In the years ahead, you can expect to hear a lot of favorable news about industrialized agriculture—GMOs, pesticides and factory farms—coming out of the Foundation for Food and Agricultural Research (FFAR). That seems like a reasonable assumption looking at the foundation’s directors, funders, advisors and staff, who, in many ways, are a who’s who of industrial ag supporters.
The rub? You’re paying for all this.
In the 2014 Farm Bill, Congress set aside $200 million—your tax dollars—to fund FFAR, a private foundation that must secure matching funds from the private sector to undertake any research projects.
Predictably, many of the initial private funders of FFAR are the moneyed interests in our food system. This includes corn and soybean industry groups and Monsanto.
And something called The BioAgAlliance. Which is also Monsanto.
FFAR’s board of directors includes industry advocates from Cargill, the National Corn Growers Association, PepsiCo and the pro-GMO Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Some of FFAR’s small staff even comes from industry, including its senior scientific program director, from Monsanto, and its communications director, from Keep America Beautiful, an industry front group supported by Big Tobacco.
The one-sided composition of FFAR is having a predictable effect. FFAR has taken to social media to promote a highly questionable political campaign promoting GMOs, whose scientific basis has been openly challenged by independent academics. FFAR also promotes “tips” on communicating the benefits of GMOs from notoriously conflicted academic scientists.
This GMO cheerleading from FFAR is a totally predictable outcome of the organization’s pay-to-play design, which contributes to the money and politics problem that is at the root of our broken food system. When Congress created FFAR, it offered a de facto $200 million subsidy for corporate agribusiness, allowing even more leverage over how public tax dollars are spent.
The private sector already has far too much power over the direction of agricultural research, outspending USDA in research dollars going to public agricultural colleges in recent years, for example. And by putting federal research dollars into the hands of a private foundation like FFAR, the USDA also removed critical layers of transparency and accountability. We can’t file a Freedom of Information Act request to FFAR to find out about its collaboration with the private sector. And we also can’t challenge how FFAR is spending your tax dollars in the same way that we can challenge USDA research funding.
There is a critical need right now for independent research in the agricultural sciences, but FFAR is the wrong model. Congress should dissolve FFAR and return the $200 million back to USDA coffers, where the use of this money is subject to measures of transparency and accountability unknown to a private foundation.