Jul 07

Endangered species may become extinct 100 times faster than previously thought, scientists warned today, in a bleak re-assessment of the threat to global biodiversity.

Writing in the journal Nature, leading ecologists claim that methods used to predict when species will die out are seriously flawed, and dramatically underestimate the speed at which some plants and animals will be wiped out.

The findings suggest that animals such as the western gorilla, the Sumatran tiger and the Malayan sun bear, the smallest of the bear family, may become extinct much sooner than conservationists feared.

Ecologists Brett Melbourne at the University of Colorado at Boulder and Alan Hastings at the University of California, Davis, said conservation organisations should use updated extinction models to urgently re-evaluate the risks to wildlife.

“Some species could have months instead of years left, while other species that haven’t even been identified as under threat yet should be listed as endangered,” said Melbourne.

Related articles:
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UN official: Biodiversity loss could hurts medical research

The warning has particular implications for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, which compiles an annual “red list” of endangered species. Last year, the list upgraded western gorillas to critically endangered, after populations of a subspecies were found to be decimated by Ebola virus and commercial trade in bush meat. The Yangtze river dolphin was listed as critically endangered, but is possibly already extinct.

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Jun 09

Related Articles:
–  Exposed: the great GM crops myth

The World According to Monsanto – A documentary that Americans won’t ever see

At stake is no less than control of the world’s food supply.

BIODIVERSITY: Privatisation Making Seeds Themselves Infertile

Companies accused of ‘profiteering’ as they attempt to patent crop genes

Giant biotech companies are privatising the world’s protection against climate change by filing hundreds of monopoly patents on genes that help crops resist it, a new investigation has concluded.

The study – by the authoritative Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration (ETC Group), based in Ottawa, Canada – has found that nine firms have filed at least 532 patents around the world on about 55 different genes offering protection against heat, drought and floods. If granted, the companies would be given control of crucial natural raw material needed to maintain food supplies in an increasingly hungry world.

Last week, as world leaders met in Rome to discuss the food crisis, GM companies promoted their technologies as the answer to hunger. On Thursday, Monsanto – the biggest and most controversial firm – announced a “commitment” to increase food production, partly by developing crops that need less water.

“Together we must meet the needs for increased food, fibre and energy, while preserving the environment,” said the company’s head, Hugh Grant. “These commitments represent the beginning of a journey that we will expand on and deepen in the years ahead.”

The ETC Group calls this “an opportunistic public relations strategy”, adding: “Monsanto’s business is selling patented seeds for industrial agriculture – not addressing a humanitarian food crisis.”

The report of its investigation shows that Monsanto and BASF – which last year announced a $1.5bn “collaboration” to develop new GM crops, including “ones more tolerant to adverse environmental conditions such as drought” – have between them filed patents for 27 of the 55 genes. Others had been filed by companies such as Bayer, Syngenta and Dow.

The reports says some of the applications are sweeping. One would cover more than 30 crops from oats to oil palms, triticale to tea, and potatoes to perennial grass – “in other words, virtually all food crops”.

It says the “corporate grab on climate-tolerant genes” means that “a handful of transnational companies are now positioned to determine who gets access to key genetic traits and what price they must pay”.

Small farmers in developing countries will be particularly hard hit by such “climate-change profiteering”. Patenting will make the crops expensive and ensure that poor farmers have to buy them every year, by prohibiting them from saving seeds from one harvest to grow for the next.

According to the report, conventional, non-GM breeding techniques are making remarkable progress in developing crops that can tolerate heat, floods and drought. A new Asian rice, due to go on the market next year, can stand being submerged for two weeks without affecting yields, while a new African one flowers early in the morning, escaping the heat of the day.

But, it says, “the patent grab is sucking up money and resources that could be spent on affordable, farmer-based strategies for survival”.

It concludes: “These patented technologies will ultimately concentrate corporate power, drive up costs, inhibit independent research and further undermine the rights of farmers to save and exchange seeds”.

But Croplife, which represents the world’s plant-science industry, retorts; “Patenting is very important. That is how we protect intellectual property and ensure we continue to bring new innovations to the marketplace.” It denies that biotechnology companies are seeking to monopolise world food supplies. Continue reading »

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May 28

Related articles:

Exposed: the great GM crops myth
:
“Genetic modification actually cuts the productivity of crops, an authoritative new study shows, undermining repeated claims that a switch to the controversial technology is needed to solve the growing world food crisis.”

BIODIVERSITY: Privatisation Making Seeds Themselves Infertile

U.S. using food crisis to boost bio-engineered crops

From Seeds of Suicide to Seeds of Hope: Navdanya’s Intervention to Stop Farmers’ Suicides in Vidharbha

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Heather Meek leafs through the seed catalogue she wrote on the family computer, on winter nights after the kids went to bed.

There are Kahnawake Mohawk beans and Painted Mountain corn; Tante Alice cucumber and 40 varieties of heritage tomatoes.

Selling seeds is more than just an extra source of income on this organic farm an hour northwest of Montreal.

For Meek and partner Frederic Sauriol, propagating local varieties is part of a David and Goliath struggle by small farmers against big seed companies.

At stake, they believe, is no less than control of the world’s food supply.

Since the dawn of civilization, farmers have saved seeds from the harvest and replanted them the following year.

But makers of genetically modified (GM) seeds — introduced in 1996 and now grown by some 70,000 Canadian farmers, according to Monsanto, the world’s largest seed company — have been putting a stop to that practice.

The 12 million farmers worldwide who will plant GM seeds this year sign contracts agreeing not to save or replant seeds. That means they must buy new seeds every year.

Critics charge such contracts confer almost unlimited power over farmers’ lives to multinational companies whose priority is profit. They say GM seeds are sowing a humanitarian and ecological disaster.

But Trish Jordan, a Canadian spokesman for Monsanto, explains that requiring farmers to sign “technology use agreements” allows companies to recoup the cost of developing products.

“Farmers choose these products because of benefits they provide,” Jordan says. “That’s why we’re successful as a company.”

The debate over GM seeds has come into sharp focus as the world faces a food-price crisis that threatens to push millions into starvation.

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May 27

BONN, May 22 (IPS) – Seeds were once for ever. After harvest, a few from the crop would be planted for the following year, and so it went on.

Now, biochemical industry giants are making seeds themselves infertile. You sow them this year, and that’s it. For next year’s crop, you need brand new seeds — you would have to buy them, of course.

Twenty-five years ago, there were at least 7,000 seed growers worldwide, and none of them controlled more than one percent of the global market. Today, after a takeover spree, 10 major biochemical multinationals, including Monsanto, DuPont-Pioneer, Syngenta, Bayer Cropsciencie, BASF, and Dow Agrosciences, control more than 50 percent of the seeds market.

“The goal of these companies is, of course, to make profits,” Benedict Haerling, researcher at the German non-governmental organisation Future of Agriculture, told IPS. “In order to improve their profits, they all apply one strategy to increase their control of the market: they impose upon farmers worldwide the so-called vertical integration of inputs, from seeds to fertilisers to pesticides, all from one brand.” Compulsory customer loyalty, you might call it.

And through biochemical manipulation, including genetic modifications, many companies have made sure the harvest you obtain cannot be sown again.

Such “vertical integration of agricultural inputs” has transformed agriculture in developing countries into a two-class business, Angelika Hillbeck, researcher on bio-safety and agriculture at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich told IPS.

“In the developing countries there is a class of farmers with large plantations and enough money who can afford to buy all inputs from the major biochemical companies, from seeds and fertilisers to pesticides and conservatives.” But there are small farmers for whom the biochemical markets are out of reach.

Hillbeck and Haerling are scientific counsellors to non-governmental organisations and associations of small farmers in developing countries who are attending the UN conference on biological diversity in Bonn.

The conference aims at reviewing international compliance with the targets adopted in 2002 to significantly reduce the rate of decimation of species at the global and national level by 2010. It is also set to formulate binding international rules on legal measures to stop the loss of biodiversity. Continue reading »

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May 17

“Reduced biodiversity means millions of people face a future where food supplies are more vulnerable to pests and disease and where water is in irregular or short supply.”
James Leape, Director general, WWF UK

Between a quarter and a third of the world’s wildlife has been lost since 1970, according to data compiled by the Zoological Society of London.


Over-fishing and demand for their fins as a delicacy have hit shark numbers

Populations of land-based species fell by 25%, marine by 28% and freshwater by 29%, it says.

Humans are wiping out about 1% of all other species every year, and one of the “great extinction episodes” in the Earth’s history is under way, it says. Continue reading »

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Apr 23

The world risks losing new medical treatments for osteoporosis, cancer and other human ailments if it does not act quickly to conserve the planet’s biodiversity, a senior United Nations environmental official said Wednesday.

Earth’s organisms offer a variety of naturally made chemical compounds with which scientists could develop new medicines, but are under threat of extinction, said Achim Steiner, executive director of the U.N. Environment Program.

“We must do something about what is happening to biodiversity,” Steiner told reporters. “We must help society understand how much we already depend on diversity of life to run our economies, our lives, but more importantly, what are we losing in terms of future potential.” Continue reading »

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