2.Seed giants see gold in climate change
By Silvia Ribeiro
Alai-amlatina, May 15 2008
Food prices continue rising around the world giving rise to intolerable conditions in the most vulnerable countries like famine, often combined with drought or flooding, the perverse effects of climate change. Faced with the seriousness of the crisis, the masks slip and the speeches get emptier with biofuel prescriptions, the supposed benefits of free trade and agriculture for export.
Now head of the World Bank, Robert Zoellick announces that those food prices will stay high for several years and that it is necessary to strengthen food aid to manage the crisis. Zoellick, who took up that post after being chief negotiator at the World Trade Organization for the United States, knows what he is talking about: from that former position he did all he could to destroy countries' food sovereignty in favour of the interests of big agribusiness multinational corporations.
Even that prescription of food aid is in fact yet more covert assistance to those same multinationals who have traditionally sold to grain to the World Food Programme, which then charitably hands it over to starving people, all on condition that they themselves do not produce the foods they need. The big winners in the crisis are also the main big winners in the promotion of biofuels: the multinational corporations that dominate national and international grain trade, seed businesses and who make pesticides and herbicides.
In many cases, the same companies dominate these last two sectors: globally, Monsanto is the main commercial seed company and the fifth in agro-toxins. Bayer is the first in agro-toxins and the seventh in seeds. Syngenta is the second in agri-toxins and the third in seeds. Dupont is the second in seeds and the sixth in agro-toxins. Including BASF and Dow (third and fourth in agro-toxins), these six corporations control all the world's genetically manipulated seeds, which coincidentally is also the solution they put forward to every new problem - problems they have been prime movers in bringing about.
Along with the businesses that control more than 80% of the world cereals market - Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland, ConAgra, Bunge, Dreyfus - all these corporations have profited quite shamelessly from food shortages, the encouragement and subsidy of biofuels and the increase in oil prices (agro-toxins are petro-chemicals). GRAIN's excellent report "The business of killing by hunger" documents these profits: for 2007, Cargill's profits increased 36%; Archer Daniels Midland's by 67 %; ConAgra by 30%; Bunge's by 49%; and Dreyfus's profits in the last quarter of 2007 grew by 77%. Monsanto's profits increase was 44% over 2006 and Dupont-Pioneer's 19%.
To this situation one can add the fact that, faced with the financial and property crisis, the big speculative investment funds transferred money by the billion to control agricultural products and commodities in international markets. Right now it is reckoned these funds control 60% of wheat and large percentages of other basic grains. The greater part of the next few years' soya harvest is already bought up as futures. These foods have become just one more object of stock market speculation, whose price changes and rises not on the movements of local markets or on people's need but on speculative snatches.
Despite the global beating ordinary people have taken, worse for the most dispossessed, the multinationals are still not satisfied and are going after more. They are now preparing the next hijack, monopolizing via patents the genetic characteristics they consider useful to make plants resistant to drought, salinity and other climatic stress factors.
The governments who serve them, like Mexico's, try gasoline to put out the fire: instead of food sovereignty and rural families controlling seeds and inputs, they propose genetically modified products carrying even more changes and risks, genetically modified maize to increase contamination and dependence and that even the most impoverished rural families, with public subsidies, sow biofuels instead of food.
Silvia Ribeiro is a researcher with the Erosion, Technology and Concentration Group
Translation copyleft Tortilla con Sal
2.Seed giants see gold in climate change
By Hope Shand
Asia Times, May 15 2008
First the biotech industry promised that its genetically engineered seeds would clean up the environment. Then they told us biotech crops would feed the world. Neither came to pass. Soon we'll hear that genetically engineered climate-hardy seeds are the essential adaptation strategy for crops to withstand drought, heat, cold, saline soils and more.
After failing to convince an unwilling public to accept genetically engineered foods, biotech companies see a silver lining in climate change. They are now asserting that farmers cannot win the war against climate change without genetic engineering.
According to a new report from ETC Group, the world's largest
seed and agrochemical corporations such as Monsanto, BASF, DuPont, Syngenta, Bayer and Dow, along with biotech partners such as Mendel, Ceres and Evogene, are stockpiling hundreds of patents and patent applications on crop genes related to environmental stress tolerance at patent offices around the world. They have acquired a total of 55 patent families corresponding to 532 patents and patent applications.
In the face of climate chaos and a deepening world food crisis, the gene giants are gearing up for a public relations offensive to rebrand themselves as climate saviors. The companies hope to convince governments and reluctant consumers that genetic engineering is the essential adaptation strategy to insure agricultural productivity.
In the words of Keith Jones of CropLife International, an industry-supported non-profit organization, "GM foods are exactly the technology that may be necessary to counter the effects of global warming." But rather than an effective way to confront climate change, these so-called "climate-ready" crops will be used to drive farmers and governments onto a proprietary biotech platform.
Human-induced climate change is triggering climate shocks in all ecosystems. It will profoundly affect crops, livestock, fisheries and forests and the billions of people whose livelihoods depend on them. Agriculture and food systems in the South, especially in South Asia and southern Africa, will be the first and most negatively affected. Extreme climate events (especially hotter, drier conditions in semi-arid regions) are likely to slash yields for maize, wheat, rice, and other primary food crops.
For instance, Asian rice yields will decrease dramatically due to higher night-time temperatures. With warmer conditions, photosynthesis slows or ceases, pollination is prevented, and dehydration sets in. A study by the International Rice Research Institute reports that rice yields are declining by 10% for every degree Celsius increase in night-time temperatures. Such declines will affect, for example, South Asia’s prime wheat-growing land, the vast Indo-Gangetic plain that produces about 15% of the world's wheat crop, with losses that will place at least 200 million people at greater risk of hunger.
For the world's largest agrochemical and seed corporations, genetic engineering is the technofix of choice for combating climate change. It is a proprietary approach that seeks to expand an industrial model of agriculture, one that is largely divorced from on-the-ground social and environmental realities. It is also an approach that fails to learn from history.
Many of the problems with saline soils and soil degradation, for example, have been exacerbated by the use of intensive production systems. The gene giants are now focusing on the identification and patenting of climate-proof genetic traits (genes associated with abiotic stresses), especially related to drought and extreme temperatures. "Abiotic" stresses refer to environmental stresses encountered by plants, such as drought, temperature extremes, saline soils and low nitrogen.
The monopoly game
Monopoly control of crop genes is a bad idea under any circumstances. But in the midst of a global food crisis with climate change looming, such control is unacceptable and must be challenged. Patented gene technologies will concentrate corporate power, drive up costs, inhibit independent research, and further undermine the rights of farmers to save and exchange seeds. Globally, the top 10 seed corporations already control 57% of commercial seed sales. A handful of transnational seed and agrochemical companies are positioned to determine who gets access to patented genes and what price they must pay.
Many of these patent claims are unprecedented in scope because a single patent may claim several different environmental, or abiotic, stress traits. In addition, some patent claims extend not just to abiotic stress tolerance in a single engineered plant species, but also to a substantially similar genetic sequence in virtually all engineered food crops.
The corporate grab extends beyond the United States and Europe. Patent offices in major food producing countries such as Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Mexico, and South Africa are also swamped with patent filings. Monsanto, the world’s largest seed company, and BASF, the largest chemical firm) have entered into a US$1.5 billion partnership to engineer stress-tolerant plants. Together the two companies account for nearly half of the patent families related to engineered stress tolerance.
Farming communities in the developing world, those who have contributed least to global greenhouse emissions, are among the most threatened by climate chaos created by the world's richest countries. Will farming communities now be stampeded by climate profiteering? The focus on genetically engineered, so-called climate-ready crops will divert resources from affordable, farmer-based strategies for climate change survival and adaptation.
In a bid to win moral legitimacy for their controversial GM seeds, the gene giants are also teaming up with philanthro-capitalists to introduce climate-tolerant traits in the developing world. Monsanto and BASF, for instance, are working with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center and national agricultural research programs in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and South Africa to develop drought-tolerant corn. The program is supported by a $47 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In March this year, the African Agricultural Technology Foundation announced that Monsanto and BASF have agreed to donate royalty-free drought-tolerant transgenes to the African researchers.
Market-based philanthropy aims to open African markets for high-tech seeds that will undoubtedly be accompanied by intellectual property laws, seed regulations, and other products and practices amenable to agribusiness. To African farmers, this is hardly philanthropic.
As the climate crisis deepens, governments may well offer corporate subsidies by encouraging farmers to adopt prescribed biotech traits that are deemed essential adaptation measures. The US government's Federal Crop Insurance Company announced in October 2007 that it would begin a pilot program that offers a discount to farmers who plant Monsanto's "triple-stack" corn seeds on non-irrigated land, reportedly because the biotech corn, engineered for herbicide tolerance and two kinds of insect resistance, provides a lower risk of reduced yields when compared with conventional hybrids. The decision was especially controversial because USDA relied on Monsanto’s data to substantiate this claim.
Staying the corporate hand
In the face of climate chaos and a deepening global food crisis, the corporate grab on so-called climate-tolerant genes is business as usual. Governments must respond urgently by:
Recognizing, protecting, and strengthening farmer-based breeding and conservation programs and the development of on-farm genetic diversity as a priority response for climate change survival and adaptation.
Suspending all patents on climate-related genes and traits and conducting a full investigation of the potential environmental and social impacts of transgenic abiotic stress-tolerant seeds.
Adopting policies to facilitate farmers' access to and exchange of breeding materials and eliminate current restrictions on access to seeds and germplasm (especially those driven by intellectual property, agribusiness-inspired seed laws, trade regimes, and corporate oligopoly). In the midst of climate crisis, spiraling food prices and food scarcity, restrictions on access to seeds and germplasm are the last thing that farmers need in their struggle to adapt to rapidly changing climatic conditions.
Genetically engineered "climate-tolerant" seeds are a technological fix that distracts from the root causes of climate change and the imperative to cut greenhouse gas emissions and reverse consumption patterns - especially in the North.
Hope Shand is the research director of the ETC Group (www.etcgroup.org) and a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus.
(Posted with permission from Foreign Policy in Focus)