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.
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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.
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 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.
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.
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.
ETC Group's Pat Mooney is the author of "Making Well People Better," an essay appearing in WorldWatch magazine's July, 2002 issue entitled, Beyond Cloning: The Risk of the Rush to Human Genetic Engineering and the Larger Agenda of the Human Biotech Industry. The essay is available in PDF format on this Worldwatch website, and the entire issue (July/August 2002, Vol. 15, No. 4) can be purchased for US $4.
An essay by ETC Group's Hope Shand entitled "Intellectual Property: Enhancing Corporate Monopoly and Bioserfdom", appears in Fatal Harvest: The Tragedy of Industrial Agriculture. Edited by Andrew Kimbrell and published by the Foundation for Deep Ecology in 2202. Fatal Harvest offers a visually stunning collection of photos and essays on the myths and tragedy of US-bred industrial agriculture. It also offers a vision for a food and farming system that is socially just, ecologically and culturally diverse and sustainable.
Some biotech companies are claiming that GM (genetically-modified) seed can best be controlled if they also apply Terminator technology to the seed. The Terminator makes the seed sterile at harvest time so that farmers have to purchase new seed every growing season. When ETC group learned that suicide seeds were being hailed as a "green" technology, we decided to hold a contest. The winner is announced today at the Biodiversity Convention in The Netherlands.
ETC group's April Fool's Day Contest - to come up with the best conclusion to the sentence, "Using Terminator to halt GM seed contamination is like..." has a winner. The global contest, which began in early February and ended on April Fool's Day resulted in more than 110 entries from 21 countries. Many hundreds more visited the special website set-up for the contest to see the answers.
Rather than enter into a marriage that even the U.S. Government would find unpalpable, the world's two most powerful Gene Giants have decided to live in sync by sharing their proprietary agricultural biotechnologies with one another. Unless the two titans are committing to long-term monogamy, such a tech-swap is the corporate equivalent of "unprotected sex". It seems the risks in this particular union will be offloaded on farmers with fewer choices and higher prices - the corporate notion of "Fee Love"?