Date: Sun, 27 Dec 1998 08:32:32 -0400
From: jslakov@TartanNET.ns.ca (Jan Slakov)
Subject: RN: Food security, genetic engineering...
Dear RN list, Dec. 30
As the New Year approaches, my thought seems to be focusing more than usual on moving individually and collectively towards meeting basic needs.
We all know why this makes sense: We know we live on a finite planet and yet our economoy continues to squnder resources on things we do not need, things that are worse than useless. We know too that there are many things which threaten our ability to meet our basic needs: global warming, Y2K, genetic engineering.
In this posting, I want to share some messages which give a good introduction to the topic of genetic engineering. More later!
all the best, JanThe Age, Melbourne, Australia
Tuesday 15 December 1998
Meet the company that would privatise nature itself
Monsanto's seed patents have horrified plant growers everywhere.
By Matthew Townsend <email@example.com>
Monsanto, the company that gave the world Agent Orange, recombinant Bovine Growth Hormones, and Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs), is on a spending spree. The world's largest agro-chemical producer has just invested about $6 billion in seed operations in Africa, Asia, Central and Latin America and Europe.
This might not mean much were it not for Monsanto's shareholding in the company that owns the so-called "Terminator-patent" a process of genetically modifying plants so they produce only sterile seeds. If Monsanto and other seed companies succeed in inserting Terminator genes into their expanding array of patented seeds, farmers around the world could have little choice but to buy non-reproducing varieties.
As the New York Times put it, "The Terminator will allow companies like Monsanto to privatise one of the last great commons in nature -- the genetics of crop plants that civilisation has developed over the past 10,000 years." The technology appears to be directed towards the developing world. Willard Phelps, the Spokesman for the US Dept of Agriculture, the government agency that co-sponsored the Terminator's development, has reportedly acknowledged that the "second and third world markets are the main targets for the Terminator seed."
Seed producers are worried that developing nations are saving their patented seeds from one season to the next and thus reducing their purchasing costs. For example, Monsanto demands that its Roundup Ready seeds are only used once, and monitors compliance using private investigators. However, companies have been unable to do the same in developing countries, where patent protections are weak.
The primary inventor of the Terminator technology, Melvin J. Oliver, has said: "Our mission is to protect American technology and to make us competitive in the face of foreign competition." However, if Terminator seeds become established in international markets, it could devastate traditional farming practices.
The Director of the Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI) Mr. Pat Mooney says: "Traditionally, women farmers not only save seed but they use purchased seed to cross with other breeding stock to improve and adapt the seed to their local needs. The Terminator makes all this impossible." Monsanto responds that people who don't want the Terminator seeds don't have to buy them. But in many developing nations government rules or commercial credit often force farmers to grow particular crop varieties.
The threat posed by Terminator seeds is not only economic. If the technology goes wrong, they could sterilise surrounding crops through cross-pollination. It has already been shown that genes can jump from crops into weeds, creating new species of superweeds resistant to herbicides. An experimental crop of herbicide-resistant oilseed rape in Britain had to be destroyed after it cross-pollinated nearby plants. The British Government considered prosecuting Monsanto for allegedly contaminating the environment.
There are also questions about the new seeds' potential toxicity. Martha Crouch, Associate Professor of Biology at Indiana University, says: "The key to Terminator is the ability to make a lot of a toxin that will kill cells, and to confine that toxin to seeds." Yet she questions the toxin's effect on other life-forms: "How will a particular toxin affect birds, insects, fungi and bacteria that eat or infect the seeds?" Professor Crouch points out that even if the toxin is not harmful to animals, it "may cause allergic reactions and if the seeds are being mixed with the general food supply, it will be difficult to trace this effect."
The Terminator raises serious questions about food security. Indian agriculturalists, for example, are concerned that once farmers in developing countries are reliant on imported patented seeds, they may be subject to gene tampering to make their crops either less productive or to fail completely. Unsurprisingly, the public response to the Terminator-gene has been poor.
Since the Terminator patent was granted in the United States last March, concern has been expressed worldwide from environmentalists, farmers and scientists. The world's largest agricultural research network, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research has now announced it will boycott the use of Terminator technology. The group expressed concerns about inadvertent pollination; the sale of flawed seeds; the importance of farm-saved seed to resource-poor farmers; and the potential impacts on genetic diversity.
The controversy surrounding the Terminator patent has done little to dispel the criticism that the biotechnology industry is on the wild west frontier of development, and that Monsanto is one of its principal cowboys.
Matthew Townsend is a barrister and lecturer in environmental law at Victoria University of Technology. firstname.lastname@example.org
Date: Sat, 26 Dec 1998 06:58:47 -0800 (PST)
From: MichaelP <email@example.com>
Subject: RE: transgenic/ hybrid seed
AGRICULTURE-INDIA: Warning Against Transgenic SeedsTo unsubscribe, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
By Bharat Dogra
RISHIKESH, India, Dec 22 (IPS) -- Farm experts and activists from across the world who met in this north Indian town in the Himalayan foothills have sought checks on new crop technologies which they say threaten food security in poor nations.
The meeting, held against a backdrop of protests in India against field trials of genetically modified seeds by the American agribusiness company Monsanto, noted that such technology is "highly hazardous" and must be introduced with the "fullest caution."
About 40 people attended the Biodiversity Rights of Rural Communities and Implications of GMOs (genetically-modified organisms) meet which was jointly organised by the Charles Leopold Mayer Foundation of Switzerland and the Indian non- governmental organisation DISHA.
According to Edward Hammond of the Canada-based Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI), the area sown with transgenic species has risen dramatically from 1.7 million to 27.8 million hectares hectares in the past two years.
Going by seed industry forecasts, by the turn of the century, transgenic seeds of major crops like rice and wheat could cover 177 million hectares in South Asia, China, Brazil and large parts of Europe, he said.
The commercial sales of such seeds have grown from eight million dollars in 1995 to 1.35 billion dollars this year and are likely to surge up to three billion dollars by the year 2010.
Although transgenic seeds now account for only six percent of the world's commercial seed market, RAFI estimates that this share will shoot up to 25 percent by the year 2005 and two-thirds by the year world's commercial seed market, RAFI estimates that this share will shoot up to 25 percent by the year 2005 and two-thirds by the year 2010.
Speakers alleged that while some transnational seed companies claim to be developing pest-resistant crops, the real aim of transgenic seed trials is to make developing world farmers dependent on the new seeds. The bulk of farmers in countries like India still use seed saved from every harvest.
They cited examples of farmers who had suffered losses which, they claimed, were caused by using transgenic crops.
A joint statement issued by the meet demanded a moratorium on commercial release of such seeds till it has been ensured that "this helps, and does not disturb, genuine food security of people and sustainable farming systems."
"We note with concern that a lot of work relating to GMOs has been shrouded in secrecy and misinformation. We call for complete transparency on the part of governments as well as corporations on all issues concerning GMOs," it added.
Vivek Cariappa of the Karnataka State Farmers' Association which is spearheading the agitation against the Monsanto trials in India, described how association activists burnt the Monsanto crops on the company's experimental farms in southern India. Trolle Arnaud told of similar protests in France.
The Terminator seed technology came in for particular criticism with RAFI's Hammond pointing out that this would be commercialised by the year 2005.
"We should clearly say `no' to the Terminator technology and all related technologies having a similar aim," he said. Terminator genes embedded in such seeds make them go sterile after one harvest.
Vivek Cariappa of the Karnataka State Farmers' Association which is spearheading the agitation against the Monsanto trials in India, related technologies having a similar aim," he said. Terminator genes embedded in such seeds make them go sterile after one harvest.
Kunwar Prasun from India and Lianchamroon Witcon from Thailand said that such know-how undermines traditional farmers' rights. "Seeds belong to farmers and not to corporations. Farmers have always protected the wide biodiversity on their fields," they asserted.
Vijay Jardhari, a well known farmer activist from a Himalayan foothill village not far from here, stressed the vital role tillers play in conserving seeds. (END/IPS/bd/mu/98)** NOTICE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. **
AGRICULTURE-BANGLADESH: Hybrids Hit By Farmer Resistance
By Dev Raj
TANGAIL, Bangladesh, Dec 18 (IPS) -- Abdul Rahim is grateful for the micro-credit he received to cultivate hybrid rice in Bangladesh. The money, he says, will come in handy for his daughter Romesha's marriage.
"I don't trust hybrid seeds," he says stretching out a palm full of the golden grain from a one kilogram pack left him by the monolithic non-governmental organisation (NGO) Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC).
As for repaying the 5,000 takas (110 dollars) and the 22 percent interest it carries, Rahim is certain that he can do it better by sticking to traditional seeds, rather than switching to hybrids newly introduced in post-flood Bangladesh.
"I will just tell the BRAC agent that the hybrids did not work,"Rahim said adding that he would not have got into the deal at all except that he has just fixed Romesha's marriage.
Rahim has made a quick decision on an issue which the government has been dithering over -- whether or not to allow large-scale introduction of imported hybrids to tide over seed and grain shortages following this year's devastating floods.
"The corporate NGOs are unethically taking advantage of the floods to pushing in hybrids as part of flood relief packages," said Khushi Kabir, coordinator of Nijera Kori, a leading NGO advocating the rights of grassroots groups.
Farmers in Tangail, a major rice-growing region, are a savvy lot and not likely to fall for slick promotional talk from the corporate NGOs or fall prey to their micro-credit packages. But most are marginal and not likely to fall for slick promotional talk from the corporate NGOs or fall prey to their micro-credit packages. But most are marginal and the times are hard.
"About half of Bangladesh's 120 million people are now ensnared by large micro-credit dispensing organisations like BRAC and Grameen and vulnerable to pressure from them," Kabir said.
Gulab Jan from the Delduar area who approached BRAC for a 3,000 taka loan to repair her leaky house was given 2,700 taka in cash and the rest in hybrid seeds.
"When I protested that I had no land to cultivate it on they asked me to find someone who has -- but nobody wants hybrid seeds around here," she said.
The government, despite warnings from agricultural scientists, recently allowed private companies to market hybrids in the country -- fulfilling the long-held wish of seed transnationals. recently allowed private companies to market hybrids in the country -- fulfilling the long-held wish of seed transnationals.
Protests were heard after Agriculture Minister Begum Motia Choudhury said the country had no option but to go in for hybrids. "Coming from her this is surprising because she was always an outspoken critic of non-sustainable farming methods -- she is definitely being manipulated," Kabir said.
But the government and the NGOs never reckoned with fierce farmer resistance. With less than an acre of land to play around with, Rahim is in no mood for potentially disastrous experiments -- never mind the promises of fertiliser and advice from BRAC.
Rahim's neighbour, Abu Bakr, says farmers here are wary of hybrid seeds from sheer experience. "With hybrids I know I cannot set aside a portion of crops for seeds and I will be forced to buy them at whatever prices the market dictates."
At 75, what Abu Bakr does not know about paddy cultivation is not worth knowing. "I have seen it all including the havoc created during the sixties and seventies by the so-called green revolution with all its hybrids, artificial fertilisers and pesticides."
"There may be a smaller yield with local varieties but I would be spending much less on costly and poisonous chemicals -- my body too feels much healthier."
Abu Bakr said the pesticides and fertilisers also killed off the fish that flourish in the wet paddy and in the many ponds that dot the patchwork quilt landscape of smallholdings that make up most of deltaic Bangladesh.
Farmers in Tangail consider themselves lucky that located in their district is a branch of the privately-run research organisation UBINIG which provides expertise in sustainable farming methods, particularly district is a branch of the privately-run research organisation UBINIG which provides expertise in sustainable farming methods, particularly in efficient storage and exchange of seeds.
Although UBINIG's programme is called Naya Krishi (new farming) it builds on the traditional wisdom that farming interfaces human beings with nature.
Abu Bakr, for example, would never dream of allowing a tractor onto his land. "Unlike a bullock-drawn plough, tractors kill off worms and other microorganisms that keep the soil in condition -- tractors are costly and don't produced dung."
Mixed cropping and crop rotation on UBINIG's plots demonstrate to farmers in the area how up to 12 different crops can be interspersed to form a small system in which each plant helps the other.
"Legumes take care of nitrogen fixation eliminating the need for fertilisers while marigolds take care of pests and bring in extra cash," says UBINIG coordinator Jahangir Alam Jony.
"The idea is to maintain as much crop diversity as possible so that farmers have ready and affordable options at all times rather than the perilous monocultures that seed companies are trying to introduce," Jony said.
One of the important activities of the UBINIG centre is the maintenance of a seed exchange from which farmers can borrow free on the condition that after harvest they return twice what they took.
The system takes care of the increasing demand for seed each year, Jony said adding that farmers are also encouraged to store their own seed in simple, mud-sealed earthen pots.
So successful has UBINIG's work been that the government has stopped scoffing at its `retrograde' farming and now pays money to learn from its expertise, Jony said.
The Bangladesh Rural Development Board (BRDB) now sends batches of women from around the country to UBINIG's farms to learn how they can augment their incomes and the diets of their families through simple and sustainable methods.
"We want the seed in our hands and not in the `pricey' and undependable markets," says Begum Hasina who has come to UBINIG from nearby Ferozepur district for a week long course in kitchen gardening, medicinal plants and keeping livestock and poultry.
UBINIG Executive Director Farida Akhtar says the government has no right to allow private seed companies to freely bring in seeds to make up for supposed shortages.
"There are no shortages and the stories appearing in the press about farmers eating up their seeds because of the unusually prolonged floods are motivated," she said.
The agriculture minister has announced that the private companies are being allowed to import seeds on the condition that they develop varieties specifically suited to the country.
However, many argue that by the time hybrid seed companies get to that stage of research they would have gained firm commercial control over farming in this country and perhaps changed it forever.
Agricultural scientist Dr S.M.H Zaman says the imported hybrids would rapidly deplete soil fertility and cause new problems beyond the means of farmers to tackle.
Dr Zaman said multi-national pesticide companies which were rapidly losing their business around the world and switching over to the lucrative seed and genetic engineering business were looking to developing countries like Bangladesh for markets.
According to Dr S.S. Virmani, a world expert on rice hybrids, this country has neither the technology nor the infrastructure to handle delicate hybrid farming. For a start less than 20 percent of Bangladesh is irrigated.
If at all the country goes in for hybrids in a big way it should be with seeds developed by the country's own well- developed facilities at the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI), most experts are agreed.
But that option poses another problem. Bangladesh's best agricultural brains have long since left for greener pastures in Australia and New Zealand. (END/IPS/rdr/an/98)** NOTICE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. **
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