Originally published August 28, 2010 at 6:50 pm | Updated August 28, 2010 at 9:01 pm
Local activists are mounting a campaign to get the Gates Foundation to cut its ties with the agribusiness giant Monsanto and other firms involved in developing bioengineered crops.
For two years, local activists on a shoestring budget have been trying to document connections between the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Monsanto, the company vilified by some for its heavy involvement in genetic engineering of crops.
Try as they might, their work got little attention.
That all changed with the news, reported by The Wall Street Journal last week, that Monsanto was among the foundation’s most recent portfolio investments. A filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission says the foundation bought 500,000 shares of the stock between April and June; on Friday, the total value was $27.6 million.
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The Gates Foundation doesn’t comment on specific investments, a spokeswoman said.
While the Monsanto investment is a tiny fraction of the foundation’s $33 billion endowment, it loomed large among those involved in food issues. The news ricocheted around activist circles and has given the Seattle-based Community Alliance for Global Justice (CAGJ) a national platform.
Its AGRA Watch campaign has been quietly compiling Monsanto/foundation connections for two years. Several foundation employees have ties to the company, including some in leadership positions. A number of the projects it has funded in Africa also work with the company.
As news of the investment broke, national activist organizations started reaching out to the alliance, said Heather Day, CAGJ’s director. The group will start “organizing on a national scale” next week with the help of the larger groups.
The foundation’s investment in Monsanto was the “bad news that’s good news” for their effort to get the foundation to “do the right thing,” Day said. This week, 250 people sent postcards to the foundation asking it to cut ties to Monsanto and other biotech firms and shift its funding priorities “from industrial agriculture to socially and ecologically appropriate practices.” The groups are also planning an online-petition drive.
Meanwhile, national groups plan to write the foundation outlining reasons why they need to break their ties with companies involved in developing bioengineered crops, Day said.
When asked about AGRA Watch, the Gates Foundation replied in e-mailed statements, and the spokeswoman declined to give her name. “We have met with representatives from AGRA Watch and a variety of other organizations with a broad range of views about agriculture in the developing world,” a spokeswoman wrote Thursday. “We believe an open exchange of ideas is essential to tackling urgent global challenges.”