Monday, August 28, 2006

Do not believe the industry and your government?

In the following, I am trying to collect reports on adverse developments for the environment hidden or only reluctantly reported.


Rice contaminated by GM has been on sale for months: US has been knowingly shipping banned food here [UK] all year. But only now do they tell us. Independent, 28 August 2006. [Aug. 28. 06]

GMO contaminated long corn rize appears in Switzerland. It is LL 601, which is even banned in the US. The large retail chains Migros and COOP stop selling contaminated rize. Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 13. Sept. 06 [Sept. 14, 2006]

Documents obtained by the Independent Newspaper show that the UK Watchdog might have given green light to supermarkets to sell 'illegal' genetically modified rice (LL601) dispite its annoucements to the public that the rice should not go on sale. Independent, 17. September 2006. [Sept 17, 2006]

Access to Content or the Idea of a Commons

Puneet Kishor makes an interesting point about the rise of commons (Babel of Licences) leading to a complete chaos doing the opposite of what it aimed for: open access and sharing within communities. There is also another side to it: subscribing to a commons, but never live up to it (see The Fourth Force).

Here an example.
Recently, sometimes in August 2008, Zoobank had a soft launch of their new Website relying entirely on Thomson Scientific, the owner of Zoo Record, a commercial publisher. There is an undisputed need for a comprehensive authoritative list of all the species on our planet, and there were many discussions with Thomson, so they would know what the specs for such a service are. There are now plenty of Name Servers out there, allowing scrutinizing for pitfalls but also commonalities.

Instead of being proud to be one of the world's foremost provider of biodiversity information, Thomson released in collaboration with the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature an unbelievable crumy first version fraud with errors and clear unwillingness to even serve a complete scientific reference.

This shows view points. ZooRecord has a very poor name server with many errors in it, and thus shows the need of a body of scientists cleaning it up - a work it clearly is unable to do. ZooRecord is using the cooperation with ICZN to foster their own commercial goals: There is much better data within ZooRecord, but they are not even willing to share a complete reference, not to speak of the adequate one. It seems very odd to display few (incomplete) referenecs which have nothing to do with systematics, which must be considered teasers indicating that ZooRecord has more to offer once you enter their business site. There is certainly more information in it, but the service is not complete, since it doesn't cover all the publications and there is no up to date name server.

Without doubt, the lack of a comprehensive list of the name of the Earth's organism has to do with the complexity of the task. Great names do not solve this problem, nor computing technoloy and business. The scientific community needs to be brought together into the task. This needs tools to allow collaborations, to find new ways to give credit to be put into your CV, and it needs funding agencies which do invest into a bottom up approach aiming at populating specific databases and linking them up, not only between the specific databases, but also with the rest of our scientific knowledge. Mashups, such as Rod Page's ispecies might be a way to go. We need also to come to grips to realize the potential of systematics as megascience, that is more than 6,000 specialists working on charting the species of planet Earth. If the scientists would pool their knowledge, Thomson could not act the way they do right now. [Sept. 06, 06]

Cimate change and the extracting industry

The UK Royal Society contents that EXXON MOBILe is spreading „inaccurate and misleading“ information about climate change and is financing goups that misinform the public on the issue. New York Times, September 21, 2006 [Sept. 22, 2006]

Environmental Record: unlikely candidates

"It sounds an unlikely scenario: a couple of prominent Hollywood liberals honouring Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer and much-criticised corporate bogeyman, for its contributions to the environment.

And yet that is what transpired on Monday. Lee Scott, Wal-Mart's chief executive, found himself fêted at a dinner reception at New York's Rockefeller Plaza courtesy of Bob and Harvey Weinstein, who called him "a great role model for those of us who care about the environment".

Independent, October 25, 2006 (posted October 25, 2006)

Extracting industry

Rio Tinto

"The business-friendly Malagasy government, led by the self-made millionaire Marc Ravalomanana, has recently given the mining giant Rio Tinto permission to start work in the region [Ilakaka], a move described by the director of Friends of the Earth, Tony Juniper, as "very sad and very bad news for the people of Madagascar"." Independent, Nov 3, 2006: Kim Sengupta

Sunday, August 27, 2006

The new piracy: how West 'steals' Africa's plants

The article in todays Observer (Sunday, August 27, 2006; article) on biopiracy is quiet revealing in terms of the industries position (or at least those cited in the article).

First, one of the companies cited (Phytopharm) claimed, that the specific tribe was already extint, and then its CEO makes the point of what a pitty it would be, if this traditional knowledge would die out as these people become westernised.

Five years ago The Observer became the first newspaper to reveal how the British drug firm Phytopharm had patented an active ingredient in a plant called hoodia. This is a cactus-like African plant that is used by the San bushmen in South Africa to ward off hunger before hunting trips. Phytopharm has linked with Unilever to market this product, now being developed, as a diet drug. Unilever has agreed to pay up to £21m to Phytopharm, which originally claimed the tribe was extinct.

'In any case it takes a huge effort and a lot of money from recognising a particular property in a plant and developing it into a drug. It can cost between $200m and $500m [£100m-£250m]. If companies could not get the protection of a patent then they simply would not bother. Then what would happen is that the traditional knowledge of these communities would die out with the people or be lost as they become westernised.'