Greenpeace has called for a renewed moratorium ("GE-Free!") in Switzerland on GE crops.

© Greenpeace.

Following the "quiet" introduction of genetically-engineered potato in the EU Commission (BASF's Amflora), more opposition has been stirring. Earlier this week an open debate on the issue was blocked in the European Parliament, to which the Greens responded by holding up banners calling "for a GE-Free Europe" at their plenary session in Strasbourg. Members "denounced" the EU Commission President Barrosso's "rush" to introduce GE potato. Twelve countries have now moved to block its cultivation, including recently Austria and Malta. Barrosso responded to the Greens' protest by saying “I salute your group’s enthusiasm. You have a very strong position against GMOs, which is your right. Personally, I do not have a position either for or against." Barrosso said the Commission "goes by the opinions of the European Food Safety Authority” and that countries in the EU would have the right to choose. However, a Green party member responded "if we start putting a finger in nationalization, we won’t have a European policy.” Health concerns have been raised in particular because the crop contains a gene that is resistant to some antibiotics, which, if introduced to the environment could result in increased bacterial resistance to life-saving medicines.

Major problems with GE

Although Amflora is intended for industrial use, Jonas Hulsens of Greenpeace Belgium explained "usually, the production of industrial and food starch involved the same enterprise. Due to technological difficulties still some part of the industrial starch gets into food. Already there are fears that "Amflora" contains genes that are resistant to antibiotics. So many strong antibiotics will simply be ineffective in the treatment of serious diseases and therefore require more powerful drugs that would be extremely dangerous for the human body."

Time Magazine on Tuesday had a piece entitled "Is Europe finally ready for genetically modified foods?" saying the EU had "quietly given a green light" to GE potatoes, breaking its 12-year moratorium. Italy's Agriculture Minister Luca Zaia said he planned to "defend and safeguard traditional agriculture and citizens' health." Big business and the bio-tech lobby have framed opposition to GE as based on "emotion" rather than "science" saying that EU opposition to GE hurts European technology and industry. However, this does not take into account the serious health and ecological risks of introducing GE, not least the cost of their development and cost to farmers who thereafter become dependent on corporate-patented technology and chemicals. Furthermore, it overlooks the continuing strong growth of organic markets, which channel more of their revenue back to producers, i.e. farmers, instead of a few giant bio-tech corporations.

Monsanto's failed cotton

In India, the story of Monsanto's failed BT-Cotton is in the news, after the company confirmed this week that pink bollworm (a major cotton pest) has developed resistance to the plant's engineered pesticide, rendering it ineffective to pink bollworm attack, and in need of more pesticide application. The BT-Cotton resistant pest is widespread in 4 districts in the state of Gujurat. An article in The Financial Express reported that unlike other forms of technology which had perceivable benefits at the grassroots level (i.e. in communications) GE is a highly political issue, reminiscent of colonial-era intervention in food and agriculture. "Multinational corporations are making attempts to control the food chain. Incidentally these multinational corporations are based in industrialized countries where corporate farming and industrialized agriculture are largely prevalent, backed by heavy subsidies." Without such subsidies, it is argued, industrialized agriculture and bio-tech would not be economically feasible.

Prospects for climate change talks in 2010

International news reported (e.g. AP, Reuters and AFP) that China has officially joined India in giving it approval to the Copenhagen Accord, the nonbinding political agreement brokered by President Barack Obama in the final hours of the December climate change summit. However, AP stated this did little to ease the pessimism at the UN that a legal international agreement on global warming could be concluded in 2010. A one-sentence note from China's top climate change negotiator, Su Wei, authorized the addition of China to the list of countries committing to keeping global temperature increases below a ceiling of 2 degrees; yet, the accord still only introduces "voluntarily" greenhouse gas reductions and says nothing about how the 2-degree limit can be achieved in practice.

On Tuesday, the European Union's climate commissioner, Connie Hedegaard, also told the EU parliament in Brussels it would be risky to expect a legally binding deal to emerge from the next climate summit in Cancun, Mexico. (Also, see The Guardian).

Bolstering the IPCC

AP also reported an international group of academics who make up the Netherlands-based InterAcademy Council will be charged with reviewing the rules, procedures and reports of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The group, comprised of the science academies of 15 countries, aim to have the review finished before the annual meeting of the IPCC in October. The IPCC came under criticism from climate change skeptics after a small number of errors were found in their report; however, the errors did not undermine the validity of human induced climate change, affecting only the specific details of when and how certain negative impacts will occur.

In the US, according to the LA Times two Republicans, previously supporters of climate change legislation to reduce greenhouse gases, have shifted to the skeptic side. Apparently in the Republican party - skepticism is becoming a "litmus test" for conservatives, who receive massive political campaign contributions from major polluting industries (read more about political lobbying in the US).

Meanwhile, Venezuela (see The New York Times) - which is currently suffering a severe drought - will ramp up efforts to diversify the country's energy portfolio - in particular with a focus on wind and nuclear. Currently two thirds of the country's energy comes from hydro-electric. This year alone, the country aims to add 5,000 megawatts of capacity from wind power - slightly less than half of the total wind capacity in Europe last year. A “national electricity fund” — with $2 billion of seed financing — has already been established to kick off the projects.

Toxic e-waste on the rise

Argentinian news covered a Greenpeace Argentina report on e-waste saying an estimated 10 million cell phones will be discarded in the country during 2010, 30 percent of which will go to domestic waste landfills or dumps. The discarding of phones has increased by 4 times in the last 5 years. Today less than 6 percent of waste from the technology sector is recycled, and the contribution of cell phones to e-waste is growing rapidly. Yanina Rullo of Greenpeace said "in addition, burial or incineration is a waste of materials such as gold, silver, copper and plastics that can be recovered and reintroduced into the production chain."

Photo: Greenpeace activists planted the word "Gentechfrei" ("GE Free") alongside the railway line between Bern and Zurich. Greenpeace Switzerland asked for an extension of the moratorium on growing genetically engineered crops. © Greenpeace.