|Schmeiser / New books / Fighting FTAs / Infesto (24/3/2008)|
1.Exclusive interview with Percy Schmeiser 2.New book: Uncertain Peril: Genetic Engineering and the Future of Seeds 5.The Capitalist Infesto: Democracy vs. Corporate Privatization of the Biological Cell --- 1.Exclusive interview with Percy Schmeiser
1.Exclusive interview with Percy Schmeiser
2.New book: Uncertain Peril: Genetic Engineering and the Future of Seeds
5.The Capitalist Infesto: Democracy vs. Corporate Privatization of the Biological Cell
1.Exclusive interview with Percy SchmeiserThe most recent broadcast of the Canadian radio programme, Deconstructing Dinner (Radio CJLY), is available for downloading or streaming and features an exclusive interview with Percy Schmeiser only moments after his March 19 scheduled court date with Monsanto. If you have trouble listening to the show posted below, you can find it at www.cjly.net/deconstructingdinner/032008.htm
'WATER, THE BLOOD OF THE EARTH / MONSANTO PAYS PERCY SCHMEISER'
It is an honour to conicidentally feature two of Canada's finest on this broadcast. Both are recipients of The Right Livelihood Award (the 'Alternative Nobel').
Monsanto Pays Percy Schmeiser
Saskatchewan Farmer, Percy Schmeiser, spent between 1998 and 2004 standing up to one of the most influential agricultural companies in the world - Monsanto. While it was Monsanto that took Schmesier to court on that occasion, the roles were reversed on Wednesday March 19, 2008, when Monsanto found being taken to court by Schmeiser.
It was the first case between Monsanto and Schmeiser that led to the 2004 Supreme Court of Canada Decision that ruled in favour of Monsanto. While the decision assured that regardless of contamination, a farmer cannot grow patented seeds, Schmeiser recognized that if the company is indeed the owner of the plant, then they should be liable for the damages that their property causes others.
There is yet no legal precedent in Canada that has determined who maintains the liability for damages caused by patented plants. Monsanto does however accept moral responsiblity for what are known as 'volunteers' (unwanted plants appearing on farmers' fields). The company employs a program that offers to remove volunteer plants from farmers fields.
In October 2005, Schmeiser's farm was visited yet again by Monsanto, and again, in the form of their RoundUp Ready Canola. Schmeiser took advantage of the company's removal program, but discovered that they would only remove the plants if he signed a release form that contained a confidentiality clause, which he disapproved of. What followed led to an out of court settlement on March 19, 2008, and Monsanto paid Schmeiser the $660 it cost him to have the plants removed.
Tune in to this broadcast to hear an exclusive interview with Percy by CFCR's Don Kossick - the only media standing outside the courthouse on that momentous day.
2.Uncertain Peril: Genetic Engineering and the Future of Seeds
Former environmental lawyer and one-time farmer Cummings offers a persuasive account of a lesser-known but potentially apocalyptic threat to the world's ecology and food supply—the privatization of the Earth's seed stock. For almost a century, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has provided seeds at no cost to farmers who then saved seeds from one harvest to another, eventually developing strains best suited to local or regional climates. But Cummings also tells how seeds became lucrative, patentable private properties for some of the nation's most powerful agribusinesses.
Cummings bemoans the 'plague of sameness' intensified by the advent of such fitfully regulated companies as Monsanto, which now not only own genetically modified seed varieties, but also sue farmers when wind inevitably blows seeds onto their neighboring fields. According to Cummings, this 'tyranny of the technological[ly]elite' threatens agricultural diversity and taints food sources. Among the author's many startling statistics is that 97% of 75 vegetables whose seeds were once available from the USDA are now extinct. Cummings heralds plans for a 'Doomsday Vault' to shelter existing natural seed stock, and finds comfort in organic farming's growth, but her authoritative portrait of another way in which our planet is at peril provides stark food for thought.
Kirkus Reviews - December 1, 2007
'…her description of the hit-or-miss nature of the genetic-engineering process—which studies suggest may be at the root of alleged health impacts associated with GMOs—will unnerve many. A firm but not strident attack on 'techno-elites' that raises serious questions about the way we farm.'
What other authors are saying about Uncertain Peril:
'As agriculture continues to industrialize and globalize, our society has not thought hard enough about whether this is the kind of agricultural system we want. Fortunately, along comes this timely and valuable book to do a lot of important thinking for us. I hope everyone reads it.'
-John Seabrook, staff writer, The New Yorker
'The clearest and most passionate analysis and overview of the biotech seeds debate I've ever encountered. Writing with passion, Cummings tells the story of seeds as not only the first link in the food chain but also as our only hope for food security in the midst of global warming. I commend Uncertain Peril to anybody who wants to understand who owns, controls, and is directing the fate of our seeds.'
—Pat Mooney, author of Shattering and executive director of the ETC Group
'Seeds grow up to be many fundamental things: food, fiber for clothing, and lumber for houses. The plants also filter our air as they release oxygen. That plants are fundamental to our existence on this planet seems obvious, yet as journalist and former environmental lawyer Cummings argues here, genetically engineered plants seriously threaten the world's seed supply and the future existence of plants. Cummings carefully builds her arguments against genetically modified organisms (GMOs) much like a court case, relentlessly providing piece after piece of damning evidence. She contends that GMOs are a creation of big agribusiness to make money, and, with just a handful of companies controlling the market, the have created an enforced dependence on GMOs. Furthermore, she argues, government agencies and research institutions are both implicitly and explicitly supporting these endeavors. Her persuasive book reminds us all that we can no longer be passive observers to the world around us—our future depends on it. Highly recommended for all academic and public libraries.'
Full review in Publisher's Weekly
3.New book: The future control of food
TITLE: The future control of food: a guide to international negotiations and rules on intellectual property, biodiversity and food security
New book to be released 28 January 2008:
Complex global rules on intellectual property -- e.g. patents, copyright and plant variety protection -- are laying the foundation for a more corporate future control of food and farming and undermining attempts to maintain biodiversity, ensure food security and meet the needs of developing countries, according to a new book published this month.
'The world is engaged in two parallel experiments,' says Geoff Tansey, co-editor of The Future Control of Food: A Guide to International Negotiations and Rules on Intellectual Property, Biodiversity and Food Security, published this month by Earthscan. 'One introduces a set of minimum legal standards on intellectual property (IP) for all World Trade Organisation (WTO) members irrespective of circumstances. These standards apply equally to big, more technologically advanced developing countries like India and China as well as to much poorer countries, and even to all of the least-developed countries by 2013. They have introduced IP into food and agriculture for the first time for many countries, partly through the requirements for plant variety protection and patenting of micro-organisms and partly through the rules on patenting themselves. These IP rules in turn, particularly those on patents, are also fuelling the most rapid and biggest ever biological experiment on the planet on the food we eat and raw materials we use, as any living organism of commercial value is being redesigned by private actors for private ends. Moreover, the firms doing this are not subject to equally stringent anti-trust and liability regimes, with the liability and redress part of the Biosafety Protocol to the Convention on Biological Diversity still to be agreed. There is also a failure to build on traditional systems and ecological approaches to biological innovation, which offer alternatives.'
When it comes to lobbying for changes in international rules it is the big corporations and rich world governments rather than poor people and developing country governments that have the biggest bucks and best lawyers. This puts the weaker countries and civil society groups at a major disadvantage in developing rules that are fair for all. It also means food security takes a back seat with pressures for monopoly control over plants, seeds and genes driving the agenda.
While there has been a global outcry over the effects of the patent regime on access to medicines, leading to changes in the rules at the WTO, much less attention has been paid to the effects of similar rules on access to seeds and food. The various authors show how, over several decades, intellectual property rules have been extended to living things and how these changes have affected global attempts to safeguard natural and agricultural biodiversity, which are both needed for our future food security.
'International negotiations related to food, biodiversity and intellectual property have developed piecemeal in different forums leading to a bewildering environment for those who participate in policy making. This guide was written in response to concerns of developing country negotiators from different ministries dealing with the environment, food and agriculture, trade, development, and intellectual property. The core of the book explains just what lies behind various sets of international negotiations, what the new rules say and what the outstanding issues are.' says Tasmin Rajotte of the Quaker International Affairs Programme in Canada, and co-editor of The Future Control of Food.
'The future control of food: a guide to international negotiations and rules on intellectual property, biodiversity and food security'
Edited by Geoff Tansey and Tasmin Rajotte Published by Earthscan
Review copies of The Future Control of Food: gudrun.freese(at)earthscan.co.uk or Tel: +44 020 7121 3152
QIAP's website: http://www.qiap.ca/
4.New resource: 'Fighting FTAs'
bilaterals.org, BIOTHAI and GRAIN (editors), 'Fighting FTAs: The growing resistance to bilateral free trade and investment agreements', February 2008, 102 pp. Available online in English, French and Spanish. To request hard copies, write [email protected].
5.The Capitalist Infesto: Democracy vs. Corporate Privatization of the Biological Cell
A specter is haunting the planet—the specter of biological devastation and ecological catastrophe. The ecosystems sustaining life are being ravaged. Many familiar organisms—butterflies, frogs, bees, whole species—are in sudden danger of being wiped out, and mechanisms for propagation—even seeds!—are coming under the private ownership and control of a few very large agro-chemical corporations which seek to alter their genetic complement and reproductive capacities to further their control over land and the world's food supply.
Civil liberties take a backseat to the exigencies of the biotech industry. All the good things that human beings have achieved, and all the beauty of the world around us—the once magnificent old growth forests, pristine drinking water, healthy soils, seas teeming with fish, indeed, the sanctity of life itself as manifest in our genetic codes—are being grabbed, privatized and pillaged by corporate, technological and political powers and legitimized by new laws in a shameless orgy of material profit.
With changes to the gene pool verging on becoming irreversible and biotechnology becoming ensconced as essential to this new era of capitalist accumulation, enforcement of so-called intellectual property rights at the behest of the global corporate structure has political ramifications far beyond the biology of a few individual organisms. The biotech industry is hammering structures of power and domination into new configurations, so that our political institutions parallel, intersect and serve the needs of biotechnological corporations. These require new 'power formations' on an international level.
The new technologies constitute modes of production and reproduction that intersect capitalist relations of exploitation; they shape and, ultimately, dominate our approach to science, art and even so-called 'pure research.' Science is not neutral, it is dripping with ideology. In our society, Science plays a dual function. Researchers are victims, but also perpetrators of the dominant determinist paradigm looming over and winding through our lives.
At least six people have died thus far in the U.S. (that we know about) as a direct result of experimental (and unapproved) 'gene therapy,' performed by scientists who try to introduce DNA into patient's cells to replace missing metabolic functions. But these deaths were covered up. Because of their investments, the scientists were allowed to conceal the results of their medical experiments by writing them up not as deaths, but as 'proprietary business information' and thus invisible to review by reputable institutions.
In the name of science, healthy Black and Latino children are turned into guinea pigs, as 'professionals' administer dangerous drugs such as fenfluramine to them under the federally funded Violence Initiative Project, to alter their brain chemistry to counter their alleged 'genetic predisposition' to committing crimes. Let us be clear: Criminal behavior is no more determined by genes than is the desire to do 'scientific' research or to become a corporate lawyer. People shape, and are primarily shaped by, social and environmental—not genetic—conditions. Scientists can no more predict the full effects of altering a single gene on an individual organism—let alone on larger eco-systems in which plants, animals and micro-organisms evolve in precarious balance and symbiotic relation to each other—than they could track a particular electron through a single atom, or a neutron through the course of a nuclear bomb blast or the evolution of the universe.
In the name of science and public health, lawmakers across the country are sponsoring legislation requiring mandatory HIV-testing and compilation of the names of those testing positive for the HIV virus. In the name of science, people who in the future are recipients of human organs grown in animals in England must report the names of their sexual partners to the authorities, according to a new law there, to control the spread of potentially dangerous viruses—this, from an industry, that claims that growing human organs in pigs, for instance, is 'perfectly safe'! (Forget that for the first time viruses common to pigs, birds, and wildlife are said to be crossing the species-boundary and are being transferred to humans.) In the name of science, giant corporations spill their effluvia and toxic wastes in the water supply, soil and air, and then the same companies manufacture chemical treatments for the cancers and other ailments their environmental destruction has caused, making profits on both ends. In the name of science, genetic sequences are being patented by private corporations, which are now claiming ownership over the cell-lines of individual people as well as entire ethnic groups.
Catastrophe is, literally, blowing in the wind. The biotech industry is charging ahead full speed, knocking aside all who dare to question its apparent willingness to sacrifice our lives and the environment in its rush for profits.
Industry propagandists parry critics' claims by downplaying the significance of the new technologies and the political changes needed to shepherd them through. 'Genetic engineering of plants is really no different than hybridization and plant splicing. Those techniques also developed new strains and, occasionally, led to unanticipated problems,' they say disingenuously. Nonsense! What they fail to report—and they know this all too well!—is that mistakes due to new varieties of plants generated through hybridization are rectifiable. Hybridization does not irreversibly change the genetic complement of life itself. It does not pluck genes from one species and splice them into a different one raised in a wholly different environment. It does not threaten to leach new combinations of genes out into the surrounding environs to spread on their own through entire populations, with devastating effect. It does not introduce potentially fatal allergens into common foods, and then fight to prevent such foods from even being labeled.
But all of these define the new biotechnologies and their fundamentally anti-democratic nature. In the past, genetic combinations formed naturally. Even when they had other than beneficial effects, from a human point of view, they did not attack the integrity of the whole organism. New traits were selected for over generations; the offspring of those organisms that better fit the immediate environment were able to survive in greater number; natural selection took place through whole populations. Genetic engineering, on the other hand, attacks the integrity of organisms by introducing genes that had never been part of the species and have no relationship to context—the surrounding genetic and cellular material. Their effects on the individual organism as well as the surrounding environment are unpredictable.
Even controversial techniques such as the green revolution, which relied on hi-tech hybrid strains of rice, wheat and other grains and which were used politically and economically to drive peasants off their lands and confiscate them on behalf of multinational corporations invested in the production of export crops, selected for new varieties through hybridization; their genes were already part of the genetic complement of the crossed organisms. In a sense, hybridization and similar non-genetically engineered techniques preserved their genetic material. The new genetic engineering technologies, on the other hand, alter individual genes ad-hoc, without understanding that it is the relationshipbetween genes, involving their sequencing, position within the chromosome, and interaction within the larger gene pool and the constantly shifting cell chemistry, and not the isolated gene itself that shapes the development of particular proteins, metabolic processes and developmental patterns.
Genes, like every other entity, are context-dependent; nucleic acids do not constitute the 'blueprint of life.' They are not determining agents but part of complex dialectical interactions involving DNA and genes, genes and traits, traits and behavior, and behavior and overlapping and mutually-defining systems of capitalism and patriarchy. These enter and shape every level, from the way we observe the interaction of molecules (reductionistically, deterministically) to the way we conceive of and research genes, chromosomes and cells, to the more familiar conditions of alienation we experience and re-create as human beings.
With the new microbiology fast becoming the dominant framework for examining life, the doing of scientific work itself has become more and more atomized, fragmented, broken down into specialized disciplines and sub-disciplines: not just Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Ecology, but Molecular Biology, Evolutionary Genetics, Cytology, and Developmental Embryology, overwhelming us with its plethora of disconnected parts. Can there be any appreciation of the whole, of the complex interaction between the whole and the parts? Such appreciation is becoming more difficult as one's scientific work and thought feed on and reproduce patterns of exploitation, linearity, and domination, even when one does not mean to do so. The more fragmented our focus, the more 'deterministic,' in this culture, we become. The strictly deterministic, quasi-religious cause-and-effect model of DNA as blueprint still predominates. Too many scientists just substitute 'genes' for 'God' as the ultimate determining force. Why are ultimate determining forces needed, anyway?
My biologist friends offer one of two rejoinders to my sweeping statements: 'That's not true,' or 'We already know that, what else is new?' They offer examples where genetic engineering has done some good: for instance, an emergency injection of engineered insulin. 'If we controlled this technology we'd put it to work for the public good.'
But such arguments turn out to be rationalizations for scientists working within the biotech juggernaut, which always tries to sell itself with a humane face so as to ease the qualms not only of the population at large but of its own scientists, trapped as they are in what has become an increasingly commercial and reductionist approach to research. Contrary to the red herring statements issued by the industry, radical ecologists do not propose to deny sick people relief of suffering obtained from, for instance, Protease Inhibitors—however temporary that relief will turn out to be—nor other such genetically engineered treatments. But we do attempt to provoke society as a whole to address why people are sick to begin with and to delegitimize the industrial framework as the dominant paradigm for doing scientific research. Why are scientists researching what they are researching to begin with, let alone in the ways they are doing it? The arguments of the biotech industry and its apologists turn out to be little more than sophistry allowing them to protect their investments and bet the world against their anticipated profits.
Scientists, researchers and technicians are, they say, engaged in biotech development 'for the good of humanity.' Let me offer, then, some modest proposals for the common good:
Ban all genetic engineering of agriculture, plants, pesticides and foods Abolish the private patenting of genetic sequences—intellectual property rights.
Take private profit out of research and development of health-related drugs.
Require all bio-engineered products, and those derived from them to be clearly labeled.
We need to not merely question but challenge authority and the privatization so central to the new technologies. Changing the world, standing up to the Monsantos, Syngentas, Pfizer, Merck and Eli Lillys requires taking risks, sometimes very serious and personal ones, so that we can begin to determine for ourselves our own destinies which is, after all, a fundamental goal of any democratic movement worthy of that name.
But in a world where the concept of 'self' will become littered with industrial genes if the privateers have their way (and who really knows any longer where those genes have been?), what is the meaning of self-determination? What 'self' is doing the determining? If there is to be any hope at all in literally reclaiming our 'selves,' let alone our world, creating a new society and saving the planet, one can no more take hold of capitalist technology and wield it for the public good than one could the apparatus of the State, for inherent in the technology of genetic engineering, as in the State, are all the relations of exploitation, domination, and power over others, and over Nature, that we need to overthrow. These relations inevitably reassert themselves unless we dismantle both the technology and the state altogether, along with the system of capitalism in which we live. Only in the course of doing all of that can we re-envision the world we hope to live in and take the kinds of action needed to bring it about.