The theme for the NGO/CSO Forum during the World Food Conference in Rome in early June 2002 is Food Sovereignty – the rights of small producers to provide and of poor consumers to eat. For the fifth time since it was founded in 1945, FAO is trying to get governments to wake up to their national and global obligation to end food insecurity. Past conferences have bred platitudes without progress.
Recent Content Related to International Governance
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.
The Coalition Against BioPiracy (CAB)* will present its highly un-coveted Captain Hook Awards -for infamous and outstanding achievements in biopiracy - at the Biodiversity Convention in The Hague, April 8-19 2002. The previous Captain Hook Awards ceremony was held almost two years ago at the Fifth meeting of the Biodiversity Convention in Nairobi. The Coalition emphasizes that the Captain Hook awards are made possible by the work and activities of many civil society and peoples' organizations around the globe that actively monitor and resist biopiracy. The cases cited and the analysis used in selecting the award winners are by no means limited to the work of the Coalition Against Biopiracy.
A UNITED NATIONS conference in the Hague next week (April 02) offers the UN a critical opportunity to ban 'Terminator' seeds before they are commercialised in farmers' fields, warns an alliance of campaign groups.
The ETC group, Berne Declaration and ActionAid are among many groups urging delegates at the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) 'COP6' conference to heed global opinion and ban the commercialisation of crops modified to produce sterile seeds - known as 'suicide seeds' or 'Terminator technology'.
On the 10th anniversary of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), ETC group concludes that the CBD has failed to establish meaningful regulations to stop biopiracy. Biopiracy refers to the appropriation of the knowledge and genetic resources of farming and indigenous communities by individuals or institutions seeking exclusive monopoly control (usually patents or plant breeders' rights) over these resources and knowledge.
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.
ETC group explores the fractious scientific and political debate surrounding GM maize contamination in Mexico.
Terminator technology--the genetic modification of plants to produce sterile seeds--is a global threat to food security, to poor farmers, and to biodiversity. ETC group is campaigning with civil society organizations worldwide for a ban on Terminator, which has been condemned by civil society, scientific bodies and many governments as an immoral application of agricultural biotechnology.
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
The world's centres of crop genetic diversity are the part of biodiversity that feeds people. The gene banks within those centres are critical for global food security. Now, the MesoAmerican centre is contaminated with genetically modified (GM) material and its most important gene bank may be contaminated as well.
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.
This Communique identifies new mechanisms - ranging from remote sensing technologies, biological monopolies, and legal contracts - that are being developed by a broad range of industries to strengthen corporate dominance over new technologies. The political, practical and technical uncertainties surrounding intellectual property are increasingly unacceptable to industry - and that is why companies are developing new tools for monopoly control- what ETC group calls "New Enclosures."
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. Seen as a "white elephant" by some, and as the "mouse that could roar" by others, history will come to know it as "The Law of the Seed" - a major step toward food sovereignty and justice.
As the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recovers from delays to its World Food Summit at the hands of Italy's Silvio Berlusconi, the world's agricultural gene banks fret over GM contamination and government 'biocrats' gird their loins to fight for an International Undertaking intended to protect world seed security.
Given their current governance structure, CGIAR has neither the competence nor the accountability to be entrusted with intellectual property (IP) or public/private policy decisions. Immersed in their work and the struggle to survive, they have taken the path of least resistance and followed the IP trail. RAFI suggests at least 28 specific policy initiatives that the public sector should consider as alternatives to IP. A 33 page document.
In 1980 the U.S. Supreme Court narrowly voted to allow the patenting of a living microorganism intended to soak up oil spills. The decision ushered in a new era in intellectual property. Suddenly, the products and processes – even the formulae - of life became patentable. From microorganisms, patent offices have soldiered on to grant exclusive monopolies for plants, animals, entire species, human cell lines, and even fragments of human DNA that only Computers have seen and no one has understood.
Embarrassed by the deluge of more than 1850 letters from concerned farmers, scientists, and other individuals from 54 countries, the USDA's "Fact Sheet" is a muted re-hash with no new arguments or data.