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Playing God in the Galapagos

J. Craig Venter, Master and Commander of Genomics, on Global Expedition to Collect Microbial Diversity for Engineering Life

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.

BioPirates of the South China Sea: Captain Hook Awards Ceremony 2004

Hook meets COPs at the UN's Biodiversity Convention in Malaysia Friday the 13th Awards for Outstanding Malchievements

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

Terminator Technology Debate Hijacked in Montreal

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!

Nanotech Meets the Environment

Making a Mole Hill out of a Mountain?

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.

Maize Rage in Mexico: GM maize contamination in Mexico -- 2 years later

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.

Nine Mexican States found to be GM contaminated - Contamination by genetically modified maize in Mexico much worse than feared

From: Indigenous and farming communities in Oaxaca, Puebla, Chihuahua, Veracruz, CECCAM, CENAMI, ETC Group, CASIFOP, UNOSJO, AJAGI

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

Monsanto's Species-Wide Patent on Trial

May 6-7 2003, European Patent Office Hears Patent Challenge in Munich - Eight and One-Half Years Later!

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.

Broken Promise? Monsanto Promotes Terminator Seed Technology

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.

Size Matters!

ETC Group: New information provides more evidence for mandatory moratorium on synthetic nanoparticles

The ETC Group today (14.04.2003) releases a new Occasional Paper, "No Small Matter II: The Case for a Global Moratorium - Size Matters!" The report calls on governments to adopt a moratorium on synthetic nanomaterials that are being manufactured in the laboratory and in some cases commercialized, in the absence of testing for health, safety and environmental impacts.

"Even though industry is scaling up the manufacture of nanoparticles and carbon nanotubes there appear to be no government regulations in Europe or North America to ensure the safety of workers or consumers," says Kathy Jo Wetter, ETC Group researcher. "A few national governments are beginning to consider some aspects of nanotech regulation but no government is giving full consideration to the socioeconomic, environmental, and health implications of this powerful new industry," notes Wetter. The ETC Group reports that nanoparticles are already available to consumers in sunscreens (including some intended for children, from infancy onwards) and cosmetics, among other products. However, regulators do not test nano-sized materials for health, safety and environmental impacts if their macro- or micro-sized counterparts have already been approved.


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