In Oligopoly, Inc. 2005 ETC Group finds that corporate concentration -- not only in food and agriculture, but in all sectors related to the products and processes of life -- has increased remarkably since ETC's last review two years ago. The report also reveals that a subterranean struggle is underway at the nano-scale to control the fundamental building blocks of life and nature. Corporate investment in nanobiotechnology (or, synthetic biology) could give ultimate control to a very different set of corporate actors.
According to ETC Group, the top 10 multinational seed firms control half of the world's commercial seed sales (a total worldwide market of approximately US$21,000 million per annum). Corporate control and ownership of seeds - the first link in the food chain - has far-reaching implications for global food security. With control of seeds and agricultural research held in fewer hands, the world's food supply is increasingly vulnerable to the whims of market maneuvers.
ETC Group reports on trends in intellectual property relating to nano-scale technologies. With nanotechnology, the reach of exclusive monopoly patents is not just on life, but all of nature. Accordingly, ETC Group refers to nanotech's "second nature" patents.
Swiss gene giant Syngenta, the world’s largest agrochemical corporation and third largest seed company (see tables) has applied for patents that could effectively allow the company to monopolize key gene sequences that are vital for rice breeding as well as dozens of other plant species. While the Genome Giant "donates" rice germplasm and information to public researchers with one hand, it is attempting to monopolize rice resources with the other. Governments, public sector researchers and the United Nations must re-evaluate and reform their cozy connections to companies like Syngenta.
In sharp contrast to the political climate one year ago, the potential health and environmental risks of some nano-scale technologies are now being openly discussed in Europe and North America. In recent months, governments on both sides of the Atlantic have reluctantly conceded that current safety and health regulations may not be adequate to address the special exigencies of nano-scale materials.
A new study revealing that engineered carbon molecules known as "buckyballs" cause brain damage in fish is one more brick in the wall of evidence suggesting that manufactured nanoparticles are harmful to the environment and to health.
J. Craig Venter, the genomics mogul and scientific wizard who recently created a unique living organism from scratch in a matter of days, is searching for pay-dirt in the biodiversity-rich Galapagos Islands. From his 95-ft. yacht, Sorcerer II, Venter is hop-scotching around the globe collecting microbial diversity from gene-rich seas and shores every 200 miles.(1) Venter's ship has already sampled in the Sargasso Sea (North Atlantic), Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, Ecuador (Galapagos), Chile and is now en route to French Polynesia (Tahiti, Bora Bora, etc.).
As negotiations come to a head in Kuala Lumpur at the first meeting of the Biosafety Protocol of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) the United States along with Canada and a few Latin American states seem poised to render the 86-nation agreement irrelevant. News earlier this week that the Argentine Government has offered to collect taxes from its GM soybean farmers in lieu of royalty payments has stunned many delegations attending the meeting in the Malaysian capital.