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Recognizing a pioneer in the protection of agricultural diversity and farmer’s rights

Monday, June 12, 2017

Pat Roy Mooney

Pat Roy Mooney, a renowned expert on the issue of agricultural genetic erosion, is set to become the newest honorary alumnus of the Faculty of Environment, as he receives an Honorary Doctor of Environmental Studies at tomorrow’s convocation ceremony.  

“The work of Pat Mooney and the ETC Group that he directs has helped to shape the research work of many of us in the field of global food studies,” said Professor Jennifer Clapp, Canada Research Chair in Global Food Security and Sustainability. “His work makes you not only stop and think, but also to act. Throughout his career, Pat has led important research on technological trends in the global food system and their consequences for the world’s most vulnerable people. It’s a natural fit with the University of Waterloo’s aim to foster research that has positive, real-world impacts.”

With an impressive international career spanning more than five decades, Mooney has become known as a champion for the conservation of plant genetic resources and the livelihoods of small-scale farmers. As Co-founder and Executive Director of ETC group, he has been instrumental in placing agricultural sustainability issues on the global agenda and driving concrete social change to protect the livelihoods of marginalized peoples around the world.

Mooney was one of the first people to question the control and ownership of plant resources and also to recognize the potential dangers of agricultural technology. He and his colleagues at ETC group first coined the term ‘biopiracy’ and are credited with shining a light on the appropriation and patenting of indigenous plants and medicines. Their efforts ultimately led to the establishment of a legally-binding seed treaty. In the 1990’s, they discovered and named ‘The Terminator’ seeds; genetically-modified seeds that die after harvest. Facing off against Monsanto in a public debate, Mooney disputed the ethics of preventing replanting and forcing farmers to repurchase seeds each season. Since then, Mooney and ETC group have successfully achieved a consensus moratorium of all UN member nations against the release of Terminator technologies.

Mooney has authored or co-authored several books on the politics of biotechnology and biodiversity and has received a number of prestigious awards, including the Pearson Medal of Peace from Canada’s Governor General, Right Livelihood Award (commonly referred to as the Alternative Nobel Prize) and the American “Giraffe Award” given to people “who stick their necks out.”

Accepting the recognition with an equal measure of humour and humility, Mooney quipped: "I didn't actually finish high school, and I never went to university, but my academic career path is back on track – my high school in Winnipeg gave me an honorary diploma 10 years ago, and now I've got my doctorate." On a more serious note, adding:

With this honour, the University of Waterloo is honouring the peasant farmers who have fed the world for 12,000 years, who still feed more than 70% of the world's people today, and who remain our best hope of keeping food on the table in the midst of climate change.