New Developments: While claiming not to have reversed their position against commercialization of Terminator seeds, some Gene Giants are continuing to seek new patents on genetic seed sterilization and others are boldly advocating in favor of GURTs (genetic use restriction technology) in intergovernmental negotiations. Stung by negative publicity related to the escape of DNA from genetically modified (GM) plants, industry continues to "greenwash" Terminator by promoting it as a biosafety tool for containing unwanted geneflow from GM plants. Biotech company Maxygen has unveiled a new technology designed to banish foreign DNA from GM plants as a way to silence critics of genetic engineering. ETC Group calls it the "Exorcist" technology.
Recent Content Related to Biodiversity & Cultural Diversity
After delays, denial, and double standards, Monsanto maintains unjust monopoly on major food crop. Time to talk to the cooks about a new recipe?
Remember 1994? Nine years ago: Yasser Arafat, Yitzhak Rabin, and Shimon Peres won the Nobel Peace Prize, Nelson Mandela was elected President of South Africa, US President Bill Clinton sent ground troops to the Persian Gulf to counter a move by Iraq's Saddam Hussein, and Brazil won the World Cup. The United Nations' Biodiversity Convention entered into force in 1994 and the Uruguay Round of GATT was drawing to a close. In the "life sciences" cosmos, Monsanto and Dupont were chemical companies with minor interests in seeds and Syngenta did not yet exist. ETC Group was known as RAFI. Also in 1994, a small biotech subsidiary of W.R. Grace, Agracetus, won a breathtakingly broad patent on all genetically modified soybean varieties, European Patent No. 301,749.
At its annual meeting on Thursday, April 24th 2003, Monsanto's top brass will greet shareholders with a dismal financial report, (a 15% drop in annual sales - $4.7 billion in 2002, down from $5.5 billion in 2001) and a shareholder resolution that urges the company to re-think the safety of genetically engineered seeds - now the company's flagship product. But there's potentially more troubling news - a little known position paper that could rattle shareholders, irk investors and erode public confidence still further in the biotech behemoth: Despite its 1999 pledge not to commercialize Terminator technology, Monsanto has recently adopted a positive stance on genetic seed sterilization, a technology that has been condemned by civil society and some governments as an immoral application of genetic engineering.
After two days of intense diplomatic wrangling in Geneva, April 10-11 2003, US patent officials succeeded in turning the expert advice of an intergovernmental secretariat critical of Terminator technology into little more than a promotional paper for plant breeders' rights.
UPOV has succumbed to the strong-arm tactics of the US government and the multinational seed industry, both of whom have vested financial interests in Terminator technology. If member governments of UPOV had any doubts about who determines policy within the Union, they need only examine the recent case of Terminator.
In the USA, senior science policy makers and industry players are devising a new-style 'Manhattan' or 'Apollo' project to merge strategic technologies at the nano-scale (one billionth of a meter). Their aim is to combine biotechnology, information technology and cognitive (neural) science with atomtechnology at the nano scale (see The Big Down). The operative unit in information science is the Bit; nanotechnology manipulates Atoms; cognitive science deals with Neurons and biotech exploits the Gene. Together they make B.A.N.G. Merging these technologies into one, proponents say, will drive a huge industrial revolution and a societal "renaissance" that will guarantee American dominance - military and economic - through the 21st century.
The first and greatest impact of nano-scale technologies may come with the merger of nanotech and biotech - a newly recognized discipline called nanobiotechnology. While Gray Goo has grabbed the headlines, self-replicating nanobots are not yet possible. The more likely future scenario is that the merger of living and non-living matter will result in hybrid organisms and products that end up behaving in unpredictable and uncontrollable ways - get ready for "Green Goo!"
On November 1st 2002, the new U.S. ambassador to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) announced what appeared to be a reversal of his government's policy and formally signed the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources. This is not a change of policy - just a change of strategy. As with the Biodiversity Convention a decade ago, the United States will "sign" but never "ratify" the Law of the Seed.
For the first time in its more than 30-year history, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) – a network of public and private donors that supports sixteen agricultural research centres around the world – held its annual meeting outside the confines of the World Bank in Washington, DC. The CGIAR is the largest public sector agricultural research effort and is mandated to serve the developing world’s poor.
Thirteen months ago, the agbiotech industry wakened to a nightmare. Illegal and unwelcome, the presence of genetically-modified (GM) maize was reported smack in the crop's center of genetic origin in Mexico. There's never a good time for a political/ecological calamity, but the beleaguered Gene Giants were already struggling to persuade consumers, following the Taco Debacle (Starlink), that companies could control their inventions and their inventory. The seed companies were also hoping to arm-twist EU ministers into lifting the ban on GM products in Europe.
ETC Group participated at the Johannesburg Summit 2002. Pat Mooney and Silvia Ribeiro were present for the entire WSSD and conducted five seminars on major issues related to ETC's agenda.
Indigenous peoples' and farmers' organizations from the Andes and the Amazon gathered at the offices of the Ecological Forum in Lima, Peru on 28 June 2002 to formally denounce US patents on maca, the high-altitude Andean plant (of the Cruciferae [mustard] family) that has been grown for centuries by indigenous peoples in the Puna highlands of Peru, both as a staple food crop and for medicinal purposes. Today, maca-based products are commonly promoted as natural enhancers of sexual function and fertility, and demand for maca is growing in the US, Europe and Japan.
According to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) the global area devoted to transgenic or genetically modified (GM) crops has increased more than 30-fold from 1.7 million hectares in 1996 to 52.6 million hectares in 2001. The statistics show an extraordinarily rapid market introduction. More astonishing is the concentration in ownership and control of GM crop technology. At this point in time, GM crop technology is dominated almost exclusively by a single company, in limited geographical areas.
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.
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.
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.
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