Charles' thoughtful article in the Independent on
Sunday (UK) is an impressive service to society and
science in the unfolding public debate on nanotechnology,"
according to Jim Thomas of the ETC Group's Oxford
office. "Not only does the Prince set aside the
fictional notion of 'grey goo,' but he also sensibly
reminds us that there are important unanswered questions
relating to the control and ownership of these technologies,"
here to view the Prince's article on nanotechnology:
ETC's international headquarters in Ottawa, Canada,
Pat Mooney, Executive Director, adds, "It is
especially significant that the Prince highlights
the need for a precautionary approach, the need for
a wider societal debate and draws attention to what
nanotechnology may mean for the gap between rich and
Group is concerned about the potential for emerging
technologies to destabilize the economies of poor
countries in the global South, which could imperil
the livelihoods of workers and basic producers everywhere.
Until now, points out Mooney, the debate has focused
narrowly on health and environmental concerns. "As
important as these issues are, the regulations that
will address them will no doubt be heavily influenced
by whoever owns and controls nanotech. When 26 governments
met in Washington last month to discuss nanotechnology
the emphasis was on environmental safety regulations
and not on the regulations needed to prevent new corporate
monopolies and technology cartels; nor to critical
new issues related to human rights, privacy, and military
applications." In the view of the ETC Group,
the Prince's article sets out the global landscape
that will engage not only the United Nations but also
all of civil society in the debate on this new technological
Group dismisses the threat of "grey goo"
- where self-replicating nano-scale robots run amok
- as a red herring. But serious attention must focus
on the rapidly advancing field of nanobiotechnology,
the current darling of nanotech venture capitalists.
Nanobiotechnology refers to the merging of the living
and non-living realms at the nano-scale to make hybrid
materials and organisms. Researchers aim to harness
nature's self-replicating 'manufacturing platform'
for industrial uses - rather than try to engineer
robots to mimic it.
According to ETC Group, it's the spectre of "Green
Goo" - not "Grey Goo" - that poses
an urgent need for foresight and caution. For more
his article, Prince Charles asks if there is a danger
of awarding patents on Nature. "The answer is
yes," according to Hope Shand, Research Director
of ETC Group based in Carrboro, North Carolina, USA.
"We're already seeing monopoly patents on the
building blocks of nature." Glenn Seaborg, the
Nobel Prize-winning physicist, set a dangerous precedent
when he won US patent #3,156,523 for the chemical
element Americium (element no. 95 on the periodic
table) in 1964. A front-page article in the Wall St.
Journal last month reports on the "intensifying
race" to file nanotech patent applications. In
the US alone, the number of nanotech patents awarded
annually has tripled since 1996.(1) Major nanotech
patent holders include IBM, L'Orial, Dow, Xerox, Philips
Electronics, Sony, Proctor & Gamble, University
of California and Rice University, among others. The
US government predicts that nanotech markets will
exceed $1 trillion by 2011.
governments worldwide spending [US]$5-6 billion per
year on nanotech R&D, virtually all Fortune 500
companies involved, scores of products on the market
and hundreds more in the pipeline, the questions raised
by Prince Charles - such as who wins and who loses?
what are the risks and who will bear them? - are extremely
GMOs to AMOs?
In 1996 Prince Charles brought public attention to
his concerns about genetically modified organisms
(GMOs) and agriculture. What impacts will nanotech's
atomically modified organisms (AMOs) have on food
and agriculture? Though it has escaped public notice,
the food and agriculture sector is among the most
intensely researched areas of nano-scale science.
These applications will extend the reach of industrial
agriculture and alter the way our food is grown and
produced, processed, packaged and even eaten. According
to Helmut Kaiser Consultancy, some 200 transnational
food companies are currently investing in nanotech
and are on their way to commercializing products.
The list includes many of the world's largest companies,
such as: Ajinomoto, Campbell Soup, ConAgra, General
Mills, H. J. Heinz, Kraft Foods, McCain Foods, Nestli,
PepsiCo, Sara Lee and Unilever.
following examples offer a preview:
In Thailand, scientists at Chiang Mai University's
nuclear physics laboratory have rearranged the DNA
of rice by drilling a nano-sized hole through the
rice cell's wall and membrane and inserting a nitrogen
atom. So far, they've been able to change the colour
of the grain, from purple to green.
pesticides: Monsanto, Syngenta and BASF are developing
pesticides enclosed in nanocapsules or made up of
nanoparticles. The pesticides can be more easily taken
up by plants if they're in nanoparticle form; they
can also be programmed to be "time-released."
Chicken Feed: With funding from the US Department
of Agriculture (USDA), Clemson University researchers
are feeding bioactive polystyrene nanoparticles that
bind with bacteria to chickens as an alternative to
chemical antibiotics in industrial chicken production.
Ponds: One of the USA's biggest farmed fish companies,
Clear Spring Trout, is adding nanoparticle vaccines
to trout ponds, where they are taken up by fish.
Brother: The USDA is pursuing a project to cover farmers'
fields and herds with small wireless sensors to replace
farm labour and expertise with a ubiquitous surveillance
foods: Kraft, Nestli, Unilever and others are employing
nanotech to change the structure of food - creating
drinks containing nanocapsules that can change colour
(Kraft) and spreads and ice creams with nanoparticle
emulsions (Unilever, Nestli) to improve texture. Others
are inventing small nanocapsules that will smuggle
nutrients and flavours into the body (what one company
packaging: BASF, Kraft and others are developing new
nanomaterials that extend food shelf life and signal
when a food spoils by changing colour.
Coming Soon: Nanotech for Tummies
In the coming months, ETC Group will release a series
of Communiquis on the socio-economic impacts of nanotech,
including a primer on the implications on nanotechnology
for food and agriculture, "Nanotech for Tummies."
For further information:
Pat Mooney, ETC Group (Canada) email@example.com ,
mobile: (613) 261-0688
Jim Thomas, ETC Group (UK) firstname.lastname@example.org tel +44
mobile: +44 (0)7752 106806
Hope Shand and Kathy Jo Wetter and, ETC Group (USA)
email@example.com , firstname.lastname@example.org
tel: +1 919 960-5223
Silvia Ribeiro, ETC Group (Mexico) email@example.com
52 55 55 632 664
Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration,
formerly RAFI, is an international civil society organization
headquartered in Canada. The ETC Group is dedicated
to the advancement of cultural and ecological diversity
and human rights. www.etcgroup.org
a basic introduction to nano-scale technologies and
an analysis of their implications, see The Big Down,
From Genomes to Atoms:
Technologies Converging at the Nano-scale http://www.etcgroup.org/documents/TheBigDown.pdf
an 8-page introduction to nano-scale technologies,
an abbreviated version of The Big Down:
a critique of the strategy of converging technologies
and an analysis of its implications, see "The
Little BANG Theory"
an introduction to the issues surrounding the toxicity
of engineered nanoparticles, see "No Small Matter!"
and ETC Group's Occasional Paper "Size Matters!"
for a more detailed analysis and a list of products
a short list of the most worrying scientific findings
involving nano-scale technologies, see Ten Toxic Warnings
in "Nano's Troubled Waters"
a brief analysis of nanotech governance, see "26
Governments Tiptoe Toward Global Nano Governance"
ETC Group's most recent Communiqui (May/June 2004)
on the policy debate surrounding nanotechnology health
and safety issues, see:
view an unofficial document generated by the US Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) listing well over 100 commercial
products based on nanotechnologies, see:
ETC Group also has offices in Carrboro (USA), Mexico
City (Mexico) and Oxford (UK).
Antonio Regalado, "Nanotechnology Patents Surge
as Companies Vie to
Stake Claim," Wall Street Journal, June 18, 2004;
1 Nicholas Street, Suite 200 B
Ottawa, Ontario K1N 7B7
Email addresses will not change.
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