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Science in Society 15 - website only

A selection of articles that simply wouldn't fit into issue 15!

UNED-UK Preparatory Meetings for World Summit on Sustainable Development

Bottom-Up for Sustainability

‘A Vision for our Common Future’ was an opportunity to contribute to UK preparations for the World Summit on Sustainable Development. Sam Burcher provides an overview of the day.

A 300 strong audience comprising many environmental organizations, religious groups, university professors and students, bankers, business and industry, embassy officials, Third World charities and concerned individuals gathered on 22 January 2002 to participate in the event ‘A Vision for Our Common Future: The UK’s Contribution to Earth Summit 2002’. This was one of a series of national preparative meetings for the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), to be held in Johannesburg in August 2002.

It has been ten years since the first Earth Summit in Rio where world leaders acknowledged global degradation and formulated Agenda 21 and the Rio Declaration. These two documents focus on sustainable development to meet present and long-term global needs, pointing to an integrated holistic framework for both humans and ecosystems.

Multi-stakeholder working groups, launched in March 2001, used the forum to report back on national preparatory work, and to provide an opportunity for contributions from all stakeholders. The main issues discussed were:

  • Sustainable cities and communities
  • Energy and climate change
  • Sustainable production and consumption
  • Population and sustainability
  • UK in the wider world
  • Biodiversity and natural resource conservation
  • Education for sustainable development

Prime Minister Tony Blair declared his intention to attend the summit before any other world leader saying, "Britain on its own cannot do it. But we can set standards at home and provide leadership abroad."

John Gummer MP, in his opening speech continued the theme of an all-embracing government attitude involving the whole political scene in sustainable development. He called for more experienced NGOs to get involved and government departments to become more sustainable, more holistic. But as Yoshi Funaki (Peace Child International) youngest member of the panel of invited speakers commented later "there is no recycled paper in the House of Commons." Gummer wanted practical action and practical solutions, the DIY approach. He invited the public to make more demands on their MP’s, "Michael Meacher would welcome it, " he said.

And late in the afternoon after many invited speakers, Michael Meacher, Minister for the Environment made the keynote speech of the day. He emphasised a "bottom-up" process that would formulate an agenda working to ensure that all countries have a voice in achieving their aims at the Summit. This "globalisation from below" strategy came about at the UN People Assembly 2001 where problems were tackled by global civil society representatives. One of Meacher’s key objectives is to encourage individuals and organisations to commit to sustainable development and its potential to greatly improve quality of life. Combining these forces with young people, local and regional governments, business and trade unions, he hopes to get this message across.

A practical example of how the North can help the South is demonstrated by school children in Cornwall, who made a calendar using illustrations done by themselves and children of the Peru rainforests. They want to set up a nursery for medicinal herbs and forest flowers with money raised from the sales of the calendar. This is just one of the many initiatives of Peace Child International, whose name comes from a tradition in Papua New Guinea when warring tribes made peace by exchanging a child. Future conflicts could be resolved by sending the peace child to negotiate. (This would not be a bad idea considering the mess politicians have got the world into.)

In a day where questions from the floor were plentiful, a defining moment came when 15 year-old Neela Dolezalova spoke on behalf of the Woodcraft Folk. She suggested that information on sustainability in a language acceptable to children be made available in time for the Summit. "Even if it is only an A4 size document available on the Internet." She believes that her age group has the, and on the WSSD, see

Dates to take note of:

PrepCom3: 25 March – 5 April 2002, New York, USA
PrepCom4: 27 May – 7 May 2002, Jakarta, Indonesia
WSSD: 26 August – 4 September 2002, Johannesburg, South Africa

Sustainability for Whom?

Sustainable development is linked with global economic and political processes. It cannot be achieved without addressing poverty and its interactions with environment and development issues. Yet, who decides on sustainability? Lim Li Ching examines the debates raised at a UK preparatory meeting.

Despite the promises made at Earth Summit in Rio ten years ago, there has been little progress, both in terms of protecting the environment and stimulating peaceful, sustainable development.

On the positive side, the Earth Summit has built the conceptual and political link between environment and development; environmental issues must be dealt with in connection with development, and not in isolation. The linkages between poverty, environment and development are thus crucial in this respect.

The persistence of poverty can be often traced to underlying environmental problems (see ‘Linking Environment and Development’, Issues Paper 1, DFID, January 2002). That is because access to natural resources is critical to poor people’s livelihoods - for jobs, food, shelter, medicines and informal incomes. And as claims to resources are contested, power relations come into play – from local to global levels – with the poorest and marginalised often the losers.

Environment-related diseases affect poor people disproportionately, for example, through unsafe drinking water and pollution. Furthermore, the poor are particularly vulnerable to shocks and stresses, especially environmental disasters. Yet, most environmental degradation is perpetrated by the non-poor. For example, the world’s richest countries with 20% of the world population, account for 86% of total private consumption. But developing countries often have less capacity to deal with the consequences of environmental degradation.

Thus, attempts to foster sustainable development without addressing poverty are likely to fail. In this light, the global context of the current economic paradigm failing to benefit the poor is a major focus of the WSSD agenda.

The ‘UK in the Wider World’ Working Group recommended international cooperation through financial architecture and trade agreements to forward reforms that benefit developing countries. Developed countries have a crucial role in increasing developing countries’ access to environmentally and socially sound technologies and financial resources. The group called for implementation of the International Development Goals, targets set for reductions in poverty, improvements in health and education, and protection of the environment.

Minister of Environment Michael Meacher was heckled by many in the audience when he said at the closing speech that, "the UK’s overarching strategic objective is to eradicate poverty by making globalisation work for sustainable development". They seriously doubt that globalisation is compatible with sustainable development. The ‘UK in the Wider World’ Working Group felt that there is a need for "a mechanism" whereby the two are reconciled. For example, binding rules to guide the conduct of governments, business and international institutions are needed. They recommended that trade agreements be made compatible with sustainable development, while establishing environmental and social standards for transnational corporations (TNCs) and independent audit of such standards. Further, the South’s debt must be reduced, as must over-consumption in the North.

While these are good proposals, the biggest threats to the WSSD agenda remains the outcomes of the WTO Doha Ministerial (see ‘Rough Road from Doha to Johannesburg’). Despite some positive trends in multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs), they are not enough to protect the environment and developing countries. For example, trade negotiators are shoring up the defences of the WTO such that it takes precedence over environmental and social issues. Thus, core issues on sustainable development are being decided outside the WSSD.

Despite Meacher’s unqualified optimism for the Doha Ministerial, claiming that developing countries would benefit, this is not so, as the Doha process was manipulative, and its outcomes anti-development (see ‘Manipulation and Deceit in Doha’, Science in Society 13/14). While the rules of the WTO need to be made fairer, good global governance is also needed to set the rules for the global economy, bringing international institutions together into a framework that prioritises sustainable development. This should not be left to the WTO.

While the UNED-UK meeting in general was fairly strong in its consensus that poverty and development must be addressed at the WSSD, it was disappointing to hear some of what Meacher said. Any positive statement he made was tempered by large doses of ‘realism’. For example, his insistence that whilst regulation of TNCs is important, there are few realistic options to warrant its placement on the agenda. He also agreed with a legal right to a safe and healthy environment, but deemed it "difficult to deliver". The same pragmatism was evident in his comments on the Tobin Tax (a small tax on currency speculation, the proceeds of which are spent on development); while considering it a good idea, he stopped short of providing any political impetus for it.

Yet, political will is sorely needed if the WSSD is to have a people’s agenda and to ensure that it is not subordinated to the WTO. And while environment and development problems may be global, they are not necessarily adequately addressed by international conferences, themselves prone to reproducing power relations. These problems are not standard or universal, or require universal solutions. Often, global problems aggregate local problems, blurring polarisations and highlighting interconnectedness. Multi-level interventions are thus needed, involving all stakeholders.

This must be translated into practical action. Emil Salim, chair of the preparatory committee meetings for WSSD has reiterated elsewhere, "Most of the participants are fed up with speeches that don’t bring results. We need doable programmes".

The WSSD is thus a crucial moment to seize the opportunity to address the failures of the last decade, in making sustainable development a reality for all.

Women for Sustainability

Women are coming to the forefront of sustainable development initiatives. Sam Burcher reports.

The links between population and sustainability are controversial, with quantitative concern about human numbers viewed as inherently coercive. The UN conference in Cairo 1994 appropriately emphasised human rights for women instead of population ‘control’ based on neo-Malthusian assumptions that populations will increase without bound. In reality the situation is much more complex. For example, 15% of world population (mainly in the North) accounts for 56% of total consumption while 40% of the world’s poorest account for only 11% of consumption (UN Statistics 2002).

At the UNED-UK stakeholder meeting, consultant Catherine Budgett-Meakin laid out progress so far, on behalf of the ‘Population and Sustainability’ Working Group. In September 2001 she asked NGOs to comment on the importance of the issue of population growth and Reproductive Health Care Services for those who want it. Their reply placed environment and poverty in the top priority, stressing that once poverty decreases so will family size.

The UK has made a move towards pushing Reproductive Health Care and AIDS treatment to the forefront of primary health care, by allocating £436m of Overseas Development Aid (ODA) in the last financial year (1.5% of total UK ODA budget of £3billion).

Ideally this money should go to women in rural parts of the world who continue to be the most poverty stricken and who desperately need economic assistance for health and education within their own sustainable structures. For example the case of the Malaysian Bidan (expert midwives ie reproductive healthcarers) who recently became subject to imprisonment, fines or both for using their skills (see "Hold onto midwife, here comes the doctor" ISIS News 11/12). It is women like these that are much in demand by the public, have an immense wealth of indigenous knowledge and skills that are key to sustainability.

A meeting of Women Leaders on the Environment hosted by the Ministry of Environment of Finland (Helsinki 2002) affirmed this view. They are committed to "Expand participating research programmes to explore and record womens’ indigenous knowledge and their specific ways of owning, using and maintaining diverse natural resources and ensure that women hold ownership over that knowledge." Further conclusions highlight the importance of women’s input to sustainability by making daily choices about what their families eat, wear and generally consume. And that clear food labels, knowing the risks arising from GMO’s and public disclosure of environmental data is desired.

Partnerships with other NGO’s and women’s organizations prove significant to the stakeholders at UNED-UK. Helen Carey, (National Federation Women’s Institute) in her speech said her members had "tackled the mysteries of Agenda 21." The WI have set up 1500 community projects under local Agenda 21 and are researching the possibility of the Isle of Man becoming a fair trade island. To raise awareness of Earth Summit 2002 a postcard is being sent to members asking what they would like to say to world leaders, how they want to see the world in 10 years time and their vision of the Summit. The replies will be handed out to world leaders in Africa, who must "do more than talk". She believes that women should be given a greater role in political decision-making. In 1998 only 12.7% of the worlds’ cabinet ministers were women.

The Women’s Environment and Development Organisation (WEDO) are international advocates who seek to increase the power of women worldwide as decision-makers. Chapter 24 of Agenda 21 "Global Action for Women towards Sustainable and Equitable Development" states the need to integrate women at all government levels. WEDO held the first Women’s World Congress for a Healthy Planet in November 1991. Their platform for Women’s Action Agenda 2002 will present an updated and comprehensive women’s agenda in Johannesburg.

Sustainable Cities and Communities

The World Summit on Sustainable Development will consider many issues related to sustainability. One of the key areas identified as important for the UK is urban sustainability. Nick Papadimitriou takes a closer look.

Herbie Girardet of Schumacher College presented the report on sustainable communities and cities to the UNED-UK forum. The report opened with a warning that Local Agenda 21 (LA21) was in danger of running out of steam. It was therefore deemed necessary to hold an independent review of how much LA21 had achieved at the community level in the UK. Concern was also raised about the procedure of granting fixed term contracts to LA21 officers as it created a limited "project mentality", countering the very notion of sustainability.

The report functioned well as an analytic of the whole notion of sustainable development, the difference between "liveability" [where local conditions are perceived to have improved] and sustainability underlining the suggestion that the UK government should stress the difference between short and long-term changes.

The World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) was invoked as both a forum within which to argue for global and national frameworks for sustainable communities, and a window for assessing whether attempts to move in this direction within the UK are as effective as they could be.

The report outlined several approaches to securing sustainable development in cities. Five key themes were outlined (see box). These were however pitched in a rather abstract manner, dealing with general themes rather than specifics as to how sustainability can actually be achieved.

A particularly glaring deficiency was the failure to discuss how sustainable communities could provide for their own food needs, and how this links to the broader spectrum of sustainability issues, food miles, nutritional poverty etc.

Five key themes for furthering sustainable development in cities

  • Awareness raising and public engagement

There is a need to increase awareness of sustainable development at community level. Central government must make funds available for learning programmes and support public engagement and empowerment of communities. Education plays a key role, with teachers being trained in active citizenship and sustainable development. Sustainable development needs to be placed on the national curriculum.

  • Innovative approaches to planning

The UK government should assure that planning for sustainable urban development is regarded as essential and is reflected in planning laws, strategies and policies. Local commitment would be assured by inviting communities to participate in decision-making.

  • Liveability and sustainability

These two notions need to be conjoined so one is not promoted at the expense of the other. The issue of their separateness and linkage is crucial. People often assume that because their local conditions have improved all is well with the world. The UK government should stress the importance of urban sustainability over apparent liveability. LA21, if well implemented could deal with both issues.

  • Strengthening local economies

Local economic viability needs to be acknowledged over and above the forces of globalisation. The contradiction of pursuing sustainable development within the paradigm of economic growth needs to be challenged. Economic development strategies should take the viability of communities as the starting point.

  • Poverty and sustainable development

Enabling neighbourhood renewal and worldwide local action would play key roles in alleviating poverty. Governments should encourage local ownership of assets, develop community and social enterprise and provide access to credit and community business advice.

Biopatents & Biopiracy

Compiled by Nick Papadimitriou

Great British chip patented!

A shocking illustration of the state of our patenting laws has come to light with the revelation that a patent on the salted chip, a staple of the British diet, has been applied for by international charity Action Aid. The patent is for a "new" type of salted chip "invented" by Professor Leo Pyle of Reading University on behalf of Action Aid. The application, entered on February 11th could be used as a basis to claim royalties on the 300m portions of chips sold annually in the UK. Fortunately the point of the exercise was to draw attention to patenting law and the seriousness of a situation where more and more of our basic foodstuffs are being patented.

Action Aid has pledged not to use the patent to claim royalties.

In reaction to outrage expressed by some of the UK’s "chippies" at the news of the filed patent, Salil Shetty, Chief Executive pointed out that globally speaking this is just the thin end of the wedge. "Our chip patent shows how absurd these patent rules are and highlights the ease with which big business is using them to deprive people of their rights."

Source: Charity chip shocker, Action Aid press release, 11/02/2002.

Leading college nurtures spin out skills

In a move that could lead to constraints on the free flow of scientific information Imperial College, London is setting up a new programme to help researchers improve their business and exploitation skills. According to Imperial College Reporter the Entrepreneurs’ programme "aims to foster and develop the entrepreneurial culture at the college via workshops and master classes."

The opening event, a masterclass for spin out companies on "negotiating venture capital term sheets" took place in January.

"The event aimed to demystify the often difficult negotiations that go on when raising money from venture capitalists." Commented one spokesperson

Professor Sue Birley, director of the course added "faculty and researchers will be able to arm themselves with the skills needed to bring their technology to market." However, spinouts rely .on patenting to assure profits and these can seriously inhibit the free flow of information that may have been gathered at the public expense.

Source: Imperial College Reporter, 114, 12/2/02. P3

If you can’t beat them join them

As Intellectual Property Rights become the norm, nations, which previously had no interest in privatising knowledge, are being forced to join the economic-rationalist creed or die. Now an international organisation is being set up to guide health workers in the developing world through the implications of intellectual property law. The Management of Intellectual Property in Health R&D [MIHR] is to help governments in the developing world negotiate better deals for drug access as well as help researchers to protect their own ideas. Start up for MIHR is to come from the Rockefeller Foundation who pledged US$500,000. MIHR will also seek to persuade universities in rich nations to include provisions beneficial to poor countries in their licensing deals with drug companies.

Source: Developing world gets patent aid. Declan Butler. Nature 415, p563. 7/02/02

And More Guidance….

A scheme launched by the United Nations Environment Programme [UNEP] aims to help poor countries protect their interests in negotiations with agricultural suppliers, the food industry and drug companies. Critics however argue that the budget, US£38m, is insufficient, and that the result will be more confusion, not less. Calestous Juma of the Science, Technology and Innovation Program at Harvard University fears the limited funds may distract recipients from "areas where the risks are known to areas where they are still being debated."


New UK Laws to Silence Academics

A new law currently being steered through the House of Lords threatens to allow the Government to preview scientific papers and possibly suppress them in the name of national security.

The Export Control Bill, drafted by the Department of Trade and Industry [DTI] could also prohibit E-mails between scientists and foreign colleagues and could mean foreign students working in UK labs will require a licence.

The DTI claims that new European regulations already control the export of so-called "dual use" items and ideas, which could have civil or military uses. The new laws would be used to cover military uses and the export of ideas that could be used for nuclear, biological or chemical weapons. Information already in the public domain and "basic scientific research" would be exempt.

However the Bill has provoked outrage both within the scientific community and in the House of Lords. One concern is that the definition of "dual use" could be changed over time at the say so of the Secretary of State. Shifting definitions of what constitutes "basic" research could also provide a rationale for the suppression of communication between scientists. Peter Cotgreave of Save British Science considers it to be ironic that a Government claiming to be in favour of freedom of information should be pressing for such legislation. "It’s all very well saying they won’t use these powers themselves but…who knows who will be in charge a few years down the line," he said.

Source: New laws to suppress academic research. Charles Arthur. The Independent. 18/02/02

Nature commentary discusses pitfalls of patenting

A report in Nature presents a survey of US laboratories’ adoption and use of genetic testing for hereditary haemochromatosis, and draws attention to the consequences of patents on genetic testing after finding that US labs are withdrawing the tests over worries about potential court cases and costs. Citing the pending court case in Europe over BRCA1 &2 involving Myriad Genetics and the Curie Institute, the report argues that the same could happen over haemochromatosis testing and points out that four patents relating to the iron overload disease are pending. New human genes are being patented as rapidly as they are discovered. As these patents cover the clinical diagnoses of mutations as well as the sequences for potential therapies both tests and treatments for diseases are discouraged.

The report concludes that limiting genetic tests to a single kit authorised by the patent holders also has consequences for Public health as developing cheaper or better kits is effectively prohibited. Haemochromatosis, often seen as a disease of the 21st century can be treated by phlebotomy, or bleeding, a technique used in the dark ages.

Source: Diagnostic testing fails the test. John F. Merz etal. Nature, vol.415, 577-579, 2002.

Survey find IPRs inhibit data sharing.

A survey has found that data sharing in human genetics research is being hampered by concerns over intellectual property rights.

Of 1,240 geneticists surveyed by a team from the Institute of Health Policy at Massachusetts General Hospital almost half claimed they had been refused access to information by a co-worker in the past three years.

The survey suggests that material transfer agreements inhibit information sharing, as universities require researchers to ensure that the institution retains intellectual property rights to any work deriving from results before they are handed over.

Source: Data Withholding in Academic Genetics. Evidence from a National Survey. Eric G. Cambell etal. Journal of the American Medical Association, 287, 473-480; 2002

Today the bastards are after our genes

A case of biopiracy disguising itself as a health programme has provoked Tongan human rights activists to challenge a deal struck between the Tongan government and a biotech company, Autogen, allowing the Australian company to collect blood samples from the Tongan people. The deal, which opens the way for the commercialisation and patenting of the genetic material of indigenous people, was reached without any public debate according to Lopeti Senituli, Director of the Tonga Human Rights and Democracy Movement. Initially he was informed that no agreement had been signed with Autogen. However, in November 2000, Autogen announced that it had signed an agreement with the Tongan Ministry of Health to establish a research project aimed at ''…identifying genes that cause common diseases using the unique population resources in the Kingdom of Tonga.''

Autogen's proposal has sparked concern amongst the churches of the region. The Tongan National Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches convened a conference on bioethics involving church and community leaders from throughout the pacific region. The conference resolved to oppose ''all forms of genetic engineering'' and cloning because ''the conversion of life forms, their molecules or parts into corporate property through patent monopolies is counter-productive to the interests of the (people) of the Pacific''.

In a similar vein Mr. Senituli said, "The Tongan people believe that God is the Creator of all living things and therefore all lifeforms should be treated in a way that respects their intrinsic value as living generational manifestations of Creation. The conversion of human lifeforms, their molecules or parts into corporate property, as Autogen is proposing is in direct conflict with our belief in the sanctity of human life." Speaking at the Australasian Bioethics Association Conference in Adelaide last February, Senituli said "we really cannot afford to go back to the frontier days when it was open season on all things indigenous to the Pacific Islands." "Three centuries ago they came for sandalwood. Today the bastards are after our genes," he added.
Sources: Human Genetics Alert, UK 12/2/2002

Opposition Stalls Genetic Profiling Plan for Tonga by Bob Burton
Published on Monday, February 18, 2002 by the Inter Press Service

Two cultures

A commentary piece in Nature Biotechnology proposes that US genomics companies transform their patented DNA sequences into music files such as MP3 format. This way they would be able to protect their copyrights and allow public access to the sequences.

A user would copy this file, transfer the copy to himself and re-convert the file into a sequence using a translating programme. While the sequence itself would not be protected, the fact it was placed on file would provide protection as the file format itself confers protection on its contents. A further advantage is that this method would effectively extend ownership rights as US copyrights for music continue for 100 years as opposed to the 17 years coverage for patents. This, of course, means genomics companies will attain the status of composers as well as inventors of gene sequences!

Source: How to publish DNA sequences with copyright protection. Willem P.C. Stemmer, Nature Biotechnology, vol. 20, 217, March 2002

High street gene Testing

UK based company the Body Shop were forced into a climb down over selling gene tests to their customers following an expose in The Guardian. The tests by the company Sciona were supposed to reveal what customers should eat. Both the Guardian and Genewatch UK expressed concern that the tests were unregulated and misleading and that they had implications that neither Body Shop nor Sciona had revealed to members of the public who took the test.

Sciona intended to place the samples in a "biobank" and to correlate genetic and lifestyle information to create customer profiles. Further, despite Sciona’s insistence on privacy a customer’s unique genetic profile could be used to identify them. The revelation of a genetic predisposition to illness could be used by an insurer or employer, or could be traumatic for a customer.

Sources: Public mislead by gene test hype, Guardian, 12/03/02

Body Shop’s genetic tests misleading and unethical, Genewatch UK press release, 13/03/02

Benefit-sharing for the San

Months of fierce debate have finally resulted in a benefit-sharing deal between South Africa’s San bushmen and US and British pharmaceutical companies. This follows on from a challenge lodged on the Kalahari bushmen’s behalf to claim an equitable share in profits from a so-called miracle slimming pill currently being developed. The treatment is based on an appetite-suppressing ingredient of the hoodia plant, which grows wild in the region. The plant has long been used by the bushmen to suppress hunger on hunting trips.

It is likely that the San will now be involved in farming and cultivating hoodia and will be offered scholarships to develop other treatments based on their traditional knowledge.

Source: Bushmen victory over drug firms, Antony Barnett, Observer 31/03/02

No patent no beauty, no patent no cure?

According to a report from Riza V. Tjahjadi of Pesticide Action Network (PAN), Japanese cosmetics company Shiseido has withdrawn patents taken out on traditional Indonesian herbs and spices following a protracted campaign by PAN Indonesia and civil rights groups. However Tjahjadi remains suspicious about what the company will do in the near future.

The use of healing herbs in Indonesia dates back to prehistoric times and knowledge of these has been passed down by word of mouth for generations. Javanese Jamu herbs are used not just to fight disease but also to restore equilibrium to the body. Recent years have seen these treatments become subject to a series of patents by the Japanese company Shiseido. A patent was placed on a hair tonic based on Cabe Jawa (Piperaceae). Another patent was placed on a medicine composed of Orang aring (Eclipta alba),

Jangkang (Sterculia Foetida), Meniran (Phyllanthuss niruri), Mrico bolong (Melaleuca leucandindra) and Temu kunci (Boesenbergia pandurata). This is just the tip of the iceberg. In 1995 alone the Japanese company placed patents on 35 plants from the region.

Both the Japanese and European Patents Offices recognised Shiseido’s claim, rewarding patents across the board.

"They’ve stolen what belongs to our traditional healers," said Tjahjadi in an interview recently, pointing out that farmers need to be educated about their rights. "We call farmers crops our traditional seeds, we say these are community intellectual rights" he added, pointing out that farmers are "stewards of the earth."

PAN reminds us that every time we buy a 50ml pot of skin-whitening cream for circa $150 (US) we are unwittingly supporting Shiseido’s corporate theft.

Sources: Pesticide Action Network.

Bio-piracy, Liz Sheridan, Healthy options magazine, New Zealand.

Unholy Alliance: DuPont and Monsanto merge in all but name

In a move designed to bypass US antitrust legislation and strengthen the hand of agricultural biotechnology, Monsanto and DuPont have buried the hatchet regarding the patent lawsuits outstanding between them and have announced a technology sharing strategy. While this applies only to their respective GM crop systems, the arrangement will create a non-merger monopoly untouchable by US law. DuPont and Monsanto are respectively the largest and second largest seed companies in the world. The two companies’ control 73% of US seed corn sales and 43% of all agricultural biotechnology patents. They account for about 93% of all GM seed sales globally.

Both companies will now share licences to technologies for GM maize, canola and soybeans. Specifically DuPont will win royalties to Monsanto’s Roundup Ready maize and soybean technology. Monsanto wins "freedom to operate" access to DuPont’s maize technology. The pair has agreed to share access to one-another’s proprietary germplasm for plant breeding. Concerns are now being voiced at this further massive intrusion into global biodiversity as the major players in GM technology has been effectively reduced from five to four as a result of the agreement.

Meanwhile another GM merger looms as Bayer seeks EU approval to acquire Aventis Crop Science. The merger, worth $6.65bn, is conditional, by EU regulations, on the new entity passing on some of its products to third parties. DuPont and Monsanto have managed to bypass such merger controls. "Liaisons" such as this one are now reputed to account for one fifth of multinational revenue. They also enable giant corporations to bypass the cost of patent litigation to which they have fall prey as a consequence of their insistence on ownership rights.

"The gene giants are being allowed to create global technology cartels that run below the radar screens of anti-trust regulators" stated Hope Shand, ETC group Research Director recently.

Source: The five Giants are becoming four. ETC Group news release. 9/04/02

Article first published 2002

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