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30 April 2008

How to Fix the Food Crisis
Starvation in a Time of Record Profits

The Daily Green, 30 April 2008.

U.S. food companies are rolling in money while food riots roll through poor cities around the world.

The Wall Street Journal today reports on the massive profits of companies dealing in grain processing (high-fructose corn syrup, ethanol and others), fertilizers, genetically modified seeds, pesticides and other food- and farm-related products and services.

In the last quarter alone, the six most profitable companies in this sector have earned more than $4 billion. Here's how they might spend a bit of their windfall:

Those profits make the United Nations Food Program's emergency request for $755 million to feed the 73 million people at risk of starvation look tiny. It amounts to 20% of the profits from those companies over the last three months. And remember, these companies ā Monsanto, Cargill, Mosaic, ADM, Deere and Bunge ā have for the most part been raking it in for at least a couple years, as they ride (or is that drive?) the congressional mandate for ethanol. Food prices, according to one index, are up 57% in a year.

Meanwhile, the U.N. and World Bank have warned that a whole generation is at risk of malnutrition in some parts of the world as the "silent tsunami" claims lives, stunts growth and propels volatile countries into violence.

Here are the earnings of those companies in the last quarter, as reported by the Journal:

Monsanto ā $1.13 billion

Cargill ā $1.03 billion

Mosaic ā $520.8 million

Archer-Daniels-Midland ā $517 million

Deere ā $369.1 million

Bunge ā $289 million

[Photo caption: A man carries a sack of food through a Nicaraguan market. Nicaragua's food prices have shot up 48% according to the UN.]


USA: Farm Broadcaster Ousted after Ripping Monsanto's Goon Squads

Corporate Crime Reporter, April 30 2008.

If you have heard of Learfield Communications, it is probably from listening to college football and basketball games.

The Jefferson City, Missouri based Learfield is one of the nation's largest broadcasters of college sports.

But it also produces news programming heard throughout the farm belt.

Learfield was started 35 years ago by Clyde Lear and Derry Brownfield.

Lear went on to be the chairman of the company. He bought out his friend and partner Brownfield in 1985.

Brownfield went on to do market news reports for the Learfield news division until 1997 or so, when he started broadcasting a daily call-in show called The Common Sense Coalition.

Derry Brownfield would broadcast The Common Sense Coalition from the studios of Learfield Communications.

Learfield would subsidize the program and allow Brownfield to use its studios and satellite hook-up.

Monsanto happens to be a big advertiser of the Learfield news division ā to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

Brownfield happens to think that Monsanto is an evil corporation.

Therein lies the rub.

For weeks, Brownfield had been ripping Monsanto on air for its policies of enforcing its seed patents against farmers.

On the April 16 show, Brownfield's topic was seed industry concentration in America.

His guests were Fred Stokes, president of the Organization for Competitive Markets, and Michael Stumo, general counsel of the group.

Stokes and Stumo were promoting a new project to study corporate concentration in the seed industry.

Monsanto is the dominant player in the global seed industry and has a reputation for playing rough.

On air, Brownfield quoted from a newly published Vanity Fair article titled "Monsanto's Harvest of Fear" by Donald Barlett and James Steele.

"Monsanto relies on a shadowy army of private investigators and agents in the American heartland to strike fear into farm country," Barlett and Steele write. "They fan out into fields and farm towns, where they secretly videotape and photograph farmers, store owners, and co-ops, infiltrate community meetings, and gather information from informants about farming activities. Farmers say that some Monsanto agents pretend to be surveyors. Others confront farmers on their land and try to pressure them to sign papers giving Monsanto access to their private records. Farmers call them the 'seed police' and use words such as 'Gestapo' and 'Mafia' to describe their tactics."

After reading from the Vanity Fair article, Brownfield then begins to riff on the Mafia theme.

"Multinational corporations are doing everything possible to change agriculture ā and not for the better," Brownfield says on the show. "I know a little bit about this ā not a lot, just a little bit ā but Monsanto literally they have Mafia goons out, do they not? They show up on farmers' property, they try and harass them, they say if you don't sign this, we are going to take you to court. They have literally tried to destroy agriculture as we know it. They have a goon squad. Maybe that's not what they like to be called. But if it was the Mafia, we would call them the goon squad."

Calling Monsanto's patent enforcers goons was apparently the straw that broke this camel's back.

Brownfield's stint at Dearfield was about to end.

Last week, Brownfield was told that he could no longer broadcast out of the Dearfield studios. His buddy, Clyde Lear, posted a blog on the Learfield web site saying that Brownfield's last show will be in mid-May.

"The Common Sense Coalition grinds to a halt on our system," Lear wrote.

"Most of his listeners loved him as did his affiliates," Lear wrote about his buddy. "He didn't mind controversy or taking on giants like the Monsanto Corporation. He thought they were bad for farmers, too big for their britches and generally bad for America. Increasingly he's been saying so, without seeking balance, in my opinion."

And then later, in response to listeners who were upset that Brownfield was being let go, Lear wrote:

"Some seem to think the reason Derry is leaving is because Monsanto threatened to stop advertising if we didn't put a gag on him. If that were the only reason Derry was asked to leave, then I can see why they think we are selling out. We've parted ways because accusations being made about not only advertisers, but individuals, corporations, government, (fill in the blank) were based on fear and lies with absolutely no truth to back them up. I abhor radio talk shows like Rush Limbaugh...and Derry Brownfield where half-truths are articulated. I won't be a part of them. And, that's my right."

But in an interview with Corporate Crime Reporter, Lear admits that the Monsanto issue is what drove his buddy Brownfield out.

"If the Monsanto issue had not come up, we would not be here today," Lear said.

Lear said that the President of Learfield Communications, Roger Gardner, talked recently with John Raines, Monsanto's director of public affairs.

"John Raines talked to Roger Gardner about the difficulties they felt Brownfield is giving them," Lear said. "(Gardner) told me he talked to John Raines about the Vanity Fair article."

"The pressure I got came from the president of the news division, Stan Koenigsfeld," Lear said. "Stan is the guy that has responsibility for selling and maintaining the financial viability of our news division. Stan is a no nonsense guy. So, Stan comes in and says ā why are we doing this? Why do we continue to do this? We give him all of these things and he spits in our face by lambasting our good advertisers, without giving them an opportunity for fair and balanced reporting. And it is not reporting ā it's just entertainment. Why do we continue to do this?"

Lear says that the complaints have been mounting over the past five years about Brownfield.

"And I've been saying to Stan, settle down, it will all be alright," Lear said. "But I imagine Stan is getting a lot of pressure from his sales executives. We have three that call on Monsanto for different products. And I would assume that he is getting pressure from those sales executives. When those sales executives call on Monsanto, Monsanto is complaining to the sales executives. That is where the connection happens. But you would have to talk to them about the kind of leverage Monsanto is putting on them. They have never to my knowledge threatened to pull any advertising."

Lear finally confronted Brownfield.

"I went to him and said ā Derry, look, lay off of this," Lear said. "Lay off of this Monsanto thing. I am getting a lot of complaints."

Lear said he was the only one in the company who could approach Brownfield.

"I'm the only one who can talk to him," Lear said. "No one else in the company will go to him. He is kind of persona non grata. He is one of the guys who helped start the company years ago. He was my partner for years until 1985 when I bought him out. He is a dear friend of mine. So, there is no one else ā all of the rest of the guys are half my age. They won't go to him. They are afraid of him. They just won't go and talk to him."

"They all came to me and said ā go talk to Derry," Lear said. "We've got to quit doing this. Plus, it came at a bad time. It came during the same week that the National Association of Farm Broadcasters national convention was being held in Kansas City. And at that convention, of course, Monsanto was omnipresent. They are there trying to woo farm broadcasters, because they want them to say nice things about them, right? So, here are all of the Monsanto people at this convention. And their advertising agencies ā Osborne & Barr out of St. Louis ā among others. They were all there. And it was embarrassing, because all of that week, Derry is lambasting Monsanto."

"We have explained to Monsanto, in any way we can, that the Brownfield Network has nothing to do with Derry's show," Lear says. "This is a completely independent show that he puts on. Well, Monsanto says ā he's doing it from your studios, isn't he? And we say yes, we give him space because of the history."

"And they ask ā how else do you help him? If he weren't doing the show, would this problem disappear?"

"So my guys came to me and said ā we've got to do something about this."

"So, I went in to Derry and I sat down with him," Lear said. "It was very good natured. I wasn't angry. I wasn't planning on doing anything. I said ā let this Monsanto thing go for awhile. Just let it go."

"He said ā 'Clyde ā Monsanto is an evil empire,'" Lear recalled. "'This is evil. He said ā every farmer hates Monsanto. You know what they have done ā and then he would lambast Monsanto and lay out this litany of stuff that they do. It included milk. Apparently there is a human growth hormone that they put in the milk. I don't know a thing about it, but apparently they won a court case that prohibited milk retailers from putting on the milk carton the label ā hormone free. I didn't know anything about this, but Brownfield was complaining about how the liberal judges of America are siding with the evil empire. And Monsanto pays them off. All kinds of allegations which I'm sure are not true. But Derry believes them."

"So, I said ā will you let Monsanto be on the air? And he said ā I'm not going to give them a forum. But then he changed his mind and said ā yeah, bring them on. I'll let them on the show."

Lear then went to hole up with his executives. And his execs told him ā "It's bigger than this now. We just don't need to be associated with him."

"So, I just walked back there and said to Derry ā you say you are not going to lighten up. And he said no, I'm staying the course. And I said ā not with us you are not. You are going to have to find some other way to distribute your program, and you are going to have to find some other office to do it out of."

Given that he was willing put Monsanto on his show, why not keep him on?

"Maybe we should have," Lear said.

Would you reconsider your decision?

"I don't think so," Lear says. "It is just not a business I want to be in anymore."

Lear says he feels sad about parting with his old buddy, but he wants to help set up an internet radio studio for Derry out of Derry's home office.

"We are helping him build a new facility in his home," Lear says. "But we won't have a connection to him. Then we can easily say to Monsanto ā we don't have a thing to do with Derry. We don't have a thing to do with him. He's not on our property. We can't control him."

Brownfield said he couldn't comment on the situation until after May 30.

Corporate Crime Reporter
1209 National Press Bldg.
Washington, D.C. 20045
Tel + 1 202 737 1680


The public is proved right: GM crops are no panacea

The Guardian (UK), April 30 2008. By Tom Wakeford.

The IAASTD last week concluded that "data on some GM crops indicate highly variable yield gains in some places and declines in others". The door was left open, on the basis that it would be unwise to rule out GM crops for the future, but as the charity Practical Action commented, "the report rightly concludes that small-scale farmers and ecological methods provide the way forward to avert the current food crisis".

It's time many science policy-makers started eating GM humble pie, and urgent questions must now be raised about the lessons they have drawn from the GMO debate. With the exception of John Battle, every UK science minister and chief scientist since Labour came to power, together with media-friendly scientists and policy wonks, have assumed that the public "misunderstood the facts" in rejecting the current generation of GM crops. But in virtually every deliberative process undertaken the jury said no to GM crops.

Together with Andy Stirling, from the science policy research unit at the University of Sussex, I was involved in the first citizens' jury to discuss GM crops exactly 10 years ago. Its 1998 report concurs with the 2008 IAASTD findings. We've had 10 years and, I suspect, tens of millions of pounds, promoting transgenic crops as a solution for world hunger and sustainable agriculture - in the face of the balance of scientific evidence.

Some within government, though not the research councils, are still using the GMO debate, alongside the MMR controversy, in support of attempts to send us back to the dark age of the deficit model. The irrationality of this model, contrasting officially approved experts with mere lay people, is now beyond argument.

Completely preposterous arguments, such as those used to defend deficit thinking or that GM crops will feed the world, require unflinching faith. The previous chief scientist, Sir David King, seemed to think that most problems related to public trust in science could be solved by the application of the deficit model and his ethical code.

The funding councils are not without their deficit fans. They've even been known to support deficit fringe groups such as Sense About Science. Thankfully, wiser heads at the councils decided to set up the six Beacons for Public Engagement. Together, we have four years to show that researchers at universities can welcome those whose expertise comes from experience as co-producers of useful knowledge.

I wonder how many hunger-related deaths in developing countries could have been avoided if science policy-makers had applied this philosophy to GM crops 10 years ago?

Tom Wakeford is director of the Durham-Newcastle Beacon for Public Engagement.


UN task force to tackle food price crisis

The Guardian (UK), 30 April 2008. By Julian Borger, diplomantic editor.

The United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, Tuesday called for world leaders to attend a summit in June to tackle the food price crisis that has triggered global social unrest. In the run up to the summit in Rome, Italy, a U.N.› task force headed by a British diplomat, Sir John Holmes, will try to develop a coherent international response to the crisis, at a time of sharp international divisions over food exports, genetically modified crops and biofuels.

The plans for a task force and summit were announced at a meeting of the U.N.'s chief executive board in Berne, Switzerland, bringing together the U.N.'s humanitarian organizations with the world's principal financial institutions, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

"We consider that the recent dramatic escalation in food prices worldwide has evolved into an unprecedented challenge of global proportions that has become a crisis for the world's most vulnerable, including the urban poor," said a U.N. statement issued at the end of the Berne meeting. It called for donor nations to help the World Food Program (WFP) raise an additional $755 million (£380 million) to meet its existing food aid targets in the face of higher costs, and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) called for $1.7 billion to pay for seeds and inputs to help farmers in poor countries respond to the high prices by growing more.

The Rome summit, starting on June 3, had initially been planned by the U.N.'s FAO as an experts' meeting on the impact of climate change and biofuel production on global food security, but the dramatic increase in the price of staple foods such as rice, wheat and soya and the consequent food price riots in poor and middle-income countries around the world, has attracted the attention of world leaders.

France's president, Nicolas Sarkozy, and the Brazilian president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, have confirmed their attendance. Downing Street said last night the British Prime Minister Gordon Brown had no plans to attend.

In a letter earlier this month to Japan's prime minister, Yasuo Fukuda, Brown had called for a coordinated response to the crisis from the G8 group of industrialized nations, due to meet this year in Japan.

Holmes told an audience at the London School of Economics on Monday: "Food insecurity is not like classic famines, such as Ethiopia. It's more insidious. It's been likened to a silent, rolling tsunami."

Sir John will have to navigate some deep divides on how best to respond to the crisis. While Britain and the U.S. argue that it gives added urgency for a new global agreement to liberalize trade, known as the Doha Round, being negotiated by the World Trade Organization (WTO). Some countries, including India and Thailand, have responded to food shortages and riots by curbing exports of staples. In recent days, France's agriculture minister, Michel Barnier, warned European Union officials: "We must not leave the vital issue of feeding people to the mercy of market laws and international speculation."

There are also heated debates over whether genetically modified plants are a possible solution to increasing yields, and whether the world should abandon the cultivation of biofuels, which have diverted land and other resources away from food crops.


Phillipines: Greenpeace refutes DA assurance on GMO rice, 30 April 2008. By Abigail Kwok.

MANILA, Philippines -- The Department of Agriculture (DA) is "uninformed" about the issue of genetically-modified organisms (GMO) in US rice imports, an international environmentalist group said Wednesday.

In a statement, Daniel Ocampo, Greenpeace Southeast Asia Sustainable Agriculture campaigner, said, "The DA was either lying or uninformed when it assured consumers that US GMO rice has the seal of approval of international food safety agencies. Contrary to the DA's claims, the GMO rice LL601 has not been approved anywhere in the world outside of the United States." DA issued a statement last Friday refuting the claim of Greenpeace that at least two brands of US commercial rice sold in public markets were allegedly contaminated by at least two GMO strains, one of which was LL601.

Greenpeace identified the two brands of US rice as Blue Ribbon Texas Long Grain and Rice Land Arkansas Long Grain. These brands were said to be sold in all S&R Supermarkets in Metro Manila. However, DA said that the two brands have yet to be shipped in the country. DA also said that the GMO strain LL601 was safe for consumption as certified by the US Food and Drugs Authority (USFDA).

But Greenpeace disputed this claim.

"Greenpeace knows that there have been no findings of safety of the GMO rice LL601 by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), nor the New Zealand Food Safety Authority (NZFSA), nor the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). And for the DA's own GMO regulators to claim the opposite is completely unbelievable. We are convinced this puts into question the DA's credibility, their honesty and integrity, with regard to GMO assessments," Ocampo said.

Greenpeace also questioned the DAŪs "suspicious lack of transparency" in the method used for testing rice for GMA strain. Ocampo said the lateral flow method used by DA to test rice imports was unacceptable.

"Using the lateral flow or strip test to determine GMO content is not an acceptable protocol for detecting LL601 or LL62 GMO rice under both the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and European Union standards," Ocampo said.

The environmentalist group is calling on the DA to regulate US rice imports in the country for GMO safety and to conduct a thorough testing of rice imports to ensure that they are GMO-free.


29 April 2008

UK: Politics of the plate: GM myths and raising meat standards

Gourmet magazine, 29 April 2008. By Barry Estabrook.

Debunking yet another GM myth

Those singing the praises of genetically modified (GM) crops often tout increased yields as one of the advantages to growing them. Two important studies say otherwise. Barney Gordon of Kansas State University reports in a recent issue of the journal Better Crops that his test plots of GM soybeans (which make up 90 percent of the soybeans grown in this country) produced 10 percent fewer beans than conventional crops. He suspects that the bioengineered beans do not absorb magnesium, an element essential to photosynthesis, as well as non-GM plants. An earlier study from the University of Nebraska produced similar results.

Higher yields is the second GM myth to be busted this year. Modified crops were also supposed to reduce the use of pesticides. But a report earlier this year by Friends of the Earth International showed that applications of glyphosate, an insecticide, and 2,4-D and atrazine, both herbicides, have increased dramatically in the United States in the dozen years since GM seeds were first sown in farmers' fields.

More good news...

...for those of us trying to eat animals raised and killed in a humane manner: The formidable Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production released a report this week calling for an end to intensive confinement practices on American farms. The list of unacceptable living quarters includes gestation crates for sows; veal crates; and battery cages for laying hens.

Commission members include such influential luminaries as former U. S. Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman; former Kansas governor John Carlin; and the former Dean of the University of Tennessee's College of Veterinary Medicine, Michael Blackwell. This is not a group of animal rights extremists, to be sure.

A few weeks ago, an act to ban confinement practices qualified for the ballot in California. Florida, Arizona, and Oregon have prohibited gestation crates. Arizona also disallows veal crates. Who knows, we may be catching up to the rest of the civilized world: The European Union has already legislated against the "Big Three" confinement abuses.

Better butchering

Grass-fed beef has a lot going for it. The cattle that produce it spend their days on pastures eating grass like they are supposed toůunlike feedlot cattle, which live in crowded pens for the last several months of their lives, stuffing themselves with corn-based feed (and a whole lot of drugs to counteract the ill effects of that corn, which isn't part of a cow's natural diet). But the differences between the two types of cows end at the last crucial stage of their lives. Due to a shortage of slaughterhouses, many grass-fed cattle are herded into trailers and trucked vast distances to the same large, inhumane, and dirty plants that process their industrially raised counterparts.

That may be changing. Two conscientious beef farmers on opposite sides of the country have opened their own slaughterhouses. In Bluffton, GA, White Oak Pastures, the state's largest grass-fed beef producer, has just completed its own on-farm plant, according to Sustainable Food News. The plant was designed by Dr. Temple Grandin, an expert on the humane treatment of animals. A similar facility was opened earlier this year by Sallie Calhoun, owner of Paicines Ranch, a grass-fed cattle operation in Benito County, CA.

In addition to handling the production from their owners' fields, both of the new boutique abattoirs will provide a valuable service to other small, local, sustainable growers, who until now had to truck their animals great distances, and whose output was not limited by demand (it's soaring) but by the capacity of processing plants.


UK: I'll have the cloneburger and fries

New Scientist, 29 April 2008. By Sharon Oosthoek.

Media and community opposition caused two cows born of a cloned mother to be withdrawn from auction in the UK. The use of cloned animals to produce meat and milk seems likely to cause as much controversy as the issue of genetically modified food. Stephen Sundlof, of the US Food & Drug Administration, says that even finding a theory about why food derived from clones could be unsafe is "beyond our imagination". Cloning could make it possible to produce animals resistant to illnesses such as mad cow disease. Utah State University's Kenneth White says the practice could also allow the production of healthier foods, such as meat with reduced cholesterol.


GMO: A Dangerous Experiment, 29 April 2008. By Barbara Peterson.

The problems with Genetically Modified (GM) foods are as many as they are varied. Respected scientists have risked everything to step forward and warn consumers that this new fast-track "solution to world hunger" is bad for their health and the environment, but to little avail. Giant agri-business companies such as Monsanto forge ahead to flood the world's food chain with experimental technologies that are proving to be harmful to life. The worst part is, the longer this reckless experiment is allowed to go on, the closer we get to a complete planetary takeover by Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO).

The GMO Cover-up

Dr. Arpad Pusztai, PhD, FRSE, "one of the few genuinely independent scientists specializing in plant genetics and animal feeding studies" (OCA, 2005), worked for the Rowett Research Institute in Aberdeen, Scotland in 1998. During his employment, he was commissioned to study potatoes "fitted" or genetically modified (GM) with a lectin gene from Galanthus Nivalis, a European plant. He inserted the gene into the potatoes himself, then fed the GM potatoes to lab rats in order to document the effects. What he found was that these potatoes had damaged the organs of the rats and depressed their immune systems. On August 10, 1998, Dr. Pusztai appeared on a British documentary and issued a warning to the public about the inadequate testing of GM foods, and revealed his test results. For his candor, Dr. Pusztai was accused of incompetence, and forced to retire.

A scandal ensued after Dr. Pusztai raised questions about the safety of GM potatoes. Accusations that Monsanto used its influence to ram the technology through with bribery and coercion were made, as chronicled by the Doric Column (1999):

12 February 1999: Twenty scientists from 14 countries who have examined Pusztai's report accuse Rowett of bowing to political pressure. The group calls for a moratorium on GM crops.

13 February 1999: The British government "rejects calls for a moratorium amid allegations that it is in the pocket of the biotech industry."

14 February 1999: Rowett is reported to have received £140,000 from Monsanto before the blow-up.

Dr. Pusztai was later "asked by the German authorities in the autumn of 2004 to examine Monsanto's own 1,139-page report on the feeding of MON863 to laboratory rats over a 90-day period" (OCA, 2005). He was forced to sign a "declaration of secrecy," or gag order before Monsanto would allow him to see the report.

This would not be so bad if it were not for the fact that Dr Pusztai's evaluation was highly critical of both the methods and the findings of the study, indicating that MON863 maize by no means has a "clean bill of health." Subsequent leaks from France, Germany and Belgium suggest that the maize variety may indeed be unsafe for animal or human consumption, and that a major cover-up is under way, designed to protect the corporate giant Monsanto and the regulatory authorities that have prematurely advised that MON863 is perfectly safe. (GM-Free Ireland, 2005).

His concerns regarding the dangers of MON863 maize after seeing the report were the same as several German and other European scientists, "but the German Government refused to publish their findings, and insisted that Dr Pusztai should respect his "gagging order"" (OCA, 2005).

Not to be held back in its rush to give the okay to GMO foods and the questionable technology behind them, The European Safety Authority commissioned its own set of experts to conclude that MON863 was perfectly safe and wholesome. More seriously, in the EFSA Statement, and in subsequent Monsanto press releases, Dr Pusztai was named and criticized in spite of the fact that it was known by all concerned that he was effectively "gagged" and could not defend himself. (OCA, 2005)

Independent Research Confirms - GMO Food is Dangerous

On October 10[2005], during the symposium over genetic modification, which was organized by the National Association for Genetic Security (NAGS), Doctor of Biology Irina Ermakova made public the results of the research led by her at the Institute of Higher Nervous Activity and Neurophysiology of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS). This is the first research that determined clear dependence between eating genetically modified soy and the posterity of living creatures (Regnum, 2005).

› Over half of the rats born to mothers who ate GM-soy (55-56%) were dead in three weeks, as opposed to a 9% mortality rate in rats whose mothers ate normal soy. "The morphology and biochemical structures of rats are very similar to those of humans, and this makes the results we obtained very disturbing," said Irina Ermakova to NAGS press office. (Regnum, 2005)

Another glaring example of the dangers of GMO food is that of Syngenta and the German farmer, Gottfried Glockner of North Hessen. As William Engdahl explains in Seeds of Destruction,

This farmer found evidence that planting Syngenta Bt-176 genetically engineered corn to feed his cattle in 1997 had been responsible for killing off his cattle, destroying his milk production, and poisoning his farmland. Syngenta's Bt-176 corn had been engineered to produce a toxin of Bacillus thuringiensis, which they claimed was deadly to a damaging insect, the European Corn Borer (pg. 230).

GMO Technology Threatens the World's Food Supply

Not only is GMO food harmful to the animals that eat it, but it also has the potential to overcome the crops around it. Insects, birds, and wind carry seeds into neighboring fields and beyond. This is cross-pollination, and cannot be controlled in an outdoor environment. Genetically engineered plants are no exception to this. The pollen from GM plants can cross-pollinate with normal plants and contaminate entire fields. With the proliferation of GM crops, this is a real danger.

›› In 1996, there were approximately 6,563 square miles of farmland in the world devoted to GMO crops. In 2006, there were 393,828 square miles devoted to GMO crops (GMO Compass, 2007). This is a 5900% increase in land devoted to GMO crops in a 10-year period! At this rate, the amount of GM crops will double in the next ten years, not including cross-pollination factors.

Is "Organic" Really Organic?

Even foods labeled "organic" are allowed a percentage of GMO contamination.

"EU Agricultural Ministers have decided to allow organic food accidentally contaminated with genetically modified organisms to be classified as organic as long as the GMO presence is less than 0.9%" (Shield, 2007).

In the United States, "the US National Organic Program (NOP) rules prohibit GMOs in organics but don't require methods to prohibit GMO contamination or establish thresholds for adventitious GM presence" (Roseboro, 2007).

Many organic companies simply do not want to undergo the expense and effort necessary to test their fields for GMO contamination, but some say that it is essential in order to maintain integrity.

Jack Olson is an organic farmer in Litchville, North Dakota, who grows organic soybeans, wheat, and other crops. "It's hard for one organic farmer to fight Monsanto," he says.›Still, Olson puts up with the inconveniences because he is committed to organic agriculture. "At least we're clean, that's why we grow organic. It's God's way," he says. (Roseboro, 2007)

Fighting the Giant

It is difficult to fight the giant like Jack Olson is doing, but essential for health and the survival of our food supply. Scientists that are not afraid to speak out, and organic farmers that are not afraid to compete with companies such as Monsanto and offer customers GMO-free organic foods, stand between the agri-business giants intent on profiting from an improperly tested technology and the people who need the information and resources to make sure that what they are eating is healthy and nutritious. Without these people, the Monsantos of the world will soon have us eating nothing but their genetically engineered foods, with no thought for the consequences of their actions.


Doric Column. (1999). Transgenic Potatoes ° La Carte.

Engdahl, F.W. (2007). Seeds of Destruction. Global Research.

GM Free Ireland. (2005). Monsanto GM Maize Conspiracy Revealed.

GMO Compass. (2007). Transgenic Crops by Trait. GM Trait Statistics.

Organic Consumers Association (OCA). (2005). Monsanto's GE Corn Experiments on Rats Continue to Generate Global Controversy

Regnum. (2005). Genetically modified soy affects posterity: Results of Russian scientists' studies.›

›› Roseboro, K. (2007). How Organic is Organic? New Calls for Testing Organic Foods for GMOs. Environmental News Network.

Shield, P. (2007). GMOs Threaten Organic Standards. Organic Consumers Association (OCA).

About the author:

Barbara H. Peterson is retired from the California Department of Corrections, where she worked as a Correctional Officer at Folsom Prison. She was one of the first females to work at the facility in this classification. After retirement, she went to college online to obtain a Bachelor's degree in Business, and graduated with honors. The most valuable thing she received from her time with UOP was a realization that her life's passion is writing. Now her business degree sits in her desk drawer, and she counts herself in the category of Writer/Activist. Someday she will make money writing, but that is not why she does it. "I do it because I must. A driving force compels me to reach out to others with what I learn about the condition we the people are in, and that is what I devote my time to. After all, time is the most precious thing we have, and the older I get the more I want to use it wisely." Barbara lives on a small ranch in Oregon with her husband, where they raise geese, chickens, Navajo Churro sheep, Oggie Dog, a variety of cats, and an opinionated Macaw named Rita. She believes that self-sufficiency and localization of food sources will be necessary to survive the coming depression. To this end, she has put up a website to share information at: Her philosophy is this: You are on this earth for a reason - to fight for the light. Your words are swords that penetrate the darkness with truth and light. You have a purpose.


USA: American Apparel in drive for Cleaner Cotton

MR Magazine, 29 April 2008.

In an effort to expand its sustainable practices, T-shirt and casualwear brand American Apparel Inc has just purchased 30,000 pounds of Cleaner Cotton(TM) from California's Central Valley.

This cotton is farmed using fewer chemicals than conventional cotton cultivation, and also avoids the use of genetically modified seeds.

The Cleaner Cotton Campaign, which is led by The Sustainable Cotton Project, aims to keep toxins out of the soil, air and water by using biological techniques instead.

Erika Martinez, head of organic programs at American Apparel, said: "This unique program not only promotes the reduction of chemical use but it also assists farmers through the cultivation process." ›

Last year, there 2,000 acres of Cleaner Cotton were grown, preventing 7,000 pounds of chemicals from entering the environment according to the California Environmental Protection Agency. ›

American Apparel is a vertically integrated manufacturer, distributor and retailer of T-shirts and related products with nearly 200 stores in 15 countries.

All clothes are cut and sewn at its 800,000 sq ft facility in downtown Los Angeles.


UK: Pledge to keep cost of school meals down

Red Hill and Reigate Life, 29 April 2008.

SURREY County Council has said it will do its utmost to keep the cost of school meals down despite rising food prices. The increasing cost of staple food such as bread, eggs and rice, combined with pressure to provide more healthy schools meals, has led to fears that school dinner bills could soar.

Primary school children in Surrey pay £1.70 for a school meal while secondary schools charge £1.75. But some national newspapers have predicted the cost of meals could rise to £2 or more, costing parents more than £390 a year.

Surrey's head of commercial services, Beverley Baker, said: "Surrey County Council is working very hard to minimise the impact of this rise in costs and we do not intend to pass any cost increases on to parents."

The average price of a school meal last year was £1.64 including a subsidy of 43p. The Government also introduced extra national nutritional standards in September last year, putting further pressure on school dinner budgets.

Food provided by local authorities must include high quality meat and two portions of fruit and vegetables.

Controls on the amount of fried food served have also been introduced and fizzy drinks and unhealthy snacks have been removed from school menus and vending machines.

Surrey County Council has a number of measures in place, including a ban on mechanically recovered meat and genetically modified foods.


NPC panel: Chinese draft food law gets positive feedback

Xinhua, 29 April 2008.

BEIJING -- Chinese citizens have submitted nearly 5,000 comments on a draft food safety law, most of which praised the effort to make the law or urged tougher penalties and supervision, according to officials.

As of 3:00 p.m. on Tuesday, the public had sent 4,838 comments through various means, according to the Legislative Affairs Commission of the National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee. The Standing Committee of the NPC released the full draft for public comment on April 20. It was posted on the national legislature website,

Citizens making proposals all favored enacting the law, the commission said. They believed that the move demonstrated the policy of "putting the people first" and could ensure food safety and public health.

Some citizens made specific suggestions, for example, imposing tighter controls and penalties, clarifying food safety supervisory institutions' responsibilities and the government's role in financing food safety efforts, establishing uniform national standards and enhancing monitoring of small food processing workshops, according to the commission.

The definition of "food" should be specific and cover drinking water, edible oils, beverages, produce and meat, some suggested.

The food safety law should designate one department, instead of several, to be in charge of matters related to food processing including production, delivery and consumption, some proposed. These proposals noted that having several departments involved could lead to overlapping supervisory power and heavier regulatory burdens for the food industry.

Other submissions called for regular public updates on the monitoring and evaluation of genetically modified food.

Some citizens urged China to embrace international food regulations and replace numerous food standards with uniform ones.

The law should also ban food producers from using additives and enforce tight hygiene standards over staff in the food industry.

The draft law lays out penalties ranging from fines to life terms for makers of substandard food.

The comment period ends on May 20. Submissions will be delivered to the NPC Standing Committee for further study. A legislative schedule has yet to be set.

The draft law, covering food safety evaluation, monitoring, recall and information release, was submitted to the NPC Standing Committee last December for a first hearing.


EU: Brussels blames part of food price rise on US biofuels policy

EU Observer, 29 April 2008. By Leigh Phillips.

EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson has conceded that certain biofuel policies contribute to food price rises and increase greenhouse gas emissions, but that Europe's policies are sound.

Instead, Mr Mandelson has suggested that it is Washington's biofuels policies that are having these unwanted consequences.

"We can already see that large-scale biofuel production, especially in the US, may be one of the factors pushing up food prices as it diverts resources from food production," said the commissioner, writing in UK daily the Guardian on Tuesday (29 April).

"The race to grow maize for ethanol subsidies in the US reduces the supply of food crops on world markets and drives up the cost of this important staple," he continued.

EU leaders last spring agreed that the EU should increase the use of biofuels in transport fuel to ten percent by 2020, up from a planned 5.75 percent target to be achieved by 2010.

But in recent months the target has come under strong fire with critics saying it is contributing to further poverty in already poor countries as land is cleared for biofuel production.

According to Mr Mandelson, European biofuel production is having "only a minimal effect" on global prices.

Quoting the soundbite green NGOs have been using in their multiple campaigns against biofuels over the last year, the commissioner wrote: "There are enough corn calories in an SUV fuel tank to feed a person for a year."

No social criteria

But he warned that any consideration of social questions amongst the criteria for allowing imports of biofuels would have much wider consequences for Europe's trade agenda.

"Why should we suggest there is an obligation on producers who export sugar cane biofuel, but not on those who export plain sugar cane?"

A trade official told the EUobserver that social questions cannot be included because they "can't be defended that at the WTO," and "in any case, taken to it's logical extreme, we would have to ensure that everything we import, not just biofuels, meet social criteria," he said. "Do we want that?"

"We have to ensure our thoughts are known in other ways, such as pushing our trading partners to sign up to International Labour Organisation standards."

The commission's agriculture spokesperson on Tuesday echoed the criticism of Washington's biofuels strategies.

"It would be wrong to claim, and no one has ever claimed that people in America growing a lot of corn for ethanol does not have an effect."

Nonetheless, he said: "It is not for us to tell the US what strategies and policies to have."

However, not all the commissioners have been singing from the same song sheet. Last week, development commissioner Louis Michel criticised biofuels as a "catastrophe" for food prices.

For his part, commission president Jose Manuel Barroso recently called for a study on whether there is any relationship between the increased food prices around the world and biofuels.


GM crops will not produce miracle

Irish Independent, letter to the editor, 29 April 2008.

In his column 'If Ever The World Needed GM Food Production It's Right Now' (Irish Independent, April 23), Kevin Myers claims that, "GM will enable us to increase plant production, without greater use of fertiliser."

The cornerstone of modern science is that any claims must be based on empirical evidence.

While being passionate about his views, Kevin Myers offers no data in support of his assertion.

Pity he had not read an article entitled "Exposed: the Great GM Crop Myth", by Geoffrey Lean, the environment editor, in the [UK} Independent (April 30).

Lean reported on a study carried out during the past three years at the University of Kansas in the US grain-belt.

It found that GM soya produced 10pc less than its conventional equivalent. This contradicts the clam that GM technology increases yields.

Furthermore, last week the findings of a four-year study by the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology concuded that GM was not the answer to world hunger.

When Prof Bob[Watson, the director of the study and the chief scientist at the Deparment for environment, food and rural affairs in the UK, was asked whether GM crops could feed the world, he said: "The simple answer is no".

Fr Seán McDonagh
St. Columban's, Navan


USA: Emptying the Breadbasket
For decades, wheat was king on the Great Plains and prices were low everywhere. Those days are over.

Washington Post, 29 April 2008. By Dan Morgan.

At Stephen Fleishman's busy Bethesda shop, the era of the 95-cent bagel is coming to an end.

Breaking the dollar barrier "scares me," said the Bronx-born owner of Bethesda Bagels. But with 100-pound bags of North Dakota flour now above $50 -- more than double what they were a few months ago -- he sees no alternative to a hefty increase in the price of his signature product, a bagel made by hand in the back of the store.

"I've never seen anything like this in 20 years," he said. "It's a nightmare."

Fleishman and his customers are hardly alone. Across America, turmoil in the world wheat markets has sent prices of bread, pasta, noodles, pizza, pastry and bagels skittering upward, bringing protests from consumers.

But underlying this food inflation are changes that are transforming U.S. agriculture and making a return to the long era of cheap wheat products doubtful at best.

Half a continent away, in the North Dakota country that grows the high-quality wheats used in Fleishman's bagels, many farmers are cutting back on growing wheat in favor of more profitable, less disease-prone corn and soybeans for ethanol refineries and Asian consumers.

"Wheat was king once," said David Braaten, whose Norwegian immigrant grandparents built their Kindred, N.D., farm around wheat a century ago. "Now I just don't want to grow it. It's not a consistent crop."

In the 1980s, more than half the farm's acres were wheat. This year only one in 10 will be, and 40 percent will go to soybeans. Braaten and other farmers are considering investing in a $180 million plant to turn the beans into animal feed and cooking oil, both now in strong demand in China. And to stress his hopes for ethanol, his business card shows a sketch of a fuel pump.

Across the Red River and farther north, in Euclid, Minn., Don Strickler, 63, describes wheat as "a necessary evil." Most years, he explained, farmers lose money on it. Still, it provides conservation benefits and can block diseases in soybeans and sugar beets when rotated with those crops.

Wheat's fall from favor, little noticed when it was cheap, has been long coming. Though still an iconic symbol of American abundance -- engraved on currency and praised in song -- the nation's amber waves of wheat have been increasingly shoved aside by other crops. The "breadbasket of the world," which had alleviated hunger and famine since World War I, now generally supplies only a quarter of world wheat exports.

U.S. farmers are expected to plant about 64 million acres of wheat this year, down from a high of 88 million in 1981. In Kansas, wheat acreage has declined by a third since the mid-1980s, and nationwide, there is now less wheat in grain bins than at any time since World War II -- only about enough to supply the world for four days. This occurs as developing countries with some of the poorest populations are rapidly increasing their wheat imports.

Driving south from Grand Forks, N.D., on a freezing spring day, a motorist travels through a landscape that looks like a scene from the movie "Fargo." Mile after mile, fence posts rise from the snowy fields on each side of the ruler-straight highway. It looks like classic wheat country. But come summer, much of it will turn green from corn and beans.

"Last summer it looked like Iowa around here," Braaten said.

Science, weather, economics and farm policy have all played a part in the changes.

U.S. wheat yields per acre have increased little in two decades, partly because commercial seed companies have all but abandoned investments in improved varieties, preferring to focus on the more profitable corn and soybeans. Subtle warming changes in the climate and the recent availability of new plant varieties that thrive in cold, dry conditions have pushed the corn belt north and west.

In 1996, Congress gave a strong nudge to these changes by passing legislation allowing wheat growers for the first time to switch to other crops and still collect government subsidies. The result is that farmers received federal wheat payments last year on 15 million acres more than were planted.

"Every year now, we're in a battle for acres," said Neal Fisher, administrator of the North Dakota Wheat Commission. "We have a lot on our plates as we try to manage the challenges that wheat faces."

"If our comparative advantage is corn and soybeans and Russia's is wheat, having these shifts occur over time is not the end of the world," said Edward W. Allen, a senior economic analyst at the Agriculture Department.

But in the long run, said USDA wheat analyst Gary Vocke, "The forces leading to the trends are still in place." Though supplies may rebound, he and other experts doubt that prices will drop to prior levels.

That poses serious concerns for countries that historically have counted on the United States to have inexpensive wheat on hand to cushion shocks.

A Run on American Grain

The U.S. government stopped holding large stocks of wheat in the 1980s, but the United States, nearly alone among wheat producers, allows countries to shop here even when others have shut off exports.

This free-trade policy resulted in a run on the 2007 U.S. wheat crop this year by foreign buyers taking advantage of the favorable dollar exchange rate to stock up, even as Ukraine, Argentina and Kazakhstan blocked exports.

"It was a perfect storm," said Jochum Wiersma, a grains specialist with the University of Minnesota.

Problems started last summer with poor European harvests and a disappointing winter wheat crop in the southern Great Plains. U.S. prices moved above $7 a bushel, then crossed $10 after Australia harvested yet another drought-damaged crop in December. As supplies of wheat ran low, foreign countries began grabbing limited stocks of premium wheat from the northern plains -- the variety used to make the flour for Fleishman's bagels. Morocco, its own harvest of wheat to make traditional couscous inadequate, jumped in with a purchase of 127,000 tons.

"With low stocks and a weak dollar, things fly off the shelf faster than they used to," said David Brown, chairman of the American Bakers Association's commodity task force. "There's just not enough acreage coming back into production to replenish these stocks."

The reverberations were felt from Strickler's farm to Fleishman's shop -- and far and wide across world wheat markets. When Strickler checked his records recently, he found he had sold 850 bushels, about a truckload, for a record $20 a bushel. That's a receipt he plans to frame and hang on his wall.

But the same events put a squeeze on Vance Taylor, general manager of North Dakota Mill, the huge state-owned flour mill that looms over Grand Forks. Taylor's mill processes the spring-planted wheat grown along the Canadian border and prized by bakers of bread, bagels and other premium flour products. This spring wheat is high in protein and gluten, which helps breads rise and imparts texture. Among the mill's products are the bags of Dakota King flour that Fleishman uses to give his bagels their special chewy quality.

Suddenly Taylor couldn't find enough wheat. On Feb. 4, the state's Industrial Commission, headed by the governor, approved a rare waiver allowing the mill to buy spring wheat from Canada if needed. But in late March, the commission rescinded the waiver, which was highly unpopular with U.S. farm organizations. That left Taylor with a shortage of 1 million bushels before the August harvest. Since then, he said, he has found enough domestic wheat to get him through.

But prices rose rapidly down the supply chain.

"We raised our selling prices after the flour mills raised theirs," said Ted Lentz, president of Lentz Milling of Reading, Pa., which distributes North Dakota flour to bakeries from New York to Virginia. "Some of our baking customers have reduced their flour purchases up to 20 percent because of the higher prices."

A Return to Wheat?

Whether 2008's high prices will lure many farmers back to wheat is still a matter of debate.

The ethanol boom, in particular, is providing strong incentives to keep former wheat acres in corn. Within a year, Braaten will be able to truck his corn to three modern ethanol refineries, one already built and two others near completion. These huge distilleries will need corn from an area about the size of Rhode Island, and many of the acres will come at the expense of such traditional crops as wheat and sugar beets.

Corn has even begun to make inroads in the western part of the state, where sparse rainfall and the short growing season traditionally have ruled out most crops except wheat, barley and oats. Spurred by the availability of cheap coal for power and a local cattle industry that will buy the dry byproducts for feed, a new ethanol plant opened last year in Richardton, west of Bismarck, the capital.

"There's getting to be more and more corn all the time," said Clark Holzwarth, the refinery's commodity manager.

At current prices, farmers like Braaten can make more money from an acre of corn than from an acre of wheat, according to North Dakota State University economist Dwight Aakre. But wheat's biggest problem is susceptibility to disease, which has turned many farmers against it.

They remember the 1990s, when fusarium head blight, commonly called "scab," devastated successive wheat crops. After that, many farmers switched to new varieties of hybrid corn and genetically modified soybeans.

These seeds are protected by patents and licensing agreements, requiring farmers to buy a new batch each year. That produces strong financial incentives for the companies.

Research might solve many of wheat's problems, but commercial companies say the opportunities for profit are limited. In 2004, Monsanto, the world's largest seed company, shelved its research on a wheat plant that had been genetically modified to tolerate chemical weed killers.

The milling industry has been resistant to using such genetically modified wheats, so wheat plants have to be improved the old-fashioned way, by laboriously selecting those with the desired qualities in test plots. That is an expensive and time-consuming process.

Even then, there is no assurance that farmers will buy the seed year after year. That is because of the nature of the wheat plant, an unusually complex organism originating in the Middle East thousands of years ago. Unlike hybrid corn, which loses its productivity after the first year, seeds from improved wheat varieties can be saved and replanted for several years without significant loss of yield.

Syngenta, a large seed company, is still working to develop improved wheat, but Rob Bruns, who heads the North American cereal seed operation, acknowledged that it's difficult to create "enough critical mass to pay for the higher tech investments."

The upshot is that most wheat research is now consigned to public colleges with limited amounts of federal and state funds.

At North Dakota State University, wheat breeder Mohamed Mergoum helped develop Glenn, a new wheat based on a cross with Chinese plants. "It's a joy to make a difference in the life of the growers," said Mergoum, who worked earlier in the international program that developed higher-yielding "green revolution" wheats.

Glenn has proved resistant to scab, but it hasn't achieved universal acceptance among farmers.

Strickler, the farmer in Euclid, Minn., gave it a try one year but stopped using it after finding that a lot of the kernels cracked when they were separated from the chaff during threshing. As he sees it, Glenn is another example of how devilishly difficult it is to develop positive new traits in wheat without other problems arising.

James A. Anderson, a plant breeder at the University of Minnesota, predicted that the seed companies will continue to make inroads in wheat country with new kinds of corn and soybeans.

"They've definitely moved into the spring-wheat region with dedicated breeding," he said. "They're trying to get whatever acreage they can and sell more of their seed."

These developments suggest that the days of a bagel for less than a buck may not return to Bethesda anytime soon. Though prices have dropped from their March high, Fleishman is still paying close to $50 for a bag of flour.

"I feel helpless. I go with the flow," he said recently at his store. He is getting ready to change his menu boards to reflect a new price: probably $1.10.

He is not happy about it. "There's a psychological barrier, and a certain segment will be resentful," he said. "They'll get angry and feel gouged. People don't understand about food prices."

Morgan writes for The Washington Post on contract and is a fellow at the German Marshall Fund, a nonpartisan public policy institution. Staff writer Jane Black contributed to this report.


Kenya: Harsh Weather Patterns to Shrink Maize Production

Business Daily/All Africa Global Media, 29 April 2008.

Kenyans could soon be forced to adjust their eating habits as the favourite maize meal becomes more scarce due to the effects of climate change.

Options include sorghum, millet or cassava, unless scientists unveil maize varieties that can mature faster under reduced rainfall and rising temperatures.

The climate change, which has been informed by excess emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, has led to irregular rainfall and a rise in temperatures in Kenya.

With a huge fraction of Kenya's agricultural activities pegged on rainfall, experts have raised the red flag that the country was facing dwindling output from rain-fed agriculture with the maize crop set to bear the brunt.

"If measures are not taken to develop highly drought resistant maize variety, production will drop significantly in the next 10 years," says Lilian Njeri, a maize breeder at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI).

Local scientists are predicting that temperature in Kenya will rise by two degree centigrade in the next 25 years. This means arable land will become drier.

But a lot has already been happening in the last 20 years. For instance, in Muguga, a high rainfall area in Kiambu District, changing climate is taking its toll on production with farmers shifting to other crops.

The area is located at an altitude of 2095 metres above the sea level. In the last 20 years, potatoes were one of the favourite crops for farmers like James Waruinge.

"The yield from potatoes has gone low. The crop is also vulnerable to diseases, some of which are new. I used to grow two acres every season for sale but bow I have shifted to maize," said Mr Waruinge.

Ms Njeri says it is not the farming methods that have changed but the climate such that potato seeds available cannot withstand weather changes.

In Muguga, residents used to grow maize varieties known as Hybrid 6, which were developed for high altitude and high rainfall fed areas.

"But now, farmers are coming to us asking for high altitude low rainfall fed varieties. The weather patterns have changed and are still changing," she said.

So, the situation is such that farmers in Muguga have opted for maize breed known as Hybrid 5 Series, which were originally developed for drier places like Ukambani, in Eastern Province.

The only consolation for Kenya today is a maize breed known as Hybrid 6 14, so far the most popular breed of maize because it adapts to various weather conditions, its yield is stable and it is sweet.

But the maize variety takes longer to mature, about 8 months, meaning it can only grow for a season per year.

But in unfavourable weather conditions, the maize can grow in six months but the yield becomes lower.

Breeders at KARI say they are in the process of developing a maize breed which can take four months to mature in places like Muguga.

"Before we give up on maize, however, we should work on developing a variety that is highly adaptive to drought," said Ms Njeri. Most maize breeders in Kenya are using the conventional breeding method, which does not involve genetic modification of the seed.

But the options are limited because one of the proposals being considered is to get a gene from a crop which is drought resistant and then introduce it to maize.

However, it is regarded as genetic engineering, which is not allowed by Kenyan laws.

A Bill to regulate development of new crop breeds through genetic modification, popularly known as GMO, is yet to be passed by Parliament.

The Bill has caused a lot of controversy with strong opposition from farmers groups, faith based organisations and the civil society.

Despite the opposition, scientists who spoke to Business Daily and requested not to be named said they believe the best way to deal with food shortage occasioned by global warming is to go the GMO way.


28 April 2008

UK: Science friction
The Daily Telegraph looks set to lose its science correspondent amid growing fears about standards of science reporting in the press. Iain Hollingshead reports

The Guardian, Monday April 28 2008. By Iain Hollingshead.

[Extract only. For full story see]

...Yet there are still a disquieting number of contemporary voices suggesting that all is is not well with science journalism. "Science in the daily media is too often reported in the same deferential way as political journalists used to report politics in the 1950s," says Jonathan Leake, science and environment editor at the Sunday Times. "Many of the tensions, rows and skulduggery in the science community get far less attention than they would in business or politics." The main criticism is that respected journals such as Science and Nature - along with active news agencies such as AlphaGalileo, EurekAlert! and a plethora of less rigorous journals - control much of the science correspondents' output. An onslaught of embargoed, mid-week press releases leaves the Sundays with no choice but to pursue factually thin sensationalism.


USA: Nationwide Biotech Crop Maps Suggested for Monitoring Environmental Impacts

UC Davis, 28 April 2008.

A team of biologists, including a UC Davis plant scientist, is proposing that maps be created showing where all of the billion-plus acres of genetically engineered crops have been grown in the United States.

The comprehensive biotech mapping system, modeled after one now in use in Arizona, would permit much-needed studies of the positive or negative environmental impacts of genetically engineered crops, the researchers suggest in a Policy Forum piece published in the April 25 issue of the journal Science.

"Such maps would enable scientists to better analyze the effects of genetically modified crops on wildlife, water quality, insect pests and beneficial insects," said UC Davis Professor Paul Gepts, an expert on the evolutionary processes that have shaped the evolution of crop plants.

In Arizona, farmers routinely share maps of biotech cotton fields with scientists at the University of Arizona, enabling detailed analyses of the effects of this technology. That information is collected and stored in such a way that the privacy of the farmers is protected.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture already is collecting data at the individual farm level, but that information is only made available to researchers at the scale of entire states. In this forum piece, the authors maintain that such information needs to be made available at the county and township level in order to be useful in analyzing the impacts of biotech crops.

Lead author on this paper is Michelle Marvier of Santa Clara University. The other authors, in addition to Gepts, are Peter Kareiva of Santa Clara University and The Nature Conservancy, Norman Elstrand of UC Riverside, Yves Carriňre and Bruce Tabashnik of the University of Arizona, Emma Rosi-Marshall of Loyola University Chicago, and L. LaReesa Wolfenbarger of the University of Nebraska at Omaha.


USA: UCD researchers alter goats with human genes

Sacramento Bee, 28 April 2008. By Chris Brennan.

UC Davis professor James Murray knows his experiments with human genes and goats give some people the creeps.

Crossing anything human with four-legged hoofers evokes images of mythical half-man, half-animal centaurs from ancient Greece.

In reality, genetically altered goats look and behave no differently than regular ones -- both are just as eager to gnaw Murray's sleeves and untie his shoes at the university goat barn.

"Could you get your grubby paws off?" Murray asked of his inquisitive test subjects during a recent tour.

Murray and fellow animal scientist Elizabeth Maga engineered a small herd of Alpine and Toggenburg dairy goats to produce high levels of a human antibiotic-like protein in their milk.

Just as mother's milk helps protect infants from germs, the researchers figured, humanized goat's or cow's milk would better defend dairy animals and their offspring from illness. Germ-fighting milk might also slow spoilage, prolonging the shelf life of dairy products.

The big question

The scientists' ultimate question, though, is a humanitarian one:

Could the same procedure produce fortified powdered milk and, eventually, genetically modified goat herds for poor regions of the world?

The beneficial protein, lysozyme, destroys bacteria that cause intestinal infections and diarrhea, which every year claim more than 2 million impoverished young lives. That's a toll among children under age 5 higher than from AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined, according to the World Health Organization.

"If we can prevent some of that, I think we should do it," Murray said, mindful of long-standing protests from animal rights activists, ethical concerns and fears of messing with Mother Nature.

The goat's milk represents one of the first genetically engineered food products designed to improve human health, though none has been approved for human consumption.

Scientists have been manipulating animal genes for nearly 25 years. They've changed properties of milk for human food and as raw material for pharmaceuticals -- turning animals into virtual medicine factories. Murray himself has changed the genes of cows, sheep, pigs and mice.

The goat's milk experiments, however, are among the few to transfer human genes to animals, said Michael Fernandez, former director of the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology.

"It's certainly not the predominant practice right now," Fernandez said. Private biotechnology companies and universities usually obtain genetic material from microbes or plants, not humans, he said.

Concerns about technology

Sacramento's Ventria Bioscience is a prominent exception. The company is growing genetically altered rice that contains lysozyme and another antibacterial ingredient in human breast milk. The company aims to produce an over-the-counter rehydration solution made from the fortified rice.

Ventria recently found a place to farm their patented rice in Junction City, Kan., after running afoul of Sacramento Valley and Missouri growers who fear medical rice might mix with their grains.

Doug Gurian-Sherman, a biotechnology specialist with the Union of Concerned Scientists advocacy group, said he has similar concerns about transgenic goats.

Should the goats get into the wild -- their altered genes indeed make them more fit to survive -- they could more easily multiply and over-browse a landscape, threatening native species and causing erosion, he said.

"We don't have a regulatory system that addresses these kind of environmental issues in this country, let alone developing countries," Gurian-Sherman said.

Allergy protection

Why human genes for goats?

Goats, humans and all other mammals have lysozyme in milk, saliva and tears. Human breast milk, however, carries at least 1,600 times more than goat's milk.

UCD dairy goats born with the human gene that regulates lysozyme in mammary glands have far more lysozyme in their milk than they would naturally -- 67 percent of human levels compared with 0.06 percent, Murray said.

While other animals carry high levels of the protein, Davis researchers chose to inject the human gene to minimize chances of an allergic reaction, should people ever drink the modified goat's milk.

"You drink lysozyme every day in your saliva, so the chances of you reacting to it are pretty small," said Maga, a research biologist in the animal science department.

Several more studies are needed to satisfy food safety regulators in the United States and elsewhere that this medicinal milk would be safe to drink, researchers said.

The latest findings, published in the May issue of the Journal of Nutrition, show altered goat's milk helps fend off common E. coli-related illnesses in pigs, which have human-like digestive systems.

Pigs fed the lysozyme-rich milk from transgenic goats had significantly lower levels of harmful bacteria in their small intestines than those raised on regular goat's milk.

Dr. Miriam Aschkenasy, a public health doctor with the nonprofit humanitarian aid group Oxfam America, doesn't share Murray's optimism that the goat's milk would provide comparable protection for children.

While human breast milk is considered beneficial to infants, "there is, as far as I know, very little evidence that if you feed it to an older child these same affects apply," Aschkenasy said.

Said Murray: "The absence of evidence does not mean it isn't so, it just means we do not yet know. Hopefully studies with our transgenic goat's milk will help to answer this question."

The UCD Academic Federation Committee on Research funded the experiment with pigs. Murray is seeking additional funding from philanthropies interested in improving health in developing nations.

For the next experiment, Murray wants to see whether modified goat's milk not only prevents intestinal illness in pigs but also treats it.

"We'll make them sick and see if they get better," he said.


USA: Higher feed costs contributed to loss at Tysons

Reuters, April 28 2008 [shortened]

Chicago -- Tyson Foods, the largest U.S. meat company, on Monday posted a small loss for its fiscal second quarter due to higher feed costs and charges related in part to plant closings.

Tyson, like other livestock producers, has been hurt by the high price of corn and soybean meal. Corn prices have skyrocketed due to strong demand for exports, ethanol production and as a livestock feed.

"For the year, corn and soybean meal increases are likely to approach $600 million," Richard Bond, Tyson president and chief executive, said in a statement.

For full story see


Australia: Petrochemical Replacement Plants Closer, Scientists Say

The Epoch Times, 28 April 2008.

CANBERRAůAustralian researchers say they are a step closer to turning plants into "biofactories" capable of producing oils which can be used to replace petrochemicals.

Biofactory plants could provide farmers with new, high-value crops bred to suit growing conditions, they say.

Scientists working within the joint CSIRO/Grains Research and Development Corporation crop biofactories initiative (CBI) claim a major advance by accumulating 30 per cent of an unusual fatty acid (UFA) in the model plant, Arabidopsis.

UFAs are usually sourced from petrochemicals to produce plastics, paints and cosmetics.

CBI is developing new technologies for making a range of UFAs in oilseeds, to provide Australia with a head start in the emerging so-called bioeconomy.

"Using crops as biofactories has many advantages beyond the replacement of dwindling petrochemical resources," CSIRO team leader Dr Allan Green said in a statement.

"Global challenges such as population growth, climate change and the switch from non-renewable resources are opening up many more opportunities for bio-based products."

The production of biofactory plants could be matched to demand and would provide farmers with new, high-value crops bred to suit their growing conditions, Dr Green said.

"The technology is low greenhouse-gas generating, sustainable and can reinvigorate agribusiness.

"We are confident we have the right genes, an understanding of the biosynthesis pathways and the right breeding skills to produce an oilseed plant with commercially-viable UFA levels in the near future."

The team is expected to announce the successful completion of the first stage of the CBI at a world biotechnology conference in Chicago today.

The selection of safflower as the target crop will also be announced by the team.

"Safflower is an ideal plant for industrial production for Australia," Dr Green said.

"It is hardy and easy to grow, widely adapted to Australian production regions and easily isolated from food production systems."

The CBI is a 12-year project which aims to add value to the Australian agricultural and chemical industries by developing technologies to produce novel industrial compounds from genetically modified oilseed crops.


World: Making a killing from the food crisis

A new report by GRAIN, 28 April 2008.

The world food crisis is hurting a lot of people, but global agribusiness firms, traders and speculators are raking in huge profits.

Much of the news coverage of the world food crisis has focussed on riots in low-income countries, where workers and others cannot cope with skyrocketing costs of staple foods. But there is another side to the story: the big profits that are being made by huge food corporations and investors. Cargill, the world's biggest grain trader, achieved an 86% increase in profits from commodity trading in the first quarter of this year. Bunge, another huge food trader, had a 77% increase in profits during the last quarter of last year. ADM, the second largest grain trader in the world, registered a 67% per cent increase in profits in 2007.

Nor are retail giants taking the strain: profits at Tesco, the UK supermarket giant, rose by a record 11.8% last year. Other major retailers, such as France's Carrefour and Wal-Mart of the US, say that food sales are the main sector sustaining their profit increases. Investment funds, running away from sliding stock markets and the credit crunch, are having a heyday on the commodity markets, driving prices out of reach for food importers like Bangladesh and the Philippines.

These profits are no freak windfalls. Over the last 30 years, the IMF and the World Bank have pushed so-called developing countries to dismantle all forms of protection for their local farmers and to open up their markets to global agribusiness, speculators and subsidised food from rich countries. This has transformed most developing countries from being exporters of food into importers. Today about 70 per cent of developing countries are net importers of food. On top of this, finance liberalisation has made it easier for investors to take control of markets for their own private benefit.

Agricultural policy has lost touch with its most basic goal: that of feeding people. Rather than rethink their own disastrous policies, governments and think tanks are blaming production problems, the growing demand for food in China and India, and biofuels. While these have played a role, the fundamental cause of today's food crisis is neoliberal globalisation itself, which has transformed food from a source of livelihood security into a mere commodity to be gambled away, even at the cost of widespread hunger among the world's poorest people.


The angry hungry

The Guardian online, April 28 2008.

The food crisis is no 'silent tsunami': the world's poor have been making a noise for decades, but the development industry hasn't been listening

If Josette Sheeran, head of the United Nations World Food Programme, is to be believed, the current food crisis is "a silent tsunami which knows no borders, sweeping the world".

That's just wishful thinking.

If the tsunami were really silent, then it'd be much easier for cretins to propose trade liberalisation as a remedy, or for Gordon Brown to support genetically modified crops as a way of responding to the disaster.

If the tsunami were silent, these ideas would float unopposed and uncontested. Indeed, it'd be far more convenient for the governments and aid agencies involved if the catastrophe of hunger and poverty were silent, and especially if the hungry didn't keep piping up with their own ideas about what they'd like to see happen. But they do, and their ideas are often at odds with those proposed by the development industry.

If the tsunami were really silent, the fairytales of the international development cabal could be told in nothing louder than a whisper. In these stories, the world's poor people aren't very articulate, and it requires an almost magical skill to divine their needs. The poor like are puppies with tummy aches, whose mute suffering is knowable only to those trained in the art of looking into those big brown eyes and feeling their pain.

I should know. As a graduate student, I participated in just such an exercise for the World Bank as a contributor to a publication entitled The Voices of The Poor: Can Anyone Hear Us?

Billed as a way of "gathering the voices of 40,000 people from the Bank's own assessments", and favourably blurbed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the document is an attempt at an epistemological get-out-of-jail-free card, for no one knows the poor like the World Bank.

It is, of course, an execrable piece of work and one that gets savaged in a number of places, including here (by one of the report's other co-authors and me).

But the tsunami has been noisy for decades. Some of the poorest people on earth have been extremely vocal, ever since the dawn of modern development policies. Via Campesina, one of the world's largest movements of poor people with membership estimates as high as 150 million, has been warning of the dangers of handing over agriculture to the private sector ever since its inception in the early 1990s.

They've long been campaigning for things that aren't on the policy table at the moment - things like state-led land reform. Like grain stores and income support for the poor. Like equal access to natural resources. Like government investment to develop new and sustainable agro-agricultural technologies, as opposed to GM crops - a position recently vindicated by a venerable panel of experts at the IAASTD.

Above all, they demand democracy so that their voices might count. Those voices are articulate and audible. The International Day of Peasants' Struggle happened last week, with protests in over 60 countries, commemorating the massacre of 19 landless people by government forces in Brazil in 1996. Those protests were rich with ideas for food sovereignty.

But the voices have so far been ignored. The most common agricultural response to the demands of landless people and the hungry urban poor is for officials to plant their fingers in their ears.

Meanwhile, the private sector is rubbing its hands at the prospect that this crisis too might be an arena for them to practice a new brand of disaster capitalism.

The tsunami is loud and clear. Perhaps the global wave of food riots their policies have engendered will help to clear the soil out of the development industry's ears.


CSIRO: Compounds from oilseeds could be used to make plastics and other products. Boost for 'green plastics' from plants; Australian researchers are a step closer to turning plants into 'biofactories' capable of producing oils which can be used

Calibre MicroWorld, April 28 2008.

Australia -- Scientists working within the joint CSIRO/Grains Research and Development Corporation Crop Biofactories Initiative (CBI) have achieved a major advance by accumulating 30 per cent of an unusual fatty acid (UFA) in the model plant, Arabidopsis.

UFAs are usually sourced from petrochemicals to produce plastics, paints and cosmetics. CBI is developing new technologies for making a range of UFAs in oilseeds, to provide Australia with a head start in the emerging 'bioeconomy'.

"Using crops as biofactories has many advantages, beyond the replacement of dwindling petrochemical resources," says the leader of the crop development team, CSIRO's Dr Allan Green.

"Global challenges such as population growth, climate change and the switch from non-renewable resources are opening up many more opportunities for bio-based products." "Safflower is an ideal plant for industrial production for Australia," Dr Green, CSIRO Plant Industry Division.

The production of biofactory plants can be matched to demand and will provide farmers with new, high-value crops bred to suit their growing conditions. The technology is low greenhouse gas generating, sustainable and can reinvigorate agribusiness.

"We are confident we have the right genes, an understanding of the biosynthesis pathways and the right breeding skills to produce an oilseed plant with commercially viable UFA levels in the near future," Dr Green says.

The team will announce the successful completion of the first stage of the CBI on 28 April during the Fifth Annual World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology & Bioprocessing (WCIBB), being held in Chicago, Illinois, from 27-30 April 2008. The team's selection of safflower as the target crop will also be announced.

"Safflower is an ideal plant for industrial production for Australia," Dr Green says. "It is hardy and easy to grow, widely adapted to Australian production regions and easily isolated from food production systems."

The CBI is a 12-year project which aims to add value to the Australian agricultural and chemical industries by developing technologies to produce novel industrial compounds from genetically modified oilseed crops.

The project focuses on three key areas; Industrial Oils, Complex Monomers and Protein Biopolymers. CBI project leaders will present the latest research findings in each of these three areas at the WCIBB in Chicago which will showcase innovations in the convergence of biotechnology, chemistry and agriculture.

Download image at: Boost for 'green plastics' from plants.

Read more media releases in our Media Centre.

Fast facts

* The production of biofactory plants can be matched to demand and will provide farmers with new, high-value crops bred to suit their growing conditions

* The technology is low greenhouse gas generating, sustainable and can reinvigorate agribusiness

* The project focuses on three key areas; Industrial Oils, Complex Monomers and Protein Biopolymers

CONTACT: Dr Allan Green, CSIRO Plant Industry Tel: +61 2 6246 5154 Fax: +61 2 6246 5192 e-mail: Mrs Julie Carter, (BSc GradDipEd), Communication Manager, CSIRO Entomology Tel: +61 2 6246 4040 Tel: +61 4 3903 3011 Fax: +61 2 6246 4177 e-mail:


UK: A new era of food politics

National Farmers Union, 28 April 2008. By Katy Lee, BAB Parliamentary and Communications Coordinator.

The issue of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) is in need of urgent examination by the EU. This was the message pushed by MEPs at a debate in Strasbourg last week.

On behalf of the European Parliament's powerful Agriculture Committee Neil Parish MEP (SW, Cons) asked the European Commission to assess the consequences of GMO reluctance from the EU on international trade and animal feed prices. The EU's current GMO policy has been problematic because there are countries outside of Europe such as the US who have approved the use of GMO cereals such as varieties of maize and soya where the EU hasn't.

The slower pace at which the EU authorises GMO compared to the rest of the world is known as "asynchronous authorisations", it has caused problems in trade and in food availability because a small trace of US approved GMO in an export destined for the EU would mean the withdrawal of the whole batch.

Mr Parish suggested that a tolerance threshold might be the way forward for scientifically approved GMOs, in order to avoid further threats to EU grain supply and in particular to animal feed.

In the same Strasbourg session the EU Commissioner for Development, Louis Michel, said "We won't see food prices going back down to former levels".


27 April 2008

Is corn overplanting responsible for soaring food costs?

Athens Banner Herald (USA), April 27 2008. By David A. Ridenour.

WASHINGTON - Move over "Bridge to Nowhere," there's a new poster child of congressional waste and avarice - ethanol, the "Fuel to Nowhere." Ethanol leads only to higher food prices and greater greenhouse gas emissions.

Anytime Congress can find an excuse for shoveling out billions of dollars in pork, it's a safe bet there'll be a stampede of Democrats and Republicans to vote "Aye." Such has been the case with ethanol ever since Congress latched onto the idea that it could be sold as a means of cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

Congress already has authorized billions in taxpayer-funded subsidies for farmers who grow corn and the producers who turn it into the fuel that's pumped into your car.

Never mind that ethanol is helping spike food prices. Corn prices already have increased by 70 percent since 2005, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture projects they will rise an additional 10 percent to 20 percent this year.

But that's not the half of it. Corn-dependent livestock also are increasing in price. The USDA estimates that corn feed price increases added nearly 9 percent to the price of beef last year. But this doesn't include the indirect costs. U.S. beef cattle herds declined by 338,000 in 2007, increasing beef prices further, in part, due to higher prices for feed, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Ethanol advocates claim that rising corn costs have contributed only modestly to the overall increase in food prices. They're not being entirely honest, as they're only counting the direct costs of ethanol. They don't count, for example, increases in soybean prices resulting from farmers switching to the more lucrative corn crop. Soybean crops dropped by 11 million acres last year - much of it used to produce corn.

The corn growers and Big Agriculture, flush with new-found cash, have generously increased their campaign contributions, making everyone happy - everyone, that is, but consumers and taxpayers.


As the world begins to starve it's time to take GM seriously
With the Earth's population continuing to soar, it will be the poor who go hungry, not the eco-warriors destroying modified crops

The Observer (UK), Sunday April 27 2008. By Robin McKie.

As front pages go, the cover of Nature is scarcely a stunner. It depicts two rows of trees facing each other across the page. One row is tatty, the other clean and healthy. And apart from a few grubby bushes in the background, that's your lot. It makes a gardening catalogue look exciting.

But this restrained imagery rewards closer inspection. Those trees, bearing papayas, are growing in a Hawaiian plantation and the difference between the two rows has critical importance to the world's mounting food crisis.

It transpires that the stunted trees on the right, each bearing only a handful of fruit, are victims of papaya ringspot virus, a disease that devastates yields and is endemic in Hawaii. By contrast, the papaya trees in the other row, on the left, are healthy and disease-free, because they have been genetically modified to resist ringspot.

As a demonstration of the potential of modern plant technology, the image speaks volumes. Transgenic crops may be disparaged and dug up every time scientists grow them as part of their trials in the UK, but as Nature's cover shows, the technology seems ripe to help feed a planet whose population will rise from 6.5 billion people, many of them already hungry, to around nine billion by 2040.

It is a point stressed by crop experts such as Professor Chris Pollack of the University of Wales. 'To stop widespread starvation, we will either have to plough up the planet's last wild places to grow more food or improve crop yields. GM technology allows farmers to do the latter - without digging up rainforests. It is therefore perverse to rule out that technology for no good reason. Yet it still seems some people are willing to do so. That picture of transgenic papaya plants on Nature's cover shows how wrong they are.'

The trouble is that GM crops represent everything that the environment movement has come to hate, though it was not the technology itself that originally made greenies froth at the mouth. It was its promotion and marketing by international conglomerates such as Monsanto a decade ago that raised the hackles. As a result, GM crops have become a lightning rod for protests about globalisation. 'GM technology permits companies to ensure that everything we eat is owned by them,' claimed campaigner George Monbiot.

Perhaps he is right. However, it is questionable to go one step further and insist, as some campaigners do, that because GM technology has been misused by biotechnology conglomerates, it is therefore justifiable to ignore its usefulness completely. The science can still help feed the world, particularly through the introduction of drought and disease resistance to staple crops such as potatoes and rice. 'Britain and Europe have isolated themselves from the rest of the world over transgenic crops,' says Bill McKelvey, principal of the Scottish Agricultural College, in Edinburgh. 'We have decided the technology, for no good reason, is dangerous. The rest of the world doesn't thinks so and has got on with using it. For example, GM soya is grown throughout America and Asia. It doesn't worry people there for the simple reason that no one has ever died of eating GM food. On the other hand, a lot of people could soon die because they have no food of any kind.'

Tough luck, you might say. That's not Europe's problem. It's the developing world that will get it in the neck. Why should we care? What have we got to gain by turning to GM? These are interesting questions to which there are several answers and one of the most important concerns climate change.

The world is warming and is destined to do so for decades to come as cars, factories and power plants continue to pump out carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. As a result, many grain-producing regions - in North America, Australia and parts of Africa - are expected to suffer significant changes in climate that will devastate crop production. By contrast, other regions - northern Europe and Canada, in particular - will find weather changes will boost crop growing. They will become the world's food stores, an issue highlighted by Professor Les Firbank of North Wyke Research Station in Devon.

'Our best knowledge suggests Canada and countries in Europe will have to take on an even greater share of world food production,' he says. 'It is therefore important to ask now if we have the moral right to continue to ignore technologies, including the genetic manipulation of crops, that in a few years could insure this food production reaches an absolute maximum and will help the planet provide enough food for the nine billion people who will be living on it.'

Britain and many other European countries have considerable expertise in plant and crop biology research, it should be stressed. But that work is constantly frustrated. Crop trials are dug up and funding is blocked by governments embarrassed to be seen backing such work. The effects are rarely beneficial. Consider the example of potato blight. Its prevalence rose rapidly last year, threatening a crop that is a staple foodstuff for many people round the world.

Yet scientists insist it would be relatively easy to introduce a basic gene construct into potatoes that would make them resistant to blight. Europe has the expertise but is thwarted by gangs of men and women who trash GM crop fields. As Sir Robert May, the government's former chief scientific adviser, once remarked, these individuals display 'the attitude of a privileged elite who think there will be no problem feeding tomorrow's growing population'. May was speaking, with remarkable prescience, at the turn of the century.

This is not to say that transgenic crops alone will save the world from starvation. Major improvements in transport, which will allow fresh food to be taken to market without rotting, are needed, for example. Simply bringing political stability to a country would also help. 'Zimbabwe's food problems won't be helped through GM crop technology,' admits McKelvey. 'It needs a political solution. Nevertheless, the technology has a key role to play in tackling the overall problem of global food shortages - but only if we let it.'

That is the crucial issue. Is society ready to change its attitude to GM crops? Major companies - Debenhams is the latest - still announce GM bans, no doubt under pressure from protest groups. But given the science's growing role in helping world food shortages, such decisions should really be seen as acts of shame, not pronouncements of pride. And some scientists believe they can now detect shifts in public attitudes. 'I think we are approaching a tipping point when society will start looking at this as a science that is not going to damage the planet but actually help it,' says McKelvey.

I hope he is right, though I am not so confident. Environmental campaigners, although they do great work, can often display remarkable intransigence. For example, they remain committed to the idea that nuclear energy has no role to play in helping to combat global warming. They react with equal scorn to GM crops. The latter is certainly not a panacea for the ills we will face. On other hand, it certainly has a role to play in helping to save people from starvation, a fact that is worth repeating now and again.

Robin McKie is The Observer's science editor.

Comment by GM-free Ireland

The above article's failure to mention the scientific evidence reveals its bias:

The recent International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology (IAASTD) found that GM crops have little, if any, role to play in increasing crop yields or alleviating hunger. Released on 15 April 2008, the report represents a three-year effort by about 400 experts around the world working under the auspices of 30 governments and 30 representatives of civil society. The report was sponsored by the United Nations, the World Bank and the Global Environment Facility (GEF), in collaboration with the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), the U.N. Development Program (UNDP), the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP), the U.N. Education, Science and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the World Health Organization (WHO). For details see

The recent University of Kansas study by Prof. Barney Gordon, published in the Better Crops journal, found that GM crops do NOT have higher yields, undermining repeated claims that a switch to the controversial technology is needed to solve the growing world food crisis. The study - carried out over the past three years in the US grain belt - found that GM soya produces about 10 per cent less food than its conventional equivalent, contradicting assertions by advocates of the technology that it increases yields. See "Exposed: the great GM crops myth Major new study shows that modified soya produces 10 per cent less food than its conventional equivalent" published by the UK Independent newspaper on 20 April (see article under this date below).

This study confirms a number of previous findings:

An April 2006 report from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) states that "currently available GM crops do not increase the yield potential of a hybrid variety. [÷] In fact, yield may even decrease if the varieties used to carry the herbicide tolerant or insect-resistant genes are not the highest yielding cultivars". (Fernandez-Cornejo, J. and Caswell, 2006)

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization's 2004 report on agricultural biotechnology acknowledges that GM crops can have reduced yields (FAO, 2004). This is not surprising given that first-generation genetic modifications address production conditions (insect and weed control), and are not intended to increase the intrinsic yield capacity of the plant.

A 2003 report published in Science stated that "in the United States and Argentina, average yield effects [of GM crops] are negligible and in some cases even slightly negative". (Qaim and Zilberman, 2003). This was despite the authors being strong supporters of GM crops.

Comment by "Lion4":

Who said that McKie is a scientist? This is a classic piece of junk science, full of unsupported and unsupportable assumptions and assertions. Are we supposed to take this piece of GM propaganda seriously, when it starts with an invitation for us to take seriously a juxtaposition of two pictures, one saying "GM good" and the other "non-GM Bad." Any fool can put two carefully selected pictures side by side -- I can do the same, by showing a lousy and stunted field trial of GM maize in the FSE programme alongside a fine upstanding crop of non-GM maize on the adjacent control site. I choose not to do that, because you would rightly ask me about the circumstances in which the pictures were taken, and about management regimes, socio- economic factors and so forth.

McKie is trying to do what was done not so long ago in the "Wormy Corn" scandal, where pictures were used selectively (and fraudulently) in a crude attempt to show that people, given a choice, would prefer to eat GM food rather than non-GM food.

And for McKie to trot out quotes from Chris Pollock and Bill McKelvey accusing people of opposing GM "for no good reason" is both patronising and disingenuous. The fact that McKie chooses not to mention any of a whole host of perfectly good reasons (supported by sound evidence) why GM technology is both dangerous and unsuited to the solving of the world's food problems suggests that he has lost touch with reality and has been swept up in the flood of pro-GM propaganda currently emanating from the GM industry. For a start, he might care to look at the Ecologist's recent summary of Ten reasons why GM won't feed the world:

That piece is soundly based and well referenced, and McKie might find it instructive.


The global food system feeds gluttonous corporations first

Philadelphia Enquirer (USA), 27 April 2007. By John Nichols (Washington correspondent for The Nation magazine).

The only surprising thing about the global food crisis to Jim Goodman is the notion that anyone finds it surprising.

"So," says the Wisconsin dairy farmer, "they finally figured out, after all these years of pushing globalization and genetically modified seeds, that instead of feeding the world we've created a food system that leaves more people hungry. If they'd listened to farmers instead of corporations, they would've known this was going to happen."

The food shortages, suddenly front-page news, are not new. Hundreds of millions were starving and malnourished last year; the only change is that as the crisis has grown, it has become more difficult to "manage" the hunger that a failed food system accepts rather than feeds.

The current global food system, designed by U.S.-based agribusiness conglomerates like Cargill, Monsanto and ADM and forced into place by the U.S. government and its allies at the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organization, has planted the seeds of disaster by pressuring farmers here and abroad to produce cash crops for export and alternative fuels rather than grow healthy food for local consumption and regional stability.

The only smart short-term response is to throw money at the problem. George W. Bush's release of $200 million in emergency aid to the United Nation's World Food Program last week was appropriate, but Washington must do more. Rising food prices may not be causing riots in the United States, but food banks here are struggling to meet demand as joblessness grows. Congress should answer the call of Sen. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio) to allocate $100 million more to domestic food programs and make sure, as Rep. Jim McGovern (D.Mass.) urges, that an overdue farm bill expands programs for getting fresh food from local farms to local consumers.

Beyond humanitarian responses, the cure for the global food system - and an unsteady U.S. farm economy - is not more of the same globalization and genetic gimmickry. That way has left 37 nations with food crises while global grain giant Cargill harvests an 86 percent rise in profits and Monsanto reaps record sales from its herbicides and seeds. For years, corporations have promised that problems would be solved by trade deals and technology - especially genetically modified seeds, which University of Kansas research suggests reduce food production and the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development says won't end global hunger. The "market," at least as defined by agribusiness, isn't working.

We "have a herd of market traders, speculators and financial bandits who have turned wild and constructed a world of inequality and horror," says Jean Ziegler, the U.N. right-to-food advocate. But try telling that to the Bush Administration or to World Bank president (and former White House trade rep) Robert Zoellick, who's busy exploiting tragedy to promote trade liberalization.

"If ever there is a time to cut distorting agricultural subsidies and open markets for food imports, it must be now," says Zoellick.

"Wait a second," replies Dani Rodrik, a Harvard political economist who tracks trade policy. "Wouldn't the removal of these distorting policies raise world prices in agriculture even further?" Yes. World Bank studies confirm that wheat and rice prices will rise if Zoellick gets his way.

Instead of listening to the White House or the World Bank, Congress should recognize - as a handful of visionary members like Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Ohio) have - that current trends confirm the wisdom of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy's call for "an urgent rethink of the respective roles of markets and governments." That's far more useful than blaming Midwestern farmers for embracing inflated promises about the potential of ethanol.

We should, however, re-examine whether aggressive U.S. support for biofuels is not only distorting corn prices but also harming livestock and dairy producers who can barely afford feed and fertilizer. Instead of telling farmers they're wrong to seek the best prices for their crops, Congress should make sure farmers can count on good prices for growing the food Americans need. It can do this by providing a strong safety net to survive weather and market disasters and a strategic grain reserve similar to the strategic petroleum reserve to guard against food-price inflation.

Congress should also embrace trade and development policies that help developing countries regulate markets with an eye to feeding the hungry rather than feeding corporate profits. This principle, known as "food sovereignty," sees struggling farmers and hungry people and says, as the Oakland Institute's Anuradha Mittal observes, that it is time to "stop worshiping the golden calf of the so-called free market and embrace, instead, the principle [that] every country and every people have a right to food that is affordable." As Mittal says, "When the market deprives them of this, it is the market that has to give."

John Nichols ( is proprietor of the political blog The Beat and is also editor of the Capitol Times.


The new economics of hunger
Amid brutal convergence of events to hit global market, poor suffer most

Washington Post, 27 April 2008. By Anthony Faiola.

The globe's worst food crisis in a generation emerged as a blip on the big boards and computer screens of America's great grain exchanges. At first, it seemed like little more than a bout of bad weather.

In Chicago, Minneapolis and Kansas City, traders watched from the pits early last summer as wheat prices spiked amid mediocre harvests in the United States and Europe and signs of prolonged drought in Australia. But within a few weeks, the traders discerned an ominous snowball effect -- one that would eventually bring down a prime minister in Haiti, make more children in Mauritania go to bed hungry, even cause American executives at Sam's Club to restrict sales of large bags of rice.

As prices rose, major grain producers including Argentina and Ukraine, battling inflation caused in part by soaring oil bills, were moving to bar exports on a range of crops to control costs at home. It meant less supply on world markets even as global demand entered a fundamentally new phase. Already, corn prices had been climbing for months on the back of booming government-subsidized ethanol programs. Soybeans were facing pressure from surging demand in China. But as supplies in the pipelines of global trade shrank, prices for corn, soybeans, wheat, oats, rice and other grains began shooting through the roof.

At the same time, food was becoming the new gold. Investors fleeing Wall Street's mortgage-related strife plowed hundreds of millions of dollars into grain futures, driving prices up even more. By Christmas, a global panic was building. With fewer places to turn, and tempted by the weaker dollar, nations staged a run on the American wheat harvest.

Foreign buyers, who typically seek to purchase one or two months' supply of wheat at a time, suddenly began to stockpile. They put in orders on U.S. grain exchanges two to three times larger than normal as food riots began to erupt worldwide. This led major domestic U.S. mills to jump into the fray with their own massive orders, fearing that there would soon be no wheat left at any price.

"Japan, the Philippines, [South] Korea, Taiwan -- they all came in with huge orders, and no matter how high prices go, they keep on buying," said Jeff Voge, chairman of the Kansas City Board of Trade and also an independent trader. Grains have surged so high, he said, that some traders are walking off the floor for weeks at a time, unable to handle the stress.

"We have never seen anything like this before," Voge said. "Prices are going up more in one day than they have during entire years in the past. But no matter the price, there always seems to be a buyer. . . . This isn't just any commodity. It is food, and people need to eat."

Beyond hunger

The food price shock now roiling world markets is destabilizing governments, igniting street riots and threatening to send a new wave of hunger rippling through the world's poorest nations. It is outpacing even the Soviet grain emergency of 1972-75, when world food prices rose 78 percent. By comparison, from the beginning of 2005 to early 2008, prices leapt 80 percent, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. Much of the increase is being absorbed by middle men -- distributors, processors, even governments -- but consumers worldwide are still feeling the pinch.

The convergence of events has thrown world food supply and demand out of whack and snowballed into civil turmoil. After hungry mobs and violent riots beset Port-au-Prince, Haitian Prime Minister Jacques-Édouard Alexis was forced to step down this month. At least 14 countries have been racked by food-related violence. In Malaysia, Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi is struggling for political survival after a March rebuke from voters furious over food prices. In Bangladesh, more than 20,000 factory workers protesting food prices rampaged through the streets two weeks ago, injuring at least 50 people.

To quell unrest, countries including Indonesia are digging deep to boost food subsidies. The U.N. World Food Program has warned of an alarming surge in hunger in areas as far-flung as North Korea and West Africa. The crisis, it fears, will plunge more than 100 million of the world's poorest people deeper into poverty, forced to spend more and more of their income on skyrocketing food bills.

"This crisis could result in a cascade of others . . . and become a multidimensional problem affecting economic growth, social progress and even political security around the world," U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said.

The new normal

Prices for some crops -- such as wheat -- have already begun to descend off their highs. As farmers rush to plant more wheat now that profit prospects have climbed, analysts predict that prices may come down as much as 30 percent in the coming months. But that would still leave a year-over-year price hike of 45 percent. Few believe prices will go back to where they were in early 2006, suggesting that the world must cope with a new reality of more expensive food.

People worldwide are coping in different ways. For the 1 billion living on less than a dollar a day, it is a matter of survival. In a mud hut on the Sahara's edge, Manthita Sou, a 43-year-old widow in the Mauritanian desert village of Maghleg, is confronting wheat prices that are up 67 percent on local markets in the past year. Her solution: stop eating bread. Instead, she has downgraded to cheaper foods, such as sorghum, a dark grain widely consumed by the world's poorest people. But sorghum has jumped 20 percent in the past 12 months. Living on the 50 cents a day she earns weaving textiles to support a family of three, her answer has been to cut out breakfast, drink tea for lunch and ration a small serving of soupy sorghum meal for family dinners. "I don't know how long we can survive like this," she said.

Countries that have driven food demand in recent years are now grappling with the cost of their own success -- rising prices. Although China has tried to calm its people by announcing reserve grain holdings of 30 to 40 percent of annual production, a number that had been a state secret, anxiety is still running high. In the southern province of Guangdong, there are reports of grain hoarding; and in Hong Kong, consumers have stripped store shelves of bags of rice.

Liu Yinhua, a retired factory worker who lives in the port city of Ningbo on China's east coast, said her family of three still eats the same things, including pork ribs, fish and vegetables. But they are eating less of it.

"Almost everything is more expensive now, even normal green vegetables," said Liu, 53. "The level of our quality of life is definitely reduced."

In India, the government recently scrapped all import duties on cooking oils and banned exports of non-basmati rice. As in many parts of the developing world, the impact in India is being felt the most among the urban poor who have fled rural life to live in teeming slums. At a dusty and nearly empty market in one New Delhi neighborhood this week, shopkeeper Manjeet Singh, 52, said people at the market have started hoarding because of fear that rice and oil will run out.

"If one doesn't have enough to fill one's own stomach, then what's the use of an economic boom in exports?" he said, looking sluggish in the scorching afternoon sun. He said his customers were asking for cheaper goods, like groundnut oil instead of soybean oil.

Even wealthy nations are being forced to adjust to a new normal. In Japan, a country with a distinct cultural aversion to cheaper, genetically modified grains, manufacturers are risking public backlash by importing them for use in processed foods for the first time. Inflation in the 15-country zone that uses the euro -- which includes France, Germany, Spain and Italy -- hit 3.6 percent in March, the highest rate since the currency was adopted almost a decade ago and well above the European Central Bank's target of 2.0 percent. Food and oil prices were mostly to blame.

In the United States, experts say consumers are scaling down on quality and scaling up on quantity if it means a better unit price. In the meat aisles of major grocery stores, said Phil Lempert, a supermarket analyst, steaks are giving way to chopped beef and people used to buying fresh blueberries are moving to frozen. Some are even trying to grow their own vegetables.

"A bigger pinch than ever before," said Pat Carroll, a retiree in Congress Heights. "I don't ever remember paying $3 for a loaf of bread."

Ill-equipped markets

The root cause of price surges varies from crop to crop. But the crisis is being driven in part by an unprecedented linkage of the food chain.

A big reason for higher wheat prices, for instance, is the multiyear drought in Australia, something that scientists say may become persistent because of global warming. But wheat prices are also rising because U.S. farmers have been planting less of it, or moving wheat to less fertile ground. That is partly because they are planting more corn to capitalize on the biofuel frenzy.

This year, at least a fifth and perhaps a quarter of the U.S. corn crop will be fed to ethanol plants. As food and fuel fuse, it has presented a boon to American farmers after years of stable prices. But it has also helped spark the broader food-price shock.

"If you didn't have ethanol, you would not have the prices we have today," said Bruce Babcock, a professor of economics and the director of the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development at Iowa State University. "It doesn't mean it's the sole driver. Prices would be higher than we saw earlier in this decade because world grain supplies are tighter now than earlier in the decade. But we've introduced a new demand into the market."

In fact, many economists now say food prices should have climbed much higher much earlier.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the world seemed to shrink with rapidly opening markets, surging trade and improved communication and transportation technology. Given new market efficiencies and the wide availability of relatively cheap food, the once-common practice of hoarding grains to protect against the kind of shortfall the world is seeing now seemed more and more archaic. Global grain reserves plunged.

Yet there was one big problem. The global food trade never became the kind of well-honed machine that has made the price of manufactured goods such as personal computers and flat-screen TVs increasingly similar worldwide. With food, significant subsidies and other barriers meant to protect farmers -- particularly in Europe, the United States and Japan -- have distorted the real price of food globally, economists say, preventing the market from normal price adjustments as global demand has climbed.

If market forces had played a larger role in food trade, some now argue, the world would have had more time to adjust to more gradually rising prices.

"The international food trade didn't undergo the same kind of liberalization as other trade," said Richard Feltes, senior vice president of MF Global, a futures brokerage. "We can see now that the world has largely failed in its attempt to create an integrated food market."

In recent years, there has been a great push to liberalize food markets worldwide -- part of what is known as the "Doha round" of world trade talks -- but resistance has come from both the developed and developing worlds. Perhaps more than any other sector, nations have a visceral desire to protect their farmers, and thusly, their food supply. The current food crisis is causing advocates on both sides to dig in. Consider, for instance, the French.

The European Union doles out about $41 billion a year in agriculture subsidies, with France getting the biggest share, about $8.2 billion. The 27-nation bloc also has set a target for biofuels to supply 10 percent of transportation fuel needs by 2020 to combat global warming.

The French, whose farmers over the years have become addicted to generous government handouts, argue that agriculture subsidies must be continued and even increased in order to encourage more food production, especially with looming shortages.

Last week, French Agriculture Minister Michel Barnier warned E.U. officials against "too much trust in the free market." "We must not leave the vital issue of feeding people," he said, "to the mercy of market laws and international speculation."

Staff writers Dan Morgan, Steven Mufson and Jane Black in Washington and correspondents Ariana Eunjung Cha in Beijing, Emily Wax in New Delhi and John Ward Anderson in Paris contributed to this report.


France: 'Sarkozette' skewers the men in France's cabinet
Minister labels male colleagues coward

The Sunday Times (UK), 27 April 2008. By Matthew Campbell in Paris.

A young French minister who provoked a political storm by branding her male colleagues as cowardly has defended herself by describing the women in President Nicolas Sarkozy's cabinet as more "original" than the men.

Sometimes described as one of the brainiest women in government, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, 34, the junior environment minister, catapulted herself into the limelight earlier this month by accusing senior party members of "cowardice" in their policy towards genetically modified crops, which she firmly opposes.

It was the latest in a series of embarrassments for the government and in the ensuing uproar she was struck from a list of guests accompanying the prime minister on a visit to Japan.

The public has rallied around the "green Sarkozette" ā according to one poll, 80% agreed with her stand ā and she has not been tempted to alter her opinion of male politicians. Far from it.

"They make you feel that they've been there since the dawn of time and that the women's presence is less legitimate," she said in an interview over lunch in her ministry last week.

Warming to her theme, she went on: "There is more variety of character in the women than in the men. The men are more traditional but the women bring more originality, even if they are not necessarily the easiest of characters."

Originality certainly seems to be an attribute of Kosciusko-Morizet, a science graduate from an illustrious political family of Polish origin which has produced ambassadors, senators, mayors and a member of the wartime resistance.

She chose to do her military service in a naval outpost off the coast of Djibouti and her harp-playing and horsemanship have also helped her to stand out from the crowd.

The "cowardice" incident was not the first time that she had attracted the wrath of her colleagues: she was attacked for planting a kiss on the cheek of Jos» Bov», the antiglobalisation campaigner who has spent the past few years in and out of jail for destroying genetically modified crops.

Kosciusko-Morizet claimed that a male politician who kissed a female activist would not have caused such a fuss and besides, she said, "I have never asked permission, even from my father, to kiss anyone."

Battling to shore up his crumbling approval rating one year after coming to power, Sarkozy went on television last week complaining about "young ministers" such as Kosciusko-Morizet speaking out of turn and warning that he would not forgive the next indiscretion.

However much he approves in private of the verve of his "environmental muse", as Kosciusko-Morizet has been called, he has been accused of "reverse machismo" in his indulgence of women ministers and there has been grumbling in the ranks of the party.

Rama Yade, the 31-year-old undersecretary for human rights, has twice put her foot in it with impunity, most recently when she contradicted government policy by attaching conditions to Sarkozy's participation in the Olympic Games opening ceremony this summer in Beijing.

Kosciusko-Morizet dismissed allegations of favouritism, however. "The men try to make us think there are favourites," she said, "but if there was so much favouritism there would be more than 18% women in the national assembly. Our political life needs more biodiversity."

She insisted nevertheless that "Sarko", who married Carla Bruni, the top model and folk singer, in February and who has packed his cabinet with women to fulfil a campaign promise to promote sexual equality in government, was more advanced than most other male politicians when it came to dealings with women.

"Many male politicians often have difficulty working with women, and difficulty accepting women as legitimate partners in political life," she said.

"But he [Sarkozy] thinks that women's presence is perfectly normal. He doesn't have any problems working with women. In France that does not make him part of the majority."

Kosciusko-Morizet, who is married with a two-year-old son, is just as passionate about environmental issues as she is about putting women into power. She switched the Peugot 607 that came with her job for a less polluting, and much smaller, Peugeot 308.

"When I go to official functions," she said with a laugh, "the security agents often don't recognise it as a minister's car."

A former environmental adviser in the government of Jacques Chirac, she became an MP in 2002 and has made it her priority to promote more awareness of how environmental issues affect health.

"I think we're behind other countries in this regard," Kosciusko-Morizet said. "It was when I was pregnant with my son that I realised how little information there was.

"When you say to a doctor, I've got a young child, I live in an urban zone and want to take him out every day but I'm afraid of pollution, is it better in the morning or evening, the doctor hasn't a clue." She went on: "At the gynaecologist you've got all these leaflets telling you to be careful about various foods and so on but nothing about the environment and health."

She tries to practise what she preaches: "I like to have bio food. I take care of the quality of air. And the baby's intercom should not be too close to his head."

Another issue to absorb her attention is the melting of the world's glaciers. "Experts say now that it is going two to three times faster than we thought and that some of the big ones will have disappeared by 2020 or 2030," she said.

Apart from encouraging flooding and drought in countries such as India, this could also kill off the European winter sports industry.

"To buy a chalet at this moment on a 25-year mortgage thinking that you'll be able to go every year to practise winter sports is pure folly," she said.

As for Sarkozy's dwindling popularity, she said the French were impatient for change.

"People voted for change by electing Sarkozy," she said. "Now they're saying: when is it changing, when are we going to see the results?"


USA: Lack of oversight has growers, environmentalists concerned
The debate over GMOs in Napa Valley

Napa Valley Register, 27 April 2008. By Juliane Poirier Locke.

One of the dominant debates in the world of agriculture is the role of genetically-modified organisms. So-called GMOs can increase crop productivity and resistance to disease, but also increase risks to native and wild species and even to larger ecosystems.

From Mendocino County to the European Union, regulations have been drawn up to limit or ban GMOs, even as they play a larger and larger role in the world's food supply. In Napa County, a vigorous debate is taking place in agricultural circles as the wine industry considers the risks and potential of GMOs.

Genetically modified yeasts, which encourage stable fermentation and affect the flavor of wines, are already on the market. Genetically engineered grapevines, designed to resist Pierce's disease and vineyard pests, are presently being developed and are expected to arrive on the market in five or 10 years.

Yet the Napa Valley wine industry has been cool to the concept of GMOs. Viticulturalists are leery of the environmental effects and lack of regulation of GMOs. Winemakers share those concerns and believe that even if GMOs eventually produce some benefits, their presence would likely prove a marketing negative, hurting sales overseas and discouraging interest in an industry that celebrates its time-honored traditions.

None of those interviewed for these articles knew of anyone in the Napa Valley openly using GMO products.

For› nearly a year, Napa County environmentalists, grapegrowers and others have been meeting regularly to examine the possible impact of GMOs. The Napa GMO Stakeholder Group was spearheaded by Erica Martenson, a strong GMO critic who founded the group Preserving the Integrity of Napa's Agriculture or PINA.

Martenson has considered leading the charge to place a GMO moratorium on the Napa County ballot, a move that has been made elsewhere. For example, voters in Mendocino and Santa Cruz counties have approved GMO bans. Sonoma County voters rejected one in 2005.

Environmental activists are pressing for bans in Lake County and Monterey County.

Martenson said she would like to see a precautionary ban on all GMOs in Napa County and a ban on all field-testing of GMOs until scientists have rigorously assessed environmental hazards. But for now, the action in Napa Valley is around the conference table, where Martenson and other member of the stakeholders group explore the issues.

"Maybe in the future GMOs will have effective regulatory oversight," says Martenson. "But until that exists, genetic experimentation should be restricted to the laboratory or greenhouse."

Not going with the flow

PINA opposes the genetically engineered wine yeasts and field experiments for all genetically engineered plants because of inevitable gene flow, the process by which these plants crossbreed with non-GMO plants. The resulting offspring bear the engineered gene.

New gene combinations, whether designed or not, can behave in unpredictable ways. For example, the changes in chemistry can harm wildlife that feed upon the gene-contaminated plant. One well-documented case from the 1990s involved Monsanto's Bt corn, dubbed "killer corn," which created its own pesticide. Other "killer" crops followed. Later, Bt corn was shown to harm monarch butterflies that fed on the engineered pollen. Bt corn pollen also contaminated natural corn varieties in Mexico.

Chris Howell, of Cain Vineyard and Winery, represents the Napa Valley Vintners in the GMO Stakeholders study group.

He expresses concerns about testing and regulation of GMOs. The federal government has not moved aggressively into the arena, and some say local GMO bans may prove ineffective. Because plants, birds and prevailing winds do not follow county boundaries, the patchwork of local regulation may do little to stop the spread of GMOs.

"Genetics is complex," says Howell. "And there is a black hole of things we don't know about, so you go right to the precautionary principle. The technology itself is neither good nor bad. It merely creates new possibilities. But where is the financial incentive to understand all the ramifications?"

Doug Gurian-Sherman of the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington, D.C., said there is no financial incentive for agribusiness to understand all the ramifications.

"The present regulatory system puts the burden of proof for safety upon the bioengineering corporation," says Gurian-Sherman, a plant pathologist who formerly worked or the Environmental Protection Agency. "Based on the scientific literature, we conclude that the existing guidelines are a very weak regulatory process."

Grassroots action

Napa County Agricultural Commissioner Dave Whitmer is encouraging the stakeholder group. While he is wary of the effectiveness of local bans, he said he is sympathetic with those critical of the current lack of regulation.

"I know why people are not satisfied with the way the government is handling the issues," said Whitmer. "It's no wonder that groups have been taking initiatives to their county supervisors, trying to get ordinances passed.

"The trend is toward patchwork regulations," he said, "which may get the feds to delegate authority to the states."

Current state and federal laws apply to the oversight of pesticide use and organic farming in California, but do not regulate GMOs.

In recent years, California lawmakers have considered GMO regulation. But the debate has nothing to do with the scientific questions fueling the discussion in Napa County. Instead, it addresses a dispute between farmers and agribusinesses like Monsanto that develop and market GMOs and farmers.

The latest effort, AB 541, sponsored by state Assemblyman Jared Huffman, whose district includes Marin County and part of Sonoma County, is intended to protect non-GMO farmers from patent infringements lawsuits accusing farmers of stealing genetically engineered property when pollen or seeds from GMO crops drift and contaminate non-GMO crops.

AB 541 passed in the Assembly in January, and could become California's first GMO legislation.


USA: Livestock producers want legislators to repeal ethanol law

Associated Press, 27 April 2008. By Chris Blank.

JEFFERSON CITY, Missouri ů A newly implemented ethanol mandate coupled with rising livestock feed prices is dividing Missouri's farmers.

It pits corn farmers, who are getting record prices for their grain, against livestock producers, who are struggling to feed their herds.

At the center has been a law that, starting this year, requires most Missouri gasoline to be blended with 10 percent ethanol if the biofuel is cheaper than regular gas.

Corn farmers defend the four-month old mandate as "one of the greatest Missouri economic development bills." But livestock producers ů many of whom voted for it two years ago ů argue it's contributing to a "livestock industry meltdown" by leading to higher feed prices. And they're lining up to get it repealed.

Rep. Mike Dethrow, a hog marketer from rural southern Missouri who has filed legislation to lift the ethanol mandate, said knowing what he does today about where corn prices have gone, he would not have supported the bill requiring ethanol two years ago.

"It is a piece of the puzzle," said Dethrow, R-Alton. "The solution is probably the free market. The solution is probably not more government."

But corn farmers say misperception, foreign demand and a less valuable American currency spurring more grain exports are each much bigger factors than ethanol in the livestock feed prices puzzle.

"There are a lot of factors out there that are affecting this thing," said Gary Clark, the senior director of market development for the Missouri Corn Growers Association. "There is just not that magic bullet that is all of a sudden going to take livestock prices up and grain and corn prices down."

Clark said livestock producers see their feed costs rising, read about the state's ethanol mandate and assume that one led to another because that's the most obvious difference. But he argues it's the less visible market factors that are actually driving prices. Plus, ethanol plants offset some of the corn they use by producing distiller's grains that can be used to feed livestock.

The ethanol split has been a particularly public divide in a farming community that frequently aligns together in the Capitol to form a potent force, often able to offset the power of the more numerous suburban and urban lawmakers.

Even so, Missouri's agricultural interests sometimes have been a divided monolith. In recent years, there have been breaks over whether cities and counties should be allowed to regulate concentrated animal feeding operations and genetically modified crops.

But schisms have generally separated large and small farming operations and not crops versus animals. The break over ethanol comes as some lawmakers want the state to create a similar mandate to require a biodiesel fuel blend.

Rep. Steve Hobbs, an ethanol backer and corn grower from mid-Missouri, likened Missouri's farmers to neighbors: They want to help each other, but there is also a sense that people have to look out for themselves.

"There's always been a delicate balance between grain farmers and livestock producers," said Hobbs, R-Mexico.

Some livestock producers are convinced the state has sided with grain farmers by passing a law that creates a guaranteed market for corn whenever ethanol is cheaper than gas. That's upset the equilibrium in a relationship where the participants want corn prices moving in opposite directions.

"That's the rub, that we came in and helped one segment of ag, but we didn't help the rest," said Rep. Tom Loehner, who has cattle and sheep but also grows some corn and beans on his farm in Osage County south of the Missouri River.

Even if divided, grain growers and meat producers have so far remained civil.

Missouri's corn commodity group is working with beef producers to find ways to use ethanol byproducts to feed animals and to better explain why they think livestock feed prices are increasing. During a hearing on the bill to repeal the ethanol mandate, livestock producers frequently caged their criticisms of it with the disclaimer that "I like corn farmers."

"These guys, the corn growers, had some tough times," said Loehner, R-Koeltztown. "They're saying, ŽOK we're making a few dollars, and we don't want to give that up.' And we don't begrudge you, we just need to get our own prices."


Warrior mosquito plan under fire in Malaysia: report

AFP, 27 April 2008. KUALA LUMPUR - Environmentalists have condemned a trial plan to deploy millions of genetically modified mosquitoes in Malaysia to fight dengue fever, a report said Sunday.

Malaysia has expressed concern about the insect-borne scourge after 25 people were killed in the first three months of the year.

The New Sunday Times newspaper said the genetically modified (GM) male mosquitoes will be first freed in Ketam island, a fishing village south of Kuala Lumpur, in an attempt to kill Aedes mosquitoes which spread dengue fever.

Environmental groups, however, oppose the plan.

"Like all GM organisations, once they have been released in the wild, how do you prevent them from interacting with other insects and produce mutants which may be worse than the Aedes mosquito," said Gurmit Singh, chairman of the Center for Environment Technology and Development.

Dengue is endemic to Malaysia, which has seen a rise of 16 percent in cases every year since 2003, according to the government.

Fatalities from dengue in Malaysia reached record levels in 2004, when 102 people died.

Health Minister Liow Tiong Lai said in the first three months of 2008, more than 9,800 cases of the mosquito-borne disease were reported, with 25 people killed.

The field trials for the GM mosquitoes will be undertaken by the Malaysian health ministry and British-based Oxiter Ltd, an insect bio-tech company.

The newspaper said lab trials conducted for the first time in the world during the past one year had produced success, and that field testing would begin by early next year.

The technique involves releasing GM-made Aedes mosquitoes to mate with the female mosquitoes of the same type, it said. The lethal genes from the warrior mosquitoes cause the larvae to die.

Only a female mosquito can transmit dengue fever because it has a proboscis that can pierce the skin.


26 April 2008

Africa: Genes as the solution

Financial Express , April 26 2008.

In 2002, the Zambian government did something stupendously silly. It banned maize imports needed to feed its famine stricken population. Millions died as a result. The government shrugged and said the maize was "genetically modified" (GM) and therefore dangerous.

When famine returned in 2005, the government was forced to lift the ban. By now, however, Europe had hardened its position on GM food. Europe, being sparsely populated, can insist on every GM based food product being labelled accordingly, and can afford to wait and watch. The priorities of the Zambian population, though, are quite clear. If it nourishes, it is food. In fact, as a global food crisis unfolds, it is a good time to wonder how many years we have needlessly lost on a potential solution. As circumstances have it, most research in the area has been led by the private sector. The 1960s Green Revolution was led by government agencies, which often transferred the seeds and technology to the third world, apparently free, getting only goodwill in return. But recipient countries such as India that has set up chains of agricultural institutes, managed to lull themselves into a belief that they had licked the food scarcity.

By the time GM crops entered the market in the mid-1990s, it was clear that the food scarcity problem was not quite over, even if Malthusian starvation nightmares had been dismissed. Yet, it took people long to be thankful to private food Companies that had stepped into the void created by decades of neglect of agricultural research by government agencies. Expecting biotech Companies to give out the results of their research for free is unrealistic, unless the world community pitches inÚa la India's telecom fund for rural connectivity. But the world should be glad that advanced scientific work on pest-resistant and high-yield crops has actually been done. In 2006-07, more than 32,000 sq km of GM cotton was harvested amid protests. That's plenty, but compared with the potential, the area is a mere speck. In food, the gains could be enormous just in terms of the crops' ability to survive pest attacks, water shortages and harsh conditions. This is not "Frankenfood", a grossly misleading image crafted by GM food opponents. It is modern technology. As with nuclear power, that it evokes fear and mistrust is not a reasonable guide to public policy.

Comment from GM Watch:

Even by the standards of the current deluge of uncritical nonsense about GM being the answer to the food crisis, this piece from India's Finacial Express stands out.

Apart from anything else it employs the Zambian-GM-genocide urban myth, according to which rejection of GM food aid by the Zambian government in 2002 resulted in starvation.

Nobody died in Zambia when it rejected GM food. Non-GM food, which was readily available in the region, was provided instead. The Zambian Red Cross is unequivocal about this, "We didn't record a single death arising out of hunger."

But that hasn't stopped this sustained campaign of black propaganda. Note also that the claim here that the Zambian government subsequently back tracked on its opposition to GM is equally false.

For more on this black propaganda campaign see 'Fake Blood on the Maize':


USA: Agricultural Giant Battles Small Farmers
Monsanto Goes To Great Lengths To Protect Its Patents On Genetically Modified Crops

[Note: You can also watch the video of the following CBS News report at]

CBS News, April 26 2008.

ST. LOUIS -- American farmers have been growing genetically modified crops for years, from seeds engineered to resist pests and chemicals. These patented seeds produced bigger crops and profits for farmers who bought them from companies like DuPont and Monsanto, but for other farmers the seeds have created a host of problems. CBS News Chief Investigative Correspondent Armen Keteyian has been investigating.


David Runyon and his wife Dawn put a lifetime of work into their 900-acre Indiana farm, and almost lost it all over a seed they say they never planted.

"I don't believe any company has the right to come into someone's home and threaten their livelihood," Dawn said, "to bring them into such physical turmoil as this company did to us."

The Runyons charge bio-tech giant Monsanto sent investigators to their home unannounced, demanded years of farming records, and later threatened to sue them for patent infringement. The Runyons say an anonymous tip led Monsanto to suspect that genetically modified soybeans were growing on their property.

"I wasn't using their products, but yet they were pounding on my door demanding information, demanding records," Dave said. "It was just plain harassment is what they were doing."

Today, Monsanto's patented "Round-up Ready" soy commands the lion's share of the genetically-modified soybean seed market, its genetic code manipulated to withstand the company's popular weed killer.

But the promise of fewer weeds and greater production comes with a hefty fee. Farmers must sign an iron-clad agreement not to re-plant the harvested seed, or face serious legal consequences - up to $3 million in damages.

"It's about protecting the patent, defending the patents, so farmers have the protection and can use these technologies over time," said Monsanto spokeswoman Tami Craig Schilling.

The Runyons say they signed no agreements, and if they were contaminated with the genetically modified seed, it blew over from a neighboring farm.

"Pollination occurs, wind drift occurs. There's just no way to keep their products from landing in our fields," David said.

"What Monsanto is doing across the country is often, and according to farmers, trespassing even, on their land, examining their crops and trying to find some of their patented crops," said Andrew Kimbrell, with the Center For Food Safety. "And if they do, they sue those farmers for their entire crop."

In fact, in Feb. 2005 the Runyons received a letter from Monsanto, citing "an agreement" with the Indiana Department of Agriculture giving it the right to come on their land and test for seed contamination.

Only one problem: The Indiana Department of Agriculture didn't exist until two months after that letter was sent. What does that say to you?

"I'm not aware of the specific situation in Indiana," Schilling said.

"I'm just talking in general terms," said Keteyian. "Would Monsanto lie, deceive, intimidate, harass American farmers to protect its patents?"

"With farmers as customers I would say that is not our policy by any means."

74-year-old Mo Parr is a seed cleaner; he is hired by farmers to separate debris from the seed to be replanted. Monsanto sued him claiming he was "aiding and abetting" farmers, helping them to violate the patent.

"There's no way that I could be held responsible," Parr said. "There's no way that I could look at a soy bean and tell you if it's Round-up Ready."

The company subpoenaed Parr's bank records, without his knowledge, and found his customers. After receiving calls from Monsanto, some of them stopped talking to him.

"It really broke my heart," Parr said. "You know, I could hardly hold a cup of coffee that morning,"

Monsanto won its case against Parr, but the company, which won't comment on specific cases, has stopped its legal action against the Runyons.

And now four states, including Indiana, prohibit seed suppliers from entering a farmer's property without a state agent, tactics which have threatened a way of life.


USA: Bill to Ban 'Human-Animal' Hybrid Introduced in Congress
The Act places a ban on the creation, transfer, or transportation of a human-animal hybrid.
It was introduced by Catholic Congressman Chris Smith.

Catholic Online U.S. News, 26 April 2008. By John-Henry Westen.

WASHINGTON, DC - Yesterday, Rep. Chris Smith introduced the Human-Animal Hybrid Prohibition Act, H.R. 5910, to ban the creation of part-human, part-animal hybrid beings.

The legislation is timely as researchers are already tinkering with human-animal hybrid technologies.

British scientists are actively perfecting the hybrid technique. On April 1, 2008 the BBC reported that, "Scientists at Newcastle University have created part-human, part-animal hybrid embryos for the first time in the UK."

The Act places a ban on the creation, transfer, or transportation of a human-animal hybrid. Human-animal hybrids are defined as:

1) A human embryo into which animal cells are introduced, making its humanity uncertain.

2a) An embryo created by fertilizing a human egg with non-human sperm.

2b) An embryo created by fertilizing a non-human egg with human sperm.

3a) An embryo created by introducing a non-human nucleus into a human egg.

3b) An embryo created by introducing a human nucleus into a non-human egg.

4) An embryo containing mixed sets of chromosomes from both a human and animal.

5) An animal with human reproductive organs.

6) An animal with a whole or predominantly human brain.

The matter is not only of interest to pro-life advocates. Environmental activists and those concerned for public health also have reasons to seek a ban on such experimentation.

From a public health standpoint, a backgrounder on the legislation points out that "The world has recently experienced an increase in infections emerging from animal populations that threaten human health. Human-animal hybrids present an optimal opportunity for genetic transfer that could increase the risk for transmission of both human and animal diseases, such as Bird Flu and SARS."

Environmental advocates have also pointed out that genetically modified hybrids could have a devastating effect on the natural environments of native animal populations.

The introduction of human genetics could lead to hybrids with superior abilities who could "out-compete" the native populations, causing unforeseen problems to the ecosystem.


Canada: The seeds of catastrophe

Globe and Mail, 26 April 2008. By Ingeborg Boyens.

Markets, Power and the Hidden Battle for the World's Food System
By Raj Patel
HarperCollins, 438 pages, $29.95

Seed Politics and the Future of Food in Canada
By Devlin Kuyek
Between the Lines
147 pages, $22.95

"Food Riots in Haiti." "Continuing Demonstrations in Egypt." "Protests Against High Food Costs in Bangladesh." It is strange here in the land of plenty to see headlines trumpeting massive food shortages around the globe. However, these headlines are an ominous sign that the economic arrangements that produce and distribute our food are breaking down.

The impending food crisis in much of the developing world would not surprise Raj Patel. In Stuffed and Starved: Markets, Power and the Hidden Battle for the World's Food System, he effectively argues there is something wrong with an economic model that leaves 800 million people on Earth hungry while another billion are overfed. "Unless you are a corporate food executive," Patel writes, "the system isn't working for you."

In past years, the food system has been the focus of several writers, such as Eric Schlosser with Fast Food Nation and Michael Pollan with The Omnivore's Dilemma. Patel significantly adds to the topic with a thorough and impassioned work that looks at how corporate control and global trade markets have wounded farmers and consumers around the world. He successfully connects the dots of seemingly disparate issues like hunger, obesity, free trade, rural depopulation and food safety to create the picture of a food system run by corporate greed.

Patel is well-equipped for his take on the globalization of food. He worked for the World Bank, interned at the World Trade Organization, and consulted for the United Nations before he became an activist opposed to many of policies of his former employers. Patel - who lives in South Africa and California - has directed his attention to the haves and have-nots of the world - those who are "stuffed" by often obscene amounts of food while others are "starved" because the global food system ignores them. Although it may seem a contradiction, Patel writes that both are victims of a grotesquely unbalanced food system.

Patel argues that the irony of a world in which there are now more fat people than hungry ones is the inevitable outcome of a system in which a handful of corporations have been allowed to capture the wealth in the food supply chain. The modern food structure, Patel explains, evolved from an imperial past in which European nations destroyed the economies of countries to get their hands on sugar, tea and spices. Today, a surprisingly small number of corporations own the seed companies, agrochemical manufacturers, processors and supermarkets that control what we see on our plates, often by running roughshod over small rural landowners in the developing world.

Farmers, whether in Canada or in developing countries, may grow our crops, vegetables and livestock, but they paradoxically have little control over what we eat. In fact, they often become members of the "starved" category under pressure from a global, supply-and-demand trading system that sets prices and pushes them to produce for consumers in distant industrialized countries. Although rural communities around the world have been neglected by the global system, Patel begins his look at rural injustice in India, where a shocking number of farmers have responded to despair by drinking agricultural pesticides.

Patel writes that even in the industrialized North, where "stuffed" consumers may be dazzled with signs of plenitude at the local supermarket, they actually have little "choice." Yes, they have the choice between Pepsi and Coke, but any other options seem to be prescribed by those who control the system. The result is that many people are obese from unhealthy calories, susceptible to heart disease, diabetes and other diet-related issues.

This is often depressing material. But ultimately, Patel is hopeful, championing the work of movements that challenge the system. He writes about the global network of peasant farmer organizations, Via Campesina, that has pulled together 150 million people from around the world; the Landless Rural Workers Movement in Brazil, which has resettled one million people since the 1970s in communities that practise sustainable farming; efforts to challenge the food retail establishment with initiatives like the People's Grocery, in California, which grows its own food on donated land.

Patel's book is an impassioned plea for change. To urge us all to fight back to develop a new food system, Patel has set up a website and come up with a 10-point action plan which he says everyone should try.

Good Crop/Bad Crop: Seed Politics and the Future of Food in Canada, by Devlin Kuyek, a Montreal-based researcher with the international NGO GRAIN, is a smaller offering with a narrower focus, but it too is critical of the global food system. Its heart is the very foundation of food, the seed.

Although Kuyek has also travelled the world, he chooses here to explore how Canada's regulatory system has systematically removed control of seeds from farmers and given it, through public breeding rights (PBR) and patents on single genes, to the corporate sector. In the past, farmers themselves saved seed from one harvest to plant the next year. They were essentially breeding crops specifically for their land. Anything new was produced by a public university. Now, for many crops, farmers have to buy hybrid seeds or sign contracts when they purchase genetically modified seeds saying that they won't re-use them. The consequence is a small number of seeds stipulated by the corporations that control the food system, rather than a broad biodiversity controlled by farmers.

This book may seem a bit technical for the average reader, but Kuyek tells an important story about the very foundation of food. Where Patel has chosen to go wide, Kuyek's assessment of the food system is narrow, but just as critical.

Judging by books, films, and movements like the Slow Food campaign or the 100-Mile Diet, food is becoming the issue of our times. These two books add to the debate about our global food system and forcefully argue that we have to change. Otherwise, protests about overwhelming food costs and widespread shortages will grow and we will be faced with a crisis that may even spill over into our comfortable, overfed First World lives.

Ingeborg Boyens has written extensively about food and farming. Her most recent book is Another Season's Promise: Hope and Despair in Canada's Farm Country.


Ireland: GM foods offer solution to crisis

Irish Independent, letter to the editor, 26 April 2008.

Kevin Myers' column on genetically modified (GM) foods (Irish Independent, April 23) presented the GM crop dilemma as being that food shortages are causing riots and global warming looms.

No one should state GM food is a standalone answer to world hunger, but the "eco-mob" should not dogmatically rule GM out as part of the solution.

The eco-mob has always used whatever fear is the flavour of the month against GM. For example, in more abundant times past, Al Gore had concerns of GM crops producing too much food: "The most lasting impact of biotechnology on the food supply may come not from something going wrong, but from all going right.

My biggest fear is not that by accident we will set loose some genetically defective Andromeda strain. Given our past record in dealing with agriculture, we're far more likely to accidentally drown ourselves in a sea of excess grain".

Let's hope this Al Gore prediction will become a reality as opposed to his other famous forecasts.

Comment from GM-free Ireland

Shane Morris is the Canadian Government operative whose attempts to sabotage Ireland's policy to keep the island of Ireland off-limits to GM crops has been denounced by 33 Senators and MPs in the Irish Senate and the UK House of Commons.

For details see our press release at and background info at


Statistics Canada says the country's farmers are producing more canola than at any other time in history. Steve Ladurantaye takes a look at a particularly Canadian crop

Globe and Mail (Canada), 26 April 2008. By Steve Ladurantaye.


Canola was developed in the 1970s by Canadian farmers and researchers looking for a tastier and healthier variety of rapeseed. The plant, used as a food source in Asia for thousands of years, was introduced to Canada during the Second World War, when it was grown mostly for conversion into industrial lubricant. After the war, Canadian farmers realized there could be a market for rapeseed if the fat content could be reduced and the taste improved.


University of Manitoba plant breeder Baldur Stefansson and Agriculture Canada's R.K. Downey are credited with creating the first strains of canola. Using varieties of rapeseeds that didn't contain as much erucic - a fatty acid - they bred a new variety of seed. In 1974, it was released commercially. Two years later, 98.5 per cent of Canadian rapeseed farmers were working with the new crop, renamed canola (it means Canadian oil) in 1978. So how much healthier is it? Saturated fat - linked to heart disease and other ailments - makes up 68 per cent of butter. Canola oil? Seven per cent.


Canadian farmers are expected to plant a record 14.8 million acres of canola this year, Statistics Canada estimates. That's slightly above last year's level, also a record. In 2007 a farmer could expect to collect $6 per bushel, but this year they expect to pull in $14 per bushel. Canada produces some 6.2 million tonnes of canola seed per year, 20 per cent of the world's supply - of this, 3.4 million tonnes is exported as seed, 706,000 tonnes as oil and another 1.15 million tonnes as meal. The United States is the largest importer.


Saskatchewan farmer Percy Schmeiser and his wife, Louise, became global symbols for farmers' rights after a decade-long legal battle with agribusiness giant Monsanto over wayward canola. Monsanto sued in 1997 after plants grown from seeds genetically modified to resist a Monsanto herbicide turned up in the Schmeisers' field. The company alleged the farmer knowingly planted them without paying the technology fees. The Schmeisers argued they blew onto their property. Seven years later, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in favour of Monsanto but decided the Schmeisers did not have to pay damages. The next year, the Schmeisers found more genetically modified canola on their farm, pulled it up, sent Monsanto a bill for $660 and launched a small claims case. The firm paid the money in March to settle the case.


Many farmers, as well as the Canola Council of Canada, would like to see the seed become the basis of this country's biofuel initiatives. Canadian Bioenergy Corp. is a believer, building a $90-million refinery in Alberta, scheduled to open in 2009.

It is expected to process 500,000 tonnes of seed into 225,000 tonnes of biofuel annually. There's global competition - by 2010, Europe will be importing 400,000 tonnes of Canadian canola oil for use in biodiesel.


UK: 'Sustainable' Bio-Plastic Can Damage The Environment

The Guardian, 26 April 2008. By John Vidal, environment editor.

Supermarkets' efforts to find new compostable plastics bring environmental problems. Photograph: Linda Nylind The worldwide effort by supermarkets and industry to replace conventional oil-based plastic with eco-friendly "bioplastics" made from plants is causing environmental problems and consumer confusion, according to a Guardian study.

The substitutes can increase emissions of greenhouse gases on landfill sites, some need high temperatures to decompose and others cannot be recycled in Britain.

Many of the bioplastics are also contributing to the global food crisis by taking over large areas of land previously used to grow crops for human consumption.

The market for bioplastics, which are made from maize, sugarcane, wheat and other crops, is growing by 20-30% a year.

The industry, which uses words such as "sustainable", "biodegradeable", "compostable" and "recyclable" to describe its products, says bioplastics make carbon savings of 30-80% compared with conventional oil-based plastics and can extend the shelf-life of food.

Concern centres on corn-based packaging made with polylactic acid (Pla). Made from GM crops, it looks identical to conventional polyethylene terephthalate (Pet) plastic and is produced by US company NatureWorks. The company is jointly owned by Cargill, the world's second largest biofuel producer, and Teijin, one of the world's largest plastic manufacturers.

Pla is used by some of the biggest supermarkets and food companies, including Wal-Mart, McDonald's and Del Monte. It is used by Marks & Spencer to package organic foods, salads, snacks, desserts, and fruit and vegetables.

It is also used to bottle Belu mineral water, which is endorsed by environmentalists because the brand's owners invest all profits in water projects in poor countries. Wal-Mart has said it plans to use 114m Pla containers over the course of a year.

While Pla is said to offer more disposal options, the Guardian has found that it will barely break down on landfill sites, and can only be composted in the handful of anaerobic digesters which exist in Britain, but which do not take any packaging. In addition, if Pla is sent to UK recycling works in large quantities, it can contaminate the waste stream, reportedly making other recycled plastics unsaleable.

Last year Innocent drinks stopped using Pla because commercial composting was "not yet a mainstream option" in the UK.

Anson, one of Britain's largest suppliers of plastic food packaging, switched back to conventional plastic after testing Pla in sandwich packs. Sainsbury's has decided not to use it, saying Pla is made with GM corn. "No local authority is collecting compostable packaging at the moment. Composters do not want it," a spokesman said.

Britain's supermarkets compete to claim the greatest commitment to the environment with plant-based products. The bioplastics industry expects rising oil prices to help it compete with conventional plastics, with Europe using about 50,000 tonnes of bioplastics a year.

Concern is mounting because the new generation of biodegradable plastics ends up on landfill sites, where they degrade without oxygen, releasing methane, a greenhouse gas 23 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. This week the US national oceanic and atmospheric administration reported a sharp increase in global methane emissions last year.

"It is just not possible to capture all the methane from landfill sites," said Michael Warhurt, resources campaigner at Friends of the Earth. "A significant percentage leaks to the atmosphere."

"Just because it's biodegradable does not mean it's good. If it goes to landfill it breaks down to methane. Only a percentage is captured," said Peter Skelton of Wrap, the UK government-funded Waste and Resources Action Programme. "In theory bioplastics are good. But in practice there are lots of barriers."

Recycling companies said they would have to invest in expensive new equipment to extract bioplastic from waste for recycling. "If we could identify them the only option would be to landfill them," said one recycler who asked to remain anonymous. "They are not wanted by UK recycling companies or local authorities who refuse to handle them. Councils are saying they do not want plastics near food collection. If these biodegradable [products] get into the recycling stream they contaminate it.

"It will get worse because the government is encouraging more recycling. There will be much more bioplastic around."

Problems arise because some bioplastics are "home" compostable and recyclable. "It's so confusing that a Pla bottle looks exactly the same as a standard Pet bottle," Skelton said. "The consumer is not a polymer expert. Not nearly enough consideration has gone into what they are meant to do with them. Everything is just put in the recycling bin."

Yesterday NatureWorks accepted that its products would not fully break down on landfill sites. "The recycling industry in the UK has not caught up with other countries" said Snehal Desai, chief marketing officer for NatureWorks. "We need alternatives to oil. UK industry should not resist change. We should be designing for the future and not the past. In central Europe, Taiwan and elsewhere, NatureWorks polymer is widely accepted as a compostable material."

Other users said it was too soon to judge the new technology. "It's very early days," said Reed Paget, managing director of Belu. "The UK packaging industry does not want competition. It's shortsighted and is blocking eco-innovation." Belu collects its bottles and now sends them to mainland Europe.

"People think that biodegradable is good and non-biodegradable is bad. That's all they see," said Chris Goodall, environmental analyst and author of How to Live a Low-carbon Lifestyle. "I have been trying to compost bags that are billed as 'biodegradable' and 'home compostable' but I have completely failed. They rely on the compost heap really heating up but we still find the residues."

Bioplastics compete for land with biofuels and food crops. About 200,000 tonnes of bioplastics were produced last year, requiring 250,000-350,000 tonnes of crops. The industry is forecast to need several million acres of farmland within four years.

There is also concern over the growing use by supermarkets of "oxy-degradable" plastic bags, billed as sustainable. They are made of conventional oil-based plastic, with an additive that enables the plastic to break down. The companies promoting it claim it reduces litter and causes no methane or harmful residues. They are used by Wal-Mart, Pizza Hut and KFC in the US, and Tesco and the Co-op in the UK for "degradable" plastic carrier bags.

Some environmentalists say the terminology confuses the public. "The consumer is baffled," a Wrap briefing paper said. "It considers these products degradable but ... they will not degrade effectively in [the closed environment of] a landfill site."

A spokesman for Symphony Plastics disputed that. "Oxy-bioplastic can be re-used and recycled, but will degrade and disappear in a short timescale", he said.


Need for international regulatory harmonisation in trade of genetically modified foods

Regulating the trade of genetically modified foods
Author: P.S. Mehta
Publisher: Consumer Unity and Trust Society, India, 2008

Full text of document:

The need for international regulatory harmonisation for balancing global trade in biosafety and biotechnology products has been the focus of attention among various stakeholders both at the national and international level. There are three agreements claiming to be rule-making bodies, which include the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Agreements, the Cartagena Biodiversity Protocol, Codex Alimentarious that address the products, including its trans-boundary movements.

The author of this short paper argues that although all the three agreements are relevant, their objectives differ, which have resulted in constant conflicts among divergent approaches in some respect or the other. In no case, till date, is there a clear hierarchy of regimes established, leaving enormous ambiguity among governments, producers and consumers about the definitive global rules vis-ż-vis the regulation of Genetically Modified (GM) foods and crops.

This paper considers:

US-EU Biotech Trade Dispute

growing Ambiguity and Its Implications

towards International Regulatory Harmonisation

The document concludes that lack of conclusive scientific evidence on the actual or potential impact of GM foods on human health and environment will prolong this debate, leaving enormous ambiguity among governments, producers and consumers about the definitive global rules vis-ż-vis the regulation of GM foods and crops.


Trade war brewing over US biofuel subsidies
EU producers demand duties on 'splash and dash' imports

The Guardian (UK). By David Gow.

Brussels -- European biodiesel producers triggered a fresh transatlantic trade war yesterday by urging the EU to impose punitive duties on cheap imports from the US.

Low-priced imports of biofuels, as part of the so-called "splash and dash" trade, are putting many European producers out of business, the industry group claims.

Their American rivals immediately hit back by urging the federal government to take action against any protective measures for the European industry. The row comes as oil prices have risen to new highs this week, close to $120 (£60) a barrel, and world food prices have surged partly as a result of pressure on land from biofuel production.

The European Biodiesel Board (EBB) said it had lodged a complaint with the European commission over competition from the US that was putting EU producers out of business. It wants duties on "B99" biodiesel exports (biodiesel with 1% petroleum diesel), claiming they are unfairly subsidised and then dumped in the EU, where they can win new subsidies.

US biodiesel exports are subsidised by up to $300 a tonne. Some trading firms have also been shipping biofuels to the US, where they add a "splash" of mineral diesel to qualify for the subsidy and then send the fuel back to the EU. These exports have risen dramatically since last year, causing what the EBB calls "severe injury" to European producers.

This month D1 Oils, a leading but loss-making UK producer, said it would shut all its British refining operations as a direct result of cheap imports. D1 said the economics of the business were now so poor that it would be lucky to make much on the disposal of its sites.

Elliott Mannis, D1 Oils' chief executive, said it was "extremely frustrating" that the company had been forced to bow out of refining because nothing had been done to stop the deluge of B99 biodiesel from the US. "It's an unbelievable situation and there is no end in sight," he added.

Brussels sources indicated the EBB had a strong case on the face of it. It is understood that Peter Mandelson, the EU trade commissioner, and Susan Schwab, the US federal trade envoy, have held talks on the issue, but failed to reach a deal.

Mandelson's spokesman said: "We've had extensive contacts with the EBB over several months. We're glad that they have finally submitted their request and will examine it thoroughly ... We will not tolerate unfair trade."

But Manning Feraci, vice-president of federal affairs at the National Biodiesel Board in the US, said: "It is hypocritical for the EBB to cry foul while they benefit from a blatant trade barrier." EU biodiesel fuel specifications were discriminatory and breached World Trade Organisation rules, he said, threatening to lodge a counter-complaint with Schwab.

The EU and US are embroiled in several high-profile and long-standing trade wars, including over beef and poultry imports from the US, genetically modified seeds and foods and, above all, subsidies for the rival plane-makers Airbus and Boeing.

This latest row comes as the US is stepping up biodiesel production as an antidote to dependence on imported crude, while the EU is having second thoughts about its target of using biofuels for 10% of transport fuels by 2020 because of the impact on food prices and land use.

The commission has 45 days to examine the EBB complaint and a further nine months to impose provisional duties - unless Mandelson and Schwab, desperately but forlornly trying to revive the stalled Doha round of WTO talks on trade liberalisation, can cut a deal.


Struggling to find an appetite for cloned meat

New Scientist, 26 April 2008. By Sharon Oosthoek.

[Extract only]

LIVESTOCK auctions are not normally the stuff of headlines, but then it's not every day that cows as unusual as Dundee Paradise and Dundee Paratrooper are going under the hammer. The dairy cows were due to be sold at Easter Compton cattle market near Bristol, UK, last month, but at the last minute their owner withdrew them, reportedly unsettled by negative media coverage and local opposition.

The problem? The cows' mother was a clone, conceived in a laboratory from a cell taken from the ear of a prize-winning Holstein in Wisconsin. "A cow created in Frankenstein's lab," as one local newspaper put it.

This episode was one of the opening skirmishes in what is shaping up to be a battle on par with that over genetically modified food. This time the issue is the production of meat and milk from cloned animals.

On one side are the livestock ...

Read the article.


Unnecessary need

New Scientist, 26 April 2008.

Deborah Keith of Syngenta quickly reveals a key reason why multinational corporations like Syngenta are by their nature ill-equipped to contribute usefully to discussions of global agriculture and food security (5 April, p 17). She refers, without comment, to "the increased demand for meat that comes with rising incomes". It is understandable that such a company will see everything in terms of meeting (and implicitly encouraging) a need, but the need itself must be called into question. No company with a vested interest in promoting such needs is likely to offer arguments as to why those needs might be insupportable, or suggest strategies for reducing them.

Meat, for example, and particularly red meat, is not something that humans need in any quantity at all, especially in the developed world where so many other dietary options are available. Its consumption is - as Keith acknowledges - mostly symbolic of affluence and status. It is a luxury the planet can no longer afford.

It will be a formidable challenge to change cultural assumptions and aspirations to acknowledge this, but change they must. Return that grain now committed to feeding animals to its best application - as food for people - and there would be more than enough for everyone and no need for genetically modified contrivances.

Rather than merely seeking to meet increased "needs" of this kind - an equation that can never balance - we need scientists, and communities at large, to challenge the needs themselves. If companies such as Syngenta are incapable of doing that, as Keith's arguments demonstrate, those discussions are much better off without them.


Kenya: Biosafety Bill gives consumers and farmers more powers

Africa Science News Service, 26 April 2008. By Dancun Mboyah.

The recent publication of the amended Biosafety Bill 2007 that is due for tabling in parliament has now given consumers and farmers more voice to protect their interest as the country gears to legalize the use of genetically modified foods.

In the new amended Bill, the number of consumers and farmers representatives in the National Biosafety Authority has been increased to 2 each from the earlier recommended one.

According to the National Council of Science and Technology (NCST), the new Bill has also created compensation fund that will take care of damages to any person for any injury caused to him, his property or any of his interests.›

The period within which the authorities communicate to such a person upon receiving his or her complains has been reduced from 270 days to 150 days.›

Among other raft of amendments are those giving the Minister in charge of science and technology powers to make regulations that will govern identifications of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

› The Bill also seeks to create is the National Biosafety Authority that will be responsible for suing, entering into contracts and doing all acts necessary for the proper performance of its functions.›

The authority will take over the role of the National Biosafety Committee (NBC) that is currently involved in overseeing work around GMOs.›

The Bill is now with the Attorney General, who is expected to publish it in the Kenya Gazette before it is taken to parliament for enactment.›

"We are waiting for the formation of agriculture committee in parliament so that the Bill could be presented for deliberations after 21 days of its publishing in the official government gazette," says Mr. Harrison Macharia of NCST.

In the meantime the council is in the process of engaging legislators in embrace on them to fast tracking the Bills enactment.›

Late last year, President Mwai Kibaki dissolved parliament on the very day the voting on the bill was expected to be made into law.

Earlier the bill had gone through the two mandatory readings where it sailed through without a hitch.

› Dr. Margaret Karembu, the Director of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) says the Bill will provide a framework for handling or doing research on biotechnology products.

› "With the law in place, sneaking of GMO products into the country will be impossible as it will safeguard against the risks to human health and the environment."›

Once passed into law, the Bill will help regulate GMOs in the country, making Kenya the second country in Africa (after South Africa) to have a biosafety law in place as required by the Cartegena protocol.›

Likewise, the enactment of the Bill will give scientists at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) authority to conduct open field trials on GMO crops such as maize, sweet potato, cassava and cotton.

› KARI scientists have already conducted successful research under confined fields in maize and cotton and are now waiting for the Bill to become law to do so in open fields.›

Although the technology has generated a lot of controversy, scientists say GMO science is a major innovation of the 21st century and is expected to be a powerful tool against disease, hunger, poverty and environmental degradation.

› They argue that delay to pass the Bill is counterproductive since the country had many qualified scientists on biotechnology who have already in search of greener pastures elsewhere.

› According to them, biotechnology is, by and large, a science that could lead to social, economic, ethical and legal opportunities and risks like any other.›

"African Biotechnology Stakeholders Forum (ABSF) endorsed the use of appropriate agricultural genetically modification because of its conviction that it offers higher yields and better ways of crop and livestock husbandry to farmers", says Prof. Norah Olembo, the organization's Executive Director.

› She says that genetically improved foods provide higher nutritional value and better taste for consumers.

› ABSF maintains that the safety of genetic modification and its products must be insured through tight scientific scrutiny and strong regulatory policies, she says.

› The Chief Executive of the Seed Trade Association of Kenya (STAK) Mr. Obongo Nyachae says that the enactment of the bill will be beneficial to some seed companies that will be involved in processing and marketing of GMOs seeds.

› Due to the increased movement of seeds across the porous border, the Bill is the only safeguard for traditional seeds as it will stop contamination.

› The government recently suspended the sale of maize from South Africa, after lab results presented by civil society groups indicated that samples of the maize were contaminated by MON810, a seed variety that is believed to be genetically modified.›

Dr. Chagema Kedera, Director of the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS), said the government would be conducting additional testing to prove whether the claims are true.››


25 April 2008

European Parliament: Opinions differ on causal link between strict GMO authorisation policy and high price of feed

Agence Europe, 25 April 2008.

Brussels -- On Wednesday 23 April in Strasbourg, the European Parliament was divided over the link of cause and effect between the EU's strict policy for authorising genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and the difficulties currently encountered by farmers raising cattle, pigs and poultry for obtaining animal feed.

Speaking on behalf of the committee on agriculture and rural development, British Conservative Struan Stevenson (who replaced the committee chairman, Neil Parish, at the beginning of the oral question) stressed that pig and poultry farmers are not subsidised by EU farm aid and that it is therefore necessary to ensure they have access to competitive feed around the world at competitive prices. In Europe, "we take over two years on average to license a perfectly safe GM product", he bemoaned, citing the example of Herculex maize for which it took 33 months to conclude Community marketing procedure compared to 15 in the United States. "There is no excuse for this. With food prices and costs for the poultry and pig industry both rising, we cannot afford this time delay in licensing feed. We have to speed things up", he said.

Mr Stevenson denounced the EU's "zero tolerance" policy on the chance presence of GMOs which has resulted in "dramatically reducing the amount of non-GM feed coming into the EU". He took the example of a cargo of non-GMO soya loaded onto a vessel in Brazil to be transported to the EU. There is the risk that a tiny trace of transgenic soya contaminates the crates of GMO-free soya at the time of loading in the port in Brazil. Once the vessel arrives at the EU port, although this tiny trace of GMO soya is in the soya cargo that is not supposed to contain GMOs, the whole cargo is sent back to Brazil, Mr Stevenson explains.

Unlike Esther De Lange of the Netherlands, who spoke on behalf of the EPP Group, Bernadette Bourzai (PES, France) challenged the link of cause and effect established between the zero tolerance principle on GMOS and the considerable rise in the price of foodstuffs.

Speaking on behalf of the PES, she said this considerable rise in foodstuff prices is due to several factors combined: a fall in supply due to extreme climatic incidents and the development of biofuels, a rise in demand from emerging countries, and, above all, the unprecedented development of stock exchange speculation on farm markets. "Furthermore, this rise concerns all countries including those that have very flexible legislation on GMOs such as the United States", she commented. It is, however, true that European farmers are experiencing "great difficulty" due to the EU's "great dependence" on massive imports of animal feed. In order to reduce this dependence, Ms Bourzai suggests two roads of action: 1) "do everything" to safeguard the last European crops of dried fodder and high protein crops; 2) reflect on ways to diversify supply sources. There is a supply of non-GMO feed in third countries. "I would finally like to point out that most European citizens are asking for the right to procure food products free of GMOs", she concluded, requesting modification of the labeling rules for meat from animals fed with GMO feed in order to respect consumers' rights.

Caroline Lucas, of Britain, said on behalf of the Greens/EFA Group, that the attempt to establish a link between the rise in feed and EU rules on GMOs is "completely false and disingenuous". She sought to give reassurance by referring to a report from DG Agriculture which, according to the worst scenario, provides for Brazil to rapidly market a variety of transgenic soya which is not approved in the EU. There is no proof that Brazil is contemplating doing this, however. Jean-Pierre Audy (EPP-ED, France) pointed out that the EU is greatly dependent on imports of protein-rich feed. He also said that the quality of our customs system has deteriorated greatly.

The Commission acknowledges that asynchronous approvals of GMOS can represent a problem for the availability and cost of feed imports, said Androulla Vassiliou, European Health Commissioner. The Commission's efforts are targeted at addressing some of the key factors behind this issue, both at internal level, through the authorisation of new GMOs in the full respect of the EU legislative framework, and at international level, through discussions with major trading partners.

The Commission recalled that it had recently adopted the authorisation of GA21 maize, which will facilitate imports with the advantageous presence of this GM even from Argentina. Also, the Commission is to suggest that the Council accept a genetically modified soya that should open the way to further imports of cattle feed.

Ireland: Kevin Myers fails logic test on GM

Irish Independent, letter to the editor, 25 April 2008.

I am surprised to see that Kevin Myers did not apply the logic he advocates in his article in support of GM food production (Irish Independent, April 23) to his own analysis.

If he is worried that human intervention would disrupt the wonderful natural working of the market (which he describes as "nature at its purest"), how much more concerned should he be about human intervention in plan's' DNA and the widespread use of GM seeds in open-field for GM food production.

As he sharply points out, the consequences of interfering with the laws of nature are "too complex and unpredictable" for "anyone to manage."

Nathalie Lerendu-Brand
Rutledge Terrace
Dublin 8


UK: Food Miles professor calls for shift in food culture at Real Food debate

Farmers Weekly Interactive, 25 April 2008. By Julian Gairdner.

Food Miles professor Tim Lang has called for a dramatic shift in the world's attitude to food consumption and production and slammed genetically modified food as promising too much.

Speaking at the Real Food debate at Earls Court, London last night, Prof Lang said it was beginning to dawn on people that something significant needed to change if the world was to feed itself over the next century.

Responding to concerns about rising food prices and tightening supplies, he said: "The debate is being dominated by a crisis mentality. The myth is there isn't enough food to feed people. There is plenty but it is maldistributed."

But while there had been food shortages before, this time something more significant had changed, he believed. "We've had crises before. It's perfectly plausible to argue this is a temporary shift. But the reason most of us think that is wrong is because the new landscape is about eight fundamentals."

Eight fundamentals

The eight fundamentals were, he said: Land, labour, energy (oil), water, demographics, health/nutrition (including diet changes to more meat and dairy consumption), climate change, and price/cost.

It was too simplistic to take one or two of these in isolation he told Farmers Weekly after the debate. "We've got to have a policy framework addressing all these fundamentals. The difficulty is what to do. The danger is people are looking for instant easy solutions. Complex problems don't have simple solutions, they have complex multi-layered solutions."

GM food, he claimed, was not the answer. "There's a probability of GM offering a solution to what it cannot resolve. It cannot resolve water and energy shortages. It cannot resolve health. It cannot resolve the impacts of climate change. It might tweak a bit here and there. GM is a side issue. It doesn't address the real fundamentals. Most uses of GM are to preserve the agrochemical market."

Food policy makers at global, regional, national and local level were beginning to address the subtleties of what needed to happen, Prof Lang said.

But, he added, the devolved administrations of the UK had got a much better grasp of this than Gordon Brown's government. The prime minister needed to concentrate on resolving some of the fundamentals at home rather than talking about global poverty.

"The British food system is operating as though we have six planets - six times our ecological footprint. There's a lot of waste. We have not got the planet space to feed the world like the British do. We now know the brutal indicators for the future, but we're just fiddling›while Rome burns."

Local not organic

Cheap food is not cheap. Society pays twice thanks to the "political system, subsidies and policies", says environmental campaigner Zac Goldsmith. ›

"We pay £250m a year to clear pesticides out of water. If you had an even playing field where the polluter pays, you would find the so-called niche food we have today would not be quite so niche." ›

But, he said, that did not necessarily mean organic. "I cannot understand why the government isn't putting more into local food. We sell as much poultry meat to the Netherlands as we buy from the Netherlands - that's madness. We should have a bias of bringing the food economy home wherever possible." ›

› And he added: "The moment the government recognises we need to follow a policy of food security, we've got it made - everything else falls into place."


UK: Food festival begins on downbeat note as experts warn of world shortage

The Guardian, 25 April 2008.

Global food shortages are a problem "greater than climate change," a panel of leading food industry and environmental experts warned last night.

The audience gathered for a debate on the nature of Britain's food culture at the Real Food festival was forced into sombre reflection as it was told the days of cheap western produce had gone, unlikely to return anytime soon.

Food policy expert Professor Tim Lang frequently stressed he was an optimist ā but said the mood among his colleagues was universally grim.

"We are entering a new paradigm, a new era. And when I have to think about the issues we are facing, I am very sober ā indeed."

Waitrose's managing director, Mark Price, went further, describing the rapid impact of changes in agriculture such as switching food crops for biofuel: "We can't feed the planet the way we are growing, the way we are eating. It's a much bigger issue than climate change."

It had started gently enough. Delegates joining the discussion were treated to some pondering on the meaning of "real" food, a little well-natured Delia and Jamie-bashing and questioning of the benefits of the upsurge in TV "gastroporn".

London's Earls Court conference hall had been transformed into a giant farmer's market for the four-day festival ā crammed with beautifully rustic stalls of "welfare-friendly veal," organic wines and beers, £4 bottles of olive oil, handmade cheeses and children's sweets made from goat's milk.

Some people attending the debate apologised for late arrival, admitting "quaffing champagne and oysters" as the reason for their tardiness.

But the banner bearing the name of benefiting charity Action Against Hunger hanging above the panel was always going to be a reminder of the more pressing matter hovering over all ā and some rather guilty middle-class self-examination.

Panel chair, food journalist and presenter Richard Johnson, burst the bubble: "I can walk around here today and get a £35/lb jamon Iberico [cured Spanish ham]. But are we just fiddling while Rome burns? Do we have the right priorities?" he asked, referring to the recent food riots which have ripped around the globe from Haiti and Thailand to Africa and Mexico and a week in which the prime minister, Gordon Brown, called for international action on food prices.

"It's a myth that there's not enough food. There's plenty of food to go around, there's more than enough to feed the world's population. It's simply maldistribution," Lang said.

An adviser to the government's Commission on Sustainable Development and the World Health Organisation, Lang and others say the current crisis was triggered by eight different factors.

One of these is the historic relationship between modern food production and distribution and cheap oil ā in transportation, packing and fertilisers - a marriage now obviously under strain.

"It shows the impact of industrialisation, the shedding of our connection with the land," he said. Although he and Price differed on the ability of the world to feed itself, they agreed on the impact of booming populations, emerging nations and changes in eating behaviour ā the so-called "nutrition transition".

The Waitrose head cited the surge in demand for meat and dairy produce, saying by current rates, in a few decades "80% of the world's meat will need to go to China."

The audience had been bombarded with bleak facts ā the worst food crisis since the world wars, a doubling in the price of rice and wheat, another 3 billion people estimated to arrive at the world's table by 2040. People started to look a little queasy.

"So what are the solutions?" asked Richard Johnson. Is growing your own a realistic option for most people? Trudie Styler, wife of rock star Sting and ardent organic grower, thought so, but admitted "It's easier for me, I live on a farm."

"The future has a large question mark over it. But there's a simple solution," said environmentalist and Conservative party green adviser Zac Goldsmith, stating a need for sustainable agriculture and for consumers and authorities to support local producers over imported goods.

A comment from the floor demonstrated how political food had become.

"I appreciate what you and Trudie say. But I'm from Peckham - and I'm not sure who my local producer is," said a woman.

Price concluded the likelihood of GM food entering the UK was highly likely "whether we liked it or not." Lang predicted "a rapid acceleration, a new era in the manner we measure and judge food" ā saying a water footprint would become equally important as its carbon equivalent.

Even jovial celebrity chef Giorgio Locatelli was pushed into contemplation, defending the role of supermarkets as playing an essential role in ordinary people's diets and lives but admitted "people will have to become more and more aware of what they are putting into their mouths."

Action Against Hunger ambassador Bill Knott had the last word. "The well furnished table has long been the hallmark of great civilisations, but there's millions for whom food is a necessity, not just a luxury."

The Real Food Festival runs until April 27th


Seedstocks: Cartels Gain Control of Means of Life

Executive Intelligence Review (USA), 25 April 2008.

The current drive by global "free market" cartels to control the means of life through control of patented seedstocks goes back some 40 years. So today's promising biotechnology and genetic engineering breakthroughs are being nipped in the bud by the imperial cartels, as pliant regulators and lawmakers codify that control. The World Trade Organization was spawned out of the 1994 Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) to act as enforcer. The WTO's website boasts that it is "the only global international body dealing with the rules of trade between nations."

The U.S. tradition, under natural law, has been to not patent plants or livestock. As part of that tradition, in the 1920s and 1930s, Henry A. Wallace, founder of Pioneer Hy Bred and FDR's first Secretary of Agriculture, for example, explicitly stated opposition to any form of patenting of seeds.

But in the post-war years, with the "free marketeers" chiseling away at the general welfare protections of the Roosevelt era, five conglomerates came to dominate world seedstocks: Cargill, Monsanto, Dow, Bayer, and Syngenta.

The first time any plants were given protection as intellectual property was under the 1930 Plant Patent Act (PPA). This act was designed to protect nurseries and breeders who produced mainly ornamental plants, such as asexually reproduced flowers, and some fruits. The Plant Patent Act did not offer the more strict protection of an industrial patent, but it did protect specific varieties that were created and claimed by the inventor, by restricting others from marketing his variety. The 1930 act specifically prohibited the patenting of any food crop plants, recognizing that these patents could threaten the food supply.

In 1970, the first version of the Plant Variety Protection Act (PVPA) was introduced, which greatly expanded protection to all plants that were distinct and new. This was not a patent, but merely a certificate, which gave protection to specific varieties of crop seeds for the first time, for periods of up to 25 years. Under the PVPA of 1970, farmers and breeders could save and replant protected seed, resell it, and carry out research using it.

In 1980, the U.S. Supreme Court made a landmark decision in Diamond v. Chakrabarty, ruling that living organisms could be patented. The decision allowed the patenting of genetically engineered microbes, which opened the door to the patenting of any life form.

In 1985, the U.S. Patent Office ruled that plants could now be protected under the powerful industrial patent. The industrial patent does not have any exemptions for farmers or for research, so any use of a patented plant or seed without specific license from the patent holder would be considered violation of the patent. This patent decision is the basis for the new weapon to control agricultural production and research that the cartels have pushed to the limit.

In 1994, the PVPA was amended in accordance with the regulations under the GATT. The changes to the act made it illegal for farmers to resell or exchange any seed of protected crops. The GATT agreement also forces the developing nations to recognize the patents and protections on plants and living organisms held by other GATT member countries. This allows the cartels to deny developing countries' farmers access to advanced biotechnology, and instead forces them to pay huge licensing fees to use any patented seeds.


Agriculture: What is Really Causing 'Agflation'?

IPS, 25 April 2008. By Mario Osava.

RIO DE JANEIRO -- The old laws of the marketplace are no longer working. Food priceshave been rising for six years because of surging demand, and increased production is not restoring the balance as it used to in the past. In fact, prices have been going up even faster over the last year.

The so-called "financialisation" of commodities markets, that is, the influx of investment funds seeking safer and more lucrative assets, has intensified the trend and "at the moment impinges more than the law of supply and demand," said analyst Fernando Muraro of AgRural, a consultancy firm in Brazil.

There is no way to measure the influence of speculative forces on "agflation," the new term coined to describe inflation provoked by the agricultural sector, he said.

But the role of speculation is undeniable, as commodities funds are involved in 40 percent of the futures and option contracts at the Chicago Stock Exchange, the highest proportion ever. Ten million tons of soybeans were bought in March 2007, compared to 21 million tons last month, Muraro pointed out to IPS.

There is a global excess of dollars, and holders are transferring them to markets and products wherever sustained price increases indicate good prospects for making profits, he said.

José Graziano da Silva, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) regional representative for Latin America and the Caribbean, echoed Muraro's views in a statement prior to the FAO regional conference, held Apr. 14-18 in Brasilia.

The rising price of food, which exacerbates hunger in the world, is the result of "a speculative attack," he said.

Agricultural prices rose between 2002 and 2006 due to higher food consumption in developing countries, and to crop losses over that period, but since 2007 financial speculation has been responsible for most of the price inflation, according to Graziano da Silva.

In contrast, Sergio Vale, a consultant with MB Asociados, said "it's not true that a financial bubble exists for agricultural commodities." The price increases are "concretely based" on sustained growth of demand in China, India and other Asian countries, as well as in Latin America, he told IPS.

This is a "structural, long term trend," due to greater consumption as incomes have risen in several poor populations, reduction of supply caused by climate problems, and the diversion of several crops, like maize and soybeans, to biofuel production, he said.

Financial participation in the commodities market creates "greater volatility," making prices rise and fall more sharply, but "it is not the decisive factor" in the price increases, he said.

As an example, Vale mentioned the temporary fall in prices of primary products in mid-March because of investment capital flight, caused by the banking crisis in the United States, which nevertheless did not affect the continuing upward trend this year.

To blame the price rises on speculation "is foolish and unrealistic," because there are "clear, fundamental causes that are keeping prices high," said Ricardo Cota, technical manager for the Brazilian Confederation of Agriculture and Livestock (CNA), an association of large rural producers.

As well as expansion in demand, Cota said expensive oil-based fuels, the cost of farm inputs, which is also rising, and biofuels are among the fundamental causes of "the new levels of agricultural prices which we will have to learn to live with," given the problems of increasing food supply.

Brazil is an exception, in that it has plenty of land available to expand its agricultural frontier, but its inadequate logistical infrastructure, especially the limited capacity of its ports, stands in the way of a rapid increase in production and exports, he said.

Other limitations are the growing cost of fertilisers, soaring oil prices, and red tape. Ideological" pressure is also blocking progress in biotechnology aimed at boosting productivity by using genetically modified seeds, Cota said.

The cost of fertilisers has doubled since early 2007, and may rise further this year, but in spite of this the high prices of grains, especially maize and soybeans which account for 70 percent of Brazil's total grain production, still ensure healthy profits for farmers, Muraro said.

In his view, financialisation has accentuated the rise in commodity prices to "unprecedented levels," benefiting farmers but also giving them headaches because of the difficulty of setting prices for their produce.

"Prices are no longer set by supply, demand and climate," as they have been skewed by the mass entry of investment funds into the markets, he said.

Market analysis has become more complex, requiring "instruments that are more technical, professional and modern" in order to assess macroeconomic factors like exchange rates, interests and capital flows, Muraro added.

Environmental regulations are the main obstacles preventing a rapid increase in output to balance global demand and supply, he argued.

Flávio Turra, technical manager of the Organisation of Cooperatives of the State of Paraná (OCEPAR), said that financial speculation plays a "relatively small part" in determining prices, although "anyone following the market must always take into account the participation of investment funds."

Such flighty capital may accelerate trends, but the underlying price increases are basically due to shortages in world stocks and to the imbalance created by the steep increase in consumption in countries like China and, more recently, India, he said.

The swift rise in prices at present is also due to countries banning or surtaxing exports in order to control inflation and secure domestic food supplies, as Argentina has done in the case of wheat, he maintained.

Brazil has just suspended exports of government-owned rice, amounting to close to 1.5 million tons, although it has not imposed any export restrictions on the private sector. However, the quantity of rice that could be sold by private farmers would barely make a dent in the world shortage, he said.

Recovery of world food stocks may take five or six years, even with prices well above the historical average, Turra concluded.

One exception to the general upward trend in food prices is sugar. More than ample production is bringing retail prices down, in spite of Brazil's increased ethanol manufacturing and the fact that the food and biofuel sectors compete in this country for the same raw material, sugarcane.

This example contradicts the wave of accusations that biofuel production is to blame for sparking the food price crisis.


A World Hungry For Real Solutions

Press & Dakotan / Yangton Daily (USA), 25 April 2008. By Lisa Hare.

Recently, I was asked what I thought about the food riots taking place and my immediate response was, We should be rioting over fuel expenses. Consumers hearing of record high grain prices automatically link that to higher grocery store receipts, but what the vast majority doesn't understand about the increasing prices of food is, that money doesn't go to the farmers.

As the price of a barrel of crude oil hit a record price of $112 on futures markets last week, economists reported the energy factor is pushing up food transportation and production costs.

Although grain producers are faring better, profit forecasts for other major farm businesses -- particularly livestock production -- predict average net cash incomes to fall below those of 2007 with dairy, hog and cattle operations taking the biggest hits. At this point, with doubling and tripling input costs, farmers are simply trading bigger dollars, and in some cases taking even less to the bank.

Locally, farmers are gearing up for planting. For many, it's the best time of year -- all the possibilities still lie ahead.

But with short grain reserves, world-wide; acknowledgment of the potential impacts of global climate change; increasing world population and higher demands placed on already-pressured resources of soil and water, the bigger picture of the important role of agriculture is more evident than ever before.

Famine is a word we're seeing more and more now.

Most of us here in the U.S. have led mostly privileged lives where the word "famine" is both historic and foreign. It carries biblical connotations, implying something ancient and long-gone, like the practice of animal sacrifice and public stoning.

Or it is associated with those unfortunate souls born to undeveloped nations, like the children in Africa we know only on TV -- bony limbs, distended bellies, flies circling.

If we want to find the real culprit behind food price increases contributing to global hunger and increased threat of famine -- food riots -- we need to look further than the domestic farmer.

We can look to the petroleum conglomerates that provide the fertilizers, insecticides, fungicides and fuel upon which world-trading, industrialized agriculture is dependent. We can thank the biotech industry driving genetically modified (GM) crops that, by no accident, further feeds the petroleum industry by producing crops that are genetically dependent upon these petroleum-based products.

There's a common argument now that we need GMO crops to feed the world -- without it, we won't have high enough yields to match demand. But studies are showing the converse is actually true. The more input-dependent crops we use, the more inputs are required to maintain the same yields as soil quality diminishes and carbon emissions increase. So relying on the necessity of exogenous, purchased inputs to produce food cannot solve, or keep up with, the culminating problems that have us using the word "famine" more.

To think that our technological advances can usurp environmental issues is like using a gold-plated, digitally-enhanced, hydrolic-lift bucket to dip water from a well that's running dry. We've got lots of bucket men out there -- very powerful, convincing ones -- promoting the improved efficiencies and superior quality and absolute necessity of the golden buckets. And while we all clamor for ways and means to acquire more and bigger buckets to draw our fair share of the water, we remain blind to the reality of the true issue, which is the limits of the well.


Thomas Kostigen's Ethics Monitor:
A New Look At Genetically Modified Organisms

Dow Jones Newswire, 25 April 2008.

SANTA MONICA, Calif. -- The price of rice is so high that Sam's Club is limiting the amount people can buy.

As the food crisis worsens around the world, even reaching now the very top of the food chain -- people in the United States -- drastic measures are being taken. Meanwhile, solutions are being scavenged at the very bottom: genetically modified organism (GMOs) are being looked at anew.

GMOs can be all sorts of things: plants, animals -- even us, under the true definition of the label. Anything whose construct has been re-engineered from that which is natural becomes genetically engineered, or "modified."

The engineering I am referring to has to do with seeds and plants. They in turn become the biggest source of food on the planet: agricultural products. Typically agricultural products are engineered to be more resistant to pests or environmental conditions or to grow more quickly and bountifully.

The good things about GMOs are that you can grow more using less land in shorter amounts of time and in adverse conditions. The bad things about GMOs are their unforeseen consequences: What's their effect on biodiversity? (For example, will GMO crops corrupt the pollination of other varieties and species?) And, well, what's the effect of GMO food on us?

As the world is running short of food, more attention is being given to GMOs to perhaps save the day. Indeed, on Monday, The New York Times reported: " Soaring food prices and global grain shortages are bringing new pressures on governments, food companies and consumers to relax their longstanding resistance to genetically engineered crops."

Businesses such as Monsanto (MON), DuPont (DD) and Cargill, among others, stand to gain the most because they are the biggest producers of genetically modified products. Monsanto said its quarterly profit more than doubled due largely to corn seed sales. DuPont's quarterly profit rose more than 25%, and Cargill's profit reportedly soared 86% on demand for its products.

Trade policy should address the concerns of developing nations that are forced to rely on GM products to feed their people, yet are then held virtually hostage to these producers. Some GM seed licenses expire, meaning farmers are forced to buy from the same company over and over. In other cases GM seeds have been reported to infect farmland preventing other, natural strains from being grown.

Profiting on the poor

It isn't fair that big companies will profit off the world's most vulnerable, poor and starving -- and not because of free markets but because of unfair markets.

Many countries in Europe and Africa have opposed GM products, much to the chagrin of manufacturers in the U.S. The opposition even spawned a controversial ruling two years ago by the World Trade Organization that the European Union broke trade rules by barring GM foods (dubbed "Frankenfoods" by many Europeans) and seeds. This, many claim, opened the door for the U.S. to force African nations to accept GM imports. "Politically, I think it is very clear that the U.S. will try and use this case to force GMOs into African markets. American industry is already saying that the result is a signal to the rest of the world. They are implying that while the EU may be able to resist an outlawing of national bans on GMOs, developing countries will not and will have to open their markets," Reuters quoted Daniel Mittler, trade adviser at Greenpeace International, as saying at the time.

The world may be even more out of balance now when it comes to food and agriculture prices. That doesn't mean fair trade has to be tossed too. This is the time when we need it most. If you thought the oil dilemma was bad -- wait until the food crisis really kicks in.

Sure, there will be ample room for companies to profit -- just like the oil companies have done. But companies responsible for people's lives through the seeds they provide should look at responsibility differently.

GMOs can hold great benefits. However, they must be sold and distributed with a sense of conscience, or not at all.


Green Genes

Science magazine, 25 April 2008. By Laura M. Zahn, Pamela J. Hines, Elizabeth Pennisi, John Travis.

The finished sequences of the flowering plants Arabidopsis, rice, poplar, and grape; the moss Physcomitrella, and the algae Chlamydomonas have begun to allow us to understand how plant genomes share common ground with the genomes of other organisms and how they differ. In this special section, along with an online collection (, we see how current knowledge of plant genomes lends insights to investigations from biochemistry to ecosystems. Taking a comparative view of plant genomes, DellaPenna and Last (p. 479) consider how metabolic pathways are encoded in the genomes and are derived from a complex evolutionary history. Leitch and Leitch (p. 481) discuss why polyploidy is so common in plants and its evolutionary and ecological consequences. Gaut and Ross-Ibarra (p. 484) examine the evolutionary constraints on a plant's genome, with a particular focus on how genomes enlarge or shrink without changing their number of chromosomes. Tang et al. (p. 486) look at the consequences of these changes over time and how to uncover genomic changes through the examination of synteny and collinearity. Zhang (p. 489) examines the genomic landscape of epigenetics in plants. In an ecological context, Whitham et al. (p. 492) explore how the genome of a single keystone species affects interactions across communities and ecosystems. Benfey and Mitchell-Olds (p. 495) examine gene regulation from a systems network perspective and consider how natural variation and environmental inputs affect the phenotype of an individual.

Plant genomics also brings the promise of improving crops through transgenic manipulations. But genetically modified (GM) plants have teetered between success and failure, with ethical and regulatory challenges, as well as public concerns. On p. 466 and in the online collection, Youngsteadt lays out the stats on the world's GM harvests. While GM corn and soybeans have proliferated, golden rice, engineered to combat malnutrition, has languished, Enserink reports (p. 468). As Stokstad points out (p. 472), GM papaya still struggles for worldwide acceptance, even after 10 years on the market.

Two teams have deciphered the grape's genetic code, but whether GM wine will be accepted is a lingering question, says Travis (p. 475). Kintisch explores how plant genomics can advance biofuel agriculture (p. 478). Finally, Kaiser describes how some researchers bent on using GM plants to make human proteins and other pharmaceutical products are moving indoors to allay safety concerns (p. 473).

In addition to these overviews, see the associated Editorial by Fedoroff and the Science Careers article by Williams, as well as reports by Field and Osbourn (p. 543), Baerenfaller et al. (, and Dinneny et al. ( Given what has been learned so far from a variety of plant genomes, we eagerly look ahead to a growing field.

[For page reference links go to


24 April 2008

Biotech Bets on Agrofuels

Americas Program, Center for International Policy, 24 April 2008. By Carmelo Ruiz Marrer.

Extract only: see full article:

There is a new participant in the international deliberations on global warming and agrofuels: the biotechnology industry. The corporate giants of the genetics industry propose new technologies, including genetically modified trees, second generation cellulosic ethanol, and synthetic biology, to wean society off fossil fuels and fight climate change.

The implications for Latin America are breathtaking. The biotechnology industry's massive move into the energy sector brings together major social and ecological issues in the region, such as agrofuel promotion, genetically modified (GM) crops, and the growth of agribusiness monocultures. Latin American civil society's aspirations of land reform, environmental protection, alternatives to neoliberalism, and food and energy sovereignty, are at stake.

Biotechnology companies have become some of the main movers in promoting the use of farm crops like corn, soy, and sugar cane to make fuel for motor vehicles. Faced with increasing public resistance to human consumption of their GM crops, the biotech industry sees its salvation in the production of GM agrofuels.

By portraying GM crops as the answer to climate change and resource depletion caused by fossil fuels, they hope to cast a more favorable light on biotech plants.

They have a lot at stake: Monsanto, for example, obtains 60% of its revenue from the sale of GM seeds. Riding the tide of the biofuels boom, Monsanto and other companies hope to avoid the human health concerns associated with GM food crops and open up a whole new area of profit from the global warming crisis.

Public Sentiment Against GM Crops

GM organisms contain genetic codes (genomes) that have been altered by genetic engineeringůan unprecedented procedure that creates genetic combinations not possible in nature. The main GM products in the U.S. market are corn and soy, which have been genetically modified for resistance to herbicides (usually Monsanto's Roundup) or to pests (known as Bt crops). These crops are used mostly to feed farm animals and to make additives (such as sweeteners and starch) present in most processed foods.

In spite of the upbeat propaganda of the biotechnology companies, broad sectors of society reject GM products, claiming they are neither safe nor necessary. Thousands of protesters from all over the world swamped three United Nations events that took place in southern Brazil almost simultaneously in March 2006: the biennial conferences of the Biodiversity Convention and the Biosafety Protocol, and the World Conference on Agrarian Reform and Local Development. Prominent among their demands was a ban on GM crops.

As the meetings and protests took place, activists of the MST, Brazil's landless people's movement, seized a farm in the state of Parana where the Syngenta biotechnology corporation had illegally planted GM corn and soy in the buffer zone of the IguaŃu National Park. On Oct. 21, 2007 armed gunmen violently evicted them, wounding many and murdering 34 year-old Valmir "Keno" Mota de Oliveira, father of three. The MST, VŐa Campesina, and countless civil society organizations in Brazil have condemned these acts. They demand that Syngenta take responsibility for the killing, that it be held accountable for its environmental violations, close down its experimental plot, and leave the country.

In February 2007, farmers and animal herders, representatives of civil society groups, social movements, and environmentalists from 17 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Europe met in Mali to discuss food and farming issues. Together they issued the Bamako Declaration, which, among other things, categorically says NO to genetically modified organisms.

The Bamako Declaration was part of the preparatory process for the World Forum for Food Sovereignty, which took place that same week in Mali. Over 500 men and women from more than 80 countries, and representing organizations of peasants/family farmers, fisherfolk, indigenous peoples, landless peoples, rural workers, migrants, pastoralists, forest communities, women, youth, consumers, and environmental and urban movements, drafted the Nyeleni Declaration.

The declaration rejects GM foods: (We fight against) "technologies and practices that undercut our future food-producing capacities, damage the environment, and put our health at risk. These include transgenic crops and animals, terminator technology, industrial aquaculture and destructive fishing practices, the so-called White Revolution of industrial dairy practices, the so-called 'old' and 'new' Green Revolutions, and the "Green Deserts" of industrial bio-fuel monocultures and other plantations."

In March 2008, around 300 women of the MST destroyed a nursery of GM corn seedlings belonging to Monsanto in the southern Brazilian state of São Paulo to protest the government's biosafety council's approval of plantings of GM corn. In the days that followed, some 1,500 women protested in front of several Syngenta properties in the state of Parana. See rest of article:


Mexico: Native land recovery leader wins 'Green Nobel'

IPS News Via Acquire Media NewsEdge, 24 April 2008.

MEXICO CITY -- Biotech corporations that developed genetically modified seeds are bribing authorities and carrying out costly advertising campaigns "in order to create monsters that attack life," said Jesús León Santos, an indigenous Mexican farmer.

The 42-year-old farmer, who has led land recovery projects inspired by traditional indigenous knowledge since he was 18, was awarded this year's Goldman Environmental Prize. The annual prize, known widely as the "Green Nobel," is given out by the U.S.-based Goldman Environmental Foundation on Apr. 14.

"We showed them that the cultivation techniques of our ancestors are the best and that they represent life. We are on the right path," León Santos said.

León Santos's program is active in an impoverished Mixteca indigenous region of the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, one of the most badly eroded areas of the world, according to the United Nations. The region also spews out large numbers of migrants.

The Mixteca Small Farmer Integral Development Center, headed by León Santos, has planted about 4 million trees in the area, while developing rainwater collection systems and promoting traditional crops. Some 400 indigenous families have benefited directly from the projects, in which many local residents actively participate.

Most important, they have revived the tradition of the "milpa," a style of agriculture developed by the pre-Hispanic cultures of southern Mexico and Central America, which helps keep soils fertile.

The Mixteca region covers parts of the states of Guerrero, Oaxaca and Puebla, in southern Mexico, and is home to Mixteca or ?uu savi Indians ("people of the rains"). In Oaxaca it extends across 16,000 square kilometers.

León Santos, who received an award of $150,000 with the Goldman Prize, was this year's representative for the North American region. The other regional winners were Pablo Fajardo and Luis Yanza of Ecuador, Feliciano dos Santos of Mozambique, Rosa Hilda Ramos of Puerto Rico, Marina Rikhvanova of Russia and Ignace Schops of Belgium.

Tierramérica recently asked León Santos to talk more about his work.

TIERRAMÉRICA: What does it mean to you and your organization to win the Goldman Prize?

JESÚS LEÓN SANTOS: It is the most important thing that has happened to me in a long time. This strengthens ties between us and other people working to conserve the environment, and makes us stronger. The $150,000 will go to a fund in my organization to continue developing our work. Imagine that! It represents the budget of an entire year. We manage some $100,000 that come from European organizations.

TA: To come up with and develop projects like yours in a poor area, with degraded land and high rates of emigration, is an uphill battle. How did you begin?

JLS: I became involved in this because when I was a boy I saw that we faced many difficulties. My parents sent me to look for firewood and I had to walk for hours and hours because it was very scarce. The trees had disappeared.

We wanted the Mixteca region to be green again, like it was in the past, but those were just words because we didn't know what to do. Then things became more clear, and 25 years later we see that we have achieved what we never imagined possible.

TA: What are the most evident changes?

JLS: Many people who come to the area where we work say that it's a paradise, but I point out to them that it is a paradise that has been created little by little. Today we enjoy the woods and the birds that for years we didn't hear singing because there were no trees. The soil is beginning to change. When one walks among the trees, the sound made by our feet on the leaves was something we had never heard before.

TA: What role did the pre-Hispanic techniques for cultivation and land conservation play in these achievements?

JLS: In addition to planting trees and creating ditches to collect rainwater, we pushed the recovery of traditional farming systems, the "milpa," which consists of planting maize, squash, beans and others on the same plot of land, using seeds from our own harvests, without buying anything. This improves fertility and keeps the soil from deteriorating.

Unlike monoculture planting, these systems not only provide a balanced diet but also conserve soil fertility. In the 1970s and 1980s, when fertilizers and improved seeds began to be used here, this traditional indigenous knowledge was left behind. But we have recovered it.

TA: The companies that produce genetically modified seeds are asking Mexico to allow its maize varieties to be planted here because they say they are much more productive. What do you think?

JLS: [Genetically modified] seeds can be monsters in comparison to what nature has created. We can't fool around with what is natural, and those companies are truly creating monsters that attack life, [attacking] not just the native seeds but also ourselves. What I'd tell the seed companies is that they carry out campaigns that are not ethical, because they lie and bribe governments.

TA: But each year there are more and more [genetically modified] crops in the world, and their promoters argue that this technology has come to stay.

JLS: To everyone who thinks that our ancient systems are just a matter of romantic ideals, we say that we are on the right path. What they are proposing is a disaster. When those modified seeds can no longer be controlled, they could cause a global catastrophe.

TA: How should this danger that you see be dealt with?

JLS: We have to do what they do: carry out campaigns. They have an incredible amount of money and can make their million-dollar propaganda, and at times even buy off the authorities to allow them to plant their crops. We have to work in a different way: convince the public and show them that what we are doing is producing and protecting life itself.

(* Originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network. Tierramérica is a specialized news service produced by IPS with the backing of the United Nations Development Program and the United Nations Environment Program.)


Greece extends ban on Monsanto Co. biotech maize seeds for another 2 years

Associated Press, 24 April 2008.

ATHENS, Greece (AP) - Greece on Wednesday renewed its ban on genetically modified maize produced by U.S. biotech giant Monsanto Co., expanding it to include 70 types of seed.

Agriculture Minister Alexandros Kondos said the three-year-old ban on the sale and cultivation of MON810 seeds was extended for two more years.

īThe new decision ... is based on the same solid scientific and legal basis (as the last one), but includes new scientific data and findings,™ Kondos said. īThese data concern a potential threat to human health and to the beekeeping industry.

Experts fear pollen from biotech crops, carried by bees, could adversely affect swarms. Greece has some 27,000 beekeepers and accounts for an estimated 16 percent of European Union honey production.

Despite pressure from the European Union, Greece has implemented and extended bans on the MON810 strain since April 2005. The initial ban included 17 types. īWe absolutely oppose the circulation of genetically modified organisms,™ Kondos said.

Kondos said the European Union should allow members states īenough time™ to assess the threat from the cultivation of genetically modified seeds.

Genetically modified crops are a touchy issue in the EU. The European Food Safety Authority ruled in 2004 that genetically modified products do not constitute a risk to human health or the environment.

But some EU governments _ including Austria, France, Greece, Luxembourg and Germany _ are wary of biotechnology and are fighting to keep the crops from their fields and out of their supermarkets.

īInternationally, there is no study showing that biotech products do not harm humans and the environment,™ Kondos said.

The Greek branch of Greenpeace staged a small protest Wednesday, urging Kondos to include biotech cotton seeds in its ban.


UK and Ireland: Debenhams bans unhealthy ingredients from cafés and restaurants, 24 April 2008.

Department store chain Debenhams today announced that it has banned a number of unhealthy ingredients in all of the food products served at its restaurants and cafés.

The group has removed all hydrogenated fats, genetically modified (GM) ingredients and artificial (azu) colours from the menus at the dining outlets at its 166 stores across the UK and Ireland.›

The move comes after Debenhams launched a £5m overhaul of its in-store restaurants earlier this year, including the update of interiors and menus.›

› Senior food and brand development manager Mark Kent said the move took months to implement.

"Banning hydrogenated fats, GM and azo colours has been on our agenda for some time but the logistics involved in banning every product which contains them are extensive," he said.


Study Based on Farmers' Experience Exposes Risks of GM Crops

Institute of Science in Society press release, 24 April 2008.

The first study of its kind in North America, possibly in the world, shows how the risks of GM technology outweigh the benefits especially in the longer term. Dr. Mae-Wan Ho.

Canada, along with the United States and Argentina were the first countries in the world to commercialise GM crops. But more than a decade later, risk assessment for GM crops is still ignoring farmers' knowledge and their years of experience in growing GM crops.

Ian Mauro and Stéphane McLachlan at the University of Manitoba, Winnepeg, in Canada, have now completed a study of farmers from Manitoba and across Canada based on interviews (n=15) and survey by mail (n=370) conducted between 2002 and 2003. It is especially useful in identifying the actual risks and benefits for farmers who are not yet committed to growing GM crops.›

"We're very pleased with this study." Mauro says. "Using quantitative and qualitative methods, we've documented the benefits and risks associated herbicide-tolerant (HT) canola. We found that farmers have been primarily placed at risk due to the proliferation of HT volunteers. Smaller farms and those with a longer history of GM canola use were at highest risk."

Canadian farmers rapidly adopted HT canola following its commercial release in 1995. Three varieties of HT canola have been introduced: Roundup Ready (RR), Liberty Link (LL) and Clearfield (CF), tolerant to the herbicide glyphosate, glufosinate and imidazolinone respectively. RR and LL are genetically modified, whereas CF has been created by induced mutation. Currently, they represent 96 percent of the 5.25 million ha of canola grown in Canada: approximately 50 percent RR, 32 percent LL and 14 percent CF. The great majority are grown in the western Canadian provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta.

Thus, Canadian farmers have a great deal of experience in growing HT canola, and that's what Mauro and McLachlan decided to focus on.

Comprehensive study on HT canola across Canada

The aims of their study were to:

Evaluate risks of HT canola relative to other risks facing rural communities

Characterize the benefits and risks associated with HT canola

Identify the factors contributing to the risks and benefits associated with HT canola

Explore the role that farmers' knowledge plays in the risk analysis of HT crops and more generally agricultural technology.

Initial interviews were conducted in the Canadian Prairies Ecozone, which includes the provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, characterized by a continental climate having short warm summers and long cold winters, with an annual mean temperature range from 1.5 C to 3.5 C. The mean annual precipitation is 504.4 mm.

The mail survey of the study covered two ecoregions: Lake Manitobe Plain (LMP) and Aspen Parkland (AP), which dominate southern Manitoba. The average growing season for both ecoregions ranges from 173 to 187 days and the soils are predominantly 'Black Chernozemic' a black soil rich in organic matter. The LMP is generally recognized as having some of the most productive soils in Manitoba, especially suited to cereals, oilseeds and pulses. On average, canola is seeded on 1 million ha in the province.

The in-depth interviews with 15 farmers were conducted across western Canada between June and October 2002. The qualitative data collected during these interviews also helped in the development of a questionnaire and to ensure that its content and wording were appropriate. The 12-page questionnaire queried farmers on their experience and attitudes regarding HT canola. It assessed concerns regarding HT canola relative to other stresses that confront rural communities; the specific benefits and risks associated with the HT canola; and factors that contribute to risk perception among farmers, especially those that had experience in growing HT canola. The questionnaire used a 7-point rank order scale ranging from 1 for "strongly disagree",› to 7 for "strongly agree". Researchers associated with universities and industry as well as farmers reviewed the survey for comprehensiveness, technical accuracy and impartiality.

Within each of the two ecoregions, rural municipalities were equally divided into two classes of low or high abundance of volunteer canola, based on the 2001 Manitoba weed survey. The response rate was estimated to be 25 percent. The great majority (97 0ercent) were male, most (67 percent) were full-time farmers with an average of 28 years of farming experience. A large majority (85 percent) considered themselves knowledgeable about farming. The education background of 48 percent with postsecondary training was slightly higher than the Manitoba average (34 percent). The average farm size was 575 ha, again higher than the average Manitobe canola growers (409 ha). Minimum tillage was practiced by 51 percent of respondents, similar to the provincial average of 45.5 percent. The large majority (78 percent) grew HT canola, including RR (47 percent), LL (22 percent) CF (13 percent) and various combinations (15 percent), as reflected by the national data. For farmers growing HT canola, their attitude toward 10 benefits and 10 risk items were assessed.

Risk of HT compared to risk of other stresses for the rural community of farmers

Of the ten general risk items facing rural communities, input costs, cost of machinery and commodity prices top the list in that order, with high mean scores of 6.72, 6.67 and 6.60 respectively. Thus, farm economics were of paramount concern. This reflects the decline of net income of Canadian farmers over the last 20 years and farmers are now in the worst farm-income crisis in history. Environmental concerns that affected crop production, and hence income, were also ranked high; these included excessive moisture, drought, and natural disasters. HT crops ranked 9 out of the 10 general risks, but its score was still high at 5.08 (moderately risky). Its low ranking in comparison to other stresses explains why farmers took it up in the first place. These are farmers with big farms, averaging 575 ha, above the provincial, where ease of management is paramount, reducing input costs such as labour.

Risks versus benefits of HT canola

With regard to the benefits of HT canola, easier weed control, herbicide rotation and better weed control came top at scores of 5.47, 5.37 and 5.28 respectively. With regards to other purported benefits, 67 percent disagreed that HT crops were protecting "small farm heritage", and 58 percent disagreed that HT crops were "the answer to feeding the world's hungry"; while 39 percent rejected the notion that HT crops made "Canadian agriculture more competitive."

Loss of markets, restriction of farmers' rights in technology use contracts, and increased lawsuits were uppermost among the top risks at scores of 5.87, 5.56 and 5.36 respectively. One farmer interviewed said: "The loss of [European ] markets due to GMs had a huge financial impact. This was likely larger than cost of controlling volunteers or benefit of easy weed control."

Operational risks also scored high at 5.08, 5,07, 5.02 and 4.97 for HT volunteers, gene spread, herbicide resistant weeds, and RR crops causing problems in zero-tillage systems. One farmer in Saskachewan indicated how he was sued over patented HT canola that contaminated his land, creating biological and legal risks that had implications for all farmers. He said: "What it means to farmers all around the world is the loss and right to use your own seed... My rights as a farmer have been taken away because now I can no longer grow canola under fear of a lawsuit."

Farmers generally believed that it was not possible to control HT traits from spreading in the environment. Thus, most of respondents felt that "Terminator Technology" (75 percent), "segregation techniques " (67 percent) and "good farming practices (51 percent) would not solve HT trait contamination problems.

Major risk variables of HT canola: volunteers, years of growing, and farm size

The respondents could be segregated into three groups, those for whom the benefits were higher than risks, those for whom risks and benefits were equal, and those for whom risks were higher than benefits. The simplest model that best fits the data identified three main factors affecting perception of risks versus benefits: farm size, years of using HT, and volunteers. The data suggests that farmers perceived greater risk if they have smaller farms.

Linking the demise of small family farms with HT technology, one farmer stated; "GM technology will most certainly hasten the demise of family farms if it is allowed to progress unchecked. When we started farming... seed could be saved from one year to year... now, each year, a tremendous monetary outlay for seed must be made in order to grow canola because of the new GMO systems... more and more family farms will disappear ā simply because they are unable to shoulder these costs which will happen annually without relief."

Those farmers growing HT canola for more than a year perceived higher risks. A number of interviewed farmers similarly expressed concern that these risks increased over time. Risks were also perceived to be greatest for those who had volunteer canola on their land. Indeed, many indicated having problems with HT volunteers.

"These volunteers are showing up in fields that have never been planted to these crops. Farmers that have never seeded genetically modified crops are finding volunteers on their farm and that the volunteer picture is much broader than we had expected to see."

The three variables that contribute most to risk were in order of importance, HT volunteers, years of growing HT crops and farm size.› In total, 38 percent of HT farmers had experienced HT volunteer canola on their land. Of these 51 percent believed the source came from within their operations, 20 percent believed they came from outside, and 29 percent believed it came from both sources. Many respondents were concerned about the promiscuous and persistent nature of these volunteers, and that this would eventually compromise benefits currently associated with the technology.

"I had volunteer Roundup resistant canola in a sunflower field before I had ever used it, and, I could not remove it with Roundup [herbicide] or other means. We are finding resistant canola everywhere, even if it has never been seeded on that field. I like using Roundup as pre-emergent burn-off and it's not working great anymore."

Farmers who grew HT canola and had experienced HT volunteers believed that, on average, they were emerging in their field 2.5 years after planting these crops. Moreover HT volunteers were primarily Roundup Ready (72 percent) and emerged up to six years after have been planted. Multiple resistant volunteers were also prevalent (20 percent), followed by CF› (6 percent ) and LL (2 percent). Many methods have been used to control volunteers, including additional herbicides and tilling. Zero-till farmers actually reverted to tillage to control RR volunteers.

Monsanto is the only company that charges a $15/acre fee for HT canola. There is now a wider trend toward contract production that may increase seed costs and erode farmer rights to save, reuse and exchange seeds. Many of these contracts allow companies to investigate farmers, their land, and community for evidence of appropriation of proprietary seed technologies. This issue was addressed by the landmark Supreme Court of Canada decision, Monsanto v. Schmeiser, which essentially upheld industry's intellectual property claims over GM seeds and plants, making farmers liable for patent infringement, despite the likelihood that the seed they plant may have contaminated by GM traits.

A large majority (76 percent) of respondents who used HT canola anticipated that HT volunteers would become "more of a problem in the future", and 85 percent believed that industry had shifted the burden of responsibility for HT volunteers onto farmers. One respondent stated:

"Our biggest concern is Roundup Ready canola polluting our fields by being blown off neighbors fields and infesting our fields with voluntary plants. Is Monsanto going to compensate farmer in this situation?"›

The answer is yes. Schmeiser has just won an important victory over Monsanto in his lawsuit against the company for contaminating his land. In an out of court settlement, Monsanto has agreed to pay all the clean-up costs of HT canola with no gag-order. Schmeiser believes this precedent will ensure farmers are entitled to reimbursement when their field become contaminated [2]


1. Mauro IJ and McLachlan SM. Farmer knowledge and risk analysis: postrelease evalulation of herbicide-tolerant canola in Western Canada. Risk Analysis 2008, 28, DOI:10.1111/j.1539-6924.200801027.x

2. Schmeiser pleased with victory over Monsanto, Monsanto vs Schmeiser,


USA: Researcher to Study Gene Flow 'Hot Spots' in Canola, 24 April 2008.

A University of Arkansas researcher and her colleagues have won a joint grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency to look at the combined effects of global climate change on weed biology, focusing in particular on transgenic hybrid weeds created by cross-pollination with genetically modified crop plants. The joint award of $520,000 is one of only four in the country.

Cindy L. Sagers, professor of biological sciences in the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, and colleagues at the Environmental Protection Agency and Fresno State University will study gene flow from canola plants that have been genetically modified to be herbicide and pesticide resistant. Genetically modified canola, Brassica napus, has been approved as a crop in certain states on a limited basis since 1999, but interest in it has grown because of its potential use as a biofuel. In fact the first field trial in Arkansas for genetically modified canola took place this winter.

However, canola has a promiscuity problem.

"Canola will hybridize with about 40 species, and one of those is a particularly bad weed pest," Sagers said. Thus, the crop plant has the potential to create "superweeds" that spread and resist efforts to get rid of them.

While working at the EPA office in Corvallis, Ore., Sagers learned how to hand-pollinate canola and its cousin mustards so that the researchers can study hybrids in a laboratory setting. The researchers also began examining the problem from a geospatial context, contacting extension agents in the northern Midwest, consulting online flora and herbaria, mining plant databases and funneling all of that information into a map of the distribution of weeds that are sexually compatible with canola.

"I learned the value of a multidisciplinary approach to solving a well-defined problem," Sagers said. "There were geographers, geneticists and ecologists working on the same project." This research laid the ground work for the currently funded project.

For the USDA/EPA project, Sagers and her colleagues are working with the University of Arkansas Center for Advanced Spatial Technologies to create more detailed distribution maps of canola and its sexually compatible relatives, focusing in particular on field mustard Brassica rapa, which grows in every state in the nation except Alaska.

In 2009 and 2010, they will be able to track the gene flow and gene flow rates of genetic modifications. They seek patterns in population biology that might make the plants more or less likely to hybridize and create "super weeds."

"We're asking, 'what is the influence of domesticated fields on native plants?'" Sagers said.

With the distribution maps, they will be able to build predictive models that will show what could happen with global climate change. They will be able to show how temperature changes might affect flowering and cross-pollination with related plants and weeds.

Source: University of Arkansas


USA: Scientists call for more access to biotech crop data
Biologists call for making available more detailed maps of the locations of biotech crops. Access to maps of biotech crops on a county and township level will give researchers greater ability to analyze the effects of biotech crops on wildlife, water quality, and on pest and beneficial insects., 24 April 2008.

Picture caption: This map shows the 2005 distribution of agricultural fields of any crop in Arizona counties (delimited with thick lines) and townships (delimited with thin lines). The townships average 85.2 square kilometers (32.9 square miles) in size. For the 261 townships with at least one agricultural field, the average number of fields per township was 96. Twenty-five of those townships had between one and five fields (green); the other 236 townships had between six and 356 fields (blue). Most land grants (pink) and Indian lands (yellow) are not divided into townships. Mapping the distribution of genetically engineered crops by county, or in many cases by townships with more than five fields, would preserve farmers' privacy. Mapped data are from the Arizona Geographic Information Council and the Arizona Cotton Research and Protection Council. Credit: Cartography by C. Ellers-Kirk, The University of Arizona, 2008.

"Since 1996 more than a billion acres have been planted with biotech crops in the U.S.," said Michelle Marvier of Santa Clara University in Calif. "We don't really know what are the pros and cons of this important new agricultural technology."

"People on both sides of the debate about genetically engineered crops have been making a lot of claims," said Marvier, an associate professor of biology and environmental studies. "One side has been saying that biotech crops reduce insecticide use, reduce tillage and therefore the erosion of top soil. People on the other side say that biotech crops could hurt native species."

The scientists' call will be published as a Policy Forum in the April 25, 2008, issue of the journal Science. Marvier's co-authors are Yves Carrière and Bruce Tabashnik of The University of Arizona in Tucson; Norman Ellstrand of the University of California at Riverside; Paul Gepts of the University of California at Davis; Peter Kareiva of Santa Clara University and The Nature Conservancy; Emma Rosi-Marshall of Loyola University in Chicago; and L. LaReesa Wolfenbarger of the University of Nebraska in Omaha.

The article, Harvesting Data from Genetically Engineered Crops, has a map showing the distribution of crop fields in Arizona township by township.

Tabashnik, UA head and professor of entomology, said, "Putting Arizona's biotech cotton on the map has allowed us to be a leader in assessing the environmental impacts of biotech crops."

In Arizona, a unique collaboration between researchers and farmers has made detailed crop data available to researchers at The University of Arizona.

Tabashnik said, "It's a win-win situation. We analyze data they collect, so they can control pests better and make more money. It helps us obtain fundamental information about what's going on in the field that we could never get without them."

One of the UA's analyses showed that adoption of biotech cotton in Arizona helped to reduce insecticide use while sustaining yields.

Carrière, a UA professor of entomology who has done many of the analyses, said, "You have to protect the privacy of the farmers. We've done it in Arizona, so why not do it across the country?"

To start examining those questions in other parts of the U.S., the team of scientists call for the government to make available data it is already collecting.

At the present time, the team writes, the U.S. Department of Agriculture collects data at the scale of individual farms, but the data are only available to researchers at the scale of entire states. Answering key questions about the environmental impacts of genetically engineered crops requires finer spatial resolution.

"The analyses could be about quality of water, quality of soil, non-target effects, regional population density of pests and economic aspects such as yield improvement," said Carrière. "The findings could be useful to a wide range of people."

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistical Service annually collects data documenting acreage planted to various crops in all 50 states, the researchers write in their paper. In addition, the NASS annually interviews more than 125,000 farmers about their land use and the acreage planted in various biotech crops.

Tabashnik said, "We're already spending the money to have these data collected. Let's make them available in the right format for researchers to use. It would be a relatively inexpensive additional step with enormous scientific and public benefit."


Will We All Soon Eat Lab-Grown Meat?

Yahoo! News, 24 April 2008. By Ben Harder.

The animals rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals announced this week that it will offer a $1 million reward to the inventor of laboratory-grown, tastes-just-like-chicken (or beef or pork), no-animals-were-harmed-in-the-making-of-this-burger meat -- should someone come along who can claim that mantle. The Associated Press quickly gobbled up the news, and Time offered its take yesterday. PETA lays out its rationale as follows: "More than 40 billion chickens, fish, pigs, and cows are killed every year for food in the United States in horrific ways. Chickens are drugged to grow so large they often become crippled, mother pigs are confined to metal cages so small they can't move, and fish are hacked apart while still conscious--all to feed America's meat addiction. In vitro meat would spare animals from this suffering. In addition, in vitro meat would dramatically reduce the devastating effects the meat industry has on the environment."

The environmental argument holds considerable weight. Large quantities of water, grain, antibiotics, and energy are used to produce hamburgers, and animal waste is a pungent and dangerous problem of its own. If meat could be grown efficiently in vitro, the benefits to society could be many. But not everyone is fully on board: Calling yesterday for a "measured approach," the New York Times editorial board opined that it "will be a barren world if the herds and flocks disappear in favor of meat grown in a laboratory tank." In the long run, I wonder if our omnivorous species has any choice.

I also wonder if mass-produced, lab-grown produce might be next. Hydroponics and greenhouse gardens are hardly new, of course. But imagine a world in which crops are grown in carefully controlled indoor settings, where droughts and deluges could be managed, runoff water could be captured and reused, and herbicides and pesticides--and therefore controversial GMO crops that have had pesticide-making genes sutured into their DNA--would be unneeded. Already, some scientists are predicting the rise of high-rise farms.

Will a farm-in-a-skyscraper soon sprout over every urban supermarket? More generally, what and how will we eat in the future? As a science editor at U.S.News & World Report, I'd be very interested in any story (science writers, I'm talking to you) exploring the prospect that our descendants might subsist largely on lab-grown foods.

With a global food crisis brewing, the topic has perhaps never been more timely. Growing meat and crops in the lab might also lead to indirect environmental benefits, like staving off the ongoing destruction of the Amazon. "The meat-substitute niche is currently occupied largely by soy," the Times editorialists noted. Soy may be free of animal cruelty concerns, but it's not an environmentalist's dream. Each year, Brazilian soybean farmers burn down vast tracts of Amazonian rain forest in order to plant their cash crop, which occasionally lands on my plate and, I suspect, feeds many members of PETA.

I welcome all ideas and perspectives.


Philippines: GM foods opposition gains strength International health group calls for banning GM crops, agri liberalization

Balita Pinoy, 24 April 2008.

DAVAO CITY -- An international environmental health organization has joined calls for government leaders all over the world to stop liberalization in agriculture and the of use genetically-modified crops to avert the looming food crisis as predicted by the United Nation (UN).

The Pesticide Action Network (PAN), which also operates in the Philippines, made the statement after the UN issued a warning on possible riots if the food prices continue to rise.

Fifty-five world government leaders had recently met and agreed in Johannesburg, South Africa to release a report of the first UN-organized International Assessment of Agriculture Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), discussed the problems and strategies to overcome world hunger.

In a statement, Filipino toxicologist Dr. Romeo Quijano, president of PAN Philippines and an IAASTD Bureau member, said, "the green revolution of the past, with all its expensive and toxic products, has left a trail of destruction. The IAASTD essentially says its time to clean that up and move on."

"The IAASTD report, which has more than 400 authors headed by Nobel laureate and scientist Robert Watson, is an unprecedented attempt to bring together multiple stakeholders from government, agro-chemical companies, scientists, health and environment advocates in the hope of making a blueprint for sustainable agriculture for the next 50 years," the statement said.

Watson and his team documented the inequitable distribution of costs and benefits of the present farming sector, including the undue influence of trans-national agribusiness, the growing impacts of environmental crises and the unfair global trade policies that result in over half of the world's population not having enough to eat.

"The most widespread forms of industrial agriculture have degraded the natural resource base on which human survival depends, and contribute daily to worsening water and climate crises," the team noted.

Lead author Marcia Ishii Eiteman of PAN North America said what happened now in agricultural sector is a "wake-up call for governments and international agencies. The survival of the planet's food systems demands global action to support agro-ecological farming and fair and equitable trade."

Kevin Akoyi of PAN Uganda supported the findings and said "we can produce more and better food without destroying rural livelihoods and our natural resources."

The report called on government leaders to develop small-scale farmers and agro-ecological methods to avert the food crisis.

Dr. Quijano said that during their meeting, they had agreed "in principle" that genetically-modified crops are not the solution of the spiraling food prices and hunger.

"People of every nation have the right to determine their best food and agricultural policies," he added.

Dr. Prabha Mahale, an IAASTD member from India and the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements, emphasized that "the scientific evidence gives unequivocal support to organic agriculture which is seen as a credible solution and a sustainable production method for the 21st century."

The report also criticized the move of government leaders who allowed the opening of national markets to international competition which can lead to long-term negative effects on poverty alleviation, food security and the environment.

However, countries like Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States have yet to sign the report considering that it was against on export-oriented and import-dependent agriculture.

"Just as climate change is an őinconvenient truth', only the world's agro-chemical companies will find our recommendations inconvenient," Quijano said.

Quijano said while civil society groups like himself may not fully agree with some of the conclusions, they unanimously respect the fact that this report reflects the current consensus among participants.

"It is high time that the Philippines and the rest of the global community must now launch the revolution in agricultural policies and practices that is urgently needed to attain more equitable and sustainable food and farming systems direly needed for the future," he said.


BASF Quarterly Profit Rises 13% on Oil, Crop Units, 24 April 2008. By Sheenagh Matthews.

BASF SE, the world's biggest chemical producer, said first-quarter profit rose 13 percent on increasing revenue from oil-and-gas production and demand for crop-protection gained.

Net income gained to 1.17 billion euros ($1.85 billion) from 1.04 billion euros a year earlier, the Ludwigshafen, Germany- based company said today in a statement. Sales advanced 8.8 percent to 15.92 billion euros. Results beat analysts predictions for profit of 1.14 billion euros on sales of 15.3 billion euros.

Rest of article:


Rainforest Action Network Joins International Protest Against Industry-Led "Responsible Soy" Roundtable

Rainforest Action Network press release, 24 April 2008.

BUENOS AIRES ā Representatives from several campesino, social justice and environmental groups, including Rainforest Action Network (RAN), protested the annual meeting of the Roundtable on Responsible Soy (RTRS) today. Twenty people attempted to enter the meeting, but were forced to remain in the building lobby. They were there to denounce the Roundtable's exclusive membership of major industry playersůincluding U.S. agribusiness giants ADM, Bunge and Cargillůand large international NGOs and its systematic exclusion of campesino and Indigenous voices. The protestors contend that the Roundtable fails to address the unsustainability of industrial soy productionůwhich is expanding dramatically in Brazil, Argentina and Paraguayůand its effects on campesino and Indigenous communities.

Today's protest underscores an open call issued last week by 156 groups demanding that the large NGOs currently participating in the RTRS resign. A statement by Friends of the Earth International declared that the Roundtable "frustrates real solutions." The RTRS does not regulate the use of genetically engineered soy or chemical fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides. Nor does it address the contentious land-use problems fostered by soy production. Industrial soy production prompts land-clearing in globally significant ecosystems such as the Amazon and the adjacent Cerradoůwhere it has become a leading cause of deforestationůand has led to the violent eviction of small farmers and Indigenous communities from their traditional lands.

"I've visited so-called 'responsible' soy plantations," said Andrea Samulon of Rainforest Action Network. "The plantations still dump dangerous agrotoxins into the soil and water, and they still stand on land that was once healthy forest. They still displace communities and leave people with little to eat. The RTRS has simply failed to end the environmental and human rights abuses perpetrated by soy producers, including U.S. corporations ADM, Bunge and Cargill."

"We wanted to participate in this event to show that the idea of responsible soy isn't viable for small rural farmers," said Delio Giménez of Association of Farmers of Alto Paran∑ (ASAGRAPA), Paraguay. "The development model of agribusiness is not compatible with small farmer production. 'Responsible soy' will be responsible for much more misery in Latin America."

"Now is the time to defend the land and food sovereignty of our people," said Pedro Pablo Caballero, a representative of the Oñondivepa community in the department of San Pedro. Deforestation is happening at an alarming rate in our country, and if we continue at this pace, five years from now, our forests in Paraguay will be gone and the impacts on the environment will be severe."

Rainforest Action Network is pushing U.S. agribusiness giants ADM, Bunge and Cargill to stop clearing forests and evicting Indigenous and local communities to accommodate their international soy and palm oil operations. The companies fund 60 percent of soy production in Brazil and have major operations in Paraguay and Argentina as well.

For more information on the NGO declaration against the RTRS go to


UK: 90% imported meat fed on GM

Farmers Guardian, 24 April 2008.

NINETY per cent of the meat imported into the EU has been fed on GM feed varieties, many of which are not even approved in the EU.

At a time when feed prices are crippling the British livestock sector, MEP Neil Parish has urged the Commission to ditch its hypocritical stance and allow cheaper feed into Europe.

EU figures show the current price differential between GMO and non-GMO feed to be around £50 per ton. "It is a great irony that we import poultry, pig and beef meet from outside the EU from animals fed on products we deny our own farmers.

"This helps no-one, consumers have no idea whether their meat has been fed on GM and farmers have to pay through the nose for feed," said Mr Parish, chairman of the European Parliament agriculture committee.

In a parliamentary question delivered this week, Mr Parish asked the Commission to review its GM zero-tolerance stance on imported feed.

"I am not suggesting a free for all on GM, but we must ensure that any threshold is fair and achievable for non GM feed. With new varieties of GM soya being planted around the world, it will be virtually impossible to guarantee that any shipment into the EU is truly GM-free.

"I doubt anyone will bother sending GM-free shipments to the EU as a result and this will make non-GM feed even scarcer and more expensive for our farmers," said Mr Parish.

He also urged the Commission to speed up its GM approvals process which lags years behind the rest of the world putting UK farmers at a huge competitive disadvantage.


Philippines: diocese will rice provided by US donation

Catholic World News, 24 April 2008.

Manila - A Catholic diocese in the Philippines has announced that it will not distribute rice provided by US donors, because of fears that the food aid might include genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

"We not accept any US rice allocation because they may contain GMOs that could pose some possible health hazards later on," announced Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez of the Marbel diocese in Mindanao province.

The use of GMOs is illegal in the Philippines. The Marbel diocese was reacting to a report, circulated by the environmental-activist group Greenpeace, that rice supplied by US donors as part of an international aid program could include GMOs.


EU commission investigates link between biofuels and food crisis

EU Observer, 24 April 2008. By Leigh Phillips

In the wake of mounting pressure from international organisations such as the World Bank and the United Nations World Food Programme, European Commission President Barroso has requested a study on whether there is any relationship between the recent skyrocketing of food prices around the world and biofuels.

"I have personally asked for a study on all aspects: the impacts on prices, the impact on agriculture, the impact on development, etc. All the aspects," said the president.

He made the comments following a meeting with Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme last Wednesday (17 April) but until now they had only been reported by the Belgian press.

"We must have the courage to re-examine our [biofuels] objectives," said Mr Leterme on the margins of the meeting with the commission president.

A spokesperson for the president confirmed on Thursday (24 April) that a study had been requested but said this is only to supply him with data on the relationship so he can form an opinion on the recent concerns about a link.

"The president is not however considering changing the ten percent biofuels target," said Mark Gray, a commission spokesperson.

"It is simply for the president to look at the data on a possible link with food prices."

Mr Gray refused to be drawn on whether the commission would publish the data gathered.

"We haven't ruled it in or out whether it could be published. It's for him to decide."

EU leaders last spring agreed that the EU should increase the use of biofuels in transport fuel to ten percent by 2020, up from a planned 5.75 percent target to be achieved by 2010.

Commission divided over biofuels target

The move comes amid speculation that there is a growing division within the commission over the question.

Last week, the commission's development chief, Louis Michel, speaking to the Belgian Senate, said that biofuels were a "catastrophe".

"I have long said that the fashion for biofuels could be a catastrophe especially in countries which are not self-sufficient in food," reported the Belga news agency.

Furthermore, last weekend, the UK's Guardian newspaper quoted a commission official saying: "The target is now secondary."

However, the following Monday, energy spokesperson Ferran Tarradellas denied that there was any reconsideration of the target.

On Tuesday (22 April), the Reuters news agency reported that during the commission's internal discussion on sustainability criteria for biofuels, environment commissioner Stavros Dimas and development chief Louis Michel had been on the one side, arguing for social criteria such as the link with food prices to be considered, but were shot down by energy commissioner Andris Piebalgs and trade commissioner Peter Mandelson.

And Thursday (24 April), agriculture commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel argued that biofuels cannot be the reason for rising food prices. Speaking at a hearing in Copenhagen, she said of the 2.1 billion tonnes of grain produced worldwide, only 0.1 billion tonnes are used for biofuels, Danish daily Politiken reported.

"This could not tilt the prices," she said.

However, Mr Gray categorically denied that there was any division. "There is unanimity on the subject and we have underscored that we are looking at second and third generation biofuel alternatives and that we are developing sustainability criteria for the rest."

A spokesperson for Mr Mandelson said: "The commissioner certainly raised the issue of food security and that it would have to be watched in any biofuels scenario."

"It wasn't as clear-cut as some articles in the media would make it out to be."

"The problem with social criteria is that you have to be very careful with WTO compatibility," he added.


USA: Keep Your non-GMO Corn Pure, 24 April 2008. By Sara Muri.

Which way the wind blows is an important factor for producers raising corn without genetic modification, specialty corn or hybrid corn seed. Without proper management, these types of corn could be contaminated with genetically modified corn, commonly called GMO corn. ›

"Nationwide the majority of the corn grown is GMO," says Peter Thomison, corn agronomist at Ohio State University. "If a farmer is growing regular non-traited corn, their neighbors are likely growing a traited corn," ›

It is this situation that causes producers to take extensive measures to manage pollen drift for non-GMO corn. ›

The drifting dangers

Corn is an open-pollinated crop, easily cross-pollinated by wind and gravity. Thomison says some pollen, usually small amounts, can easily drift from one field to another, causing the non-GMO corn to become contaminated. ›

Farmers who produce non-genetically modified corn often receive premiums for their product, mostly from overseas markets, Thomison says. Countries such as Japan have zero tolerance for unapproved GMO commodities. Comparably, the European Union requires that all grain containing more than 0.9% genetically altered material be labeled as genetically engineered. ›

Ways to prevent contamination

To prevent contamination from GMO-corn, Thomison offers the following guidelines.

Distance: One of the most effective methods to prevent pollen contamination is by isolating or increasing the distance between fields of different corn types, he says. "The potential for crosspollination decreases as the distance between GMO and non-GMO corn fields increases."

Buffer strips/Borders: If fields can't have a large distance between them, Thomison suggests using buffer strips or border rows. Depending on the size of the field, a certain number of feet or border rows will isolate the non-GMO corn, he says. Thomison also says natural borders such as country roads, woods or water bodies are also a good solution.

Alter planting times: Thomison says it may be difficult, but finding out when and what your neighbors are planting can aid with pollen-drift management. He says that having your corn reach maturity at a different time from your neighbor's will reduce the chance of crosspollination.

Keep equipment clean: Thomison says completely cleaning out equipment between fields and harvests can also reduce mixing GMO and non-GMO corn. "You should make certain kernels aren't left over from previous crops," he says. "Clean out your planters and combines."

For More Information

Click here to read Thomison's article, "Managing 'Pollen Drift' to Minimize Contamination of Non-GMO Corn" Click here to read Mike Gray's article,›"Pollen Drift and Refuge-Management Considerations for Transgenic Hybrids," a University of Illinois Extension publication. ›


The Global Pesticide Pushers in Latin America

North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA), 24 April 2008. By Jimmy Langman.

Multinational pesticide corporations headquartered in the Global North are expanding their sales of some of the most dangerous chemicals in Latin America-chemicals known to cause a plethora of health problems, including cancers and birth defects. This is happening even as U.S. and E.U. laws have banned or severely restricted many of the pesticides and UN conventions have come into force. A NACLA investigation supported by the Samuel Chavkin Investigative Journalism Fund finds that the pesticide industry has made this possible through a handful of strategies, including offshore production, using local distributors, and selling production licenses to smaller companies.

IN SANTA CRUZ, BOLIVIA, A BOOMING LOWLAND city near cattle ranches and thriving soy fields, I visit Campo Verde, a small, unassuming shop catering to small farmers at the Abasto Market. I scan the shelves and find at least a dozen of the world's most toxic chemicals. One liter of Thodorn 600, or methamidophos, produced by Todo Agricola S.A., a Peru-based manufacturer, costs less than $10. The insecticide is banned in the United States and the European Union, as is monocrotophos, also an insecticide, going for $10 and change.

"The strongest are the most toxic," says the shopkeeper, 21-year- old Alberto Lopez. "They are more effective, and also cheap." He tells me he has no formal training or much experience with the chemicals. Places like Campo Verde, where small farmers with little or no pesticides training can buy the most hazardous chemicals with ease, are widespread in Latin America. Large, medium, and small companies from industrial countries sell pesticides through local distributors, like the monocrotophos, which is manufactured in China but packaged and sold by a Bolivian company. Homegrown Latin American manufacturers also produce and sell generic versions, which are known to cause a number of serious ailments, from cancers to birth defects.

Although the United States and European Union have banned and imposed strict regulations on a long list of pesticides, they permit multinational agrochemical companies with U.S. and E.U. headquarters to sell those very chemicals in developing countries to both big corporate plantations and small farmers-which then export back pesticide-laced fruits and vegetables. In one exhaustive study of U.S. Customs records, the Los Angeles-based Foundation for Advancements in Science and Education found that between 2001 and 2003, 1.7 billion pounds of pesticide products were exported from U.S. ports; almost 28 million pounds of them were either banned, severely restricted, or unregistered in the United States.

The numbers sound alarming, but they represent a significant improvement over the foundation's findings in past years. This does not mean, however, that U.S. pesticide manufacturers are becoming conscientious-instead, like multinationals in other industries, they are shifting their production offshore to cut costs and, in part, to avoid stricter environmental scrutiny at home. By moving production offshore and using local intermediaries, the agrochemical companies are expanding their business, with global sales surpassing $35 billion in 2006 and increasing faster in the past few years than they have in decades. Meanwhile, the pesticide industry has consolidated during the past two decades through mergers and acquisitions into six major companies-call them the Big Six-that control about 80% of the market (see chart, opposite page).

These powerful corporations, with revenues often surpassing the income of the nations where they do business, are increasingly setting their sights on Latin America. In 2004, pesticide sales in the region grew by 25% over the previous year, the largest such increase in more than a decade, reaching more than $5.4 billion. One estimate puts Latin American sales at $7.5 billion by 2009. This rapid growth in Latin America's pesticide market is driven by expanding crop areas, new disease outbreaks, and an increase in plantings of genetically modified (GM) crops. Agrochemical companies are actively entering the GM crop industry, which is growing by about 8% a year, with Latin America the largest customer of GM seeds after North America. This complements their pesticide business. Monsanto is far and away the GM industry leader, with a 90% market share. Soy, corn, cotton, rice, wheat, and other crops are increasingly of the GM variety, and are in many instances highly pesticide dependent. GM soy, for example, requires extensive use of the herbicide glyphosate, also known as Roundup, a chemical that has generated large-scale health complaints and cancer suspicions throughout popular soy-growing areas in Brazil, Argentina, and Bolivia.

Offshore production is another tactic. Bayer, Syngenta, and BASF- the top three multinationals that control more than two thirds of the Latin American pesticide market-all have production facilities around the world, including in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico. In other cases, however, companies have sold rights to the chemicals to smaller companies. Take the Los Angeles-based Amvac Chemical Corporation. In a Los Angeles Times expose published in April, the investigative journalist T. Christian Miller found that the company essentially specializes in buying up the rights to produce dangerous chemicals discontinued by their original manufacturers. One of the most striking examples is the insecticide mevinphos, which Amvac bought from DuPont in 1989 and now sells to Mexico and other countries, despite that the Environmental Protection Agency' banned the chemical in 1994, after it became the leading cause of poisoning among California's agricultural laborers.

But Amvac's most insidious product has been dibromochloropropane, or DBCP, the active ingredient in Nemagon, an extremely toxic soil fumigant. Dow Chemical and Shell Oil stopped producing the chemical in 1977, when the Environmental Protection Agency suspended it after finding it could cause sterility in workers. Amvac began producing it and found a buyer in Dole Fruit, which had been using it on its Central American banana plantations since the late 1960s. It was finally banned in the United States in 1985.

Today, Dole, Amvac, Dow, and Shell are facing lawsuits from many thousands of banana plantation workers in Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama. The workers claim the chemical caused widespread sterility and other health problems, ranging from miscarriages and birth defects to liver damage and cancer. In one of the lawsuits, filed on behalf of nearly 5,000 banana workers, lawyers argue that during the spraying of DBPC on banana trees, the chemical fell on workers and entered their water supply. They charge that Dole did little to protect them by, for example, giving them gloves, safety goggles, or masks. The lawsuit argues, moreover, that Dow and Amvac knew about DBCP's role in causing sterility, which has been public knowledge since the late 1950s, but the companies "continued to market, sell, and use pesticide products containing DBCP outside of the United States."

In 2002, a bold judge in Nicaragua made a historic ruling when he demanded that the companies pay $490 million in compensation to 583 banana workers injured by DBCP In July, five lawsuits over the use of DBCP on Central American banana plantations began hearings in a U.S. court. And in November, the first of these cases resulted in a jury award of $3.3 million to six Nicaraguans.

Despite several scientific studies that back the workers' case, the companies continue to deny that their use of DBCP is at fault in the workers health problems. In court papers, Glenn Wintemute, an owner of Amvac, said the company issued safety recommendations to Dole and that it continued to sell the chemical because "it was a product that was profitable."

THE ISSUE IS NOT NEW. IN 1979, journalists from the Center for Investigative Reporting published an article in Mother Jones that later became the landmark book Circle of Poison. Their work sparked an outcry in the media and in the halls of governments. Still, more than 25 years later, the vicious circle remains. Environmental groups like the Pesticide Action Network (PAN)-formed after the publication of Circle of Poison, and today composed of groups and individuals in more than 90 countries-have wasted little time moving to tackle the issue from a variety of fronts. Their constant and vociferous pressure has helped lead to two significant UN conventions aimed at curbing the sale and use of the most hazardous pesticides.

The first, the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, signed in 2001 and since then ratified by 150 countries, calls for the elimination of 12 highly toxic chemicals that remain in the natural environment for long periods, can be easily transported across the globe, and accumulate in the body fat of humans and animals. Nine of the 12 chemicals banned by the Stockholm Convention are pesticides and were formerly part of the so-called "dirty dozen" that environmental groups have campaigned to ban since the 1980s. Ten other chemicals are being reviewed for possible inclusion to the Stockholm banned list. The second UN treaty, known as the Rotterdam Convention, implemented in 2004 and ratified by 119 nations, requires that countries importing any of 39 listed chemicals (29 of which are pesticides) be informed of any bans or severe restrictions on them in the exporting country. Jay Vroom, president of CropLife America, the trade association for pesticide companies in the United States, says the term ban belongs to "political jargon."

"If you look at our laws and regulations in the U.S., there is no such regulatory process as banning a pesticide chemical," Vroom says, arguing that some pesticides have simply had their registrations canceled. "This is the exact legal term for what many people would say is a banned chemical."

He adds: "Simply because a product is not registered for use in one country does not mean it is banned. That is a very crude term. There are a lot of good, rational drivers on why a product may not be registered in a country where it is produced but perfectly legitimate and safe to use in another country with different kinds of crop pest infestations and climate conditions."

Erika Rosenthal, a lawyer with the Washington-based Center for International Environmental Law and an expert on pesticides in Latin America, sees a duplicitous tactic behind this argument over terminology. "Instead of allowing their products to go through the registration cancellation process-commonly known as having their products banned for use in the U.S.-many companies will voluntarily withdraw or cancel the pesticide's registration in an effort to avoid bad publicity," she says. In other cases, the companies withdraw some chemical ingredients from the market because governments are requiring them to seek new approval for certain pesticides through a costly re-registration process. According to Barbara Dinham, a longtime activist with PAN, about a third of the pesticide industry's research dollars are being spent on supporting re-registration in the European Union. In the United States, according to Rosenthal, some of the pesticides that companies export are never registered to begin with.

More than 70,000 different chemicals are available on the market today The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has estimated that 1,500 new ones are introduced each year-an astounding regulatory challenge for governments. Rosenthal points out that most developing countries do not have the ability to monitor the application of "restricted use" pesticides in the field. Unlike in the United States, where many restricted-use pesticides must be applied from within a ventilated cab, or only by licensed personnel, in the South these products are routinely applied in the field by workers with no training, no protective equipment, and little or no ability to even understand warning labels.

Rosenthal says the EPA's pesticide export policy is downright naive. "The U.S. pesticide export policy assumes that the importing government is the best suited to make pesticide import decisions. But the problem with this convenient justification is that agricultural companies have enormous influence in these countries- in some countries there is a rotating door between the head of the national CropLife group and the ministry of agriculture. Many governments in developing countries lack the professional staff, analytic capacity, and regulatory infrastructure necessary to even evaluate pesticide risks. This is no secret; developing country governments have made it clear in their national implementation plans for the Stockholm Convention, for example. In some countries, the registration process is not more than an administrative rubber stamp."

But the Rotterdam and Stockholm conventions pertain only to a few of the chemicals used in agriculture. And although the FAO revised its International Code of Conduct on the Distribution and Use of Pesticides in 2002-urging that the most dangerous pesticides, including those on the World Health Organization (WHO) list of hazardous chemicals, not be used in developing countries unless control measures "can ensure that the product can be used with acceptable risk to the user"-the code is strictly voluntary.

Most everyone I speak to agrees that the UN conventions are important contributions to curtailing the trade in the most hazardous pesticides. But many pesticide experts in Latin American countries say that, in their current incarnations, these UN treaties do not address the main pesticide problems facing the region. Desiree Elizondo, former director of the Nicaragua environmental ministry and a consultant on regional pesticide issues, says few of the chemicals that are actually used in Latin America are named by the conventions. "We need a much more radical change at the international level," she says.

The Latin American Pesticide Action Network (Red de Accion en Plaguicidas y Sus Alternativas para America Latina, or RAP-AL), a regionwide network of groups, has been pressing for just such a change: the complete ban on the use of all pesticides found on the World Health Organizations list of extremely hazardous (1A) and hazardous (1B) chemicals, the vast majority of which are not mentioned in the UN conventions. Elsa Nivia, an agronomist from Colombia and coordinator of RAP-AL, says those chemicals are a disproportionate cause of deaths and poisonings in the region. "The present ecological, social and cultural conditions of the region make it impossible to have safe or appropriate management of such pesticides," she says.

"Progress has been slow," concedes Gero Vaagt, head of the FAO's pesticide management program, who agrees that the present UN treaties don't go far enough.

Vroom of CropLife, on the contrary, says the treaties have been a success. "We think that there has been a lot of progress in the implementation of these international conventions," Vroom says, "and a lot of capacity building around the world in almost any country that needs to be a sovereign entity with regard to the regulation of these complex products."

Beyond the strengths and weaknesses of the existing multilateral agreements in controlling hazardous pesticides, the international trade systern-from the WTO to regional and bilateral trade deals-is also undermining national pesticide laws and weakening the ability of Latin American governments to restrict dangerous chemicals. This is especially so in the case of the WTO's demand for "harmonization," also referred to as "concurrence" and "equivalence," which means setting minimum common standards for pesticides and food between countries.

For example, if a country wants to enact a stricter standard on pesticides than the WTOs, it could face the risk of being challenged as a "technical barrier to trade" and receiving millions of dollars in trade sanctions. Using the investor rights provisions in Chapter 11 of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), a U.S. pesticide maker, the Chemtura Corporation (formerly the Crompton Corporation), has sued Canada for $100 million stating that country's ban of the chemical lindane on canola crops was tantamount to an expropriation of its investment. Even though lindane is also banned in the United States, the company argues that there was no "conclusive scientific evidence" to support such a ban. The Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and several bilateral trade deals are largely patterned on NAFTA and include similar investor rights clauses.

According to Fernando Bejarano, coordinator of the Mexico group Pesticide and Alternatives Network, the downward harmonization imposed by the WTO on standards has already been at work in Central America, where several pesticides that are classified by the WHO as "extremely or very dangerous" have been downgraded to "dangerous" or "slightly toxic." In the Central American Common Market, the labels on some formulations of paraquat, which has been banned or severely restricted in a host of European countries, has been downgraded to a blue or "slightly toxic" label.

The WTOs binding, global standards on the acceptable pesticide residues in food are decided by the UN Codex Alimentarius Commission. The Rome-based commission's workings and decisions are dominated by food and chemical industry lobbyists, says Mary Bottari, director of the Harmonization Project for Public Citizen, who has attended some of the Codex meetings held in the United States. "When the U.S. officials go abroad to these Codex meetings, they typically bring with them a lobbying team of 10 or 15 industry representatives to decide what the global rule is going to be on the various pesticides," she says. "You basically have U.S. agency officials in these harmonization bodies agreeing to rules that are weaker than those of the U.S. What is happening is a race to the bottom in regulatory standards."

IN BOLIVIA, I TALK TO GUIDO CONdarco of Plagbol, an independent group that advises the Bolivian government on pesticide issues. He says the group found that four of the 14 pesticides that are officially banned in Bolivia-Aldrin, DDT, Folidol and Endrin- continue to be sold in the country. Bolivia has the highest rate of growth in pesticide imports in the region, more than doubling its imports over the past five years, 30% of which is contraband.

"The farmers do not understand the risks involved [with these chemicals], nor even that they are prohibited," Condarco says. "There is also little control by authorities."

It's an all too common story throughout Latin America. Pesticide use is increasing each year in the region, which is scrambling to boost its agricultural exports in a globalized economy.

But the millions of farm workers across the region are still largely untrained and ill-prepared to handle the chemicals safely, and government regulations, where they exist, are usually unenforced. That, says health researchers, is also leading to an increased chance of birth defects and developmental problems among the children of farm workers as well as an increased likelihood of skin disease, miscarriages, sterility, and cancer among workers. According to the FAO, while developing countries worldwide use only about 20% of the pesticides used each year, its farm workers suffer 99% of pesticide poisonings. This amounts to about 70,000 yearly poisoning cases, which can lead to death and a far greater number of serious, long-term illnesses, according to the International Labor Organization. Take Eugenia Mejias, one of Chiles thousands of temporeros, the seasonal farm workers who help Chilean exporters get their crops to port from October to February each year. Mejias never thought working on a farmnear the medium-sized agricultural city Rancagua, located in the Central Valley, Chile's principal fruit- growing region where most of the pesticides in the country are used- would result in a mothers nightmare. But in 1989, her daughter Evelyn was born with congenital malformations, or birth defects. Confined to a wheel chair for life, the child grew at an infinitesimalIy slow pace; before she died at age 14 in 2003, her body was the size of a three-year-olds. Her back was twisted with her spine exposed, her legs were paralyzed and crooked, and a small device had to be implanted in her skull to continually rid her brain of excess water.

During her pregnancy, Mejias lived just yards away from an apple orchard regularly fumigated by planes. No appropriate precautions were taken to protect nearby workers and residents. Mejias and her family say they remember smelling and breathing the chemicals in their home and enduring headaches, stomachaches, diarrhea, and vomiting. Evelyn became a national symbol in Chile, representing that country's many children born with malformations stemming from the misuse of hazardous pesticides. "We want to speak out because this must stop," Mejias says.

Evelyns tale continues to be repeated many times over, says Alicia Munoz, secretary-general of the Chilean group National Association of Rural and Indigenous Women. Munoz says agricultural businesses in Chile are mostly careless when it comes to the health of their workers. "They are not informing their people, for example, telling them when they can safely return to the fields after aerial spraying."

In 1999 the Hospital of Rancagua produced a study that found an unusually high incidence of miscarriage and babies born with defects in the Central Valley. The study used statistical models showing that because of pesticide use, the chances of children being born with birth defects is 40% greater for people living in the region than elsewhere in Chile. Other studies in the country have racked up similar results. Manolis Kogevinas, an expert on occupational epidemiology based in Barcelona, says of the Rancagua study, "It would be reasonable to find such effects, because we have enough experimental data to support such a hypothesis." Constanza Cerda, a Chilean grandmother, founded a group in 2001, after jumping through bureaucratic hoop after hoop in the country's public health care system for the sake of her grandson Rodrigo, now six years old, who suffers from a plethora of birth defects. The group, called Help Rodrigo, includes 34 women from her town, Melipilla, who all have children suffering from birth defects linked to pesticides. But their demands for cheaper access to adequate medical attention for those suffering the hidden costs of Chiles agricultural export boom has so far fallen on mostly deaf ears.

As Cerda looks at Rodrigo, who after 15 operations still shows outward signs of problems, including a cleft lip and an abnormally sized head due to hydrocephalus, she sees a boy as energetic and curious and fun-loving as any other. But because of exposure to pesticides, he's likely to need medical. attention for the rest of his life.

"Why do we keep allowing companies and governments to continue doing this?" she says. "What's missing is a fundamental respect for all life."

These powerful corporations often have revenues surpassing the incomes of the nations in which they do business.

The agrochemical industry's Big Six and the pesticides they sell in Latin America

These pesticides are either banned or severely restricted in the United States and European Union.

aciflourfen, aldicarb, azinphos-methyl, carbofuran, endosulfan, fenthion, lindane, mancozeb methamidofos, methomyl, methyl parathion, triazophos

ametryn, atrazine, methidathion, monocrotophos, paraquat

aciflourfen, captan, carbofuran, chlorfenapyr, chlorfenvinphos, methamidofos, methomyl, monocrotophos, permethrin, terbufos, tridemorph

2,4,5-T, carbofuran, atrazine, chlorpyrifos, ethylene dibromide, mancozeb, monocrotophos, pentachlorophenol, phosphamidon


mancozeb, methomyl, hexazinone


Web sites of companies listed here; pesticide registration lists of various Latin American governments;; Environmental Protection Agency,; Pesticide Action Network, "Food and Fairness Briefing: Which Pesticides Are Banned in Europe?" unpublished article; Paula Barrios, "The Rotterdam Convention on Hazardous Chemicals: A Meaningful Step Toward Environmental Protection?" Georgetown International Environmental Law Review, Summer 2004.

Photo captions:

Spraying kiwi vines with pesticide in Chile's Central Valley, Region VI

"Pesticides are poisonous," warns a poster at a workshop for Chilean farm workers.

In Central America, several pesticides that are classified as "extremely or very dangerous" have been downgraded to "dangerous" or "slightly toxic."

Before she died in 2003, Evelyn Orellana, pictured here in 1995, suffered from severe birth defects, including hydrocephalus. Both her parents worked as fruit pickers before her birth.

Jimmy Langman is a freelance journalist based in Chile and Bolivia. He has written about Latin American issues for Newsweek, The Nation, the London Guardian, and The Miami Herald.


Indo-Australian fund for GM crops research likely

The Financial Express (India), 24 April l2008. By Ashok B. Sharma.

New Delhi, Apr 23 India and Australia are likely to create a joint corpus to fund researches in transgenic crops in the public sector. Crops of common interest like cotton, wheat, chickpea and banana have been selected.

The two-day discussions between the agriculture scientists of both countries which concluded in Delhi on Tuesday suggested that the joint India-Australia agbiotech fund should be set up for a span of 12 years. It should provide at least $25 million per year for research in developing a particular trait per crop. Some traits identified for development are drought resistant, thermo-tolerance, salinity resistant, nutrient use efficiency and resistance to biotic stresses like insects, fungi and virus.

The scientists from the public sector in both the countries have decided to make this representation to their respective governments, after which official-level discussions would follow to pave the way for setting up of the joint fund for researches in GM crops.

"It is high time that India and Australia cooperate in development of transgenic crops for mutual benefit," said Gary Fitt, deputy chief, CSIRO Entomology, Longpocket Laboratories, Brisbane.

The scientists called for putting in place a mechanism under the proposed fund for rendering freedom to operate. Among other activities suggested under the proposed initiative include network development, supporting regulatory passage requirements, FTO analysis, assessing capability and field trial environment and phenomics.

"The work will be undertaken under regulatory regimes and bio-safety norms in respective countries," said KC Bansal, professor, NRC on plant biotechnology, Indian Agriculture Research Institute, Delhi.

Scientists from both the countries also called for facilitating material transfers for research and relaxation of the visa regime to allow frequent visits. Agronomic practices in both the countries would be evaluated. The fund would also be used to create consumer awareness about GM crops and food.


EU: Business organisation to be removed from European Parliament

EU Observer, 24 April 2008. By Honor Mahony.

BRUSSELS - The European Parliament is to take steps to sever the close links it has with a business scheme that operates from within the Brussels assembly to boost contacts between MEPs and companies.

The European Business and Parliament Scheme (EBPS), whose patron is parliament chief Hans-Gert Poettering, has an office in the parliament and its employees share the same email address as euro-deputies.

The set-up - after two initial refusals because of lack of space - was approved on 26 September 2007 by the quaestors of the parliament, MEPs who look after the administrative affairs of the Brussels house.

The scheme's 28 affiliated companies include major internationals such as software giant Microsoft, and the energy companies BP, RWE and Gaz de France.

It provides a range of programmes including "company attachments" in which MEPs or other senior officials of the parliament can spend a day or two with a company to provide "an insight" into how the business works.

The official website of the scheme states that "costs such as travel, accommodation and other programme-related expenses are covered from the European Parliament and the EBPS budgets."

A meeting of the parliament's political group leaders on Thursday (24 April) decided to discontinue the office and email arrangements after the matter was raised by Italian MEP Monica Frassoni, co-head of the Green group, who asked in a letter "whether [EBPS] was engaged in some kind of lobbying activity."

Speaking to EUobserver, Ms Frassoni noted that the website was "very open" and there is "nothing evil" about the scheme but that it was the "wrong decision" by the quaestors to grant this sort of access.

She said it was "totally inappropriate" that a scheme of co-operation between parliamentarians and big multinationals has an "office and mail with an address and on its web is written that training and meetings will be paid by the European Parliament."

"The conference of presidents decided to delete this authorisation of opening an office and a mail."

A spokesperson for Hans-Gert Poettering explained the European Parliament president has "granted patronage to very many things" and that being the EPBS patron and the set-up "are two completely separate things."

Frederick Hyde-Chambers, secretary-general of the European Business and Parliament Scheme, pointed out that the European Parliament as such does not make any "direct contributions" to the scheme.

The reference to payments on the website referred to money from MEPs allowances. If this is not enough, funds are supplied by companies, who pay a membership fee, he told the EUobserver.

Mr Hyde-Chambers said such a scheme between business and national parliaments has been in place around the world for thirty years - the International Association of Business and Parliament - and said that there is "quite a sophisticated mechanism" to ensure that it is not just a pure lobbying set up.

Thursday's decision comes in the context of wider moves by the parliament to clean up the workings of the house.

It recently revamped its pay system for MEPs making the travel reimbursement system more transparent, and it has pledged to regularise the allowances for MEPs' assistants after a damaging internal audit exposed cases of fraud.

In addition, a report on lobbying voted on in committee last month called for a mandatory register of lobbyists working in the EU institutions - a parliament spokesperson said it would be "not quite logical" to adopt the report in plenary next month with this organisation within the parliament's walls.


23 April 2008

EU: Bold majority of stakeholders demand GMO thresholds in seed at the detection limit

Save Our Seeds, 23 April 2008.

A stakeholder meeting organized by the European Commission on the "adventitious presence" of GMOs in seeds on Wednesday 23. April has revealed a bold majority of stakeholders asking for the maximum purity of seeds to be obtained in any further legislation.

The Commission presented the results of an electronic consultation of a total of 243 representatives of member state authorities, farmers, industry, NGOs and individual citizens conducted last year.

The results of this survey, which will soon be published on the Commissions website, include that over 70% of all respondents estimated, that the higher the threshold levels for GMOs in seeds are set, the more GM plants will disseminate in the environment possibly causing adverse effects. A majority about 60% rejected the notion that zero presence was impossible, and 70 % disagreed with any need to recognize "adventitious presence" of GMOs in seeds as well as the concept to establish thresholds just "as low as feasible and proportionate". The highest level of approval for a specific threshold level was for 0,1%, the lowest option, in all stakeholder groups, including industry and public administration. With the exception of industry more than 50% of the stakeholders opted for the lowest threshold, while other thresholds of 0,3% or 0,5 % were rejected by more than 70%.

The Commission plans to complete an impact assessment of different options for GMO thresholds in seeds by June. It will then be up to a political discussion which options to chose.

For further Details see:


Benny Haerlin
Save Our Seeds
Marienstr.19-20, 10117 Berlin, Germany
+49 30 27590309,


'Era of cheap food is over,' says EU

World Business Council on Sustainable Development / Environmental News Network /, 23 April 2008.

EU consumers should get used to paying more for food as prices for meat, grain, cereal and a range of agricultural commodities are set to increase further, according to EU officials and MEPs debating the issue in Strasbourg yesterday (22 April). The EU's current push for biofuels came under repeated scrutiny during the discussion.

We won't see food prices going back down to former levels," EU Development Commissioner Louis Michel told a Strasbourg audience of MEPs convened to discuss the global food crisis.

The "huge rise" in food prices is a threat to global stability, according to Michel, who announced an increase in EU spending on food aid to developing countries.

But Michel also stressed that solving the crisis is "far beyond the EU's ability", pointing to structural problems in world agricultural markets and, in particular, a lack of purchasing power in poorer countries.

Empty bellies

Global average food prices have risen by 83% in the past three years, according to the World Bank, which notes a particularly sharp increase in the past six months. While EU citizens have to dig deeper into their pockets to meet rising costs, in many poor nations - where hundreds of millions of families and individuals live on less than one euro per day - the increase means the difference between poverty and starvation.

Josette Sheeran, executive director of the UN's World Food Programme (WFP), has compared the crisis to the 2004 Asian tsunami, and is calling for "large-scale, high-level action by the global community, focused on emergency and longer-term solutions".

The crisis has also raised concerns that the UN's objective of halving global poverty by 2015, the so-called Millenium Development Goals, will not be met.

'Hedge foods'

Growing demand for previously unaffordable meat and other 'luxury' foods in rapidly developing nations like China, India and Brasil is frequently cited as one of the main drivers of higher prices.

But during their debate, a number of MEPs also pointed to increased food commodities speculation and profiteering in the wake of the recent melt-down of global financial markets. The implication, according to a number of Socialist MEPs in particular, is that players on the financial markets have scrambled to find new profits, and are deliberately driving down food supplies while pushing demand in order to boost the price of food commodities.

Calls for greater regulation of financial markets have raised red flags in Brussels, where the EU's Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson recently warned against using the crisis as an excuse for greater agricultural protectionism (EurActiv 21/04/08).

Bashing biofuels

There are growing concerns that a greater shift from food production towards biomass-for-biofuels production will further aggravate food shortages and price concerns.

Italy's outgoing prime minister, Romano Prodi, most recently addressed the issue at the International Energy Forum in Rome on 22 April. Competition between food and fuels is creating a conflict that could result in "disastrous social conflicts and dubious environmental results," he said.

The office of Gordon Brown, the UK prime minister, also promised on 22 April to "push for a change" in the EU's biofuels policy if a UK government review finds that the policy is counter-productive in terms of food prices and environmental sustainability.

Brussels meanwhile continues to defend its biofuels proposals.

"Biofuels have become a scapegoat for recent commodity price increases that have other causes ů poor harvests worldwide and growing food demand generated by increased standards of living in China and India," EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs wrote in a blog post on 28 March.

A number of MEPs have also cautioned against 'throwing out the baby with the bath water', arguing that biofuels have only a marginal impact on food price hikes and that structural changes to world food markets, as well as greater agricultural output from Africa, would largely cancel out the food price impact of biofuels production.

The GMO solution?

While most MEPs agreed during their debate that greater agricultural productivity is needed to address the crisis, views differed sharply about the benefits of using biotechnology and genetically modified (GM) crops in order to boost harvests in the EU and in developing states.

There is also speculation that the extent of the price hikes may push EU consumers towards a generally more favourable view of GM crops. EU citizens "hearts may be on the left, but their pockets are on the right," said MEP Neil Parish, chairman of the Parliament's agriculture committee, the International Herald Tribune reported.

But a collection of EU consumer, family farm and environmental groups remain opposed to GM crops. In a statement issued to MEPs as part of the debate, the groups argue that "there is little evidence to suggest that weakening the GMO regime in Europe will address [the crisis]. Price increases have occurred all over the world ů even in the US which has the most permissive system of GM approvals".


The 22 April Strasbourg debate drew a range of reactions across party lines.

French Christian Democrat MEP Joseph Daul , chairman of the EPP-ED group, said that agrofuels (or biofuels) are "not to blame" for the crisis, particularly in Europe, where agro-fuels production accounts for only 2% of the bloc's total agricultural output. Europe needs to "think seriously" about GM crops, he added.

The leader of the Socialists (PES), German MEP Martin Schulz , focused on the "considerable speculation" in global food markets. "Casino capitalism has taken a seat at the table of the poor. This is immorality carried to the extreme. This is why we need international controls on financial markets," Schulz said in a press statement.

UK MEP Graham Watson , chairman of the Liberals (ALDE), argued for a greater reform of the EU's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which he sees as the "root cause" of the problem. Watson also argued against an excessive focus on biofuels. "While it is true that bio-fuels increase demand for crops and displace food production the reasons for the recent food price rises are many and varied and so must be the international community's response", he said.

But independent UK MEP Graham Booth called on the EU to reverse its biofuels policy immediately, arguing that is is a "key factor in the surge in food prices around the world".

German Green MEP Rebecca Harms was slightly more measured in her stance on the issue. "Agrofuels alone are not to blame for the rise in food prices, but they are exacerbating the current crisis. Agrofuels only make sense when they contribute to climate protection and that is not currently the case," she said.

Latest & next steps

June 2008: Commission expected to table a universal model for the calculation of transport-related external costs and an impact assessment of various internalisation strategies.


EU official documents

Commission: Common Agricultural Policy:


Joseph Daul MEP, Chairman of the Christian Democrats (EPP-ED): Food prices: Transform agriculture to guarantee supply (22 April)

Martin Schulz MEP, leader of the Socialists (PES): Schulz blames "Casino Capitalism" for global food crisis. (22 April)

Graham Watson MEP, leader of Alliance of Liberal Democrats (ALDE): Food price rises: Biofuels only a small part of a bigger problem (22 April)

Greens/EFA group: Food prices/agrofuels: Greens call for moratorium on agrofuels (22 April)

European United Left / Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL) Food crisis: "a humanitarian tsunami" in the making (22 April) link


US Department of Agriculture (USDA): Global Food Markets

Amber Waves (USDA): Converging Patterns in Global Food Consumption and Food Delivery Systems (February 2008)

EU actors positions

EU family farmers, consumer cooperatives and environmental NGOs: Oral question: Zero tolerance regime for unauthorised GMOs and economic consequences thereof (22 April joint press release)

International organizations

United Nations World Food Programme: 'The silent tsunami' (22 April press release)


EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs: Biofuels and food ů regaining a sense of proportionā-regaining-a-sense-of-proportion/

Press articles

AP: World Food Program warns of 'silent tsunami' of hunger (23 April)

International Herald Tribune: In lean times, biotech grains are less taboo (21 April)

AFP: Biofuels under fire at International Energy Forum (22 April)

Cnet: The biofuel factor in rising food prices


World Food Crisis and Starvation: Made in America
Speculation, biofuels and forced deregulation leave 3 billion to face death by starvation

Independent Media Center, New York, 23 April 2008. By Penny Hess.

In America - especially in white America - we take food abundance for granted. From sushi to steak to salad and smoothies, countless food choices are part of our daily routine and a key component of our leisure and fun. One hundred and thirty-four million of us - 75 percent of the adult U.S. population - are obese or overweight. (

Even the choice to be slim and fit based on a healthy diet is an option not available to most of humanity. For the majority of us hunger is no more than a momentary pang endured until the next refrigerator, restaurant, deli or grocery presents itself.

For 3 billion people around the world who are facing starvation, the chance for something edible has little to do with nutrition or leisure or fun. Anything to eat is a fleeting panacea for the pain of a chronically empty stomach, a pain that has been compared to battery acid in the abdomen. Thirty people a minute are dying of starvation ( in a world where half the world's population lives on less than $2 a day.

In the news these days are reports of massive food rebellions in more than 30 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. In Haiti 80 percent of the population no longer have the resources to eat food. Millions in Haiti are forced to subsist on mud mixed with sugar and shortening. YouTube videos show UN and government police forces firing on crowds of angry people in Haiti, Egypt, Mexico and El Salvador:

For most of us in North America such realities may seem sad but very far removed for our lives. Ultimately, we believe, world starvation has nothing to do with us.

Living in a country built on the enslavement of African people, the genocide against the Indigenous people, and the spoils of colonial domination the world over, global hunger has, however, everything to do with us.

The reality is that every aspect of this world food crisis is made in white America, by Americans, for America's economic benefit. Today's skyrocketing rice and grain prices are not the result of shortages! We are seeing record rice crops globally this year! As an Asia Times article, "Rice, death and the dollar" states, "The global food crisis is a monetary phenomenon, a ÷ consequence of America's attempt to inflate its way out of a market failure÷" (

Here are some of the real factors contributing to the current rapid rise in food costs and starvation worldwide.

Wall Street speculation. With the dollar tanking and banks and corporations going bankrupt (and being bailed out by the government and the Fed), commodities, such as grains and agriculture are the hottest Wall Street investment sector today! For investors they are a "safe haven" against "the falling dollar and the loss of faith in stock markets." (

As a last ditch effort to save the U.S. economy with the bursting of the housing bubble, investors are now creating a grains bubble, driving prices off the charts, regardless of the cost of suffering for the majority of the world.

Average prices for rice have reached a 20-year high this month, with Thai rice going up from $360 a ton in December 2007 to $850 this week. Investors are working overtime trying to get a piece of these profits, while those living on a dollar or two a day can't afford even a plate of rice.

Billionaire Jim Rogers is on TV constantly advising people to "buy agriculture!" Tellingly the blog Energy and Capital describes the brutal conditions of starvation for most of the world's impoverished people, talks about the grain price hikes, says there is "no relief in sight," and then ends with the statement: "÷enough of the doom and gloom. How can I profit from this? Well, I'm gonna tell you÷" (

You can be sure that now all the bad subprime mortgage bonds in your money market or retirement funds have been replaced with commodities investments. How many children must die for our baby boomers to enjoy a "secure" retirement?

Biofuels are genocide. Wall Street investors are creating an ethanol bubble too, driving up the prices of grain grown for fuel rather than for food. Farmers around the world can no longer afford to grow grain for food when the earnings for fuel are far greater!

Former Cuban president Fidel Castro has been campaigning for the past couple of years against biofuels. He has called ethanol "genocide," saying that biofuels will "cost the lives of 3 billion people."

Castro's article, "The Internationalization of Genocide," states, "The five top producers of the corn, barley, sorghum, rye, millet and oats that Bush wants to turn into raw materials for producing ethanol supply 679 million tons of the world market÷In turn, the five top consumers, some of which are also producers of these grains, currently need 604 million tons annually. The available surplus comes down to less than 80 million tons."

Castro adds, "This colossal waste of cereals for producing fuel÷would serve only to save the rich countries less than 15 percent of what is annually consumed by their voracious automobiles." (

Forced deregulation of world agricultural markets. Historically countries around the world produced food for themselves and their governments kept restrictions on the price of food to prevent speculation and price gouging. Haiti, where the people are today forced to subsist on a steady diet of mud, is a perfect example. Twenty-five years ago Haitian farmers grew and exported their own rice.

But in the late 1980s the U.S. backed IMF forced Haiti, as a condition for a desperately needed loan, to deregulate their markets and open them up to competition from the outside. The U.S. then dumped its government-subsidized rice onto Haiti (and many other countries around the world), selling the American rice cheaper than Haiti farmers could sell theirs for. The U.S. rice dumping brought to an abrupt halt Haiti's own self-sufficient agricultural infrastructure and forced millions of people into desperate poverty.

U.S. Agribusiness. According to Gretchen Gordon in, "The Food Crisis: Global Markets and Deregulation Strike Again," three major corporations, Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland and Bunge, "control the vast majority of global grain trading, while Monsanto controls more than one-fifth of the global market in seeds."

While billions of human beings are starving, Cargill's third quarter 2007 profits increased more than 86 percent and Monsanto's were up 45 percent. In fact they are using the current crisis to further impose their genetically modified seeds on the peoples of the world.

The U.S. will not be immune from this crisis. Almost 22 percent of African families in the U.S. experience food insecurity - not knowing where their next meal will come from. One out of twelve Indigenous families forced onto reservations on their own land experience food insecurity with hunger. (

Throughout the U.S. the African community has been hit hard by the collapse of the subprime mortgage scam, which again made Wall Street bankers and investors billions of dollars. Cities with high African populations, such as Cleveland, Baltimore, Detroit and Atlanta are seeing tens of thousands of families facing foreclosure and homelessness as a result of this. When the full weight of this crisis hits over the next couple of years millions of African people in America will be plunged even more deeply into poverty.

What can we do?

The United Nations, the U.S. government and the websites of countless organizations are calling for donations of money for food for some of these countries. Charity, however, will never solve this problem, any more than Bush's little tax refund will prevent the downturn of the U.S. economy.

The only thing that will really change this crisis is the end of a system that acts as a parasite sucking the blood of the peoples of the world. Let's face it: the prosperity of the white world is directly dependent on slavery, genocide and theft of the resources of just about everyone else. For us to live, they can't! World peace and cooperation is, of course, forever impossible under such a system.

Going "green" in and of itself is no solution! Environmentalism inside of a system sitting on a pedestal of slavery and colonialism will do nothing but make us feel good for recycling bottles or saving the ozone, while the majority of people continue to suffer and die. Environmental destruction is simply a byproduct of a system that wipes out whole peoples and civilizations to maintain our life style!

What will end hunger and starvation is when the earth's oppressed peoples finally have control over their land, resources, lives and destinies again. The people of Iraq, Palestine, Venezuela, along with African, Mexican and Indigenous people colonized inside this country are struggling for this. This is the struggle for national liberation.

The Uhuru Movement has built the African Socialist International (ASI), made up of African individuals and organizations in Africa, the U.S., the Caribbean, South America, Europe - wherever African people have been dispersed around the world.

The ASI is based on the premise that Africans are one people everywhere and that the food, diamonds, oil, coltan, bauxite, uranium and all the resources of Africa are the birthright of African people the world over, not corporations and Western imperial nations.

The Uhuru Movement, led by the African People's Socialist Party has built the International People's Democratic Uhuru Movement (InPDUM) in the U.S. and Africa. InPDUM is a people's organization that defends the democratic rights of the African community that has been massively imprisoned, placed under martial law and subjected to oppressive educational systems worldwide.

Other dynamic fronts of the Uhuru Movement include the All African People's Development and Empowerment Program (AAPDEP), organizing African scientists, engineers and health care workers from the U.S. to participate in sustainable electrification, rain water harvesting and heath care projects in West Africa.

There is the African Internationalist Student Organization (AISO) for African students from middle school through graduate school. Uhuru News features the on-line radio station Uhuru Radio, Burning Spear Records and The Burning Spear newspaper. Another front, the African People's Solidarity Committee (APSC), is an organization of white people working in white communities under the leadership of the Uhuru Movement

White people who find that living at the expense of the suffering of the vast majority of humanity is intolerable can join the Uhuru Solidarity Movement led by APSC. You and I can make a difference, not as mere consumers of information, but by taking a real stand in solidarity for the future of the planet in the hands of African and oppressed people. (

A stand in solidarity with African and oppressed people everywhere allows us to be part of a great movement to end the system of starvation, of slaves and slave masters and participate in building a system of justice and peace. As the source of most of the problems in today's world, imperialism must go. In its place must be a system built on justice, equity and human needs, not profit, greed and exploitation. This is the vision of the movement for African liberation.

Let's get to work. There is so much to do.

Penny Hess is the Chairwoman of the African People's Solidarity Committee, an organization of white people working under the leadership of the African People's Socialist Party which leads the Uhuru Movement. Hess is the author of Overturning the Culture of Violence and All Diamonds are Blood Diamonds. Her blog can be viewed at


Australia: Soy farmers voice fears over GM crops

The Northern Star, 23 April 2008. By Emma O'Neill.

A FOREIGN pest could destroy Australia's soy bean industry.

That was the fear of soy bean grower Stuart Larsson, as he prepared to harvest his crop in Mallanganee this week.

This foreign pest doesn't have six legs, instead it has three initials - GMO (genetically modified organisms) - and they're sending shivers down the spines of soy bean growers across the nation, according to Mr Larsson.

He believes the success of the Australian soy bean industry rests on the ban of GMOs during the harvest and production of the bean.

"The Australian soy bean market isn't competitive worldwide in terms of production," Mr Larsson said.

"The only reason we are surviving is because we are one of the only remaining GMO-free markets. It's vital we stay that way.

"The government lifted the ban on using GMOs on canola in February, and if the ban was lifted on soy beans as well it would be devastating."

The lifting of the GMO ban on canola crops wasn't good news for soy bean growers, according to local agriculture academic Dave Forrest.

"Soy bean growers are already on the list as one of the next crops to lift the ban, and now that the door is open for bees to travel from canola to soy crops," Mr Forrest said. "It will make it hard for growers to prove to overseas markets that their soy beans are GMO-free.

"Soy bean crops are a big money earner for the Northern Rivers. If the industry was affected it would cost the economy as well as farmers."

District agronomist at Casino, Bede Clarke, said around 80 per cent of soy beans in the world are genetically modified, and confirmed the success of Australia's soy bean industry - especially in relation to markets in South Korea and Japan - relied on keeping their GMO-free label.

Mr Clarke confirmed that this season's soy bean crops in the Northern Rivers region had been reduced because of the January floods and an unusually short summer.

"Usually we would have about 6000 hectares of soy beans in the area. This year we have around 4500 hectares," he said.

"A lot of crops were damaged after the floods and people didn't have enough time to replant before the end of January, which is the best time."

While Mr Larrson said these two weather-related factors had combined to reduce his harvest to less than 50 per cent of his usual yield - the erratic weather was not of as much concern as the looming GMO issue.


USA: FBI: Food safety requires constant vigilance, 23 April 2008.

NEW YORK ā An FBI agent said yesterday that constant vigilance on the part of everyone is needed to keep the American food supply safe, Dow Jones reported.

Federal Bureau of Investigation Section Chief Jenifer Smith, speaking to a general session of the third annual International Symposium on Agroterrorism in Kansas City, said keeping out diseases from U.S. crops and livestock is the number one priority for her division of the FBI, and an act of terrorism could come at any point in the production cycle.

People expect safe food, Smith said, plus it has a high value to the domestic economy. She noted commodities such as cattle, poultry, dairy, crops and hogs contributed $159.6 billion to the economy in 2004, adding that international trade is directly affected by the absence of disease in any commodity.

Smith said threats to the food supply can come from domestic and international sources. She said anti-biotechnical groups like the Earth Liberation Front and lesser-known domestic extremist groups often inflict vandalism and violence threats. Their efforts are meant to discourage research into genetically modified plants and organisms as well as disease research and have been successful in driving some scientists away from the research, she said.

In the post 9/11 era, Smith said it is imperative that more is done to pre-empt and disrupt potential acts of terrorism against U.S. agriculture. Because of this, the FBI is using the Patriot Act to clamp down on these groups to deter terrorist attacks in the U.S. and abroad, she said.

Those efforts tie in with the counter-terrorism work against groups like al-Qaida, Smith said. Such groups are well aware of the potential to terrorize and disrupt the U.S. economy, even if they have not yet chosen to do so, she said.

To accomplish that, Smith indicated that the U.S. has been working with other countries to track down reported terrorist plans. Just because there is no current obvious threat to the U.S. food supply doesn't mean one isn't being planned, Smith said, emphasizing, "constant vigilance" is key.


Swiss food retailers demand information on nanotech, 23 April 2008. By Chris Jones.

Switzerland's leading food retailers have introduced a new code of conduct that will oblige their food and packaging suppliers to provide detailed information about nanotechnology products.

The code, drawn up by the IG DHS, the Swiss retailers association, is in part a response to the fierce criticism drawn by some store operators after they stocked genetically modified (GM) food.

"Companies such as Migros and Coop had a very negative experience over GM products," said Christopher Meili, CEO of The Innovation Society, a Swiss company specialising in nanotechnology risk management.

"They wanted to avoid that bad consumer publicity when it came to nanotechnology," Meili told

His company worked with the retailers to assess the potential risks from nanotech products in food and packaging and to draw up the code of conduct.

According to Meili, Swiss consumers do not necessarily have a negative attitude towards nanotech.

"Consumers are not sceptical about nanotech as such. But with food, consumers want to know what it is that they are eating, and to be able to make informed decisions." That is why, he said, the code of conduct requires food producers to provide information to retailers about any products that contain nanotech particles.

The Swiss retailers have used the definition of 'nano' used by the national government - particles that are 100 nanometers in diameter or less - but Meili stressed that this was just a "working definition" and that it would have to be refined over time.

But he said that setting it this small would probably avoid ingredients firms having to declare their products as nanotech, as products such as vitamins were broadly speaking around 300 nanometers in diameter.

He said that there had been no feedback from - or consultation with - food producers when the code was drawn up, but stressed that the retailers expected to hear from their suppliers in the near future once the code became more widely known.

And Meili suggested that it might be packaging suppliers who would be most badly affected by the code of conduct.

"There are several nano products already widely used in the food packaging sector, and producers will have to provide information on these now."

He suggested that products such as nanosilver - a biocide used in many packaging products for food as a protection against bacteria - could be caught by the new code.

"Nanosilver is used in many products, but nobody really knows what happens if it migrates from the packaging to the food," he said.

The US environmental protection agency in 2006 decided to regulate nanosilver and assess its impact on the environment, but it is not yet regulated in Europe.

Other nano particles used in food packaging include titanium dioxide, which is a UV blocker, while silicon oxide is used a barrier layer.›


USA: What are GMOs good for, again?
Study: transgenic soy brings lower yields than conventional crop

Gristmill blog, 23 April 2008. By Tom Philpott. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) came to dominate U.S. grain agriculture over the last 12 with very little real public debate. Sure, people like me have complained loudly, and groups like Center for Food Safety have mounted forceful lobbying and public education efforts.

But U.S. policymakers have ignored these criticisms and chosen to wave these epoch-making technologies from the lab to the field to the plate with minimal oversight. That's at least partially because Monsanto, the dominant GMO seed producer, has managed to place its own people in high policy-making positions -- particularly during the 1990s, when the Clinton administration opened the floodgates for GMOs. The most glaring example (by no means the only) is Michael Taylor, who represented Monsanto as an attorney in the late 1980s. I'll let his bio take it from here:

He was Administrator of the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service from 1994 to 1996, Deputy Commissioner for Policy at the Food and Drug Administration from 1991 to 1994, and an FDA staff lawyer and Executive Assistant to the FDA Commissioner from 1976 to 1981. He practiced food and drug law and was a partner in the law firm of King & Spalding for ten years and most recently was Vice President for Public Policy at Monsanto Company.

But if (often hand-picked) government regulators have been very, very good to GMOs and the corporations that dominate their production, academic research is starting to stack against them. From the Independent:

Genetic modification actually cuts the productivity of crops, an authoritative new study shows, undermining repeated claims that a switch to the controversial technology is needed to solve the growing world food crisis.

Ouch. The Independent points to a recent University of Kansas study showing that Monsanto's Roundup Ready soybeans (designed to withstand copious lashings of Monsanto's own weed killer, Roundup) deliver yields 10 percent lower than conventional beans. The U. of Kansas verdict comes on the heels of a similar one from researchers at the University of Nebraska. The yield question is key. For years, enthusiasts for genetically modified organisms have argued that GM crops deliver higher yields. And since they deliver higher yields, we desperately need them in order to "feed the world."

According to the Independent, the Kansas researchers concluded that the very process of gene-splicing seems to lower a plant's productivity. GM cotton, too, has shown lower yields. Now, wait a minute. Since their release in 1994, Monsanto's Roundup Ready seeds have conquered the U.S. farm belt and now account for upwards of 90 percent of soy, 60 percent of cotton, and half of corn. Over the same period, we've seen a gusher of Monsanto's Roundup weed killer -- and an explosion in superweeds. It's getting increasingly hard to imagine who benefits from GMOs besides Monsanto, with its monopoly profits.


Bangladesh: GM crops or not?

The New Nation, 23 April 2008.

SPEAKERS at a seminar expressed their concern that the cultivation of genetically modified (GM) rice would ruin ecological balance in the long run. They informed that the cultivation of GM rice is controlled or banned in the countries of Europe. The introduction of biotechnology gave rise to a sharp controversy as to whether GM food would be harmful or helpful for humans and nature. Proponents of genetic modification base their arguments on the need to feed growing world's population which has already crossed 6 billion mark and is predicted to double within the next 50 years. They say that GM foods promise to meet this demand.

According to them, through biotechnology it is possible to develop crops resistant to pests, diseases, cold and drought and even to salinity. Genetic engineering would make production of more nutritious crops possible. GM plants would also help keep pollution low. But according to critics of genetic engineering, GM foods would create hazards in the environment, human health and economy. Genetic modification may cause harm to other organisms like bees or butterflies that are essential for pollination of crops. This technology may lead to gene transfer to non-target species of plants and animals. Introduction of gene into a plant may create new allergens to cause life-threatening allergic reaction among the consumer. Should Bangladesh adopt bio-technology to grow sufficient food to feed the fast growing population? If this option is taken the country will have to take every precautions. GM crops must be tested on a case-to-case basis before introduction. Indiscriminate introduction of GM crops may prove counter - productive. Before adoption of biotechnology Bangladesh must ensure bio-safety and conservation of the natural system. Bangladesh has a bio-safety law. It needs to be enforced urgently.


Italy embarrassed by counterfeit olive oil scandal

The Guardian (UK), 23 April 2008. By John Hooper.

ROME -- It looked like extra virgin olive oil. It even tasted and smelt like extra virgin olive oil. But the alluring, yellowy green liquid that consumers in Germany, Switzerland and the US would have trickled over their salads was actually oil made from soya beans or sunflower seeds - some of it genetically modified - mixed with beta carotene and industrial chlorophyll.

After the discovery in recent months of dioxin in mozzarella and added ethanol in wine, officials yesterday hastened to reassure consumers in the wake of yet another Italian food scandal. On Monday, police arrested 39 people and impounded more than 25,000 litres of counterfeit extra virgin oil. It was due to be exported, or marketed in Italy, in bottles bearing the labels of non-existent companies.

Vincenzo Russo, the prosecutor who ordered the raids, said: "Of itself, the product was not harmful."

But he added that the oil had been manufactured on premises that were not subject to public health checks.

The agriculture minister in Italy's outgoing centre-left government, Paolo De Castro, said the affair was "a demonstration that the checks are there, and are efficient". But the industry association representing Italian olive oil producers said the fraud was "the tip of the iceberg". It added, however, that a new law on mandatory labelling was proving effective.

The latest scandals have caused intense embarrassment to a nation that prides itself on the purity of its foodstuffs. The head of a major farmers' union, Sergio Marini, welcomed the investigations, but he warned that the damage to the image of Italian produce could be enough to decide whether the economy grew or shrank this year.

A statement from a consumers association, ADUC, said there was a risk that when foreign consumers "buy Italian produce [they] will have the same doubts as when they buy Chinese products".


Ireland: If ever the world needed GM food production, it's right now

Irish Independent, 23 April 2008. By Kevin Myers.

The dilemma is simple. The sustained hysteria over global warming is finally beginning to cost lives -- as it was bound to. Ignoring the laws of nature -- and the market place is nature at its purest -- will always exact a price. And the price is usually paid by the weakest and the most vulnerable in a society: of course, this will not include -- and never could include -- the well-heeled humbugs who have driven the hysteria in the first place.

We were told that one way of tackling global warming was to burn biofuels rather than fossil fuels: since replacement crops will absorb the carbon dioxide created when the biofuels combust, the transaction is said to be "carbon neutral".

Governments have thus been rewarding producers for growing biofuels -- with the result that in the US, many farmers prefer to grow them rather than food. Listen: I was the worst student ever to pass first-year economics at UCD, but I still understand the consequences of cutting supply. Prices go up.

And that's what's happened. Rice is roughly twice the price that it was a year ago. That's irritating for us, but perfectly catastrophic for the poor of the world. So serious is the problem that India (among many other countries) has outlawed the export of rice: a further interference in the market. And that's the way of such things: one correction obliges the market-molester to endlessly correct as the initial distortion caused by the first correction begins to rock the entire structure. No-one can manage the consequences, because they are too complex and unpredictable.

Now, you might argue that increasing the price of food is a necessary, if tragic, step towards saving the world from global warming. But it is a strange morality indeed which also campaigns against a technology that could both make food cheaper, and biofuels easier to grow.

Yet the science of genetic modification can unleash the vast untapped resources which are locked up in the DNAs of different species.

As Swift so aptly put it: "that whoever could make two ears of corn or two blades of grass to grow upon a spot of ground where only one grew before, would deserve better of mankind and do more essential service to his country, than the whole race of politicians put together".

Quite. Yet it is the political classes in Europe, with the eco-mob at their heels -- they who wax so hysterical about global warming -- who have prevented the development of GM products here. Supermarkets even boast "We sell no GM products", as witless as the 19th-century apothecary's response to Edward Jenner's discoveries: "No vaccination here".

Simply, GM will enable us to increase plant production, without greater use of fertiliser, for three purposes: to grow biofuels, to produce greater vegetable crops, and, finally, to cultivate special plants whose sole duty is carbon imprisonment. This last function is what the molluscs of the oceans did millions of years ago. By locking up atmospheric carbon in their tiny shells, in due course they became the great limestone, marble and chalk mountains of the world, thereby lowering the world's temperature, and making terrestrial life possible.

But the very people who grew hysterical at the prospect of GM crops five years ago are today at the forefront of shrieking about global warming. The mathematics of all this are quite simple. So too are the morals. What is less easy to understand is the philosophy which prevents us from the reaching the logical conclusion to which maths and morals direct us.

For if we are to move towards biofuels, either we have GM technology, or millions of people in the developing world (as it is incorrectly called, because a lot of it isn't developing at all) will die. There is no third way.

Now, you can argue that the world could do with a reduction of population, and since there is no obvious group rather altruistically volunteering for extinction, the winnowing out of unwanted bodies will have to occur naturally somewhere that the population is already growing faster than are local resources.

There is a name for such a place. It is Africa. Is this what people want? That Africans should die of hunger in their millions, in order that we should feel better because we are using carbon-neutral biofuels, even as we are outlawing the GM technology that will make those fuels, and foodstuffs, cheaper and more available?

It is an interesting morality which embraces this equation, especially since the mumbo-jumbo over global warming is usually propounded by people who declare themselves to be morally superior to just about everyone else on the planet.

You may just have gathered from my tone my position on this. It is that mankind can do almost nothing useful to lower global warming, and therefore we shouldn't try. But sideline that argument, and address the hypothetical possibilities of reducing CO2 levels by plant activity, without causing famine. That cannot be done without GM: moreover, changing the genes of plant life is what mankind has done ever since the invention of agriculture, in the alluvial gardens of Mesopotamia 10,000 years ago.

Comment from GM-free Ireland:

If Kevin Myers had done basic fact-checking like a responsible journalist, he would have known that the UN's International Assessment of Agriculture, Science and Technology (IAASTD) published last week rejects the agribusiness chemical intensive industrial farming model in favour of sustainable, organic and GM-free agriculture as the emerging scientific consensus to meet the food requirements of our expanding global population. He would also have come across the recent conclusive scientific studies which concur that GM crops do NOT have higher yields. But Kevin is famous for his opinionated rants, and this is nothing new.


Global food crisis prompts EU to boost emergency aid

EU Observer, 23 April 2008. By Leigh Phillips.

of the world's poorest citizens in reaction to soaring food prices spreads around the globe, the European Commission is to offer a further €117.25 million in emergency food aid in response to the impact of the increase in food prices on the world's most vulnerable people.

Making the announcement in the European Parliament, the commission's development chief, Louis Michel, said: "The rise in basic food prices is a worldwide humanitarian disaster in the making. Ongoing humanitarian food programmes are under enormous pressure with less food available for people already on the brink of starvation."

"Millions more, who were just about coping before, now risk going hungry," he added. "Addressing food price issue is a global challenge requiring long-term solutions but the emergency is now. We have an obligation to act - and act quickly."

"All analysts say that the era of cheap food is over. We won't see food prices going back down to former levels," he said, pointing out that the aid package was only a partial solution, but not enough to deal with what he called a "structural problem."

He called for a global mobilisation, warning that the crisis threatened "destabilisation in many countries around the world."

What has precipitated the crisis remains unclear, although a number of analysts have described the situation as "a perfect storm" combining a wide range of factors.

The Greens in the parliament used the occasion to call for a moratorium on biofuels, which have in the last year gone from a welcome solution in the fight against climate change to one of the villains behind the food crisis, along with export restrictions, poor harvests, speculation in commodity markets and rising oil prices.

Meanwhile, development NGOs argue that the cracking open of third world agricultural markets is partly to blame, but Western trade officials argue that markets have not opened enough.

Graham Watson, the leader of the Liberals in the parliament, pulled back from his group's previous robust support for European biofuels policy, while endorsing the view that the situation is complex.

"While it is true that bio-fuels increase demand for crops and displace food production the reasons for the recent food price rises are many and varied and so must be the international community's response," he said.

The free market came in for a beating from many MEPs, with repeated calls for increased regulation of speculators.

Leader of the Socialists, German MEP Martin Schultz blamed capitalism itself: "It is shocking that people are now speculating on increases in food prices. Banks are telling their clients to bet on soaring prices. The result is that there is now an incentive for speculators to create food shortages.

"Casino capitalism has taken a seat at the table of the poor. This is immorality carried to the extreme. This is why we need international controls on financial markets."

Commissioner Michel responded: "I'm not in love with capitalism. It's not the object of my affections, but a means to an end."

The latest humanitarian funding consists of €57.25 million taken from the existing food aid budget run by the commission's humanitarian aid department, and a requested €60 million in new money.

The commission has responded on a rolling basis as this crisis has developed. In the face of increasing needs, it committed €160 million - more than 70 percent of the available food aid funds - in a decision adopted in February. It has also fast-tracked the deployment of the rest of the budget with €6 million included in a special package for Bangladesh announced on 10 April.

'Silent tsunami'

Tuesday's announcement, which raises the EU's total food aid budget so far in 2008 to €283.25 million, comes as the head of the UN warned that the food crisis threatened global security.

Speaking to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) conference in Accra, Ghana, on the same day, UN General-Secretary Ban Ki-moon said: "If not handled properly, this crisis could result in a cascade of others ... and become a multidimensional problem affecting economic growth, social progress and even political security around the world."

At the same time as the UNCTAD conference, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown was hosting his own emergency meeting of experts in London to discuss the problem, with representatives from the World Food Programme, the African Development Bank, the head of supermarket chain Sainsbury's, development NGO Oxfam, agrochemicals firm Syngenta, Cargill Grain Traders and the UK's agricultural trade association, the National Farmers' Union.

Mr Brown called for a boost in research into new crop varieties and reiterated that a key solution was the signing of a global trade agreement that would open up markets in the West to agricultural exports from the developing world.

Following the meeting, WFP chief Josette Sheeran said that the crisis was the greatest challenge her organisation had faced in its 45-year history.

She called food price rises: "a silent tsunami threatening to plunge more than 100 million people on every continent into hunger."'

"This is the new face of hunger - the millions of people who were not in the urgent hunger category six months ago but now are," she said in a statement.


22 April 2008

UK: Busting myths about the food crisis

Socialist Worker, 22 April 2008. By Sadie Robinson.

Rocketing price rises are threatening to plunge tens of millions around the world into hunger and food insecurity.

The prices of maize, wheat, soya beans and rice - staple foods for the majority of the world's population - have more than doubled in the past few years. Josette Sheeran, executive director of the United Nations World Food Programme, warned earlier this month, "This is leading to a new face of hunger in the world, what we call the newly hungry. These are people who have money, but have been priced out of being able to buy food."

Many explanations have been put forward for the crisis - population growth, changing consumption patterns and climate change are some of the most popular.

But in reality it is the domination of food production by global capitalism that has reshaped agriculture and food markets and led to the crisis.

Some right wing economists argue that the current crisis is an aberration that will be corrected through the market. But starvation and food crises are inbuilt into capitalism - a system that is based on profit not need.

While millions face hunger and poverty, a tiny minority are making big profits from spiralling food prices.

Agribusiness giant Cargill - the second biggest private company in the world and a major grain trader - earlier this month announced that its quarterly profits have surged up 86 percent.

Of course the "free market" has never been entirely free - it relies on government tariffs, subsidies and economic policies.

Many governments around the world, terrified at the prospect of civil unrest, have banned exports of staple foods or looked for other ways of protecting domestic supplies.

This may give them a temporary breathing space, but it also causes sudden shortages and panics in international markets that can further inflate prices.

There is growing resistance to soaring food prices - and world leaders are right to be afraid of it. Price hikes have provoked strikes, protests and riots over the past few months in countries including Bangladesh, Burkino Faso, Cameroon, Egypt, Haiti, Ivory Coast, Yemen, Indonesia, Morocco, Senegal, Mauritania and Guinea (Conakry).

Thousands of workers are taking up the fight for the right to food. In Egypt the issue of bread prices was at the heart of recent strikes that shook the government, while in Bangladesh garment workers struck last week over the price of rice.

Surely one of the greatest indictments of the system is that capitalism can produce more than enough food but it lets people starve. Socialist Worker exposes five of the most common myths that surround the food crisis.


There are too many people to feed

Many people argue that a growing global population explains the current food crisis.

This idea assumes that we have a limited pot of resources to go around. It doesn't recognise that people have the capacity to transform production methods to increase output.

The argument harks back to Thomas Malthus, an 18th century economist who claimed that increased wealth would lead to an unsustainable growth in population that would outstrip the resources available.

In fact food production has grown faster than population - global agriculture produces 17 percent more calories per person today than it did 30 years ago, despite the population of the world increasing.

Enough wheat, rice and other grains are already produced to provide every person in the world with 3,500 calories a day - before foods such as meat, vegetables, nuts or beans are taken into account.

Britain's department of health says that the average person needs about 2,500 calories a day to maintain a healthy lifestyle. The reality is that food production is marked by overproduction, not underproduction. People starve not because there is a lack of food but because they cannot afford to buy it.

The Russian revolutionary Lenin called Malthus's theory a "reactionary doctrine". He was right.


Economic growth in China is to blame

A favourite theme in the mainstream media is that growing wealth in China is changing consumption patterns and pushing up prices. But even with dramatic economic changes in China, the consumption per head of the Chinese population is still around three times less than that of the US and Britain.

And while it's true that China's meat and dairy consumption has increased, China is still a net exporter of many foods - including rice, wheat and corn. China's increasing imports of food have been pushed by multinationals across the world eager to open up new markets for their produce and grab more profits.


The market can solve the problem

The price of many foodstuffs is already determined through international markets. The economic crisis has inflated prices by pushing investors to put their money into food, which is seen as a "safe" alternative to other forms of financial speculation. Similarly, stockbrokers are now even placing bets on future water prices.

Speculation drives up food prices - and as prices rise, this in turn encourages more speculation. It also encourages stockpiling by food traders - who buy food purely to hold on to it and sell it at a higher price.

Several long-term trends have contributed to rising food prices. All of them result from the way that global capitalism impacts on the food industry.

Poorer countries have seen huge changes in land use over the past 30 years - resulting in less food being produced for domestic consumption.

Pressure from the US government and world bodies such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank has been fundamental in reshaping the agriculture of poorer countries.

This pressure has been formalised through structural adjustment programmes (SAPs) - rebranded Poverty Reduction Strategies - agreements that poorer countries sign up to in order to receive aid or loans.

Key elements of the agreements include cutting public spending, increasing privatisation, and opening up the economy to global markets - with a devastating impact on agriculture.

In Senegal, for example, the government signed up to an SAP in 1986. Government programmes to support farmers were eliminated. Spending cuts and trade liberalisation meant that farmers could not compete with cheap food imports.

The effect was a decrease in the production of basic food crops for local consumption and a turn towards exports. By 1990 a third of the population was categorised as hungry - by 1992, that had risen to 40 percent.

Such policies reduce the ability of people in poorer countries to produce their own food and increase dependence on the global food industry. Over time this pushes up the average price of food.

Another factor pushing up prices is the rush to invest in biofuels - which divert food crops such as corn and wheat to be used for fuel. The US, the world's largest corn exporter, is expected to use nearly a third of its entire crop next year for biofuels.

Governments have also allowed food stocks to fall to an all-time low. In poorer countries, the IMF has explicitly discouraged governments from building up food stocks, arguing that this interferes with the "free market".

Some governments have been forced to sell their stocks in order to repay growing debts.


It is all the fault of climate change

Climate change is a serious problem that impacts on agriculture - particularly in the Global South.

Although climate change in some areas has brought chaotic weather that damaged food crops, climate change alone does not lead to poverty or hunger.

The problem lies in the way that climate change - and the resulting impact on food - is dealt with. Many poor countries do not have the infrastructure to deal with climate change.

It is estimated that Bangladesh, for example, would need to spend £2 billion to build embankments, cyclone shelters, roads and other infrastructure needed to deal with the effects of climate change.

Yet ten million poor people in Bangladesh face the devastation of flooding every year because the investment hasn't been made.

Blaming climate change for the food crisis ignores the fact that we live in a world divided by class - rich people in countries that have seen crops destroyed by floods or droughts will still have plenty to eat.

It also lets governments off the hook. Climate change does not make hunger inevitable - but it is another urgent issue that world leaders are failing to deal with.


Genetically modified crops are the answer

Genetically modified (GM) crops are sometimes put forward as the solution to world hunger. GM crops are modified in ways that make them resistant to disease, changes in climate or insects and as a result can produce higher yields.

But the introduction of GM foods has not ended hunger - it has increased inequality.

It has allowed multinational biotechnology companies to increase their control over global food production and intensified the dependence of poor countries on richer ones.

New research by the University of Kansas has shown that genetic modification cuts the productivity of crops, undermining repeated claims that a switch to the controversial technology is needed to solve the growing world food crisis.

The study - carried out over the past three years in the US grain belt - has found that GM soya produces about 10 percent less food than its conventional equivalent, contradicting assertions by advocates of the technology that it increases yields.

There are also many serious question marks over the safety of GM foods.

The promotion of GM foods uses similar arguments to those used in the so-called "Green Revolution" of the 1960s and 1970s.

The Green Revolution developed varieties of seeds and crops that could produce higher yields. It was promoted in India as a way of staving off famine and dealing with hunger.

Yet today 233 million Indians are undernourished and malnutrition has increased throughout the 1990s.

Food production can grow at the same time as hunger - because hunger today is a result of how food production is organised, not the amount of food produced.


22 April, Earth Day 2008

Ireland: GM resistance

Clare People, 22 April 2008.

In a press statement last week, the UK National Beef Association called for all resistance to GM crops, at both UK and EU level, to be abandoned immediately. According to the IOFGA [Irish Organic Farmers Association], to date GM foods have failed to deliver on all their promises and with billions of euros being invested, still this technology is rejected by people, farmers, and policy makers all over he world.

Comment from GM-free Ireland:

The UK National Beef Association (NBA) must have been hijacked by the agri-biotech industry. Their press statement was authored by NBA chairman Duff Burrell. Despite its impressive sounding name, the NBA only represents around 1,000 farmers in Britain and Northern Ireland, and many of them do not suppport GM farming. The Secretary of the Northern Ireland branch of NBA, Arthur McKevitt said he was not consulted about the statement prior to its release, and that he vehemently disagrees with Burrell's endorsement of GM crops and GM animal feed.

The NBA statement falsely stated that the former UK Chief Scientist Sir David King estimated "that the cost of the UK's failure to embrace GM crops has already cost its cereal sector £4 billion in lost output". Burrell's claim that he did so is totaly fallacious and should be withdrawn. In reality, King claimed that Britain's "failure to adopt GM crops" including lost sales for the agribiotech industry! had "cost the economy between £2bn and £4b". Critics of King accused him of being "demob-happy" and of "totalitarian paranoia". The editors of two of Britain's top scientific journals have both taken him to task, as have the environmental spokesmen of both main opposition parties. The Lancet editor Dr. Richard Horton said "King takes his faith in science into the realms of totalitarian paranoia. If he lost the debate on GM, it was because his arguments failed to convince people."

Burrell's claim that GM crops offer a solution to world hunger and that we must fast-track the approval of new untested GM animal feed is absolute nonsense. The scientific evidence now clearly shows that GM crops do NOT increase yields in the long-term (farmers who use them do so because they facilitate pest management, or because they have difficulty sourcing non-GMO seeds); an abundant supply of certified non-GMO soya meal is available from Brazil; and EU market rejection of GM food - including meat and dairy produce from livestock fed on imported GM animal feed - is increasing.

Farmers on both sides of the Irish border wishing to take advantage of the EU market for safe high quality GM-free food want feed importers to supply more, not less, GM-free feed.

The Irish Organic Farmers and Growers Association described the NBA press statement as "very short sighted" and "clearly ill-informed" (see press IOFGA press release under 11 April, below).

Commenting on the NGA statement, the chairman of Ireland's Western Organic Network, John Brennan, said: "Here we have someone supposedly representing beef farmers taking a line that we need to keep prices of beef down and continue to endorse the EU cheap food policy. Furthermore he is advocating technologies that consumers don't want to fast-track the process. What this amounts to is anti-farmer and anti-consumer sentiment and I think that Mr Burrell should seriously consider his position."


Relaxing GM laws will not lower animal feed prices in the EU
EU Parliament urged to maintain safety standards for GM food and feed

GM-free Ireland Network, 22 April 2008.

European farming organisations, consumer cooperatives, and Non Governmental Organisations representing 50 million citizens from all 27 EU member states said today that relaxing EU laws on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) would not solve the problem of animal feed cost increases which have hit the continent's livestock and dairy industries.

In a letter faxed to Members of the European Parliament [1] this morning, the coalition is urging the European Union to ensure sustainable supplies of GM-free animal feed for European farmers, and to defend the EU's "zero tolerance" policy for food and animal feed containing or derived from unapproved genetically modified organisms.

The letter was co-signed by Coordination Paysanne Européenne, EuroCoop, European Environmental Bureau, Friends of the Earth Europe, GM-free Ireland Network, Greenpeace, International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements EU Group, and the Save our Seeds Coalition.

This is the latest move in the war to control the world food supply through GM crops patented by agri-chemical-biotech corporate giants including Monsanto, BASF, Dupont/Pioneer/Dow, and Syngenta, in collusion with global commodity traders Cargill, Bunge, and Archer Daniel Midlands (ADM) which dominate the animal feed trade.

It's a war fought with crop patents, propaganda, and threats of punitive trade sanctions against European member states and other countries which refuse to vote their approval of new GMOs for animal feed, food and cultivation:

the crop patents enable Monsanto and few other giant companies to control 50% of the world's agricultural crops, making it illegal for farmers to save and plant their own seeds, enabling the corporations to file patent infringement lawsuits against farmers contaminated by GM seed dispersal and pollen drift, thus empowering corporate patent owners to expropriate the food supply of nations;

the propaganda includes false claims that GM crops do not contaminate natural crops, that they have higher yields, that they are proven to be medically and environmentally safe, that they require less toxic chemicals, and that rising animal feed costs in Europe are caused by the EU's refusal to fast-track the approval of new GM maize and soya varieties;

the punitive trade sanctions are being threatened - through the WTO - by the governments of the USA, Canada and Argentina: the US is currently threatening economic sanctions against the EU if it refuses to lift Austria's ban on GM crops, and has also threatened punitive import tariffs against individual EU member states unless they vote in favour of legalising new GM animal feed ingredients in the EU single market.

Some players, including the bosses of the Irish Farmers Association, seem to have swallowed the propaganda and deny the existence of certified non-GM feed. Like mice before a mousetrap, they have even become leading advocates of GM crops that would contaminate their own country in perpetuity and effectively shut them out of the growing EU market for quality meat, poultry and dairy produce from livestock fed a GM-free diet.

In response to the rising cost of animal feed, the European GM-free coalition points out that the EU is the world's most powerful trading block, and thus has the economic strength to influence what exporting countries cultivate so as to secure the safe GM-free supply chain which the majority of European farmers, food brands, retailers and consumers demand. For example, last year Brazilian soya exporters offered to ship certified non-GMO soya meal for European farmers' entire requirements in 2008, subject to EU regional coordination and forward planning. Unfortunately, some importers (including Ireland's R&H Hall) failed to act on time, raising suspicions of collusion with commodity traders like Cargill which has joint ventures with Monsanto.

On Sunday, the German Minister for Agriculture and Consumer Affairs, Horst Seehofer, accused the transnational animal feed and food corporations of being "primarily interested in maximising profits and not in provisioning people... It is not acceptable that in the U.S. there is essentially only one corporation left that supplies seed. This means farmers are blackmailed there and in the developing countries as well." Criticising the role played by market speculators and commodity traders in the rising cost of animal feed, he said "behind all that is the interest of the multinationals to sell their genetically modified soy and maize."

Tomorrow (Wednesday), a plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg will debate a controversial proposal by a British MEP to "synchronise" new GMO approvals with those made in the USA (which are usually based on unverified safety claims made by the applicant companies).

The European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Affairs, Stavros Dimas, said he will oppose all further approvals of GMOs until the European Food Safety Authority has been given the capacity to carry out its legal requirements for reliable scientific risk assessments.


Media contacts:

Michael O'Callaghan
Coordinator, GM-free Ireland Network
tel + 353 87 799 4761

Raoul Bhambral
GMO and Agrofuels Campaigner, Friends of the Earth Europe
tel: + 32 2401 4808
skype: raoul.bhambral


Notes to editors:

1. Letter to the Members of the European Parliament, 22 April 2008:

Dear MEP,

REF: EP Plenary Session April 23rd
Oral question: Zero tolerance regime for unauthorised GMOs and economic consequences thereof

We represent sustainable family farmers, consumer cooperatives, the organic sector and environmental NGOs from across Europe. We are writing to you concerning the oral questions, tabled by Neil Parish MEP, on the economic consequences of the EU's zero tolerance regime for unauthorised GMOs. These are due to be debated on Wednesday evening at the Strasbourg plenary. The timing of these questions coincides with high levels of media and political interest in rising food and feed prices around the world. They also follow a DG Agriculture report [1] on the potential impact of the EU's GMO regime on the availability and price of animal feed.

In the Annex (attached), we have addressed the four specific questions to be answered by the European Commission this Wednesday.

The increase in prices is a serious problem and solutions are needed urgently, but this must not be linked to unrelated issues in an attempt to force more genetically modified crops into the EU. We represent farmers and livestock breeders from around Europe who are confronted with this problem on a daily basis. We urge Members of the European Parliament to ensure that real solutions and support for farmers be investigated and implemented.

It is widely acknowledged, including by the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) that the primary causes of food and feed price increases are:

the overall increased demand;

poor weather conditions;

the rapid expansion of agrofuels (also known as biofuels);

the gradual deregulation of the markets over the last 20 years; and

financial speculation.

There is little evidence to suggest that weakening the GMO regime in Europe will address this. Price increases have occurred all over the world - even in the US which has the most permissive system of GM approvals.

The roles of emerging economies, such as China, are being put forward as a reason for the EU to authorise more GMOs into the EU. Two main threats are being given for this: increased demand and the Chinese lack of awareness or lack of concern concerning GM crops.

It should however be noted that:

Although demand in China is increasing, the FAO confirms that the EU will remain the largest single market for soybean meal for feed.

Secondly, China has biosafety laws in place and is much closer to the EU system in this respect than it is to the US. Concerning consumer demand, the food company Kraft, for example, has adopted a GMO-free policy for its food products on the Chinese market.

The EU, one of the world's biggest trading blocks, carries weight in the international arena and can help determine what exporting countries cultivate, including whether they go ahead with new GMOs. Argentina and Brazil are indeed cautious about approving new GM crops that could hurt their exports to the EU and we would strongly urge Member States and the European Commission to continue to push for producer countries to cultivate animal feeds that correspond to what consumers want to eat. One million European citizens signed a petition [2] in 2007 calling for the labelling of meat and dairy products from animal fed with GM crops.

On average more than half of the European public is opposed to the use of genetically modified organisms, and many EU countries in fact have higher levels of concern, reaching up to the 70-80% mark [3]. We urge you to:

work at the EU level to develop plant protein crops in Europe with a view to becoming less dependent on animal feed imports which would be the solution to getting real GM-free animal products, in line with the wishes of the majority of consumers, and

ensure that the EU resists pressures to weaken its GMO regulations and instead promotes and defends high health and safety standards for consumers, animals and the environment around the world.

Yours sincerely,

Gérard Choplin Coordination Paysanne Européenne (CPE)
Rosita Zilli, EuroCoop
Mauro Albrizio, European Environmental Bureau (EEB)
Helen Holder, Friends of the Earth Europe
Michael O'Callaghan, GM-free Ireland Network
Marco Contiero, Greenpeace
Marco Schlueter, International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements EU Group (IFOAM)
Benny Haerlin, Save our Seeds Coalition

Download letter

Download annex



DG Agriculture Report. Economic Impact of unapproved GMOs on EU Feed Imports and Livestock, June 2007:


3. Eurobarometer, March 2008.

Who we are

Coordination Paysanne Europ»enne (CPE) is a coordinated group of 25 farmer's organisations from 15 countries in Europe. For 20 years we have produced analysis and proposals regarding reforms to the CAP. We are active in 15 countries and at EU level to defend the interests of small farms. With others, in 1993, we founded the international farmers and agricultural workers movement known as "la Via Campesina". CPE has been campaigning against GMOs for 15 years and also for greater autonomy within the EU concerning animal feed.

EuroCoop is the European community of consumer cooperatives. Its Secretariat is based in Brussels. Its members are the national organisations of consumer cooperatives in 18 European countries. Created in 1957, Eurocoop today represents over 3,200 local and regional cooperatives, whose members amount to more than 25 million consumers across Europe.

The European Environmental Bureau (EEB) is a federation of over 145 environmental organizations representing about 20 million citizens and based in all EU Member States. These organizations range from local and national, to European and international. Our aim is to protect and improve the environment of Europe and to enable the citizens of Europe to play their part in achieving that goal. The Brussels office was established in 1974 as a focal point for its members to monitor and respond to the emerging EU environmental policy. It has an information service, runs working groups of EEB members, produces position papers on topics that are, or should be, on the EU agenda, and represents the membership in discussions with the Commission, the European Parliament and the Council. It closely coordinates EU-oriented activities with its members at national level.

Friends of the Earth Europe (FoEE) campaigns for sustainable and just societies and for the protection of the environment, unites more than 30 national organisations around Europe with thousands of local groups. FoEE is part of the world's largest grassroots environmental network, Friends of the Earth International which has members in 70 countries worldwide with over 2 million members.

The GM-free Ireland Network represents over one million citizens and is a coalition of 18 local authorities, 130 food and farm organisations and NGOs collaborating to keep the whole island of Ireland free of genetically modified animal feed, seeds, trees, crops, livestock, fish and food. Members include farmers, foresters, food producers, food distributors and exporters, restaurants, professional associations, doctors, economists, lawyers, journalists, chefs, students, and consumers.

Greenpeace is an independent campaigning organisation with offices in 42 countries worldwide. Greenpeace European Unit is based in Brussels, where we monitor and analyse the work of the institutions of the EU, expose deficient EU policies and laws, and challenge decision-makers to implement progressive solutions.

The IFOAM EU Group represents the 330 member organisations of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements in the EU 27 and EFTA countries, working on organic production. Member organisations include: consumer, farmer and processor associations; research, education and advisory organisations; certification bodies and commercial organic companies.

Save our Seeds is a European Coalition to protect the purity of seed. 350 organisations and over 250,000 citizens from all member states of the European Union have signed a joint petition to the European Commission to prevent the contamination of conventional and organic seeds from genetically modified varieties.


UK: Are Genetically Engineered Crops Bad?

Environmental Graffiti, 22 April 2008.

In light of the news splashed across this week's papers that the rise in food prices worldwide is forcing genetically modified foods onto the marketplace to cope with demand, one wonders why, exactly, GM foods are perceived to be so bad.

Scientifically, they haven't been proven to be. But then again, they said that about lexan, too. The reality is, you may have already been eating these foods without knowing it: in the US they are FDA-approved, and in most major grocery stores.

Proponents of GM foods claim that the environmental movement is largely motivated by anger over the profit that drives farmers and researches towards this end, and that we simply are taking out our rage without cause. These are, I imagine, the same folks that believe that global warming is a plot to bring on the world socialist government.

The reality is, that taking in vast amounts of foods that have been subject to gene splicing and irradiation may or may not be dangerous: we simply don't have enough information yet.

The fallacy my science teachers would accuse the GM advocates of using is too small a sample size. In addition, the new foods have yet to be around long enough to see how they affect a person during their entire lifetime.

The policy, then, of approving them and allowing all of humanity to act as a guinea pig is not necessarily evil so much as it is dumb: the packaging isn't required by US law to be marked, and most of us may not know the difference.

The good news, of course, is that food may cheaper - we simply don't yet know at what cost.


What can Britain do to alleviate the food crisis?

The Telegraph, Speaker's Corner, 22 April 2008.

Record food price inflation has added almost £800 to the average British family's annual shopping bill, new research reveals. The price increases suggest inflation on supermarket shelves is running at more than seven times the official rate of inflation.

The revelation comes on the same day as the World Food Programme told political leaders that rising food prices are a "silent tsunami" which threaten to be as devastating as the worst natural disasters, and that "large-scale, high-level" action is urgently needed to combat the problem.

Gordon Brown described tackling hunger as a moral challenge. He urged the international community to back an "agricultural revolution" to make sure poor farmers could sell their food and an "aid for trade" package to develop better storage and transport facilities.

What do you think Britain should do to alleviate the food crisis? Should we focus on foreign aid or on making trade more beneficial to farmers in the developing world? Should the Government take action to control food prices in Britain?

What sort of impact are the rising costs of food having on you? Are you struggling to get value for money when you go shopping?

Mark my words, this is to do with preparing the ground for GM crops. The EU and UN will talk this issue of food shortages up until we all give in to GM. Be aware that this is their game plan. Don't fall for it.

The one-world government is on its way and Blair is a big advocate. Once we go down the GM route there will be no turning back.

We must not let it happen.


WFP warns of 'silent tsunami' of hunger
Ration cards. Genetically modified crops. The end of pile-it-high, sell-it-cheap supermarkets.

Time Magazine / Associated Press, 22 April 2008. By David Stringer.

LONDON -- These possible solutions to the first global food crisis since World War II - which the World Food Program says already threatens 20 million of the poorest children - are complex and controversial. And they may not even solve the problem as demand continues to soar.

A "silent tsunami" of hunger is sweeping the world's most desperate nations, said Josette Sheeran, the WFP's executive director, speaking Tuesday at a London summit on the crisis.

The skyrocketing cost of food staples, stoked by rising fuel prices, unpredictable weather and demand from India and China, has already sparked sometimes violent protests across the Caribbean, Africa and Asia.

The price of rice has more than doubled in the last five weeks, she said. The World Bank estimates food prices have risen by 83 percent in three years. "What we are seeing now is affecting more people on every continent," Sheeran told a news conference.

Hosting talks with Sheeran, lawmakers and experts, British Prime Gordon Brown said the spiraling prices threaten to plunge millions back into poverty and reverse progress on alleviating misery in the developing world.

"Tackling hunger is a moral challenge to each of us and it is also a threat to the political and economic stability of nations," Brown said.

Malaysia's embattled prime minister is already under pressure over the price increases and has launched a major rice-growing project. Indonesia's government needed to revise its annual budget to respond.

Unrest over the food crisis has led to deaths in Cameroon and Haiti, cost Haitian Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis his job, and caused hungry textile workers to clash with police in Bangladesh.

Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said more protests in other developing nations appear likely. "We are going through a very serious crisis and we are going to see lots of food strikes and demonstrations," Annan told reporters in Geneva.

At streetside restaurants in Lome, Togo, even the traditional balls of corn meal or corn dough served with vegetable soup are shrinking. Once as big as a boxer's fist, the dumplings are now the size of a tennis ball - but cost twice as much.

In Yaounde, Cameroon, civil servant Samuel Ebwelle, 51, said he fears food prices will rise further.

"We are getting to the worst period of our life," he said. "We've had to reduce the number of meals we take a day from three to two. Breakfast no longer exists on our menu."

Even if her call for $500 million in emergency funding is met, food aid programs - including work to feed 20 million poor children - will be hit this year, Sheeran said.

President Bush has released $200 million in urgent aid. Britain pledged an immediate $59.7 million on Tuesday.

Even so, school feeding projects in Kenya and Cambodia have been scaled back and food aid has been cut in half in Tajikistan, Sheeran said.

Yet while angry street protesters call for immediate action, long term solutions are likely to be slow, costly and complicated, experts warn.

And evolving diets among burgeoning middle classes in India and China will help double the demand for food - particularly grain intensive meat and dairy products - by 2030, the World Bank says.

Robert Zoellick, the bank's head, claims as many as 100 million people could be forced deeper into poverty. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said rising food costs threaten to cancel strides made toward the goal of cutting world poverty in half by 2015.

"Now is not too soon to be thinking about the longer-term solutions," said Alex Evans, a former adviser to Britain's Environment Secretary Hilary Benn.

He said world leaders must help increase food production, rethink their push on biofuels - which many blame for pushing up food prices - and consider anew the once taboo topic of growing genetically modified crops.

But Evans, now a visiting fellow at New York University's Center on International Cooperation, said increasing the amount of land that can be farmed in the developing world will be arduous.

"It's almost like new oil or gas fields; they'll tend to be the hardest to reach places, that need new roads and new infrastructure to be viable," he said.

The will to increase food production exists, as does most of the necessary skills, but there are major obstacles, including a lack of government investment in agriculture and - in Africa particularly - a scarcity of fertilizers, good irrigation and access to markets.

"Many African farmers are very entrepreneurial, but they simply aren't connected to markets," said Lawrence Haddad, an economist and director of Britain's Institute of Development Studies. "They find there are no chilling plants for milk and no grinding mills for coffee."

Haddad said the likely impact of food price increases should have been anticipated. "The fact no one has previously made the link between agriculture and poverty is quite incredible," he said.

Just as new land for farming is available in Russia and Brazil, new genetically modified crops resistant to drought, or which deliver additional nutrients, could be better targeted to different regions of the developing world, Evans said. "The solutions are more nuanced than we previously thought," he added.

Sheeran said developing world governments, particularly in Africa, will need to dedicate at least 10 percent of future budgets to agriculture to boost global production.

Some experts predict other countries could follow the example of Pakistan, which has revived the use of ration cards for subsidized wheat.

The production of biofuels also needs to be urgently re-examined, Brown said.

He acknowledged that Britain this month introduced targets aimed at producing 5 percent of transport fuel from biofuels by 2010, but said his government and others should review their policies.

Production of biofuel leads to the destruction of forests and takes up land available to grow crops for food.

Brown said the impact of the food crisis won't just be felt in the developing world, but also in the checkout lane of Western supermarkets. "It it is not surprising that we see our shopping bills go up," Brown said.

Many analysts, including Britain's opposition leader David Cameron, claim that people in the West will need to eat less meat - and consume, or waste, less food in general. Some expect the shift in attitudes to herald the end of supermarket giveaways and cost-cutting grocery stores that stack goods to the ceiling and sell in bulk.

Citizens in the West, China and India must realize that the meat on their plate and biofuels in their expensive cars carry a cost for those in the developing world, Evans said.

Sheeran believes many already understand the impact. "Much of the world is waking up to the fact that food does not spontaneously appear on grocery store shelves," she said.

--- AP writers Ebow Godwin in Lome, Togo; Emmanuel Tumanjong in Yaounde, Cameroon; Anita Powell in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and Eliane Engeler in Geneva contributed to this report.


Green schemes for biofuel crops set to fail - Friends of the Earth

EU Business, 22 April 2008.

Attempts to use certification schemes to reduce the widespread environmental and social problems caused by growing crops for fuels and animal feeds are bound to fail, states a new report released today by Friends of the Earth groups.

The report is released on the eve of a controversial April 23-24 meeting in Buenos Aires set to discuss the certification of growing soy, a crop expanding rapidly to meet the increasing demand for fuel and the world's most-used animal feed. ›

The report from Friends of the Earth groups comes amid global worries about the increasingly tragic impacts of rising food prices. Biofuels - plants grown to make fuel not food - have been blamed as one factor driving this trend. ›

Where they are grown in intensive agricultural systems, such as environmentally-damaging large-scale monoculture plantations, biofuels are called agrofuels. Their spread is creating even more pressure on land and further exacerbates existing problems.

"The expansion of massive monocultures leads to the destruction of our forests, savannahs and wildlife, raises land and food prices and directly impacts on rural communities who are forced off their land to make way for the plantations. Unfortunately certifying large monocultures as sustainable would mislead international consumers and not improve production methods. Increasing production for export, and increasing consumption in the North, are destructive trends that must be reversed," said Lucia Ortiz of Friends of the Earth Brazil. ›

"Whilst we feed cars and factory farms with cheap crops from the South, food prices rocket, forests are destroyed and people suffer. Certifying these crops as green, even if well intentioned, is a smokescreen that will fool the public and let the problems continue. The really green answer is to reduce the demand for these crops in the first place," said Adrian Bebb of Friends of the Earth Europe. ›

The report investigates all the major certification schemes being introduced to minimise the environmental and social problems from growing soy and sugar cane in Latin America and concludes that:

the rapid expansion of soy and sugar cane plantations pushes out other farming elsewhere causing deforestation, loss of wildlife and huge social problems, including violent conflicts and forced land evictions. All certification schemes fail to solve this major problem.

knock-on effects such as rising food prices fall outside of all proposed certification schemes.

it is highly unlikely that any of the certification schemes will be fully implemented and effectively monitored, thereby introducing considerable risk that schemes will be open to fraud and consumers will be deceived.

many certification schemes are heavily dominated by large international companies that make their business from selling more and more commodity crops and have little interest in reducing the demand. This has led to widespread rejection from civil society groups in Latin America.

genetically modified crops are accepted in some schemes as 'responsible' or as a mark of sustainability even where their use has led to a massive increase in chemical herbicides, environmental degradation and health problems for rural communities.

Friends of the Earth International also released a separate statement coinciding with the Buenos Aires meeting of the so-called Roundtable on Responsible Soy due to take place on April 23-24 in Buenos Aires. The Roundtable was widely criticised in the statement. ›

"The companies involved in the Roundtable on Responsible Soy are in a unique position: they control both demand and supply of cheap soy for feed and fuel. But the only solution to the massive problems caused by industrial soy production is to decrease soy production and consumption, which is exactly the opposite of what the companies involved aim at," said Roque Pedace from Friends of the Earth Argentina.

Recent studies including a Friends of the Earth report show that there are also grave environmental and social problems with palm oil, which is widely used in food, feed and agrofuels. The bulk of its production originates in unsustainable oil palm plantations in Malaysia and Indonesia.

Friends of the Earth Europe campaigns for sustainable and just societies and for the protection of the environment, unites more than 30 national organisations with thousands of local groups and is part of the world's largest grassroots environmental network, Friends of the Earth International.


USA: Please, sir, I want some GMOs
Worldwide resistance to GMOs dwindle as food bills rise

Grist magazine, 22 April 2008. By Tom Philpott.

For a while now, I've been cautioning people that surging prices for industrial food don't necessarily "level the playing field" for sustainably produced fare. In fact, the few giant companies that dominate the global food system are fattening themselves on higher prices, consolidating their grip over the world's palate. Last week, new Gristmill blogger Anna Lappe showed that Cargill -- a major producer of everything from fertilizer to biofuel to meat -- recently reported an 86 percent jump in quarterly earnings.

And Monday, Andrew Pollack of The New York Times reported that sky-high prices are breaking down global resistance to GMO crops. Writes Pollack:

Soaring food prices and global grain shortages are bringing new pressures on governments, food companies, and consumers to relax their longstanding resistance to genetically engineered crops.

That's mainly because the countries that now dominate world grain production -- the United States, Brazil, and Argentina -- have all completely thrown their lots with GMOs. The United States alone produces 44 percent of the world's corn -- and 70 percent of global corn exports originate from here.

Thus, if you're going to buy corn and soy on world markets, you're either going to buy GMOs, or pony up a hefty premium to avoid them. One South Korean food processor told Pollack that "non-engineered corn cost Korean millers about $450 a metric ton, up from $143 in 2006. Genetically engineered corn costs about $350 a ton." That makes a nearly 30 percent markup for non-GMO corn, with GMO corn already trading at record highs.

Not surprisingly, with prices surging, fewer countries are willing to pay that premium. Pollack reports that food processors in Japan and South Korea, which have until now rejected GMOs for fear of consumer backlash, are now quietly phasing them in.

In Europe, consumers remain highly skeptical of the alleged benefits of GMOs. Here is Pollack:

Polls in Europe do not yet show a decisive shift in consumer sentiment, and the industry has had some recent setbacks. Since the beginning of the year, France has banned the planting of genetically modified corn while Germany has enacted a law allowing for foods to be labeled as "G.M. free."

Yet as prices rise, that may change:

The chairman of the European Parliament's agriculture committee, Neil Parish, said that as prices rise, Europeans "may be more realistic" about genetically modified crops: "Their hearts may be on the left, but their pockets are on the right."

Thus, the allegedly free market -- shamelessly rigged by U.S. and European biofuel mandates, which are jacking up the price of corn and soy -- overwhelms consumer desire.


Hungary: Earth Day - Greens mount campaign tour to expand GMO-free zones

Budapest Times, 22 April 2008.

Green groups embarked on a tour of Hungary on Tuesday to warn of the dangers of genetically-modified products (GMO) and campaign for more GMO-free zones.

During their weekly programme, the Hungarian Environmentalists' Association (MTVSZ) and the Green Group for Central Hungary will aim at drawing support from farmers to preserve their GMO-free zones and add new ones.

The groups will collect signatures in central Budapest on Tuesday, marking Earth Day.

So far 74 towns and villages all over the country have joined the GMO-free initiative, pledging to exclude such products from their crops.

Hungary has started assessing the risks of GMO farming in response to pressure from the European Union.

Hungary's farm minister has also argued that competition from neighbouring countries may force farmers to weigh the benefits of GMO-free produce against cheaper production costs.

Hungary is among the biggest grain producers in the 27-member European Union and was the first country in eastern Europe to ban GMO crops or foods.


GMOs back on the agenda: Canada's bill C-617, 22 April 2008.

Editor's Note: Today we take pleasure in welcoming Lauren Carter to the writing team. Lauren lives in Ontario, Canada, has a wealth of writing experience and will be covering such issues as food, energy efficiency, sustainable travel and more.

If Canadian consumers have their way, Monsanto might have the short end of the straw this spring as Canadian politicians revisit an old debate.

By the luck of the draw, Bill C-517, calling for mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods in Canada, is currently being considered in Parliament. The latest of several bills introduced into the House of Commons over the years, this latest plea for Canada to join other countries in the push against GMO foods remains a tender sprout that could still be mowed down.

Despite several polls showing that the majority of Canadians want to know what they're eating, the government has so far refused to legislate labeling laws that would provide this information.

"Consumers and Canadians are very interested in food labeling and the importance of food labeling as it relates to information that helps them make their choices about food," admits Member of Parliament Bruce Stanton, during a recording of the debate on the show Deconstructing Dinner, on Kootenay Co-Op Radio. But, insists Stanton in a follow-up interview on the show, Health Canada is sufficient to the task of ensuring that foods available to consumers are safe.

As the bill awaits another reading and a vote, several groups such as Greenpeace Canada and the Vancouver, B.C. publication The Tyee, are attempting to get the word out. But as they preach to the converted, many Canadians who have yet to be introduced to the subject will have to wait awhile. It seems the mainstream media ā including Canada's own Canadian Broadcasting Corporation ā have yet to even mention this latest effort to allow us to make up our own minds about what we eat.

For those Canadians who would rather avoid GMO foods in our supermarkets, download a copy of Greenpeace's How to Avoid Genetically Engineered Foods. And as the vote on this bill is still to come, make time to write your M.P.

Further Reading:

Calling Five Percent of U.S. Residents to Action on GMOs

The World According to Monsanto

Maine in Quandary Over GM Crops

The Global Spread of GMO Crops

GM Crops, Pesticides, and the Poor

Carbon Credits Used to Fund GMOs?

The Food Revolution - Genetic Engineering, Part I

The Health Dangers of Genetically Modified Foods

View Celsias projects related to this topic >>


Poland's meat crisis, April 21, 2008

Polish meat has already become more expensive compared to Western Europe. ›

However, the situation may be reversed if the Polish parliament agrees to GMO feed and if Poland follows the same path as Denmark. ›

During 2007, the amount of imports exceeded exports. This was mainly due to high pork prices in Poland.› According to Dariusz Nowakowski, CEO of Grupa Animex, Poland's biggest meat processor, the situation may get even worse this year.

Much higher prices compared to EU

Nowakowski says, "85% of production costs are generated by meat prices. In Poland, the price of pork has for a long time already been higher than the EU average and much higher than in Denmark, the USA or Brazil."

Most likely, higher production costs will have to be dealt with as well, when a ban of GMO elements in feed is implemented in August this year.

"This is a big threat to our company and to the whole sector in Poland. If this provision comes into force, meat prices will soon jump and imports will further grow," said Nowakowski.

The Minister of Agriculture, Marek Sawicki, has promised to levy this ban.

Denmark a good example

Nowakowski added that, "Polish meat would become more competitive and that prices would fall substantially if the sector followed the suit of Denmark, which has become a giant in pork production and exports in the last thirty years."

Comment from GM-free Ireland

Poland supplies GM-free pig meat to Germany, much of it for the huge sausage market there. The German market for Polish meat is expected to expand further in May when German retailers begin GM-free meat labelling for meat from pigs fed on a certified non-GMO diet, boosting income for Polish farmers in the 43 European Regions which have adopted a quality food strategy, as well as in major European retailers who are moving towards a GM-free food chain in response to consumer demand for safe quality food.


Egypt approves first Bt-corn variety for domestic planting, 22 April 2008.

CAIRO -- The Egyptian Minister of Agriculture recently approved decisions made by the National Biosafety Committee (NBC) and Seed Registration Committee allowing for commercialization of a genetically modified Bt corn variety. The decision marks the first genetically modified crop approved for domestic planting in Egypt.

During last year's growing season, the field trials were conducted and assessed. A local seed company, acting as an agent of a multi-national life science company, originally submitted the request and accompanying dossier several years ago. The company plans to import seed both for propagation and production from South Africa. The company plans to cultivate the BT corn in 10 governates throughout Egypt and has already started a campaign to market the seed to producers and extension agents


21 April 2008

Ireland: Sargent opens TCD food week, 21 April 2008. By Elaine Edwards.

Raising awareness of the global food emergency is central to the Green agenda, Minister of State for Food and Horticulture Trevor Sargent said today.

Mr Sargent was speaking as he formally opened Trinity College Dublin's first ever food week. "Raising awareness of food issues, from sourcing local food and ensuring global food security to protecting farmers and consumers against risks associated with genetically modified organisms (GMOs), are a vital part of the Green agenda," Mr Sargent said.

"This event comes at a time when food has never been a more central issue and when the global challenges are more acute that ever before."

Mr Sargent will speak at the college tomorrow on the topic of GMOs, which his party wants to see banned in Ireland.

The World Food Programme (WFP), a UN body, recently described rising food and fuel prices as "nothing less than a global emergency".

Rising prices mean the world's poorest people will have to spend a larger portion of their income on food, the WFP says. This may mean they will buy less food, or food that is less nutritious, or they may have to rely on outside help.

At the end of February, the body estimated it would need an additional $500 million on top of its base budget to cover the increased cost of food and fuel in poorer countries.

But because of rapidly rising prices, it now puts that figure at $755 million and says that may rise even further.

The TCD food week will feature an organic mini-market on the front square of the college on Wednesday and Thursday. Campus restaurants will feature special healthy menus devised in conjunction with chef Darina Allen.


EU may delay decision in May on growing GM crops

Reuters, 21 April 2008. By Jeremy Smith.

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission may again put off a decision on whether farmers can grow more genetically modified crops when it holds a long-awaited biotech policy debate in May, officials said on Monday.

After months of expectation, the Commission has finally set May 7 for debating its biotech policy, centered around what has been called the "Dimas package": EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas, one of the most GMO-wary commissioners.

Cultivation of GM crops is expected to be at the top of the agenda, with three applications long overdue for consideration, one lawsuit filed against the Commission and another threatened. The EU has not approved any GM crops for growing since 1998.

Another big problem is Austria, the only remaining country cited in a World Trade Organisation case filed against the Commission by Argentina, Canada and the United States to maintain bans, from 1997 and 1999, against two GM crop products.

Officials said one possible deal being discussed in Brussels was for Dimas to agree to an order for Austria to lift its ban on import and processing of those products, but keep its ban on cultivation. In return, his wish to reject two company applications for growing GM crops would not be blocked.

"The idea would be for Dimas to give this and allow the College (the EU's 27 commissioners) to decide on the two maizes," one EU official said.

"(It) would have to go against the proposal of a commissioner (to block the GM maize applications). Several member states have also come out explicitly against (GM crop) cultivation," the official said.

Those maizes are Syngenta's Bt-11; and 1507 maize, developed by Pioneer Hi-Bred International, a unit of DuPont Co, and Dow AgroSciences unit Mycogen Seeds.

Last year, Pioneer filed a lawsuit against the Commission for what it called undue delays in processing its request for EU approval of 1507 maize. And last week, German chemicals company BASF threatened to do the same over its biotech potato, which it wants EU farmers to grow to make extra starch.

For months, the Commission has been due to debate the issue in a bid to end a policy vacuum and also show its major trading partners like the United States, the world's top biotech crop grower, that Europe is, to a point, in the market for GMOs.

Europe has long been split on biotech policy and the EU's 27 countries consistently clash over whether to approve new, finished GM varieties for import. The Commission usually ends up issuing a rubberstamp approval, which it may do under EU law.

(Editing by Peter Blackburn)


UK: NFU still backs GM crops despite latest study in US

The Journal (, 21 April 2008. By Sam Wood.

THE National Farmers' Union has said it still backs genetically modified crops despite the results of study conducted in the US that has shown that genetic modification can reduce productivity.

The investigation, which has been carried out over the past three years at the University of Kansas, found that GM soya produces about 10% less food than a non-genetically modified crop.

Professor Barney Gordon, from the university's department of Agronomy, said he started the research because many farmers who switched to the GM crop has noticed that yields were not as high as expected in optimal conditions.

He said: "People were asking the question 'how come I don't get as high a yield as I used to?'"

Prof Gordon grew a Monsanto GM soybean and an almost identical conventional variety in the same field.

The GM crop produced 10% less - 70 bushels of grain per acre - than the non-GM one which produced 77 bushels per acre.

The GM crop, which had been designed to be resistant to the weedkiller Roundup, only recovered to the level of the conventional crop when extra manganese was added to the soil.

This suggests that the modification hindered the crop's take up of this essential element from the soil. The study backs up earlier research at the University of Nebraska, which found that another Monsanto GM soya produced 11% less than the best non-GM soya available.

It has been suggested the process of modification decreases productivity and that while GM versions are being developed better conventional ones become available.

Despite the findings a spokesman for the National Farmers' Union said GM crops still had an important part to play in reducing the world food crisis.

The spokesman said: "GM technology has a lot to offer in terms of allowing increased yields without the need for increased use of land or fertiliser. But we've got to be led by our customers because there is no point producing things that they're not happy with.

"If GM soya doesn't cut the mustard in terms of increased yields then farmers won't grow it."

Monsanto said it was surprised by the extent of the decline in crop but not by the fact that yields had dropped. It said the soya had not been engineered to increase yields and it was now developing one that would.

Last week the biggest study of its kind, the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development, concluded GM would not provide a solution to world hunger.

Some believe that the physiology of plants is now reaching the limits of productivity which can be achieved.


UK: If this meat was from a cloned animal, would you eat it?

The Guardian, 21 April 2008. By Ed Pilkington.

Cloned animals and their offspring have been declared safe to eat; in a matter of months their meat will be on sale in the US. Ed Pilkington reports on a PR timebomb that's about to blow

It is an absurdly pretty setting. A row of conifers borders snowbound fields that stretch for miles to a low horizon. Birds are nesting. Magnificent Angus cattle meander under a metallic blue sky, with the sweet smell of silage hanging over everything.

A sign nailed to one of the cattle pens provides the first clue that this picture postcard view is not as quaintly old-fashioned as it looks: "For Biosecurity: Authorised Personnel Only." The second clue comes in the form of two young red Holstein heifers, identified by eartags as numbers 306 and 307, sitting quietly on a bed of straw. By their perfect bone structure and proportions, a breeder could tell that these are very fine animals; to me they are just absurdly pretty, like their surroundings. Their fluffy rust-red-and-white coats and pink wet noses are programmed to make you smile involuntarily. Then you notice that they are the spitting image of each other, the same white blazes running down their foreheads and the same doe-like eyes.

These are not twins, though they do have identical genetic makeup. They were created from separate embryos containing the DNA extracted from a prize-winning red Holstein cow, Miss Leader Red Rose. In short, 306 and 307 are clones.

It seems incongruous, but these two innocent-looking calves are at the centre of a public relations timebomb that is about to blow, with consequences that will be felt throughout Europe and beyond. Along with about 50 other cloned animals being held in a "biosecure" environment here at Bovance, America's largest cow-cloning company in Sioux Center, Iowa, they embody the frontline in the battle between science and consumer ethics over the way we produce food, similar in many respects to the furore that erupted over genetically modified crops.

Twelve years after the birth of the Scottish trailblazer Dolly the sheep, cloned animals are about to be cleared for use in commercial farming. Earlier this year, food regulatory authorities in America and Europe declared meat and milk derived from cloned cattle and their progeny safe to eat and drink. The same green light was given for cloned pigs and goats.

As a result, the US Food and Drug Administration has now lifted a voluntary ban on the sale of cloned food that has been in place since 1999. Farmers can freely sell the meat and milk from the offspring of cloned animals, a liberty that has already led to a sharp spike in interest in Bovance's services from breeders across the US. And where America leads, others are ever quick to follow.

Only one final regulatory barrier stands in the way of firms such as Bovance seeking to inject cloning technology into commercial farming. The US agricultural department has asked for a brief extension of the ban - applicable to cloned animals alone, not their progeny - to give it time to talk to international trade partners and retailers in the hope of avoiding a consumer backlash. No one expects that hurdle to be in place for more than a few months, after which the path will be clear for the full exploitation of cloned animals for food. As Joseph Mendelson of the Centre for Food Safety puts it: "It seems to us that the floodgates are already open."

The scientists and entrepreneurs who are pushing at the frontiers of this new technology dislike the phrase cloned food, finding it too reminiscent perhaps of the scarewords used by opponents to GM crops such as "Frankenfood". They prefer the phrase "agricultural genomics". But putting the obfuscations of vocabulary aside, the promise they see in cloning is quite simply stated.

In essence, cloning allows breeders to speed up the clock - to bring forward a particular trait in a herd in rapid time. Let's say a farmer discovers that one of his bulls is exceptional for its muscle development and hence meat production. The farmer wants to spread those traits right through his stock. He can put the bull to several cows each year for natural procreation, but the impact is limited by the breeding season and the dilution of the bull's DNA as it combines with the cows' inferior genetic profiles. Artificial insemination can be used to raise the number of fertilisations possible from a single elite bull, as it often is in dairy herds. But cloning has the added advantage that the animal's genetic brilliance is passed in its unaltered glory, which amplifies its effect in raising the genetic quality and hence the value of the herd. In genetic terms, cloning is to previous reproductive methods as the Blitzkrieg was to the cavalry charge.

David Faber, the head of Trans Ova Genetics, a firm in Iowa that jointly set up Bovance, says the method increases the impact of elite farm animals. "We are interested in reproducing animals that are at the peak of the genetic pyramid - they are the rock stars of the barnyard."

To see where this process of rock-star proliferation begins, I fly 1,000 miles across the Great Plains, out of the snows of Iowa and into the heat of Austin, Texas. There, in a business park on the edge of town with neatly trimmed lawns and sparkling glass buildings, I am greeted by a vision of farming's future. This is the headquarters of Viagen, Trans Ova's partner in Bovance and one of only three companies in America leading the global push towards farm cloning. (The other is Cyagra, an Argentinian-owned company based in Pennsylvania.) Whatever critics might say about this technology, no one can accuse Viagen of lacking a sense of humour. A poster of cowboys on the wall bears the appeal "Wanted: Progressive cattlemen." Another says: "Cloning is cool cool."

I watch Viagen's laboratory technicians carry out the various stages of cattle cloning. Tissue samples from the ears of rock-star bulls and cows from across rural America are sent to the company in temperature-controlled boxes, then chopped and placed into incubators to allow their cells to multiply before being cryopreserved in liquid nitrogen.

In another lab, Earl Hwang is displaying his great skill at working under a microscope - a 21st-century equivalent of a cowboy's dexterity with the lasso. He begins by emptying receptor eggs of their genetic content, using UV light to detect the tiny balls of DNA and suck them into a microscopic pipette. Then he inserts a single cell drawn from the tissue sample of the animal to be cloned into the genetically void egg and sets it down between the egg's outer wall and inner cytoplasm. The final stage is to pass an electric current through the egg that fuses the walls of the cells and mimics the process of fertilisation. The result: an embryo carrying the exact genetic match of its single parent. It was two such embryos created in Viagen's Texan lab that ended up as 306 and 307.

Mark Walton, Viagen's president, is unapologetic about his desire, as head of a for-profit company, to make money out of cloned farm animals. He puts the firm's investment so far at "multiple tens of millions of dollars", though he admits that, to date, the payback has been very limited. The voluntary ban placed on the cloning industry has until now demoted the use of the technology to the ranks of a minority sport. While 33 million beef cattle are slaughtered in America each year, the country only has 570 cloned cattle - and 10 cloned horses, eight pigs, five African wildcats, three mules and a cloned sand cat.

But Walton is confident that the lean years are coming to an end. His order book is full for the rest of the year, and once the final barrier is lifted he thinks demand will flow. "The genetics from cloned animals could certainly spread pretty broadly and pretty quickly once the market opens and is accepted."

Walton believes the value of cloning is not just economic - to boost the performance of animals and thus their value. He also claims that the technology has a definite green potential in that it can increase the food efficiency of the herd, by bringing to the fore animals who require less feeding and produce less waste, thus reducing their environmental footprint.

More radically, he cites scientists in Canada who have created an "enviro pig" by inserting the gene phytase into its genome, which makes the pig excrete less phosphate - a major agricultural pollutant. The enviro pig came about through gene manipulation, but if combined with cloning, its green potential could be maximised. Walton gives another example from New Zealand: "A dairy cow was discovered by accident that naturally produces lower-fat milk that has some omega-3 fatty acids in it. Wow, that's really cool.But what can you do with just one cow? With cloning you could make something of it."

What he doesn't expect to see is cloned beefburgers landing on American dinner plates any time soon. At $17,000 (£8,500) a cloned calf, compared with $1,500 for a naturally conceived animal, it would be far too expensive to replicate the rock stars of the farmyard only to butcher them. Milk is likely to be a different story, as even elite cloned cows need milking. And the offspring of cloned animals are certain to enter the US food chain soon, and in rapidly growing numbers.

In fact, they already have. Don Coover in Kansas has been selling up to 20,000 units of sperm from each of his two cloned bulls every year for several years. "That's thousands and thousands of cloned progeny. A lot of people, myself included, got impatient with the regulators for dragging their feet and we chose not to abide by the voluntary moratorium," he says.

Coover's trade in the sperm of cloned bulls suggests that the ban has already begun to break down, and that in turn has set alarm bells ringing among a powerful alliance of consumer groups, churches, animal welfare and other bodies that are staunchly against the advent of the new technology.

The Centre for Food Safety, a leading opponent, bases its position on a range of detailed scientific criticisms combined with wider ethical objections. It points out that the failure rate of cloning is still substantially higher than other reproductive methods - it can be as low as 5% of the embryos implanted. There is also a greater incidence of problems at birth, such as Large Offspring Syndrome, in which oversized foetuses develop in the womb that can cause suffering and even death for both mother and calf.

CFS is unimpressed by official assurances that cloned food is safe, arguing that there is insufficient scientific evidence to be certain about its long-term prospects. The organisation poses a series of what-if questions: what if defects or mutations in clones remain hidden and undetectable but are found to be dangerous to humans down the line? What if those defects can be passed on to the progeny of clones, thereby disseminating them throughout the nation's livestock?

And finally CFS warns that the impact of cloning will tend towards a further reduction in biodiversity through the promotion of genetically identical herds, which in turn could put both animals and humans at risk of disease epidemics. It wants to see the labelling of any products coming from either clones or their offspring, a demand that US authorities have deflected.

Viagen has an answer to each of these forebodings. The success rate of cloning is improving all the time, bringing down costs and ameliorating animal suffering. The progeny of clones are not clones at all, but normal animals created from two parents; and any irregularities in the expression of cloned genes are ironed out, or "reset", in their offspring. As for the string of what-if questions, Walton dismisses that as scaremongering: "That is applying the precautionary principle, and the fallacy of that, as any beginners' statistics class will teach you, is that it is impossible to prove a negative. As a scientist, I absolutely reject it."

With such arguments swirling back and forth, the reaction of the big supermarkets that could so easily be caught in the middle has so far been understandably cautious. Wal-Mart, the world's largest supermarket chain, says, somewhat ambiguously, that it has no plans to buy products from cloned livestock. The second largest US chain, Kroger, is more categorical, pledging to shun products from clones or their offspring.

As for the great American public, confusion reigns. Surveys suggest that knowledge levels are pitifully low, while suspicions abound about a technique that many regard as weird or unnatural. A poll last December by the Washington-based Pew Initiative found that despite the overwhelming conclusion from scientists that cloning poses no safety risks to humans, two-thirds of Americans remained "uncomfortable" with the idea.

You get a feel for what beef means to the average American when you visit a famous old Texan barbeque shack, Iron Works, in the centre of Austin. There they serve beef ribs that look as though they have been carved from giants. The gargantuan cuts are dripping in BBQ sauce with meat that is so succulent and tender that it really does melt in the mouth.

At a table at the back, Cynthia (she asked not to give her surname) is just finishing off her plate, and as she does so she tells me her views, which touch on several of those wider public apprehensions. She is reserving judgment on cloned food because she doesn't know enough about it, she says, but then she goes on to reveal that she fears it will lead to less genetic diversity and a downward spiral. "We are sterilising the Earth and that's very dangerous. Mother nature has been taking care of reproduction for thousands of years, so why do it? I can understand if it's to find a cure for an illness, but to create these huge slabs of meat?"

If the GM crop row is anything to go by, the consumer reaction in Britain is likely to be considerably more hostile even than in the US. Last month the first public auction in the UK of the progeny of a cloned cow had to be cancelled in the face of protests. Dundee Paradise - the offspring of a Holstein clone called Vandyk-K Integ Paradise 2 - was withdrawn from sale, although the auction was fully legal under EU law.

Bob Schauf, a Wisconsin dairy farmer who owns a cloned cow called Mandy2, has firsthand experience of the British aversion. He made a business plan with a partner in the UK to sell eggs flushed from a cloned cow for artificial insemination. But his partner called him to say the deal was off. "He sounded like a puppy that had just been spanked," Schauf recalls. "He said that the UK didn't want the cloned cow over there; nobody wants any of this. He was very disappointed."

Sir Ian Wilmut, who fronted the team that cloned Dolly the sheep, thinks that Britain's strong emphasis on animal welfare will prove a formidable hurdle for the cloning industry. The high incidence of problems at birth with cloned animals is likely to turn consumers off. "It wouldn't be deemed acceptable to produce elite animals whose benefit over the rest of the herd were small and the risks of their creation large," he says.

But it is by no means certain that the gradual dissemination of genetic material produced by cloning can be prevented, or even monitored. Though Viagen is proposing a database to record the whereabouts of all its cloned farm animals, neither it nor anybody else is contemplating tracking what happens to the offspring - a task that would be prohibitively expensive, were it even possible.

GM crops had a similar trajectory. Transgenic crops - that is those whose makeup has been altered through the transfer of genes from other breeds - have now spread through the US like a spider's web. About 90% of the soya bean crop and 80% of corn is now transgenic, while about a half of all cheese consumed is made with enzymes produced by genetically modified bacteria. Those are statistics that give Viagen's Walton added hope that consumer resistance to cloning will now similarly be overcome: "There's not a consumer in America today who doesn't end up buying some transgenic food," he says. "So the fact is that what people tell you in the polls and what they actually do in the supermarket are two very different things".

How cattle are cloned

1 Cells from the ears of rock-star bulls and cows are placed under a microscope at ViaGen's offices in Austin, Texas

2 The tiny balls of DNA are detected using UV light

3 The DNA is removed from the nucleus of the cell using a microscopic pipette

4 Cloned cells are stored

5 Embryos created from the cloned cells are frozen at Bovance in Iowa

6 A cow is placed in a stall to receive a cloned embryo

7 The embryo is implanted

8 The result - cloned heifers


Companies urged to 'green' their supply chain

Food, 21 April 2008. By Chris Jones.

Firms should look at measures to make their supply chains 'greener' not only because it is seen as 'doing the right thing' but because it is also the 'right thing to do', a new study suggests. Management and technology consultants Diamond suggest that introducing environmentally friendly and ethical practices into the supply chain is not only good for improving a company's image: it also improves operations and reduces costs.

Diamond analysts Mark Baum and Darin Yug said that green supply chain initiatives have moved rapidly from merely compliance with environmental regulation towards a means of effecting real cost savings in areas such as energy conservation or recycling.

They quote examples from the food and beverage industry to highlight their point: Nestl»'s sustainability programme helped the Swiss group make packaging material savings of $510m between 1991 and 2006, while Heineken's Aware of Energy project was expected to lead to energy cost reductions of around 15 per cent by 2010.

Baum and Yug say that companies wanting to follow suit must be careful to have an integrated strategy for greening their supply chain and not merely attempt to 'patch' a solution onto an existing strategy.

"The key to extracting business value lies in establishing a long-term green strategy that is aligned with corporate strategy and approached top-down," the analysts write.

But they warn that management should not focus entirely on the business gains to be made from greener supply chains.

"Not every initiative will have a positive return on investment. Therefore, it is essential to think about all the green initiatives together as a balanced portfolio, with some initiatives being done on an investment basis."

Key to a successful transformation of the supply chain is leadership, the analysts note.

"Most companies face an uphill battle when implementing green initiatives because these efforts are typically managed in isolation by a firm's environmental health and safety team."

Instead, Baum and Yug say that companies should create a "governance council" that would coordinate efforts across all company divisions and departments, from supply chain and operations to marketing and sales.

"Corporate communications should also be linked with the sustainability initiatives to ensure that the impact of the initiative is being communicated to customers, shareholders and the general public," they add.

Any plans to move towards a greener supply chain must also be implemented gradually, the analysts say, since wholesale change in one fell swoop would prove ruinously costly.

"Greening is best accomplished in small steps: for example, green initiatives can start in areas that have the greatest business and environmental impact and companies can look forward to quick wins before moving forward."


In lean times, biotech grains are less taboo

International Herald Tribune, 21 April 2008. By Andrew Pollack.

Soaring food prices and global grain shortages are bringing new pressures on governments, food companies and consumers to relax their longstanding resistance to genetically engineered crops. In Japan and South Korea, some manufacturers for the first time have begun buying genetically engineered corn for use in soft drinks, snacks and other foods. Until now, to avoid consumer backlash, the companies have paid extra to buy conventionally grown corn. But with prices having tripled in two years, it has become too expensive to be so finicky.

"We cannot afford it," said a corn buyer at Kato Kagaku, a Japanese maker of corn starch and corn syrup.

In the United States, wheat growers and marketers, once hesitant about adopting biotechnology because they feared losing export sales, are now warming to it as a way to bolster supplies.

Genetically modified crops contain genes from other organisms to make the plants resistance to insects, herbicides or disease. Opponents continue to worry that such crops have not been studied enough and that they might pose risks to health and the environment.

"I think it's pretty clear that price and supply concerns have people thinking a little bit differently today," said Steve Mercer, a spokesman for U.S. Wheat Associates, a federally supported cooperative that promotes American wheat abroad.

The group, which once cautioned farmers about growing biotech wheat, is working to get seed companies to restart development of genetically modified wheat and to get foreign buyers to accept it.

Even in Europe, where opposition to what the Europeans call Frankenfoods has been fiercest, some prominent government officials and business executives are calling for faster approvals of imports of genetically modified crops. They are responding in part to complaints from livestock producers, who say they might suffer a critical shortage of feed if imports are not accelerated.

In Britain, the National Beef Association, which represents cattle farmers, issued a statement this month demanding that "all resistance" to such crops "be abandoned immediately in response to shifts in world demand for food, the growing danger of global food shortages and the prospect of declining domestic animal production."

The chairman of the European Parliament's agriculture committee, Neil Parish, said that as prices rise, Europeans "may be more realistic" about genetically modified crops: "Their hearts may be on the left, but their pockets are on the right."

With food riots in some countries focusing attention on how the world will feed itself, biotechnology proponents see their chance. They argue that while genetic engineering might have been deemed unnecessary when food was abundant, it will be essential for helping the world cope with the demand for food and biofuels in the decades ahead.

Through gene splicing, the modified crops now grown ů mainly canola, corn, cotton and soybeans ů typically contain bacterial genes that help the plants resist insects or tolerate a herbicide that can be sprayed to kill weeds while leaving the crop unscathed. Biotechnology companies are also working on crops that might need less water or fertilizer, which could have a bigger impact on improving yield.

Certainly any new receptivity to genetically modified crops would be a boon to American exporters. The United States accounted for half the world's acreage of biotech crops last year.

But substantial amounts of corn, soy or canola are grown in Argentina, Brazil and Canada. China has developed insect-resistant rice that is awaiting regulatory approval in that country.

The pressure to re-evaluate biotech comes as prices of some staples like rice and wheat have doubled in the last few months, provoking violent protests in several countries including Cameroon, Egypt, Haiti and Thailand. Factors behind the price spikes include the diversion of crops to make biofuel, rising energy prices, growing prosperity in India and China, and droughts in some regions ů including Australia, a major grain producer.

Biotechnology still certainly faces obstacles. Polls in Europe do not yet show a decisive shift in consumer sentiment, and the industry has had some recent setbacks. Since the beginning of the year France has banned the planting of genetically modified corn while Germany has enacted a law allowing for foods to be labeled as "GM free."

And a new international assessment of the future of agriculture, released last Tuesday, gave such tepid support to the role genetic engineering could play in easing hunger that biotechnology industry representatives withdrew from the project in protest. The report was a collaboration of more than 60 governments, with participation from companies and nonprofit groups, under the auspices of the World Bank and the United Nations.

Hans Herren, co-chairman of the project, said providing more fertilizer to Africa would improve output much more than genetic engineering could. "What farmers really are struggling with are water issues, soil fertility issues and market access for their products," he said.

Opponents of biotechnology say they see not so much an opportunity as opportunism by its proponents to exploit the food crisis. "Where politicians and technocrats have always wanted to push GMO's, they are jumping on this bandwagon and using this as an excuse," said Helen Holder, who coordinates the campaign against biotech foods for Friends of the Earth Europe. GMO refers to genetically modified organism.

Even Michael Mack, the chief executive of the Swiss company Syngenta, an agricultural chemical and biotechnology giant, cautioned that the industry should not use the current crisis to push its agenda.

Whatever importance biotechnology can play in the long run, food shortages are making it harder for some buyers to avoid engineered crops.

The main reason some Japanese and South Korean makers of corn starch and corn sweeteners are buying biotech corn is that they have dwindling alternatives. Their main supplier is the United States, where 75 percent of corn grown last year was genetically modified, up from 40 percent in 2003. "We cannot get hold of non-GM corn nowadays," said Yoon Chang-gyu, director of the Korean Corn Processing Industry Association.

But the tightening global supply has made it harder to get nonengineered corn from elsewhere. And as corn prices soar, millers and food companies are less able to pay the surcharge to keep nonengineered corn separate from biotech varieties. The surcharge itself has been rising. Yoon said non-engineered corn cost Korean millers about $450 a metric ton, up from $143 in 2006. Genetically engineered corn costs about $350 a ton.

In Europe, livestock producers say that regulations on genetically modified crops could choke feed supplies at a time when they are already reeling from higher prices. Even after a new genetically engineered variety is approved for growing in the United States, it might take several years for Europe to approve it for import.

Moreover, European rules require an entire shipment of grain to be turned back if it contains even a trace of an unapproved variety. Such a problem last year disrupted exports of corn gluten, a feed product, from the United States to Europe.

Feed makers and livestock producers want faster approvals and a relaxation of the rules to allow for trace amounts of unapproved varieties in shipments.

Even in the United States, where genetically engineered food has been generally accepted, the wheat industry has had to rethink its reluctance to accept biotech varieties.

Because about half of America's wheat crop is exported, farmers and processors feared foreign buyers would reject their products. Facing resistance from American farmers, Monsanto in 2004 suspended development of what would have been the first genetically modified wheat.

But some farmers and millers now say that the lack of genetically engineered wheat has made growing the grain less attractive than growing corn or soybeans. That has, in turn, contributed to shrinking supplies and rising prices for wheat.

Milling & Baking News, an influential trade newspaper in Kansas City, Missouri, said in an editorial that companies that used wheat were now paying the price for their own "hesitancy, if not outright opposition" to biotechnology.

Su-hyun Lee in Seoul, South Korea, and Yasuko Kamiizumi in Tokyo contributed reporting.


Scrap capitalism to save the planet : Bolivian president

United Nations (AFP) April 21, 2008

Bolivian President Evo Morales proposed scrapping capitalism and developing clean energies as part of radical measures "to save the planet and mankind."

"If we really want to save the planet, we must eliminate the capitalist system," Bolivia's first indigenous president told hundreds of indigenous delegates from around the world.

Morales argued that the capitalist system was mainly responsible for climate change and for the "accumulation of waste."

He also railed against the development of biofuels which he said only serve to fuel "poverty and hunger" and he instead expressed strong support for clean energies.

"Biofuels are very harmful, in particular for the poor people of the world," he later told reporters.

The leftist leader called for "respect of Mother Earth," guaranteeing access to basic services for all and putting and end to consumerism.

He noted that indigenous peoples had a different perspective on life, including a stronger commitment to social justice and a preference for communal ownership of the land.

"Mother Earth is not a commodity. It's not something to buy and sell," he said.

And he proposed an international convention "to protect water resources and prevent their privatization by a few."

Morales, who was elected Bolivia's first indigenous president in December 2005, has alienated the country's rich lowland regions, whose populations are largely ethnically European and mixed, by pushing his constitutional plan to redistribute the country's wealth to the poor natives in the mountains.

The Bolivian president also said the UN system, particularly the powerful Security Council, should be "democratized" so that power is not monopolized by a few nations.

In a message to the indigenous forum, UN chief Ban Ki-moon, who is currently on an African tour, said: "I welcome your choice of climate change as the special theme of this session."

"As custodians of these lands, they (indigenous peoples) have accumulated deep, first-hand knowledge about the impacts of environmental degradation, include climate change. They know the economic and social consequences, and they can and should play a role in the global response," he added.

More than 2,500 indigenous delegates were taking part in a two-week session, the first since the UN General Assembly adopted a non-binding declaration last September upholding the human, land and resources rights of the world's 370 million indigenous people.

Indigenous peoples say their lands and territories are endangered by mineral extraction, logging, environmental contamination, privatization and development projects, classification of lands as protected areas or game reserves and use of genetically modified seeds and technology.


20 April 2008

"The farmers are being blackmailed"

Süddeutsche Zeitung (Germany), 20 April 2008.

[Photo caption: "This is all about the maximization of profits and not about provisioning people" - Horst Seehofer criticizes the international food industry.]

In the debate around increasing food prices, German [Agricultural and] Consumer Affairs Minister Horst Seehofer has attacked the bosses of the international food and feed industry. Instead of focusing on people all they were looking at is the maximizing of profits. ›

Faced with the threat of imminent famines Federal Minister for Consumer Affairs (CSU) has expressed massive criticism of the international food and animal feed industry. ›

"They are primarily interested in maximizing profits and not in provisioning people", said CSU Vice Chairman Seehofer on Sunday to Bild am Sonntag [a german tabloid]. "It is not acceptable that in the U.S. there is essentially only one corporation left that supplies seed. This means farmers are blackmailed there and in the developing countries as well." ›

Seehofer added, "The large concerns and financial investors dominate the scene and one has to rain on their parade. We don't need an industrial but a farmers' agriculture." The Minister pointed to forecasts that the feedstock prices "will increase by 600 percent due to a feedstock shortage. Behind all that is the interest of the multinationals to sell their genetically modified soy/maize." ›

At the same time, Seehofer defends the use of bio-energy. "For reasons of climate protection in Europe we have decided a more intense use of sustainable raw materials." Seehofer expressed concern over the destruction of rain forests for biofuel and called for an EU regulation. "We must put an energetic stop to the destruction of the virgin forest for foodstuffs and biofuel. I therefore propose that throughout the EU offsetting biofuel for the fuel quota is only permitted if the raw materials for the biofuel do not originate from cleared virgin forests. We strongly emphasize a sustainable production." ›


EU: BASF presses officials to approve its GM potato

AFP, 20 April 2008.

LIMBURGERHOF, Germany ů German chemical giant BASF is cranking up pressure on the European Commission to get its green light for a genetically modified potato, a world first the company has decided deserves a few pages of advertising.

It wrote an open letter to the European Union's executive branch and bought newspaper pages to present its case after a meeting with EU environment minister Stravos Dimas ended in failure last week.

BASF has grown increasingly irritated with the commission, which has not authorised genetically modified organisms (GMOs) since 1998, and is pushing hard for a patent on its potato. "Is is safe and protects the environment," BASF board member Stefan Marcinowski claimed in a letter printed in several major German dailies on Thursday.

He pressed Brussels to make a decision "without further delay" on a process that was launched in 2006.

In southwestern Germany, meanwhile, a tractor furrows soil amid apparently ordinary gardeners as they cultivate what BASF hopes will be a blockbuster crop.

"Take a look, it's like any other potato, just a bit smaller," suggests a spokeswoman for Plant Science, a BASF unit specialised in biotechnologies.

She stood next to several rows that were planted in front of the group's headquarters in Limburgerhof.

Dubbed Amflora and destined for the European market, the chemical company's humble potato has been altered to bolster its content in amylopectine, a constituent of starch used in textiles, concrete and paper.

Residue of the potato crop was to be mixed into animal feed.

BASF wants to obtain the world's first patent for its genetically modified potato.

Estimated gains along the entire production chain amount 100 million euros (160 million dollars) per year.

"But no one needs it," countered Jutta Jaksche, an expert who works with the consumer protection association Vzbv. "Consumers don't want GMOs, and industry has other technical means to use starch," she added.

Ecologists opposed to GMOs cite the risk of cross pollenisation of potatoes destined for human consumption, since Amflora resists antibiotics and could weaken the effects of medical treatments if edible potatoes were pollentated.

"And the BASF product is really old, the technique is obsolete," added Annemarie Volling, a coordinator for non-GMO agricultural zones in Germany who said Amflora was originally conceived 12 years ago.

"BASF just wants to make money and sell the world's first transgenic potato."

To which the BASF spokeswoman replied: "We already eat seedless raisins ... and no one says a word."

"At any rate, biotechnologies are a fact of life. The question is whether or not Europe will be a part of them."

BASF has pulled out all the stops. The world's leading chemical group sells a wide range of agricultural products including fertilisers and pesticides and is involved in full-scale development of GMO projects.

At Plant Science's farm, behind the rows of Amfora stand rows of greenhouses to which the public is admitted only amidst tight security measures.

Visitors remain on pathways and are instructed not to touch the plants, some of which are wrapped in mosquito netting to prevent pollen from escaping.

"That is rapeseed we are testing, it is bolstered by Omega 3 like that you find in fish," the spokeswoman said.

Elsewhere, rows of flower pots are also covered in netting and their contents identified with yellow plastic markers.

For about a year, BASF has collaborated with the US group Monsanto, at the epicentre of the GMO debate, to develop soja, cotton, rapeseed and corn.

The two groups hope to bring to market by 2012, once it overcomes popular resistancem, a strain of corn that is resistant to drought.


Exposed: the great GM crops myth
Major new study shows that modified soya produces 10 per cent less food than its conventional equivalent

The Independent (UK), 20 April 2008. By Geoffrey Lean, Environment Editor.

Genetic modification actually cuts the productivity of crops, an authoritative new study shows, undermining repeated claims that a switch to the controversial technology is needed to solve the growing world food crisis.

The study - carried out over the past three years at the University of Kansas in the US grain belt - has found that GM soya produces about 10 per cent less food than its conventional equivalent, contradicting assertions by advocates of the technology that it increases yields.

Professor Barney Gordon, of the university's department of agronomy, said he started the research - reported in the journal Better Crops - because many farmers who had changed over to the GM crop had "noticed that yields are not as high as expected even under optimal conditions". He added: "People were asking the question 'how come I don't get as high a yield as I used to?'"

He grew a Monsanto GM soybean and an almost identical conventional variety in the same field. The modified crop produced only 70 bushels of grain per acre, compared with 77 bushels from the non-GM one.

The GM crop - engineered to resist Monsanto's own weedkiller, Roundup - recovered only when he added extra manganese, leading to suggestions that the modification hindered the crop's take-up of the essential element from the soil. Even with the addition it brought the GM soya's yield to equal that of the conventional one, rather than surpassing it.

The new study confirms earlier research at the University of Nebraska, which found that another Monsanto GM soya produced 6 per cent less than its closest conventional relative, and 11 per cent less than the best non-GM soya available.

The Nebraska study suggested that two factors are at work. First, it takes time to modify a plant and, while this is being done, better conventional ones are being developed. This is acknowledged even by the fervently pro-GM US Department of Agriculture, which has admitted that the time lag could lead to a "decrease" in yields.

But the fact that GM crops did worse than their near-identical non-GM counterparts suggest that a second factor is also at work, and that the very process of modification depresses productivity. The new Kansas study both confirms this and suggests how it is happening.

A similar situation seems to have happened with GM cotton in the US, where the total US crop declined even as GM technology took over.

Monsanto said yesterday that it was surprised by the extent of the decline found by the Kansas study, but not by the fact that the yields had dropped. It said that the soya had not been engineered to increase yields, and that it was now developing one that would.

Critics doubt whether the company will achieve this, saying that it requires more complex modification. And Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute in Washington - and who was one of the first to predict the current food crisis - said that the physiology of plants was now reaching the limits of the productivity that could be achieved.

A former champion crop grower himself, he drew the comparison with human runners. Since Roger Bannister ran the first four-minute mile more than 50 years ago, the best time has improved only modestly . "Despite all the advances in training, no one contemplates a three-minute mile."

Last week the biggest study of its kind ever conducted - the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development - concluded that GM was not the answer to world hunger.

Professor Bob Watson, the director of the study and chief scientist at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, when asked if GM could solve world hunger, said: "The simple answer is no."


18 April 2008

GM-Free Organic Agriculture to Feed the World
International Panel of 400 Agricultural Scientists Call for Fundamental Change in Farming Practice

Institute of Science in Society press release, 18 April 2008.

A fundamental change in farming practice is needed to counteract soaring food prices, hunger, social inequities and environmental disasters. Genetically modified (GM) crops are highly controversial and will not play a substantial role in addressing the challenges of climate change, loss of biodiversity, hunger and poverty. Instead, small-scale farmers and agro-ecological methods are the way forward; with indigenous and local knowledge playing as important a role as formal science. Furthermore, the rush to grow crops for biofuels could exacerbate food shortages and price rises.

These are the conclusions to the most thorough examination of global agriculture, on a scale comparable to the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change. Its final report, The International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), was formally launched at a plenary in Johannesburg, South Africa on 15 April 2008 [1-3] and simultaneously released in London, Washington, Delhi, Paris, Nairobi and a number of other cities around the world.

The IAASTD is a unique collaboration initiated by the World Bank in partnership with a multi-stakeholder group of organisations, including the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, United Nations Development Programme, United Nations Environmental Programme, the World Health Organisation and representatives of governments, civil society, private sector and scientific institutions from around the world [2]. The actual report runs to 2,500 pages, and has taken more than 400 scientists 4 years to complete.

In one mighty stroke, it has swept aside years of corporate propaganda that served as a major diversion from urgent task of implementing sustainable food production for the world. As UK's Daily Mail editorial commented [4]: "For years, biotech companies have answered critics by insisting genetically modified crops are essential to bringing down food prices and feeding the world's hungry. Well, now we know they're not."›

The overarching question is how to reduce hunger and poverty

The overarching question addressed was [5]: "How can we reduce hunger and poverty, improve rural livelihoods, and facilitate equitable, environmentally, socially and economically sustainable development through the generation, access to and use of agricultural knowledge, science and technology?"

The question was prompted by "the unintended social and environmental consequences" of past successes in increasing agricultural productivity through science and technology, and the enormous challenges ahead in providing food and livelihood security [6].

Apart from the depletion of fossil fuels and water, the pressure of population growth, and not least, climate change and a food crisis that has led to food riots and outbreaks of violence in an increasing number of developing countries [7] (see Food Without Fossil Fuels Now, SiS 38).

Both scientific knowledge and traditional skills were evaluated under the IAASTD, which marked the first mainstream attempt at so doing. (Coincidentally, that is just what our ISIS/TWN report, Food Futures Now *Organic *Sustainable *Fossil Fuel Free ›[8] has also accomplished, which may be why we have come to very similar conclusions.) Contributors produced five regional assessments, and a 126-page synthesis report [6].

›"Given the future challenges it was very clear to everyone that business as usual was not an option," IAASTD Co-chair Hans Herren said [1]. He was speaking at an intergovernmental plenary in South Africa's commercial hub, Johannesburg, where the assessment findings were reviewed ahead of the presentation of the report.

An estimated 850 million people are hungry and malnourished today because they can't get access to, or afford the supplies they need, Herren added. "We need better quality food in the right places."

Later he told the BBC [9] that "contentious political and economic stances" were affecting attempts to address some of the imbalances. Specifically, many OECD member countries are deeply opposed to any changes in trade regimes or subsidy systems. He said. "Without reforms, many poorer countries will have a very hard time."

The report said that efforts should focus on the needs of small-scale farmers in diverse ecosystems, and areas with the greatest needs. Measures would include giving farmers better access to knowledge, technology and credit. It would also require investment to bring the necessary information and infrastructure to rural areas.

Biotech industry and US out in the cold

The plenary was marked by some perennial disagreement over biotechnology and trade. During a long debate over biotechnology, the meeting very nearly collapsed [1]. The United States and Australian government delegates objected to the wording in the synthesis report that highlighted concerns over whether the use of GM in food is healthy and safe.

Syngenta and the other biotech and pesticide companies had already abandoned the assessment process late last year. The impasse at the plenary was broken when the two countries agreed to a footnote in the report indicating their reservations about the wording, and to accept the report as a whole, along with Canada and Swaziland, but without adopting the report.

GM biotechnology and trade had been thoroughly debated over the four-year IAASTD process, and the final wording reflected scientific evidence. The report says biotechnology has a role to play in future though it remains a contentious matter. It further notes that patenting of genes causes problems for farmers and researchers.

The other 60 countries represented at the plenary adopted the report.

UK scientist a leading light

IAASTD director of the Secretariat Robert Watson, chief scientist at the World Bank (also independently chief scientist of UK's Department for Environment, Food and Agriculture), spoke at the launch of the Report in London [9].

"We tried to assess the implications of agricultural knowledge, science and technology both past, present and future on a series of very critical issues," Watson explained "These issues are hunger and poverty; rural livelihoods; nutrition and human health...The key point is how do we address these issues in a way that is environmentally, socially and economically sustainable?"

Agriculture could no longer be approached as a single issue, he warned. We need to consider the environmental issues of biodiversity and water; the economic issues of marketing and trade, and the social concerns of gender and culture.

Watson outlined some of the challenges facing the sector over the coming 50 years: "We need to enhance rural livelihoods where most of the poor live on one or two dollars a day. We also need to stimulate economic growth because half of the countries in Africa have a significant percentage of their GDP in the agricultural sector. At the same time, we need to meet food safety standards and make sure that we do not have pesticide residues, unacceptable levels of hormones or heavy metals. All of this must be done in an environmentally and socially sustainable manner."

He later told John Vidal of The Guardian [10] that governments and industry focused too narrowly on increasing food production, with little regard for natural resources or food security.

"Continuing with current trends would mean the earth's haves and have-nots splitting further apart," he said. " It would leave us facing a world nobody would want to inhabit. We have to make food more affordable and nutritious without degrading the land."

The UK Government has not among the 60 countries that have signed up to the report, but Watson indicated that it has the full support of the Prime Minister [3].

GM crops not the answer

Biotech companies, trade bodies and associated scientists have exploited the food crisis to step up their propaganda for GM crops. And the UK government's Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) has been exposed for misusing substantial public funds to support marketing GM crops to UK farmers and issuing a misleading press release on how UK farmers are "upbeat" about GM crops [11, 12] (Marketing Masquerading as Scientific Survey and UK Farmers Upbeat about GM Crops" Debunked, SiS 38)

Professor Watson told the Daily Mail [3]: "Are transgenics the simple answer to hunger and poverty? I would argue, no."

He said much more research was needed to establish whether they offer benefits and do not harm the environment. The industrialisation of agriculture, of which GM is a part, has led to the heavy use of artificial fertilisers and other chemicals, and these have harmed the soil structure and polluted waterways. The leeching of the soil of essential minerals means food is less healthy than 60 years ago.

The IAASTD states [10]: "Assessment of the technology lags behind its development, information is anecdotal and contradictory, and uncertainty about possible benefits and damage is unavoidable."

The authors also warned that the global rush to biofuels was not sustainable. "The diversion of crops to fuel can raise food prices and reduce our ability to alleviate hunger. The negative social effects risk being exacerbated in cases where small-scale farmers are marginalised or displaced from their land."

Professor Janice Jiggins of Wageningen University, one of the scientists co-authoring the IAASTD, questioned whether GM crops have been proven as safe [3]: "There are many legitimate concerns about the presence of transgenics in food, as well as the safety standards that might be appropriate as these enter into animal and human food," she said.

Report widely welcomed by NGOs

The report was widely welcomed [10]. A group of eight international environmental and consumer groups, including Third World Network, Practical Action, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth said in a statement: "This is a sobering account of the failure of industrial farming. Small-scale farmers and ecological methods provide the way forward to avert the current food crisis and meet the needs of communities."

Lim Li Ching of Third World Network said: "It clearly shows that small-scale farmers and the environment lose under trade liberalisation. Developing countries must exercise their right to stop the flood of cheap subsidized products from the north."

Guilhem Calvo, an adviser with the ecological and earth sciences division of UNESCO, one of the report's sponsors, said at a news conference in Paris: "We must develop agriculture that is less dependent on fossil fuels, favours the use of locally available resources and explores the use of natural processes such as crop rotation and use of organic fertilisers."

Greenpeace welcomed the publication as [2] "an historic opportunity to replace destructive chemical-intensive agriculture with methods that work with nature not against it."

Pete Riley of GM Freeze in the UK said: "We are delighted that the hyped claims about the current development in GM crops feeding the world are rejected. We call upon the Government, industry and science to respond positively to the challenge the report lays down and change their approach to scientific research so it is led by and reflects the needs of those who it should benefit - not the needs of corporations."

For a full range of practical solutions to follow on from the IAASDT see our ISIS TWN Report, Food Futures Now *Organic *Sustainable *Fossil Fuel Free ›[8], to be launched in UK Parliament 22 April 2008


1. "Africa: Reinventing Agriculture", Stephen Leahy, Inter Press Service,› (Johannesburg), 15 April 2008,

2. "Urgent changes needed in global farming practices to avoid environmental destruction" Greenpeace International Press Release, 15 April 2008.

3. "GM foods 'not the answer' to world's food shortage crisis, report says", Sean Poulter, The Daily Mail, 16 April 2008

4. GM food, biofuels and a hungry world, Editorial, The Daily Mail, 16 April 2008

5. What is the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science & Technology, IAASD? A compilation from its plenary decisions and official documents,

6. International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science & Technology (IAASTD) Synthesis Report 25 November 2007,

7. Ho MW. Food without fossil fuels now. Invited Keynote Lecture, 2nd Mediterranean Conference on Organic Agriculture in Croatia, Organic Agriculture - Contribution to Sustainable Ecosystem, 2-6 April 2008, Dubrovnik University. Dubrovnik, Croatia,

8. Ho MW, Burcher S, Lim LC et al. Food Futures Now, Organic, Sustainable, Fossil Fuel Free, ISIS TWN Report, London & Penang, 2008.

9. "Global food system 'must change'" BBC News, 15 April 2008,

10. "Change in farming can feed world - report", John Vidal, The Guardian, 16 April 2008,

11. Saunders PT. Marketing masquerading as scientific survey. Science in Society 38 (to appear).

12. Ho MW and Saunders PT. "UK faremers upbeat about GM crops" debunked. Science in Society 38 (to appear).


French Senate passes controversial GMO bill, 18 April 2008. By Dominique Patton.

France's upper house of parliament has passed a bill that sets out conditions for growing genetically modified crops, despite heavy opposition from environmental campaigners.

The bill was voted through after heated debate over an amendment introduced by Communist Andre Chassaigne to protect against GMO contamination of other crops.

The amendment makes it compulsory for farmers to "respect agricultural structures, local ecosystems and non-GMO commercial and production industries".

Socialist delegates said the amendment was a "major advantage for GMO-free cultures", since it represented a legal basis to exclude GMO from certain zones and protect against cross-contamination.

Greenpeace says it will have little impact without a proper definition of GMO written into the bill. Under the new bill France's High Council on Biotechnology will be responsible for defining what "non-GMO" means in terms of production for crop varieties. However this is likely to lead to controversy.

According to a report in French paper Liberation, the concept of non-GMO today has "no legal basis". The only existing law relates to labelling on food products and instead defines products "with GMOs".› For the UMP minister Jean Bizet, "non-GMO is therefore below 0.9 per cent". However the Greens claim that levels are detectable at 0.1 per cent.›

"We think they'll say that non-GM means a little GM, or up to a threshold of 0.9 per cent," said Apoteker. "That means the law is going to legalise contamination with GMOs. This fails to protect GMO-free agriculture."

The recently approved bill has been supported by most French farmers who are growing increasing amounts of genetically modified crops. French GM crop cultivation experienced the greatest increase in Europe last year, quadrupling in size from 5,000 hectares in 1996 to over 21,000 hectares.

But there is also a powerful opposition lobby, made up of environmental groups like Greenpeace and activists such as Jose Bove.

One of their main concerns is that pollination could cross-contaminate non-GM crops grown in the vicinity - and that ultimately the long-term health effects of GM on humans are not known.

"Although we back the amendment, we still think they should reject this law and put a better one in place," said Arnaud Apoteker, Greenpeace GM campaigner.

The bill will return to the lower house of parliament, or National Assembly, in the second half of May before becoming law. The opposition fears however that the amendment may be completely re-written when it returns for the second reading.

France's President Sarkozy introduced a ban on new cultivation of GMO crops in France last October after a government committee said it had found new evidence of damage that GM crops could cause to diversity and the environment.

The recently passed bill is however in response to European Union demands that member states formulate laws on GMO use.


Coalition calls on NGOs to withdraw support to Responsible Soy Roundtable

Global Forest Coalition, 18 April 2008.

One week before the third meeting of the Roundtable on Responsible Soy (RTRS) in Buenos Aires, Argentina [1], the Global Forest Coalition, a worldwide coalition of Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and Indigenous Peoples Organizations [2], have published an open call to NGOs to withdraw themselves from the RTRS process [3]. The Coalition states that by supporting the roundtable, NGOs are legitimizing the expansion of large-scale soy monocultures that lead to massive deforestation, pesticide contamination, rural depopulation, malnutrition and violent land conflicts. It calls upon NGOs to instead address the over-consumption of products like meat and transport fuels in continents like Europe, which is the main destination of South American soy. ›

"It is not coherent to increase export levies to halt the 'soyfication' of our country while there is continued support for the production of agrofuels, taking into account that there are 9,000,000 hectares of additional soy production needed to supply the agrodiesel plants that are currently projected," points out Elba Stancich of the NGO Taller Ecologista in Argentina. "The continued support for the current agricultural model forms the main obstacle to another type of agriculture, as it obliges small and medium-size farmers to adopt non-sustainable production methods based on competition and industrialization. Instead, we need family farms that foster the sustainable use of our common wealth for the production of quality food for local consumption." ›

"Soy monoculture covers 21 million hectares in Brazil, the second largest world producer and exporter of soybean, soybean oil and soybean meal, and the largest exporter of value added soy as poultry, pork and beef.› Soy also accounts for 80% of the raw material used to produce biodiesel in Brazil to date, " said Camila Moreno from Terra Di Direitos in Brazil. She adds:› "Soy is indisputably recognized as the main driving force of deforestation over the Amazon and Cerrado and a root cause of the escalating rural violence and human rights violations associated to land issues in our country. Soy expansion and soy greed has allowed Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) illegally into the country, smuggling seeds from Argentina. That gives precedent to the legalization of other GMOs leading to peasant and family farm indebtedness in southern Brazil." ›

The standards for "responsible" soy as currently proposed do not even exclude genetically modified soy, despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of consumers in Europe rejects genetically modified crops.

Elias Diaz Pena of Sobrevivencia in Paraguay adds: "We entirely reject the irresponsible insistence on such an oxymoron as sustainable soy. Soy is the cement of an all western way of life and diet, and as we see all around, there is no criteria but profit to its expansion. Even more scandalous than soy's devastating effects over biodiversity and traditional food cultures is the hypocrisy of northern consumers and their governments that refuse to accept the bare truth." ›

According to Dr. Miguel Lovera, the chairperson of the Global Forest Coalition, "The support of civil society organisations to this Roundtable is legitimizing a corporate-dominated process that attempts to give a green veneer to further soy expansion in South America and other regions instead of promoting more sustainable consumption patterns that would take away the need for further expansion."› Lovera, a Paraguayan agronomist, adds: "Certification processes are not able to address the indirect impacts of soy production, such as deforestation caused by cattle ranching and other agricultural activities that are displaced by soy monocultures. We need a dramatic reduction of soy monocultures, land reform and a country-wide deforestation ban here, as well as a drastic reduction in the consumption of meat, diary and agrodiesel in the countries addicted to soy."


Polish meat pricing itself out of markets, 18 April 2008.

Polish meat is losing fast against western produce and can disappear from the European markets within three months. And the situation could worsen after the GMO ban on animal feed comes into force later this year. ›

The alarm bells for the Polish meat sector went off in 2007, when Poland recorded a deficit in pork export for the first time. ›

'The key culprit is not the strong zloty, but the high price of pork in Poland compared with other countries,' Dariusz Nowakowski, Chairman of the leading Polish meat producer Animex has told Puls Biznesu. ›

Nowakowski confirms that the price of pork in Poland has been higher than the average prices prevailing on the EU markets and the situation could get even worse. ›

In his opinion, in the USA, the sale of the best-known and most successful imported ham brand so far, Krakus, is currently on the verge of profitability. ›

When the ban on using genetically modified animal feed comes into force in Poland in August this year, as planned, the already high cost of producing Polish meat, currently at 85 per cent of the retail price, will go even further up and will hit Polish meat and poultry producers even harder, the business daily warns. ›

The price of GMO based animal feed is lower than conventional plants as the yield is often higher. ›

Although the Agriculture Minister Marek Sawicki has promised that the ban on GMO produce will not come into effect, Puls Biznesu has found out that Polish MPs have not even seen any draft act amending the harmful anti-GMO law to be introduced in August. ›

'We don't expect any special privileges from the Polish authorities.› What we want from the government though is not to get in our way and not to hinder free competition with bad laws', says Animex Chairman.

Comment by GM-free Ireland:

This article falsely claims that GM animal feed is cheaper than natural feed because "the yield is often higher". According to a number of scientific studies, including one by the University of Kansas published in the journal Better Crops, GM soya produces about 10 per cent less food than its conventional equivalent, contradicting assertions by advocates of the technology that it increases yields. For details see "Exposed: the great GM crops myth" under 20 April above.


Latin America: Activists call for speedier land reform process

IPS News / Global lnformation Network, 18 April 2008. By Walter Sotomayor.

BRASILIA, Brazil -- Rural activists called on Latin American governments to speed up the region's land reform process Thursday at a conference in Brazil's capital.

Participants in the 30th Food and Agriculture Organization Regional Conference for Latin America and the Caribbean also sharply criticized agribusiness interests and large estates in the region.

"We are carrying out occupations of land, marches and protests to demand the settlement of 150,000 families living in camps and greater investment in rural development," said a communiquę released by Brazil's Landless Movement.

The Landless Movement has held demonstrations this week in memory of the 19 peasant farmers massacred by police 12 years ago in Eldorado dos Carajás, in the northern Brazilian state of Pará.

The delegates of the 33 Latin America and Caribbean countries taking part in the April 14-18 Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) conference paused in their deliberations Thursday to receive two dozen representatives of the Landless Movement and other social movements and to pay homage to the victims of Eldorado, who were shot by the police while taking part in a peaceful march for land reform.

Brazilian activist Maria das Gra∑as Amorim, the spokeswoman for the Agrarian Reform Forum, a coalition of 47 organizations, urged the government delegates to consider the need to set a limit on the size of rural estates in Latin America. "How can it be that a few have so much property, while so many have so little?" she asked.

More than 2,000 Landless Movement activists who were camping out near Brazil's Foreign Ministry, which is hosting the conference, took part in a simultaneous march that ended in front of Congress.

Brazil's Minister of Agrarian Development, Guilherme Cassel, said the FAO had learned a great deal from the exchange with the rural activists. "An agency like the FAO, which forms part of the United Nations, cannot operate at the margins of civil society, without taking advantage of its knowledge and experience. This is living democracy," the official said.

FAO regional representative Josę Francisco Graciano acknowledged that the inequality that characterizes Latin America also marks the countryside, and said agrarian reform is an imperative for the region.

But he clarified that the FAO can only point out possible directions to take, and that it is up to each government to reach its own decisions.

The FAO conference incorporated this week in its debates the demands of a number of social organizations that held a parallel gathering in Brasilia.

Small farmers and representatives of indigenous communities and nongovernmental organizations who met for four days in the Brazilian capital issued a declaration in which they defended food sovereignty, called for a moratorium on the production of biofuels and condemned the use of genetically modified organisms.

"We assert that hunger and poverty are not the product of chance but part of a model that violates people's right to a decent life," said the document, which also declared support for South America's coca farmers.

"Economic liberalization, seen as the sole route to development, is directly proportional to the growth of poverty and hunger in the region," the declaration added.

The Landless Movement organized demonstrations in 16 of Brazil's 27 states to commemorate April 17, the International Day of Peasant Struggle.

Tens of thousands of small farmers took part in roadblocks, protests outside of government buildings and large corporations, occupations of state-owned banks and companies considered enemies of agrarian reform, and marches on rural highways and in cities around the country.

The Landless Movement is calling for the urgent distribution of land to 150,000 families who are living in camps along highways or on unproductive portions of large estates, waiting for plots of their own on which to grow crops for subsistence purposes. Since the 1980s, nearly 1 million rural families in Brazil have received land as part of the ongoing agrarian reform process, according to official figures.


Farm reform is key to battling hunger
World food security
A new report has called for a fundamental change in world farming to remedy inequality, writes Mary Fitzgerald from Alexandria in the last of her series on the world food crisis.

The Irish Times, 18 April 2008.

EGYPT: It took 400 scientists more than three years and much wrangling, but the report published this week calling for radical changes in world farming in order to remedy inequalities could not have come at a more opportune time.

With dozens of developing countries finding themselves stretched and experiencing internal unrest as a result of rising food prices, and everybody from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the UN's World Food Programme warning of worse times to come, the report by the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) proved a timely call for action.

The 2,500-page report concluded that while advances over the last half century had resulted in the world's food production increasing at a faster rate than its population, the present system of production and trade meant the benefits were spread unevenly and at an "increasingly intolerable price" paid by small-scale farmers, workers, rural communities and the environment.

"Malnutrition and food insecurity threaten millions," the report's authors wrote. "Rising populations and incomes will intensify food demand, especially for meat and milk which will compete for land with crops, as will biofuels. The unequal distribution of food and conflict over control of the world's dwindling natural resources presents a major political and social challenge to governments, likely to reach crisis status as climate change advances and world population expands from 6.7 billion to 9.2 billion by 2050."

Launching the report, IAASTD director Prof Robert Watson said recent food price hikes had been driven by increased demand, poor weather, export restrictions, more land use to produce biofuels such as corn-derived ethanol, commodity market speculation and higher energy costs.

The IAASTD report, commissioned by the UN and the World Bank, prescribed a fundamental rethink of agricultural knowledge, science and technology to develop a sustainable global food system. "Modern agriculture will have to change radically if the international community wants to cope with growing populations and climate change, while avoiding social fragmentation and irreversible deterioration of the environment," said Salvatore Arico from Unesco, the UN's educational, scientific and cultural division, in a summary of the report.

Outlining some of the challenges facing world farming in the next decades, Prof Watson said: "We need to enhance rural livelihoods where most of the poor live on one or two dollars a day.

"At the same time, we need to meet food safety standards. All of this must be done in an environmentally and socially sustainable manner." Agriculture should no longer be treated merely as a single issue of production, he said, adding that this approach had resulted in "an increasingly degraded and divided" planet.

"We need to consider the environmental issues of biodiversity and water; the economic issues of marketing and trade, and the social concerns of gender and culture."

IAASTD co-chairman Hans Herren charged that "contentious political and economic stances" were hampering attempts to address some of the imbalances outlined in the report. Specifically, he referred to OECD countries who are "deeply opposed to any changes in trade regimes or subsidy systems".

The report, which some hope will prove an agricultural equivalent to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that provided an impetus for the current climate change agenda, is backed by 60 countries. The US, Canada, Australia and Britain have so far withheld support, however, due to scepticism over the role of GM (genetic modification) technology.

The report's authors said they were not convinced that GM technology, as it is currently practised, could help in the battle against hunger. "Assessment of the technology lags behind its development, information is anecdotal and contradictory, and uncertainty about possible benefits and damage is unavoidable," the report added. The GM debate is one many scientists and development experts believe will intensify as the world searches for possible solutions to the food crisis.

At this week's BioVision conference in the Egyptian city of Alexandria, a gathering where scientists, academics and representatives from the development sector discussed the role of life sciences in tackling problems in developing countries, the GM issue reared its head in several meetings.

Roger Beachy, president of the US-based Donald Danforth Plant Science Centre and a strong advocate of GM technology, argued that "over-precaution" on the issue of GM "in the face of strong scientific evidence to the contrary" was partly to blame for the current world food crisis.

Tom Arnold, chief executive of Concern and chairman of the European Food Security Group, acknowledged GM technology may form part of future strategies to combat hunger. "You can't rule out the possibility of GM foods, in the longer term, having an increasing role to play in food security," he said. "There has to be a potential in some of this gene technology to breed shorter cycle or drought resistant plants, for example." Mr Arnold said a "much more open and genuine" discussion about the possibilities, risks and concerns was required.

Above all, he stressed, the issue of political will and leadership was crucial in the fight against hunger and malnutrition. "The combination of the energy crisis and the food crisis means we have now moved onto a new plateau. There's going to have to be a clear focus on more food security and more investment in agriculture. That demands a policy shift."

Mr Arnold, who sits on the Hunger Task Force set up last year to recommend ways in which the Irish Government can best contribute to tackle food insecurity, noted how the work of the taskforce had become even more relevant in recent months.

"We are facing an objectively different food situation in the world than we were when the taskforce was set up a year ago. The urgency of dealing with the food crisis in terms of short-term safety nets for the poor and the beginnings of much more focused attention on food security has become very relevant." He said the decision of the taskforce to focus on increasing agricultural productivity as well as improving nutrition, reflected current thinking on battling hunger.

Comment from GM-free Ireland:

This Irish Times article is typical of the newspaper's biased coverage on GM food and farming issues (see Irish Times Slammed for Bias on GM Issues, The article fails to specify that the "fundamental change" advocated by the IAASTD requires an immediate shift from the industrial agribusiness paradigm, towards sustainable, organic and GM-free food production. The article then quotes unrelated biotech industry sources to slam the report's conclusion that GM farming is no solution to food scarcity.

The bias reflects the conflict of interest resulting from the close links between the Irish Times and the agribiotech industry on which it reports. Prof David McConnell, the chairman of the Irish Times Trust (a registered charity which owns the paper), is also Co-Vice-Chairman of the agri-biotech industry lobby group European Action on Global Life Sciences (EAGLES), a task force of the European Federation of Biotechnology (, which includes Monsanto Europe, the Association of German Biotech Companies, the Biotechnology Industry Organisation (USA) etc.

The article's bias is both quantitative and qualitative:

It fails to mention that the IAASTD's opposition to GM farming is based on a rigorous and peer-reviewed analysis of the empirical evidence by hundreds of scientists and development experts from around the world.

35% of its text is used to attack the report's rejection of GM food and farming, without a single balancing view in support of the 400 scientists who wrote the report, or the 55 governments (including Ireland), which agreed its policy recommendations.

The only three external "sources" quoted all have close to the agri-biotech industry: the BioVision conference was co-sponsored by EAGLES and Monsanto; the Donald Danforth Plant Science Centre is also funded by Monsanto; and Tom Arnold of Concern still believes GM crops may solve world hunger, despite conclusive evidence that they are genetically unstable and have lower yields, and despite the call made at the World Food Summit in 2006 by the European Food Security Group (of which Arnold is Chairperson) for developing countries to "have the right and possibility to refuse GMO food aid".

It positions the BioVision conference ( - which had no role to play in the IAASTD - as a neutral gathering of "scientists, academics and representatives from the development sector". But Pat Mooney of the ETC Group ( - one of the few civil society representatives invited to speak at the event - described the biotech science and industry talkfest as a platform for GM industry propaganda. BioVision was actually organised in partnership with EAGLES; it was hosted by the Library of Alexandria, whose CEO Ismail Serageldin is Co-Vice President of EAGLES; and it was co-sponsored by Monsanto!

The article fails to mention the IAASTD report's conclusion that the patenting of the world's agriculural seeds by Monsanto and other transnational agribiotech corporations "tends to concentrate ownership of resources, drive up costs, inhibit independent research, and undermine local farming practices such as seedsaving that are especially important in developing countries. It could also mean new liabilities, for example if a genetically modified plant spreads to nearby farms."

As Lim Li Ching of the Third World Network observed,

"The IAASTD calls for a radical change in agriculture policy and practice, in order to address hunger and poverty, social inequities and environmental sustainability questions. It notes that the current way of farming is clearly unsustainable and fails to meet sustainable development goals.

The report calls for a systematic redirection of investment, funding, research and policy focus towards the needs of small-farmers. Greater emphasis is needed on safeguarding natural resources and agro-ecological practices, as well as on tapping the wide range of traditional knowledge held by local communities and farmers. Sustainable agriculture that is biodiversity based, including agro-ecology and organic farming, is beneficial to poor farmers, and should be supported by the appropriate policy and regulatory frameworks."

But you would not know that if you depended on the Irish Times.


Ireland: IOFGA say that GM foods fail to deliver

The Longford Leader, 18 April 2008.

In a recent statement, the (UK) National Beef Association called for all resistance to GM crops, at both UK and EU level, to be abandoned immediately. IOFGA, the organic food organisation based in Newtownforbes, says this is a very short sighted view on agriculture and GM crops, and one which is clearly ill informed. GM lobbyists have been promising the miracles of GM technology for over two decades. To date they have seriously failed to deliver on all of their promises. Billions of euros have been invested, and still this technology is rejected by people, farmers, and policy makers all over the world.

According to IOFGA, international trials of GM cultivation have shown that yields have not increased as promised and that reliance on pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers has increased - not decreased as promised.

"Weeds and pests have developed resistance to GM crops and pesticides resulting in 'superweeds' and 'superbugs' that need even larger amounts of herbicides and pesticides", a spokesperson explained, adding that "there have also been problems with cross contamination and cross fertilisation between GM and non-GM crops. These have led to sometimes lengthy lawsuits and are a potentially explosive problem if more GM crops are planted."

The most convicing argument of all is that consumers throughout Europe have consistently voted against growing GM crops, according to IOFGA.

"It is true that the era of cheap food is over - on account of rising production and fuel costs. However, this also shows that we should be moving away from oil-based food production such as GM and embracing sustainable methods like organic farming - based on renewable energy and carbon reduction," the spokesperson concluded.


BASF threatens EU over potato

Associated Press, 18 April 2008. By Constant Brand.

BRUSSELS, Belgium - For nine months, the European Commission has been considering whether to approve cultivation of a genetically engineered potato. On Thursday, the company involved said it would take the EU executive to court if it doesn't decide soon.

"Enough is enough," Stefan Marcinowski, a director at BASF AG, told reporters. "We are prepared to take all kinds of options, which includes legal action against the Commission."

Marcinowski said talks Tuesday with EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas made no progress. He said EU officials were making a mockery of their own approval system.

BASF says the biotech potato is safe. But environmental groups and some EU nations argue that such crops endanger humans, animals and the environment.

A green light from the commission for BASF's "Amflora" potato would be its first approval of a biotech crop in a decade.

The potato would provide starch for industrial uses, such as making glossy magazine coatings and as an additive in sprayable concrete.

BASF says byproducts could also be used to make animal feed, but that would need further clearance from the EU. The potato is not designed to be eaten by humans. Environmental groups have warned that BASF's potato contains a gene that makes it resistant to antibiotics. That gene, the advocates say, could spread to conventional crops nearby and taint the food chain.

Marcinowski said that Dimas reiterated concerns Tuesday about that gene, which BASF says poses no danger to humans or animals. That claim has been supported by the EU's food safety authority, EFSA.

Marcinowski also warned that biotech companies worldwide see the potato case as a test of whether the commission will follow its own approval system and whether it remained open to high-tech investment in the 27-nation union.

"Interest to invest here in research and development is reducing," Marcinowski said.

In 2004, the EU ended a six-year moratorium on applications for new biotech products and introduced strict approval procedures and labeling regulations. But several EU nations remain reluctant to authorize biotech crops.

Eleven EU countries, including Italy, Austria, Greece and Poland, tried to block BASF's potato in July.

But they did not muster enough votes to reject the application outright, as Britain, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden led a group of supporters.

Under EU rules, the European Commission has the final authority to decide on clearing new biotech crops if member states reach a stalemate.

Approval of the biotech potato - along with two genetically modified corn products - remains frozen by the commission.


Austrialia: GM crop ban extended indefinitely in SA

Stock and Land, 18 April 2008.

The South Australian Government has moved to indefinitely extend its ban on GM crops in that State following Cabinet approval to extend existing regulations under the Genetically Modified Crops Management Act 2004.

The current legislation banning GM crops was due to expire on April 29.

But SA Agriculture Minister Rory McEwen said that under the terms of the Act, the Government was required to undertake a further six week period of public consultation, which included a series of public meetings around the State in March.

"This provided individuals, community organisation and the grains industry with a further opportunity to have their say on GM crops and include any updated information for the State Government to take into account," Mr McEwan said.

"The six weeks of public consultation showed there's a divergence of opinion about the impact of GM crop cultivation on markets and trade for our produce," he said.

"This came up in the seven public meetings, the 38 letters and 83 formal submissions.

"However, 81pc of the submissions and 97pc of the letters supported retaining the moratorium.

"Our view is that at present we believe there's no compelling reason to lift the ban for growing GM crops for human consumption in SA."

Mr McEwen said the Government would be closely watching to see how NSW and Victoria address the key issues of segregation and regulation, as well as monitoring the benefits of keeping the moratorium in WA and Tasmania.


Australia: No GM, says Bendigo - State Government defied

The Advertiser, 18 April 2008.

THE City of Greater Bendigo will defy [the Victorian] State Government policy in an effort to keep the municipality free of genetically modified crops and declare Bendigo a GM-free zone.

The council will request a GM-free zone under Section 21 of the Victorian Gene Technology Act and seek to counteract the State Government's lifting of a moratorium on GM canola in February.

It is not known if any growers plan to sow genetically modified crops within the municipality this season.

Mayor David Jones said reinforcing the strength of the council's position against GM crops was vital when they held such serious implications for farmers' ability to market produce as GM free when contamination could not be contained.

He said the council would also request that the Federal Government investigate the impacts of GM products on local flora and fauna under the 1999 Environment Protection Act.

He said the council's approach in opposing the introduction had been to take a conservative stance and protect the livelihood of organic producers and their right to farm free from products untested over the long term.

"History is littered with magic-bullet solutions to crops that have developed unforseen and un-envisaged problems," he said.

"The point is we are just not sure."

Cr Julie Rivendell said lifting the moratorium would lead to the contamination of eastern Australia and once it happened it would be irreversible.

Cr Keith Reynard said he feared the ownership of patents on GM crops by several large multinational companies posed serious dangers for the future viability and freedom of farmers.


17 April 2008

Monocrops bring food crisis, April 17 2008. By Alex Roslin.

Move over, peak oil and global warming. A new crisis is exploding right now across the developing world: peak food.

Rising costs for staples like rice have sparked unrest across Asia, the Caribbean, and Africa this month, including food riots in Haiti that have killed five, strikes in Jordan, and rice-hoarding in the Philippines and Hong Kong.

Exploding fuel prices are largely to blame for a 65-percent jump in the cost of food globally since 2002. But that's not the main reason for the current crisis. Ground zero is in the world's rice bowl in Southeast Asia. A nasty epidemic of disease and pests has struck Vietnam, the world's third-largest rice exporter, sharply cutting supplies of the food staple of half of the world.

The problems in Vietnam have quickly rippled beyond its borders. In neighbouring Thailand, the world's largest rice exporter, the price of medium-grade rice for export has doubled since the beginning of the year. In the Philippines, the world's largest importer of the staple, the government has deployed soldiers to guard rice stocks, while President Gloria Arroyo has threatened to jail for life anyone who steals supplies.

Some exporting countries have started to limit rice sales abroad in order to build up domestic stocks, and the UN says food riots due to exploding prices for rice and other staples have hit a dozen countries in Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean, with 37 countries altogether facing food crises.

What caused the disease and pest outbreak in Vietnam? Some rice experts have said that's unclear. "We're faced with a lot of unknowns," said Robert Zeiglerůhead of the Manila-based International Rice Research Institute, which developed high-yield rice strains in the 1960sůin an Agence France-Presse dispatch. "The fact is, they got taken by surprise and they had some significant yield losses that they were just not expecting."

Devlin Kuyek begs to differ. He says the cause is no big mystery. It's monoculture. Kuyek is the author of a book titled Good Crop/Bad Crop: Seed Politics and the Future of Food in Canada, which came out in December. He says the rice crisis is an example of the food-related calamities we can expect in growing numbers due to a looming "perfect storm" combo of self-imploding crop monocultures and global warming.

Remember the Irish potato famine of the 1840s that wiped out up to a quarter of Ireland's population and changed the Emerald Isle's history. It started when the British took over Ireland's best farmland for beef-grazing pasture, pushing the Irish onto marginal land where they became virtually dependent on the potato for survival.

Today's rice crisis has disturbingly similar roots. Vietnam was one of the major recipient nations for the monoculture craze that swept the non-Communist world in the form of the U.S.-sponsored "Green Revolution" in the 1960s. The stated goal was to reduce poverty by spreading the economies of scale of U.S. mass agriculture. Monoculture would be to farming what the Model T had been to auto production.

The Green Revolution provoked a sea change in centuries-old farming practices worldwide. It meant dropping millenniums-old farming practices of planting diverse fields of frequently rotated, native-adapted crops that evolved as local soil and environmental conditions changed. Those methods based on diversified seed varieties and varied crops were developed during the earliest days of human farming in order to prevent plant diseases, pest infestations, and soil degradation. Now governments would subsidize farmers to grow vast tracts of single crops from uniformly produced seeds.

The new crops were bred in government labsůand today, by a half-dozen large seed companies that control the bulk of the $30-billion U.S. annual seed business worldwideůin order to maximize yield, not other characteristics, like, say, nutritional value. "They try to do the Coca-Cola or Pepsi of corn: one crop that could be sold everywhere," Kuyek says. "What you see in corn today is nothing like what you saw before, traditionally. They've industrialized that crop to the hilt. It's quite sad because it had so much nutritional value. You could essentially just live on corn."

Because the new monocrops were poorly adapted to local conditions, the plants didn't do so well unless sustained by massive amounts of water, fertilizers, and pesticides. Little wonder that almost all of the world's largest seed companies, including the likes of Monsanto, Syngenta, and DuPont, got their start as chemical manufacturers.

"A lot of diseases that had never been a problem started appearing during the Green Revolution," Kuyek says. "All of a sudden, instead of adapting seeds to local conditions, the farm had to be adapted to the seed variety."

The result of all this has been a tremendous loss of biodiversity. The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization says 75 percent of crop varieties have disappeared since 1900. Nine-tenths of the world's calories now come from 20 crop species, with four making up half of total calories: rice, corn, wheat, and potatoes.

Soaking farmland with chemicals has had other impacts as well. It meant only a few larger farming operations could afford the astronomical costs of the new type of farming. Small farms were crowded out, making communities less self-reliant. As well, the chemicals produced environmental problems, like the explosion of toxic blue-green algae in Canadian lakes, due largely to fertilizer runoff.

Monocrops also deplete soil of key nutrients and billions of microorganisms that help keep plants disease-free, reducing soil productivity 18 times faster than natural processes can rebuild it on average in the U.S., says John Jeavons, a Willits, California-based author and farming researcher who teaches small-scale food-production techniques. "We're putting extraordinary pressure on our soil base," he says.

Jeavons was on Salt Spring Island in February, giving a workshop for local farmers about the looming "peak food" crisis and his sustainable "mini-farming" techniques. He says peak food is actually related to four other intertwined crises: peak farmable land, peak water, peak oil, and global warming.

This unholy gaggle of calamities comes together like this: farmland globally is declining due to soil depletion, erosion, urban development, and the diversion of land to biofuel production. Throw in the depletion of aquifers, rising energy costs for farmers, and global warming flinging unprecedented environmental conditions at poorly adapted monocrops, and Jeavons says it's just a matter of time before we get a lot more Vietnams.

The irony of all this is the Green Revolution looks like it was barking up the wrong tree. Evidence is starting to show monocultures aren't the only way to feed the planetůand aren't necessarily the most efficient. "I'm quite confident we don't have to do mass agriculture," says Mark Winston, a former professor of apiculture at Simon Fraser University.

Winston coauthored a groundbreaking study of monocultures published in 2006 in the journal Agriculture, Ecosystems and the Environment. It found that canola farmers in Alberta who let some of their land go fallow dramatically improved their yield compared to those who planted their entire farm. The reason: the uncultivated land became an oasis for bees, which, in turn, helped the canola flourish with improved pollination. With 33 percent of land left unplanted, a farmer's profit would have more than doubled from $24,000 to $65,000 on a 1,400-hectare piece of land.

"The data is very strong: plant less and make more money," says Winston, now director of SFU's undergraduate semester in dialogue. "It's a whole different mindset. Monocultures create pest outbreaks that are greater than natural predators [like ants and wasps] can deal with. In a balanced crop, natural predators balance pest insects."

A growing movement of farmers, agronomists, and environmentalists is trying to revive traditional farming methods in reaction to the monocrop steamroller. Nestled in the Pacific Coastal Range 220 kilometres north of San Francisco, Jeavons is busy trying to teach the world about his "grow biointensive" mini-farming techniques from his base at the 20-acre spread of his nonprofit organization, Ecology Action.

Author John Jeavons is reviving small-scale farming to counter monocrops. His book How to Grow More Vegetables (and Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains, and Other Crops) Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine has sold 500,000 copies in seven languages and several editions. He travels worldwide, giving three-day workshops on his techniques, and he is currently hosting seven interns and apprentices at his farm, including some from Africa and Mexico.

Jeavons says mini-farming can feed a person a nutritious vegan diet with 4,000 square feet of land, compared to 7,000 square feet needed for a vegan diet with conventional farming and 30,000 square feet to produce the average American diet.

How does it work? He starts with double-dug, raised beds tilled two feet down in order to create what he calls a "soil sponge cake" or a "living, quadridimensional tapestry in your soil". Other tips: plenty of compost; close spacing of plants to reduce erosion, the need for watering, and room for weeds; companion planting; and carbon-heavy legumes to replenish the soil so it requires no fertilizer. And above all, no chemicals. "You're feeding the soil and yourself," he says.

Jeavons says the approach simply revives techniques first used in China and Greece thousands of years ago. North American farms, Kuyek says, used to be hotbeds of efficiency and biodiversity before the advent of modern agriculture. Agricultural fairs played a central role, with awards showcasing farmers who bred high-performance seeds. "There was a lot of innovation on farmers' fields," he says.

Another part of this movement is growing networks of small-scale farmers selling their wares locally. "Small, diverse farms can feed the local population," says Heather Pritchard of Farm Folk/City Folk, a nonprofit concerned with agricultural issues that encourages consumers, restaurants, and grocery stores to buy food locally at farmers markets or directly from local producers.

Pritchard lives most of the week at the Glorious Organics Cooperative in the Fraser Valley, where she grows herbs and flowers and balances the books. Her group's idea has caught on big-time, with demand so great that suppliers are struggling to keep up. "We don't have enough supply. We've done our job too well," she says, laughing.

Other activists are working to create seed banks to save locally grown crop varieties from extinction. One example is the Salt Spring Island-based Seed and Plant Sanctuary for Canada. It hopes to collect, study, and preserve the seed of every edible, medicinal, and other potentially useful plant in Canada before it's too late and they're gone.

Apart from its own seed bank of more than 600 varieties of herbs, grains, peppers, tomatoes, and garlic, the sanctuary also coordinates a network of small-scale farmers who preserve "heirloom" seedsůendangered traditional varieties grown for centuries until they were crowded out by monocultures. "It's kind of a living gene bank spread through the country," says the sanctuary's Dan Jason in a phone interview.

The goal of all this is to resupply farmers struck by crop failure, natural disaster, or genetic contamination. "Monocultures have little in-built adaptability, especially with climate change," Jason says. "We're narrowing the gene pool to just a few varieties, and they're pretty shitty varieties. They're designed not for nutrition but yield."

One of Jason's dreams is for every city, town, and country village to have its own seed bank to store locally grown seeds and collect records on them. Another idea he has helped promote is Seedy Saturdays and Sundaysůmonthly organic- seed fairs for local farmers and small seed vendors. Over 50 Seedy Saturdays are now being held regularly held in places like Salt Spring Island, Kelowna, Halifax, even Toronto. "The only way we're going to have good food is [by] taking it into our own hands," Jason says.

Some seed activists are less enthused, however, about the opening in February of a UN-affiliated global seed bank in Svalbard, Norway, that has been likened to a Noah's ark for plants. Concern has grown that the seed bank could give agribusiness access it has sought for years to seed varieties of the developing world, while farmers will have few rights to their own seeds stored in the vault.

Kuyek notes that the Global Crop Diversity Trust, the international agency that spearheaded the seed bank, accepts private donations from biotech seed giants Syngenta and DuPont. "There is a really aggressive effort by seed companies to patent the seed supply and lock it up," he says. "If we're in this monoculture model and we throw in patents, it increases our vulnerability even further."

If Kuyek is right, it means the very effort of trying to protect our food supply at the seed bank could threaten it like never before.


French Senate approves GMO law

Reuters, April 17 2008

France's upper house of parliament has passed a bill laying down conditions for the growth of crops using genetically modified organisms (GMO) after changing a key amendment aimed at limiting their cultivation.

The measure, passed by the upper house, or Senate, late on Wednesday, is a response to European Union demands that member states formulate laws on GMO use.

The bill has the backing of the ruling centre-right government and the main farmers' union, but has been fiercely criticised by campaigners opposed to the use of the technology.

It will return to the lower house of parliament, or National Assembly, in the second half of May before becoming law.

Under an amendment proposed by Communist deputy Andre Chassaigne to guard against contamination by GMO crops, the law makes it compulsory for farmers to "respect agricultural structures, local ecosystems and non-GMO commercial and production industries."

But a modification introduced in the Senate would leave it to a government-appointed High Council on Biotechnology to fix limits on what would constitute "non-GMO" production for crop varieties, pending a ruling on the issue by the European Union.

Critics said the change would weaken the amendment but Greenpeace campaigner Arnaud Apoteker, an opponent of the bill, said the fact it had not been scrapped entirely was positive.

"We may have avoided the worst because ... the amendment was in danger and that was what we feared," he said.

He said there was concern it could be further watered down when it returned to the National Assembly for a second reading.

As well as attracting condemnation from the left wing opposition, the GMO bill has caused deep divisions within the ranks of President Nicolas Sarkozy's centre-right government.

Junior Environment Minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, who favoured tighter restrictions, accused members of her own party and her own senior minister Jean-Louis Borloo of "cowardice" over the issue.

(Reporting by James Mackenzie; editing by Chris Johnson)


BASF: Meeting between BASF and EU Commissioner Dimas yielded no results

M2 PressWIRE, 17 April 2008.

Limburgerhof, Germany -- BASF today published an open letter to EU Commissioner Stavros Dimas calling on him to approve the genetically optimized starch potato Amflora for commercial cultivation in Europe without any further delay.

Since the vote in the Council of Agricultural Ministers in July 2007, the decision to approve Amflora has been with Commissioner Dimas.

"Even though all steps in the EU approval process have been taken successfully, Mr. Dimas failed to grant approval," said Dr. Stefan Marcinowski, Member of the Board of Executive Directors of BASF SE. "An important future technology that offers benefits to farmers and the starch industry in Europe is being blocked without any reason. Amflora is safe. This has even been confirmed repeatedly by the EFSA experts." EFSA, the European Food Safety Authority, is responsible for the scientific assessment of genetically modified crops.

BASF representatives met with Commissioner Dimas on April 15 in Brussels, but the meeting failed to produce results.

Representatives from the Commission were not able to present new scientific findings that would argue against approving Amflora for commercial cultivation in Europe.

Leading starch producers recently confirmed that amylopectin potatoes like Amflora represent annual value-added of at least 100 million for Europes starch industry and farmers.

The open letter can be downloaded from

About Amflora

Amflora is a genetically optimized potato that produces pure amylopectin starch and is ideal for technical applications.

Conventional potatoes produce a mixture of amylopectin and amylose starch. For many technical applications, such as in the paper, textile and adhesives industries, only amylopectin is needed; separating the two starch components is uneconomical. Amflora produces pure amylopectin starch and thus helps to safe resources, energy and costs. Moreover, paper produced with amylopectin starch has a higher gloss.

Concrete and adhesives can be processed for a longer period of time.

About BASF Plant Science

BASF Plant Science is the plant biotechnology company of BASF - The Chemical Company - and has around 700 employees. Since 1998, the company has been working on plant optimization in the following areas: a more efficient agriculture, a healthier diet and the use of plants as a renewable resource. This includes, for example, the development of agricultural crops with higher yields, oil-producing plants with a higher content of healthy omega 3 fatty acids and potatoes with an optimized starch composition for industrial purposes. To find out more about BASF Plant Science, please visit:

About BASF

BASF is the worlds leading chemical company: The Chemical Company. Its portfolio ranges from oil and gas to chemicals, plastics, performance products, agricultural products and fine chemicals. As a reliable partner BASF helps its customers in virtually all industries to be more successful. With its high-value products and intelligent solutions, BASF plays an important role in finding answers to global challenges such as climate protection, energy efficiency, nutrition and mobility.

BASF has more than 95,000 employees and posted sales of almost 58 billion in 2007. BASF shares are traded on the stock exchanges in Frankfurt (BAS), London (BFA) and Zurich (AN).

Further information on BASF is available on the Internet at


Behind the label: Roundup Weedkiller
A weedkiller that kills a lot more than simply weeds? If it's worse than poison, it's no cure at all, says Pat Thomas.

The Ecologist magazine, April 2008. By the Editor, Pat Thomas.

A weed, as an insightful gardener once said, is just a plant growing in the wrong place. But to deal with the simple problem of plants growing in the wrong places, globally we spend millions each year on chemicals designed to kill them. Chemicals such as Monsanto's Roundup. The name will be familiar to GM watchers - all over the world food crops are being genetically modified (also by Monsanto) to be 'Roundup resistant', which allows farmers to spray this pesticide with impunity around their crops.

This irresponsible type of agriculture has led to increased resistance to the herbicide and the emergence of 'superweeds' - and thus increased sales of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, which farmers have to use more and more of in order to get the same effect. For instance, according to a new report by the US Center for Food Safety, per-acre applications of Roundup on soybeans rose by a factor of 2.5 (250 per cent) between 1994 and 2006. It took until 2002 for corn farmers truly to embrace GM, but between 2002 and 2005, glyphosate use on corn rose from 0.71 to 0.96lb/acre/year - a 35 per cent increase in just three years (see also box, opposite page). Thanks to Roundup, farmers worldwide are on a chemical treadmill they are finding it increasingly difficult to get off.

Since its introduction during the mid-1970s, global use of glyphosate has increased rapidly, and it is now the world's most widely used pesticide. In 2002, the global sales for glyphosate amounted to around $4.705 billion and accounted for more than 30 per cent of the volume of total global herbicide sales. There are more than 70 glyphosate producers in the world (excluding China). With more than an 80 per cent share of the market, Monsanto is the biggest.

So busy are we focusing on the big agricultural picture of Roundup and Roundup-resistance that it is all too easy to forget the fact that millions of gardeners in the UK and elsewhere routinely use Roundup to fight weeds on the home front.

Most glyphosate-based herbicides are formulated with one or more surfactants. The surfactant in a herbicide works in the same way as the surfactant in your shampoo - it makes the active ingredients work harder. In a herbicide the surfactant spreads the solution across the leaf, penetrates the leaf and thus enhances the uptake of glyphosate by the plant.

Roundup reactions

Many people reason that Roundup would not be on sale if it weren't safe, or that it is safe as long as you use it according to the manufacturer's instructions. However, accumulating data suggests neither assumption is correct.

Short-term exposure to glyphosate can cause breathing difficulties, loss of muscle control and convulsions. Farm workers exposed even to small amounts of Roundup - by rubbing an eye, for example - report swelling of the eye, eyelid or face, a rapid heartbeat and elevated blood pressure, all as a result of the residues transferred from the hands after touching leaky equipment. Accidental drenching is known to cause eczema of the hands and arms that can last for months.

Roundup has never been fully tested for its cancer-causing potential. Although the US Environmental Protection Agency classifies glyphosate as a Group E Oncogen (no evidence of carcinogenicity in humans) this only because of 'a lack of convincing evidence of carcinogenicity in adequate studies with two animal species, rat and mouse' - in other words, the judgement is based on a limited number of studies of a limited number of non-human subjects.


Roundup formulations frequently make use of a class of surfactants known as polyoxyethylene tallowamines (specifically polyethoxethyleneamine, or POEA) derived from fatty acids from animals or tall oil (resin from pine wood). Some also contain a second active ingredient, a back-up herbicide that can help kill any glyphosate-resistant weeds. Chances are the hapless consumer won't know any of this from reading the label because labelling laws only require manufacturers to list the active ingredient. Buy a glyphosate-based product like Roundup and you may never truly know what kind of toxic cocktail you are spraying around your garden (and then traipsing into your home).

Not knowing what you are using has tremendous health implications, since such data as exists suggests that it is not glyphosate on its own, but glyphosate in combination with surfactants and other pesticides that is most harmful. Given this, it is amazing that while active ingredients like glyphosate are closely regulated, 'inactive' ingredients like surfactants are not.

Roundup has long been promoted as being safe for humans and the environment while at the same time effective in killing weeds. It is therefore significant when studies begin to show that this herbicide compound is not as safe as its manufacturers claim.

In the late 1990s, a Swedish study published in the journal Cancer revealed links between glyphosate exposure and the development of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a form of cancer. Scientists warned then that with the rapidly increasing use of glyphosate the rate of this otherwise rare cancer could also increase.

More recently a group of scientists from the University of Caen, in France, found that human placental cells are very sensitive to Roundup at concentrations lower than those currently used in agricultural applications. The study of Ontario farming populations showed that exposure to glyphosate nearly doubled the risk of late miscarriages. It also found that the ethoxylated surfactant used in the Roundup formulation studied doubled the toxic effect of the glyphosate.

In 2002, French scientists found that Roundup activates one of the key stages of cellular division that can potentially lead to cancer. There is also research that shows that even brief exposure to glyphosate causes liver damage in rats. The research indicated that glyphosate acted in synergy with the surfactant used in Roundup to increase damage to the liver.

The label of Fast Action Roundup weedkiller claims it biodegrades leaving no soil residues. What actually happens is that glyphosate attaches itself, rather like a magnet, to minerals in the soil and remains more or less in situ until the soil is moved - by heavy rain, for instance. That is when the glyphosate can move into water supplies and have a more widespread environmental impact.

In April 2005, work by scientists at the University of Pittsburgh, US, suggested that Roundup is lethal to lifeforms other than plants - in this case amphibians. In an extensive study on the effects of pesticides on these 'non-target' organisms in a natural setting, the researchers found that Roundup caused a 70 per cent decline in amphibian biodiversity and an 86 per cent decline in the total mass of tadpoles. Leopard frog tadpoles and gray tree frog tadpoles were nearly eliminated by exposure to the herbicide.

Monsanto disputed the findings, saying Roundup was not intended for waterways, but this is hardly a relevant argument. Because of its widespread use, Roundup can be found in most waterways as a result of runoff - and it has the potential also to contaminate surface waters. In fact, in one 1998 survey Roundup was reported to have been found in surface water in the Netherlands, in wells sited under electrical substations that had been treated with glyphosate, in seven US wells (one in Texas, six in Virginia) and in forest streams in Oregon and Washington.

You don't have to go to a specialist garden centre to buy Roundup weedkiller; it is sold in the garden section of most supermarkets. The choice - buy a weedkiller and kill a weed - seems simple on the surface, but when you buy a product such as Roundup you are buying into a whole host of other issues you may never had dreamed of - worldwide pesticide contamination, loss of biodiversity, increases in ill health and the support of GM crops.

Who benefits from weedkillers?

A new report from the US Center for Food Safety - Who Benefits From GM Crops? - paints a disturbing picture of the sheer scale of herbicide use (weedkillers, or herbicides, are the largest class of pesticides) and its implications. For instance:

Four out of every five acres of GM crops worldwide are Monsanto's Roundup Ready varieties, designed specifically for use with Roundup.

Data from the US government reveals a huge 15-fold increase in the use of glyphosate on soybeans, corn and cotton in the US from 1994 to 2005, driven by adoption of Roundup Ready versions of these crops.

In 2006, the last year for which data is available, glyphosate use on soybeans jumped a substantial 28 per cent over the previous year.

Rising glyphosate use has spawned a growing epidemic of weeds in the US, Argentina and Brazil that are resistant to the chemical. In fact, scientists have reported glyphosate-resistant weeds infesting 2.4 million acres in the US alone.

The increase in the resistance of weeds to glyphosate has led to an increase in the use of other toxic chemicals, for example:

In the US, the amount of 2,4-D applied to soybeans more than doubled from 2002 to 2006. A known carcinogen, 2,4-D was a component of the Vietnam War defoliant Agent Orange.

The use on maize in the US of the pesticide atrazine, banned in the EU because of links to health problems such as breast and prostate cancer, increased by 12 per cent from 2002 to 2005. Atrazine is an oestrogen mimic and thus a potential carcinogen. Studies in the field have shown that it causes male frogs to develop female characteristics such as ovaries (see the Ecologist, February 2006).

In Argentina, it is projected that each year 25 million litres of herbicides other than glyphosate will be needed to tackle the glyphosate-resistant plant Johnson grass.


UK: Last Chance to Shut the Door on GM Human Beings

Human Genetics Alert, http//

Please act now!

In just a few weeks British MPs will decide whether to allow scientists to start research on the ultimate step in genetic engineering: the creation of GM 'designer' human beings. In the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, now going through Parliament, the Government wants to allow the creation of GM human embryos, as the first step towards developing safe technology for creating GM babies. The creation of GM babies is not just a hypothetical scenario: leading British scientists, such as Robert Winston and Ian Wilmut, have already patented techniques for doing this, including patenting human semen and embryos.

If you care about the impact of GM on food and the environment it makes no sense to be quiet about this. The driving forces behind the push for GM humans are no different from those with GM food: money and scientists' desires for control over nature. And just as with GM food, the result will be loss of genetic diversity and the creation of new inequalities. Children will be designed to compete better but, of course, the rich will be able to purchase genetic advantages for their children over those of the rest of us. Human beings will become just another commodity, subject to market forces. There is no medical need for HGM (see for more details on this and other points), but once it is used for medical purposes, it will soon be used for cosmetic and 'enhancement' purposes, just as drugs and surgery are being used today.

Human beings are the only species left on the planet where there still exist formidable technical, ethical and legal barriers to genetic engineering - this is a battle that can be won, if we only raise our voices against the Government's plans. Most governments view the creation of GM babies in the same way as human cloning, and many have banned it - Britain would be the first to break this consensus.

Although this Bill prevents the creation of GM babies (with a major loophole) for the present, while the technology is still unsafe, the Government's own documents have admitted that GM babies are the ultimate goal. So this is the moment when there must be democratic debate, so that we don't repeat the GM food experience, where most people only heard about it for the first time when Monsanto's GM soya began to flood into supermarkets. And it is crucial that the debate is not framed as science vs religion - so those who support women's rights, and have learned from the experience of GM food must have their voices heard. Even if you live outside the UK, your help is vital, since the British Government is sensitive to international pressure.

What you can do

The Bill is likely to be debated in the House of Commons in mid-May.

Write to your MP letting them know your views on the Government's plans. It is always better to use your own words, but if you do not wish to, here is a sample letter you can use Please send copies of your messages to

Forward this message to others who may be concerned.

Write to the Minister responsible for the legislation: Dawn Primarolo MP, Department of Health, Richmond House, 79 Whitehall, London SW1A 2NS;

Support Human Genetic Alert's ( campaign: let us know what you have done, and, if possible, send us a donation to help with the campaign.

For more information on this issue, visit, and or


BASF ready for lawsuit against EU on GMO potato

Reuters, April 17 2008. By Jeremy Smith.

BRUSSELS - German chemical company BASF may take legal action against the European Commission if approval of its genetically modified (GMO) potato is not issued soon, a senior company official said on Thursday.

"We are prepared to take legal action against the Commission," said Stefan Marcinowski, a member of BASF's board of executive directors told reporters at a briefing.

Asked about a possible timeframe, he said: "Not years, we are doing the utmost to meet the next planting season."

After an inconclusive meeting this week with EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas, BASF sent him an open letter -- printed across German media, the Financial Times and other newspapers on Thursday -- demanding that the Commission approve its Amflora potato "without any further delay".

If approval is given, it would be the EU's first authorization of a GMO product for cultivation in a decade. Only one GMO crop may be grown commercially in the EU, a maize made by U.S. biotech company Monsanto and approved in 1998.

"We have not been satisfied with the process of approval so we took this unusual step (of the open letter)," Marcinowski said. "The decision has been sitting for nine months on the desk of Commissioner Dimas."

"This is enough time to come to a conclusion -- our patience and willingness to collaborate have now been stretched. We do not accept having to ... wait for months and months before cultivation," he said.

Previously, BASF wanted approval by April for farmers to plant its potato for the 2008 harvest: now no longer possible.

"We have missed another year of planting, because you can't just plant potatoes at any time," Marcinowski said, adding that the optimum months for planting potatoes in Europe were February and March. Also, BASF would have to plan generation of potato tubers quite soon to act as seeds for a possible 2009 harvest.

Amflora is engineered to yield high amounts of starch, eliminating the viscous gel-like substance amylose so it contains only one starch ingredient: amylopectin.

It is not intended for human consumption but rather for industrial use; for example, in the paper industry to make glossy magazine coatings, in textiles for yarn sizing and as an additive in adhesive or sprayable concrete.

EU governments have not managed to agree on biotech foods and crops for many years and repeatedly clash on the issue. No new GMO crop has received an approval for growing since 1998.

The European Commission has authorized a series of GMO products for import since 2004, but only through a legal procedure that enables it to issue a rubberstamp approval when EU states fail to agree.

GMO cultivation is far more controversial and the EU now stands on the brink of approving BASF's potato for growing, by that same legal procedure. The problem is, the EU's environment chief, in charge of the dossier, seems unwilling to approve it.

Normally, the Commission acts fairly quickly in such cases. But the company has been waiting since July 2007, when EU ministers failed to agree either to approve or reject its application.

(Reporting by Jeremy Smith, Editing by Peter Blackburn)


Swiss company opens multimillion-dollar research centre in China

The Earth Times, 17 April 2008.

Basel, Switzerland - Swiss-based international seed and pesticide firm Syngenta said Thursday it plans to open a multimillion-dollar research and technology centre for the development of genetically modified (GM) crops in Beijing. The company said it would invest around 65 million dollars in the first five years of the project.

The new facility would complement its US centres, it said.

It would concentrate on early-stage evaluation of GM for key crops such as corn and soy to improve yield, drought resistance, disease control and biomass conversion for biofuels, the company said in a statement.

"China is increasingly recognized for the scale and calibre of its biotech expertise in agriculture," the head of research and development at Syngenta, Dave Lawrence, said.

"Having our own research base in Beijing will accelerate innovation and offer powerful opportunities to work more closely with Chinese research institutes, which is all the more relevant now in a world that sees higher global demand for crops," he said.

The new centre, Syngenta Biotechnology (China) Co Ltd, will be built at Zhongguancun Life Science Park in Beijing by 2010, employing 100 researchers and staff initially, increasing to 200 within two years.

Operations would start from summer 2008 in temporary facilities nearby.

The company said it was expanding its activities in China.

Earlier this month, Syngenta completed a deal giving it a 49-per- cent stake in the leading Chinese corn seeds company Sanbei Seed Co Ltd in Hebei province.

Last year, Syngenta entered into a five-year research collaboration with the Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology (IGDB) in Beijing, working on the development of strains of key crops such as corn, soybean, wheat, sugar beet and sugar cane.


16 April 2008

Change in farming can feed world - report
Ample resources wasted, global study warns
Biofuels exacerbating shortage of food crops

The Guardian (UK), April 16 2008. By John Vidal, environment editor.

Sixty countries backed by the World Bank and most UN bodies yesterday called for radical changes in world farming to avert increasing regional food shortages, escalating prices and growing environmental problems.

But in a move that has led to the US, UK, Australia and Canada not yet endorsing the report, the authors said GM technology was not a quick fix to feed the world's poor and argued that growing biofuel crops for automobiles threatened to increase worldwide malnutrition.

The report was issued as the UN's World Food Programme called for rich countries to contribute $500m (£255m) to immediately address a growing global food crisis which has seen staple food price rises of up to 80% in some countries, and food riots in many cities. According to the World Bank, 33 countries are now in danger of political destabilisation and internal conflict following food price inflation.

The authors of the 2,500-page International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development [IAASTD] say the world produces enough food for everyone, yet more than 800 million people go hungry. "Food is cheaper and diets are better than 40 years ago, but malnutrition and food insecurity threaten millions," they write. "Rising populations and incomes will intensify food demand, especially for meat and milk which will compete for land with crops, as will biofuels. The unequal distribution of food and conflict over control of the world's dwindling natural resources presents a major political and social challenge to governments, likely to reach crisis status as climate change advances and world population expands from 6.7 billion to 9.2 billion by 2050."

Robert Watson, director of IAASTD and chief scientist at the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said: "Business as usual will hurt the poor. It will not work. We have to applaud global increases in food production but not everyone has benefited. We have not succeeded globally. In some parts of India 50% of children are still malnourished. That is not success."

Watson said governments and industry focused too narrowly on increasing food production, with little regard for natural resources or food security. "Continuing with current trends would mean the earth's haves and have-nots splitting further apart," he said. " It would leave us facing a world nobody would want to inhabit. We have to make food more affordable and nutritious without degrading the land."

The report - the first significant attempt to involve governments, NGOs and industries from rich and poor countries - took 400 scientists four years to complete. The present system of food production and the way food is traded around the world, the authors concluded, has led to a highly unequal distribution of benefits and serious adverse ecological effects and was now contributing to climate change.

The authors say science and technology should be targeted towards raising yields but also protecting soils, water and forests. "Investment in agricultural science has decreased yet we urgently need sustainable ways to produce food. Incentives for science to address the issues that matter to the poor are weak," said Watson.

The GM industry, which helped fund the report, together with the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation, the World Health Organisation and the British and US governments, abandoned talks last year after heated debate.

The scientists said they saw little role for GM, as it is currently practised, in feeding the poor on a large scale . "Assessment of the technology lags behind its development, information is anecdotal and contradictory, and uncertainty about possible benefits and damage is unavoidable," said the report.

"The short answer to whether transgenic crops can feed the world is 'no'. But they could contribute. We must understand their costs and benefits," said Watson yesterday.

The authors also warned that the global rush to biofuels was not sustainable. "The diversion of crops to fuel can raise food prices and reduce our ability to alleviate hunger. The negative social effects risk being exacerbated in cases where small-scale farmers are marginalised or displaced form their land," they said.

Responding to the report, a group of eight international environment and consumer groups, including Third World Network, Practical Action, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, said in a statement: "This is a sobering account of the failure of industrial farming. Small-scale farmers and ecological methods provide the way forward to avert the current food crisis and meet the needs of communities."

Lim Li Chung, of Third World Network in Malaysia, said: "It clearly shows that small-scale farmers and the environment lose under trade liberalisation. Developing countries must exercise their right to stop the flood of cheap subsidised products from the north."

Guilhem Calvo, an adviser with the ecological and earth sciences division of Unesco, one of the report's sponsors, said at a news conference in Paris: "We must develop agriculture that is less dependent on fossil fuels, favours the use of locally available resources and explores the use of natural processes such as crop rotation and use of organic fertilisers."

At a glance

Bio-energy The report says biofuels compete for land and water with food crops and are inefficient. They can cause deforestation and damage soils and water.

Biotechnology The use of GM crops, where the technology is not contained, is contentious, the UN says. Data on some crops indicate highly variable yield gains in some places and declines in others.

Climate change While modest temperature rises may increase food yields in some areas, a general warming risks damaging all regions of the globe. There will be serious potential for conflict over habitable land.

Trade and markets Subsidies distort the use of resources and benefit industrialised nations at the expense of developing countries.

Note from GM Watch:

Key points in the report

Interview with Prof. Watson by John Vidal

Yesterday's IAASTD press conference about the report

More related materials


GM foods 'not the answer' to world's food shortage crisis, report says

Daily Mail (UK), 16 April 2008. By Sean Poulter.

Genetically-modified crops are not the solution to spiralling food prices or Third World hunger, according to a powerful international report published yesterday.

Questions remain over their effects on human health and the environment, it warns.

Sixty governments, private industry, scientists, consumer groups and social campaigners have delivered a blueprint for global agriculture for the next 50 years.

It delivers a remarkable snub to "Frankenstein Foods" and the industrialisation of farming while offering a boost to organic and small-scale agriculture.

The authors also warned against the rush to grow crops to be turned into fuel - biofuels - saying this could exacerbate food shortages and price rises.

This represents a direct challenge to government policy in the UK, Europe and the U.S. Publication of the report triggered an international row after the U.S. government, which has attempted to impose GM crops on the world, refused to sign up to the global initiative.

The row carries echoes of the Americans' refusal to sign up to initiatives to tackle global warming.

The International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development has been working for five years to develop a new approach to world food production.

Its director, Professor Robert Watson, said the industrialisation of farming since the Second World War has failed to produce the food needed by the world.

As a result, while the families in the West have plenty to eat, some 850 million people around the world go to bed hungry each night.

In recent months, GM companies, trade bodies and associated scientists have issued a deluge of propaganda suggesting biotech crops are the key to feeding the Third World.

Professor Watson and his team made clear that GM or transgenics - moving genes between plant species - was not the solution to providing plentiful cheap food.

He said: "Are transgenics the simple answer to hunger and poverty? I would argue, no."

He said much more research was needed to establish whether they offer benefits and do not harm the environment.

Professor Watson said the industrialisation of agriculture, of which GM is a part, has led to the heavy use of artificial fertilisers and other chemicals.

These have harmed the soil structure and polluted waterways.

The leeching of the soil of essential minerals means food is less healthy than 60 years ago.

The professor, a renowned expert on climate change and chief scientist at the UK food and farming department DEFRA, suggested organic farming practices offer many benefits.

UK GM crop trials have shown that associated farming practising destroy the weed population, removing food for bees, butterflies and other insects, and harm the food supply for birds.

There have been concerns the food could trigger unforeseen allergies.

Professor Janice Jiggins, of Wageningen University, questioned whether GM crops have been proven as safe. "There are many legitimate concerns about the presence of transgenics in food, as well as the safety standards that might be appropriate as these enter into animal and human food," she said.

This week the Government and EU imposed new laws that will require all fuel pumped into cars to contain 2.5 per cent of biofuels.

It is suggested that turning crops such as maize, wheat and sugar cane into a biofuel will help the world reduce the creation of greenhouse gases.

However, the IAASTD said this policy - driven by the U.S. government - could be misplaced.

Professor Watson said giving over land to biofuels was one of a number of factors driving sharp increases in food prices in the last year.

The report was published simultaneously in the UK, Washington, Delhi, Paris, Nairobi and a number of other cities.

The U.S. government was joined by Canada and Australia, which are also supporters of GM farming, in refusing to sign up to the initiative.

Bodies representing global biotech companies, which include the likes of Monsanto, also walked out of discussions on the report after failing to get their way.

The UK Government has not yet signed up the report but Professor Watson indicated it has the full support of the Prime Minister.


GM food, biofuels and a hungry world

The Daily Mail (UK). Editorial, 16 April 2008.

For years, biotech companies have answered critics by insisting genetically modified crops are essential to bringing down food prices and feeding the world's hungry. Well, now we know they're not.

Read the conclusions of the most authoritative report yet on the future of global food production.

According to the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development, grave doubts remain over the effects of GM foods on human health and the environment.

Meanwhile, say the authors, much more research is needed to establish whether so-called "Frankenfoods" offer anything like the benefits claimed for them.

The report - by 60 governments, private industry, scientists and consumer groups - dramatically vindicates those, including the Mail, who have long raised concerns about biotech firms such as Monsanto.

But if GM foods are not the answer to feeding the world's rapidly growing population, then what is?

One solution, highlighted by the report, would bring down prices and make more food available at a stroke.

Isn't it an outrage, at a time when some 850million are going hungry, that the West is increasingly diverting agricultural produce into biofuels?

Only this week, the EU imposed laws requiring 2.5 per cent of car fuel to be made from crops.

The aim, we're told, is to cut down on greenhouse gases.

Yet it remains highly questionable whether biofuels are any more environmentally friendly than conventional sources of energy.

Shouldn't politicians put the world's crying need for food before an illconsidered gimmick meant only to establish their green credentials?


U.N. Panel Urges Changes to Feed Poor While Saving Environment

New York Times, 16 April 2008. By Steven Erlanger.

PARIS ů Major agricultural countries must urgently change their policies to avoid a social explosion from rising food prices, a panel of United Nations experts warned Tuesday, adding their voices to new concerns about the proper balance between saving the environment and feeding the poor.

"Modern agriculture will have to change radically if the international community wants to cope with growing populations and climate change, while avoiding social fragmentation and irreversible deterioration of the environment," said Salvatore Arico, a biodiversity specialist with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or Unesco, summarizing the report by about 400 experts.

The report tries to provide a comprehensive view on how to produce food that is less dependent on fossil fuels; favors locally available resources, natural fertilizers and traditional seeds; and tries to preserve the soil and water supply.

The prices of basic food like rice, wheat and corn have been rising sharply, setting off violent popular protests in countries including Haiti, Egypt, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Mauritania, Ethiopia, Uzbekistan, Yemen, the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia and Italy. The unrest has resulted in tens of deaths and helped lead to the dismissal on Saturday of the Haitian prime minister, Jacques-Édouard Alexis, and the increasing cost of subsidizing bread prices is a major worry for key American allies like President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt.

Wheat prices have risen by 130 percent since March of last year, and soy prices have risen 87 percent, the United Nations said, with food now representing 60 percent to 80 percent of consumer spending in developing countries. In general, the World Bank has said that food prices have climbed about 83 percent worldwide over the past three years.

Three years in the making, the report ů known as the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development ů says that modern agriculture has brought significant increases in food production, but that the benefits have been spread unevenly and at "an increasingly intolerable price, paid by small-scale farmers, workers, rural communities and the environment."

Even before the United Nations panel added its voice to the debate, major international organizations like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund had issued their own loud warnings at their annual meetings over the weekend about the dangers of the rising price of food, which has many causes.

These include bad weather, historically high prices for oil and transportation, increased demand for meat and dairy products in the richer Asian countries, and the Western push to use "biofuels" made from grain, especially corn, to reduce the world's dependence on fossil fuels.

Robert B. Zoellick, the president of the World Bank, called on rich nations to provide an additional $500 million to the World Food Program of the United Nations. On Monday, President Bush ordered that $200 million in emergency food aid be made available to "meet unanticipated food aid needs in Africa and elsewhere," the White House announced. The World Bank intends to nearly double its agricultural lending to Africa next year, to $800 million, and the finance ministers who serve as the International Monetary Fund's board of governors said the two institutions should work together to provide "an integrated response" to the crisis.

"As financial markets have tumbled, food prices have soared," Mr. Zoellick said. "Since 2005 the prices of staples have jumped 80 percent."

The United States has been criticized for pressing for the use of biofuels, especially corn-based ethanol, as a way to reduce oil consumption and to keep corn prices high for farmers. But the same prices that please farmers are causing shortages in basic grains used for food in the developing world.

The European Union has been rethinking its emphasis on the use of biofuels, even as the European Commission on Monday rejected an appeal from an advisory panel to suspend its goal of having 10 percent of its transportation fuel made from biofuel by 2020. That goal is seen as an integral part of the European Union's pledge to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 20 percent by that year, as part of the effort to reduce global warming.

The United Nations special rapporteur for the right to food, Jean Ziegler, has said biofuels are "a crime against humanity" because they raise global food prices. But Barbara Helfferich, spokeswoman for the European Union environment commissioner, Stavros Dimas, said, "You can't change a political objective without risking a debate on all the other objectives" of climate change and energy reform.

The British in particular have asked for an urgent review of biofuel programs. The French agriculture minister, Michel Barnier, has said "absolute priority" must be given to food production.

Other critics, however, have pointed to the way the European Union subsidizes its agricultural exports, which is to get rid of European surpluses to keep European farmers happy, while selling at a price well below the cost of production ů thus undermining the ordinary market for local food production in Africa.

The quandary is an example of how environmental aims may have to give way to the needs of the poor ů or, as the Unesco report urges, that agricultural methods will have to change.

Providing enough food for the poor, while taking care of health needs and the environment, means "reconciling contradictory objectives," said Guilhem Calvo, a consultant to the Unesco Division of Ecological and Earth Sciences.

Among its findings, for instance, the Unesco panel's report says that the growing involvement of women in agriculture in developing countries is creating worsening health and work conditions for them and is reducing their access to education. The report also highlighted the intensifying water shortage in large parts of Africa and central and western Asia.

Robert Watson, the report's director, said that it repeated an old message about the cost of concentrating "on production alone," resulting in "an increasingly degraded and divided planet."

But it is a message not always heard, he said, adding, "If those with power are now willing to hear it, then we may hope for more equitable policies that do take the interest of the poor into account."

Australia, China, the United States and Canada expressed reservations about some of the language in the report concerning biotechnology, especially genetically modified foods, which many believe have the potential to ease the food crisis, but others regard as potentially dangerous for the future.


GM crops will not feed the world

Open letter from GM Free Cymru to:

Rt Hon Gordon Brown MP, Prime Minister
10 Downing Street
London SW1A 2AA

16th April 2008

Dear Prime Minister


We have been intrigued to see recent press coverage of your remarks relating to GM crops and foods. It is reported that you believe that GM crops have a considerable role to play in the alleviation of global food shortages in the future. Possibly you have succumbed to the deluge of recent pro-GM propaganda from the biotechnology multinationals and trade organizations (1). But we also fear that you have been given partisan, unscientific and out-dated information by your advisors, and we ask you urgently to reconsider your position on this.

GM lobbyists have been promising the miracles of GM technology for over 2 decades. These people are in possession of a solution in search of a problem. To date they have seriously failed to deliver on all of their promises relating to enhanced farm incomes, improved nutrition, increased yields, better pest control etc. Billions of euros have been invested across Europe, and millions of pounds in the UK, and still this technology is rejected by consumers, farmers, and policy makers all over the world. That is because there are NO consumer benefits: food made from GM crops is not cheaper, healthier, tastier or more attractive to look at, and neither does it extend shelf life (2). So why should anybody bother with it? Has anybody ever asked for GM food in preference to non-GM food?

It is true that the era of cheap food is over - on account of rising production and fuel costs, and the diversion of huge quantities of food crops into the biofuels market. However, this also shows that we should be moving away from oil and chemical based food production such as GM and embracing sustainable methods like organic and low-input farming - based on renewable energy use and carbon reduction strategies.

From a farming/food standpoint, international experience of GM cultivation has demonstrated the following:


Yields have not increased as promised (3). In fact, since the hybrids used for GM breeding programmes are not necessarily the highest-yielding varieties, GM crops often perform worse than their non-GM counterparts. Many studies from around the world have shown that apparent yield increases are short-lived and are based upon carefully selected comparisons with less effective non-GM lines.


Reliance on pesticides, herbicides, and fertilisers has increased - not decreased as promised (4). This is now confirmed by abundant studies, in spite of a constant stream of lies from the GM industry. The great majority of GM crops in the market place are designed for herbicide tolerance and for "chemical management" scenarios; it is through sales of complete seed / herbicide packages that the GM corporations make their money.


Weeds and pests have developed resistance to GM crops and pesticides resulting in 'superweeds' and 'superbugs' that need even larger amounts (and an increased range) of herbicides and pesticides for their control (5). The "toxic chemical farming" scenario is thus reinforced, with unforseen ecological consequences.


There have been problems with cross contamination and cross fertilisation between GM and non-GM crops. These have led to sometimes lengthy law suits and are a potentially explosive problem if more GM crops are planted (6). It is now recognized that the coexistence of non-GM and GM crops is impossible. GM canola, which has many wild relatives, is impossible to contain (7).


This technology is expensive and costly for farmers and makes them more dependent on the agribusiness giants in order to sustain a livelihood. They are "tied in" to corporate dependence by strict patent laws and "technology use agreements." They cannot save seed, and they cannot dispose of their harvests except through approved channels. Monsanto and other corporations employ quite brutal patent enforcement methods in all neighbourhoods where their GM crops are grown (8).


There are proven health risks associated with GM technology (9). There are many instances of domestic animal deaths following consumption of GM crops. Many independent studies have found damage to the internal organs of animals fed on GM components, and they demonstrate that the public is rightly very seriously concerned about GM food safety. Advisory bodies such as ACRE, FSA and EFSA still refuse to acknowledge the serious nature of these findings, and stand widely accused of gross negligence.


GM technology has not reduced levels of world hunger as promised. In fact, it has made poor farmers more indebted and less self sufficient, and consequently more vulnerable than ever before. Bankruptcies associated with BT cotton in India have caused many thousands of suicides (10).


Consumers throughout Europe have consistently voted against growing GM crops. There are now thousands of "GM Free regions" across Europe, and a growing GM resistance movement (11). Consumers are aware of the failure of the GM industry to deliver on its promises, and they know that GM crops and foods bring them no benefits whatsoever. For many years the UK government has been telling people that GM crops and foods are safe and essential; now it is time for the government to start listening instead.


It is seldom acknowledged that one part of the "global food control" strategy employed by the GM multinationals is the purchasing of seed companies and their catalogues and the phasing out of locally adapted varieties (12). This means that biodiversity is irreparably damaged, and that vast swathes of countryside are planted with GM crop monocultures and with GM varieties that are ill-suited to local environmental conditions. This endangers food security and increases the risk of future famine (13).


The GM corporations and the trade associations seeking to extol the virtues of GM crops are adept at spreading disinformation, practicing corrupt science in the approvals process, and vilifying scientists who seek to undertake independent research into GM crop safety and environmental impacts (14). They have shown over and again that they cannot be trusted, and yet governments unaccountably continue to accord them respect, and seek to "enable" their corporate global ambitions.


It is not just hydrocarbon prices that are rocketing upwards in the "peak oil" scenario. Petrochemical and feedstock prices are also rising inexorably, and Roundup (the weedkiller for which most GM crops are engineered) has doubled in price in the last twelve months (15). GM farming will soon be seen as an expensive luxury, if not an absurd aberration, caught up in an inexorable inflationary spiral.


The GM industry, aided and abetted by the Government, has been partly responsible for a decline in scientific ethics and a disastrous decline in the public acceptance of science. Sir David King claims that Britain has "lost" inward investment worth £2-3 billion because of our failure to adopt GM technology (16); on the contrary, because of the GM industry's strategy of "contamination by stealth" the UK taxpayer has already had to pay a substantial bill for the monitoring and remediation of contamination incidents involving failed and unauthorised GM varieties found in the food chain.


Those who own GM crop and agrochemical patents refuse absolutely to accept liability for damage that might be caused to farming neighbours and members of the public, arising out of genetic trespass and contamination. Such risks are also uninsurable, as no insurance companies will provide cover (17). It must be concluded that in their view the risks of damage and litigation far outweigh any possible benefits that might come from GM crop plantings. In that context, it would be an act of sheer madness for any government to permit any commercial GM planting in the UK to go ahead.

In short, there is not the slightest chance that GM crops and foods will do anything to alleviate future problems associated with water shortages, famine and unrest and instability in the Developing Nations. If GM crops are forced on unwilling or reluctant recipients, there will be strongly negative consequences for public health, biodiversity and sustainable agriculture. Corporate feudalism will be extended, and there will be dramatic social, political and economic consequences for all of us.

We urge you to accept the points made in the recent IAASTD report and to endorse a pattern of agriculture which is sustainable, independent of high chemical and energy inputs, and responsive to local needs and aspirations. This means that GM technology will have to be consigned to the scrap heap, where it properly belongs, even if Monsanto and the other biotechnology corporations squeal about their global ambitions being thwarted and even if a few GM technologists are forced to do something more worthwhile with their time.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Brian John
GM Free Cymru





(4) EIB11/












(16) Sir David's figure, widely reported in the media, has no foundation in fact, and it has not been backed up by his office in spite of frequent requests. In any case, it is dishonest to use such a figure in the absence of a proper cost-benefit analysis.



New Zealand likely to drift into a GM future

Sustainable Future press release, 16 April 2008.

The Government could be doing more to strategically manage genetic modification in New Zealand, according to research released today by Sustainable Future.

Seven years on from the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification, the research highlights that less than half of the 49 recommendations in the Commissioners' report have been fully implemented.

Sustainable Future's chief executive, Wendy McGuinness, says there are very few decisions that a Government can make that it cannot undo - but releasing Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) into the environment is one of them.

"We take away the rights of future generations to be a GM-free food producer by releasing GMOs into the environment, so it is not a decision that should be made lightly," she says.

The Review of the Forty-Nine Recommendations of the Royal Commission suggests that it is timely for New Zealand to revisit its strategic options on genetic modification so that the Government can make robust decisions about GM field tests and releases.

Mrs McGuinness says that the findings show the Government is not currently pursuing the strategic option of 'preserving opportunities', as proposed by the Commissioners. The report reveals that of the 49 recommendations proposed; only 20 were put into practice, 12 were partially implemented, and 17 recommendations were not implemented at all.

She says the absence of a national strategic decision from government on GMO release means it is highly likely that New Zealand will drift towards a GM future.

"Without a national decision-making process, the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA) will be the sole judge and jury for the first GM release application in what is an area of high uncertainty and complexity. Sustainable Future's research questions whether this situation meets the expectations of New Zealanders," she says.

Sustainable Future is a research organisation and think-tank on sustainability issues in New Zealand. Based in Wellington, Sustainable Future aims to be a provider of relevant, accurate and comprehensive information, accessible by all New Zealanders. Sustainable Future welcomes feedback on this report, which can be found at


15 April 2008

A new era of agriculture begins today
International agriculture assessment calls for immediate radical changes

Civil society statement on the outcome of the "International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD)", 15 April 2008.

From the African Centre for Biosafety, AGENDA (Tanzania), Consumers International, Friends of the Earth International, Greenpeace, International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements, Pesticide Action Network, Practical Action, Third World Network, Uganda Environmental Education Fund and Vredeseilanden.

The report of the first international Agriculture Assessment, approved last week by 54 governments in Johannesburg, is a sobering account of the failure of industrial farming. It calls for a fundamental change in the way we do farming, to better address soaring food prices, hunger, social inequities and environmental disasters.

The report reflects a growing consensus among the global scientific community and most governments that the old paradigm of industrial, energy-intensive and toxic agriculture is a concept of the past. The key message of the report is that small-scale farmers and agro-ecological methods provide the way forward to avert the current food crisis and meet the needs of local communities. For the first time an independent, global assessment acknowledges that farming has a diversity of environmental and social functions and that nations and peoples have the right to democratically determine their best food and agricultural policies.

The IAASTD process itself was a path-breaking one, in which governments, major research institutions, industry and civil society shared equal responsibility in its governance and implementation. Its success proved that civil society participation as full partners in intergovernmental processes is critical to meeting the challenges of the 21st century. The global community's widespread acceptance of this report is reflected in its approval by the vast majority of participating governments.

Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States have as yet not signed on to the final report. After watering down the formulation of several key findings during the meeting in Johannesburg, the US still claimed the assessment was unbalanced. The exact same allegation came some months earlier from the agrochemical and biotech industry. However, the report's lack of support for the further industrialization and globalization of agriculture as well as for genetically engineered plants in particular, was based on a rigorous and peer-reviewed analysis of the empirical evidence by hundreds of scientists and development experts. These experts had been selected, together with other stakeholders, by the very same governments and companies that are now calling the assessment "unbalanced."

The civil society groups that have participated in the IAASTD process over the past six years may not fully agree with some of the government-negotiated conclusions of the report, but they respect the fact that this report reflects the current consensus within the scientific community. We call on all governments, civil society and international institutions to support the findings of this report, implement its progressive conclusions, and thereby jumpstart the revolution in agricultural policies and practices that is urgently needed to attain more equitable and sustainable food and farming systems in the future.

Statements from civil society representatives present in Johannesburg, 7-12 April 2008

"This report proves one thing: Yes, we can produce more and better food without destroying rural livelihoods and our natural resources,"
– Kevin Akoyi, Uganda, for Vredeseilanden (Belgium)

"This marks the beginning of a new, of a real Green Revolution. The modern way of farming is biodiverse and labour intensive and works with nature, not against it."
– Benny Haerlin, Germany, Greenpeace

"This is a wake-up call for governments and international agencies. The survival of the planet's food systems demands global action to support agroecological farming and fair and equitable trade.
– Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, USA, Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA)

"This report clearly shows that small-scale farmers and the environment lose out under trade liberalization. Developing countries must exercise their right to stop the flood of cheap, subsidised products from the North."
– Lim Li Ching, Malaysia, Third World Network

"It is heartening to see that the scientists refuted the usual propaganda on genetically engineered (GE) crops. They focused on the real problems and saw very little role for GE crops in their solutions."
– Juan Lopez, Spain, Friends of the Earth International

"The scientific evidence gives unequivocal support to organic agriculture. Organic Agriculture is a credible solution for the 21st century as a sustainable production method - social, economic and environmental sustainability put into practice."
– Prabha Mahale, India, International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM)

"The IAASTD provides the evidence to show that locally-controlled, biologically-based intensification of farming is the only way forward. In short, it supports food sovereignty."
– Patrick Mulvany, UK, Practical Action

"The Green Revolutionaries of the past, with all their expensive and toxic products, have left a trail of destruction. The IAASTD essentially says it's time to clean that up and move on."
– Romeo Quijano, Philippines, Pesticide Action Network Philippines


Overhaul of agriculture systems needed, says new report

Third World Network, 15 April 2008. By Lim Li Ching.

Kuala Lumpur, 15 Apr (Lim Li Ching) -- An independent and multi-stakeholder international assessment of agriculture has concluded that a radical change is needed in agriculture policy and practice, in order to address hunger and poverty, social inequities and environmental sustainability questions.

The final report of the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology (IAASTD) was launched simultaneously on 15 April 2008 in Washington, London, Nairobi, Delhi, Paris and a number of other cities worldwide.

The report (the product of work of over 400 authors) was finalised at a meeting of over 50 governments held in Johannesburg last week.

"Business as usual is not an option", said Professor Robert Watson, Director of the IAASTD and chief scientist of the UK's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Watson was formerly the chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The methodology of the IAASTD's work and process is similar to that of the IPCC.

The report's message is that the business-as-usual scenario of industrial farming, input and energy intensiveness, and marginalization of small-scale farmers, is no longer tenable. While past emphasis on production and yields had brought some benefits, this was at the expense of the environment and social equity. Moreover, there is a recognition that excessive and rapid trade liberalization can have negative consequences for food security, poverty alleviation and the environment.

The IAASTD report calls for a systematic redirection of investment, funding, research and policy focus towards the needs of small-farmers. This involves creating space for diverse voices and perspectives, particularly those who have been marginalized in the past, including poor farmers and women.

The IAASTD report says that greater emphasis is needed on safeguarding natural resources and agro-ecological practices, as well as on tapping the wide range of traditional knowledge held by local communities and farmers, which can work in partnership with formal science and technology. Sustainable agriculture that is biodiversity based, including agro-ecology and organic farming, is beneficial to poor farmers, and needs to be supported by the appropriate policy and regulatory frameworks.

Over three years, from 2005-2007, the IAASTD had conducted an evidence-based assessment on the potential of agricultural knowledge, science and technology (AKST) for reducing hunger and poverty, improving rural livelihoods, and working towards environmentally, socially and economically sustainable development. It aims to drive the agenda for agriculture for the next fifty years.

The IAASTD was launched as an intergovernmental process, with a multi-stakeholder Bureau, under the co-sponsorship of the FAO, GEF, UNDP, UNEP, UNESCO, the World Bank and WHO. In a comprehensive and rigorous process, more than 400 authors were involved in drafting the report, drawing on the evidence and assessments of thousands of experts worldwide.

The drafts were subjected to two independent peer reviews. The experts for the assessment included persons from the research community, international agencies, NGOs and industry, though representatives from industry decided not to stay with the process.

The process itself was a path-breaking one, in which governments, research institutions, industry and civil society shared equal responsibility in its governance and implementation. The success of this experiment supports the value of civil society participation as full partners in intergovernmental processes and future international assessments.

The IAASTD held its intergovernmental plenary meeting from 7-12 April in Johannesburg, South Africa to discuss and finalise the global and five sub-global assessments, and the Synthesis Report that integrates their findings.

The Synthesis Report also focuses on eight cross-cutting issues - bioenergy, biotechnology, climate change, human health, natural resource management, traditional knowledge and community based innovation, trade and markets and women in agriculture.

Fifty-four governments accepted and approved the various components of the report at the meeting. However, by the end of the meeting, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States had yet to sign on to the final report.

While there are indications that some of these governments may eventually formally accept and approve the documents, the United States remains the key government that is unlikely to do so, claiming that the report is "unbalanced", particularly with regard to its analysis and proposals for trade and biotechnology issues.

The agrochemicals and biotechnology industry, which had earlier been a full participant in the IAASTD process, withdrew from the process before the final plenary meeting with similar claims. It claimed that industry perspectives, particularly its view that genetically modified (GM) crops are key to reducing poverty and hunger, were not adequately reflected in the report.

The report's lack of specific support for GM crops was based on a rigorous and peer-reviewed analysis of the empirical evidence. After consideration of the evidence on both sides of the debate, the report is notably muted in relation to the claimed benefits of GM crops, highlighting instead the lingering doubts and uncertainties surrounding them.

For poor farmers, the report concludes, GM crops are unlikely to play a substantial role in addressing their needs. In any case, longer-term assessments of the environmental and health risks, and regulatory frameworks, are needed.

Another key concern highlighted in relation to GM crops is the dominance of the biotechnology industry in agricultural R&D, at the expense of other agricultural sciences. Furthermore, the report notes that farmers face new liabilities from GM crops, particularly as a result of the detection of GM crops in conventional and organic crops that leads to patent infringement suits and loss of certification, respectively.

During the Johannesburg meeting, there were heated and protracted discussions on GM crops. However, the United States pre-empted debate on the biotechnology section of the Synthesis Report, by asking that its reservation against the whole section be noted. It said it did so because the section was "unbalanced". China then asked to be included in the reservation. No other country objected to this section.

Other key findings of the IAASTD report acknowledge that market forces alone cannot deliver food security to the poor. It particularly reiterates that developing countries are accorded special and differential treatment in agricultural trade, especially on the grounds of food security, farmers' livelihoods and rural development.

While hinting that trade rules unfairly favouring rich countries and multinational corporations must be reformed in order to benefit poor farmers, the report however falls short of providing specific guidance that speaks to the current WTO negotiations on agriculture.

Even though the trade policy options could have been stronger, the United States and Canada still placed their reservations on the section of the Synthesis Report dealing with trade and markets, essentially objecting to language that spelt out the negative effects of agricultural liberalization.

The report also recognises that there are weaknesses and inequities in the current intellectual property rights regime, in relation to genetic resources. Strong intellectual property protection on genetic resources has affected public research and farmers' rights to seeds. However, the report did not call for a reform of the intellectual property rights regime, following objections from the United States. Nonetheless, some policy options to address the issue are retained in the report.

While recognizing the urgent need to address climate change, for which agriculture is a significant contributor of greenhouse gases, the IAASTD report also cautions governments on biofuels. This is because the diversion of agricultural crops to fuel can raise food prices and reduce the ability to alleviate hunger throughout the world.

At the end of the plenary meeting, following the acceptance and adoption of the various components that made up the IAASTD report, co-chair Judi Wakhungu reminded all participants that "now we are walking in the same direction".

Nonetheless, while the report provides the policy options that could really make a difference, the challenges ahead are formidable and need the concerted effort of governments, civil society and the co-sponsoring agencies of the IAASTD, in particular the FAO, the World Bank, UNDP and UNEP.

Civil society organizations attending the meeting called on all governments, civil society and international institutions to support the findings of the report, implement its progressive conclusions, and thereby jumpstart the revolution in agricultural policies and practices that is urgently needed to attain more equitable and sustainable food and farming systems in the future.


GMO-free zones in the Nordic Region, 15 April 2008.

The Nordic Council Citizens' and Consumer Rights Committee called for the labeling of GMO products and for a mechanism for setting up GMO-free zones in the Nordic Region when it met in Stavanger on Tuesday.

"It is important that the consumers have a choice when it comes to deciding which products to buy," says committee member Ville Niinistö, who is also a member of the Centre Group on the Council. "If consumers are to be empowered to make a choice, then the products that contain GMO must be properly labelled." The idea of proper labelling of GMO products to protect consumer rights to make informed choices originally stemmed from the Centre Group.

The committee also recommends that the Nordic governments provide subsidisies for agricultural and industry associations that volunteer to introduce GMO-free zones in the Region. The Committee is also calling for the Nordic Region to encourage the EU to start recognising GMO-free zones. The proposal for GMO-free zones was submitted by the Left-wing Socialist and Green Group.

"Introducing GMO-free zones, which will also produce organic food, will make Nordic agricultural produce synonymous with top quality," NiinistĖ explains.

The Nordic countries have significantly different views and practices when it comes to the production of GMO agricultural products, as the Citizens' and Consumer Rights Committee found out when it met with a working party that has compared the countries on this issue.

According to the working party, all the Nordic countries base their legislation on knowledge and in-depth studies. It also considers as negligible the risk of contamination spreading from a GMO field to other fields in the vicinity. Compensation schemes have, however, been introduced for anybody who might suffer inadvertent financial losses because of contamination demonstrably caused by a GMO field.

Silje Bergum Kinsten
(+45) 21 71 71 56


Genetically Modified Humans? No Thanks.

Washington Post, April 15 2008. By Richard Hayes.

In an essay in Sunday's Outlook section, Dartmouth ethics professor Ronald Green asks us to consider a neo-eugenic future of "designer babies," with parents assembling their children quite literally from genes selected from a catalogue. Distancing himself from the compulsory, state-sponsored eugenics that darkened the first half of the last century, Green instead celebrates the advent of a libertarian, consumer-driven eugenics motivated by the free play of human desire, technology and markets. He argues that this vision of the human future is desirable and very likely inevitable.

To put it mildly: I disagree. Granted, new human genetic technologies have real potential to help prevent or cure many terrible diseases, and I support research directed towards that end. But these same technologies also have the potential for real harm. If misapplied, they would exacerbate existing inequalities and reinforce existing modes of discrimination. If more widely abused, they could undermine the foundations of civil and human rights. In the worst case, they could undermine our experience of being part of a single human community with a common human future.

Once we begin genetically modifying our children, where do we stop? If it's acceptable to modify one gene, why not two, or 20 or 200? At what point do children become artifacts designed to someone's specifications rather than members of a family to be nurtured?

Given what we know about human nature, the development and commercial marketing of human genetic modification would likely spark a techno-eugenic rat-race. Even parents opposed to manipulating their children's genes would feel compelled to participate in this race, lest their offspring be left behind.

Green proposes that eugenic technologies could be used to reduce "the class divide." But nowhere in his essay does he suggest how such a proposal might ever be made practicable in the real world.

The danger of genetic misuse is equally threatening at the international level. What happens when some rogue country announces an ambitious program to "improve the genetic stock" of its citizens? In a world still barely able to contain the forces of nationalism, ethnocentrism and militarism, the last thing we need to worry about is a high-tech eugenic arms race.

In his essay, Green doesn't distinguish clearly between different uses of genetic technology -- and the distinctions are critical. It's one thing to enable a couple to avoid passing on a devastating genetic condition, such as Tay-Sachs. But it's a different thing altogether to create children with a host of "enhanced" athletic, cosmetic and cognitive traits that could be passed to their own children, who in turn could further genetically modify their children, who in turn... you get the picture. It's this second use of gene technology (the technical term is "heritable genetic enhancement") that Green most fervently wants us to embrace.

In this position, Green is well outside the growing national and international consensus on the proper use of human genetic science and technology. To his credit, he acknowledges that 80 percent of the medical school students he surveyed said they were against such forms of human genetic engineering, and that public opinion polls show equally dramatic opposition. He could have noted, as well, that nearly 40 countries -- including Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, India, Japan, and South Africa -- have adopted socially responsible policies regulating the new human genetic technologies. They allow genetic research (including stem cell research) for medical applications, but prohibit its use for heritable genetic modification and reproductive human cloning.

In the face of this consensus, Green blithely announces his confidence that humanity "can and will" incorporate heritable genetic enhancement into the "ongoing human adventure."

Well, it's certainly possible. Our desires for good looks, good brains, wealth and long lives, for ourselves and for our children, are strong and enduring. If the gene-tech entrepreneurs are able to convince us that we can satisfy these desires by buying into genetic modification, perhaps we'll bite. Green certainly seems eager to encourage us to do so.

But he would be wise to listen to what medical students, the great majority of Americans and the international community appear to be saying: We want all these things, yes, and genetic technology might help us attain them, but we don't want to run the huge risks to the human community and the human future that would come with altering the genetic basis of our common human nature.

Richard Hayes is executive director of the Center for Genetics and Society.


International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development

"Agriculture is not just about putting things in the ground and then harvesting them... it is increasingly about the social and environmental variables that will in large part determine the future capacity of agriculture to provide for eight or nine billion people in a manner that is sustainable"
– Achim Steiner, Executive Director, UNEP

The IAASTD addresses how to make better use of agricultural science, knowledge and technology to reduce hunger and poverty, improve rural livelihoods, and foster equitable and sustainable development.

Released on 15 April 2008, it represents a three-year effort by about 400 experts around the world working under the auspices of 30 governments and 30 representatives of civil society. The latter include nongovernmental organizations, producer and consumer groups and international organizations.

The assessment was sponsored by the United Nations, the World Bank and the Global Environment Facility (GEF), an independent financial organization that provides grants to developing countries. Five U.N. agencies were involved: the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), the U.N. Development Program (UNDP), the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP), the U.N. Education, Science and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Additional individuals, organizations and governments participated in a peer review process.

IAASTD publications can be found at

Overview of reports presented to the Plenary in Johannesburg, April 2008:

Executive Summary of the Synthesis Report: (html) (PDF)

Global Summary for Decision Makers: (html)

Press releases: 15 April 2008

GLOBAL: Agriculture - The Need for Change

CWANA: Water Shortages Threaten Farming from Kazakhstan to Morocco

ESAP: Major Report Puts Development at Heart of Asia-Pacific Security

NAE: "Business as Usual is Not an Option"

SSA: African Farming Fails to Reach Potential


Global Press Launch: Video

Global Press Launch: Slide Presentation

IAASTD Video: English

IAASTD Leaflet

Agriculture Fact Sheet

Hear the Plenary Opening Remarks by UNEP's Achim Steiner (mp4: 10.7 MB)

IFOAM Press Release: April 15

Video: A Call to Action
(request TV-ready version:


UN calls for farming revolution

BBC, 15 April 2008.

A UN-sponsored report has called for urgent changes to the way food is produced, as soaring food prices risk driving millions of people to poverty.

The Unesco study recommends better safeguards to protect resources and more sustainable farming practices, such as producing food locally.

More natural and ecological farming techniques should be used, it says.

Haiti, Egypt, the Philippines and parts of West Africa have seen riots recently over the costs of rice, wheat and soya.

Unesco, a UN educational body, says increased demand for food in India and China, the growing market for biofuel crops, and rising oil prices are some of the factors behind the rising prices.

A group of 400 experts spent three years researching the report, which was unveiled on Tuesday at Unesco in Paris.

The authors found:

Progress in agriculture has reaped very unequal benefits and has come at a high social and environmental cost

Food producers should try using "natural processes" like crop rotation and use of organic fertilisers

The distance between the producer and consumer should also be reduced

The BBC's Nick Miles says that with food prices at the top of the international political agenda, this is effectively a blueprint for the future of global agriculture.

Unesco says wheat prices have risen 130% percent since March 2007 while soy prices have jumped 87%.

"The status quo is no longer an option," Guilhem Calvo, a Unesco expert, told a news conference in Paris.

"We must develop agriculture less dependent on fossil fuels, that favours the use of locally available resources."

'Alleviate hunger'

The report said rising oil prices had made transport and farm production more expensive and had led to more crops being grown to make biofuels for vehicles.

It said biofuel production had mixed effects, adding: "The diversion of agricultural crops to fuel can raise food prices and reduce our ability to alleviate hunger throughout the world."

It also warned large swaths of central and western Asia and Africa were running out of water.

Farming was responsible for more than a third of the world's most degraded land, it said.

Unesco noted the ''considerable influence'' of big transnational corporations in North America and Europe.

By contrast, Latin America and the Caribbean are largely dependent on imported food, it said.

Over the weekend the World Bank outlined a plan of aid and loans to developing nations to help deal with the problem.


55 Countries Endorse Real Revolution in Agriculture
UN Assessment calls for shift to small-scale, sustainable practices to meet global food, development and environmental crises

Pesticide Action Network, 15 April 2008.

April 15, 2008, governments and scientists from around the world announce their commitment to a radically different approach to global agricultural production.

"Business as usual is not an option," says Robert Watson Director of the UN's International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), which today releases its final report in Delhi, Nairobi, London, Paris and Washington, DC.

Recent reports of dramatic food shortages and riots underline the problems with the current food system and the urgency of finding solutions. The IAASTD report concludes that small-scale, agro-ecological farming will be more effective at meeting today's challenges than the old energy- and chemical-intensive paradigm of industrial agricultural production.

"This is a wake-up call for governments and international agencies. The survival of the planet's food systems demands global action to support agroecological farming and fair and equitable trade," said Dr. Marcia Ishii-Eiteman of Pesticide Action Network North America, speaking from Johannesburg moments after the report was finalized on April 11.

Under the auspices of the UN agencies and the World Bank, scientists, food activists, corporate and government representatives met 7-12 April in South Africa to debate solutions to the thorny, intertwined problems of global agriculture, climate change, hunger, poverty, power and influence. The meeting is the culmination of four years' work by some 400 authors from around the globe.

On Friday, April 11, 55 world governments agreed on the IAASTD final report, overcoming difficult negotiations and a recent departure of agrichemical industry representatives. Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States requested additional time to consider whether or not to approve the final report. In Johannesburg, the US claimed the assessment was unbalanced, an allegation identical to one made some months earlier by the agrochemical and biotechnology industry.

Achim Steiner, Executive Director of UNEP, opened the plenary with these comments on April 7, 2008: "Agriculture is not just about putting things in the ground and then harvesting them. It is increasingly about the social and environmental variables that will in large part determine the future capacity of agriculture to provide for eight or nine billion people in a manner that is sustainable."

Also speaking from Johannesburg, civil society representative Erika Rosenthal from Pesticide Action Network concluded, "The IAASTD set out to be a precedent-setting experiment in multistakeholder participation in intergovernmental processes. Its success proved that civil society participation as full partners in intergovernmental processes is critical to face the challenges of the 21st century."

Available for interviews

Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, Senior Scientist, Pesticide Action Network North America, 415-981-1771; 510-289-4329,

Erika Rosenthal, attorney, Pesticide Action Network North America, phone in London, 14-16 April, +44-20-7839-9333; cell 415 812 2055,


Official IAASTD website (news releases, final report, history, contacts)

Description of the IAASTD from NGO perspective with related news stories:

Case studies/stories (most two pages) illustrating key findings from the IAASTD report:


4,000 scientists say GM Crops no silver bullet for hunger
GM Freeze Call for Government, Industry and Scientists to Respond To IAASTD Report Challenges: GM Crops not the silver bullet to feed the world

GM Freeze press release, 15 April 2008.

GM Freeze welcomes the findings of the International Assessment on Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) and calls upon Government, industry and scientists to respond by changing their approach to research and development in the global South.

The IAASTD report clearly states that the current generation of GM crops do not provide a way to tackle hunger.

The report also emphasises the need to broaden research to include all the key functions of agriculture. These include the enhancement and protection of soil, water and biodiversity, as well as the need to use the knowledge of the millions of small farmers in the South, many of whom are women. The report also highlights the need for research to tackle agriculture's contribution to greenhouse gas emissions and the role farming plays in mitigating some of the impacts of climate change.

The failure of current trade policies to help the world's poorest people is a major part of the final report, which was produced by over 4,000 scientists, including social scientists, from around the world.

Commenting on the IAASTD's findings, Pete Riley of GM Freeze said: "We welcome the report's thorough analysis of the problems and the need to tackle them from social, economic and political perspectives as well as the sound application of science. We are delighted that the hyped claims about the current development in GM crops feeding the world are rejected. We call upon the Government, industry and science to respond positively to the challenge the report lays down and change their approach to scientific research so it is led by and reflects the needs of those who it should benefit - not the needs of corporations. The research base has to be broadened to take up all the demands placed on farming in addition to producing food in a way that is safe and has no long-term negative impact on the environment. This represents a big culture change in the approach to science for agriculture and must happen quickly."


Pete Riley + 44 7903 341065


Urgent changes needed in global farming practices to avoid environmental destruction
World's leading scientists condemn industrial farming methods and see no role for GE as a solution to soaring food prices and hunger crisis fears

Greenpeace International, 15 April 2008.

AMSTERDAM -- Greenpeace welcomed the publication today of the first assessment of global agriculture as an historic opportunity to replace destructive chemical-intensive agriculture with methods that work with nature not against it. The report says industrial agriculture has failed and, regarding genetically engineered (GE) crops, found they are no solution for poverty, hunger or climate change.

Some 60 governments signed the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD)'s final report [1] last week in Johannesburg, South Africa. The United States, Canada and Australia were the only governments in attendance not to sign. Despite being among the stakeholders who selected the report's authors, they accuse the assessment of being 'unbalanced' and are attacking the authors' independence [2].

"This report proves we can produce more and better food without destroying rural livelihoods and our natural resources. Modern farming solutions champion biodiversity, are labour intensive and work with nature, not against it," says Benny Härlin from Greenpeace International, who was on the IAASTD's governing body. "This report is a call for governments and international agencies to redirect and increase their funding towards a revolution in agriculture that is firmly agro-ecological."

The IAASTD report calls for a fundamental change in farming practices,in order to address soaring food prices, hunger, social inequities and environmental disasters. It acknowledges that genetically engineered crops are highly controversial and will not play a substantial role in addressing the key problems of climate change, biodiversity loss, hunger and poverty.

It recommends small-scale farmers and agro-ecological methods are the way forward if the current food crisis is to be solved and to meet the needs of local communities, declaring indigenous and local knowledge play as important a role as formal science. A significant departure from the destructive chemical-dependent, one-size-fits-all model of industrial agriculture.

"Dependency on world agricultural commodity prices and speculation, as well as on seed and toxic agricultural inputs controlled by a few transnational players is literally a kiss of death for small-scale and poor farmers," warns Haerlin.

Notes to editors:

1. The International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) is a unique collaboration initiated by the World Bank in partnership with a multi-stakeholder group of organisations, including the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, United Nations Development Programme, United Nations Environmental Programme, the World Health Organisation and representatives of governments, civil society, private sector and scientific institutions from around the world. For Greenpeace, Benny Härlin participated since 2003 in the Bureau that governs the project.

The IAASTD's key objective is to provide information for decision makers on how to structure agricultural research and development so it can help to reduce hunger and poverty, improve rural livelihood and foster sustainable development. The key final documents are the Global Summary for Decision Makers, and the Executive Summary of the Synthesis Report. They were negotiated line by line by governments in Johannesburg. More information on

2. The report was compiled by over 400 of the world's leading agricultural scientists, selected by all participating governments, companies and NGOs. It is the most comprehensive account of agricultural knowledge, science and technology. It provides guidance for governments, UN agencies and funders for their future priority setting in agriculture and development. The next step is for government and agencies to adjust their funding, research and development programmes accordingly.


Beth Herzfeld, Greenpeace International Media Officer, tel: + 44 (0)7717 802 891
Benny Härlin, Greenpeace International, tel: + 49 173 999 7 555
Jan van Aken, Greenpeace International Sustainable Agriculture Campaigner, tel: + 49 151 1805 3415


China Mulls Development Guidelines for Soybean Industry

Xinhua News Agency, 15 April 2008.

BEIJING -- China will strengthen regulation on soybean industry and issue policies on market access, industry pattern, technological advancement, market activities and imports, according to the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC).

China will proactively develop non-genetically modified soybean, build professional, safe soybean bases with high yielding and qualities and increase the output of rapeseed, peanut and other species.

It is aimed to secure the sustainable, healthy and stable development of the national soybean processing industry.

The drafting of the soybean industry development plan refers to guidelines on maize processing industry by NDRC in addition to specified research.

Currently, China's import independence of soybean hovers as high as 60 percent resulting to volatile fluctuation on domestic market due to international market changes.

Statistics show that the soybean processing of foreign-invested companies totaled 25.7 million tons in 2006, accounting for one third of the nation's total and near half of actually processed soybeans in China.


Africa: Reinventing Agriculture

Inter Press Service (Johannesburg), 15 April 2008. By Stephen Leahy.

The results of a painstaking examination of global agriculture are being formally presented Tuesday with the release of the final report for the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD).

The assessment has explored how agriculture can be reinvented to feed the world's expanding population sustainably in an era of multiple challenges -- not least those presented by climate change and a growing food crisis that has led to outbreaks of violence in a number of developing countries.

The expertise of some 400 scientists and other specialists was tapped for the IAASTD; governments of wealthy and developing nations also contributed to the assessment, along with civil society and the private sector.

Both scientific knowledge and traditional skills were evaluated under the IAASTD, which marked the first attempt to bring all actors in agriculture together to address food security. Contributors produced five regional assessments, and a 110-page-plus synthesis report.

Amongst the 22 findings of the study that chart a new direction for agriculture: a conclusion that the dominant practice of industrial, large-scale agriculture is unsustainable, mainly because of the dependence of such farming on cheap oil, its negative effects on ecosystems -- and growing water scarcity.

Instead, monocultures must be reconsidered in favour of agro-ecosystems that marry food production with ensuring water supplies remain clean, preserving biodiversity, and improving the livelihoods of the poor.

"Given the future challenges it was very clear to everyone that business as usual was not an option," IAASTD Co-chair Hans Herren told IPS. He was speaking at an Apr. 7-12 intergovernmental plenary in South Africa's commercial hub, Johannesburg, where the assessment findings were reviewed ahead of Tuesday's presentation.

While global supplies of food are adequate, 850 million people are still hungry and malnourished because they can't get access to or afford the supplies they need, added Herren -- who is also president of the Arlington-based Millennium Institute, a body that undertakes a variety of developmental activities around the world. A focus only on boosting crop yields would not deal with the problems at hand, he said: "We need better quality food in the right places."

The notion that yield can no longer be the sole measure of agricultural success was also raised by Greenpeace International's Jan van Aken, who said that the extent to which agriculture promotes nutrition needs to be considered. A half-hectare plot in Thailand can grow 70 species of vegetables, fruits and herbs, providing far better nutrition and feeding more people than a half-hectare plot of high-yielding rice, he added.

The IAASTD further notes that experts in agricultural science and technology must not only work with local farmers, but also economists, social and health scientists, governments and civil society.

"We can't solve these problems in the agriculture department alone," observed the other IAASTD co-chair, Judi Wakhungu, who is also executive director of the African Centre for Technology Studies. The centre is headquartered in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.

"Leadership will be needed to make this change," she added, in acknowledgement of the fact that most governments, research centres and others in sectors linked to agriculture are unaccustomed to joining hands, and often compete for funding.

The plenary was marked by some disagreement over the ever-controversial matters of biotechnology and trade: indeed, during a long and fraught debate over biotechnology, the meeting very nearly fell apart. U.S. and Australian government representatives objected to wording in the synthesis report that highlighted concerns about whether the use of genetically modified (GM) crops in food is healthy and safe.

Syngenta and the other biotech and pesticide companies abandoned the assessment process late last year.

The impasse at the plenary was broken when the two countries agreed to a footnote in the report indicating their reservations about the wording. They also agreed to accept the report as a whole, along with Canada and Swaziland: "Our government will champion this even though we have reservations on some parts," the Australian delegate told the meeting.

This issue, along with challenges pertaining to trade, had been thoroughly debated over the three-year IAASTD process and the final wording reflected scientific evidence. The report says biotechnology has a role to play in the future but that it remains a contentious matter, the data on benefits of GM crops being mixed; it further notes that patenting of genes causes problems for farmers and researchers.

The other 60 countries represented at the plenary took a stronger position, moving beyond acceptance to adopt the report.

"I'm stunned. I didn't think it would pass," said Janice Jiggins of the Department of Social Science at the University of Wageningen in the Netherlands, and one of the experts who worked to review the totality of agricultural know-how and the effects of farming around the world.

There was also broad endorsement from civil society.

"We have a very strong anti-GMO (genetically-modified organism) stance but agreed to accept the synthesis report findings because it was neutral," noted van Aken. "We're not happy with everything, but we agree with the scientific consensus in the synthesis report."

Now, the IAASTD moves from testing the endurance of researchers to trying the political will of decision makers.

"These documents are like a bible with which to negotiate with various institutions in my country and transform agriculture," the Costa Rican delegate told the Johannesburg gathering, through a translator.

Others were more circumspect about the prospects for the assessment, but still hopeful.

"We're all headed in the same direction now, even if some are walking and some are running," said Wakhungu.

Comment from GM Watch:

This is a very important moment. Not only is there no mindless hype here about industrial ag + GMOs feeding the world, there's no role given to GM as a fix for soaring food prices and hunger - despite some last minute attempts by the U.S to overturn the consensus. Instead, it's made clear that to counter these we need to support localised, traditional, ecological farming practices which can deliver best for the poorest and the hungriest, and without wreaking environmental devastation.


UK: Chinese rice prompts GM food scare

The Derbyshire Times, 15 April 2008.

Rice-based products from China that may contain illegal material have sparked a food scare in South Gloucestershire. The Food Standards Agency has warned they may contain a genetically modified organism illegal in the EC.

But it is not aware of any specific health implications for people who eat products containing this organism.

Environmental health experts will help councils identify any businesses in the district which may trade in potentially affected products.

Diane Foster, senior environmental health officer with South Gloucestershire Council, said: "There is no reason for consumers to panic.

"We do not expect many people to have foodstuffs containing this organism in their cupboards at home, but we are asking people to check if they have rice or pasta products which they know have been imported from China.

"Our focus at the moment is identifying the businesses which might be selling these products."


India: Demonstration against genetically modified food items
'The State, Central Governments should bar entry to such items'
'Using GM seeds in agriculture affected the bio-diversity of the area'

The Hindu, 15 April 2008.

[Photo caption: Say no: Damanding a ban on genetic engineering, members of the Tamil Nadu Environment Council staging a demonstration opposite the Collectorate in Udhagamandalam on Monday.]

Udhagamandalam: Demanding a ban on genetically modified (GM) food items, a demonstration was staged opposite the Collectorate here on Monday under the aegis of the Tamil Nadu Anti-Genetic Engineering Movement and the Tamil Nadu Environment Council (TNEC). Among those who participated were members of the Island Trust, Nilgiris Women's Collective, Tamil Nadu Green Movement, People's Law Centre, farmers associations and consumer outfits.

The organiser, TNEC, the Nilgiris Chapter, M.L. Alphonse Raj, who led the demonstration, expressed the hope that farm related agencies such as Agricultural Universities, Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs), Departments of Agriculture apart from the bureaucracy and judiciary would ensure that the genetically modified food items do not enter the country in any form.

He said that the highest priority should be given to protecting the health of the people.


Lessons should be learnt from the risks taken while promoting the green revolution. Studies had shown that even mother's milk contained pesticide residues.

The gullible masses should not be taken for a ride by the proponents of GM food items.

Consumers should be on guard to keep at bay multinational companies which promoted GM food items.

The State and Central Governments should bar entry to such items.

Using GM seeds in agriculture affected the bio-diversity of the area.

They triggered growth of weeds and affected the fertility of the soil.

The population of insects also increased.

Expressing the fear that the unbridled promotion of GM items would in the long run affect food security, he said that the technology was anti-ecology.

Like the green revolution which only benefited the companies which manufactured chemical fertilizers and pesticides, the genetic engineering technology would only help the MNCs.


UK: Supermen and women "within five to 15 years", say scientis

The Mirror, 15 April 2008.

Scientists will be able to produce supermen and women with sperm and eggs from stem cells "within five to 15 years".

The cells could be genetically modified, giving the potential for a breed of super-fit beings.

Scientists would be able to develop cells from potential parents, grow them in the lab and turn them into sperm or eggs.

It would take many more years to become reality but already the moral dilemma is under discussion. The main purpose would be to help people made infertile through cancer treatments.

Prof John Harris, from the Manchester University group exploring the issue, said: "Whether one should be queasy about genetic modification depends on what it's designed to do."


14 April 2008

Genetically Engineered Sugar ("Franken-Sugar) Hits Stores This Year. Why?

TCV /, 14 April 2008. By Connie Bennett.

"Franken-sugar" -- or genetically engineered sugar -- will make its way to stores this year, alerts Citizens for Health.

So much for claims made in 2001 by Hershey's, M&M Mars, and American Crystal Sugar that they wouldn't use genetically engineered sugar.

"But now that sugar beets are close to being planted commercially, they have made no such assurances," the citizens group bemoans.

Isn't it bad enough that Americans are over-dosing on regular sugar? Now companies want to get genetically engineered sugar into the marketplace, too?

This is cause for alarm, Citizens for Health warns.

"Unlike traditional breeding, genetic engineering creates new life forms that would never occur in nature, creating new and unpredictable health and environmental risks. Genes from bacteria, viruses, plants, animals - even humans - have already been inserted into common food crops, like corn, soy, and canola, to create 'Frankencrops.' Now companies like Monsanto have set their sights on our sugar."

Besides, the consumer organization points out that Monsanto's new Roundup Ready sugar beet was actually "genetically engineered to survive direct application of their own controversial broad-spectrum herbicide, Roundup."

It gets even worse, according to Citizens for Health:

"Studies indicate farmers planting the "Roundup Ready" versions of corn and soy spray large amounts of the herbicide, contaminating both soil and water. Farmers planting GE sugar beets are told they may be able to apply the herbicide up to five times per year. Sugar beets are grown on 1.4 million acres by 12,000 farmers in the U.S. from Oregon to Minnesota.

"Now, at the request of Monsanto, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency increased the allowable amount of glyphosate residues on sugar beetroots by an unbelievable 5000%. (Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup). Sugar is extracted from the beet's root, and the result is more glyphosate pesticide in our sugar.› This is not good news for those who want to use sugar, or products containing sugar, without the threat of ingesting toxic weed killer."

Contact companies now and tell them to back off from Franken-sugar.

Better yet, just totally cut out or cut back on sugar for good. You'll live longer, feel better and experience many other benefits.


USA: New Website Lays Bare the Unintended Consequences of Genetic Engineering
Research reports from the mainstream technical literature may change the tenor of the public conversation about biotechnology.

The Nature Institute press release, 14 April 2008.

Ghent, New York -- The Nature Institute has unveiled a new website designed to set the public debate about genetic engineering upon a more accessible scientific foundation. Distilling a voluminous technical literature, the website gathers together -- often in the researchers' own words -- information about both the intended and unintended consequences of transgenic experiments. The emerging picture tells a dramatic story -- one that has scarcely begun to inform the public conversation to date. The website, available at, is part of The Nature Institute's ongoing project on "The Nontarget Effects of Genetic Manipulation."

Nontarget effects have proven both extensive and unpredictable. The evidence for their occurrence, while mostly buried in the technical literature, is not disputable or even particularly controversial. It's simply not widely known. Once it is known, the frequently heard claim that genetic manipulation of organisms is a "precise science" without dramatic risks will either be voiced no more or will be recognized as dishonest.

As project director, Craig Holdrege, describes, "if you manipulate one or more genes in an organism using the techniques of biotechnology, the so-called side-effects -- which are not side-effects at all, but include direct responses by the organism to the invasive actions of the engineer -- can occur anywhere and everywhere in the organism. They are not predictable, are little understood, and have mostly unknown consequences for health and the environment. The intended result may or may not be achieved in any given case, but the one almost sure thing is that unintended results -- nontarget effects -- will be achieved."

Holdrege, whose most recent book, Beyond Biotechnology, deals with the practical and philosophical implications of genetic engineering, maintains that a great deal of the discussion of genetic engineering practices can become calmer and more focused once the basic facts revealed by the extensive research to date are more widely known. Holdrege believes that "we can hardly fail to acknowledge a need for caution when we are dealing with a powerful technology that is changing organisms and environments around the globe -- organisms and environments that cannot simply be restored to their previous state when we discover the unpredicted results of transgenic experiments."

Media Contact: Craig Holdrege 518-672-0116

The Nature Institute
20 May Hill Road
Ghent, NY 12075
+ 1 518 672 0116


Why has the Global Food Crisis reached Emergency Proportions?, 14 April 2008.

London, UK

Dear ATCA Open & Philanthropia Friends

[Please note that the views presented by individual contributors are not necessarily representative of the views of ATCA, which is neutral. ATCA conducts collective Socratic dialogue on global opportunities and threats.]

The mounting global food crisis pushed aside fears of a protracted recession and systemic risk in the financial sector to become the top priority for the world's economic leaders gathered in Washington, DC. Ministers representing 185 countries agreed over the weekend that soaring food prices threaten global calamity and pledged to co-operate on a solution to save the world's poorest people from starvation. However, that solution remains elusive. The finance ministers and central bank governors who oversee the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank left Washington yesterday without a definitive response to agricultural prices that have surged 48 per cent since early 2007, sparking a wave of hoarding, speculation and riots throughout the developing world.

Food security has become a major concern in recent weeks as supplies of basic commodities have dwindled in the face of soaring demand, triggering riots and outbreaks of violence from Haiti to Indonesia. "The rapidly escalating crisis of food availability around the world has reached emergency proportions," United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told a joint meeting in New York of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the Bretton Woods institutions, the WTO and the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). "We need not only short-term emergency measures to meet urgent critical needs and avert starvation in many regions across the world, but also a significant increase in long-term productivity in food grain production... the international community will also need to take urgent and concerted action in order to avoid the larger political and security implications of this growing crisis," Ban said.

Rising Unrest and Inflation

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO) has said 37 countries may be facing a food crisis. Grain prices including rice, staple food for half the world, have surged this year on shortage concerns, prompting some growers to impose export restrictions. The gains in prices are stoking unrest and fanning inflation, world finance ministers said over the weekend. China, Egypt, Vietnam and India, representing more than a third of global rice exports, have curbed sales this year, and Indonesia says it may do the same. The Philippines, the world's largest rice importer, is urging China, Japan and other Asian nations to convene an emergency meeting on the region's food crisis to try and reverse export curbs that have driven prices to a record. Rising food costs have sparked violent protests in Cameroon, Egypt, Ethiopia, Haiti, Indonesia, Ivory Coast, Madagascar, Mauritania and the Philippines. In Pakistan and Thailand, troops have been deployed to avoid the seizure of food from fields and warehouses, while price increases fuelled a general strike in Burkina Faso. In Bangladesh, 50 people were hurt when workers rioted over food costs.

Increased Demand and Bio-Fuels

ATCA has already warned that using arable land to produce crops for biofuels has reduced surfaces across earth which are available to grow food, putting further pressure on supplies already strained by the soaring demand. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) said that since March 2007 prices for soya beans have risen 87 percent and those for wheat 130 percent at a time when global grain stores are at their lowest levels on record. It attributed the trend to increased demand in emerging market powerhouses China and India as well as the alternative use of maize and soya beans for biofuels. Jean Ziegler, UN special rapporteur for the "Right to Food," went so far as to describe the recent rush to boost production of biofuels as "a crime against humanity" because of its impact on global prices.

EU Subsidies

Jean Ziegler has accused the European Union of undermining the agriculture sector in Africa by exporting in the past the surpluses of its heavily subsidised farmers to the continent. "The EU finances the exports of European agricultural surpluses to Africa ... where they are offered at one half or one third of their (production) price," Ziegler charged. "That completely ruins African agriculture." While defending EU hand-outs to its farmers, France's Barnier said Europe should not bow under pressure at the World Trade Organisation to ease its farm support but should instead help developing countries build up their agriculture sector. "Europe must remain a major producing continent but other continents have to get organised as well," Barnier said.

Markets Speculation

French Agriculture Minister Michel Barnier said governments must take action to regulate surging food prices and stop them being driven by speculative forces. "We cannot, and we must not leave food for people to the mercy of the rule of the market alone and to international speculation," he said.

Ramping Up Production

Michel Barnier has warned that farmers worldwide would have to raise their output sharply in the coming decades as demand booms in fast growing Asian countries like China and India. "Global agriculture production will have to double by 2050 ... in order to feed nine billion people on the planet," Barnier told journalists on the sidelines of a meeting in Luxembourg with his EU counterparts. A new UN-sponsored study, due to be presented Tuesday in Paris, warns that farming practices must change to confront soaring food prices that threaten the poor in particular. "Business as usual is no longer an option," the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development will say in the report, according to a statement from UNESCO.

Organic Farming, GMO and Sustainability

UNESCO has said its new report will urge that agricultural science pay greater attention to safeguarding natural resources and to promoting "agro-ecological" practices, such as the use of natural fertilisers and traditional seeds and reducing the distance between the farm and the consumer. Nihon Shokuhin Kako, Japan's largest buyer of corn for use in food, is importing genetically modified supplies as high prices deter gene-pure purchases.

Free Meals

More people in Singapore, Southeast Asia's wealthiest economy, are joining the queue for free meals. Thirty percent more are turning up daily at a free vegetarian meal temple and 10 percent more elderly citizens go to a senior care centre. An official said those who show up come from all walks of life.

USD 500 Million in Emergency Aid

Ban echoed World Bank President Robert Zoellick's appeal to governments on Sunday to quickly provide the UN World Food Program with USD 500 million in emergency aid that it needs by May 1st. "We have to put our money where our mouth is now so that we can put food into hungry mouths," Zoellick said. "It's as stark as that" to deal with rapidly rising food prices that have caused hunger and deadly violence in several countries. Ban said the recent steep rise in food prices "has already raised the cost of WFP's needs to maintain its current operations from USD 500 million to USD 755 million." WFP, the world's largest humanitarian agency, issued an "extraordinary emergency appeal" to donor countries for USD 500 million last month, saying the money was needed by May 1st to avoid cutting rations to some of the world's most impoverished regions. The Rome-based agency said its funding gap was growing weekly.

100+ Million Pushed into Abject Poverty, Seven Lost Years

"The World Bank has estimated that the doubling of food prices over the last three years could push 100 million people in low income countries deeper into poverty," Ban has said. Ban echoed Zoellick in warning that the food crisis "could mean seven lost years in the fight against worldwide poverty." The United Nations is at a midpoint in its campaign to reduce global poverty and improve living standards of the world's bottom billion. The Millennium Development Goals, adopted at a UN summit in 2000, include cutting extreme poverty by half by 2015.


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Chairman, Asymmetric Threats Contingency Alliance (ATCA) & The Philanthropia

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ATCA: The Asymmetric Threats Contingency Alliance ( is a philanthropic expert initiative founded in 2001 to resolve complex global challenges through collective Socratic dialogue and joint executive action to build a wisdom based global economy. Adhering to the doctrine of non-violence, ATCA addresses asymmetric threats and social opportunities arising from climate chaos and the environment; radical poverty and microfinance; geo-politics and energy; organised crime & extremism; advanced technologies -- bio, info, nano, robo & AI; demographic skews and resource shortages; pandemics; financial systems and systemic risk; as well as transhumanism and ethics. Present membership of ATCA is by invitation only and has over 5,000 distinguished members from over 120 countries: including 1,000 Parliamentarians; 1,500 Chairmen and CEOs of corporations; 1,000 Heads of NGOs; 750 Directors at Academic Centres of Excellence; 500 Inventors and Original thinkers; as well as 250 Editors-in-Chief of major media.

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UN criticises Green Revolution
'Genetically modified crops cannot save the world from food crisis'

Deccan Herald (India), 14 April 2008. By Kalyan Ray.

Unlike popular scientific perceptions, the much-touted genetic engineering technology may not offer any hope to solve the food crisis through which the world is undergoing at the moment, says a UN review on agriculture...

The genetically modified crops are hazardous to food safety and pose a threat to biodiversity of the entire planet, says UN International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), which adopted its report in Johannesburg on Saturday.

The report, expected to guide the agriculture and food production in the coming decades, will be released here on Tuesday.› Interestingly, the UN assessment comes at a time when India is in the process of approving a genetically modified brinjal.

Not approved yet

Besides brinjal, several GM crops such as rice, cabbage, cauliflower, chick pea, pigeon pea, ladies finger and mustard, developed in the public as well as private sector, are at various stages of development and regulatory approval in India.

Involving more than 300 scientists and policy analysts the IAASTD, was modelled on the Nobel Prize winning Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change.

Besides criticising the GM technology severely, the final report is also believed to have contained a critical analysis of India's Green Revolution.

"The high input intensive agriculture brought in by the Green revolution is not sustainable and increased productivity attributed to it came at the expense of degrading natural resources. This degradation if not checked will become a threat to food security," it says.

Incidentally, the report comes days after a warning by Dr Jaquous Diouff, director general of the Food and Agriculture Organisation that the world is passing through an unmatched food crisis and available cereals can feed the world only for two-three months. "World food prices have risen by 45 per cent in the last nine months. There are very serious shortages," Diouff had said.


GM crops: biotech agriculture: time to take GM seriously
Can GM really deliver a sustainable food and energy solution?

Ethical Corporation Online, 14 April 2008. By R. Stancich.

Biotechnology companies assert that genetically modified crops enable better pest control, reduced spraying, safety for non-target species, higher stress tolerance and more consistent yields. In short, the industry believes that green biotechnologies provide a secure and sustainable food and energy solution. This article examines the industry's claims and argues that the evidence to support them is mixed.

Themes discussed include:

biotech and climate change

biotech and biofuels

GM crops and yield productivity

can GM feed the world?

green biotechnologies

The article concludes that the market for biofuels could unlock the global market for the green biotech industry. However, current research has thrown up numerous reasons (competition for land resources, deforestation, diversion of food crops into fuel crops, to name a few) as to why biofuels are far from sustainable. As such, the author asserts, the promise of significant gains for the biotech industry on the back of biofuels may yet prove tenuous. Full text of document:


Activists demand Russia ban GM foods

Russia Today, 14 April 2008.

The growth in genetically modified foods has not yet seen large-scale public debate in Russia but a number of people do feel strongly about the issue. Thus, a group of youth activists in the northern city of Murmansk is demanding a ban on GM products...

See video clip (in English):


13 April 2008

USA: Public meeting to focus on possible GM crop contamination

Ag Weekly, 13 April 2008.

TWIN FALLS, Idaho -- Idaho Rural Council is holding two public meetings about the potential economic harm to producers and consumers from genetically modified alfalfa, wheat, and other crops.

The presentations, titled Genetically Modified Crops n What's the Problem?, feature a rice grower harmed by contamination from genetically modified rice and alfalfa and hay growers concerned about the future of organic and conventional agriculture.

The meetings will be held on Wednesday, April 23, in Twin Falls and Boise. The first meeting will start at 10:30 a.m. at Pandora's Restaurant, 516 Hansen Street, which is behind the Depot Grill in historic downtown Twin Falls.

The second meeting will begin at 6 p.m., at the Boise Senior Activities Center, 690 Robbins Road, in Boise.

Confirmed speakers are:

›› Greg Yielding, executive director, Arkansas Rice Growers Association, will talk about the billion-dollar cost to U.S. rice growers from contamination by an unapproved, experimental genetically modified rice variety.

Phil Geertson, alfalfa seed producer from Greenleaf, Idaho, is the lead plaintiff in a federal lawsuit that stopped the sale and planting of genetically modified alfalfa until the U.S. Department of Agriculture conducts an Environmental Impact Statement.

Kevin Golden is an attorney with the Center for Food Safety, which represented Geertson, the Western Organization of Resource Councils, and others in the alfalfa lawsuit.

A representative of Eckenberry Farms, the largest exporter of alfalfa hay in the country, has been invited to speak.

The public meetings are sponsored by IRC, Oregon Rural Action, Western Organization of Resource Councils, and the Center for Food Safety.

For more information, call IRC, 326-3686.


USA: 'GE' crop bill of huge import

Kennebeck Journal (Maine), 13 April 2008. By Craig Crosby.

Spencer Aitel says his livelihood is protected like never before, but he still feels disappointed and nervous.

Legislators last week revamped rules governing the use of genetically engineered crops, limiting organic farmers' exposure to lawsuits and forcing the state to develop best practices for growing the so-called "GE" crops.

But as important as those changes are for Aitel and other organic farmers, who hoped the law would require GE seed producers to report sales in the state, there is still a lot of work to be done.

"It's a big step forward but it's not as much of a step as it should be," said Aitel of Two Loons Farm, an organic dairy farm in South China. "In general, what we're looking for is better protection."

Maine's debate over the use of genetically engineered crops, which are modified to resist pests, has spiked in recent months.

Last year, Maine became the last state in the union to allow the use of Bt corn. Voters at last month's Montville town meeting approved a 10-year moratorium on growing genetically engineered crops within town limits.

Still, the number of farmers growing genetically engineered crops has grown quickly during the past 10 years. Farmers say the modified crops safely produce a better yield, while reducing exposure to pesticides and herbicides.

Organic growers disagree. They question the safety of genetically engineered crops and worry about cross-pollination with their natural crops. Organic growers worry that contamination could destroy a farm's organic certification and open the door to potential lawsuits for copyright infringement.

While no known lawsuits for have been filed in Maine, companies that produce genetically engineered seeds have sued farmers in other states for allegedly stealing technology.

LD 1650, a bill that passed the state House of Representatives on April 8 and is expected to be signed into law by Gov. John Baldacci, removes liability for unintended possession of a genetically engineered product and forces any infringement case brought against a grower to be tried in a Maine court.

"For us, it's of huge significance," said Aitel, who saves and cultivates his own seeds from year to year. "The threat of lawsuits is not just imagined, it's real."

While protection from lawsuits is vital, Russell Libby, executive director of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, believes the bill's real benefit is clarifying which seeds are subject to regulation and re-emphasizing the role seed companies play in reiterating the importance of planting directions. Planting instructions are important in order to avoid problems with neighbors.

"The most important part is it directs the (Department of Agriculture) to come up with best-management practices to avoid conflict," Libby said.

"I think our solution is going to have to be based 98 percent on prevention."

Libby predicted those management practices will be rely heavily on guiding communication between farmers.

While crafted to curb cross-pollination, the bill should not pit conventional farmers against organic growers, said Rep. Benjamin Pratt, D-Eddington, one of the co-sponsors.

"I think it gives some protection to Maine farmers," he said. "What I don't want to see is farmers suing farmers. There's good things for everybody in here." "All farmers care about the future of Maine agriculture," said Rep. John Piotti, D-Unity, a co-sponsor of the bill. "We don't know what the future is, all we know is it's going to be different from the present."

Tom Cote of Somerset Farms, a Pittsfield dairy farm in Pittsfield, said the legislation will not hinder his use of genetically engineered products, but he worries the new rules set a precedent that could lead to more restrictions.

"I don't see the need for this legislation," he said. "They're trying to solve a problem that doesn't exist."


USA: Montville ban on genetically engineered crops stirs controversy

The Boston Globe, 13 April 2008.

MONTVILLE, Maine ů A new ordinance in this Waldo County town of 1,000 that bans the cultivation of genetically modified crops has stirred up controversy well beyond its borders.

A Maine group that represents the biotechnology industry warns that the ban approved at town meeting two weeks ago could put a damper on research and development efforts and harm the state's economy.

Meanwhile, the state Department of Agriculture is seeking an opinion from the attorney general on the legality of the ordinance.

Critics of genetically modified crops say changes in a plant's molecular biology may have unintended, harmful consequences. Advocates of the technology cite positive benefits such as making crops more resistant to drought or disease.

The controversy over genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, reflects competing visions of agriculture, food safety and corporate power.

Organic farmer Claudette Nadeau worries that engineered seeds could cross-pollinate with her heirloom varieties and change their genetic makeup. She is also distrustful of corporations, recalling past assurances that chemical compounds such as DDT and PCBs were safe for humans and the environment.

In recent years, a handful of other Maine towns -- neighboring Liberty, and Lincoln and Brooklin -- have passed non-binding resolutions to be "GMO-free zones." Montville's ordinance is binding, however, and supporters say it's the first such measure to win voter approval in a U.S. community outside California.

The issue is also getting attention at the state level. After more than a year of debate, the Legislature last week approved a compromise that directs the state to establish management practices that are specific to genetically-engineered crops. Among other things, the law shields organic farmers from lawsuits by corporate seed makers for patent violations linked to the unintended presence of engineered plant material on their land.

"We're a big state with a lot of different markets," Deputy Agriculture Commissioner Ned Porter said. "Farmers should be able to choose what they want to do. We ought to be able to accommodate all that."

But Porter worries that Montville's ordinance violates right-to-farm rules. He said farmers who plant genetically-engineered crops could get into a tussle with neighbors if other towns enact similar ordinances.

Doug Johnson, executive director of the Maine Biotechnology Information Bureau, expressed concern that Montville's ban restricts other forms of genetic research and development, a stance that could hurt the economy.

In an Internet blog, Johnson addressed the split between commercial, commodity agriculture, such as the Aroostook County potato industry, and sustainable, organic operations, like those run by small growers in Waldo County.

"This isn't a fight over what may or may not be grown in Montville," he wrote. "It's a battle over the public's acceptance of science in shaping the future of agriculture."


USA: Montville: Ordinance vote puts spotlight on small town

Morning Sentinel (Maine), 13 April 2008. By Studs Terkel.

MONTVILLE -- Yellow bumper stickers here proclaim: "Montville Maine: The way life is."

It's a twist on the state's former tourism slogan: "Maine. The way life should be."

Like its inspiration, the Montville moniker, which also appears on the home page of the town's Web site, is existential and open to interpretation. But it clearly shows a streak of independent thinking.

Two weeks ago, that tendency drew some worldwide attention to Montville. At their annual town meeting, voters passed a binding ordinance banning the cultivation of genetically engineered crops. Supporters say Montville is the first American community outside California to do this.

The Maine Legislature also weighed in on the issue last week. After more than a year of debate -- lawmakers approved a compromise that, among other things, offers some legal protection to organic growers who unintentionally are exposed to genetically engineered seeds.

But it's hard to find middle ground in the Montville ban, and that's causing controversy. A Maine group that represents large biotechnology companies says the ban could chill research and development efforts and hurt the state's economy. Meanwhile, the Maine Department of Agriculture is asking the attorney general for an opinion on whether Montville's ordinance is legal, or violates the state's right-to-farm rules.

Genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, refer to plants, animals or microorganisms that are transformed by genetic engineering. In crops, changes to a plant's molecular biology can make it more resistant to drought or disease, for instance.

But opponents of genetic engineering say the technology is so new that the changes may have unintended, harmful consequences to people, animals and plants. In Europe, public concern over the safety of modified organisms has led to tight restrictions on imports and to consumer-labeling laws. Late last month, a French court upheld a controversial ban on a variety of pest-resistent corn produced by Monsanto, the large American seed company.

The global controversy over genetically modified products in the food supply rarely makes headlines in Maine. The votes in Montville and Augusta may bring the issue closer to home.

Behind the controversy are competing visions of agriculture, food safety, corporate power and, at the core, progress. They represent differing views of life in Maine -- how it is, how it should be.

Fears of corporate influence

Life, to take license with a slogan, is in the eye of the beholder in Montville.

The town of 1,000 residents has no school. No store. Not even a post office. Montville's a blur in the rear-view mirror for traffic sailing across Route 3 and the rolling hills between Augusta and Belfast.

Turn north on Route 220, however, and bump along muddy side roads. Pass front yards where melting snow has uncovered the junk cars, rusting appliances and other signs of rural poverty. In time, an outpost of another era appears in the hardwood forest -- plastic hoop greenhouses and a hand-built log home.

Thirty-eight years ago, Claudette Nadeau and Mike Beaudry followed their back- to-the-land instincts with $2,000 and an 8-month-old baby. Beaudry, a timber framer, soon created a cozy house that he has since expanded.

Nadeau pursued her passion for plants, a venture that thrives today.

For 19 years, Nadeau's Roots-n- Shoots Greenhouses has been selling an expanding mix of organically grown, open-pollinated seedlings, varieties that sprout true to seed. That means this season's tomato seeds will produce seedlings next year that are exactly like the parent plant.

Many organic gardeners value these plant varieties. They save exotic seeds to create heirloom plants, cultivars that can be handed down for generations. For Nadeau, any threat from engineered seeds that could cross-pollinate with her heirloom varieties and change their genetic makeup is a big concern.

But Nadeau's interests go way beyond business.

In 2006, Nadeau and friends in the local organic growers co-op gathered to watch a documentary, "The Future of Food." The movie bills itself as an investigation into how multinational corporations have quietly been filling supermarket shelves over the past decade with patented, unlabeled, genetically engineered food, part of a bid to control the world's seed and food supply.

The movie reinforced Nadeau's distrust for corporations and big government. It reminded her of past reassurances that chemical compounds, such as DDT and PCBs, were safe for humans and the environment.

Also watching the film was Kai George. An organic gardener who sells flowers and vegetables, George and her architect husband moved to town 35 years ago. They live on 63 wooded acres in a handsome, barn-inspired home.

"We came here wanting to have a healthy, rural environment for our kids, and it was the best thing we did," George said.

That health concern, George said, extends to the unknown, long-term effects of genetically modified food. Since the ordinance passed, she has received e- mails from as far away as Germany and South Africa wanting more information.

It's an unusual twist. The United States grows more genetically modified food than any country, but awareness and debate here is muted.

'Promoting informed discourse'

In Maine, opponents of genetically modified organisms have been organizing on the local level. A few towns -- neighboring Liberty, and Lincoln and Brooklin -- have passed non-binding resolutions in recent years to be "GMO-free zones."

These votes trouble Doug Johnson, executive director of the Maine Biotechnology Information Bureau. The bureau is set up to "promote informed discourse on biotechnology issues" affecting Maine. It's supported in part by corporations, including Monsanto and DuPont. Early last week, Johnson sent a press release saying Montville's ordinance could hurt the state's economy. The ban, in his view, also restricts other forms of genetic research and development. If The Jackson Laboratory were located in Montville, he said, it would have to close.

That opinion is open to dispute. The real impact of the ban in Montville may be more symbolic than practical.

The ordinance gives growers of genetically modified crops two years to phase them out. But the town has fewer than 10 commercial farms, according to the town clerk.

And only one farmer has been growing genetically-engineered crops, George said, on leased land.

In a subsequent Internet blog, Johnson touched on a more-relevant theme: the split between commercial, commodity agriculture, such as Aroostook County's potato industry; and sustainable, organic enterprises, like those practiced by small growers in Waldo County.

"This isn't a fight over what may or may not be grown in Montville," he wrote. "It's a battle over the public's acceptance of science in shaping the future of agriculture."

Commodity growers see benefits from genetically-engineered crops that can resist insects or tolerate herbicide sprays. Over the past decade, for example, Maine farmers have used these varieties to grow soy and canola. This year, they have approval to plant field corn that is toxic to borers and other pests. But Kai George and other organic growers oppose this trend.

Maine isn't Iowa, they say. Rather than compete with farm states in commodity crops that are dependent on genetic modification, why not capitalize on consumer demand and premium prices for organically-raised produce and animals? Rather than hurting the economy, George said, sustainable agriculture could generate new revenue.

Seeking a legal opinion

Balancing these viewpoints has become delicate business at the Maine Department of Agriculture. But Ned Porter, the agency's deputy commissioner, said a law just passed in the Legislature attempts to do that.

The law directs the state to establish management practices that are specific to genetically- engineered crops. It also shields organic farmers from lawsuits by corporate seed makers for patent violations linked to the unintended presence of engineered plant material on their land.

"We're a big state with a lot of different markets," Porter said. "Farmers should be able to choose what they want to do. We ought to be able to accommodate all that."

But Montville's ordinance, Porter said, goes in the opposition direction. Farmers who plant genetically-engineered crops could get into a tussle with neighbors, he said, if other towns enact similar rules. That's why he's seeking a legal opinion on Montville's ordinance. Prior to last month's vote, Kai George and ordinance supporters showed "The Future of Food" at the Montville Community Hall. Charles Fletcher came to watch the movie.

An organic gardener, Fletcher dreamed up, "Montville Maine: The way life is." It was a joke, he said, but the sarcasm seems to resonate with many people in town. Fletcher joined more than 100 people who came to town meeting. The ordinance vote was a show of hands. Fletcher joined the majority. Natives and folks from away generally coexist in Montville, Fletcher said. In passing the ordinance, though, tiny Montville has drawn a line in the soil.

"Things that belong to everybody seem to have been taken away by a few people in power," Fletcher said. "And we can't have that."


12 April 2008

Ireland: Sargent to unveil major organics plan, 12 April 2008.

The Green Party said today it aims to increase organic production in Ireland more than fivefold by 2012.

Minister of State with responsibility for food and horticulture Trevor Sargent said the strategy to drive the largest expansion of organic farming ever seen in Ireland will be published "within days".

Speaking at the party's annual conference in Dundalk, Co Louth, Mr Sargent said the organic market was worth €66 million in 2006, and that by 2012 it is predicted to reach €400 million.

"EU wide, the demand for organic food is increasing. However, 70 per cent of organic food sold in Ireland has to be imported.

"More farmers growing organically in Ireland would mean more jobs at home and less energy used worldwide."

Mr Sargent said that to achieve food security in the face of climate change and peak oil will need "more than an organic strategy".

"We must guard against the introduction of genetically modified crops. GM crops are a contamination threat to biodiversity and would undermine organic and conventional non-GM farming.

"I am working closely with [Green Party leader and Minister for the Environment] John Gormley on this issue. I believe we will succeed, because 80 per cent of EU consumers want their food to be clean, green and GM-free," Mr Sargent said.

He said EU consumers could not currently get enough organic food.

"This explains to some extent why farmers markets, allotments and community gardens have become so popular. Meanwhile, many farmers are not getting a fair percentage of the price which shoppers pay for fresh produce."

"For example, out of the €5 a shopper pays for a bag of potatoes, the farmer gets only €1 while the packer gets €2 and the shop takes a further €2."

The Minister said he had met with all the large multiples to make this point.

"Starving the farmers of a viable return will kill the 'goose that lays the golden egg' for supermarkets. Ireland needs farmers and it needs more young people to take up farming."

Mr Sargent acknowledged what he said were "successes and frustrations" since the Green Party went into Government with Fianna Fáil last year.

But he said it was with "immense pride and satisfaction" that the party was putting its visions into action now in Government.

Mr Sargent praised party leader John Gormley as a "political street fighter and a good friend to me and to the Green Party".

"He has come from a campaigning background to be the man who chaired the Green Party negotiations which led to the greenest ever programme for government."

He said the party needed to build on its success and to succeed in a year's time at the local and European elections.


France: Sarko Babes embarrass his party

The Scotsman, 12 April 2008. By Susan Bell.

FRENCH president Nicolas Sarkozy's government faced growing divisions last week, as yet another of his young female ministers provoked a storm of controversy - this time attacking her "cowardly" cabinet bosses.

Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, 34, the ecology minister, has become the latest of the "Sarko Babes" - as Mr Sarkozy's attractive and youthful cabinet choices are popularly known - to embarrass him in front of his ruling conservative majority.

In an interview with the respected daily Le Monde, published on Wednesday, she freely criticised her boss, the environment and energy minister Jean-Louis Borloo, along with Jean-François Copé, leader of Mr Sarkozy's UMP party in the French National Assembly.

Their failure to back a controversial new law on genetically modified crops was "a competition in cowardice and inelegance", she said.

Ms Kosciusko-Morizet, popularly known as "NKM", was rapidly called to order by Mr Sarkozy. Through François Fillon, the prime minister, he demanded that she make a public apology or suffer the consequences.

NKM acquiesced, but was still dropped from Mr Fillon's trip to Japan and barred from the National Assembly for an afternoon.

Her treatment brought accusations of machismo from the former ecology minister Corinne Lepage. "She would never have been treated like that if she had been a man. She was publicly humiliated by being obliged to apologise," said Ms Lepage.

Mr Sarkozy's appointments of glamorous young women ministers to his rainbow cabinet was once welcomed as the dawn of a new era in sexual and racial equality in the traditionally macho, white world of French politics.

While admired for their beauty and style, however, their outspoken approach has been a headache for the president.

The youngest member of the government, Rama Yade, 30, the Senegalese-born human rights minister, said during the visit of the Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi: "Our country is not a doormat for leaders, terrorists or not, to wipe their bloody feet on."

Summoned to the Elysée Palace to explain herself, she narrowly escaped being fired - mainly because the majority of French voters agreed with her, observers said.

The suburbs minister, Fadela Amara, 43, of Algerian descent, described Mr Sarkozy's plans for DNA testing for immigrants applying for French nationality as "disgusting".

Rachida Dati, the justice minister, was born to poor North African parents on a tough housing estate but was dubbed "Dior Dati" for her love of haute couture gowns. She sent shock waves through France's stuffy legal profession when she appeared in Paris Match magazine perched on her desk at the justice ministry wearing a panther-print Dior dress, fishnet stockings and high-heeled black leather boots.

She came under fire for overspending her 2007 ministerial budget by 30 per cent on entertainment expenses.

The controversy surrounding Ms Kosciusko-Morizet's comments have revealed "considerable tension" within the UMP party.

"NKM went too far, perhaps under orders. There is a risk that things will disintegrate more and more often," said one assembly member, Hervé Mariton. Another complained that good looks were too important in Mr Sarkozy's image conscious presidency and blamed "the casting of pretty faces in the government".

Described as brilliant and highly ambitious, NKM is descended from a respected Resistance fighter. She trained as a rural engineer and is also an accomplished horsewoman and harpist.

Mr Sarkozy is said to be testing his protégé, who is reported to have ambitions to be prime minister.

"Either he will give her a major ministry or he will fire her," said a senior minister.


11 April 2008

Call for a 2008 Pan European GMO Moratorium

Open letter to EU Environment and Agricultural Ministers and European Commissioners, 11 April 2008.

The Coalition for a GMO Free Poland - representing 180 organisations and specialists - in solidarity with the Network for a GMO Free World and the French and Spanish European Farmers Associations, call upon you to finally enforce the European Union's Precautionary Principle and halt all imports and plantings of genetically modified organisms in Europe.

The French government's decision to put safety ahead of profit through prohibiting the planting of GM maize MON 810 signals a new level of awareness of the dangers of GM foods. This is matched by the overwhelming opposition to such foods by European farmers and consumers.

The imperative for a Pan European moratorium on GMO is based on increasing recognition and evidence that public citizens and the environment are being used as a vast and untested GM laboratory experiment which threatens to run out of control unless immediately halted.

GMO patented transgenic seeds are not only dangerous, they are also used by transnational corporations to force farmers and rural communities around the world into a dangerous state of dependence. Indigenous seeds and local knowledge are being lost at an alarming rate and food security is being destroyed.

You are no doubt aware that this process has already led to thousands of suicides amongst farmers in India's Punjab province whose GM cotton crops have repeatedly failed, leaving them with no income and no saved native seeds to fall back on. This tragic response will be repeated all over the world if we do not call NOW for a 10 year moratorium on all genetically engineered seeds and foods accompanied by a thorough independent review of their safety.

Scientific studies increasingly expose the fact that GMO are harmful to human, animal and environmental health. It has also been unequivocably established that it is simply not possible to have 'co-existence' between GM and GM-Free crops and plants.

The regulation determining that a 0.9% maximum threshold of GM contamination must trigger a labelling of foods as containing GMOs is a deception. GM crops contaminate neighbouring crops and the plots on which they are grown, including traditional and organic farmland. Widespread contamination thus becomes inevitable and consumers are misled into believing that a label which ignores contamination up to 0.9% gives them security. They are equally misled into believing that anything more than a tiny fraction of GM foods are tested for the presence of GM contamination.

You surely must recognise that only a long term moratorium of all GMO will prevent us and all future generations from being condemned to accept GMO in our fields and on our plates.

European agricultural and environmental ministers and EU commissioners have an absolute duty to protect their citizens and environments against the insiduous threats presented by genetically engineered seeds and foods. All our futures depend upon maintaining the health and welfare of our soils, seeds and biodiverse environments.


In the name of the Coalition for a GMO Free Poland
Sir Julian Rose, president of the International Coalition to Protect the Polish Countryside
Jadwiga Lopata, winner of the Goldman Prize environmental award

In the name of the International Network for a GMO Free Europe / World
Giuseppina Pagano, Network Coordinator GMO free Europe / World


Ireland: GM crops fail to deliver

Irish Organic Farmers and Growers Association press release, 11 April 2008.

In a recent press statement [1] the (UK) National Beef Association called for all resistance to GM crops, at both UK and EU level, to be abandoned immediately. This is a very short sighted view on agriculture and GM crops and one which is clearly ill informed.

GM lobbyists have been promising the miracles of GM technology for over 2 decades. To date they have seriously failed to deliver on all of their promises. Billions of euros have been invested, and still this technology is rejected by people, farmers, and policy makers all over the world.

International trials of GM cultivation have shown that:

Yields have not increased as promised.

Reliance on pesticides, herbicides, and fertilisers has increased - not decreased as promised.

Weeds and pests have developed resistance to GM crops and pesticides resulting in 'superweeds' and 'superbugs' that need even larger amounts of herbicides and pesticides.

There have been problems with cross contamination and cross fertilisation between GM and non-GM crops. These have led to sometimes lengthy law suits and are a potentially explosive problem if more GM crops are planted.

This technology is expensive and costly for farmers and makes them more dependent on the agribusiness giants in order to sustain a livelihood.

There are proven health risks associated with GM technology. In 1998 Scottish scientists found damage to every single internal organ in rats fed blight resistant GM potatoes. There are many more such examples illustrating very serious concerns with GM food.

GM technology has not reduced levels of world hunger as promised. In fact, it has made poor farmers more indebted and less self sufficient and consequently more food insecure than ever before.

The most convincing argument of all is that consumers throughout Europe have consistently voted against growing GM crops. The persistent consumer view combined with the failure of the GM industry to deliver on its promises are the only consistent features of the GM crop saga to date.

It is true that the era of cheap food is over - on account of rising production and fuel costs. However, this also shows that we should be moving away from oil based food production such as GM and embracing sustainable methods like organic farming - based on renewable energy and carbon reduction.


1. "GM crops must become part of cereals sector tool kit", press statement from the UK National Beef Association, 8 April 2008 (see below under 8 April).


Grace Maher, Development Officer
Irish Organic Farmers and Growers Association
tel: + 353 87 612 5989


Modern agricultural practices must change - UNESCO

Ultimate Media, 11 April 2008.

A report by the United Nations Education Scientific Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has appealed to countries and other international bodies to change to traditional practices of farming because modern farming methods are a threat to the environment.

It says modern agricultural practices like use of genetically modified foods and extensive farming are responsible for the degradation of over 35% of the earths surface causing global warming, soil erosion and other environmental disasters like flooding.

Modern agricultural practices have increased food production globally for the last 50 years but the environmental and social costs have been so high.

Food prices especially rice, maize and wheat are expected to continue rising because of increased demand especially from China and India and the alternative use of Maize and Soybeans for the manufacture of bio-fuels.

The report which is a result of three years of cooperation between nearly 400 scientists around the world, calls for the use of natural fertilizers, traditional seeds and intensifying natural processes among others so as to reduce environmental degradation.

Sub-Sahara Africa is likely to be the most affected by the effects of environmental degradation like flooding, drought because over 80% of the population depends on agriculture for their livelihoods.


UK: Warning on local food labelling

Lynn News, 11 April 2008. By Louise Brain.

Café owners have been warned to mark their menus when dishes include GM ingredients or risk facing the wrath of the law after a trading standards sting discovered widespread failures.

Eight Lynn businesses, seven in Downham and one in Hunstanton were found to be serving foods containing genetically modified ingredients without meeting requirements to make it clear to customers.

Norfolk Trading Standards visited a total of 50 restaurants, caf»s and takeaways in the county and found almost half of them - 21 in all - were using GM ingredients, but none was stating it on menus.

Norfolk County Council's principal trading standards officer Martin Greaves said: "Consumers have a right to be able to choose whether they want to eat GM food or not and it is disappointing that some local businesses are not providing the information which is required by law and which consumers need to make an informed choice.

"Caterers are, of course, free to choose whether to use GM ingredients, but they must pass this information on to their customers if they choose to do so."

All the businesses where failures were found have now been given advice on the law. and warned a repeat visit is coming to ensure they have shaped up.

Each of those involved was using either vegetable oil or mayonnaise who contained oil from genetically-modified soya beans.

Labels on the products made that clear, but the information was not being passed onto customers.

Businesses can get more information on the requirements from Norfolk Trading Standards on 0844 800 8013 or by visiting


Scotland: Technology is not based on careful science

The Northern Scot, 11 April 2008. Letter to the Editor.

Sir, - I was very concerned to read the ill-informed article 'Time for debate on GM' by Eddie Gillanders in 'The Northern Scot' last Friday.

Can I warmly recommend Jeffrey M. Smith's new book, 'Genetic Roulette', published by Yes! Books in 2007?

In his rational and very easy to read style, Jeffrey M. Smith covers all the documented health risks of genetically engineered foods, showing the very worrying way in which all signs of risk are covered up.

He discusses the flaws in the arguments which state that we need GM; illustrates that the regulations which are in place are inadequate to protect public health, and demonstrates that right from the beginning when the US FDA made the claim - counter to the belief of the scientists involved - that there was no difference between GM food and normal food, there have been no studies, or very poor studies, by the GM industry, into the safety of GM food.

GM technology is not based on careful science, it is based on big business trying to make money without regard for the health of people or the welfare of farmers.

Yours etc,
Jane Arnold
Craigard, North Kessock, Scotland.


Scotland: Scots farmers 'need to produce GM foods', 11 April 2008. By Dan Buglass.

Scotland's farmers are being hampered by the "madness" of EU regulation, and must be allowed to produce genetically modified food to help them compete with other farmers on a global scale.

That is the message that Struan Stevenson MEP will deliver later today when he addresses a meeting of the Scottish Rural Property and Business Association in Inverurie.

Stevenson said yesterday: "We must relax the rules on biotechnology and ignore the 'Frankenstein Foods' headlines. The reality is that GM foods are harmless and point the way to overcoming global food shortages in the future. Food security in Europe means looking after our home production and not always handing a commercial advantage to our non-EU competitors."

The vast majority of farmers and scientists see no dangers - indeed they see positive benefits - in sanctioning the growing of GM crops in the UK. One of the advantages, apart from higher yields, is the reduced level of chemicals required. Some GM crops are much more drought resistant than conventional varieties and that could be an important factor with climate change becoming a reality.

There are rumours that at least one major retailer intends to put some GM products on its shelves to test public opinion. A recent survey showed that consumer reaction to GM is far less negative than just a few years ago.

But it is clear that Europe is being left behind and that was made clear at the annual conference in February of the fellows of the Royal Agricultural Societies in Edinburgh.

Professor John Hillman, formerly of the Scottish Crop Research Institute in Dundee, claimed that the UK has lost a generation of agricultural scientists while the attitude of the government to science was "absolutely disgraceful".


UK: No amount of PR will convince us to swallow Phorm

The Guardian, 11 April 2008. By Charles Arthur.

At first sight you might not see many similarities between a field of sugar beet and the adware company Phorm, which has developed a service that targets adverts to web users according to their browsing habits. But they exist. And lessons from the field of sugar beet should certainly give the company pause for thought. Why? Because the field of sugar beet isn't there any more.

Just under a decade ago I was taken with a group of other journalists from national newspapers out to a field somewhere in East Anglia. Quite where we weren't allowed to know, because the field was planted with genetically modified sugar beet - in what was known as a "field trial" - and the company running the field trial feared that if we publicised where it was, protesters would come and tear it up before they had been able to find out what effects the crop had on the surrounding ecology.

I covered the saga of GM crops very closely. I quickly became familiar with the concept of volunteer plants (stray crop plants from neighbouring fields that shoot up and chuck seeds about while the real crop is growing quietly) and gene transfer. I'd known about the process of genetic modification for some time: you either inject a new gene into the cells of your target plant, or find some clever plant virus that will do the job for you.

Good news for farmers

The attraction of GM crops was that they would be resistant to various herbicides and pesticides (specifically, those made by the company selling you the GM seeds), so you could more quickly kill off stuff that impeded your crops' growth. In short, good news for farmers, as long as they were willing to be tied to the GM crop company.

What wasn't known was what the effect on other plants, or indeed animals, would be of having all this extra genetic material. Would the herbicide-resistant genes spread to weeds (some are surprisingly close relatives of the food we eat), meaning we'd have a generation of weeds we couldn't kill? Would insects and animals that relied on weeds in fields die for lack of food? Would bees spread GM pollen far enough to make a difference? The ecological impact was unclear.

But what was most unclear, we journalists kept pointing out, was the benefit to the person in the supermarket. We were being asked potentially to sacrifice a chunk of the ecosystem so that a GM company could grow rich and farmers could have a slightly easier time (while giving up some independence to the GM company). Was that really a sensible tradeoff? Would shoppers notice if sugar cost £330 per tonne instead of £340?

The companies had well-briefed PR people, endless diagrams, plenty of money. They went on a PR offensive. Ranged against them were disparate groups whose only certainty was that they didn't like being told what to like, and who still couldn't see any clear benefit to them. At a time when organic food was becoming more popular, why head in the other direction? We had plenty of food; the real problem was that we had too much processed food. The debate got ugly, allegations were made, bad experiments were carried out which destroyed reputations, and exaggerated claims were made on both sides.

PR blitzkrieg

That last paragraph could so easily apply to what Phorm is doing. It has hired PR companies as though they were going out of fashion. It has ferried CEO Kent Ertugrul around newspaper offices to make his case. It has applied to government departments to approve its product. It has asked independent consultants to review its product, seeking a clean bill of health.

And yet the question still remains: what are you offering that we couldn't get anyway? Targeted advertising, Phorm replies, and an anti-phishing service. But the latter benefit sounded hollow when Dr Richard Clayton, a security researcher at Cambridge University, told us in the Tech Weekly podcast that BT could offer anti-phishing without having to sign up with Phorm. And my colleague Jack Schofield will tell you that there are plenty of free anti-phishing systems out there: built into Internet Explorer 7, from Google, or through the Firefox browser.

Which leaves us only with targeted advertising. My only experiences of targeted advertising have left me with chills, to be honest. It's either foolish (the offers to "get best prices on plutonium on eBay!" when you're researching the dynamics of nuclear fission) or worrying (offering life insurance when you hit a particular age, warning of what's ahead). Phorm suggests it could be so much better. My response: I'm happy with things now. Sure, advertising is imperfect ů 50% is wasted, in the famous aphorism. But it leaves the way open to serendipity. And it also leaves you feeling that you're not being microscopically scrutinised. Think of the relief that Tom Cruise feels in the film Minority Report when the adverts stop speaking directly to him and he knows he's no longer "visible". Gut reaction

GM crops aren't grown in the UK now. It's unfortunate for Phorm that it has chosen to persuade people using a method that doesn't work ů because their gut reaction tells them they don't trust it.

Is there a solution? I still think that to go with a true opt-in, where people actively have to choose to use its system, is the only way for Phorm to redeem itself in the eyes of the majority. (Some, rather like green pressure groups over GM, won't accept even that concession.) Phorm's system ů like GM ů is so complex that only a small group of people will fully understand it.

History doesn't have any hopeful parallels, I'm afraid. Even though Phorm has enough money, at its current spending rate, to keep going for another four years, it should be mindful of what happened with GM. Monsanto was once one of the biggest names in crops; it was the main company pushing GM in the UK. Then its share price crashed and it had to restructure, merging with Pharmacia and Upjohn in 1999.

Don't assume, however, that this means Phorm will be churned up by the combine harvester of history. Last year GM crops were being grown more widely than ever before, on 114m hectares in 23 countries (including 12 developing countries), an increase of 12 million hectares on the previous year. The EU is still blocking imports and cultivation, but it's looking increasingly like a rearguard action. Monsanto is bigger than ever. And Phorm is well-funded, and looking abroad to implement its systems. This is a battle that is far from over.


France: Sarkozy's Ministers Face Off

Time magazine, 11 April 2008. By Bruce Crumley.

Paris -- Like many a leader before him, French President Nicolas Sarkozy seems to work better abroad than at home. Just days after another brilliant performance on the international stage reversed Sarkozy's dizzying approval rating plunge, a new spate of domestic woes risk dragging him down anew. Plagued by a dismal macro-economic outlook that his highly-touted policies and reforms have failed to set right, Sarkozy this week was also tormented by the spectacle of his own cabinet engaging in a nasty public spat. As a result, voters across France are beginning to wonder who they can actually look to for effective leadership.

The dust-up within the government couldn't have come at a worse time for Sarkozy, who earlier this week traveled across France announcing cut-backs and belt-tightening ů despite previous assurances that "no austerity program" was on the way. But despite having to deliver bad news to an already hurting public, Sarkozy had some reason for hope. Polls released early this week showed his approval rating rising to 40% in March from February's 37%, the low point in what had been his 30% drop since July. The fillip stemmed from Sarkozy's triumphant state visit to London last month, where his sober demeanor impressed a French public that has wearied of his taste for flash. The "re-presidentialization" of his image seemed to be winning back many of the conservative voters turned off by Sarkozy's earlier "bling-bling" persona; Elysée officials felt they turned the corner after the right's drubbing during nation-wide municipal elections last month.

But that was before a row within the government exploded Wednesday, when junior environment Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet to call fellow conservatives "an army of cowards" after a cock-up involving controversial legislation on genetically modified crops. Kosciusko-Morizet told Le Monde that her immediate boss, Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo, and parliamentary leader of her own conservative Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), Jean-FranŃois Copé, had engaged in "a contest of cowardice and inelegance" in cynically refusing to back her up in a tight spot for their own political gain. The spectacle of a cabinet member publicly slagging off her ministerial superior and the majority leader as wimps created a deafening roar on the right.

Outrage at the attack led Prime Minister FranŃois Fillon to order Kosciusko-Morizet to issue a public apology for the outburst or be fired if she refused to. Kosciusko-Morizet knuckled under on Wednesday night, though subsequent comments suggested her regret was less than entirely sincere. Other conservatives involved in the melee implied they, too, were neither ready to forgive nor forget. That's bad news for UMP forces.

Sarkozy has made a point lately of assuming a more discreet posture, leaving day-to-day management and communication to his ministers. That has caused the ambition of several government officials to bloom, generating considerable tension between jostling members. Policy announcements by certain ministers have been immediately followed by conflicting responses from others. This week, for example, it was announced then rapidly contradicted that the state would stop subsidizing rail tickets for large families.

Sarkozy's London bounce had given Elysée officials confidence the president could gradually resume his role as both the motor and icon of policy and governmental direction. But the tussles in the cabinet, along with France's lamentable economic situation, may leave Sarkozy no option but to return again to the front lines of government. His cost-cutting announcements this week involved just a few of the 166 programs he's targeted to claw back over $10 billion in annual spending, with the aim of balancing the French budget by 2012. That will provoke considerable pain and resistance from the public, and doubtless more slides in polls. That, in short, is Sarkozy's dilemma: to be an effective, decisive leader, he'll also have to be a very unpopular one.


Belgium: Your steak, with or without GMOs?
Animal feed producers say thay can no longer guarantee "GM-free" products. Discussions are underway with the big retailers

LaLibre, 11 April 2008. Translated by GM-free Ireland

Will it be soon become impossible for Belgian consumers to find meat from livestock that have not been fed on GM feed, unless they turn to the organic shelves? At any rate, this is what Greenpeace fears, based on certain statements, alleging that the Delhaize group intends to stop requiring related standards from its suppliers.

For many years now, Delhaize and other major national retailers (in particular Carrefour and Colruyt) have indeed guaranteed that some of the meat sold in their butchers departments be certified GM-free, despite the absence of any regulation requiring specific labelling of meat from livestock fed on transgenic feedstuffs.

Schedule of conditions repealed

To do so, a precise set of standards was written for their suppliers, under the umbrella of the Apfaca association of animal feed producers. A set of standards which the association unilaterally decided to abandon on the first of January this year. The reason? The answer given to Apfaca is that "The controls that are carried out reveal that even the companies that followed the standards of this schedule of conditions are no longer able to produce completely GM-free foods because of the unavoidable contamination of the raw materials used to produce them". These analyses have thus been abandoned since March. But another reason also seems to have played a role in this decision: the additional cost induced by the production of GMO-free feed, which retailers apparently refuse to consider.

In the ranks of Greenpeace, the situation is deemed unacceptable, stressing that the production of non-GMO soy (in particular in Brazil) is sufficient to meet the needs of the Belgian market. "It is true that there are problems of contamination of these raw materials (mainly soy and cereals), in particular during their transport. But the solution is to set up a more reliable system opf safeguards to prevent contamination, instead of abandoning all the non-GMO production lines", explains Jonas Hulsens, in charge of sustainable agriculture within the organization. Adding that producers and processors of GMO soy and cereals are using animal feed as a Trojan horse to impose GMOs on the market, despite the fact that surveys show that European consumers refuse to buy conventional foodstuffs whose labels indicate the presence of genetically modified ingredients.

The Delhaize side acknowledges the problem, while pointing out that the group had not yet made a decision on whether or not to give up the schedule of conditions. "We will do everything we can to ensure that consumers have the freedom to choose, as they do now. Discussions are underway between Apfaca and Fedis (Federation of distributors), because this issue concerns all retailers which market GM-free meat. Several options are being considered. One may have to pay more, but one may be willing to do so. All that is under discussion". ›

Comment by TraceConsult:

One wonders why only one hundred kilometers further east, the German retailers feel encouraged to go "GM-free". Perhaps because their supply chain had ensured non-GMO soy meal supply in time based on frame contracts?


Africa: AGRA, Bio-Piracy And Food As Social Justice

Pambazuka News, 11 April 2008.


In this wide ranging Pambazuka News interview, Mariam Mayet, the director of the African Center Biosafety speaks about biopiracy, which she calls "the last frontier", the Alliance for a Green Revolution and its impact on Africa, and food and agriculture as social justice justice.

I am here with Mariam Mayet, the director of the African Center for Biosafety. Can you tell us about your organization?

We are based in Jo'burg and we have four main programs. We campaign against genetic engineering in food and agriculture. We campaign against bio-piracy particularly the theft of indigenous knowledge in the context of medicinal plants and new areas around marine bio prospecting.

We also work on the green revolution in Africa - and Agro-fuels. Basically we do a lot of cutting edge research, exposes of what multi-national companies are doing in Africa, and on the bio-tech industry. We look at the seed industry and where the GM-Agro fuels push is coming from. We work with a large network of other groups and communities.

Can you talk a little more about bio-piracy - and patenting systems?

Pharmaceutical and cosmetic companies want to bring in new products to the market. They have to find the active ingredient to be able to produce a particular medicine (sometimes they stumble into things accidentally). But the way to get to the plant and the use of the plant is through local people. And when they come into our countries and they appropriate our knowledge and resources, without people's consent, we call it theft or bio-piracy.

The last frontier of resources base is really our people's knowledge in regards to medicinal plants and agriculture. And these are highly sought after. When a company finds a particular plant, and the useful properties in the plant they make a product from it, and then register a patent in regards to the use of that plant. And where they duplicate existing uses, we are able to challenge those patents.

For example, we found a company in Germany trying to patent two endemic species in South Africa and Lesotho but they are duplicating local uses. We were able to challenge this. So even in a European patenting system which is very neo-liberal and capitalist, it does not allow to register a patent over the use of something, if a community anywhere in the world has the same use. So we use the small margins to challenge bio-piracy. This was one case, but there are there are thousands of cases like this in Africa.

Can you give Pambazuka readers other examples of bio-piracy?

Yes. Last year we published a booklet called "Out of Africa: Mysteries of Benefit Sharing." We published 36 cases of dubious acquisitions in Africa, such as theft of the people's knowledge to produce skin whitening cosmetic by the cosmetic industry.

The hoodia gordonii, a hunger suppressing plant gives us the quintessential case of bio-piracy. This is where the knowledge of the San to stave off hunger when trekking through the Kalahari was appropriated by Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in South Africa and passed onto Phytopharm. Phytopharm registered a patent claiming that there were no indigenous people in South Africa, that the San had died off. Stealing knowledge is extremely rife in Africa.

Let's change gears a little and turn our attention to philanthropy, which Cecil Rhodes once called, philanthropy plus five-percent - which is to say that philanthropy paves way for profit making, or what others call the philanthropy-industrial complex. Can you talk a little about the role of Western philanthropy in Africa?

Philanthropy in Africa has some history especially in relation to the Rockefeller family. The Rockefeller foundation has a much longer history than the Gates Foundation for example. Gordon Conway who became one of the presidents of the Rockefeller Foundation published a book called the New Green Revolution in 1999. The Green Revolution push we are seeing in Africa is really his brainchild. Their philanthropy has come in the context of pushing a very distinct corporate agenda - to open markets for US corporations. For example in Kenya the Rockefeller Foundation has been involved in sponsoring Florence Wambugu's sweet potato project because they want to open Africa up to GMOs. So if you give the impression that a genetically modified sweet potato can work because it is the poor person's crop, there will be more willingness to accept GMO's. So it is not philanthropy. It's a form of investment, a corporatized agenda for resource extraction from Africa.

There was an exposé in the LA Times on the Bill Gates Foundation where it was found that the foundation invests money in companies and corporations that cause the very same problems it is trying to solve, companies such as Shell. So the philanthropy arm is trying to save the environment, while the investment arm is making profit from its destruction...

Exactly, the Rockefellers made their money from Exon, which later became Chevron - so they have old oil money - this wrecked a whole lot of havoc environmentally and in terms of human rights.

And also the idea of telescopic philanthropy, a telescopic philanthropy that sees far but not what is under its feet - for example there are a lot problems in the United States amongst minority communities...

Yes, why didn't they give money to Hurricane Katrina victims? Why do they feel they have to come and rescue Africa? We say that the Green Revolution is a white man's dream for a black continent. And this dream... this savior mentality is very missionary, very colonial, and imperialistic - and yes they should leave us alone. If they take away all the developmental aid, if they take all the food aid, and the military aid - we would be like Cuba. We would struggle for a while but eventually we would find our way. We would build our own local economies and vibrancy because all these development aid is also an industry unto itself, and it feeds off itself.

Who are the world's biggest agri-business players? Take Cargil, which owns shares in seed companies, buys the harvest from farmers and transports it all over the world - they are more powerful than some governments because they are in charge of the international prices of grains and trade in grains. You have to really understand this whole capitalist agri-business system in order to understand the logic of the green revolution.

AGRA, according to its website, is and "African-led partnership working across the African continent to help millions of small-scale farmers and their families lift themselves out of poverty and hunger. AGRA programs develop practical solutions to significantly boost farm productivity and incomes for the poor while safeguarding the environment. AGRA advocates for policies that support its work across all key aspects of the African agricultural "value chain"--from seeds, soil health, and water to markets and agricultural education. AGRA is chaired by Kofi A. Annan, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations". They say that they are African led and now they have Kofi Annan who is serving as the chairman of AGRA - your response?

I think they are African followed because the vision was put in place by Gordon Conway from the Rockefeller Foundation. The Rockefeller Foundation brought in the Bill-Melinda Gates foundation, then started to recruit willing and compliant Africans - the coup de grace was Kofi Annan.

If it was African led we would not be asking for consultation and transparency. It would be coming from our farmers, coming from the ground-up. What is African led, are the local struggles, where people are clearly saying this is what we want. Go to speak to the people affected and they will tell you what they want - that would be African led.

Can you talk a little bit about the packaging of AGRA? You have Kofi Annan, who has UN credentials, gentle spoken yet charismatic and Bill Gates who appears harmless. There is a lot of star power and money...

The things is the Green Revolution is a very a violent package because it puts powerful toxic chemicals into Africa. It displaces and destroys local knowledge and seeds. It favors those farmers who will be able to access the system, the more powerful farmers. This will divide the African peasantry.

AGRA also creates a lot of dependency and debt. It is violent. But the geeky sexy richest man who brought us wonderful technology, and gentle Kofi Annan - this is the savior face, our last hope. It is a very strategic move to push a very agri-business, corporatized market driven package - but it will fail in Africa because they do not understand Africa.

We are a very diverse people, we need local solutions that are multi-dimensional and multi-faceted - built on local knowledge and local seeds. You need to speak to people about how they adapt to harsh climates. To have a one-size fit all solution for Africa will be disastrous for us. Even in one country we have different eco-systems, different farming communities, different cultures, different eating habits.

We do not need to grow more foods for exports. We need to build on food sovereignty principles and give people equitable access to land, allocate the water fairly, support traditional farming methods, and create local vibrant economies, before we start exporting coffee, cocoa, and grow maize for export.

We are not saying that everyone must live on the land, or farm - we are talking about a local economy that is also integrated into the national economies. You cannot have two economies. We are talking about a vibrant whole.

I have to say that we are also unhappy with the agricultural systems in Africa and this is why we are saying - that we have to stop talking about food security because this perpetuates the existing paradigms. We have to tell our governments - what the hell are you doing? You have messed up badly, and left a vacuum for the philanthropist to walk in - and take over our countries, in a way.

So there are ways in which the African governments have been absent in the debate completely...

None of our governments are going to say no to resources because they are corrupt, and despotic - we have had very few democracies but have huge class differences.

In terms of Agri-ecology we can do a lot of work with peasant movements but we have to always bear in mind that our struggle is a social justice struggle - and we need to hold our governments accountable.

We have to keep demanding from our governments the same things - We want justice in rural areas, equality for women, access to lands, support of traditional farming, we want you to protect our seeds, we do not want GMO's, we want you to listen to farmers, we want you to build agricultural schools for them, and put money in research and development. I mean look at Nigeria. Once the oil industry took off, it mortgaged its oil to international oil companies, but it stopped developing its own agriculture.

What is at stake? Food systems?

Food systems, social systems, our culture - the dynamics in the rural areas will change, there will be more debt, more dependency, and there will be a small commercial class of farmers.

Can we talk a little bit more about food as social justice? What has the ANC government been doing in this regard?

The ANC started off by giving up its many demands articulated in the Freedom charter and through the liberation struggle for nationalization of our mineral and energy companies. They made a deal with the industries, big business and the old government that we will not take the whole cake and nationalize it. What we will do is ask for a small slice of it, and we will call it Black Economic Empowerment (BEE). So it has been pre-occupied with BEE.

Yes we have a lot of political freedoms, we have a democracy - but it has a very neo-liberal agenda and very pro-industry orientation to all its policies. So for example, it is now allowing huge smelters to draw excessive amounts of electricity thereby increasing our carbon-emissions. We are building more coal-fired industries at the cost of 80 billion rands, but we are also going into nuclear technology. It is as if we are taking a big step back.

And along they way they failed to redistribute land back to the landless people, they failed miserably in terms of service delivery to the poor and that has seen a lot of violent protests. And it has failed dismally on its AIDS and HIV policy.

There is a lot of struggle fatigue, it is very hard to get the people mobilized beyond AIDS/HIV and service delivery but I think the time will come when we shall see a resurgence of social movements in Africa.

Would it be fair to say that we need to redefine what democracy means to us and inject a component of social justice?

As I said, we are never going to achieve social justice within a neo-liberal paradigm because it is always going to be favoring certain classes. So we really need to think beyond political rights, we have to think about our social economic rights. We can only be free once we achieve social justice.

One last question: Your thoughts on the 2010 South Africa world cup?

The world cup is going to be a drain of our resources - and we cannot justify the enormous carbon footprint we shall leave behind - where all these people from all over the world take flights to come to watch a soccer match - we will need 2 billion litters of water for all these visitors - we shouldn't be hosting such an event. We have other priorities.

It is not that I do not care for soccer, I do - but really Africa should not be hosting mega-events like this, for only two sectors will gain - airlines and people who already have a lot of money. The money that is coming in will not filter down to the people. How is the world cup going to benefit the poor people? I do wish African countries all the best in the world cup but we also need to take care of our people and our resources.


10 April 2008

USA: Seed piracy remains center of lawsuits

Truman State University Index, 10 April 2008. By Chris Boning.

Monsanto is looking for seed pirates.

The St.Louis-based agricultual company, has been pursuing legal action against farmers who save seed - a practice known as seed piracy. These lawsuits, which some have been calling unfair, have had far-reaching effects, and now a Kirksville politician is trying to do something about it.

Monsanto's lawsuits usually involve patents on RoundUp Ready soybeans, which, like all RoundUp Ready crops, are resistant to herbicide, said Bill Freese, science policy analyst for the Center for Food Safety, a nonprofit environmental advocacy group. The seeds of soybeans can be saved from year to year, he added.

Freese also said Monsanto considers farmers who save the company's seed as violating intellectual property laws.

Lawsuits involving genetically modified seed that are filed by Monsanto usually are settled out of court because many farmers can't afford to go up against the company, he said.

There have also been lawsuits involving farmers who accidentally unknowingly planted or saved Monsanto seed, according to the Center for Food Safety's report "Monsanto vs. U.S. Farmers."

Freese said these lawsuits are an important issue.

"Traditionally, for thousands of years, no one questioned the right of farmers to save seed," he said. "It's only really changed in the past decade or two when the [United States] Patent Office started to grant patents on seeds."

He said patents allow companies total control over the seed and everything that happens to it.

The Center for Food Safety opposes this situation, Freese said. He pointed out that Congress has never authorized patents on seeds and that the U.S. Patent Office is acting independently when it patents them.

Freese said the Center supports the Plant Variety Protection Act of 1970, which states that competitors can't reproduce one another's seeds, although farmers and plant breeders were exempted.

"[The act] gives companies the protections they need but doesn't turn farmers into criminals for doing something farmers have done for millennia," he said.

Freese said Monsanto is the only major seed company that pursues these kinds of lawsuits involving genetically modified seed.

"The company has always been very aggressive, and they have a long history of [litigation]," Freese said. "... This is a company that doesn't have a lot of concern for everyday people."

Freese said Monsanto has been known to send private investigators to farmers' fields to look for RoundUp Ready crops and then intimidate them into signing documents that allow Monsanto into records.

"These tactics are reprehensible," he said.

These lawsuits have generated legislation that offers protection for farmers in Indiana, North Dakota and South Dakota, Freese said. Under these laws, if a company wants to pursue legal action for genetically modified seed, it must send a letter to the farmer and to a local elected official.

Monsanto has pursued more than 500 patent infringements in Missouri and Kansas as of June 2006, according to "Monsanto vs. U.S. Farmers." Fewer than five of these infringements took place in Adair County, also according to the report.

Bradley Mitchell, director of public affairs for Monsanto, said farmers who use Monsanto seed must pay a technology fee and sign a legally binding contract through which the farmer agrees not to save the seed.

Mitchell said seed piracy lawsuits are a relatively rare occurrence, but necessary.

"If we don't get those technology fees, and we're not paid for it, we can't dump that back into developing these new tools for farmers, so it's really important for our business that we get paid," he said.

Not pursuing seed piracy is unfair to the farmers who do pay the fee, Mitchell added.

"Farming is a competitive business, and if your neighbor's using the same thing [as] you and not paying for it, it puts those farmers at competitive disadvantage," he said.

Mitchell said the price of the technology fee varies based on its value to the farmer.

A Farming Snapshot

Philip Ayers, director of the Adair County Farm Services Agency, said the area has about 900 to 1,100 farms and 800 farmers. Corn and soybeans are the most prevalent crops, followed by oats, wheat and livestock, he added.

Of those, about 80 to 90 percent of the soybeans are Monsanto-produced RoundUp Ready soybeans, and at least 75 percent of the corn is RoundUp Ready as well, Ayers said.

Ayers said he hasn't heard of anyone in Adair County who has run into legal problems with Monsanto.

He said that locally, the number of genetically modified crops has been steadily increasing during the last decade.

"The yield is better with our different stacks of corns and things like that," Ayers said. "[With] RoundUp Ready corn and beans ... you can go out and kill the weeds much easier. RoundUp Ready is one of the safest herbicides we've got, so it's more environmentally good to go that way. About everything you can do is better that way, actually."

Mark Campbell, associate professor of agricultural science, said a variety of crops are grown on the University Farm. These include hay and corn for livestock feed and research purposes, plus apples, pumpkins and grapes, he said.

The Farm does not use seed directly from Monsanto but rather gets it from Asgrow and free gene banks operated by the United States Department of Agriculture, Campbell said.

He added, however, that some of the seed planted on the Farm includes Monsanto-generated technology because the company sells or shares its genes with other seed companies.

Although advocacy groups have raised concerns about seed piracy, farmers aren't obligated to use genetically modified seeds, Campbell said.

"If they don't like [Monsanto's] policy, they don't have to buy it," he said. "They can buy some things that legally you could grow back. It seems to me that would be a major consideration in the counter-argument for people who get upset about that."

Campbell said that as a researcher who develops corn varieties, he understands why Monsanto would want to protect its products.

"It's just like the old debate with downloading music illegally," he said. "Someone invested a lot of money in that."

A Possible Solution

In 2003, Sen. Wes Shoemyer, D-Kirksville, then a state representative, sponsored the Seed Availability and Competition Act in the Missouri House of Representatives. Had it become legislation, the bill would have required farmers who plant patented seed and want to save that seed for the following growing season to register with the USDA and pay a fee of $7 for each bushel of seed retained, according to the bill's summary.

Shoemyer, a farmer himself, said he proposed the bill after noticing that Monsanto charged $6 per unit of seed.

"What I was proposing, not to cheat [Monsanto] out of their fees, was to allow the farmer to save his own seed, pay $6 a bushel, and that way we could keep a lot of the business local," he said.

Shoemyer said Monsanto has been buying out smaller seed companies one by one, a practice that has a direct impact on farmers because it limits competition.

"What I want is for farmers to be self-reliant," he said. "Everybody has to go to one gene pool... The general farmer's viewpoint about the whole deal is, 'I've never bought anything, and it's not mine. I've never grown anything on my soil with my toil, and it wasn't mine.' That's the values issue with the farmer."

Shoemyer said that a few years ago on his property he identified three private investigators from a law firm indirectly affiliated with Monsanto.

"Number one, they wanted to intimidate me, and number two, they were arriving even a year before I was elected to office for ... a negative political campaign that was going to say, 'He's even been investigated for stealing seed,'" he said, noting that he has never used genetically modified seed.

Shoemyer said he has had farmers in his community approach him for help after running into legal problems with Monsanto. He usually gives them words of encouragement and then directs them to an attorney, he said.

"I've never seen a company stay in business by suing the very people it's supposed to serve," Shoemyer said.


UK: Gordon Brown: Genetically modified crops may help in fight against world hunger

The Mirror, 10 April 2008.

Gordon Brown backed genetically modified crops yesterday saying they could be the answer to world hunger. The PM warned: "Rising food prices threaten to roll back progress we have made in recent years on development." And he added in the letter to world leaders: "We must take the initiative to further develop higheryielding and climate resilient varieties of crop."

He also said we must be cautious of green biofuels.


UK: New Soil Association report shows GM crops do not yield more - sometimes less

Soil Association press release, 10 April 2008.

Coinciding with a manifesto from Country Life launched today, which urges people to 'learn to love GM crops', the Soil Association has published a report on the latest available research on GM crop yields over the last ten years. The yields of all major GM crop varieties in cultivation are lower than, or at best, equivalent to, yields from non-GM varieties.

Peter Melchett, Soil Association policy director, said:

"GM chemical companies constantly claim they have the answer to world hunger while selling products which have never led to overall increases in production, and which have sometimes decreased yields or even led to crop failures. As oil becomes scarcer and more expensive, we need to move away from oil dependent GM crops to producing food sustainably, using renewable energy, as is the case with organic farming."

Latest Research on GM Crop Yields

GM crops as a whole

First generation genetic modifications address production conditions (insect and weed control), and are in no way intended to increase the intrinsic yield capacity of the plant.

An April 2006 report from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) states that "currently available GM crops do not increase the yield potential of a hybrid variety. [...] In fact, yield may even decrease if the varieties used to carry the herbicide tolerant or insect-resistant genes are not the highest yielding cultivars". (Fernandez-Cornejo, J. and Caswell, 2006)

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization's 2004 report on agricultural biotechnology acknowledges that GM crops can have reduced yields (FAO, 2004). This is not surprising given that first-generation genetic modifications address production conditions (insect and weed control), and are not intended to increase the intrinsic yield capacity of the plant.

A 2003 report published in Science stated that "in the United States and Argentina, average yield effects [of GM crops] are negligible and in some cases even slightly negative". (Qaim and Zilberman, 2003). This was despite the authors being strong supporters of GM crops.

Yields of both GM and conventional varieties vary - sometimes greatly - depending on growing conditions, such as degree of infestation with insects or weeds, weather, region of production, etc. (European Commission, 2000)

Roundup Ready (RR) GM soya

Studies from 1999 - 2007 consistently show RR GM soya to yield 4 - 12% lower than conventional varieties.

A 2007 study by Kansas State University agronomist Dr. Barney Gordon suggests that Roundup Ready soya continues to suffer from a yield drag: RR soya yielded 9% less than a close conventional relative.

A carefully controlled study by University of Nebraska agronomists found that RR soya varieties yielded 6% less than their closest conventional relatives, and 11% less than high yielding conventional lines (Elmore et al, 2001). This 6% 'yield drag' was attributed to genetic modification, and corresponds to a substantial loss in production of 202 kg/ha.

In 1998 several universities carried out a study demonstrating that, on average, RR soy varieties were 4% lower in yield than conventional varieties (Oplinger et al., 1999). These results clearly refuted Monsanto's claim to the contrary (Gianessi, 2000).

Yields of GM soybeans are especially low under drought conditions. Due to pleiotropic effects (stems splitting under high temperatures and water stress), GM soybeans suffer 25% higher losses than conventional soybeans( Altieri and Pengue, 2005)

5 studies between 2001-2007 show that glyphosate applied to Roundup Ready soybeans inhibits the uptake of important nutrients essential to plant health and performance. The resultant mineral deficiencies have been implicated in various problems, from increased disease susceptibility to inhibition of photosynthesis. Thus, the same factors implicated in the GM soya yield drag may also be responsible for increased susceptibility to disease. (Motavalli, et al., 2004; Neumann et al., 2006; King, et al.,2001; Bernards,M.L, 2005; Gordon, B., 2007).

The yield drag of RR soya is reflected in flat overall soybean yields from 1995 to 2003, the very years in which GM soya adoption went from nil to 81% of U.S. soybean acreage. By one estimate, stagnating soybean yields in the U.S. cost soybean farmers $1.28 billion in lost revenues from1995 to 2003 (Ron Eliason, 2004).

More recent evidence shows that the kilogram per hectare ratio of soybean has been in decline since 2002, leading to the conclusion that RR soy does not have an impact on yield (ABIOVE, 2006a).

Bt Maize

Only maize shows a persistent trend of yield increase into the biotech era, but even here the rate of increase is no greater after than before biotech varieties were introduced.

A rigorous, independent study conducted in the U.S. under controlled conditions demonstrated that Bt maize yields anywhere from 12% less to the same as near-isoline (highly similar) conventional varieties (Ma & Subedi, 2005).

Bt Cotton

Despite claims of increased yield, Bt cotton has had no significant impact in real terms.

Average cotton yields have increased 5-fold since 1930, and staged an impressive surge from1980 to the early 1990s. Cotton yields then went flat, and continued to stagnate during the seven years of GM cotton's rise to dominance. The steep yield and production increases in 2004 and 2005 were chiefly attributable to excellent weather conditions (Meyer et al., 2007).

Bt cotton, introduced to Australia in 1996, has not offered a boost to the cotton sector, and since its adoption has not provided improvements in either yield, or quality (ISAAA, 2006b).

Cotton South Africa show constant yield levels before and after adoption of Bt cotton (Witt et al 2005, cited in FoEI Who Benefits 2007), in contradiction to ISAAA claims that Bt has brought about a 24% yield increase in the region. Outbreaks of the secondary pests that are not killed by the Bt insecticide have rendered Bt cotton ineffective in China (Connor, S., July 27, 2006), and are also becoming a problem in North Carolina (Caldwell, D. 2002) and Georgia (Hollis, P.L., 2006).

An article in Nature Biotechnology notes that the poor performance of Bt cotton varieties used in India (which were developed for the short U.S. growing season) is linked to the loss of their insecticidal properties late in India's longer growing season, and because Bt cotton insecticide is not expressed in 25% of the cotton bolls of India's preferred hybrid cotton varieties (Jayaraman, K.S., 2005)

During the Government's 2003 'national debate' on whether or not to allow commercial planting of GM crops, the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, which represents land agents amongst others, predicted 'long-term chaos' and possible declines in land values if GM crops were planted. [1] Recent research in Sweden has confirmed that GM seeds can remain active in farmland for at least 10-years, adding scientific support to the RICS's concern about the impact on land values of growing GM crops.


For media enquiries please contact Clio Turton, Soil Association senior press officer, 0117 914 2448 /

Notes to editor:

[1] Extract from an article published in Daily Telegraph: GM crop trials 'pose threat to property prices' By Charles Clover, Environment Editor (4 June 2003)

Property prices could be undermined if land is polluted with traces of genetically modified crops, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors said yesterday at the start of a Government-sponsored debate on whether Britain should approve commercial GM varieties.

Surveyors and land agents warned of "long-term chaos" in the property market unless buyers were provided with information on the farms, allotments and gardens where GM crops were or had been grown.

The RICS said accurate information on where GM crops were planted was essential to buyers wishing to purchase or rent land for non-GM or organic production and to financial institutions lending against land and property.


ABIOVE, 2006a. Sustainaibility in the Legal Amazon. Presentation by Carlo Lovatelli at the Second Roundtable on Responsible Soy. Paraguay, 1 September 2006.

Altieri, M., Pengue, W., 2005. GM Soya Disaster in Latin America: Hunger, Deforestation and Socio-ecological Devastation.

Bernards, M.L. et al, 2005. Glyphosate interaction with manganese in tank mixtures and its effect on glyphosate absorption and translocation. Weed Science 53: 787-794.

Caldwell, D. 2002. A Cotton Conundrum. Perspectives OnLine: The Magazine of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, North Carolina State University,Winter 2002.

Connor, S., July 27, 2006. Farmers use as much pesticide with GM crops, US study finds. The Independent.

Elmore et al, 2001. Glyphosate-Resistant Soybean Cultivar Yields Compared with Sister Lines, Agron J 2001 93: 408-412, quote from the University of Nebraska press release online at

European Commission, 2000. Economic Impacts of Genetically Modified Crops on theAgri-food Sector.

FAO, 2004. The State of World Food and Agriculture 2004. Biotechnology: Meeting the Needs of the Poor?

Fernandez-Cornejo, J. & Caswell. April 2006. Genetically Engineered Crops in the UnitedStates. USDA/ERS Economic Information Bulletin n. 11.

FoEI, January 2007. Who Benefits from GM crops? An analysis of the global performance of GM crops (1996-2006)

Gianessi, L.P., April 2000. Agriculture Biotechnology: Benefits of Transgenic Soybeans. National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy, p. 63.

Gordon, B., 2007. Manganese nutrition of glyphosate-resistant and conventional soybeans. Better Crops, Vol. 91, No. 4: 12-13

Hollis, P.L., February 15 2006. Why plant cotton's new genetics? Southeast Farm Press.

ISAAA, 2006b. GM crops: the first ten years- Global Socio-Economic and Environmental impacts.

Jayaraman, K.S., November 2005. Monsanto's Bollgard potentially compromised in India. Nature Biotechnology.

King, A.C., L.C. Purcell and E.D. Vories, 2001. Plant growth and nitrogenase activity of glyphosate-tolerant soybean in response to foliar glyphosate applications. Agronomy Journal 93:179-186.

Ma & Subedi, 2005. "Development, yield, grain moisture and nitrogen uptake of Bt corn hybrids and their conventional near-isolines," Field Crops Research 93 (2-3): 199-211, at

Meyer, L., S.MacDonald & L. Foreman,March 2007. Cotton Backgrounder. USDA Economic Research Service Outlook Report.

Motavalli, P.P. et al., 2004. "Impact of genetically modified crops and their management on soil microbially mediated plant nutrient transformations," J. Environ. Qual. 33:816-824;

Neumann, G. et al., 2006. "Relevance of glyphosate transfer to non-target plants via the rhizosphere," Journal of Plant Diseases and Protection 20:963-969.

Oplinger, E.S et al., 1999. Performance of Transgenetic Soyabeans, Northern US.

Qaim, M. and Zilberman, D., 7 February 2003. "Yield Effects of Genetically Modified Crops in Developing Countries" in Science, vol. 299, p. 900.

Ron Eliason, 2004. Stagnating National Bean Yields. 2004 Midwest Soybean Conference, cited by Dan Sullivan, "Is Monsanto's patented Roundup Ready gene responsible for a flattening of U.S. soybean yields,", September 28, 2004, online at


USA: Rule protects farmers from GE suits

Bangor Daily News (Maine), 10 April 2008. By Kiley Mack.

AUGUSTA, Maine›ů The Maine Legislature this week approved a major revision in the rules surrounding the use of genetically engineered crops in the state, changes that provide Maine's organic farmers protection against lawsuits and require specific growing practices for GE crops.

In the past, it has been the department's policy that GE crops do not differ, and are not to be treated separately, from conventional crops.

"The legislation is important in that it begins to clarify responsibility," Russell Libby, executive director of the Maine Organic Gardeners and Farmers Association said Wednesday. "By establishing Best Management Practices, this gets the [Maine] Department [of Agriculture] and farmers into a conversation about how to solve problems before they arise. To me, that is a good step forward."

Douglas Johnson of the Maine Biotechnology Information Bureau in Stonington, said the bill was a win-win piece of legislation. "Farmers on both sides of the biotech issue had input into the final bill," he said. "Both sides can claim victory. This is what Maine needs, solutions that work for all farmers."

In the 10 years that GE crops have been grown in Maine, there have been no GE-related lawsuits here, although according to a study by the Center for Food Safety, more than 90 GE-based lawsuits have been filed against 147 farmers in 25 states. Most suits were against farmers because they saved seed from year to year, an age-old practice, yet they were charged with patent infringement.

GE advocates, however, say the protection could be unnecessary since the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in July 2007 rejected the four patents that chemical giant Monsanto was using to sue farmers. Monsanto has since appealed the ruling.

While hailing the protection it affords them, organic farmers said they are disappointed that an eleventh hour amendment that would have required a GE crop tracking system was not included in the final bill.

The use of GE crops is an issue around the globe for both farmers and consumers. It pits commodity farmers, who say the GE crops provide protection against pests and results in a better yield, against organic farmers who feel cross-contamination from GE crops adulterates their organic crops. Organic farmers also worry about the long-term effects on humans and nature.

Passage of the bill comes on the heels of a ground-breaking vote last month in Montville, a town of about 1,000 in Waldo County.

On March 29, at their annual town meeting, Montville voters approved an ordinance making it unlawful to grow genetically engineered crops in Montville for the next 10 years.

It was the first such vote outside of California.

Logan Perkins of Protect Maine Farmers, a grass-roots group that advocated for the GE bill, said it provides Maine's farmers with new protections and assurances, and has taken nearly two years to craft.

The legislation:

Prevents lawsuits for patent infringement against farmers who unintentionally end up with genetically engineered material in their crops.

Ensures that lawsuits that do occur against farmers involving GE crops or seeds will be held in the state of Maine.

Directs the Maine Department of Agriculture to develop and implement Best Management Practices for GE crops. Previously, GE crops had the same BMP's as all other conventional and organic crops.

An amendment by the House of Representatives, that was not included in the final Senate version, would have required manufacturers of GE seed to submit an annual report to the Department of Agriculture giving the total number of potential acres that could be planted in each type of genetically engineered crop. Perkins said this would have allowed the Department of Agriculture to track the use of genetically engineered crops, see trends in their use, and be alerted to new crops coming into the state.

"While I am pleased with the step forward that we have taken here, I know that we have more work to do to ensure that policymakers have all the information they need to make good decisions in the future," the amendment's sponsor Rep. Benjamin Pratt, D-Eddington, said Wednesday.

Perkins said the bill is similar to laws in other states, including North and South Dakota and Indiana.

"Maine's farmers now have some substantial assurance that if they save seed that has been contaminated by genetically engineered varieties, they are not at risk for a lawsuit," Perkins said.

Spencer Aitel of Two Loons Farm in South China is an organic dairy farmer who saves corn seed. "It's good to know that I won't be sued for saving my seeds, but I would like to see a way to make the companies take responsibility for the losses this technology can cause when it contaminates my crops. Maybe next year, the Legislature can work on that," Aitel said Wednesday.

Perkins also praised the requirement that the Department of Agriculture implement Best Management Practices for GE crops.

"Until now farmers had to follow Best Management Practices for spreading manure, a practice in use on farms for thousands of years, yet there were no regulations for genetically engineered crops, a technology only a few years old," she said.


9 April 2008

Canada: Sowing the seeds of discontent in farming (British Columbia), 10 April 2008.

When it comes to seeds that produce much of our food we are following two divergent paths. One is open, inclusive, and compatible with all systems, the other is aggressive, exclusive, and must be dominant.

The first is characterized generally by small acreage, mixed farms, real family farms which tend to work with little or no chemical pesticides and fertilizers. More and more they are learning the benefits of saving and exchanging seeds from their own lands. They most often market locally, directly to the consuming public. They are learning to form various types of co-operatives to help them sell regionally.

Federal and provincial governments, lobbied and funded by corporate agribusiness, give no assistance to these farmers and often legislate road-blocks that put them out of business.

The second group includes the international chemical, seed, and genetic engineering corporations (Monsanto, Syngenta, DuPont/Pioneer), the international grain merchants and industrial slaughter corporations (Cargill, ADM, Tyson). They favour planting genetically modified corn, canola, soybeans, wheat, and papaya. They promote cloned livestock.

They are profit dominated, selling processed foods stuffed with their genetically modified (GMO) crops in the U.S. and Canada, while peddling the same foods without the GMO's in Europe.

Last week Monsanto acquired De Ruiter Seeds, the dominant vegetable seed producer in Europe. Monsanto already owns Seminis Seeds, the largest vegetable and fruit seed distributor in North America.

Monsanto is now in a position to dominate vegetable seed sales throughout the world. Using patented GMO seeds that are illegal for farmers to save, replant, exchange, or sell. Once a farmer uses GMO seed they are trapped forever.

It is next to impossible to eradicate the GMO plants from the land, and if it grows on your land without paying a Monsanto "technology fee," they can and will take you to court and, past experience says, you will lose.

You may have heard recently about the opening of the Doomsday Seed Bank in Norway, where they intend to store some of every seed in the world. And who's financing this cache? The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, Monsanto, and Syngenta.

The only way we can combat global corporate control of our food is by educating ourselves in the almost lost art of seed saving and small-scale local organization.

Fortunately we have our own small seed vault on Salt Spring Island. Five years ago Dan Jason established the Salt Spring Seed Sanctuary Society. Send $20 (or more if you can) to Salt Spring Seeds, P.O. Box 444, Ganges, Salt Spring Island, V8K 2W1, and you will be an active member.

Dan will send you non-hybrid seeds saved by other members which you can grow out, use for food and save some of the seed for other local farmers. If you need help Dan has inexpensive books explaining all the techniques of saving seed. If you need more help email me and join us on the path to freedom from the international corporate seed pirates who would enslave us on our own land.

Got a tip or a comment? E-mail me at


UK: Is the growth of PR threatening the integrity of the press?

Guardian blogs, 9 April 2008. By Roy Greenslade. Nick Davies is leading off in what promises to be a lively, and possibly heated, debate this evening. He is proposing the motion, "The growth of PR is threatening the integrity of the press." I'm seconding. It is opposed by Tim (aka Lord) Bell (who has just taken on the president of Belarus as a client) and Phil Hall (who is acting for Max Mosley, having previously acted for Heather Mills).

You can get some idea of Davies's arguments from his book, Flat Earth News.

Helpfully, Martin Moore, director of the Media Standards Trust has listed some of Davies's likely points on his blog.

1. Interviews: "[A]lmost all interviews are generated not by the reporter actively uncovering the truth, but by the interviewee's PR adviser actively making news to sell a policy or product".

2. The [Non] Event: "PR fabricates pseudo incidents". (Olympic torch?)

3. 'Astroturf' campaigns, or supposedly grass roots campaigns whose roots have actually been fabricated. Davies fingers Weber Shandwick (for Roche), Gray & Co (for porn industry), Beckel Cowan for American Petroleum Institute), Shandwick (for the food industry) and Lexington (for GM food companies)

4. Pseudo experts who have impressive sounding titles and work for grand sounding think tanks but actually represent only one specific organisational or individual interest (think Norman Brennan and the Victims of Crime Trust).

5. Polls that aren't really polls, such as the UK's favourite films, women's favourite holidays... that sort of thing. Davies writes: "Journalists are fundamentally vulnerable to this kind of pseudo-news" which flows like a torrent into our now "unprotected media". It all adds up, he claims, to a "pseudo world".

The debate, organised by the Media Standards Trust in association with Westminster University, kicks off tonight at 6.30. But I understand all 350 seats at the university's Regent Street building are taken.

Now how about that for a good bit of PR?


Britain's Brown calls on world leaders to tackle child hunger, rising food prices

PR-Inside / Associated Press, 9 April 2008.

LONDON -- Growing global hunger, rising food prices and demands from biofuels threaten to set back development in some of the world's poorest countries, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown warned Thursday.

In a letter to world leaders before the Group of Eight industrialized nations summit in Japan in July, Brown wrote about the urgent need to address rising food prices and the impact of biofuel production on agriculture.

"Rising food prices threaten to roll back progress we have made in recent years on development," Brown wrote. "For the first time in decades, the number of people facing hunger is growing. Surging food prices, combined with rising fuel costs, have triggered unrest around the world in the past month. One person was killed in two days of rioting in Egypt earlier this week, while similar clashes erupted in Haiti on Wednesday. Last month there were food riots in Cameroon as well.

Brown's office said he had sent the letter to Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda and other Group of Eight leaders. He also sent it to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Dominique Strauss-Kahn of the International Monetary Fund, and World Bank President Robert Zoellick.

Brown called for the use of genetically modified crops to be reconsidered for the sake of resolving food shortages.

"We must take the initiative to further develop higher-yielding and climate resilient varieties of crop," he wrote.

The prime minister also appealed for more humanitarian funding to cover the rising costs of food aid. Brown urged fellow leaders to provide more assistance for the very poor and to focus on infant nutrition.

He said that in the short-term at least, poorer countries already reliant on imported food will need help to cope with the impact of higher food prices.

British lawmakers and environmental scientists have criticized Brown's government for promoting biofuels, saying their production leads to forests being destroyed and requires energy-intensive processing.

Biofuels come from a range of products such as sugar beet and wheat, and produce less harmful emissions when used to power vehicles.

In a report in January, British lawmakers said biofuels were unlikely to improve fuel security, that agricultural subsidies for them were unsustainable, and that they would push up food prices.

"There is growing consensus that we need urgently to examine the impact on food prices of different kinds and production methods of biofuels, and ensure that their use is responsible and sustainable," Brown wrote.

World Food Program Executive Director Josette Sheeran - who also received the letter - last month asked donor countries for US$500 million (€324 million) to prevent cuts in its operations due to soaring food and fuel costs.

A letter to governments warned the U.N. body would need to cut rations to some of the world's most impoverished regions starting next month.


French GMO bill passes lower house of parliament

Reuters, April 9 2008

PARIS -- The lower house of the French parliament approved a new law on genetically modified crops on Wednesday after fierce opposition criticism and internal wrangling in the ranks of the centre-right government.

After a vote of 249 in favour of and 228 against the proposed law, intended to bring French legislation into line with European Union directives, the bill will now go to the Senate for a second reading on April 16.

The law is aimed at fixing the conditions under which genetically modified (GMO) crops may be cultivated in France, where many regard them with deep suspicion.

Europe has demanded that member states formulate domestic laws on GMO use since 2001 but France has dragged its feet over an issue that is fiercely disputed by supporters including the main farmers union and environmentalist opponents.

The bill that passed the lower house would toughen penalties for deliberately damaging GMO crops, a favourite tactic of protestors such as veteran environmentalist Jose Bove, setting fines of 75,000 - 150,000 euros with prison terms of two to three years.

Greenpeace denounced the proposed law, which it said would benefit "a handful of industrialists" and said amendments introduced during the lower house reading would have no more than a "cosmetic" effect.

As well as strong opposition in parliament from the left wing Socialists and the Greens, the bill has caused an outbreak of infighting in the ruling UMP party.

Centre-right deputies attacked junior environment minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet for allowing an opposition-backed amendment to make it into the text voted by the lower house.

The amendment would impose strict environment and public health restrictions on GMO crop cultivation but is likely to be overturned in the Senate.

(Reporting by Emile Picy; Writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Christian Wiessner)


UK: Chinese rice imports 'tainted with illegal GM strain', food watchdog warns

Daily Mail, 9th April 2008. By Sean Poulter.

[image caption - Warning: Chinese rice imports will now have to be screened]

Watchdogs have issued a national alert over Chinese rice imports thought to be tainted with an illegal genetically modified strain.

The Bt63 experimental variety of rice, which produces an insecticide, has not been approved for human consumption. There are fears it could cause an allergic reaction.

The Food Standards Agency issued an alert to food manufacturers and trading standards departments yesterday afternoon, saying any contaminated rice products must be withdrawn from sale immediately.

And an EU-wide alert means all Chinese rice imports will have to be screened for the strain.

In 2005, a Greenpeace investigation found that research institutes and seed companies in China had been illegally selling unapproved GM rice seeds to farmers.

Further testing indicated that the whole food chain had been contaminated, most recently affecting Heinz baby food in China.

The Chinese government reportedly punished seed companies and destroyed illegally-grown GM crops after the scandal.

But new contaminations were found in the EU last autumn, finally prompting an emergency EC decision on Bt63, set to come into force on April 15.

As early as September 2006, a Friends of the Earth investigation found two contaminated foods on sale in Asian speciality stores in London.

Many other products are likely to have been in the food chain both before and since.


India: Call to boycott GM soya

The Hindu, 9 April 2008.

KOCHI (Kerala) -- A workshop on 'genetically-modified (GM) crops and their impact on Kerala's agriculture' held here on Tuesday called upon the people to boycott soybeans, corn (maize) products and other GM foods.

It noted that these foods, which were imported from the U.S., were being sold by many supermarkets and posed health threats. The workshop, held as part of the "people's No-Genetic Engineering Day," pointed out that GM foods harmed human health as well as the environment and hurt the agrarian economy.


Denmark: Minister: Allow GMO fodder
The food minister wants Denmark and the EU to allow GMO feed for animals

The Copenhagen Post, 9 April 2008.

Increasing demand for meat world-wide has farmers struggling to keep up with corn production for animal fodder. The food minister has now suggested that genetically modified corn and soy be permitted in Denmark to counter the national fodder shortage.

Eva Kjer Hansen, the food minister, argued that allowing GMO feed would improve Danish farmers' ability to compete on the global market.

'We'll face huge economical problems if we don't open the door to more import of fodder for agriculture,' the minister told BŮrsen financial daily.

Food prices will continue rising or at the very least stay at their current high levels for the next ten years, according to›the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, among other sources.

A Danish family uses on average approximately›DKK 4000 monthly on food, according to the Agriculture Council. However, with current food prices, a typical family of two adults and two children will see a rise of›DKK 3300 annually, the biggest increase in three decades.

The reasons for the escalating food prices are complex, but one of them can be attributed to diminishing corn supplies. If corn production stopped tomorrow, the world would only have enough grain to last 51 days.

Another reason is the growing Chinese middle class, whose increasing demand for meat puts an even greater strain on the fodder shortage since more production of meat requires more fodder for the animals.

Added to that is›the global warming theory, where the transport industry's quest for more efficient and more climate-friendly fuel has risen substantially in recent years. American farmers have jumped on the bio-wagon and begun producing bio-ethanol from corn›for an even higher profit than by›using the corn as fodder.

According to Hansen, allowing GMO fodder would raise Denmark's ability to compete in what is becoming increasingly known as the 'food crisis'.

'Fodder has become a huge expense for farmers and it creates an unequal situation in relation to, for example,›farmers in the American south,' Hansen said. 'That is why we need to open up the GMO discussion again.'

'We must look at what is acceptable and how we can evaluate new products.' (LYT)


8 April 2008

Cyprus' parliament votes to put biotech products on separate shelves

Associated Press, 8 April 2008.

NICOSIA, Cyprus -- Cyprus' parliament has passed legislation requiring supermarkets to put genetically modified products on separate shelves from other food.

The Green Party, which tabled the bill, said Friday that the legislation will make it easier for the public to "distinguish these products" and help them make more informed purchases.

Parliament unanimously approved the bill Thursday.

The Green party described the bill as a "historic victory" that would lead the biotech food industry to abandon the Cypriot market. Party spokeswoman Ioanna Panayiotou said surveys have shown wide public support for the initiative, which she said was the first of its kind in the European Union.

"It is a pioneering moment... and we are optimistic more countries will follow," she told state radio.


France: National Assembly adopts an amendment which strongly frames the use of GMOs

Le Monde, 8 April 2008. By Gaëlle Dupont. Translated by GM-free Ireland.

"Incredible!" Leaving the assembly shortly after midnight on Wednesday 2 April, the Socialist deputy for the Dordogne, Germinal Peiro, is still overwhelmed by the emotion. After many hours of heated debate on the proposed new GMO law marked by lots of invectives between the Left and Right, the National Assembly has just adopted an opposition amendment defended by the Puy-de-Dôme Communist deputy André Chassaigne. Placed at the head of the text, it strongly changes its balance.

The text indeed states that transgenic crops may only be cultivated subject to the condition that they respect "agricultural structures, local ecosystems and 'GM-free' production and commercial lines, and with full transparency." The amendment was voted by elected socialists, communists and Greens, but also by four elected representatives of the majority party who tipped the balance of the Assembly.

The government's proposal only stipulated that cultivation of GMO crops should take place "with respect for the environment and public health." Since Tueday 1st of April, when the debate began aiming to set up a long-term framework for the co-existence of (GM) production lines on the territory, opposition MPs did not stop warning about the threat posed by GMO cultivations, as they see it, to quality agriculture production lines (Appelation d'Origine Controlée, labels, organic farming), in view of environmental pollen drift.

Political victory

The socialist MPs emphasised that the adoption of this amendment represents "a fundamental step forward for the respect of GM-free farming" by establishing a legal basis to ban GMOs from certain zones of the territory. The opposition claimed "a political victory".

During the debate, the rapporteur Antoine Herth (UMP, Bas-Rhin), repeatedly opposed amendments which aimed at a similar objective, in the name of [EU] Community law. The legal project does indeed transpose an European Directive from 2001, which sets the principles of farmers' choice to grow GMOs or not, and which prohibits the declaration of "GM-free zones" to respect this freedom.

"We want to stick to EU law as closely as possible", explained Mr Herth. "Deciding to prohibit GMOs from whole zones is not possible, but it is possible to set up voluntary bans."

On the other hand, during a discussion on an identical amendment defended by Mr. Chassaigne tabled by the UMP deputy from Puy-de-Dôme Louis Giscard d'Estaing, the Secretary of State for the Environment, Kosciusko-Morizet, distanced herself from this position, trusting the "wisdom" of the Assembly, leaving MPs free to vote as they see fit.

If Mr Giscard d'Estaing ended by withdrawing his amendment at the rapporteur's request, Mr Chassaigne's was retained and adopted, triggering jubilation from the opposition benches.

This episode once again reveals the tensions on the subject of GMOs between Ministers Jean-Louis Borloo and Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, and the UMP majority. The Secretary of State's position drew thunder from the President of the Commisison on Economic Affairs, Patrick Ollier, and from the pro-GMO UMP delegate of Seine-et-Marne Christian Jacob, during session breaks.

It also shows that some UMP representatives are worried about GMOs. Many right-wing deputies who voted for the amendment are from mountain areas, where agriculture backed with a quality label carries significant economic and cultural weight.

"We are in the first reading, the text may still evolve", according to one of these deputies, Martial Saddier (UMP, Haute-Savoie), as he left the building. "But we have raised an important issue which must be addressed." "There was some confusion, it's not a disaster, we can make things right", commented Mr. Jacob.

Comment by readers:

Minoukat : We must not cave in to the agri-business industrial complex, so long as a real, serious and repeatedly validated counter-expertise is not available to humans on this planet. To think that some people want us to believe that risk assessments funded by Monsanto et al. are "sincere"! Let us celebrate the green and sustainable economy by integrating agricultural production processes into a cycle that respects our Mother Earth. It's not easy, but we must do it.

More comments:,1-0,36-1030330,0.html


Law amendment on GMO in France

Organic-market.Info, 8 April 2008.

After many hours of heated debates on a bill on GMO, marked by many insults between the rightists and the leftists, the French National Assembly adopted an amendment raised by the opposition, defended by the communist delegate of Puy-de-Dôme, André Chassaigne. It indicates that transgenic plants only may be cultivated in the respect of "agricultural structures, local ecosystems" and in line›with production methods which are qualified as›"without genetically modified organisms", and in "full transparency". The bill was voted for by the socialistic, communist and green delegates, but also by four delegates of the majority, which overturned the assembly. ›

The bill of the government had just allotted that the GMO cultures have to have their place "in respect of the environment and of the public health". Since April 1st, the date of the beginning of the debate which had the goal to fix a long-time frame for the co-existence of the GMO and non-GMO agriculture, the delegates of the opposition did not quit warning against the hazards which GMOs bring to quality certifications like AOC (appellation d'origine contrôlée) and organic certification. The adoption of this amendment represents a "major advantage for GMO-free cultures", since it is a›legal basis to exclude GMO from certain zones, the socialistic delegates underlined. The opposition called it a political victory.


UK: GM Crops Must Become Part of Cereals Sector Tool Kit, 8 April 2008.

The National Beef Association has called for all resistance to GM crops, at both UK and EU level, to be abandoned immediately in response to seismic shifts in world demand for food, the growing danger of global food shortages, and the prospect of declining domestic animal production.

It says the UK and EU agriculture industries cannot allow themselves to be held back by backward and protectionist attitudes to GM technology now that food is no longer either cheap, or abundant, and wants to see all available agricultural tools being used to allow production to keep pace with the soaring consumer demand.

"Full use of modern technology is essential if more farmers are to be able to grow more food crops on the increasingly limited area of agricultural land that is available," explained NBA chairman, Duff Burrell.

"Rapid food price inflation is already alarming government and consumers, and the production of both cereals and meat will reduce at the same time as shop prices reach toe curling levels unless GM aids become part of UK and EU farming's routine tool kit."

According to the NBA just one GM crop, an insect resistant maize planted on just 110,000 hectares, is authorized for use within the EU while a second crop, a blight resistant potato has still to complete its production trials.

In contrast huge exporters like the US and Argentina have between them dedicated almost 80 million hectares GM crops because they expect them to raise yields by giving protection against insects and disease - and these countries are now being followed by Brazil and Canada as well as India and China too.

"This means that as Europe becomes more reliant on food imports its consumers will buy more products that contain an increasing proportion of GM ingredient and claims made by uninformed GM opponents that they are able to protect consumers from GM products have already become a joke," said Mr Burrell."

"The European Commission must accept that opposition to GM technology lacks logic and agree that the GM import issue needs an urgent solution because a massive rise in EU and UK livestock feed prices, and a corresponding reduction in livestock population, can only be avoided by quickly clearing the backlog of GM importation approvals."

"Feed compounders are keen to have access to substitutes for record priced EU grain and this can only be done if obstacles to import approval for gluten derived from the new GM maize variety, Herculex, and new varieties of GM soya, are removed."

"And the Association has noted that the UK's former chief scientist, Professor Sir David King, has estimated that the cost of the UK's failure to embrace GM crops has already cost its cereal sector £4 billion in lost output," Mr Burrell added.

Comment from GM-free Ireland:

Has the UK National Beef Association (NBA) been hijacked by the agri-biotech industry? The above article is actually a press release authored by NBA chairman Duff Burrell. Despite its impressive sounding name, the NBA only represents around 1,000 farmers, and many of them do not suppport GM farming. The Secretary of the Northern Ireland branch of NBA, Arthur McKevitt said he was not consulted about the statement prior to its release, and that he vehemently disagrees with Burrell's endorsement of GM crops and GM animal feed.

The former UK Chief Scientist Sir David King did NOT estimate "that the cost of the UK's failure to embrace GM crops has already cost its cereal sector £4 billion in lost output". Burrell's claim that he did so is totaly fallacious and should be withdrawn. In reality, King claimed that Britain's "failure to adopt GM crops" had "cost the economy between £2bn and £4b", including lost sales for the agribiotech industry! Critics of King accused him of being "demob-happy" and of "totalitarian paranoia". The editors of two of Britain's top scientific journals have both taken him to task, as have the environmental spokesmen of both main opposition parties. The Lancet editor Dr. Richard Horton said "King takes his faith in science into the realms of totalitarian paranoia. If he lost the debate on GM, it was because his arguments failed to convince people."

Burrell's claim that GM crops offer a solution to world hunger and that we must fast-track the approval of new untested GM animal feed is absolute nonsense. The scientific evidence now clearly shows that GM crops do NOT increase yields in the long-term (farmers who use them do so because they facilitate pest management, or because they have difficulty sourcing non-GMO seeds); an abundant supply of certified non-GMO soya meal is available from Brazil; and EU market rejection of GM food - including meat and dairy produce from livestock fed on imported GM animal feed - is increasing.

Farmers on both sides of the Irish border wishing to take advantage of the EU market for safe high quality GM-free food want feed importers to supply more, not less, GM-free feed.

The Irish Organic Farmers and Growers Association described the NBA press statement as "very short sighted" and "clearly ill-informed" (see press IOFGA press release under 11 April, above).

Commenting on the NGA statement, the chairman of Ireland's Western Organic Network, John Brennan, said: "Here we have someone supposedly representing beef farmers taking a line that we need to keep prices of beef down and continue to endorse the EU cheap food policy. Furthermore he is advocating technologies that consumers don't want to fast-track the process. What this amounts to is anti-farmer and anti-consumer sentiment and I think that Mr Burrell should seriously consider his position."


USA: The effects of genetically modified foods - Jeff Smith

The People's Voice, 7 April 2008.

Watch this very informative video and find out the details about how harmful this genetic food is. When soy products were introduced into the UK, soy allergies increased by 50%. Genetically engineered soy has much higher levels of known allergens. It has new proteins that have allergenic properties. It reduces the amount of digestive enzymes in the pancreas thus reducing the body's ability to digest protein. It has herbicidal residues, which also make it more allergenic. When genetically modified food was fed to rabbits and mice they suffered damage to all the major organs. In rats that were fed genetically engineered soy the sperm cells and embryos were altered and more than 50% of the offspring died within three weeks.

See the video on UTube:


Biofuel corn makes cow bug enzyme to digest itself

New Scientist (UK), 8 April 2008. By Phil McKenna.

A genetically modified corn that produces enzymes capable of breaking down its own cell walls after harvest has been developed by US researchers.

The finding may be a significant step towards developing cheap cellulosic ethanol - considered by many as the Holy Grail of biofuel production.

Using genes taken from a microbe found in cow stomachs, Mariam Sticklen of Michigan State University, East Lansing, and colleagues were able to grow corn that produces a key enzyme needed to break down cellulose, the fibrous material found in the stalks and leaves of corn.

Current efforts to produce cellulose-digesting enzymes have focused on inserting similar genes into common microbes such as E. coli and growing these enzymes in commercial bioreactors. Such reactors, however, require vast amounts of energy for enzyme production. "This is basically a shortcut, you don't need to put this gene in other microbes," says Sticklen. "Our corn is a green bioreactor using free energy from the Sun."

Leaves and stems

The team has been growing the transgenic corn, known as Spartan Corn, since 2005. The first version carried a single enzyme from a microbe found in hot springs and capable of breaking cellulose into large pieces.

The second version, Spartan Corn II, which was unveiled in 2007, uses an additional gene found in fungus to produce an enzyme that takes these cellulose pieces and breaks them into pairs of sugar molecules.

Spartan Corn III employs both of these prior enzymes as well as a third, beta-glucosidase, from a microbe found in cow stomachs, to separate paired molecules into simple sugars. These sugars can then be readily fermented to make ethanol.

The team manipulated the signalling pathways of the newly inserted genes to limit enzyme production to the plant's leaves and stalks, reducing any negative affects the changes might have on its roots, pollen, or seeds.

Further, to keep the enzymes from destroying cell walls while plants are still growing, they manipulated gene expression so that the proteins were only produced in vacuoles - the closed off storage compartments within each cell.

Enough enzymes?

"The enzymes are locked in the vacuoles until we grind the plants up at the end of their life," says Sticklen, who presented her work on April 8 at a meeting of the American Chemical Society.

Bryan White of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign says the findings are promising, but adds that more testing is needed. "This is a really intriguing idea that has great potential, but they are really in the early stages of proof of concept," White told New Scientist. He notes that the genetically modified plants would need to exhibit productivity and resistance to disease at similar levels to existing strains to be of real value.

He also questions whether the three enzymes produced by the newly developed plant are enough to fully break down the cellulose. "Most enzyme cocktails that people use today have six to eight enzymes in them, not just three," White says. "It probably will soften the plant cell wall, but you would likely need to do a second pre-treatment before you can ferment the sugars to produce ethanol."

Energy and Fuels - Learn more about the looming energy crisis in our comprehensive special report:


The European Biotech Industry Is Investing Strongly In The Future and Is Funding Large Increases in Research and Development (R&D) According To New Report

Business Wire, 8 April 2008.

DUBLIN, Ireland -- Research and Markets ( has announced the addition of Biotechnology in the European Union; Trends, Investing & Country Profiles to their offering.

Biotechnology is often considered to be one of the key technologies that will help enable the long-term sustainable development of the European Union (EU), particularly in terms of economic growth, environmental protection and public health. At its March 2000 Lisbon summit the European Council endorsed the objective of making the EU "the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world, capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion". In 2005 the Lisbon Strategy was refocused on economic growth and more and better jobs.

The biotechnology products and processes are an integral part of the EU economy, particularly in manufacturing, including pharmaceuticals, agro-food and health care. While some products are invisible to the general public - like use of genetic markers in livestock breeding, etc - others are used on a daily basis - detergents with enzymes and recombinant insulin - or have become a topic of public discussion e.g. genetically modified crops.

The predominance of the health sector in European biotechnology is visible from the distribution of dedicated biotechnology firms by sector. According to Critical I report, 37% of biotechnology companies in 18 European countries (including Norway and Switzerland) were active in the human health care sector while another 18% were classified as active in bio-diagnostics, which also includes health care diagnostics. Companies active in agricultural and environmental biotechnology make up 11% of all the biotech companies and 34% of the biotechnology companies provide services such as bio-processing and screening.

The competitiveness of the EU in developing biotechnology applications depends on the EU's capacity for conducting research, generating new knowledge and converting it into new products and processes. Stimulating research, but also promoting take-up of innovations and encouraging entrepreneurship in biotechnology to reap the economic returns that can be generated from the research results, have been identified as challenges for the EU.

The European biotech industry is investing strongly in the future and is funding large increases in research and development (R&D). R&D expenses have increased by 22% for publicly traded companies and by 15% for the industry as a whole. The industry's long term growth can only be secured through strong R&D activities. On average, publicly traded European biotech companies are reinvesting about a third of their total revenues in R&D, a strong proof of their dedication to long-term growth. Compared to the beginning of century, many European companies are now better placed to tap into the biotech industry's momentum in the region. Throughout Europe, local governments are striving towards new levels of excellence and the industry overall, is benefiting from focused efforts.

For more information visit


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Laura Wood
Senior Manager
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Peak weed-killer? / How the World Works, 8 April 2008. By Andrew Leonard.

Maybe it's a good thing grain prices are breaking records. Without the extra income, farmers might not be able to afford either the fertilizer necessary to feed their crops, or the herbicides required to keep weeds out. (I refer here to non-organic farmers -- we're talking strictly industrial monoculture...)

The relentless ascent of synthetic fertilizer prices have been mentioned here numerous times. But lately, the farming press has been sounding the alarm on a new danger -- price hikes for glyphosate -- a.k.a. Monsanto's RoundUp -- are also heading sky-high. Monsanto invented glyphosate in the 1970s, but the world's number one weed killer went off patent in 2000, and Chinese producers quickly jumped into the business. Today, Monsanto still manufactures 60 percent of the world's supply of glyphosate, with China accounting for the rest.

The influx of generic glyphosate first sent prices spiraling down earlier this century, but in the past year, the pattern has flipped. The reasons are familiar:

From the Memphis Commercial Appeal

Monsanto and others say the run-up is the result of quickly a changing world standard of living. As people in developing nations increase the amount of protein in their diets, and the amount of fossil fuels needed to produce it, the price of fertilizer and many other agricultural inputs will rise.

In some world markets, including Brazil and Argentina, Roundup is selling for more than it does in the U.S., creating a lucrative market for Monsanto and its 30-some other competitors, which are mostly in China.

"China is going after the highest revenue price they can get on the product," said Kevin Eblen, resident of Monsanto's Delta and Pine Land division.

But demand, whether propelled by biofuels, changing diets, isn't the only reason for the price rise. So is scarcity of a key ingredient: phosphorus.

Perhaps you, like How the World Works, were more familiar with phosphorus' role as one of founding pillars, along with potassium and nitrogen, of the holy triumvirate of synthetic fertilizer. But in a bizarre twist of chemical fate, phosphorus is also a critical ingredient in glyphosate. Imagine that: The same chemical necessary to make some plants grow is also required to kill off other plants. Chemistry is cool that way.

What's not cool is that rock phosphate, the source of nearly all industrially-used phosphorus, is a non-renewable resource, and some scientists think reserves will run out within the next 40 to 50 years. The implications for so-called RoundUp Monsanto-style agriculture, in which crops genetically modified to be immune to the weed killer require massive inputs of synthetic fertilizer and applications of glyphosate to properly prosper, are troubling. If we depend on the increased yields from GM crops to feed the upwardly mobile tastes of the world's burgeoning population, but those crops become more and more expensive to produce, we're going to be in serious trouble somewhere down the line. And don't even get us started on the emergence of glyphosate-resistant giant ragweed.

It doesn't end there -- another reason for the current glyphosate shortage is that transforming rock phosphate into the "elemental phosphorus" that in turn is processed into the phosphorus trichloride required for glyphosate production is highly energy-and-pollution intensive. China has lately embarked on a campaign to close glyphosate factories for environmental reasons -- it's exactly the kind of a business an upwardly mobile country wants to get out of, not into.

According to testimony by a Monsanto employee at a government hearing a few years ago in Soda Springs, Idaho, where Monsanto was seeking a cap on electricity costs in order, so the company claimed, to preserve the commercial viability of one of its two glyphosate production plants in the U.S. -- electricity costs make up 30-45 percent of production costs.

To recap: synthetic fertilizer and industrial herbicide prices are rising because of growing demand, resource scarcity, and energy costs. That backyard organic garden, presumably recycling every nutrient possible, is sounding less and less like an elite affectation, every single day.


7 April 2008

India: Protests against GM seeds

Statesman News Service, April 7 2008.

BHUBANESWAR: Stepping up the protest against genetically modified seeds, a petition signed by 30,000 farmers of the state, intellectuals and activists has been submitted to the state government on the eve of the "Peoples No Genetic Engineering Day" which is to be observed tomorrow.

The coalition has launched a campaign to observe 8 April as "Peoples No Genetic Engineering Day". and has decided to hold rallies at Kendrapara, Bargarh, Bolangir, Rayagada, Sundargarh, Ganjam, Nayagarh and Sambalpur districts. Letters from 50 sarpanch on their letterheads have been submitted to the agriculture minister asking him to see that Orissa remains free from genetically modified seeds.

Social activists who have been working against introduction of the seeds, said that despite the statement of the agriculture minister Mr Surendranath Nayak on 22 June 2007 that genetically modified crops will not be allowed into Orissa, the biotech industry and its supporters are making an attempt to introduce Bt Cotton in Orissa with the false promise to farmers that Bt Cotton will result in increased yields.

Bt Cotton seeds are illegally available in the state and illegal cultivation of the crop has been discovered in Patnagarh block of Bolangir district. Field trials of Bt Cotton are being undertaken since 2002-03 as per official information.

They alleged that the Bt toxin has already shown its hazardous nature by its adverse impact on the health of the soil, by destroying friendly soil bacteria and also on cattle, who have died in large numbers after grazing on the Bt Cotton fields.

Cotton is per se a risky crop and the Bt technology has only added to the risks involved by exposing the farmer to the vagaries of the weather, new pests and by increasing the input costs which have spiraled beyond control.

With regards to Orissa, the activists noted that 80 per cent of the farmers are marginal and landless who depend entirely on agriculture for their food and livelihood security. In cotton growing districts of Bolangir, Koraput, and Rayagada there is a disturbing trend of land under cotton cultivation increasing at the expense of land available for food crops. This is a direct threat to the food security of the region.

The State is thoroughly unprepared for this new untested technology as the State Biotechnology Coordination Committee (SBCC) is yet to hold a single meeting since inception and the District Level Committee (DLC) has been formed in only two districts of Orissa.


How the science media failed the IAASTD

The Bioscience Resource Project, April 7 2008

You may not have heard of it, but a potential landmark document in the fields of development and agriculture (called by some the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of agriculture) is currently in the late stages of reaching fruition.

Drafted by 4,000 scientific and social science experts from around the world, it is called the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD). The IAASTD ( is unusual in being a collaborative document evaluating solutions for agriculture, poverty and development that is actively inclusive. Thus it is multi-disciplinary but also inclusive in terms of geography, institution and gender. As such, the IAASTD is potentially extraordinarily valuable as a uniquely representative and holistic document of the best current thinking in agriculture and development. In this it is a significant departure from most international agriculture reports that are typically dominated by one perspective, one government or one interest group (and which typically fail to help poverty for that reason).

As if that were not enough, there is even a further cause to value the IAASTD. It asserts repeatedly what it terms the multi-functionality of agriculture, by which it means that agriculture is not just a provider of food or fodder, but a provider also of social security, of ecosystem services, of landscape value, as well as other 'outputs'.

Perhaps inevitably, given this broad and deep perspective the current IAASTD draft adopts a more sophisticated analysis than is usual in international reports. Most international reports propose solutions to poverty that resemble Escher's impossible objects. Each report may be internally consistent but clash with other goals. Thus agricultural objectives for example typically are incompatible both with social objectives and environmental objectives for development. IAASTD therefore should be seen as an attempt to use inclusiveness and multidisciplinarianism to circumvent these problems.

Instead of principally understanding agricultural development problems as principally functions of low yields and lack of productivity, it considers wider issues such as food quality, sustainability, water use, land tenure, energy use etc as crucially important components of any solution. Furthermore, it attempts to recognise the rights and needs of small farmers, women farmers and the hungry while also giving appropriate emphasis to the significance of power and its unequal distribution in the creation and maintenance of poverty. In line with this analysis the draft promotes special policy emphasis on small/poor farmers, the involvement of women in farming and non-chemical farming in order to promote food security.

If they are ever implemented, the lessons drawn by IAASTD (at least those in the current draft) would represent a remarkable break with current practices which, in most countries typically emphasise (though they usually do not call them so directly) farm consolidation and chemical-intensive agriculture.

It is often lamented that our societies have an abundance of knowledge and a shortage of wisdom, but the current IAASTD draft comes as close to providing wise guidance for agriculture and development as we have yet seen. Its chief message is appropriately revolutionary: we have so far fed the world principally by depleting natural capital and we must now look beyond business as usual if we really want to address poverty.

The GMO angle

The IAASTD draft document is surprising for still another reason. Although supported by the World Bank, it does not offer much support for transgenic crops as the best hope, or even as a particularly useful tool, to alleviate the ills that beset developing countries, the hungry and the poor.

Most likely, inclusiveness and scarce support for GMOs by the IAASTD are in fact connected. It is probably no coincidence that a document arrived at transparently, using a tolerably democratic process (i.e. it was not written behind closed doors), and using a multidisciplinary approach, should conclude that GM crops have 'lingering safety concerns' and may even be unhelpful to rural development.

These conclusions in general, and the lack of support for GMOs in particular, are immensely unwelcome in some quarters. The biotechnology publicity machines of Monsanto, Syngenta and others have not spent twenty years carefully positioning transgenics as the solution to every agricultural problem in order for them to be ignored by the largest and most diverse collection of agriculture and development policy experts ever assembled.

Last October, Monsanto and Syngenta resigned altogether from the IAASTD project. Though they gave no public reasons for their resignation, the industry body CropLife International told Nature magazine that an inability to make progress in arguing for GMOs was the fundamental reason (1).

A tragedy for the poor?

In a recent editorial, Nature magazine argued the interesting point that withdrawal of these companies was a tragic event. The companies, said Nature, were 'Deserting the poor' (1). Leaving aside that Monsanto and Syngenta were a very small part of the IAASTD process, this statement is hard to support from a scientific point of view. Are Monsanto scientists more knowledgeable about poverty, development and the needs of developing country agriculture than university or government scientists? Probably not. Do Syngenta scientists have fore-knowledge of impending agricultural developments not available to the rest of us? They may do, but if so these are company secrets which have not so far been made available for discussion or disputation. Does Nature believe that academics and government scientists are unable to make the arguments for biotechnology? But if the scientific need for the companies' presence was hardly overwhelming, it follows that neither is their loss a particularly significant one.

The inclusion of these company scientists was primarily a recognition, not of their expertise but of something else - most likely the power and influence of their employers, plus the company presence on the IAASTD steering committee and the companies' financial support of the IAASTD. All of which are essentially political reasons for inclusion. Once included, it would be naive however not to have expected that their primary goal would be anything other than to ensure that the assessment erected no obstacles to the introduction of transgenics, and so it proved. It was predictable perhaps, but Monsanto and Syngenta were about as useful to the assessment as Exxon would have been at the IPCC.

The real motive for withdrawal?

As the science media correctly asserted, the IAASTD is important (which begs the rather important question of why they have up to now ignored it). But if their accounts are to be believed, Syngenta and Monsanto's withdrawal from the IAASTD can be fully explained by the frustration and difficulties of a handful of mid-level employees (2, 3). But is this really a plausible explanation? That multinational companies base strategic decisions on the 'frustration' or convenience of their employees? Far more likely surely, especially given that some negative publicity for the companies would (and did) accompany withdrawal, is that this explanation is not the real one. More plausible by far is the possibility that Monsanto and Syngenta's withdrawal was carefully calculated.

History tells that the most common reason participants abandon important but frustrating multi-party negotiations is when they believe they can better achieve their aims by abandoning, and therefore delegitimising, whatever agreement is eventually reached. And for maximum effect delegitimisation has to occur in public. If this was in fact their strategy, then Monsanto and Syngenta would have been very pleased indeed by what happened next.

Following their withdrawal, Nature Biotechnology devoted its full editorial page to questioning the credibility of the (post-corporate) assessment, reporting that IAASTD's criticisms of GMOs were "unsubstantiated" and reflective of a "bias against top-down solutions" and further that the report was "skewed" and not "representative" (2). Nature's editorial called the report "undoubtedly over-cautious and unbalanced" and agreed that the company defections were "a blow to the credibility" of the IAASTD (1). The largest article of all was a feature in Science (3). As with Nature Biotechnology, the core of the Science article focused on the "question of balance" and assertions that the outcome was negative because of "bias". Science even reported the no doubt impartial molecular biologist Jonathan Gressel as saying "The whole thing was incredibly stacked". Though giving more-or-less respectful attention and space to defenders of inclusiveness, Science gave no space at all, in four pages, to anyone prepared to argue the possibility that the IAASTD assessment of GMOs was fair and realistic. Perhaps what would have made Monsanto and Syngenta most pleased was the allegation by a person "who asked not to be named" that the "best scientists" were not on the IAASTD (3).

In placing the blame for the corporate boycott exclusively with the IAASTD, perhaps it never occurred to any of the journal editors that in so doing they were supporting a tiny handful of corporate biotechnologists against the aggregated views of 4,000 independent scientists?

Monsanto and Syngenta have so far won the media battle, but the real test of their strategy is still to come: will they attempt, and if they do, will they succeed, in derailing adoption (or modifying the text) of the final report. If they were to succeed that really would be a tragedy for the poor, because the IAASTD, at least in its draft form, is a potentially world-changing document. It offers a lot and it asks a lot: a chance to make a real improvement to livelihoods and sustainability in return for rethinking agriculture as usual. It is a shame that the science media would rather support (big) business as usual.


(1) Anonymous (2008) Deserting the hungry? Nature 451: 223-24

(2) Anonymous (2008) Off the rails. Nature Biotechnology 26: 247

(3) Stokstad, E. Duelling visions for a hungry world. Science 319: 1474-76

Download the draft executive summary (called the Synthesis report)


Proposal for a New EU Feed Labeling Regulation
Under the proposed rules, pre-market authorizations for bio-proteins will be replaced by a market surveillance system to tackle safety risks. The current mandatory percentage declaration of raw materials in compound feed will be replaced.

Food Ingredients First, 7 April 2008.

On March 4, 2008, the European Commission presented a proposal for a new framework regulation on the labeling and marketing of feed and pet food. Currently, feed marketing rules are scattered over several directives (according to the type of feed concerned) with cross references to many amending and implementing acts. If adopted, one single regulation would replace the old directives and implement feed marketing rules in a more uniform way.

The draft regulation sets out general rules for the labeling of feed and specific labeling requirements for feed materials, compound feed (including pet food) and medicated or dietetic feed. Under the proposed rules, pre-market authorizations for bio-proteins will be replaced by a market surveillance system to tackle safety risks. The current mandatory percentage declaration of raw materials in compound feed will be replaced by a requirement to indicate the materials in the exact descending order of weight. Only feed complying with the provisions laid down in the proposed regulation and with the provisions on feed additives laid down in Regulation 1831/2003 and Directive 90/167/EEC will be allowed on the EU market. The Commission will also establish and update a "negative list", i.e.a list of materials that are prohibited in feed. The new rules will not only apply to on-pack labels but also to other means of communication (such as Internet) between the producer and the consumer. This proposal has to be adopted under the co-decision procedure and must be notified to the WTO under the TBT agreement.

The proposal can be downloaded from the Commissions' website at

- type of feed: feed material, complete feed or complementary feed
- name or business name and address of the feed business operator
- establishment approval number if available
- batch or reference number
- net quantity
- list of feed additives
- moisture content

Sales in bulk, unsealed packages or containers must be accompanied by a document containing all mandatory labeling information. Feed-related legislation such as the TSE regulation (999/2001), the Animal By-Products regulation (1774/2002), the GM Food & Feed regulation (1829/2003) and the Feed Hygiene regulation (183/2005) do not fall within the scope of the proposal.


USA: No quick end for cloning product moratorium: USDA

LateLineNews, 7 February 2008.

The U.S. Agriculture Department said on Monday it will not lift a voluntary moratorium on selling meat and milk from cloned animals to consumers any time soon.

In January, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ruled that products from cloned cattle, swine and goats and their offspring were as safe as milk and meat from traditional animals.

Before then, farmers and ranchers had followed a voluntary ban on the sale of cloned products.

After the FDA's ruling, USDA asked the cloning industry to prolong the ban for a transitional period expected to last several months. "We have asked those companies to continue with that voluntary moratorium," Bruce Knight, USDA's undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs, said at the National Association of Agriculture Journalists conference. "I do not have an end date on that." Knight added the marketplace so far has "been very accepting, very understanding" of the moratorium.

USDA is now responding to questions and concerns in the sector and working with other countries reviewing cloned products.

Even after the ban is lifted, it could take three to five years before consumers are able to buy clone-derived food as animals need to be cloned, and then mature and give birth.

Milk and meat would come from the offspring of cloned animals, which the industry and FDA view like any other offspring from traditional animals. Currently, an estimated 600 cloned animals exist in the United States.

So far, major food companies including Tyson Foods Inc, the largest U.S. meat company, and Smithfield Foods Inc have said they would avoid using cloned animals.

"There is still substantial doubt about the safety of cloning," said Jaydee Hanson, a policy analyst with The Center of Food Safety, citing a list of polls showing the public is skeptical about consuming cloned meat and milk.

He called the FDA assessment of cloned products "inadequate" because it relied on limited data. Hanson added the moratorium should continue "until FDA or USDA has conducted a more wholesome review" to address a list of concerns.

Proponents, including the Biotechnology Industry Organization, say cloned animals are safe and a way to create animals that produce more milk, better meat and are more disease-resistant.

"It's a slow adoption. It's not like switching a light switch," said Barbara Glenn, a spokeswoman with BIO. She said that cloning will one day be "a tool in the toolbox of farmers ... to help them produce better livestock."

(Editing by Russell Blinch and Matthew Lewis)


Can Iraq Rebuild its Ag Economy? Only If U.S. Policy›Allows

Fish Wrap (USA), 7 April 2008. By Olive Rockfish.

On 3/25/2008, the Morrison County Record printed an article written by columnist Peter Graham in Farming and Your Freedom with the headline Can Iraq Rebuild its Ag Economy?

In his article Graham refers to a story published in the High Plains/Midwest Journal and writes, "it will take millions to put them back on their feet and help them become productive again. It will also take enlightened government policy-on the part of the Iraq and the U.S. governments."

The operative words being enlightened government policy.

Unfortunately, in his›400 day stint as administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) (the American body that ruled the "new Iraq" in the early days of the U.S. invasion) Paul›Bremer issued a series of directives known as the "100 Orders". These orders›established the blueprint for the new Iraq.› Among the items contained in the 100 Orders relevant to Graham's original question is Order # 81, officially titled: Amendments to Patent, Industrial Design, Undisclosed Information, Integrated Circuits and Plant Variety Law.*** (Enacted by Bremer on April 26, 2004.)

Order 81›is a›legal›tweak establishing›strong intellectual property protections on seed and plant products that a company like Monsanto (producers of genetically modified (GM) seeds and other patented agricultural goods)›required prior to moving into new markets like Iraq.

In a nutshell,›Order 81› mirrors the business conditions created years earlier in India, conditions›leading Monsanto to highly profitable success within that region›while simultaneously unleashing›a pandemic proportioned onslaught of suicides›among Indian farmers, the subject of›the PBS documentary The Dying Fields.

While the U.S. stopped short of mandating Iraqi farmers to purchase from corporations like Monsanto, basic laws of nature coupled with Order 81›could quickly and easily leave American agribusiness claiming rights on Iraqi farm fields regardless of where they obtain their seed supply.

Percy Schmeiser,›a Saskatchewan›farmer found himself tangled with Monsanto in a lawsuit after a few rogue GM seeds blew from a truck passing by his land. Monsanto didn't care›how the Roundup∆ Ready plants got there, as far as the company was concerned, Schmeiser was in possession of an agricultural product whose intellectual property belonged to›them and they didn't care how it happened. Monsanto sued Scheimer for $400,000.00. › ›

In 2005 the Centre for Food Safety (CFS) reported that Monsanto had a 10 million dollar budget earmarked and a staff of 75 devoted to investigating and prosecuting farmers. Monsanto admits to aggressively investigating farmers it suspects and according to the CFS report, evidence suggests that the numbers reach into the thousands.

Prior to the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq it was illegal to patent seeds. Now, under U.S. decree all that is necessary to obtain a patent is to be the first to "describe" or "characterize" the plants. ***

While technically, Iraqi farmers are not being stopped from saving and sharing seed from their traditional crops as they have always done, there is now nothing stopping Monsanto, Cargill, Dow, Bayer and other multinationals from "describing" or "characterizing" Iraq's traditional seeds. Once this is done Iraqi farmer will be prohibited from saving and sharing the very seeds that have been cultivated and passed down in their country for generations and they will be forced ›to buy them from who ever owns the patent. ››Also, Iraqi farmers can be sued by companies like Monsanto if they discover their non-GMO crops polluted by GMO crops planted in their vicinity like Percy Schmeiser did.

It is important to note that prior to Abu Graib's infamous tabloid debut, that the town was once host to Iraq's seed bank. In 1996, Iraqi botanists packed up 200 kinds of seed, and sent them for safekeeping in Syria. When the Iraq war began, the Abu Graib seed bank was subsequently looted, all the remains of Iraq's long, rich agricultural heritage are the seeds held by farmer and those shipped to Syria.

While it would be nice to think that the intentions of the U.S. government are honorable, the broader U.S. plan appears to be more geared towards incorporating Iraqi agriculture into the massive web of U.S. agribusiness, leaving Iraq to grow a few high-yield cash crops for export instead of growing basic crops to feed the Iraqi people. Subsequently, under the U.S. policy the state-run food companies (who had traditionally provided a food basket to every Iraqi household rich or poor), will be privatized under the policy, farm subsidies will be eliminated and the traditional Iraqi food baskets assured to every household, will only be provided to the poorest of Iraq's people.

While Graham's article insinuates that the U.S. is working to ensure that Iraq regains its capacity to feeds its own people, exporting high-yield cash crops has not proven to be a successful mean of reaching this objective.

Graham ends his column with, "who wants to see an Extension specialist blindfolded and awaiting execution for helping farmers to farm?

If Graham is truly that naïve it is perhaps time he retire his column. It took nothing more than a cursory glance at the sources used by the High Plains Midwest Journal to see that the universities commenting on Iraq were departments notorious for being heavily financed by the multinational corporations who stand to profit from Order 81.

In the end maybe extension specialist will find themselves blindfolded and awaiting execution in Iraq because the 100,000 Indian's who committed suicide between 1993 and 2003, some of whom died in their fields after ingesting their last bottle of Roundup, failed to capture any real attention.

* The Hague Regulations requires that an occupying power "re-establish and insure, as far as possible, public order and safety, while respecting, unless absolutely prevented, the laws in force in the country." The imposition of major structural economic reforms is viewed›by legal scholars around the world as a›violation of international law.


Food Without Fossil Fuels Now

Institute for Science in Society press release, 7 April 2008.

Dr. Mae-Wan Ho

Invited Keynote Lecture, 2nd Mediterranean Conference on Organic Agriculture in Croatia, Organic Agriculture - Contribution to Sustainable Ecosystem, 2-6 April 2008, Dubrovnik University. Dubrovnik, Croatia

A fully referenced and illustrated version of this article is posted on ISIS members' website. Details here

An electronic version of the complete report, or any other complete ISIS report, can be sent to you via e-mail for a donation of £3.50. Please e-mail the title of the report to:

Thank you for inviting me to this beautiful city by the Adriatic Sea, which really concentrates the mind on why we must protect our natural ecosystems from the ravages of industrial agriculture and climate change. Congratulations too, to Dubrovnik County for being the first in Croatia to be GMO-free (17 out of the 20 counties in Croatia have declared themselves GMO-free so far), and to be taking organic agriculture so seriously that you have a yearly food fair devoted to it (4-6 April).

My talk is on how switching to organic agriculture and localised food and energy systems can save us from the ravages of industrial agricultural and climate change. It can feed the world; more than that, it is the only way we can feed the world, and also the most effective way to mitigate climate change. It can potentially compensate for all greenhouse gas emissions due to human activities and free us completely from fossil fuels. We have collected all the scientific evidence and evidence from farmers' experiences around the world in a comprehensive report [1] (Food Futures Now * Organic * Sustainable * Fossil Fuel Free) that has gone to press just before I came here.

Croatia is very wise not to be diverted by GM crops. To grow GM crops now is a recipe for global famine. They have the worst features of industrial agriculture as a major driver of climate change, and are far from safe for human health and the environment.

2008 the year of global food crisis

2008 has been designated the year of global food crisis by the United Nations [2-4]. The crisis has been building up over the past decades, but things have come to a head. Agricultural production has fallen below consumption for 7 out of the past 8 years, and world grain reserves are at the lowest since records began in the 1970s. To a large extent, this is a long-term trend reflecting the failure of industrial Green Revolution agriculture, and this very failure has been used to promote genetically modified (GM) crops as the new "doubly green" revolution [5] (Beware the New "Doubly Green Revolution", SiS 37).

But within the past year, world food prices suddenly went up by an average of 40 percent. That leaves the World Food Programme to feed 73 million people in 78 countries - not even one-tenth of the world's hungry - with a shortfall of US$500 million. In addition, 36 countries have declared a food crisis as of December 2007.

There have been food riots and protests in many countries around the world: Mexico, Yemen, Morocco, Mauritania, Senegal, Uzbekistan, Egypt, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, even Italy, and the UK, where pig farmers can't make a living because feed prices have doubled [6]. India has been hit by an epidemic of farmers' suicide at an average of 10 000 a year before escalating to 16 000 a year when GM crops were introduced (see Chapter 23 of our Report [1]). But in 2007, a record 25 000 farmers took their own lives [4].

What has precipitated this food crisis? Many commentators blame China and India, countries with rapidly growing economies. People there are becoming well off and eating too much meat, like Europeans and Americans. The record suicides in India speak volumes against the idea that Indians are becoming 'well off'.

On recent visits to China, we found restaurants and local markets everywhere full of food of all kinds: fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, seafood, meats, sausages, wind-dried meats, honey, grains, pulses, dried mushrooms, lichens, dried jelly fish and other produce of the sea, and a variety of snacks, both cooked and raw, processed or preserved. People's Daily, the official Chinese government newspaper issued a rebuttal, rejecting as "groundless" the accusation that China has been responsible for the food price hikes [7], saying that "China's grain yields have steadily grown from 2004 to 2007, and grain reserves have increased accordingly".› During 2007, China exported 9.2 million tonnes of cereals and imported 1.44 tonnes; so export exceeded import by a factor of 4.9. The article conceded that food prices in China have gone up, and the Government has cancelled export rebate in order to discourage exports to stabilize food prices in the country.

Biofuels are to blame for the food crisis

A major contributing factor to the build up of the food crisis is 'peak oil' [8] (Oil Running Out, SiS 25). According to a recent analysis, production figures showed that oil has peaked in 2006 [9]. Petroleum prices reached a record $105 a barrel last year, which has certainly driven food and feed prices up because conventional agriculture is heavily dependent on synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, water and machinery, all of which require fossil fuels. But the immediate cause of the present food crisis is something else - an intensified production of biofuels in Europe and the United States - that is having widespread repercussions on the availability of food because biofuels use our food as feedstock.›› The United States divested a quarter of its corn harvests to producing ethanol in 2007, and in 2008, this will increase to a third. The US supplies more than 60 percent of the world's corn exports and 40 percent of all cereal exports [2-4]. Other grains turned into biofuels are soybeans, wheat, and oilseed rape. And forests are being chopped down to grow soybeans and other feedstock such as oil palm, sugarcane, and jatropha, in South America, Asia, and Africa.

All our predictions that biofuels will bring biodevastation and hunger, and accelerate global warming (reviewed in Chapter 5 of our report [1]) have been confirmed. Thankfully, there has been a mind-change at the top. UK's newly appointed chief scientist, Prof. John Beddington, attacked the biofuels industry in his first major speech [10], blaming it for having delivered a "major shock" to the to world food prices. Cutting down rainforest to produce biofuel crops is "profoundly stupid", he said, and cannot imagine how we can produce enough crops for biofuels and feed people.

GM crops a dangerous diversion

Unfortunately, the UK government is misadvised and misguided in its support for nuclear energy and GM crops. Biofuels and the food crisis have been a boon especially to Monsanto. More GM seeds have been sold for GM crops to be planted for biofuels in Brazil, Argentina and other South American countries, and Monsanto's failing fortunes are dramatically turned around. It reported record profits over the past year [11]. BusinessWeek identified Monsanto as a "prime beneficiary" of the biofuels boom. Its stock correlated closely at 0.94 with oil price, better than that of ExxonMobile, which correlated at only 0.84, and hardly correlated with the price of corn, basically because people don't eat GM corn. "For sure, what's gotten the whole [agribusiness] industry raging is corn ethanol," Charlie Rentschler, analyst at the stock research firm Wall Street Access told BusinessWeek.

The pro-GM lobby is using the food crisis to promote GM crops. UK government's funding agency was even caught supporting a marketing exercise disguised as scientific survey [12] ("UK Farmers Upbeat about GM Crops" Debunked, SiS 38).

GM crops are one big failed experiment [13, 14] (Puncturing the GM Myths, SiS 22; No to GMOs, No to GM Science, SiS 35): no increase in yields, in many cases a decrease, including massive crop failures that escalated Indian farmers' suicides. GM crops do not reduce use of pesticides; on the contrary there have been huge increases in recent years, according to the latest figures from the US Department of Agriculture [15]. GM crops have proven more harmful for biodiversity than conventional industrial agriculture in UK government-funded Farm Scale Evaluations, despite all attempts at manipulating the trials in favour of GM crops (Bogus Comparison in GM Maize Trial, SiS 22) [16]. Anecdotal evidence since 2005 from farmers around the world indicates that GM crops require more water [17]. GM crops have all the worst features of industrial Green Revolution varieties exaggerated, including susceptibility to diseases and climate extremes on account of genetic uniformity [5], plus there are outstanding safety concerns [18] (GM Food Nightmare Unfolding in the Regulatory Sham, ISIS scientific publication). Growing GM crops for biofuels does not make them safe, as they will contaminate our food crops all the same. GM crops are a dangerous diversion from the urgent task of addressing the world food crisis, and can end up exacerbating the crisis.

The grim outlook with business as usual

The outlook for food production is grim if we continue business as usual, especially because climate change is hitting us much quicker and harder than expected. Glaciers are melting faster than predicted, weather extremes are increasingly frequent, and these will have big impacts on food production. To top it all, our industrial agriculture and food system is a major driver of global warming.

Scientists of the British Antarctic Survey have just found that the West Antarctic glaciers are thinning alarmingly at 1.6 metre a year, which is more than 20 times faster than in the previous thousands and tens of thousands of years [19]. It is estimated that a rise in sea level of 1 metre would threaten the homes of 1 billion and put one-third of the world's croplands at risk [20]. The loss of glaciers affects agriculture in another way. The biggest rivers in China and India, the Ganges, Yellow and Yangtze Rivers are fed by rain during the monsoon season, but during the dry season, they depend on meltwater from the glaciers in the Himalayas. The Gangotri Glacier in the Himalayas alone supplies 70 percent of the Ganges' water in the dry season. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported last year that the Himalayan glaciers could disappear by 2035. When that happens, the rivers will dry up completely [21].

A study published at the end of 2007 based on existing climate models show that apart from anything else, the rise in temperature and changes in rainfall patterns will reduce world agricultural productivity up to 16 percent by 2080 [22]. The most severe reductions will be in the tropics where the poorest live. Temperate regions may have cropping seasons extended because of temperature rise and the overall global reduction may also be mitigated by the 'carbon fertilization effect', the 15 percent increase in plant growth rate observed in a carbon dioxide rich atmosphere in green house experiments. That would reduce the deficit in global agricultural productivity to 3 percent. But the author of the report William Cline says don't count on it, as actual in situ experiments failed to bear this out [23] (More CO2 Could Mean Less Biodiversity and Worse, SiS 20).

Weather extremes such as floods, hurricanes and droughts could reduce crop harvests by 30 percent or more, as US records show [24]. The recent drought in Australia reduced its wheat harvest by 60 percent in 2007 [4].

Finally, the industrial agriculture and globalised food system is responsible for at least 25 percent of global greenhouse gas (ghg) emissions when agriculture-related change in land use (deforestation and conversion of natural grasslands into cropslands), transport/processing/ packaging and storage costs are taken into account (see Chapter 19 of Report [1]). Industrial agriculture is water intensive as well. Aquifers have been pumped dry in the major breadbaskets of the world, and some see water shortage as even more serious than the depletion of fossil fuels.

Food without fossil fuels now

Fortunately, we can do a lot to alleviate the food crisis and mitigate climate change, and it is really surprising that the IPCC has failed to mention the mitigating potentials of organic agriculture and localised food systems.

Our Report [1] is a unique combination of the latest scientific analyses, case studies on farmer-led research, and especially farmers' own experiences and innovations that often confound academic scientists wedded to outmoded and obsolete theories. There is a refreshing mix of practical know-how and new theoretical concepts to put things in the broadest perspective, including the necessary transformation of the dominant knowledge system, which is blocking progress.

Here are some of the highlights in our Report. The largest single study of its kind in the world with data collected over 7 years in Ethiopia shows that composting together with simple water-conservation techniques gives 30 percent more crop yields than chemical fertilizers (Chapter 11). Coincidentally, scientists also find that organic out yields conventional agriculture by a factor of 1.3, and green manure alone could provide all nitrogen needs (Chapter 9). Local farmers in Sahel defied the dire predictions of scientists and policy-makers by greening the desert and creating a haven of trees (Chapter 25). Cuba has demonstrated it is possible to feed a nation without fossil fuels, and organic urban agriculture plays a large role (Chapter 12). Conservative estimates show that organic agriculture and localised food systems can mitigate nearly 30 percent of the world's ghg emissions and save 1/6 of the world's energy use (Chapter 19). Thirty percent of ghg emissions are just about what the current agriculture and food system costs, and 16.5 percent are also close to its energy costs. So practically, we could be eating for free, at the very least.

We can do better than that. If we add anaerobic digestion of food and farm wastes in a zero-emission integrated food and energy producing Dream Farm that could boost the total energy savings to nearly 50 percent and total ghg savings to more than 50 percent. That means agriculture will compensate for the energy and ghg costs of other sectors. In our Dream Farms, we also incorporate other renewable energies at small and microscale levels: solar, wind, hydroelectric. That means we can potentially produce a large excess of energy to feed into the grid for other users. There will be no need for fossil energies whatsoever.

In addition, our Report summarises the evidence accumulated indicating that organic agriculture does indeed gives us cleaner, safer environments, greater natural and agricultural biodiversity (Chapter 18), more nutritious, healthier and health-promoting foods (Chapter 20, 21), and a plethora of social benefits (Chapters 22-24): higher income and independence for farmers, more employment opportunities. Organic agriculture and localised food system regenerates local economies, revitalizes local knowledge, and creates enormous social wealth, that could counteract juvenile delinquency, gang violence and suicides in socially deprived areas.

Let me sketch out the main message in our Report.

Scientists find organic agriculture can feed the world better than conventional agriculture

A team of scientists led by Catherine Badgley at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, in the United States reviewed 293 studies comparing conventional with organic/sustainable or low input agriculture, and found that organic agriculture out yields conventional by a factor of 1.3. And, more than enough nitrogen can be provided by green manure alone, amounting to 171 percent of synthetic N fertilizer used currently. Organic agriculture, therefore, has the potential to support "a substantially larger population" than currently exists.

The increase in yield with organic agriculture confirms the direct comparisons in the Ethiopian study. The importance of this finding cannot be overemphasized. Using chemical fertilizers not only costs fossil fuels and its associated ghg emissions (plus nitrate pollution of drinking water), it increases nitrous oxide emissions directly, a ghg with global warming potential of about 300 compared with carbon dioxide. More seriously, it leads to a 23 percent reduction in our food supply.

Yet more evidence from scientists: a joint study by Iowa State University, Ohio, and USDA found that by using appropriate soil-building cover-crops and crop-rotation during conversion from conventional to organic, crop yields were equal by the third year, and by the fourth year, organic corn and soybean out yielded the conventional (Chapter 15).

Yields are not nearly as important as resilience to stress, especially under climate change. In the longest running experiment comparing organic and conventional agriculture in the Rodale Institute in Pennsylvania, scientists found that the yields were not significantly different during normal years; but organic far out yields conventional, by a third or more, during drought years (Chapter 13). That's because the organic soil is so much better at holding water as well as other nutrients that make plants more resilient to all kinds of stresses.

This same study shows that while conventional soils failed to take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, organic soils are very good at it, and could take up to 4 tonnes of carbon dioxide per ha a year just in the top 30 cm of soil. This is a major contribution of organic agriculture to mitigating climate change.

These are just some of the examples where scientists are reproducing and rediscovering what farmers have found out for themselves long ago.

Local knowledge and initiative have greened the Sahel

Here is something beautiful. Scientists and policy-makers have been making dire predictions that Sahel will turn into desert irreversibly as the result of the great droughts of the 1980s. But local farmers have proven them wrong (Chapter 25). By saving and planting trees, and cooperating in water conservation, they have pushed back the desert, as confirmed by observations on the ground and from the satellites since the 1990s. Satellite data consistently showed that the desert is greener than expected, and the greenest spots are correlated with human activities. The data also indicate that planting trees can create more rain, which is very good news for mitigating climate change, and show exactly how "profoundly stupid" [10] it is to cut down trees for bioenergy crop plantations (see earlier).

The greening of the Sahel is a prime example of how the dominant knowledge system had grossly misinformed policy-makers; and it was the knowledge and initiatives of local farmers that saved the situation.

Farmers' innovations and the circular economy of nature

There are more examples of farmers' innovations, as well as trained agronomists unlearning what they have been taught in universities to pay heed to local knowledge (see Chapter 17). Local knowledge depends on working with and within the circular economy of nature. Mr. Takeo Furano in Japan has perfected the Aigamo system (Chapter 26): putting ducklings to work in paddy fields, resulting in a bumper yearly harvest of 7 tonnes of rice, 300 ducks, 4 000 ducklings, countless fish, and enough vegetables for 100 from his 2 ha farm, Best of all, Furano and his family get plenty of free time from not having to do any weeding.

Furano has drawn a diagram (Fig. 1) to teach other farmers, which makes clear that the system works by reciprocity and mutual benefit, a circular economy in other words. And it is absolutely dependent on the natural biodiversity of species working to benefit one another, either directly or indirectly. For example, the ducks not only eat the weeds and seeds, they fertilize the water to feed the rice plants, the rice plants attract pests, which make more food for the ducks. The ducks also feed the plankton in the water, which feed the fish, and sometimes fish fries get eaten by the ducks, and so on.

Figure 1. Takeo Furano and his Aigama System

Another example of the circular economy of nature put to work is the dyke-pond system perfected by the peasant farmers of the Pearl River Delta in China, in the course of thousands of years (Chapter 32).

There are many different dyke-pond systems, the one shown here is the simplest, and involves growing mulberry, elephant grass and vegetables and raising pigs and silkworms on the dykes (Fig. 2). Mulberry feeds silkworms, and after the cocoons are harvested, the faeces of the silkworms are dumped into the ponds to feed the plankton that feed the fish and water plants, which go to feed the pigs. The pig manure also fertilizes the pond. Typically 5 different species of carp are kept in the ponds to fill the different depths and ecological niche. Elephant grass feeds the grass carp.

Figure 2. The circular economy of the dyke-pond system

There are eleven cycles in the diagram varying in length from 2 to 5 links. Such systems support on average 17 people per ha in this region, giving the lie to conventional ecological dogma that there is a fixed constant carrying capacity for a piece of land. The dyke-pond system works perfectly on a small scale, but you can't dump too much manure all at once directly into the pond, and here is where anaerobic digestion comes in.

Everyone in Britain should know about anaerobic digestion by now, as it has been constantly on The Archers - the longest running BBC drama about English country folks - for the best part of a year, and since we promoted its use in our Which Energy? report [25] published two years ago.

Professor George Chan was trained as an environment engineer in Imperial College, London, and had many government posts in the US and Mauritius before he was about to retire and spent 5 years with the Chinese peasants of the Pearl River Delta. He said he learnt as much from them as from Imperial College. From his experience in China, he perfected what he called an Integrated Food and Waste Management System of farming, which I called Dream Farm (Chapter 33), or Dream Farm 1.

You can see the circular economy at work, though George Chan didn't call it that. The biogas digester is the heart of the system, and it reinforces the circular economy and makes it more efficient. Livestock manure and waste water, instead of being dumped directly into the fishpond go into the biogas digester where it is sterilised and converted into biogas, which is 60 percent or more of methane, and can provide all energy needs for cooking, heating, electricity and processing. The residue in the digester is a rich fertilizer for crops or for growing mushrooms. The wastewater from the digester is still not passed directly into the fishpond, but goes through further cleansing in shallow basins with algae growing, and producing oxygen through photosynthesis to oxidize the remaining chemical and biological pollutants. Only then is the water allowed into the fishponds. Water from the fishponds is used to 'fertigate' crops. The algae can be harvested to feed chicken, ducks and geese. Crops wastes go to raise earthworms or into the compost, or they could be fed into the biogas digester. What remains after the mushroom harvest can be fed to livestock, and the livestock manure goes back into the biogas digester to complete the grand cycle. As you can see, this farm is incredibly productive because it relies entirely on internal input, recycling all the wastes and turning wastes into food and energy resources. The nutrients too, remain within the cycle. Manure spread on land will lose nitrogen as ammonia and nitrous oxide, a strong greenhouse gas.

This system approaches the ideal of the sustainable system, which operates like an organism, as explained in my› book, The Rainbow And The Worm [26].

The ideal circular economy doesn't dissipate its energy and primary resources, doesn't accumulate waste inside, and even the wastes exported to the outside is minimised. How is that achieved?

The organism manages because the big lifecycle consists of many different cycles of activities coupled together and working together, so that activities that yield energy are directly linked to those requiring energy, and all the cycles are feeding one another directly or indirectly.

The same principle of cooperation and reciprocity operates in a sustainable system, as opposed to the competition that rules the unsustainable mainstream model. In the traditional simple integrated farming, the farmer, livestock and crops form a symbiotic cycle that can perpetrate indefinitely. The farmer tends the crops and livestock. The crops feed the farmer and livestock and livestock returns manure to feed the crops.

Dream Farm is just a more complicated version of the same reciprocity and symbiosis. Notice that the more lifecycles are linked into the grand cycle, the more productive the land.

The skilful organic farmer knows that space-time has four dimensions, and can be put to good use for a diversity of crops that make the Chinese diet so rich We can put everything together in an integrated food and energy Dream Farm 2› operating on the same organic circular economy (Chapter 34). It differs from Dream Farm 1 only in the explicit incorporation of renewable energies at small to micro-scale: wind, solar and hydroelectric (where appropriate). My ideal Dream Farm 2 (Fig. 3) works for demonstration, education, and research purposes, as incubator and showcase for new technologies, information exchange and resource centre for Dream Farms around the world, all based on maximum use of local resources and biodiversity and designed to the highest energy and carbon saving standards. Figure 3. The complete Dream Farm 2

The diagram is colour-coded. Pink is for energy, green for agricultural produce, blue is for water conservation and flood control (increasingly important during climate extremes), black is waste in the ordinary sense of the word, which soon gets converted into food and energy resources. And there will be real carbon credits based on actual savings in operating the farm itself.

Energy and carbon savings

Let me show you a glimpse of the calculations done on the climate mitigating potentials of organic agriculture and localised food systems together with anaerobic digestion. You won't believe how difficult it was to find exactly how much manure of each kind is produced in the UK, how many tonnes of other biological wastes, and so on.

Anaerobic digestion can provide 3.2 percent of total energy consumption in the UK, or, because methane can be used for mobile vehicles, it can provide 12.9 percent of transport fuel. It saves 7.5 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. And this is all from biological wastes which otherwise would pollute the environment.

The biogas yields from different feedstock are given in Figure 4 [27], so you can see that I have used very conservative estimates for biological wastes in general.

Figure 4. Potential biogas yields from different feedstock

Another thing you'd be interested to know is that anaerobic digestion also yields the most fuel per ha compared with ethanol and biodiesel [27]. But it is still unacceptable to use any food crop as feedstock for anaerobic digestion, as some women in The Archers are quite rightly opposing their local anaerobic digestion project on those grounds.

The mitigating potential of Dream Farms implemented globally saves greenhouse gas emissions by 54 percent (see Chapter 34 [1]). The biggest saving is from less fossil fuel burnt due to efficiency gains in consuming energy locally, which is 17 percent. The other big savers are carbon sequestration in organic soil (11 percent) and reduced transport due to localising the food systems (10 percent). For energy, the efficiency gain in consuming energy locally is assumed to be half of that lost in heat and in electricity transport through the grid, estimated at 30 percent. The other big gain is in reduced transport from localising food systems, at 10 percent. To end, here are some vignettes from George's Dream Farms around the world, also a peek into our food futures.


Uganda's controversial GM lab breeding bio-bananas, 7 April 2008. By Michael Wakabi. Uganda's biotechnology programme, which started with the setting up of a biotech lab in 2000, has developed and is now testing a transgenic strain of banana against the Sigatoga disease. It has also varieties of cotton and cassava that are resistant to bore worms and cassava mosaic disease.

› "The technology is being tested against all known risks but we are talking about a 7-10 year cycle so we are not quite ready to make announcements now," said Charles Mugoya, the manager for agro-biodiversity and biosafety programme at the Association for Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa. However, Uganda and Africa in general have not made much progress in the commercial application of genetically modified crops.›

According to the International Association for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications, at least 12 developing countries had adopted biotech crops in commercial farming by the end of 2007 but in Africa, only South Africa, with some 1.8 million hectares of the global total of 114.3 million hectares, featured in the global list.

"As developing countries, we need to make up our mind about biotechnology quickly or else we shall be forced to sit back like we have done in the past and watch the world pass by," said Mr Mugoya during the launch of the 2007 status report.›

The 12 developing countries that plant biotech crops compares with the 11 industrialised countries doing so, although the US, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, India and China maintained their position as the major users of biotech crops.

However, just four crops ů soybeans, cotton, maize and canola ů account for the bulk of acreage under GM crops.

GM crops have created controversy whenever they are planted with consumer groups opposing them across the world. But according to Dr Mugoya, the terminator technology that was at the heart of opposition to the crops, especially in developing countries, had been abandoned by lead promoter Monsanto.

"This was because of the controversies surrounding it so that countries can now focus on the potential benefits of biotechnology in terms of assuring food security and continued survival of the human race," he said.

The terminator technology, which did not allow farmers to replant seeds after harvesting, was seen as a threat to food security among Africa's subsistence producers, who would be perpetually tied to multinational gene banks for sustenance of agriculture.

Experts, however, argue that even without terminator technology, yields suffer significant drops when the same seed stock is replanted over and over; and only safer forms of biotechnology will assure good yields.

Like Burkina Faso and Egypt, which are expected to approve biotech crops soon, Uganda is moving towards embracing GM crops with the National Council for Science and Technology saying it expects a policy framework by the end of the year.

Experts say while its benefits are immense, countries must carefully evaluate risks and have mitigation measures in place to guard against dangers such as environmental contamination that can result from gene-flows, emergence of superweeds that are resistant to existing herbicides, loss of biodiversity through genetic erosion and toxicity that results in allergies.›

Dr Mugoya says that to preclude the possibility of commercial exploitation of poor producers, biotech research in developing countries should be publicly funded and run in government owned facilities so that the products are accessible to producers at no profit to commercial interests.


UK: Warning to takeaways over GM ingredients

Eastern Daily Press (Norfolk), 7 April 2008.

Chip shop and takeaway owners across Norfolk face six months in jail and fines of up to GBP5,000 if they use genetically modified ingredients and fail to tell customers.

Norfolk trading standards officers surveyed independent caterers across the county including chip shops, sandwich bars, restaurants and private members' clubs and found that customers were eating genetically modified foods whether they wanted to or not.

While caterers are free to use GM ingredients, the law says that they must declare it to consumers.

Conrad Meehan, senior trading standards officer at Norfolk County Council, said a labels spot-check of ingredients used by independent businesses found GM products in soya and vegetable oils and mayonnaise.

"From speaking to these businesses it became clear that they really haven't got a clue that they had to declare it and in most cases they haven't realised that they were using GM food," he said. "It's a case of ignorance rather than trying to pull the wool over people's eyes, but that's certainly no excuse.

"It's a serious offence," he added. "The approach is if we carry out an inspection and we spot it we will give advice. But if someone fails to follow that advice then we will consider more formal action.

Mr Meehan added. "We are hoping that consumers will start asking the question, which will prompt businesses to get it right. We will consider a further survey later this year to see if the publicity has had an effect."

Bob Fox, from the Nationwide Caterers Association, said he was not surprised at the findings.

"We try and give as much advice as we can," he said. "The trouble is there is an awful lot of confusion about GM, not only within the trade but in the public's minds as well. I don't think anybody really understands it at all."

Ian Gibson, Norwich North MP and a member of the House of Commons science and technology select committee, said that the government needed to clarify the rules on GM ingredients.

"It's being slipped through," he said. "There are some people who want GM foods [??? Who exactly?] and others who don't - but they should at least be given a choice, and consumers need the knowledge to make that choice."

Trading standards officers visited 50 catering establishments in the county during late summer 2007 and early this year, to determine the extent to which GM ingredients are being used to prepare meals and whether those ingredients are being declared to customers.

Of the 50, 21 (42pc of the total) were using either vegetable oil or mayonnaise which contained oil from genetically modified soya beans and have subsequently been issued advice on their legal requirements by Norfolk County Council.

The labelling requirements are set out in EC Regulation 1829/2003 which states that where food is offered for sale to consumers and contains GM ingredients, it must be labelled as genetically modified. For caterers, this information would normally need to be given on the menu.

Jennifer Parkhouse, from Norwich Friends of the Earth, said: "The consumer doesn't want GM; that's been clear for a number of years and they would be horrified to realise they were eating GM food without realising it."

An information sheet for businesses about this issue is available from Norfolk County Council Trading Standards by phoning + 44 844 800 8013.


6 April 2008

Soybean production leads to jungle destruction in Brazil

Xinhua News Agency (China), 6 April 2008.

RIO DE JANEIRO -- Soybean production in the Brazilian state of Amazonas has increased by 425 percent in the five years to 2006, causing a major expansion and deforestation in jungle areas, a research body said Sunday. ›

The 2005-2006 harvest was 8,400 tons, up from 1,600 tons in the 2001-2002 season, Fepam, the Amazonas State Research Support Foundation, said in a report.

According to ecological groups, soybean farming's incursion is the biggest threat to the Amazon forest, which is regarded as the lungs of the Earth.

Fepam said soybean farming has already had an environmental impact on three administrative regions of the state -- ApuŐ, Humaitô and Manicore.

"Soybean prices are set by international markets and if prices rise, the Brazilian production rises too," said Elane de Oliveira, a Fepam researcher who worked on the study.

Prices "lead to the expansion of the cultivated area and areas that have already been degraded, just as much as in virgin forest," she said.

Brazil is the world's top soybean exporter and the second largest producer.

Comment by TraceConsult:

While the illegal soybean tonnages reported here by Xinhua are comparatively small, it is interesting to note that the official Chinese news agency should report at all about Brazilian rainforest deforestation. It is also not clear whether this is of any timely connection with other Chinese domestic issues dominating the headlines at the moment.


USA: Playing God will not answer prayers

New York Post, 6 April 2007.

Why not use genetically-modified crops? The Safe Food Coalition ( and the South African Freeze Alliance on Genetic Engineering (, both of which oppose genetically-modified crops in Africa, outline their arguments:

Safety: There are strong indications of possible dangers from genetically-engineered (GE) foods to our health. We simply don't know, as no human testing has occurred. Many doctors and scientists are worried GE foods may damage our immune systems, create new toxins and allergens or increase resistance to antibiotics.

The Fight to Feed Africa

Cost: Companies promoting genetic engineering constantly harp on how it will "improve" food and farming but so far the only beneficiaries are the multinational corporations promoting them. Business is only interested in it because of the ability to own and patent life. When someone changes a life form they patent that thing. This means that a seed for a plant that has been genetically engineered can be owned, thereby forbidding anybody else to use it without payment. Recently many of the world's smaller seed companies have been bought by large multinational giants, so that six seed companies now effectively control a significant amount of the seed market.

Environmental impact: GE crops may devastate the environment. We have already seen triple herbicide resistant weeds, making it necessary to use highly toxic weed killers, exactly the opposite of what GE is claimed to do. Herbicide use has increased since the introduction of GE crops, not decreased as claimed. Insect resistant genes have been shown to be persistent in soil and water, they affect soil life, earthworms and microbes. Once we let the genie out of the bottle, there is no way to put it back. Once genes are out there it is impossible to control them.

It's unnatural: Many people feel the use of genetic engineering in food and farming is wrong, that it goes against nature or their spiritual beliefs. Others think it's wrong because it allows big companies to gain more control of the food chain. The fact is that genetic engineering allows scientists to take a gene from one species and insert it into a completely different species with which it could never naturally breed. Thus it is possible vegetarian, halaal, kosher and other rights may be infringed.

Africa already has better solutions: What is often overlooked in this very real dilemma is that thousands of years of careful seed selection by African farmers has given rise to local varieties with valuable attributes such as drought and disease resistance. For example, in Kenya, where stem-borers can wipe out 80 per cent of a maize field, they plant a row of Desmodium, which gives off an odor which repels the stem-borer moths.

The problem is not crops: There is enough food in the world to feed everyone on earth over a kilo of a good quality mixed diet daily. People go hungry because they do not have money, access to food, or land. GE will not change this. The problem is economic, political and practical, not technical. Most farmers will never be able to afford technology fees and the chemicals to grow these new GE seeds. Genetic engineering in its present form cannot form part of the solution; it is part of the problem.


4 April 2008

New Pep for the German Soy Market

Bioland Organic Agriculture magazine, April 2008. By Annegret Grafen-Engert.
Translated by TraceConsult and GM-free Ireland.

With the publication of the new [German] biotech act, animal products can also carry the GM-free label "without genetic engineering" ("ohne Gentechnik") from the first of May. The retail industry wants the label on the assumption it will provide a strong boost for the GM-free soy market.

Early this year, representatives of the animal feed, agriculture, slaughtering, processing and retail industries met the QS [Quality and Safety] System's Advisory Board for Beef, Veal and Pork to discuss the issue of "GM-free" labelling. The retail industry representatives expect the QS System will expand to include "GM-free", setting a broad foundation for the standard in the meat industry. An REWE group spokesperson told Bioland magazine this would yield distinct advantages for the major retailers: "I would have the whole production chain around one table and achieve consistent standards in the entire industry". A joint approach would also be attractive to stakeholders because it would create a level playing field for the additional certification costs, which experts estimate are not that high anyway.

The larger retailers such as REWE and Edeka seem intent to move ahead with "GM-free" labels. The consensus is that retailers will benefit. However, the new legislation still needs to be analysed and its feasibility evaluated product by product: "Our GM-free claims must be consistent and defensible. The REWE spokeperson said "We want to proceed very seriously without undue delay".

Things will take some time, as the embedding of the GM-free label in the QS system will cause a strong demand for GM-free soy. A retail industry representative estimated that some 3 million metric tonnes of soy meal would be needed for the pork sold in Germany alone. Biotech expert Christoph Then expressed doubts about the short-term availability of such volumes: "Many companies have not ordered yet". Josef Feilmeier, a small animal feed distributor in Lower Bavaria, sees this differently. There was a supply bottleneck around the end of last year; but Brazil can meet the West European demand for soya meal, estimated by Feilmeier to be around 10 to 12 million tons, after the new harvest from May onwards.

The potential for a fast-growing supply from Brazil was also confirmed by Jochen Koester, the owner of Geneva-based consultancy TraceConsult which provides advice to the entire supply chain regarding certified GM-free soy. Until recently he was the European Director of IMCOPA, a Brazilian soybean crusher which markets non-GM products exclusively and has been certified as a supplier of GM-free soy since 1999. Koester said the company's processing volume has increased twelve-fold since then, and it now offers just under 2 million tons of soy meal per annum. This year, additional volumes of approximately 1.5 million tons of certified soy meal from Brazil will reach the market: "Farmers like to plant it if the demand is there." But it takes some time to organize traceability systems and segregated supply chains all the way to Europe.

Koester proposes GM-free certification based on the Basel Criteria for Responsible Soy Production, launched jointly in 2004 by the Swiss retail chain COOP and WWF [World Wide Fund for Nature]. Besides rainforest protection and social parameters, the Criteria also exclude genetically modified soybeans. According to the latest estimates, Brazil's 2008 soybean crop will be a little over 62 million tons, of which 26 million tonnes will be produced from conventional seed.

RKW Süd expects growing sales

The demand for GM-free animal feed increased strongly after a bottleneck at the end of the year, according to Dr. Ulrich Steinruck, Deputy Managing Director of RKW Süd in Würzburg. Large and medium-sized poultry producers are the main drivers, but he also cites an enquiry from a large dairy company as an example. He said "February 15 (the day the Biotech Act was passed) provided a powerful boost". One can literally observe company boardrooms "beginning to think now" and "sending their assistants to do research". Steinruck expects to sell 20 to 30 percent more GM-free compound feed this year than last year. The Würzburg facility ships 40,000 tons of GM-free soy meal to feed compounders annually, with other GM-free ingredients subsequently added to the mix.

The Würzburg's animal feed plant at Raiffeisen has supplied GM-free feedstuffs exclusively since 2006. It also has the capacity to provide animal feed complying with the Basel Criteria, upon request: "We can trace the product back to the farmer in Brazil." This additional certification comes with a higher premium. Steinruck believes the food retailers wanting to use the GM-free label will favour the Basel Criteria standard because it is easy for the consumer to understand. Raiffeisen currently sells certified GM-free soy meal for a premium of around €8 per 100 kg., but this is more due to current market scarcity than to extra costs, which Feilmeier estimates to be at most €2.50: "Some people out there are already gambling up the price."

Companies poised for take-off

Tegut subsidiary KFF intends to label its Landprimus brand of poultry and pork as "GM-free" as soon as the new law comes into effect. Sven Euen, who is responsible for quality management at KFF, said "We are ready for take-off". Switching to this higher certification standard is not a big step for KFF, which has required its agricultural partners to use GM-free soy since 2001. GIven the high price of animal feed, Euen is, however, a little concerned about GM-free soy prices.

Germany's largest poultry producer, Wiesenhof, also wants to start using the GM-free label when the law comes into effect. This company has also maintained a GM-free food chain since 2000, and promotes the fact that it invests several million euro every year to ensure a GM-free supply chain extending from the Brazilian supplier to its own feed mills.

The new rules for "GM-free" labels replace a 1998 regulation that was very difficult for manufacturers to deal with. The new law applies only to crop materials in the animal feed, and does not affect the use of enzymes and vitamins that may have been produced with biotech methods. The Bauernverband (Farmers Union) and the Association of German Oilseed Crushers strongly oppose the new labeling option and claim consumer deception. But environmental and consumer organisations perceive it as a great step for agriculture if it facilitates the strong demand for GM-free feed crops. That's the way it looks now. The Raiffeisen and oilseed crushers' associations assumption "that this label will remain restricted at first to market niches" may be quite off the mark.


USA: Hawaii Passes Bill to Protect Taro Plant
Hawaii Lawmakers Move to Ban Genetic Modification of Taro Plant

CNN, 4 April 2008. NEW YORK (Associated Press) - The sacred Hawaiian taro plant cannot be genetically modified for at least five years, according to a measure approved by lawmakers Thursday.

The moratorium falls short of the demands of many taro farmers and Native Hawaiian groups who want taro to remain untampered with forever. They sought a 10-year ban on alteration of the crop used to make the starchy food poi, a key ingredient in island cuisine.

"We wanted to keep taro pure," said Steven Hookano, a Maui taro farmer carrying a taro plant at the Capitol. "This is nothing but a time out."

Lawmakers approved the moratorium after more than a year of protests against genetic alteration from those who consider taro to be an ancestor of the Hawaiian people. Last year, activists surrounded the offices of legislators and shouted "Hear our bill!" in an effort to force the issue.

They finally achieved their goal when they got an eight-hour public hearing two weeks ago and a vote on the measure Thursday. It passed 9-3 in the House Agriculture Committee as senior House leadership monitored the vote. It now advances to the full House.

The moratorium does not cover Chinese varieties of taro, meaning altered varieties could potentially cross-pollinate with Hawaiian taro.

"The taro farmers are not going to be satisfied with this," said Rep. Colleen Meyer, R-Laie-Kahaluu, one of three lawmakers who voted against the bill.

Scientists praised the Legislature's compromise because it protects cultural rights while allowing research to continue in case deadly crop diseases reach Hawaii.

While cross-pollination between Chinese and Hawaiian taro varieties is possible, it's unlikely, said Cindy Goldstein, a manager for Pioneer Research Communications, a division of DuPont.

Research will help prevent diseases that have already devastated taro crops in parts of the South Pacific, she said. "In all crops, as a farmer, you face challenges of pests," she said. "We need research to combat a serious crop disease." Genetic modification of taro would involve inserting disease-resistant genes from rice, wheat and grape crops, altering the basic structure of the plant.

Hanalei taro farmer Chris Kobayashi said the moratorium is meaningless unless it protects all varieties of the plant. "Taro is the same whether it's Hawaiian or Chinese," she said after the hearing. "It should at least be a five-year moratorium for all varieties of taro."

Lawmakers decided to enact the moratorium after trying to find a way to appease both researchers and taro growers, said Rep. Clifton Tsuji, D-Hilo-Glenwood, the committee's chairman.

"Supporters of this bill favored the moratorium primarily to protect taro, which is considered important to Native Hawaiian culture," Tsuji said before the vote. "Opponents of the moratorium generally indicated that biotechnology is necessary to increase crop yields, improve pest and disease resistance and advance scientific research."

No other states have banned genetic modification of any plant, but some areas of California have placed regional moratoriums on field tests of genetically modified rice.


Why food prices will go through the roof in coming months

Online Journal, 4 April 2008. By By F. William Engdahl.

A deadly fungus, known as Ug99, which kills wheat, has likely spread to Pakistan from Africa, according to reports. If true, that threatens the vital Asian Bread Basket including the Punjab region.

The spread of the deadly virus, stem rust, against which an effective fungicide does not exist, comes as world grain stocks reach the lowest in four decades and government subsidized bio-ethanol production, especially in the USA, Brazil and EU are taking land out of food production at alarming rates. The deadly fungus is being used by Monsanto and the US Government to spread patented GMO seeds.

Stem rust is the worst of three rusts that afflict wheat plants. The fungus grows primarily in the stems, plugging the vascular system so carbohydrates can't get from the leaves to the grain, which shrivels. Ug99 is a race of stem rust that blocks the vascular tissues in cereal grains including wheat, oats and barley. Unlike other rusts that may reduce crop yields, Ug99-infected plants may suffer up to 100 percent loss.

In the 1950s, the last major outbreak destroyed 40 percent of the spring wheat crop in North America. At that time governments started a major effort to breed resistant wheat plants, led by Norman Borlaug of the Rockefeller Foundation. That was the misnamed Green Revolution. The result today is far fewer varieties of wheat that might resist such a new fungus outbreak.

The first strains of Ug99 were detected in 1999 in Uganda. It spread to Kenya by 2001, to Ethiopia by 2003 and to Yemen when the cyclone Gonu spread its spores in 2007. Now the deadly fungus has been found in Iran and according to British scientists may already be as far as Pakistan.

Pakistan and India account for 20 percent of the annual world wheat production. It is possible as the fungus spreads that large movements could take place almost overnight if certain wind conditions prevail at the right time. In 2007, a three-day wind event recorded by Mexico's CIMMYT (International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center), had strong wind currents moving from Yemen, where Ug99 is present, across Pakistan and India, going all the way to China. CIMMYT estimates that from two-thirds to three-quarters of the wheat now planted in India and Pakistan are highly susceptible to this new strain of stem rust. One billion people live in this region and they are highly dependent on wheat for their food supply.

These are all areas where the agricultural infrastructure to contain such problems is either extremely weak or non-existent. It threatens to spread into other wheat producing regions of Asia and eventually the entire world if not checked.

FAO world grain forecast

The 2007 World Agriculture Forecast of the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome projects an alarming trend in world food supply even in the absence of any devastation from Ug99. The report states, "Countries in the non-OECD region are expected to continue to experience a much stronger increase in consumption of agricultural products than countries in the OECD area. This trend is driven by population and, above all, income growth -- underpinned by rural migration to higher income urban areas . . . OECD countries as a group are projected to lose production and export shares in many commodities . . . Growth in the use of agricultural commodities as feedstock to a rapidly increasing biofuel industry is one of the main drivers in the outlook and one of the reasons for international commodity prices to attain a significantly higher plateau over the outlook period than has been reported in the previous reports." [my emphasis -- w.e.]

The FAO warns that the explosive growth in acreage used to grow fuels and not food in the past three years is dramatically changing the outlook for food supply globally and forcing food prices sharply higher for all foods, from cereals to sugar to meat and dairy products. The use of cereals, sugar, oilseeds and vegetable oils to satisfy the needs of a rapidly increasing biofuel industry, is one of the main drivers, most especially the large volumes of maize in the US, wheat and rapeseed in the EU and sugar in Brazil for ethanol and bio-diesel production. This is already causing dramatically higher crop prices, higher feed costs and sharply higher prices for livestock products.

Ironically, the current bio-ethanol industry is being driven by US government subsidies and a scientifically false argument in the EU and USA that bio-ethanol is less harmful to the environment than petroleum fuels and can reduce C02 emissions. The arguments have been demonstrated in every respect to be false. The huge expansion of global acreage now planted to produce biofuels is creating ecological problems and demanding use of far heavier pesticide spraying while use of biofuels in autos releases even deadlier emissions than imagined. The political effect, however, has been a catastrophic shift down in world grain stocks at the same time the EU and USA have enacted policies which drastically cut traditional emergency grain reserves. In short, it is a scenario preprogrammed for catastrophe, one which has been clear to policymakers in the EU and USA for several years. That can only suggest that such a dramatic crisis in global food supply is intentional.

A plan to spread GMO?

One of the consequences of the spread of Ug99 is a campaign by Monsanto Corporation and other major producers of genetically manipulated plant seeds to promote wholesale introduction of GMO wheat varieties said to be resistant to the Ug99 fungus. Biologists at Monsanto and at the various GMO laboratories around the world are working to patent such strains.

Norman Borlaug, the former Rockefeller Foundation head of the Green Revolution, is active in funding the research to develop a fungus resistant variety against Ug99, working with his former center in Mexico, the CIMMYT and ICARDA in Kenya, where the pathogen is now endemic. So far, about 90 percent of the 12,000 lines tested are susceptible to Ug99. That includes all the major wheat cultivars of the Middle East and west Asia. At least 80 percent of the 200 varieties sent from the United States can't cope with infection. The situation is even more dire for Egypt, Iran, and other countries in immediate peril.

Even if a new resistant variety were ready to be released today, it would take two or three years' seed increase in order to have just enough wheat seed for 20 percent of the acres planted to wheat in the world.

Work is also being done by the USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS), the same agency which co-developed Monsanto's Terminator seed technology. In my book, Seeds of Destruction, I document the insidious role of Borlaug and the Rockefeller Foundation in promoting the misnamed Green Revolution, as well as patents on food seeds to ultimately control food supplies as a potential political lever. The spreading alarm over the Ug99 fungus is being used by Monsanto and other GMO agribusiness companies to demand that the current ban on GMO wheat be lifted to allow spread of GMO patented wheat seeds on the argument they are Ug99 stem rust resistant.

F. William Engdahl is a geopolitical risk consultant and the author of "Seeds of Destruction: The Hidden Agenda of Genetic Manipulation" ( and "A Century of War: Anglo-American Oil Politics and the New World Order" (Pluto Press). He may be contacted at


Kenya: Why we should not be in a hurry to embrace GMO technology

Sunday Nation, 4 April 2008. By Dr. Othenio Joseph.

Feeding our hungry populations and protecting the ecosystem are two issues that stand out in the raging debate on whether or not to embrace Genetically Modified biotechnology in food production.

Recently, there were reports that genetically modified maize seeds had found their way into Kenya from South Africa, and were being sold to unsuspecting farmers in Eldoret.

The concerned authorities› have vehemently disputed this, but the matter must still be debated considering our porous borders -- a direct result of globalisation.

These findings or speculations don't only call for the enactment of the Biosafety Bill drafted in 2007, but also a look at the broader picture that could result from this and other biotechnologies.

The current lack of policy to guide this biotechnology needs urgent redress.

Proponents of GMOs claim they hold the key to the second green revolution that will halt famine and increase income accruing from farming.

On the other hand, consumer welfare activists and environmentalists are up in arms warning of dire consequences of such inventions which benefit a few selfish capitalists at the expense of the masses.

Many conferences have been convened either in support or disapproval of GM foods. Worth noting was the 2005 Coalition for the Protection of African Genetics Heritage in which a declaration against GMOs was signed in Nairobi.

It is pretty obvious that information on GMOs is still measly, and regulatory measures like labelling, lab testing and certification lacking. The greatest fear is that they are likely to cross-contaminate non-GM crops.

These are good reasons why we should not be in a hurry to adopt the biotechnology.


Old Ways, New Pain for Farms in Poland

The New York Times, 4 April 2008. By Elisabeth Rosenthal.

STRYSZOW, Poland ů Depending on your point of view, Szczepan Master is either an incorrigible Luddite or a visionary. A small farmer, proud of his pure high-quality products, he works his land the way Polish farmers have for centuries.

He keeps his livestock in a straw-floored "barn" that is part of his house, entered through a kitchen door. He slaughters his own pigs. His wife milks cows by hand. He rejects genetically modified seeds. Instead of spraying his crops, he turns his fields in winter, preferring a workhorse to a tractor, to let the frost kill off pests residing there.

While traditional farms like his could be dismissed as a nostalgic throwback, they are also increasingly seen as the future ů if only they can survive.

Mr. Master's way of farming ů indeed his way of life ů has been badly threatened in the two years since Poland joined the European Union, a victim of sanitary laws and mandates to encourage efficiency and competition that favor mechanized commercial farms, farmers here say.

That conflict obviously matters to Mr. Master. But it is also of broader importance, environmental groups and agriculture experts say, as worries over climate change grow and more consumers in both Europe and the United States line up for locally grown, organic produce.

For reasons social, culinary and environmental, small farms like Mr. Master's should be promoted, or at least be protected, they say. They not only yield tastier foods but also produce few of the carbon emissions that contribute to global warming.

In part because Poland has remained one of the last strongholds of small farming in Europe, it is also a rare bastion of biodiversity, with 40,000 pairs of nesting storks and thousands of seed varieties that exist nowhere else in the world.

But European Union laws are intended for another universe of farming, and Polish farmers say they have left them at a steep disadvantage. If they want to sell their products, European law requires farms to have concrete floors in their barns and special equipment for slaughtering. Hygiene laws prohibit milking cows by hand. As a result, the milk collection stations and tiny slaughterhouses that until a few years ago dotted the Polish countryside have all closed. Small family farming is impossible.

"We need to reward them for being ahead of the game, rather than behind it," said Sir Julian Rose ů an organic farmer from Britain ů who, with his Polish partner, Jadwiga Lopata, founded the International Coalition to Protect the Polish Countryside some years back and has been fighting the regulations.

"The E.U. has adopted the same efficiency approach to food as it has to autos and microchips," he said. "Those who can produce the most are favored. Everything is happening the reverse of what it should be if they care about food and the environment."

The small farmers who have rallied behind the coalition here in southern Poland have touched a deep nerve and gained broad influence.

Ms. Lopata received the prestigious Goldman Prize for protecting the environment for her quest to preserve traditional farms. Prince Charles visited her farm (by helicopter) with its solar panels and the black sheep (responsible for mowing the grass) in the yard.

All 16 states of Poland have now banned genetically modified organisms in defiance of European Union and Word Trade Organization mandates. Last month, the Polish Agriculture Ministry announced that it planned to ban their import in animal fodder, another refusal to accept European Union policy.

In Brussels, headquarters of the European Union, officials say they have no desire to undo Polish tradition. "We are not advocating the industrialization of European farming ů from our side we think there is a place in Europe for all shapes and sizes of farms," said Michael Mann, spokesman for the European Commission Agriculture Directorate. But, he said: "There has to be some restructuring to become more competitive and less reliant on subsidies. Farming is a business. They will have to look for market niches."

The European Union currently pays farmers who meet health and sanitary standards a subsidy, to help maintain Europe's farming tradition and as an acknowledgment that it is more expensive to farm in Europe than in other parts of the world.

It also provides matching funds to all European Union national governments for agricultural development, to upgrade and modernize farms. The national governments decide what types of projects qualify, but the boundaries are loosely defined. In various countries they have included buying new equipment and developing organic cultivation, as well as turning nonperforming farms into bed-and-breakfasts.

In a coming review of such polices, the European Commission is planning to encourage spending more money to develop organic agriculture. "The whole idea is to empower farmers," Mr. Mann said.

"They don't need to change anything if they don't want to," he added. "But they have to survive in business. If you're still milking cows by hand, maybe you would want to use the money to put in a new system."

While overall farm income in Poland has gone up since the country has joined the European Union, that is certainly not the case for the small farmers here. In Poland, 22 percent of the work force is employed in agriculture, and the country boasts by far the highest number of farms in Europe. Most of them are tiny.

The average farm size is about 17 acres, compared with about 59 acres in Spain, France and Germany. There are 1.5 million small farms in Poland. Only Italy, with its proliferation of high-end niche agricultural products, compares to Poland in its abundance of small producers.

But the fall of Communism and, more recently, European Union membership have opened this once cloistered land to global forces: international competition, sanitary codes, trade rules and the like. Sir Julian recalls that at an agricultural conference in 1999 a pamphlet advertised "Poland up for grabs!" That is what has happened, he said. In a market newly saturated with huge efficient players, these small traditional farmers are being overwhelmed. The American bacon producer Smithfield Farms now operates a dozen vast industrial pig farms in Poland. Importing cheap soy feed from South America, which the company feeds to its tens of thousands of pigs, it has caused the price of pork to drop strikingly in the past couple of years. Since European Union membership, the prices of pork and milk have dropped 30 percent.

In early March, hundreds of Polish farmers demonstrated outside the office of Prime Minister Donald Tusk, complaining that they were losing money on each hog they raised. Anyway, Mr. Master said, raising pigs for sale was a nonstarter. He is forbidden to slaughter his own pigs, and the nearest abattoir that meets European Union standards is hours away; there are only five in all of Poland.

"It is impossible for me to farm," he lamented over beet soup, in his ragged sweater and black work pants. He and his wife know that the European Union offers subsidies and loans to modernize traditional farms. But, they say, it is not enough money, it is not what they want and they are not adept at navigating the bureaucracy. They tried to fill out the paperwork to get certified as an organic farm but found it overwhelming.

Poland has a tradition of small farming that has persisted for centuries. Unlike farmers in the rest of Eastern Europe, Poland's farmers even resisted collectivization under Communism. Now, Ms. Lopata said, they are "organic by default," and "at the vanguard of an ecological, healthy way of food producing."

In a small barn covered with matted straw, Barbara and Andrzej Wojcik say they feel like outcasts. They used to make a decent living selling pork from pigs they raised as well as the milk and butter from their six cows.

But they said that with the price of pork so low they could not afford to raise pigs slowly, the traditional way. As for milk, their local collection station closed a few years ago. So they have no way to get their products to market, even if they buy the required stainless steel equipment.

Now they have sold all but two of their cows and reverted to subsistence farming. They live off their parents' pensions, barter and a bit of money selling sewed crafts. "The new laws are killing us," Ms. Wojcik said.

Mr. Mann, from the European Commission, acknowledges that small farmers in places like Poland may have to adapt. "There is a place for the small farmer," he said, "but they have to be smart and not rely on payouts."

But deft adaptation seems hard here, a place set in its ways ů and may be bad for the environment anyway. A collective system for selling organic vegetables to the city, devised by Ms. Lopata, never got off the ground.

"They tend to be very individualistic," she said. "They think they survived Communist efforts to collectivize them, so they will survive this. They don't realize the European Union and the global market are even harder."


On the trail of rogue genetically modified pathogens, 4 April 2008.

Bacteria can be used to engineer genetic modifications, thereby providing scientists with a tool to combat many challenges in areas from food production to drug discovery. However, this sophisticated technology can also be used maliciously, raising the threat of engineered pathogens. New research published in the online open access journal Genome Biology shows that computational tools could become a vital resource for detecting rogue genetically engineered bacteria in environmental samples.

Jonathan Allen, Shea Gardner and Tom Slezak of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, US, designed new computational tools that identify a set of DNA markers that can distinguish between artificial vector sequences and natural DNA sequences. Natural plasmids and artificial vector sequences have much in common, but these new tools show the potential to achieve high sensitivity and specificity, even when detecting previously unsequenced vectors in microarray-based bioassays.

A new computational genomics tool was developed to compare all available sequenced artificial vectors with available natural sequences, including plasmids and chromosomes, from bacteria and viruses. The tool clusters the artificial vector sequences into different subgroups based on shared sequence; these shared sequences were then compared with the natural plasmid and chromosomal sequence information so as to find regions that are unique to the artificial vectors. Nearly all the artificial vector sequences had one or more unique regions. Short stretches of these unique regions are termed 'candidate DNA signatures' and can be used as probes for detecting an artificial vector sequence in the presence of natural sequences using a microarray. Further tests showed that subgroups of candidate DNA signatures are far more likely to match unseen artificial than natural sequences.

The authors say that the next step is to see whether a bioassay design using DNA signatures on microarrays can spot genetically modified DNA in a sample containing a mixture of natural and modified bacteria. The scientific community will need to cooperate with computational experts to sequence and track available vector sequences if DNA signatures are to be used successfully to support detection and deterrence against malicious genetic engineering applications. Scientists would be able to maintain an expanding database of DNA signatures to track all sequenced vectors.

"As with any attempt to counter malicious use of technology, detecting genetic engineering in microbes will be an immense challenge that requires many different tools and continual effort," says Allen.


USA: Green Solution to Economy, Ban of GMOS, Clones on Tap At Green Party Conv

News Blaze, 4 April 2008.

A total ban on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and cloned animals, and the implementation of "Green Chemistry" will be among the platform planks to be debated at the Green Party of California State Convention April 5-6, Saturday and Sunday, at Dwinelle Hall (Room 145) at the University of California, Berkeley.

A news conference will be held SATURDAY, April 5, at 12 Noon (Room 215) where the state of the economy (local, state and national) and the "Green Answer" will be presented by Green candidates for state, federal and local offices.

The ban on GMOs and cloned animals would expand the current GPCA Platform. It would not only ban them, but, if they're legalized, mandate public warning labels, the USDA to alert counties, and neighboring farmers, if GMOs are being used in their areas and hold the source biotechnology corporation legally accountable for any "genetic pollution."

Greens will also create a new platform plank dealing with "Green Chemistry," which is the design and use of "chemicals, processes and products that are safer for human and environmental health (to prevent) hazardous exposures."

"Industry relies on government corporate socialism via the public trough whenever major safety and health problems occur, with legal settlements far outnumbering completed legal cases. This...would end if the source corporations were responsible for the 'cradle to grave' fate of chemicals and their products rather than governments and the public," according to the proposal before the GPCA convention.

Greens will consider expanded rights for the disabled, and their families...and guarantee members of the disabled community their basic civil rights, including the right to marry, right to parenthood, right to education, right to vote, right to access to the court system, the right to competent legal representation and the right to appropriate accommodation in prisons and jails.


3 April 2008

France" GMOs: the opposition claims a 'political victory'

J.B. ( with AFP, AP and 3 April 2008.

[Photo caption: 'It's a victory and a political event,' rejoiced the Socialist Party MP Germinal Peiro]

PARIS -- The National Assembly adopted an amendment restricting the use of these organisms [GMOs] in quality agricultural production lines: AOC ['controlled term of origin', the French certification granted to certain French geographical indications for wines, cheeses, butters, and other agricultural products], labels[?], organics. Debates will be extended to Monday.

An explosion of joy in the House. It was with these words that Agence France-Presse described the reaction of Socialist Party members of parliament after the adoption on Wednesday night of an amendment which strongly restricts the use of GMOs, especially in areas of 'controlled term of origin' (AOC). The opposition called the vote on this amendment a 'political victory' against the [UMP] majority.

'Despite strong pressure from the UMP group on the government, which had allowed the Assembly to make a free choice, the left-wing MPs, joined by some responsible members, allowed a fundamental breakthrough in respect of non-GMO crops,' rejoiced the Socialist MPs in a statement. Four UMP MPs voted for the amendment.

Defended by the Communist Andre Chassaigne, the amendment stipulates that 'GMOs can only be used in respecting [in the sense of deferring to] not only the environment and public health, as the government's draft bill stated, but also farm structures, regional ecosystems, and commercial production lines designated 'non-GM', and with complete transparency'.

For the Socialist MPs, the adoption of this amendment provides a legal basis to exclude GMOs from parts of [French] territory. 'This is a victory and a political event,' rejoiced one of its authors, Socialist Party MP Germinal Peiro. The former UMP Minister and former trade unionist Christian Jacob played down the amendment: 'There was a bit of confusion. (...) It is not a huge tragedy and we will correct it.'

Lengthy debate

On Thursday, MPs approved a UMP amendment aimed at strengthening protection for 'traditional crops' against the risk of contamination. Presented by MP Francois Grosdidier, one of few from the majority to express disagreement with the government's draft bill, the amendment -- voted through with the support of the Socialist Party, PCF [French Communist Party], and the Greens -- states that 'Freedom to consume and produce with or without GMOs' must be done 'without jeopardizing the integrity of the environment and the distinctiveness of traditional and quality crops.' It covers the first article of the draft bill. The announcement of the vote has already been hailed by environmentalists, headed by Greenpeace and France Nature Environnement [environmental organisation].

Already adopted on Feb. 8 by the Senate, the text will be the subject of a solemn [formal?] ballot on Tuesday, April 8, which will reveal the vote of each MP. The discussions have been extended because only some forty amendments (out of 476) were examined on Thursday afternoon.

Jean-Francois Legrand troubles the [UMP] majority

In addition, controversy continues amongst the [UMP] majority regarding the remarks of the UMP Senator UMP of La Manche, Jean-Francois Legrand. In an interview with Le Monde, he accused MPs of the majority party of being 'controlled' by the American company Monsanto and other seed companies. The president of the National Assembly Bernard Accoyer, while rejecting strongly the remarks of his Senator colleague, acknowledged that the deputies had 'every day' sustained pressure from lobbyists on the topic of GMOs, especially from those who oppose GMOs. Judging this climate 'unhealthy', he wishes to put in place 'rules of transparency'.

On Thursday, agriculture minister Michel Barnier has for his part judged the allegations of the senator as 'fairly serious'. When questioned about the amendment tabled by Socialist MPs and adopted Wednesday, he played down its scope, assuming that those areas could 'already be protected'.

In contrast, the UMP member for Moselle, Francois Grosdidier, who is calling for a return to the draft law as it was before its passage in the Senate, expressed his support for Jean-Francois Legrand. He held that 'an accusation of intellectual influence is not an accusation of financial corruption, as Patrick Ollier, president of the commission of economic affairs, tried to convince [people] yesterday in the National Assembly, in order to disqualify Jean-Francois Legrand [from political office].'


Canada: Bill to Label Genetically Engineered Foods: Will MPs vote for Monsanto or Canadians?

Canada Newswire, 3 April 2008.

Today the House of Commons will debate a Private Member's Bill (C-517) proposed by Gilles-Andre Perron, Bloc Quebecois MP for Riviere-des-Mille-Illes. If adopted, this bill will legislate the mandatory labeling of genetically engineered (GE) foods (also called genetically modified or GM). More than 40 countries across the world already have adopted labeling laws including Europe, Russia and China.

"We have a fundamental right to know what foods are genetically engineered," said Tony Beck of the grassroots coalition GE Free BC. The Federal government has refused to establish mandatory labeling despite years of polls that show 79% to 90% of Canadians and Quebecois want these labels. "Our government has tried everything to keep Canadian consumers from having the ability to chose non-GE foods," said Beck.

A Canadian standard for voluntary labeling of GE foods was released in 2003. "Of course no companies have ever voluntarily labeled their foods as containing GE ingredients," said Sharon Labchuk of the P.E.I. Coalition for a GMO-Free Province, "It is only mandatory labeling that will give consumers choice in the grocery store."

"Without mandatory labeling, Canadians have no tools to track potential health effects from consuming GE foods," said Lucy Sharratt, Coordinator of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, "Canada hosted an international conference on post-market surveillance which would have set up a system to track GE foods and their health impacts, but the government abandoned this project when it became clear that mandatory labeling would also be required."

More independent scientific studies are raising health concerns about GE foods. 216 contamination events with have been recorded raising additional questions about health risks of GE food and GE crops in our environment. GE soy, canola and corn are grown in Canada and end up as ingredients in most processed foods that Canadians eat. "This Private Members Bill is an outstanding chance for our Members of Parliament to listen to consumers and support democracy and choice for consumers," said Josh Brandon, Agriculture Campaigner, Greenpeace Canada.


Australia: Farmers may face legal action over GM crops

Transcript of PM Radio broadcast with reporter Ashley Hall, 3 April 2008.

MARK COLVIN: Farmers could soon be swapping writs over paddock fences as the battle over the introduction of genetically modified crops moves into the legal system.

Anti-GM farmers are worried that their crops will become contaminated and export markets will dry up.

The Network of Concerned Farmers, which opposed GM crops, is distributing letters to pro-GM farmers, warning them they'll face personal legal action to recover any losses caused by the introduction of the controversial seeds.

But pro-GM farmers say the campaign is nonsense.

Ashley Hall reports.

ASHLEY HALL: It's the latest battle in a long-running war over the introduction of genetically modified crops.

The commonwealth regulator and several state bodies have given the go ahead for the planting of some GM crops, including cotton and canola, but the Network of Concerned Farmers is still not convinced the crops are safe.

Julie Newman is the Network's national spokeswoman.

JULIE NEWMAN: The tests that have been done on genetically modified foods to date, have adverse impacts, including damage to immune systems and increased allergies, development of lesions and/or pre-cancerous growths; unusually enlarged or damaged organs and unexplained deaths. These have been proven by the GM companies themselves.

ASHLEY HALL: The anti-GM farmers want more independent and thorough testing done before the crops are introduced.

Dr Judy Carman of the Institute of Health and Environmental Research in Adelaide has offered to do that testing, but so far only the West Australian government is prepared to fund it.

JUDY CARMAN: There are no animal tests for allergy, no animal tests for reproductive problems, no animal tests required for any damage to organs for example from long-term consumption of the food. And these really do need to be done.

ASHLEY HALL: But what really concerns the Network of Concerned Farmers is what will happen if their crops are contaminated with genetically modified seed.

They fear it will be impossible for farmers to separate traditional from modified crops, so they'll be unable to sell to customers opposed to GM foods.

And they're worried that if their crops are found to contain GM produce, they'll have to pay royalties to the bio-tech companies which own the patents.

JULIE NEWMAN: We as the polluted have to pay a royalty. So we are expected to pay for getting contaminated. So one seed in our sample - which we will get because contamination will happen - could mean that the GM company has the right, as it does in Brazil, to deduct a user fee.

So automatically every farmer pays a percentage of their income to the GM companies.

ASHLEY HALL: The Network of Concerned Farmers says the biotech companies accept no liability for any contamination or loss of income that might follow.

So the Network is turning its attention to individual farmers, sending them letters, warning that they could face legal action if they plant GM crops and there are problems.

Julie Newman says there's been a hostile response.

JULIE NEWMAN: It will be very difficult to take legal action against your neighbour but that is our only avenue of protection and we will take it. And that's why we are distributing letters to GM farmers warning them that 'no we will not accept any economic loss and it is their responsibility to contain their product and pay for any economic loss if it happens'. And they're not too happy about this.

ASHLEY HALL: But members of the pro-GM group, the Producers Forum say the network's fears about GM food safety amount to a scare campaign.

Chris Kelly is a canola grower in Woomelang in Victoria's Mallee region, and the state convenor of the Producers Forum.

CHRIS KELLY: We don't like to grow any crop that is certainly unsafe, that would be financially a very bad decision for us. We believe the European Food Safety Authority, the American Food and Drug Administration Authority and the World Health Organisation, the United Nations FAO, these are all the world's most eminent scientists sit on these bodies and they believe the technology is very safe.

ASHLEY HALL: He says he's not concerned by the threat of legal action, because all the evidence shows that GM crops can be contained without affecting neighbouring properties.

CHRIS KELLY: I think farmers just want to move on with the job. The Network of Concerned Farmers have had four years to voice their concerns and there have been a lot of reviews by government and independent bodies and quite frankly we don't see any problems. We feel the science has been done on the subject and the state government and the Department of Agriculture feel that with good management this should not be an issue.

MARK COLVIN: Chris Kelly, the Victorian convenor of the Producers' Forum; he was talking to Ashley Hall.


Soya farming at the centre of debate in Argentina

The Earth Times (New York), 3 April 2008.

Buenos Aires - The changes to the main street in an Argentine village on the humid Pampa is astounding. The number of shops has tripled, people consume like they rarely did in the past, and there is a constant flow of sports utility vehicles and new cars. "Soya!" people cheer in explanation.

The runway at the little village airstrip had never been so well- marked. A dense spread of intensely green crops reaches almost up to its hangar. Every free square metre is put to use, including the sides of roads.

"Soya!" people say.

Ploughs march pitilessly on the jungle of the Yungas in the north-western Argentine province of Salta. They churn under everything in their path.

"Soya," the answer now comes with a tone of regret.

Within a few years, soya has become Argentina's star crop to the point that it has taken over half the country's cultivable land, about 16.6 million of the 30.4 million hectares devoted to agriculture in the South American country and made Argentina the world's third-largest producer of soya after the United States and Brazil.

Close to 95 per cent of Argentina's crop is exported. The plant has become one of Argentina's main sources of foreign currency and a cross-border phenomenon - as well as the basis of an economic, social and ecological debate.

Export taxes on soya are one of the basic pillars of Argentina's fiscal surplus. Duties on the foreign sale of agricultural produce provide the national treasury with about 10 billion dollars a year, which should rise by 2 billion more dollars if a recently introduced tax increase that has led farmers groups to block roads in the Argentine countryside for weeks is finally applied.

The increased cultivation of soya, mostly with genetically modified seeds, has generated deep changes since the 1990s.

Its greater returns made soya the life preserver of many small farmers harassed by debt and mortgages in the Argentine economic crisis that exploded in 2001. And most of the earnings were poured into regional economies, leading to a revival of small and medium-sized villages and towns in rural Argentina.

The money-making potential of the crop also led to the emergence of sowing pools, pulling together farmers, investment funds and companies that rent large tracts of land to sow soya.

With a strong tendency toward monoculture, other farm activities - cattle breeding, milk production, regional produce - were pushed to less productive areas, especially toward the north, while the dominance of crops that require little labour started to push surplus manpower to the cities.

"Besides, the country's natural advantages, there are those acquired through technological innovation, the use of no-till farming, the application of biotechnology, the installation of very modern plants and the closeness between processing plants and ports," said Raquel Caminoa, economic studies manager of the Argentine Oil Industry Chamber.

In the past soya season, Argentina exported 11.82 billion tons of soya beans, 6.4 million tons of soya oil and 25.9 million tons of soya flour, basically to the European Union (flour) and to China and India (beans and oil).

In the face of strong criticism over the impoverishment of the soil and the risks of desertification, a broad portion of farmers turned to intensive fertilization and no-till farming.

Not only do farmers not till their fields in the no-till method, but they also leave the remains of plants after harvesting. The practice prevents plant elements from mixing in with the soil to oxidize and produce carbon dioxide and allows for a more efficient use of water because the presence of plant remains prevents greater evaporation and erosion.

However, the most effective and important way to preserve soil quality is crop rotation, which producers who own the land tend to respect more than those who simply rent out large tracts to secure the greatest turnover possible, said Daniel Peruzzi of the Association of No-Tilling Producers.

Soil degradation is only one criticism directed at soya farming, however.

"The production of soya is one of the main factors responsible for Argentine deforestation," said Hernan Giardini, who coordinates Greenpeace's biodiversity campaign in Buenos Aires.

"A million hectares of native woodland have been lost in the past eight years to a large extent due to the uncontrolled advance of the soya model," Giardini said.

He warned that those lands produce low yields and are likely to be abandoned by producers within a few years, which would turn them into barren desert.


Germany: Objections filed against open field trial of GM wheat at the University of Rostock

Schweizerische Arbeitsgruppe Gentechnologie SAG, 3 March 2008.

At the end of May, the Umweltinstitut München as well as environmental associations, farmers organisations and food companies have officially filed an objection against the planned cultivation of GM wheat to be carried out by the University of Rostock.

The objection has been submitted to the competent regulatory authority (Bundesamt fłr Verbraucherschutz und Lebensmittelsicherheit - BVL).

Additionally, about 7000 citizens have expressed their protest against the planned trial via sample objection text prepared by the Umweltinstitut München.


Monsanto's revenue soars 45%, 3 April 2008. "Genetically modify this," said the Monsanto Co. as it doubled its fiscal second-quarter net income.

The agriculture giant posted strong increases as demand drove corn and herbicide sales higher.

For the quarter ended 29 February, the producer of genetically modified seeds posted net income of $1.13 billion, up from $543 million a year earlier. The latest quarter's results included some gain related to the emergence from bankruptcy of Solutia, its former chemical unit.

Revenue climbed 45% to $3.78 billion. Monsanto's gross profit margin rose to 59% from 55.5%.

Sales in the seeds and genomics segment, which includes the company's global seeds and traits business, and genetic-technology platforms, increased 39% to $2.55 billion, as corn sales jumped 47% and soybean sales rose 22% amid strong demand and increased sales of a higher-margin corn seed.

Monday, Monsanto said it agreed to acquire Netherlands-based De Ruiter Seeds Group BV for $853.5 million (ß546 million) in a deal expected to build on its vegetable-seed business. The acquisition will also enhance Monsanto's growth in the protected-culture segment, where seeds germinate in controlled settings such as greenhouses.


2 April 2008

French Parl Hot over Transgenic Corn

Prensa Latina, 2 April 2008.

Paris -- The French National Assembly enters the second day of debates of a draft bill on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) amid contradictions and protests by contenders.

The Senate voted the draft bill February 8 after introducing some changes to the original proposal, among them coexistence of GMO and conventional crops under tight control.

Any one interested in GMO farming must inform the conditions and situation of his plantation to avert damages to non GMO farmers and sign a liability insurance should he cause any harm to his neighbors.

Tuesday, Ecology Minister Jean-Louis Borloo, Michel Barnier (Agriculture), Michel Barnier and Secretary of States Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet said the goal is to establish a fair legal frame on the affair.

However, the Greens, Socialists and other progressive forces at the Senate, oppose the project because it denied the accord on October 2007.

Socialist Sen. Germinal Peiro proposed isolating the crop and limit tests to closed areas because open field planting may help expand irreversible environmental effects.


EU: Mandates related to the environmental risk assessment of GM plants
To be cultivated in the EU, 2 April 2008.

Each GM plant grown in the European Union has to undergo an extensive environmental risk assessment to anticipate and, if possible, to identify any adverse effect it may have on the environment.

The information provided by an applicant must also include data covering several seasons of field growing trials so that any possible adverse effects on the environment can be detected. So far only one type of GM plant, the GM Maize MON 810 which is resistant against the European corn borer, is cultivated in some countries of the EU.

In addition, each GM application has to be accompanied by an environmental monitoring plan demonstrating how the applicant will monitor the GMO product with annual and longer term reporting on any possible and unexpected adverse environmental impact. This monitoring plan will also provide important information for the 10-year renewal assessment for a GMO application. Once an authorisation is given by the European Union for a GMO, it must be reassessed again after a 10-year period in order to maintain its authorisation on the market. In parallel to the evaluation process for GM applications, EFSA has continued to update its scientific approach to environmental risk assessment. EFSA organised for example a Scientific colloquium on Environmental Risk Assessment in June 2007 with leading experts in the field from Europe and beyond. The Colloquium considered various approaches to environmental risk assessment in the light of current scientific thinking on issues, such as long-term effects and adverse impact on non-target organisms such as insects. EFSA has also developed further work on Post Market Environmental Monitoring which, after a public consultation, resulted in the publication of a specific guidance document.

Based on this work and feedback received at a meeting with Member States on GMO risk assessment approaches in November 2007, EFSA's GMO Panel will continue to develop its approach to environmental risk assessment through a self-task activity on so-called "Non-target Organisms". This will consist of further developing guidance for assessing potential adverse effects that the GM plants might have on non-target organisms, such as insects (e.g. butterflies, beetles), not targeted by the specific insect-resistant trait expressed by the GM plant. Many GMOs are developed to be resistant to certain weeds or pests which are referred to as "target organisms". Non-target organisms would be those plants or animals which are affected unintentionally by a GMO resulting in an undesired effect on plants or animals in the environment.

At the same time, EFSA has also discussed and accepted a complementary mandate from DG Environment of the European Commission. Under this mandate, EFSA will further update the current GMO Panel's Guidance Document and will also cover some of the issues discussed during EFSA's colloquium on environmental risk assessment. More specifically, the mandate will cover issues, such as potential long-term environmental effects and the development of criteria for setting up field trials to assess environmental impact. EFSA "self-tasking" Working Group on statistics and experimental design will assist in this. EFSA's GMO Panel will complete this work over the next 24 months.


Dr David Suzuki: Global economic growth is 'suicidal'
Canadian environmentalist Dr Suzuki explains why separating economics from ecology is bad news for humans, 2 April 2008.

This is a transcript of Dr Suzuki's lecture, "The Challenge of the 21st Century: Setting the Real Bottom Line", given at the 2008 Commonwealth Lecture in London, hosted by the inter-governmental organisation the Commonwealth Foundation.

[Extract only:]

I am a geneticist by training, and history indicates we are in for similar surprises with genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. We are now manipulating the very blueprint of life, creating organisms that have never existed before. Any scientist who tells you they know that GMOs are safe and not to worry about it is either ignorant of the history of science or is deliberately lying. Nobody knows what the long term effect will be. Europeans have been much more conservative about allowing GMOs into their countries. When I come to Europe, environmentalists tell me they are watching Canadians, who have been doing a huge experiment by eating it for over 5 years!

So for me as a scientist it was a real dilemma. We often see unpredictable environmental impacts arising from our use of science and technology. How can we manage the impact of these new powers when we are so ignorant about the world around us?

Full transcript available at


Romania set to ban approved modified corn crop

Financial Times, 2 April 2008.

Romania intends to join six other European Union members in banning the only genetically modified crop approved for use in the bloc, its environment minister said yesterday, in a fresh blow to the biotechnology industry.

Attila Korodi called for a moratorium on planting MON810, a corn produced by Monsanto, the US company, and said his country's biosecurity committee would start examining the possibility of a ban on April 15.

Romania, a major agricultural producer, was a big grower of GM crops before it joined the EU last year.

Mr Korodi told the Financial Times a ban was likely as the committee would examine studies used by Hungary and France to justify their recent prohibition of MON810 because of its negative impact on the environment.

"If they say they have concerns, then we will ask the European Commission for a temporary ban," he said. "We simply don't know what its environmental impact will be."

Italy, Austria, Greece and Poland have also banned the insect-resistant corn, claiming that the toxin it contains could be harmful to other wildlife. However, the Commission, which regulates the market, has yet to sanction their bans.

Stavros Dimas, the environment commissioner, has asked the European Food Safety Authority for an expert evaluation of MON- 810 and recommended that two similar products not be allowed on to the market because of environmental concerns.

Polls have shown most Romanians do not want to eat GM food, in tune with public attitudes in most EU countries.

Greenpeace, the environmental group, welcomed the news. "The Romanian people overwhelmingly reject this unsafe, unnecessary and unsustainable technology. It is vital the ban is in place as soon as possible, so natural crops can be safe from GM contamination before the sowing season starts," said Gabriel Paun of Greenpeace Romania.

Europabio, which represents biotech companies, said the concerns were baseless and the bans would hurt farmers.

"The specific biotech maize has also been the subject of thorough scientific reviews by scientific communities around the world and has received positive approvals by the world's most robust approval systems, as well as EFSA," it said in a statement.


Germany approves GMO sugar and potato field trials

Reuters, 2 April 2008.

HAMBURG - Germany's state food safety agency said on Wednesday it approved open-air field trials of sugar beet and potatoes containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

The company Planta has been given permission to sow 12,000 square metres of GMO sugar beet at two locations between 2008 and 2011, agency BVL said.

BASF Plant Science, part of German chemicals group BASF (BASF.DE: Quote, Profile, Research), has been given approval to plant GMO potatoes on 30,000 square metres divided among three locations between 2008 and 2012.

"The BVL's safety assessment came to the conclusion that the open-air trials would not have any dangerous influence on humans or animals or the environment," the agency said.

The crops may not be sold as food or animal feed.

The GMO sugar beet in the trials is resistant to the weed killer glyphosat.

To prevent GMO organisms being spread by pollen, Planta must check sugar beets every two weeks for flowering and destroy any flowers before they bloom, the agency said. There must be a 10-metre gap between the GMO potatoes and conventional crops.

The potatoes were being tested for resistance to several and for their starch content, it said.

The European Union has legalised commercial production of several GMO maize varieties but field trials on other GMO crops require approval from national governments.

German farmers have registered intentions with the BVL to plant 4,413 hectares of GMO maize commercial production in the 2008 crop, up from 2,753 ha harvested in 2007, the agency said in March.

Although up on the year, the total is only a negligible part of German annual maize cultivation of around 1.8 million ha. (Reporting by Michael Hogan; editing by Chris Johnson)


Bio-nanotechnology will help India's food security: Pawar

Green Technology Forum, 2 April 20008.

"Bio-nanotechnology takes agriculture from the era of genetically modified (GM) crops to the brave new world of atomically modified organisms," said India's Minister for Food and Agriculture Sharad Pawar recently. "The application of biotechnology in the past decade," he added, "has resulted in an increase in crop productivity, lowering of production costs and increasing the stability of crop production by reducing the losses . . ." Of course, not everyone would share his view or look forward to his brave new world. But he's right about one thingůwe've entered the age of atomically modified organisms.

See related article: Bio-nanotechnology will help India's food security: Pawar


1 April 2008

USA: Monsanto's Harvest of Fear

Vanity Fair, May 2008. By Donald L. Bartlett and James B. Steele.

Monsanto already dominates America's food chain with its genetically modified seeds. Now it has targeted milk production. Just as frightening as the corporation's tactics - ruthless legal battles against small farmers-is its decades-long history of toxic contamination.

Gary Rinehart clearly remembers the summer day in 2002 when the stranger walked in and issued his threat. Rinehart was behind the counter of the Square Deal, his "old-time country store," as he calls it, on the fading town square of Eagleville, Missouri, a tiny farm community 100 miles north of Kansas City.

The Square Deal is a fixture in Eagleville, a place where farmers and townspeople can go for lightbulbs, greeting cards, hunting gear, ice cream, aspirin, and dozens of other small items without having to drive to a big-box store in Bethany, the county seat, 15 miles down Interstate 35.

Everyone knows Rinehart, who was born and raised in the area and runs one of Eagleville's few surviving businesses. The stranger came up to the counter and asked for him by name.

"Well, that's me," said Rinehart.

As Rinehart would recall, the man began verbally attacking him, saying he had proof that Rinehart had planted Monsanto's genetically modified (G.M.) soybeans in violation of the company's patent. Better come clean and settle with Monsanto, Rinehart says the man told himůor face the consequences.

Rinehart was incredulous, listening to the words as puzzled customers and employees looked on. Like many others in rural America, Rinehart knew of Monsanto's fierce reputation for enforcing its patents and suing anyone who allegedly violated them. But Rinehart wasn't a farmer. He wasn't a seed dealer. He hadn't planted any seeds or sold any seeds. He owned a smallůa really smallůcountry store in a town of 350 people. He was angry that somebody could just barge into the store and embarrass him in front of everyone. "It made me and my business look bad," he says. Rinehart says he told the intruder, "You got the wrong guy."

When the stranger persisted, Rinehart showed him the door. On the way out the man kept making threats. Rinehart says he can't remember the exact words, but they were to the effect of: "Monsanto is big. You can't win. We will get you. You will pay."

Scenes like this are playing out in many parts of rural America these days as Monsanto goes after farmers, farmers' co-ops, seed dealersůanyone it suspects may have infringed its patents of genetically modified seeds. As interviews and reams of court documents reveal, Monsanto relies on a shadowy army of private investigators and agents in the American heartland to strike fear into farm country. They fan out into fields and farm towns, where they secretly videotape and photograph farmers, store owners, and co-ops; infiltrate community meetings; and gather information from informants about farming activities. Farmers say that some Monsanto agents pretend to be surveyors. Others confront farmers on their land and try to pressure them to sign papers giving Monsanto access to their private records. Farmers call them the "seed police" and use words such as "Gestapo" and "Mafia" to describe their tactics.

When asked about these practices, Monsanto declined to comment specifically, other than to say that the company is simply protecting its patents. "Monsanto spends more than $2 million a day in research to identify, test, develop and bring to market innovative new seeds and technologies that benefit farmers," Monsanto spokesman Darren Wallis wrote in an e-mailed letter to Vanity Fair. "One tool in protecting this investment is patenting our discoveries and, if necessary, legally defending those patents against those who might choose to infringe upon them." Wallis said that, while the vast majority of farmers and seed dealers follow the licensing agreements, "a tiny fraction" do not, and that Monsanto is obligated to those who do abide by its rules to enforce its patent rights on those who "reap the benefits of the technology without paying for its use." He said only a small number of cases ever go to trial.

Some compare Monsanto's hard-line approach to Microsoft's zealous efforts to protect its software from pirates. At least with Microsoft the buyer of a program can use it over and over again. But farmers who buy Monsanto's seeds can't even do that.

The Control of Nature

For centuriesůmillenniaůfarmers have saved seeds from season to season: they planted in the spring, harvested in the fall, then reclaimed and cleaned the seeds over the winter for re-planting the next spring. Monsanto has turned this ancient practice on its head.

Monsanto developed G.M. seeds that would resist its own herbicide, Roundup, offering farmers a convenient way to spray fields with weed killer without affecting crops. Monsanto then patented the seeds. For nearly all of its history the United States Patent and Trademark Office had refused to grant patents on seeds, viewing them as life-forms with too many variables to be patented. "It's not like describing a widget," says Joseph Mendelson III, the legal director of the Center for Food Safety, which has tracked Monsanto's activities in rural America for years.

Indeed not. But in 1980 the U.S. Supreme Court, in a five-to-four decision, turned seeds into widgets, laying the groundwork for a handful of corporations to begin taking control of the world's food supply. In its decision, the court extended patent law to cover "a live human-made microorganism." In this case, the organism wasn't even a seed. Rather, it was a Pseudomonas bacterium developed by a General Electric scientist to clean up oil spills. But the precedent was set, and Monsanto took advantage of it. Since the 1980s, Monsanto has become the world leader in genetic modification of seeds and has won 674 biotechnology patents, more than any other company, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.

Farmers who buy Monsanto's patented Roundup Ready seeds are required to sign an agreement promising not to save the seed produced after each harvest for re-planting, or to sell the seed to other farmers. This means that farmers must buy new seed every year. Those increased sales, coupled with ballooning sales of its Roundup weed killer, have been a bonanza for Monsanto.

This radical departure from age-old practice has created turmoil in farm country. Some farmers don't fully understand that they aren't supposed to save Monsanto's seeds for next year's planting. Others do, but ignore the stipulation rather than throw away a perfectly usable product. Still others say that they don't use Monsanto's genetically modified seeds, but seeds have been blown into their fields by wind or deposited by birds. It's certainly easy for G.M. seeds to get mixed in with traditional varieties when seeds are cleaned by commercial dealers for re-planting. The seeds look identical; only a laboratory analysis can show the difference. Even if a farmer doesn't buy G.M. seeds and doesn't want them on his land, it's a safe bet he'll get a visit from Monsanto's seed police if crops grown from G.M. seeds are discovered in his fields.

Most Americans know Monsanto because of what it sells to put on our lawnsů the ubiquitous weed killer Roundup. What they may not know is that the company now profoundly influencesůand one day may virtually controlůwhat we put on our tables. For most of its history Monsanto was a chemical giant, producing some of the most toxic substances ever created, residues from which have left us with some of the most polluted sites on earth. Yet in a little more than a decade, the company has sought to shed its polluted past and morph into something much different and more far-reachingůan "agricultural company" dedicated to making the world "a better place for future generations." Still, more than one Web log claims to see similarities between Monsanto and the fictional company "U-North" in the movie Michael Clayton, an agribusiness giant accused in a multibillion-dollar lawsuit of selling an herbicide that causes cancer.

Monsanto's genetically modified seeds have transformed the company and are radically altering global agriculture. So far, the company has produced G.M. seeds for soybeans, corn, canola, and cotton. Many more products have been developed or are in the pipeline, including seeds for sugar beets and alfalfa. The company is also seeking to extend its reach into milk production by marketing an artificial growth hormone for cows that increases their output, and it is taking aggressive steps to put those who don't want to use growth hormone at a commercial disadvantage.

Even as the company is pushing its G.M. agenda, Monsanto is buying up conventional-seed companies. In 2005, Monsanto paid $1.4 billion for Seminis, which controlled 40 percent of the U.S. market for lettuce, tomatoes, and other vegetable and fruit seeds. Two weeks later it announced the acquisition of the country's third-largest cottonseed company, Emergent Genetics, for $300 million. It's estimated that Monsanto seeds now account for 90 percent of the U.S. production of soybeans, which are used in food products beyond counting. Monsanto's acquisitions have fueled explosive growth, transforming the St. Louis-based corporation into the largest seed company in the world.

In Iraq, the groundwork has been laid to protect the patents of Monsanto and other G.M.-seed companies. One of L. Paul Bremer's last acts as head of the Coalition Provisional Authority was an order stipulating that "farmers shall be prohibited from re-using seeds of protected varieties." Monsanto has said that it has no interest in doing business in Iraq, but should the company change its mind, the American-style law is in place.

To be sure, more and more agricultural corporations and individual farmers are using Monsanto's G.M. seeds. As recently as 1980, no genetically modified crops were grown in the U.S. In 2007, the total was 142 million acres planted. Worldwide, the figure was 282 million acres. Many farmers believe that G.M. seeds increase crop yields and save money. Another reason for their attraction is convenience. By using Roundup Ready soybean seeds, a farmer can spend less time tending to his fields. With Monsanto seeds, a farmer plants his crop, then treats it later with Roundup to kill weeds. That takes the place of labor-intensive weed control and plowing.

Monsanto portrays its move into G.M. seeds as a giant leap for mankind. But out in the American countryside, Monsanto's no-holds-barred tactics have made it feared and loathed. Like it or not, farmers say, they have fewer and fewer choices in buying seeds.

And controlling the seeds is not some abstraction. Whoever provides the world's seeds controls the world's food supply.

Under Surveillance

After Monsanto's investigator confronted Gary Rinehart, Monsanto filed a federal lawsuit alleging that Rinehart "knowingly, intentionally, and willfully" planted seeds "in violation of Monsanto's patent rights." The company's complaint made it sound as if Monsanto had Rinehart dead to rights:

During the 2002 growing season, Investigator Jeffery Moore, through surveillance of Mr. Rinehart's farm facility and farming operations, observed Defendant planting brown bag soybean seed. Mr. Moore observed the Defendant take the brown bag soybeans to a field, which was subsequently loaded into a grain drill and planted. Mr. Moore located two empty bags in the ditch in the public road right-of-way beside one of the fields planted by Rinehart, which contained some soybeans. Mr. Moore collected a small amount of soybeans left in the bags which Defendant had tossed into the public right-of way. These samples tested positive for Monsanto's Roundup Ready technology.

Faced with a federal lawsuit, Rinehart had to hire a lawyer. Monsanto eventually realized that "Investigator Jeffery Moore" had targeted the wrong man, and dropped the suit. Rinehart later learned that the company had been secretly investigating farmers in his area. Rinehart never heard from Monsanto again: no letter of apology, no public concession that the company had made a terrible mistake, no offer to pay his attorney's fees. "I don't know how they get away with it," he says. "If I tried to do something like that it would be bad news. I felt like I was in another country."

Gary Rinehart is actually one of Monsanto's luckier targets. Ever since commercial introduction of its G.M. seeds, in 1996, Monsanto has launched thousands of investigations and filed lawsuits against hundreds of farmers and seed dealers. In a 2007 report, the Center for Food Safety, in Washington, D.C., documented 112 such lawsuits, in 27 states.

Even more significant, in the Center's opinion, are the numbers of farmers who settle because they don't have the money or the time to fight Monsanto. "The number of cases filed is only the tip of the iceberg," says Bill Freese, the Center's science-policy analyst. Freese says he has been told of many cases in which Monsanto investigators showed up at a farmer's house or confronted him in his fields, claiming he had violated the technology agreement and demanding to see his records. According to Freese, investigators will say, "Monsanto knows that you are saving Roundup Ready seeds, and if you don't sign these information-release forms, Monsanto is going to come after you and take your farm or take you for all you're worth." Investigators will sometimes show a farmer a photo of himself coming out of a store, to let him know he is being followed.

Lawyers who have represented farmers sued by Monsanto say that intimidating actions like these are commonplace. Most give in and pay Monsanto some amount in damages; those who resist face the full force of Monsanto's legal wrath.

Scorched-Earth Tactics

Pilot Grove, Missouri, population 750, sits in rolling farmland 150 miles west of St. Louis. The town has a grocery store, a bank, a bar, a nursing home, a funeral parlor, and a few other small businesses. There are no stoplights, but the town doesn't need any. The little traffic it has comes from trucks on their way to and from the grain elevator on the edge of town. The elevator is owned by a local co-op, the Pilot Grove Cooperative Elevator, which buys soybeans and corn from farmers in the fall, then ships out the grain over the winter. The co-op has seven full-time employees and four computers.

In the fall of 2006, Monsanto trained its legal guns on Pilot Grove; ever since, its farmers have been drawn into a costly, disruptive legal battle against an opponent with limitless resources. Neither Pilot Grove nor Monsanto will discuss the case, but it is possible to piece together much of the story from documents filed as part of the litigation.

Monsanto began investigating soybean farmers in and around Pilot Grove several years ago. There is no indication as to what sparked the probe, but Monsanto periodically investigates farmers in soybean-growing regions such as this one in central Missouri. The company has a staff devoted to enforcing patents and litigating against farmers. To gather leads, the company maintains an 800 number and encourages farmers to inform on other farmers they think may be engaging in "seed piracy."

Once Pilot Grove had been targeted, Monsanto sent private investigators into the area. Over a period of months, Monsanto's investigators surreptitiously followed the co-op's employees and customers and videotaped them in fields and going about other activities. At least 17 such surveillance videos were made, according to court records. The investigative work was outsourced to a St. Louis agency, McDowell & Associates. It was a McDowell investigator who erroneously fingered Gary Rinehart. In Pilot Grove, at least 11 McDowell investigators have worked the case, and Monsanto makes no bones about the extent of this effort: "Surveillance was conducted throughout the year by various investigators in the field," according to court records. McDowell, like Monsanto, will not comment on the case.

Not long after investigators showed up in Pilot Grove, Monsanto subpoenaed the co-op's records concerning seed and herbicide purchases and seed-cleaning operations. The co-op provided more than 800 pages of documents pertaining to dozens of farmers. Monsanto sued two farmers and negotiated settlements with more than 25 others it accused of seed piracy. But Monsanto's legal assault had only begun. Although the co-op had provided voluminous records, Monsanto then sued it in federal court for patent infringement. Monsanto contended that by cleaning seedsůa service which it had provided for decadesůthe co-op was inducing farmers to violate Monsanto's patents. In effect, Monsanto wanted the co-op to police its own customers.

In the majority of cases where Monsanto sues, or threatens to sue, farmers settle before going to trial. The cost and stress of litigating against a global corporation are just too great. But Pilot Grove wouldn't caveůand ever since, Monsanto has been turning up the heat. The more the co-op has resisted, the more legal firepower Monsanto has aimed at it. Pilot Grove's lawyer, Steven H. Schwartz, described Monsanto in a court filing as pursuing a "scorched earth tactic," intent on "trying to drive the co-op into the ground."

Even after Pilot Grove turned over thousands more pages of sales records going back five years, and covering virtually every one of its farmer customers, Monsanto wanted moreůthe right to inspect the co-op's hard drives. When the co-op offered to provide an electronic version of any record, Monsanto demanded hands-on access to Pilot Grove's in-house computers.

Monsanto next petitioned to make potential damages punitiveůtripling the amount that Pilot Grove might have to pay if found guilty. After a judge denied that request, Monsanto expanded the scope of the pre-trial investigation by seeking to quadruple the number of depositions. "Monsanto is doing its best to make this case so expensive to defend that the Co-op will have no choice but to relent," Pilot Grove's lawyer said in a court filing.

With Pilot Grove still holding out for a trial, Monsanto now subpoenaed the records of more than 100 of the co-op's customers. In a "You are Commanded ... " notice, the farmers were ordered to gather up five years of invoices, receipts, and all other papers relating to their soybean and herbicide purchases, and to have the documents delivered to a law office in St. Louis. Monsanto gave them two weeks to comply.

Whether Pilot Grove can continue to wage its legal battle remains to be seen. Whatever the outcome, the case shows why Monsanto is so detested in farm country, even by those who buy its products. "I don't know of a company that chooses to sue its own customer base," says Joseph Mendelson, of the Center for Food Safety. "It's a very bizarre business strategy." But it's one that Monsanto manages to get away with, because increasingly it's the dominant vendor in town.

Chemicals? What Chemicals?

The Monsanto Company has never been one of America's friendliest corporate citizens. Given Monsanto's current dominance in the field of bioengineering, it's worth looking at the company's own DNA. The future of the company may lie in seeds, but the seeds of the company lie in chemicals. Communities around the world are still reaping the environmental consequences of Monsanto's origins.

Monsanto was founded in 1901 by John Francis Queeny, a tough, cigar-smoking Irishman with a sixth-grade education. A buyer for a wholesale drug company, Queeny had an idea. But like a lot of employees with ideas, he found that his boss wouldn't listen to him. So he went into business for himself on the side. Queeny was convinced there was money to be made manufacturing a substance called saccharin, an artificial sweetener then imported from Germany. He took $1,500 of his savings, borrowed another $3,500, and set up shop in a dingy warehouse near the St. Louis waterfront. With borrowed equipment and secondhand machines, he began producing saccharin for the U.S. market. He called the company the Monsanto Chemical Works, Monsanto being his wife's maiden name.

The German cartel that controlled the market for saccharin wasn't pleased, and cut the price from $4.50 to $1 a pound to try to force Queeny out of business. The young company faced other challenges. Questions arose about the safety of saccharin, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture even tried to ban it. Fortunately for Queeny, he wasn't up against opponents as aggressive and litigious as the Monsanto of today. His persistence and the loyalty of one steady customer kept the company afloat. That steady customer was a new company in Georgia named Coca-Cola.

Monsanto added more and more productsůvanillin, caffeine, and drugs used as sedatives and laxatives. In 1917, Monsanto began making aspirin, and soon became the largest maker worldwide. During World War I, cut off from imported European chemicals, Monsanto was forced to manufacture its own, and its position as a leading force in the chemical industry was assured.

After Queeny was diagnosed with cancer, in the late 1920s, his only son, Edgar, became president. Where the father had been a classic entrepreneur, Edgar Monsanto Queeny was an empire builder with a grand vision. It was Edgarůshrewd, daring, and intuitive ("He can see around the next corner," his secretary once said)ůwho built Monsanto into a global powerhouse. Under Edgar Queeny and his successors, Monsanto extended its reach into a phenomenal number of products: plastics, resins, rubber goods, fuel additives, artificial caffeine, industrial fluids, vinyl siding, dishwasher detergent, anti-freeze, fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides. Its safety glass protects the U.S. Constitution and the Mona Lisa. Its synthetic fibers are the basis of Astroturf.

During the 1970s, the company shifted more and more resources into biotechnology. In 1981 it created a molecular-biology group for research in plant genetics. The next year, Monsanto scientists hit gold: they became the first to genetically modify a plant cell. "It will now be possible to introduce virtually any gene into plant cells with the ultimate goal of improving crop productivity," said Ernest Jaworski, director of Monsanto's Biological Sciences Program.

Over the next few years, scientists working mainly in the company's vast new Life Sciences Research Center, 25 miles west of St. Louis, developed one genetically modified product after anotherůcotton, soybeans, corn, canola. From the start, G.M. seeds were controversial with the public as well as with some farmers and European consumers. Monsanto has sought to portray G.M. seeds as a panacea, a way to alleviate poverty and feed the hungry. Robert Shapiro, Monsanto's president during the 1990s, once called G.M. seeds "the single most successful introduction of technology in the history of agriculture, including the plow."

By the late 1990s, Monsanto, having rebranded itself into a "life sciences" company, had spun off its chemical and fibers operations into a new company called Solutia. After an additional reorganization, Monsanto re-incorporated in 2002 and officially declared itself an "agricultural company."

In its company literature, Monsanto now refers to itself disingenuously as a "relatively new company" whose primary goal is helping "farmers around the world in their mission to feed, clothe, and fuel" a growing planet. In its list of corporate milestones, all but a handful are from the recent era. As for the company's early history, the decades when it grew into an industrial powerhouse now held potentially responsible for more than 50 Environmental Protection Agency Superfund sitesůnone of that is mentioned. It's as though the original Monsanto, the company that long had the word "chemical" as part of its name, never existed. One of the benefits of doing this, as the company does not point out, was to channel the bulk of the growing backlog of chemical lawsuits and liabilities onto Solutia, keeping the Monsanto brand pure. But Monsanto's past, especially its environmental legacy, is very much with us. For many years Monsanto produced two of the most toxic substances ever knownů polychlorinated biphenyls, better known as PCBs, and dioxin. Monsanto no longer produces either, but the places where it did are still struggling with the aftermath, and probably always will be.

"Systemic Intoxication"

Twelve miles downriver from Charleston, West Virginia, is the town of Nitro, where Monsanto operated a chemical plant from 1929 to 1995. In 1948 the plant began to make a powerful herbicide known as 2,4,5-T, called "weed bug" by the workers. A by-product of the process was the creation of a chemical that would later be known as dioxin. The name dioxin refers to a group of highly toxic chemicals that have been linked to heart disease, liver disease, human reproductive disorders, and developmental problems. Even in small amounts, dioxin persists in the environment and accumulates in the body. In 1997 the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a branch of the World Health Organization, classified the most powerful form of dioxin as a substance that causes cancer in humans. In 2001 the U.S. government listed the chemical as a "known human carcinogen."

On March 8, 1949, a massive explosion rocked Monsanto's Nitro plant when a pressure valve blew on a container cooking up a batch of herbicide. The noise from the release was a scream so loud that it drowned out the emergency steam whistle for five minutes. A plume of vapor and white smoke drifted across the plant and out over town.Residue from the explosion coated the interior of the building and those inside with what workers described as "a fine black powder." Many felt their skin prickle and were told to scrub down.

Within days, workers experienced skin eruptions. Many were soon diagnosed with chloracne, a condition similar to common acne but more severe, longer lasting, and potentially disfiguring. Others felt intense pains in their legs, chest, and trunk. A confidential medical report at the time said the explosion "caused a systemic intoxication in the workers involving most major organ systems." Doctors who examined four of the most seriously injured men detected a strong odor coming from them when they were all together in a closed room. "We believe these men are excreting a foreign chemical through their skins," the confidential report to Monsanto noted. Court records indicate that 226 plant workers became ill.

According to court documents that have surfaced in a West Virginia court case, Monsanto downplayed the impact, stating that the contaminant affecting workers was "fairly slow acting" and caused "only an irritation of the skin."

In the meantime, the Nitro plant continued to produce herbicides, rubber products, and other chemicals. In the 1960s, the factory manufactured Agent Orange, the powerful herbicide which the U.S. military used to defoliate jungles during the Vietnam War, and which later was the focus of lawsuits by veterans contending that they had been harmed by exposure. As with Monsanto's older herbicides, the manufacturing of Agent Orange created dioxin as a by-product.

As for the Nitro plant's waste, some was burned in incinerators, some dumped in landfills or storm drains, some allowed to run into streams. As Stuart Calwell, a lawyer who has represented both workers and residents in Nitro, put it, "Dioxin went wherever the product went, down the sewer, shipped in bags, and when the waste was burned, out in the air."

In 1981 several former Nitro employees filed lawsuits in federal court, charging that Monsanto had knowingly exposed them to chemicals that caused long-term health problems, including cancer and heart disease. They alleged that Monsanto knew that many chemicals used at Nitro were potentially harmful, but had kept that information from them. On the eve of a trial, in 1988, Monsanto agreed to settle most of the cases by making a single lump payment of $1.5 million. Monsanto also agreed to drop its claim to collect $305,000 in court costs from six retired Monsanto workers who had unsuccessfully charged in another lawsuit that Monsanto had recklessly exposed them to dioxin. Monsanto had attached liens to the retirees' homes to guarantee collection of the debt.

Monsanto stopped producing dioxin in Nitro in 1969, but the toxic chemical can still be found well beyond the Nitro plant site. Repeated studies have found elevated levels of dioxin in nearby rivers, streams, and fish. Residents have sued to seek damages from Monsanto and Solutia. Earlier this year, a West Virginia judge merged those lawsuits into a class-action suit. A Monsanto spokesman said, "We believe the allegations are without merit and we'll defend ourselves vigorously." The suit will no doubt take years to play out. Time is one thing that Monsanto always has, and that the plaintiffs usually don't.

Poisoned Lawns

Five hundred miles to the south, the people of Anniston, Alabama, know all about what the people of Nitro are going through. They've been there. In fact, you could say, they're still there.

From 1929 to 1971, Monsanto's Anniston works produced PCBs as industrial coolants and insulating fluids for transformers and other electrical equipment. One of the wonder chemicals of the 20th century, PCBs were exceptionally versatile and fire-resistant, and became central to many American industries as lubricants, hydraulic fluids, and sealants. But PCBs are toxic. A member of a family of chemicals that mimic hormones, PCBs have been linked to damage in the liver and in the neurological, immune, endocrine, and reproductive systems. The Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.) and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, part of the Department of Health and Human Services, now classify PCBs as "probable carcinogens."

Today, 37 years after PCB production ceased in Anniston, and after tons of contaminated soil have been removed to try to reclaim the site, the area around the old Monsanto plant remains one of the most polluted spots in the U.S.

People in Anniston find themselves in this fix today largely because of the way Monsanto disposed of PCB waste for decades. Excess PCBs were dumped in a nearby open-pit landfill or allowed to flow off the property with storm water. Some waste was poured directly into Snow Creek, which runs alongside the plant and empties into a larger stream, Choccolocco Creek. PCBs also turned up in private lawns after the company invited Anniston residents to use soil from the plant for their lawns, according to The Anniston Star.

So for decades the people of Anniston breathed air, planted gardens, drank from wells, fished in rivers, and swam in creeks contaminated with PCBsůwithout knowing anything about the danger. It wasn't until the 1990sů20 years after Monsanto stopped making PCBs in Annistonůthat widespread public awareness of the problem there took hold. Studies by health authorities consistently found elevated levels of PCBs in houses, yards, streams, fields, fish, and other wildlifeůand in people. In 2003, Monsanto and Solutia entered into a consent decree with the E.P.A. to clean up Anniston. Scores of houses and small businesses were to be razed, tons of contaminated soil dug up and carted off, and streambeds scooped of toxic residue. The cleanup is under way, and it will take years, but some doubt it will ever be completedůthe job is massive. To settle residents' claims, Monsanto has also paid $550 million to 21,000 Anniston residents exposed to PCBs, but many of them continue to live with PCBs in their bodies. Once PCB is absorbed into human tissue, there it forever remains.

Monsanto shut down PCB production in Anniston in 1971, and the company ended all its American PCB operations in 1977. Also in 1977, Monsanto closed a PCB plant in Wales. In recent years, residents near the village of Groesfaen, in southern Wales, have noticed vile odors emanating from an old quarry outside the village. As it turns out, Monsanto had dumped thousands of tons of waste from its nearby PCB plant into the quarry. British authorities are struggling to decide what to do with what they have now identified as among the most contaminated places in Britain.

"No Cause for Public Alarm"

What had Monsanto knownůor what should it have knownůabout the potential dangers of the chemicals it was manufacturing? There's considerable documentation lurking in court records from many lawsuits indicating that Monsanto knew quite a lot. Let's look just at the example of PCBs.

The evidence that Monsanto refused to face questions about their toxicity is quite clear. In 1956 the company tried to sell the navy a hydraulic fluid for its submarines called Pydraul 150, which contained PCBs. Monsanto supplied the navy with test results for the product. But the navy decided to run its own tests. Afterward, navy officials informed Monsanto that they wouldn't be buying the product. "Applications of Pydraul 150 caused death in all of the rabbits tested" and indicated "definite liver damage," navy officials told Monsanto, according to an internal Monsanto memo divulged in the course of a court proceeding. "No matter how we discussed the situation," complained Monsanto's medical director, R. Emmet Kelly, "it was impossible to change their thinking that Pydraul 150 is just too toxic for use in submarines."

Ten years later, a biologist conducting studies for Monsanto in streams near the Anniston plant got quick results when he submerged his test fish. As he reported to Monsanto, according to The Washington Post, "All 25 fish lost equilibrium and turned on their sides in 10 seconds and all were dead in 3 and a half minutes."

From the beginning some consumers have consistently been hesitant to drink milk from cows treated with artificial hormones. This is one reason Monsanto has waged so many battles with dairies and regulators over the wording of labels on milk cartons. It has sued at least two dairies and one co-op over labeling.

Critics of the artificial hormone have pushed for mandatory labeling on all milk products, but the F.D.A. has resisted and even taken action against some dairies that labeled their milk "BST-free." Since BST is a natural hormone found in all cows, including those not injected with Monsanto's artificial version, the F.D.A. argued that no dairy could claim that its milk is BST-free. The F.D.A. later issued guidelines allowing dairies to use labels saying their milk comes from "non-supplemented cows," as long as the carton has a disclaimer saying that the artificial supplement does not in any way change the milk. So the milk cartons from Kleinpeter Dairy, for example, carry a label on the front stating that the milk is from cows not treated with rBGH, and the rear panel says, "Government studies have shown no significant difference between milk derived from rBGH-treated and non-rBGH-treated cows." That's not good enough for Monsanto.

The Next Battleground

As more and more dairies have chosen to advertise their milk as "No rBGH," Monsanto has gone on the offensive. Its attempt to force the F.T.C. to look into what Monsanto called "deceptive practices" by dairies trying to distance themselves from the company's artificial hormone was the most recent national salvo. But after reviewing Monsanto's claims, the F.T.C.'s Division of Advertising Practices decided in August 2007 that a "formal investigation and enforcement action is not warranted at this time." The agency found some instances where dairies had made "unfounded health and safety claims," but these were mostly on Web sites, not on milk cartons. And the F.T.C. determined that the dairies Monsanto had singled out all carried disclaimers that the F.D.A. had found no significant differences in milk from cows treated with the artificial hormone.

Blocked at the federal level, Monsanto is pushing for action by the states. In the fall of 2007, Pennsylvania's agriculture secretary, Dennis Wolff, issued an edict prohibiting dairies from stamping milk containers with labels stating their products were made without the use of the artificial hormone. Wolff said such a label implies that competitors' milk is not safe, and noted that non-supplemented milk comes at an unjustified higher price, arguments that Monsanto has frequently made. The ban was to take effect February 1, 2008.

Wolff's action created a firestorm in Pennsylvania (and beyond) from angry consumers. So intense was the outpouring of e-mails, letters, and calls that Pennsylvania governor Edward Rendell stepped in and reversed his agriculture secretary, saying, "The public has a right to complete information about how the milk they buy is produced."

On this issue, the tide may be shifting against Monsanto. Organic dairy products, which don't involve rBGH, are soaring in popularity. Supermarket chains such as Kroger, Publix, and Safeway are embracing them. Some other companies have turned away from rBGH products, including Starbucks, which has banned all milk products from cows treated with rBGH. Although Monsanto once claimed that an estimated 30 percent of the nation's dairy cows were injected with rBST, it's widely believed that today the number is much lower.

But don't count Monsanto out. Efforts similar to the one in Pennsylvania have been launched in other states, including New Jersey, Ohio, Indiana, Kansas, Utah, and Missouri. A Monsanto-backed group called afactůAmerican Farmers for the Advancement and Conservation of Technologyůhas been spearheading efforts in many of these states. afact describes itself as a "producer organization" that decries "questionable labeling tactics and activism" by marketers who have convinced some consumers to "shy away from foods using new technology." afact reportedly uses the same St. Louis public-relations firm, Osborn & Barr, employed by Monsanto. An Osborn & Barr spokesman told The Kansas City Star that the company was doing work for afact on a pro bono basis.

Even if Monsanto's efforts to secure across-the-board labeling changes should fall short, there's nothing to stop state agriculture departments from restricting labeling on a dairy-by-dairy basis. Beyond that, Monsanto also has allies whose foot soldiers will almost certainly keep up the pressure on dairies that don't use Monsanto's artificial hormone. Jeff Kleinpeter knows about them, too.

He got a call one day from the man who prints the labels for his milk cartons, asking if he had seen the attack on Kleinpeter Dairy that had been posted on the Internet. Kleinpeter went online to a site called StopLabelingLies, which claims to "help consumers by publicizing examples of false and misleading food and other product labels." There, sure enough, Kleinpeter and other dairies that didn't use Monsanto's product were being accused of making misleading claims to sell their milk.

There was no address or phone number on the Web site, only a list of groups that apparently contribute to the site and whose issues range from disparaging organic farming to downplaying the impact of global warming. "They were criticizing people like me for doing what we had a right to do, had gone through a government agency to do," says Kleinpeter. "We never could get to the bottom of that Web site to get that corrected."

As it turns out, the Web site counts among its contributors Steven Milloy, the "junk science" commentator for and operator of, which claims to debunk "faulty scientific data and analysis." It may come as no surprise that earlier in his career, Milloy, who calls himself the "junkman," was a registered lobbyist for Monsanto.

Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele are Vanity Fair contributing editors.


Discontinuity: Food scarcity

Calibre Macroworld, 1 April 2008.

The DC-based research and consulting firm Social Technologies recently released a series of briefs called "Discontinuities," those sudden, sharp breaks that can strike consumers, business sectors, nations, or the world with disruptive force. Exactly when, where, or how such events will occur is inherently hard to foresee. Here, though, is an exploration of one potential discontinuity in the food sector.

Washington, DC -- The global acreage of genetically-modified (GM) crops planted in 2006 totaled 252 million acres in more than 20 countries. Globally, more than 10 million farmers are planting some form of GM crops. GM planting at this scale could cause a discontinuity due to massive contamination of non-GM foods, leading to global food scarcities, according to Christopher Kent, an analyst at the futurist research and consulting firm Social Technologies.

"Incidents of inadvertent cross-pollination of GM test plantings with non-GM crops have already occurred, and potentially dangerous allergens have been introduced into conventional plants by genetic modification, though they were caught during the research phase," Kent explains. "A destructively cross-pollinating or allergy-producing GM crop could be planted on a large scale before a problem was caught, resulting in a useless or dangerous crop and/ or damage to non-GM varieties. This risk may rise as anti-biotech activists try to block the development and commercialization of GM seeds that are sterile and cannot reproduce."

Such contamination by a dangerous or incompatible GM variety could render vast amounts of food crops inedible due to stunted, rotten, or otherwise unusable plants, he notes.

"Even if the contaminated crops are deemed healthy and edible by an accredited scientific or medical agency, food-importing countries with strong anti-GM rules would have to scramble to suspend laws banning the import and sale of GM-contaminated crops," Kent adds. "A GM-caused food scarcity could occur on a huge scale: 90% of all soy and 73% of all corn in the US is genetically modified."

Recent research into the human genome is demonstrating that currently accepted ideas about gene function could be incorrect, and lends support to the argument of anti-GM forces that there is still not enough knowledge about GMOs to guarantee their safety.

Threat of allergens

Consider this: Allergens could be introduced when a gene is transplanted from one plant into another to convey particular benefits to the receiving plant.

"Genes are responsible for protein production, and proteins are involved in food allergies," Kent explains. "Early experiments in transferring a gene from a Brazil nut to make soy healthier were abandoned after it became clear that the new gene affected people with nut allergies."

Beyond allergens, secondary effects of gene transfer are still poorly understood.

"In one case, when a gene for pesticide resistance was introduced into peas, the resulting legume damaged the lungs of mice that ate it," he adds. "While these two incidents highlight situations where testing caught side effects before commercialization of a product, worries persist that too little is known about gene expression and that some GM crops that reach commercialization could turn out to be dangerous for some consumers."

What is the cumulative probability of GM-caused food scarcity? Kent believes the risk of a GM crop accident is more likely in the short term as industry and regulatory knowledge of GMOs is still incomplete. As testing and learning increase, the risk will drop.

Consumer impact

A GM food-related discontinuity would affect consumers globally in specific ways:

Any widespread problems caused by GM crops would result in demands for stricter regulations over food safety and biotechnology.

Consumer worries about the safety of GM crops, either in cultivation or in consumption, would likely drive up interest in organic foods.

Along with the turn to organics, some consumers could reject processed foods, turn to fresh ingredients, and/ or adopt the tenets of the slow-food movement.

By their nature, discontinuities cannot be precisely anticipated, so they require companies to be flexible in their thinking and agile in their response, with attention to potentially far-reaching effects.

Learn more

To talk to Christopher Kent about these gamechangers and their relevance to major business sectors, contact Hope Gibbs, Social Technologies' leader of corporate communications:

Christopher Kent ) Futurist

Christopher Kent is a writer/analyst with more than 10 years' experience tracking emerging public policy and social policy issues, primarily with Stratfor (Strategic Forecasting), a leading geopolitical-intelligence service. His expertise spans topics such as consumer and industry trends in the energy sector, the future of China, consumer lifestyles in Europe, and the impacts of microcredit in World 3. Christopher also oversees Social Technologies' internship program. He has an MA in the history of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance from the University of Toronto, and an undergraduate degree in history and English from Marquette University. Areas of expertise: Media and entertainment, tourism and leisure.

About ) Social Technologies

Social Technologies is a global research and consulting firm specializing in the integration of foresight, strategy, and innovation. With offices in Washington DC, London, and Shanghai, Social Technologies serves the world's leading companies, government agencies, and nonprofits. For information visit>, our blog:, and our newsletter:


Hope Katz Gibbs, Social Technologies WWW:

(M2 Communications Ltd disclaims all liability for information provided within M2 PressWIRE. Data supplied by named party/parties. Further information on M2 PressWIRE can be obtained at on the world wide web. Inquiries to


New study raises doubts over favored biotechnology method

International Herald Tribune, 1 April 2008. By Andrew Pollack.

LOS ANGELES: A new study is raising doubts about one of the hottest fields in biotechnology.

That field, called RNA