Located in the USA's corn belt, St Louis is hometown to Monsanto and several other leading biotech corporations. Bob Holden, Missouri's Republican governor, wants the state to be a world leader in "life sciences".
St Louis is also home to the World Agricultural Forum (WAF). Established in 1997, it describes itself as "a non-profit organizationâ€¦the only neutral, inclusive, forum that allows for the comprehensive discussion and examination of current and developing domestic and global agricultural policy".
Its next World Congress takes place at the lavish Hyatt Regency Hotel in St Louis from 18-20 May.
The organizers hope to make the WAF the agricultural counterpart of the World Economic Forum. Global justice and anti-biotech organisations from across the USA and beyond are mobilizing against the WAF. Missouri Resistance Against Genetic Engineering plans protest action under the banner of the People's Agricultural Resistance. Biodevastation 7 (Genetic Engineering: A Technology of Corporate Control) will immediately precede the WAF, with a forum on environmental racism, world agriculture and biowarfare (see www.biodev.org for more details).
From May 19th to June 19th a bicycle "Caravan Across the Cornbelt" will head over 1000 miles from St Louis to Washington, DC, where the Biotechnology Industry Organization will hold its annual convention a month later.
Advance registration for the WAF costs $1250 for general participants and $650 for academics and NGOs. After April 28th, registration fees are $2000 for general admission and $1000 for academics and NGOs. That's more than many peasant farmers earn in a year. Very inclusive!
The theme for this year's Congress is "A New Age in Agriculture: Working Together to Create the Future and Disabling the Barriers". The program brings together trade and agriculture ministers and officials from many countries in the Americas, Europe, Africa and the Asia-Pacific, agribusiness and biotech corporate executives, officials from multilateral financial institutions, the UN and the WTO, academics and a sprinkling of NGO representatives.
Sponsored by agribusiness giants Cargill and Novus, the WAF is a convergence of some of the world's most powerful free traders and biotech advocates.
With trade, technology and sustainability roundtables entitled "Storming the Barriers", workshops like "Trade: Creating the Future" and "Technology: Creating the Future", and a macroeconomic perspective by George Mallinckrodt, retired Chairman of asset management giant Schroders and former Chairman of the Council of the World Economic Forum, clearly, free markets and biotechnology are being advanced as the solutions to farming and food security problems.
Founder, Chairman and President of the WAF, Leonard Guarraia, was director of public policy for Monsanto from 1983-1995, and a representative on the US Trade Representative Committee on International Trade and Environmental Affairs. Yet in interviews about the WAF, he insists that he does not have a position on biotechnology and that the WAF has no "agenda".
Joining Guarraia is Horacio Navarrete, Global Business Director, Small Holder Agriculture Monsanto. Earle Harbison, Jr. is former Chairman of the Executive Committee, former President and Chief Operating Officer of Monsanto, and a director of Merrill Lynch.
Richard McWard is a Vice President of Bunge North America. Bunge is the world's largest oilseed processor. In January, it entered into a global alliance with Dupont to develop and commercialize soybeans with "improved quality traits".
Other directors include: Lynn O. Henderson, President and CEO of Doane Agricultural Services Company, whose special advisory council includes Former US Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman, and Bill Kirk, Sr. Vice President, DuPont Agricultural Enterprises (retired); University of Missouri professor Abner Womack, Co-Director of the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute (FAPRI), established by the US Congress to provide an "objective analysis of food, agricultural, nutritional and environmental issues"; and Peter Raven, Director of the Monsanto-supported Missouri Botanical Gardens, who sat on Clinton's Presidential Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology.
Meanwhile, the WAF Advisory Board is chaired by Jim Bolger, a former New Zealand Prime Minister and former Ambassador to the US. Bolger ruled New Zealand from 1990 - 1997. His government implemented radical market economic policies including unilateral trade and investment liberalisation, causing worsening poverty, increased inequality, and unemployment. An ardent free trader, he told a July 1996 APEC Meeting of Ministers in Charge of Trade in Christchurch: "There is no downside to opening up world trade. All you have to do is overcome political barriers, in other words, attitudinal barriers".
Bolger takes over from John C Danforth, who remains as Chairman Emeritus. A former Missouri Republican Senator, he sits on Boards of Directors of Dow, Time Warner, and Cerner Corporation.
In a Senate Committee hearing on genetically modified foods last September, Missouri Republican Senator and WAF advisor Christopher Bond defended plant biotechnology saying we cannot: "let hysteria and activist politics achieve what activists achieved in Europe which is to drive a stake into the heart of technological advance."
Ray Cesca is President of Illinois-based consulting firm GAEA (Global Alliance for Economic Advancement) International. As Managing Director of World Trade for McDonald's Corporation he was a witness in McLibel case in London against English activists Dave Morris and Helen Steel. He worked to reduce or eliminate barriers to trade among the 115 countries in which McDonald's operates. He helped create a high-level agricultural policy-working group in the powerful United States Council for International Business, the sole US representative to the International Chamber of Commerce and OECD.
There's Hans Johr, Assistant Vice President of Nestle, John Klein, President and CEO of Bunge, Charles Fischer, President and CEO of Dow Agrosciences, Bonnie Raquet, Cargill's Corporate Vice President, Public Affairs and Monsanto President, Hendrik Verfaillie.
And there's retired Cargill Chairman of the Board, Ernest Micek who was on Clinton's President's Export Council, and accompanied Clinton on a 1998 visit to Africa during discussions on the African Growth and Opportunity Act.
There's C Boyden Gray, partner in Wilmer Cutler and Pickering, the Washington, DC international trade law firm which boasts former US Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky as one of its lawyers, along with another who has served as Chairman of the WTO Appellate Body, and two as Deputy US Trade Representative. Besides representing corporations and governments in trade disputes, it represents many biotech firms like Pfizer, Bayer, Avigen, PPL Therapeutics, and Nestle.
Dr David Kipnis is a former director of biotechnology giant Sigma-Aldrich, and Professor at Washington University School of Medicine. Another pro-biotech advisor is Victor Lechtenberg, Purdue University's dean of agriculture. In 1999 he said: "The economic potential of biotechnology is tremendous â€¦ there are going to be amazing economic opportunities for those who stake out a place early in this field." Chairman and CEO of IGA supermarkets, Thomas Haggai, is " a very strong proponent of the free-enterprise system" according to the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans.
Per Pinstrup-Andersen is director-general of the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington, DC (whose funders include the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and InterAmerican Development Bank). In an International Herald Tribune article on 28 October 1999 ("The developing world simply can't afford to do without agricultural biotechnology"), he wrote: "Governments must invest in biotechnology research to help poor farmers, and the public and private sectors must work together as partners."
Bob Stallman is president of the pro-free trade American Farm Bureau, committed to improving foreign market access for US producers and making sure America serves as a leader in WTO negotiations.
Marta Lucia Ramirez de Rincon is Colombia's trade and defense minister with a commercial law and business background. As part of Plan Colombia, Monsanto's Roundup is being sprayed over vast areas of the country, destroying many small farmers' livelihoods.
Roger Beachy, President of the Donald Danforth Plant Sciences Center, developed the world's first genetically-altered food crop, a tomato at Washington University, in collaboration with Monsanto, in 1989.
Gary Blumenthal is President and COO of World Perspectives Inc, a consultancy for the agri-food and related industries, which claims: "Our expertise can also assist you in making foreign direct investments, restructuring, joint ventures, privatization and strategic planning."
Another WAF advisor, ex-World Bank official Sharad Joshi formed Shetkari Sanghatana, a farmer's organisation in Maharashtra, India, campaigning in favour of the WTO and agricultural trade liberalisation while many Indian farmers opposite the neoliberal agenda.
Meanwhile, most representatives on the NGO Advisory Council come from organisations with strong private sector links and business orientations, rather than social movements.
They include representatives from pro-biotech NGOs like Kenyan scientist, Dr Florence Wambugu's A Harvest Biotech Foundation International, who claims that biotechnology will feed the world's poor. Wambugu sits on Dupont's Biotechnology advisory panel, was post-doctoral fellowship at Monsanto's Life Sciences Research Center in St. Louis, and wrote the book, "Modifying Africa: How Biotechnology Can Benefit the Poor and Hungry: A Case Study from Kenya." With a USAID scholarship, she worked with Monsanto to develop Kenya's first genetically modified sweet potato.
Norman Braksick, executive director of Foods Resource Bank is former president of Asgrow Seed Co, now owned by Monsanto. In 1994 he told the Kansas City Star: "If you put a label on a genetically engineered food you might as well put a skull and crossbones on it". Jonathan Campaigne, a former Peace Corps worker and US businessman represents Pride Africa, whose slogan is "Pride is Enterprise". A network of microfinance institutions, Pride Africa works closely with agribusiness for seed, fertiliser and chemicals.
Amina Hassane Wangari is a representative from USAID-funded West African Business Network. USAID also supports the very corporate Winrock International whose President, CEO and WAF Board member Frank Tugwell is a former USAID Deputy Assistant Administrator. Priorities for Winrock's agricultural development projects include new farm technologies and improved seed varieties, and market driven agriculture - market access to market-oriented production. (USAID actively promotes free markets and biotechnology)
Oren Whyche-Shaw, who represents TechnoServe Inc (motto: "Business Solutions to Rural Poverty") is a former African Development Bank official, former USAID Regional Business Development Advisor, and Former Vice President of International Corporate Finance for Citibank. TechnoServe's donors include American Express, BP Amoco, Chevron, Chubb, ExxonMobil, JP Morgan Chase Federation, Microsoft, Mobil, Pfizer, Shell, as well as Cargill, Monsanto and Philip Morris, who are all on its Business Leadership Council. The USDA, USAID, World Bank and IDB are also donors.
Missouri Resistance Against Genetic Engineering calls on "organizations that legitimately represent people to end their affiliation with WAF and resign from their NGO Advisory Council".
Agriculture is perhaps the most politically sensitive issue on the WTO agenda. Agribusiness corporations seek a monopoly over peoples' food, genetic resources and agriculture. Through their influence over governments and global and regional trade agreements, they have helped create the conditions for the dumping of subsidized imports. Corporatisation is concentrating land in the hands of a few.
Falling prices and rising costs of farm inputs have compounded the situation for many of the world's small farmers, in the North and the South, who are being forced from their land, and denied the right to grow their own food. Via Campesina, the international small farmers' movement, and many others, insist that the WTO should get out of agriculture altogether.
Transnational corporations now control virtually all aspects of US agriculture. Two companies, Cargill and Continental, now control about two-thirds of the world's grain. Cargill enjoyed a key role in shaping global trade rules under the old GATT framework. For example, from 1987-1989 Daniel Amstutz, former Cargill executive, was chief US negotiator for Agriculture in the GATT Uruguay Round when agriculture first came under world trade rules.
The WAF's motto is "Peace and Security Through Agriculture" For whom? Small farmers and rural communities â€¦ or transnational agribusiness? While its deliberations have no binding authority, the WAF Congress allows US officials and transnational corporations to pressure governments of the South to accept trade and investment liberalisation, biotechnology and the commodification of life through aggressive corporate patenting and the contentious WTO intellectual property agreement They hope to strongarm governments into meekly agreeing to their demands before the September WTO Ministerial meeting in Cancun.
In turn, we who oppose the patenting of life, the corporate enclosure of the world's food supply, and the human and ecological havoc wrought by free market agricultural policies must expose and oppose the WAF.