Many in Canadian agriculture will recognize the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN) as one of the country’s most vocal opponents of agricultural biotechnology. But very few know CBAN is actually a front for Tides Canada, one of Canada’s largest charities.
I have spent almost a year exploring, communicating and trying to understand and alter this relationship. I have done so quietly without public comment. The discussions have been polite and I’ve met decent people. But alas, I have been largely unsuccessful in effecting much change.
Hence, I’m writing this column. It’s time for you to know what’s going on.
Tides Canada functions mainly as an NGO brokerage service. It manages environmental and social programs/projects using money provided by others – including some from the larger US-based Tides – while providing Canadian charitable cover. Its disbursements vary by year but average about $25 million.
Most distributions by Tides Canada involve grants to other organizations. However CBAN is unique: it is not an independent organization but a “project” of Tides Canada. CBAN is Tides Canada even though this is scarcely mentioned on the CBAN web site.
To my knowledge, CBAN represents a relatively small portion of Tides Canada cash flow. Tide Canada’s total expenditure for what it calls “Sustainable Food Systems” (also used to fund groups like Sustain Ontario) represents about 12% of total spending. The other 88% is for activities unrelated to agriculture and food.
The puzzle to me was/is why anti-biotechnology advocacy is a priority to Tides Canada.
My quest began in early 2016 with a visit to a Tides Canada director who encouraged me to document misleading statements by CBAN/Tides Canada. The CBAN web site contained many examples, and my lengthy document was submitted to the board chair after a substantial period of fact checking.
To their credit, the Tides Canada chair and board formed a special committee to consider my claims, and some wording changes were made to the CBAN web site. But other changes were not made including a phoney claim that the Golden Rice initiative spent $50 million on advertizing before 2001.
(The volunteer-based Golden Rice Humanitarian Board based in Switzerland informed me the claim is blatantly false, and I relayed this to Tides Canada. However, Tides Canada chose instead to believe a statement published by columnist Michael Pollan in the New York Times.)
Minor wording changes made as a result of my submission, and the respectful, way in which I have been treated don’t mask the fundamental problem:
Tides Canada endorses and embellishes criticisms of agricultural biotechnology including humanitarian endeavours such as Golden Rice, even when based on dubious sources – while not acknowledging that there are important benefits.
It disappoints me that, notwithstanding my representations, Tides Canada continues to hold this one-sided perspective, despite its professed interest in “sustainable food systems.”
It bothers me much more that this activity is supported by Canadian taxpayers as a charity even though much (most) of the CBAN/Tides Canada activity involves pressuring government(s).
The chair of Tides Canada insists that she has checked this carefully with the Canadian Revenue Agency; she claims as long as the activity is non-partisan, government lobbying is permitted – i.e., for far more than the 10% of expenditures for “political activity” supposedly allowed for Canadian charities.
This is wrong: Why should governments provide tax-exemptions for so-called charities that use much of the money to lobby government?
Canadian farmers work hard to produce high-quality food ingredients at ever declining real costs of production while striving to do so in increasingly sustainable ways. Biotechnology is part of that quest. It’s sad that Tides Canada is one of the obstacles farmers endure in their endeavour.