Planet Diversity World Congress on the Future of Food and Agriculture

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07.12.2018 |

Gene drive symposium

Interdisciplinary symposium on gene drives with a focus on their scientific, ethical, socio-economic and regulatory aspects

FRIDAY 24 MAY 2019

9:00―17:00 Eventforum Bern Fabrikstrasse 12

3012 Bern, Switzerland

The idea of circumventing the rules of inheritance in order to quickly spread and maintain desired traits through an entire population or species, has long existed. With new genetic engineering techniques for genome editing, such as CRISPR-Cas9, it may soon be possible to turn this idea into reality. It has been claimed that gene drive technology may be used to combat infectious diseases such as malaria, dengue or zika, as well as to reduce the threat posed by agricultural pests and ecologically harmful invasive species. However, a crucial difference with conventional gene technology is that gene drives intentionally target wild populations in order to permanently alter them.

Gene drives are a technology that raises fundamental ecological, social, ethical, and legal questions:

* Which path do we want to take as a society?

* Is it a good idea to seek to irreversibly alter ecosystems in the age of mass extinctions?

* Are there dispensable species?

* Are the promised goals achievable?

* Who gets to decide?

* What environmental implications could we face if we were to eliminate populations or species using gene drives?

* What are the consequences of making such attempts if they are unsuccessful?

* Who is responsible when things go wrong with a technology that potentially crosses borders?

* Are the appropriate regulations in place?

A working group of international scientists and philosophers has extensively considered these questions. The outcome of this process will be presented for discussion at the Gene Drive Symposium.

SPEAKERS

Lim Li Ching, Third World Network

Christopher Preston, University of Montana

Ricarda Steinbrecher, Federation of German Scientists (VDW)

Helen Wallace, GeneWatch UK

PANEL DISCUSSION

Kevin Esvelt, MIT Media Lab

Ignacio Chapela, University of California, Berkeley

PANEL MODERATION

Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker, Honorary president, Club of Rome

More information at: https://genedrives.ch

European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility

07.12.2018 |

Mark Lynas slammed for exploiting African farmers’ images to promote GMOs

African farmers are demanding that Lynas cease using their images in his GMO promotionals; Lynas’s mischief-making may have triggered Tanzania’s ending of GMO field trials. Report: Claire Robinson, GMWatch and Mariam Mayet, African Centre for Biodiversity

The British pro-GMO activist Mark Lynas has angered African farmers over his mis-use of their images on the internet to promote his pro-GMO agenda. The farmers have demanded that Lynas remove their images and names from all online platforms.

These developments are documented in a new report by Dr Eugenio Tisselli, an IT specialist, and his co-author, biosafety scientist and agroecologist, Dr Angelika Hilbeck of ETH Zurich, Switzerland. Since 2011, Drs Tisselli and Hilbeck have coordinated a project, “Sauti ya wakulima” (“The voice of the farmers”), aimed at supporting Tanzanian farmers create a collaborative network of shared knowledge.

Drs Tisselli and Hilbeck felt compelled to speak out when they discovered that some Tanzanian farmers, whom they know personally, were used in Lynas’s public relations campaign to promote GM crops in Tanzania. Drs Tisselli and Hilbeck emphasized that the farmers know nothing of the GMO “debate” or Lynas’s role in it. They are only concerned that their voices were used without their knowledge or consent in a context they do not understand and do not want to be a part of.

29.11.2018 |

United Nations Hits the Brakes on Gene Drives

Landmark Convention on Biological Diversity decision calls on governments to conduct strict risk assessments and seek indigenous and local peoples’ consent ahead of potential release of ‘exterminator’ technology.

29 November 2018, Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt: Today, the UN has made a significant global decision on how to govern a high-risk, new genetic engineering technology – gene drives.

‘This important decision puts controls on gene drives using simple common sense principles: Don’t mess with someone else’s environment, territories and rights without their consent,’ explains Jim Thomas, Co-Executive Director of the ETC Group. ‘Gene drives are currently being pursued by powerful military and agribusiness interests and a few wealthy individuals. This UN decision puts the power back in the hands of local communities, in particular Indigenous Peoples, to step on the brakes on this exterminator technology’.

The Convention on Biological Diversity decision also requires that, before an environmental gene drive release, a thorough risk assessment is carried out. With most countries lacking a regulatory system for the technology, it requires that new safety measures are put in place to prevent potential adverse effects. The decision acknowledges that more studies and research on impacts of gene drives are needed to develop guidelines to assess gene drive organisms before they are considered for release.

29.11.2018 |

Monsanto Lost Its Most Important Case Yet. Soon More Victims Will Get Their Day in Court

Dewayne Johnson never wanted to be a celebrity acting out his life on an international stage. He’d much rather be a healthy man, going to work, taking care of his family, making a modest-but-steady living.

In a recent interview with Time magazine, the former school groundskeeper said:

“I’ve never really been a fan of attention or fanfare. And now it seems like that’s taken over my life. I get requests for media interviews from all over the world, and people ask me to come to their events and speak, and I’ve had people telling me they want to buy my 'life rights' to try to get movie deals . . . It’s crazy.”

Crazy, maybe. But Johnson, who recently won a $289-million judgment (later reduced to $78 million) against Monsanto (now Bayer) for manufacturing a product he says (and the jury agreed) caused his terminal cancer—and for hiding evidence of that product’s lethal toxicity—has perhaps done more than any one single person to shine a spotlight on how bad Roundup weedkiller is. And how deceitful Monsanto is.

There are more than 8,000 claims pending against Monsanto in state courts, about 620 awaiting trial in federal court, as more victims come forward to tell their stories of how they believed Monsanto’s public claims of safety, only to become deathly ill from exposure to Roundup.

Next up is the case of Edward Hardeman, whose trial is set to begin on February, 25, 2019, in a San Francisco federal court. Reuters reports that Hardeman’s case was selected as “a so-called bellwether, or test trial, frequently used in U.S. product liability mass litigation to help both sides gauge the range of damages and define settlement options.”

Bayer CEO Werner Baumann says the lawsuits are just "nuisances." Maybe. But the Germany-based chemical giant’s shareholders aren’t happy about them. Feeling the pressure, Baumann recently announced the company will sell a number of businesses and cut 12,000 jobs, after Bayer's stock dropped 35 percent.

29.11.2018 |

Father of Green Revolution in India slams GM crops as unsustainable and unsafe

Calls for ban on herbicide-tolerant and Bt insecticidal crops

The plant geneticist and World Food Prize winner M.S. Swaminathan is known as the "father of the Green Revolution in India", since he helped introduce into the country a new US-influenced agricultural movement focusing on modern high-yield varieties of wheat and rice – and their accompanying pesticides and fertilizers.

Since 1988 he has headed his own M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) in Chennai, India. In the early 2000s the Foundation saw GM crops, and biotechnology in general, not only as having immense potential but as "the only way we can face the challenges of the future". Given Dr Swaminathan's role in the first Green Revolution in India, his promotion of GM crops was inevitably promoted as an ushering-in of a second Green Revolution.

(.....)

But Swaminathan's promotion of GM crops has also been increasingly marked at times by important caveats, reflecting a concern for sustainability, biosafety, and the impact of agricultural innovations on the rural poor. And those concerns would seem to underpin a remarkable newly published peer-reviewed paper[1] that he co-authored with his colleague P.C. Kesavan, in which he condemns GM crops as unsustainable and says they should be banned in India. He is also severely critical of the performance of India's regulators.

The uncompromising nature of his new publication marks his clearest departure yet from his previous broad endorsement of GM crops, and looks set to place him in the substantial line of scientific former-GMO-supporters-turned-critics, such as Dr Caius Rommens, Dr Belinda Martineau, and Dr Arpad Pusztai.

"No doubt" that GM Bt cotton has failed

On GM Bt insecticidal cotton in India, Drs Swaminathan and Kesavan write:

"There is no doubt that GE Bt-cotton has failed in India: it has failed as a sustainable agriculture technology and has therefore also failed to provide livelihood security of cotton farmers who are mainly resource-poor, small and marginal farmers.

27.11.2018 |

S&Ds back enhanced EU risk assessment to avoid harmful pesticides in the food chain

Socialists and Democrats have been at the forefront in the fight against harmful pesticides, such as those containing glyphosate, and have pushed for a strict and independent European system to exclude any dangerous substance from the food chain.

That is why today the S&Ds in the environment and health committee backed a report which aims to cover the whole agri-food chain, to ensure the independence of the authorisation process as well as public availability of studies submitted by the industry and used by the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) in the risk assessment.

S&D spokesperson on environment and health, Miriam Dalli, said:

“Our group took very seriously citizens’ concerns on harmful substances. We supported the Citizens’ Initiative on Glyphosate and we want to have a better system to evaluate pesticides than the one in place now.

"The risk assessment process must be more transparent, and we demand additional guarantees of reliability, objectivity and independence of the studies used by EFSA.

“All studies and supporting information submitted to EFSA for risk assessments should be made public and easily accessible to the public on the EFSA website."

26.11.2018 |

KAP resolution says keep glyphosate-tolerant wheat out

Monsanto shelved Roundup Ready wheat in 2004 but its spectre still haunts some Manitoba farmers.

Delegates attending the Keystone Agriculture Producers’ (KAP) advisory council meeting here Nov. 12 passed a resolution for KAP to lobby the federal government to “disallow the testing, funding, importation and introduction of glyphosate-tolerant wheat in Canada.”

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s (CFIA) June announcement that a few wheat plants genetically modified (GM) to tolerate glyphosate were discovered in a ditch in Alberta prompted the resolution from KAP’s District 3, Starbuck farmer Doug Livingston explained when moving the resolution.

25.11.2018 |

GM mosquito trial sparks ‘Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ lab fears

Burkino Faso malaria test raises stakes at UN biodiversity conference

Thousands of genetically modified mosquitoes are to be released in Burkina Faso as a step towards the world’s first field test of “gene-drive” technology.

The trial, which has been funded by organisations linked to the Gates Foundation, Facebook, and – indirectly – the Pentagon, is part of a project to eradicate malaria, but it has prompted concerns among local civil society organisations, who say their country is being set up as a laboratory for “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” technology before the risks are fully understood.

The planned test, which will be the first release of a genetically modified animal in Africa, has also raised the stakes at the two-week UN biodiversity conference, where representatives are debating whether to establish a moratorium on gene drives or to allow continued research under strict guidelines.

23.11.2018 |

Tanzania orders destruction of Monsanto/Gates’ GM trials due to illegal use for pro-GM propaganda

Dar es Salaam 23 November 2018

Tanzanian civil society organisations (CSOs) welcome the decision of the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, Mathew Mtigumwe, to bring an immediate stop to all ongoing GM field trials taking place in the country. These are under the auspices of the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) project which includes Monsanto, the Gates Foundation and national research centres. This decision has since been verified by the newly appointed Minister of Agriculture, Japheth Hasunga in latest media reports.

In a report issued by the Ministry, the Permanent Secretary ordered, with immediate effect, the cessation of all field trial operations and the destruction of all “the remnants” of the trials at the Makutupora Centre in Dodoma, where trials were taking place. This decision has come after the Tanzania Agriculture Research Institute (TARI) released the results of the trials without the necessary authorisation, when it invited certain members of the public, including the well-known pro GM lobbyist, Mark Lynas, to witness how ‘well’ the GM crops were performing. TARI also hosted a recent excursion to the trial site by the Parliamentary Committee on Food and Agriculture.

07.11.2018 |

Baysanto “patent on severed broccoli” revoked

Success for coalition against patents on seeds

7.11.2018 / The European Patent Office (EPO) has revoked patent EP1597965 covering traditionally bred broccoli. The plants are supposed to grow a little bit higher so that they can be harvested more easily. The patent was granted in 2013 to Monsanto, which has meanwhile been bought up by Bayer. The revocation follows an opposition filed in 2014 by a broad coalition of organizations.

The decision of the EPO is based upon new rules for the examination of patents adopted in 2017. Accordingly, patents on plants and animals can no longer be granted if they are derived from conventional breeding using methods like crossing and selection. It is the first time that these new rules have resulted in the revocation of a patent. However, there is still some legal uncertainty: just recently, in October 2018, the EPO rejected oppositions against patents held by the Carlsberg & Heineken breweries on conventionally bred barley.

“This is an important success for the broad coalition of civil society organizations against patents on plants and animals. Without our activities, the EPO rules would not have been changed and the patent would still be valid. The giant corporations, such as Bayer, Syngenta and BASF, have failed in their attempt to completely monopolize conventional breeding through using patents,” says Christoph Then for No Patents on Seeds!. “But there are still huge legal loopholes as shown in the case of conventionally bred barley. Political decision makers now have to take further action.”

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