28 July 2013

TTIP's "Science-based" Assault on Democracy Begins

Last month I predicted that one of the main tropes that would be used in the TAFTA/TTIP negotiations would by that of "science-based" policy. As I pointed out then, this is a trick, since the "science" actually consists of work by scientists working for big companies that want to push their products with minimal health and safety oversight by independent laboratories.

A great article from Public Citizen shows that this line of attack has already been deployed in a series of submissions hammering home the idea to both the US and EU delegations:

Food Safety
  • “Science-based risk assessment, as the foundation for regulatory decisions, must not be overruled by an incorrect (and politically driven) application of the precautionary principle, as currently applied by the EU (Croplife America, a lobbying group of U.S. pesticide corporations that includes genetically-modified-organism (GMO) giant Monsanto)
  • Finally, the EU’s political approach in regulating crops enhanced with traits achieved through modern biotechnology procedures is a concern to U.S. wheat producers. The EU biotechnology approval process is slow and often influenced more by politics than science, creating uncertainty and deterring new investment in wheat research… Science and market preferences, not politics, should be the determinants. (U.S. Wheat Associates)
  • The current 'asynchronous approval' situation is caused by many factors, including risk assessment guidelines that are not aligned and increasing politically-motivated delays in product approvals. (National Grain & Feed Association and North American Export Grain Association, lobbying groups comprised of the largest U.S. agribusinesses, such as Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland)
  • International trade rules fully support trade in products of biotechnology for planting, processing and marketing, subject to science-based regulation… Politically motivated bans or moratoria by WTO member states are not consistent with members’ WTO obligations. (National Corn Growers Association)
  • The implementation of production standards based on politics or popular thought instead of science will do nothing more than eliminate family operations and drive up costs to consumers. (National Cattlemen's Beef Association, a factory-farm-supporting lobbying group for the beef industry)
  • What is deeply concerning about the EU’s overall approach to SPS [sanitary and phytosanitary] issues, however, is that its political body is frequently given the ability to override the EU’s own scientific authority’s findings to instead establish restrictions on products based typically on animal welfare or consumer preferences. (National Milk Producers Federation & U.S. Dairy Export Council)
 Product Safety

  • Significant barriers to further alignment, namely politics and differences in regulatory approach, remain on both sides of the Atlantic. Our experience has also shown that politics and differences in regulatory philosophy are fundamentally the root causes for differences in toy safety standards… Frequently, standards that are stricter than their international counterparts are promulgated due to political influence or the (often unstated) desire to erect technical barriers to trade, and not predicated by science or risk factors. (Toy Industry Association and Toy Industries of Europe)
  • We would like to highlight the fact that these regulatory differences are often politically motivated… We regret that the differences in regulations in the EU and US are often caused by the result of politics rather than a different approach to ensuring safety. (Toy Industries of Europe)
  • Such discussions need to take place between technical, not political or administrative, entities and need to make business sense for the organizations involved. (ASME, a lobbying group for engineers -- the first U.S. "non-profit" entity convicted for violating antitrust laws)
Some of the statements there are truly incredible - for example, the idea that animal  welfare or consumer preferences have no place in a country's trade policy, or that standards "stricter than their international counterparts" are somehow bad, and should be forbidden (isn't that what we should be striving for - doing better than the average?)  The latter also confirms what I've noted elsewhere: that the only way TTIP can "succeed" on its own terms is if all health and safety standards are levelled *downwards*, to the detriment of the public.

But the most significant point that emerges from the above is the false opposition between that "science-based" method and the "politically-motivated" approach.  As rightly pointed out by Public Citizen:

the "political" bodies the corporations fear are the democratically elected representatives of the people.  

Without realising it, the corporations are revealing their profound contempt for democracy, and for the right of citizens to choose the laws that govern them.  Instead, the huge multi-nationals are asserting the primacy of profit - and of their right to over-rule local laws.  I've warned about this previously, specifically in the case of Monsanto, but it's still frightening to see the naked expression by companies of their desire to see law trumped by lucre.

21 July 2013

Why has Monsanto "Quit" Europe? The Answer is ISDS in TAFTA/TTIP

The battle to bring GM food to Europe has been fiercely fought for years.  Most assumed it would be continue to rage for many more. Which makes this recent announcement extremely surprising:

The world's largest producer of seeds, Monsanto, has apparently given up on attempts to spread its genetically modified plant varieties in Europe. A German media report said the firm would end all lobbying for approval.
The German newspaper "taz" reported Friday that US agriculture behemoth Monsanto had dropped any plans to have farmers grow its genetically modified (GM) plant varieties in Europe.
Monsanto Europe spokesman Brandon Mitchener was quoted as saying the company would no longer engage in any lobbying fur such plants on the continent, adding that at the moment the firm was unwilling to apply for approval of any GM plants.

This is very curious.  Monsanto may be many things, but it is not a company that  gives up.  However, there is a clue in the last sentence of the above quotation: "at the moment the firm was unwilling to apply for approval of any GM plants". That suggests this is only a temporary halt, and that it will be back.

So why might it do that? Is there anything happening that might have triggered this move?

Why, yes: TAFTA/TTIP.  In fact, the issue of GM crops is likely to be one of the biggest sticking points.  The US side is insisting that "Sanitary and Phytosanitary" (SPS) measures must address GM foodstuffs, with the European side adamant that it won't drop its precautionary principle.

So how might that apparent contradiction be resolved?  A recent meeting on SPS gives a clue:

WTO members celebrated the 50th anniversary of 186-member Codex Alimentarius, which sets international standards for food safety, by calling, on 27–28 June 2013, for continued support for the body, and for trade measures to be based on science.

The calls came in a two-day meeting of the WTO’s Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) Committee, which consists of all 159 WTO members and deals with food safety and animal and plant health — measures having an increasing impact on trade. 

“The increase in the number of SPS measures that are not based on international standards, guidelines and recommendations, or that lack scientific justification, is a point of concern that has often been raised by many members in the SPS Committee and other contexts,” Brazil observed.

The discussion of the six new specific trade concerns and the 10 previously raised and discussed in this meeting reflected that theme.

They covered; processed meat, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), restrictions related to the Japanese nuclear plant accident, orchid tissue culture plantlets in flasks, citrus fruits (a complaint by South Africa against the EU about black spot, which is the first dispute settlement case in the International Plant Protection Convention), offal, salmon, pesticide residues, sheepmeat, phthalates (materials added to plastics in food and drink containers) in wines and spirits, shrimp, mad cow disease (BSE), GMO pollen in honey, Indonesia’s port closures, and pine trees and other products.

As can be seen there, GMOs are mentioned twice.

Well, "trade measures to be based on science" sounds reasonable enough, doesn't it?  Except, as I've discussed at some length recently, the "science" actually means "scientists employed by companies"; that is, it is far from being independent or disinterested.  By redefining such company testing as "scientific", it can then be used to push through products that have never been tested by national food safety bodies.

This approach seems certain to crop up during the TAFTA/TTIP negotiations, and would offer Monsanto a fresh opportunity to push its GM products in the EU.  What it will be aiming for is that US "testing" must be accepted in the EU too - that's precisely what TAFTA/TTIP is all about - which would mean automatic approval for its products there.  Hence the recent pull-out - it won't even need to make applications in the future.

But it gets even better for Monsanto.  Another key area for TAFTA/TTIP is investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS).  Again, I've written extensively about this elsewhere. Here I just want to explore how Monsanto might use it to blackmail European governments into accepting GM crops.

Essentially, ISDS allows companies to sue entire countries or even regions like the EU for alleged loss of future profits (see this terrifying example from Canada.)  So once TAFTA/TTIP is signed with ISDS provisions, Monsanto will be able to threaten to sue the EU and its member states if they don't allow its GM products to be sold there.  

The logic would be that it invested money in Europe in the "reasonable" expectation - based on "science", of course - that it could sell its products as a result.  Since the EU authorities and national governments have proved so hostile to GM, it was unable to do that.  It would therefore claim that it could sue the EU for hundreds of millions - possibly billions - of  Euros for its "lost" profits.

This is not some mad fantasy: it is already playing out around the world, as governments find that they cannot apply laws designed to protect public health and safety, since they would have the knock-on effect of reducing some multinational's profits, and therefore makes them subject to ISDS claims.

I believe this is the main reason for Monsanto's temporary pull-out from the European approvals process: it feels confident that ISDS provisions will be included in TAFTA/TTIP - indeed, both the EU and US sides have said they want them - and equally confident that it will be able to sue the socks off the EU and national states if they don't simply wave through GM products in their markets, no further approval required....

20 July 2013

OxyContin And The Art Of 'Evergreening'

A few weeks back, we wrote about the Indian Supreme Court's rejection of Novartis's attempt to use "evergreening" to prolong its patent on Gleevec, sold as Glivec in India. That term refers to the trick of making small changes to a drug, usually one about to come off patent, in order to gain a new monopoly that extends its manufacturer's control over a medicine. But how does that work in practice? 

On Techdirt.

No, The UK Did Not Just Abolish Copyright, Despite What Photographers Seem To Think

The photographers are freaking out again. After last year's excitement with Instagram's changes to its terms of service, now it's the UK's Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (ERR) Act that's getting people worked up. Here, for example, is a post on the site of Stop43, a photographers group which successfully fought against the inclusion of orphan works in the UK's Digital Economy Act, with the title: "The Enterprise And Regulatory Reform Act Has Reversed The Normal Workings Of Copyright": 

On Techdirt.

What New-Style Trade Agreements Are Really About (Hint: It's Not Trade)

Given the massive impact that new-style trade agreements like TPP and TAFTA/TTIP are likely to have on the lives of hundreds of millions of people, it's surprising how few members of the public know about what's being negotiated in their name. Fortunately, publications are starting to run more articles on the subject, like this great piece by David Brodwin in US News. 

On Techdirt.

Has Russia's VKontakte Social Network Betrayed Its Users? Or Is It Under Attack For Defending Them?

We last wrote about the Russian social network site VKontakte, often called "The Facebook of Russia," a year ago. Since then, lots of bad stuff has been happening in Russia as a part of clampdown on online activity there, and now VKontakte is back in the news, with a pair of rather contradictory stories. 

On Techdirt.

McAfee Patents System To 'Detect And Prevent Illegal Consumption Of Content On The Internet'

As a post on the French site Numerama reminds us (original in French), the department responsible for implementing the three-strikes plan known as HADOPI was also supposed to provide Internet users with information about technical solutions to reduce infringement. That never happened -- instead, the body has preferred to send out warning messages on a massive scale and to seek convictions, even of those who are innocent. But in the meantime, the US company McAfee seems to have obtained a patent on just the kind of thing the French law originally had in mind

On Techdirt.

US Demands Transparency Everywhere -- But Only From Everyone Else

Techdirt has written about the Special 301 report many times, but that's not the only US government publication putting other countries on the naughty step. Another is the less well-known National Trade Estimate Report on Foreign Trade Barriers (pdf): 

On Techdirt.

After Muzzling Librarians And Scientists, Now Canada Starts Making It Difficult For Citizens To Express Their Views

Last month, Techdirt wrote about the requirement for librarians employed by the Canadian government to self-censor their opinions, even in private. This came in the wake of similar restrictions being placed on government scientists. We pointed out that this kind of muzzling created a really bad precedent that might one day even be extended to the public. It seems that moment has come sooner than expected

On Techdirt.

UK 'Snooper's Charter' Torn Up; Now What?

Since the UK government published the draft version of its Communications Data Bill -- better known as the "snooper's charter" -- with plans to store data about every British citizen's emails, mobile calls and visits to Web sites, there has been almost total opposition to it from everyone else. Indeed, there has been growing resistance even within the UK government's ranks, largely from the smaller of the coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats. Here's what the party's leader and Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, has been up to, as described by one of the Liberal Democrat MPs, Julian Huppert: 

On Techdirt.

Not Learning From ACTA: IPR Protection And Enforcement Seen As 'Less Difficult Issue' For TAFTA/TTIP

Despite increasing calls for the imminent TAFTA/TTIP trade negotiations to be conducted as openly as possible, it seems likely that, as with ACTA and TPP, everything will be decided behind closed doors. That means the rest of us are forced to take our information about what is likely to happen where we can find it. For example, a new survey entitled "The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership: Ambitious but Achievable" (pdf), carried out by The Bertelsmann Foundation and Atlantic Council, offers some interesting thoughts on the subject. Here's the description: 

On Techdirt.

EU Free Trade Agreements With India And Canada Grind To A Halt

Techdirt has been covering the free trade agreement being negotiated between India and the EU for a while now -- that is, as well as anyone can report on something that is being conducted behind closed doors. Despite or maybe even because of that secrecy, one issue in particular has raised concerns: that India's crucial role as supplier of low-cost generics to the world's poor might be under threat. Against that background, this report on the Live Mint site comes as something of a surprise

On Techdirt.

Public Domain Human Genome Project Generated More Research And More Commercial Activity Than Proprietary Competitor

Traditionally, there has been a blithe assumption that more innovation occurs when patents are granted than when they are not. But as Techdirt has reported, people are finally beginning to call that into question. A forthcoming paper from an economist at MIT, Heidi Williams, provides another example of where that is not the case: in the field of genomics (via @gsDetermination). 

On Techdirt.

Double Blow Against Freedom Of Speech For Twitter Users In Turkey

Techdirt has written a few times about Turkey's difficult relationship with new technology. Unfortunately, it looks like that now includes Twitter, as two troubling decisions against users have been handed down recently. Here's the first, as reported by the Turkish Web site Hürriyet Daily News

On Techdirt.

'Pay For Delay' Drug Deals Under Scrutiny In US, EU And UK

The last time Techdirt wrote about "pay for delay" deals, whereby a big pharma company essentially buys off manufacturers of generics so that the former can continue to enjoy monopoly pricing long after its patents have expired, things didn't look too good. Back in 2010, the Second Circuit had refused to re-hear a case on the issue after dismissing a lawsuit arguing these deals were anti-competitive. But now things seem very different, and not just in the US. 

On Techdirt.

Australian Census Data Released Under CC License, But Official Site Tries To Make It Hard To Download

The whole point about adopting Creative Commons licenses is to make it easier for people to share and use works released under them. Sometimes, though, you get the impression that certain organizations adopting these licenses would rather that didn't happen, as in the following case from Australia, reported by IT News: 

On Techdirt.

Leading Italian Film Producer Calls For $16 Billion Lawsuit Against Italian State For Alleged Inaction Against Piracy

Last year we wrote about EMI suing the Irish government for having the temerity not to pass a SOPA-Like censorship law. That truly extraordinary sense of entitlement seemed to be a one-off, but The Hollywood Reporter now brings us another (via @LifeinSicily): 

On Techdirt.

Why Public Interest Trumps Trade Secrecy

Most companies have a natural tendency to keep details of their activities secret -- the fear being that competitors might be able to exploit for commercial advantage the information that they obtain. But it may be in the public interest for some details to be released, even if this might prove inconvenient for the company concerned. That's the background to a letter sent by ten law professors, including Larry Lessig, to the Alaska Oil & Gas Conservation Commission, pointed out to us by infojustice.org. 

On Techdirt.

Lithuania And Estonia Use Google Maps Street View To Catch Tax Cheats

As we've noted before, the information captured by Google's Street View has been put to some surprising uses, and the Boston Globe has come across a further fascinating example from Lithuania

On Techdirt.

Cambodian Activists Explain Why The EU-India FTA Is A Matter Of Life And Death

One of the many problems with the secretive nature of trade agreements is that it insulates negotiators from the real-world consequences of their actions. That's particularly true for the FTA talks between the EU and India, currently taking place behind closed doors. One of the key issues for the EU side is India's role as a supplier of generic medicines to the world, and India's tough stance on issues like the evergreening of pharma patents. From the various leaks that we have, it seems that the EU is demanding that India toe the line on drug patents, and cut back its supply of low-cost generics to emerging countries. 

On Techdirt.

The Free, Open Web: 20 Years of RF Licensing

As regular readers of this column know, there's still a battle going on over whether standards should be FRAND or restriction/royalty-free (RF). The folly of allowing standards to contain FRAND-licensed elements is shown most clearly by the current bickering between Microsoft and Google. What makes that argument such a waste of time and money is the fact that for 20 years we have had the most stunning demonstration of the power of RF:

European Commission Replies to My IPRED Letter

Earlier this month I wrote a couple of posts about a letter I sent off to the European Commission concerning my appalling experience with the IPRED consultation. Well, I now have a reply, which I reproduce below:

On Open Enterprise blog.

Please Write to MEPs *Now* about TAFTA/TTIP

Sorry to trouble you again this week, but there's an important vote in INTA today (25 April) on the transatlantic trade agreement (TAFTA/TTIP), and there are some crucial issues that you might like to convey to your MEP, especially if they are on the INTA committee. 

On Open Enterprise blog.

Please Write to Your MPs About Snooper's Charter

It seems that the UK government will be deciding what to do about the Snooper's Charter this week. It is already under huge pressure as more and more problems with the plans become evident. I urge you to write to your MP (perhaps using WriteToThem.com) to express your own concerns.

On Open Enterprise blog.

Clinical Trials Must be Open Data: Please Contact MEPs

Back in February, I noted that the UK's investigation into making clinical trial data freely available was somewhat subsidiary to the EU's major initiative on the same subject. The battle there between those who wish to keep clinical trials data secret, for fear that it might show pharma companies in a bad light, and those who believe that it must be released to save money and - more importantly - save lives is now increasingly fierce.

On Open Enterprise blog.

Software Patents Storming Up the Agenda Again

As regular readers of this column will know, software patents have never really gone away, even though the European Patent Convention forbids them, and the European Parliament explicitly rejected them again in 2005. Fans of intellectual monopolies just keep coming back with new ways of getting around those bans, which means that the battle to stop them crippling the European software industry has to be fought again and again.

On Open Enterprise blog.

Why CISPA Shows We Need Strong EU Data Protection

It seems hard to believe that it was only a little over a year ago that the threat from the US SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) was averted (and that ACTA was still with us in the EU). But of course the war is never won: new threats to freedom and openness on the Internet just keep on coming. 

On Open Enterprise blog.

The Future of Commercial Open Source: Foundations

Remember MySQL? Most famous for being part of the LAMP stack, and thus powering the bulk of the innovative work done in the field of ecommerce for a decade or more, it's rather fallen off the radar recently. It's not hard to see why: Oracle's acquisition of Sun, which had earlier bought MySQL for the not inconsiderable sum of $1 billion, meant that one of the key hacker projects was now run by the archetypal big-business mogul, Larry Ellison. So it was natural that people were unsure about MySQL's future, and started looking for alternatives.

On Open Enterprise blog.

'Intellectual Bulwark' Of Austerity Economics Collapses Because Of Three Major Errors

Amongst economists and those who draw on their thinking, the names Reinhart and Rogoff are well known for work published under the title "Growth in a Time of Debt," which sought to establish the relationship between public debt and GDP growth. The key result, that median growth rates for countries with public debt over 90% of GDP are about one percent lower than otherwise, and that the mean growth rate is much lower still, has been cited many times, and invoked frequently to justify austerity economics -- the idea being that if the public debt is not reduce, growth is likely to suffer badly. 

On Techdirt.

UK Supreme Court Says Unauthorized Browsing Of Copyright Material Online Is OK, But Asks European Court Of Justice Just In Case

The lawsuits brought against the media monitoring firm Meltwater in both the US and the UK have not turned out too well for the company so far. In the US, the district court handed down a summary judgment against Meltwater, while in the UK, two courts came to a particularly worrying conclusion: that simply viewing copyright material online without a license amounted to infringement. 

On Techdirt.

Argentine Judge Says Community Rights To Access Works Can Outweigh Creator's Moral Rights

Even though they don't figure much in the US legal landscape, moral (non-economic) rights such as the right of attribution are an important aspect of copyright law in many other countries. Intellectual Property Watch has a fascinating account of a case from Argentina, where a judge decided that an individual's moral rights could be overridden by the rights of the community

On Techdirt.

Western Publishers Sue Delhi University Over Photocopied Textbooks; Students And Authors Fight Back

Back in October last year, we wrote about Costa Rican students taking to the streets to defend their right to photocopy otherwise unaffordable university textbooks. Of course, that's not just a problem in Costa Rica: in many parts of the world, high prices act as a significant barrier to education, and it will come as no surprise that photocopying is an accepted practice in many countries. 

On Techdirt.

Investor-State Dispute Resolution: The Monster Lurking Inside Free Trade Agreements

We wrote recently about how multilateral trade agreements have become a convenient way to circumvent democratic decision making. One of the important features of such treaties is the inclusion of an investor-state dispute resolution mechanism, which Techdirt discussed last year. The Huffington Post has a great article about how this measure is almost certain to be part of the imminent TAFTA negotiations, as it already is for TPP, and why that is deeply problematic: 

On Techdirt.

When Is An Image 'Manipulated Enough' To Become An Original Creation?

Images manipulated using programs like Photoshop or the GIMP are a familiar sight online. Indeed, the ease with which images can be modified has led to an amazing flowering of this new branch of the visual arts. But like much in the digital world, this brings with it problems. Here, for example, is the interesting case of a competition on the MINI Space site, which is run by BMW as an oblique form of marketing for its Mini car. An article on the PetaPixel photography blog explains what happened when the site invited submissions on the theme of "check-mate" (pointed out to us by @copyrightgirl). Here's "PapiloChessBoard", the photomanipulated image that gained the winner a MacBook Pro laptop: 

On Techdirt.


A few weeks ago, I wrote of the continuing progress on the central Gov.uk site, which is a showcase of open technologies, as well as being the place to start when interacting with central government in the UK. Looks like I'm not the only one who is impressed by their work, since the site has just been chosen as Design of the Year in the Design Museum's

On Open Enterprise blog.

Italy's Great Leap Forward for Openness?

Different countries are moving at different speeds in terms of governmental adoption of free software, open data and openness in general. I wrote a year ago about Iceland, which seemed to be making particularly rapid progress at the time. Now it looks like it's Italy's turn. 

On Open Enterprise blog.

How Big Agribusiness Is Heading Off The Threat From Seed Generics -- And Failing To Keep The Patent Bargain

Recently we wrote about how pharmaceutical companies use "evergreening" to extend their control over drugs as the patents expire. But this is also an issue for the world of agribusiness: a number of key patents, particularly for traits of genetically-engineered (GE) organisms, will be entering the public domain soon, and leading companies like Bayer, BASF, Dow, DuPont, Monsanto and Syngenta are naturally coming up with their own "evergreening" methods. 

On Techdirt.

05 July 2013

Birth of a Meme: the Tweetlog

As some of you may know, alongside this blog here - a slightly empty place at the moment, for which apologies - I run something called rather grandly "Moody's Microblog Daily Digest".  This is simply a collection of most of my tweets for each day - discarding the ephemeral ones that are replies etc.

It's mainly so that I have a readily-accessible store of them that is independent of Twitter, and that I can search through easily since Twitter's search is pretty feeble (hint, hint...).

Now I see that Björn Brembs has started doing the same on his blog.  He's dubbed it a "tweetlog", which seems a pretty good description.  What do people think?  Is this the birth of meme?