Nano-scale technology is a suite of techniques used to manipulate matter at the scale of atoms and molecules. “Nano” is a measurement – not an object. Unlike “biotechnology,” where you know that bios (life) is being manipulated, “nanotechnology” speaks solely to scale. A “nanometre” (nm) equals one billionth of a metre. One human hair is about 80,000 nanometres thick. It takes ten atoms of hydrogen side-by-side to equal one nanometre. A DNA molecule is about 2.5 nm wide. A red blood cell is vast in comparison: about 5,000 nm in diameter. Everything on the nano-scale is invisible to the unaided eye and even to all but the most powerful microscopes.
Recent Content Related to Corporate Monopolies
ETC Group reported on a patent application(1) under examination at the US Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) in which Siegers Seed Company of Holland, Michigan, claimed invention of a “warted pumpkin...wherein the outer shell includes at least one wart...” On February 13 2009, the USPTO put its 9-page verdict in the mail(2) rejecting all of the application's 25 claims.
ETC Group released a 48-page report, "Who Owns Nature?" on corporate concentration in commercial food, farming, health and the strategic push to commodify the planet's remaining natural resources.
In a world where market research is becoming increasingly proprietary and pricey, ETC Group's report names names, discloses market share and provides top 10 industry rankings up and down the corporate food chain. Not all the corporations identified in ETC Group's new report are household names, but collectively they control a staggering share of the commercial products found on industrial farms, in our refrigerators and medicine cabinets.
In this 100th issue of the ETC Communiqué we update Oligopoly, Inc. – our ongoing series tracking corporate concentration in the life industry. We also analyze the past three decades of agribusiness efforts to monopolize the 24% of living nature that has been commodified, and expose a new strategy to capture the remaining three-quarters that has, until now, remained beyond the market economy.
Peak oil, skyrocketing fuel costs and climate crisis are driving corporate enthusiasm for a “biological engineering revolution” that some predict will dramatically transform industrial production of food, energy, materials, medicine and all of nature. Advocates of converging technologies promise a greener, cleaner post-petroleum future where the production of economically important compounds depends not on fossil fuels – but on biological manufacturing platforms fueled by plant sugars. It may sound sweet and clean, but the so-called “sugar economy” will also be the catalyst for a corporate grab on all plant matter – and destruction of biodiversity on a massive scale.
Synthetic biologists, a brave new breed of science entrepreneurs who engineer life-forms from scratch, will hold their largest-ever global gathering in Hong Kong, October 10-12 2008, known as "Synthetic Biology 4.0." Although most people have never heard of synthetic biology, it's moving full speed ahead fueled by giant agribusiness, energy and chemical corporations with little debate about who will control the technology, how it will be regulated (or not) and despite grave concerns surrounding the safety and security risks of designer organisms. Corporate investors/partners include BP, Chevron, Shell, Virgin Fuels, DuPont, Microsoft, Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland.
Issue: The world’s largest seed and agrochemical corporations are stockpiling hundreds of monopoly patents on genes in plants that the companies will market as crops genetically engineered to withstand environmental stresses such as drought, heat, cold, floods, saline soils, and more. BASF, Monsanto, Bayer, Syngenta, Dupont and biotech partners have filed 532 patent documents (a total of 55 patent families) on so-called “climate ready” genes at patent offices around the world. In the face of climate chaos and a deepening world food crisis, the Gene Giants are gearing up for a PR offensive to re-brand themselves as climate saviours. The focus on so-called climate-ready genes is a golden opportunity to push genetically engineered crops as a silver bullet solution to climate change. But patented techno-fix seeds will not provide the adaptation strategies that small farmers need to cope with climate change. These proprietary technologies will ultimately concentrate corporate power, drive up costs, inhibit independent research, and further undermine the rights of farmers to save and exchange seeds.
ETC Group renewed its call for a moratorium on the release and commercialization of synthetic organisms, asserting that societal debate on the oversight of synthetic biology is urgently overdue. The renewed call came as J. Craig Venter’s research team announced that it has constructed a bacterial-length synthetic genome in the lab using mail-order synthetic DNA sequences. They’ve named the synthetic genome, Mycoplasma genitalium JCVI-1.0, and it’s similar to its counterpart in nature, a genital bacterium with the smallest known genome of any free living organism. The announcement is not breaking news because the work had been previously reported, but the details were published today in Science.
Because governments have failed to govern, the leading multilateral institutions involved in food and agriculture are in deep trouble. Unless governments and international secretariats cooperate, these institutions will be irreparably damaged and the power vacuum OECD states have created over recent decades will continue to be filled by multinational agribusiness and the new philanthro-capitalists.
Contrary to the opinion of many, June's Food Summit actually did something. It signaled the beginning of the end for the multilateral system as we know it. Over the next six months the food emergency - and the international institutions designed to address it - could get worse.
In the name of moving “beyond petroleum,” Big Oil, Gene Giants, governments, start-ups and others are forming partnerships that will extend corporate control over more resources in every part of the globe – while keeping the root causes of climate change intact. With grudging recognition that first-generation agrofuels are neither economical nor ecological, investors turn to other life-based technologies, including synthetic biology, for the next alternative fuel fix.
Based on 2006 revenues, the top 10 seed corporations account for $13,014 million or 57% of the commercial seed market worldwide.
The top 3 seed companies account for $9,000 million – or 39% of the commercial seed market worldwide.
The top 4 seed companies account for 44% of the commercial seed market worldwide.
The world’s largest seed company, Monsanto, accounts for 20% of the world’s commercial seed market.
WASHINGTON, DC – With the joint release of Principles for the Oversight of Nanotechnologies and Nanomaterials, a broad international coalition of consumer, public health, environmental, labor, and civil society organizations spanning six continents called for strong, comprehensive oversight of the new technology and its products.
The manufacture of products using nanotechnology–a powerful platform for
manipulating matter at the level of atoms and molecules in order to alter properties–has exploded in recent years. Hundreds of consumer products incorporating nanomaterials are now on the market, including cosmetics, sunscreens, sporting goods, clothing, electronics, baby and infant products, and food and food packaging. But evidence indicates that current nanomaterials may pose significant health, safety, and environmental hazards. In addition, the profound social, economic, and ethical challenges posed by nano-scale technologies have yet to be addressed.
Ten years after Dolly the cloned sheep made her stunning debut, the J. Craig Venter Institute is applying for a patent on a new biological bombshell - the world's first-ever human-made species. The novel bacterium is made entirely with synthetic DNA in the laboratory.
A bill to prohibit field testing and commercialization of Terminator seed technology was introduced in the Canadian Parliament. Terminator refers to plants that are genetically engineered to render sterile seeds at harvest - a technology that aims to maximize seed industry profits by preventing farmers from re-planting harvested seed.
"Canada needs to pass this bill into law because genetic seed sterilization is dangerous and blatantly anti-farmer - suicide seeds threaten to intensify corporate control over Canadian agriculture and offers no benefits for farmers," said Colleen Ross of the National Farmers Union.
Munich – The European Patent Office put the brakes on Monsanto’s over-the-top corporate greed by revoking its species-wide patent on all genetically modified soybeans (EP0301749) – a patent unprecedented in its broad scope. ETC Group, an international civil society organization based in Canada, won its 13-year legal challenge against Monsanto’s species-wide soybean patent when an EPO appeal board ruled that the patent was not new or sufficient (i.e., the invention claimed was not sufficiently described for a skilled person to repeat it). The patent challenge was supported by Greenpeace and “No Patents on Life!” Dr. Ricarda Steinbrecher of UK-based EcoNexus also joined the opposition team in Munich as a scientific expert.
On 3 May 2007 ETC Group (a Canadian-based international civil society organization - formerly known as RAFI) together with "No Patents on Life!" and Greenpeace will continue a 13-year legal battle against one of biotech's most notorious patents. At an appeal hearing at the European Patent Office in Munich, civil society organizations will argue that Monsanto's patent (European Patent No. 301-749) on all genetically engineered soybeans - unprecedented in its broad scope - must be revoked. "No patent symbolizes the brokenness of the patent system better than Monsanto's species-wide patent on genetically engineered soybeans," said Hope Shand of ETC Group. "Monsanto's patent is both technically flawed and morally unacceptable," said Shand.
Issue: Medical applications of nano-scale technologies have the potential to revolutionize healthcare by delivering powerful tools for diagnosing and treating disease at the molecular level. But the current zeal for nano-enabled
medicines could divert scarce medical R&D funds away from essential health services and direct resources away from non-medical aspects of community health and wellbeing. Although nanomedicine is being touted as a solution to pressing health needs in the global South, it is being driven from the North and is designed primarily for wealthy markets. Using nano-scale technologies, the pharmaceutical industry’s ultimate goal is to make every person a patient and every patient a paying customer by “medicating” social ills with human performance enhancement (HyPE) drugs and devices. Nanoenabled HyPEs could usher in an era of two-tiered humans – Homo sapiens and Homo sapiens 2.0.
In a quest to expand its corporate seed empire - Monsanto, the world's largest seed enterprise - announced yesterday that it will buy the world's leading cotton seed company, Mississippi-based (USA) Delta & Pine Land, for US$1.5 billion. Monsanto and Delta & Pine Land (D&PL) together account for over 57% of the US cotton seed market. With D&PL subsidiaries in 13 countries - including major markets such as China, India, Brazil, Mexico, Turkey and Pakistan - the takeover means that Monsanto will command a dominant position in one of the world's most important agricultural trade commodities and that millions of cotton farmers will be under increased pressure to accept genetically modified (GM) cottonseed.
Two World Bank projects, with funding from the GEF (Global Environmental Facility), propose to introduce genetically modified crops such as maize, potatoes, cassava, rice and cotton into five Latin American and four African countries that are centers of origin or diversity for these and other major food crops. Civil society organizations warn that DNA contamination from genetically modified crops poses an unacceptable risk to stable crops that are the basis of peasant economies in these regions. The multi-million dollar projects are being promoted under the guise of scientific biosafety research, but civil society organizations on both continents are calling for their immediate rejection because they threaten food sovereignty and farmer-controlled seed systems.