Oxfam International's position on transgenic crops

Oxfam International Secretariat, April 26 – A number of organizations have recently published an open letter to Oxfam executives expressing their concern over Oxfam’s stance on transgenic crops. Specifically, they said a recent book based on research commissioned by Oxfam America, designed to look at the experiences of countries adopting transgenic cotton, had come to an overly “pro-GM” conclusion.

Oxfam takes these concerns seriously. We appreciate that GM technology is a highly contentious issue and we regret any fault on our part that might have led to some misunderstandings of the research findings, in particular that they represent an endorsement ofGMOs  We hope that publishing Oxfam International’s position on biotechnology and development here helps to lay those concerns to rest.

Oxfam America has no policy position for or against GM technology and runs no field-based programs that promote it. The book in question, “Biotechnology and Agricultural Development: Transgenic Cotton, Rural Institutions and Resource-Poor Farmers,” was commissioned by Oxfam America to look at the experiences, positive or negative, of developing countries adopting transgenic cotton and the relevance (or irrelevance) of such technology in helping poor farmers. The book presents cases from India, Colombia, South Africa and China and highlights the challenges these countries have faced and the problems caused by weak institutional frameworks and structures.

The book’s main finding is thatBtcotton has only tended to function well as an exception, and that depended on farmers having all the information and support they needed to make good informed choices. The book's conclusion is that institutional investments in agriculture are more important and relevant for poor farmers than investment in transgenic crops.

The Oxfam International confederation – including Oxfam America – does not support GMOs as the solution to hunger, poverty and development. Oxfam believes that any decision to use GMOs must be based on the human rights’ principles of participation, transparency, choice, sustainability and fairness. Feeding the world’s hungry people requires huge social, political, economic and cultural changes, not a simple technological fix.

Oxfam understands that technology does matter and that modern biotechnology might play a role in helping to achieve global food security, but only so long as farmers are central to the process and that their rights are strengthened, not harmed. At the moment, GMOs represent a good business opportunity for some actors, but in general have not benefited poor farmers. As it stands today, GMOs have not delivered against the guiding principles of participation, transparency, choice, sustainability and fairness and public investments should prioritize options that do.

- Jeremy Hobbs, Executive Director, Oxfam International

26 April 2010