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87 Countries Agree to New Protections from Genetic Contamination

Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
Contact: Kristin Dawkins, 612-870-3410,
Dennis Olson,
February 27, 2004

Agreement Will Force U.S. Exporters To Label GE Foods

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia - Eighty-seven countries reached an historic agreement here today that takes concrete steps towards establishing new, internationally recognized rights to protect public health, sustainable agricultural production and the environment from genetic contamination caused by international trade in genetically engineered (GE) organisms.

"Although the steps taken were modest - addressing liability, labeling and information-sharing related to the international shipping of GE organisms - the consensus reached by the parties to the Cartegena Protocol on Biosafety represented a sharp rebuff to the Bush Administration's intensive behind-the-scenes lobbying efforts to undermine the treaty through a coalition of the bribed and bullied," said Dennis Olson of the Minneapolis-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, referring to a few countries like Canada, Mexico, Brazil and Argentina who often acted as US proxies during the five days of negotiations.

The U.S. has refused to sign the treaty, but nevertheless sent a large lobbying delegation that worked hand-in-hand with industry lobbyists, and other major GE exporting countries, to oppose language in the treaty that would strengthen the legal standing and capacity of countries to prevent the illegal entry of unapproved GE organisms into their farm fields, environment and food supply. "The delegates deserve much praise for withstanding the relentless U.S. led pressure to water down the treaty, and for sticking to their guns to protect the health of their citizens, the rights of their farmers, and the integrity of their ecosystems," Olson said.

"The U.S. wanted to prevent any further specificity in the type of documentation that could be required of importers under the Protocol to identify genetically engineered organisms entering another country," said Olson. For example, the U.S. tried to restrict the treaty language to require anything beyond a commercial invoice from the shipping company that simply stated that a shipment "may contain" genetically engineered organisms. This "may contain" language was negotiated in the initial treaty - but also mandated the reconsideration of this limited requirement at the meeting held this week. The final language allows for countries to require a more detailed stand alone document.

The treaty now also delineates another key piece of information an importing country may require: a description of the "transformation event code" of the GE organism being imported. The U.S. tried to block this language, which would have made it much more difficult to trace the GE organism back to the biotech company who created it. Allowing this transformation event code to be used will make it easier to assess liability when GE organisms are illegally imported into a country and cause damage to human health, agricultural production (e.g., organic production), or the environment.

A 15-member committee has been established to monitor compliance with the protocol, while a group of legal and technical experts will develop regulations by 2008 covering liability and redress for damages resulting from trans-boundary movements of genetically engineered organisms.

Olson also criticized the Bush Administration for lobbying almost exclusively on behalf of the biotech industry at the expense of many U.S. farmers who oppose further expansion of GE crops.

"Many U.S. wheat farmers oppose the introduction of Monsanto's GE wheat out of respect for their customers in Europe and Asia who have said that they don't want it," Olson noted. "Additionally, organic farmers face being put completely out of business from unchecked GE contamination of their crops, and they represent the fastest growing agricultural sector in the United States. The Bush Administration failed to represent the interests of these farmers in its all out effort on behalf of multinational biotech corporations to undermine this landmark protocol."

The treaty appears to give the European Union some cover in a World Trade Organization (WTO) case filed by the U.S. regarding genetically engineered foods. That case, expected to be decided sometime this summer, challenges the EU's tough regulatory system for GE foods. The Biosafety Protocol re-asserts nations rights to regulate and reject GE foods for import.

More information on the Biosafety Protocol can be found at the United Nations Environment Program web page:

The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy promotes resilient family farms, rural communities and ecosystems around the world through research and education, science and technology, and advocacy.


Argentina Announces Corporate Welfare for Monsanto

ETC Group
February 26, 2004

US-Inspired Trilateral Agreement Condones GM Contamination and Undermines Biosafety Protocol

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. The announcement comes as the United States, Mexico and Canada are pressing governments to adopt their Trilateral Agreement. The agreement sets the actionable level for GM contamination at a whopping five percent. At that level of tolerance, Mexico's maize crop would be riddled with foreign DNA from the Rio Grande to Guatemala in less than a decade. Last month, Brazil bowed to pressure from Monsanto and agreed that soybean crushers and processors in Rio Grande do Sul should collect seed royalties for Monsanto. Now, Argentina proposes to tax its own farmers and collect an estimated $34 million in royalties for Monsanto and other seed companies because Monsanto claims farmers are illegally replanting harvested seed and infringing its patents.

The Argentine proposal collapses one of the major tenets of patent regimes. "Argentina is saying that it will police the patent system for Monsanto," says Silvia Ribeiro of ETC Group, "The police and the courts will be used against farmers." Until now, companies have argued that the beauty of the patent system is that it is civil law where the costs of obtaining and defending patents are borne by the patent-holders at no cost to the state. "This pushes patents into the realm of criminal law," argues Ribeiro, who is attending the Kuala Lumpur meeting.

"Meanwhile, if governments agree to accept the Trilateral Agreement's standard of 5 percent contamination, there will be no need for the Biosafety Protocol at all. Contamination will be everywhere in a matter of years," says Hope Shand, ETC's Research Director based in the USA. "Monsanto, the USA, and Argentina will press other states to accept the tax-based approach to royalty payments," Shand explains, "Then comes the triple whammy - governments will find it cheaper to promote the use of Terminator technology rather than act as an unpopular royalty-collector for the Gene Giants." Terminator technology renders GM seed sterile, forcing farmers to buy new seed each growing season. It amounts to a biological patent without a time limitation. "Most governments and the Biodiversity Convention stand firmly against Terminator, " notes Shand, "But the USA, Brazil and Argentina have been working to undermine opposition at the CBD. Faced with the choice of either collecting royalty taxes or allowing Terminator, some governments are likely to cave in."

The full text is available at: ETC Group


250 Vermonters March On Montpelier: Flood the Statehouse to Call a Time Out on GMOs

GE Free VT Media Release
Contact: Amy Shollenberger, Rural Vermont 802.793.1114
Doyle Canning, GE Free VT 802.279.0985
February 26, 2004

House Agriculture Committee Stands Up for the Right To Know GE Seeds Act. Senate Judiciary Schedules Mark-Up on Farmer Protection Act: FRIDAY at 10 AM.

Montpelier, VT—In an uproarious groundswell for a Time Out on genetically engineered crops in Vermont, 250 Vermonters marched on Montpelier and flooded the statehouse during the House Agriculture committee hearing on GMO crops where corporate lobbyists from Monsanto were testifying against GMO legislation. At the protest of Committee Chair Ruth Towne (R-Washington-3-3), the Monsanto hearing was moved to a larger room to accommodate the crowd of GE Free Vermont farmers and supporters. After the testimony, where Monsanto Lobbyists from corporate HQ in St Louis were grilled by Vermont lawmakers, the committee reconvened to cut a deal on the Right-to-Know Act. The Right to Know Act passed the Vermont Senate last year by unanimous consent. The House agriculture committee meeting escalated into heated negotiations between the Secretary of Agriculture and the Democratic leadership, who remain committed to passage of the Right-to-Know GE Seeds act as soon as possible.

"This unprecedented bill undermines the industry and USDA's entire premise that genetically engineered seeds are just like conventional seeds. Monsanto has been testifying to lawmakers saying that there is no need for a Time Out or any legislation at all since GE seeds are safe and the same—the state of Vermont is about to blow that argument out of the water with the Right-to-Know act" said Kye Cochrane, a grassroots GE Free VT campaigner from East Hartford, Vermont. "The people of Vermont flooded our statehouse and packed Monsanto's GMO dog-and-pony show. We want Monsanto out of Montpelier and out of Vermont agriculture."

"The Right-to-Know Act on GE seeds is the first step towards a Time Out on GMOs in the state of Vermont, and that's what farmers across the state are counting on," said Dexter Randall, a 7th generation conventional dairy farmer from Troy, Vermont at today's rally on the statehouse steps. "The time has come for a Time Out on genetically engineered crops and farmers around the world are watching what is happening here today because GMOs are a threat to the global seed supply and farmers everywhere."

Today's march was led by veteran activists, mothers and children, and organic and conventional farmers from across the state chanting "the whole world is watching" and carrying heirloom organic corn seeds saved by Westfield dairy farmer Jack Lazor. The rally was joined by lawmakers including Senate President Pro-tem Peter Welch (D-Windsor County), who vibrantly spoke to GE Free VT supporters with Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Sarah Kittell (D-Franklin County), Representative Bobby Starr (D-Orleans-Franklin-1), Senator Jeannette White (D-Windham County), and Representative Betty Nuovo (D-Addison-1). Vermont Senators reported receiving over 1000 calls this past weekend from constituents calling for a Time Out on GMOs.

Seventy towns in Vermont have passed resolutions at annual town meetings in support of a moratorium on GMOs, and possibly 10 more towns will vote on March 2nd. Also on March 2nd, on the other coast, Mendocino County, California will consider Measure H, a measure to prohibit the "propagation, cultivation, raising and growing of genetically modified organisms."

The GE Free Vermont Campaign on Genetic Engineering is a statewide coalition of public interest groups, businesses, concerned citizens and farmers, who are organizing to oppose genetic engineering at the local, state and national level, and calling for a "Time Out" on GMOs. For more information: 802.272.9536


Biotechnology Touches Off Statehouse Storm

By Candace Page, Free Press Staff Writer
Burlington Free Press
February 27, 2004

MONTPELIER -- While scientists from the Monsanto company preached the virtues of genetically modified corn and soybeans inside a House committee room Thursday, a scarlet-sweatered crowd of 100 waved "Monsanto Go Home" signs outside the Statehouse.

"Hey hey, ho ho, GMOs have got to go," they chanted, using the shorthand for "genetically modified organisms," then filed inside to listen to Monsanto's testimony.

Their arrival touched off a committee room confrontation and exposed the volatile -- but usually veiled -- clash of politics and personalities around farm issues this year in Montpelier.

"I think we should move downstairs to a larger room," Rep. Betty Nuovo, D-Middlebury, said to Agriculture Chairman Ruth Towne, R-Berlin, as the leading edge of the crowd squashed into the cramped room.

"We are going to stay here," said Towne, settling deeper into her chair.

"I move we go downstairs," said Nuovo, getting up.

"I'm the committee chairman and we're going to stay here," said Towne, who opposes most GMO regulation.

"This is a democracy and I've made a motion," said Nuovo, who supports GMO regulation.

The committee -- which has a 7-4 Democratic majority -- voted to move to the larger room.

"I'm in charge. We're going to stay here," said Towne, as more protesters, other lawmakers and lobbyists pushed into the room, jostling for a view.

"This is a democracy and the committee has voted," said Nuovo in a sharp, insistent voice.

"I'm the chairman. We're staying," said Towne again, flatly.

"Is this a dictatorship?" asked Nuovo.

House Speaker Walter Freed, a Republican, came hustling in. He suggested the committee recess. Towne gave a quick pound of the gavel, but the argument continued.

Eventually Towne agreed to reconvene the committee in 45 minutes, in a room large enough for everyone to hear the scientists' testimony. The scientists' employer, Monsanto, is a major seller of genetically modified seeds that protect corn and soybeans from pests or herbicides.

Some Vermont farmers are eager to plant the seeds. Other farmers and some consumers fear they are unsafe and want a moratorium on their use.

The morning incident only dramatized the frustration and distrust among Republicans and Democrats over farm policy and, more generally, over politics in the closely divided House.

Among other things, Democrats on the Agriculture Committee said Towne has called mainly witnesses who support her point of view against regulation of genetically engineered crops.

Maybe so, said Towne, but that's because she sought out "proven science," which has concluded that these crops are safe.

"I wanted to be sure any legislation would be based on facts not fear. Facts not 'feel good.' Facts not falsehoods. That's why we had doctors from all over," she said. 'Or the deal's off'

Republicans hold a majority, and have made passage of a rewritten right-to-farm law their agriculture priority. They have opposed any legislation to regulate genetically modified seeds.

Minority Democrats generally lose fights over legislation on the floor. But on farm bills their Agriculture Committee majority gives them rare leverage they are eager to use.

Democrats support the right-to-farm law, but will not agree to send it to the floor unless they are assured the House will pass their priority, a bill to require labeling and registration of genetically modified seeds.

Party leaders began to assemble a deal: Send both bills to the floor, along with a third bill modifying regulation of large farms.

Such "you-help-me-I'll-help-you" deals are general currency at the Statehouse, but they usually are negotiated in backrooms. Thursday, the whole messy process was on display.

"We'll send all three bills to the floor. No amendments. The committee sticks together. No fun and games," Towne outlined to her committee at about 4 p.m.

But distrust on both sides soon roiled the waters. Republicans said the bills need to go to the floor simultaneously, probably in a single bill.

No way, said the Democrats. First pass the seed-labeling bill, then we'll do the other two.

"GE seeds has got to make it to the Senate or the deal's off," Rep. Carolyn Partridge, D-Windham, told the committee, then said it again.

A matter of trust

But Chairman Towne said she distrusts the Senate, controlled by Democrats. Senators could pass the seed-labeling bill and decline to act on right-to-farm.

The committee argued back and forth, exposing substantive policy differences on the large-farm regulation bill. Hope of acting on all three bills before Town Meeting Day faded. Then the etiquette of polite disagreement began to erode.

Rep. Harvey Smith, R-New Haven, looked across the committee table at Rep. Floyd Nease, D-Johnson, and said baldly, "You don't trust us and I'm not sure I trust you. Why should I trust you if you don't trust me?"

"Because you're in the majority," Nease shot back.

By 5 p.m., House Democratic Leader Gaye Symington of Jericho and Agriculture Secretary Steve Kerr were arguing about the farm bills as part of an animated group blocking the ramp to the cafeteria.

Waiters pushed by carrying trays of tomato-topped canapes to a Statehouse reception.

Kerr shook his head and urged the lawmakers not to give up.

"Patience is a virtue," he said as the argument dwindled away, left unresolved until Friday.

Contact Candace Page at 660-1865, 229-9141 or e-mail

Lawmakers are considering three major pieces of farm legislation:

Purpose: To strengthen farmers' protection from neighbors' nuisance lawsuits.
Sticking point: Republicans want to extend protection to new farms or farming activities, not just farms that predate their neighbors. Democrats oppose the change.
Purpose: To conform with new federal regulations that require medium-size farms to take anti-water pollution measures.
Sticking point: No community member can appeal when a farmer wins a permit to operate a large farm. Democrats would like to provide some appeal rights. Republicans are opposed.
Purpose: To require that all packages of genetically modified seeds be labeled.
Sticking point: Whether the bill, a Democratic priority, should be acted upon before the other two farm bills

Rice Is Now Oryza Syngenta!

By Devinder Sharma

The launch of a high-yielding dwarf rice variety by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) on Nov 28, 1966 marked the beginning of Asia's struggle for freedom from hunger. Perhaps drawn by the promise of the 'miracle rice' – the IR8 rice variety -- the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) dedicated 1966 as the International Rice Year.

Thirty-eight years later, as the United Nations dedicates 2004 to the world's most important staple food once again, celebrating it as the International Year of Rice, the starchy grain has undergone a complete metamorphosis. In 1966, the miracle rice seeds that ushered in the green revolution belonged to the species – Oryza sativa -- a mankind's heritage. Since the time the indica variety of wild rice was known to be growing in the northern and southern slopes of the Himalayas – and that was some 15,000 years ago – rice has been regarded as probably God's greatest gift to human society.

Staple food for more than half the world's population, rice is part of the Asian culture, rice is the unstated religion of Asia, and in essence rice is the life of Asia. It is in Asia still that more than 97 per cent of the world's rice is grown. Nearly 91 per cent of world's rice is produced in Asia, and 92 per cent is eaten in Asia. Rice is the principal food of three of the world's four most populous nations: People's Republic of China, India and Indonesia. For more than 2.5 billion people in these three countries alone – rice is what they grow up with. For centuries, rice has been the sociology, tradition and lifeline for the majority world.

That was an era associated with Oryza sativa, the biological name for rice, we know. That was the period when rice was freely available for farmers, consumers and the scientists. Whether it were the 200,000 plant accessions of rice that were known to be cultivated some 200 years ago, or the handful of dwarf and high-yielding rice varieties and its numerous national variants the world over that have led the march against hunger in the recent past, rice was a realm of nature.

As the world begins to commemorate the International Year of Rice 2004, a leading multinational agribusiness giant, Syngenta, has already claimed ownership of rice. In other words, biological inheritance of the world's major food crop is now in the hands of a Swiss multinational. The journey of rice, beginning with the emergence of wild rice some 130 million years ago, transcending through the Himalayas, passing through southern China, hopping to Japan, traveling to Africa, traded to Middle East and the Mediterranean, shipped to Mexico and America, has finally ended at the banks of river Rhine in Basel, Switzerland -- under the monopoly control of Syngenta.

As that brouhaha was unfolding several years ago, agribusiness giants kept on assuring the scientific community that crops like rice, wheat and other cereals are of no commercial interest to them. Their focus was on cash crops like strawberries, cut flowers, tomatoes and the likes, which could rake in big profits. This prompted universities, which developed such technologies in the first place, to license these to the private corporations. Knowing well that patenting alone will determine who wields power over farming and world food system, a tug of war began over who controls the rice plant genome – the raw sequences in the genetic code.

The tussle over the monopoly control of rice extends to its 12 chromosomes. These chromosomes contain 430 million base pairs of DNA, and are expected to have about 50,000 genes. Syngenta, in collaboration with Myriad Genetics Inc of USA, has beaten Monsanto in the game by sequencing more than 99.5 per cent of the rice genome. Syngenta has already made it clear that it will restrict access to the genomic map and expects proprietary control over any research carried out with the information.

Top executives of Syngenta have already told the New York Times that while the companies would not seek to patent the entire genome, they would try to patent individual valuable genes. They categorically stated that Syngenta and Myriad were well on their way to finding many of those. First Monsanto, which made international headlines in April 2000, for announcing to share its working draft (rougher, 60 per cent) of the genome map with international researchers sequencing the rice genome under a publicly funded International Rice Genome Sequencing Project (IRGSP), and then Syngenta making it clear of the efforts to seek patents on genes with visible commercial output, the race is on to draw proprietary control over something that existed in nature.

There are conflicting reports of the latest tally of patents over rice genes. Some researchers say that more than 900 genes have already been patented. Earlier, GRAIN had compiled a list of 609 patents on rice genes drawn till Sept 2000, 56 per cent of which were owned by private companies and research institutes in the western countries. Top of the list was the American giant Du Pont with 95 patents, followed by Mitsui, Japan, with 45 patents. In the next three years, especially after the mapping of the rice genome by Syngenta, a majority of the patents would surely be in the lap of a handful of multinational agribusiness companies.

The daylight robbery of genetic wealth – appropriately termed as biopiracy – continues unabated in connivance with top scientists, international organizations and the policy makers. The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), which governs the 16 international agricultural research centers for public good, has actually welcomed the recent developments in rice. The Rockefeller Foundation, the Convention on Biological Diversity, the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) and even the FAO and UNDP have refrained from standing up against what appears to be the nefarious design of the private companies in the name of research and development. In fact, the CGIAR has even gone a step ahead by taking Syngenta on its board – thereby ensuring that the company gets a free access to the world's biggest rice germplasm collections that it has.

Syngenta subsequently gained exclusive rights on the controversial Golden Rice technology in exchange for help with the IPR issues and the different testing of the rice for a humanitarian project. This happened when the international community was negotiating an agreement to see that the 70-odd patents that were coming in the way of free transfer and application of the technology were removed. Ingo Potrykus, university professor of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, who developed the Golden Rice, was in a desperate haste to see that his name is enshrined in history as the saviour of the malnourished. Greenovation, a spin-off company from the University of Freiburg in Germany, was therefore founded in 1999 to out-license university research to life science companies.

The patent was applied a year later, naming Igno Potrykus and his colleague Beyer as the inventors, and facilitating an agreement with Zeneca, now Syngenta. For the Swiss company, the IPR over Golden Rice provides a human face to its manipulative gene control designs. The company has already announced that the technology will be free for farmers in the developing countries with annual incomes of less than US $ 10,000, a wonderful exercise in public relations knowing well that the Golden Rice has little utility and relevance for the developing countries.

The quest for control over rice does not end with patenting of its genes. In 2002, stung by criticism, Syngenta India had to pull out from the controversial research collaboration with the Indira Gandhi Agricultural University (IGAU) at Raipur. The collaboration would have given the company commercial rights to over 19,000 strains of local rice cultivars held by the university. These rice varieties were painstakingly gathered by the agricultural scientist R H Richharia in the 1970s. In exchange, the university would have received an undisclosed amount of money and royalties.

Environmentalists and some scientists had opposed the deal on the ground that Richharia's collection is a national wealth and not a private property of the university and that opening the database to a multinational company is a "sellout". "We are very disappointed to see the misleading and false accusations that were made (against the collaboration)," a company official was quoted as saying. What is however relatively unknown is the fact that the Richharia rice collections were not the only plant species that the company had an eye for. It has reportedly gone into numerous agricultural universities in India, singing agreements that enable the company commercial rights over the hybrid rice varieties in lieu of five per cent royalties from sales.

Patrick Mulvany of the Intermediate Technology Development Group (ITDG) is a distinguished researcher who has closely followed the biodiversity trail. "Not just national collections, but also CGIAR genebanks (which contain over 600,000 plant accessions) will come under increasing pressure from multinationals in the next year or two, to exchange the genetic resources in genebanks under public control for traitorous pieces of silver," he warns. Accordingly, as "Plant genetic resources for food and agriculture" are defined in the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources' Article 2 as "any genetic material of plant origin of actual or potential value for food and agriculture", it should be quite clear that IPRs are NOT allowed on these genetic resources. However, the eminent Commission on Intellectual Property Rights, set up by the UK government, has already jumped the gun and has interpreted Article 12.3(d) as meaning that patents can be taken out on genes derived from the seeds kept under the rules of the multilateral systems (those 35 genera of food crops, including rice, wheat, maize and potatoes, and 29 forages covered by the MLS in its Annex 1). Mulvany explains: "The crucial words 'in the form received' mean that material received cannot be patented as such, but they do allow patents to be taken out on modifications (however defined) to that material." (CIPR report Ch 3).

In simple words, even the CIPR has failed to foresee the underlying threat to food sovereignty. Not realizing that such an interpretation will lead to scientific apartheid against the developing countries. After all, with the product and process patents coming into vogue in agriculture, the dice is loaded against public sector agricultural research. As a result of private control over genes and biological processes, farm research in the public sector will be rendered redundant. It has already happened in the rich industrialized countries where universities have increasing gone private or are surviving on private funds. To begin with, rice research will be the biggest casualty for the developing countries. With a few private companies vying for the crumbs, rice is essentially in the grip of Syngenta.

The International Year of Rice 2004 is in reality a celebration of the private control of one of the mankind's most precious heritage – rice plant. It is a toast to acknowledge the emergence of Switzerland on the world's rice map.

Oryza sativa, therefore for all practical purposes will become Oryza syngenta.

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