lunes, octubre 20, 2008

No más actividad en este blog hasta nuevo aviso

He decidido dejar de bloguear por tiempo indefinido. Yo ni siquiera sé con certeza si alguien presta atención a este blog. He estado introduciendo items aquí por cuatro años y medio y me gustaría saber de los lectores, si los hay. Envíen comentarios y observaciones a


p.s. He notado que muchos de los lectores de este blog no saben que tengo otro blog, dedicado a asuntos de interés progresista en general: En ese también he suspendido toda actividad hasta nuevo aviso.


viernes, octubre 17, 2008


I have decided to stop blogging for a while. I do not even know for sure if anybody pays attention to this blog. I have been zealously posting items here for 4 and a half years now and I would like to get some feedback. Is anybody even reading this? Please write comments and feedback to


p.s. I have noticed that many readers of this blog are unaware that I have another blog of more general progressive activist interest. Its address is That one is on hold too.


jueves, octubre 16, 2008

What's for dinner? Corn ethanol, feedlots and what you eat

by Annie Shattuck
April 10, 2008

The debate over renewable energy is raging. The U.S. Congress recently passed a renewable fuels mandate which will effectively create an artificial market for at least 15 billion gallons of corn ethanol per year. Numerous studies have criticized ethanol's environmental footprint. From negligible greenhouse gas savings to increased ground level ozone, and dependency on high-input agriculture–corn ethanol's critics have painted a picture of a costly band-aid for our energy crisis.

None of this analysis examines the full cost of the corn ethanol boom, which actually creates more by-product than it does fuel. Ethanol from corn produces seven pounds of by-product for every gallon of ethanol. This by-product is already in our food. If you eat beef, chances are you have eaten cattle fattened on this ethanol waste.

Dried distillers grains with solubles (DDGS) are the leftovers after corn has been milled and fermented into ethanol. Cattle nutritionists recommend including ethanol by-products in cattle diets at 20%-40% maximum. The quantity of distillers grain available is dictated by government incentives for fuel refining, leaving the ethanol industry to engineer demand for its waste. Without the sale of these ethanol by-products, corn ethanol is vastly less profitable. Industry claims that co-production of distillers grain with ethanol is a win-win proposition. Cattle producers get economical, high-protein feed, and America gets renewable fuel. However, the market for distillers grain is limited, and their disposal, like any other industrial by product, comes with costs to the environment, the economy and public health.

The Problem with Ethanol By-Products

Concentrated phosphorus and nitrogen in cow dung

Feeding distillers grain to cattle increases the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus in their feces. Unfortunately, the ratio of phosphorous to nitrogen is so high in this cow dung that it is of little use as a fertilizer. Cows fed a diet that includes 40% distillers grain, have fecal material with 41% more phosphorous and 33% more nitrogen than cows fed conventional feedlot diets. More than 40 percent more land will be needed to treat the waste of cows consuming this by-product if it is disposed of by spreading it over fields. Even if the proper amount of land can be dedicated to treating wastes, water quality around feedlots will likely worsen. Eutrophication—the process by which streams with high-nutrient runoff clog with vegetation, reducing oxygen in the water, and killing fish and other aquatic organisms—is a proven result of large-scale cattle and dairy operations. More nitrogen and phosphorous cycling through these operations will intensify the deterioration of streams and rivers.

Increasing nitrogen cycling through feedlots also increases greenhouse gas emissions. Nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 296 times more potent than carbon dioxide, is a major toxic emission from large-scale agricultural operations. Nitrous oxide forms when bacteria naturally present in soils convert biologically available nitrogen to a gas bound with oxygen. In areas where nitrogen runoff is high, nitrous oxide emission is also high. Cows fed a diet of 40% distillers grain increase the amount of available nitrogen in their excrement by 33% percent. The amount of available nitrogen that forms greenhouse gases varies according to treatment methods applied to the waste. With over 200 billion pounds of by-product slated to be produced annually under Congressional ethanol targets, feedlots all over the nation will increase their nitrogen and phosphorus emissions dramatically.

Food safety: Sulfur, polio and E. coli

The market for ethanol by-products is limited due to sulfur residues. Sulfuric acid and other sulfur compounds used in the distilling process combine with naturally-occurring sulfur in corn to produce unhealthy and potentially lethal levels of sulfur in distillers grain. The sulfur levels in ethanol by-products vary between plants and even between batches at the same plant, making it difficult to label or control. Sulfur, in excess of 0.4% in cattle diets will cause polioencephalomalacia, a deadly form of polio that produces brain lesions. The fine nutritional testing necessary to feed a diet heavy in ethanol waste favors large feedlot operations that can afford to test their water supply and distillers grain for sulfur. Smaller ranchers are unlikely to be able to use ethanol waste to the same degree as feedlots, putting family cattle operations in direct competition with ethanol plants for feed corn.

Feedlots that use ethanol waste also threaten the food supply with E. coli outbreaks. A recent Kansas State University study shows that distillers grain promotes the growth of E. coli. The study's authors warn of “serious ramifications,” predicting strong resistance to feeding ethanol waste. Cattle fed brewers grains, a similar product, are six times more likely to have E. coli in their feces than cattle fed real corn. E. coli outbreaks in factory farms are common. The use of ethanol by-products will doubly increase this phenomenon, both increasing the presence of E. coli and expanding the industrial model that makes our food system vulnerable to contamination in the first place.

The feedlot-refinery connection

Ethanol refineries and factory-style feedlots go hand in hand. For example, at an ethanol plant owned by E3 BioFuels corporation in Mead, Nebraska, manure from a 28,000-cow feedlot helps to power a 25 million gallon per year ethanol plant. In this system, the corn waste from the refinery makes up 40% of the cattle's diet. E3 plans to build larger ethanol plants with feedlots of 60,000-120,000 cattle. Such plants bring in a few jobs, but all of the added value of the ethanol stays with the refiner, while the community is left with despoiled water supplies, bad air quality, and all the other environmental problems associated with feedlots and refineries of that size. The pairing of feedlots and refineries makes sense from an industrial standpoint. Up to one third of the energy produced from ethanol is lost in the drying and shipping of its by-products. Pairing ethanol plants and feedlots eliminates drying and transportation costs. As more ethanol refineries are built around the country we can expect feedlots to follow, spoiling waterways and threatening food safety as they go.

Corporate consolidation and consumer choice

Corporate consolidation is occurring rapidly in the ethanol industry. Of the 119 ethanol plants operating in 2007, 49 of them were owned and operated by farmer cooperatives. But once ethanol refineries currently in construction come on line, farmers will only control 20% of the nation's ethanol (and distillers' grain) production capacity. Just as the refining business favors large corporations, the by-products industry will favor large corporate farms and feed lot operations. As ethanol drives corn prices up and the excess corn by-product becomes cheaper, factory feedlots and dairies are likely to edge out smaller operations that can't or don't want to use distillers grains. Consumers who prefer to avoid factory beef will have to buy from the small number of ranchers who sell to specialty markets.


Pouring Fire on the Food

This week’s headlines are ablaze with reports of food riots. Seemingly overnight, the world went from cheap food and surpluses to food prices spiking 80% and countries banning exports of food in an attempt to stave off shortages.

Welcome to the new world food crisis. Except that it has been brewing for decades. Ever since the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund broke down trade barriers in the global south—thus opening the gates for the dumping of subsidized grain from the U.S. and Europe—farmers in poor countries have steadily been driven out of business. Under the banner of “comparative advantage,” many poor countries that had previously been self sufficient in food were turned as a conscious matter of US foreign policy into food importing countries. But with the U.S. hoarding its corn and selling the rest of its food dear, these nations are left holding the poor end of an expensive stick.

Laying the blame on Australian droughts, rising meat consumption in China, the agrofuels boom, and the high cost of oil, our world leaders have been quick to offer a spate of solutions: A “New Deal” from the World Bank, another “Green Revolution” from the Bill and Melinda Gates and Rockefeller Foundations, and a quick $300 million in emergency food aid from the U.S. Billions more will be spent, and it’s a lucrative business. While agribusiness monopolies like ADM, Cargill, Monsanto and food giants like General Foods have remained conspicuously silent, about the crisis, over the pat three years, even as the crisis was unfolding, they were posting record profits of 60-80%.

Emergency measures are urgently needed to make food accessible to poor people. But so are profound changes to a globalized food system in need of repair. Inherently vulnerable to economic and environmental shock, we produce, process, transport and consume food in ways that are structurally dependent on vast amounts of petroleum, obsessed with three or four commodities, and subject to the unaccountable market power of a handful of seed, grain and chemical companies.

Unfortunately, the need for systemic change—not simply more of the same—is absent from official proposals to solve the food crisis. Perhaps this is understandable as it would mean that government, international finance institutions and agribusiness corporations acknowledge that they are part of the problem.

World leaders are rightly concerned about the wave of popular demonstrations against high food prices. With the exception of Haiti (where the poor are eating biscuits made of clay and vegetable oil), these street actions look more like angry rebellions of disenfranchised citizens than they do crazed rioting by starving masses. People are not just upset about high prices; it is the inherent injustice of the global food system that are driving them to revolt.

The International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology (IAASTD) recently released its final report in Johannesburg, South Africa. The result of an exhaustive 3-year international consultation similar to that of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IAASTD calls for an overhaul of agriculture dominated by multinational companies and governed by unfair trade rules. The report warns against relying on genetic engineered “fixes” for food production and emphasizes the importance of locally-based, agroecological approaches to farming. The key advantages to this way of farming—aside from its low environmental impact—is that it provides both food and employment to the world’s poor, as well as a surplus for the market. On a pound-per-acre basis, these small family farms have proven themselves to be more productive than large-scale industrial farms. And, they use less oil, especially if food is traded locally or sub-regionally. These alternatives, growing throughout the world, are like small islands of sustainability in increasingly perilous economic and environmental seas. As industrialized farming and free trade regimes fail us, these approaches will be the keys for building resilience back into a dysfunctional global food system.

Expecting solutions from the institutions that created the disaster in the first place is like calling an arsonist to put out the fire. Getting the poor back on the land and providing them the support presently being captured by the world's agri-foods monopolies would be a truly systemic and durable solution to our current global food crisis.

Eric Holt-Giménez, Ph.D.
Executive Director, Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy
Oakland, California
510-654-4400 Ext 227
fax: 510-654-4551

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miércoles, octubre 15, 2008

Genetically Engineered Insulin's Side Effects

1. GM insulin's side effects
2. The Bellagio report on GM insulin
3. The Myth of 'Human' Insulin


martes, octubre 14, 2008

Chernobyl genético

La contaminación transgénica del maíz en Chihuahua es un hecho gravísimo, y apenas un botón de muestra de lo que están dispuestas las multinacionales para apoderarse de la agricultura, la alimentación y la soberanía de México.

En septiembre, la Sagarpa reconoció la existencia de 70 hectáreas de maíz transgénico en Chihuahua y dijo que tomaría medidas para sancionarlo. Una medida tardía e hipócrita, ya que un año antes, el Frente Democrático Campesino de Chihuahua (FDCCh) y El Barzón, con apoyo de Greenpeace, detectaron y denunciaron la siembra ilegal de maíz transgénico en la región y las autoridades no hicieron nada. Mejor dicho: han hecho mucho. En lugar de evitar y prevenir la contaminación anunciada, se dedicaron con ahínco a tratar de sacar regulaciones que le permitan a las trasnacionales iniciar la siembra de maíz transgénico y así legalizar la contaminación. Greenpeace incluso denunció que la propia Sagarpa tiene parcelas transgénicas ilegales.

Según testimonios de productores de la región recogidos por el FDCCh, las importadoras y vendedoras de semillas en la región, re-empaquetaron un mínimo de 3 mil sacos de maíz, mezclando granos transgénicos. Las organizaciones estiman que podrían estar contaminadas hasta 25 mil hectáreas.

Se trata entonces de un verdadero Chernobyl genético, ya que México es el centro de origen del maíz y su contaminación tiene efectos potenciales devastadores. Sobre la planta en sí misma (como han mostrado muchos científicos independientes) pero también, como expresa Víctor Quintana, uno de los denunciantes, es un “embate feroz contra la agricultura campesina e indígena” en todo México, para quienes el maíz es el centro de sus economías, autonomía y culturas.

¿Por qué hicieron esto las empresas comercializadoras? El maíz transgénico es más caro que las variedades híbridas, así que sería un “mal negocio”. Cabe deducir entonces que tuvieron la intención expresa de provocar contaminación, alentados por quien tiene mucho para ganar con ello.

El contrabando y la contaminación intencional forma parte de las estrategias que Monsanto, que controla 87 por ciento de los transgénicos en el mundo, ha promovido en otros países. Así se introdujo la soya transgénica en Brasil, para crear una situación de hecho y presionar al gobierno a autorizar su siembra. Logrado esto, Monsanto reclamó el pago de “regalías” a productores y gobierno, situación que seguramente se propone repetir en México.

Para Monsanto es fundamental asegurar el mercado mexicano de maíz transgénico, porque México ocupa el cuarto lugar en sus ventas de maíz a nivel global. Aunque la empresa dispone de variedades no transgénicas, que incluso producen más, quiere vender transgénicos, porque son cultivos patentados y eso le permite vender más caro e impedir legalmente a los agricultores que guarden semillas para la próxima siembra. Además, como la contaminación es inevitable, tal como se ha demostrado en todos los lugares del mundo donde se han liberado transgénicos, le permitirá a futuro demandar a las víctimas y ganar millones de dólares adicionales, como lo hace en el resto de América del Norte.

Esta estrategia se la facilitan también seudo-científicos de alquiler (algunos que incluso supuestamente trabajan en “bioseguridad” en el país), que ahora han preparado un documento en el cual, luego de negarlo por años, “demuestran” que casi todo México está contaminado con transgénicos, y que por tanto, no tiene sentido restringir su uso comercial.

El asalto de las transnacionales al mercado de semillas es vandálico. Mientras que hasta hace cuatro décadas, las semillas estaban casi en totalidad en manos de campesinos, agricultores e instituciones públicas y circulaban libremente, actualmente 82 por ciento del mercado global de semillas comerciales está bajo propiedad intelectual (patentes o certificados de obtentor). De ese porcentaje, Monsanto, Syngenta y DuPont controlan casi la mitad (47 por ciento) del mercado mundial.

La colaboración –por acción u omisión– que le prestan las autoridades mexicanas a estas empresas para que puedan controlar aspectos claves de la vida de todos, como son las semillas en general y la contaminación del maíz en particular, es un crimen histórico. En un sexenio, un grupito de funcionarios pretende regalar a seis empresas trasnacionales el patrimonio genético del maíz, creado colectivamente por campesinos mesoamericanos durante más de 10 mil años. De paso, entregar la soberanía del país, ya que las semillas son la llave de toda la red alimentaria.

Pese a ellos y a las trasnacionales, la mayoría de las semillas siguen en manos de los pueblos del maíz que las crearon. Rendirse no está en su agenda. Como anunciaron las organizaciones de Chihuahua (y muchas otras piensan), si los siguen empujando sólo les quedará “lanzarse a destruir los campos infestados de transgénicos”.

*Investigadora del Grupo ETC

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Food First Policy Brief No.12

October 2006

Ten Reasons Why the Rockefeller and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundations’ Alliance for Another Green Revolution Will Not Solve the Problems of Poverty and Hunger in Sub-Saharan Africa

By Eric Holt-Gimenez, Ph.D., Miguel A. Altieri, Ph.D., and Peter Rosset, Ph.D.

Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy
October 2006

The Rockefeller Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation recently announced a joint $150 million Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), provoking immediate criticisms that the proposal fails to take into account the failures of the original Green Revolution. The creators of AGRA claim the initiative will bring benefits to the African continent’s impoverished farmers who—they assert—until now have been bypassed by the first Green Revolution. A day later, probably in an orchestrated move, Jacques Diouf, Director General of UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), called for support for a “second Green Revolution” to feed the world’s growing population. UN boss Kofi Annan also weighed in to support the initiative.

The AGRA plan is remarkable given that, according to a World Bank evaluation, over the last twenty-five years the CGIAR—which brings together the key Green Revolution research institutions—has invested 40-45% of their $350 million/yr budget in Africa (The World Bank 2004). If these public funds were not invested in a Green Revolution for Africa, then where were they spent? If they were spent on the Green Revolution, then why does Africa need another one? Either the Green Revolution’s institutions don’t work, or the Green Revolution itself doesn’t work—or both. The Green Revolution did not “bypass” Africa. It failed. Because this new philanthropic effort ignores, misinterprets, and misrepresents the harsh lessons of the first Green Revolution’s multiple failures, it will likely worsen the problem.

Download in PDF

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lunes, octubre 13, 2008

Posición del Partido Independentista Puertorriqueño

Ingeniería genética y biotecnología

  1. Establecer, como principio de Política Pública, que el desarrollo de la biotecnología será exclusivamente para el beneficio de la humanidad; cualquier beneficio económico que se derive de la investigación o implantación de la biotecnología y la ingeniería genética estará subordinada a este principio.

  2. Legislar para prohibir el que se trastoquen genes en fetos y adultos humanos con el fin exclusivo de conseguir ciertas características hereditarias alegadamente deseables.

  3. Prohibir que se utilice la información genética de una persona con el fin de determinar sus habilidades, debilidades, tendencias, aptitudes y cualquier otra condición o rasgo que permita la posibilidad de discriminar contra o a favor de esa persona.

  4. Dada la existencia de empresas en Puerto Rico que experimentan con la constitución genética y la siembra de distintos cultivos alterados genéticamente, proponemos que a través de legislación se mantenga un conocimiento a nivel gubernamental y público, de todo proceso y resultados de alteración genética en plantas, animales o microorganismos, incluyendo las características específicas buscadas o encontradas; cualquier desarrollo, investigación e implantación de procesos técnicos, comerciales e industriales en lo sucesivo, se tendrá que autorizar por entidades gubernamentales capacitadas y competentes en la materia, luego de revisar y aceptar los resultados de estudios sobre los beneficios y desventajas del proceso.

  5. Asegurar, a través de legislación, que todo organismo vivo, alterado genéticamente no pueda ser liberado a propósito o accidentalmente a la vida silvestre en la medida que no se conozca los efectos a corto y largo plazo de dicha acción.

  6. Obligar la admisión en la etiqueta de todo producto alimentario o para cualquier tipo de consumo humano o animal que haya sido alterado genéticamente o que uno de sus componentes haya sido alterado de esta forma, para que el consumidor pueda tener la opción de consumirlo o rechazarlo conscientemente.

  7. Estimular a nivel público y privado la investigación sobre la utilización de la biotecnología para necesidades nacionales. Por ejemplo, la producción de microorganismos que puedan metabolizar contaminantes persistentes

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domingo, octubre 12, 2008

Synbio 4

As Extreme Genetic Engineers Gather in Hong Kong, Critics Warn of Corporate Grab on Plant Life: SynBio 4.0 = SynBio-4-profit

Download PDF Download PDF (138 KB) - about 25 seconds on a 56k modem

ETC Group
News Release
9 October 2008

Synthetic biologists, a brave new breed of science entrepreneurs who engineer life-forms from scratch, will hold their largest-ever global gathering in Hong Kong, October 10-12, known as "Synthetic Biology 4.0." Although most people have never heard of synthetic biology, it's moving full speed ahead fueled by giant agribusiness, energy and chemical corporations with little debate about who will control the technology, how it will be regulated (or not) and despite grave concerns surrounding the safety and security risks of designer organisms. Corporate investors/partners include BP, Chevron, Shell, Virgin Fuels, DuPont, Microsoft, Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland.

"SynBio 4.0 sounds like a convention for science geeks, but the real agenda is SynBio-4-profit," said Pat Mooney of ETC Group. Mooney will lead a panel discussion at the Hong Kong meeting featuring civil society activists who will raise broader concerns about the technology. The panel, "Global Social Impact," is scheduled Saturday morning, 11 October, 10:30-12:00.

A new 12-page report from ETC Group, "Commodifying Nature's Last Straw? Extreme Genetic Engineering and the Post-Petroleum Sugar Economy," warns that corporate biorefineries fueled by plant sugars will create a massive demand for agricultural feedstocks, which threatens to devastate marginalized farming communities, deplete soil and water, and destroy biodiversity. ETC Group is an international advocacy group based in Canada that monitors the social impacts of new technologies. ETC will maintain a daily blog throughout the 3-day meeting.

"Bankrolled by Fortune 500 corporations, synthetic biologists meeting in Hong Kong are promising a green, clean post-petroleum future where the production of economically important compounds depends not on fossil fuels - but on biological manufacturing platforms fueled by plant sugars," explains Jim Thomas of ETC Group. "It may sound sweet and clean, but this so-called sugar economy will catalyze an unprecedented corporate grab on all plant matter as well as destruction of biodiversity on a massive scale," warns Thomas, who also speaks Saturday on the panel.

Synthetic biology enthusiasts envision a "sugar economy" where industrial production will be based on biological feedstocks (agricultural crops, grasses, forest residues, plant oils, algae, etc.) whose sugars are extracted, fermented and converted into high-value chemicals, polymers or other molecular building blocks. For example:

  • Amyris Biotechnology is attempting to modify the genetic pathways of yeast so that it ferments sugars to produce longer chain molecules of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel. It recently signed a deal with Brazil's largest sugar producer Crystalsev to turn sugar into commercially available diesel fuel within two years.
  • Solazyme, Inc., which partners with Chevron, recently announced that it has successfully produced the world's first microbial-derived jet fuel by synthetically engineering algae to produce oil in fermentation tanks.
  • DuPont, in partnership with Genentech and sugar giant Tate & Lyle, engineered the cellular machinery of an E. coli bacterium so that it ferments corn sugar to produce Sorona fiber - a product that Dupont says will eventually replace nylon. It takes six million bushels of corn to produce 100 million pounds of the key ingredient in Sorona fiber - the annual output of DuPont's Tennessee-based (USA) bio-refinery.

According to biotech industry estimates, it takes a minimum of 500,000 acres of cropland (that is, the crop residues or "wastes" from that area) to sustain a moderately-sized, commercial-scale biorefinery.1 Advocates insist that the "food vs. fuel" debate will be irrelevant because feedstocks will eventually come from cheap and plentiful "cellulosic biomass"- plant matter composed of cellulose fibers (including crop residues such as rice straw, corn stalks, wheat straw; wood chips; and dedicated "energy crops" such as switchgrass, fast-growing trees, algae, etc.).

"Haven't we learned anything from the disaster of first generation agrofuels?" asks Camila Moreno of Terra de Direitos in Brazil. "Industrial agrofuels are driving the world's poorest farmers and indigenous peoples off their lands. Agrofuels are the single greatest factor contributing to soaring food prices, pushing millions from subsistence to hunger. With synthetic biology's sugar economy, the demand for plant biomass will increase exponentially - not just for transportation fuels, but for plastics and chemicals as well. We're about to repeat the debacle of first-generation agrofuels on a more massive scale," said Moreno.

Advocates of the bio-based sugar economy assume that unlimited supplies of biomass will be available. Civil society organizations in Hong Kong will ask: Can massive quantities of biomass be harvested sustainably without eroding and degrading soils, destroying biodiversity, worsening the climate and water crisis, increasing food insecurity and displacing marginalized peoples? Can synthetic microbes work predictably? Can they be safely contained and controlled? How will they be regulated? No one knows the answers to these questions, but corporate enthusiasm for a sugar-coated, bio-engineered future is plowing forward.

Civil society speakers will also warn that faster techniques to build DNA from scratch and transfer DNA code electronically could accelerate biopiracy and erode intergovernmental support for biodiversity conservation. It is already possible to build the full genome of some microbes from scratch. Some synthetic biology companies are engineering microbial pathways to churn out valuable plant-derived substances (pharmaceuticals, flavors and valuable products such as rubber) - resources that were first developed and conserved by indigenous and farming communities. Synbio is also unleashing new pathways for exclusive monopoly claims on digital DNA and engineered organisms.

"Once again, land, labour and biological resources in the global South are in danger of being exploited to satisfy the North's voracious consumption and reckless waste," observes Neth Dano of Third World Network who will also be speaking at the conference. "We're seeing a new convergence of corporate power that is poised to appropriate and further commodify biological resources in every part of the globe," said Dano.

ETC Group will offer commentary via its blog during SynBio 4.0. Watch here for updates:

ETC Group's new report, "Commodifying Nature's Last Straw? Extreme Genetic Engineering and the Post-Petroleum Sugar Economy," and a cartoon depicting the new 'sugar economy' are available on

1 Biotechnology Industry Organization, "Achieving Sustainable Production of Agricultural Biomass for Biorefinery Feedstock," on the Internet:

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sábado, octubre 11, 2008

The Perils of the Coming Sugar Economy

Hope Shand | October 10, 2008

Foreign Policy In Focus

Peak oil, skyrocketing fuel costs, and the climate crisis are driving corporate enthusiasm for a "biological engineering revolution" that some predict will dramatically transform industrial production of food, energy, materials, medicine, and the ecosystem. Advocates of converging technologies promise a greener, cleaner post-petroleum future, where the production of economically important compounds depends not on fossil fuels but on biological manufacturing platforms fueled by plant sugars. It may sound sweet and clean. But the "sugar economy" will be the catalyst for a corporate grab on all plant matter as well as the destruction of biodiversity on a massive scale.

The future bioeconomy will rely on "extreme genetic engineering," a suite of technologies currently in early stages of development. It includes cheap and fast gene sequencing, made-to-order biological parts, genome engineering and design, and nano-scale materials fabrication and operating systems. The common denominator is that all these technologies — biotech, nanotech, synthetic biology — involve engineering of living organisms at the nano-scale. This technological convergence is also driving a convergence of corporate power. New bioengineering technologies attract billions of dollars in corporate funding from energy, chemical, and agribusiness giants, including DuPont, BP, Shell, Chevron, and Cargill.

The 21st century's bio-based future is called the "sugar economy," or the "carbohydrate economy," because industrial production will be based on biological feedstocks (agricultural crops, grasses, forest residues, plant oils, algae, etc.) whose sugars are extracted, fermented, and converted into high-value chemicals, polymers or other molecular building blocks. The director of Cargill's industrial bioproducts division explains: "With advances in biotechnology, any chemical made from the carbon in oil could be made from the carbon found in plants."

Biological engineering has the potential to affect virtually every sector of the economy that relies on fossil fuels — not only transportation fuels but also plastics, paints, cosmetics, adhesives, carpets, textiles, and thousands more consumer products. Advocates assure us that the "food vs. fuel" debate will be irrelevant in the future sugar economy because feedstocks will come from cheap and plentiful "cellulosic biomass" — plant matter composed of cellulose fibers (including crop residues such as rice straw, corn stalks, wheat straw, and wood chips as well as dedicated "energy crops" such as switchgrass, fast-growing trees, algae, and even municipal waste). The giant stumbling block is that breaking down biological feedstocks into sugar requires a lot of energy and traditional chemistry has failed to provide a cost-effective process. Proponents insist that "next generation" feedstocks will use old and new biotechnologies, as well as breakthrough fermentation technologies, to succeed where chemistry failed.


Synthetic Biology to the Rescue?

But techno-optimists aren't worried because there are plenty more fixes on the launching pad. Venture capitalists, corporate titans, and the U.S. Department of Energy are betting that advances in the field of synthetic biology — the creation of designer organisms built from synthetic DNA — will overcome the technological bottlenecks that threaten to delay the sugar economy. Synthetic biology, they tell us, will enable next-generation cellulosic feedstocks to be far more efficient and sustainable, and won't compete with land and resources needed to grow conventional food crops.

Today, synthetic biologists are pursuing a variety of methods to efficiently extract sugars from biomass feedstocks. For example, they are trying to use synthetic microbes to break down cellulosic biomass, and they are also converting microbial cells into "living chemical factories" that manufacture new bio-based products.

Jump-started by U.S. government subsidies — by 2022, U.S. energy policy dictates that 44% of U.S. production of biofuels must come from cellulosic feedstocks — venture capitalists and corporations are supporting in-house R&D as well as alliances with synthetic biology startups.

Amyris Biotechnologies, a California-based synthetic biology startup, aims to engineer new metabolic pathways in microbes so they will produce novel or rare compounds. Although best known for its high-profile efforts to coax engineered cells to produce an anti-malarial compound, the company's primary goal is to modify the genetic pathways of yeast so that it efficiently ferments sugars to produce longer chain molecules of gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel. In 2007, Amyris raised $70 million in venture capital to develop synthetic fuel technology. In April 2008 Amyris announced a joint venture with Brazil's Crystalsev to commercialize "advanced renewable fuels" made from sugarcane in 2010 — including diesel, jet fuel, and gasoline. In the longer term, Amyris wants to create new production pathways in engineered microbes to churn out pharmaceuticals, flavors, fragrances, and nutraceuticals.

In September 2008 California-based synthetic biology company, Solazyme, Inc., announced that it has successfully produced the world's first microbial-derived jet fuel by engineering algae to produce oil in fermentation tanks. The company describes it as the first step towards achieving fuel alternatives on a large scale and claims that its production process can employ a variety of non-food feedstocks, including cellulosic materials such as agricultural residues and high-productivity grasses.

DuPont already manufactures a sugar-based biomaterial via engineered microbes. Using a proprietary process developed through partnerships with Genentech and Tate & Lyle, the company engineers the cellular machinery of an E. coli bacterium so that it can ferment corn sugar to produce 1,3 propanediol, the main ingredient in the company's popular Sorona fiber. DuPont's goal is to one day produce Bio-PDO from cellulosic plant material instead of milled corn. DuPont predicts that Sorona, which can be turned into anything from underwear to carpeting, will eventually replace nylon. Although Sorona fiber is neither compostable nor biodegradable, DuPont boasts that it's environmentally friendly because its production requires 40% less energy and results in 20% less greenhouse gas emissions than petroleum-based propanediol. But it takes six million bushels of corn to produce 100 million pounds of Bio-PDO — the estimated annual output of DuPont's Tennessee-based (USA) bio-refinery. And that's just one example of one biorefinery producing just one bio-based material for a single year. In other words, synthetic biology's sugar-dependent biorefineries will create a massive demand for agricultural feedstocks. According to biotech industry estimates, a moderately sized commercial-scale biorefinery requires a minimum of 500,000 acres of cropland (and its residues or "wastes").

Synthetic biology's grand vision of a post-petroleum economy depends on biomass — whether derived from "energy crops," trees, agricultural "wastes," crop residues, or algae. If the vision of a sugar economy advances, will all plant matter become a potential feedstock? Who decides what qualifies as agricultural waste or residue? Whose land will grow the feedstocks? An article in the February 2008 issue of Nature suggests that synthetic biology approaches "might be tailored to marginal lands [emphasis added] where the soil wouldn't support food crops."

The implications, especially for marginalized farming communities and poor people in the South, are profound. At a May 2006 meeting of synthetic biologists, Nobel laureate Dr. Steven Chu pointed out that there is "quite a bit" of arable land suitable for rain-fed energy crops, and that Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa are areas best suited for biomass generation. Failing to learn from the first-generation agrofuel trainwreck, The Economist naïvely suggests that "there's plenty of biomass to go around" and that "the world's hitherto impoverished tropics may find themselves in the middle of an unexpected and welcome industrial revolution."

Advocates of synthetic biology and the bio-based sugar economy assume that unlimited supplies of cellulosic biomass will be available. But can massive quantities of biomass be harvested sustainably without eroding or degrading soils, destroying biodiversity, increasing food insecurity, and displacing marginalized peoples? Can synthetic microbes work predictably? Can they be safely contained and controlled? No one knows the answers to these questions, but that's not curbing corporate enthusiasm. In the current social and economic context, the global grab for next-generation cellulosic feedstocks threatens to repeat the mistakes of first-generation agrofuels on a massive scale.

The pattern is familiar. Once again, to satisfy its voracious consumption addiction, the North is poised to exploit the land, labor, and biological resources of the global South. In the name of moving "beyond petroleum" corporate power is converging to appropriate and commodify biological resources in every part of the globe — while leaving the root causes of climate change intact.

Hope Shand is a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus and the director of the Action Group on Erosion, Technology, and Concentration (ETC Group).


GM is Dangerous and Futile

We Need Organic Sustainable Food and Energy Systems Now

New genetics research invalidates the science underpinning the $73.5 billon global biotech industry and confirms why genetic modification is futile and dangerous; we must implement organic sustainable food and energy systems now Dr. Mae-Wan Ho

Invited Lecture at Conference on Future of Food: Climate Change, GMOs and Food Security, 1-2 October 2008, India International Centre, New Delhi


The Brave New World of GM Science

In Genetic Engineering Dream or Nightmare, the Brave New World of Bad Science and Big Business [2] first published in 1997/1998 I explained why the science behind GM is wrong and obsolete, and hence dangerous; a story elaborated further in Living with the Fluid Genome [3] published in 2003.

Genetic engineering of plants and animals began in the mid 1970s in the belief that the genome (the totality of all the genetic material of a species) is constant and static, and that the characteristics of organism are simply hardwired in their genome. This was encapsulated in the Central Dogma of molecular biology. The genetic information goes from DNA, the genetic material, to RNA, a kind of intermediate, to protein which determines the characteristic involved, such as tolerance to herbicide, for example. One gene determines one trait, so you can transfer one gene and get exactly the trait you want, be it herbicide tolerance, or resistance to insect pest.

But geneticists soon discovered that the genome is remarkably dynamic and ‘fluid’. It is constantly in conversation with the environment, and that determines which genes are turned on, when, where, by how much and for how long. Moreover, the genetic material itself could also be marked or changed according to experience, and the influence passed on to the next generation. Most of that was known by 1980, long before the Human Genome Project was conceived.

The best thing about the Human Genome Project is to finally explode the myth of genetic determinism [4] (The Myth that Launched a Thousand Companies, SiS 18), revealing the layers of molecular complexity that transmit, interpret and rewrite the genetic texts [5] (Life Beyond the Central Dogma series, SiS 24). The ENCODE project has confirmed and extended the complexities especially with regard to what constitutes a gene. Traditionally, a gene is a sequence of DNA that codes for a protein with a well-defined function. This idea has been well and truly shattered [6]; as Barry Patrick wrote in the Science News [7] “genes are proving to be fragmented, intertwined with other genes, and scattered across the whole genome.”

The genetic engineer’s idea of a gene is presented in Figure 1. It has a regulatory signal, a promoter that says to the cell, go and make lots of copies of the coding sequence that would be translated into a protein, and a terminator that says stop, end of message. This is what genetic engineers put into cells to make a genetically modified organism (GMO).

A gene expression cassette,     the genetic engineer’s idea of a gene

Figure 1. A gene expression cassette, the genetic engineer’s idea of a gene

Instead, within the human genome, and indeed other mammalian genomes, coding sequences are in bits (exons) separated by non-coding introns, and exons contributing to a single protein could be in different parts of the genome. Coding sequences of different proteins frequently overlap. Regulatory signals are similarly scattered upstream, downstream, within the coding sequence or in some other distant part of the genome. Coding sequences occupy just 1.5 percent of the human genome, but between 74 and 93 percent of the genome produce RNA transcripts [7], many now known to have regulatory functions. So much so that the project of mapping genetic predisposition to diseases, the original rationale for the Human Genome Project, has now run into serious trouble.

David M. Altshuler, associate professor of genetics and medicine at Harvard Medical School and his research team showed that the risk for type 2 diabetes involves more than a mutated gene. Instead, diabetes, heart disease, some cancers, and other deadly ailments involve non-coding DNA as well as in genes [8]. “We’re realizing that things happening ‘somewhere else’ in the genome, not in genes, are playing critical roles” in sickness and in health, Altshuler said.

David B. Goldstein at Duke University is very pessimistic. He said the effort to nail down the genetics of most common diseases is not working [9]: “There is absolutely no question that for the whole hope of personalized medicine, the news has been just as bleak as it could be. After doing comprehensive studies for common diseases, we can explain only a few percent of the genetic components of most of these traits.” For schizophrenia and biopolar disorder, there is almost nothing, for type 2 diabetes, 20 variants, but they explain only up to 3 percent of familial clustering, and so on.

Goldstein added: “we have cracked open the human genome and can look at the entire complement of common genetic variants, and what do we find? Almost nothing. That is absolutely beyond belief.”

That is just what I predicted soon after the human genome sequence was announced [10, 11] (Human DNA 'BioBank' Worthless, SiS 13/14; Why Genomics Won't Deliver, SiS 26)

Fresh attempts are now made to redefine a gene either in terms of a protein product [12] or a transcript [13], neither of which are satisfactory or would save the industry. All patents on genes based on the old concept are no longer valid; ultimately because the patent is awarded on a supposed function attached to a DNA sequence. But as genes exist in bits interweaving with other genes, so are functions. Multiple DNA sequences may serve the same function, and conversely the same DNA sequence can have different functions. Again, I have explained Why Biotech Patents Are Patently Absurd [14].

Despite the bewildering complexities of how the genome works, individual processes are precisely orchestrated and finely tuned by the organism as a whole, in a highly coordinated molecular ‘dance of life’ that’s necessary for survival.

In contrast, genetic engineering in the laboratory is crude, imprecise and invasive. The rogue genes inserted into a genome to make a GMO could land anywhere; typically in a rearranged or defective form, scrambling and mutating the host genome, and tend to move or rearrange further once inserted. Transgene instability is a big problem, and has been so right from the beginning. There is fresh evidence that GM crops grown commercially for years have rearranged [15, 16] (MON810 Genome Rearranged Again. Transgenic Lines Unstable hence Illegal and Ineligible for Protection, SiS 38). This is a real opportunity to challenge the validity of all biotech patents. Another key issue is safety. Transgene instability means that the original transgenic line has turned into something else, and even if it had been assessed as ‘safe’, this is no longer the case.

The genetically modified genes are a big hazard because they do not know the intricate dance of life that has been perfected in billions of years of evolution. That’s ultimately why genetic modification is both dangerous and futile.


No case for GM crops, small scale organic farming is the way ahead

Meanwhile, on 15 April 2008, 400 scientists of the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) released its 2 500-page report [55, 56] (GM-Free Organic Agriculture to Feed the World”, SiS 38) that took 4 years to complete. It is a thorough examination of global agriculture on a scale comparable to the Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change.

The IAASTD calls for a fundamental change in farming practice to counteract soaring food prices, hunger, poverty and environmental disasters, it says GM crops are controversial with respect to safety for health and the environment, and will not play a substantial role in addressing climate change, loss of biodiversity, hunger and poverty. Small scale farmers and agro-ecological methods are the way forward, and indigenous and local knowledge are as important as formal scientific knowledge. It warns that growing crops for biofuels could worsen food shortages and price rises.

The conclusions of the IAASTD are remarkably similar to our own report Food Futures Now *Organic *Sustainable *Fossil Fuel Free [57] launched in UK Parliament a week later.

Our Food Futures Now report goes a step further. We argue that only organic agriculture can truly feed the world. More than that, organic agriculture and localised food and energy systems can potentially compensate for all greenhouse emissions due to human activities and free us from fossil fuels, and we need to implement this urgently.

The UN has declared 2008 the year of the Global Food Crisis, and it has been the top news story everyday for months now as the crisis deepens. Food prices increased by an average of 40 percent last year; a string of food riots and protests spread around the world including the UK, and more than 25 000 farmers killed themselves in India.

Most commentators agree that the immediate cause of the food crisis is the divestment of food grains into producing biofuels. BusinessWeek identified Monsanto as a “prime beneficiary”. Its stock correlated closely with the price of oil (better than ExxonMobile), and hardly correlated with the price of corn, basically because no one will eat its GM corn. Nevertheless the pro-GM lobby are out in force, using the food crisis to promote GM crops.

GM crops are one big failed experiment based on an obsolete scientific theory, and this failure has been evident since 2004 if not before [58] (Puncturing the GM Myths, SiS 22). Apart from yielding less and requiring more pesticides, anecdotal evidence since 2005 from farmers around the world indicates that GM crops also require more water [59]. Industrial Green Revolution agriculture is now generally acknowledged to be a major driver of climate change as well as being vulnerable to climate change because of its heavy dependence on fossil energies and water, and its susceptibility to pests, diseases and climate extremes [56, 60, 61] (Beware the New "Doubly Green Revolution", SiS 37)..GM crops have all the worst features of industrial Green Revolution varieties exaggerated, and not least, there are outstanding safety concerns as I mentioned. Growing GM crops for biofuels does not make them safe, as they will contaminate our food crops all the same.

Any further indulgence in GMOs will surely damage our chances of surviving global warming. We must get on with the urgent business of building organic, sustainable food and energy systems right now.


viernes, octubre 10, 2008

Texto tomado de nueva página contra Monsanto:

Bienvenid@s en la nueva versión internacional del sito, ahora ustedes podrán consultar nuestros articulos en Frances, Ingles y Español. Nuestro combate ya se hace global para difundir una información completa a todos los ciudadanos del mundo sobre la verdadera cara de la empresa de biotecnología Monsanto.

Ustedes encontrarán en ese sitio todas las informaciones en lo que se refiere a los principales productos de Monsanto, entre los cuales los Organismos Geneticamente Modificados y el herbicida Roundup, pero también las hormonas lecheras artificiales (Posilac) ou el Agente Naranja.

Ustedes encontrarán en el menú Resistencias todas las informaciones sobre las initiativas asociativas o ciudadanas, pero tambien toda la actualidad mundial de los movimientos asociativos contra Monsanto, detallados país por país en la sección Un mundo de resistentes.

Por fin la sección El sistema Monsanto les revela el lado oscuro de la empresa, sus metodos de trabajo poco transparentes, sus apoyos en las administraciones, los investigadores scientíficos bajo presión, y les dará tambien las llaves para descifrar la propaganda de Monsanto.

Muchos articulos de nuestro sitio son inspirados de la investigación de la periodista francesa Marie Monique Robin, « El mundo según Monsanto », que tuvó mucho exitó en Europa.


jueves, octubre 09, 2008

Seed aid, agribusiness and the food crisis


The world food crisis, rapidly defined by those in power as a problem of insufficient production, has become a trojan horse to get corporate seeds, fertilisers and, surreptitiously, market systems into poor countries. As past experience shows, what looks like “seed aid” in the short term can mask what is actually “agribusiness aid” in the long term. We look at what is going on.

Earlier this year, political and economic leaders, abetted by the corporate mass media, were quick to explain the current global food crisis as a “perfect storm” of several factors: weather problems, the diversion of crops into biofuels, oil price hikes and poor people becoming less poor and eating more animal produce. In short, they wanted us to believe that the food crisis was a problem of production. Many have shredded that argument and – while agreeing that production should be improved – have shown instead how current economic policies focused on global trade and deregulation are the real culprits. [1] Yet the supply-siders moved fast to promote their solution to the wrong problem: to boost production, mainly by getting higher-yielding seeds to farmers.

What seeds? Where from? With what impact on vulnerable communities and local biodiversity? It is hard to find reliable data, but there is a serious risk that this simplistic production-focused response to the food crisis, which avoids asking the really challenging policy questions, will result in a new wave of genetic erosion and livelihood insecurity by overriding communities’ local seed systems. The consequences for the survival of farming families around the world, and therefore for food production, could be extremely damaging.

The “perfect choir”

Large amounts of money have been pledged in the last few months to send seeds and fertilisers urgently to food-crisis-striken countries in the South. In May, the World Bank launched a US$1.2-billion emergency finance facility to provide funds for the “rapid provision of seeds and fertilisers to small farmers”. Addressing the Group of Eight (G8) summit of the world’s richest countries, held in Japan in early July, the president of the World Bank, Robert Zoellick, told these powerful people that one of the main priorities in fighting the global food crisis was “to give small farmers, especially in Africa, access to seeds, fertilisers and other basic inputs”. In the lead-up to that meeting, the European Commission’s President, José Manuel Barroso, proffered €1 billion to pay for “fertilisers and seeds to help poor farmers in developing countries”. Not to be outdone, US President George Bush announced US$1 billion in food crisis money and told the press that he would convince other world leaders that they should make moves to alleviate hunger by “increasing the shipments of food, fertilisers and seeds to countries in need”. Two weeks later, the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, took the message to the UN General Assembly in New York: “We must act immediately to boost agricultural production this year. We do this by providing urgently needed seeds and fertilisers for the upcoming planting cycles, especially for the world’s 450 million small-scale farmers.” [2] Imagine! Billions of dollars suddenly disbursed to distribute seeds to the poorest farmers on the planet – a group whose needs have never before ranked high in these leaders’ concerns.

Earlier the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) had launched its own “Initiative on Soaring Food Prices”, meant to “demonstrate that by increasing the supply of key agricultural inputs, such as seeds and fertilisers, small farmers will be able to rapidly increase their food production”. The FAO Initiative already covers 35 countries, to the tune of US$21 million, while another 54 countries are being similarly supported under its Technical Cooperation Programme at the cost of US$24 million. Apart from ensuring immediate seed and fertiliser supplies, the Initiative also aims to “encourage donors, financial institutions and national governments to support the provision of inputs on a much larger scale”. [3] It seems to be working, as organisations ranging from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to the Red Cross are falling over each other to set up programmes to get seeds and fertilisers to farmers in response to today’s food crisis (see table).

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Seeds for tomorrow


I receive the seed, breed from it and then return it to the centre”, said Shahida, a young woman with four children living in the village of Datinakhali in the district of Cox’s Bazar in the far south-east of Bangladesh. A routine procedure, it would seem, except that the “seed” that Shahida is referring to comes not from plants but from animals: she has received three pairs of chickens (cocks and hens), several cows and a nanny-goat. Once she has bred the animals, she returns them, along with half the offspring they have produced. Holding her youngest child in her arms, Shahida points to a hen running around her yard. “That’s one of the 30 chicks I bred with the birds I borrowed”, she explained. “I am now breeding chickens and selling them in the local market.” We went round behind her house, against the walls of which sticks of cow dung were drying in the hot sun, to be used as fuel. She pointed out a brooding hen, sitting on eggs in a grass-thatched hut.

Shahida may not be classified as economically well off: her small cash income probably means that she and her family are included among the one billion or so of the world’s poorest people, who live on less than a dollar a day. But, although she lives in a region vulnerable to cyclones, Shahida considers herself fortunate. She cultivates a host of crops, including paddy rice, beans, chilli and aduki beans, and saves seeds from one year to another. She rears chickens, goats, ducks, cows and even a few buffalo. She has a small fish pond and she collects salt from the salt-flats. She, her husband and her four children are self-sufficient in food, eating well throughout the year. They earn a small cash income from selling chicks, young goats and duck eggs.

Shahida has received help from UBINIG (Policy Research for Development Alternatives), a policy advocacy organisation, in organising her farming activities. She was able to branch out into animal husbandry, which brings her family its main cash income, only because UBINIG lent her the first animals. By returning the original animals and half their offspring, Shahida is helping to extend the scheme to many more families. UBINIG’s headquarters are in Dhaka, but it runs a training centre a couple of hours’ drive from Cox’s Bazar town. It promotes Nayakrishi Andolon, a form of ecological agriculture that works with nature, not against it. It is based on a simple guiding principle: observe, learn, taste and experience the processes of life, and transform them in order to unleash ananda – the joy of living. UBINIG carries out both an ecological and a social function: it conserves and propagates crops and animals that have evolved over thousands of years to thrive in the saline conditions dominant in this coastal area of the Bay of Bengal; and it helps poor farming families to improve their livelihoods.

Recovering from chemical farming

According to Rafiqul Haque Tito, UBINIG’s regional coordinator, one of the centre’s key roles today is to help local farmers to recover from the ravages of chemical farming. “Bangladesh is a hotbed of diversity”, said Tito. “We have six seasons, including the boro, the dry season. In the past many farmers used the dry season to plant winter crops, including nitrogen-fixing plants that helped to restore the fertility of the soils. With the advent of the Green Revolution in the 1960s, the ecological balance was disrupted. Farmers were encouraged to bore wells, to irrigate the land and to get a third harvest, using high-yielding varieties (HYVs) of paddy rice. It made farmers rich for a while but it has created all kinds of problems.” Today the region has to buy from outside crops that it used to be self-sufficient in, such as pulses, garlic, onion, chilli, cabbage, beans and peas. The rivers have become polluted with pesticides. Farmers are having to populate their fish ponds, still a prominent feature of the landscape, with fish purchased from outside. With the prevalence of HYVs, originally supplied at very low prices, farmers have lost some of the resilient local varieties. In a similar way, local breeds of chickens, goats and cattle are also beginning to die out.

In heroic fashion, UBINIG is helping the farmers to fight back. In its vegetable gardens, it is cultivating 92 different species of plants, including a large number of medicinal plants. Of these, 28 are wild plants that can either be eaten or used as medicinal plants (sometimes both). It has hundreds of different varieties of some of these species, possessing, for instance, over 2,000 varieties of paddy rice, some of which are saline-resistant. It has also assembled a remarkable collection of indigenous chickens. “The government says that Bangladesh has just five or six local varieties of chicken, but we alone have 35”, said Tito. Some, like the heza (which means porcupine in Bengali), are semi-wild and their populations have fallen to dangerously low levels. “By lending out breeding pairs, usually to local women, we are increasing the numbers of the endangered chickens and providing livelihoods for the women”, said Tito. Over 500 women locally are benefiting from the scheme.

UBINIG is swimming against the tide. With government backing, industrial poultry farming has been growing rapidly and, along with it, outbreaks of bird flu. Thousands of chickens were slaughtered earlier this year in northern Bangladesh after the biggest ever outbreak of bird flu. Tito said that the government had been doing everything possible to reassure worried consumers, pointing to a text message he had just received from the authorities to reassure him that it was safe to eat industrial chicken. “They have been sending out these messages regularly to all the country’s mobile phone users but still people are much happier to eat our chickens. They are resilient and don’t catch bird flu. They eat healthily, scavenging for scraps for three quarters of their food, with feed making up the other quarter. They take three months to be ready to eat and they taste much better. Our farmers are finding that they are in big demand at the local markets.”

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Food First on cellulosic ethanol

Green Gold: Why cellulosic ethanol is a threat to farmers and the planet

By Annie Shattuck

Cellulosic ethanol has everyone from John McCain to the Natural Resources Defense Council excited with the promise of greening the planet and the economy in one stroke. … The irony of cellulosics however, is the unprecedented threat they pose to small farmers, the environment and our global carbon balance: the very things they pretend to protect.

greengold21.pdf57.8 KB

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miércoles, octubre 08, 2008

El Protocolo de Cartagena y el futuro de la bioseguridad

Carmelo Ruiz Marrero | 7 de octubre de 2008

Versión original: The Biosafety Protocol and the Future of Biosafety
Traducción por: Carmelo Ruiz Marrero

Programa de las Américas

Más de una década después de la introducción comercial de cultivos y alimentos genéticamente modificados (GM), o transgénicos, la controversia que les rodea sólo parece crecer, como bien se ha documentado en informes recientes del Programa de las Américas.1 ¿Cuales son los impactos ambientales y socioeconómicos de estos cultivos? ¿Son seguros para consumo?

Estas interrogantes son especialmente relevantes para América Latina, pues es la región productora y exportadora de transgénicos más grande del mundo después de Estados Unidos y Canadá.2 Argentina y Brasil son, respectivamente, el segundo y el tercer mayor productor de cultivos transgénicos en el mundo, Paraguay es séptimo y Uruguay noveno. Argentina sola es responsable de 19% del área sembrada de transgénicos del mundo.

¿Qué herramientas metodológicas existen para evaluar los riesgos de esta nueva tecnología? Tales métodos, procedimientos y líneas de investigación han sido gradualmente desarrollados a lo largo de las últimas dos décadas y son colectivamente conocidos como "bioseguridad".

La bioseguridad es un nuevo y creciente campo dedicado específicamente a atender las preocupaciones en torno a la seguridad e inocuidad de la ingeniería genética y los organismos transgénicos. Reconoce que los organismos transgénicos son esencialmente distintos de sus contrapartes no transgénicos y que por lo tanto presentan riesgos únicos y sin precedentes que requieren de una evaluación de riesgo apropiada.

Estas preocupaciones son atendidas a nivel internacional por el Protocolo de Bioseguridad de las Naciones Unidas, conocido también como el Protocolo de Cartagena.3 "Por primera vez en el derecho internacional hay un reconocimiento implícito de que los organismos genéticamente modificados (OGM) son inherentemente distintos de los organismos de origen natural, y traen riesgos y peligros especiales, y por lo tanto necesitan tener un instrumento legal con fuerza de ley", dice Lim Li Lin, coordinadora del Programa de Bioseguridad de la Red del Tercer Mundo.4 "El Protocolo reconoce que los OGM pueden tener impactos sobre la biodiversidad, la salud humana y de índole socioeconómica, y que estos impactos deben ser objeto de evaluaciones de riesgo o tomados en consideración a la hora de tomar decisiones sobre transgénicos."

El Protocolo, firmado por 147 países para el verano de 2008, fue adoptado en 2000 tras años de contenciosas negociaciones y entró en vigor en septiembre de 2003.5 Su ratificación fue lograda gracias a los esfuerzos de las delegaciones de países en vías de desarrollo, organizadas como el "Grupo de Igual Parecer".

En el bando opuesto, las delegaciones de países que no querían un protocolo con fuerza de ley y que eran hostiles incluso al concepto mismo de bioseguridad, estaba el "Grupo de Miami". Este pequeño pero poderoso grupo fue dirigido por Estados Unidos e incluyó a Argentina, Chile y Uruguay. Ninguno de los miembros del Grupo de Miami ha firmado el Protocolo.6

Para firmar el Protocolo los países deben también ser miembros de la Convención de Biodiversidad de la ONU (CBD), un acuerdo internacional para la protección y uso sustentable de la biodiversidad firmado por 191 países para el verano de 2008.7 La Convención fue firmada inicialmente en la Conferencia de la ONU sobre Ambiente y Desarrollo, conocida también como la Cumbre de la Tierra, que tomó lugar en Brasil en 1992. Estados Unidos se negó a firmar la CBD y el Protocolo, pero un número de productores de transgénicos lo firmaron, incluyendo Brasil.8

El Protocolo se negocia regularmente en sesiones conocidas como las reuniones de las partes (MOP, por sus siglas en inglés). Las MOP toman lugar justo antes de la reunión bi-anual de la CBD, conocida como la Conferencia de las Partes (COP, por sus siglas en inglés), por lo cual se les conoce conjuntamente como las COP-MOP. Las últimas reuniones COP-MOP tomaron lugar en Curitiba, Brasil (2006), y Bonn, Alemania (2008). La próxima será en Nagoya, Japón, en 2010.

El Protocolo y el campo de la bioseguridad se fundamentan sobre el principio precautorio, un concepto científico formulado para ayudar con la protección de la salud humana y el ambiente ante factores de riesgo e incertidumbre. El principio postula que cuando la sociedad balancea riesgos causados por actividades humanas (como por ejemplo la introducción de nuevas tecnologías), la falta de certeza científica no deberá ser usada como excusa para no tomar acción preventiva para proteger la salud humana y el ambiente.9 Hay referencias al principio en el Artículo 1 del Protocolo y en el Principio 15 de la Declaración de Río,10 un documento de consenso producido en la Cumbre de la Tierra.

El principio precautorio pone el peso de la duda en los promotores de nuevas tecnologías y no sobre aquellos que expresan reservas y advierten sobre peligros. "En el uso general de la tecnología, aquellos que alegan la existencia de efectos no probados se han visto obligados a demostrar que la actividad en cuestión causa daño a la salud y el ambiente", dice Anne Ingeborg Myhr, del Instituto de Ecología Genética de Noruega.11 "Con el empleo del principio precautorio, la carga de la prueba se traslada al proponente, que ahora necesita demostrar que la actividad es necesaria y que no perjudicará la salud o el ambiente. Esto se refleja en el Protocolo de Cartagena."

Sin embargo, ni en la Declaración de Río ni en el Protocolo se mencionan las palabras "principio precautorio". En ambas instancias la delegación estadounidense y sus aliados (en el caso del Protocolo, el Grupo Miami) lograron exitosamente impedir que se mencionara y que se sustituyera por el ambiguo término "acercamiento precautorio".

Es por esto que el Principio 15 de la Declaración de Río dice: "Con el fin de proteger el ambiente, el acercamiento precautorio será ampliamente aplicado por los estados de acuerdo a sus capacidades. Donde hay amenazas de daños serios o irreversibles, la falta de completa certeza científica no será usada como razón para posponer medidas costo-efectivas para prevenir la degradación ambiental."

Además, el Grupo Miami pudo eliminar cualquier referencia a organismos genéticamente modificados y sustituirlas con el ambivalente término "organismos vivos modificados."

El preámbulo del Protocolo dice: "En concordancia con el acercamiento precautorio contenido en el Principio 15 de la Declaración de Río sobre Ambiente y Desarrollo, el objetivo de este Protocolo es contribuir a asegurar un nivel adecuado de protección en el ámbito de la transferencia, manejo y uso seguros de organismos vivos modificados resultantes de la biotecnología moderna que puedan tener efectos adversos sobre la conservación y uso sustentable de la diversidad biológica, teniendo también en cuenta riesgos a la salud humana y específicamente enfatizando los movimientos transfronterizos."

RECUADRO: Los transgénicos, ¿Son seguros o no?

A pesar de las aseguranzas de la industria de biotecnología y la Administración de Medicamentos y Alimentos de Estados Unidos (FDA por sus siglas en inglés), hasta el día de hoy no se ha demostrado que los alimentos GM sean seguros. La FDA no realiza sus propios estudios sobre productos transgénicos. Lo único que hace es aceptar estudios hechos por las compañías de biotecnología sobre sus productos GM. La mayoría de estos estudios son información confidencial empresarial, y por lo tanto no están sujetos a escrutinio público.

"El consultar la FDA sobre la seguridad de alimentos transgénicos es un ejercicio puramente voluntario, en el que la agencia recibe resúmenes sin datos y conclusiones sin fundamento", dice el investigador Jeffrey Smith en su excelente libro Genetic Roulette (Ruleta Genética). "Si la compañía alega que sus alimentos son seguros, la FDA no tiene más preguntas. Por lo tanto, se aprueban para venta variedades transgénicas que nunca fueron alimentadas a animales en estudios de seguridad rigurosos y probablemente nunca a humanos tampoco."

La FDA "depende casi totalmente de la notificación voluntaria de las compañías de biotecnología de que llevaron a cabo su propia evaluación de seguridad de los cultivos GM que quieren difundir comercialmente", según los científicos húngaros Arpad Pusztai y Susan Bardocz. "La FDA no tiene laboratorio propio y nunca subvenciona la seguridad de cultivos y alimentos transgénicos".

La agencia llevó a cabo sus propias pruebas sobre alimentos GM sólo una vez. Los documentos ahora desclasificados de esta investigación muestran que los científicos de la agencia estaban divididos en cuanto a la seguridad de estos productos y que algunos de ellos abiertamente expresaban reservas acerca de ellos. Sin embargo la FDA aprobó los alimentos transgénicos para uso de consumidores.

La literatura científica publicada sobre las implicaciones de salud humana de alimentos GM consiste de apenas más de 20 estudios, un número alarmantemente bajo. En un estudio publicado en Nutrition and Health, I.F. Pryme y R. Lembcke observan que los estudios sobre alimentos transgénicos que no son financiados por la industria tienden a encontrar problemas con serias implicaciones para la salud humana, mientras que los que son financiados por la industria nunca encuentran ningún problema. Un informe de William Freese y David Schubert titulado "Safety Testing and Regulation of Genetically Engineered Foods" (Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering Reviews, 2004) concluye que el proceso de evaluación de alimentos GM en Estados Unidos no es efectivo, ya que se basa en investigación pobre y premisas erróneas.

Las pocas instancias en las que pruebas de seguridad realizadas por la industria han salido a la luz pública han dado bastante razón para uno preocuparse. Un informe interno de Monsanto filtrado en 2005 reveló que ratas alimentadas con su maíz transgénico Mon 863 tuvieron problemas de salud significativos, incluyendo conteos de células blancas sanguíneas anormalmente altos, necrosis del hígado, reducción en el peso de los riñones y altos niveles de azúcar en la sangre.

El tema de la ingeniería genética se complica más aún debido a que sus productos son organismos vivos, que pueden—a diferencia de los productos de otras tecnologías—reproducirse y esparcirse. Este proceso se conoce como contaminación genética. En las palabras de la bióloga agrícola suiza Angelika Hilbeck, "la difusión de organismos biológicos capaces de reproducción es potencialmente irreversible y añade una dimensión de complejidad a introducciones tecnológicas previas."

El GMO Contamination Register, un servicio informativo establecido por Greenpeace Internacional y Genewatch UK, ha reportado 142 instancias de contaminación genética alrededor del mundo desde 1996. Brasil es uno de nueve países que ha reportado más de cinco incidentes de contaminación.

La presencia furtiva de maíz transgénico en México, donde está prohibido por ley, fue reportada por primera vez por los científicos de la Universidad de California Ignacio Chapela y David Quist en la revista Nature en 2001. Científicos y institutos pro-industria llevaron a cabo una campaña de gran envergadura para desacreditar los hallazgos de Chapela y Quist, pero en 2002 un estudio comisionado por el gobierno mexicano encontró que 95% de los campos de maíz en los estados de Oaxaca y Puebla tenían contaminación genética.

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