reducing food losses during storage, its proponents claiming that it will allow chemical control methods to be reduced or eliminated. In December 1988, FAO co-sponsored a conference in Geneva with the International Atomic Energy Agency, WHO and the GATT/ UNCTAD International Trade Centre, which gave the green light to the more widespread use of irradiation and the trade in irradiated foodstuffs.
FAO has remained impervious to the consumer advocates and others who have argued that there are still considerable doubts over the safety of food irradiation. They claim that FAO is putting its weight behind a "technology in search of an industry", which is irrelevant to the problem it is supposed to be handling. As in so many other instances, FAO has embraced a capital-intensive, hightechnology "solution" which will further increase the dependence of Third World countries on the North.
FAO's Power Structure
FAO's headquarters on Rome's Circus Maximus. Many of the work here are reported to be demoralized with the constricting bureaucracy. (Photo: FAO)
A similar impression is given by FAO's support for the tobacco industry. In June 1989, FAO's Committee on Commodities held a special discussion on tobacco. An opening statement was made by a WHO observer, K.E. Stanley, who pointed to the two million deaths caused by smoking every year, and argued that "in the long term, tobacco consumption is not only a major health hazard but also a burden to national economies, due to associated health and social costs". He also stated that "economic analyses should not be the sole basis for determining government policy with respect to tobacco".13
Such arguments cut no ice with the committee. Although it recognized the concerns over health, it remained adamant that, "tobacco is of great socio-economic importance... a large number of people worldwide depend on tobacco cultivation for their livelihood". The role of tobacco in export earnings, government revenues and so on were also evoked in support of the industry. Arguing that "malnutrition and infectious diseases" were "more pressing health concerns" in Third World countries than smoking, the committee went on to request that FAO provide technical assistance to improve tobacco cultivation. Yet it is hard to see how expanding tobacco cultivation, which mines the soil and entails taking land out of food crop production, will help combat malnutrition.
FAO's bias towards industry also explains its support for the Tropical Forestry Action Plan (see George Marshall, this issue) and food irradiation. The latter is being promoted as a means of
over 3100 staff who nature of the huge
FAO is governed by a conference of all its member states held once every two years. A council, which meets twice a year, oversees the organization's activities between conferences. Eight standing committees deal with:
finance, programme, legal and constitutional affairs, commodities, fisheries, forestry, agriculture and food security. Finally, regional conferences meet in non-conference years.
Heading the secretariat is a Director-General who, in the absence of any effective checks and balances, is all-powerful. In effect, member governments have very little control over how FAO operates or how it spends the funds they place at its disposal. As has been pointed out by the late German journalist Otto Matzke, who made a detailed critique of FAO, the office responsible for auditing FAO's accounts is directly dependent on the office of the Director-General.14 It is hardly likely to provide sincere and searching reports on FAO's use of funds. The external auditing of accounts is carried out by the United Kingdom's Comptroller and Auditor General, whose staff is too small to carry out substantial evaluations.
Neither is there any independent procedure for assessing FAO's operational effectiveness: the only evaluations are carried out by FAO itself. The service which deals with field programme evaluation and inspection is located within the office of the Director-General. Finally, the Finance and the Programme and Budget Committees are too large (over 30 members each) to perform detailed scrutiny of FAO's activities. In 1987, the FAO Conference reluctantly agreed to order a "Review of Certain Aspects of FAO's Goals and Operations".15 However, this was top-heavy with representatives of member governments under secretariat influence and resulted in a virtual whitewash for
The Ecologist, Vol. 21, No. 2, March/April 1991