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By Elva Mendoza
The possible authorization of the Mexican government to the five requests made by Monsanto and Pioneer Hi-Bred, through their subsidiary PHI México, for the commercial scale planting of genetically modified corn on at least 1 million 400 thousand hectares in Sinaloa and Tamaulipas has put the entire world on edge, says Pat Mooney, executive director of the Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration, also known as Grupo ETC.
The 1985 Alternative Nobel Prize indicates that this is the first time that one of the most important food crops in the world is threatened at its center of origin and diversification. "If pollution and destruction occur in Mexico, we will see the destruction of rice in Asia, wheat in the Middle East and all the major food crops in the world."
In an interview with Counter line, Mooney warns that corn, the main crop in Mexico, Central American countries and humanity, intends to be used by transnational corporations as a tool for political and economic control: “An attempt to control food sovereignty and agriculture in all the world".
According to Mooney, the importance of the control of transnationals over corn can be expressed in one figure: 45 percent of the resources they spend on research on seeds are allocated only to corn.
The also specialist in agriculture, biotechnology, biodiversity and nanotechnology highlights that despite the fact that the peasants and peoples of the world have domesticated and developed more than 7 thousand food crops, transnational companies dedicate almost half of their research expenses only to the cultivation of corn .
"This is because they want to make many more things from corn than food." He explains that while in the past developing a new conventional seed variety cost companies $ 1 million, developing a genetically modified variety cost around $ 136 million. "It is not only financially ruinous, but also risky."
Added to this is the difficulty in convincing some governments, farmers and citizens of the benefits of transgenics. As a result, companies are trying to shift to synthetic biology. Instead of transferring genes between species, as with transgenics, they walk towards building deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) from scratch.
“With synthetic biology you can build strands of DNA base pairs from nothing to build species. So the corn genome, like the human genome, has been taken; it is taken as a base or format and from there different structures are built. "
Mooney emphasizes that for the six large companies, or "the six genetic giants" (Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer, Dupont, Dow Agrosciences, Basf), nature is only the starting point, a template, a format, a template from from which to build new forms. The transnationals, he indicates, have reached the point of affirming that they are capable of generating, in a test tube, more biodiversity than that existing in the Amazon.
Synthetic biology has made it possible for corn - which is food in Mexico - to be used to produce plastics, cosmetics, fuels and even chemicals. "They see corn not only as the basis of food but as the raw material for the production of all kinds of merchandise."
The expert argues that corn is an extraordinarily flexible crop and this makes the transnationals and their scientists think that corn could allow them to do practically anything.
“The threat to its monopoly is basically that Mexico is the center of origin and diversity of corn. Diversity is a threat to multinationals because it means that there could be other alternatives to corporate control. Imagine how sick he is world when nature is called competition ”, he rebukes.
With 59 classified breeds and thousands of native varieties distributed throughout the national territory, Mexico is the cradle of corn (the second most important cereal in the world), a center of origin, diversification and global genetic reservoir of the grain.
For this reason, Mooney considers that the fight that takes place in Mexico is of vital importance. “If they succeed in their mission and I believe that they can be successful in stopping the introduction of transgenic corn to Mexico, then there is hope for all the other peoples of the world to stop the introduction of transgenics in their territories. If we let the corporations win here, there will be no way to stop them. "
The poster of synthetic biology
According to Pat Mooney, synthetic biology is led by Monsanto, Syngenta, Dupont, Dow Agrosciences, Basf and Bayer. However, these multinationals are accompanied by the six largest chemical companies, the seven largest pharmaceutical industries and the six most important energy companies: "all [are] working together to transform nature into whatever they want."
Mooney reveals that, according to the information they have been able to access, more than 3,000 scientists are working on 553 research projects related to synthetic biology, whose market, they estimate, will be around 10.8 billion dollars by 2015.
From the point of view of the director of the ETC Group, synthetic biology has been introduced without any kind of ethical criteria. Contrary to this, those who develop this technology experiment and even commercialize some products without particular regulation.
He refers that the synthetic biology market is so uncontrolled that someone can sell on the internet for 40 dollars seeds of plants that glow in the dark, product of synthetic biology without any use, merely ornamental plants but that could have very strong impacts when reproducing .
Although, in his opinion, governments should assume the responsibility of stopping the path that synthetic biology leads, he also considers that the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO, for its acronym in English) and even scientists working on these kinds of developments have a role to play in introducing ethical criteria.
Contrary to them, "some governments in particular have set aside the defense of the public interest and the precautionary principle." As an example, he cites the funding granted by the United States government, through the Department of Energy, to the research of Craig Venter (a scientist who made the first sequencing of the human genome) to make a completely artificial living organism. "That is something that would have tremendous impacts."
For Mooney, the population is capable of stopping the course that synthetic biology is leading up to now, although there would be difficulties: “It is essential that people and organizations mobilize, as well as transparency and access to information, but it is difficult because Most of the information, although it is financed by governments, is not owned by them, private companies have it, and they are not governed by any transparency system. They do their research and they don't inform anyone ”.
—Companies have economic interests in this, but what are FAO and governments pursuing by promoting these policies?
—The biggest governments and those that are promoting synthetic biology the most, such as the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and I believe that Mexico, assume that those who decide in the economy are the big corporations. It is a system that has gone so far that it is no longer even a question of direct corruption, but that many times the channels and agents of the transnationals are in the governments.
Mooney has seen closely a phenomenon that has been accentuated in recent years: the influence of corporations not only in national governments but directly to the United Nations.
The specialist refers to the report prepared by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier de Schutter, in which it is documented that 5 percent of the FAO budget comes directly from corporations, "and that allows them a huge influence on the functioning of FAO ”.
To Pat Mooney the transgenic contamination (as he called it himself) from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations forced him to resign in 2010.
After a long career as part of the international advisory committee, on the eve of an intergovernmental conference on Agricultural Biotechnologies in Developing Countries (ABDC, for its acronym in English), which was held in Guadalajara, in 2010 he submitted his resignation.
In the letter, Mooney described the preparations for this meeting between governments and scientists as "irremediably biased", since they cynically "ignore key socio-economic and scientific aspects."
He noted: “the conference's base documents are hopelessly biased in favor of biotechnology and reflect the intention to give a strong boost to this industry, while trying to persuade developing countries that they have no other option […] . It is unacceptable for a supposedly neutral intergovernmental body like FAO to allow themselves to be turned into a showcase for large biotech companies […]. The oligopolistic nature of the biotech seed industry is not part of the discussion. And although the preparatory documents for the meeting mention the problems related to the monopoly of biotech patents, they conclude that the global South has no alternative but to surrender. There is no serious discussion about the enormous costs of developing genetically modified crops compared to conventional agriculture. "
Mooney, who still participates on behalf of his organization in the FAO Committee on World Food Security, tells Counter line that the events that forced him to resign occurred during the previous administration.
Elected Director General of FAO by the Conference of the Member Countries of the United Nations on June 26, 2011, Graziano da Silva began his mandate on January 1, 2012, which will last until July 31, 2015.
The Brazilian took over, in 2001, the team that developed the Zero Hunger program in Brazil. In 2003, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva assigned him the task of applying said program, being appointed extraordinary minister of Food Security and Fight against Hunger.
Recently, Da Silva traveled to Mexico to learn about the National Crusade against Hunger. Mooney hopes to know what his position will be with regard to biotechnology and transnational companies: “if he is really going to take a strong, energetic position to protect the centers of origin and the public interest. Mexico is going to be a test ”.
GMOs in Mexico, a tragedy
Pat Mooney describes as "tragic" the massive authorizations that the federal government has granted for the cultivation of genetically modified organisms.
- Why is Mexico so attractive to multinationals? He is asked.
—Because the neighbor is very large and because it appears as a country of the South, emerging and at the same time it has a pivotal role in some geopolitical aspects and also in the United Nations; influences other countries. Although it is not part of the BRIC [group of emerging nations made up of Brazil, Russia, India and China] it aspires to be.
—Is its natural wealth also important for transnationals?
"Sure, Mexico is a rich country." Oil is a fundamental resource in the economy. However, rather than accessing them, the transnational companies try to prevent others from accessing them because with synthetic biology they can recreate many of the resources and compete with them, that is the idea, that is the strategy. What matters most to them is that others cannot access it.
Patents: appropriation of biodiversity
Based on the possibility of patenting living organisms, the transnationals managed to register the species and varieties that feed people. This genetic diversity accumulates 23.8 percent of the total biomass existing on Earth, according to information from the director of Grupo ETC.
“With synthetic biology, these companies intend to get 76.2 percent of the remaining biomass, from its commercialization to convert it into accumulation. So under this form of extreme genetic engineering we no longer have food, we no longer have fodder, forests, what we have is biomass. And with these new technologies they would become the new masters of biomass. "
In his own capacity and that of the organization he chairs of which he is co-founder, Pat Mooney, of Canadian origin, opposes patents, be they on living organisms, technologies or machinery because they inhibit research, strengthen monopolies and discourage innovation in all planes.
“In the case of living beings it is completely wrong, it is wrong to put patents. In the case of food, particularly on seeds, they are the basis of food and that should not be the monopoly of anyone. They make non-patented life an enemy of patented life, as happens with transgenics. "
Regarding living organisms already patented, Mooney is not clear. "It is difficult, there are many, there is not just one place." Does it refer that according to the statistics of the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants - an intergovernmental organization based in Geneva, Switzerland, created by the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants? 82 percent of intellectual property claims are about plants.
But not only are plants patented, "41 percent of the human genome is already patented by different transnational companies and universities."
However, the Alternative Nobel Prize winner and Silvia Ribeiro, a researcher at Grupo ETC, explain that the number of patents does not show the fundamental. "What we know is that companies do not patent a thing but do [between] 20 [and] 40 patents to hide the core."
This is known as patent scrubs. "There are many patents but many of them are not used or [even] are useful: they are registered only to prevent someone else from having access."
Another of the appropriation modalities are multigenomic patents, which are more comprehensive than the others. “In them a sequence is patented, for example, the one that gives tolerance to drought in corn. It seems that the patent was on a piece of corn, but it specifies that what is claimed is the presence of that sequence or a homologous sequence in any crop, be it coffee, rice, wheat, banana, any other crop. With a single patent they can cover more than 40 species or up to 100 ”.
Syngenta, Dupont, Monsanto, Dow Agrosciences, Basf and Bayer have resorted to multigenomic patents "trying to cover a huge number of varieties."
Based on a study and without the certainty that the multigenomic patents of which they are aware are the existing ones, Grupo ETC found that 77 percent are owned by the six transnationals.
- Until now there has been no interest in patenting animals?
-Of course. What has been done the most is on laboratory animals, there are many on rodents; there are also patents on pigs and sheep; But now patents are made on polo horses, they take one type of horse, make up to 100 clones and patent the entire animal, all the genetic information. There are two leading companies, I don't remember the name but one of them is based in Argentina. ETC Group prepares a report on the subject - Mooney concludes.