ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

2 November 2001


LONDON: March for Trade Justice. Saturday 3rd November, starting from Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park, outside the Imperial War Museum, Lambeth Road, London SE1 at 12.30pm, the Parade will go to Trafalgar Square (speakers at 3.30pm).

This week's SchNEWS:
ISSUE 329, FRIDAY 2 November, 2001

Lunch Outs

"Genetically diverse food resources underpin world food security. It is farmers who have developed these resources and their rights are being destroyed." - Patrick Mulvany, Intermediate Technology Development Group.

Next week was meant to be the beginning of the UN World Food Summit in Rome, where world leaders were due to meet to make major decisions to help reduce world hunger. But after the hijack attacks in the US the full conference was postponed probably until June next year, instead a small scale annual meeting is still taking place although no decisions will be finalised. The World Trade Organisation (WTO) meeting in Qatar, however, is still going ahead, which goes to show that free trade liberalisation (giving free reign to multinational companies to steamroller over human rights and the environment) is more important to our world leaders than fighting starvation and securing global food security.

Five years ago at the first world food conference agreements were made to try and reduce world hunger. One of the most important moves was the agreement to introduce a new legally binding convention to ensure that living things couldn't be patented - called the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (PGRFA), that would directly oppose the WTO's TRIPs (Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights, where companies can 'own' plant varieties they have 'developed').

The PGRFA aims to ensure the conservation, sustainable use and 'free flow' of the genetic resources of food crops, and also tries to ensure that if corporations use a food crop, farmers who've helped to develop it receive a fair share of the benefits. It could also ensure that genetic information from crops were public property stored in public gene banks, and could limit the increasing use of intellectual property rights where organisations can claim ownership over seeds and genes. The agreement is well overdue, over the past century over 90 percent of world crop varieties have been lost from farmers' fields.

Thai'd Up

"...its [Jasmine rice] acquisition by the US is an example of Biopiracy and this is why the Treaty is needed" - Pinit Korsieporn, Thai Director of Foreign Agricultural Relations.

Thailand is one of the biggest rice producers in the world, producing Jasmine rice, which is made up of several of the most desired varieties in the world. This unique group of rice varieties has been grown and developed by Thai farmers for thousands of years with seeds being handed down over generations and shared. To the Thai people the concept of anyone 'owning' this rice is simply absurd. However this is about to happen as a University of Florida professor, with full backing of the US Government, is working on genetically manipulating the rice to enable it to grow in the US climate. Then he plans taking out a patent on it and selling it to the US public as 'Jasmine' rice, thus undermining the export of Thai Jasmine rice and the livelihood of thousands of Thai farmers. About one third of Thai Jasmine rice produced every year is exported to the US.

Such biopiracy shows the urgent need for protection for the world's small farmers. But over the 5 years since they were first discussed the PGRFA regulations have been watered down to the point that if they're ever agreed they'll be pretty much irrelevant. And there's no prizes for guessing whose been putting up the most opposition, er, yes, the US and the European Union with a hefty bit of shoving from the biotech companies. As the treaty now stands, although there will be no right to patent seeds, genes from seeds will be allowed to be patented. Because of this most countries are refusing to sign up seeds into the treaty, which increases its ineffectiveness further. But even if the treaty does live up to its original aims the one big question is whether the WTO bully boys will allow it to override their unfair-trade rules or even have an equal footing. Either way the chances are looking slim for the world's farmers who may soon be forced to wave goodbye to the free exchange of seeds and their rights to profit from seeds they've developed over thousands of years of innovation.

So after years of negotiations, those in power look like they will be offering the world an empty bowl. As Pat Mooney from RAFI/ETC Group remarked recently, "By participating, both NGO's and grassroots groups, lend legitimacy to these international meetings, but if they continue to refuse to listen to them, and translate that into action for good, then it's time to stop taking part."

For the latest information check out and

* March for Trade Justice. Saturday 3rd November, starting from Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park, outside the Imperial War Museum, Lambeth Road, London SE1 at 12.30pm, the Parade will go to Trafalgar Square (speakers at 3.30pm).

Bombed Out

At the same time as randomly dropping food parcels from their planes, America have also been dropping cluster bombs. Cluster bombs are extremely nasty weapons that are used instead of landmines to hit moving targets, when released the bombs separate into smaller bomblets, up to 5 percent of these remain unexploded. Just like landmines they pose a great threat to innocent civilians. By some bizarre coincidence both the food parcels and the cluster bombs are yellow. When this was discovered the US was forced to broadcast a radio message warning the people of Afghanistan not to touch any yellow coloured objects they find particularly in areas where bombs have been dropped. Well they can say goodbye to their monthly meal then!

* 815 million people in the world regularly go hungry.
* 62 million people face food emergencies caused by natural and man-made disasters.
* One fifth of the world's children do not eat enough calories or protein.
* 18 million people in East Africa still rely on food assistance.
* Britain chucks out £500 million of safe and edible food each year.
* 1.4 billion people around the world are believed to depend on saving their own seeds for their food security

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