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Nanotech Meets the Environment

Making a Mole Hill out of a Mountain?

ETC Group today (October 2003) released a 6-page Communiqué on the use of nanotechnology-based products in the environment - products that are coming to market in the absence of both government oversight and public discussion. A recent large-scale application of a product touted to control soil erosion using nanotechnology highlights regulatory inadequacies and lack of clarity in the nanotech industry.

Nanotechnology - whose best-known commercial successes have thus far been stain-resistant fabrics, stronger and lighter tennis rackets, and transparent sunscreens - has spawned new environmental products to prevent erosion or to clean up contaminated sites. While the companies claim these products will be beneficial to the ecosystem, in the absence of government regulatory oversight, the unknown short- and long-term implications raise concerns for health and for the environment.

Nine Mexican States found to be GM contaminated - Contamination by genetically modified maize in Mexico much worse than feared

From: Indigenous and farming communities in Oaxaca, Puebla, Chihuahua, Veracruz, CECCAM, CENAMI, ETC Group, CASIFOP, UNOSJO, AJAGI

Mexico City, Mexico

* Contamination has been found in cornfields in the states of Chihuahua, Morelos, Durango, Mexico State, Puebla, Oaxaca, San Luis Potosí, Tlaxcala and Veracruz

* Analyses show contamination with the genetically modified (GM) variety Starlink, prohibited for human consumption in the United States

* Some plants found to show presence of two, three and four different GM types, all patented by transnational biotechnology corporations

Monsanto's Species-Wide Patent on Trial

May 6-7 2003, European Patent Office Hears Patent Challenge in Munich - Eight and One-Half Years Later!

Remember 1994? Nine years ago: Yasser Arafat, Yitzhak Rabin, and Shimon Peres won the Nobel Peace Prize, Nelson Mandela was elected President of South Africa, US President Bill Clinton sent ground troops to the Persian Gulf to counter a move by Iraq's Saddam Hussein, and Brazil won the World Cup. The United Nations' Biodiversity Convention entered into force in 1994 and the Uruguay Round of GATT was drawing to a close. In the "life sciences" cosmos, Monsanto and Dupont were chemical companies with minor interests in seeds and Syngenta did not yet exist. ETC Group was known as RAFI. Also in 1994, a small biotech subsidiary of W.R. Grace, Agracetus, won a breathtakingly broad patent on all genetically modified soybean varieties, European Patent No. 301,749.

Broken Promise? Monsanto Promotes Terminator Seed Technology

At its annual meeting on Thursday, April 24th 2003, Monsanto's top brass will greet shareholders with a dismal financial report, (a 15% drop in annual sales - $4.7 billion in 2002, down from $5.5 billion in 2001) and a shareholder resolution that urges the company to re-think the safety of genetically engineered seeds - now the company's flagship product. But there's potentially more troubling news - a little known position paper that could rattle shareholders, irk investors and erode public confidence still further in the biotech behemoth: Despite its 1999 pledge not to commercialize Terminator technology, Monsanto has recently adopted a positive stance on genetic seed sterilization, a technology that has been condemned by civil society and some governments as an immoral application of genetic engineering.

Size Matters!

ETC Group: New information provides more evidence for mandatory moratorium on synthetic nanoparticles

The ETC Group today (14.04.2003) releases a new Occasional Paper, "No Small Matter II: The Case for a Global Moratorium - Size Matters!" The report calls on governments to adopt a moratorium on synthetic nanomaterials that are being manufactured in the laboratory and in some cases commercialized, in the absence of testing for health, safety and environmental impacts.

"Even though industry is scaling up the manufacture of nanoparticles and carbon nanotubes there appear to be no government regulations in Europe or North America to ensure the safety of workers or consumers," says Kathy Jo Wetter, ETC Group researcher. "A few national governments are beginning to consider some aspects of nanotech regulation but no government is giving full consideration to the socioeconomic, environmental, and health implications of this powerful new industry," notes Wetter. The ETC Group reports that nanoparticles are already available to consumers in sunscreens (including some intended for children, from infancy onwards) and cosmetics, among other products. However, regulators do not test nano-sized materials for health, safety and environmental impacts if their macro- or micro-sized counterparts have already been approved.

The Big Down

Technologies Converging at the Nano-scale

The ETC Group (formerly known as RAFI) announces the publication of The Big Down: Atomtech — Technologies Converging at the Nano-scale, the first comprehensive and critical analysis of nanotechnology for civil society and policymakers. The 80-page report seeks to widen civil society’s and policymakers’ focus beyond biotech and genetically engineered crops, and to catalyze widespread public debate on the societal impacts of nanotechnology.

The United States and The Law of the Seed

Political "About Face" or "Two-Faced" Policy?

On November 1st 2002, the new U.S. ambassador to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) announced what appeared to be a reversal of his government's policy and formally signed the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources. This is not a change of policy - just a change of strategy. As with the Biodiversity Convention a decade ago, the United States will "sign" but never "ratify" the Law of the Seed.

Trouble in Paradise

Civil Society Denounces CGIAR for Denial, Diversion and Delay on GM Contamination in Mexican Centre of Genetic Diversity

For the first time in its more than 30-year history, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) – a network of public and private donors that supports sixteen agricultural research centres around the world – held its annual meeting outside the confines of the World Bank in Washington, DC. The CGIAR is the largest public sector agricultural research effort and is mandated to serve the developing world’s poor.

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