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.
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."
A nanotech research initiative in Thailand aims to atomically modify the characteristics of local rice varieties — including the country's famous jasmine rice — and to circumvent the controversy over Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). Nanobiotech takes agriculture from the battleground of GMOs to the brave new world of Atomically Modified Organisms (AMOs).
In January 2004, Bangkok Post reported on a three-year research project at Chiang Mai University's nuclear physics laboratory,(1) funded by the National Research Council of Thailand, to atomically-modify rice. The research involves drilling a nano-sized hole (a nanometer is one-billionth of a meter) through the wall and membrane of a rice cell in order to insert a nitrogen atom. The hole is drilled using a particle beam (a stream of fast-moving particles, not unlike a lightening bolt) and the nitrogen atom is shot through the hole to stimulate rearrangement of the rice's DNA.
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.
The Coalition Against Biopiracy (CAB) will present its highly un-coveted Captain Hook Awards – for infamous and outstanding malchievements in biopiracy – at the Biodiversity Convention (CBD) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Friday the 13th of February 2004. This is the third Global Biopiracy Awards ceremony since the Captain Hook awards were established in 1995. The previous awards were given out in ceremonies at the sixth meeting of the CBD (COP 6) in The Hague in 2002 and at the CBD's fifth meeting in Nairobi in 2000 (COP 5). The Coalition Against Biopiracy emphasizes that the Captain Hook Awards are a collaborative effort, made possible by the vigilance and analysis of many civil society and peoples’ movements around the world. This year, for the first time, the public was invited to make nominations by submitting claims along with full documentation to the CAB's web site at www.captainhookawards.org.
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!
ETC Group today (October 2003) released a 6-page Communiqué on the use of nanotechnology-based products in the environment - products that are coming to market in the absence of both government oversight and public discussion. A recent large-scale application of a product touted to control soil erosion using nanotechnology highlights regulatory inadequacies and lack of clarity in the nanotech industry.
Nanotechnology - whose best-known commercial successes have thus far been stain-resistant fabrics, stronger and lighter tennis rackets, and transparent sunscreens - has spawned new environmental products to prevent erosion or to clean up contaminated sites. While the companies claim these products will be beneficial to the ecosystem, in the absence of government regulatory oversight, the unknown short- and long-term implications raise concerns for health and for the environment.
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.