NEWSLETTER JULY 2003
In a jaw-dropping affirmation of Monsanto’s monopoly control over commodity
crops, one of the world’s most notorious patents for genetically engineered
crops was yesterday decisively upheld by a European Patent Office (EPO) tribunal
in Munich (though the panel will not release its written judgment for several
Despite a nine year battle by civil society (and industry) to have it revoked.
European Patent No. 301,749, granted in March 1994, is an exceptionally broad
“species patent” which grants gene giant Monsanto exclusive monopoly
over all forms of genetically engineered soybean varieties and seeds - irrespective
of the genes used or the transformation technique employed.
The patent, attacked as immoral and technically invalid by food security advocates
worldwide, was vigorously opposed by Monsanto itself until they purchased the
original patent holder (Agracetus) in 1996, and switched sides to make the soybean
species patent a major ingredient in its global recipe for crop monopoly.
The EPO took only ten hours (including coffee and cake breaks) to hear oral
arguments and uphold Monsanto’s monopoly. Monsanto did surrender one unsustainable
claim in the patent (claim no. 25), which sought control beyond soybeans to
other plants as well.
Monsanto began the proceedings in Munich with successful legal moves to deny
some expert witnesses the right to speak; including Dr. Suman Sahai of the Gene
Campaign who had been brought by Greenpeace from India to testify about the
impact of the patent on food security. Most amazingly, soybean experts from
China, the genetic homeland of soya, had already been barred from the EPO court
because of SARS fears.
Perhaps most astonishing was Monsanto’s legal manoeuvering to sidestep
its own evidence. In 1994 Monsanto gave unambiguous evidence in an opposition
statement requesting that the patent be revoked. One of Monsanto’s top
scientists testified in 1994 that the genetic engineering process described
in the patent was insufficient to allow someone skilled in the science to replicate
the procedure - a necessary criterion for patentability. Nevertheless Monsanto’s
lawyers successfully argued that the company should be allowed monopoly over
any genetically engineered soybean seed and variety obtained through any and
all modification processes.
Monsanto now controls 100% of the world’s genetically engineered soybeans
covering 36.5 million hectares in 2002 - that’s over half of the world’s
total soybean area. It’s hard to imagine a more blatant and dangerous
For further information please see ETC Group’s website:
or contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Many thanks to ETC for providing the information for this article.
Local GM Actions
We have e-mailed all 101 City and County Councillors telling them about the
National FoE GM Free Britain campaign (www.gmfreebritain.com) We sent further
information and briefing sheets to those who requested it.
On Februray 7th we held a GM free lunch for interested councillors and were
luky to get Tony Juniper, the new Executive Director of National Friends of
the Earth, to speak. He managed to sway a couple of councillors who had been
sitting on the fence, bringing them around to our point of view. About 10 councillors
attended in all.
On the 8th February we attended a National FoE GM workshop in Birmingham and,
fired up for further anti-GM action, took part in the FoE GM Free Britain Day
of Action on the 12th April.
9 of us took part on the 12th. With a stall set up outside the Guildhall we
managed to get members of the public to sign about 150 anti-GM postcards in
about 3 hours. These were addressed to the leaders of the City and County Councils
- David Howarth (LD) and Keith Walters (C) respectively.
We were particularly pleased that Mike Todd-Jones, a City Councillor and Anthony
Bowen a County Councillor came to be phototgraphed in support of the action
and that Star Radio carried out a short interview.
120 DAYS TO STOP BANKS USING YOUR MONEY FOR THE BAKU PIPELINE On June 12th
BP formally asked for funding from the World Bank (IFC) and the European Bank
for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) for its controversial new Caspian
oil pipeline. We are now in the 120 days of the so-called 'public consultation
period' before they finally decide whether to fund the pipeline- 120 days for
us to express our outrage and opposition. On Monday July 14th at 12 midday,
National Friends of the Earth will hold a 'public consultation' outside the
Department for International Development, 1 Palace Street London SW1E 5HE. Contact
email@example.com for more details. The Baku campaign is also asking people to
write letters to their MPs at the House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA (or even
better still visit them at a surgery). To find out the name of your MP, go to
www.parliament.uk/faq/members_faq_page2.cfm#mem1 Also write letters to the potential
funders: EBRD and IFC - you can find a suggested text on www.baku.org.uk or
Perhaps the most controverial possible consequence of accepting the Local Plan
concerns a proposal to build 1,100 houses to the west of Trumpington Road, in
an area visible from the world famous Granchester Meadows. There has already
been a chorus of protest against building on this land. The idea of putting
new buildings into the Granchester landscape shocks most people. Yet it is perhaps
even more disconcerting to comprehend that there are persons about who feel
able to conceive and suggest such a thing in the first place. Furthermore it
appears that our local MP Anne Campbell is prepared to defend such plans. In
a written reply to a letter from one of our members she states that the housing
development on this site is actually invisible from the river. If she is alluding
to the famous river bank path from Cambridge to Granchester, which has been
at the heart of the debate as an environmental jewel, she appears to have been
misinformed. Both this path and the proposed site for 1,100 houses are on or
close to the 15-metre contour at a range of 1000 yards. The entire site is clearly
visible and subtends an arc of some 35 degrees seen from the path about 100
yards from the gate into Granchester, except for about a quarter of the site
which is obscured by the tops of a short line of trees. Large-scale plans and
long focus photographs confirm this. Intervisibility could be most easily demonstrated
by simultaneous access to the path and to the site (the latter is at present
barred to the public) How this error has arisen I cannot imagine, but the opposite
view of a thousand houses half a mile from the hallowed Granchester beauty spot
is obviously quite insupportable and nobody could tolerate it for a minute.
(The County has said that there is no proposal to build on Granchester Meadows
themselves, but the terminology is immaterial. Housing there would be highly
visible, whatever it may be called. I mention this because Ms Campbell accuses
campaigners of deliberately confusing the two areas in order to maximise resistance
to the development.) In the light of the true intervisibility factor, her view
that housing there would do nothing to damage the area of outstanding natural
beauty is, to put it mildly, hard to sustain. There seems to have been a distinction
drawn between an area west of Trumpington Road and Granchester Meadows, which
allows Ms Campbell to say that the former is not an area of particular natural
beauty. Never mind the wording, houses built on the planned area will not become
invisible in the landscape under a different name. The other negative factors
involved include encroachment on the green belt, the steady urbanisation of
the area coupled with the future of Clay Farm and hundreds of more cars flowing
into Trumpington Road which is already saturated twice a day, pressures likely
to lead to incremental road widening and a threat to the avenue of trees that
are such a unique approach to the city. Added to traffic air pollution, there
would be CO2 and other effluents from a thousand domestic heating plants (a
factor that is commonly ignored by planners). There is general agreement on
the need for affordable housing and whatever small percentage might be provided
on the site, past experience tells that the developer's driving motive and target
on such a prime site would be would be highly priced units for the wealthy.
A green belt Cambridge house with a view of Granchester village above the river
Cam will not remain in the affordable price range for long, despite initial
constraints put on occupiers. And government housing targets as a whole are
having to face growing scepticism. If there are really such pressures that make
it essential to put houses in the face of a place like Granchester, then no
heritage landscape is safe. Finally, since Ms. Campbell points an accusing finger
at the motives of campaigners against the project, let us remind ourselves that
they mostly have no direct financial or political interest either way. This
is patently true of the CPRE, the Cambridge Preservation Society, Friends of
the Earth as well as the body of people who live here. The quality of their
evidence is therefore of a different order and value from that emanating from
developers, estate agents, political party folk and those whose jobs or finances
benefit from more houses everywhere.
PLANES, PLANES AND MOTORWAY LANES
While we're waiting for the Environmental Impact Assessment to be completed
for the proposed new terminal at Cambridge Airport here are a few interesting
The aviation industry is very clear in all it's pronouncements that it is vital
national industry supporting hundreds of thousands of jobs. The industry claims
that additional jobs can be created through the expansion of airports and these
claims have been accepted by the current government in its national consultation
on the future development of air transport. However, a report for CPRE, titled:
The Economics of Aviation:a North West England perspective, makes several important
points relevant to the country as a whole.
In its summary, the report states that "aviation is a small part of the
national and regional economy and the claims made in support of job creation
are not supported by the evidence. The claims that are made for the role of
aviation in encouraging inward investment to the region and to the UK are not
supported by the data which show a much higher outflow of funds from the UK
than funds coming into the country. This deficit is enough to account or the
loss of 165,000 jobs each year in the North West"
Tourism cash flow reveals a similar story. There is a tourism cash deficit between
travellers from the UK who spent £25.3 billion abroad last year, against
£11.3 billion spent by foreign travellers coming to the UK in 2001. Although
tourism is a prime earner of foreign currency, contrary to popular belief (and
on which benefits are so often assumed), the balance sheet of outgoing and incoming
currencies shows a historic deficit. Leisure and holidays account for over 80%
of air travel.
To challenge the need for the proposed airport expansion frenzy, here's a few
more useful facts and quotes:
US Federal Bank chief Alan Greenspan declares that there is "airline overcapacity
worldwide" (November 2002)
In total, the UK aviation industry is effectively subsidised to the extent of
£7 billion a year (STEER, Autumn 2002). Cutting the subsidy (the largest
component of which is VAT free aviation fuel) would reduce the apparent demand.
Forecast needs for three more runways in the South East are grounded on the
acceptance of unrestrained growth in air travel, assisted by untaxed fuel, no
VAT on aircraft fleets and the omission of environmental damage costs.
"All major airlines are losing money hand-over-fist" - George Osborne
MP (Manchester) (BBC Radio 4 25th November 2002)
Ryanair predicts the end of the budget airline boom. In October 2002 the airline
failed to give away 2300 free flights, due, it said, to passenger inertia and
an unwillingness to take more trips abroad (Times, 5th November 2002)