Monday, April 10, 2006

The Spirt of Curitiba

After three weeks of meetings, the second two convening the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity the "spirit of Curitiba" has prevailed. Productive negotiations both at MOP3 and COP8 combined with lack of sleep will allow all the participants in these negotiations to go home contented and able to sleep well at night. The "spirit of Curitiba" was hailed first after the MOP for the spirit of compromise shown in finally gain some resolution on the handling, labeling, packaging and identification of LMO's for food, feed or processing. This spirit continued to be mentioned through out the diverse and heated discussions at the COP and proved to be a positive running theme in the COP negotiations. At the end of the second week of the COP many productive and skillfully negotiated decisions were crafted. These decisions include a continuing intersessional negotiation of an international regime on access and benefits sharing, a positive decision on intersessional work by the working group on 8(j), new work on high seas protected areas, and decisions on participation.

Friday, March 31, 2006

Negotiations on ABS: Informal Consultations Lead to Well Formulated Results

Working Group II at COP8 has just adopted a decsion on how to move forward with the intersessional work on negotiating an international regime on access and benefits sharing. This adopted text has one more step to go through, the approval of the plenary, before it becomes an official decision of the COP. The adoption of this text marks the end of a lengthy process of informal and late night negotiations over the course of a many days.

The new text sets up a technical expert group to explore the role of a certificate of orign/legal provenc etc., and two intersessional meetings of the working group on ABS before COP 9. The text also establishes two co-chairs for the working group, one from a developing country and one from a developed country, and leaves them to establish the agendas of the working group meetings subject to the rules of proceedure set by the COP. The Bonn Guidelines are also refered to in a separate section as tools to be rcognized and considered through sharing of national experience. Further, information and analyses for the workig group meetings are to be compiled in processes parallel to, but not to impede upon the progess of, the negotiations of an international regime on ABS in the working group.

The new text is based on a package that address three issues of concern to the G77 and China. First, it sets a deadline for the completion of negotiations as "the earliest time possible before 2010. Secondly and thirdly, to ensure that all types of ABS are included in the consideration of both a certificate of origin and all other measures through prior informed consent under mutually agreed terms. (sections C &D).

This text has been a great victory for all parties involed. The informal negotiations since the contact group were lenghty and exhausting for all involved. These negotiations, however lead to a text that seemed almost impossible to obtain only 36 hours earlier. All parties had to bend and to work hard in order to gain this ground. But special attention should be paid to the work of the Malaysian and Brazilian delegates who must have walked miles back and fourth across the plenary room all day Thursday and through to Friday morning trying to reach an agreement between all those involved and their governments at home.

There is no official victory yet. The adoption of the text in the plenary still remains and the chairs who will define the agendas of these meetings must still be selected. But the commitment of all Parties to stick it out until this text was reached is a reassuring indication of the adoption of this text and the potential results of intersessional work on ABS. The process may be long, and sleep maybe sparing, but there is now hope that the negotiations on ABS before COP 9 will be quite fruitful. Quoting the Malaysian delegate and spokesman for the G77 and China this process is like the preparation of good Southeast Asian food:"the best dishes are cooked over a slow fire in a nice clay pot, and the flavor is increadible."

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Gap Between Negotiations on ABS and the Need for Further Information

Today JUSCANZ informed the world of the gap between its interests and those of all the rest of the Earth on an international regime on ABS. How long can negotiations on an international regime on ABS be stalled? They have been successful for the last 16 years in stalling negotiations. ABS not only falls under the objectives CBD created in 1992, but the creation of an international regime was called for by the WSSD in 2002. The international mandate for a regime on ABS has been affirmed and reaffirmed again and again and again. The process under the CBD that has finally produced a text, albeit a highly bracketed one, is now being stalled by a claim that there is a need for further information before the process can continue.

How much more information can be necessary, and how much more time will it take? It has been stated again and again by Parties and observers that this call for more information is simply a tactic to stall negotiations on an international regime that such Parties actually have no interest in negotiating. How much longer can this process that is already struggling for funding continue with such drawn out talks.

At this point the COP negotiations on ABS that we supposed to only cover the procedural aspects of the intersessional process on ABS have reached such a contentious stage that a contact group on the issue may rage on all night. Proceedure and substance have become so inter-related in this now almost historical process that it will be a feat to successfully separate the two. The tactics of hostile Parties to stall and in the end halt negotiations on an international regime on ABS have been and continue to be procedurally based. This cannot and will not continue.

Ethiopia, Malaysia, and many other Parties did not hesitate to point out in the contact group this afternoon how unacceptable any approach to the intersessional work on ABS that was dependent upon further information documents, gap analysis etc. would be to all of the G77 and China and specifically Africa. Does this mean that JUSCANZ will bend or that this intersessional process will cease until an appropriate mandate can be agreed upon?

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Bonding With Bonn

On Monday the Conference of the Parties discussed the chair’s text on Access and Benefits Sharing (ABS). This was meant to be a strictly procedural discussion on aspects of further work on ABS by the Working Group and an Ad Hoc Technical Expert Group on a certificate of origin, specifically related to the chair’s text. One of the key issues, however, that was repeatedly raised was the continued use and recognition of the Bonn Guidelines created at the third meeting of the Working Group on ABS. The Bonn Guidelines are suggestions for national implementation of frameworks on ABS. These guidelines do not address internationally coordinated ABS, and international regime on ABS or a legally binding agreement on ABS. The mandate continued work by the Working Group on ABS is to continue the elaboration and negotiation of an international [legally binding] regime on access and benefits sharing.

Parties such as Japan, Korea, Canada, Australia and New Zealand that are less interested, or not interested at all, in the creation of an international regime, or any framework, on ABS used tactics to stall and reroute the focus of negotiations on ABS. The emphasis on gap analysis of ABS and national frameworks on ABS. Parties have also encouraged further focus on the implementation of the Bonn Guidelines and sharing of experience and capacity building, etc. toward the implementation of the Bonn Guidelines. Further, Parties have even suggested supporting differing implementation of national frameworks on ABS based on the Bonn Guidelines in consideration of the interests of different countries. These are all loopholes used to avoid the implementation of an ABS regime and responsibility to international expectations or obligations to provide appropriate access or benefits sharing.

Some Parties almost explicitly emphasized the importance of retaining intellectual property rights (IPR) systems. Using claims that groups such as WIPO and TRIPs under the WTO are already addressing issues such as a certificate of origin and cautioning against duplication of work, these parties attempted to subordinate ABS to IPR. IPR systems do not fulfill the same or even relatively similar objectives to those covered by an ABS regime. These systems actually negate some of the objectives of ABS negotiations such as the sharing of benefits of resources with all groups including those from whom the resources originated and prior informed consent for access to resources based on mutually agreed terms, both of which are key objectives under the CBD related to traditional knowledge, innovations and practices.

Parties that continue to push for the referral back to the Bonn Guidelines, more studies and the priority of work of other international organizations on IPR over the continued work on ABS under the CBD are simply trying to derail negotiations on a regime that follows one of the three main objective of the CBD. These Parties are not only trying to stall or block negotiations on an issue important to the implementation of the CBD, they are also blocking the rights of indigenous and local communities, especially in poorer and developing countries, to the benefits of their resources and adequate control of access to their resources. This may not be what they are saying, but these are the implications of their statements. The rights protected by national regimes are generally those of whom register extracted resources through IPR regimes, i.e. researchers and bio-prospectors, without any consent from the true owners of those resources. These countries are essentially supporting the rights of the private sector (whom are not included in the convention), not the rights of indigenous and local communities (who are expressly addressed by the convention).

Monday, March 27, 2006

"Foxes Can be Highly Influential on Chicken Issues"

An NGO statement by Ecoropa made a useful comparision to the discussion on the inclusion of private sector in the implementation processes of the CBD:
"Foxes can be highly influential on Chicken-issues; they may raise the profile; they may have chicken-relevant knowledge and technological resources and comminication skills. Still I would not want foxes as co-guardians of thechicken-coop. . . Farmers need to address chicken-coop issues if foxes do. There, we do need duplication of effort, urgently."

Cooperation with who?

Should the CBD cooperate with and align its objectives with organizations and groups such as FAO and the private sector or emphasize cooperation with the Rio conventions on climate change and desertification? This is the core issue of the negotiations on the cooperation with other international organizations and initiatives and the proposal for a Global Partnership for Biodiversity.

Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina and Columbia all made statements expressing their concern about the increasing number of partnerships and initiatives, etc. and the duplication of work. These same Parties have expressed interest not only the inclusion of FAO (which has a strong scientific and not social or economic focus) should be included in any liasion group of partnership, existing or newly created, while these same Parties state that the mandate of the CBD will be decreased by the the implementation of a Global Partnership with MEAs (multilateral environmental agreements) with a similar history and from the same meeting and impetus in 1992. This does not make any sense.

Norway fortunately recognized the importance and possible positive results of a Partnership. Norway pointed out the opportunity to share experiences and communicate about the objectives and work of the different conventions and their subsidiary and scientific bodies. This communitcation will decrease or stop the duplication of work and improve understanding between MEAs of their individual mandates and objectives and the appropriate connections between the them.

Many of these Parties encouraging cooperation with the FAO, further supported the participation and active cooperation with the private sector. This is justified by the private sectors role in so many aspects of CBDs mandate. However, as India, Greenpeace, Ecoropa and The Global Forest Coalition stated that although the private sector is involved in all aspects of the the CBD and its implementation this sector has not used this experience and knowledge to positively involve itself in the implementation of the CBD. The private sector cannot be expected to work with the CBD in a positive or constructive manner, just because the private sector has knowledge relevant to the CBD and and experience in these areas.

Friday, March 24, 2006

The Victory against Terminator: A Victory of the People

“This is a victory of the movement here that marks the beginning of the end of Terminator,” stated Benny Haerlin from Greenpeace International during a press conference responding to the successful decision reached today in the Working Group to maintain the strict moratorium on Terminator technology.

I have been fortunate to witness and take part in the incredible energy of this movement, advocating for a broad range of issues throughout the negotiations, and consisting of organizations from all parts of the world - indigenous groups, environmental groups, farmers, students, scientists, laborers, and many more. The energy that came together inside and outside of the Conference was inspiring - both to me and, I believe, to many of the delegates here. We have also been fortunate to have incredible leaders from government delegations, who stand up strongly and straightforwardly to make these negotiations meaningful and successful.
A Chilean farmer from Via Campesina, an international small farmers’ organization, said of the civil sector movement here at COP 8: “this is the voice of the people who are fighting everyday for life.”

While the decision reached Friday that maintains with ban on Terminator without the option of field trials marks an important victory, the struggle will continue: “the Terminator must disappear from this earth,” declared the farmer leader from Chili. In speaking of the profound effect that the terminator techonology poses for their ways of life and livelihoods, she likened the sterilization of seeds that would occur through such technology to the forced sterilization of women.

A Brazilian farmer from La Via Campesina spoke about the consequences of the agro-industry on small farmers in Brazil – where currently some 4.5 million landless families are struggling to survive - many in the slums of big cities. They are struggling against enormous pressures to maintain “their right to exist as peasants, to preserve and protect nature and to produce their own seed.” And this terminator technology – thankfully held at bay by the international community today – represents one of the greatest threats from agro-industry.

“Technology based on sterility will not prevail,” Benny stated. In reference to the argument that this terminator technology is important to protect GMO contamination in general, he said: “And technology that needs sterility in order to survive will not prevail.”

Pat Mooney from Ban Terminator warned us that this fight is not over: “the technology is vastly too profitable.”

But the movement that we have been so privileged to be a part of here in Curitiba is our future – and the people who have come together from all walks of life and all corners of the earth will continue the struggle.

In another celebration today, the Coalition Against Biopiracy gave awards to the “worst” and the “best” players in the Biosafety world – with Canada, Australia and New Zealand receiving, quite appropriately, the “Access of Evil Award.” While the awards highlighted the number of groups and interests working hard to undermine biosafety in the interest of their bottom lines, they were also a profound testimony to the dedicated work of individuals and groups committed to protecting lives, livelihoods, food security and biodiversity.
While unfortunately most of us COA students will be leaving Brazil this weekend to return to school, several will be able to stay through and will continue to follow the negotiations and participate in the work that is occuring here. From the issues of Access and Benefit Sharing, to Liability, to Protected Areas - much work still remains to be accomplished at this COP 8. And of course the work will continue in many fora after this conference comes to an end.
As we go back to our home communities, we will take what we have learned and continue to work to as we can to “Globalize Hope,” protect biodiversity, and create positive change.
Thanks to all of you for joining us on this journey.
La Lucha Sigue!

La Via Campesina Women recieve an award for their work in defending food sovereignty and in discovering the illegal field trials of Syngenta

And This, Ladies and Gentlemen, is a Chair

I would like to introduce you to Dr. Mathew Jebb, acting director at the Glasnevin Botanical Gardens in Dublin, CBD delegate representing Ireland, and Chair of Working Group One at COP-8.

Working Group One was assigned the contentious mission of debating the issue of GURTS, and while some might have guessed that it would result in long, drawn out debates of repeated arguments and delegates entrenching themselves into a position, Mr. Jebb has taken a refreshing approach to the task at hand.

Dr. Jebb opened the issue of GURTS yesterday with 15 minutes left until lunch and allowed three countries to speak: Argentina, Malaysia (Gurdial with his now famous “2b is not to be”), and Norway. Each group spoke on the dangers of GURTS and how paragraph 2b, which allows for case by case risk assessments and does not back the idea that there should be no field testing—as the decision from COP 5/5 already pre-determined—should be deleted.

The meeting broke for lunch with many parties, non-parties, observers, NGOs, industries, IGOs, indigenous peoples, etc, etc, still biting at the bit and desperately wanting to make statements.

When we returned at 3:00, prepared for a long afternoon of heated debates, Dr. Jebb announced that we had already heard from the side that is opposed to 2b, and would now like to open the floor to only the parties that support the case by case risk assessments decision.

As some parties hurried to press their button once more to get themselves off of the chair’s screen (a.k.a. off of the list to speak) and others rushed to slam their button so they would actually show up on his screen and get the opportunity to speak in favor of 2b, Dr. Jebb looked at the his private computer screen with a slight smile of amusement tugging a the corners of his mouth.

Dr. Jebb then allowed New Zealand, Australia and Switzerland to speak on behalf of case by case risk assessments. The deep gulley between the two sides was already apparent. But then, instead of continuing on with the parties, he opened the floor to all observers, NGOs, education (us!!), indigenous peoples, etc., saying that they were going to be affected by this and should therefore have a say.

We heard from the IIFB, who rejected the case by case risk assessments as a violation of human and indigenous rights, the youth (yeah kate!), who refused to inherit the risks that using GURTS would entail, the Ban Terminator Campaign, representing over 500 other groups, who called on the human rights council to be allowed into the negotiations, and a few others who laid out the position of those against 2b in no uncertainty.

Mathew Jebb nodded, looked thoughtful, and then asked to clear his screen and for only those in support of the case by case risk assessment to now speak. We gritted our teeth through the statements from the Foundation for Public Research and Regulation, the Global Industry Coalition, and (surprise, surprise) the United States of America, who, of course, were in support of 2b and spoke of all the good that could come out of it.

Dr. Jebb then closed the floor, stated that there was obviously two opposing sides and that we were here to find a solution, a decision, that would be based on consensus, and then opened the floor to parties that had any ideas on a way to make progress towards a workable solution.

After a bit of confusion, some silence, and not one party having any ideas on where to go from there, Mathew Jebb said that he would then make a decision by the seat of his pants: he asked for the countries that supported the case by case risk assessment to get together and come up with some wording that they thought might be acceptable, or at least a jumping off point, to start a productive conversation that would eventually lead to a consensus on text, and to have that to him within an hour.

As delegates from various countries scurried out of the room, the meeting went on to discuss the next item on the agenda, only to come back to GURTS later on to say that parties interested in being a part of a Friends of the Chair group should approach him afterwards and tell them of their interest.

The Friends of the Chair group met last night, and they were able to come to a decision that supported a text without the case by case risk assessment language. It got through the working group this morning with no objections. Now we just have to see what happens in the plenary. In one day Dr. Mathew Jebb coordinated a massive amount of passionate people around a delicate matter and came out with a wonderful decision to bring to the plenary.

Working Group One Chair Dr. Mathew Jebb didn’t allow the different sides to repeat themselves, entrench themselves, and get themselves in a frenzy. He got work done, and he did it well. Congratulations to a wonderful chair, and a big thanks from all the youth who will inherit the earth you are passing down to us: we owe you one, Mr. Jebb. Now let's just see what happens at 3:00 when the plenary meets...

VICTORY against the Terminator! : 2(b) is NOT to be..."for the moment"

Three minutes at the beginning of the Working Group this morning defined a momentous victory for all of us: the de facto moratorium on Terminator is reaffirmed by consensus by the Working Group of COP 8 without the dangerous "case-by-case" language that threatened to let loose this sterile-seed-producing technology in our environment .

A Friends of the Chair group (a small closed-door meeting) met earlier this morning to struggle through the opposing positions, with Canada, Australia and New Zealand (supported by the US and Industry in the shadows) as the only countries who had been trying to weaken the international ban on GURTS - the technology that creates sterile seeds and that threatens everything from biodoversity to farmers' livelihoods and food security.

With the hard work of many people in the closed-door group, and supported by the long, hard work of people in and outside of the conference center and around the world, the group not only came to a draft decision to get rid of the paragraph supporting "case-by case" risk assessments for the technology, but also strengthened the wording so that any potential future research allowed is "within the mandate of decision V/5" - the original de facto moratorium (III/23). In other words, this decision makes clear that the moratorium on this technology stands - both in terms of commercialization and field trials, and that therefore within potential "research," the decision remains that field trials should not be allowed (unless there is sufficient scientific data supporting the safety of the field trials - which is far from the case). This is the key step that Industry and Terminator-supporting countries were trying to push and which the rest of us were fighting, due to the threat to our environment that such field trials would create, and the path that they could pave towards future use of such dangerous sterile-seed technology.

In the working group this morning - in which all governments participate and all of us can observe - the Chair introduced this draft decision brought forward by the Friends of Chair group. His words were met by a round of applause that carried through the room (although in Industry table was conspicuously silent). The Chair then asked if any Party wanted to voice an objection; when no party came forward, the Chair officially announced that this issue was decided "for the moment" and the room burst into even greater applause, with many participants standing and cheering.

This issue is not necessarily entirely finished for this COP, although it is unclear the extent to which further debate will be allowed. The fact is that not a single party objected to this wording today in the Working Group, and so the decision will be forwarded to the Plenary where it must be officially agreed upon. We must work to ensure that no country back down on the agreement made today with consensus; this decision must stand.

Although Industry and most likely the few countries in support of GURTS will continue in other fora to push forward the dangerous technology, this is a momentous occasion of which we can all be proud. Thanks to the hard, committed work of civil society and the vast majority of governments throughout the world, the international community has yet again affirmed a moratorium on Terminator technology - and has thereby strengthened our commitment to biodiversity, sustainability, the rights and cultures of small farmers, and the health and safety of all of us.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

GURTs Youth Statement Presented at Working Group!!!

The youth were finally able to make their voices heard, and on a very important issue! In the afternoon working group session civil society was allowed floor time to speak on the issue of Genetic Use Restriction Technologies, and youth were there and ready to make a statement.

Below is a copy of the statement I was fortunate enough to read. Youth are making their voices heard!

Thank you very much Mr. Chairman,

On behalf of the youth present at this Conference, we wish to express our sincere concern that this body is again considering the issue of Genetic Use Restriction Technologies. We can not understand why a Convention whose aim is to protect biodiversity is even considering allowing the testing of a technology that by definition strives to do the opposite. The aim of GURTs is to prevent the reproduction of an organism. This is in direct conflict with the objectives of the CBD. There is no scientific evidence that this technology should or can be benignly released into a dynamic living ecosystem, and the potential negative social impacts on humanity are appalling.

We are not here to make an emotional statement, but to make a plea for rationality.

We remind you that the UN technical expert group report on GURTs (UNEP/CBD/WG8J/4/INF/17) outlined the inherent risk of GURTS, concluding that gene silencing, mutations, unstable promoters and induction systems could all lead to transgene escape with devastating consequences.

We urge you to reaffirm , and above all, strengthen the de facto moratorium created during the COP5.

We urge you to value biodiversity and human livelihoods over profit-driven industrial interest.

We urge you to allow future generations to access traditional and indigenous knowledge.

We proclaim that "case-by-case" is unacceptable.

We urge you to reject the danguerous argument that GURTS can be used as a tool for biological security. GURTs is not a technology to protect biological diversity, but to protect the patents of the industry.

We further wish to remind the COP that the GURTS issue does not belong in the Cartegena protocol, as industry lobbyists would like us to believe. As GURTS poses a threat of great magnitude to the worldÕs biodiversity, the CBD is the perfect forum to discuss the issue. A full moratorium is the only acceptable solution.

The promises of industrial agrotechnology have disillusioned us. Their presumed solutions have always created more pr oblems than they have solved. GURTs is only the most recent and severe example. This technology could have tremendous negative implications for the future of food sovereignty, traditional knowledge, and biodiversity.

This is our future, and we refuse to accept these risks.

As we will inherit the future being determined here, we have a major stake in these negotiations. You have called on the youth to participate and we are here. We answer your call using not our wallets and a short-sighted economic greed, but rather with our minds, our logic, and our hearts.
We trust that the delegates here will use these same tools when making their decisions. Please take a step forward towards the safety of our worldÕs peop le, cultures, and biodiversity and reaffirm the ban on terminator technology.

Thank you very much Mr Chair.

Plantations are Not Forests, and GM Trees are Worse

Imagine a monoculture that stretches across the horizon, covered in toxic chemicals detrimental to human and animal nervous systems. The biodiversity of the soil, plants, and surrounding air is so low it could be considered practically non-existent.
You are imagining a field of Round-Up Ready (herbicide resistant) genetically engineered soybeans. The scene is a chemically dependant, barren wasteland, a GM soy monoculture.

Now imagine this scene on a grander scale. The fields are not acres but miles. The plants are not soybeans, but trees.

If GM fields have been detrimental to the environment and health, imagine GM forests.
If testing the impacts and consequences of GE corn and soy has proven difficult at best, imagine attempting to fully study trees, species that take decades to mature.
If pollen contamination from corn, just six or eight feet off the ground, has already been problematic, imagine the GM pollen contamination possible when released from trees fifty feet above ground.

Without a ban on field testing of genetically engineered trees, these scenes of dangerous plantations, in place of forests, may become commonplace.

Enter Agenda Item 26.1, “Forest Biological Diversity.” Yesterday in the working group, delegates discussed the implementation of the program of work on forest diversity. Recognizing the threat posed by GM trees, seven separate parties and many NGOs made calls for a moratorium on the planting of GM trees. Ghana made the first call for a moratorium, and this was supported by Iran, Madagascar, Egypt, Philippines, Senegal, and Malawi. These countries deserve a round of applause for so strongly moving in the proper direction to avoid the harm threatened by GM trees.

The threats posed by GM trees to human and environmental health are multiple and severe. Currently there are known test plots in 16 countries. In China, where a Bt Poplar tree plantation is cited in close proximity to a non-GM poplar plantation, genetic contamination is already shown to have occurred.
As tree pollen is known to travel hundreds of miles and cross national boundaries, genetic contamination of native forests is not only likely, it is guaranteed.

Such contamination is a problem, the details of which depend on the type of contamination is in question. Currently there are two main types of GM trees: Bt toxin trees and Round-up Ready trees.

Bt toxin is found in a naturally occurring bacteria and when trees are engineered to produce this toxin there are serious human health and environmental concerns. Imagine a forest that emits toxins from its roots into the soil and water. Soil diversity is debilitated below ground, and above ground toxins are present that kill “pests,” including ecologically important pollinators.

Furthermore, the pollen of Bt trees has severe allergenic risks, risks exacerbated due to the wide distance the pollen can travel.

When the trees in question are Round-up Ready, the scene becomes a chemical wasteland, where the understory of the forest plantation cannot grow due to the high use of Round-Up Ready herbicide sprayed across the plantation. This herbicide Round-Up is detrimental not only to plants, but animals and human health as well.

The FAO recently published “A Preliminary Review of Biotechnology in Forestry including Genetic Modification.” (2005) In this report they confirm that contamination has occurred and they express the need for a thorough global risk assessment, something that has not yet occurred.

It is bad enough that we can already so easily imagine a scene of chemically cultivated GM corn or soy monoculture. We must not make this scene commonplace for forests as well.

The COP should follow the advice of Norway and Greenpeace and set up an expert work group to examine the risks involved with GM trees. However, the COP must go further than this. The COP must impose a moratorium on this dangerous technology. If not, we may begin to find GM trees in forests previously considered natural, just as we have found GM corn in Oaxaca, Mexico, in areas where no GM corn was thought to grow.

Bearing witness at Syngenta's illegal field site

Elsie has already written a nice piece about the illegal field trials of Syngenta and the Movimento dos Trabalhadores sem Terra (MST). Below is a report from Doreen Stabinsky, Campaigner for Greenpeace International and a College of the Atlantic faculty member. Doreen sent this to me late last night and asked me to post it for her.

We took off from Curitiba at 11 pm on Tuesday night for an overnight bus ride to Cascavel, Brazil, in the state of Parana, where Syngenta's field station is located. On the bus was an international delegation of peasants and environmentalists, organized by Terra de Direitos and La Via Campesina. We had representatives from around the world, including Togo, Indonesia, the United Kingdom, the United States, Costa Rica, Chile, and Argentina. The purpose of the trip was to show international solidarity with the Movimento dos Trabalhadores sem Terra (MST) landless peoples who have been occupying Syngenta's field station for the past week.

On the day that we left, we learned that the enforcement arm of the Brazilian environmental ministry had fined Syngenta one million reais for the illegal trial of soy at the site. The Syngenta field station is located 6 kilometers from the Iguacu Falls World Heritage Site, but Brazilian law dictates that field trials of GMOs must be at least 10 kilometers from such important ecological reserves. MST first called attention to the illegal site with their invasion last week.

We were greeted at the Syngenta gate by a huge crowd of those occupying the test site. I've heard various estimates for how many are occupying the field station -- from 300 to 800. The people living at the field station are of all ages -- entire families have come here in their stated interest of turning Syngenta's station into a place for conservation of local varieties of maize and soy and agroecological experimentation.

After a short ceremony by MST and testimonies of solidarity by the international participants, we were led around the field station. We ended our tour at the field of genetically engineered soy. IBAMA and Parana state officials are waiting for official confirmation from a judge that the field can be destroyed. Today's newspapers say that Syngenta is contesting the fine and the decision to destroy the fields. In any case, the campers will wait for the authorities to destroy the GE soy, and regardless of the state of the GMO field intend to carry out indefinitely their peaceful occupation.

After our visit to the field station, we went to the town of Cascavel to visit the local judge who last week ordered the eviction of the MST. Our goal was to tell him more about the rationale behind the occupation, to convey international concern over the illegal field trials, and to provide support for the non-violent direct action being taken to protect the planet's biodiversity. Three of us -- from the US, Indonesia, and Costa Rica -- got an opportunity to speak to the judge. He ended the meeting telling us we should pursue legal means to stop field trials if that was our goal. Regardless of the judge's position, the governor of the state of Parana has said he will not use his police to enforce the eviction order.

La Via Campesina, of which MST is a partner group, has a great slogan for their work: let's globalize hope! The occupation of the Syngenta field site, by some of the poorest persons in Brazil -- landless peasants -- is an inspiring act for all of us around the world working against the introduction of GMOs into our environment and our food supply. Let's spread this inspiring story around the world and do our small part to globalize hope.

La lucha sigue!

"2(b) Is Not To Be"

With only 15 minutes left in the working group before having to break for lunch, the chair of the meeting finally moved the topic of discussion onto the topic of GURTS, aka Terminator Technology.

The room was charged, energy was high, and there was only time for three speakers. Argentina, Malaysia (on behalf of G77 and China) and Norway spoke. The details of their statements had minor differences, but their message was clear, as wittingly stated by Gurdial. “2(b), is not to be.”

Paragraph 2(b) is the paragraph which states that cases-by-case testing of the technology should be allowed. This is contradictory to the above paragraph (P 1) which reaffirms the moratorium from COPV on the Terminator Technology.

Based on these three opening statements in regards to the GURTS discussion, it is clear that, in the words of Gurdial,

2(b), is not to be.

Thank you Shakespeare, your relevance never ceases to amaze me.

The Struggle for Life and Land - a story of the Landless Workers Movement

Yesterday, March 22nd, an international delegation of over 30 activists traveled to the south of Brazil to show solidarity with 600 rural workers - members of the Landless Workers Movement (MST) - who are occupying an illegal field trial of GMO soy owned and managed by the multinational corporation, Syngenta.

Our group, traveling through the night to arrive at the site in the morning, was brought together by the UN Convention on Biodiversity and consisted of, among others, union leaders from Brazil, Chile and Argentina, a leader of women’s organizations from Bolivia, farm organizers from Togo and Indonesia, our own Doreen Stabinsky from Greenpeace International, and journalists from all over the world. We were greeted by 100s of campesinos waving flags, and we soon joined them with our flags and banners. Led by the workers we chanted signature slogans of MST and the international organization of small farmers, La Via Campesina, such as: “The people united, will never be defeated.”

Indeed, as we followed the workers through their makeshift camp to the fields where a group performed a ritual around the sacred Maize (corn), I understood the power behind those words – “united we will never be defeated” – and the power behind this organization of workers deeply committed to a more just world, to fighting inequality, and to protecting the environment. I felt honored to be able to stand with them and to show my solidarity in the small way that I could.

Although the court fined Syngenta approximately US $500,000 two days ago, confirming that the field trials are indeed illegal (as they are too close to a national park), the court also ruled that the MST occupation is illegal and ordered an eviction notice for all workers yesterday.

During a sudden downpour during which I sought refuge in one of the many MST tents, I asked Paulo, the leader of 200 MST families, if they were planning to leave due to the eviction notice. “No,” he replied, “We will stay here as long as we can. A week, a month, a year – as long as it takes – we will try to stay here.”

“This is the struggle for justice, to protect our way of life, to fight poverty, and to protect our land. This is a struggle for our spirit, to protect the sacredness of our traditions, our culture, our land.” And several times he repeated: “Primarily this is a struggle for ‘Alimentos’” – a word most aptly translated a “sustenance” – both physical and spiritual.

As I was leaving, Paulo, with his 2 small children giggling and clinging to his legs, said: “We are all united, those of us who struggle against injustice, who fight for the poor, who fight for the land. No matter the distance – we are united.”

Following the site visit, our group went to the courthouse to speak with the judge who had ruled on the eviction, and the MST lawyer presented to the judge a hand-written letter in support of the workers.

While the judge defended his decision saying that the workers should have gone through legal means, I left deeply moved by all I had witnessed, and convinced more than ever of the necessity of standing in solidarity with these groups and working in ways that we can for greater justice, remembering the words of Frederick Douglas:

"If there is no struggle there is no progess. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are people who want crops without plowing up the ground...Power concedes nothing without demand."

According to Brazil’s census bureau, 1% of the landholders control 45% of the nation’s farmland, and 37% of the landowners hold only 1%. Brazil has one of the highest rates of inequality of any country in the world. MST is the largest and most effectively organized people’s movement in Brazil and perhaps in Latin America. Consisting of an estimated 1.5 million members, MST has, through its struggles, obtained land for an estimated 350,000 families. For those who are denied land – central their way of life and held deeply sacred – this Landless Workers Movement provides the structure and support for people to fight for agrarian reform and basic rights for themselves and their families. (See The landless rural worker's movemnt (MST) and democracy in Brazil, University of Oxford.)

On our walk through the fields, between chants about protecting biodiversity and fighting Syngenta, a number of campesinos would shout: “Globalize the Struggle!” to which the rest of us would reply: “Globalize Hope!”

We live in a globalized world – made clear by international treaties such at the Convention on Biodiversity, as well as by GMO field trials in Brazil owned and operated by a multinational corporation based in Switzerland. The Landless Workers Movement and Via Campesina International are not trying deny or undue this globalization. Instead, they – we – recognize that we must work together locally and internationally to advocate for a more just world in which all of us, not at the expense of others, have the right to life, livelihood, security and sustenance, and that we can guarantee those rights for our children and grandchildren.

"The International Delegation greets the workers who occupy Syngenta to Protect Biodiversity"

As the Chair watched over them...

With the Chair watching over them supportively, dozens of women from the Via Campesina staged a demonstration inside the Working Group where the issue of Terminator technology will be addressed. With dignity and passion these women held candles and signs condemning Terminator Technology, they stood for a while in silence and before leaving expressed loudly and clearly their demands to ban Terminator.

Its hard to imagine that anyone could ignore and disrespect the sincere and impassioned pleas of these women...

But wait, Canada doesn't even listen to the please of its own citizens and has neglected to address their many concerns on this matter. In a recent interview Giuliano Tolusso of Agriculture Canada said, in regards to the Terminator Ban, "We haven't necessarily consulted with farmers." Not to say that farmers have been quiet though. The Canadian Organic Growers Organization, the National Farmers Union, and the 44,000 member strong Québécois Union des Producteurs Agricoles (UPA) have all come out in opposition of Terminator technology. The Canadian Federation of Agriculture, which has 200,000 members, has passed a resolution requesting an assessment of the impacts of Terminator seeds on farmers.

In a recent Globe & Mail article it was reported that a spokeswoman for Agriculture Canada said no one was available to answer questions about Canada's negotiating position on Terminator technology because all relevant experts were in Brazil. Well I am in Brazil as well and I am not the only one here that has been trying to get a hold of Agriculture Canada or get a clear statement of my country’s position.

Canada needs to stop listening to the United States and industries like Delta & Pine Land with their vested interests. We need to start listening to our own farmers and people from around the world like the women from Via Campesina who reasonably and rightfully demand protection of their livelihoods.

Everyone's Talking Dirt

picture: the root system and mycorrhizal of a plant

Remember how everyone used to say “that’s just the tip of the iceberg?” Well, now people are saying “that’s just the tip of the plant.” What we see above ground, that little precious stem and leaf, is actually only one fraction of the actual plant. A lot of the important actions are actually going on underneath the ground. Soil has a lot more to it than we ever thought.

Soil actually just might be the next big thing everyone is talking about. Turns out that the below ground biological diversity (BGBD) has a pretty big impact on what is going on with the above ground biodiversity. Here at the MOP there are a lot of side events going on that are talking about the necessity of paying attention to what is happening underneath our feet.

You might think that dirt is dirt. But actually, climate change, greenhouse gases (GHGs), and biodiversity are all affected by the microorganisms that inhabit that very “dirt” you can so easily wipe off your shoes. Soil organisms provide essential services towards the sustainable management of agricultural ecosystems which is important because intense, unsustainable agriculture is a major cause of biodiversity loss. Soil organisms control mineral nutrient cycling, hold carbon, maintain soil’s water retention capacity, and improve plant health, along with many other helpful functions.

The reduction of BGBD will decrease agricultural productivity (resulting in a higher number of hectares having to be used to get the same yield) and also decrease the resilience of agricultural ecosystems so that they are more vulnerable to erosion, pests, diseases, and the general degradation of the land. We need to keep agricultural ecosystems as healthy and sustainable as we can so that the biodiversity loss, which is usually so high in agricultural systems, is lessened.

There is a lot going on underneath your feet. In just one meter squared of soil in a temperate forest there can be more than 1000 species of invertebrates, and in only one gram of soil the number of microbes is even greater. It is time to start paying attention to what is going on both above ground and below ground. So next time you go to wipe that soil off your shoes, remember what important role that “dirt,” and all it contains, plays in our ecosystem.

Implementation Review Proves To Be a Procedural Mess

On Wednesday evening the Working Group II held an extended meeting to cover the review of implementation and the 2010 targets of reduced biodiversity laws. The results were not promising. The underlying issue seemed to be the lack of National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (NBSAPs)In many countries these strategies do not yet exist or have not been reported to the Secretariat. Further, countries that have very little capacity and have recieved support for the creation of NBSAPs do not have the capacity to implement them or send in to the secreatariat the national reports on their implementation to the secreatriat. Also NBSAPs are not generally implemented or made consistent with policies at the local level with countries.
The working group on the review of implementation has recommended that the Executive Secreatriat aid countries in the creation and implementation of NBSAPs, however, a few Parties on Wednesday evening expressed that this is not within the mandate of the Secreatariat and must be decided upon and requested by the COP.

The issue of processes toward both implementation and its review seemed to halt discussions repeatedly. The confusing number and means of compilation of documents also frustrated the process. Parties were confused about where information came from that was included in the documents and what group (or example SUBSTTA, Working Group on Implementation or the Secretariat) had created the texts. These documents refer to guidelines, meetings, programes and processes that have yet to be decided upon by the COP. Many Parties brought up the point that there seem to be two parallel processes being attempted at the same time. The negotiations are complicated by the attempt to discuss guidelines or mandates for groups or programes that do not yet officially exist.

The Convention will not exist as a meaningful instrument if it is not implemented fully and effectively. The review of implementation is an extremely important task of mamoth porportions. It is not as exciting and theoretical as many of the other agenda items for COP 8 but may be infinitely more important in its overarching goal. It is also very necessary for this processed to not get stuck in procedural circles, which may be conveniently promoted by some Parties attempting to water down the impact and reach of this treaty. This process must be efficient and able to react quickly to the gaps and needs for implementation, especially toward the 2010 target.