Negotiations on the revised International Undertaking at FAO will profoundly affect the world's ability to respond to climate change. Failure will lead to a rapid reduction in the exchange of plant breeding stocks between countries and institutions. Agricultural research will be severely damaged. RAFI looks at the major issues and controversies under discussion in the final rounds of negotiations.
Recent Content Related to Farmers' Rights & Food Sovereignty
ETC Group Censored! The 25th Anniversary Edition of the Top Censored Stories of the Year, 2001 features critical social issues that have been under-reported or ignored in the mainstream media. ETC Group is the recipient of two Project Censored awards, and both are featured in this book. Biopiracy in Chiapas and the efforts of local indigenous peoples to defeat the US-government funded International Cooperative Biodiversity Group (ICBG-Maya) is one of the award-winning issues identified by Project Censored in 2000.
RAFI requests signatories to an open letter in support of the constitutional recognition of indigenous rights in Mexico that has been sent to the Mexican Congress. Full text below:
Today, an open letter in support of the constitutional recognition of indigenous rights in Mexico has been sent to the Mexican Congress, which is currently discussing this issue, undersigned by 14 recipients of the Right Livelihood Award (sometimes referred to as the 'Alternative Nobel Prize') and the Goldman Prize.
The letter was published in a full-page presentation in La Jornada on Thursday, March 22,2001 on page 14: http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2001/mar01/010322/014n1pol.html.
Tales from a Tribunal: 'The nuña bean is part of the Andean heritage. It is our treasure. For a company to patent a nuña cross, claiming the 'bean-nut popping bean' as an 'invention' with absolute world novelty is immoral and violates the rights of all indigenous groups,' said Elias Carreno, Coordinator of the 'Stop Biopiracy in the Andes' Campaign of the Associaci n Kechua-Aymara for Sustainable Livelihoods, ANDES (translated from Spanish).
Indigenous elders from six Andean communities that grow nuna beans met in late February for a traditional Quechua 'tribunal' to deliberate on US Patent No. 6,040,503 on the 'bean-nut popping bean' awarded to a US food processor, Appropriate Engineering and Manufacturing. The popping bean trait is found only in the Andean nuna bean, which the inventors claim in their patent. After hearing testimony from expert witnesses, the tribunal rendered their decision. Their verdict was unflinching in its criticism of intellectual property monopolies that are predatory on the knowledge, rights and resources of indigenous people.
World's Largest Agrochemical and Seed Enterprise Holds Growing Arsenal of Terminator and Traitor Technologies
Syngenta, the world's largest agribusiness firm, was formed on 13 November 2000 with the merger of AstraZeneca and Novartis. The next day the company won its newest Terminator patent, US Patent 6,147,282, 'Method of controlling the fertility of a plant.' (The patent was issued to Novartis - but the company's intellectual property goes to Syngenta.) With pro forma 1999 sales of US $7 billion, Syngenta is the world's largest agrochemical enterprise, and the third largest seed corporation.
Terminator patent portfolios are changing hands because the Gene Giants are consolidating, spinning off, and selling agbiotech interests. New patents describing genetically modified plants with weakened immune systems that depend on the application of a chemical to regain their natural defenses against pests and disease are the most troubling examples of Traitor technology to date.
'This patent has caused great economic hardship for farmers in northern Mexico, and we welcome attempts to overturn it,' said Miguel Tachna Felix, spokesman for the Agricultural Association of Rio Fuerte in Sinaloa, Mexico which represents 22,000 farmers in northern Mexico. Felix is referring to a legal challenge of a US patent on a yellow bean of Mexican origin.
Biotech's 3rd Generation refers to products that will offer perceived health, nutrition or lifestyle benefits for consumers. The lure of a technologically-integrated $15 trillion system will attract whole new corporate configurations. The Gene Giants may slip down the food chain when the food & beverage industry or the grocery retailers buy into Generation 3.
What 'grows' but doesn't 'move'? If you're an agronomist, the standard answer is a 'plant'. In Neuchatel, Switzerland last week however, at a tactically critical food security negotiation, the running joke was 'Washington trade policy'. As world seed and biotech industries, governments of Europe and Japan, and G77 (developing) countries watched in consternation, U.S. Government representatives tied themselves in knots trying to explain the difference to uninterested patent and trade lawyers back in their capitol, between plant genetic resources in agriculture from other industrial technologies. The U.S. delegation continuously raised what appeared to other delegations, to be nonsensical conflicts between the World Trade Organization (WTO) and an agreement being revised by governments in the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to safeguard the flow of crop germplasm for scientific research and international food security.
The Biosafety protocol on GM crops was a big thing in January, but the meeting about to begin in Neuchatel addresses a 'clear and present danger' to world food security. A brave little band of 'biocrats' could decide the fate of the scientific exchange of crop genetics. Their political bosses don't even know they've left town!
The Biosafety deal struck by governments in Montreal in January was intended to make the world safe from (or for?) transgenic crops. But what about the safety of those pedestrian seeds that are the basis for virtually all genetic crop improvement? The stuff that lets bio-engineers juggle genes and allows farmers to breed new diversity that can meet the stresses coming with global warming? Whereas the biosafety protocol tries to prevent the unwanted movement of GM seeds around the world, another treaty is being developed to facilitate the exchange of seeds for scientific research.
La biodiversidad en el mundo no está repartida equitativamente, aunque es la base de todos los sistemas naturales. Siete por ciento del planeta, coincidente con las áreas de bosques tropicales, alberga más de la mitad de la biodiversidad que se conoce en el mundo. México es uno de los países llamados megadiversos, ubicándose entre los cinco primeros lugares en diversidad de especies de fauna y flora, de bosques y otros ecosistemas. También es un centro privilegiado de origen y diversidad de especies cultivadas.
La mayor diversidad cultural del planeta está en las mismas zonas. No es casualidad. Es causalidad. Durante miles de años ha existido una relación de apoyo mutuo entre la diversidad biológica y la diversidad cultural. Millones de indígenas y campesinos han ido adaptando y adaptándose al medio, a través del uso y la domesticación de recursos biológicos para su sustento: alimentación, vivienda, abrigo, medicinas, objetos rituales y para el placer ético y estético. La diversidad no es un fenómeno separado de la gente. Tiene actores: son los campesinos –y fundamentalmente las campesinas-, los agricultores de pequeña escala, las poblaciones locales tradicionales e indígenas.
At Georgia's International Congress of Ethnobiology a proposal for a "Declaration of Athens" to set the standard for best practices and for intellectual property protection related to indigenous knowledge was pronounced 'Dead on Arrival' by indigenous leaders invited to the symposium. Ten Points on Piracy are offered toward a more constructive discourse.
The Golden Rice AstraZeneca saga is a case study in public science's failure to understand and address patent issues. In justifying their surrender of Vitamin A enriched GM rice to the giant corporation, the researchers claim they couldn't navigate the 70+ intellectual and tangible property conflicts that could potentially scuttle their work. There are likely no more than 11 - and possibly as few as 4, patent conflicts and one outstanding tangible property issue. A public sector group - including the people Golden Rice is intended to help - should meet to debate all the options and alternatives. The contract and the events surrounding it should be investigated.
Two days of contentious debate on Terminator has ruptured the US Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Advisory Board on Agricultural Biotechnology. Terminator technology, the genetic engineering of plants to produce sterile seeds, has been widely condemned as a dangerous and morally offensive application of agricultural biotechnology, because over 1.4 billion people depend on farm-saved seeds.
USDA ignited the worldwide controversy in March 1998 when it won the first of three patents on genetic seed sterilization, which it holds jointly with Delta & Pine Land - the world's largest cotton seed company.
In the face of mounting evidence of its commercialization, the Fifth Conference of the Parties (COP 5) to the Biodiversity Convention (CBD) failed to heed the warnings of most of the world's nations to ban the Terminator technology. 'By not responding to the calls made by many of the nations of the world, a minority of COP delegates from the North ultimately abdicated their responsibility to international food security and biodiversty,' said Julie Delahanty of RAFI.
Despite information about new patents and field trials, and the strong opposition to Terminator and genetic use restriction technologies (GURTs)* expressed clearly by most of the world's nations, the CBD approved a proposal coming from its Scientific Advisory Body (called SBSTTA). That proposal recommends that GURTs not be approved for field-testing or be commercialized until more scientific data can be gathered on its potential impacts. The text also states that Parties may choose to establish a complete moratorium on these technologies at the national level.
1999 saw at least seven new Terminator patents, and more than one field trial of genetic use restriction technologies (GURTs). Governments meeting at COP5 in Nairobi (15-26 May) must act decisively to ban Terminator and call for a moratorium on field testing and commercial sale of GURTs. 'This is the litmus test for the CBD s much-touted precautionary principle and the Biosafety Protocol negotiated last January,' Silvia Ribeiro of RAFI warns, 'If the Convention can't agree on an all-out ban of the Terminator as a blatant threat to biodiversity, then it can't be trusted and the Protocol shouldn't be ratified.'
The Rural Advancement Foaundation International (RAFI), an international civil society organization based in Canada, announced today that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) holds two new patents on the controversial Terminator technology, the genetic engineering of plants to render their seeds sterile. If commercialized, Terminator would make it impossible for farmers to save seeds from their harvest, forcing them to return to the commercial seed market every year.
With computer-assisted DNA sequencing machines running faster and more cheaply, researchers are now entering Phase II of human genome research. Companies are patenting and privatizing the commercially-important bits of variation found in individuals, indigenous peoples, disease and disability groups, and ethnically-distinct communities.
University of Georgia Refuses to Halt Project. Eleven indigenous peoples' organizations are demanding that a US$2.5 million, US-government funded bioprospecting program suspend its activities in Chiapas, Mexico. Despite the protest by local Mayan organizations, the University of Georgia (US) says it will not halt the five-year project, which aims to collect and evaluate thousands of plants and microorganisms used in traditional medicine by Mayan communities.Collectively known as the Council of Indigenous Traditional Midwives and Healers of Chiapas (Consejo Estatal de Parteras y M dicos Ind genas Tradicionales de Chiapas), the eleven Mayan organizations are denouncing the bioprospecting project, and they are asking other indigenous people in Chiapas to refuse to cooperate with the researchers. The project is led by the University of Georgia, in cooperation with a Mexican university research center, El Colegio de la Frontera Sur (ECOSUR), and Molecular Nature Ltd., a biotechnology company based in Wales, U.K. What is the Chiapas ICBG Project? The five-year project 'Drug Discovery and Biodiversity Among the Maya of Mexico,' now in its second year of operation, will receive a total grant of US$2.5 million dollars from the US government's International Cooperative Biodiversity Groups (ICBG). The ICBG is a consortium of US federal agencies, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) that awards grants to public and commercial research institutions that conduct bioprospecting/biopiracy programs in the South. The ICBG's self-stated goal is to promote drug discovery from natural sources, biodiversity conservation and sustainable economic growth in developing countries.
Refusal to reject Suicide Seeds provokes fear that U.S. may use Terminator as a political weapon to enforce unilateral trade rules. From Trade Sanctions to Trait Sanctions?
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman s failure to reject Terminator Technology (a genetic modification that renders harvested seed sterile) may leave some World Trade Organization (WTO) trade delegations sleepless in Seattle. When the WTO meets next week in Seattle, governments are expected to endorse a new bout of global trade negotiations dubbed the Millennium Round. The United States will press for U.S. biased agricultural rules and tougher intellectual property provisions related to biotechnology. Some delegates and civil society organizations (CSO) attending the Seattle meeting fear that Uncle Sam will be tempted to use Terminator or (more likely) 'Traitor' (the remote-control of crop production traits) Technology to unilaterally dictate trade policies to countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.