domingo, mayo 31, 2009

Emporios del azúcar - La inminente invasión de la caña transgénica


Una de las tendencias más destructivas de la agricultura en los últimos veinte años es la expansión de las plantaciones de soja [o soya] en el cono sur de América Latina. Agresivamente, las empresas que estuvieron a la cabeza de ese “auge” se mueven ahora a la caña de azúcar, y fijan la mira en grandes extensiones de tierra en los países del sur, donde el azúcar puede producirse muy barato. De no oponerle resistencia, es probable que haya que enfrentar a graves impactos: la producción local de alimentos será menospreciada, habrá expulsión mano de obra y desplazamiento de comunidades o quedarán expuestos a crecientes niveles de plaguicidas. Las agroempresas extranjeras afianzarán su control del azúcar. A continuación analizamos la confluencia entre el avance de la caña de azúcar genéticamente modificada y las transformaciones de la industria azucarera global.

En un lapso de tan sólo 10 años, casi toda la pampa argentina y enormes extensiones de bosques y tierras agrícolas en Brasil, Bolivia, Uruguay y Paraguay fueron convertidas en desiertos verdes, monocultivos de soja. [1] El auge de la soja en América Latina fue, y sigue siendo, un gran filón para el agronegocio. Al pequeño grupo de gigantes cerealeros mundiales que dominan el comercio internacional de semillas oleaginosas y el mercado de alimentos comerciales le proporcionó sitios de producción barata y abundante donde pudieron expandir y consolidar sus actividades mundiales. Esas mismas empresas, tales como Cargill, ADM y Bunge, también hicieron también miles de millones de dólares con la venta de los fertilizantes químicos requeridos, mientras que otras grandes compañías extranjeras, como AGCO y John Deere, obtuvieron pingües beneficios con la venta de tractores. Monsanto y Syngenta obtuvieron ganancias récord con la venta de sus semillas modificadas genéticamente y sus plaguicidas químicos.

La invasión de la soja se basó en un modelo de producción que gira en torno a la utilización de semillas modificadas genéticamente para soportar enormes dosis de herbicidas químicos. Monsanto proporcionó las semillas y los herbicidas mientras que una nueva generación de compañías agrícolas, dirigidas principalmente por empresarios urbanos, arrendó o absorbió grandes extensiones de tierra y administró la producción. Toda vez que se ha aplicado este modelo, los pequeños agricultores y los campesinos fueron expulsados y las comunidades locales resultaron devastadas por el éxodo rural y la contaminación con productos químicos.

En cuanto a las grandes transnacionales de los agronegocios, la experiencia con la soja en el cono sur les mostró el modo de lucrar con la expansión de la agricultura industrial en los países en desarrollo y les abrió la puerta a una nueva era de conquista. El azúcar, un cultivo con un largo historial de destrucción ambiental y cultural, y de cruda explotación humana, bien podría ser el próximo promotor de un auge al estilo de la soja, sobre todo porque en el campo ya hay nuevos cultivos de azúcar transgénica.

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Cuban Response to an article by Dennis Avery titled "Cubans Starve on a Diet of Lies"

Dear Mr. Dennis Avery,

I have read your article “Cubans Starve on a Diet of Lies,” written last March 23, regarding Cuban agriculture. At first, I hesitated to respond to such fundamentally flawed claims. However, because the misinformation propagated in your piece is unfair to Cuba and Cubans, I am doing so now.

In your article you ignore the advances made by agro-ecology, organic agriculture and especially urban agriculture in Cuba, at which you seem to direct your article. I don’t understand why a prestigious newspaper such as the International Herald Tribune would publish an article that is not adequately researched. I hope they publish this response.

In the first place, you say that in Cuba we “starve on a diet of lies.” It is hard to believe that one could starve where the population has a life expectancy of 78, the highest in Latin America, similar to the index in your powerful country and surpassed by very few countries worldwide. The infant mortality index in Cuba at the end of 2008 was 4.7 for every 1000 births (compared to 6/1000 in your country). Worldwide there are nearly a billion people going hungry. If you do the proper research you will see that none of these are Cuban. None of us, “hungry Cubans” as you mention, sleep on the streets of our modest third world country, as I have seen them doing in yours. Cuba is proud that amongst third world nations our health system is equal to those of developed nations and that we are glad to share it with any part of the world. An example of this is that medical students (including yours) along with others studying various careers have graduated in our medical schools and are in dozens of countries that need assistance, sometimes offering their services for free. We have cooperated with several countries on eradicating illiteracy and it has become a reality for millions of poor people. It would be good for your country to imitate us in this respect.

You completely confuse urban agriculture with what you refer to many times as organic agriculture and agro-ecology in our entire country. This agriculture that you so despise has been largely responsible for putting our people back on their feet during the Special Period following the collapse of the Soviet Union. This, despite the unjust U.S. blockade—that your politicians label with the innocent word “embargo”—imposed on our small island for over 50 years. (Please don’t be surprised if any day your government suspends this absurd measure, as in the last United Nations resolution in October of 2008, 185 countries voted in favor of removing the embargo and only three voted against, one being the United States.) Urban agriculture did not exist in the early 90’s in Cuba. Now we have over 350,000 people farming successfully (not a mere 10,000 as you wrongly stated). They receive a monthly salary of over $1,500 pesos, ten times the amount you erroneously published. We also have more than 100,000 individual farmers notably applying and advancing agro-ecological methods of production, as well as different types of cooperatives that are starting to apply the agroecological approach on a large scale. In the past year, land has been given to 70,000 new producers that requested plots for farming. Keep in mind that our country only has a population of 11 million people, so calculate the percentage and please compare it to yours. If you do so you will see that even with subsidies your country has more people in jail than they do farming the land.

You make a big mistake when you affirm that Cuba imports 84% of the food that it consumes. These percentages represent only the food that is distributed through regulated government channels. After being hit by three hurricanes last year, Cuba currently imports 55% of the total food that it consumes. This percentage is growing smaller.

That we know of, you have never been in Cuba. However, we have hosted many prestigious international colleagues—including from your country—who have seen with their very eyes what we have modestly achieved, and have confirmed it to others throughout the world. Please respect them, as these are serious and credible people not seeking to spread lies.

I request that you let us build our own future. Even though we are not a perfect country, we do not wish to have conquistadores nor do we need unsolicited advisors, the time for that has passed. Of course we have problems, but we can solve them without your advice. I recommend that you spend more time studying the ways your own country’s subsidized industrial agriculture is harming the soil and the consumers, polluting the environment and destroying the food systems of third world nations. Perhaps you can find a way to keep it within your own borders.

Do you, your children and your grandchildren eat healthy food? If not, you should try it and maybe you will achieve the same health standards as the so-called “hungry” Cubans. I hope that you are not offended by my response. I responded to your words and wrote from the heart.
Come any time to Cuba, we will try to understand each other in our modest English.

Fernando Funes-Monzote, PhD. – Cuban Association of Agricultural and Forestry Technicians (ACTAF)

Editor’s note: Since 1994, Food First has participated with ACTAF and its predecessor, the Cuban Organic Farmers Association in sponsoring exchange visits between farmers and scientists of Cuba, the U.S. and citizens from other countries including New Zealand, Australia, South Korea, Haiti, and Laos.

See the original Dennis Avery article here:

See also an article by Fernando Funes-Monzote warning of the perils of introducing GMO crops into Cuba published here:

And another response to Dennis Avery here:

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sábado, mayo 30, 2009

DE RAPAL-URUGUAY: Del Uruguay natural al transgénico y del Uruguay productivo al de la Monsanto

La moratoria de ingreso a nuevos cultivos transgénicos fue decretada por el gobierno durante 18 meses, entre enero del 2007 hasta julio del 2008. El objetivo de esta moratoria fue elaborar un marco de bioseguridad. Esta moratoria implicó la no autorización de nuevos cultivos transgénicos hasta no tener un marco regulatorio para determinar en qué condiciones los nuevos cultivos serían aprobados. Cabe mencionar que durante ese periodo de moratoria no se cumplió con el objetivo de elaborar dicho marco de bioseguridad.

A pesar de ello, en uno de los consejos de ministros de julio 2008, el ministro de Ganadería Ing. Agr. Ernesto Agazzi anunció el levantamiento de la moratoria y que en Uruguay se manejaría una política de "coexistencia regulada en la utilización de transgénicos, creando una estructura institucional nueva".

En esa instancia el ministro también comunicó la creación de un gabinete ministerial, conformado por Ganadería, Agricultura y Pesca, Salud Pública, Economía y Finanzas, Vivienda, Ordenamiento Territorial y Medio Ambiente y Relaciones Exteriores, que será el encargado de definir los lineamientos y aprobar las autorizaciones de nuevos transgénicos.

En el día de hoy se anuncia por medios de prensa escrita y radial que el gobierno habilitará en los próximos días la entrada formal de solicitudes para la comercialización y producción de semillas transgénicas.

Situación de Uruguay

Al mismo tiempo, el director del Instituto de Semillas, Enzo Benech, anuncia que la multinacional Monsanto “tiene firme interés en instalarse en el país para producir esas semillas”.

Sería importante saber si el gabinete ministerial creado a partir del levantamiento de la moratoria del año pasado ha definido los lineamientos de las nuevas autorizaciones de cultivos transgénicos. Otra pregunta importante que cabe hacerse es si dicho gabinete ha realizado algún tipo de evaluación en relación a los cultivos transgénicos ya existentes en nuestro país (soja y maíz), que le habilite a autorizar en un corto tiempo la producción y comercialización de nuevas semillas transgénicas en Uruguay.

En ese sentido, cabe señalar que los estudios realizados por nuestra institución sobre ambos cultivos transgénicos no son nada positivos en relación a sus impactos sociales y ambientales así como en lo referente a generación de empleo.

En relación al anuncio de la instalación de Monsanto a nuestro país, RAPAL Uruguay se entrevistó hace unas dos semanas con el Ing. Agr. Enzo Benech y éste nos comunicó sobre el plan de la empresa Monsanto de instalarse en nuestro país. Ante esa sorpresiva noticia se le pidió su opinión al respecto, a lo que respondió: “la venida de esta empresa a nuestro país traerá trabajo y además no se tendrá que comprar semillas a Argentina ya que serán producidas acá”.

Tanto la noticia de la posible instalación de la empresa Monsanto en nuestro país, como la apertura al ingreso de nuevos transgénicos son motivo de gran preocupación.

Mientras se habla de un Uruguay natural, se continúa haciendo un uso masivo de agrotóxicos y cultivos transgénicos que nada tienen de “natural”.

Mientras se habla de un Uruguay productivo, nuestra agricultura queda a merced de empresas transnacionales como Monsanto.

¿Es ese el país natural y productivo al que aspiramos los uruguayos?

RAPAL Uruguay
29 mayo 2009


viernes, mayo 29, 2009

Climate Summit Inc.

Probably the most important climate meeting in the run up to the main December Copenhagen conference is happening this weekend.

No its not a scientific get-together, but its big business being given unprecedented access to the UN climate negotiations, in cohorts with the hosts of the December meeting, the Danish government.

The event is called the World Business Summit on Climate Change. Log onto the website of the Summit and you will believe that Conference is crucial in sorting out an agreement before December. The Conference is “Your last chance to influence the next global treaty on climate change,” it claims.

Connie Hedegaard, the Danish Minister of Climate and Energy argues: “We, the politicians of the world, have a responsibility to reach a truly global climate change agreement in Copenhagen in December 2009. But it is the business society that can deliver the tools to turn our vision into reality. Businesses can provide the clever solutions to make it possible to live in a both modern and sustainable society.”

Many people would disagree with the principle that turning to Pepsi, BP and Shell for the tools to solve climate is the right idea.

A new report by Corporate Europe Observatory describes how flawed this approach is: “It’s not that the chief executives do not speak in anguish about the climate crisis. It’s their proposals that are worrying. The main players among those present all put their weight behind a number of proposals that in elegant ways will allow large companies to continue on the same track; “business as usual””.

“So, although the Danish Government supposedly wants to get business support for an “ambitious” climate agreement, it is hard to imagine anything other than the reverse as the result of a close alliance with big business – an agreement so full of loopholes and uncertainties that even ambitious reduction targets could end up as almost nothing”.

Amongst the 1,000 or so business leaders from around the world who will fly in to the event, will be leading players and business lobby groups with a disturbing record of working to weaken international climate agreements. CEO argues that “The Danish government’s approach is a threat to the prospects of an ambitious climate agreement in Copenhagen at the end of this year.”

Yet the conference will still be attended by Danish royalty, Al Gore, and Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

CEO argues that “By placing a large bet on “international business” in the run up to the climate summit, the Danish Government has opened doors to business lobbyists in a way in which the lobbyists could only have dreamt of beforehand. Industry has lobbied for years for self-regulation and the right to make use of various extensive loopholes, allowing them to continue producing as before. Now they are given the best possible means to form international climate policy in their interests.”

It looks like a “serious political blunder if a government believes it can use companies like Shell, BP and Vattenfall to persuade the more reluctant governments, including the US, to conclude an “ambitious” agreement.”

“So, rather than clearing the way for an ambitious agreement, the Government has with its commitment to the World Business Summit helped build a powerful coalition of companies and business coalitions, that could undermine the efficiency of a new agreement.”

CEO argues that the World Business Summit must be challenged. “This enhanced role for industry is an issue that must be followed closely by NGOs and social movements in the coming months. The platform, the Danish Government has built for the big players in the global economy must be removed immediately, and the debate turned effectively away from the question of what the industry believes can raise profits, and to what is necessary for the future of the globe.”

But then the slogan of the conference is “turning risks into opportunities” … .

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este miércoles,3 de JUNIO,6:30pm

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jueves, mayo 28, 2009


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miércoles, mayo 27, 2009

Buying farmland abroad: Outsourcing's third wave

The Economist (London) | May 21st 2009

Rich food importers are acquiring vast tracts of poor countries' farmland. Is this beneficial foreign investment or neocolonialism?

EARLY this year, the king of Saudi Arabia held a ceremony to receive a batch of rice, part of the first crop to be produced under something called the King Abdullah initiative for Saudi agricultural investment abroad. It had been grown in Ethiopia, where a group of Saudi investors is spending $100m to raise wheat, barley and rice on land leased to them by the government. The investors are exempt from tax in the first few years and may export the entire crop back home. Meanwhile, the World Food Programme (WFP) is spending almost the same amount as the investors ($116m) providing 230,000 tonnes of food aid between 2007 and 2011 to the 4.6m Ethiopians it thinks are threatened by hunger and malnutrition.

The Saudi programme is an example of a powerful but contentious trend sweeping the poor world: countries that export capital but import food are outsourcing farm production to countries that need capital but have land to spare. Instead of buying food on world markets, governments and politically influential companies buy or lease farmland abroad, grow the crops there and ship them back.

Supporters of such deals argue they provide new seeds, techniques and money for agriculture, the basis of poor countries’ economies, which has suffered from disastrous underinvestment for decades. Opponents call the projects “land grabs”, claim the farms will be insulated from host countries and argue that poor farmers will be pushed off land they have farmed for generations. What is unquestionable is that the projects are large, risky and controversial. In Madagascar they contributed to the overthrow of a government.

Investment in foreign farms is not new. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 foreign investors rushed to snap up former state-owned and collective farms. Before that there were famous—indeed notorious—examples of European attempts to set up flagship farms in ex-colonies, such as Britain’s ill-fated attempt in the 1940s to turn tracts of southern Tanzania into a limitless peanut prairie (the southern Tanganyika groundnut scheme). The phrase “banana republics” originally referred to servile dictatorships running countries whose economies were dominated by foreign-owned fruit plantations.

But several things about the current fashion are new. One is its scale. A big land deal used to be around 100,000 hectares (240,000 acres). Now the largest ones are many times that. In Sudan alone, South Korea has signed deals for 690,000 hectares, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for 400,000 hectares and Egypt has secured a similar deal to grow wheat. An official in Sudan says his country will set aside for Arab governments roughly a fifth of the cultivated land in Africa’s largest country (traditionally known as the breadbasket of the Arab world).

It is not just Gulf states that are buying up farms. China secured the right to grow palm oil for biofuel on 2.8m hectares of Congo, which would be the world’s largest palm-oil plantation. It is negotiating to grow biofuels on 2m hectares in Zambia, a country where Chinese farms are said to produce a quarter of the eggs sold in the capital, Lusaka. According to one estimate, 1m Chinese farm labourers will be working in Africa this year, a number one African leader called “catastrophic”.

In total, says the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), a think-tank in Washington, DC, between 15m and 20m hectares of farmland in poor countries have been subject to transactions or talks involving foreigners since 2006. That is the size of France’s agricultural land and a fifth of all the farmland of the European Union. Putting a conservative figure on the land’s value, IFPRI calculates that these deals are worth $20 billion-30 billion—at least ten times as much as an emergency package for agriculture recently announced by the World Bank and 15 times more than the American administration’s new fund for food security.

If you assume that the land, when developed, will yield roughly two tonnes of grain per hectare (which would be twice the African average but less than that of Europe, America and rich Asia), it would produce 30m-40m tonnes of cereals a year. That is a significant share of the world’s cereals trade of roughly 220m tonnes a year and would be more than enough to meet the appetite for grain imports in the Middle East. What is happening, argues Richard Ferguson, an analyst for Nomura Securities, is outsourcing’s third great wave, following that of manufacturing in the 1980s and information technology in the 1990s.

Several other features of the process are also new. Unlike older projects, the current ones mostly focus on staples or biofuels—wheat, maize, rice, jatropha. The Egyptian and South Korean projects in Sudan are both for wheat. Libya has leased 100,000 hectares of Mali for rice. By contrast, farming ventures used to be about cash crops (coffee, tea, sugar or bananas).

In the past, foreign farming investment was usually private: private investors bought land from private owners. That process has continued, particularly the snapping up of privatised land in the former Soviet Union. Last year a Swedish company called Alpcot Agro bought 128,000 hectares of Russia; South Korea’s Hyundai Heavy Industries paid $6.5m for a majority stake in Khorol Zerno, a company that owns 10,000 hectares of eastern Siberia; Morgan Stanley, an American bank, bought 40,000 hectares of Ukraine in March. And Pava, the first Russian grain processor to be floated, plans to sell 40% of its landowning division to investors in the Gulf, giving them access to 500,000 hectares. Thanks to rising land values and (until recently) rising commodity prices, farming has been one of the few sectors to remain attractive during the credit crunch.

The great government grab

But the majority of the new deals have been government-to-government. The acquirers are foreign regimes or companies closely tied to them, such as sovereign-wealth funds. The sellers are host governments dispensing land they nominally own. Cambodia leased land to Kuwaiti investors last August after mutual prime-ministerial visits. Last year the Sudanese and Qatari governments set up a joint venture to invest in Sudan; the Kuwaiti and Sudanese ministers of finance signed what they called a “giant” strategic partnership for the same purpose. Saudi officials have visited Australia, Brazil, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, the Philippines, South Africa, Sudan, Turkey, Ukraine and Vietnam to talk about land acquisitions. The balance between the state and private sectors is heavily skewed in favour of the state.

That makes the current round of land acquisitions different in kind, as well as scale. When private investors put money into cash crops, they tended to boost world trade and international economic activity. At least in theory, they encourage farmers to switch from growing subsistence rice to harvesting rubber for cash; from growing rubber to working in a tyre factory; and from making tyres to making cars. But now, governments are investing in staple crops in a protectionist impulse to circumvent world markets. Why are they doing this and what are the effects?

“Food security is not just an issue for Abu Dhabi or the United Arab Emirates,” says Eissa Mohamed Al Suwaidi of the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development. “Recently, it has become a hot issue everywhere.” He is confirming what everyone knows: the land deals are responses to food-market turmoil.

Between the start of 2007 and the middle of 2008, The Economist index of food prices rose 78%; soyabeans and rice both soared more than 130%. Meanwhile, food stocks slumped. In the five largest grain exporters, the ratio of stocks to consumption-plus-exports fell to 11% in 2009, below its ten-year average of over 15%.

It was not just the price rises that rattled food importers. Some of them, especially Arab ones, are oil exporters and their revenues were booming. They could afford higher prices. What they could not afford, though, was the spate of trade bans that grain exporters large and small imposed to keep food prices from rising at home. Ukraine and India banned wheat exports for a while; Argentina increased export taxes sharply. Actions like these raised fears in the Gulf that one day importers might not be able to secure enough supplies at any price. They persuaded many food-importing countries that they could no longer rely on world food markets for basic supplies.


martes, mayo 26, 2009


Toda la bulla en torno al glifosato y a las políticas de la Corporación Monsanto, ha legitimado lo que durante años veníamos afirmando sobre un modelo criminal de agricultura que despobló el campo, enfermó a las poblaciones, empobreció los suelos, modificó la cultura y los patrimonios de los argentinos y nos convirtió en una republiqueta sojera. Si ahora algunas denuncias y debates parecen consentidos, no solo es consecuencia de la presión de tanta gente honesta, el clima preelectoral lo posibilita, y también, lamentablemente, se debe a que nuevas tecnologías, modelos productivos y mercados calificados se van implementando en las políticas globales de las grandes empresas. El glifosato no solo está cuestionado en la Argentina, también en diversas partes del mundo se alzan voces similares a las de muchos científicos argentinos que nos recuerdan las investigaciones olvidadas durante años que verificaban sus terribles efectos sobre la salud de las poblaciones. Las empresas del Agronegocio, sin embargo, saben mejor que nadie acerca de sus propios crímenes y ya tienen planeadas soluciones para reforzar o renovar sus herbicidas cuestionados, nuevas semillas transgénicas resistentes a las nuevas formulaciones que se preparan para salir a los mercados, nuevos negocios que demorarán probablemente muchos otros años para que logremos como ahora, probar su intrínseca capacidad de contaminar, de enfermar y de difundir la muerte. O sea que pretenden volver a burlarse como hicieron en el año 1996, del principio precautorio y descubriremos otra vez que los venenos no son inocuos, cuando como ahora, las víctimas sean incontables…

A esas empresas les preocupa en medio de la actual debacle internacional, crear nuevos estímulos para la formulación de las relaciones financieras y de los mercados globales. Es por ello que están implementando los mercados calificados, con mesas redondas en que agrupan a víctimas y victimarios, a socios y a cómplices de las Corporaciones, y en esos espacios ensayan los discursos y los protocolos que establecerán las nuevas certificaciones de la soja y de otros paquetes Bio y nanotecnológicos que se encuentran en experimentación. La próxima reunión de la Mesa Redonda sobre Soja Responsable (RTRS, en inglés), será el 28 de Mayo en Campiñas (Brasil). Este foro les permitirá certificar como responsable la soja MG RoundupReady, a pesar de que en realidad, la promoción y el uso de esta soja es responsable del uso masivo de agrotóxicos, de la deforestación de grandes superficies de bosques así como de la expulsión forzosa de pequeños productores de sus tierras. En Campiñas las Corporaciones planean establecer las normativas internacionales para las sojas y los biocombustibles que pretenden ahora certificar como responsables, con lo que según proyectan, conseguirán entrar en el rentable mercado de los bonos de carbono que lucran con los cambios climáticos. Suponen también, que, de esa manera, mejorarán su imagen en relación a los consumidores a la vez que dinamizarán los mercados globales. De allí la renovada presión sobre el Vaticano, para que acepte la propuesta corporativa de que los transgénicos podrían resolver el hambre en el mundo, operatoria en que nuestro país participó pocos días atrás, mediante la presencia del presidente de la CONABIA, el biólogo Moisés Burachik. Los estrategas de las corporaciones necesitan anticiparse a las nuevas resistencias y denuncias, constituyendo los campos de confrontación y los límites en que se dirimirán las batallas del mañana.

Una vez más, pretenden involucrarnos en el gran juego de los sicópatas que gobiernan el mundo. Nuestro deber es, por lo contrario, persistir en buscar caminos de Emancipación.

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lunes, mayo 25, 2009


Para publicación inmediata


Dr. Jorge L. Colón 787.402.2015


25 de mayo de 2009

Foro sobre implicaciones éticas y educacionales de la

biotecnología en Puerto Rico

San Juan - Ante la política pública de desarrollar y promover la biotecnología en Puerto Rico como parte de un desarrollo basado en la “economía del conocimiento” es importante discutir las implicaciones éticas y educacionales de esta tecnología. La industria farmaceútica, la cual genera más de $20 mil millones en ganancias anuales en la isla, está experimentando una transformación al incrementar la cantidad de medicamentos que se crean usando procesos biotecnológicos. Se augura que dentro de los próximos 20 años cerca de la mitad de todas las nuevas medicinas que surjan serán basadas en la biotecnología. La inversión de capital de la industria biotecnológica en Puerto Rico en años recientes sobrepasa los $3,500 millones. Fincas en diferentes lugares en Puerto Rico se están utilizando para desarrollar plantas transgénicas para la exportación de semillas. Universidades han aprobado nuevos cursos en biotecnología para apoyar esta industria y se han construido y están en construcción nuevos centros de investigación y desarrollo en los recintos de la Universidad de Puerto Rico (UPR) ubicados en Mayagüez y en el área metropolitana con un costo de decenas de millones de dólares.

En vista de estos desarrollos, la División del Caribe de la Asociación Americana para el Avance de la Ciencia (AAAS por sus siglas en inglés) ha convocado a un foro sobre las implicaciones éticas y educacionales de la biotecnología en Puerto Rico. Participarán como deponentes en el foro los doctores Margarita Irizarry y José F. Rodríguez Orengo del Recinto de Ciencias Médicas de la UPR, el periodista ambiental Carmelo Ruiz, del Proyecto de Bioseguridad, y el ambientalista Juan Rosario de Misión Industrial.

El foro, abierto al público en general, se llevará a cabo este martes, 26 de mayo, de 1:30 a 3:00pm, en el Anfiteatro del 6to piso del edificio principal del Recinto de Ciencias Médicas de la Universidad de Puerto Rico.


Sobre la División del Caribe de la AAAS:

La División del Caribe de la AAAS fue fundada en 1985 para agrupar a los miembros de la AAAS de todas las islas y países en o bordeando el Mar Caribe, incluyendo la Península de Yucatán en México. Los objetivos de la División del Caribe de la AAAS son promover la labor de los científicos, facilitar la cooperación entre ellos, fomentar la libertad y responsabilidad científica, mejorar la eficacia de la ciencia en la promoción del bienestar humano, aumentar la comprensión y el reconocimiento de la importancia y la promesa de los métodos de la ciencia en el progreso humano, y servir como un vehículo para la comunicación y la cooperación entre las sociedades científicas en el territorio de la División.

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La farsa del mapa genómico de los mexicanos

Silvia Ribeiro*

El pasado 11 de mayo, el Instituto Nacional de Medicina Genómica (Inmegen) presentó en un acto mediático, con la presencia entusiasta de Felipe Calderón, el llamado Mapa del genoma de los mexicanos”. Se presentó como un gran avance científico, vinculándolo oportunistamente hasta con el estudio del virus de la gripe porcina. Obviaron sin embargo las cuestiones fundamentales: ¿avance para quién?, ¿quién se beneficia?, ¿a quién sirve?

Dieron a conocer la publicación en una revista científica de los resultados de cinco años de investigación en el proyecto ahora titulado “Proyecto de Diversidad Genómica de la Población Mexicana”. Inicialmente se proponían buscar las variaciones genéticas de las poblaciones indígenas de México, las cuales según los proponentes del Inmegen son una gran “oportunidad para la industria farmacéutica”. Posteriormente anunciaron que solamente tomaría muestras de poblaciones mestizas. Ahora el Inmegen reconoce haber tomado muestras de varias poblaciones indígenas, imprescindibles para “comparar” con el resto de la población.

Luego de años de costosos estudios, equipos y salarios (lo único gratis fueron las muestras de indígenas y “mestizos”), el Inmegen “demostró científicamente” que la población de México es una mezcla genética de poblaciones indígenas y europeas, con un pequeño toque de genes africanos en las zonas donde las plantaciones devoraban esclavos. Por si luego de 500 años de Conquista a alguien le hubiera pasado inadvertido.

Resaltan que en las muestras de México encontraron al menos 89 variaciones genéticas, cuya unicidad es que no habían sido detectadas en el proyecto internacional HapMap, un proyecto similar auspiciado por gobiernos y empresas farmacéuticas e informáticas, que en su primera fase se basó en el secuenciamiento genómico de 270 individuos de poblaciones africanas, asiáticas y europeas. En su tercera fase, el HapMap incorporó muestras de mexicanos residentes en Los Ángeles, pero el Inmegen no lo menciona.

Según el Inmegen, haber encontrado estas variaciones es un paso para desarrollar una “medicina personalizada”, basada en la composición genética de cada individuo y diseñando fármacos específicamente adaptados para las variaciones genéticas de la población mexicana.
La búsqueda de variaciones genómicas parte del supuesto que las diferencias genéticas indicarían la predisposición a adquirir o resistir ciertas enfermedades. Por tanto, además de encontrar variaciones, es necesario identificar si están asociadas a alguna dolencia.

Para ello, como describe el artículo presentado por el Inmegen, se usan mayoritariamente dos enfoques: uno llamado “asociación de genoma completo” y otro “mapeo por mestizaje”. En el primero se comparan las variaciones genómicas de personas con una determinada afección con el de otras que no la tienen. En el segundo, las diferencias con poblaciones ancestrales.
Lo que no aclara el Inmegen es que estos métodos han dado resultados extraordinariamente pobres para predecir y mucho menos para atender enfermedades.

Según una serie de artículos científicos publicados recientemente en la prestigiosa revista New England Journal of Medicine (23/4/2009), pese a los cientos de proyectos en curso y los miles de millones invertidos a nivel global, los estudios de asociación de genoma completo no han servido para explicar los vínculos genéticos con enfermedades, más que de una manera tan general, que finalmente no han sido útiles.

Por el contrario, para lo que han servido las variaciones encontradas y este tipo de estudios, es para dar jugosas ganancias a las compañías que fabrican kits de diagnóstico genético. Es decir, pruebas de ADN para diferentes afecciones, que analizan si el cliente –que pueda pagarlas– tiene determinadas variaciones genéticas que estarían supuestamente relacionadas con ellas. No sirven, pero eso no impide que actualmente haya más de 1000 kits de este tipo en el mercado, cuyas ventas en 2007 fueron de 730 millones de dólares y crecen a un ritmo de 20 por ciento anual. (Ver reporte de ETC “Pruebas personales de ADN y el mito de la medicina personalizada”, ).

Salvo en el caso de las enfermedades monogénicas (determinadas por un solo gen), la composición genética no es más que una ínfima parte del surgimiento de las enfermedades. Las variaciones existen en una enorme complejidad de interacciones genéticas y bioquímicas de las que poco se sabe, y el desarrollo de enfermedades no es independiente del ambiente, incluyendo realidades alimentarias, sanitarias, económicas, ecológicas, culturales y muchas otras.
La medicina genómica es un enfoque extremadamente fragmentario, que deja fuera del ámbito de estudio la mayor parte de los elementos esenciales a tener en cuenta al pensar en salud y enfermedad.

Las enfermedades que investiga el Inmegen (asma, obesidad, cáncer y lupus), tienen un enorme peso de factores socioeconómicos y ambientales, determinados por pobreza, contaminación ambiental, mala nutrición, componentes tóxicos en alimentación y vivienda, etcétera, todos fuera de su investigación.

Si pese a estas graves condicionantes, los estudios del Inmegen derivaran en algún tipo de base para una “medicina genómica”, todas las herramientas para vincular las variaciones con enfermedades y para el desarrollo de medicinas farmacogenómicas están patentadas en manos de unas pocas empresas farmacéuticas y de informática. Varias de las cuales tienen, obviamente, una estrecha relación con el Inmegen, esperando ansiosamente nuevos insumos para aumentar sus ganancias.

Por tanto, los resultados de estos estudios, si no resultan completamente inútiles, estarán totalmente fuera del alcance de las poblaciones que, como los indígenas, aportan sus genes para finalmente enriquecer a las empresas de diagnóstico y a las farmacéuticas.

*Investigadora del Grupo ETC

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domingo, mayo 24, 2009

Bread of life

Hélène Zaharia

In their effort to improve the taste and nutritional value of their bread, a group of French paysans boulangers (peasant bakers) are seeking out old varieties of wheat, many of which had not been planted for more than half a century. Experimenting with them, they are discovering that some have unexpected advantages, such as provoking a much lower level of gluten intolerance among consumers than industrialised bread.

Like so many good things in life, it all happened because people began to think for themselves. In different parts of France, small groups of mainly organic wheat farmers have for many years been bucking the trend and continuing to produce good, nutritious bread, despite the growing dominance of the industrial bakeries. Using old-fashioned millstones, they have been grinding the wheat they grow in their fields and, using natural yeast, they have been making their own bread, baking it in traditional ovens. The bread tastes good, so people in the neighbourhood have gone on buying, even when the mass-produced bread has been cheaper.

But recently the paysans boulangers (peasant bakers), as they are called, began to realise that modern varieties of wheat, which was all they could find on the seed market, didn’t really suit their needs. For decades wheat has been bred by the seed companies to respond to the needs of the big wheat farmers and the big industrial bakeries. What these groups want is wheat that has a high yield and a high protein content, and that grows fast by capturing as much soluble nitrogen as possible from the chemical fertilisers added to the soil. But these are not the qualities that the peasant bakers want: they need varieties of wheat that are healthy and disease-resistant; that stand up to different kinds of weather; that are suitable for old-fashioned bread-making techniques; and, last but by no means least, produce tasty and nutritious bread.

Touselle takes off

Henri is an organic farmer in the south of France. In 1997 he was carrying out research into farming practice in the Gare region when he discovered Touselle wheat. It is an early wheat, without whiskers, with a soft grain, very suitable for bread-making. It was once cultivated quite widely in Languedoc and Provence and was appreciated for its good yields, even when it was grown on poor soil in a difficult, dry environment. But by the time Henri became interested in it, it had been widely abandoned in favour of modern varieties.

Henri decided to try it out for himself and obtained a few seeds of four of the 13 varieties of Touselle held in the Department of Genetic Resources at INRA in Clermont-Ferrand. For the first two years, he cultivated the Touselle in his garden and then he decided to try it out in his fields. Gradually, he learnt more about it – how densely the seed had to be planted, how long it took to ripen, how resistant it was to heavy rain, and so on – and his experiments became well-known in the region.
Other farmers began to copy him, and by 2004 Touselle was being grown experimentally on a fairly large number of peasant farms in the south of France. In 2005 the Syndicat de Promotion de la Touselle was founded, with the idea of promoting the production of bread made from Touselle. Eager to back the initiative, consumers set up support groups. Henri then devoted an area of his farm to experiments with other varieties of Touselle brought in by other farmers. Together, they started crossing varieties and developing new strains. All the time Henri was recommending caution, saying that some of the varieties they were using had not been cultivated for many decades and would perhaps require special treatment.

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sábado, mayo 23, 2009

The bread we eat

Andrew Whitley

While the paysans boulangers have been baking nutritious bread from old varieties of wheat in France (see here), a company in the north of England has been producing bread using recipes gathered from various parts of Europe. The Village Bakery was founded in 1976 by Andrew Whitley. Here he traces the history and diagnoses the ills of the industrialised bread produced in the United Kingdom.

"What an odd way" said the visitor, "to get your daily bread. First of all, you pay a miller to strip most of the good bits from wheat to make fine white flour. The bran and the wheat germ, you tell me, are full of vitamins and minerals, so the miller sells them to feed animals, because farmers know exactly what they should give their stock to keep them healthy. Your very white bread doesn’t have many of these good things in it any more, so you buy them back as pills in a little bottle from a ‘health food’ shop at many times their original cost.

"There are some people who don’t have much money and they eat a lot of this white bread, so your government tells the miller to put back some of the good bits, just to be on the safe side. He does this, not by using the original grain but by adding some chalk, some iron and two ‘synthetic’ vitamins. This doesn’t replace everything the animals have been given, but, as you say, it’s better than nothing.

"The miller sells his flour to the factory baker who adds some other things – flour treatment agents, emulsifiers, oxidants, preservatives and enzymes – not because they are good to eat, but to make his job easier, or to make the loaves bigger, whiter and lighter, or to make them stay soft after they’ve been baked. How odd to put things in your daily food which aren’t meant to nourish you!

"Your bakers certainly make bread fast. You said that, in the old days, it might take the best part of a day from start to finish. But now bread can go from raw flour to baked loaf in 90 minutes. The bakers put in loads more yeast to get it to rise quickly, because in your culture ‘time is money’. In the TV adverts bread always seems to make people healthy and happy, but lots of people now seem to be ‘intolerant’ to yeast and some can’t eat this bread at all because it gives them indigestion.

"So you give the best part of the flour to animals, you put all sorts of things in the bread not to nourish but to deceive, and you make it so fast that lots of people feel unwell when they eat it. And yet you call this ‘the staff of life’."

It would be easy to dismiss this view of modern mass-produced bread as an oversimplification. Most people in the industrialised world are happy with the bread they buy, aren’t they? Well, not exactly.

Whenever anyone questions the nutritional or other qualities of standard (white sliced) bread, the industrial millers and bakers respond with well-practised affront. White bread is what people want, they recite, it’s cheap, all bread is good for you and, anyway, we make "healthy eating" breads, too. Bread consumption has been falling heavily in Europe and North America. Long before fads like the Atkins diet (which severely limits the intake of carbohydrates), people were abandoning bread, and not only because they were better off and could afford other things. "Cotton wool" bread may have started as the butt of foodie ridicule but the joke turned sour for those who fell prey to bloating, irritable bowel syndrome, wheat and yeast intolerance, candida infections and a whole host of previously unheard-of conditions whose only remedy was to stop eating ordinary bread. Bakers responded not with self-criticism but with civil war. Small bakers were driven out or swallowed up by large chains, and the newly powerful supermarkets accelerated the downward pressure on prices and quality.

Despite product innovation, some of which has attempted to address health issues, modern bread still commands little respect. The ingredients – most of them – are listed on the packaging by law in some countries. But in the case of some of these substances, who knows what they are or what they do? To whom, for instance, do the words "mono- and di-glycerides of fatty acids" say anything meaningful about food? Using such terms (compliant with current UK legislation though they may be) is rather like chanting the Latin mass: it communicates little beyond some generalised portentousness while keeping all the key information in the hands of the priesthood.

Static sales and murky marketing are one thing; but the bread industry’s malaise is systemic. Through a combination of greed, ignorance, misplaced technological zeal, manipulation and inverted snobbery, modern bread is no longer fit to feed us. How come?

• intensive breeding of wheat to produce higher yields with heavy applications of chemical fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides has made our bread less nutritious

• plant breeders select wheat varieties to produce, among other things, lighter loaves, but nutritional quality isn’t on their agenda; older wheat varieties contain significantly higher amounts of key micro-nutrients

• modern milling removes many important nutrients from white flour, of which only four are replaced – in synthetic form; even "wholemeal" flour from modern roller mills is robbed of its vital vitamin E

• modern bread is made ultra-fast, with several times as much yeast as in earlier times

• additives and processing aids are widely used to make loaves bigger and stay softer for longer. Some of these chemicals are not declared on the label and some may be derived from animal parts. New research suggests that one such undeclared additive can actually generate the protein that triggers coeliac disease in susceptible people

• making bread very fast prevents the development in the dough of certain naturally occurring bacteria that help to make nutrients more available and the bread more digestible.

Each one of these changes may seem insignificant, especially for people who have a varied diet. But they add up to a major deterioration in the quality of bread. Ironically, just as technology finds ever more ingenious ways to adulterate our bread, so science is revealing the havoc this may be causing to public health.


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Eric Holt-Giménez Interview

Interview with Eric Holt-Giménez part 1 from East Bay Pictures on Vimeo.

Part 1 of a 4-part interview with Food First Executive Director Eric Holt-Giménez, in which he discusses his life, his work, the history of industrialized agriculture, the injustices of big agribusiness and the current state of the food system.Click for HD version at Vimeo
Click for part 2
Click for part 3
Click for part 4


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jueves, mayo 21, 2009


Saludos desde el barrio Santa Rita,

¿Qué vas a estar haciendo este sábado a las 6 de la tarde? ¡Estoy bien seguro que NADA! Absolutamente nada. Seguramente a esa hora estarás en tu casa haciendo nada, pegado/a al televisor, sufriendo de un caso terminal de "Saturday blues".

Pues, ¿por qué mejor no vienes a La Chiwinha a una charla/tertulia sobre la situación de los transgénicos en Puerto Rico? Daremos una orientación sobre qué son cultivos y alimentos transgénicos, cuál es el rol de nuestro país como laboratorio de experimentos y plataforma de lanzamiento de productos de biotecnología agrícola, y sobre la amenaza que esto presenta para el ambiente, la salud humana y para el futuro de la agricultura ecológica. Presentaremos videos y tendremos una tertulia sobre qué rayos hacer para combatir esta invasión transgénica.

La discusión pública sobre este tema es especialmente importante ahora que el Senado de Puerto Rico tiene ante su consideración un proyecto de ley para promover los cultivos transgénicos en nuestro suelo.
Para más información:

La actividad será en La Chiwinha, un maravilloso espacio de comercio justo en mi barrio de Santa Rita en Río Piedras.
Para más información: Si necesitan direcciones para llegar, llamen al 787-925-0707 o escriban a

Nos vemos el sábado.

Autor de "Balada Transgénica" y director del Proyecto de Bioseguridad de Puerto Rico


True Cost
of Chevron

An Alternative Annual Report
MAY 2009

The True Cost of Chevron

Amazon Watch · CorpWatch · Crude Accountability · Environmental Rights Action · EarthRights International · Filipino-American Coalition for Environmental Solidarity · Global Exchange · Justice in Nigeria Now · Mpalabanda · Rainforest Action Network · Richmond Progressive Alliance · Trustees for Alaska · US La! bor Against the War · West County Toxics Coalition

Dear Friends,

Chevron's 2008 annual report is a glossy celebration of the company's most profitable year in its history.

What Chevron's annual report does not tell its shareholders is the true cost paid for those financial returns, or the global movement gaining voice and strength against Chevron's abuses.

Thus, we, the communities and their allies who bear the consequences of Chevron's operations, have prepared an alternative annual report of Chevron entitled "The True Cost of Chevron." We will release the report at a press conference on May 26 and a day later at Chevron's Annual Shareholder Meeting in San Ramon, California on May 27.

Never before has one report brought together the information, stories, and struggles of communities from Angola, Burma, Canada, Chad, Cameroon, Ecuador, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, the Philippines and across the United States directly impacted by, and in struggle against, Chevron's operations. To do so has stretched both our minds and our pocketbooks. We need you and your financial contribution to help complete this report from vision to reality.

Report Preview



Click here to view a special preview of this 40-page report – beautifully designed by the wizards at Design Action – including the cover, table of contents, and introduction.

With a contribution of $100 or more, we will send you a signed copy by lead author and editor, Antonia Juhasz.


Contribute online, or send your tax-deductible contribution to:

Chevron Alternative Annual Report
c/o Global Exchange.
2017 Mission Street, 2nd Floor
San Francisco, CA 94110

Please indicate "Chevron Alternative Report" in the memo field of your check.
Questions about your contribution? Contact Kirsten Moller at Global Exchange.

Questions about the report? Contact Antonia Juhasz.

Thank you for your support!

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Hope not Hype: The Future of Agriculture Guided by the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development

By Jack Heinemann

Publisher: TWN (ISBN: 978-983-2729-81-5)

No. of Pages: 176

Release date: Mid June 2009


Can we feed the world in the year 2050? If we can, will it be at the price of more distant futures of food insecurity? 21st-century Earth is still trying to find a way to feed its people. Despite global food surpluses, we have malnutrition, hunger and starvation. We also have mass obesity in the same societies. Both of these phenomena are a symptom of the same central problem: a dominating single agriculture coming from industrialized countries responding to perverse and artificial market signals. It neither produces sustainable surpluses of balanced and tasty diets nor does it use food production to increase social and economic equity, increase the food security of the poorest, and pamper the planet back into health.

This book is about a revolution in agriculture envisioned by the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), a five-year multi-million-dollar research exercise supervised by the United Nations and World Bank that charts sustainable solutions. The solutions are of course not purely technological, but technology will be a part of the solution.

Which technology? Whose technology?

Hope Not Hype is written for people who farm, but especially for people who eat. It takes a hard look at traditional, modern (e.g., genetic engineering) and emerging (e.g., agroecological) biotechnologies and sorts them on the basis of delivering food without undermining the capacity to make more food. It cuts through the endless promises made by agrochemical corporations that leverage the public and private investment in agriculture innovation. Here the case is made for the right biotechnology rather than the “one size fits all” biotechnology on offer. This book provides governments and their citizens with the sound science in plain language to articulate their case for an agriculture of their own – one that works for them.


Jack Heinemann is a professor of genetics and molecular biology in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Canterbury, Christchurch , New Zealand and is a senior adjunct professor of gene ecology at GenØk – Centre for Biosafety in Tromsø , Norway. Jack was previously a staff fellow at the US National Institutes of Health. He received his BSc with honours in biochemistry and molecular biology from the University of Wisconsin – Madison and a PhD in molecular biology from the University of Oregon.

Jack received the ICAAC Young Investigator Award from the American Society for Microbiology in 1993 and was the recipient of the New Zealand Association of Scientists Research Medal in 2002. He was appointed to the UN Roster of Biosafety Experts in 2005. Jack has published broadly in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, authored invited works for the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and IAASTD, and has advised various government agencies in several countries.

For further information, please contact:

Third World Network
131 Jalan Macalister

Tel: 604-2266159
Fax: 604-2264505


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