Biopiracy and Synthetic Biology at COP13: Industry Pressure and Civil Society Concern

This is the third in a series of blogs about the participation of CAGJ/AGRA Watch in the 2016 United Nations Conference on Biodiversity in Cancun, Mexico. Read the first blog: Convention on Biological Diversity: what is it and why do we participate?  and the second blog: Negotiation and Dialogue at the UN Biodiversity Conference

Press Conference for the Captain Hook Awards for Biopiracy at the COP13 Negotiations.

One of the most contentious issues surrounding the Convention on Biological Diversity and the subsidiary Protocols is synthetic biology. Since the beginning of this Conference on Biodiversity, we have seen the tactics and arguments on the side of advancing synthetic biology, as well as the positions and strategy organized by science-activists, researchers, and groups concerned with this technology because of its potentially adverse effects on food sovereignty, public health, and risk assessment. Today, in an action organized by civil society at the COP13 negotiations, the “Captain Hook Awards for Biopiracy”, corporations, governments, and organizations were “awarded” for their behaviors in making profit from  stolen genetic resources from indigenous peoples and local communities, while defenders of biodiversity were recognized at the ceremony for repelling biopiracy attacks.

What is synthetic biology?

So-called synthetic biology is technically an extension of genetic engineering, in which a DNA synthesiser is used to build artificial DNA from scratch – not from nature. Synthetic biology is predicted by its proponents to be a nearly 40 billion dollar industry as this technology develops for synthesis of DNA and genetically re-designed biological organisms, from pharmaceuticals to food ingredients, and – of particular concern to food sovereignty activists – genome-edited and self-replicating crops, insects, and animals. Continue reading “Biopiracy and Synthetic Biology at COP13: Industry Pressure and Civil Society Concern”


Negotiation and Dialogue at the UN Biodiversity Conference

This is the second in a series of blogs about the participation of CAGJ/AGRA Watch in the 2016 United Nations Conference on Biodiversity in Cancun, Mexico. Read the first blog: Convention on Biological Diversity: what is it and why do we participate?

Phil Bereano, Simone Adler, and Johanna Lundahl during a Plenary session of the CBD.

By Simone Adler

Beginning this past Sunday and going through December 17th, the two week United Nations Conference on Biodiversity in Cancun, Mexico is organized into different levels and spaces of negotiation, dialogue, and presentation. Throughout, the participation of attendees to the Conference varies by process and rank.


The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization (aka Access and Benefit Sharing, ABS), and the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety are all being negotiated at this Conference. Each has its own governing body. For the CBD, it is the 13th Conference of Parties (COP 13); for the ABS it is the 8th Conference of Parties Serving as the Meeting of Parties (COP-MOP8), and for the Cartagena Protocol it is the 2nd Conference of Parties Serving as the Meeting of Parties (COP-MOP2). This UN Conference is unique in that all three COP and COP-MOP are meeting simultaneously, as the content of each are inextricably related.

Who is participating?

The primary participants in CBD, ABS, and Cartagena Protocol negotiations are the government delegates from the countries that are signed Parties, i.e. the members of COP-13, COP-MOP8, and COP-MOP2. These participants are known as “Parties”. Significantly, the US has not signed these agreements, thus is not a Party. However US governmental officials do attend, and have considerable influence over the deliberations. Continue reading “Negotiation and Dialogue at the UN Biodiversity Conference”

Convention on Biological Diversity: what is it and why do we participate?

This is the first in a series of blogs about the participation of CAGJ/AGRA Watch in the 2016 United Nations Conference on Biodiversity in Cancun, Mexico.

Johanna Lundahl, Heather Day, Simone Adler, and Phil Bereano at the UN Conference on Biodiversity.

By Simone Adler, CAGJ Organizing Director

Food sovereignty ensures that the right to use and manage lands, territories, waters, seeds, livestock and biodiversity are in the hands of those who produce the food”

Declaration of Nyéléni, 2007

Small farmers and peasants around the world have a reciprocal relationship with their environments – as stewards of biodiversity, they are also shaped by the natural biodiversity in which they grow food. This is why the global dialogue and decision-making processes around biodiversity necessitate participation from farmers, food sovereignty activists, and advocates for biodiversity protection.

Beginning on Sunday, the United Nations opened the 13th Conference of Parties (COP 13) meetings on the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Cancun, Mexico. The CBD was signed by 150 government leaders at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. To date, there are 196 legally-bound parties (countries) to the CBD. The COP is the governing body of the CBD which meets to review progress, identify new priorities, and potentially make amendments.

The CBD recognizes through international law that conservation of biodiversity is a common concern across nations and for all peoples and ecosystems. In the context of sustainable development, the CBD includes measures for the sustainable use of biological resources and includes protection of all ecosystems, species, and genetic resources. Additionally, the CBD address traditional knowledge as important to conserving genetic resources. As a global instrument for national strategies around conservation and sustainability, the CBD has three main objectives:

  • The conservation of biological diversity
  • The sustainable use of the components of biological diversity
  • The fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources

In 2003, the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety went into effect as a supplemental protocol to the CBD. The Biosafety Protocol addresses the risks of trans-boundary movement of biotechnology and genetically modified organisms and the possible adverse effects to human health and conservation of biodiversity. Continue reading “Convention on Biological Diversity: what is it and why do we participate?”

Global Justice Now Tells a Tale of Two Food Systems

This excellent infographic sums up two potential food systems of our future.

By Johanna Lundahl, AGRA Watch Intern

The UK based activist organization  Global Justice Now(GJN) released a powerful new infographic this summer which illustrates an all too familiar story– a farmer-controlled farm relies on traditional seed systems and farm-produced fertilizers, while a corporate-controlled farm must purchase seeds, chemical fertilizers, and pesticides. Although both farms in the graphic are initially identical, they grow and change in radically different ways. The farmer-controlled farm adds animals and vegetables, the skies are blue, soil is healthy, and the farm is teeming with biodiversity. Meanwhile, the corporate-controlled farm grows bleak and grey. The seeds and pesticides that farmers in this system are forced to use grow crops in higher quantities in the short term. In the long term they leech nutrients from the soil, ultimately degrading soil quality. A farmer in the corporate-controlled farm is chained to a system of debt and dependence on the corporation.

Continue reading “Global Justice Now Tells a Tale of Two Food Systems”

Trade Deals like the TPP Further Criminalize Farmer Seed Saving, Legalize Corporate Theft

By Johanna Lundahl, AGRA Watch Intern

0-COVER_Ghana seed saving Photo by Global Justice Now.jpg
photo credit: Global Justice Now

Grain, an international non-profit focused on supporting small farmers, and community controlled food systems, provided an update on the free trade agreements that affect farmer’s rights to save and plant seeds of their choosing, in a piece called New Trade Deals Legalize Corporate Theft, Make farmer’s Seeds Illegal. The article is the latest in a series of opinion pieces called Against the Grain, published by the non-profit.

The article points out that these trade deals, negotiated on entirely in secret and outside of the World Trade Organization (WTO), have gone far beyond the existing international standards for patenting forms of life. The 1994 WTO agreement for trade related aspects of intellectual property rights (TRIPs) was the first international agreement on the owning of organisms. Through TRIPs, representatives of Dow, Syngenta, and Monsanto ensured that their companies could make a profit off of the seeds they had spent the money to engineer. By preventing farmers from re-using seeds, farmers were forced to buy new seeds every year from the same companies, making their seeds and livestock more expensive, and transforming life into a commodity that corporations can own and control. Continue reading “Trade Deals like the TPP Further Criminalize Farmer Seed Saving, Legalize Corporate Theft”

GMOs Not a Viable Solution for Food Security in Nigeria

Nnimmo Bassey, Executive Director of Environmental Rights/Friends of the Earth Nigeria, has authored a paper detailing the myths and propaganda behind the promotion of GMOs in Nigeria. Bassey debunks several myths pertaining to GMOs and states that the fictitious information persists due to the biotech industries’ seizures of policy institutions and regulatory agencies. The paper also challenges claims suggesting that genetically modified foods are substantially equivalent to conventional crops and therefore pose no serious harm to the environment, biodiversity or human health. In this regard, the author asks nations to exercise the Precautionary Principle (please see [])

Bassey contends that food security for Nigeria will not be achieved through corporate control of food but rather through ecological agriculture, a view AGRA Watch also holds.

Shiva Explains How Industrialized Ag Leads to Loss of Nutrients in Crops

ImageIn her article, Vandana Shiva argues that hunger and malnutrition are being perpetuated by the industrialization of agriculture, the same system that is claiming to have the solution to these problems. She notes that the industrialized food system is too focused on increasing yields, and is not addressing the loss of nutritional value in crops grown as monocultures. Because nutrients in crops are derived from nutrients in the soil, crops grown in an industrialized setting where chemical pesticides have degraded the soil end up nutritionally empty. While the addition of synthetic fertilizers help to keep the soil from complete degredation, they do not account for all of the micronutrients found in organic soil. As a result, a person would be required to eat much more of a given crop in order to receive the same nutrients found in its organic counterpart. Because of this, Shiva argues that biodiverse, organic farming is the most effective and low-cost strategy for addressing world hunger.

Read the full story here:

FAO and Bioversity International Call For More Sustainable Diets

The FAO and Bioversity International have just released a new book calling for more sustainable diets around the globe, as well as a complete change to the current paradigm of agriculture production. The book, called Sustainable diets and biodiversity, calls for more biodiversity in diets and more consumption of traditional and local foods, both of which can drastically reduce agriculture’s carbon and water footprint, and can better provide nutrients in a diet.
The article about this book makes the note that:
“High-input industrial agriculture and long-distance transport have made refined carbohydrates and fats affordable and available across the globe, leading to an overall simplification of diets and reliance on a limited number of energy-rich foods. But such foods lack nutrient quality and have heavy carbon and water footprints. Cheap, energy-dense foods have also come at the cost of flavour, diversity and cultural connection.”
The full article can be read here:
The book can be downloaded from Bioversity International’s website here:
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