From the Editor
The GM Goliath that refuses to fall
Monsanto should have toppled, Goliath-like, years ago, if not for the
support of the US and other governments and inter-government agencies; and at
least some of that support has been obtained through illegal means. Monsanto
was caught spending more than $700,000 on bribes in Indonesia in an
unsuccessful bid to bypass control of its GM cotton crops in that country, and
was duly fined $1.5 million in the US court.
Monsanto remains by far the worlds leading producer of GM seeds,
which fills 90% of GM hectares worldwide in 2003. But the company has been hard
hit by market rejection of GM produce. Innovest Strategic Value Advisors, a
financial services firm based in New York, London, Paris and Toronto, has
consistently given Monsanto the lowest investment rating for several years now.
It says Monsanto is overvalued in the short-term, and its long-term value is at
risk. Outside of the US, Canada and a few other developed countries, Monsanto
has received little revenue from its GM crops.
Although 95% of the soya planted in Argentina is Roundup Ready, Monsanto
was forced to shut down its operations there in 2004 because of the lack of
revenue. A string of GM products have ceased to be marketed or developed for
the same reason: GM wheat, tomatoes, flax seed, rice and sugar beets. Its GM
potatoes were withdrawn in 2001 after companies including McDonalds,
Burger King, McCains and Pringles refused to buy them.
North American farmers concerns over the marketability of GM
wheat caused Monsanto to abandon that product in 2004. And worry over
contamination liability led Monsanto to give up its pharm-crop R&D in
Meanwhile, over 58 countries have enacted or announced biosafety laws
to restrict import and commercialisation of GM products and/or require
labelling of food containing GM ingredients. More than 100 regions and 3 500
sub-regions in Europe, the most important market, have declared themselves
GMO-free, and demanding new European laws to protect them from GM
Last year, the United Nations Food and Agriculture organization (FAO)
published its report, Agricultural biotechnology: meeting the needs of the
poor? stating that GMOs could be the key to solving world hunger, and
pushing for more funding. It was roundly condemned in an open letter signed by
650 civil society organizations worldwide. The letter demanded instead,
structural changes in access to land, food and political power, to be combined
with support for sustainable technologies in farmer-led research.
Increasing market rejection of GM foods has spread within the US.
Several polls have shown that a significant percentage of people - up to 58% -
would not eat GM food if they were labelled as such. In the past year, 79 towns
in Vermont passed resolutions against GMOs while the State government passed a
seed-labelling bill, the first of its kind in the US. In California, Mendocino
County passed the first law in the US to ban GMO releases into the environment;
and other counties have followed suit.
But beware. Monsanto has just bought Seminis, a fruit and vegetable seed
company for $1.4bn, and said it would look into the possibility of genetically
modifying the produce. Prof. Joe Cummins warns that Seminis was a major player
in transgenic plant virus control. It made transgenic papaya resistant to the
papaya ring spot virus, which has been released and marketed in US and a few
other countries. Monsanto had failed to get involved in transgenic virus
control, so acquiring Seminis will considerably strengthen its stranglehold on
Seminis was a co-patent holder of the papaya ring spot virus transgenes,
and has patents for virus control genes in a wide array of vegetable and fruit
crops. It also holds a patent on broccoli with anti sense genes that make
broccoli last a long time in the produce stand. "The combined Monsanto-Seminis
Corporate Empire may inaugurate a new era of garden spies who rat out their
neighbours for saving seeds." Joe says.
All the more reason to reject GM crops now; it is a massive diversion
from really feeding the world, especially under global warming.
Before the food bubble bursts
New research just published in the journal Nature shows that
carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions could have a more dramatic
effect on climate than previously thought, and that average temperature could
go up by 11C. But the journal does not tell us that the most immediate
catastrophe we face under climate change may be the collapse of food
production. Lester Brown of The Earth Policy Institute warns in his new book,
that the food bubble is about to burst, unless the urgent problems
of water shortage, overpopulation and rising temperatures are tackled right
away in "Plan B".
Plan B involves shifting from a carbon-based energy economy to a
hydrogen-based one to stabilize climate change; developing wind-generated
energy, solar cells, fuel cells and hydrogen generators. It means phasing out
motorcars in favour of bicycles, replacing coal-fired power plants by gas-fired
plants and wind farms.
Plan B means stabilizing world population at around 7.5 billion;
increasing the productivity of water in agriculture, halting soil erosion by
replanting trees, adopting minimum-till, no-till and other soil-conservation
Finally, it means restructuring the entire economy by creating an
"honest market" that "tells the ecological truth", that includes the indirect
costs on the environment.
Another major reason food production is under threat is that fossil
fuel, on which industrial monoculture is highly dependent, is fast diminishing.
At the beginning of 2004, Royal Dutch Shell wrote down a quarter of its
oil and gas reserves, amounting to some 4.5 billion barrels. It was the latest
and most spectacular in a series of write-downs by oil companies. Crude oil
price rose above US$50 per barrel in October 2004.
Oil production may be reaching its peak- the crunch point - when roughly
half of all the worlds reserves have been extracted, and production would
decline, driving up the price of oil and eventually failing to meet demand.
It takes roughly 10 calories of energy to produce 1 calorie of food from
field to plate, and industrial monocultures need 6 to 10 times more energy than
sustainable farming methods. There are thus enormous potential energy savings
in shifting to truly sustainable agriculture systems that include minimizing
long distance transport, processing and packaging. These energy savings bring a
host of other advantages, such as restoring autonomy to small family farmers,
social and financial wealth to local rural communities, alleviating poverty,
conserving biodiversity and maintaining and revitalizing indigenous cultures.
A mechanism for mobile phone effect at last?
Prof. William Stewart must be tearing his hair out having to repeat his
advice that children should not use mobile phones as a Europe-wide study
costing more than 3 million euros over 4 years has once again eschewed any
suggestion that mobile phones are health risks. In fact, the study was designed
to preclude implications on health risks, as it involved only in
vitro investigations on cells and molecules that, the final report on the
study said, cannot be extrapolated to whole organisms. And although the study
confirmed many biological effects of EMFs far below the current exposure limits
deemed to be safe, such as DNA breakages and chromosomal aberrations; it
failed, once again, to identify the mechanisms responsible.
There may well have been a minor breakthrough to understanding the
mechanism as other scientists found a remarkable tendency of the mobile phone
to turn a particular enzyme solution into a gel. And it may have something to
do with the collective structure of water. Magical water!
Which stem cells?
Adult stem cells isolated from the patients bone marrow or blood
have proven successful in mending the heart after a heart attack. But new
results also suggest they may help patients with chronic heart damage from
Chagas disease; and stem cells harvested from cord blood of the newborn
may mend spinal injury.
Meanwhile, insurmountable technical and financial hurdles have piled up
on the ethical and safety concerns over the use of embryonic stem cells.
Isnt it time to call a halt to therapeutic human cloning and
embryonic stem cell research? What purpose does it serve other than indulge the
whims of scientists who cannot think of doing anything else?
Mind & body control nano-implants coming
Brain and neuro-implants that can help control pain and restore
paralysed peoples ability to control their lives and to communicate seem
like an unadulterated good. But could this also be the beginning of mind
control through virtual reality and Brave New World surveillance through
implanted identity tags?
Brain-computer interface is an exciting new area that offers great
promises and perils in equal measure. The time to debate this is now.
All Science in Society articles cited can be accessed on ISIS
members website: http://www.i-sis.org.uk/isisnews.php