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 Genomics & Biotechnology
The genetic modification of plants to produce sterile seeds has been widely condemned by civil society, scientific bodies, and many governments as an immoral application of agricultural biotechnology. If commercialized, the technology will prevent farmers from saving seed from their harvest for planting the following season. The aim of genetic seed sterilization is to maximize seed industry profits by destroying the right of farmers to save their seeds and breed their own crops. We cannot depend on the good will of transnational corporations to prevent Terminator seeds from becoming a commercial reality.
Are nanoparticles polluting the environment? Researchers have just begun to ask the most basic questions about the impact of new nano-materials on human health and the environment. Evidence of nanoparticle contamination in living organisms and unanswered questions about potential dangers of new forms of carbon require urgent societal review.
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.
It is revisionist history, and a cynical strategy, to suggest that Terminator was developed as a biosafety tool.
ETC Group is alarmed and insulted by the campaign to promote Terminator as a biosafety mechanism. It is unacceptable and dangerous to suggest that agriculture is dependent on genetic seed sterilization as a method for minimizing genetic pollution from genetically modified plants.
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"?
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.
Food First Backgrounder, Vol. 8, No. 2, Spring, 2002
This 4-page backgrounder on GM maize contamination in Mexico can be downloaded free from the Food First website
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'.
Nature magazine’s flip-flop today (April 2002) over the testing protocols involved in determining GM maize contamination in Mexico - the Centre of Genetic Diversity for the vital food crop - is just the latest in a string of absurdities as the scientific community struggles over what to do as genetically-modified germplasm invades the genetic homelands of the world’s food supply.
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.
A US patent on a yellow bean variety ("Enola" bean patent # 5,894,079) has disrupted export markets for Mexican bean growers and is now wreaking havoc on small farmers and seed companies in the United States. Larry Proctor, the president of Pod-Ners seed company, and 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 (USA). The patent makes it illegal for unlicensed users in the United States to grow, sell, import, or use the proprietary yellow bean seeds. Farmer and civil society organizations have condemned the Enola bean patent as a textbook case of biopiracy because Proctor readily admits that his proprietary bean seed originates from a bag of edible dry beans he purchased in Sonora, Mexico in 1994. In his 1997 application for plant variety protection, Proctor wrote, "The yellow bean, 'Enola' variety is most likely a landrace from the azufrado-type varieties" (which originate in Mexico). The Enola bean patent is being legally challenged by an international plant breeding institute in Cali, Colombia, the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT).
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.
The World's Largest Agrochemical and Seed Enterprises --Syngenta & DuPont -- Win Two New Patents on Genetic Seed Sterilization
The ETC group (formerly RAFI) announced today that the biotechnology industry continues to aggressively pursue the development of genetically modified seeds that are engineered for sterility. "We have uncovered two new patents on Terminator technology," said Hope Shand, Research Director of ETC group. "One patent is held by Dupont (the world's largest seed corporation) and the other is held by Syngenta (the world's largest agrochemical corporation)," said Shand.
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.
The Gene Giants lost the PR battle over Terminator technology. But now they are saying that crop contamination from genetically modified (GM) seeds has become epidemic in some parts of the world and that the only solution for those opposed to GM seeds is to use Terminator to halt gene flow. They even have some environmentalists and governments calling Terminator a "green solution". That's not true. But more to the point, accepting the use of GM Terminator seeds to block GM crop contamination is like...