The ETC Group, announces the publication of Down on the Farm, the first comprehensive look at how nano-scale technologies will affect farmers, food and agriculture. Nanotechnology refers to the manipulation of matter at the scale of atoms and molecules, where size is measured in billionths of metres and quantum physics determines how a substance behaves. According to Hope Shand, ETC Group’s Research Director, "Over the next two decades, technologies converging at the nano-scale will have a greater impact on farmers and food than farm mechanisation or the Green Revolution."
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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.
“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.
On June 17-18 2004, a first intergovernmental dialogue on "Responsible Research and Development of Nanotechnology" convened in Washington with representatives from 26 countries. In his introductory remarks, Mike Roco of the US government’s National Science Foundation explained that the meeting was dedicated to the examination of broad societal issues that cannot be addressed by any single country. Roco asked: "How can we prepare our world for the emergence of nanotechnology?"
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.
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.
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 today, 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.
Terminator – or genetic seed sterilization – has been on the agenda of the United Nations’ Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) for five years. If the Gene Giants and governments get their way, the CBD will be conducting studies on Terminator for years to come – long after suicide seeds are commercialized and show up in farmers’ fields.
At the ninth meeting of the CBD’s scientific advisory body (SBSTTA 9) held November 10-14 in Montreal, four governments – Canada, New Zealand, Argentina and Brazil – were allowed to highjack debate and stall action on Terminator by insisting that the CBD postpone consideration of an expert technical report on the impacts of genetic seed sterilization, arguing that the report lacks scientific rigor. While the report will be forwarded to next February’s Conference of the Parties (COP7) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, it will go with a recommendation that COP7 forego action and re-direct the report to the next meeting of the scientific body (SBSTTA10) – in late 2004 or 2005 – with the aim of providing advice to COP8 in 2006!
To the Mexican government and the international community:
On October 9, 2003, peasant farmers and indigenous communities, along with civil society organizations in Mexico, publicly released the initial results of their own testing that found GM contamination of native maize in at least nine Mexican states, even though the planting of transgenic maize is prohibited in Mexico. These results , which are part of ongoing studies, show far more serious and widespread contamination than previously assumed by earlier studies (e. g., the study by Berkeley scientists Chapela and Quist and one by the official Institute of Ecology in Mexico.
One alarming fact is that the communities found widespread contamination with Starlink maize (not approved for human consumption in the US and finally taken off the market) and contamination of single plants with up to three different transgenes, which may indicate that contamination has been occurring over several generations. All identified sequences are patented by one of the five multinationals that control the agricultural biotechnology industry.
On October 9, 2003, peasant farmers and indigenous communities along with civil society organizations in Mexico publicly released the results of their own testing of farmers' maize varieties and found GM contamination in at least nine states - far more serious and widespread than previously assumed.