In a remarkable departure from its role as a public science network, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) is huddling with the biotech industry (including Monsanto and DuPont) to craft a policy response to the unwelcome and ongoing spread of DNA from genetically modified plants to farmers’ varieties. The meeting begins in Rome on Monday (30.08.2004) and comes three years after scientists first confirmed GM contamination in Mexico's maize crop – and two and a half years after farmers’ organizations and their civil society allies called upon CGIAR and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to take action. Farmers’ organizations are not invited to the meeting.
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After a year-long investigation, the United Kingdom’s Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering released its final report today (July 2004) examining the health, safety, environmental, ethical and societal implications of nano-scale technologies. The report was commissioned by the UK government last June. The UK’s Trade Union Congress today supported the Royal Society’s report and called for strong regulations to prevent worker exposure to manufactured nanoparticles. "There have been plenty of red flags, but the dollar signs have blotted out the warnings signs," said Rory O’Neill, spokesman for the Trade Union Congress.
Civil society organizations (CSOs) and peoples’ movements convening at the first Americas Social Forum in Quito, Ecuador, July 25-30 2004, are protesting J. Craig Venter’s US-government funded ocean expedition to collect and sequence microbial diversity from around the globe. Exotic microbes are the raw materials for creating new energy sources and even new life forms.
“Prince Charles’ thoughtful article in the Independent on Sunday (UK) is an impressive service to society and science in the unfolding public debate on nanotechnology,” according to Jim Thomas of the ETC Group’s Oxford office. “Not only does the Prince set aside the fictional notion of ‘grey goo,’ but he also sensibly reminds us that there are important unanswered questions relating to the control and ownership of these technologies,” said Thomas.
The ETC Group releases a new Communiqué today (08.07.2004) that provides an update on policy discussions related to nanotech health and safety issues and the glaring lack of regulatory oversight. According to the ETC Group, governments on both sides of the Atlantic are reluctantly and belatedly conceding that current safety and health regulations may not be adequate to address the special exigencies of nano-scale materials. In sharp contrast to the political climate one year ago, the potential health and environmental risks of some nano-scale technologies are being openly discussed in Europe and North America. Since mid-2002, ETC Group has called for a moratorium on the use of synthetic nanoparticles in the lab and in any new commercial products until governments adopt "best practices" for research.
More than 650 civil society organisations (NGOs and social movements) and 800 individuals from 83 countries delivered an open letter to Jacques Diouf, Director-General of the Rome-based UN agency today condemning FAO's incompetence in addressing scientific and technical issues related to genetically- engineered crops and questioning the agency's integrity in relating to the world's smallholder farmers. Among the signatories are national and international farmers' organisations, scientists, and literally hundreds of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) some of whom have had formal consultative status with FAO for decades. The letter was hand-delivered to FAO on behalf of its signatories Wednesday morning by Antonio Onorati, who chaired the umbrella body that worked with FAO and its member governments for the World Food Summits of 1996 and 2002.
In sharp contrast to the political climate one year ago, the potential health and environmental risks of some nano-scale technologies are now being openly discussed in Europe and North America. In recent months, governments on both sides of the Atlantic have reluctantly conceded that current safety and health regulations may not be adequate to address the special exigencies of nano-scale materials.
This brochure, The Little Big Down, is based on a larger ETC Group study, The Big Down: From Genomes to Atoms.
Civil society and farmers’ organizations worldwide reacted with outrage to today’s ( (21.04.2004) 5-4 decision by the Canadian Supreme Court, affirming Monsanto’s right to prosecute farmers who are found to have GM crops growing on their land — whether they wanted them or not. Gene Giant Monsanto accused Saskatchewan farmers Percy and Louise Schmeiser of violating the company’s patent on genetically modified canola (oilseed rape). Percy and Louise did not want Monsanto’s GM canola seeds that invaded their property, and they did not try to benefit from the herbicide-tolerant trait in the GM seed (that is, they didn’t spray Roundup weedkiller), but still Monsanto prosecuted them for patent infringement and demanded a portion of their income. The Schmeisers waged a courageous, 7-year battle against Monsanto that went all the way to the Supreme Court.
Bees, beetles and blowing prairie winds can carry Monsanto’s genetically-modified canola a good 26 kilometers – and a whole lot farther if the transgenic seed or pollen hitches a ride on passing trucks, trains or trousers. After eight summers in Canada’s West, GM canola has earned the dubious status of a major weed – a common sight in fields, boulevards and cemeteries – and even backyard gardens. "Canola can winter over for 8 years," says ETC Group’s Pat Mooney in the NGO’s Winnipeg headquarters, "meaning GM pollen has probably travelled a minimum of 200 km since Monsanto first commercialized its patented seed in 1996." Which is why, Mooney reasons, just about everyone on the prairies has a direct, personal interest in the May 21st Supreme Court decision. Gene Giant Monsanto has accused Saskatchewan farmers Percy and Louise Schmeiser of illegally growing the company’s canola. "It’s not just farmers," insists Mooney. "There are about 5 million Percy Schmeisers out here [roughly the population of Canada’s three prairie provinces]. For all any of us know, we could have Monsanto’s canola in our window boxes."
Saskatchewan farmers Percy and Louise Schmeiser fought Monsanto all the way to the Canadian Supreme Court when the Gene Giant accused them of violating Monsanto's patent on GM canola (oilseed rape). Percy and Louise did not want GM seeds on their property and they did not try to benefit from the herbicide-tolerant trait in the GM seed (that is, they didn't spray Roundup weedkiller). Yet, Monsanto came onto their land without permission, dug around to establish that GM canola had contaminated the Schmeisers' farm, and then blamed the family for the company's failure to control its own technology. GM canola pollen has been shown to travel as much as 26 kilometers (16.2 miles). Monsanto has been selling GM canola since 1996. Canola seed can survive in the soil for eight or more years. GM contamination can spread from fields to boulevards to cemeteries and home gardens. With the help of prairie winds and bees, GM seed planted in a field eight years ago could have hitchhiked more than 208 km. Today, GM canola is a major weed pest on the Canadian prairies.
A nanotech research initiative in Thailand aims to atomically modify the characteristics of local rice varieties — including the country's famous jasmine rice — and to circumvent the controversy over Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). Nanobiotech takes agriculture from the battleground of GMOs to the brave new world of Atomically Modified Organisms (AMOs).
In January 2004, Bangkok Post reported on a three-year research project at Chiang Mai University's nuclear physics laboratory,(1) funded by the National Research Council of Thailand, to atomically-modify rice. The research involves drilling a nano-sized hole (a nanometer is one-billionth of a meter) through the wall and membrane of a rice cell in order to insert a nitrogen atom. The hole is drilled using a particle beam (a stream of fast-moving particles, not unlike a lightening bolt) and the nitrogen atom is shot through the hole to stimulate rearrangement of the rice's DNA.
The ETC Group releases a new Communiqué today (11.02.2004) that focuses on J. Craig Venter’s controversial ocean expedition that is circumnavigating the globe to collect microbial diversity from gene-rich seas and shores every 200 miles.
J. Craig Venter, the genomics mogul and scientific wizard who recently created a unique living organism from scratch in a matter of days, is searching for pay-dirt in biodiversity-rich marine environments around the world. Venter’s yacht, the Sorcerer II, is now steaming toward the South Pacific after collecting land and marine microbes from Maine to Mexico, Panama, Chile, and — most recently — on Ecuador’s famous Galapagos Islands.
J. Craig Venter, the genomics mogul and scientific wizard who recently created a unique living organism from scratch in a matter of days, is searching for pay-dirt in the biodiversity-rich Galapagos Islands. From his 95-ft. yacht, Sorcerer II, Venter is hop-scotching around the globe collecting microbial diversity from gene-rich seas and shores every 200 miles.(1) Venter's ship has already sampled in the Sargasso Sea (North Atlantic), Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, Ecuador (Galapagos), Chile and is now en route to French Polynesia (Tahiti, Bora Bora, etc.).
As negotiations come to a head in Kuala Lumpur at the first meeting of the Biosafety Protocol of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) the United States along with Canada and a few Latin American states seem poised to render the 86-nation agreement irrelevant. News earlier this week that the Argentine Government has offered to collect taxes from its GM soybean farmers in lieu of royalty payments has stunned many delegations attending the meeting in the Malaysian capital.
In a paper released 28th January 2004, five University of Toronto (UT) ethicists accuse Prince Charles of "fear-mongering" and ETC Group of condemning poor nations to exports of "bananas and t-shirts." The authors speak enthusiastically about the potential of nanotechnology to improve conditions in the developing world and they express dismay that, in their view, "commentators" are now focusing primarily on risks instead of benefits. ETC Group responds.
The Coalition Against Biopiracy (CAB) will present its highly un-coveted Captain Hook Awards – for infamous and outstanding malchievements in biopiracy – at the Biodiversity Convention (CBD) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Friday the 13th of February 2004. This is the third Global Biopiracy Awards ceremony since the Captain Hook awards were established in 1995. The previous awards were given out in ceremonies at the sixth meeting of the CBD (COP 6) in The Hague in 2002 and at the CBD's fifth meeting in Nairobi in 2000 (COP 5). The Coalition Against Biopiracy emphasizes that the Captain Hook Awards are a collaborative effort, made possible by the vigilance and analysis of many civil society and peoples’ movements around the world. This year, for the first time, the public was invited to make nominations by submitting claims along with full documentation to the CAB's web site at www.captainhookawards.org.
Since 1994, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) has been promising "benefit sharing" to Indigenous Peoples in return for access to biodiversity (i.e., bioprospecting). During these ten years, Indigenous Peoples and farming communities have worked long and hard to realize this goal.
Over half of the world's 100 largest economic entities are transnational corporations (TNCs), not nations. TNCs have unprecedented power to shape social, economic and trade policies. Corporate hegemony is usurping the role and responsibilities of national governments, threatening democracy and human rights. Over the past two decades ETC Group (formerly as RAFI) has monitored corporate power and trends in the "life sciences." Consolidation, technological convergence and non-merger corporate alliances are among the trends examined in this issue of ETC Communiqué.
An open letter to Mexican government authorities and intergovernmental bodies was sent, signed by 302 organizations from 56 countries, demanding actions to stop contamination of farmers' maize with DNA from genetically modified (GM) maize, and to prevent any further contamination in the world's centers of crop diversity and origin. The open letter, see "Open letter from international civil society organizations, News Release; November 19, 2003" asks the Mexican government to maintain the moratorium against the planting of transgenic maize in Mexico, stop the importation of transgenic or non-segregated maize - likely the main source of contamination in Mexico- and conduct urgent studies to determine the extent of the contamination.