Posted on behalf of Marta Paterlini.
A group of Swedish scientists challenged their government in an open letter on 22 October in which they alleged that Swedish foreign aid has supported vandalism in the Philippines against research plots of genetically modified crops.
Last August, a group of Philippine anti-GMO activists attacked and destroyed a field trial of so-called ‘golden rice’ in the Bicol region. The trial was being conducted by the government’s Philippine Rice Research Institute, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), and other public-sector partners. IRRI, whose general director, Robert Zeigler, also signed the open letter, is supported by Sweden through foreign aid to the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, CGIAR.
Among the protesters, Philippine authorities identified members of MASIPAG, an organisation that expressed support for the attack on its webpage.
MASIPAG is one of the bodies funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, an agency of the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs, through funds to the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation (Naturskyddsföreningen SSNC).
In the open letter, the writers voice concerns that Swedish aid funds are used “to sabotage research that aims at mitigating human suffering”.
A week later the minister for development cooperation, Hillevi Engström, wrote a reply which said, in part: “Foreign aid intended for agricultural development should obviously never be used to finance criminal activities,” and “SIDA has a clear mandate to conduct effective aid and combat fraud in its handling of aid efforts.”
Charlotte Petri-Gornitzka, SIDA’s general director, said in a statement, “It may seem strange that Swedish aid goes to IRRI’s work to develop GM crops and simultaneously supports organisations such as MASIPAG to develop alternatives to these GM crops — and even campaigning against them.” She added that Swedish aid funds may not be used in illegal actions, and that SIDA might reconsider the support to organisations that are involved in illegal actions. SIDA has appointed SSNC to investigate if and how MASIPAG has given support to individual farmers in connection with vandalism acts.
In an email to Nature, SSNC president Mikael Karlsson claimed that there is no evidence supporting the accusation in the scientists’ letter that MASIPAG was involved in the uprooting, or that SIDA’s money financed that event.
Jens Sundström, a plant biologist at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Uppsala and one of the authors of the letter, told Nature that he finds Karlsson’s statement surprising, because the open letter provided links to official documents that alleged that unnamed MASIPAG members took part in the acts.
Sundström also says he’s troubled that the Swedish government seems to have accepted what he calls a “false dichotomy” between traditional and modern farming. “Both activities must be founded in science to be successful, and would both benefit if we just could co-operate.”