Comment on latest weasel words from WWF
WWF's Involvement in the RTRS due to its Connection to the GM Soy Industry
17 Feb 2009
WWF: Established in 2005, the RTRS is a multi-stakeholder initiative which aims to, among other objectives, facilitate a global dialogue on soy production that is economically viable, socially equitable and environmentally sound.
The RTRS provides stakeholders and interested parties - social organizations and business and industry - with the opportunity to jointly develop global solutions leading to responsible soy production.
These include development of criteria for the responsible production and sourcing of soy.
The RTRS is currently developing a set of principles and criteria (P&Cs) for responsible soy production that include requirements to halt conversion of areas with high conservation value, to promote best management practices, to ensure fair working conditions, and to respect land tenure claims. Likely to be ratified by the RTRS General Assembly in May 2009, the RTRS does not yet have a certification system in place to verify compliance with the P&Cs.”
COMMENT: The fact is that the principles and criteria of the RTRS, developed by the Development Group of the RTRS are designed to serve as the basis for developing a certification of soy as "RTRS compliant." In short, this will certify soy as "responsible."
Furthermore, the RTRS Principles and Criteria are liberally and frequently peppered with the word "sustainable." And although this word was rightly avoided in naming the RTRS, the effect of the certification programs being developed to certify to the RTRS principles and criteria will be to label GM soy as "sustainable." If this is not greenwashing, what is?
There are at least two certification programs under development aimed at using the RTRS principles and criteria as the basis for certifying GM soy as "sustainable." One is owned by Aapresid, the Argentinean No-Till Farmers Association (no-till is synonymous with GM soy production in Argentina). All of the major biotech seed companies, Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer, BASF, Pioneer-Dupont, and Dow, are members of Aapresid. The member of Aapresid who has been central to developing this certification program is also a member of the RTRS Development Group which is responsible for developing the RTRS principles and criteria.
The other RTRS-based certification program is being developed by a certification organization called UTZ. WWF is directly involved with the UTZ program. The same member of the WWF who is on the RTRS Development Group (which is the committee responsible for developing the RTRS principles and criteria), is also on the board of directors of UTZ.
WWF: WWF is a founding member of the RTRS, and a representative from WWF Brazil currently sits on the RTRS Executive Board.
WWF offices in key soy producing and buying countries across the globe are actively working to ensure that the certification systems being developed by the RTRS will encompass strong environmental safeguards.
WWF is currently the target of a letter writing campaign led by GM Watch for its participation in the RTRS.
This campaign was precipitated by the RTRS Executive Board's decision to accept two global companies that promote GM technology, Monsanto and Syngenta, as full members of the RTRS.
The campaign's letters accuse WWF of greenwashing the GMO soy industry and ask WWF to end its involvement with the RTRS.
WWF's position on GM organisms includes:
* A moratorium on use or release of GMOs into the general environment until ecological interactions are fully researched and safeguards put in place
* Regulatory frameworks for environmental use and release of GMOs should support the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety
* Transparent, comprehensive environmental impact assessment of planned releases into the environment
* Avoidance of additional impacts through genetic modifications
* The control of gene technology
COMMENT: Although the WWF has a written policy opposing GMOs, this policy exists only on paper. Leading scientists on the staff of the WWF (most notably Jason Clay) state very clearly that WWF makes no judgments regarding GMOs. They say that technologies like GM technology are not their focus, but that they are focusing on "preserving habitat" and other critical environmental issues.
Furthermore, in the context of the RTRS, WWF has taken a series of actions that have opened wide the door to GM technology being labeled as "responsible," despite abundant evidence that GM soy has been a central element of the proliferation of agricultural activities, especially in Argentina, which are highly exploitative to both the environment and to agricultural laborers, small farmers, small land holders, and indigenous peoples.
In short, the points of the WWF GMO policy outlined above are not implemented in the soy sector, and WWF has no active programme to implement any part of this policy in any other agricultural sector. In short, they are empty words put on paper for one purpose””to bolster their image among their membership.
WWF: WWF believes that the RTRS cannot be effective in helping to prevent the environmental impacts of soy production, such as forest conversion, habitat loss, soil degradation, water use and pesticide use, unless it applies both to GM soy and GM-free soy.
COMMENT: In fact, the RTRS criteria and principles fail to prevent many, if not all, of the environmental impacts listed in the paragraph above. Most disconcertingly, although the RTRS was supposedly established to protect the degradation of the Amazon biome, the current formulation of the RTRS principles and criteria have only extremely weak provisions to protect the Amazon.
These criteria state that any area that is zoned by the local government for agricultural development may be exploited and soy produced thereon will be considered compliant with the RTRS criteria and principles; it will be classified as "responsible." Although this sounds good on paper, the fact of the matter is that there is a long history of local zoning authorities being influenced by various "incentives," including outright bribes, to zone any land that a developer desires to develop, including high conservation value areas like core Amazon rain forest. Thus, the WWF has cooperated in developing a programme, the RTRS programme, which, in essence, will classify as "responsible" land falsely classified as suitable for agricultural development based on bribery.
There is an additional feature of the current principles and criteria that states that high conservation areas are excluded from development under all circumstances. But this is a temporary, short-term (three year) exclusion. The criteria say that if mechanisms are not in place within three years to financially compensate owners of high conservation value areas for NOT commercially exploiting those areas, then after the three year period these areas can be freely exploited and cleared for agricultural use. Since it is highly unlikely that such financial mechanisms will be in place within the three year time-frame, the RTRS criteria and principles have virtually no teeth that will protect the Amazon or other high conservation areas from destruction.
If the RTRS fails to achieve its initially intended purpose (protection of the Amazon biome), what does it actually accomplish? The answer is that it provides GM soy with a shiny green sheen! And this is why all of the biotech companies and multinational grain processing companies are involved with the RTRS.
WWF: As stated clearly on its website, the RTRS process is inclusive of all soy production methods, including conventional, GMO, organic, etc.
One recent study estimates that GMO soy represents 70% of the world’s soy production. This includes:
* 95% of the Argentina production,
* 92% of the US and
* 62% of Brazil.
These are the world's leading soy producer countries and together they represent 81% of global production.*
Eliminating GMO soy producers from the RTRS would greatly limit its potential to mitigate environmental impacts.
The Roundtable format enables stakeholders to have an open dialogue on how best to mitigate these environmental impacts and improve production practices.
WWF does not agree with all the viewpoints presented, nor do we endorse the positions of all the stakeholders.
COMMENT: In other places the WWF has gone farther, stating that they are still working to change the RTRS policies to be more in line with the values of their membership (which generally opposes GMOs and wants real protection of the Amazon, not weak criteria that can be used to greenwash GM soy). However, if the WWF were serious about protecting against GM technology and preserving the Amazon, they would not be making half-hearted gestures at this late date, when the RTRS principles and criteria are in their final round of revision (comment period ended 15 January 2009), but would have been working diligently and strongly to include measures opposing GM soy and genuinely protecting the Amazon biome years ago when the process of formulating RTRS policy first began.
Again, these belated gestures appear to be only public relations moves designed to keep the trust of their membership.
WWF: However, WWF believes that by developing standards with other stakeholders, we can have a far greater impact than by refusing to participate.
WWF participation in the RTRS does not negate WWF's policy on GM organisms, nor should our participation in Roundtable discussions be construed as WWF endorsing GM production because other members of the multi-stakeholder body happen to be active in this field.
COMMENT: WWF's continued cooperation and active support of the RTRS unavoidably serves not only as an endorsement of GM soy, but as an active promotion of the idea that GM soy is "green," "responsible," and "sustainable." Although the word "sustainable" was rightly avoided in naming the RTRS, the word "sustainability" and “sustainable” are used liberally and frequently in the RTRS criteria and in other documents that are designed to be the basis of the RTRS certification program for "responsible GM soy."
Furthermore, WWF is an active participant in an exercise being conducted in the Netherlands that is designed to put forward the idea that GM soy is "sustainabile." These efforts are all obviously aimed at giving support to the concept that GM soy is sustainable.
In short, these efforts constitute a multi-facited strategy aimed at greenwashing GM soy and providing multinational GM soy processors with the ability to use the planned RTRS greenwash-certification scheme to demand a premium in the marketplace, just as multinationals are trying to demand a premium for RSPO-certified palm oil (The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is another multi-stakeholder initiative of the WWF, designed to label as "green" fundamentally unsustainable practices in the palm oil industry).
WWF: WWF has a history of promoting GMO-free soy, as evidenced by its development and promotion of the Basel Criteria for Responsible Soy.
http://www.panda.org/what_we_do/knowledge_centres/forests/publications/?16872 ...(a scheme that preceded RTRS), and it will continue to do so within and outside the RTRS.
COMMENT: The history of developments in this area is that when the multinational soy processors refused to engage in the Basel Criteria, WWF abandoned this programme to start the RTRS. One of the primary differences between the Basel Criteria and the RTRS is that RTRS allows GM soy.
WWF: WWF will:
* Work with the RTRS to explore and promote options for identifying and labeling RTRS soy that is GM-free. The preferred approach is to include an optional protocol within RTRS for those who want to verify that soy is GM free. If this fails, other options include use of the Basel criteria or systems already operating in national markets to identify GM-free products should be pursued.
COMMENT: WWF says that it will attempt to introduce a non-GMO element into the RTRS. However, in fact, the governing board of the RTRS is dominated by multinational corporations that are deeply committed to GM soy, and the board has established a strong policy that the RTRS criteria shall not consider the GM dimension of the soy. In short, the governing board has already definitively and finally rejected the idea of doing what WWF belatedly says they will do.
If WWF had really intended to include a GM free option, they would have pushed to include this in the RTRS criteria years ago. It is actually too late to do this now, because WWF has allowed the multinational corporations to take strong control of the RTRS process.
* Encourage companies to pursue GMO-free production and commit to GMO-free soy in their procurement policies”
Again, if WWF were serious about this, they would have done as they now propose to do years ago. But instead, they allowed the RTRS process to proceed without any consideration of the GMO issue to the point where it will be virtually impossible to incorporate the GM issue in the assessment process.