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October 2010 Updates

Geoengineering Moratorium at UN Ministerial in Japan

News Release
October 29, 2010

Risky Climate Techno-fixes Blocked

NAGOYA, Japan - In a landmark consensus decision, the 193-member UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) will close its tenth biennial meeting with a de facto moratorium on geoengineering projects and experiments. "Any private or public experimentation or adventurism intended to manipulate the planetary thermostat will be in violation of this carefully crafted UN consensus," stated Silvia Ribeiro, Latin American Director of ETC Group.

The agreement, reached during the ministerial portion of the two-week meeting which included 110 environment ministers, asks governments to ensure that no geoengineering activities take place until risks to the environmental and biodiversity and associated social, cultural and economic impacts risks have been appropriately considered as well as the socio-economic impacts. The CBD secretariat was also instructed to report back on various geoengineering proposals and potential intergovernmental regulatory measures.

The unusually strong consensus decision builds on the 2008 moratorium on ocean fertilization. That agreement, negotiated at COP 9 in Bonn, put the brakes on a litany of failed "experiments" - both public and private - to sequester atmospheric carbon dioxide in the oceans' depths by spreading nutrients on the sea surface. Since then, attention has turned to a range of futuristic proposals to block a percentage of solar radiation via large-scale interventions in the atmosphere, stratosphere and outer space that would alter global temperatures and precipitation patterns.

"This decision clearly places the governance of geoengineering in the United Nations where it belongs," said ETC Group Executive Director Pat Mooney. "This decision is a victory for common sense, and for precaution. It will not inhibit legitimate scientific research. Decisions on geoengineering cannot be made by small groups of scientists from a small group of countries that establish self-serving 'voluntary guidelines' on climate hacking. What little credibility such efforts may have had in some policy circles in the global North has been shattered by this decision. The UK Royal Society and its partners should cancel their Solar Radiation Management Governance Initiative and respect that the world's governments have collectively decided that future deliberations on geoengineering should take place in the UN, where all countries have a seat at the table and where civil society can watch and influence what they are doing."

Delegates in Nagoya have now clearly understood the potential threat that deployment - or even field testing - of geoengineering technologies poses to the protection of biodiversity. The decision was hammered out in long and difficult late night sessions of a "Friends of the chair" group, attended by ETC Group, and adopted by the Working Group 1 Plenary on 27 October 2010. The Chair of the climate and biodiversity negotiations called the final text "a highly delicate compromise." All that remains to do now is gavel it through in the final plenary at 6 PM Friday (Nagoya time).

"The decision is not perfect," said Neth Dano of ETC Group Philippines. "Some delegations are understandably concerned that the interim definition of geoengineering is too narrow because it does not include Carbon Capture and Storage technologies. Before the next CBD meeting, there will be ample opportunity to consider these questions in more detail. But climate techno-fixes are now firmly on the UN agenda and will lead to important debates as the 20th anniversary of the Earth Summit approaches. A change of course is essential, and geoengineering is clearly not the way forward."


Ending Africa's Hunger Means Listening to Farmers

By Stephen Leahy
October 16, 2010

NAGOYA, Japan - Africa is hungry - 240 million people are undernourished. Now, for the first-time, small African farmers have been properly consulted on how to solve the problem of feeding sub-Saharan Africa. Their answers appear to directly repudiate a massive international effort to launch an African Green Revolution funded in large part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Instead of new hybrid seeds, chemical fertilisers and pesticides, family farmers in West Africa said they want to use local seeds, avoid spending precious cash on chemicals and most importantly to direct public agricultural research to meet their needs, according to a multi-media publication released on World Food Day (Oct. 16).

"There is a clear vision from these small farmers. They are rejecting the approach of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa," said report co-author Michel Pimbert of the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), a non-profit research institute based in London.

"These were true farmer-led assessment where small farmers and other food producers listened and questioned agricultural and other experts and then came up with their own recommendations," Pimbert told IPS.

"Food and agriculture policy and research tend to ignore the values, needs, knowledge and concerns of the very people who provide the food we all eat - and often serve instead powerful commercial interests such as multinational seed and food retailing companies," he said.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter, backs the need for a fundamental shift in food and agricultural research to make it more democratic and accountable to society.

"I applaud the efforts described here to organise citizen's juries and farmers' assessments of agricultural research in West Africa," writes De Schutter in a forward to the IIED publication titled "Democratising Agricultural Research for Food Sovereignty in West Africa".

The publication includes video clips and audio files that feature the voices and concerns of food producers from across the region.

About half a billion Africans depend on small-scale farming of less than two hectares. Most of the smallholder farmers are women. There is serious concern about the direction of Africa's public agriculture research, which is mainly funded by donor countries. Funders exert control over what type of research they fund and that almost always reflects a northern science and technology bias favouring new hybrid seeds that must be purchased every year and chemical fertilisers, said Pimbert.

To find out what smallholder farmers want African public agricultural research to do for them, independent farmer-led assessment of the current agricultural research was done in Mali. Those findings fed into two citizen/farmer juries comprised of 40 to 50 ordinary farmers and other food producers. Each jury addressed specific issues such as what kind of agricultural research smallholders want and how food and agricultural research can be more democratic.

The jurors listened to and questioned a wide range of expert witnesses from Africa and Europe. They considered the evidence presented in light of their experiences and agreed on a series of recommendations for their respective governments. Those included direct farmer involvement in setting the public research agenda and strategic priorities, research into traditional varieties and ecological farming, and the idea that such research should be funded by their own governments not outsiders as is the case presently in West Africa.

It's a fully open and participatory process, said Pimbert, who has been involved in similar processes in India and South America. Jurors are carefully selected to reflect a broad range of localities, variety of knowledge and gender. An independent oversight panel with representatives from a number of countries such as Senegal, Burkina Faso, Niger and Benin acts like election observers to make sure the entire process is fair and open.

"This has never happened in West Africa before. For that matter, ordinary farmers in Canada or the U.S. have never been asked what they want public ag research to do for them," he said.

Farmers and "ordinary" citizens directly deciding what kind of agricultural research they want is vital for achieving food security, local livelihoods and human well being, and resilience to climate change, Pimbert said.

Following the food crisis in 2008 there is a major push for a "new green revolution" in Africa, championed by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) a $400 million effort headed by Kofi Annan, former secretary- general of the United Nations and funded by the Gates Foundation and the Rockrfeller Foundation. AGRA aims to double or quadruple the yields of smallholder farms.

"We're are choosing to invest in what we believe will work," said Sylvia Mathews Burwell, a member of the AGRA board and president of the Global Development Program, which is one of three focus areas for the Gates Foundation.

AGRA is putting its funding in the development of new seed varieties such as drought-tolerant maize, improving soil fertility and market access and farmer education. They are not presently funding genetically engineered crops.

"Farmers want ag research that will help them feed their families and have extra to sell in the market," Burwell said in an interview. "Our consultants have been out there talking to farmers. We're attempting to include the voice of farmer."

For many, the AGRA approach is a downscaled version of U.S. and European agricultural production, with its central focus on boosting yields with hybrid seeds and fertiliser.

AGRA's objective seems to be to make "farmers dependent on inputs, dependent on markets, instead of the farmers being in charge," said Hans Herren, president of the Millennium Institute in Virginia. Herren was the World Food Prize winner in 1995, and is credited with implementing a biological control programme that saved the African cassava crop, averting a food crisis.

"We have seen from the example in the U.S. and EU where this dependency leads...fewer farmers, lower prices for farmers...more jobless people," said Herren, who was co chair of International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD).

The three-year IAASTD concluded the best hope for the feeding the world was with agro-ecosystems that married food production with ensuring water supplies remain clean, preserving biodiversity, and improving the livelihoods of the poor. The transformation that African agriculture needs is not more large-scale industrial farm production relying on outside inputs of fertiliser but with small farmers practising a multifunctional agro-ecosystem approach, Herren said.

"Smallholders and their authentic organisations (co-ops, small rural technical schools, and the like) have shown that strengthened agro-ecological approaches can produce adequately," said Philip Bereano of the University of Washington in Seattle.

AGRA has failed to "consult with smallholders, listen to their advice, and follow their suggestions," said Bereano in an email from Nagoya, Japan. Bereano is involved with a citizen's group called AGRA Watch, which says major funders from the North are pushing an industrial agri-business development model on Africa.

Agribusiness is setting itself up as the solution to the "food problem" and many governments are listening because the 2008 food crisis shocked them, said Pimbert. "Africa has enormous quantities of land and resources...and now there is a stampede to lock those up."

AGRA, many scientists and large NGOs believe the business approach of high-technology and public-private partnerships is the way to feed Africa, they can't accept the smallholders' worldview, he said. What will happen instead is that smallholders will buy the new hybrid seed, fertiliser and pesticide on credit, eventually be forced off their land to repay their debts and end up in the cities, while large corporate style farms will consolidate smallholder land.

"This is what happened to many of India's smallholders," Pimbert said.

Read the IAASTD report


World Community Adopts a New UN Treaty on Living Modified Organisms

Press Release
UN Convention on Biological Diversity
October 16 , 2010

Nagoya - At 6.15 p.m. Friday here in Japan, a new international treaty, "the Nagoya - Kuala Lumpur Supplementary Protocol on Liability and Redress to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety", was adopted at one of the largest intergovernmental meetings ever held on the safe use of modern biotechnology.

The adoption of the new treaty came at the end of the five-day meeting of the governing body of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (known as the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Protocol or COP-MOP 5) and concluded six years of negotiations.

The new supplementary Protocol provides international rules and procedure on liability and redress for damage to biodiversity resulting from living modified organisms (LMO). Setting the stage for its adoption, small group of government negotiators had resolved contentious issues and agreed on the text of the supplementary Protocol just six hours before the opening of the COP-MOP 5 meeting on Monday.

Read the rest of the Press Release


Why Monsanto Is Paying Farmers to Spray Its Rivals' Herbicides

By Tom Philpott
October 20, 2010

Monsanto's ongoing humiliation proceeds apace. No, I'm not referring to the company's triumph in our recent "Villains of Food" poll. Instead, I'm talking about a Tuesday item from the Des Moines Register's Philip Brasher, reporting that Monsanto has been forced into the unenviable position of having to pay farmers to spray the herbicides of rival companies.

If you tend large plantings of Monsanto's "Roundup Ready" soy or cotton, genetically engineered to withstand application of the company's Roundup herbicide (which will kill the weeds -- supposedly -- but not the crops), Monsanto will cut you a $6 check for every acre on which you apply at least two other herbicides. One imagines farmers counting their cash as literally millions of acres across the South and Midwest get doused with Monsanto-subsidized poison cocktails.

The move is the latest step in the abject reversal of Monsanto's longtime claim: that Roundup Ready technology solved the age-old problem of weeds in an ecologically benign way. The company had developed a novel trait that would allow crops to survive unlimited lashings of glyphosate, Monsanto's then-patent-protected, broad-spectrum herbicide. It was kind of a miracle technology. Farmers would no longer have to think about weeds; glyphosate, which killed everything but the trait-endowed crop, would do all the work. Moreover, Monsanto promised, Roundup was less toxic to humans and wildlife than the herbicides then in use; and it allowed farmers to decrease erosion by dramatically reducing tillage -- a common method of weed control.

There was just one problem, which the Union of Concerned Scientists pointed out as early as 1993, New York University nutritionist and food-politics author Marion Nestle recently reminded us. When farmers douse the same field year after year with the same herbicide, certain weeds will develop resistance. When they do, it will take ever-larger doses of that herbicide to kill them -- making the survivors even hardier. Eventually, it will be time to bring in in the older, harsher herbicides to do the trick, UCS predicted.

At the time and for years after, Monsanto dismissed the concerns as "hypothetical," Nestle reports. Today, Roundup Ready seeds have conquered prime U.S. farmland from the deep South to the northern prairies -- 90 percent of soybean acres and 70 percent of corn and cotton acres are planted in Roundup Ready seeds. Monsanto successfully conquered a fourth crop, sugar beets, gaining a stunning 95 percent market share after the USDA approved Roundup Ready beet seeds in 2008. But recently, as I reported here, a federal judge halted future plantings of Roundup Ready beets until the USDA completes an environmental impact study of their effects.

Given what happened to other Roundup Ready crops, it's hard to imagine that the USDA can come up with an environmental impact study that will exonerate Monsanto's sugar beet seeds. Today, there are no fewer than 10 weed species resistant to Roundup, thriving "in at least 22 states infesting millions of acres," The New York Times recently reported. And the ways farmers are responding to them are hardly ecologically sound: jacked-up application rates of Roundup, supplemented by other, harsher poisons.

And as Monsanto's once-celebrated Roundup Ready traits come under fire, there's another Roundup problem no one's talking about: Roundup itself, once hailed as a an ecologically benign herbicide, is looking increasingly problematic. A study by France's University of Caen last year found that the herbicide's allegedly "inert" ingredients magnify glyphosate's toxic effects. According to the study, "the proprietary mixtures available on the market could cause cell damage and even death" at levels commonly used on farm fields.

Moreover, the annual cascade of Roundup on vast swaths of prime farmland also appears to be undermining soil health and productivity, as this startling recent report shows.

Meanwhile, the endlessly repeated claim that Roundup Ready technology saves "millions of tons" of soil from erosion, by allowing farmers to avoid tilling to kill weeds, appears to be wildly trumped up. According to Environmental Working Group's reading of the USDA's 2007 National Resource Inventory, "there has been no progress in reducing soil erosion in the Corn Belt since 1997." (The Corn Belt is the section of the Midwest where the great bulk of Roundup Ready corn and soy are planted.) "The NRI shows that an average-sized Iowa farm loses five tons of high quality topsoil per acre each year," EWG writes.

In short, Monsanto's Roundup Ready technology is emerging as an environmental disaster. The question isn't why a judge demanded an environmental impact study of Roundup Ready sugar beets in 2010; it's that no one did so in 1996 before the technology was rolled out. After all, the Union of Concerned Scientists was already quite, well, concerned back then.

As I wrote in June, rather than spark a reassessment of the wisdom of relying on toxic chemicals, the failure of Roundup Ready has the U.S. agricultural establishment scrambling to intensify chemical use. Companies like Dow Agriscience are dusting off old, highly toxic poisons like 2, 4-D and promoting them as the "answer" to Roundup's problems.

In a better world, farmers would be looking to non-chemical methods for controlling weeds: crop rotations, mulching, cover crops, etc. Instead, they're being paid by Monsanto to ramp up application of poisons. Perhaps the USDA's main research arm, the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, will rise to the occasion by funding research in non-chemical weed-control methods? Not likely, since the Obama administration tapped a staunch Monsanto man to lead that crucial agency.

But instead of true innovation, we have the spectacle of Monsanto paying farmers to dump vast chemical cocktails onto land that not only feeds us, but also drains into our streams and rivers.


Mad Soy Disease Strikes Brazil

By Dr. Mae-Wan Ho

October 27, 2010

They call it "mad soy disease" in Brazil, where it has been spreading from the north, causing yield losses of up to 40 percent, most notably in the states of Mato Grosso, Tocantins and Goias.

Like its namesake, mad cow disease, it is incurable [1, 2, 3].

This is the latest GMO fiasco to surface since our report on the meltdown in the USA [4] (GM Crops Facing Meltdown in the USA, SiS 46), China [5] (GM-Spin Meltdown in China, SiS 47), and Argentina [6] (Argentina's Roundup Human Tragedy, SiS 48).

Mad soy disease has afflicted soybeans sporadically in the hot northern regions of Brazil in the past years, but is now spreading to more temperate regions in the south "with increased prevalence overall", according to a US Department of Agriculture scientist.

The disease delays the maturation of infected plants indefinitely; the plants remain green until they eventually rot in the field. The top leaves thin out, and the stems thicken and become deformed. The leaves also darken compared to healthy plants; the pods, when formed, are abnormal with fewer beans.

Researchers have yet to find a cure for the disease, as they are still not sure what causes it. The prime suspect for spreading disease is the black mite found in stubble when soybean is grown in no-till production systems.

According to the USDA Global Agricultural Information Network, Brazil has 24 million ha planted to soybean, 78 percent of which are GM [3]. Apart from mad soy disease, Brazil's soybean is simultaneously afflicted by soybean Asian rust that first appeared in 2001-2002. Producer groups are requesting the Brazilian Government Agency to speed up approval of more effective fungicide to combat the disease, which would have significant cost implications. But for mad soy disease, no cure is forthcoming. Mato Grosso, which alone produces nearly 30 percent of Brazil's soybean crop, is among the states that have brought the issue of mad soy disease "to the forefront".

US scientists identified more than 40 diseases associated with glyphosate and glyphosate-tolerant crops

Disease of GM soybean is no longer a surprise. Senior scientists in the United States, who have studied glyphosate and glyphosate-tolerant GM crops for decades, identified more than 40 diseases linked to glyphosate, and the list is growing [7] (Scientists Reveal Glyphosate Poisons Crops and Soil, SiS 47). Glyphosate tolerant crops play a pivotal role in causing and spreading diseases, not only to the crops themselves, but also to other crops grown nearby or planted subsequently [8] (Glyphosate Tolerant Crops Bring Diseases and Death, SiS 47).

The scientists warned of "dire consequences for agriculture." Don Huber, recently retired from Purdue University, stated that the widespread use of glyphosate in the US can [7] "significantly increase the severity of various plant diseases, impair plant defense to pathogens and diseases and immobilize soils plant nutrients rendering them unavailable for plant use."


  1. "Brazil battles spread of 'mad soy disease",, 5 October 2010,
  2. "Mad soy disease hits Brazil farmers", Kieran Gartlan, DTN Progressive Farmer 19 August 2010,
  3. Brazil, oilseeds and products update, record soybean planted area forecast for 2010-11 crop. GAIN /report, 9/29/2010, USDA foreign Agricultural Service, Global Agriculture Information Network,
  4. Ho MW. GM crops facing meltdown in the USA. Science in Society 46
  5. Saunders PT and Ho MW. From the Editors: GM spin meltdown in China. Science in Society 47, 2-3, 2010.
  6. Robinson C. Argentina's Roundup human tragedy. Science in Society 48 (to appear).
  7. Ho MW. Scientists reveal glyphosate poisons crops and soil. GM meltdown continues. Science in Society 47, 10-11, 2010.
  8. Ho MW. Glyphosate tolerant crops bring diseases and death. Science in Society 47, 12-15, 2010.

French Mega-Retailer Unveils no-GMO Labeling

By Lisa M. Keefe
October 28, 2010

French hypermarket company Carrefour has begun labeling some of its food products as "fed without GMOs" (genetically modified organisms), according to several French news sites. Those items will include pork and poultry, along with eggs, farmed fish, and eventually milk products.

In Europe, the issue of eating or feeding livestock GMOs, or the offspring of cloned animals entering the food supply chain, is more controversial than it has been in the United States.

Carrefour's round, green label --- reading "Nourri sans OGM" --- will be affixed to 300 animal-based products, reports said. It is the first time a European supermarket chain has used such labels, as opposed to labeling foods themselves as not containing GMOs.

The new labels are destined only for Carrefour's private label products.


Genetically Modified Aedes Set for Field Trials in December, in Fight against Dengue

By Dharmender Singh
October 30, 2010

PUTRAJAYA: The field trials for genetically modified (GM) mosquitoes are expected to be carried out by early December, said Biosafety Department director-general Let­chumanan Rama­natha.

The programme calls for genetically-engineered Aedes Aegypti male mosquitoes to be released into the wild, to mate with females and produce offsprings that have a shorter lifespan, thus curbing the population.

The department had obtained approval from the Institute for Medical Research (IMR) to begin field trials and was now waiting for the detailed schedule, said Letchumanan.

The schedule would set out the dates of the release of between 4,000 and 6,000 male GM or transgenic mosquitoes, their capture and study; and the trial\u2019s completion.

\u201cWe are expecting the trials to begin at the latest by the beginning of December and they will run for a month, during which the IMR will study the life expectancy of the transgenic mosquitoes and how far they travel from the point of release,\u201d he said.

On criticism by certain quarters that genetic modifications could create a more resistant breed of mosquitoes, Letchumanan said that was why the Government decided on thorough laboratory tests, and controlled field tests before full implementation of the programme.

He said the mosquitoes would be released only during the first day of the field trials and fogging would be carried at the end of the trial period to kill all the insects.

Asked if Bentong and Alor Gajah were confirmed as locations for the field trials, he said they were picked as the best locations.

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