Article - October 2012

In May 2008, on the eve of MOP4 in Bonn, six major biotech companies suddenly presented their "Compact" in an effort to undermine the then still ongoing negotiations about Liability and Redress. The Parties decided against it, continued negotiating and finally - at MOP5 in Nagoya - adopted the Nagoya-Kuala Lumpur Supplementary Protocol on Liability and Redress.
Unfortunately that doesn't mean that we have seen the end of the Compact. Four years later and the same six companies (Monsanto, DuPont/Pioneer, Dow Agro Sciences, Syngenta, BASF and Bayer CropScience) together with the Global Industry Coalition (GCI) are still lobbying for it - but now they claim that they never wanted to stand in the way of the Supplementary Protocol, that they just want to provide countries with different options.
The text of the Compact has been amended since its first version, but the basic issues are still the same as they were at their presentations four and two years ago.

Narrow definition of damage

The Compact does not in any way address traditional damage, i.e. damage to property, health and life, other than damage to biological diversity as defined in the Compact. From this, it follows that a major portion of potential damage, such as damage to farmers and their livelihoods and health, will not be covered. (see D. Currie 2010, ECO 34(2)) Only significant damage to biodiversity going to be covered. What does this mean?
The Compact does not cover contamination, nor damages of which the Compact Tribunal assumes that they will heal by themselves; nor possible adverse effects addressed in the official risk assessment of the Competent Authority; nor on species for which solid baseline with all its natural variations has not been established (Compact, Art. 8).

Scientific Paper - April 2010

With the rising emphasis on biofuels as a potential solution to climate change, this paper asks whether certification schemes, developed to promote sustainable feedstock production, are able to deliver genuine sustainability benefits. The Round Table on Responsible Soy (RTRS) is a certification scheme that aims to promote responsible soy production through the development of principles and criteria. However, can and does this initiative address the negative impacts associated with the intensive production of soy? Taking the example of soy biodiesel produced in Argentina, this paper asks whether the social and environmental impacts of soybean production can be mitigated by the RTRS. It concludes that at present certification schemes are unlikely to be able to address either the institutional challenges associated with their implementation or the detrimental impacts of the additional demand generated by biofuels.

- March 2010

The term GMO refers to any organism that has been genetically engineered and includes plants (algae, grasses, flowers, food crops, trees) animals (insects, fish, mammals), fungi, bacteria, and viruses.

Often different terms used to describe the same, mostly GM, GE and transgenic.

Report - December 2009

Few would deny that agriculture is especially severely affected by climate change and that the right practices contribute to mitigate it, yet expectations of the new climate agreement diverge sharply, as well as notions on what are good and what are bad agricultural practices and whether soil carbon sequestration should be part of carbon trading.

Report - May 2008

An overview of risk assessment and risk management issues

Trees differ in a number of important characteristics from field crops, and these characteristics are also relevant for any risk assessment of genetically engineered (GE) trees. A review of the scientific literature shows that due to the complexity of trees as organisms with large habitats and numerous interactions, currently no meaningful and sufficient risk assessment of GE trees is possible, and that especially a trait-specific risk assessment is not appropriate. Both scientific literature and in-field experience show that contamination by and dispersal of GE trees will take place. Transgenic sterility is not an option to avoid the potential impacts posed by GE trees and their spread. Regulation of trees on a national level will not be sufficient because due to the large-scale dispersion of reproductive plant material, GE trees are likely to cross national borders. All this makes GE trees a compelling case for the application of the precautionary principle.

Technical Briefing - February 2008

Commentary on the official background paper by the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) entitled “The Potential Environmental, Cultural and Socio-Economic Impacts of Genetically Modified Trees” (UNEP/CBD/SBSTTA/13/INF/6)

It is the purpose of the Convention on Biological Diversity to protect biological diversity in all of its richness – this is also done in awareness of its importance for the functioning of vital systems such as ecosystems, climate systems and water systems. Forests include some of the world’s most important biodiversity reserves with some forest soils alone containing thousands of species. Many of these species are endemic to particular ecosystems and the fragmenting of forest ecosystems has left these species highly vulnerable to new threats. It is therefore crucial that the CBD address emerging issues such as genetically engineered (modified) trees with an eye to ensuring that forest biological diversity is in no way negatively affected.

Report - December 2007

The Genetic Engineering of the World’s Leading Staple Crop

"Rice is the world's most consumed staple food grain, with half the world's people depending on it. It is harvested on about 146 million hectares, representing 10 per cent of global arable land. The yield is reported as 535 million tons per year and 91 per cent is produced by Asian farmers, especially in China and India (55 per cent of the total)."
Rice is not just a daily source of calories - it is intrinsically linked to Asian lifestyles and heritage. Present indigenous and local varieties are the product of centuries of breeding and selection by farmers to produce rice suitable to their environment and needs.

Briefing - March 2006

Implications for Human Health, Biodiversity and Biosafety

The damaging effects of conventional industrial mono-culture tree plantations is already well-documented. The addition of transgenic tree plantations can only worsen these existing problems. Add to this the utter lack of credible risk assessment of transgenic tree release,
especially on a global scale, and it becomes a matter of common sense that there must not be any further forward motion in the commercial development of transgenic tree plantations. The UN CBD must impose a moratorium on the technology and launch a thorough and global examination of the risks of this technology.

Briefing - March 2006

UN COP-8 Briefing No. 2

Genetically engineered trees do not offer a solution to global warming, rather they are a global distraction from finding real solutions to the problems of global warming. In addition, they threaten the world’s forests through gene flow and other hazards. This is why people on all continents are raising the call for a global moratorium on the release of genetically modified trees into the environment.

Report - April 2005

How producing RR soya is destroying the food security and sovereignty of Argentina

This case study explains why Argentina began to grow genetically engineered RR soya and why its cultivation has spread so rapidly to more than 14 million hectares (ha) in 2003-4. It looks at the role that Argentina adopted in the 19th Century as an exporter of raw materials and a target for foreign investment. Other factors touched on include the massive accumulation of debt, economic collapse, financial speculation, capital flight and structural adjustment imposed by the Menem government (1989-99) according to instructions from international financial institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.


So many GMOs, so little time

Genetically modified organisms

The term GMO (genetically modified organism) refers to any organism that has been genetically modified, or – in scientific language – genetically engineered: plants (algae, grasses, flowers, food crops, trees), animals (insects, fish, mammals), fungi, unicellular organisms, bacteria, and viruses. In the last decades a wide range of organisms have been subject to genetic modification for research as well as for commercial purposes. Only four major GM crops have so far been commercialised on a larger scale: maize (corn), soya, oilseed rape (canola) and cotton. They have been modified for two different traits: herbicide tolerance and Bt toxin production for pest resistance. A fifth crop, papaya, genetically modified for disease resistance, is grown on a small scale in Hawaii.
Other crop plants that have been engineered but are not commercially grown include: potato, rice and wheat as well as tomato, fodder beet and sugar beet, sugar cane, alfalfa and brinjal (eggplant, aubergine).
Many organisations worldwide work on the wide range of problems and risks linked to GM crops: environmental and biosafety issues, human and animal health, food security, socio-economic impacts, intellectual property rights and more.
In this broad spectrum, the focus of EcoNexus has largely been on three areas:

  • GE trees because GE trees pose entirely different environmental risks to annual crops, even in the stage of 'field trials'
  • GE rice as the world’s main staple crop
  • GE soyaas a GMO, central to the predominant chemical no-till system, mainly destined for animal feed and more recently for biofuel.

GE, GM, LMO or transgenic?

GE (genetically engineered) is the original scientific term, indicating the method used to alter the organism, though the word engineering gives a misleading impression of precision. GM (genetically modified) is widely used to mean the same. ‘Transgenic’ is another common term, scientifically used for the DNA transferred from one organism to another, for example in transgenic DNA or transgenic construct. There is a misconception that transgenic DNA has to originate from a different species. In fact transgenic DNA can also be derived from within the same species, i.e. ‘donor’ and ‘recipient’ organism can be one and the same species or even individual.
Another term used is ‘recombinant DNA technology’.
The term LMO (living modified organism) is used in the context of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and covers all GMOs, but also organisms created by other methods, such as cell fusion.

April 2010