Glossary

Agrochemical: synthetic chemical used in agriculture to control pests (pesticides and insecticides) or weeds (herbicides), or to stimulate soil as in the case of fertilisers.

Allergy: adverse sensitivity or pathological reaction to environmental factors or substances  in amounts that do not affect most people.

Antibiotic: pharmaceuticals produced from fungi, bacteria and other organisms that inhibit the growth of or destroy micro-organisms, and are widely used to prevent and treat diseases. Penicillin is the best known of this class of drugs.

Aspartame/NutraSweet: a genetically engineered neurotoxin, popularly known as Nutrasweet, it is officially listed as an artificial sweetener by the US Food and Drug Administration. Also known as Equal, Spoonful, and other name brands.

Bioinformatics: the application of information technology to genetic engineering research and development. Used in genomics to analyse large quantities of genetic material.

Biotechnology: a variety of techniques that involve the use and manipulation of living organisms to make commercial products. These techniques include cell culture, tissue culture, embryo transfer and recombinant DNA technology (genetic engineering).

Biodiversity: All living organisms, their genetic material and the ecosystems of which they are a part. It is usually described at three levels: genetic, species and ecosystem diversity. Genetic diversityis the variation of genes between and within species. It is all the genetic information contained in all the genes of all plants, animals and micro-organisms on earth. Genetic diversity within a species allows it to adapt to new pests and diseases, and to changes in environment, climate and agricultural methods. Species diversity is the total number or variety of species in a given area. Ecosystem diversity is the total variety of ecosystems or
interdependent communities of species and their physical environment. Ecosystems may cover very large or quite small areas. They include such natural systems as grasslands, mangroves, coral reefs, wetlands and tropical forests, as well as agricultural ecosystems that depend on human activity but have characteristic assemblages of plants and animals.

Biopiracy: the use of intellectual property to legitimise the exclusive ownership and control of biological resources and knowledge, without recognition, reward or protection to informal innovators.

BSE (“Mad Cow Disease”): bovine spongiform encephalopathy is a bovine variant of the human Creutzfeld-Jacob Disease (CJD). CJD is a painful degenerative disease that gives an infected patient involuntary spasms that then deteriorate into blindness and epilepsy. It is thought humans consuming cattle infected with BSE can manifest CJD. There is no known treatment or cure for BSE or CJD. Scientists think these diseases are caused by mutated prions, brain proteins that can somehow replicate themselves and affect normal prions. The practice of supplementing animal feed with ground-up animal remains, turning herbivores into carnivores and cannibals is thought to be responsible for BSE. Regular cooking or freezing processes do not destroy BSE. Since it was discovered in 1986, BSE has afflicted more than 165,000 cattle in Britain, leading to their destruction and an EU ban on British beef for three years.

Bt: Bacillus thuringiensis CrylA(b) Delta-Endotoxin (Bt) is a naturally-occurring soil bacterium approved as a natural insecticide for use by organic farmers.

CIS: Commonwealth of Independent States. Comprised of parts of the former-USSR, and also known as the FSU (former-Soviet Union) or NIS (Newly Independent States).

Cell line: cells removed from humans, or other organisms that are manipulated to sustain continuous, long-term growth in an artificial culture. So-called immortal cell lines have been cultured to live indefinitely under artificial conditions, where temperature and nutrient requirements are strictly controlled. Cell lines provide an unlimited supply of DNA from the organism they are taken from.

Certified Organic: term for foods/products grown and processed in accordance with the country’s standards. No pesticides, GMO’s, food additives, or fertilizers of a synthetic nature are allowed. In most countries, to certify a farm/field for organic takes a minimum of 3 years, and standards on the farm with record keeping, handling and processing is strictly monitored.

Cloning: the practice of artificially producing two or more genetically identical organisms from the cells of another organism.

Council of Europe: in 1949, it was the first Pan-European political institution to be established. It is an
intergovernmental organisation currently consisting of 39 member states. The main aims are to protect and strengthen pluralist democracy and human rights, and seek solutions to the problems facing society to promote the emergence of a genuine European cultural identity. Notable achievements include the European Convention on Human Rights.

CODEX Alimentarius: the UN body charged with developing international standards for food quality and safety, and comprised of 165 nations.

DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid): genetic material in all organisms (with the exception of a few viruses in which the hereditary material is ribonucleic acid or RNA). It is contained in chromosomes. Theinformation coded by DNA determines the structure and function of proteins that in turn define the structure and role of cells making up an organism.

Dry farming: farm techniques that reduce or eliminates irrigation.

Enzyme: any of numerous proteins produced and used by living organisms and functioning as biochemical catalysts.

Eugenics: the study of hereditary improvement especially in terms of human improvement through genetic control.

Factory farming: any of a set of practices that prevent free movement of farm animals such as “battery chickens” in which hundreds or thousands of chickens are kept several to a small cage. In the case of raising veal, this means keeping young cows in dark cages and being force-fed through tubes, and their movement being prevented by cutting the ligaments in their legs – all in the name of producing tender meat. The use of antibiotics and chemical growth promoters can also be included in this term.

Free Range: term for animals that are not raised in confinement for food or food production. Free range animals enjoy the outdoors and live a more natural life, allowing their food to taste better and be healthier. Also called pasture fed/raised.

Gene: A minute part of a chromosome that influences the inheritance and development of some characters – factor genes consist essentially of deoxyribonucleic acid: the functional unit of heredity. A gene is a section of DNA that codes for a specific biochemical function in a living being. Genes are physically located on chromosomes.

Genetic engineering (GE): see genetically modified.

Genetically modified (GM): the use of high technology processes to manipulate the genetic material of a living organism in order to affect the organism’s biochemical characteristics and create new, different organisms in a laboratory.

General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT): The GATT was established in 1947, and grew from a club of 23 industrialised nations to an agreement between 115 signatory states. Following the Uruguay Round of negotiations (concluded in 1994), GATT came under the management of the World Trade Organization on January 1, 1995. The Uruguay Round included an agreement on intellectual property as a trade issue, known as Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights, or TRIPs.

Genome: The sum of all the chromosomes within each nucleus of any species.

Genotype: the total genetic information in the chromosomes of a particular organism or species.

Glyphosate: a broad-spectrum herbicide widely used to kill unwanted plants both in agriculture and in non- agricultural landscapes. About Glysophate: fact sheet.

GMO: Genetically Modified Organism. Also known as GM, GE – Genetically Engineered. Refers to seeds and animals whose gene structure has been altered through biotechnology. Genes are manipulated to carry specific desired ‘traits’. They are not allowed in organics.

Genomics: the science of understanding  genomes (organisms’ total genetic material). Reasearch can involve mapping out the whole genome, such as the Humane Genome Project, or identifying genes and various combinations that might prove useful.

Heirloom: plants that are over 50 years old and contain no GM traits.

Herbicide: a synthetic chemical used to destroy weeds or other undesirable vegetation amongst a crop.

Human Genome Organization (HUGO): the International umbrella organization that manages the Human Genome Project. In the US, the Department of Energy and the National Institutes of Health primarily fund it, while in Europe, the European Commission funds HUGO.

Human Genome Project: an international collaborative endeavor among geneticists to “map the human genome”by using new technologies to describe the chemical composition of an estimated 100 000 that control the inherited part of human being’s makeup.

International Monetary Fund (IMF): an institution established in 1946 at Bretton Woods (US) with 182 member states. Its aims are to maintain a stable system of buying and selling their currencies so that payments in foreign money can take place between countries smoothly and without delay. The IMF lends money to members having trouble meeting financial obligations to other members, but only on condition that they undertake economic reforms. The demanded reforms, quite often mean that social spending and other programs must be cut, while defence spending, which stimulates job growth, remain untouched. Voting power within the IMF is determined by the amount of money given to  its coffers.

Life sciences: term used by genetic engineering TNCs to describe their area of activity. Widely seen as a public relations initiative to move away from their previous activity, often in chemical production.

Multinational Corporation (MNC): the original term used to describe companies present in more than one country, but with a strong national base. Also see transnational corporation.

Non-GMO, GMO-Free: foods that are free from genetically engineered biotechnology.

Organic agriculture: a type of agriculture which does not employ artificial chemical pesticides, herbicides, synthetic fertilisers, sewage slurry, GMOs, antibiotics or irradiation in the production of crops or livestock.

Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD): The forerunner of the OECD was the Organization for European Economic Co-operation (OEEC), which was formed to administer US and Canadian aid under the Marshall Plan for post-war reconstruction of Europe. It was founded in 1961 to build strong economies in its member countries, improve efficiency, hone market systems, expand
free trade and contribute to development in industrialised as well as developing countries. Membership consists of the 29 countries (including Europe, North America, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Finland, Mexico, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Korea), that produce two thirds of the world’s goods and services.

Organization of African Unity (OAU): consisting of 32 independent African states, the OAU was founded in 1963 to promote the unity and solidarity of African states; defend the sovereignty of members; eradicate all forms of colonialism; harmonise members’ economic, health, defence, diplomatic, education, and scientific policies; and to promote international co-operation.

Patent: temporary legal monopoly on the commercial exploitation of an invention that covers a wide range of products and processes, which now includes life forms. In order to patent something, the invention must meet four criteria. A patent must be new, innovative, industrially applicable, and must necessitate an inventive step. Patents provide exclusive legal protection to patent holders for between 17-25 years. Anyone wishing to use a patented invention must receive permission from the patent holder and pay royalties. In exchange for this monopoly, the patent holder must disclose information about the invention.

Pesticide/insecticide: a synthetic chemical used to destroy insects and prevent them from eating crops or being vectors for disease.

Precautionary principle: The precautionary principle was first recognized as international law by the Rio Declaration in 1992, and reads: “Principle 15: In order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach shall be widely applied by States according to their capabilities. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.”

Protein: any of a group of complex organic compounds that contain amino acids as their basic structural units, occur in all living matter, and are essential for the growth and repair of animal and human tissue.

Recombinant: An organism or cell formed by genetic recombination; Referring to something formed by combining existing elements in a new combination. Especially in the phrase recombinant DNA referring to an organism created in the lab by adding DNA from another species.

Recombinant DNA: a hybrid DNA molecule which contains DNA from more than one source. ssuii ggenerriisslegislation: literally “of its own kind”, meaning in a class of its own. This refers to any unique form of intellectual property legislation specifically designed to meet certain needs.

Superweeds: a mutant version of a weed created from resistance to herbicides. Superweeds are plaguing high-tech Monsanto crops in southern US, driving farmers to use more herbicides, return to conventional crops or even abandon their farms.

Terminator technology: officially known as “Technology Protection System” (TPS), or “Genetic Use Restriction Technologies (GURTs),”  this set of genetic technologies is designed to prevent “unauthorised” seed saving by farmers. The plants grown from seeds bought from GE corporations will produce sterile seeds, thus preventing the tradition of replanting seeds, and adding significantly new input costs.

Toxicity: capable of causing poisoning when introduced into the body.

Transnational corporation (TNC): a more recent term than MNC used to define companies that are present in many countries (hundreds of countries) thus often having less than 50% of their activity in their country of origin. Some of these companies are now moving their headquarters out of their country of origin. The spread of shareholders also means that the notion of country of origin becomes vague. TNC is more relevant now to the aspect of globalisation than MNC.

Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights Agreement (TRIPs): TRIPs is a GATT agreement, now administered by the World Trade Organisation (WTO), stipulating that all signatories must conform to industrial country standards of intellectual property law. TRIPs requires signatories to introduce patent coverage for micro-organisms and to have some form of intellectual property coverage for plants. Developing countries have until at least the year 2000 to implement the agreement’s intellectual property
provisions. Least developed countries have until 2004, with a possible extension. The WTO will review the TRIPs agreement in 1999, and it could be modified as a result.

Transgenetic animal: an animal into which new DNA sequences have been deliberately introduced.

Transgenetics: modifying an organism by having  DNA from another species integrated into its genome.

US Department of Agriculture (USDA): The US equivalent of a Ministry of Agriculture.

US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA): The US equivalent of a Ministry of Environment.

US Food and Drug Administration  (US FDA): the US government agency responsible for new food, drug, and cosmetic approvals, as well as food safety issues.

World Bank: one of the largest multilateral banks, it lends to governments for financial restructuring, environmental and social projects, and infrastructure development.  The bank has come under increasing fire for lending to projects which induce environmental devastation rather than protection: forced relocation of people – such as massive road-building projects, large dams, and timber harvesting in environmentally-sensitive areas through clear cutting.

World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO): created in 1967, the Geneva-based organisation administers 20 intellectual property conventions on patents and trademarks, including the Berne and Paris Conventions, under the aegis of the UN. WIPO includes 151 member states, including all industrialised countries and many countries of the South.

World Trade Organization: a body created at the conclusion of the Uruguay Round of GATT in 1994 to monitor the GATT agreement and pursue global trade objectives, primarily free trade. It became operational on January 1, 1996. It now has the potential to become the dominant forum for determining the future of intellectual property laws worldwide.

Xeno-transplantation: the cloning of animals for human transplants, and genetically modifying animals to produce pharmaceuticals (in milk for example).

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