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Agri/Chemical Industry Continues to Implode Environment

(Keep an eye on this spot, and the
future of food.)

According to The St. Louis Post Dispatch newspaper (May 17 '03, page 2), "About 54 percent of the nation's farm acres fall within a 500-mile radius of St. Louis."

Two major agricultural meetings were held recently in St. Louis -- one, billed The World Agricultural Forum"; the other, more colorfully (unfortunately), "Biodevastation 7". Who do you suppose got furiously denounced as opposed to science and technology?

Someone who attended the latter meeting (a David Kennell of University City, MO) objected in print to being viewed as a Luddite for opposing unquestioned acceptance of "biotech" at the international Agricultural Forum. Give the Post Dispatch credit for publishing his letter opposite the editorial page, May 31'03.

The gist of it was as follows:

Having attended all sessions of the opposition conference, half of which were legitimate scientific papers, their following concerns were not publicly addressed:

" The dangers of foreign genes to other plants.
Genome shuffling.
Loss of biodiversity when farmers replace diverse crops with a genetically modified monoculture.
Forcing farmers to buy genetically modified seeds every year, replacing the centuries-old selection of fittest seeds.
Man-made resistant 'superweed' crops contaminating and crowding out other crops.
Billions of dollars for super-secret biowarfare research."

All that appeared to be worthy of coverage by the media was overcoming trade barriers, and the loudly proclaimed justification for promoting genetically modified crops -- " to feed the hungry".

"According to the U. N. World Food Program, the world currently produces excess food to feed all people." And, as many other scientists have pointed out, there are legitimate concerns about the safety of new biotechnology (cascade effects on the environment and humans) that are being hastily brushed aside or muted.

Keep those issues (and others) in the front of your mind as we try to develop a promising new technology to everyone's advantage. Giant, and still more giant computers monopolized the computer industry with dazzling brilliance until the concept of multiple small work stations beat the tar out of them. Are we headed that way with larger and larger agricultural/chemical corporations gobbling up small and medium sized farms and voices? There is food enough in the world today to feed everybody, blocked "only" by politics and lack of infrastructure and will. (America produces so much corn already we feed it to automobiles rather than people - who are hungry but poor.)

Perhaps it's silly to ask, but since it's food, at what point should large farming/chemical Corporations in this country become regulated public utilities, like water?

Update: Coalition tentatively formed to help develop new biotechnology to everyone's advantage

The New York Times, National, July 11, 2003, Page A13 - "Universities to share patented work on crops" by Andrew Pollack.

"Saying the development of crops that could feed millions of people is being choked off by biotechnology patents held by large corporations, several leading universities are joining to share information on their patented technologies and make them more widely available."

"The initiative, which the universities are announcing today in an article in the journal Science, is meant to help apply biotechnology to the creation of improved crops, especially in developing countries."

"Supporters of the effort say the free exchange of seeds and technology that once added crop breeding is impeded by patents held not only by companies but also by universities."

"'With the advent of intellectual property in plant technology over the last 20 years or so, we've faced increasing restrictions,' said Ronnie Coffman, chairman of the plant breeding department at Cornell University, a member of the initiative."

"Organizers say big biotechnology companies are not interested in developing major crops fot the developing world or even in smaller crops in the United States. And while they sometimes license their technologies to others for such uses, there can be much red tape involved...."

"Besides Cornell, the iniative's participants include the University of California, the University of Florida, Michigan State, North Carolina State, Ohio State, Rutgers and the University of Wisconsin. The effort is supported by the Rockefeller Foundation and the McKnight Foundation and includes the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis and the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research in Ithaca, N.Y."

"The universities say they will not let one another or other groups use their patented technologies broadly, but they might preserve rights to the technologies for minor crops or humanitarian purposes, instead of giving total control to a single company."

"'What they are more or less agreeing to do is not make everything freely available but to do smarter licensing," said Gary Toenniessen, director for food security at the Rockefeller Foundation...."

"The members of the initiative, known as Pipra for the Public-Sector Intellectual Property Resource for Agriculture, will also put information about their patents into a database to provide a clearinghouse for licensing such technology..."

"Corporations seeking to generate support for biotechnology have become more willing to provide royalty-free licenses to their patents for humanitarian purposes. The major companies agreed to cooperate with the African Agricultural Technology Foundation, formed this year by the Rockefeller Foundation to speed the transfer of biotechnology to Africa."

"Dr. Toennlessen said the foundation had hoped the companies and universities would cooperate in a single effort. But the companies were reluctant to surrender all control of their technologies. They were willing, he said, to provide technology to Africa but not to other areas like Asia that may have many hungry people but also bigger potential markets."

- Wild Birds for the 21st Century

July 2003

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