'This patent has caused great economic hardship for farmers in northern Mexico, and we welcome attempts to overturn it,' said Miguel Tachna Felix, spokesman for the Agricultural Association of Rio Fuerte in Sinaloa, Mexico which represents 22,000 farmers in northern Mexico. Felix is referring to a legal challenge of a US patent on a yellow bean of Mexican origin.
Twenty-three years old, one of the world's most experienced biodiversity/biotech advocacy organizations is broadening its focus and changing its name, the directors of RAFI and of RAFI-USA announced today.
Long history: RAFI and RAFI-USA staff have been working together for over 20 years. Work on agricultural genetic resources that began under the mandate of the International Coalition for Development Action (ICDA), a Brussels-based civil society organization (CSO), in 1977 quickly merged with similar work under the auspices of the Rural Advancement Fund in the southern United States and led to the formation of the Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI) as a Netherlands incorporated CSO in 1985. Although the international work began to be known as RAFI, the work was still under the auspices of the Rural Advancement Fund which fully supported the work through its staffing and fundraising efforts.
What 'grows' but doesn't 'move'? If you're an agronomist, the standard answer is a 'plant'. In Neuchatel, Switzerland last week however, at a tactically critical food security negotiation, the running joke was 'Washington trade policy'. As world seed and biotech industries, governments of Europe and Japan, and G77 (developing) countries watched in consternation, U.S. Government representatives tied themselves in knots trying to explain the difference to uninterested patent and trade lawyers back in their capitol, between plant genetic resources in agriculture from other industrial technologies. The U.S. delegation continuously raised what appeared to other delegations, to be nonsensical conflicts between the World Trade Organization (WTO) and an agreement being revised by governments in the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to safeguard the flow of crop germplasm for scientific research and international food security.
The Biosafety protocol on GM crops was a big thing in January, but the meeting about to begin in Neuchatel addresses a 'clear and present danger' to world food security. A brave little band of 'biocrats' could decide the fate of the scientific exchange of crop genetics. Their political bosses don't even know they've left town!
The Biosafety deal struck by governments in Montreal in January was intended to make the world safe from (or for?) transgenic crops. But what about the safety of those pedestrian seeds that are the basis for virtually all genetic crop improvement? The stuff that lets bio-engineers juggle genes and allows farmers to breed new diversity that can meet the stresses coming with global warming? Whereas the biosafety protocol tries to prevent the unwanted movement of GM seeds around the world, another treaty is being developed to facilitate the exchange of seeds for scientific research.
The Biosafety protocol on GM crops was a big thing in January, but the meeting about to begin in Neuchatel addresses a "clear and present danger" to world food security. A brave little band of "biocrats" could decide the fate of the scientific exchange of crop genetics. Their political bosses don’t even
The Golden Rice AstraZeneca saga is a case study in public science's failure to understand and address patent issues. In justifying their surrender of Vitamin A enriched GM rice to the giant corporation, the researchers claim they couldn't navigate the 70+ intellectual and tangible property conflicts that could potentially scuttle their work. There are likely no more than 11 - and possibly as few as 4, patent conflicts and one outstanding tangible property issue. A public sector group - including the people Golden Rice is intended to help - should meet to debate all the options and alternatives. The contract and the events surrounding it should be investigated.
In a split 2-1 decision, the Canadian Federal Court of Appeal ruled in favour of granting a patent to Harvard Medical School for the oncomouse, a mouse genetically engineered to carry a cancer-causing gene. The decision marks another point in the 15-year battle in the Canadian courts over whether Mother Nature or a Harvard scientist invented the mouse and its offspring.
Two days of contentious debate on Terminator has ruptured the US Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Advisory Board on Agricultural Biotechnology. Terminator technology, the genetic engineering of plants to produce sterile seeds, has been widely condemned as a dangerous and morally offensive application of agricultural biotechnology, because over 1.4 billion people depend on farm-saved seeds.
USDA ignited the worldwide controversy in March 1998 when it won the first of three patents on genetic seed sterilization, which it holds jointly with Delta & Pine Land - the world's largest cotton seed company.
GM (genetically modified) crops may be a fiasco on the farm, but Monsanto and its partner Scotts (Ohio, USA), are hoping that GM grass will be a sensation in suburbia. A page-one story in the New York Times, July 9th, reports that Scotts Company in collaboration with Monsanto and Rutgers University is developing genetically modified grass for suburban lawns and golf courses (David Barboza, 'Ground-Level Genetics, for the Perfect Lawn,' New York Times, July 9, 2000, p. 1.). Scotts predicts that the market for GM grass could sprout to a whopping $10 billion. (By contrast, the entire commercial market for crop seeds in the US is worth approximately $5 billion per annum.) Monsanto and Scotts are developing herbicide tolerant strains that can withstand spraying of Monsanto's blockbuster weedkiller Roundup, as well as genetically altered, slow-growing ('mow-me-less') grass. Just around the dogleg, Scotts and Monsanto foresee GM grass in designer colours.
In the face of mounting evidence of its commercialization, the Fifth Conference of the Parties (COP 5) to the Biodiversity Convention (CBD) failed to heed the warnings of most of the world's nations to ban the Terminator technology. 'By not responding to the calls made by many of the nations of the world, a minority of COP delegates from the North ultimately abdicated their responsibility to international food security and biodiversty,' said Julie Delahanty of RAFI.
Despite information about new patents and field trials, and the strong opposition to Terminator and genetic use restriction technologies (GURTs)* expressed clearly by most of the world's nations, the CBD approved a proposal coming from its Scientific Advisory Body (called SBSTTA). That proposal recommends that GURTs not be approved for field-testing or be commercialized until more scientific data can be gathered on its potential impacts. The text also states that Parties may choose to establish a complete moratorium on these technologies at the national level.