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.
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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.
Mexico City, Mexico
* Contamination has been found in cornfields in the states of Chihuahua, Morelos, Durango, Mexico State, Puebla, Oaxaca, San Luis Potosí, Tlaxcala and Veracruz
* Analyses show contamination with the genetically modified (GM) variety Starlink, prohibited for human consumption in the United States
* Some plants found to show presence of two, three and four different GM types, all patented by transnational biotechnology corporations
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.
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.
The ETC Group (formerly known as RAFI) announces the publication of The Big Down: Atomtech — Technologies Converging at the Nano-scale, the first comprehensive and critical analysis of nanotechnology for civil society and policymakers. The 80-page report seeks to widen civil society’s and policymakers’ focus beyond biotech and genetically engineered crops, and to catalyze widespread public debate on the societal impacts of nanotechnology.
The Big Down: Atomtech - Technologies Converging at the Nano-scale, is the first comprehensive and critical analysis of nanotechnology for civil society and policymakers. The 80-page report seeks to widen civil society's and policymakers' focus beyond biotech and genetically engineered crops, and to catalyze widespread public debate on the societal impacts of nanotechnology.
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.
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.
ETC Group's Pat Mooney is the author of "Making Well People Better," an essay appearing in WorldWatch magazine's July, 2002 issue entitled, Beyond Cloning: The Risk of the Rush to Human Genetic Engineering and the Larger Agenda of the Human Biotech Industry. The essay is available in PDF format on this Worldwatch website, and the entire issue (July/August 2002, Vol. 15, No. 4) can be purchased for US $4.
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.
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.