Support the Wetteren 11
Monday, 24 December 2012 11:07
Video of Greenpeace Director Kumi Naidoo's powerful statement in support of the 11 anti-GM protesters of Wetteren: http://t.co/NJSTKzMd
Also available here
The Wetteren 11 speak out: "We, who were beaten, are accused of violence... We who act on behalf of small farmers are accused of forming a criminal gang."
EXTRACT: Campaigning for a more sustainable agriculture is not a crime and this prosecution for [forming a] criminal gang is undemocratic. More than 80 people have volunteered to join the accused in the docks to reinforce this message. Among them are farmers, politicians, academic scholars, civil society representatives, concerned citizens and Frechn voluntary reapers. This is a strong message that the 11 accused belong to a broad social movement against GMOs.
Support the Wetteren 11
Put GMOs on trial, not field liberation
Come to DENDERMONDE (Belgium), 15th of January 2013, 8 a.m.
On 29 May 2011, hundreds of activists decontaminated a GM potato field trial in Wetteren. They pulled up genetically modified potatoes and replaced them with organic varieties, which are naturally blight resistant, tasty, and healthy.
The "great potato swap" was public and nonviolent. The aim of the action was to stimulate debate about the pros and cons of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in our fields and on our plates. It succeeded: the public debate took off in the papers, online, and on the radio and television. Schools and universities took part as did NGOs and the political and farming sectors. This act of civil disobedience made people aware of the dangers of GMOs and the role that public research plays in their development. We need to find real sustainable and fair solutions to respond to future food challenges.
11 activists have been accused of belonging to a criminal gang, and risk being asked to pay €200,000 damages. Why so much? Because the Flemish Institute for biotechnology, University of Ghent, Ghent HogeSchool and the Institute for Agricultural and Fisheries Research wants them to pay not only for six months of private security for the site, but also for the pro GMO rally, the time the biotech industry spent dealing with the press, and the many hours that the lecturers spent spreading pro-GMO propaganda by e-mail and Facebook.
Campaigning for a more sustainable agriculture is not a crime and this prosecution for [forming a] criminal gang is undemocratic.
More than 80 people have volunteered to join the accused in the docks to reinforce this message. Among them are farmers, politicians, academic scholars, civil society representatives, concerned citizens and Frechn voluntary reapers. This is a strong message that the 11 accused belong to a broad social movement against GMOs.
Come and add your voice to the chorus of support, join us in Dendermonde on the day of the trial, have breakfast, exchange information, fry organic chips, and enjoy some live music.
We are meeting at 8am in front of the lawcourts, Justitieplein 1, Dendermonde.
You can also:
- Make your community GM free and organise a benefit evening, or a debate
- Record a video support message and send it to xxxx
- Support us financially by making a donation by bank transfer to the account name :
Crop Resistance (Triodos BIC: TRIOBEBB), number: BE595230 8045 6626
- Buy lots of our Faucheurs (crop pullers) beer from our depots in Brussels, Ghent and Antwerp.
For contact information look at
For information about the action go to: fieldliberation.wordpress.com
PS. The law court is easy to reach by train, just 15 minutes walk from Dendermonde station
Coming from Ghent: 07:25 (track 1)
Coming from Brussels: 07:25 (track 1)
Coming from Antwerp: 06:47 (track 23)
Coming from Liège: 06:00 (track 3)
Closing in on our seeds
Monday, 17 June 2013 08:47
NOTE: This is one of the most important articles you'll read this year, in terms of the vision it gives of the corporations that are working to reduce and eliminate seed freedom in Europe. And guess who those corporations are? Monsanto and the other big biotech players, naturally.
EXCERPTS: The European plant breeders' rights system has been traditionally based on UPOV, a sector-tailored IP regime that grants special rights and privileges to farmers and breeders. But the major biotech players such as Monsanto, Syngenta and Dupont that have entered the seed market since the mid-1970s in Europe come from the chemical sector, and have brought with them their own stricter IPR vision and interests, based on the patent system. Concretely, this history accounts for some differences of approach, meaning that the Dutch seed industry association Plantum for instance has published an official position against the societal risks created by patents on plants, saying they're “afraid that this will lead to a situation whereby only the plant breeding companies with the largest patent portfolio will be able to survive, which in turn will mean that, in the future, the decisions regarding which varieties are introduced onto the market will be in the hands of just a few companies on plant breeders rights and then on the possibility to develop new varieties”. This contradicts the position of ESA's big biotech members such as Monsanto, pushing for the use of patents on seeds and more generally plants and plants' genetic sequences....
Rather than the "simplification" of the rules over seed marketing, what we are seeing is the potential consolidation of yet more corporate control over the agricultural seed market – even as more and more people are beginning to grasp the crucial importance of agricultural biodiversity.
Closing in on our seeds
Corporate Europe Observatory, 5 Jun 2013
For the first time in their history, European institutions will reform the entire package of legislation related to seed marketing using the so-called 'Better regulation framework', a strategic approach used by the European Commission to “simplify” existing EU legislation.[i] Since seeds are the starting point for the whole human food chain, the EU's attempt to consolidate the seed industry is hugely significant. From the very start of the process in 2008, this policy initiative has been an unique opportunity for large seed companies to reinforce their control over a commercial seed supply system that they already largely dominate.[ii]
The EU proposal, published last May 6th, “on the production and making available on the market of plant reproductive material” will be discussed between the European Parliament and the Council (Member States). The Commission has merged and updated the 12 existing directives on the subject in a single text. Participating in the 5-year preparatory process within the Commission have been the Directorate Generals (DGs) of Health and Consumers (SANCO, leading on this dossier), Agriculture (AGRI) and Environment (ENVI). It has been a long process to reach final agreement between these three departments, primarily because AGRI and SANCO appeared to differ on certain key points such as biodiversity protection.
Inevitably, for a market area so dominated by agribusiness, corporate lobbying to influence the legislation has been intense, particularly from the seed industry and its main Brussels-based lobby group, the European Seeds Association (ESA). As is often the case with lobbying, the earlier the pressure the “better” the outcome. It is unclear to what extent the drafting process itself was protected from excessive influence: CEO wrote an open letter to SANCO pointing out the conflict of interest of a key expert in this department with the seeds industry. Other agribusiness lobby groups were also present at a very early stage, including the industrial farmers' lobby Copa-Cogeca and Brussels' umbrella organisation of big food multinationals, FoodDrinkEurope.
Defending the seed status quo
The total commercial value of the Seed Market amounts to around EUR 6.8 billion per year. Increasingly in the modern era, industrialized corporate seed production has competed with and largely dominated over other more traditional and ecological approaches such as farmers’ in-situ seed selection, the development of open-pollinated farmer varieties not protected by intellectual property rights (IPRs) and the defence of conservation varieties. This domination has been consolidated by the EU's legal framework, which only allows the farming of market seed varieties that match the “distinctness, uniformity and stability” (DUS) criterions that, de facto, favour industrially-produced and monoculture-friendly seeds. But these alternative agricultural practices, marginalised during the golden era of industrial agriculture, are enjoying renewed social and political interest for their ecological relevance.
Currently in Europe a thriving civil society movement is rediscovering and spreading old plant varieties as well as local, ecosystem-specific breeding practices. This movement's growth is a challenge to corporate control of the seed market, making it increasingly economically relevant too, to the extent that it is seen as a threat by the mainstream seed industry that is built around high entry barriers to the market (IPRs, high registration costs etc). With reference to the ESA's position it appears that one its key objectives is to use the policy opportunity to strangle this movement before it becomes too strong, or at least prevent its excessive development.
What isn't registered doesn't exist: a particular idea of biodiversity
One of the most striking features of the ESA's lobbying activities is its remarkably narrow definition of biodiversity. A landmark case at the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in 20127 between the French seed-saver association Kokopelli and a French seed company (Baumaux) over the validity of existing EU seed marketing legislation was an opportunity for the ESA to – successfully – lobby for its understanding of the concept of biodiversity.
Initially sued in France by a private seed company for unfair competition under the EU's seed marketing rules, Kokopelli had complained to the ECJ that the compulsory standardized registration of seeds in order to sell them was, on top of being an unjustified restriction to free trade, a major threat to cultivated biodiversity. This position was supported by the ECJ's Advocate General in her conclusion which highlighted the stakes involved: “the present case demonstrates that the restriction of biodiversity in European agriculture results, at least in part, from rules of European Union (‘EU’) law”. She concluded by stating that “the prohibition against the sale of seed of varieties that are not demonstrably distinct, stable and sufficiently uniform and, where appropriate, of satisfactory value for cultivation and use, established in Article 3(1) of the Vegetable Seed Directive, is invalid as it breaches the principle of proportionality, the freedom to conduct a business within the meaning of Article 16 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, the free movement of goods established in Article 34 TFEU and the principle of equal treatment within the meaning of Article 20 of the Charter".
This analysis is echoed by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), who explained in 2012 that while the “development of the formal seed system based upon science and regulation has brought significant benefits to many farmers in the form of more productive varieties and better seed quality”, “however two important criticisms of this strategy have been raised: benefits have largely accrued to commercially oriented farmers in favourable production areas; and the system is leading to a dangerous increase in the erosion and vulnerability of crop genetic resources”.
The ECJ's conclusions prompted the ESA to express its concerns with a very detailed legal letter to the Court that strongly criticised the Advocate General's remarks for being “both factually and legally incorrect”. The ESA pointed out that the “identity and the quality of the seed and propagating material available in the EU were indeed the core objectives of the European legislator upon enactment of the contested Directives” and that the increasing number of varieties present in the Common catalogue showed that farmers today had the “widest possible choice”: therefore according to their definition cultivated biodiversity, far from diminishing, was actually increasing. This was remarkably misleading as the varieties being destroyed in Europe are precisely those that couldn't be registered in the official catalogue!
This market/catalogue-based idea of biodiversity is in opposition to farmers and growers’ rights to choose, exchange, select and multiply their seeds locally, as the varieties they produce are not generally suitable for the admission system and do not correspond to any IPR framework. The ESA's vision of agricultural biodiversity seems to be that cultivated varieties that are not registered simply do not exist. The problem is that not only is agricultural biodiversity not merely a genetic reservoir for the seed industry or a measurement of the size of a legal register: as Philippe Feldmann, Biodiversity Adviser at CIRAD (a French agronomy research centre) put it, biodiversity is nothing less than a “life insurance policy for humanity”.
Nevertheless the ECJ published a final ruling contradicting its Advocate-General's points (an unusual move) and supporting the ESA's arguments, stating that “the validity of the two directives is not affected by certain principles of EU law or by the EU's commitments arising from the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA)”. The Court's interpretation that “the primary objective of the rules relating to the acceptance of vegetable seed is to improve productivity in vegetable cultivation in the EU” probably explains this decision and indicates that the Court prioritised the agro-food industry's competitiveness over economic freedoms and – genuine – biodiversity.
ESA's vision of cultivated biodiversity was echoed by the cabinet of Borg, the new Health & Consumer Protection Commissioner who, writing last March to a coalition of seed savers, consumers, environmental and farmers' groups, argued along the lines of industry that “the available data do not support the claim that legislation on plant reproductive material is largely responsible for the loss of cultivated biodiversity. In the past 15 years the number of registered varieties has in fact increased significantly. For example, the number of vegetable varieties has increased from 10400 to 18400 between 1999 and 2012”.
“Innovation”: more of the same please!
The ESA frequently reinforces its demand for “an effective and affordable protection of its intellectual property” by emphasizing that the European seed industry spends on average 15% of its annual turnover on R&D. But the idea of innovation they promote merely consists of looking at improving the plant's genetics in isolation, rather than within an ecosystem or society, viewing the plant as an ever-improvable processing machine. This vision is the basis of an outdated, linear industrial agriculture model – primarily based on monoculture – that has done so much to increase food production at the expense of the environment and public health; that is to say, our future. This vision of agricultural and biodiversity is a mechanistic, 1950s vision whose limitations have now become obvious to most and there is nothing innovative about it.
The real challenge, as Dr. Annette Freibauer, a German climate and agriculture scientist who chaired a panel responsible for a report on the future of EU agriculture research, put it, is a paradigm shift “from technology to knowledge”, leaving a standardized, industrial approach behind, and moving towards a more ecosystem-specific approach. The International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), an intergovernmental effort involving 900 participants and 110 countries under the cosponsorship of the FAO, GEF, UNDP, UNEP, UNESCO, the World Bank and WHO, sometimes nicknamed the “IPCC of agriculture”, made exactly the same point when it explained that we had so far fed the world mainly by depleting natural capital, and needed to look beyond business as usual (i.e. a mere productivity approach) if we really wanted to address hunger and poverty. Wider issues such as food quality, sustainability, water use, land tenure and energy use were crucially important ingredients for any solution.
Unfortunately, however, the European Seeds Association is mainly concerned with selling more seed at increasing prices. It therefore pushes an idea of innovation largely based on the myth that only highly complex and cost-intensive technologies can create sustainability, employment and well-being. This idea of innovation, with its necessary counterpart of protection of intellectual property rights, is today undermining evolution of the seed sector toward open source/participatory in-situ selection methods, which are nevertheless demanded by increasingly numerous scientists, citizens and farmers.
Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs): one idea, but conflicting interests
However, while the ESA appears to present an united front for the idea that the seed sector needs to be based on IPRs and industry-friendly systems of certification, research, breeding and treatment, this does not mean that every member shares the same perspective on intellectual property. The European plant breeders' rights system has been traditionally based on UPOV, a sector-tailored IP regime that grants special rights and privileges to farmers and breeders. But the major biotech players such as Monsanto, Syngenta and Dupont that have entered the seed market since the mid-1970s in Europe come from the chemical sector, and have brought with them their own stricter IPR vision and interests, based on the patent system. Concretely, this history accounts for some differences of approach, meaning that the Dutch seed industry association Plantum for instance has published an official position against the societal risks created by patents on plants, saying they're “afraid that this will lead to a situation whereby only the plant breeding companies with the largest patent portfolio will be able to survive, which in turn will mean that, in the future, the decisions regarding which varieties are introduced onto the market will be in the hands of just a few companies on plant breeders rightsand then on the possibility to develop new varieties”. This contradicts the position of ESA's big biotech members such as Monsanto, pushing for the use of patents on seeds and more generally plants and plants' genetic sequences.
One euro, one vote?
This article has so far portrayed a seed industry united in its defence of the status quo. This is however not entirely fair. Some seed breeders are also realistic enough to see the shifts in ecosystems knowledge and societal demands back towards biodiversity and conservation varieties as an interesting commercial opportunity: after all, local quality seed production is also a delicate undertaking for which demand has always existed, and many of these companies have a unique and crucial know-how. This is for instance the case of the member organizations of the European Consortium for Organic Plant Breeding (ECO-PB), which provides varieties for organic agriculture bred by farmer breeders, not IP protected, and open-pollinated. So, why is the ESA taking such a conservative stance towards these developments?
Part of the answer might come from the ESA's governance and composition. The ESA is a lobby group which gathers various companies working on seed research, breeding, production and marketing: it is composed of 30 national seed associations and more than 60 company members, including big names such as Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer, BASF, Pioneer, and Limagrain. This lobby group says it is the “SINGLE voice of the European Seed Industry”, as its members are multinationals as well as small and medium sized enterprises involved in different sectors of the seed supply system. But as with many such umbrella organisations, the agenda and official positions of this lobby group tend to reflect primarily its wealthiest members' interests, those with the capacity to send lobbyists to Brussels – an observation confirmed by sources within ESA's membership. After all, it is not illogical for an industry association to have positions reflecting its various members' respective market weight. But another possible reason for its conservative position is that such a heterogeneous membership typically leads to defending the lowest common denominator, in this case the current legal framework.
This creates a peculiar geography of interests within this lobby group, where smaller and bigger, UPOV-based and patents-based members have to unite and present a consistent front for tactical reasons. The situation raises the issue of the actual capacity of the group to genuinely represent all its members' interests in a period of aggressive market concentration when the seed sector is being targeted by the largest agrobiotech companies for its strategic upstream position in the food chain and the so-called “bioeconomy”.
In any case, the ESA is entering into the upcoming debate on the future of the seed legislation in the European Parliament in a powerful position: the Commission proposal seems largely to reflect the lobby group's demands, and it has already secured a key victory in having a conservative MEP from the Agriculture Committee becoming the rapporteur on the dossier (the alternative was the Environment Committee). This committee has just demonstrated over the course of last year how close it was to the agro-food industry, destroying most meaningful elements of the Commission's greening proposals in the Common Agricultural Policy debate – perhaps the worst defeat of the European environmental movement in the past two decades.
This show of strength by the European seed lobby is a warning about what to expect. Rather than the 'simplification' of the rules over seed marketing, what we are seeing is the potential consolidation of yet more corporate control over the agricultural seed market – even as more and more people are beginning to grasp the crucial importance of agricultural biodiversity.
i. This “simplification” approach was also influenced by corporate lobbying including from the tobacco industry, see The Origin of EU Better Regulation – The Disturbing Truth, the SmokeFree Partnership, 2010, http://www.smokefreepartnership.eu/IMG/pdf/Report_version_27012010_-2.pdf
ii. Nowadays 64% of the global seed market is controlled by 10 companies only, with the first 4 companies alone controlling 58% of this market: Who will control the Green Economy, ETC Group, December 2011, http://www.etcgroup.org/sites/www.etcgroup.org/files/publication/pdf_file/ETC_wwctge_4web_Dec2011.pdf
1. Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and the Council on the production and making available on the market of plant reproductive material, COM(2013) 262 final, http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/health_consumer/pressroom/docs/proposal_aphp_en.pdf
2. The proposals for a regulation of the seed marketing was presented by the Commission on 6th May within a broader package of measures concerning also plant health, animal health and official controls: http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/health_consumer/pressroom/animal-plant-health_en...
3.Open letter on the conflicts of interest with the seed industry of a national expert seconded to DG SANCO, Corporate Europe Observatory, April 25th 2013, http://corporateeurope.org/open-letter-conflicts-interest-seed-industry-...
4.Commission staff working document, executive summary of the impact assessment accompanying the documentProposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and the Council on the production and making available on the market of plant reproductive material (plant reproductive material law), SWD(2013) 163 final,
5. “Farmer varieties are regularly multiplied, selectively bred and resown over a given area. This does not prevent them from travelling between different regions or countries. Farmer varieties are created in the field or garden from a base of existing varieties and in conditions adapted for production methods within farmers’ reach (thus excluding biotechnology). Varieties are reproduced through selection and adaptation to local evolution, new environments and methods of cultivation, often through simple mass selection. Plants are created sometimes through a series of manual cross-breedings, sometimes through selection of new characteristics which appear spontaneously in the population. This process of renewal is associated with “informal” seed exchanges, “local” or “traditional” social structures and systems of knowledge which can in fact be very modern (in agro-ecological terms, for instance)” (extract from De la Perrière R. A. B. & Kastler G., Seeds and Farmers’ Rights. How international regulations affect farmer seeds, RSP & BEDE 2011, France. P. 4)
6. “ESA considers the existing deregulations as sufficient and does not support establishment of further exceptions for ‘niche markets’ or ‘small producers’ as these would endanger the level playing field for breeders and would require costly official supervision to assure enforcement”(extract from ESA Position on the Reflection document on the problem definition and options for review of the EU legislation on the marketing of Seed and propagating material (S&PM), European Seed Association May 2010, p. 6, http://www.euroseeds.org/publications/position-papers/seed-marketing/esa...)
7. Court of Justice of the European Union, PRESS RELEASE No 97/12, Luxembourg, 12 July 2012, Judgment in Case C-59/11 - Association Kokopelli v Graines Baumaux SAS, http://curia.europa.eu/jcms/jcms/P_89305/
9. Opinion of Advocate General Kokott delivered on 19 January 2012, Case C 59/11 Association Kokopelli v Graines Baumaux SAS, 2012 http://curia.europa.eu/juris/document/document.jsf?text=&docid=118143&pa...
10. L. Lipper, C. Leigh Anderson and T. J. Dalton, Seed trade in rural markets, FAO and Earthscan, 2012, London, p. XIII.
11. Court of Justice of the European Union, Case C-59 / 11, Baumaux vs. Kokopelli, ESA European Seed Association Amicus Curiae statement, http://www.kokopelli-semences.fr/medias/Letter-ESA.pdf
12. Feldmann P., Biodiversity is a life insurance policy for humanity, CIRAD 2010, http://www.cirad.fr/en/news/all-news-items/articles/2010/questions-a/phi...
13. Letter from the Cabinet of Commissioner Tonio Borg to the Seed For All coalition, 14.03.2013.
14.Strengthening the competitiveness of Europe's seed sector, Esa's terms of reference for assessing the EU's seed legislation, European Seed Association, June 2007, http://www.euroseeds.org/publications/position-papers/seed-marketing/esa...
15.Agribusiness CAPturing EU research money? Industrial farming lobby fights shift to more sustainable agriculture, Corporate Europe Observatory, July 2012 http://corporateeurope.org/publications/agribusiness-capturing-eu-resear...
16.Plantum NL position on patent- and plant breeders’ rights, Plantum 2009, http://www.plantum.nl/Content/Files/file/Standpunten/Plantum%20Position%...
17. Letter by Monsanto to the Dutch government retrieved on http://vorige.nrc.nl/multimedia/archive/00242/Patentrecht_09-07-0_242612... on June 1st 2013
18. Despite the ESA’s aim to define them self as the single voice of the seed sector for sure there are different breeders in Europe who do not feel represented by the ESA and for that reason they have created other groups. This is the case with The European Consortium for Organic Plant Breeding (ECO-PB) founded in 2001. More info available online: http://www.eco-pb.org/
19. It’s important to report that EU is also the biggest seed exporter on a global scale and Netherlands and France are the two biggest exporting countries: Rapport annuel du GNIS 2011-2012, GNIS 2012,http://www.gnis.fr/files/rapport/RA%20GNIS%202011%202012.pdf
21. In the case of the vegetable seeds, Monsanto, with its acquisition of the Dutch company Seminis, controls in Europe around of the 24% of the market: Philip H. Howard, Visualizing Consolidation in the Global Seed Industry: 1996–2008, Sustainability journal,2009, 1, 1266-1287, Basel, p. 1276,http://www.mdpi.com/2071-1050/1/4/1266
22.Who will control the Green Economy, ETC Group, December 2011, http://www.etcgroup.org/sites/www.etcgroup.org/files/publication/pdf_file/ETC_wwctge_4web_Dec2011.pdf
WEEKLY WATCH number 61
Tuesday, 30 November 1999 00:00
FDA misses the boat on GM salmon
Saturday, 22 December 2012 23:03
1.FDA Misses the Boat in Signaling Approval of Genetically-Engineered Salmon
2.Alaska Delegation Fillets GM Salmon Report
3Senator Begich Alarmed by FDA Report on Frankenfish
TAKE ACTION: Tell FDA: Do Not Approve Genetically Engineered Salmon!
RESOURCES: Find out more: http://ge-fish.org/
1.FDA Misses the Boat in Signaling Approval of Genetically-Engineered Salmon
National Geographic, December 22 2012
Just as I was getting ready to head out for my Christmas break yesterday, my email Inbox signals that the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has released its recommendation to approve the first-ever, genetically-engineered animal for human consumption. For those who track the FDA, they know this isn't unusual – the agency often makes controversial rulings right before the holidays, when decision makers, media and the public are trying to have some well-deserved downtime with their families. Today was a kind of an unwelcome, fishy Christmas surprise, nestled among the garland and mistletoe.
Make no mistake: GE salmon is controversial. Since September 2010, when this issue exploded on the national stage, there has been unprecedented pushback on plans to grow an engineered variant of farmed Atlantic salmon for the U.S. market. Over 400,000 public comments in opposition have been sent to the FDA. Forty members of Congress called for a full Environmental Impact Statement before approval was granted. Ocean Conservancy and our colleagues similarly called for a complete analysis – that asks and answers the full range of tough questions – before the government allows private industry to head off down a path of genetically-engineering our seafood supply. But with today’s release, the agency basically blew all of us off.
One might think that FDA’s 158-page analysis contains all the information we need to feel comfortable about GE fish in our seafood supply. It doesn’t. As their 5-page summary states, the agency intentionally narrowed the scope of the analysis and thus completely missed the boat.
FDA makes clear that it is green lighting only one small facility in Canada and another in Panama to grow out this novel fish, which will then be sent to the U.S. for processing and sale. While Ocean Conservancy is deeply concerned that FDA has not undertaken a state-of-the-art risk assessment on this particular facility, it is the larger ramifications of this initial approval that have always been the more important issue. No viable business can be built on growing only a small number of fish in Panama. But if this initial approval paves the way for a massive expansion of GE fish farming, both here in the U.S. and around the world, then we have the makings of a real moneymaker – and potentially big environmental problems.
The global salmon farming industry is entirely based in the ocean, where floating cages fatten fish for market. The environmental impacts of net-pen salmon farming are well established, where escapes are commonplace and disease can be rampant when fish are overcrowded. While this initial application to grow GE salmon is for land-based facilities, the prospect of even larger profits from growing GE salmon in the ocean will certainly create pressure for approval in these more environmentally risky systems in the future.
The U.S. is poorly equipped to deal with this future scenario. In June 2011, NOAA Administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco released a National Aquaculture Policy to guide how marine aquaculture proceeds in our ocean waters. While the policy includes some strong environmental provisions, it does not categorically prohibit the growing of GE fish in the ocean. It should.
Given FDA’s action yesterday and NOAA’s failure to prohibit GE fish in its aquaculture policy, the time has come for Congress to intervene. Congress should work to pass Senator Mark Begich’s PEGASUS Act or similar legislation that requires FDA to take the environmental risks seriously before approving GE fish.
If Congress doesn’t act soon, the nation’s ocean may suffer from FDA’s efforts to chart a course for GE salmon.
2.Alaska Delegation Fillets GM Salmon Report
Channel 2 News, December 21 2012
ANCHORAGE, Alaska - Alaska’s congressional delegation was united in its opposition Friday to a draft report from the federal Food and Drug Administration saying that the nation’s health and environment wouldn’t be significantly harmed by genetically modified salmon.
The fish, introduced by Massachusetts biotechnology firm AquaBounty, are engineered to grow much larger than wild salmon -- but many Alaskans see them as a threat to both the market for and the existence of wild fish.
Sen. Mark Begich said Friday that the FDA’s draft environmental assessment was the first step toward the release of what he called “Frankenfish” into the environment, comparing such an act to the devastation wrought in the wild by invasive species.
“The notion that consuming Frankenfish is safe for the public and our oceans is a joke,” Begich said. “I will fight tooth and nail with my Alaska colleagues to make sure consumers have a clear choice when it comes to wild and sustainable (fish) versus lab-grown science projects.”
Sen. Lisa Murkowski shared Begich’s concerns, pointing out widespread opposition to the new fish.
“I am concerned with the recent news that FDA is moving forward with the approval of genetically modified fish,” Murkowski said in a Friday statement. “This is especially troubling as the agency is ignoring the opposition by salmon and fishing groups, as well as more than 300 environmental, consumer and health organizations.”
Rep. Don Young said he hoped to pass labeling requirements meant to keep the modified fish off the market.
“In the 113th Congress, I plan to reintroduce legislation that will at a bare minimum require genetically engineered salmon to be labeled to ensure that the public knows what they are purchasing at the grocery store and feeding to their families,” Young said.
Begich says the FDA is required by a 2007 reauthorization bill to submit a report on the potential impacts of genetically modified salmon -- a report it hasn’t yet delivered.
3.Begich Alarmed by FDA Report on Frankenfish
*Calls on Alaskans to Make Public Their Opposition to GE Salmon
Sen. Mark Begich, Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Oceans and Fisheries, blasted the announcement by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on its draft report finding that genetically engineered salmon holds “no significant impact” on the environment or public health.
“The notion that consuming Frankenfish is safe for the public and our oceans is a joke,” Begich said. “I will fight tooth and nail with my Alaska colleagues to make sure consumers have a clear choice when it comes to wild and sustainable versus lab-grown science projects.”
Sen. Begich has been protesting against the FDA’s march in favor of genetically modified salmon since he came to the Senate. Begich is calling on all Alaskans to participate in the ongoing public comment period and let the FDA know how they feel about Frankenfish. Public comment opens next Wednesday and Begich will publicize the mechanism for public comment when it becomes available.”
With loose findings that the modified fish are “unlikely” to harm the environment, the FDA draft Environmental Assessment (EA) is a step towards approving GE salmon for sale in the U.S. Alaska is the world’s largest producer of wild, sustainably-harvested salmon.
“People want to know they are eating natural, healthy, wild salmon,” Begich said. “Today’s assessment by the FDA imperils families and fisherman.”
Begich has been a vocal skeptic of introducing Frankenfish into the nation’s food supply, citing concerns about threats to the environment and public health. The damaging impacts of other invasive species released into the environment are well known. There are concerns that the consumer’s right to know what they’re buying and eating is being ignored.
“The FDA shouldn’t be making decisions on marine fisheries,” Begich said. “Today’s report is by no means the final say on this issue. I will continue to fight hard against these genetic mutations whose only purpose is purely for profit. Americans deserve to know the health and environmental superiority of wild Alaska seafood and not be fooled into thinking GE fish is somehow equivalent.”
Begich introduced the Prevention of Escapement of Genetically Altered Salmon in the United States, which would have prohibited the sale of Frankenfish unless the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued a finding that production of Frankenfish would have no significant impact or found to be consistent with the National Environmental Protection Act.
The 2007 FDA reauthorization act required a report to Congress on the potential impacts of genetically modified fish on the environment generally. They have yet to submit a written report to Congress.
“I am also concerned that the FDA is continuing to disregard the will of Congress,” Begich said. “It seems incredibly irresponsible to be moving forward on Frankenfish before they’ve taken a step back, consulted with experts on marine fisheries, and considered the potential impacts more broadly.”
Public opposition to the approval of Frankenfish is strong. Last year, 93 groups representing fishermen, consumers and others signed a letter in opposition to the Frankenfish proposal. Polling data suggests even broader rejection of GE salmon among potential consumers.
Nnimmo Bassey on the need for transformation
Sunday, 16 June 2013 21:22
"We need to overturn the system": In conversation with alt-Nobel winner Nnimmo Bassey
Rabble, June 15 2013
When we speak of Nigeria, and of the Nigerian people's inspired resistance to the devastation wrought by multinational oil companies such as Shell, the name of the late, and great, Ken Saro-Wiwa is inescapable.
But many others have continued to toil in the shadows over the years since Saro-Wiwa's death. Nnimmo Bassey is one such activist who is finally beginning to get the credit he deserves for a lifetime dedicated to healing our planet.
Bassey is a Nigerian activist, author and poet, who has devoted his life to fighting for a healthy environment. He is the Director of the newly formed Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), the coordinator of Oil Watch International and was, until last year, the Executive Director of Environmental Rights Action (ERA), a grassroots NGO he founded, and the Chairperson of Friends of the Earth - International (FOI-I).
Named a "hero of the environment" by Time magazine in 2009, Bassey was awarded the Right Livelihood award in 2010, colloquially referred to as the alternative Nobel Peace Prize, and in 2012 won the prestigious Rafto Human Rights Prize. He is the author of the newly released "To Cook a Continent: Destructive Extraction and the Climate Crisis in Africa" and has been touted as a candidate for the Nobel Peace prize itself.
Bassey is in Montreal this weekend to speak at the Festival of Solidarity, an annual event organized by Montreal-based NGO Alternatives, and rabble was able to sit down with him to discuss his three decades of climate justice activism, and his vision of an oil-free future.
rabble: For starters, why don't you tell me a little about how you got involved in this work. I know you've been involved with Environmental Rights Action for over two decades in Nigeria, and that you trained as an architect, so what got you involved, what made you shift from architecture to devoting your life to protecting the environment?
Bassey: Well, I still do some architecture. [laughs]
rabble: Activism doesn't pay the bills? Shocking.
Bassey: No, it doesn't pay the bills!
As I grew up, I saw only a very few years of democracy. From 1966 we had military rule in Nigeria, and thereafter on and off for thirty years the country was under the control of the military. In the late eighties there was a strong campaign against the military, a campaign for democracy in Nigeria. I was in the mainstream human rights movement, campaigning mostly against the military, and also against bad prison conditions, police brutality, the repression of local communities.
Around 1990 the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MSOP) became quite strong, led by the late Ken Saro-Wiwa. This movement produced the Ogoni bill of rights, made very strong ecological, and also political, demands on the state, and asked for a clean up of the environment. Now, while this was going on, it occurred to me and some of my colleagues that many of the human rights issues we were campaigning on actually had their roots in environmental abuses.
We campaigned for better prison conditions, better police detention conditions, but we had to ask the question, why are people being detained in the first place? And what we discovered was that people were being criminalized because they demanded environmental justice, because they demanded economic benefits from resource extraction in their communities. People were being criminalized just because they asked for dialogue, with a corporation like Shell or with the government.
The Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), which is my main focus now, is an ecological think tank whose major objective is to overturn the current thought pattern which makes people in Nigeria, in Africa especially, accept the neo-liberal logic as the only way to do things. This idea that only the private sector can do anything right. Well the people in the private sector are no different from the people in the public sector, and the private sector depends heavily on the public sector to be able to do things.
With this new organization we are focusing on two broad themes: fossil fuels, which includes alternative energy, climate change, and climate justice, and hunger politics.
We are looking at why people are hungry. If you've been paying attention to what the G8 are doing, they're creating a new alliance for nutrition in Africa. We see that as a way of opening up the continent to big seed companies like Monsanto, who will introduce GMO seeds in the name of nutrition. They've been engineering some crops which are very popular in Africa, primarily to increase the amount of Vitamin A. If you need Vitamin A you can get it very easily, from foods and other things, there is no need to go to the extent of engineering crops just to enhance the level of vitamin A in them. Moreover, people don't eat these crops in quantities that would provide a sufficient amount of Vitamin A, which is the excuse the companies are giving us about why these GMO crops are necessary.
So we ask, why are people hungry? Not just in Africa, but globally. I think this is a very pertinent question.
Along with these two broad themes we have what we call the Sustainability Academy, or HOME school. It will have two sessions a year, and each session will have at least one facilitator, that we call an instigator, there to instigate positive change. So we will get someone with a strong point of view, who is knowledgeable about a particular topic, and get them to speak on that topic to policy makers, to undergraduates and scholars and to high school students and community members. All at different meetings, but the same topic, the same presentation, on different levels. We are trying to create a common understanding on certain issues as an organizing strategy.
rabble: You said when you were younger you were working on human rights and then got drawn to the environment because you were looking for the root causes of these human rights abuses. Now, with the Health of Mother Earth Foundation, it sounds like a similar process of trying to look at the root causes of why we have these issues – why is there hunger? Why are there these environmental problems? Do you believe the current system can be reformed, or do you think we need to change the system in order to save the planet?
Bassey: Absolutely. We need to overturn the system. Most policy-makers believe in transactions. We don’t need transactions. What we need is transformation. We need radical change. The kind of change we need is not the one where you look and say, well, it’s slightly transformed from what it was. We need total change, because if you look at the world today, the petroleum civilization, which has driven industrialisation over the past 200 years or so, is totally unsustainable. We know that the resource we are using is non-renewable. We know it’s harming the planet. The World Bank – if you’re looking for a conservative organisation, there’s nothing more conservative than them – they said just before the last meeting in Doha that at least 80 per cent of known fossil fuel reserves must be left untouched if we’re going to avoid runway global warming. If we’re going to have a reasonable chance of survival as a species. And yet the world knows that this is causing global warming, and they know that this resource is depleting, but they’re saying "wait! we can get more!" We can get more from the Tar Sands, more from the deep sea, more from all kinds of things. But that is not the issue. The issue is not whether you can get more. The issue is the destruction of the planet. They’re destroying life. So we need a situation where people can think more clearly than they do right now – not just about profit. We need to restructure the economic paradigm. We cannot allow the world to be run on speculation and financialization of everything. It’s serious work.
rabble: But then the question becomes, how do we bring about that change?
Bassey: It’s going to be a political decision, and if you work in the environmental justice movement, you don’t just stand alone as an environmental activist. You have to work with social movements, work with political movements, work with labour, work with everybody, because the thing is…we simply have to be able to get into the driver's seat of making decisions. We need more people getting active in decision-making, understanding the issues and taking an active role. That is why in the HOME school thing, where I’m speaking with policy makers, for example, the first HOME school is going to be on climate change. We’re having that in August. And the first session will be with legislators and Nigerian negotiators and Ministry of Environment people because they need to be reminded that the way the negotiations have been undertaken is not going to solve the problem. It may bring some commerce or revenue from projects – maybe adaptation and mitigation measures and things like that, but that is just immediate and temporary. And so we want to get them to begin to look at the fundamental issues and see how narrow the negotiations have been, and to really understand why Copenhagen was such a disaster – Cancun, Durban, Doha – and how Poland will be a big disaster this year. We need to change the way decisions are being made.
rabble: And I guess change the form of democracy too, because you’re quite a vocal critic of the democratically elected government in Nigeria as well, right?
Bassey: That’s a big issue really, because globally, if you look at the governments we have around the world, even the biggest or most applauded democratic settings, there’s very little democracy. Many of the governments are put there by big corporations who pay for their elections and who lobby them, and they have to do the bidding of those corporations. They’re not really looking at what is in the best interest of the people, only what will support business. If you look at a place like Nigeria, you find government officials going on the economic road-show. They’re looking for direct foreign investment. This is also driving land-grabbing, but they don’t call it land-grabbing. They say it’s foreign direct investment! They don’t care what happens in the future. So all this – there are no easy answers, but the whole so-called democratic setting needs to be critically reviewed. We need people to regain their sovereignty. We need to decide what we allow, and what we don’t allow – what people want, and what they don’t want. People know what they want, but right now, we’re not able to enforce what we want and what we don’t want, so we need a situation where true democratic space is created in the world and there’s bottom-up leadership, not top-down leadership. The fact that we elect a man, or woman, does not mean we surrender our sovereignty to him or her.
rabble: I was wondering if you could tell me more about what’s happening in Nigeria in terms of rebels standing up to the government or oil companies. We hear a lot about religious conflicts but not much about resistance to the oil companies...
Bassey: There’s always been conflict in the middle belt – the middle portion of Nigeria – and it’s usually characterised as a religious conflict. But I think it’s actually a climate conflict, because you have pastoralists who are displaced by desertification, who can’t raise their cattle where they used to live before. They have to migrate southward, and then they meet farmers who need their land to cultivate crops, and then this creates conflict between the pastoralists and the farmers. It’s not because they are Muslims and Christians. It’s simply about climate. This is a climate conflict, but as long as it’s characterised as a religious conflict, then nobody is going to find a solution.
rabble: So tell me about what brings you to Canada, and your thoughts on our role in fighting climate change.
Bassey: I’m very excited about coming here; the environmental policies in Canada are a big sore on the conscience of the world, a huge wound on the conscience of the world. The government insists on going down the wrong path, developing resources that destroy the environment and poison the water. Generally, they don’t care about the effects on human health, but just think about economic gains.
I’m here to show that this logic of expansion and economic growth at any cost which has taken root here is very dangerous. In Canada your government has said they will not make any serious commitments to fight global warming. They pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol, even while the Kyoto Protocol was on life support. In negotiations, Canada led the fight against binding commitments to emission reduction. I’m also here to express real solidarity with people who are impacted by these developments, and who are campaigning against this destructive path.
To stand together is the beauty of our campaigns; that we can lend support to each other, that we can stand together and also generate our own stories to let the whole world know the concerns of the people and that this degradation is going on. Leading humanity to destruction doesn’t make sense, and it must not continue. It is also for governments and those pushing this agenda to know they are doing this against the wishes of the people, and what they are doing is wrong. No matter what profit they’re making or the economic gain, it doesn’t make sense at all if what you’re doing is breaking the cycles of nature. The way it’s going there is no good way to do it, this environment can never be restored. It will take thousands of years to get back to normal shape.
This is why every location where this destruction is going on, is a crime scene - simply put.
rabble: As someone who has been a prominent environmental activist in Africa for many decades, you obviously know that in 2006 the Harper government was elected here in Canada. For us a great deal changed as a result of his election, is that a change that you noticed in Canada's behaviour before and after Stephen Harper?
Bassey: Whatever happens in the rich countries is known across the world, and patterns of action and inaction are very well documented and well known. Sometimes we get surprised, other times we know this is what to expect. Yes, obviously we’ve seen the disturbing trend, but we are not surprised the government is going the way it is going. We are never really shocked that there doesn’t seem to be a realization that we have only one planet. We have natural cycles we have to maintain, runaway global warming is not going to be good for anybody. No country is strong enough to withstand natural disasters; the worst is that these are no longer even natural disasters because these are man made.
We’re the ones breaking the cycle; we’re the ones changing the patterns of the weather. Again you know, this logic that whatever we need we can obtain from nature without any price is a logic that needs to be changed. I hear frequently “global warming is good, it will melt the Arctic ice and then we can reach the resources there”. It’s just plain stupid, but this is what corporations are saying. We’re going to have shorter navigation, we can get to Russia from here without going around the world to get minerals and crude oil. Everyone is trying to see what continental shelf moves closer to the north pole, so they can plant their own flags there. This is why we have to intensify the resistance and globalize the resistance, build linkages across the world on these issues so that when politicians and transnational corporations insist on going down the wrong path we can hold them accountable. Ecocide must be recognized as a crime, and that recognition is being pushed through the United Nations right now.
But nations can begin, citizens can begin. There should be laws in each country that recognize ecocide for what it is; crimes against humanity, crimes against mother earth, crimes against the future, crimes against our children. Corporations should not be allowed to hide behind the inaction of governments and commit this ecocide. The directors of these companies should be held to account for the massive degradation that is going on.
rabble: What would you like to see people here in Canada do in terms of concrete action to try and change things for the better?
Bassey: Look at what Idle No More did, just simple actions, but they captured everybody’s imagination. We need things likes this, we need more people to say no to the destruction. To me saying no is an alternative because if you say you don’t want something, that thing must stop, and that thing stopping is an option already. If all of us stop doing the wrong thing, we are going to find a thousand right ways to do things differently.
There are particularities in certain nations, and we will find out what is the best way to do certain things. But the things that are bad are universally bad. Destruction and dependence on fossil fuel is not good anywhere in the world. Quebec now is moving more into exploiting fragile ecosystems and places that are restricted; more people should come out and say no we don’t want this anymore. We don’t want this traditional economic growth; we don’t want to live today and not tomorrow. We have to care about what’s going to happen to our children, the planet and us. Those who have investments in this sector should pull out those shares and divest.
We have to reduce consumption. We have to live within our means. Things can get exhausted, that’s what it means to live within ones means. Right now what we're doing with this kind of environmental destruction is like saying well I don’t have money, but I’ll continue living on credit. It’s not even as good as that because we know that this is bad. That is what’s happening the way nature is being degraded and destroyed. Of course ultimately, once every four years we should be careful who we vote in. We have to be careful about who we vote in and who should be trusted in these positions.
Thanks to colleagues in thought crime Robin Sas and Matthew Brett for their help transcribing this interview.
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