The Food Systems We Don’t Know We Don’t Know – Fifty years ago, at the first World Food Congress in June 1963, the UN was told that, “We have the means, we have the capacity, to wipe hunger and poverty from the face of the earth in our lifetime – we need only the will.” These words have been the mantra of every food conference since. Yet governments still face major gaps in their knowledge about our food supply and consumption. This became horribly apparent in 2007 when governments failed to recognize that a global food crisis was at hand. Fifty years after policymakers committed to end hunger they need to sort out why governments don’t have the means, the capacity, or the will to end hunger.
In this Communiqué, ETC Group identifies the major corporate players that control industrial farm inputs. Together with our companion poster, Who will feed us? The industrial food chain or the peasant food web?, ETC Group aims to de-construct the myths surrounding the effectiveness of the industrial food system.
September 9th, 2013
ETC Group publishes its 111th Communiqué today. The 40-page report – “Putting the Cartel before the Horse…Who Will Control Agricultural Inputs?” – provides market data on the world’s major corporate players involved in food and agriculture and analysis of key sectors in the corporate food chain.
Recent developments in synthetic biology could impact the $22 billion global flavour and fragrance market and the livelihoods of producers of natural commodities. These developments impact the sustainable use of biodiversity and fair and equitable sharing of benefits from the genetic resources that produce natural plant products. The worlds largest producers of food ingredients, flavors and fragrances are all now partnering with Synthetic Biology companies to develop biosynthetic versions of key high value natural commodities such as saffron, vanilla, vetiver and patchouli - replacing botanical sources.
Background: At a recent Synthetic Biology Conference in Cambridge UK, Synthetic Biologist Jay Keasling announced that the consortium he was working with now intend to replace the entire global supply of artemisinin (an anti-malarial compound) with their new synthetic-biology derived version.
At the end of April 2013, ETC Group learned that three biohackers from Singularity University in California had mounted a project on the popular crowdfunding site Kickstarter. It was a plan to carry out the worlds first environmental release of an avowedly Synthetic Biology organism - a glow-in-the dark arabidopsis plant. Shockingly the 'Glowing Plants' kickstarter project promised to mail up to 100 bioengineered seeds to anyone from the United States who gave them $40 online . To date over 4000 people expect to receive syn bio seeds in the post. Even more shockingly they claim that the US Government had agreed not to regulate, assess or monitor this widespread random and nation-wide release of synthetic organisms.
ETC Group is now mounting a counter-kickstarter campaign: - the Kickstopper! Read how you can be part of it.
African Centre for Biosafety, ETC Group, FoodMattersZimbabwe and CTDT
Johannesburg, Harare, Mexico City 15 April 2013
Issue: The Gene Giants know their market dominance looks conspicuously like an anticompetitive oligopoly, so they’re launching a series of initiatives – including the false promise of cheap, post-patent GE seeds – to mollify antitrust regulators and soften opposition to transgenics while advancing their collective market control. Meanwhile, the world’s two richest men – Bill Gates and Mexico’s Carlos Slim – are working with CIMMYT (the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center) to make bargain GE seeds and traits available to farmers in the global South.
A report released today by ETC Group warns that 6 multinational Gene Giants control the current priorities and future direction of agriculture research worldwide. Syngenta, Bayer, BASF, Dow, Monsanto and DuPont control 59.8 % of commercial seeds and 76.1 % of agrochemicals. The same 6 companies account for at least 76 % of all private sector R&D in these two sectors.
Amid unprecedented corporate concentration, ETC Group’s report provides a critical look at new initiatives launched by the Gene Giants – including the false promise of cheap, post-patent GE seeds – aiming to appease antitrust regulators and pass off oligopolistic practices as acts of charity. Meanwhile, the world’s two richest men – Bill Gates and Mexico’s Carlos Slim – are teaming up with CIMMYT (the international public maize and wheat breeding center based in Mexico) to get bargain GE seeds and traits in the hands of farmers in the global South.
Bees from 1.500 hives of a community in Hopelchen, Campeche, have died the 6th of February 2013 due to a fumigation of soy crops from Monsanto in a nearby area. This has had a direct impact on more than 50 rural families that after a bad maize harvest due to a drought, were hoping to recover with the sales of organic honey which is now impossible since the honey is contaminated with pesticides and genetically modified (GM) pollen. Álvaro Mena, a Mayan peasant and beekeeper who takes part in the Network in Defense of Maize has estimated that the losses amount to 10 million pesos, a year’s income for these families. Impacts have been also observed in four other communities. There is more intensive fumigation with GM crops, and since these crops are resistant to pesticides and planted in monoculture, enormous quantities of chemicals are applied. This is not a coincidence: it is the toxic avalanche that comes with transgenic farming and the threat of authorizing millions of hectares of transgenic maize.
In the face of an imminent authorization of the Mexican Government’s to sow millions of hectares of GM maize in this country, several social networks and collectives in Oaxaca have declared 2013 as the Year of Resistance to GM maize and of defense of native maize, life and autonomy of the maize people. The most important genetic heritage of the Mesoamericans is at stake.
If we are to survive climate change, we must adopt policies that let peasants diversify the plant and animal varieties on our menus. Only they have the know-how and patience to find out what plants and livestock will thrive where. A fundamental change in the regulatory machinery is needed.
Mexico remains on high alert following the attempts of Monsanto and other agribusiness multinationals to win the government’s approval to plant 2.5 million hectares of transgenic maize in Mexico, the center of origin and diversity of maize. As ETC wrote last month, approval would allow the boldest coup of a global food crop in history and would threaten biodiversity, farmers’ rights and resilience in the face of climate change. While the outgoing government of Felipe Calderón did not approve the applications before leaving office on November 30th, its last-minute, surreptitious changes to regulatory procedures removed obstacles that could have hindered the new administration’s ability to grant the companies’ requests.
Inside and outside Mexico, voices have decried the attack aimed at the heart of Mexican cultures, food, health and nature. Since mid-November, there have been workshops and public meetings, as well as petitions and protests by farmers, artists, activists and scientists in social and print media and on the radio. La Via Campesina, Grain and ETC Group wrote an open letter to the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) asking the multilateral agencies to intervene for the sake of global food security.
It may be a time of thanksgiving for the harvest in North America but in the boardrooms of Monsanto, Du Pont and Dow Agrosciences biotech executives may be saving their biggest thanks to the outgoing Mexican President: Felipe Calderon.
In these last dying days of his presidency, Calderon is widely expected to grant permission for the commercial planting of more than 2.5 million hectares of genetically modified maize (corn) in the global centre of origin and diversity for this important world food crop. If he does so this move of historical importance would amount to a "knife in the heart" of both Mexico's ancient maize culture and the diversity of maize worldwide.
Please take a moment to sign and support a new international petition against the impending commercialization of GMO maize in Mexico at http://www.avaaz.org/en/petition/Stop_Monsanto_in_Mexico/?fSLKJbb&pv=1
Agribusiness giants Monsanto, DuPont and Dow are plotting the boldest coup of a global food crop in history. If their requests to allow a massive commercial planting of genetically modified (GM) maize are approved in the next two weeks by the government of outgoing president Felipe Calderón, this parting gift to the gene giants will amount to a knife in the heart of the center of origin and diversity for maize. The consequences will be grave – and global. With the approvals and December planting deadlines looming, social movements and civil society organizations have called for an end to all GM maize in Mexico. Mexico’s Union of Concerned Scientists (UCCS) has called on the Mexican government to stop the processing of any application for open-field release of GM maize in Mexico. ETC Group joins these calls, and appeals to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) – intergovernmental bodies mandated to support food security and biodiversity – to take immediate action.
Please take a moment to sign a global petition against the commercialization of GMO maize in Mexico at:
This case study illustrates how a key pharmaceutical ingredient, shikimic acid – traditionally derived from star anise cultivated by Chinese farmers – can be rapidly replaced by a new technological production process. Using synthetic biology, shikimic acid is now being produced commercially in drug industry fermentation tanks. The transition took less than a decade. Shikimic acid is just one example of a raw material that may be affected; it is conservatively estimated that at least 50% of today’s commercial pharmaceutical compounds are derived from plants, animals and microorganisms. No inter-governmental body is addressing the potential impacts of synthetic biology on the conservation and use of biodiversity and on the livelihoods of those who depend on agricultural export commodities (including high-value flavors, fragrances, essential oils, etc). The Convention on Biological Diversity is the most appropriate forum to address this new and emerging issue.
The global commercial seed market in 2009 is estimated at 27,400 million.
The top 10 companies account for 73% of the global market (up from 67% in 2007).
Just 3 companies control more than half (53%) of the global commercial market for seed.
Monsanto, the world’s largest seed company and fourth largest pesticide company, now controls more than one-quarter (27%) of the commercial seed market.
Dow Agrosciences – the world’s fifth largest pesticide company – made a dramatic re-entry on the top 10 seed company list in 2009 following a seed company-buying spree that included Hyland Seeds (Canada), MTI (Austria), Pfister Seeds (USA) and Triumph Seed (USA), among others.
It’s difficult to describe Rio+20 as anything other than a tragedy. Despite years of preparation and months of negotiations, nothing said or done in Rio can cover up not just the 20 lost years since the original 1992 Earth Summit – as seasoned delegates have quietly noted – but also the half-century of intergovernmental failures since Rachel Carson catalyzed the sequence of global environmental congresses following the publication of her book, Silent Spring, in 1962.