefits for agribusiness to meet the RTRS criteria. The main producers are not willing to improve their practices unless they obtain a substantial economic reward. For consumers, soy production remains an invisible process, whereas for producers it represents big markets and earnings. From the economic perspective, the RTRS is at a breaking point because corporations are not seriously committed to sustainability, in other words they are not willing to pay for it. At present, soy agribusiness is not really interested in the RTRS since they have realized that there are currently no media campaigns that could affect the market. For this reason APROSOJA, one of the main Brazilian soy producers platform, abandoned the RTRS at its fourth

The concrete proposal from WWF is for the RTRS to support soy producers to gain access to international carbon credit markets according to the area of preserved forest. This would mean soy could be sold alongside carbon credits at an average of 5-10 US dollars per ton.[6] In the North, companies could continue buying soy while reducing their need for pollution permits.

According to Jason Clay, WWF needs to demonstrate to large producers the direct benefits of remaining in the RTRS. That might even convince APROSOJA to return to the Round Table.[7] For WWF it does not seem to be of any importance that this system might provide an extra spur for soy expansion. WWF’s priority is to get a hold of any forest remnants that could qualify as having a High Conservation Value Area, or manage the conservation of the private forest remnants left by soy producers. Through this greenwashing, however, agribusiness could financially benefit through the privatization of the last forest remnants while promoting the eviction of indigenous and peasant communities.

Simultaneously, under the remit of "Conservation Agriculture", agribusiness corporations are strongly lobbying at the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and UNFCCC (United Nations Framework on Climate Change Convention) to obtain carbon credits for the large-scale production of herbicide-resistant crops using the 'no-till' technique. The RTRS sustainability criteria, in this case, could become the basis for future methodologies under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and/or member organizations could even issue national certificates.[8]

Under this supposed conservation management, credits are promoted for No-Till,[9] which is a fundamental part of the transgenic soy biotechnological package. The Argentine Association of No-Till Producers (AAPRESID) has introduced new policies and launched a program on Certified Agriculture, which could become a national certification scheme under the CDM. Although AAPRESID is member of the RTRS, it seems to have gone its own way based on the same scheme of certification.

One specific CDM methodology involving soy monoculture has already been approved. The project involves soy seed inoculation with nitrogen fixing bacteria to decrease the use of fertilizers. This project was developed by Becker Underwood, which has already established an alliance with Monsanto for production and commercialisation of this kind of bacteria.

In the meantime, Monsanto has already been lobbying for the inclusion of a carbon market for agriculture and direct seeding under the new US law on climate. In addition, last year Monsanto's Conservation Technology Information Centre (CTIC),[10] together with FAO and with the technological backing of the UNFCC, organised a Conservation Agriculture Carbon Offset Consultation in the US.[11]

In the lobby for conservation agriculture, pro no-till, WWF and Jason Clay can once again be found on the platform on Climate Change, Agriculture and Trade of the ICTSD (the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development[12]) and the IPC (the International Food and Agricultural Trade Policy Council). Since 2008, Clay, has been representing the WWF in the exclusive member list of the IPC.[13] The IPC is a strong lobby group at the World Trade Organisation and is essentially controlled by Cargill, Monsanto, Bunge and ADM.

In October 2009 the ICTSD-IPC platform published a series of recommendations for the upcoming 7th WTO Ministerial and the United Nations climate change conference. The report, in general terms, proposes: concluding the Doha Round, intensifying food production using new technologies, conservation agriculture and the carbon market as the principal means of adaptation to climate change: "Both conservation agriculture and novel technologies can reduce reliance on fossil fuels as well as improve our ability to take carbon out of the air and literally bury it in the ground--all while increasing agricultural output."[14]

One of the main preoccupations of the report is to avoid any international agreements on climate change interfering with the framework on free trade and the WTO principles. According to the report both levels have to be coherent. It also points out that trade liberalisation is an ecological measure as it: "could improve the product flow from regions that produce low carbon emission food to regions where those emissions are higher."[15]

The IPC is quite influential and has been denounced in the past as one of the bodies calling for WTO action against the European moratorium on GMOs. It was also a key actor in the weakening of the Convention on Biodiversity, which saw the Biosafety Protocol subordinated to the WTO.[16] Despite this, we read with surprise on its webpage that WWF is even one of its financial supporters.[17]  

WWF support for GM is becoming increasingly apparent. Since August 2009 it has been involved in the "Global Harvest Initiative" dialogue, organised by corporations such as Monsanto, Du Pont and ADM. This is a marketing campaign to support biotechnological development. WWF and Conservation International are amongst their participants. In the conference that launched the campaign, Clay gave a presentation on "sustainability and the capacity to feed the world."[18]

Last September WWF Denmark established an alliance with the corporation Novozymes entitled "Coming together in the Biological Initiative - eliminating the first billon tones of CO2".[19] Novozymes, an industrial leader in biotechnology, specializes in enzymes and bacteria. The brand strongly promotes the development of second generation agrofuels. Previously, WWF Denmark published a paper on the "Reduction of Green House Gas Effect" (GHG) based on calculations from the Novozymes team. The report essentially promotes "white biotechnology",[20] bioeconomics[21] and the new industrial concept of biorefinery.[22] All of them essentially imply the use of transgenics (in form of cells and enzymes) for industry and energy production.[23] Another document revealing WWF's collaboration with Novozymes at the climate summit is also mentioned. This document is the agenda of Europabio, the largest lobby group on biotechnology in Europe.[24] Clay has publicly made clear that he is in favour of
second generation agrofuels, such as cellulosic ethanol.[25]

The RTRS fourth conference approved GM soy as eligible under its sustainability criteria. This appeared to dismiss concerns about pesticides, with approval given for pesticide spraying just 30 m. from people (200m. in the case of aerial spraying). Furthermore, the criteria on deforestation are not restrictive - responsible soy was permitted in deforested areas until May 2009. Even fields cleared later in forest areas can qualify if they are not considered as High Value Conservation Areas.[26]
RTRS criteria are designed by its somewhat -surprising members - controversial corporations such as Unilever, Monsanto, Syngenta, Cargill, Bunge, Carrefour, ADM, BP and IFC, a World Bank branch, and many other transnational corporations. Also South America’s main soy producers participate in the RTRS. Grupo Los Grobo from Argentina possesses land all over South America. The Maggi Group, owned by the ex governor of Matto Grosso, is the largest soy producer in the world, and he is the head of an important economical and political Brazilian clan. Another selected member is AAPRESID, an Argentine institution of technicians and producers backed by Monsanto.[27]

The only conservation NGOs participating in RTRS are The Nature Conservancy, Conservation International and the South American branches of WWF and Birdlife. Most other environmental NGOs and social organisations, particularly those from the South, have rejected the RTRS from the very beginning. The RTRS was denounced as a greenwashing initiative to legitimise the expansion of the soy model.[28]

Earlier information reveals the WWF framework of action. Officially it adheres to the precautionary principles on GMOs but its practices are obviously completely the opposite. At present it is promoting GMOs. This hypocritical behaviour has confounded people and also some of the local offices within its own organisation. It must be pointed out that WWF works very carefully on its marketing strategy towards its members.    Many members, however, are not aware of the organisation’s actions at the international level and their engagement with business. Neither can they access or influence the game of international politics that WWF’s International is playing.

There is no doubt about WWF's complicity with the corporate web. Their acts cannot be justified; they are not merely a strategy based on narrow views and conservation. The WWF alliances with industry have converted the organisation into part and parcel of the corporate lobby. With the WWF being the leading expert on environmental issues in the international arena, the result is that critical voices from the South and North, from ecologists and social movements to scientific organisations, are finding it increasingly difficult to make their denunciations and present alternatives. The Panda figure has become a loyal servant directing the symphony of environmentalism, in order to serve the economic model of globalization by giving it an appearance of sustainability. The time has come for somebody to unmask the organisation’s dirty business and for WWF to be the object of the popular reproach it deserves.

Original version in Spanish published in 2009-12-06:
WWF, siervo del Agronegocio y de la Globalización.


2. Reduction of  Emissions Derived from Deforestation and Forest Degradation
4. APROSOJA approximately produces 25% of Brazil annual harvest
5. Nikoloyuk, J.2009 "Sustainability Partnership in Agro-Commodity Chain: A model of partnership development in the tea, palm oil and soy sectors." Utrecht-Nijmegen Programme on Partnership.
6. Ibid.
7. Ibid.
8. hptt://
9. No-till is a farming practice which does not require the soil to be tilled or prepared. During planting, seeds are literally drilled into the soil. The combination of RR soy and direct seeding has been a commercial success. The mechanical clearing is replaced by chemical clearing with the herbicide "glyphosate". In direct seeding the use of herbicides is indispensable, and it would be more accurately known as "Chemical Direct Seeding".
10. The CTIC is a centre for agricultural investigation whose council is made up of members from the corporations Monsanto, John Deere, The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the Fertilizer Institute, Syngenta and CropLife America.
12. International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development.
17. The IPC was created in 1987 with the explicit aim of ensuring that the GATT agricultural rules of the WTO would be approved at Uruguay Round. IPC demands the elimination of developing country tariff barriers and maintains a neutral position towards the massive US subsidies to agribusiness. In fact, the North American giants Cargill, Monsanto, Bunge and ADM manage IPC and their interests are the same as those of the WTO principles which they drafted for their own benefit.
19. Coming together in the Bio solutions Initiative Eliminating the first billion tons of CO2.
20. "White technology” refers in general to GMOs in the form of bacteria or enzymes, which are used at laboratories in industrial processes.
21. "Bio economy" means "an economy that uses removable prime materials, particularly biomass and its genes, to elaborate products and energy.
22. "Bio refinery" implies an industry that integrates various convert processes to transform transport fuel (ethanol or biodiesel) into high value chemical products.    It is a concept homologous to petrochemical refineries.