Nature magazine’s flip-flop today (April 2002) over the testing protocols involved in determining GM maize contamination in Mexico - the Centre of Genetic Diversity for the vital food crop - is just the latest in a string of absurdities as the scientific community struggles over what to do as genetically-modified germplasm invades the genetic homelands of the world’s food supply.
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MIT says an army of NanoWalkers (microbots) will be performing sub-atomic operations within three months. The development signals a new era in technology as industry prepares to move "down" from genomes to atoms.
Thumbelina with an attitude: Hundreds of three-legged robots the size of a thumb, complete with onboard computers, powerful microscopes, and biosensors will be ready to manufacture nano-scale materials by mid-2002, according to researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Bioinstrumentation Laboratory. A 'nano' is a measurement of one-billionth of a meter. Only 32 millimeters in diameter, the microbots are designed to manipulate atoms. Responding to infrared signals allowing each microbot to act independently or collectively on myriad tasks, the little machines (dubbed "NanoWalkers") are capable of executing 48 million instructions and making 4,000 nano-maneuvers per second. MIT expects to have at least 300 microbots hard at work in an enclosed card-table sized chromium chamber by June. The chromium surface provides an energy source for the robots which will receive their marching orders from a master computer in the box's ceiling.
If you don't have anything nice to say don't say anything at all? When the policy committee of the world's most important agricultural science network met last week, they evaded all the tough questions related to transgenic maize in Mexico - the crop's center of genetic diversity. Last year, and again last month, the Mexican Environment Ministry confirmed that farmers' maize varieties in at least two states had been contaminated with DNA from genetically modified maize.
Unnatural Rejection? The academic squabble over Nature magazine's peer-reviewed article is anything but academic:
More than 144 farmer and other Civil Society Organizations from 40 countries have signed a Joint Statement being released today on the Mexican GM Maize Scandal. The Statement comes on the eve of an international science policy meeting in Los Banos, Philippines where a global response to the scandal will be discussed. The 144 organizations are demanding that the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) work together with the Convention on Biological Diversity to halt the contamination of the Mesoamerican Centre of Genetic Diversity for maize - one of the world's most important food crops. News that genetically modified (GM) maize was turning up in farmers' varieties first appeared in Nature Biotechnology magazine last September and was confirmed in November by a peer-reviewed article in Nature. According to the 170 signatories to today's Joint Statement, the academic and industry attacks on the findings of the Mexican Government and U.S. university researchers has been orchestrated to keep the scandal from embarrassing the biotech industry as it tries to lift the European, Brazilian, and Mexican moratoria (de facto or otherwise) on genetically modified seeds or foods. If the Philippine meeting of the Genetic Resources Policy Committee of the CGIAR does not act decisively and immediately to protect farmers in Mesoamerica, civil society will take the issue directly to the April meeting of the Biodiversity Convention in the Hague, and the World Food Summit in Rome in June. The text of the Joint Statement follows.
The World's Largest Agrochemical and Seed Enterprises --Syngenta & DuPont -- Win Two New Patents on Genetic Seed Sterilization
The ETC group (formerly RAFI) announced today that the biotechnology industry continues to aggressively pursue the development of genetically modified seeds that are engineered for sterility. "We have uncovered two new patents on Terminator technology," said Hope Shand, Research Director of ETC group. "One patent is held by Dupont (the world's largest seed corporation) and the other is held by Syngenta (the world's largest agrochemical corporation)," said Shand.
This week, Mexico's indigenous farmers and civil society organizations will meet in Mexico City (Jan. 23-24) to decide what to do about GM contamination in one of the world's mega-centres of agricultural biodiversity. Meanwhile, the scientific community is imploding with angst and accusations as the "Peers" of the Plant Realm squabble over the implications for global food security.
The ETC group (formerly RAFI) is releasing a new Communiqué today in an attempt to summarize the fractious scientific and political debate surrounding GM maize contamination in Mexico. The full text is available at www.etcgroup.org. The Communiqué is also a contribution to the Mexico City seminar of which ETC group is among the sponsoring organizations. For further background on the seminar, contact Silvia Ribeiro in Mexico City: firstname.lastname@example.org
How can monopoly patents threaten food security and the livelihoods of farmers? The controversial Enola bean patent demonstrates the abuses of intellectual property monopoly:
A US patent on a yellow bean variety has disrupted export markets for Mexican bean growers and is now wreaking havoc on small farmers and seed companies in the United States. The patent makes it illegal for unlicensed users in the United States to grow, sell, import, or use the proprietary yellow bean seeds.
Larry Proctor, the president of Pod-Ners seed company (Colorado, USA) and the owner of the controversial US patent on a yellow-colored bean variety, filed a lawsuit on 30 November 2001 against 16 small bean seed companies and farmers in Colorado, claiming that they are violating the patent by illegally growing and selling his yellow "Enola" bean. Proctor holds both a US Patent and a US Plant Variety Protection certificate on the Enola yellow bean.
The first global accord of the 21st century, the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, was adopted by consensus on November 3rd, 2001. After seven years of acrimonious debate, the convoluted text can't be read without recourse to the Rosetta Stone. Nevertheless, history will come to know it as "The Law of the Seed" - a signal step toward food sovereignty and justice. Today, the ETC group (formerly RAFI) is releasing its ETC Translator to help farmers and policy-makers decipher the accord. The 16-page report includes 11 cartoons of biocrat negotiators and a Global Governance Report scoring the 25 delegations and organizations that most influenced the outcome - for good or ill.
After two years of intense local opposition from indigenous peoples' organizations in Chiapas, Mexico, the US government-funded ICBG-Maya project aimed at the bioprospecting of Mayan medicinal plants and traditional knowledge has been "definitively cancelled" by the Project's Chiapas-based partner, ECOSUR - El Colegio de la Frontera Sur. The US government confirmed today that the ICBG-Maya Project has been terminated.
However US scientists got hold of Thailand's billion dollar 'Jasmine' rice, the reality is that US national public research has the potential to destroy a vital export market for poor Asian farmers. That the invaluable germplasm may have been sent, improperly, by an international public science body dedicated to poverty eradication, raises tough questions about the role of the public sector in privatized science. Ironically, the very treaty that could help resolve these issues is endangered by this latest biopiracy. ETC Group draws out the international consequences.