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GE - Death To Monsanto, Say World Scientists

[This is top story on today's OneWorld News -
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AGRICULTURE: Death To Monsanto, Say World Scientists 

By Ranjit Dev Raj NEW DELHI, Mar 11 (IPS) - Conscientious genetic engineers
and activists from across the world Thursday called for a slow but sure
death for Monsanto, the U.S seed giant they say threatens life on earth
with its genetically modified crops. 

''It must be death by a thousand cuts,'' said Tony Clarke, director of the
Polaris Institute in Canada which assists social movements to develop
tools, skills and strategies for fighting economic globalisation and
corporate power. 

Clarke was among participants selected to devise future strategies against
'Genetic Engineering and Patents on Life' at the close of the two-day
'Biodevastation II' meet here. 

Monsanto figured high on the agenda because of stiff resistance put up in
this country by farmers and activists to field trials in 40 widely separate
locations of genetically engineered Bt cotton carried out by the
corporation on doubtful authorisation. 

Said Pushpa Bhargava, a distinguished India biotechnologist who has the
French Legion d'Honneur to his credit, ''clearance for the trials should
have come from Indian Council of Agricultural research (ICAR) - instead
clearance came from the Department of Biotechnology and after the trials
had begun.'' 

Under pressure from Monsanto, India has also been forced to freely import
genetically modified crops such as soyabeans and foist it on an
unsuspecting consuming public without proper labelling. 

''The only way to tackle Monsanto which has 300 million dollars to play
around with and regularly buys out scientists and policy makers is to
slowly bleed it by burning crops, sueing it in court and occupying its
offices,'' Clarke advised. 

Endorsing the strategy, Claude Alvarez, an Indian activist said ''Gandhi
taught us to break to break immoral laws and explain later in court.'' 

Alvarez said the best place to begin the fight against biotechnology giants
was in India itself where Gandhi perfected civil disobedience and where
patents are routinely ignored. ''We should teach Monsanto a lesson right
here,'' he said. 

The Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Environment which
hosted Biodevastation II has filed a writ petition in the Indian Supreme
Court against the government for allowing Monsanto to carry out trials

In response, participants from Malaysia, Japan, Bangladesh, U.K, Germany,
Austria, Norway, France, U.S, Sri Lanka and Belgium pledged support for the
local efforts to stop Bt Cotton trials and the 'Monsanto, Quit India'

Farhad Mazhar, from the 'UBINIG' group in Bangladesh reminded participants
that South Asia had one of the last remnants of traditional farming carried
out by small farmers whose knowledge and seeds can ''recreate sustainable
agriculture from the ashes that will be left behind by multinationals.'' 

Mika Iba, leader of the Seikotsu Club, a 300,000-member consumer
cooperative from Japan said her organisation would now work to help farmers
in southern Andhra Pradesh who were ruined through adoption of Monsanto's

Immediately before the meet began Wednesday, Iba and 17 other members of
the Seikotsu club toured the Warangal district of Andhra Pradesh where
several hundred farmers committed suicide last year after their crops failed. 

''We saw huge differences between farmers in Japan and India but we also
felt that farmers were everywhere an exploited lot - though at different
levels,'' said Mitsuko Tachikama, woman farmer. 

During the scientific deliberations, like Prof Terje Travik from Norway
stressed that the first generation of genetically engineered organisms were
unsafe because the science and technology involved were completely unknown. 

''We have to take an ecological view because of the proven possibilities of
horizontal gene transfer,'' Prof Travik who teaches virology at the
University of Tromso said. 

He was joined by Mae Wan Ho, professor of biology of the Open University in
the United Kingdom in demanding a five-year moratorium on commercialisation
so that more research can be done and safety systems put in place. 

''Corporations are manipulating science and promoting scientific fraud to
silence and censor the safety debate which they see as an interference in
their profits,'' said Prof Ho who heads bio-electrodynamics at her

Scientists talked of how their colleagues were victimised for speaking out
loud against corporations like Monsanto or given lucrative assignments if
they unethically supported genetic engineering projects. 

They noted that, Linda Bullard of the 'IFOAM' foundation in Belgium was
denied an Indian visa to attend Biodevastation II apparently after she said
she would be attending a 'strategy session' against biotechnology
corporations in New Delhi. 

''We stand on the edge of a Biotech century where a runaway technology
wielded by Monsanto and other transnationals threaten food security and
biodiversity in both the North and South,'' said Ronnie Cummins, director
of the U.S-based Campaign for Food Safety. 

Cummins said it was important to ensure that the next millennium was not a
'Multinationals Millennium' as dictated by the Geneva-based, World Trade
Organisation (WTO) but one with a citizens' agenda. 

''While the WTO is supposed to dismantle protectionism, it is actually
promoting corporate protectionism,'' said Vandana Shiva of the Research
Foundation for Science, Technology and Environment. 

Shiva said she was glad that India and the EU were now in the same boat
being threatened by Super 301 a U.S domestic trade law imposed through WTO.
India has reserved the right to sit in on hearings of a case challenging
Super 301. 

The conference also expressed support for the initiative of countries like
the Netherlands, Italy and Norway which have challenged the European
Patents on Life Law. 

Of particular concern was the move by the United States, Canada, Argentina,
Chile, Uruguay and Australia to block a global treaty to regulate trade in
genetically modified products at the Biosafety Protocol Talks at Cartagena,
Colombia in February. 

Said Beth Burrows, director of the Edmonds Institute in Washington, ''There
cannot be a better example of injustice when six nations impose their will
on the rest of the world.'' 

The issue widened a growing rift between the EU and U.S over agricultural
products. The European nations have resisted genetically modified crops
while the U.S and its allies felt that an agreement could threaten food

Burrows said what is even more significant than the refusal by the EU to go
along with U.S transnationals is resistance from countries in the South,
more particularly from intellectually resourceful countries like India. 

''Increasingly it is the South which is teaching countries like the U.S
lessons in ethics and morality and in sustainable development,'' Burrows
said. (END/IPS/rdr/an/99)