Former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton has been hyping GMOs in a paid speech to the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO).

Clinton (see article below) advised the industry lobby group to avoid using the term "genetically modified" and talk about the benefits instead - a ruse that owes more to snake-oil salesmanship than science, especially since the "benefits" of GMOs remain largely hypothetical.

She spoke of getting a “representative group of actors at the table” to discuss how the federal government could help the GMO industry with “insurance against risk”. This could be interpreted as using US taxpayers' dollars to protect the GMO industry against the fallout caused by its own reckless actions.

Clinton also told BIO that she had been promoting "drought resistant seeds" in Africa and implies that these were GM. We'd be surprised if they were, however. GM lags way behind traditional breeding in producing drought-resistant crops. Non-GM breeding has developed many such crops, including some specifically for Africa.

Monsanto released a GM drought-resistant maize in 2011 for cultivation in North America – a long way from Africa. But even the USDA admitted it didn't perform any better than existing non-GM drought-resistant varieties.

As for Clinton's claim that "a lot of people" think it's not possible to increase food production in developing countries because the soil is deficient, she obviously hasn't talked to anyone with any knowledge of sustainable farming projects in Africa, which focus on improving soil quality.

A 2008 United Nations report looked at 114 farming projects in 24 African countries and found that adoption of organic or near-organic practices resulted in yield increases averaging over 100%. In East Africa, a yield increase of 128% was found. The report concluded that organic agriculture can be more conducive to food security in Africa than chemically-based production systems (over 80% of GMOs are engineered to tolerate huge applications of herbicide), and that it is more likely to be sustainable in the long term.

Similar conclusions were reached by the IAASTD report on the future of agriculture, published in 2008 by over 400 international experts, including many from the Third World.

Perhaps Clinton's cheerleading for the GMO industry should not surprise us, given her longstanding past industry connections.

Yet as with so many government leaders and officials across the globe who are happy to punt GMOs for the masses, at home Clinton and her family eat local and organic food - including grass-fed beef. And in Clinton's own garden, everything is grown without pesticides and artificial fertilisers.

The one statement Clinton made that we can agree with is that there is a "big gap" between the facts and perceptions in the GM debate. Unfortunately, her advisors on GMOs seem to have avoided the facts and favoured perceptions - of the rose-tinted variety.

(Comment by Claire Robinson)
Clinton backs biotechnology
Jerry Hagstrom
The Progressive Farmer, 26 June 2014

* Former Secretary of State touts GMOs, backs action on climate change

Hillary Rodham Clinton expressed enthusiasm for biotech seeds here Wednesday but told members of the Biotechnology Industry Organization they should promote the characteristics of genetically modified seeds rather than use the term "genetically modified" if they want the seeds accepted.

"'Genetically modified' sounds Frankensteinish - drought resistant sounds like something you'd want," Clinton said in a paid speech to BIO's annual meeting, which attracts scientists, executives, and investors from around the world.

The manufacturers of biotech seeds should "be more careful so you don't raise that red flag immediately," Clinton told BIO CEO Jim Greenwood on the stage of the annual BIO convention here. It was Clinton's second paid speech to an agriculture-related group in two weeks.

Clinton told the biotechnology group she had promoted the drought-resistant seeds when she was secretary of state as part of her campaign to shift U.S. food aid programs from providing commodities to helping farmers in Africa and other food-scarce places grow more food themselves.

"A lot of people thought it wasn't possible" to increase food production in developing countries because the soil was deficient and it was hard to convince smallholder farmers to work together and accept new technology, Clinton said. But she said she persevered, telling the farmers that drought-resistant seeds "won't hurt them."

But Clinton acknowledged that gaining acceptance for biotechnology "is painstaking" because proponents have to work both from the top down with presidents and prime ministers and from the bottom up with smallholder farmers.

There have been proposals to link foreign aid to those countries with laws accepting biotechnology, but Clinton said she believed such efforts would backfire.

Greenwood did not ask Clinton, a likely Democratic presidential candidate in 2016, to take a stand on the labeling of foods with ingredients derived from biotech crops, and she did not.

Greenwood told Clinton that a label reading "genetically modified" doesn't give the consumer "any useful information" and then added, "You don't need to answer that."

Greenwood also told Clinton he believes organic farmers and food businesses are funding the efforts to require labeling because they want consumers to choose their products instead.

Clinton did not respond directly to that statement but said "the question of genetically-modified food or hybrids has gone on for many, many years" and there is a "big gap" between the facts and perceptions in that debate...