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NEWS ABOUT GM ISSUES • December 2008

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This page has not yet been updated with coverage from 21 - 31 December 2008. More GM news is available on our news feed and www.gmwatch.eu


21 December 2008

Ban GM food, GEAC member tells PM

Indian Express, 21 December 2008.

BANGALORE: After the recent announcement by Anbumani Ramadoss, Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare, that he would not let GM foods enter India, Pushpa Bhargava, member of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) and leading molecular biologist, has in a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, urged a ban on all GM foods being imported into the country, until proper safeguard a ban on all GM foods being imported into the country, until proper safety research was done on them.

Bhargava, who was appointed by the Supreme Court to observe the functioning of India's apex GM regulatory committee - GEAC, has urged the PM to take notice of the dangers of the virtually unchecked approval given to genetically modified (GM) crops in the country that is largely serving the interest of multinational companies such as Monsanto.

The approval is being granted by a committee of the department of bio-technology, followed by the GEAC of the Ministry of Environment and Forests.

In his letter, Bhargava has cited a public interest petition pending in the Supreme Court (filed by Aruna Rodrigues), asking for a moratorium of a few years on the sale of GM seeds and approval of GM crops. In pursuance of this case, the Supreme Court had nominated him to attend the meetings of the GEAC, which according to him had made him acutely aware of the shortcomings in that area.

He has also mentioned in his letter that he has brought to the notice of GEAC, a list of tests that must be done before a GM crop is approved. However, he said, only less than 10 per cent of these tests were actually being done, before approving a GM crop. "Not only that, in the absence of a national facility to do these tests or verify the results of tests done by others, the seed companies are either doing the tests themselves or getting them done by laboratories in the country on samples provided by them.

These laboratories do not have a facility to determine whether a seed was normal or GM, he lamented.

Further, he feared that India, primarily being an agricultural country, would cease to be a free country if its agriculture was brought under the control of foreign multinational companies (MNCs), through control of seed and agrochemical production.

He said, "The marketing of GM seeds by MNCs is a step in this direction." Bhargava cautioned the PM saying that as much as 30 per cent of the country's seed production was directly or indirectly in the hands of MNCs.

When Express asked Bhargava what prompted him to take this action, he said, "As a concerned scientist, it is my moral responsibility to inform the world about the harmful effects of GM food." He said, "We are on the verge of permitting GM foods and if they are released in the market it will be a disaster, since no proper tests have been done on them." He has also faxed a copy of the letter to the Union Health Minister and is awaiting a response.

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20 December 2008

GM contaminated seed found at crop trial site

Hartlepool Mail (UK), 20 December 2008.

Oilseed rape seed contaminated with a low level of unapproved genetically modified seed has been discovered at a crop trial site in Somerset, Defra said.

The GM seed was approved for import, food and animal feed use within the European Union, but could not be cultivated in the EU.

The trial site was less than one hectare and 0.05% of the seed planted was a type genetically modified to be herbicide-tolerant, Defra said.

The seed harvested from the trial site, and from an adjacent trial of oilseed rape, has been identified and securely stored, with none transported to other places.

An investigation by the department's GM inspectorate has confirmed that no other oilseed rape crops - which could be contaminated by the GM seed - were being grown in the vicinity when the trial took place.

No genetically modified produce has entered the food chain, Defra said.

The discovery was made after Defra was informed that an experimental seed of a new variety of winter oilseed rape, which was being trialled before it could be sold in the UK, was contaminated with a low level of GM.

A trial involving the contaminated seed had been sown in Scotland, and officials traced seed from the same batch to the trial in Somerset, which will now be destroyed.

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Agency condemns Sweden's GMO labeling as 'misleading'

The Local (Sweden's News in English), 20 December 2008.

Swedish consumers are being misled by labels falsely claiming that food products are free of genetically modified organisms (GMO), according to a new report.

Sweden's National Food Administration (Livsmedelsverket) recently tested the contents of 29 different products in six municipalities around the country.

The samples all contained soy rice, or corn and were taken from a mixture of 15 grocery stores and wholesalers.

Ten products had labels proclaiming they were GMO-free, yet four of them were found to have traces of GMOs.

"The increase in 'GMO Free' labeling is misleading. It's extremely hard to hold a product completely free from GMOs throughout the production chain," said Food Administration inspector Zofia Kurowska to the TT news agency.

According to Swedish and European law, products with more than 0.9 percent of a GMO must be labeled as containing GMOs, writes the Sydsvenskan newspaper.

In one of the products, a baking mix, had contents with higher than 0.9 percent GMO but lacked a label to that effect.

Another study also found that small companies have a lack of knowledge about GMOs and often lack documentation procedures.

A survey carried out back in 2007 should that grocers had sloppy procedures for checking whether or not products contained GMOs.

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19 December 2008

GM contaminated crop grown in blunder sparking fears gene will spread to other fields

Daily Mail (UK), 19 December 2008. By Sean Poulter.

A GM contaminated crop of oilseed rape has been illegally grown on a Somerset farm in a blunder that could see the genes spread to other fields, weeds and honey.

The problem involves a crop tainted with a GM trait developed by US biotech giant Monsanto, the main cheerleader for the controversial technology around the world.

The food and farming department Defra identified the error which threatens significant GM pollution of farmland and countryside.

It appears the tainted crop, created from seeds which originated in the United States, were sown on a large area of a Somerset farm in September last year.

The problem was not identified until the crop was harvested this summer when a link was drawn to another contamination incident involving the same seed in Scotland.

Critics say the GM alert provides further evidence of the lack of proper controls surrounding the growing of GM crops and the safety of this food.

The GM trait in the oilseed rape is designed to protect the plant against heavy spraying with weedkillers developed by Monsanto.

If this trait is transferred to related wild plants it could pass on this same chemical resistance, creating so-called superweeds.

It is known that GM pollen from crop trial sites can be carried up to 16 miles by bees.

There have been cases where honey has been contaminated with the result it is illegal to sell it.

The GM seeds involved in the Somerset contamination incident involved only a small part of a much bigger oilseed rape crop that was being grown by Monsanto on a seed production site.

The variety involved is known as GT73, which is authorised to be sold as human and animal feed in the EU but not to be grown here.

Friends of the Earth said the contamination was only the latest of a number of incidents involving the planting of crops and sale of food containing illegal GM DNA.

Its senior food campaigner, Clare Oxborrow, said: 'It's extremely worrying that once again contaminated and potentially unsafe GM seeds have been grown illegally in the UK.

'Local farmers and beekeepers face serious financial consequences if their crops or honey are found to be polluted.

'The Government must take urgent action to track down any contaminated crops, seeds or honey, and fully compensate for any financial losses.

'It must also beef up monitoring systems to ensure illegal GM seeds are detected and dealt with to prevent them being set loose in the environment.'

Once GM genes are present in the environment it is extremely difficult to remove them.

Sites used for crop trials in the past continue to produce a few GM plants for many years.

Experts from Defra's GM Inspectorate began looking at the Somerset site following reports of problems with the seed at trial locations in Scotland.

The new variety of oilseed rape, which was being grown at two sites in Aberdeenshire and one near Arbroath, were found to contain small amounts of unauthorised GM material in the summer.

Unlike in England, these plants had not matured and so the opportunity for GM pollen to spread was limited.

At the time, the Scottish Government's environment minister Michael Russell said the incident posed a 'serious risk' to the environment.

He said: 'Had these plants been allowed to mature, the risk to the environment could have been very serious.

'This further emphasises the continuing need for rigorous controls on GM material and for Scotland to remain a GM crop-free zone.'

In fact, the tainted crop in Somerset had matured with all the associated risks of gene transfer across a wide area.

Defra said that the Somerset crop and seeds, together with a crop from a neighbouring field, are being held in storage pending further tests.

It said: 'No GM material has entered the food chain.'

'The seed harvested from this trial, and an adjacent trial of spring oil seed rape, has been identified and is now being securely stored while the GM Inspectorate continues its investigation.

'None of the seed has been transported onwards to other destinations and the investigation has confirmed no other oilseed rape crops were grown in the vicinity at the time of the trial.'

Defra was unable to say what if any steps have been taken to ensure there has been no GM contamination of wild plants and honey in the area.

In 2005, British researchers found that genes from a GM version of oilseed rape had transferred to two wild relatives during farm trials in this country.

The GM oilseed rape was genetically modified to have a resistance to a weedkiller commonly used on farms and gardens.

This was apparently transferred to field mustard - brassica rapa - and charlock.

Monsanto said it was not involved in the suspect trials either in Scotland or Somerset.

It said a third party firm had supplied the seeds which happened to contain traits from a Monsanto GM plant.

A spokesman described the rules in Britain and Europe which currently prevents the contamination of crops and food with non-approved GM as 'absurd'.

He said: 'GT73 is grown on thousands of acres of farmland in the USA. It is approved as safe for consumption. This case shows up the absurdity of EU rules on GM.'

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Presence of Unapproved GM in Conventional Oilseed Rape Trial

U.K. Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs , 19 December 2008.

Conventional oilseed rape seed that contained a low level of unapproved GM seed was sown at a trial site in Somerset, an investigation by Defra's GM Inspectorate has shown. The GM seed was of a type that is approved for import and food and animal feed use in the European Union, but not for cultivation. No GM material has entered the food chain.

The seed harvested from this trial, and an adjacent trial of spring oil seed rape, has been identified and is now being securely stored while the GM Inspectorate continues its investigation. None of the seed has been transported onwards to other destinations and the investigation has confirmed no other oilseed rape crops were grown in the vicinity at the time of the trial.

In September 2008 Defra was informed that a low level of genetic modification was detected in experimental seed of a new variety of winter oilseed rape entered in National List trials. This was detected before any of the National List trials were sown but a commercial trial involving seed of the same origin had been sown in Scotland. The case in Somerset has been identified as a result of a tracing exercise carried out after this initial discovery.

Notes to editors

1. National Listing is a statutory requirement and prerequisite for the legal marketing of seeds of the main agricultural species.

2. The trial was carried out in Somerset in 2007/08. The size of the trial site was about 0.9ha, and the seed that was planted had a low level presence of the GM herbicide-tolerant oilseed rape line GT73. Tests indicated this to be at a level of 0.05 per cent. GT73 is authorised for imported food and animal feed use in Europe.

Public enquiries: 08459 335577

News releases available on our website: www.defra.gov.uk

Defra's aim is sustainable development

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Monsanto acts quickly to resolve harvest mistake

Farm Press (USA), 19 December 2008.

Monsanto Co. has claimed responsibility and pledged "to take appropriate actions," to prevent experimental cotton and cottonseed from entering the marketplace as either fiber, livestock feed or oil products.

Ty Witten, biotech cotton trait development lead for Monsanto, said about two-tenths of an acre of experimental cotton was mistakenly harvested in Dawson County, Texas, in late October, co-mingled with other cotton and that a small part of that was ginned and some seed may have been processed.

The U.S. government said no food or feed safety concerns resulted from the incident in which the small amount of an experimental genetically engineered (GE) cotton line was harvested with about 55 acres of commercial cotton.

Approximately 60 tons of cottonseed was harvested, of which less than 0.5 percent was from the unauthorized GE cotton.

"As soon as we learned of the incident we acted quickly and worked with USDA and other agencies," Witten said. "We regret the incident, but everyone involved pulled together. We take stewardship seriously."

Witten said Monsanto representatives also worked closely with the gin and processor to isolate the experimental cotton.

Follow-up will involve numerous U.S. agencies, including USDA, FDA, EPA, and USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).

The experimental cotton included a protein already marketed in a corn hybrid. The protein is a variant of Cry 1A 105 that acts as a pesticide against cotton insect pests.

Janice Person, with Monsanto public affairs, said the protein produced in the GE cotton is currently available in commercial corn hybrids, known as YieldGard VT PRO.

The U.S. government is investigating whether a small amount of meal from the unauthorized GE cotton variety may have been inadvertently released into the animal feed supply. The processor is holding potentially affected material (both processed and unprocessed) pending further investigation.

EPA has concluded that there would be no risk to animals consuming small amounts of feed from the unauthorized cotton, or to humans from consuming meat or milk from these animals. The presence of this material in food or feed, however, would be illegal.

"Monsanto has taken responsibility for this release and for resolving it in a manner that is satisfactory to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency," said Monsanto's Jerry Hjelle, vice president of Global Regulatory Affairs.

Monsanto officials said as soon as they were aware of the mistaken harvest they informed the processor and quickly separated the suspect material. They tracked the commingled cottonseed from harvest to processing.

Monsanto also reported the incident to USDA.

(Editor's note: source material includes interviews and USDA and Monsanto releases)

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Chinese want GM-free and chemical-free foods

GeneEthics (Australia), December 19 2008.

"CHINESE SHOPPERS are clamouring for chemical-free and GM-free foods in the wake of the melamine poisoning calamity that harmed over 50,000 Chinese children," says Bass Coast Shire Councillor Gareth Barlow.

"Chinese families give the health and welfare of their only child the highest priority and they want to buy chemical-free and GM-free foods of unimpeachable quality.

"This is a huge market and we expect that Bass Coast growers can win long-term supply contracts for substantial quantities of clean, green foods because of the Shire's GM-free status.

"We've had several meetings with Chinese business people, officials and academics about buying top quality Australian food.

"They make a strong link between GM herbicide-tolerant canola and synthetic chemicals, and don't want to buy them.

"Chinese shoppers want foods that are guaranteed free of chemicals and GM," Councillor Barlow says.

"Chinese importers envisage ten year contracts on favourable terms, for assured supplies of top quality, fresh chemical-free and GM-free foods.

"GM-free and chemical-free food production definitely offers us a great competitive advantage in local and world markets as Australia is the only exporter of GM-free canola.

The shires of Bass Coast, South Gippsland, East Gippsland, Yarra Ranges and the City of Greater Bendigo have all declared themselves GM-free and are interested in reaping the benefits of Gippsland's clean, green and GM-free reputation.

"The Victorian state government should give teeth to local GM-free policies by exploring these market opportunities and reintroducing the ban on GM crops.

"Austrade and other Government trade bodies should also follow up the GM-free and chemical-free marketing opportunities in Asia.

"The majority of Australia remains GM-free, with only NSW and Victoria allowing GM canola and GM cotton on a small scale in NSW and Southern Queensland.

"These governments are out of step with the majority of Australians.

"Most Australian food processors and retailers also have GM-free policies, in response to strong shopper demand.

"For instance, Murray Goulburn has a GM-free policy which requires milk producers to certify that their animals have not been fed GM.

"These GM-free and chemical-free marketing opportunities at home and abroad are just too good to miss," Councillor Barlow concludes.

More comment:

Councillor Gareth Barlow, Bass Coast Shire, 0432 005 415/03 5952 5653

Bob Phelps, Gene Ethics, 03 9347 4500

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GM food: technology vs democracy

OneWorld UK, 19 December 2008. By Daniel Nelson.

Attempts to introduce genetically modified foods had been "cack-handed" because proponents failed to understand that the issue was not technology but food culture, according to Timothy Lang, professor of food policy at London's City University.

Opening a small exhibit, Future Foods - An exhibition debating genetic modification, at the Science Museum in London this week, he said that though he was neutral on the issue of GM, he was highly critical of the way it had been introduced.

It was not a technical fix, he emphasised: GM technology might be useful "in some issues, in some places" but it could not fix all the food policy problems of the 21st century. For this reason, "I seriously urge those who are gung-ho about it to back off.

"It has done nothing to address issues of social inequality. And it cannot do so - it's a technology, for goodness sake," he commented.

Although some saw the public controversy over GM as Luddism versus neutral technology, he viewed it "as a really valuable illustration of democracy - that is, live debate about what we put in our mouths."

Controversy had been a timely reminder that "you can do anything you like to food but it is people who ultimately eat it ... There is nothing like changing people's diets to either institute a food riot or institute political problems."

Lang said that GM technology, like everything else, had to be assessed through the lens of sustainable development. The evidence so far was that no harm has been shown from ingestion, but genetic pollution was an issue: many patent specialists were deeply troubled by ownership of the basis of life - genes.

"The technical potential [of GM] has been distorted over how it has been introduced and who owns it. It is a classic case of the ownership of the technology rather than the technology."

Lang advocated public ownership of GM and more public investment in understanding the ecological and genetic basis of food.

"I believe food democracy is more important than food control and the problem with GM was that it was introduced within the ethos of food control, not food democracy."

Dr Emile Frison, director of Biodiversity International, Italy, emphasised that even if genetically modified technology did not produce food on the plate, it was a powerful research tool. He cited GM's crucial role in tackling new banana diseases in east Africa.

Like Lang, he criticised the decline in public sector agricultural investment, pointing out that all the east African banana research had been carried out in the public sector, funded by the Uganda government.

Earlier this year, he noted, heads of state had pledged to double investment in agricultural research: the question was, What kinds of research?

Traditionally, research had been focussed on yields, to the relative neglect of issues such as nutrition and sustainability. Farmers spread risk by growing different crops, he said, a model that modern agriculture had replaced with monoculture.

Another modern impact was the increase in obesity - "and rapid increases in diseases of affluence even in the poorest countries".

There had also been too much investment in energy-rich, nutrient-poor foods: "We must revisit our model, and assess GM's role in it."

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18 December 2008

Tom Vilsack's Kind of Agriculture
Another Shill for Monsanto


Counterpunch (USA), 18 December 2008.

Yesterday's announcement that former Iowa Governor, Tom Vilsack, has been selected as the new Secretary of Agriculture sent a chill through the sustainable food and farming community who have been lobbying for a champion in the new administration.

"Vilsack's nomination sends the message that dangerous, untested, unlabeled genetically engineered crops will be the norm in the Obama Administration," said Ronnie Cummins, Executive Director of Organic Consumers Association. "Our nation's future depends on crafting a forward-thinking strategy to promote organic and sustainable food and farming, and address the related crises of climate change, diminishing energy supplies, deteriorating public health, and economic depression."

The Department of Agriculture during the Bush Administration failed to promote a sustainable vision for food and farming and did not protect consumers from the chemical-intensive toxic practices inherent to industrial agriculture. While factory farms and junk food have been subsidized with billions of tax dollars, the US industrial farm system has released massive amounts of climate-destabilizing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and increased our dependence on foreign oil.

The Secretary of Agriculture is responsible for directing the U.S. Department of Agriculture and its $97 billion annual budget, including the National Organic Program, food stamp and nutrition programs, agriculture subsidies, and the Forest Service.

While Vilsack has worked to restrain livestock monopolies, his overall record is one of aiding and abetting Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs, also known as factory farms). Vilsack's support for unsustainable industrial ethanol production has already caused global corn and grain prices to skyrocket, literally taking food off the table for a billion people in the developing world.

Over the past month, Organic Consumers Association members have sent over 20,000 emails to President-Elect Obama's Transition Team, calling for the appointment of a Secretary of Agriculture who would develop and implement a plan that promotes family-scale farming, a safe and nutritious food system, and a sustainable and organic vision for the future.

"Obama's choice for Secretary of Agriculture points to the continuation of agribusiness as usual, the failed policies of chemical- and energy-intensive, genetically engineered industrial agriculture," said Cummins. "Americans were promised 'change,' not just another shill for Monsanto and corporate agribusiness. Considering the challenges we collectively face as a nation, from climate change and rising energy costs to food insecurity, we need an administration that moves beyond 'business as usual' to fundamental change – before it's too late," concluded Cummins.

Vilsack's business as usual positions have included the following:

Vilsack has been a strong supporter of genetically engineered pharmaceutical crops, especially pharmaceutical corn.

The biggest biotechnology industry group, the Biotechnology Industry Organization, named Vilsack Governor of the Year. He is also the founder and former chair of the Governor's Biotechnology Partnership.

When Vilsack created the Iowa Values Fund, his first poster child for economic development was Trans Ova and their pursuit of cloning dairy cows.

The undemocratic 2005 seed pre-emption bill was the Vilsack's brainchild. The law strips local government's right to regulate genetically engineered seed.

Vilsack is an ardent supporter of corn and soy based biofuels, which use as much or more energy to produce as they generate and drive up world food prices, literally starving the poor.

The OCA has launched an online petition campaign at www.stopvilsack.org to mobilize hundreds of thousands of people to oppose Vilsack's Senate confirmation.

Additionally, OCA's nationwide network of 850,000 organic consumers are urging members of Congress to move beyond business as usual and implement a comprehensive strategy for organic food and farming in 2009 and beyond.

Ronnie Cummins is director of the Organic Consumers Alliance. He can be reached at: ronnie@organicconsumers.org.

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The demand for transgenic soya drops in the State of Paraná

Paraná State News Agency (Brazil0, 18 December 2008.

This year the seed trade in Parana offered more conventional soya seeds than transgenic ones for the 2008/09 harvest. According to the Secretary for Agriculture and Supply Valter Bianchini, the Paraná farmers are planting less transgenic soya after having verified that the conventional crop has lower production costs when compared to transgenic soya.

Furthermore the productivity and revenue of conventional soya was greater for the 2007/08 harvest. Bianchini mentioned a survey made by the Associação Paranaense de Sementes e Mudas (Paraná State Association for Seeds and Seedling) (Apasem), for the 2008/09 crop, that showed a lower demand for transgenic soya. Of a total 4,070 million bags available on the market, 58% were of conventional seed and 48% of transgenic seed. Apasem consists of 82 seed growers who produce 95% of the soya seed available on the market.

The survey made last year for the 2007/08 harvest showewd that of the 4,324 million bags of soya seed available 48% were of conventional seed and 52% of transgenic seed. According to the Secretary Valter Bianchini, this indicates a reversal of the tendency that has been occurring up to last year, when the farmer's preference was for transgenic soya. Apasem identified this tendency to return to planting conventional soya mainly in the Guarapuava and Ponta Grossa areas.

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Kerala says no to genetically modified seeds

The Hindu, December 18 2008.

Thiruvananthapuram, India - Opposing any type of trial-runs of genetically modified seeds in the state, the CPI(M) led LDF government in Kerala has asked the Centre to declare the State as 'GM free' State in the country.

It was the government's declared policy that genetically modified seeds would not be allowed to be cultivated either on experimental basis or otherwise in the state, Agriculture Minister Mullakara Ratnakaran told the Assembly while replying to a submission.

Instructions have been issued to officials to see that such seeds were not used in the state, Ratnakaran said referring to reports that genetically modified seeds were being "experimented" in Palakkad district.

Ratnakaran said the seeds developed at the Pattambi Paddy Seed Research Centre under Agriculture University have not been handed over to any private players.

The University had also been instructed to seek the government's prior permission if they want to give the seeds developed to institutions outside the country or State for any purpose, Ratnakaran said replying to the submission of Kovoor Kunjumon.

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Discouraging GM crops, not feed, is government policy

Irish Examiner (Farming Supplement), 18 December 2008.

DISCOURAGING cultivation of genetically modified crops is Irish government policy, rather than discouraging the importation or consumption of authorised GM food or feed, according to Agriculture Minister Brendan Smith.

"Following the publication of the commitment in the Programme for Government to seek to negotiate the establishment of an all Ireland GM free zone, a process of elaborating and teasing out the implications of the commitment began among the relevant Departments," he told the Dáil.

He said while there is ongoing consideration on how best to advance this commitment, the general understanding is that the commitment relates to a process of discouraging cultivation of GM crops. The minister was replying to Deputy Seymour Crawford of Fine Gael, who asked what progress was made in the commitment to establish a genetically modified free island.

Meanwhile, Ireland has continued to abstain in crucial EU votes at standing committee and agriculture council levels on approving the imports of new genetically modified crops. Ireland was one of six member states to abstain when farm ministers recently fell short of consensus agreement to approve Roundup Ready2Yield soybean for use in food and feed.

Thirteen countries were in favour, eight against.

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Vilsack is not just totally pro-biotech, he is committedly anti-democracy

OpEdNews.com, 18 December 2008. By Linn Cohen-Cole.

[Extracts only. Full story at
http://www.opednews.com/articles/Vilsack-is-not-just-totall-by-Linn-Cohen-Cole-081218-586.html]

Obama is planning an organic garden at the White House but it is clearly only for a false show given his choice of Tom Vilsack to run the USA.

Vilsack, according to The Organic Consumer's Association, was named Governor of the Year by Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), the biggest pro-genetic engineering lobby in existence. Why? Not for nothing. Because he'd championed local transgenic R&D corporations like Trans Ova, which clones cows. Vilsack was also the founder and former chair of the Governor's Biotechnology Partnership. Vilsack speaks for biotech. He is Monsanto's boy.
http://www.haphazardgourmet.blogspot.com/2008/11/tom-vilsack-emerges-as-frontrunner-for.html

Notice that Vilsack is not only Monsanto's boy in his speaking FOR biotech but Monsanto's boy in character as well in how he has been the planner of laws that would undo rights of citizens to control their own communities. These are Monsanto laws.

Obama has picked not only someone who is ENTIRELY and ACTIVELY and AWARD-WINNINGLY OPPOSED to organic farming but someone who is fundamentally undemocratic in the service of destroying organic farming and establishing an economic anti-trust monopoly.

So, Obama, it seems only right that YOUR garden should be filled with ONLY genetically engineered crops, including all the pesticides that go along and the industrial chemical crops and the drug crops your biotech masters are seeking. Why should you eat well when the rest of us can't and the person you chose for the USDA is making sure there are laws in place to ensure that?

Eat what we have to, Obama. You served it up to us.

_______________________

17 December 2008

Citizens Against the GMO Food

OneWorld SouthEast Europe, 17 December 2008. By Osjecki zeleni.

The last public opinion survey conducted by GfK Croatia, shows that 66.8 percent of the citizens refuse to use genetically modified (GM) food under any circumstances. The survey was conducted on a representative sample of 1,000 citizens older than 15 years of age.

Only about eight percent of the polled citizens said that they are prepared to use and consume GM food. Slightly over 16% are not informed sufficiently about the GMO food, while 8% are completely disinterested in the issue.

A vast majority of the citizens (91%) believes it is absolutely necessary to properly identify and label the GMO foods, while 4% think that it is not necessary. Five percent have no opinion in that regard.

The prohibition of GMOs in Croatia is advocated by non-governmental organizations that promote the development of domestic acriculture and food processing industry through production of organic food. The organic agriculture acknowledges the environmental protection as a precondition for production of healthy food, without GMOs, pesticides and artificial fertilizers.

The GfK survey, as well as the similar previous research, shows that the citizens are well aware of the advantages of organic agriculture and the danger presented by the GMOs.

The survey should use as a stimulus to the civil society organizations in terms of future action to prohibit the use of GMO in Croatia, but also to the Croatian food industry to stop using GMOs in their production.

For more information on the Survey, visit ALERT Online Environmental Media (in Croatian): http://alert.zeleni.hr/

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Vilsack Not "Change We Can Believe In"

Organic Consumers Association, December 17 2008. By Ronnie Cummins.

Click here to stop Vilsack's confirmation:
http://salsa.democracyinaction.org/o/642/petition.jsp?petition_KEY=1783

WASHINGTON, DC - Today's announcement that former Iowa Governor, Tom Vilsack, has been selected as the new Secretary of Agriculture sent a chill through the sustainable food and farming community who have been lobbying for a champion in the new administration.

"Vilsack's nomination sends the message that dangerous, untested, unlabeled genetically engineered crops will be the norm in the Obama Administration," said Ronnie Cummins, Executive Director of Organic Consumers Association. "Our nation's future depends on crafting a forward-thinking strategy to promote organic and sustainable food and farming, and address the related crises of climate change, diminishing energy supplies, deteriorating public health, and economic depression."

The Department of Agriculture during the Bush Administration failed to promote a sustainable vision for food and farming and did not protect consumers from the chemical-intensive toxic practices inherent to industrial agriculture. While factory farms and junk food have been subsidized with billions of tax dollars, the US industrial farm system has released massive amounts of climate-destabilizing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and increased our dependence on foreign oil.

The Secretary of Agriculture is responsible for directing the U.S. Department of Agriculture and its $97 billion annual budget, including the National Organic Program, food stamp and nutrition programs, agriculture subsidies, and the Forest Service.

While Vilsack has worked to restrain livestock monopolies, his overall record is one of aiding and abetting Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs, also known as factory farms). Vilsack's support for unsustainable industrial ethanol production has already caused global corn and grain prices to skyrocket, literally taking food off the table for a billion people in the developing world.

Over the past month, Organic Consumers Association members have sent over 20,000 emails to President-Elect Obama's Transition Team, calling for the appointment of a Secretary of Agriculture who would develop and implement a plan that promotes family-scale farming, a safe and nutritious food system, and a sustainable and organic vision for the future.

"Obama's choice for Secretary of Agriculture points to the continuation of agribusiness as usual, the failed policies of chemical- and energy-intensive, genetically engineered industrial agriculture," said Cummins.

"Americans were promised 'change,' not just another shill for Monsanto and corporate agribusiness. Considering the challenges we collectively face as a nation, from climate change and rising energy costs to food insecurity, we need an administration that moves beyond 'business as usual' to fundamental changeůbefore it's too late," concluded Cummins.

Vilsack's business as usual positions have included the following:

Vilsack has been a strong supporter of genetically engineered pharmaceutical crops, especially pharmaceutical corn.

The biggest biotechnology industry group, the Biotechnology Industry Organization, named Vilsack Governor of the Year. He is also the founder and former chair of the Governor's Biotechnology Partnership.

When Vilsack created the Iowa Values Fund, his first poster child for economic development was Trans Ova and their pursuit of cloning dairy cows.

The undemocratic 2005 seed preemption bill was the Vilsack's brainchild. The law strips local government's right to regulate genetically engineered seed.

Vilsack is an ardent supporter of corn and soy based biofuels, which use as much or more energy to produce as they generate and drive up world food prices, literally starving the poor.

The OCA will soon launch http://www.stopvilsack.org to mobilize hundreds of thousands of people to oppose Vilsack's Senate confirmation through an online petition.

More information is available at: http://salsa.democracyinaction.org/o/642/petition.jsp?petition_KEY=1783

Additionally, OCA's nationwide network of 850,000 organic consumers are urging members of Congress to move beyond business as usual and implement a comprehensive strategy for organic food and farming in 2009 and beyond.

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Obama Kills Hope for Change Naming Vilsack to USDA

OpEdNews.com, Dec 17 2008. By Pamela Drew.

For a brief and shining moment there was hope for change we can believe in, but the appointment of Monsanto's biotech champion from Iowa effectively kills the idea that consumer rights will be any different under Obama.

For over a decade the world has rejected the patent protected, fee based seeds that tolerate toxic doses of patented herbicides, but denied the right to know what is in our food supply, ignorant Americans have supported these untested ingredients.

Like the policies that allowed subprime ending to create opportunities for a few corporations to benefit at the expense of the public benefit, "biotech policy" has provided the makers of PCB's and Agent Orange the opportunity for unfettered control of the Nations food supply and Vilsack has been among the chief supporters. In fact George Bush's Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns and Visack had partnered in early efforts to advance the climate of control for Monsanto.

"Vilsack and Johanns were partners heading the biotech efforts to roll supports for a biotech agenda out in the States, expanding gmo legislative efforts, well beyond Federal lobbying.

The Governors Biotechnology Partnership has significantly grown in recent months with more than half of all U.S. Governors now members of the educational outreach organization.

As the group gathered in Providence during the National Governors Association annual meeting, Governor Thomas J. Vilsack (D-Iowa), who chairs the organization, and Governor Mike Johanns (R-Nebraska), vice chair, announced that twenty-seven Governors are now members. There were thirteen founding Governors when the organization was formed more than a year ago to promote healthy discussion of the potential of biotechnology."

Anyone who believes that party affiliation changes the lure of corporate dollars in the corporate government is sadly mistaken. Bipartisan support for the deep pockets is the overlooked element of the corporate government and Vilsack is more of the same.

In the announcement Reuters quoted Senator Democratic Senator Tom Harkin in support of the Vilsack appointment, but no mention was made of how Harkin joined John Ashcroft in attacking the EU concerns over the dangers of biotech crops. When the British Medical Assn. cautioned against GM foods in 1999, Harkin cowrote the complaint with Ashcroft.

"In a strongly worded report that immediately increased trade tensions with the United States, the British Medical Association also called for gene-altered crops to be processed separately from conventional crops, rather than mixed together as is done today in the United States, so that any health effects that may eventually turn up will be traceable to the products that caused them.

If growers in the United States or other countries continue to refuse to segregate gene-modified products, the association concluded, then Britain should consider banning imports of those foods."

In America we have a don't look, don't find policy when it comes to identifying Monsanto's products or dangers associated with them. No one has been a bigger supporter of this corporate coup than Vilsack.

Change we can believe in was a great theme for the campaign but the reality is becoming clear, this land is owned by Monsanto so Americans who want to have pure foods or the right to choose what they eat can just shut up and swallow what serves the corporate interests.

http://pameladrew.newsvine.com

Pamela Drew tracks the legislation, politics, science and spin surrounding the genetically altered foods. She is a freelance researcher, writer and documentary film producer living in New York City, where she works with advocacy groups and small producers to create sustainable farming practices and community based agriculture programs. Pamela is the executive producer of the controversial film 'Roundup Ready Nation - dying for profits' http://www.roundupreadynation.com

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Flawed international farm seed rules establish permanent spread of patented GM brands

TheHotSpring.com, 17 December 2008. By J. E. Robertson.

A long-running bellwether legal case in Canada's farming industry, which has left at least one farmer unable to farm any crop variety of rapeseed (canola) – for fear of having to pay accidental royalties to bio-chemical giant Monsanto – , highlights the need for comprehensive reform of international seed regulation standards. The Canadian courts ruled that the individual farmer had to shoulder the burden of ferreting out any instance of "contamination" of his crop by pollen from nearby genetically-modified (GM) planting, as Monsanto held a patent on the seeds. The farmer, and those who support his claims, argue that there is no means by which anyone can prevent cross-pollination from GM plants.

In These Times reported in 2001 on the initial lower-court ruling that fined the farmer, Percy Schmeiser, for not reporting the invasion of his cropland to Monsanto and failing to compensate them for using their patented rapeseed DNA:

In a landmark victory for corporations heavily invested in genetically engineered foods, on March 29 a Canadian judge ruled that farmer Percy Schmeiser of Bruno, Saskatchewan must pay $105,000 to Monsanto for illegally growing the company's genetically engineered rapeseed, from which canola oil is made. But Schmeiser says he never planted Monsanto's seeds. "How can somebody put anything on someone else's land, then claim it's theirs and say, 'We'll take it. We'll sue him. We'll fine him'?" he asks.

In 1995, Monsanto put on the market a rapeseed that had been engineered to be immune to its Roundup Ready herbicide. This means a farmer can spray the herbicide over a planted field and kill all the weeds growing there, but not hurt the crop. The company sells the rapeseed- about half the rape planted in Saskatchewan in 1999 came from Monsanto seeds-but keeps the rights to the DNA itself. Thus, rather than save seeds from last year's crop to use this year, as many do, and as Schmeiser traditionally has done, farmers must buy new rapeseed from Monsanto each year, and allow the company to inspect their fields.

A later Supreme Court ruling threw out the fine assessed against Schmeiser, which would have required him to pay the entire profits from his 1998 crop to the bio-chemical firm whose seeds had taken root on his land. In 2004, the BBC reported on the Canadian Supreme Court's ruling in the case, again giving the victory to Monsanto:

Canada's Supreme Court on Friday ruled that Percy Schmeiser, who was found to be growing the GM rapeseed in 1998, had breached Monsanto's patent.

He had denied planting Monsanto seeds, saying they took root on his land through natural cross-pollination.

Logically incoherent as the ruling may be – many farmers not only resist using GM seed varieties, but argue they may be dangerous for the long-term sustainability of agriculture on a given plot of land, and view the "contamination" problem as just that, a wholesale invasion of natural resources like air, water and land, by a potentially harmful and unwanted pollutant – , it is instructive to note how powerful the logic of bio-tech patents has become, edging out even the logic of a clean, natural alternative.

The International Seed Federation has told the BBC World Service that once genetically modified crops are considered to be tested and safe, and have a growing and harvest history, they are treated as "conventional" crops, meaning that regulation of cross-pollination and "purity" measures used for conventional seeds can be applied. This is part of the logic that puts the burden on farmers, to be able to distinguish between seeds they have planted, and seeds produced by their own plants, but which were the result of cross-pollination from other farmers' fields, planted with GM varieties.

In 1999, the British charity ActionAid warned – as reported by the BBC – that "Genetically-modified (GM) crops and the patents to protect them are a threat to millions of poor farmers". The group warned that the application of patent law to favor GM brands that can spread beyond the control of farmers meant landowners and workers in the developing world could find themselves at the mercy of powerful international firms, as their seeds reach dominance in a given market or region.

In some cases, international firms have sought patents to crops they did not invent or develop, but whose properties they may have studied, putting at risk the livelihood of farmers who had grown those crops long before the patent was sought or obtained. ActionAid's 1999 warning stated that:

The seed market is now dominated by a few giant transnational corporations, all competing to take out patents which claim the right to own and exploit crops such as a variety of Basmati rice, grown for many years by third world farmers.

The group warned that due to the strict rules regarding harvesting, seed storage and repurchase, the system established by the marketing of patented GM seeds could force poor farmers onto "an expensive treadmill of dependence on the firms' seeds and chemicals".

Indeed, the warnings of ActionAid have not only been borne out, they are the specific marketing strategy of the firms distributing GM seeds: if you use them, you must pay for a new batch of them the following year and are barred from using seeds from the plants themselves to replant the following year. This system is established exclusively to protect the marketing strategy and bottom lines of the firms that have patented these seed varieties, regardless of their actual role in creating the seeds, regardless of the natural pollination process, and regardless of the motives of the firms in selling the seeds.

Monsanto, for instance, developed the variety of rapeseed it sold to Schmeiser's neighbors specifically in order to be able to sell on a massive scale a weed-killer (herbicide) it also markets. The one product was created in order to expand the market of the other, for the benefit of the firm itself, but that did not stop Monsanto from imposing on customers the requirement that they "buy new rapeseed from Monsanto each year, and allow the company to inspect their fields", as noted by In These Times.

Key to the concerns about this regulatory structure is the fact that there is little burden placed on the bio-chemical firms to take responsibility for contamination, which under this structure directly benefits their own bottom line. While some nations continue to ban the use of GM seeds for human consumption, the firms pushing to have them introduced have been gaining ground by way of accidental contamination, which some argue is not, in fact, accidental at all, but part of the broader strategy. In the year 2000, the Environment News Service reported:

The outcome of the landmark Schmeiser v. Monsanto case could influence how much control biotechnology companies like Monsanto and Advanta – the Canadian company which this year inadvertently distributed genetically contaminated rapeseed oil in Europe – have over the world's food supply in this century. "Farmers here are calling it a reign of terror," said Schmeiser as he recalled the bizarre chain of events which brought him into unyielding conflict with Monsanto.

Ultimately, farmers like Percy Schmeiser have been forced to abandon certain crops altogether. Without ever having entered into a business agreement with Monsanto, the firm's seeds essentially claimed access to his land and left him in the legal predicament of ceasing rapeseed production altogether or paying an annual fee to Monsanto. The absurd legal reasoning – that a firm who produces a product considered overtly hostile to the very livelihood of a given individual, can strip that individual of his right to continue operating in a business he has long conducted, without providing that individual any benefit, compensation or rights of any kind – illustrates how poorly even the most developed nations have planned for the very real problems that will emerge from the introduction of genetically modified crops into the broader food web.

Schmeiser did abandon rapeseed production, and was ordered to turn over any plants containing Monsanto-patented DNA to the firm. In 2006, Food Watch published an interview with Schmeiser, who said that after GMOs (genetically manipulated organisms) were cleared for commercial use in agriculture in Canada, in 1996:

There were two crops: Canola (rapeseed) and soybeans. In the United States at the same time there was corn (maize) and cotton. In Canada now there is no pure rapeseed left. It is all now contaminated with GMOs and the same with soybeans. It's very difficult to say how many hectares have been actually seeded with GMOs, but as mentioned, the actual production of all rapeseed has some GMOs in it. There is no such thing as co-existence or containment as we have found out.

Asked about the benefits of using GMOs, the embattled canola farmer told Food Watch:

There's no benefit at all. Because our rapeseed is contaminated with GMOs the economic effect has been disastrous for farmers, as we can no longer sell rapeseed to many countries in the world. The price of rapeseed has dropped almost in half. Countries like Australia that have not permitted GMO rapeseed are now receiving a premium for their rapeseed. In addition to this, organic farmers and conventional farmers can no longer grow organic soybeans or rapeseed in Canada, taking choice away and limiting the crops they can grow organically.

According to the report, there was no labeling of foods for GMOs in Canada, as of 2006. There continues to be widespread concern about potential adverse long-term effects of GM crops, not only on agriculture and environmental resilience, but also on human health, for which there is no available evidence and no reliable studies. There has been, since the initial introduction of GMOs in Canada, an effort to prevent the further planting of GMOs there, and as of 2006, no new crops, beyond rapeseed and soya, had seen the introduction of GM seed varieties.

While in the European Union, a regulatory paradigm of "co-existence" between farmers who use GMOs and those who don't has been promoted as the ideal legal framework, Schmeiser told Food Watch that "there is no such thing as co-existence or containment." He warned that:

The GMO gene is a dominant gene and will render whatever species of seeds or plants it gets into. You cannot contain cross-pollination. Pollination does not only blow in the wind, but can also move by other means such as birds, bees, animals, or direct seed movement by blowing in the wind, transportation, floods, and many other ways. You cannot build a wall high enough to contain it. So again, there is no such thing as containment regardless of how many kilometers a field of GMOs is from another field, which means there is absolutely no such thing as co-existence. Once GMOs are introduced, it is over and as far as we know today, there is no coming back.

Critics have long argued that the impossibility of containment was a deliberate part of the long-term marketing strategy of the firms introducing patented GMOs. Whether or not this is true, there are real problems inherent in the dominance of a single crop variety. The dangers of monoculture are well-known, and historically, overfarming of a single variety has led to catastrophic consequences, such as with the Irish potato famine, where a new pest or environmental factor, against which that one variety is not sufficiently resilient, wipes out an entire crop, potentially leading to mass starvation, prolonged economic fallout, or mass migration.

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Obama picks Vilsack as Agriculture secretary
• The former Iowa governor had campaigned for Hillary Rodham Clinton during his state's caucuses.


LA Times, December 17 2008. By John McCormick and Mike Dorning.

Reporting from Washington and Chicago -- Former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, who aggressively campaigned for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton before his state's caucuses in January, will be named Agriculture secretary by President-elect Barack Obama, three Democratic officials confirmed Tuesday.

The formal announcement was expected this morning at a news conference in Chicago.

Vilsack declined to comment on the report. "Those questions should be answered by the transition office and the president-elect," he said.

The former two-term Democratic governor has been a supporter of renewable energy and pushed for development of Iowa's ethanol industry. The state is one of the nation's top producers of corn and has a large meat-packing industry.

During the campaign for the Iowa caucuses, Vilsack was the top Clinton official in the state and often appeared with the New York senator. He also frequently questioned Obama's preparedness for the presidency.

But after Obama won the Democratic nomination, Vilsack campaigned for his general election effort in Iowa and other states.

Vilsack would be the fourth high-level appointment of a former presidential campaign rival to Obama's team, following Clinton for secretary of State, Delaware Sen. Joe Biden for vice president and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson for Commerce secretary.

"He knows production agriculture, and he knows the changes we need to ensure its profitability and future, including for young and beginning farmers and ranchers," Sen. Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee, said in a statement.

Iowa's Republican senator also endorsed the selection.

"He has a firsthand look at the role of agriculture in our global economy," Sen. Charles E. Grassley said in a statement. "I'm happy for him, happy for Iowa, and this is welcome news for agriculture."

A former mayor and state legislator from Mount Pleasant, Iowa, Vilsack campaigned for president himself, but dropped out of the race in February 2007 after just 86 days of campaigning.

While running for president, he took an unusual position for a farm-state official, arguing to cut subsidies for agricultural commodity crops and channel the money toward improving environmental practices. He has argued that agricultural policy should focus on production of renewable energy. He also wrote newspaper articles before the election in support of Obama's energy policies.

In an essay published in October, he urged greater investment in cellulosic ethanol, bio-fuel production plants and wind farms, and advocated "carbon credits" for farmers whose production reduces greenhouse gases associated with global warming.

Some advocates of organic food, meanwhile, have criticized Vilsack as being too supportive of biotechnology company efforts to market genetically modified foods.

In 1998, Vilsack was elected Iowa's first Democratic governor in 32 years. He won reelection in 2002 but did not run a third time, keeping a term-limit promise he had made.

A native of Pittsburgh, he was one of three finalists to be Sen. John F. Kerry's running mate in 2004.

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EU moves towards mandatory lobbyists register

EU Observer, 17 December 2008. By Valentina Pop.

BRUSSELS - Commission and parliament have formed a joint working group on Tuesday (16 December) aimed at drawing up a proposal for a common register for the over 15,000 EU lobbyists by mid-2009, amidst criticism from NGOs regarding the influence of big business on the EU executive when drafting legislation.

A "de facto mandatory" register for EU lobbyists, merging the existing mandatory list from the European Parliament with the voluntary financial interests register set up by the EU commission might be designed by mid-2009, Kristian Schmidt, deputy head of cabinet for administration and anti-fraud commissioner Siim Kallas told EUobserver.

He said that the EU council, the decision-making body formed by 27 governments and with its own administrative and legal service, was also invited to this joint working group, but did not attend. "We can't wait for the council," Mr Schmidt added.

The working group is formed of commissioner Kallas and MEPs Diana Wallis, Ingo Friedrich and Jo Leinen. It is expected to present proposals before the European elections in June 2009.

"Items to be discussed will include the objectives of a common framework for the activities of interest representatives (lobbyists), its main features - such as coverage, nature and scope of the information disclosed, code of conduct, complaint and sanctions - possible specifications for a "one-stop shop", as well as the technical and financial implications of this single register," a commission statement reads.

The aim of the proposal would be to "give the general public a single entry point to a comprehensive overview of the role of lobbyists in the EU decision-making bodies."

Non-transparent lobbying at the commission

Meanwhile, Alter-EU, a coalition of over 160 civil society groups advocating for EU lobbying disclosure legislation was still criticising the commission for defending the prominent role of business interests in drafting EU legislation.

The commission defended the presence of business representatives in its expert groups which help draft legislation by pointing to their expertise, an Alter-EU statement reads.

"Even the commission's own guidelines are being violated as expert groups including the one on biotechnology and on coal are completely controlled by industry," Alter-EU campaigner Yiorgos Vassalos said.

The guidelines say that "all relevant interests in society should have an opportunity to express their views" and that the risk "of vested interests distorting the advice in expert groups should be minimised and a diversity of viewpoints" resulting "from differences in scientific approach, different types of expertise, different institutional affiliations" should be collected.

"The commission has said it will publish details of who sits on expert groups, but this will not include the details of anyone who seeks anonymity. This is not acceptable. Some expert groups have a huge influence on highly controversial areas of policy, yet their members are not even known to the public, let alone held accountable," Mr Vassalos added.

Alter-EU had demanded full disclosure of the working groups and claims the commission keeps the names or organisations of advisers in half of the expert groups secret, while basic information was missing for two thirds of them.

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16 December 2008

'Sack it to 'em
• Brushing aside pressure, Obama taps a big-ag man as USDA chief


Grist, 16 Dec 2008. By Tom Philpott.

"Tom Vilsack was one of the first governors to see the promise of biotechnology. He has a very balanced view of agriculture and understands its potential."
-- Ted Crosbie, vice president of global plant breeding and director of Monsanto's Iowa operations

"Governor Vilsack would be an outstanding choice for Secretary of Agriculture. He would bring great leadership and experience to the position. Governor Vilsack understands what it takes to increase agricultural productivity to meet growing global demand for food and feed."

-- Paul Schickler, president of Dupont's Pioneer Hi-Bred, one of Monsanto few rivals in the genetically modified seed industry.

(Both quoted from a Dec. 16 Des Moines Register piece.)

In 2007, Thomas Vilsack ended an eight-year stint as Iowa's governor. Before that, he had served as a state senator. During his time in Iowa politics, he promoted the interests of large agribusiness firms in several ways.

As a state senator, he voted for the infamous House File 519 in 1995, which stripped counties of the right to impose restrictions on CAFOs. In 2005, as governor, he signed into law House File 642, which barred local governments from regulating the planting of genetically modified seed.

In 2001, the Biotechnology Industry Organization named him "governor of the year" for his "support of the industry's economic growth and agricultural biotechnology research." Vilsack also briskly promoted biofuels as governor; he served as chair of the Governors' Ethanol Coalition.

After stepping down after his second term in 2007, Vilsack ran for president. When that bid failed, he joined the Minneapolis-based corporate law firm Dorsey & Whitney. The firm's broad range of corporate clients include food giants Cargill and Conagra. Accordng to Dorsey & Whitney's website, Vilsack was hired to focus on "strategic counseling and advising clients in the fields of energy conservation, renewable energy, and agribusiness development." He also serves as a distinguished fellow at Iowa State University's Biosafety Institute for Genetically Modified Agricultural Products, where he sits on the advisory board with representatives of Monsanto, Dupont's Pioneer Hi-Bred, and the World Bank.

President-elect Obama has reportedly plucked Vilsack from those posts and tapped him to be USDA chief. The decision comes after a wave of hope that Obama might choose a less agribusiness-oriented candidate. I'll be writing more on this pick in the days to come.

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First Ever Organic and Non-GMO Project Joint Inspections Judged a Success

Non-GMO Project (USA), 16 December 2008.

Organic inspectors with Quality Assurance International (QAI) recently completed the first three on-site inspections for the Non-GMO Project's Product Verification Program, with more inspections scheduled soon. The inspections occurred in conjunction with the participating companies' annual organic inspections, reducing costs and labor. R.W. Garcia, SK Food, and WholeSoy & Co. are the first companies to go through these joint inspections.

According to Allan Perkins of R.W. Garcia, the joint inspections offer "a big time and cost savings way to participate. You can achieve both certifications with one auditor and one audit. The organic and Non-GMO Project audits fit well together." Aaron Skyberg of SK Foods agrees, saying, "We were very pleased to be able to combine our organic and non-GMO verification inspections." And Ted Nordquist, founder and CEO of WholeSoy & Co. adds that he thinks combining the inspections is "an excellent idea, and our suppliers feel the same way."

The onsite audit is second in the Non-GMO Project's two-step verification process. Prior to inspection, all companies undergo a document-based review of GMO avoidance practices like traceability, segregation, and testing at critical control points. This information is compared with the consensus-based Non-GMO Project Standard in order to assess compliance.

A "Non-GMO Project Verified Seal" will begin appearing on retail packages beginning in October 2009. In the meantime, a list of participating companies and the 350+ enrolled products can be found on the Project's website: http://www.nongmoproject.org.

The Non-GMO Project is a non-profit organization dedicated to informed choice for consumers, and committed to ensuring sustained availability of non-GMO options.

The Project emerged as an industry-wide initiative nearly two years ago, when its Board of Directors expanded beyond the original founding retailers to include stakeholders from every sector. Led by CEOs and top executives from industry leaders such as Eden Foods, Lundberg Family Farms, Nature's Path Foods, Organic Valley, UNFI, and Whole Foods Market, the Project has successfully implemented North America's first independent, third party standard and verification program for production systems designed to avoid GMOs.

The program fills a gap left by lack of government oversight in the labeling of GMO foods. As Project Executive Director Megan Thompson explains, "Poll after poll shows that the public wants to know whether or not the food they're eating contains GMOs. In fact, according to a CBS/New York Times poll from last summer, 53% of Americans said they would not buy food that has been genetically modified. The government has chosen not to require labels on food that contains GMOs, but fortunately our organic and natural products industry has stepped up and created this system for providing consumers with an informed choice."

The program is open to all products (organic, natural, and conventional), but many of the first participants are certified organic companies. Though GMOs are an excluded method under the National Organic Program, their increasing prevalence in the conventional sector has raised concern among organic companies who want to make sure that their products stay non-GMO. As Project Board member and UNFI Board Chair and Founder Michael Funk puts it, "There is no greater threat to the (organic) industry than GMOs." The Project's Product Verification Program is helping to keep organic products non-GMO, and the joint organic/Non-GMO Project inspections are evidence of an important alliance.

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Leading Organic and Natural Food Companies Enroll in Non-GMO Project

Non-GMO Project (USA), 16 December 2008.

After nearly two years of collaborative development by stakeholders in all sectors of the organic and natural products industry, the Non-GMO Project's Product Verification Program is up and running, with over 350 products already enrolled.›

The Non-GMO Project, a 501(c)(3) non-profit, was originally formed by retailers in search of non-genetically modified (non-GMO) options for their customers who were concerned about negative impacts of GM foods.› Its reach broadened in March 2007, when the founding Board of Directors expanded to include CEOs and top executives from Eden Foods, Lundberg Family Farms, Nature's Path Organic Foods, Organic Valley, UNFI, and Whole Foods Market.› These trusted industry leaders, along with the 40+ members of the Project's Technical Advisory Board and Communications Committee, are guiding the way in achieving the Non-GMO Project's mission of providing consumers with an informed choice, and ensuring sustained availability of non-GMO options.›

According to Joe Dickson, Quality Standards & Organic Programs Coordinator for Whole Foods Market, "We've partnered with The Non-GMO Project because we want to offer shoppers a consistent and meaningful 'non-GMO' choice for products without genetic engineering or recombinant DNA technologies. Whole Foods Market strongly supports The Non-GMO Project as a means to ensure the continued availability of verified non-GMO food in North America." ›

Unlike over 60 other countries around the world, including Australia, Russia, China, and all the countries in the EU, the governments in the U.S. and Canada do not require foods containing GMOs to be labeled.› This is in spite of clear public preference for labeling (for example, a 2008 CBS News Poll found that 87% of the U.S. public wants GMOs labeled).› GMOs are created when DNA from one species is inserted into another species in a laboratory, creating combinations of plant, animal, bacterial, and viral genes that do not occur in nature or through traditional cross-breeding.› Many consumers find the lack of peer-reviewed scientific evidence of GMO safety to be cause for concern.›

The Non-GMO Project was founded on a belief that people have the right to choose whether or not they consume GMOs.› Its first major accomplishment came in March 2008, with the adoption of the Non-GMO Project Standard.› This consensus-based document is North America's first independent, third party standard for production systems designed to avoid GMOs.› The Standard is a public document (available at www.nongmoproject.org), and a schedule of semi-annual comment periods ensures that it stays current, reflecting a balance of meaningfulness and achievability.

With the Standard in place, companies have begun enrolling products in the Project's Product Verification Program.› According to one participant, Arran Stephens, Founder & CEO of Nature's Path Organic Foods, North America's largest producer of organic breakfast foods, "Our company enrolled in the Non-GMO Project as a founding member because we believe that verification and measurement in a credible and scientific way is essential to any systematic efforts to control the problem of GMO contamination."› The Program is process-based, and encompasses traceability, segregation, and testing at critical control points.› Products that the Program has identified as compliant with the Standard will have the option of bearing a "Non-GMO Project Verified" seal beginning in October 2009.› Until then, a list of participating products can be found on the Project's website.

The Project is actively engaged in enrolling dozens more companies in the Program, and anticipates product enrollment in the thousands within the next 6 months.› Manufacturers, processors, growers, and seed companies are invited to sign on or find out more at http://www.nongmoproject.org.

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Letter from US Center for Food Safety re. regulation of GM crops in India

16 December 2008.

Whom So-ever It May Concern:

The Center for Food Safety is a non-profit, civil society organization based in Washington, DC, that supports sustainable agriculture and advocates for stringent, science-based standards in the assessment of novel, potentially hazardous food production technologies, such as genetic engineering.› Since its founding in 1997, the Center has become one of the United States' leading independent authorities on genetically modified (GM) crops.› We frequently engage the U.S. regulatory agencies with responsibility for agricultural biotechnology and strive to improve their regulations and performance, when necessary by litigation.› Since 2006, the Center has won three US Federal District Court cases against the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture for failing to assess the environmental impacts of various GM crops prior to allowing their release into the environment (two) or unregulated commercial use (one).› These decisions speak volumes about the laxity of the US regulatory regime.

As the executive director and science policy analyst of the Center for Food Safety, we are writing with regard to Dr. Pushpa Bhargava's recommendations for biosafety assessment protocols for GM crops in connection with the Supreme Court case involving the Indian government's Genetic Engineering Action Committee (GEAC).› We have examined Dr. Bhargava's recommendations in the Application filed by Aruna Rodrigues, lead petitioner, in August 2008 (I.A. No. 25 of 2008 in the matter of Writ Petition (Civil) No. 260 of 2005), GEAC's counter affidavit to the same filed in September 2008, and the Petitioners' rejoinder affidavit.

In brief, we find Dr. Bhargava's biosafety assessment recommendations to be scientifically-grounded, consistent with those of many other leading independent scientists experienced in the relevant disciplines, and strongly protective of human health and the environment.› In contrast, GEAC's minimalist regulatory standards are scientifically flawed, reflect the interests of the agricultural biotechnology industry in rapid rubber-stamp approval, and so are much less protective of human health and the environment. ›

Perhaps the most serious indictment of the cursory testing standards relied upon by GEAC, as expressed by its Secretary Dr. Ranjini Warrier in the counter affidavit, is the growing number of scientific studies showing that GM crops already approved according to these very standards have adverse environmental and, potentially at least, adverse human health impacts.› › The Austrian government recently released a meticulously executed long-term feeding study showing that a popular variety of GM corn reduces the fertility of mice.›› Mice that were fed this GM corn as 33% of their diet over a period of 20 weeks had fewer offspring and more females with no offspring in their third and fourth litters than mice fed a diet containing 33% of a highly similar, non-GM corn variety.› These results support Dr. Bhargava's recommendation for long-term feeding trials with GM crops to examine their potential to interfere with reproduction or have other adverse, chronic effects.› Long-term feeding studies of this sort are not required in either the U.S. or the somewhat more stringent European Union regulatory system.

A 2008 Norwegian study found that small aquatic organisms known as Daphnia magna exhibited reduced performance, including reduced fertility, when fed a common variety of GE corn but not when fed conventional corn.› › In 2007, a US study found that consumption of GE corn debris slows the growth rate, and potentially the fertility, of small aquatic organisms known as caddisflies, versus those fed conventional corn.›› Since caddisflies are at the base of aquatic food webs, and the tested variety of GE corn is planted on millions of acres across the Midwest, the scientists expressed concern that this GE corn may pose a long-term threat to the health of freshwater aquatic ecosystems.6› These results support Dr. Bhargava's call for ecological impact studies, especially impacts on aquatic organisms.› U.S. GM crop testing standards practically ignore potential adverse impacts on aquatic organisms.

Dr. Warrier makes repeated reference to impressive-sounding "norms" or even "international norms" for GM crop testing that he maintains are followed by GEAC.› However, these supposed "international norms" in fact represent a cursory set of inadequate tests that biotech companies have found it convenient to perform, and these tests fall far short of what international experts have recommended.› Before we give a few examples, it is pertinent to note that the US regulatory system, which has become the model for India and the world in this regard, was designed chiefly by biotechnology companies, and in particular the Monsanto Company.› › An investigative article in the New York Times that explored the origins of the US regulatory system for GM crops in the late 1980s and early 1990s came to this startling conclusion:

"It was an outcome that would be repeated, again and again, through three administrations. What Monsanto wished for from Washington, Monsanto and, by extension, the biotechnology industry got. If the company's strategy demanded regulations, rules favored by the industry were adopted. And when the company abruptly decided that it needed to throw off the regulations and speed its foods to market, the White House quickly ushered through an unusually generous policy of self-policing.

Even longtime Washington hands said that the control this nascent industry exerted over its own regulatory destiny through the Environmental Protection Agency, the Agriculture Department and ultimately the Food and Drug Administration was astonishing.

'In this area, the U.S. government agencies have done exactly what big agribusiness has asked them to do and told them to do,' said Dr. Henry Miller, a senior research fellow at the Hoover Institution, who was responsible for biotechnology issues at the Food and Drug Administration from 1979 to 1994."

Thus, when Dr. Warrier says that the current testing norms for GM crops are based on "the combined wisdom of the world's agricultural scientists," and criticizes Dr. Bhargava for "trashing" this "combined wisdom" with calls for "whimsical" tests, he is either ignorant of the true origin of GM crop testing regimes used in the world today, or conveniently ignoring it.› Far from representing some consensus of independent agricultural scientists, as he states, the current norms for GM crop testing are largely a creation of biotech industry officers intent upon securing rapid approval for commercial use of their crops absent adequate testing for potential harm to the environment or human health.› This is an extremely serious misrepresentation.

Time and again, Dr. Warrier dismisses legitimate tests recommended by Dr. Bhargava, invariably adopting the position of biotech companies rather than the views of independent scientists.› The "surrogate" protein issue is a case in point.› Biotech companies invariably fail to extract the foreign proteins (e.g. Bt insecticidal proteins in Bt cotton and other Bt crops) actually produced in their GM crops for use in testing.› Instead, they generate "surrogate" versions of these proteins in transgenic bacterial hosts, which often differ in important respects from the GM plant-produced protein, but are easily and cheaply obtained.› A prestigious U.S. National Academy of Sciences committee that conducted an exhaustive review of Bt crops stated: "Tests should preferably be conducted with the protein as produced in the plant."› A surrogate protein is not permissible unless it is first demonstrated to be equivalent to the plant-expressed protein based on clear, scientifically justifiable criteria:

"The EPA should provide clear, scientifically justifiable criteria for establishing biochemical and functional equivalency when registrants request permission to test non plant-expressed proteins in lieu of plant-expressed proteins."

Contrary to Dr. Warrier, then, leading independent agricultural scientists have recommended preferential use of "the protein as produced in the plant," not bacterial surrogate protein, for use in testing.› The NAS committee urged the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to issue clear, scientifically justifiable criteria for establishing equivalency if a company wished to use a "non-plant expressed" (i.e. "surrogate") protein for testing purposes.› A group of independent scientific advisers to the EPA recommended such "test substance equivalence" criteria to the EPA,› but the EPA has refused to adopt them.› The toxicity and allergenicity assessments of Bt crops currently on the market (in some cases for a decade or more) employed surrogate proteins that did NOT meet these criteria.› › This regulatory failure means that currently approved Bt crops may be posing risks to humans and non-target organisms that were missed due to lax and faulty testing procedures.› Freese (2003) provides a fuller discussion of the "surrogate protein" issue as well as other inadequacies in testing practices for GM crops.

Finally, we note that Dr. Warrier's objection that sufficient quantities of GM plant-produced protein cannot be extracted from plant tissue mirrors precisely the excuse invariably provided by biotech companies.› While more expensive than use of surrogate proteins, it is indeed possible to extract sufficient quantities of protein for testing purposes.› In any case, needed tests should not be neglected on the mere basis of cost considerations.

Dr. Warrier dismisses DNA fingerprinting, proteomics and similar tests recommended by Dr. Bhargava in terms that further reveal his and GEAC's scientific incompetence as well as their strong bias in favor of the biotechnology industry:

"The scientific opinion does not consider most of them [i.e. tests recommended by Dr. Bhargava] as essential or remotely relevant.› He wants genomic and proteomic data which costs enormously in both time and money.› › The genomics and proteomics data vary with several different situations such as the time of taking the sample and the age of the source.› Dr. Bhargava knows fully well that it would be near impossible to implement his prescription and so no GE product will be commercialized."

DNA fingerprinting and proteomics belong to a class of "profiling" techniques that have indeed been recommended for GM crop assessments by leading independent scientists, as discussed below.› › As so often, Dr. Warrier construes "[t]he scientific opinion" narrowly to mean those scientific opinions favored by the biotechnology industry and its adherents.

The need for such techniques derives from the high rate of "insertional mutagenesis" associated with genetic engineering.› That is, the genetic engineering process itself causes random and in some cases large-scale mutations in crop genomes, regardless of what gene is being inserted.›› These mutations give rise to a higher potential for generating unintended and potentially adverse human health and environmental effects than conventional breeding methods.›› Current testing regimes are based on a "targeted approach" that is ill-suited to detect the unpredictable changes that occur in GM crops.› According to leading European GM crop safety scientists, with this "targeted approach":

"...unexpected changes are merely identified by chance.› The targeted approach has severe limitations with respect to unknown anti-nutrients and natural toxins..."

These same experts recommend profiling techniques, such as those recommended by Dr. Bhargava, as well as metabolic profiling, because they offer a means to test for dozens or hundreds of compounds at once to detect GM-induced elevations in the levels of naturally occurring, low-level plant toxins or antinutrients, as well as potentially hazardous novel compounds not found in conventional crops.› We note that these techniques would be a useful accompaniment to long-term feeding trials.› They provide a good means of pinpointing the chemical basis of adverse effects found in such trials, such as the reduced fertility found by Austrian scientists in mice fed GM corn in the study cited above.

These same European experts support molecular characterization studies to determine the precise site of insertion of the foreign gene in the plant genome, as well as any mutations to flanking regions, as also recommended by Dr. Bhargava:

"Location and characterization of the place(s) of insertion are the most direct approaches to predicting and identifying possible occurrence of (un-)intended effects due to transgene insertion in recipient plant DNA.› Data for transgene flanking regions will give leads for further analysis, in the case of a transgene insertion within or in the proximity of an endogenous [i.e. plant] gene."

Dr. Warrier exhibits inordinate concern for the costs of such testing procedures, once again placing the biotechnology industry's financial interests above safety.

We could provide further examples supporting the legitimacy of Dr. Bhargava's recommended tests, and the specious reasoning and scientifically flawed arguments put forward by Dr. Warrier in support of GEAC's minimalist regulatory framework, but feel those described above should serve to make our point.

We will close by examining Dr. Warrier's blanket statement that: "....regulatory authorities have concluded that there is no evidence of harm for each of the currently approved transgenic crops."

As discussed above, the regulatory framework in the U.S., which has served as the model for India and the world, has been profoundly shaped by the biotechnology industry to serve its interests in rapid, rubber-stamp approval.› The sampling of studies discussed above suggesting adverse impacts from GM crops approved by those regulatory authorities casts strong doubts on the adequacy of this regulatory framework, as do the three US Federal District Court decisions against our USDA for failure to properly assess GM crops cited at the outset.› Finally, the many improvements to regulation of GM crops urged by independent scientists have gone largely ignored.

Yet even if one ignores the dissenting data and assumes for the sake of argument "no evidence of harm" from approved GM crops, one must ask whether "no evidence" means that appropriately conducted studies have found no harm, or simply that appropriate studies have not been conducted.› A U.S. National Academy of Sciences committee criticized ambiguous claims such as Dr. Warrier's in its scathing critique of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture's performance at regulating GM crops in the U.S.› Noting that commercially approved GM crops are not, but should be, monitored for adverse effects not detectable at the small field-trial stage, the committee called such "no evidence" claims "non-scientific," noting that:

"...any effects that might have occurred could not have been detected.› › The absence of evidence of an effect is not evidence of absence of an effect."

For all of these reasons, the Center for Food Safety respectfully urges the Supreme Court of India to rule positively on the testing recommendations outlined by Petitioners and Dr. Bhargava.› › This course of action would best ensure that any GM crop approved for field testing or commercial use would not harm India's citizens, livestock, or environment.› While it would take time to properly establish the necessary testing procedures and protocols, we believe that a moratorium to accomplish this would be time well spent.

Respectfully yours,

Andrew Kimbrell, Executive Director
Center for Food Safety

Bill Freese, Science Policy Analyst
Center for Food Safety.

Notes:

1. See:
http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/pubs/Three%20Case%20Victory%20Summary%202-20-07.pdf.

2. Velmirov, A, Binter, C and J. Zentek (2008). "Biological effects of transgenic maize NK603 x MON810 fed in long term reproduction studies in mice," Federal Ministry for Health, Families and Youth, Government of Austria, October 2008.

3. Bohn, T., Primicerio, R., Hessen, D.O. and T. Traavik (2008). "Reduced fitness of Daphnia magna fed a Bt transgenic maize variety," Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, published online March 18, 2003.

4. Rosi-Marshall, EJ et al (2007). "Toxins in transgenic crop byproducts may affect headwater stream ecosystems," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 104(41): 16204-16208.

5. Eichenwald, K., G. Kolata and M. Petersen (2001).› "Biotechnology Food: From the Lab to a Debacle," The New York Times, January 25, 2001.

6. "Genetically Modified Pest-Protected Plants: Science and Regulation," Committee on Genetically Modified Pest-Protected Plants, National Research Council, National Academy of Sciences, 2000, p. 65, see: http://books.nap.edu/catalog/9795.html.› For similar recommendations, and examples of immunologic differences between nearly identical proteins, see: "The StarLink Affair," Friends of the Earth, July 2001, sections 9.2 to 9.4, at http://www.foe.org/safefood/starlink.pdf.

7. "Mammalian Toxicity Assessment Guidelines for Protein Plant Pesticides," EPA's Scientific Advisory Panel, SAP Report No. 2000-03B, Sept. 28, 2000, p. 14.› http://www.epa.gov/scipoly/sap/2000/june/finbtmamtox.pdf.

8. Freese, B. (2001), "A Critique of the EPA's Decision to Reregister Bt Crops and an Examination of the Potential Allergenicity of Bt Proteins," adapted from comments of Friends of the Earth to the EPA, Dec. 9, 2001.› Available at: http://www.foe.org/safefood/comments.pdf.

9. Freese, B. (2003).› "Genetically engineered crop health impacts evaluation - GAPS analysis," Friends of the Earth, Washington, DC, USA.› http://www.foe.org/safefood/gapseval.pdf.

10. Wilson, AK, Latham, JR and RA Steinbrecher (2006). "Transformation-induced mutations in transgenic plants: Analysis and biosafety implications," Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering Reviews, Vol 23, Dec. 2006, 209-234.

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Commission to NGOs: "big business rules OK"

Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation - ALTER-EU, Press Release, 16 December 2008

Brussels -- Campaigners today challenged the democratic legitimacy of the European Commission's Expert Groups after the Commission said it was perfectly acceptable that some of them were dominated by big business [1].

The civil society coalition ALTER-EU has today written [2] to the European Commission to question its position, which campaigners say allows business to exert control over significant areas of policy and decision making.

The Commission defended the fact that big business representatives dominate a number of Expert Groups in a letter to ALTER-EU, claiming that the quality of their expertise justifies their presence. But ALTER-EU believes this cannot justify that the Commission is giving a privileged position to business advice over other non-interested experts (as European universities and civil society) by allowing business to dominate some Expert Groups in a position to advice the Commission on new EU-legislation.

ALTER-EU campaigner Yiorgos Vassalos said:

"Even the Commission's own guidelines are being violated as Expert Groups including the one on biotechnology and on coal are completely controlled by industry."

ALTER-EU has again asked the Commission to clarify how such Expert Groups meet the Commission's own codes of conduct on consultation and use of expertise, which state that "a diversity of viewpoints" should be taken into account [3]. The Commission has so far refused to answer this point.

These codes say that "all relevant interests in society should have an opportunity to express their views" and that the risk "of vested interests distorting the advice" in Expert Groups should be "minimised" and "a diversity of viewpoints" resulting "from differences in scientific approach, different types of expertise, different institutional affiliations" should be collected.

In its letter, the Commission accepts that Expert Groups are the most widely used way of getting external advice. Although they are funded by the taxpayer and although they are an important source advice on public policies, the Expert Groups have been operating in obscurity for decades

ALTER-EU is calling for their decision making to be made accountable and transparent, and has asked the Commission to make the names of their advisors public. At the last count the Commission had not disclosed any names or organisations of the advisors in half of the expert groups while basic information was missing for two thirds of them [4].

Details of names were promised by the end of this year, and if this deadline is to be met, there is very little time. Now the Commission is adding a further restriction to the dismay of ALTER-EU.

Yiorgos Vassalos added:

"The Commission has said it will publish details of who sits on Expert Groups, but this will not include the details of anyone who seeks anonymity. This is not acceptable. Some Expert Groups have a huge influence on highly controversial areas of policy, yet their members are not even known to the public, let alone held accountable."

ENDS

The Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU) is a coalition of over 160 civil society groups, trade unions, academics and public affairs firms calling for: EU lobbying disclosure legislation; improved code of conduct for European Commission Officials; the European EU Commission to terminate cases of privileged access and undue influence granted to corporate lobbyists. The call for "Ending corporate privileges and secrecy around lobbying in the European Union", the founding statement of the Alliance for Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU) and a list of signatories are available on http://www.alter-eu.org

ALTER-EU is registered in the European Commission's Register of Interest Representatives: https://webgate.ec.europa.eu/transparency/regrin/consultation/displaylobbyist.do?id=2694372574-63

Contacts:

Yiorgos Vassalos: Tel: + 32 - (0)2 - 2352213, e-mail: yiorgos@corporateeurope.org

Erik Wesselius : Tel: + 31 - (0)30 - 2364422 , e-mail: erik@corporateeurope.org

Notes:

[1] http://www.alter-eu.org/en/response-alter-eu-open-letter-expert-groups

[2] http://www.alter-eu.org/en/publications/open-letter-expert-groups-transparency-dec-2008

[3] Minimum standards for Consultation:
http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=COM:2002:0704:FIN:EN:PDF

Guidelines for Use of Expertise:
http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=COM:2002:0713:FIN:EN:PDF

[4] The register was checked between November 28 and December 3. 1022 groups were on it when checking started and 1020 when it finished. No names of persons or organisations were given for 506 groups. No names of persons for 186 groups and no names of organisations for 13 groups.

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GM feed is not the answer for our animals

[Note: Jill Evans MEP represents Wales in the European Parliament where she is a member of the Environment Committee. She is also the Vice President of Plaid Cymru.]

Western Mail (Wales, UK), December 16 2008. By Jill Evans.

THE high cost of animal feed is a very serious concern for farmers and it has caused the issue of genetically modified feed to be raised again.

In the current financial situation, it is not surprising farmers, like all of us, are looking at how to cut costs. But turning to GM feed is not the answer. Neither is it cheaper.

And there is now evidence that genetically modified animal feed may well lead to higher costs in the long term.

Studies in Germany and the USA by farmers themselves have shown that animals raised on non-GM feed produce better quality and a higher quantity of meat than animals fed on genetically modified feed. The same studies reported health problems, such as stomach ulcers, found in the animals fed on GM feed.

So, far from cutting costs for farmers, the widespread use of GM feed could over time have the opposite effect. This would also push up prices for the consumer.

Further detailed study is needed. That's why I would like to see a professional, controlled scientific study being done in Wales into the effects of using genetically modified animal feed.

Last week, EU government ministers meeting in Brussels agreed much stricter rules for assessing the risks of GMOs to health and the environment.

There will be more independent scientists and other groups involved in the process and all information and studies done by the companies themselves should be made public. All the potential risks will be looked at. Regions and local communities will now have the right to declare GM-free zones, as Wales has done.

This is good news for everyone concerned because it will give us more confidence that safety comes first. The promise of more research is also important so that farmers and consumers alike know all the facts about GM feed.

-------

Take Action:

Tell the supermarkets to ban the use of GM animal feed in their meat, dairy and egg production lines, and to mark their animal products as GM-free so consumers know they're not being exposed to stealth GMOs. http://www.bangmfood.org/take-action

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UK Companies Not Prepared for Cloned Animals – consumers could be left in the dark
• UK food industry not responding sufficiently to consumers concerns about cloned farm animals and product from cloned products and their offspring in the food chain.


GM Freeze, 16 December 2008 - Immediate Release

A survey released by GM Freeze today shows that the UK food industry is not doing enough to help consumers avoid food from clones and their offspring. [1]

Eighty-four per cent of Europeans believe we do not have enough experience about the long-term health and safety effects of using cloned animals for food. [2] Animal welfare issues, including high calf mortality and poor health, were a major concern to the European Ethics Group.

Some companies like Marks and Spencer, Waitrose and Sainsbury have solid policies not to sell such products, but other major brands such as Netto, All Bar One, Harvester, and Punch Taverns will sell food from clones if it is legalised in the EU.

Some companies who rely on animals for their core business, including McDonald's, Burger King, Dairy Crest and Robert Wiseman Dairies, simply did not respond to requests for clarification of their policy, so there is no way of knowing what goes into their products. [3]

At present cloning companies and regulators in both the US and the EU admit they have no idea how much unlabelled food from clones and their offspring is already in the food chain, since no one is monitoring where cloned animals go. The only curb on them entering US products destined for exports is a request from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) for a "voluntary moratorium" to protect the reputation of the market. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) says some products from clones are safe despite the serious concerns expressed by the European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies to the European Commission. So far the UK's Food Standards Agency (FSA) does not have a policy.

There are also unresolved questions about the impact of clones on the environment. GM Freeze agrees with the National Academy of Sciences that cloned animals might pose an irreversible environmental risk that the regulatory structure is not equipped to handle.[4] There is a lack of research into potential environmental impacts, including the ability of stronger clones outcompeting natural animals if they escape into the wild. [5] Clones animals also pose risks to agriculture [6] as they may lead to a loss of genetic diversity needed to ensure the long-term viability of breeds by providing genetic resistance to disease and ability to utilize less high protein feed.

Eve Mitchell of GM Freeze said:

"We believe that the conservation of genetic resources should be a legal requirement for all those involved in cloning. We call on all UK companies making or selling foods or other products that could contain products from clones or their offspring to urgently develop polices stating they will not use them. Consumers wishing to avoid supporting this unacceptable technology can consult our website or ask food companies directly for their policies".

Contact:

Calls to Eve Mitchell + 44 (0) 1381 610 740 or Pete Riley on + 44 (0) 845 217 8992.

Notes:

[1] See http://www.gmfreeze.org/uploads/F27_clones_final.pdf

[2] See http://europa.eu/rapid/pressReleasesAction.do?reference=IP/08/1478&format=HTML&aged=0&language=EN

[3] See www.gmfreeze.org/uploads/clone_chart_final.pdf

[4] "Food Fight - Clones are In, Consumers Won't Know", 15 January 2008, http://www.injuryboard.com/national-news/food-fight---clones-are-in-consumers-won%E2%80%99t-know.aspx?googleid=29074

[5] & [6] See http://www.gmfreeze.org/uploads/cloning_consult_response.pdf

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Ramadoss for stringent tests on all GM food

The Times of India, 16 December 2008.

NEW DELHI: Genetically modified (GM) crops are now under the health ministry's scanner.

Even as the ministry of environment readies to introduce GM food like the Bt Brinjal in India, Union health minister A Ramadoss has promised to oppose the move till proper research is conducted on whether it is safe for Indians.

Ramadoss said on Tuesday that he would take up this important issue with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Ramadoss said: "All GM food must undergo tests in Indian conditions before they are allowed into Indian markets. The Bt Brinjal has not been tested in India. I am writing both to the PM and the agriculture minister about this."

Ramadoss, in a PMK organized meeting with hundreds of farmers at Kancheepuram in Tamil Nadu recently, promised to resist the entry of GM foods for common use.

India is one of the six leading countries that are conducting field trials of GM crops. Besides brinjal, there are over two dozen varieties of rice and an equal number of tomatoes, potato, sugarcane, soy and okra awaiting approval.

Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, all the European Union countries and many in Africa have either banned the entry of GM foods or imposed strict restrictions on their commercial use.

A study published on November 12 by the Austrian government identified serious health threats of genetically engineered (GE) crops.

In one of the very few long-term feeding studies ever conducted with GE crops, the fertility of mice fed with GE maize was found to be severely impaired, with fewer offspring being produced than by mice fed on natural crops.

A group of scientists representing CRIIGEN (Committee for Independent Research and Genetic Engineering), University of Caen, France, found signs of toxicity in the liver and kidney of rats fed with genetically engineered maize.

Soybeans engineered with a Brazil-nut gene to improve nutritional quality, caused allergic reaction in people who consumed this soya.

The Coalition for a GM-free India recently thanked Ramadoss for vowing to stop unsafe GM food. Reacting to Ramadoss' statement, Kavitha Kuruganti, member secretary of the Coalition, said, "It is quite heartening to see the Union health minister taking a bold stand against unsafe GM food."

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15 December 2008

Biotechnology is overkill

Agweek (USA), 15 December 15, 2008. By Kristine Mattis.

The new presidential administration would do well to ignore the not-very-impartial advice of Art Brandli ("Biotechnology is our future," Page 5, Nov. 24).

Biotechnology may have produced exponential economic growth for large agribusiness corporations such as Monsanto, Cargill, DuPont and Dow, but it has done little to help people.

There exists a world food crisis, but as Francis Moore Lappe and others have noted, we do not have a world food shortage. We have a problem of growers forced to produce monocultures for export while not being able to feed themselves and their own communities.

We have enormous distribution problems and tremendous waste. The United Nations recently estimated that at least 50 percent of food produced ends up as garbage, while billions of people around the world go hungry.

Not the solution

A three-year study by the University of Kansas showed that genetically modified soybeans produce 10 percent less yield than their nongenetically modified counterparts. So, even if there were shortages, biotechnology is not the solution.

Moreover, the safety claims of biotechnology are dubious at best. GM foods do not undergo comprehensive health studies before being released to the market. Dr. Arpad Pusztai of the United Kingdom conducted the world's most thorough research on the health effects of GM foods. He found evidence of autoimmune problems, allergic reactions, underdeveloped organ growth and cancer resulting from the ingestion of genetically modified food.

Is it any wonder that farm animals and wildlife feeding on agricultural crops avoid GM crops at all costs?

Furthermore, genetic modification of crops has the potential to alter the genes of, and consequently the health of, entire ecosystems. Pollen from GM plants can travel far and wide, creating a "genetic pollution." GM crops also create a seed dependence for farmers, which often ruins their prosperity and their lives. More than half a million farmers in India have committed suicide as a result of losing their livelihoods to the endless cycle of dependence on seeds and chemicals that biotechnology produces.

Extreme caution

Finally, the unknown and potentially irreversible consequences of such technology are innumerable. GM crops are treated with extreme caution in Europe. Starving nations on the African continent even have banned the import of GM food aid from America.

Another biotech example, recombinant bovine growth hormone, was introduced by Monsanto in 1994 to increase milk production in cows, even though America already was producing far too much milk. Monsanto hoped increased milk production would drive down milk prices, thereby putting small dairy farms out of business while huge agribusiness corporations could absorb the costs and take over the market.

But the real results of rBGH use were not just financial. It produced severe impairment and infection in dairy cows. That infection and the antibiotics used to treat it are passed down to the milk consumer. Other health effects from ingesting dairy products made from rBGH: higher risk of colon, prostate and breast cancers, possible role in pediatric bone cancer and implication in lung cancer.

No wonder countries such as Canada, New Zealand and all of the European Union have long ago banned rBGH from even being introduced.

President-elect Obama should be curtailing the use of biotechnology and implementing the precautionary principle within our current regulations. The rest of the Western world is light years ahead in consumer protection and the use of sustainable agriculture, while the American government remains under the influence of agribusiness giants who are on a mission to control the entire world's food supply to the peril of us all.

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Accountability report puts Cargill under the spotlight

Food Navigator, 15 December 2008. By Sarah Hills.

Cargill's accountability record has come under scrutiny in a new report which assesses the performance of some of the world's most powerful corporate, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations.

Cargill was ranked in 24th place overall and in seventh place out of ten transnational corporations in the 2008 The Global Accountability Report, compiled by an independent think tank called One World Trust.

The aim of the report, now in its third year, is to broaden understanding of and commitment to common principles of accountability among global players from all sectors.

It looks at their policies and systems according to four "widely accepted dimensions of accountability"; transparency, participation, evaluation and complaint and response mechanisms. The report said: "As the world's largest trader in grains, Cargill's activities affect millions. Yet, as one of the world's largest privately held corporations, Cargill is not legally required to disclose information on its governance structures or operations, and in practice, provides little such information in the public sphere.

"Given the company's dominant position within the global food supply system, basic information about its governance, who makes decisions, when and how is essential.

"In order for key stakeholders, including agricultural production communities and grain product consumers, to hold Cargill to account for its activities and commitments, Cargill needs to provide the public with sufficient information about its activities and decisions."

The Trust said Cargill, which operates in 67 countries and has annual gross profit of $3.64bn, engaged in the research process for the report providing it with sufficient information to score the corporation on its internal governance.

However, it added that the average stakeholder would not receive this information.

In its performance assessment of Cargill, the report concluded: "Although Cargill often lacks written policies and commitments to key good practice principles, it consistently has leadership and training which support practice in all four dimensions of accountability capabilities.

"Furthermore, Cargill's member control is fairly equitable and its transparency capabilities are above the corporate sector average."

The accountability initiatives Cargill has signed up to include a roundtable on sustainable palm oil and sustainable soy.

Accountability drive

The report said that privately held companies such as Cargill currently have little incentive to change and need to be pushed to enhance their transparency capabilities.

Michael Hammer, executive director of One World Trust, said: "Organizations need to look at accountability as an opportunity rather than a problem. It can, for instance, make powerful organizations more effective."

Other organizations featured in the report include Unilever, which was ranked 18th overall.

Meanwhile the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), which is the worldwide umbrella group for the organic agriculture movement that develops organic agriculture standards, topped the ranking for accountability.

One World Trust says it conducts research, develops recommendations and advocates for reform to make policy and decision making processes in global governance more accountable to the people they affect.

Cargill was unable to provide a comment ahead of publication.

Comment by TraceConsult™:

Cargill, "the world's largest grain trader", undoubtedly has immensely larger resources available than comparably small IFOAM that should enable it to take the # 1 spot on the global accountability index. Instead of Cargill, however, it is IFOAM with its nearly charitable character, who has assumed the top accountability ranking.

It will help neither Cargill nor other large global players just to wave their mock fig leaf enrolment in initiatives such as the RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) or the RTRS (Roundtable on Responsible Soy) - transparent and credible action is what is required! Everything else is likely to cause critics to point their finger and shout "Greenwashing!" - sooner or later.

And, finally, Cargill "was unable to provide a comment"? Could this be a corporate attitude problem?

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Biofuel Plantations on Tropical Forestlands Are Bad for the Climate and Biodiversity, Study Finds

Global Warming Focus -- December 15, 2008.

Keeping tropical rain forests intact is a better way to combat climate change than replacing them with biofuel plantations, a study in the journal Conservation Biology finds.

The study reveals that it would take at least 75 years for the carbon emissions saved through the use of biofuels to compensate for the carbon lost through forest conversion. And if the original habitat was carbon-rich peatland, the carbon balance would take more than 600 years. On the other hand, planting biofuels on degraded Imperata grasslands instead of tropical rain forests would lead to a net removal of carbon in 10 years, the authors found.

The study is the most comprehensive analysis of the impact of oil palm plantations in tropical forests on climate and biodiversity. It was undertaken by an international research team of botanists, ecologists and engineers from seven nations.

"Our analysis found that it would take 75 to 93 years to see any benefits to the climate from biofuel plantations on converted tropical forestlands," said lead author Finn Danielsen of Denmark's Nordic Agency for Development and Ecology (NORDECO). "Until then, we will be releasing carbon into the atmosphere by cutting tropical rain forests, in addition to losing valuable plant and animal species. It's even worse on peatlands, which contain so much carbon that it would be 600 years before we see any benefits whatsoever."

Biofuels have been touted as an environmentally friendly alternative to fossil fuels, one of the major contributors to global warming. One such biofuel, palm oil, covers millions of acres in Southeast Asia, where it has directly or indirectly replaced tropical rain forests, resulting in loss of habitats for species such as rhinos and orangutans and the loss of carbon stored in trees and peatlands.

"Biofuels are a bad deal for forests, wildlife and the climate if they replace tropical rain forests," said co-author Dr. Neil Burgess of World Wildlife Fund. "In fact, they hasten climate change by removing one of the world's most efficient carbon storage tools - intact tropical rain forests."

The authors call for the development of common global standards for sustainable production of biofuels.

"Subsidies to purchase tropical biofuels are given by countries in Europe and North America supposedly to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions from transport" said Danielsen. "While these countries strive to meet their obligations under one international agreement, the Kyoto Protocol, they encourage others to increase their emissions as well as breach their obligations under another agreement, the Convention on Biological Diversity."

"Comparing the flora of the rain forest with that of oil palm plantations shows the devastating effect of forest conversion on biodiversity. Major plant groups that thrive in natural rain forest, such as trees, lianas, orchids and native palms, are completely absent. The plants that do grow abundantly in plantations are mostly common fern species that like sunshine. Forest plants need shady and undisturbed habitat to survive" said botanist Hendrien Beukema of University of Groningen in the Netherlands.

For fauna, only one in six forest species can survive in plantations, the study finds. Most of these are common and widespread species.

"Conserving the existing forests is not only good for the climate as the emissions of greenhouse gases are reduced but also generates additional benefits, such as biodiversity protection" said Dr. Daniel Murdiyarso of the Indonesia -based Centre for International Forestry (CIFOR). Tropical forests contain more than half of the Earth's terrestrial species and Southeast Asia's forests are among the richest in species. They also store around 46 percent of the world's living terrestrial carbon and 25 percent of total net global carbon emissions may stem from deforestation.

"It's a huge contradiction to clear tropical rain forests to grow crops for so-called 'environmentally friendly' fuels," said co-author Faizal Parish of the Global Environment Center, Malaysia. "This is not only an issue in South East Asia - in Latin America forests are being cleared for soy production which is even less efficient at biofuel production compared to oil palm. Reducing deforestation is a much more effective way for countries to reduce climate change while also meeting their obligations to protect biodiversity."

"Any biofuel plantations in tropical forest regions should be considered only in former forest land which has already been severely degraded to support only grassy vegetation," Parish added. "Care is further needed to prevent such plantations from stimulating further forest degradation in adjacent areas."

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Paraguay: Rural Associations Protest Land Occupations

IPS, 15 December 2008. By Natalia Ruiz Díaz.

ASUNCION - Agribusiness and landowners' associations in Paraguay began two days of demonstrations around the country Monday, demanding a stop to invasions of large estates by landless farmers.

The measure drew fire from social organisations, especially small farmers' associations.

The landowners parked tractors and other agricultural machinery along the sides of roads early Monday morning, mainly in the farming departments (provinces) of San Pedro in central Paraguay and Itapôa and Alto Paran∑ in the southeast.

The call for the demonstration was issued several weeks ago by the Coordinadora AgrŐcola del Paraguay (CAP), which was joined by two other rural associations, the UniŘn de Gremios de la ProducciŘn (UGP) and the AsociaciŘn Rural de Paraguay (ARP), as well as the FederaciŘn de la ProducciŘn, la Industria y el Comercio (FEPRINCO), a trade and industrial association.

The organisers hope to line at least 1,000 km of roads with their machinery at some 60 spots in the country's most productive agricultural areas, although the so-called "tractorazo" will not include roadblocks.

The leaders of the associations organising the protest are demanding a stop to land occupations by groups of small farmers, who have especially targeted large-scale producers of transgenic soybeans.

"Violence is not the route for solving the country's problems," said UGP president H»ctor Cristaldo, speaking along the highway that runs between the towns of Hernandarias and Salto del Guair∑, in Alto Paran∑. "What is needed is a huge national demonstration that brings together all the sectors," he added.

Alto Paran∑ in the southeast has the largest number of Brazilian soybean producers, who are opposed by small farmers because of the indiscriminate use of toxic agrochemicals, which have caused death and illness among children and adults, water pollution, destruction of ecosystems and loss of traditional food resources in rural communities, according to the U.N. Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Geneva.

Cristaldo said the demonstration was not against the administration of Fernando Lugo, but was aimed at drawing the attention of the three branches of the state to the situation of violence and insecurity in the country.

"Fights and clashes will only bring mourning to Paraguay," he said.

The Convocatoria Ciudadana citizen movement and FEPRINCO will hold their own demonstrations in the capital Tuesday.

The Frente Social y Popular (FSP), which groups a variety of social organisations, especially peasant farmers' movements, rejected the landowners' mobilisation as "authoritarian."

"This demonstration is cloaking itself in slogans designed to lie to Paraguayan society, like 'work for everyone', which is ironic given that the soybean growers exploit their workers," FSP leader Marcos Ibá“ez told IPS.

The highly mechanised soybean industry generates few jobs, and workers on the plantations and cattle ranches are subjected to near-slavery conditions, he said.

Several environmental organisations urged people to hold a peaceful parallel demonstration to protest landowners' failure to respect environmental standards, and the wholesale destruction of forests by ranchers to create pasture land.

The crisis in the countryside is one of the most pressing problems facing the government of former Catholic bishop Lugo, who took office on Aug. 15.

According to a report published this month by the Coordinadora de Derechos Humanos del Paraguay (CODEHUPY) human rights group, this landlocked South American country exported more than 4.3 million tons of soybeans in 2007 and 370 million dollars worth of beef -- figures that stand in sharp contrast to another statistic: the country's 600,000 malnourished children.

As causes of the widespread malnutrition, CODEHUPY's Human Rights in Paraguay 2008 report cites the poor distribution of wealth and the lack of an effective land reform policy.

The production of soybeans, the main farm export, grew 26 percent in the 2007-2008 period with respect to the previous harvest.

Despite the boom, the government of Lugo's predecessor, Nicanor Duarte (2003-2008), failed to implement a tax on unprocessed soybeans, and the agribusiness sector is staunchly opposed to paying taxes, which would contribute to redistributing wealth.

Paraguay is the Latin American country with the greatest concentration of land ownership. According to the last national agricultural census, a full 77 percent of the country's fertile land is controlled by just one percent of all landowners. Meanwhile, small farmers, who represent 40 percent of the population, own just five percent of all farmland.

"Campesino (small farmer) families cannot possibly compete on the market with the small quantities that they produce," said Diego Segovia of the Base Investigaciones Sociales, the non-governmental research group that produced the article on the agricultural sector contained in the CODEHUPY report.

"This system is driving an accelerated rural exodus while generating poverty and hunger, sending small farmers and food producers to the slums surrounding the cities," said Segovia.

Lugo, who became well-known in Paraguay for his work on behalf of the landless rural poor in the province of San Pedro, said in his campaign that changes to the country's economic and social structures were needed, through comprehensive land reform, the growth of employment and the reduction of poverty.

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WWF still accomplice to greenwashing

GMWatch, 15 December 2008

First, a big thank you to all of you who sent WWF letters criticizing their participation in a GM Soy Debate about sustainability criteria for GM soy.

Your intervention has been VERY effective with WWF issuing a statement in which they apologise for appearing to endorse GM soy.

http://www.panda.org/about_wwf/what_we_do/forests/our_solutions/responsible_forestry/forest_conversion_agriculture/news/index.cfm?uNewsID=152801

So well done! This is a step forward BUT the response on their website is otherwise very weak.

The statement is filled with justification of an existing WWF project, the RTRS - the Round Table on Responsible Soy, but this project is also deeply flawed and dangerous - see below.

WWF also needs to go further than the precautionary approach on GM that it asserts in its statement. Promoters of GMOs in Europe could, and do, say exactly the same about supporting case by case assessments and a strong regulatory framework. A leading environmental organization should be asking for far more than this which will only lead to the release of GMOs in the open environment.

WWF needs to take account of the growing evidence of health effects and environmental damage, and the lack of long term testing on both.* WWF needs to work for "presumed rejection" of GMOs, rather than "case by case assessment".

With regard to the RTRS, WWF's logic is that the Round Table on Responsible Soy is about assuring the sustainable production of soy whether it is GM or non-GM. This is total sophistry. GM soy is overwhelmingly what is being grown in those South American countries where soy is proving destructive both socially and environmentally. GM soy is fundamentally NOT sustainable.

The history is that the WWF started the RTRS with what were doubtless good intentions but in order to get the big guns - ADM, Bunge, Cargill, etc. - to participate, they had to greatly weaken the exercise. That included dodging the whole issue of GMOs, and also weakening the requirements around deforestation. As it stands now, the RTRS "criteria" totally ignore the critical issue of GMOs - and they allow deforestation of the Amazon as long as it is in an area that is "zoned" for agricultural use.

What that means is that big farmers will continue to bribe local government to "zone" areas of the Amazon as open for clearing for agriculture. And so clearing of the rainforest will simply continue, but now painted green with a big "RTRS Approved" seal.

In their response to your letters re the GM Soy Debate, WWF talk about the "successful completion of the RTRS process." The fact is that unless it gets strengthened to (1) reject GM soy completely and (2) have real teeth in its protection of the rainforest, it will be a success only for the big soy processors, the big exploitative farmers, and Monsanto!

Spraying glyphosate from the air should also be a basic reason to say no to "sustainable" soy! The impact on biodiversity and people is obvious. The problem of resistant weeds and volunteers requiring stronger chemicals is also a major problem. And people should have the right to GM-free zones and not to be contaminated. WWF should be asserting that right not legitimating contamination.

Don't forget that WWF has never succeeded in engaging the local communities most directly affected by the soy invasion in the RTRS.

If you've already been in contact with WWF, please reply by telling it that it needs to take a far stronger line on GM soy and that it is an accomplice to greenwashing through the RTRS.

If they haven't written to you, you can let them known your concerns here:
http://www.panda.org/faq/visitor_emailadmin.cfm

or via their offices around the world
http://www.panda.org/about_wwf/who_we_are/offices/index.cfm

For more on the problems of RTRS, see:

*THE ROUND TABLE ON IR-RESPONSIBLE SOY
Certifying Soy Expansion, GM Soy and Agrofuels
http://www.lasojamata.org/files/RTbriefing%202008_6.pdf

This report shows how the Round Table is legitimising the existing environmentally and socially destructive practices of soy monocultures which have drawn widespread concern from around the world.

* See http://www.bangmfood.org/publications

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13 December 2008

Vatican warning on moral problems of biotechnology

The Irish Times, 13 December 2008. By Paddy Agnew and Patsy McGarry.

THE VATICAN has issued a severe warning on the moral implications of "biotechnical" treatments such as genetic engineering, cloning, in vitro fertilisation, the morning-after pill and the freezing of human embryos.

In a complex document called Dignitas Personae (The Dignity of The Person), released by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith but bearing the approval of Pope Benedict XVI, the Vatican argues that many of the latest advances in the field of biotechnology raise serious moral problems for doctors and researchers.

The document says they have a duty to refuse to use biological material obtained by unethical means. It claims human cloning could lead to "biological slavery".

Furthermore, the process of in vitro fertilisation is again condemned not only because it usually involves the destruction of embryos - something which constitutes the "blithe acceptance of an enormous number of abortions" - but also because the in vitro technique separates procreation from the conjugal act.

Vatican commentators see this latest document as an updating of the 1987 instruction Donum Vitae (The Gift of Life) which issued an unequivocal rejection of in vitro fertilisation, human cloning, surrogate motherhood and non-therapeutic experiments with human embryos.

Dignitas Personae concludes that there is an "urgent need to mobilise consciences in favour of life". Arguing that human life "is always a good", the document concludes that "the human embryo has, from the very beginning, the dignity proper to a person". The document argues that it is "gravely illicit" to take stem cells from a living human embryo because this inevitably causes the death of the embryo.

Meanwhile, chair of the Irish Bishops' consultative group on bioethics Bishop Donal Murray said yesterday: "It worries me enormously that in the European Union, in the actions of our Government, and in the actions of institutions in Ireland, the driving force (where embryonic stem cell research is concerned) appears to be economic, economics, profit. Not ethical considerations about what kind of world we are creating or what kind of respect we are showing to other members of our race when we use them in order to produce treatments which have not yet appeared and may not appear as adult stem cells are as promising."

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12 December 2008

USDA/FAS GAIN report: Italy approves GM field trials

Seed Quest, 12 December 2008.

Download the USDA/FAS GAIN report IT 8039:
http://www.fas.usda.gov/gainfiles/200812/146306725.pdf

Report highlights:

Italy's [sic] has approved the resumption of biotech field trials after a hiatus of 10 years. Protocols for nine crops were approved but leave implementing regulations up to the regions – many of which have declared themselves to be GMO free. While the approval of these protocols may be a positive step, most Italian scientists remain skeptical about their actual significance. In their view, too many constraints exist to make field tests practical. In fact, many research centers have abandoned agricultural biotechnology research because there is little likelihood that any farm in Italy will be able to benefit from such research any time soon.

"A glimmer opens, after ten years of darkness, for field trials of biotech crops." This is how a leading farm weekly magazine, "Agrisole" starts its press release, announcing the approval of the biotech field test protocols by the State-Regions Conference – a special body of representatives from the federal government and each of the 20 Italian regions that addresses issues of mutual interest. The path to this approval has not been easy. For a number of years, both public and private institutions have not been allowed to conduct research on biotech crops in Italy. By law, approval must first come from a special committee of ten members, comprised of two representatives from the Ministry of Agriculture, two from the Ministry of Environment, and six from the regions, followed by approval of the State-regions Conference.

In 2007, the Ministry of Agriculture passed a Ministerial decree, endorsed by the special committee, approving protocols to re-start biotech field trials, which had been stopped for a number of years. But the decree was opposed by the Minister of Environment, Alfonso Pecoraro Scanio, who also was the leader of Italy's Green party. Last August, the new Minister of Environment, Stefania Prestigiacomo, endorsed the above protocols, which were then approved by the State-Regions Conference. The Ministerial decree is now waiting for the final signature from Minister of Agriculture Zaia, after which it will be published in the Official Gazette. Although Zaia has publicly maintained a strong opposition to agricultural biotechnology, most observers expect him to sign the decree.

Nine protocols were approved; one each for kiwis, citrus, sweet cherries, strawberries, corn, egg plants, olives, tomatoes, and grapes. The decree leaves it up to each region to develop implementing regulations, including the authority to adopt even more restrictive measures than the original protocols in order "to reduce the risk of contamination." Although most Italian regions have declared themselves to be "GM-free," some regions appear open to the biotech trials, including Lombardy, Veneto, and Emilia-Romagna – all located in northern Italy.

The nine protocols all include stringent measures to prevent any "contamination" to conventional agriculture. Examples of these measures include the required use of anti-birds nets over GM kiwi-trees, a minimum distance of 1,000 meters between biotech and conventional corn fields, hand harvesting of biotech corn, and, in some cases, sterilization of the soil and incineration of the residues. Furthermore the trial fields must remain idle for up to three years following the trials.

While the approval of these protocols may be seen by many pro-biotech observers as a positive step, most Italian scientists remain skeptical about the actual significance of this decree. In their view, too many constraints exist to make field tests practical. In fact, many research centers have abandoned agricultural biotechnology research because there is little likelihood that any farm in Italy will be able to benefit from such research any time soon. On the other side, environmental groups have protested against the approval of the protocols, reiterating their concerns about the possible contamination.

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Monsanto makes "most influential" list

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 12 December 2008. By David Nicklaus.

Monsanto belongs on a list of the world's 10 most influential companies, Business Week says in the current issue. The rest of the list: Apple, Google, Huawei, JPMorgan Chase, News Corp., Saudi Aramco, Toyota, Unilever and Wal-Mart.

The magazine's short profile of Monsanto begins with a word that company executives hate: Frankenfood. It continues, though, in more complementary terms:

While the biotech food giant and world's top seed seller has its share of detractors, few would dispute Monsanto's influence on the global food chain. About 97% of U.S. soy is now grown using Monsanto technology, and the company's insect- and herbicide-resistant corn and cotton have become the default standard for U.S. farmers. Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen argues that it's "light years" ahead of rivals, noting that "if you don't have Monsanto's seeds for soybeans, you can't compete [because] the yield per acre is so much better."

Comment by GM Watch:

This Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen clearly knows zilch about the agronomics but his hyperbole beautifully illustrates the power of viral marketing.

Studies have repeatedly shown that however attractive to many US farmers Roundup-Ready soybeans may be, the one thing they don't do is increase yield. There are, in fact, no commercialized GM crops that inherently increase yield, and studies show GM soya has suffered reduced yield! *

Monsanto, incidentally, is currently trading around half the all-time peak reached in June, a fate it shares with Syngenta.

* See, for instance: Glyphosate-resistant soyabean cultivar yields compared with sister lines, Elmore, R.W. et al., Agronomy Journal, Vol. 93, No. 2, 2001, pp. 408-412

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EU gets ready to test waters on GMO crop growing

Reuters, 12 December 2008. By Jeremy Smith.

BRUSSELS - Europe's environment chief has prepared draft authorisations for two biotech maize types to be grown in the European Union, testing the political climate of 27 countries that together are historically wary of biotechnology.

If EU governments agree to the approvals, it would represent the first authorisation to grow a GM crop in 10 years. While politically, that scenario still appears touch-and-go, Brussels is under a lot of pressure to move forward on GM crop approvals.

In an apparent U-turn in his attitude as one of EU executive's most GM-wary commissioners, environment chief Stavros Dimas has now written draft approvals for both the maize crops, EU and industry officials say.

But so far, the paperwork is being kept well under wraps, with Commission experts believed to be under firm instructions not to release it anywhere near the public domain.

In October 2007, Dimas wanted to block both GM applications and even drafted rejection notices to say it was too uncertain that growing the biotech crops would not hurt the environment.

After intensive internal debates on GMO policy, coupled with the pressure of a court case brought by one of the manufacturing companies and a third "green light" report by EU food safety agency EFSA -- things may finally be moving at the Commission.

The crops are Bt-11 maize, engineered by Swiss agrochemicals company Syngenta, and 1507 maize -- jointly developed by Pioneer Hi-Bred International, a unit of DuPont Co and Dow AgroSciences unit Mycogen Seeds.

Game of ping-pong

In Europe, consumers are well known for their scepticism, if not hostility, to GM crops, often called "Frankenstein foods."

But the biotech industry insists its products are as safe as conventional equivalents. After hefty investments and years of research, it is frustrated over what it sees as the EU's delay in approving GM products to deny it access to European markets.

Pioneer is a case in point. Last year it filed a lawsuit against the Commission for what it says are undue delays in processing its request for EU approval for growing 1507 maize, submitted seven years ago. Six countries have now approved this product for cultivation, Brazil being the latest this week.

An EU public hearing for the case was held in mid-November.

"In court, the Commission committed to submit a proposal for approval taking into account the third positive opinion from EFSA and to submit this to member states in January with a decision expected in February 2009," said Mike Hall, Pioneer's communications manager for Europe.

"We expect nothing less than immediate action on behalf of the Commission," he said. "We've met all the obligations under EU legislation and have played this game of ping-pong long enough -- the ball is now with the Commission and member states to meet their obligations to approve a safe product," he said.

The same scenario is expected for Syngenta's application, officials say -- although whether EU countries can muster the necessary majority in February to approve the applications under the bloc's weighted voting system remains to be seen.

The European Union has long been split on GMO policy and its 27 member states consistently clash over whether to approve new varieties for import -- but without ever reaching a conclusion.

Some countries, like Britain, Finland and the Netherlands, almost always vote in favour of approving new GMOs. They are offset by a group of GMO-sceptic states like Austria, Greece and Luxembourg, that vote against and force a voting stalemate.

However, approving a new GMO crop for cultivation is seen as almost impossible in the EU's current climate, diplomats say.

More pressure on the Commission has come from German chemical company BASF, which filed a similar lawsuit last year over its GM Amflora high-starch potato -- the paperwork for which has sat on Dimas' desk since July 2007. (Editing by James Jukwey)

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GMO Job
Will the Obama administration be the first to seriously regulate genetically modified food?


Grist (USA), 12 December 2008. By Tom Philpott.

Will Obama buck the trend and regulate GMOs?

On Nov. 11, Austria's Ministries for Agriculture and Health released the results of a long-term study [http://bmgfj.cms.apa.at/cms/site/attachments/3/2/9/CH0810/CMS1226492832306/forschungsbericht_3-2008_letztfassung.pdf] of genetically modified organisms. A widely used strain of GM corn, they found, appears to decrease both birthrates and the size of offspring in mice -- and the problems seem to grow with each generation.

This is a troubling conclusion. U.S. farmers planted the first commercial GMO crops in 1996. Today, upwards of 90 percent of U.S. soy, and 60 percent of U.S. corn, come from GMO seeds. Those crops suffuse our food supply -- they provide the bulk of our cooking oil and sweetener, and feed the animals that feed us. By 2003, as much as 75 percent of processed food available in the United States contained GMO ingredients, according to an estimate cited by the USDA http://www.fda.gov/fdac/features/2003/603_food.html. GM corn and soy acreage have only expanded since then.

Of course, the reproductive function is complex and intimately linked to the body's other systems. If GMOs are affecting our ability to reproduce, then it seems likely they're affecting our health in other ways, too.

Yet the Austrian study dropped with a thud in the U.S. media. The New York Times didn't mention it; on The Washington Post website, it rated a few paragraphs in the midst of a daily health round up http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/11/13/AR2008111301918_pf.html.

Nor did it seem to penetrate the world of our president-elect. Less than two weeks after the Austrian study emerged, Obama named http://change.gov/learn/obama_biden_transition_agency_review_teams the members of his transition team for issues related to the USDA. Among them was Michael R. Taylor http://www.resolv.org/about/board/taylor.htm, a consultant who has spent the past 30 years bouncing among high-level positions at the USDA, the FDA, and Monsanto, the company that dominates the lucrative market for GMO seeds. Taylor served as director of policy at the FDA during the 1990s, when GMOs began to infiltrate the food supply.

A few days before that, Des Moines Register agriculture correspondent Philip Brasher speculated http://www.desmoinesregister.com/article/20081123/BUSINESS01/811230309/1029/BUSINESS that Obama will be as friendly to the ag-biotech industry as his predecessor, based on "both [Obama's] statements of policy and the type of people from whom he's taking advice."

Given the startling conclusions of the Austrian researchers and Obama's evident embrace of GMOs, it's time to revisit how the U.S. government regulates the technology.

Quayle's Brainwave

When he takes office in January, Obama will inherit perhaps the most GMO-friendly regulatory framework of any nation in the world. In a 2003 paper http://www.bc.edu/schools/law/lawreviews/meta-elements/journals/bclawr/44_3/02_FMS.htm for New York University's Center on Environmental and Land Use Law, Emily Marden describes the fragmented, porous process through which genetically altered traits move from lab to supermarket.

Since the 1990s, Marden reports, two key assumptions have shaped the official response to GMOs: 1) that the technology poses at most low-level public-health and ecological risks, and 2) that preexisting regulatory measures are sufficient for reviewing GMOs. As a result, gene-altered organisms have been allowed to suffuse our food supply without any special effort to measure their risk.

The intellectual author of our system for judging the safety GMOs turns out to be none other than Dan Quayle, vice president under George H.W. Bush. Quayle headed up Bush I's Council on Competitiveness http://www.thecre.com/ombpapers/1999-0129-F.htm, a group charged with promoting U.S. business interests by "reducing the regulatory burden on the economy." The Council operated under the vice president's office; members included the attorney general, secretary of commerce, and chair of the Council of Economic Advisors -- but no one from FDA or USDA. To act as executive director, Quayle tapped Indiana chemical-industry executive Allan Hubbard http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allan_Hubbard.

By the early 1990s, agrichemical companies like Monsanto had invested billions on GMO technology and were eager to bring their seeds to market. President Bush faced the task of deciding how to regulate them. He handed the task to Quayle's Council. Fittingly for a group charged with "reducing the regulatory burden," the Council settled on a laissez-faire approach.

According to Marden, the Council emphasized the need "to eliminate unneeded regulatory burdens on all phases of the development of new biotechnology products -- laboratory and field experiments, products development, and eventual sales and use."

And it took a broad view of what constituted "unneeded" regulations: The federal government should only implement new regulations on biotechnology for "those limited instances where private markets fail to provide adequate incentives to avoid unreasonable risks to health and the environment." In the more than 15 years that have passed since the Council passed judgment, no new regulations regarding GMOs have been drawn up.

Having established their principles, Quayle and his council set about creating what became known as the "coordinated framework" for regulating GMOs, which actually amounts to a fragmented patchwork involving three agencies: the FDA, the EPA, and the USDA (under its Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, or APHIS.)

In her Uncertain Peril: Genetic Engineering and the Future of Seeds http://astore.amazon.com/gristmagazine/detail/0807085804/102-1183543-3665742, Claire Hope Cummings deftly lays out how the three agencies go about their task. The USDA applies the Plant Pest Act to new GMO crops, which "excludes the process of genetic engineering from consideration," Cummings writes. Moreover, the agency relies completely on the seed companies themselves for information on ecological risk. Thus far, the industry has given itself a clean bill of health.

As for the EPA, it looks at only one kind of GMO: those engineered to contain a pesticide. That excludes oversight of widely used herbicide-tolerant (so-called Roundup Ready) corn and soy. Instead, it draws attention to GM crops like Monsanto's ubiquitous Bt corn, engineered to contain the pesticide properties of the naturally occurring Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) bacteria.

But here, too, the technology gets a pass. Operating under the principles laid down by Quayle, the EPA assumes that since Bt is safe for humans, Bt corn must be, too, Cummings reports. But there are key differences. "While natural Bt is activated only in the guts of susceptible insects, GMO Bt is always active and constantly exuded from all parts of the plant," Cummings writes.

The FDA, finally, regulates under the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. When the agency decides an item is "generally regarded as safe," it passes into the food supply without the need for testing. Astonishingly, before ever testing a GMO product, the FDA declared the entire category "generally regarded as safe."

Hope for Change?

Reviewing this material, a conclusion emerges: Our government essentially doesn't regulate GMO food.

Yet as the Austrian study shows, GMOs may well carry significant health risks. (Ecological impacts, such as the rise of herbicide-tolerant "superweeds," have also been linked to GMOs http://gristmill.grist.org/story/2008/8/14/9630/00762.) The study contains a statement I find nearly as startling as the drop in fertility it reports: Twelve years since the introduction of GMO crops, "Only [a] few studies have been conducted to assess 'toxicity' and 'long term effects' of transgenic crops in warm-blooded animals." In other words, it's not just that the U.S. government is failing to test the health effects of GMOs; no one else is really testing, either.

The question becomes, will Obama update a broken regulatory framework that hasn't been changed since its birth in the, gulp, Quayle era? Obama's association with figures like former Monsanto vice president and FDA policy director Michael Taylor augur poorly.

Yet a comment the president-elect made during the campaign offers some hope. "I believe that we can continue to modify plants safely with new genetic methods," he declared. But he added a caveat: GMO expansion should be "abetted by stringent tests for environmental and health effects and by stronger regulatory oversight guided by the best available scientific advice."

That would certainly be a novel approach.

Comment from TraceConsult™

This excellent summary of the coming about of the current "regulatory" scheme for GM crops in the U.S. also offers a glimpse of hope for some change to expect under the incoming Obama administration. Just as little as the majority of Americans seem to know about their intake of GM food every day, readers from other parts of the world probably know little about the facts presented here - and how much they indirectly affect their own food intake.

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Vatican Goes 21st Century With Biotech Advice

Wired magazine, 12 December 2008.

[For hyperlinks not included in the text below see http://blog.wired.com/wiredscience/2008/12/vaticanbioethic.html]

In its first comprehensive evaluation of modern biotechnologies, the Vatican has denounced most forms of embryonic stem cell research, artificial reproduction and genetic enhancement.

The statement, issued today by the Vatican's doctrinal arm, is not uniformly opposed to human biotechnology: a few of its recommendations, especially those concerning genetic engineering, are surprisingly liberal.

By insisting that embryos deserve humane treatment from the moment of conception, the Vatican's views still amount – from the perspective of their critics – to sacrificing full-grown people in order to save a few cells.

But even opponents acknowledge that the arguments are carefully reasoned and well-intentioned.

"It's well-written and well-argued," said Penn State bioethicist Art Caplan. "There's a lot I disagree with, but I like the fact that they're taking on the latest technologies and trying to wrestle with them. They're at least trying to get to the 21st century here."

The theoretical underpinnings of the statement, entitled Dignitas Personae, were laid out in Pope John Paul II's 1987 encyclical Donum Vitae, or "The Gift of Life." It re-articulated Catholic doctrine for a biotechnological age: life begins at conception, and embryos should be protected as humans.

That concept is reflected in today's document. "The body of a human being, from the very first stages of its existence, can never be reduced to a group of cells," it reads. "The fruit of human generation ... from the moment the zygote has formed, demands the unconditional respect that is morally due to the human being."

This position leaves little room for many of the latest reproductive and therapeutic biotechnologies.

Forms of assisted reproduction that produce leftover embryos, including in-vitro fertilization, are denounced. Prenatal genetic diagnosis, in which embryos are scanned for defects before being implanted, is similarly unacceptable.

These prohibitions, said Caplan, are the least-logical arguments in Dignitas Personae: Natural reproduction already involves embryo loss, and many sterile Catholic couples use assisted reproduction to conceive.

More logical are the implications of embryo personhood for most embryonic stem cell research, in which the harvest of tissue-regenerating cells involves embryo destruction. This is unacceptable, says the Vatican, though a few alternative forms of production might be permissible.

One of these is Altered Nuclear Transfer, in which embryos are engineered to be incapable of further development: if they can't ever become people, then they're not considered fully human. Another alternative is stem cells taken from eggs that divide without fertilization, a process known as parthenogenesis. Left unmentioned is a technique invented by Robert Lanza of Advanced Cell Technologies, in which a few cells are taken from an embryo without harming it.

These methods are still highly-experimental and may never be developed. The Obama administration is expected to lift President Bush's limitations on embryonic stem cell research, eliminating the need for tricky hacks.

But one alternative that will flourish is induced pluripotency, in which adult cells – even a flake of skin – are coaxed into a near-embryonic state. Pioneered by Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Disease researcher Shinya Yamanaka – himself troubled by embryo destruction – induced pluripotency is both scientifically promising and ethically uncontroversial.

Stem cell experts say that both embryonic and reprogrammed stem cells are required, but the latter will at least provide an outlet for Catholic researchers heedful of the Vatican's position. And Dignitas Personae, though it condemns researchers who use unethically harvested stem cells, allows people to use life-saving treatments if ethical alternatives don't exist.

Dignitas Personae also strikes a compromise with gene therapy, which is approved for treating diseases, though not for non-therapeutic uses, such as making people smarter or stronger. Even permanent genetic modifications that can be passed to children are acceptable, as long as it's safe.

"That was the most surprising thing in the document," said Caplan. "That commitment to healing is noble."

The least-controversial part of Dignitas Personae may be its introduction, in which researchers and the public are encouraged to ensure that first-world therapies "be made available in areas of the world that are poor and afflicted by disease, so that those who are most in need will receive humanitarian assistance."

This point is often overlooked in moral battles over biotechnology: everyone deserves access. And that's something we can all agree on, Catholic or not.

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Genetically modified food, a hot potato for the Govt

CNN-IBN (India), 12 December 2008.

New Delhi: After imposing a ban on smoking in public, Union Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss is working towards banning genetically modified (GM) seeds.

He says his ministry will oppose the entry of GM seeds into the country. The move comes after months of protests by activists, farmers and consumers across India.

"As the Union Health Minister, I will continue opposing it. BT Brinjal is being brought into the country without proper research on its safety. We should oppose it collectively," Ramadoss says.

The minister's remarks come at a time when BT Brinjal [aubergine] – the first GM vegetable – is on the verge of getting approval for commercial release.

Union Science and Technology Minister Kapil Sibal, however, is well known for his advocacy of GM food.

"Of course the Government is pro-GM otherwise the GM technology would not be there. We already have GM cotton and there are many other products that are in the pipeline and will be in the market," Sibal says.

Inadequate research and lack of independent monitoring of the impact of GM food, more specifically BT Brinjal, will certainly give fodder for confrontation.

There have been reports of several deaths across the world following allergic reaction to GM food.

"Latest Austrian study released three weeks ago shows that the mice become infertile after being introduced to GM foods," Kavitha Kuruganti, a Green Peace activist, says.

What is worrying activists and farmers is the hurry with which the Government seems to be embracing GM technology, when around 180 countries in the world do not allow it.

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Finland and Sweden denounce new EU transparency rules

EU Observer, 12 December 2008. By Valentina Pop.

[Photo caption: Access to EU documents might be more restrictive if the current legislation is modified. ]

BRUSSELS - Finnish and Swedish ministers on Thursday (11 December) have jointly criticised a proposal by the European commission to modify the current legislation granting public access to EU documents, saying that certain types of documents would be excluded.

Both Nordic countries have been strong promoters of the new law establishing access to EU documents, a regulation adopted in April 2001.

The commission has proposed adapting the regulation and merging it with one dealing solely with environmental information. Ostensibly, the aim is to apply the UN's Aarhus Convention, adopted in 1998 and which grants access to information, participation in decision-making and access to justice in environmental matters. However, the commission proposal also includes some complementary changes that have raised concerns in Finland and Sweden.

"We are worried about the latest proposal by the commission and the effects it could have on public access to documents," Finnish minister for EU affairs, Astrid Thors, said during a panel discussion at the country's mission to the EU in Brussels.

"Our interpretation is that the commission proposes to exclude certain documents, such as documents related to the commission's own inspections," she added.

"The justification for this exclusion is that it would ease the workload of the commission, releasing them from the duty of assessing the documents one by one. But on the contrary, we believe that considering documents one by one is a cornerstone of this legislation. What we may lose in the end with a little bit more work, we win by having a good and sound administration," Ms Thors stressed.

The Finnish minister praised the Barroso commission for "so many good initiatives" aimed at increasing citizen participation in EU affairs, while hoping that the initiative to review the current legislation on access to documents would not reflect the "general mindset" of the EU executive.

Cecilia Malmstrom, the Swedish minister for EU affairs who drafted the current regulation from 2000 to 2001 when she was a MEP, stressed the importance of transparency in reducing corruption.

She particularly insisted on not giving a veto right to member states over documents originating from them that the EU institutions were subsequently requested by citizens to disclose.

"The actual wording of the commission leaves some doubts regarding the possibility of member states referring to national legislation," she said, arguing that this could impede access to documents that otherwise would be granted by the current regulation.

Marc Maes, a commission official dealing with the review of the regulation defended his institution, saying that the proposal was mainly aimed at merging different rules for different institutions and types of documents.

He said that the current legislation has granted access mainly to academics, lobbyists and lawyers, and that the actual number of regular people requesting access is smaller than the recorded one, since requests for documents from people who do not identify themselves - by using a non-descript webmail address for example - were automatically classified as having come from ordinary citizens.

Ian Harden, deputy of the European ombudsman, said that there was a need to clarify the rules governing how documents are initially filed, or registered with the EU institutions. The current regulation permitted institutions two extremes - either to register all internal documents, including e-mails, or to decide not to register important documents, such as working papers, which were actually of public interest.

Not in favour of the commission's review of the legislation was Hans Brunmeyer, who used to be in charge of press, communication and protocol within the general secretariat of the EU council - the administrative body which deals with the meetings of ministers and heads of state.

He said: "Too much precision in the legislative text would restrict access to documents," and hailed the Finnish EU presidency last year, which decided to publish a number of meeting documents which previously would have been classified.

EU leaders consider citizens 'outsiders'

Free access to documents was not a "gift" but a right, said British MEP Michael Cashman, who worked on the original drafts of the legislation and was currently reviewing the commission proposal on behalf of the civil liberties, justice and home affairs committee.

He said the failure of the Lisbon Treaty in Ireland is an example for what lack of information can lead to and called for the meetings of heads of state and ministers to be open for scrutiny and thus raise the level of accountability.

Mr Cashman also proposed that each department - or directorates general as they are called - within the EU institutions have an information officer who could face sanctions if his or her directorate did not comply with the regulation granting access to information.

Quoting from an EU Council refusal to a request for information, Finnish MEP Anneli Jaatteenmaki revealed what she considered a "very arrogant view of decision makers."

The Council refused to disclose its legal opinions drafted by the legal services arguing that they deserved special protection so as not to create "uncertainty regarding the legality of the measure adopted further to that opinion." The case was brought to the European Court of Justice by Sweden, who won.

It was precisely openness and transparency that guaranteed legitimacy of EU institutions in the eyes of the people, said Ms Jaatteemaki, who was a Justice minister in Finland and currently a co-rapporteur on the commission proposal on behalf of the constitutional affairs committee.

Citing further from the same Council document, she said she was appalled that the Council referred to ordinary EU citizens as "outsiders" and concluded that there was still a long way to go to convince EU institutions that they are accountable to citizens.

Committees in the European Parliament are scheduled to give their opinion on the commission proposal on 22 January, followed by a vote of the full sitting of the house in March.

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World According to... Naomi Klein
• As a financial crisis batters the world economy, one of capitalism's sharpest critics gives her views on Iraq, Milton Friedman, Obama, and living with contradictions.


Coné Nast Portfolio, 12 December 2008. By Lloyd Grove.

Marauding multinationals and their enablers in the U.S. government have a worthy adversary in Naomi Klein, a Canadian social critic whose books puncture the underlying assumptions that have made big business such a dominant, unchecked force in the economy and popular culture.

Equal parts skilled journalist and clever polemicist – and an unabashed leftist liberal to boot – the 38-year-old Klein is providing an intellectual arsenal for those who would like to replace today's capitalist robber barons with something apparently more benign and people-friendly, and would celebrate what they see as the common good over the grubby business of making a profit.

Klein's latest bestseller The Shock Doctrine, has become a rallying cry for opponents of President Bush's economic and foreign policies, much as her 2000 book, No Logo (which harpooned the brand-worshiping corporate culture that allowed big business to exploit third-world workers) became a focus for the anti-globalization movement. The irony is not lost on Klein that she has become rich herself in the process. In the middle of a tour for the paperback edition of The Shock Doctrine last week, Klein gave an exclusive interview to Portfolio.com.

[Excerpt only. For full story see:
http://www.portfolio.com/views/columns/the-world-according-to/2008/07/24/An-Interview-With-Naomi-Klein?tid=true ]

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We Need Patents to Protect Our Crops

New Vision/All Africa Global Media via COMTEX, 12 December 2008.

Kampala -- Uganda's economy is still largely agro-based and will remain so for another 20 years all factors constant. In 2030, agriculture will still contribute significantly to gross domestic product (GDP), exports and female employment.

By 2030, the major issue in agriculture world-wide will be intellectual property rights (IPRs). IPRs are exclusive monopoly rights over a creation that society provides to the inventor for a period of time.

These rights are said to inextricably increase agricultural innovation, output and food safety. By 2030, the pressure on African governments from highly organised and wealthy proponents of IPRs will be overwhelming. While portraying themselves as benevolent sources of technologies, these proponents, who have already developed genetically modified seeds (GMOs), will shove regionally-harmonised IPR legislations down African governments' throats.

Today, Africa is yet to see that these proponents seek to profit from the poor farmers and not to "help" them with better seed.

Today, Africa is shy to communicate that this notion of IPR in agriculture is alien.

Deep down Uganda's rural areas where crops are grown, customary law is applied. There are no private proprietary rights, but rather community resource rights; with all resources belonging to everyone and these being regulated by the community's cultural and local knowledge systems and practices.

This is why the country's farmers continue to exchange seeds among themselves, from neighbour to neighbour, mother to daughter and across villages.

It is obvious, therefore, that IPRs in agriculture will restrict the right of farmers to share, use and save seed from their harvests. It is also clear that IPRs will not increase food security as expected. In Kenya, only one variety out of the 136 applications filed and tested since 1997 has been on a food crop, while more than half were for roses.

In spite of the apparent irrelevance and strangeness of IPR issues in the country's agriculture, the IPRs are inevitably coming just like globalisation!

It is painful that Uganda's agriculture lacks the resources to resist the agriculture IPR lobby and to develop unique seed and plant varieties.

If we can't beat this profit-seeking wave for profit from our own small farmers, then we must help farmers join the wave and benefit from it.

The way forward is a form of IPR called Geographical Indications (GIs). GIs are indications which identify a good as originating from a region or country, where a given quality, reputation or other characteristic of the good is essentially attributable to its country or region of origin.

Geographical indications serve the same functions as trademarks because like trademarks, GIs are source-identifiers, guarantees of quality and valuable business assets.

That is, GIs are signs used on goods that have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities or a reputation that are due to that place of origin.

A good example of a global GI is champagne. champagne is not simply sparkling wine; it must be produced in the Champagne region of France.

Initially rejected and branded the "devil's wine" because it exploded when opened, it was later associated with kings such as Leopold II of Belgium and George I of Greece. It later acquired a GI.

Today, bottles of sparking wine mislabeled Champagne are seized and destroyed in countries with GI legislation.

Uganda's agriculture has to quickly think of ways of helping global consumers identify agro-commodities from Uganda.

One unique feature of GIs is that they are not exclusive to a monopolist and thus can be used by all Ugandan exporters exporting say, coffee, tea, vanilla and sugar.

But using GIs will require appropriate GI laws in Uganda.

I am crest fallen that each regulation which is of great significance to business in Uganda such as the transport policy, the construction policy, the Counterfeits Goods Bill, requires a minimum of nine years before they come into effect.

Your Excellency, Honourable Members of Parliament, Honourable Minister of Agriculture, Honourable Minister of Trade, one cherished Christmas gift you could have given Ugandan agriculture this year is an Act on Geographical Indications. Merry Xmas.

The writer is the director for Trade Development at the Private Sector Foundation Uganda

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One gene, one protein, one function - not so

On Line Opinion (Australia), 12 December 2008. By Greg Revell.

With the abrupt and uninvited introduction of genetically modified (GM) food into our supermarkets and restaurants, many of us are looking more closely into the food we eat.

Recently, Monsanto's apparent transformation from agrichemical giant to philanthropic institution was cynically trumpeted to the world's media: "We will double crops yields!" Such grandiose promises can only be offered if there is a parallel narrative that portrays genetic engineering as being able to permit the precise control of life processes and by extension, provide predictable and controllable agricultural outcomes.

The Biotechnology Industry Organization's public relations campaign explains:

Through modern methods found in biotechnology, researchers can accomplish the desired results, but in a more efficient and predictable manner (than in conventional plant breeding). In this process, a specific gene, or blueprint of a trait, is isolated and removed from one organism then relocated into the DNA of another organism to replicate that similar trait (my emphasis).

But are the techniques that give rise to GM foods as precise and controlled as the PR blurb suggests?

First of all, the scientist has to identify a gene that he or she believes will confer a trait to another organism. Using chemical shears, the foreign gene is cut and pasted into a viral "ferry". Viruses are used because of their unique ability to transfer genetic material across species boundaries, which is usually required in most GM products. To this viral vector are attached controversial "promoter" and "antibiotic-resistant marker" genes.

The entire package is duplicated many times, coated onto microscopic gold and tungsten "bullets" and literally blasted from a gene gun into the Petri dish containing the host cells. The scientist hopes upon hope that the entire package will be neatly inserted into the DNA of a host cell. Most miss their target. Some pass right through without delivering their payload leaving behind damaged DNA. Some cells end up with only portions of the package, some multiple copies. The fact that the DNA of the host organism can withstand such a violent barrage and survive relatively intact, says more of nature's resilience than the precision of the scientist.

Michael Antoniou, molecular geneticist at King's College London says of the biolistics process, "It's the imprecise way in which genes are combined and the unpredictability in how the foreign gene will behave in its new host that results in uncertainty. From a basic genetics perspective, GM possesses an unpredictable component that is far greater than the intended change."

The biolistics process has direct relevance for Australian consumers. Monsanto's GM canola being harvested in Victoria for the first time this year, has 40 "rungs" of the parent plant DNA "ladder" (base pairs) missing at one end of the new code insertion. At the other end there are 22 new rungs on the DNA ladder. It is not known where they came from (The EFSA Journal (2004) 29, 1-19).

It took geneticists more than 270 tries to clone "Dolly" the sheep. But what of the 269 Dollys that didn't make it? Many were deformed and disfigured, stillborn or unable to mature. Genetic engineering also creates many abnormal plants in the process of obtaining a few that end up being the progenitors of our food plants. Tobacco plants were genetically modified with the intention to increase their natural acid profile. Instead they produced a toxic compound not normally found in tobacco. A genetically modified potato unintentionally increased its starch content some 40 to 200 times.

The biotech industry erroneously believes that their foreign gene will behave exactly as it does in its natural setting. The working assumption is that genes determine characteristics in linear causal chains: one gene, gives one protein, gives one function.

This was the dominant model that held sway in the 1960s and is still a powerful tool for teaching the fundamentals of genetics, but like Einstein's extension to Newtonian physics, our knowledge of genetics has evolved immeasurably.

Our current understanding tells us that genes behave in complex inter-related non-linear networks: causation is multi-dimensional and circular; and genes are subject to environmental feedback regulation. All these factors are excluded by the central reductionist dogma of the biotech industry, which prefers to adhere to the "one gene, one protein, one function" model of yesteryear.

This narrow reductionist mindset allows GM companies to assert that their foreign gene will only produce the one intended protein and therefore will behave in the precise and controlled way they expect. Control and precision is also what biotech investors demand.

That the GM companies assume that their inserted foreign gene will only express the one intended protein is a manifestly risky assumption. In fact, the number of genes in nature that actually express a single protein can be counted on two hands. Most genes code for many proteins. In fact, the fruit-fly holds the record for the highest number of proteins expressed by a single gene - 38,016! It's the gene's ability to produce multiple proteins together with the location specific nature of gene expression that is believed to be responsible for the unexpected effects described in the experiments above. Disturbingly, the biotech industry and our food regulators do no testing for theses possible outcomes.

But there is a growing body of evidence that suggests that they should. Allergies have skyrocketed in the UK since the introduction of GM soy. In the US, a GM food supplement produced an epidemic of Eosinophilia Myalgia Syndrome (EMS) which killed 37 people and maimed thousands more. Mice fed GM soy had unexplained changes in testicular cells and rats fed GM corn showed significant changes in their blood cells, livers and kidneys.

All these GM products had been tested and approved for human consumption. Could the narrow reductionist lens with which the biotech industry views genetic engineering be resulting in unintended effects slipping through and onto our dinner plates?

Like the proverbial man looking for his car keys under the street lamp because there's more light there, the biotech industry is using the dim candle of 1960's genetics to assure us that GM food products in the 21st century are safe.

Applying an entirely random and uncontrolled gene insertion method, together with an outdated model of genetics to the profoundly fundamental question of food safety is literally taking a shot in the genetic dark with our health.

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Market acceptance still holds key to future of GM crops - DEFRA

Farmers Weekly (UK), 12 December 2008.

GM crops are in the news again. Mike Abram asked the DEFRA's chief scientific adviser, Bob Watson (pictured), for his views.

Do you think GM crops will be grown in the UK?

It is difficult to predict how things might develop. If the EU approves new types of GM seed and they are marketed in the UK, you would expect that some farmers will want to try them out. The key issue will be what benefit the seed provides, and whether this leads to market acceptance of the end-product.

DEFRA's key role is to ensure that any proposed GM crops are safe for human health and the environment. Beyond that, people will decide whether to buy any approved GM products.

What is the UK government doing to move the GM debate forward?

The GM issue should not be considered in isolation. To meet future challenges we need to look at all the different ways that agricultural output might be improved. The Foresight Study was launched this week by the UK government to look at food and farming nationally and globally, and The Royal Society is producing a study on the use of science and technology to enhance food crop production. Both these will be a useful contribution to any further debate on the future role of GM technology.

Is European, and UK agriculture in particular, being held back by the lack of approvals for cultivating GM crops within the EU?

There is no simple answer to this. While certain GM crops are being widely grown in some non-EU countries, it does not mean we are necessarily losing out in comparison. For example, the existing GM soya and cotton crops don't have any relevance for the UK. Nor do we have any interest in the current GM insect-resistant traits, because we don't usually have a problem with the insect pests they deal with.

Does the time taken to approve a GM trait for import and use in feed or food hinder UK/EU agriculture?

We have a specific concern at present that because the EU approval process for GM products is relatively slow, it could lead to problems with the supply of imported animal feed, on which UK farmers depend.

What steps are being taken to improve the approval process in Europe?

DEFRA is arguing for the EU regime's operation to be streamlined as far as possible. There are delays in the process that could be avoided without compromising on safety and, therefore, it should be possible to reach quicker decisions on GM applications. EU discussions are continuing on this.

Why is EFSA's opinion on the safety of GM crops not believed by European governments (as shown by its continual inability to come to a qualified majority decision on GM traits deemed safe by EFSA)?

We believe that EFSA is doing a good job, and that its judgements are reliable. If EU Member States are concerned about a proposed GM crop or food they should provide relevant evidence for EFSA to take into account. Ultimately, the only way the EU will be able to deal with this issue is by following the evidence as objectively as possible.

Are GM crops part of the answer to the challenge of feeding the world?

They could be, and this needs to be recognised. However, we have many current technologies such as seed variants and the appropriate use of fertilisers which could increase food production and reduce post-harvest lost in developing countries. New types of GM crop are being developed with traits such as drought tolerance and disease resistance. If these work and are safe, their responsible use could help alongside other improvements to make agriculture more efficient and sustainable.

Are genetic traits that produce tangible benefits for consumers (as in the omega oil-producing soya bean trait) more likely to be accepted by consumers than GM traits that produce benefits for farmers (like herbicide tolerance)?

All other things being equal, you would certainly expect consumers to be more responsive and accepting of products that offer them a direct benefit.

Are these traits more inherently dangerous to consumers because they modify the end product, unlike crops that are modified to allow use of herbicides or insecticides, but have the same final end product?

GM crops and foods are not inherently dangerous. They need to be considered on a case-by-case basis, which is how the EU safety controls operate.

Clearly, if the trait in question produces a food with novel characteristics, then this needs to be properly evaluated for consumer safety. The Food Standards Agency leads on food safety issues, and it is confident that the existing assessment procedures are robust enough to ensure that any approved GM foods will be as safe as their conventional counterparts.

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11 December 2008

Letter to the Prime Minister of India

To: Dr Manmohan Singh
Prime Minister of India
7, Race Course Road
New Delhi

11 December 2008

My dear Prime Minister,

I am writing to bring to your notice the dangers of virtually unchecked approval of genetically modified crops in the country that is largely serving the interest of multinational companies such as Monsanto. This approval is granted, according to the present procedure, by a Committee of the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) followed by a Committee (Genetic Engineering Approval Committee) of the Ministry of Environment and Forests.

There is a public interest petition pending in the Supreme Court (filed by Aruna Rodrigues) asking for a moratorium of a few years on the sale of genetically modified (GM) seeds and approval of GM crops. In pursuance of this case, the Supreme Court has nominated me to attend the meetings of the GEAC, which has made me acutely aware of our failings in the area.

I have provided to the GEAC a list of tests that must be done before a GM crop is approved. However, only less than 10 percent of these tests are actually being done before approval of GM crops. Not only that, in the absence of a national facility to do these tests or verify the results of tests done by others, the seed companies are either doing the tests themselves or having them done by laboratories in the country * on samples provided by the seed companies*. These laboratories do not have a facility to determine whether a seed is a normal seed or a GM seed. Therefore, for all practical purposes, there is no objective way today to ensure safety of a GM crop before it is approved for field trials or commercialization. We already have incontrovertible evidence that a great deal of damage has been done by Bt. cotton (the only GM crop released so far, with many others, including food crops, in the pipeline) to a section of farmers in India, as well as to farm animals.

Mrs Aruna Rodrigues told me that she had forwarded the list of tests mentioned above, that I had recommended to the GEAC, to randomly selected well-known scientists who are experts in the field, for their opinion, along with a copy of the counter-affidavit of the GEAC which said that these tests are not necessary (and which also cast personal aspersions on me!). She has forwarded to me replies from the ten scientists who were approached by her. All of them, without exception, have unequivocally supported my list of tests; none of them are my personal friends. I am enclosing copies of the replies of three scientists who are connected with three of the best-known institutions in the world. I would be happy to send your office all the other replies as well.

I, therefore, agree with the contention of Mrs Aruna Rodrigues in the above mentioned petition that is pending in the Supreme Court, that we should have a five to seven year's moratorium on the sale of GM seeds and the planting of any GM crop in the country. During this period, we should set up an appropriate laboratory to carry out all the necessary tests and to verify the results of others that may have been carried out. I have given to the GEAC a blue-print of such a laboratory which would easily take five years to be fully operational. We seek your support to the above proposal.

May I in the end say that as India is primarily an agricultural country, with 60 percent of its population deriving its total income from agriculture and agriculture-related activities, it would cease to be a free country if its agriculture is brought under the control of foreign multinational companies through control of seed and agrochemical production.

The marketing of GM seeds by the multinational companies is a step in this direction. What is worrying is that as much as 30 percent of our seed production today may be, directly or indirectly, already in the hands of foreign multinational companies. We must prevent this trend. The proposed moratorium would be one important step in that direction.

I will be very happy to see you personally at your convenience in this regard.

With warm personal regards

Yours sincerely,

Dr Pushpa Mittra Bhargava

Note:

Dr P. M. Bhargava is a leading molecular biologist who was appointed by India's Supreme Court to observe the functioning of India's apex GM regulatory committee - the GEAC (Genetic Engineering Approval Committee).

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Monsanto CEO made $15 million last year

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 11 December 2008. By David Nicklaus.

[Shortened. For full article see
http://www.stltoday.com/blogzone/mound-city-money/st-louis-companies/2008/12/monsanto-ceo-made-15-million-last-year/

Monsanto's proxy statement, filed last week, credits Chief Executive Hugh Grant with $15.6 million of total compensation in the latest fiscal year, up from $11.0 million in fiscal 2007. Grant's salary rose 10 percent, to $1.29 million, and his annual bonus rose 12 percent to $3.33 million, which was close to the maximum he could earn for "outstanding" performance.

Also on Grant's pay tally sheet were $3.9 million worth of stock and $6.4 million worth of options, but those were accounting-driven figures for awards he has received over the years. During the fiscal year, he got restricted stock units worth $3.5 million and new options valued at $4.4 million. His perquisites included $110,543 worth of personal aircraft use, along with $23,844 for home security, club dues, and tickets to cultural and sporting events.

If Grant loses his job following a change of control, he's entitled to more than $40 million. That includes severance of $11 million, and $26 million for his options and restricted stock units.

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Pan-Europe Libertas Party launched to fight 'anti-democratic' Brussels

EU Observer, 11 December 2008. By Leigh Phillips.

BRUSSELS - Declan Ganley, the Irish businessman behind the Libertas campaign group, of the key organisations that defeated the Lisbon Treaty in Ireland's referendum on the text in June, has launched Libertas as the first truly pan-European political party.

The new Libertas Party, which aims to run candidates in all 27 European Union states for the European Parliament elections in June 2009, says it wants to democratise the European institutions, with an elected commission and a president.

"We are founding the party to campaign for the people of Europe to respond to the growing anti-democratic tendency in some of the institutions in Brussels," Mr Ganley told reporters on Thursday (11 December) in the organisation's new offices just metres away the European Council building where European premiers and presidents were arriving to meet for their last summit of the year.

The Irish taoisheach, Brian Cowen, is expected at the meeting to tell European leaders that he will hold a second referendum on the treaty if his counterparts accede to two requests: A declaration that Irish taxation policy, family, social and ethical issues, and common security and defence policy with regard to Ireland's traditional policy of neutrality should all be safeguarded; and a pledge to maintain the one-commissioner-per-state principle abolished in the Lisbon Treaty.

Pointing out that a greater percentage of Irish citizens voted against the treaty than the percentage of US citizens that voted for Barack Obama, Mr Ganley said that it is undemocratic to force Ireland to hold a second referendum and that other European citizens have been prevented from voting on the text.

"We will give [the EU leaders] the referendum they did not want to give the people of Europe."

"We are at a fork in the road, between the Europe of the Lisbon Treaty, an anti-democratic Europe that does not derive its legitimacy from the citizens ... and a democratic Europe."

He insisted that the new party is not anti-EU or "eurosceptic".

"We want Europe to be strong and stand tall in the world, but based on democratic principles," he said.

"This is a pro-European organisation. There is no future for Euroscepticism. The European Union is necessary," he added.

"It is the status quo that if left as it is, will allow euro scepticism to grow."

The new party will not partner with other political parties, but rather run all its candidates under the Libertas banner in each of the EU states.

Beyond its position on democracy in Europe, Libertas' social and economic positions will be centrist, in order to attract people from across the political spectrum, although Mr Ganley was "not sure about communists."

The left in Ireland played a prominent role in campaigning against the treaty, as did the left during the French and Dutch referendums that defeated the Lisbon Treaty's precursor, the Constitutional Treaty.

However, at the press conference announcing the new party, Mr Ganley was light on policy details much beyond the treaty and the structure of the EU.

Pressed by reporters to flesh out its other positions, Mr Ganley said that the party would be broadly free-market oriented, that European defence was "very serious" and that climate change could be addressed by a pan-European competition for entrepreneurs to develop innovative new technologies.

He also said that abortion and gay marriage were not issues Libertas had campaigned on in Ireland, suggesting that these are not issues the pan-European party will either.

The party will hold a congress in Brussels the spring and hammer out its policy positions.

Mr Ganley said that no candidates had been picked yet and would not say whether any prominent politicians had signed up to his cause. He did however say that should Philippe de Villiers, the French leader of the right-wing Mouvement pour la France so wish, he would be "very pleased to have him as a candidate."

Declan Ganley said he would like to be a candidate himself, but had not yet made a decision.

The party's offices were bankrolled by Mr Ganley's Libertas Institute in Ireland, but is inspired by the online fundraising success of the Obama campaign. He encouraged EU citizens to visit Libertas.eu, and "donate a euro or a zloty or any European currency up to the €12,000 maximum."

"We badly need it," he said.

Speaking directly to voters, he said: "[Voting for Libertas] may be the only opportunity you ever have to have a referendum on Europe."

Although there are umbrella groupings in the European Parliament, such as the Party of European Socialists - the centre-left political family, and the European People's Party - its centre-right counterpart, they are still very loose and split along national lines, with very different platforms. Libertas will be the first genuinely pan-European political party with a common programme.

UKIP grumbles at competition

Britain's eurosceptic party, the UK Independence Party, said there was "absolutely no common ground on Europe between Declan Ganley's new party, Libertas, and UKIP."

UKIP's leader, Nigel Farage, said: "Libertas has nailed its colours firmly to [UK Tory chief] David Cameron's mast of wishing to stay within the European Union and try to reform from inside."

"I think it will come as a surprise to many to learn just how pro EU Mr Ganley is," he added.

Graham Watson, head of the Liberals in the European Parliament, described the new party as "anti-European", but welcomed the challenge coming from Libertas and said that it ironically may even "galvanise pro-Europeans to defend the EU."

"We are far from condemning this initiative of Declan Ganley. He is doing Europe a favour by stimulating interest and debate about the EU, which may result in a higher turnout at next year's European elections," the Liberal leader said.

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Pioneer sets new seed distribution strategy

Reuters, 11 December 2008. By Carey Gillam.

CHICAGO -- DuPont's Pioneer Hi-Bred agriculture seed company on Thursday said it was embarking on a new product and distribution strategy to increase its market share for corn acres in the United States and abroad.

The Johnston, Iowa-based Pioneer, one of DuPont Inc.'s best-performing businesses, said it was rolling out and expanding a series of deals with independent seed companies around the world to develop and deliver new brands with more diverse seed selections.

The company projects the move will help it gain access to an additional 5 percent of U.S. corn acres and take Pioneer from a market presence on one quarter of the world's corn acres to one-third by 2012.

'It is about market access. We know not one solution fits every grower's needs,' said Pioneer president Paul Schickler, speaking at a seed industry conference in Chicago.

Schickler said the strategy already was underway in many markets. A new department, Pioneer's PROaccess, is developing co-branding and second brands with seed dealers in Brazil, Mexico, South Africa and in the United States.

So far in the United States alone, 2009 seed orders were up more 'more than tenfold,' Schickler said.

The strategy initially will focus on expanding sales of corn, soybeans and sorghum.

Separately, Pioneer also said Brazil's biosafety regulator CTNBio approved commercial planting of a genetically modified corn jointly developed by

Pioneer and Dow Chemical Co., the sixth such genetically modified corn to receive approval in that country.

The Herculex corn variety, insect resistant and tolerant to glufosinate ammonium, must be approved by Brazil's Agriculture Ministry before it can be planted.

(Reporting by Carey Gillam; Editing by David Gregorio) Keywords: PIONEER SEED (carey.gillam@thomsonreuters.com; +1 913 663 2658; fax: 913 663 2698; Reuters Messaging: carey.gillam.reuters.com@reuters.net)

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Austrian Government Prohibition on the Import of EU Approved Genetically Engineered Corn Varieties

Posted by Truth About Trade & Technology, 11 December 2008.
[Note: This organisation is a lobby group representing big US biotech farming interests]

EFSA -- December 10, 2008 Austrian Government Prohibition on the Import of EU Approved Genetically Engineered Corn Varieties into its Territory - The Scientific Panel on Genetically Modified Organisms Panel of the European Food Safety Authority has released an opinion which concludes that Austria has presented " ... no new scientific evidence that would invalidate the previous risk assessments of maize MON810 and T25. Therefore, no specific scientific evidence, in terms of risk to human and animal health and the environment, was provided that would justify the invocation of a safeguard clause ... for the marketing of maize MON810 and T25, for its intended uses, in Austria ..."

Document Title: The title of the December 10, 2008 EFSA News Release is "Request from the European Commission related to the safeguard clause invoked by Austria on maize MON810 and T25 according to Article 23 of Directive 2001/18/EC; Question number: EFSA-Q-2008-314"

Organization: European Food Safety Authority

Summary: The text of the summary of the opinion follows

Summary

On 10 June 1999 and on 8 May 2000, Austria invoked Article 16 of Directive 90/220/EEC (safeguard clause) to provisionally prohibit the placing on the market of the authorised genetically modified (GM) maize events MON810 and T25 on its territory. In February 2004 and November 2007, Austria provided additional information to support the national safeguard measure to be considered under Article 23 of Directive 2001/18/EC. To define whether the information submitted by Austria comprises new information that would affect the environmental risk assessment for the uses laid down in the corresponding consent, the European Commission requested in a letter, dated 18 April 2008, a scientific opinion from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

Following investigation of the evidence presented in the Austrian submission, the Scientific Panel on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO Panel) of EFSA concludes that there is no new scientific evidence that would invalidate the previous risk assessments of maize MON810 and T25. Therefore, no specific scientific evidence, in terms of risk to human and animal health and the environment, was provided that would justify the invocation of a safeguard clause under Article 23 of Directive 2001/18/EC for the marketing of maize MON810 and T25, for its intended uses, in Austria.

Publication date: 10 December 2008

Source: December 10, 2008 release of an opinion adopted on December 4, 2008 by the EFSA GMO Panel

Web site: The December 10, 2008 opinion adopted on December 4, 2008 by the EFSA GMO Panel is posted at http://www.efsa.europa.eu/EFSA/efsa_locale-1178620753812_1211902209965.htm

Contact: The Acting Head of the EFSA GMO Unit is Per Bergman who may be reached at +39 0521 036 354; e-mail: Per.Bergman@EFSA.Europa.EU This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

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Brazil clears planting of Dupont, Dow GMO corn

Reuters, 11 December 2008.

SAO PAULO -- Brazil's biosafety regulator CTNBio approved on Thursday the commercial planting of a genetically modified corn jointly developed by Dupont Inc (DD.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) and Dow Chemical Co (DOW.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz).

The Herculex corn variety is insect resistant and tolerant to glufosinate ammonium.

It must still be approved by Brazil's Agriculture Ministry before it can be planted. (Reporting by Roberto Samora, Writing by Inae Riveras; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

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Groups unite to challenge the definition of forests under UNFCCC/REDD

Global Forest Coalition, 11 December 2008.

Global Forest Coalition, The Wilderness Society, World Rainforest Movement, Global Justice Ecology Project, Via Campesina, the International Youth Delegation and the STOP GE Trees Campaign united today to challenge the UN/REDD definition of forests.

Currently the UN considers industrial tree plantations as forests. This is, simply put, an egregious error. Plantations are not forests. Forests are diverse ecosystems and plantations are void of biodiversity. The UN definition endangers Indigenous Peoples, forest dependent people, peasants, small farmers, biodiversity and exacerbates climate change.

The groups held a media conference this morning and several actions occurred on the theme of calling on the UNFCCC to change the definition of forests so it distinguishes between native forests and plantations.

"We have united to challenge the definition of forest under the UNFCCC to ensure that agricultural tree crops, or plantations are not defined as a forest", said Gemma Tillack, an international youth delegate and campaigner for The Wilderness Society in Australia.

"The conversion of native forests to plantations is bad for biodiversity, people and the climate. Human rights, especially women's rights, are being violated where there are plantations, and they should not be defined as forests. In addition, industrial tree plantations impact the climate--tropical forests and grasslands store significantly more carbon than tree plantations", said Ana Filippini from World Rainforest Movement (Uruguay) and member of the GenderCC Network - Women for Climate Justice.

"Schemes such as REDD allow companies to prevent family farmers from using the land to produce the food that is needed to feed their communities and their countries", said Luis Muchanga of Via Campesina in Mozambique. He continued, "Deforestation, which is a major driver of global warming, is not made by peasants and indigenous peoples, but by large companies that are given the right to convert the forest to tree plantations".

The groups are proposing that the definitions are changed so:

Forests are defined as 'a terrestrial ecosystem generated and maintained primarily through natural and ecological and evolutionary processes that are home to most of the world's biodiversity'.

Plantations are defined as a crop of trees planted and regularly harvested by humans that do not provide habitat for biodiversity.

"The definition of forests under REDD is utterly ridiculous", stated Sandy Gauntlett, a Maori indigenous rights activist from New Zealand, and representative of Global Forest Coalition. "It leaves wide open the ability of countries to destroy their natural forests and replace them with industrial tree plantations-which destroys wildlife habitat and displaces indigenous and forest dependent communities. New Zealand is an example of the disaster of tree plantations-and now we are in the process of developing genetically engineered trees for plantations", he continued.

"Commercial release of genetically engineered Franken-trees in plantations poses a very serious threat to the world's forests and peoples", added Anne Petermann, Co-Director of Global Justice Ecology Project in the U.S. "GE insect resistant trees, for example, can contaminate water and soils and the pollen may be toxic to people that inhale it or wildlife that ingest it", she stated.

The groups in this joint press release agree that: "If it is not resolved, and REDD applies this definition of forests, the global community could miss the chance of avoiding dangerous climate change and the 1.6 billion people who depend on forests for there survival will continue to be negatively affected".

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The Problem with [GM] Nutritionally Enhanced Plants

The Organic Center, 12 December 2008

Nutritionally enhanced (by GM technology) tomatoes amongst others have been in the news recently. This article from The Organic Center in the US highlights some of the problems and shortcomings of this approach.

Dr. David Schubert is a highly regarded molecular biologist focusing on neurological development. He is based at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California and has just published a provocative "Perspective" piece on applications of genetic engineering to enhance the nutrient density of plants in the Journal of Medicinal Food (Vol. 11, No. 4).

Schubert explains why it has been difficult for the biotechnology industry to develop protein-based pharmaceuticals in plants. Problems arise with protein-based plant compounds because of their reactivity, especially their proclivity toward glycosylation. As sugars attach and are cleaved from protein compounds produced in plants, both their metabolism and bioavailability changes, making it very difficult to control doses, predict interactions with drugs or other biologically active secondary plant metabolites, or achieve consistently a desired impact on human health.

On the other hand, Schubert points out that nutritionally-enhanced plants (NEPs) are less subject to such problems and are likely to be viewed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as "generally recognized as safe" (GRAS).

But NEPs face their own unique problems, according to Schubert. For example, Golden rice is genetically engineered to produce higher levels of B-carotene (precursor of Vitamin A). Many enzymes are known to alter the form and metabolism of carotenoids like B-carotene, producing the common retinoids - retinol (Vitamin A), retinal, and retinoic acid (RA). Retinal is oxidized to retinoic acid, which is far more active and toxic than Vitamin A.

While low doses of RA play an essential role in neurological development, they can bioaccumulate in fat tissues and plasma, and research has shown that multiple, low doses are more toxic than a single, high dose. Given the importance of RA, its toxicity, and the potential to alter RA levels and forms as a result of genetic engineering, Schubert warns that - "...excess RA, or RA derivatives are exceedingly dangerous, particularly to infants and during pregnancy...extensive safety testing should be required before the introduction of golden rice as food."

(The most common PMP (Plant-made Pharmaceuticals) crops that have been grown in U.S. field trials are corn, tobacco, and rice. Other crops being investigated include alfalfa, potato, safflower, soybean, sugarcane, and tomato.)

In the case of plants genetically-engineered to produce higher levels of fatty acids like omega 3s or conjugated linoleic acid, Schubert points out that GE-plant transformations can lead to the formation of slightly altered forms of fatty acids, which in turn can increase the risk of Alzheimer's disease.

In other cases, plants expressing markedly elevated levels of certain nutrients, or forms of nutrients, might push periodic intake into the possibly toxic zone. (Recall from past stories in "The Scoop" that most beneficial antioxidants become pro-oxidants at excessively high doses).

While minimally necessary intake levels have been carefully studied for many nutrients, possibly damaging high levels of consumption have received much less attention.

GE Soybeans with Elevated Omega 3 Fatty Acids in the Pipeline

Monsanto has genetically engineered soybeans to increase the level of omega 3 fatty acid. A small, preliminary study carried out at the University of South Dakota found that consumption of the GE-soybeans increased blood omega 3 levels by 4 to 5 percent, enough to reduce the risk of heart attacks by as much as 50%.

Monsanto hopes the new soybeans will be approved for commercial planting by 2011, leading to consumer products in the supermarket by 2012.

Source: Graham Tibbetts, "GM Soya Bean Could Prevent Heart Attacks and Save Fish Stocks," The Telegraph, November 3, 2008

Nutritionally Enhanced GE-Foods Still "Years Away"

A story in the November 3rd Washington Post by Marc Kaufman surveys the prospects for nutritionally enhanced, GE-foods and concludes that such foods are still "years away."

The piece begins with an overview of the generally optimistic, but unfulfilled hopes for nutritionally enhanced GE-foods. Kaufman then describes a purple tomato that has been engineered to express high levels of anthocyanins, the antioxidant compounds that give many fruits and vegetables their deep, rich colors. Genes from snapdragon plants were used to create the purple tomatoes.

Cathie Martin, one of the scientists working on the purple tomato, acknowledges that there are several conventional foods with elevated levels of anthocyanins, in particular dark raspberries and blackberries. The goal, however, is to create a common food like tomatoes with elevated anthocyanins levels so that more people might someday increase their daily intakes of antioxidants. Martin argues that a person could get enough antioxidants for a day by eating one purple tomato, compared to five servings of conventional fruits and vegetables.

Other teams are working to boost the level of resveratrol in grapes and wine, an antioxidant known to help protect heart health and trigger a sense of fullness (often referred to as satiety).

Typically, two or more genes, and/or transcription factors, must be engineered into a food crop to enhance nutritional quality. These more complex genetic modifications can lead to a diversity of unanticipated outcomes, and will require careful study before approval by regulators.

Margaret Mellon, a molecular biologist working for the Union of Concerned Scientists, expresses scepticism that the biotechnology industry will be able to deliver on its promise to create nutritionally-enhanced foods. She states that - "Clearly, genetically engineered fruits and vegetables for nutritional benefits has proven far more difficult than the industry expected."

Organic Center Editor's Note:

Consumers hoping to boost their antioxidant intakes do not have to wait for purple tomatoes, nor does the food industry need GE-technology to dramatically boost antioxidant nutrient density in common, conventional fruits and vegetables.

Our research shows that a well-managed, long-term organic farm will produce fruits and vegetables that are, on average, about 30% higher in total antioxidants. By choosing from the dozens of fruits and vegetables that are naturally high in antioxidants, and then buying organic, consumers can easily meet and exceed their daily need for around 3,500 ORAC units, a goal for daily antioxidant intakes put forth by scientists at Tufts University.

See our antioxidant "State of Science Review," and especially Table 2, where 37 foods are listed that deliver 1,000 or more ORAC units per serving. Wild blackberries, a super-rich source of anthocyanins, contain 13,353 ORAC units per 1 cup serving - more than three-times a person's daily needs.

Check out the table to learn which ten foods deliver 100 or more ORAC units per calorie consumed. Just a 35 calorie portion of these foods delivers a person's daily dose of antioxidants.

One other important point is relevant to the notion of a single purple tomato meeting one's daily needs for antioxidants. Scientists agree that everyone should consume several antioxidant rich foods every day.

For optimal health benefits, choose fruits and vegetables with multiple colors and flavors. Spread out the consumption of these nutrient-rich foods throughout the day. A greater portion of the nutrients in fruits and vegetables are likely to be taken up by your body when consumed in this way.

A diverse pattern of consumption of nutrient-dense foods throughout the day, encompassing multiple colors, will help assure stable levels of antioxidants in your bloodstream, where they are needed to protect against cell damage triggered by reactive oxygen species, otherwise known as free radicals.

Note from GM Watch:

The full Schubert paper is available here: http://www.theecologist.org/pdf/NEPS.pdf

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GMO Contamination in Mexico's Cradle of Corn

Le Monde (France), 11 December 2008. By Joëlle Stolz, Mexico correspondent.

[Translation: Truthout French language editor Leslie Thatcher.]

Raise the alarm for Mexican corn's biosecurity: a molecular study conducted by Mexican, American and Dutch researchers demonstrates the presence of genes from genetically modified organisms (GMO) among the varieties of traditional corn cultivated in the remote regions of Oaxaca State in the southern part of the country, even though the Mexican government has always maintained a moratorium on the use of transgenic seed.

The results of this study incite the experts to demand much more restrictive protective measures. "Old time" agriculture as practiced in Mexico - where wind-blown pollination of corn is the norm and where peasants are in the habit of exchanging their seed - seems to aggravate the risk of rapid GMO contamination.

An article that details their conclusions should be published in the next edition of the review, "Molecular Ecology." It was written by Elena Alvarez-Buylla of the Institute for Ecology of the Autonomous National University of Mexico (UNAM), with the collaboration of a dozen other scientists.

Their work could relaunch the controversy that was unleashed in 2001 by a highly controversial article in the magazine, "Nature," the authors of which, biologists David Quist and Ignacio Chapela from the University of California at Berkeley, revealed that criollos (traditional) corn from the Oaxaca region - one of the cradles of that cereal - were contaminated by Roundup Ready (RR) and Bt genes, property of the American company Monsanto.

In her book, "The World According to Monsanto," (due for release in March 2009 and already available for pre-order at Amazon.com), Marie-Monique Robin related how Mr. Chapela became a victim of "media lynching" at that time at the instigation of the dominant company in the GMO market. "Nature" ended up publishing a disclaimer, deeming that the two biologists' article was insufficiently backed up.

However, seven years later, the work Mrs. Alvarez-Buylla directed broadly confirms their conclusions, as a report published in the November 13 "Nature" emphasizes. The researchers have discovered transgenes in three of the twenty-three fields of Oaxaca's northern sierra where samples were taken in 2001, then in two places sampled in 2004.

American Allison Snow, of the University of California and author in 2005 of a preliminary study that seemed to undermine Ignacio Chapela and David Quist's discoveries (and which were then immediately exploited by GMO partisans), is publishing an additional complimentary note in the same issue of "Molecular Ecology," in which she judges the molecular analysis conducted by the UNAM team to be "very good," bringing to light "the positive evidence of transgenes."

This acknowledgement did not come without difficulty. "We battled for two years to get the results of our study published," declares Mrs. Alvarez-Buylla. "In the course of my entire career, I have never encountered so many difficulties! There were efforts to stop the publication of this scientific data!" Biologist Jos» Sarukhan, a UNAM researcher and member of the United States National Academy of Science, had recommended the article for publication by that organization's review. The latter rejected the article in March, with the justification that it risked provoking "excessive media attention for political or environmentally-related reasons ..."

How - in spite of the moratorium - have GMO transgenes migrated to the far depths of Oaxaca's mountains, and also to Sinaloa State in the north, the biggest producer of corn for human consumption, and to Milpa Alta, a district on the periphery of Mexico? They are found in one percent of the plots analyzed, which is a lot in the Mexican context, where 75 percent of the corn planted comes from seeds selected by peasants from their own harvest.

The first hypothesis is that some farmers are illegally importing transgenic seeds. Strong suspicions surround the company Pioneer, a big supplier of hybrid corn seeds purchased by Mexico from the United States and distributed to small farmers through government aid programs.

Preliminary data indicate that a third of Pioneer's seeds are contaminated by GMO, any distinctive labeling of which Monsanto has succeeded in preventing.

The study's authors call for a strengthening of "biosecurity measures" to preserve native corn varieties, especially in Mexico, corn's "center of origin." They say Mexico must set up truly independent laboratories and adapt criteria of molecular analysis to the Mexican reality, rather than trusting "methods used in countries such as the United States which have an agricultural system entirely different from our own."

But their greatest concern at present involves planned pharmaceutical trusts which want to make a profit on corn biomass and use it as a bioreactor in order, for example, to express vaccines and anti-coagulants. "Given the incidents that have already occurred in the United States where they have trouble separating bioreactors from GMO, we may fear that corn could turn into the garbage bin of the pharmaceutical industry, at the expense of its purpose as food," fears Mrs. Alvarez-Buylla. "What shall we do when anti-coagulants arrive in Mexicans' tortilla?"

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The bigger picture: GM contamination across the landscape

European Commission, Environment DG, 11 December 2008.

Ensuring the purity of conventional crops grown in the vicinity of genetically modified (GM) crops depends on understanding both short and long distance pollen flows. New research shows that current guidelines on the safe isolation distances for GM maize may not adequately prevent cross pollination of conventional crops.

Contamination of conventional crops can occur where GM pollen cross-fertilises non-GM maize. The proportion of cross-contaminated seeds in the conventional field is the 'impurity rate' for that crop. Under European Union rules1, if the accidental proportion of GM to non-GM seeds exceeds 0.9 per cent then the crop must be reclassified and labelled as GM. Existing safe distances were largely established using 'paired field' comparisons, where contamination from a GM field is measured in a specific nearby field. The distances between the two 'paired' fields can then be adjusted to determine a 'safe' distance between fields. However, on a landscape level, other GM or non-GM maize crops in the vicinity may have an effect on pollen flow.

French researchers modelled the spread of pollen in a landscape containing a patchwork of GM and non-GM maize fields, as well as other non-maize fields. By taking into account the pattern of both short and long distance dispersal of GM pollen, the study explored the additional impact of more distant GM maize fields (i.e. not the closest GM field) on the impurity rate of the non-GM maize. For comparison, the impurity rates in a conventional field were also calculated using only the distance to the closest GM field.

Overall, the study showed that pollen from GM fields closest to conventional fields and the size of the conventionally planted fields have the greatest impact on the degree of contamination. However, as the proportion of GM maize to non-GM maize increases within the landscape, the impurity rate of conventional fields also increases. This increase was caused by long distance pollination from GM fields further from the conventional fields and suggests that if GM maize becomes more widely adopted by farmers, then existing models will underestimate the 'safe' distance between GM and non-GM crops. Importantly, the level of underestimation increased as more GM maize was included in the modelled landscape and when the isolation distance between GM and non-GM fields increased.

The researchers therefore suggest that, as long-distance dispersal of GM pollen can contaminate fields of non-GM crops and potentially raise the impurity rate above 0.9 per cent, pollen from all GM fields in the landscape needs be considered when setting isolation distances between fields of GM and non-GM crops. Further research is required to determine how to model these effects at the landscape level.

Comment from GM-free Ireland:

The European Commission bureaucrats have finally "discovered" that farmers can be contaminated by wind-blown GM pollen from remote as well as nearby fields! One of these decades, they may even "discover" that wind-blown pollen can travel over hundreds and thousands of kilometres. In the meantime, the Commission continues to promote the totally unscientific claim that GM maize can safely "co-exist" with conventional and organic farming. Who do they think they're kidding?

The Emperor has no clothes! Everyone in Spain knows that the release of GM maize in Catalunia and Aragon – the only EU Regions where GM crops are still grown on a commercial scale – has created so much contamination that local farmers are now unable to grow any kind of natural maize; contaminated maize must carry the GM label; and organic maize farmers have gone out of business. To make matters worse, both conventional and organic seeds have also been contaminated. But no-one has been held accountable for the economic losses, and the loss of consumer choice.

Instead of wasting EU tax-payers money for more "research" involving further open field releases of GM crops which create even more contamination, the Commission must to stop funding junk science, stop spreading the discredited myth of "co-existence", and accept the democratic right of Member States and Regions to implement blanket bans on GM crops if they so choose.

Failure to do so will provide another reason for Ireland to reject the Lisbon Treaty.

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10 December 2008

BASF: Further delay in Amflora approval process not acceptable

All scientific evidence shows that Amflora, BASF's genetically modified potato, is safe

Approval delay rules out commercial cultivation in 2009, depriving European farmers and potato starch industry of €100-200 million in income per year

Lack of progress confirms the necessity of legal action against the EU Commission

BASF press release, 10 December 2008

Limburgerhof, Germany - - Today, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) released information stating it will not complete its opinion on nptII, a marker gene used in the starch potato Amflora, by December 15 as previously announced. The EU Commission has granted EFSA a second extension to March 31, 2009. "This delay means that commercial cultivation of Amflora will not be possible in 2009 and will deprive European farmers and the potato starch industry of €100-200 million in income," said Dr. Stefan Marcinowski, member of the Board of Executive Directors of BASF SE. "There is no scientific evidence that questions the safety of Amflora. The continuous delay can only be explained by EU Commissioners' political motivations dominating the approval process. This indicates that BASF was right to initiate legal action against the EU Commission for failure to act in July this year."

After its orientation debate on genetically modified organisms in May, the EU Commission again did not approve Amflora but decided to ask EFSA for a fifth safety assessment that concerns Amflora. The focus of the assessment is the nptII marker gene used in a number of genetically modified plants, including Amflora. At the same time, the Commission announced that it would approve Amflora "if and when" the marker gene would again be evaluated safe. The initial deadline for the opinion, September 30, 2008, was already extended to December 15 earlier this year.

BASF is determined to continue the approval process and expects EFSA to confirm its four earlier assessments, stating that Amflora and its genetic marker are safe for humans, animals, and the environment since there is no new scientific evidence questioning earlier assessments.

"If the Commission is serious about supporting our fragile economy, it should promote promising technologies such as plant biotechnology that make Europe more competitive," continued Marcinowski. "Instead, it is forcing companies through more than 12 year long approval processes. We expect the market for genetically modified crops to be worth $50 billion per year by 2025. If Europe continues to ignore the vast scientific evidence that says the technology is safe, other continents will benefit from this booming sector."

About the nptII genetic marker

The marker with the scientific name 'nptII' is used in plant biotechnology laboratories during the very first stage of development. Genes responsible for desired plant traits are coupled with a marker, for instance a gene conferring resistance to antibiotics. When an antibiotic is applied on plant sprouts the unchanged plants wither, whilst the plant with the desired traits, coupled to the marker, are unaffected. In the lab, plants with and without the added, desired traits can thus be distinguished from each other.

According to EFSA, the likelihood of antibiotic resistance to spread due to the use of marker genes is negligible and can be ignored: the needed transfer of resistance from plant cells to bacteria has never been observed in nature. Also, EFSA stated in previous opinions that exactly the same resistance to antibiotics and the corresponding resistant genes are already widespread in bacteria.

The Amflora approval process to date:

The Amflora approval process was initiated more than 12 years ago with the request for authorization submitted in August 1996. The scope of the application included cultivation, industrial use and feed.

During the moratorium on genetically modified products between 1998 and 2004, no approvals for genetically modified plants where granted in the EU.

BASF Plant Science resubmitted a dossier for cultivation and a dossier for food and feed use in 2003 and 2005, respectively, due to modified EU regulations.

In 2006, the EU Commission published two EFSA assessments that for both dossiers concluded that Amflora is as safe for humans, animals and the environment as any conventional potato.

In November 2006, Commissioner Dimas forwarded his proposal for authorization of cultivation of Amflora to the Regulatory Committee consisting of representatives from all EU Member States.

After two inconclusive votes in the Regulatory Committee in December 2006 and the Council of Agricultural Ministers in July 2007, Commissioner Dimas failed to adhere to the approval procedure defined by EU legislation and to adopt the proposal for cultivation.

On September 21, 2007, Commissioner Dimas answered upon questions by Green MEP Breyer (WRITTEN QUESTION P-4070/07 by Hiltrud Breyer [ Verts/ALE]) to the Commission that Amflora is safe.

The dossier for food and feed use was voted upon in the Standing Committee - consisting of members from all member states - in October 2007 and Council of Agricultural Ministers in February 2008. According to the defined EU approval procedure, the Commission has been responsible for adopting the proposal since February 2008.

BASF expressed its dissatisfaction with Commissioner Dimas' handling of the approval process in an open letter to Commissioner Dimas on April 17, 2008.

In its "orientation debate" on genetically modified plants on May 7, 2008, the Commission decided to request EFSA to prepare a new consolidated scientific opinion on the use of antibiotic resistance marker genes in genetically modified plants by September 30, 2008. Such a marker gene is also used in Amflora.

In a press release following the debate, Commission President Barroso stated that Amflora will be approved "if and when" EFSA confirms the safety of antibiotic resistance marker genes.

On May 19 2008, BASF Plant Science formally requested access to any documents in the possession of the EU Commission in connection with the authorization procedure for Amflora. These documents did not reveal any new scientific evidence regarding the safety of Amflora.

On July 24 2008, one year after the vote in the Agricultural Council (the last formal step prior to adoption of a decision), BASF Plant Science filed an action with the European Court of First Instance against the EU Commission for failure to act.

EFSA responded in autumn 2008 that its opinion on antibiotic resistance marker genes will not be finalized until December 15, 2008.

About BASF Plant Science

BASF - the Chemical Company - consolidated its plant biotechnology activities in BASF Plant Science in 1998. Today, about 700 employees are working to optimize crops for more efficient agriculture, renewable raw materials and healthier nutrition. Projects include yield increase in staple crops, higher content of Omega-3s in oil crops for preventing cardiovascular diseases, and potatoes with optimized starch composition for industrial use.

To find out more about BASF Plant Science, please visit www.basf.com/plantscience.

About BASF

BASF is the world's leading chemical company: The Chemical Company. BASF has more than 95 ,000 employees and posted sales of almost €58 billion in 2007.

Further information on BASF is available on the Internet at www.basf.com

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Government should not allow GM Food in Gujarat: experts

Ahmedabad (India), 10 December 2008.

Experts here have demanded that Gujarat government should not allow any Genetically Modified (GM) food or crops in the state and asked the government to take a pro-active stand on the issue.

Speaking to mediapersons here Kavitha Kuruganti, member-secretary of the Coalition for a GM-Free India, said, "Given the various adverse health impacts documented with GM foods from all across the world, including the latest official Austrian study that shows fertility problems with such foods, the Gujarat government should give up its apathy and silence on the issue." The Vadodara-based organic farming group pointed out that as the Central government's regulators move closer to the first GM food crop being approved in India (Bt Brinjal [aubergine]), the urgency of state governments taking a pro-active stand on the issue becomes more significant. For instance Kerala has already announced that it will not allow any GM crops/foods into the state. While cotton farmers in Gujarat have earned good incomes by cultivating Bt cotton, it is also a fact that its cultivation prompted some of them to commit suicides and other farmers are experiencing various problems. "While this is the case of a non-food crop, we are now standing on the verge of the first GM food crop from being approved and this is expected to have serious implications for all of us as consumers of food," said Kapil Shah of Jatan Trust. "Genetic engineering with our food and farming is inherently risky and irreversible. Scientific evidences on GM foods shows that allergies, impaired growth and development, organ damage, reproductive health problems and even inter-generational adverse effects are to be expected with such foods," he noted.

The toxins produced by Bt (Bacillus Thuringiensis) genes in food crops like Bt Maize (on mice) and Bt Potato (on humans) have clearly shown various adverse health effects in different studies.

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Fearing backlash, industry urges nanotech safety

Reuters, 10 December 2008. By Julie Steenhuysen.

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Fearing the emerging new field of nanotechnology will engender fears like those surrounding genetically modified foods in Europe, companies are pushing government agencies for a more coordinated effort to ensure the tiny nanomaterials are safe and environmentally friendly.

"What we find is that as this technology becomes more popular there are lots of questions in the minds of consumers and consumer advocates about just how safe these materials are," Raymond David, North American manager of toxicology for German chemicals group BASF, said in a telephone interview.

BASF, which already makes sunscreens, construction chemicals and polymers that incorporate nanotechnology, has joined DuPont, the American Chemical Council and other industry groups in support of a newly released National Research Council report calling for improvements in the nation's efforts to ensure the safety of nanotech research.

David said it is imperative the United States works hard to ensure the safety of new materials developed through nanotechnology, which involves the manipulation of materials thousands of times smaller than the width of a human hair.

"It puts a bit of fear in all of us that all of this effort will not be well received or may go the route of genetically modified foods in Europe. We certainly wouldn't want that."

Genetically modified crops are widely grown in many parts of world and now represent the majority of global soybean production. In Europe, however, there has been significant consumer opposition and crop approvals have been stalled.

"It's unfortunate that GM foods haven't been embraced as well as everyone had hoped. That, too, has tremendous promise. We want to make sure we don't make that mistake again," David said.

Nanotechnology holds tremendous promise for new imaging technologies that can improve the diagnosis of disease, new ways of delivering drugs into the body and new ways of making clothing waterproof or stain resistant, David said.

"There is such an open door that we want to explore all of the possibilities of nanotechnology," he said.

(Editing by Will Dunham and Todd Eastham)

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A Little "Franken Cotton" Can't Hurt You, Can it?

About.com: US Government Info, 10 December 2008. By Robert Longley.

The FDA, EPA and USDA all agree that a "small portion" of unauthorized genetically engineered (GE) cotton accidentally harvested along with authorized and commercially available GE cotton poses no risk to anybody or anything. But the GAO has doubts.

According to the USDA, they were notified by the Monsanto Company that "less than an acre" of unauthorized GE cotton had be harvested along with 54 acres of a stain of GE cotton already approved and commercially available. The unauthorized intruder cotton was genetically engineered to produce a pesticide nearly identical to a similar pesticide found in a commercially available variety of GE corn.

If some of the meal from the processed unauthorized GE cotton finds its way into animal feed, will it then be present in the meat, milk and eggs of those animals, which you might eat? Not a problem, say the FDA and EPA, concluding that "are no food or feed safety concerns related to this incident," because "there would be no residues in the meat, milk or eggs."

But just as all seems safe in the GE cotton patch, along comes a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) recommending that since accidental releases of GE crops into food, animal feed, or the environment have happened before and will happen again, the FDA and EPA need to exercise improved oversight of the entire range of GE crops.

The GAO reports that while none of the six reported incidents of releases of unauthorized GE crops into the animal food or feed supply have "affected human or animal health," the exact number of such releases remains unknown.

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GM foods are a health risk: Ramadoss

The Times of India, 10 December 2008.

Bangalore: Genetically modified (GM) crops were always the subject of debate which became more intense after the government announced plans to commercialize Bt brinjal, a GM variety [of aubergine].

Since the health impact of GM food are unpredictable, civic groups, individuals and NGOs from across India were campaigning to get the minister to make a comment on the safety of GM modified food. Almost as if in response, Anbumani Ramadoss on Tuesday declared GM food as hazardous to health, at a farmers meeting at Kanchipuram in Tamil Nadu.

The meeting was organized by farmers associated with a PMK-associated farmers' movement and several organic farmers' groups, and attended by about 5,000 farmers. Anbumani's father and PMK founder S Ramadoss was also present.

"GM food is a health hazard. No independent health impact tests have been conducted on the safety of Bt brinjal. But people are pushing for its introduction in the market. The health ministry will take all necessary steps to see that GM food is not commercialized unless all the safety criteria are met. As a minister of PMK and as the health minister, I will always oppose this technology," Anbumani said.

S Ramadoss also echoed the sentiments and said that instead of encouraging unpredictable crops like these, people should take measures to ban them.

Ban sought

The farmers at the meeting signed a 26-point declaration which includes a ban on GM seeds and the promotion of traditional variety of seeds.

Greenpeace India said if the minister keeps his promise, people could be saved from unsafe GM food crops.

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Nearly a billion people worldwide are starving, UN agency warns
• Rising prices mean 14% now under-nourished
• Urgency over food crisis lost amid credit crunch


The Guardian (UK), 10 December 2008. By Julian Borger and Juliette Jowitt.

Almost a billion people go hungry each day after food price rises pushed 40 million more people around the world into the ranks of the undernourished, the UN food agency reported yesterday.

According to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), food prices have more than halved from their historic peaks a few months ago, but the cost of basic staples measured by an FAO index is still high: 28% higher on average than two years ago.

That has led to an increase in the number of people unable to afford to eat enough calories to lead a normal, active life. There are now estimated to be 963 million people, 14% of the world's population, going hungry in 2008, up by 40 million from last year.

The FAO's hunger report, the State of Food Insecurity in the World 2008, found that the majority of the hungry live in the developing world, 65% of them in just seven countries: India, China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan and Ethiopia. The worst affected are landless families, particularly households headed by women.

"For millions of people in developing countries, eating the minimum amount of food every day to live an active and healthy life is a distant dream," said the FAO's assistant director general, Hafez Ghanem. "The structural problems of hunger, like the lack of access to land, credit and employment, combined with high food prices remain a dire reality."

Farmers in the developed world have been able to respond to higher prices by raising production, increasing cereal output by 10%. But those in poorer countries have not had the access to the fertiliser, seeds, water and markets necessary to capitalise on the price rises.

Hilary Benn, the environment secretary, will warn tonight that the world faces a "perfect storm" of threats to food security unless leaders agree a deal to tackle rising prices and environmental damage.

In what experts are saying is a significant shift in approach by the UK, Benn will say in a speech to the Fabian Society that there are a range of threats to producing enough food to feed an expected global population of 9 billion people by the middle of this century and he will call for an international agreement along the lines of the Kyoto protocol to tackle global warming.

"Global food production will need to double just to meet demand," Benn is expected to say.

In particular, the UK food system's "dependence on oil will have to change" to use more renewable energy. He also will hint that genetically modified technology may be needed.

At an emergency food summit in Rome in June, world leaders agreed to increase agricultural aid in order to help boost food production in the developing world, but the credit crunch combined with a recent fall in food prices have taken away some of the urgency behind the international effort.

"This sad reality should not be acceptable at the dawn of the 21st century," the FAO's director general, Jacques Diouf, said in a speech to launch the report. "Not enough has been done to reduce hunger and not enough is being done to prevent more people becoming hungry."

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9 December 2008

Who can we trust on GM food?
• Former chief scientist David King praises GM crops. But can we trust a government scientist any more than an industry insider?


The Guardian (UK), December 9 2008. By Peter Melchett.

Last week, on the Radio 4 programme Street Science, a publicist for the GM industry made a number of claims about what GM crops can do. He said: "Using GM technology, there are now varieties of major crops, rice, wheat and maize being produced that are drought resistant, flood resistant, saline resistant and disease resistant, which could transform Africa's ability to feed its people ... Some products have emerged, for example, from South Africa. They are now planting drought resistant crops that have increased the yield by 30% ... So you can actually save millions of people from starvation by these techniques - nothing to do with the private sector ... Americans are perfectly happy to eat [unlabelled GM food] and I don't know of anyone who has ever suffered from eating a GM product."

There is nothing wrong with this - similar claims are made all the time by people working for GM companies. Except that this was not Monsanto's press officer, it was Professor Sir David King, recently retired as the UK government's chief scientist.

The first claim, if read carefully, is not inaccurate. GM companies are trying to produce crops that are drought, flood and saline resistant, and although none are available for commercial use, in theory such crops could increase food production in Africa and elsewhere - if you make a number of assumptions.

These assumptions are not scientific, they are political, subjective and highly contested. This particular point of view assumes that the key cause of hunger and starvation is lack of food, rather than problems with distribution, access to land, wars, corruption and poverty. It also assumes that in future poor farmers will have no problems with buying expensive seeds, fertiliser and pesticides, all of which are required by GM crops.

I know many people assume GM crops must somehow be needed to feed the world. But the IAASTD (the food and farming equivalent to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report by 400 international scientists - led by Professor Robert Watson, now chief scientist at the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs - said GM crops were not essential to feed the world.

David King was wrong to say that drought-resistant GM products that increase yield by 30% are now being planted in South Africa. In fact, Monsanto is carrying out trials of GM drought-resistant maize in South Africa. The process of trialling the crops has only just begun (a permit was issued a year ago), and these crops are probably about eight years away from commercial use if they prove to be successful. No drought-resistant GM crops are currently grown commercially in South Africa. King has been wrong before about new crops in Africa, claiming that a successful project near Lake Victoria was benefiting from GM technology, before having to admit the crops involved were not GM at all.

In the BBC programme, David King referred to crops like rice that are "flood resistant". In fact the submergence tolerant (flood resistant) rice that is on the market is not GM, but instead marker assisted selection (MAS), normal breeding informed by knowledge of the genome and supported by environmentalists and organic organisations, was used to develop it. This is an example of the kind of innovative non-GM plant breeding that is making a lot of progress in a number of areas that the GM companies are only just beginning to tackle - with unknown results. Marker-assisted breeding (usually called marker assisted selection) uses the genetic diversity found in crops or their wild relatives, combined with genomic data (genomic markers) to speed up what are otherwise essentially conventional breeding methods.

Two years ago, the scientists at the University of California Davis responsible for developing submergence tolerant rice initially tried to develop the rice using both MAS and GM techniques. While the MAS worked well and quickly, GM failed initially, for unknown reasons. The scientists were moving a rice gene into another type of rice, so this failure simply underlines the inherent uncertainty and lack of precision in GM technology.

Finally, a couple of months ago, the scientists did get the GM process to work, but this version is not being bred for sale to farmers. To get the GM process to work, the scientists had to attach the gene they wanted to transfer to a very powerful promoter - the part of the gene that determines in what parts of the plant, when, and how much, the gene functions (called "expression"). The promoter they used is from an ubiquitin gene and it is turned on at a high level in many tissues of the plant, most of the time.

This contrasts with the normal (native) promoter of the sub1A gene, which is turned on only when needed in the plants and at the correct levels. Therefore, while the sub1A gene, run by the ubi promoter may nominally function, it is much more likely to have negative side effects in the plant because of its incorrect expression (called ectopic expression). These effects could be harmful to health or the environment, or just have adverse effects on the agronomic properties of the crop (for example, it could cause the crop to grow poorly under some conditions, as has happened in practice with some other GM crops). Normal breeding using MAS worked better and faster, and is less likely to have negative side effects.

David King also mentioned GM crops that "have not been produced in the private sector, they've all been produced by government and international research laboratories" when he spoke about crops being developed for farming in South Africa. I assume that he was actually talking about the Water Efficient Maize for Africa project (WEMA), which involves several African countries - Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and South Africa. The WEMA project was only announced in 2008, so no crops have yet been grown even experimentally. The projections for yield increases from this project are that "the maize products developed over the next 10 years could increase yields by 20-35% under moderate drought, compared to current varieties". But this applies to non-GM as well as possible GM varieties, and the first conventional varieties developed by WEMA could be available after six to seven years of research and development. The project says that GM drought-tolerant maize hybrids "will be available in about ten years".

David King was also wrong to say that Americans are happy consuming GM food: in fact, there is no labelling in the US and many Americans don't even know they are eating GM. When limited labelling was introduced on alternatives to Monsanto's GM-hormone milk, sales of the GM product collapsed and Monsanto sold the business.

Finally, of course, no one has carried out any scientific experiments to see whether eating GM crops in America has caused any "suffering". There is no evidence to say that they have caused suffering, just as there's no evidence to show that they have not. We simply do not know. There have only been a small handful of studies looking at the long-term safety of eating GM food, using properly conducted animal trials, some covering possible inter-generational effects.

All of these show some grounds for concern. Most recently, a study funded by the Austrian government and carried out by two of the leading research institutes in Austria, found that Monsanto's GM maize "severely impairs reproduction in mice" and the scientists involved said that there is an "urgent need for further studies". These safety doubts confirm earlier research findings, and they have in turn been confirmed by other recently published research. In the light of the published science, it is now impossible to say that GM is safe to eat.

David King's pro-GM views have been clear for many years, equally, he has been in the forefront of the battle to get the science about climate change accepted and acted on. On climate change, he supports international scientific opinion (the IPCC), and the honourable role he and other scientists play is to disseminate the science that explains what climate change is, why it is happening, and what cuts in greenhouse gases are needed to avoid the worst impacts. Scientists should talk to the public about their work, and scientists working for the government should be open about the scientific advice they give, and the basis for it.

But King has entered into the political realm, making assumptions about how societies will be organised in future, which current trends will continue and which will change, and which type of development (for example, largely controlled by multi-national companies and international institutions) we will pursue. He is just as entitled as anyone else to have personal views on these issues. So why do his pronouncements anger many people, including me? The answer was provided by a member of the public who King talked to on the BBC programme. After listening to the ex-chief scientist's views, they said, "Naturally a personal chat with somebody is very reassuring - somebody who knows the facts, which of course I don't. I'm relying on you."

It seems to me that King is expressing personal and political views under the assumption that they are science. In trying to expand the sales of GM crops, he reminds me of the men in white coats who sold toothpaste in TV ads when I was a child. I think this is why people do not trust scientists working for governments much more than they trust scientists working for corporations. It is not, as these scientists always claim, because people do not trust or understand science - surveys show that people trust scientists working for non-governmental organisations far more than government or industry scientists. People are sceptical about scientists who pronounce not on science but on politics and products such as GM crops - and particularly about those who fail to make clear the personal or organisational views that colour the assumptions they make. Sadly, King shows that we are right to be sceptical.

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Anbumani to oppose entry of genetically modified seeds
Ministry won't allow their introduction without proper tests


The Hindu (India), 9 December 2008.

KANCHEEPURAM, Tamil Nadu -- Union Minister for Health Anbumani Ramadoss on Tuesday said that he would oppose any move to introduce genetically modified food or seeds in the agriculture sector.

Addressing a State-level farmer's conference, organised by the Thamizhnadu Uzhavar Periyakkam, here, he said, "As a Central Minister I will oppose any move to introduce GM food or seeds in India."

The Pattali Makkal Katchi had taken a policy decision to oppose introduction of genetically modified seeds.

He said efforts were being made by certain quarters to introduce Bt. Brinjal, a genetically modified variety [of aubergine], without conducting any test on Indian soil. "The Ministry of Health will oppose it and will not allow introduction of such a variety without conducting proper tests."

He said the PMK, if voted to power in Tamil Nadu, would present a separate budget for agriculture.

Delivering the special address, PMK founder S. Ramadoss said that heavy loss suffered by farmers in taking up agricultural operations forced them to dispose of their land holdings.

"A day will come when, by issuance of a G.O., your lands will be given back to you and those who had bought from you will be made to enter into a long-term lease agreement with you."

Dr. Ramadoss warned that if the trend of "taking away" cultivable lands from farmers for setting up special economic zones were to continue, it would lead to a revolt. If it happened, no government would have the strength to face such situation.

PMK president and executive president, TUP, G.K.Mani, natural farming concept proponent Nammalwar and Union Minister for State (Railways) R. Velu participated in conference.

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India's Health Minister expresses opposition to GM crops

Tamizhaga Uzhavar Periakkam / Greenpeace India press release, 9 December 2008.

Kancheepuram -- Speaking at a public meeting of farmers from all over Tamil Nadu here this evening, the Union Health Minister Dr Anbumani Ramadoss expressed his opposition to GM crops and Bt Brinjal [aubergine] in particular.

"PMK has always opposed GM seeds. As a Minister of PMK and as the Union Health Minister, I will continue to oppose it. As far as the recent controversy of Bt Brinjal is concerned, it is being brought into the country without proper research on its safety. We should oppose it collectively. The Ministry of Health & Family Welfare as a policy will ensure holistic research of Bt Brinjal, including (on) health impacts and farmers' issues. We will not permit it into India otherwise".

Earlier, members of Tamil Nadu Organic Agriculturists Movement, Tamil Nadu Women's Collective, Workers' & Peasants' Party and Greenpeace drew the attention of the Minister to the various concerns related to GM crops/foods and the farmers presented him with a memorandum.

The Minister, in his speech said, "When there are so many indigenous varieties of brinjal in each region of India, where is there a need to borrow this Bt Brinjal from other countries?".

The Health Minister's statement in this meeting is unsurprising given that PMK, his party, was the first political party to take a clear stand against GM crops in India. Further, Dr Anbumani Ramadoss is known for his progressive political stand on issues like tobacco and alcohol.

On December 4th, a group of doctors from different streams of medicinal systems sought to meet with the Health Minister to express their serious concerns with regard to GM foods. They submitted a memorandum to the Minister pointing out that Genetic Engineering in our food and farming is inherently risky and irreversible and that decision-making in India is currently happening based on the crop developer's data without any independent research for assessing long term effects.

The Minister has also been receiving thousands of faxes from all over the country as part of the "I Am No Lab Rat" campaign launched by the Coalition for a GM-Free India and Hamara Beej Abhiyan. So far, more than 70000 Indians have endorsed a petition to the Health Minister saying that they refuse to become guinea pigs in this experimentation with GE foods.

Consumer, environmental, women's and organic farming groups from all over the country reacted by thanking the Minister for the progressive view he took on this matter, with his scientific background and for putting the interests and health of ordinary consumers of India at the centre of his policy with regard to GM crops/foods.

For more information, contact:

Sadagopan, President of Tamizhaga Uzhavar Periakkam (PMK's farmers' wing) at (0) 94-432-91925

Jaikrishna of Greenpeace at (0) 98-455-91992 or Preethi at (0)99-014-88482

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EU ministers back GMO-free zones
Long-term environmental risk assessment of GMOs should be improved and member states allowed to establish GMO-free zones, EU ministers agreed last week.


EurActiv, 9 December 2008.

On 4 December, the bloc's environment ministers concluded http://www.consilium.europa.eu/ueDocs/cms_Data/docs/pressData/en/envir/104509.pdf a six-month process launched by the French EU Presidency aimed at overcoming the Council's inability to take authorisation decisions on new GM products for cultivation in the EU.

It is not yet clear whether the conclusions of the exercise will actually help to break the current deadlock. Nevertheless, ministers agreed to:

Improve evaluation of the medium and long-term environmental impacts of GM crops, in particular of pesticide-producing and herbicide-resistant GM crops;

launch a joint European Commission and member-state reflection group in 2009 to define and consider socio-economic implications of placing GMOs on the market (such as cost-benefit analysis of the possible consequences of the entry of GMO seeds into the overall agricultural system);

improve the use of member-state experts in the European Food Safety Authority's (EFSA) safety evaluation of GMOs;

fix Community thresholds for the presence of GMOs in conventional seeds;

protect, on a case-by-case basis, sensitive and protected areas by establishing GMO-free zones.

Positions:

EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas believes it is "absolutely vital" that member states participate in GMO risk assessment and that their involvement in EFSA's work is reinforced. Dimas said the Commission wants member states to define measures to allow the establishment of GMO and GMO-free zones in order to "facilitate the co-existence of both types of crops".

EuropaBio, the European association for bioindustries, warns against further delays to EU approvals for GM crop cultivation applications. "There has not been one new GM crop cleared for cultivation in the EU for ten long years. The current de facto moratorium on new approvals has to end so that EU farmers can choose the technology that works best for them," the association said in a statement.

"It is now the time for action and we anticipate implementation of existing legislation to allow for the approvals of biotech crops for cultivation without further and unnecessary delay," said EuropaBio's secretary-general, Willy De Greef.

Greenpeace's European unit welcomed the "clear signal" member states had sent to the Commission on the "need to improve the way we assess the impact of GM crops on the environment, on our health and on the lives of millions of farmers". "It is now up to the Commission and the European Food Safety Authority to implement these recommendations," said Greenpeace EU's GMO policy director, Marco Contiero.

Meanwhile, the NGO deplored that due to pressure from the United Kingdom and the Commission, which are "pushing to lower safety standards on GMO seed contamination," ministers "failed to ensure that the seeds that are bought and sold in the EU would remain free of GM contamination".

NEXT STEPS:

2009: Launch of a Commission and member-state reflection group to define and consider socio-economic implications of the placing on the market of GMOs.

By March 2010: EFSA to complete its revision of guidelines on environmental risk assessment of GMOs.

By June 2010: The Commission to draft a report on the conclusions of the Commission-member state reflection group on the socio-economic implications of GMOs.

LINKS

European Union

Council: Council Conclusions on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) Pdf (4 December 2008)
http://www.consilium.europa.eu/ueDocs/cms_Data/docs/pressData/en/envir/104509.pdf

Council press release: OGM : les ministres affichent leur détermination [in French only] Pdf (4 December 2008)
http://www.ue2008.fr/webdav/site/PFUE/shared/import/1204_Conseil_Environnement/Communique_de_presse_OGM_FR.pdf

European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)
http://www.efsa.europa.eu/EFSA/efsa_locale-1178620753812_home.htm

Commission: Food safety website:
http://ec.europa.eu/food/food/biotechnology/index_en.htm

Business & Industry

EuropaBio: Changes in biotech regulations must not be an attempt to further delay the approvals process Pdf (5 December 2008)
http://www.europa-bio.be/PressReleases/green/081205_Env_Council041208.pdf

NGOs

Greenpeace Europe: Environment ministers want reform of EU GMO authorisation system (4 December 2008)
http://www.greenpeace.org/eu-unit/press-centre/press-releases2/EU-GMO-authorisation-system

Background:

Because the EU's Council of Ministers can never reach a qualified majority to either approve or reject GMOs, the European Commission is free to authorise them on the basis of a special regulatory procedure http://www.gmo-compass.org/eng/regulation/regulatory_process/157.eu_gmo_authorisation_procedures.html. Several member states have repeatedly invoked an EU safeguard clause enabling them to suspend the marketing or growth on their territory of GM crops that enjoy EU-wide authorisation, but the Commission has never substantiated their applications and has always ordered the lifting of national bans.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has come under criticism in this regard (EurActiv 05/12/05 http://www.euractiv.com/en/biotech/loophole-clears-way-gm-maize-approval/article-150355 and 10/03/06 http://www.euractiv.com/en/food/austria-criticises-efsa-gmo-bias/article-153305), and the Commission decided to introduce practical changes to the EFSA's GMO-approval process (EurActiv 12/04/06 http://www.euractiv.com/en/biotech/commission-transparency-gmo-decisions/article-154355). In spring 2008, the EU executive mandated the agency to update its guidelines as regards the long-term environmental risk assessment of GM plants.

In summer 2008, the French EU Presidency created an ad-hoc working group and tabled a series of proposals to consider ways of solving the current deadlock in the Council and make product approval or rejection easier.

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China finds suspected GMO soy in state reserve buys

Alibaba.com, 9 December 2008. By Bruce Meng.

BEIJING -- China's Heilongjiang province, the largest soy area, has found suspected genetically-modified soybeans (GMO) amid state reserve stocks, provincial authorities said, as sellers take advantage of higher prices.

Beijing agreed to buy 2 million tonnes of local non-GMO soy from farmers in the northeast province as part of plans to shore up domestic prices and help farmers cover higher input costs.

But some traders have taken advantage of the higher prices offered, delivering cheap imported soybean to some state warehouses in the province, local grain and quarantine bureaux said.

"Some suspected imported genetically-modified soybean were found in parts of the province," they said in a joint statement posted on the grain bureau's Website (www.hljlsj.gov.cn). It did not elaborate.

Local authorities have to check carefully beans that are "small in size with thin skin and black navel", it said.

Local buyers of GMO soybeans, which have import licences, have to inform the local quarantine bureau about their cargoes, it said.

It is unclear how much GMO soybean has been imported into the province, an inland area neighbouring Russia, but a local crusher, the first known importer of the product, told Reuters that it had not shipped its cargo to the province. The cargo of 60,000 tonnes of GMO soybean has only arrived at Dalian port.

Beijing has offered farmers 3,700 yuan ($538) per tonne for the soy it purchases, about 27 percent higher than U.S soy.

That has prompted farmers to demand the same price from local crushers, which has led some crushers to turn to imports.

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France fined over GM crop delay

BBC News, 9 December 2008.

The EU's top court has ordered France to pay a 10m-euro (£8.7m; $12.9m) fine for delaying implementing EU rules on genetically modified (GM) crops.

The European Court of Justice said France's conduct was "unlawful".

France has refused to apply a 2002 law which set out how biotech crops could be planted in areas where other conventional crops were being grown.

Paris has said internal opposition by environmentalists is too strong for it to press ahead with the new measures.

On Tuesday, the Luxembourg-based court said its ruling would act as a warning to others that ignoring EU rules had a price.

In 2004, the European Commission won a court order against France, but Paris only began implementing the rules in July this year.

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EU's top court fines France for incomplete GMO law

Reuters, 9 December 2008.

BRUSSELS, Dec 9 -- The European Union's highest court fined France 10 million euros ($12.9 million) on Tuesday for failing to update the country's laws on genetically modified (GM) crops and foods.

In a statement, the European Court of Justice said the "unlawful conduct repeatedly engaged in by France in the GMOs sector is of such a nature as to require the adoption of a dissuasive measure, such as a lump sum payment".

"Due to the circumstances of this case, the lump sum to be paid is set at 10 million euros," the Luxembourg-based court said.

In June, one of the court's advocates-general said in an opinion on the case that Paris had failed to comply with a 2004 ruling that its statute book did not properly integrate an EU directive on releasing GM organisms into the environment.

The date for assessing whether France had complied with the 2004 ruling was February 2006, the ECJ said, adding: "It is obvious that, by that date, with the exception of a decree, France had not taken any steps to comply with the initial 2004 judgment establishing its failure to fulfil obligations".

The court had a responsibility to ensure that its initial judgment, a ruling that France had broken EU law, was complied with as swiftly as possible and also to prevent similar infringements from recurring, it said.

However, it had not been established that the French authorities had failed to cooperate in good faith, it said.

The directive, agreed by EU governments in 2001, regulates how GM crops may be grown and approved across the bloc. It ranks as the EU's main law, of around five, on biotech crops.

It covers the cultivation of GM seeds for crop or seed production and also includes imports of GM products and their processing for industrial purposes. EU governments had a deadline of October 2002 to revise their national legislation to include the law, known as the Deliberate Release directive. (Reporting by Jeremy Smith, editing by Dale Hudson)

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Testing finds U.S. commercial rice 99.9 percent LL trait-free

Farm Press (U.S.A.), 9 December 2008. By Forrest Laws.

U.S. rice farmers have moved a giant step closer to putting the genetically engineered Liberty Link-trait controversy behind them.

Final testing results for the 2008 Southern long-grain rice crop indicated that less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the samples registered any Liberty Link presence, the USA Rice Federation announced at the Rice Outlook Conference.

USA Rice Federation officials said that was a significant improvement over 2007 testing program results in which the long-grain rice samples were 99.5 percent free of the Liberty Link genetically engineered trait.

"This is a tremendous achievement for our industry," said Brian King, USA Rice Federation Biotechnology Task Force chairman from Marked Tree, Ark. "There's no clearer demonstration than these test results of what the U.S. rice industry can accomplish in the face of incredible challenges.

"We deeply appreciate the efforts of the rice farmers, millers and merchants who contributed to these outstanding results," said King, who is also the USA Rice Merchants' Association chairman.

King said at the USA Rice Outlook Conference in Little Rock, Ark., that the improved test results of the 2008 crop showed the validity of the Seed Plan that the rice industry put into place after the announced discovery of the Liberty Link traits in commercial rice on Aug. 18, 2006.

Under the Seed Plan, Arkansas state authorities mandated that all seed planted in the state be tested, and no Liberty Link traits were found prior to this year's planting. Arkansas produces nearly 60 percent of the U.S. long-grain crop. State seed regulators have a significant impact on seed planted in the neighboring states of Mississippi and Missouri.

Louisiana, likewise, tested all seed prior to planting and no Liberty Link traits were reportedly detected. Louisiana is the second largest long-grain rice producing state.

USA Rice Federation Senior Vice President Bob Cummings shared preliminary 2008 testing results at a workshop Nov. 12-13 in Seville, Spain, sponsored by the European Commission's Joint Research Centre. Workshop participants called for the EU to establish a low-level presence or tolerance, policy for genetically engineered traits that have been approved in another country, but are awaiting EU approval.

"USA Rice Federation has led this issue at home and abroad, and continues to work to regain lost market share attributed to the Liberty Link issue," USA Rice Federation Chairman Jamie Warshaw said. "This remains a top priority for our industry."

Comment from GM-free Ireland

This is a classic example of "contaminate first, legislate later". First, they planted illegal GM seeds; then they said it only affected a few acres in the USA; then the illegal rice turned up in supermarket shelves around the world; the product recall cost the U.S. rice industry over a billion dollars; after the failure of massive decontamination efforts, U.S. rice still contains 0.1 per cent of the illegal GM product; and they are now using this as a pretext to force the EU to scrap our "zero tolerance" policy for unapproved GM content!

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8 December 2008

No U-turn: EU Environmental Ministers agree on GMOs

GMO Compass, 8 December 2008.

The council of EU ministers responsible for the environment reached agreement this week on the topic of 'green gene technology'. In contrast to indications by some Member States, no fundamental changes will be made to the approval process for genetically modified plants in the EU.

In their decision, the ministers emphasised that the existing legal requirements applied to gene technology will not be modified and that GM plants should continue to be approved "without unreasonable delays". The on-going process, in which the currently applied guidelines on safety assessments of GM plants are appraised and extended, should be intensified and accelerated. The EU Commission already has assigned this task to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

The decision of the environmental ministers provides guidance for this task in the form of a series of specifications. These require better evaluation of the possible long-term effects of GM plants on the environment, such as the impact of Bt plants on bio-diversity. Furthermore, the regional environmental qualities under which a new GM plant could be cultivated should be more closely considered during the approval process.

Contrary to French demands, there will be no initial inclusion of socio-economic criteria in the approval process of GM plants. To date, the definition of such criteria remains controversial, as does the primary question of their objective measurement on a scientific foundation. General regional cultivation bans for approved GM plants also remain prohibited. As in the past, gene-technology-free zones are possible only on the basis of voluntary agreement.

Member States already may establish appropriate measures to protect nature reserves or delicate ecosystems from possible adverse effects that may be associated with specific GM plants. Planting restrictions are conceivable, as is even the prohibition of cultivation in specific cases. However, the environmental ministers stressed nonetheless that such measures must be derived from scientifically sound environmental impact assessments.

See also on GMO Compass:

Genetically Modified Food and Feed: The EU Regulatory Process
http://www.gmo-compass.org/eng/regulation/regulatory_process/

Further information:

Council Conclusions on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).
Environment Council Meeting, 4. Dezember 2008
http://www.consilium.europa.eu/ueDocs/cms_Data/docs/pressData/en/envir/104509.pdf

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GAO Seeks More Control over GMOs
The federal government wants less genetic accidents


Softpedia.com, 8 December 2008. By Tudor Vieru, Science Editor.

The investigative arm of [U.S.] Congress announced on Friday that more governmental control was needed in the manufacturing and distribution of genetically-modified organisms (GMO) in the nation's crops. The number of accidents involving modified organisms has been fairly low over the last years, but the Government Accountability Office (GAO) warns that there might have been more of them, which passed unrecorded. It also said that, if they happened, there was still no way to tell, not even after a couple of years.

"As pointed out by GAO, the three regulatory agencies still do not adequately coordinate their regulation of the food safety or environmental consequences of these crops," the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nonprofit health advocacy group, says in a statement, referring to the Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which are three American agencies in charge of regulating GMO use.

The GAO report says that the three agencies still do not fully communicate, and that the level of cooperation between them continues to be low. It encouraged the USDA and the FDA to develop a formal agreement, binding them to share information about the effects that tested GMOs have on people, animals and the environment. The Accountability Office also advised the FDA to make its evaluation of modified organisms public, and the Food and Drug Administration approved, saying it would publish them on its website.

Tom Harkin, Iowa Democratic Sen, says that "When unapproved genetically engineered crops are detected in the food and feed supply, food safety concerns rise, markets are disrupted and consumer confidence falls." Saxby Chambliss, Georgia Republican Sen, adds in a statement that "We must do all we can do to enhance the effectiveness of oversight functions so the technology continues to be available as new products are introduced." Both officials agree that unchecked GMOs in the food supply are a problem that needs to be dealt with swiftly.

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Extension of moratorium "For GMO-free agriculture":
consultation proceedings opened


Swiss Federal Department of the Environment, Energy and Communications, 8 December 2008.

Bern -- The Federal Council wants to extend the moratorium "For GMO-free agriculture", due to run out on 27th. November 2010, by three years. The consultation proceedings on the amendment of the Gene Technology Act were opened at its last session.

The moratorium "Food from non-genetically modified agriculture" that had been accepted by the people and the cantons was valid until 27th. November 2010. Until that date genetically modified plants may not be cultivated and genetically modified animals may not be used for the production of food and agricultural products. The sowing of such plants is allowed under strict controls for research purposes.

A short while after the moratorium had started, the Federal Council launched the National Research Programme on the benefits and risks of the release of genetically modified plants (NFP59). This is to be a contribution to the closing of knowledge gaps. The results and the final report of the NFP59 will be available towards the middle of 2012.

So that the NFP59 can be carried on and finished without political pressure, the Federal Council had already resolved on 14th May 2008 to apply to Parliament for a three-year extension to the moratorium. It charged the Federal Department of the Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications DETEC with preparing a dispatch on this matter.

The Federal Council has now opened the consultation proceedings on the amendment of the Gene Technology Act. They will continue until 13th February 2009.

Address for enquiries:

Georg Karlaganis, Head of the Section for Materials, Soil, Biotechnology
Federal Office for the Environment FOEN, tel. +41 (0) 79 415 99 62

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Ohio corn performance trial yields all over the place

Farm and Dairy (USA), 8 December 2008.

COLUMBUS – Summer drought and Hurricane Ike produced a mix of high and low yielding test sites in the Ohio State University Corn Performance Trials.

"Hybrid yields varied considerably across the state in 2008 and this certainly was reflected in the corn performance trials this year," said Peter Thomison, an Ohio State University Extension agronomist.

In the northwest region, yields averaged 159 and 156 bushels per acre in the early and late maturity test, respectively. That's in contrast to the southwest/west central region, where yields averaged 235 and 230 bushels per acre in the early and late maturity test, respectively.

Checked 240 hybrids

Researchers tested over 240 hybrids representing 33 commercial brands in three Ohio regions. Three test sites were established in each region.

Testing was also conducted at Coshocton, an area with a history of high gray leaf spot incidence.

The trials are designed to evaluate corn hybrids based on a variety of performance characteristics, such as yield potential, percent moisture, stalk lodging, emergence and test weights of the grain.

Look at multiple sites

"Growers need to look at as many locations as possible this year to get a good feel for hybrid performance. If they plan to make their hybrid decisions based on results of a test site near their farm or based on their own on-farm test strip tests, their data is unlikely to indicate which hybrids are most likely to perform best in 2009," said Thomison.

"If a grower had an environment that was free of lodging and had good growing conditions, he may see a different hybrid ranking than a grower with fields that experienced severe stress."

Majority now transgenic

Thomison said that choosing the best-performing corn hybrids is growing increasingly difficult as the turnover rate for hybrids entered into the trials climbs higher.

"Traited" hybrids, those with transgenic traits for Bt insect resistance and herbicide tolerance, dominated this year's corn performance trials with more than 90 percent of the entries being transgenic.

In 2002, less than 15 percent of the hybrid entries were transgenic.

"These trends toward transgenic corn in the Ohio Corn Performance Test reflect the increasing adoption of transgenic hybrids by farmers in Ohio. As recently as 2005, less than 20 percent of corn acreage in the state was planted to transgenic corn hybrids," said Thomison. "However, this year USDA estimates that two-thirds of the state's corn acreage was planted to transgenic corn hybrids."

More turnover

Not only is transgenic corn acreage increasing in Ohio, but also the number of years a hybrid is evaluated in the trials is decreasing.

"We like to tell growers to use multi-year data, but that's becoming more difficult to do. In 1997, 45-75 percent of the hybrids evaluated were in the trials for two years. In 2002, that number was down to 32 to 62 percent. This year, only 17 to 29 percent of the hybrids were in the trials for two years," said Thomison.

"Growers and industry argue that they may miss out on good genetics if they only consider hybrids in the trials for two or more years, but using only one year of data to evaluate performance puts the growers in a precarious situation if they encounter varying growing conditions."

As an alternative, Thomison is encouraging growers use as much 2008 multi-site replicated data as they can and is recommending that they consider other university performance trials from neighboring states and private seed testing companies to compare hybrids.

Nontransgenic near top

Despite the large number of transgenic hybrids being evaluated, Thomison notes that growers interested in planting nontransgenic hybrids should review the 2008 Ohio Corn Performance test results.

"Two of the top-10 performing hybrids in our trials for the western region were nontransgenic hybrids. That probably tells you those are some pretty good hybrids," said Thomison.

He said Ohio growers are looking at nontransgenic hybrids more closely next year to take advantage of the non-GMO premiums and because of higher costs of seed.

According to the Ohio Agricultural Statistics Service, the statewide average corn yield is estimated at 147 bushels per acre, down from 150 bushels per acre last year.

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"Animal feed plant did not use proper oil" - Dept. of Agriculture

IrishIndependent.ie, 8 December 2008.

The Department of Agriculture has said the company in County Carlow at the centre of the pork scare did not use proper oil in its machinery.

The revelation came this afternoon at a press conference in Government Buildings.

Dermot Ryan from the Department of Agriculture said the oil used was inappropriate and that the operator of the plant didn't have the appropriate licence.

"We have established that the oil being used was not appropriate for this type of operation," Mr Ryan said.

"Furthermore the type of oil that was being used in this drying operation - the operator would be required to have a licence from the EPA (Environment Protection Agency), and we have confirmed that the operator concerned did not have a licence."

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IOFGA calls for ban on certified organic pork and bacon products to be lifted immediately

Irish Organic Farmers & Growers Association (IOFGA), 8 December 2008.

The Irish Organic Farmers & Growers Association (IOFGA) is calling for the ban on organic pork products to be lifted immediately. The problem of contaminated feed relates to conventional pig production and does not involve organic producers. Feed used by organic producers must be certified organic and the type of feed which is the cause of the problem is not permitted under organic regulations. These regulations are strictly monitored and enforced by Irish certification bodies to provide maximum public confidence in certified organic produce bearing an approved organic label. IOFGA considers it unfair that a blanket ban has been extended to include the organic sector which is not the cause of the problem.

The Irish Organic Farmers and Growers Association (IOFGA) is the largest organic certification organisation in Ireland representing approx 1,000 farmers, growers and processors. It is responsible for certifying the organic provenance of its members' produce and the IOFGA symbol indicates that a product has met the highest standard of organic integrity. IOFGA also works to inform the public about the benefits or organic food and to support the development of organic food production in Ireland.

For further information contact:

Dominic Leonard + 353 (0)87 969 4070

Issued by:

John O'Neill+ 353 (0) 612 5989

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Ireland: Consumers warned to avoid pork in dioxin scare

Just-food.com, 8 December 2008.

Ireland's food safety watchdog has ordered supermarkets to remove Irish pork products from shelves and consumers have been told to avoid Irish pig meat after the discovery of contamination from cancer-causing dioxins.

The discovery followed routine tests performed last week at ten pig farms - which account for about 10% of Ireland's pork production - in the southeast of the country. Results of the tests were received on Saturday (6 December), officials revealed.

Dublin said tests of feed and pork fat samples confirmed the presence of dioxins at 80 to 200 times the safe limits set by the World Health Organisation.

According to the Department of Agriculture, the source of contamination has been identified as animal feed producer Millstream Recycle. According to Irish reports, the company has indicated that it is "cooperating" with the Department's investigation. However, the feed manufacturer was not immediately available for comment.

The Department said that another nine farms in Northern Ireland had also used the contaminated feedstuff.

The UK's Food Standards Agency yesterday advised UK consumers "not to eat pork, or pork products, such as sausages, bacon, salami and ham which are labelled as being from the Irish Republic or Northern Ireland".

Irish pig farms produce about 3m pigs each year, half of which are exported to the UK and other EU markets.

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Ireland: Union warns 6,000 pork industry jobs at risk

Just-food.com, 8 December 2008.

An Irish union representing workers in the pork industry has warned that as many as 6,000 jobs have been put at risk after a full recall of all Irish pork products was ordered by the country's food safety watchdog.

According to the Services, Industrial, Professional and Technical Union (SIPTU), this weekend's recall, which was issued after it emerged that around 10% of Irish pigmeat is contaminated with dioxins, has already resulted in job losses.

"The crisis is already leading to thousands of workers being laid off and it is far from clear how many will be able to resume work again," National Industrial Secretary Gerry McCormack said today (8 December).

Pork producer Rosderra Meats laid off 900 employees at its four plants this morning. The company was unavailable for comment as just-food went to press.

"Very serious questions have to be asked about the current traceability system. Most of the plants where workers were laid off, including Rosderra Meats, were not affected by contamination. This means the present system counts for nothing," SIPTU Branch Organiser Frank Jones said.

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7 December 2008

The hidden cost of our growing taste for meat

The Observer (UK), 7 December 2008. By Juliette Jowit and Oliver Balch.

As the west's appetite for meat increases, so too does the demand for soya – used as animal feed by farmers. But the planting of huge tracts of land is causing deforestation and destroying eco-systems in developing countries. Juliette Jowit and Oliver Balch in Minga Pora, Paraguay, report

[image caption: Ranchers, soybean farmers and loggers burned and cut down a near-record area of the Amazon rainforest last year. Photograph: Dado Galdier / AP]

To the European eye, accustomed to square hedgerows and neatly tilled arable land, the countryside of eastern Paraguay is unexceptional, almost pretty. The rolling hills spread out to the far distance. The sky is vast, the horizon broken only by the occasional homestead, leafy copse or bulky metal silo.

But to 47-year-old Melitón Ramírez, this is no paradise. It's a wasteland. Juddering down a farm track in a muddy Jeep, he points to a wide field by the road. It has been sown with soya and the green-leafed plants are sprouting. It looks like a huge bed of wild clover.

'Thirty years ago, almost all of this was woodland,' says Ramírez, who's been a farmer in Alto Paran∑ state all his life. He grew up surrounded by the Interior Atlantic Forest, listening to the sound of bare-throated bellbirds and saffron toucanets. Before the advent of commercial farming, 85 per cent of eastern Paraguay was forest. Now, with roughly 12 per cent of it still standing, silence fills the air.

'There used to be 2,000 families living here. Now there are only 30, if that,' he continues.

The story of Ramírez's home village of Minga Por∑ is familiar in South America. It is a story that starts on the dinner tables of the UK and other rich nations, where a hunger for meat and dairy products fuels an ever-rising demand for the industrial farming of animals using high-protein feed. At the bottom of this food chain is the soya plant. Millions of hectares of intensively cultivated soya are gnawing at tropical forests and savannah - displacing farmers and communities, leading to poverty, ill-health and even violence, ruining habitats and exacerbating global warming.

A report by campaign group Friends of the Earth is to be published on Tuesday to focus the attention of UK consumers and the government on the scale of this destruction. It will detail for the first time the cutting, burning and spraying that occurs as a consequence. The report, What's Feeding our Food?, will start a campaign urging the government to take action, ending subsidies and other policies that encourage intensive farming and making sure public money spent on food is not propping up damaging practices.

Across the main soya-producing countries of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay, an area the size of California has been cleared for this one crop, which is exported around the world, mainly to the European Union and China. As the third biggest customer in the European Union, the UK required nearly 1.2m hectares - an area the size of Devon and Cornwall - to generate the 1.7m tonnes of soya beans and 652,000 tonnes of crushed soya meal imported in the most recent year for which figures are available, 2006-7. That was most of the soya used by UK farmers producing 850 million broiler chickens, 10 billion eggs, 10 million turkeys, 4.9 million pigs and 10 million cattle for dairy and beef. Some of this food is exported, but imports, mostly from the EU, are also reared using soya feed, says the report.

'Even though bacon, burgers, milk and cheese may be produced in the UK, most will have come from animals fed on crops grown on the other side of the world,' it says. Nor is the pace of change slackening: this year official estimates judge that soya production will increase in all three major producers. Although demand for meat is largely flat in the UK, it is growing in developing countries.

Attracted by generous offers from Brazilian-born soya growers, Ramírez's neighbours began selling their plots. Soon herbicides began to contaminate the land and water supplies. His own crops began to fail. Worried the chemicals would harm his family, six years ago Ramírez decided to leave.

The destruction wreaked by soya has forced about 90,000 families in the neighbouring state of Caaguazô to leave their homes since the mid-Nineties, according to Javiera Rulli, a biologist for Asunción-based research group BASE, and the editor of a book on soya's expansion in South America. 'The expansion of GM soya is leading to social conflict and mass migration,' she says.

Some problems are easy to measure, particularly the damage to the Amazon and Atlantic forests and the Cerrado savannah. Only two per cent of Paraguay's tropical and subtropical Atlantic forest is left, according to the report - the same proportion of 16th-century woodland remaining in the UK.

Others problems are anecdotal, but the report cites dozens of incidents and statistics to build up a picture of the complex chain of social problems that can be traced back to the growth of the soya farms. Then there are the health impacts of spraying fertilisers and pesticides.

In Paraguay, in the tiny rural hamlet of San Isidro, resident Cipriano Vega says there has been a surge in diseases that were almost unknown in the community previously. Diarrhoea, rashes, headaches, allergies, chest infections and epilepsy are all commonplace now, he alleges.

The community has asked the local government to test the water supply, but to no avail. Without such data, Vega admits that it is difficult to prove a link to the herbicides. But he is in little doubt. 'The year before last, two kids were born without the ability to move their arms or legs, and two people recently died of brain haemorrhages,' he says.

Although it is hard to prove any one person or village has been poisoned by the farming chemicals, the World Health Organisation estimates that, excluding suicide, 355,000 people a year are poisoned by chemicals, and agrochemicals are a major contributor, particularly pesticides. 'Acute exposure can lead to death or serious illness,' particularly when people live close to where chemicals are used, adds the WHO briefing on toxic hazards.

Not everybody accepts, however, that the problems of soya production are as widespread as campaigners claim.

Robert Newbery, the National Farmers Union's chief poultry adviser, said soya products for animals were only part of a global industry that also produced soya oil for processed food, and most crops were planted on existing agricultural land. Newbery said the NFU would support action to tackle wrongdoing by soya farmers, but said they were confident 'the majority is grown ethically'.

Bunge, which with Cargill is one of the biggest soya production companies in the region, also said it had been working for many years, especially in Brazil, to make the industry more sustainable, backing a moratorium on buying soya from newly deforested parts of the Amazon, and working with the Brazilian Ministry of the Environment on promoting best practices among producers. 'A lot has been done, but there is always more to do,' said a spokesman.

Melitón Ramírez now lives in the optimistically named El Triunfo (The Triumph), a rural settlement off the trunk road heading west from Ciudad del Este. He and his fellow subsistence farmers hope to prevent soya's continual encroachment by joining the ownership of their lands together so the soya farmers can't pick them off one by one.

Back in the UK, FoE is calling for the government to axe subsidies that encourage intensive livestock production, lobby the EU to change trade policies and international aid that bolster the industry, and ensure that the £2.2bn a year spent on food by public bodies such as schools and hospitals does not buy products from intensive soya-fed animals.

'Most people don't realise that there's a hidden chain of events linking the meat and dairy they buy to factory farming and to climate change, deforestation and loss of livelihoods in developing countries,' said Clare Oxborrow, FoE's senior food campaigner. 'The government must revolutionise the way that meat and dairy is produced in this country to urgently tackle these impacts while supporting sustainable UK livestock farming.'

A versatile crop

Cultivated for thousands of years in China, soya was considered one of five holy crops, along with rice, wheat, barley and millet.

The beans can be eaten as sprouts, milk, tofu, tempeh, sauce or miso.

Shoyu is the dark brown liquid produced by fermenting soya beans.

According to a report in the journal Biology of Reproduction in 2004, soya may delay baldness and help to prevent prostate cancer.

A two-year study by the Institute for Optimum Nutrition and Copenhagen University Hospital found that soy milk reduces bone loss in post-menopausal women.

Candles made from soya burn for longer than ones made from pure wax.

Compounds in soya known as phyto-oestrogens or plant oestrogens mimic the female hormone oestrogen, so a woman drinking two glasses of soya milk a day will alter the timing of her menstrual cycle.

Comment by GM Watch:

Although the article mostly talks about soya in general, in Paraguay where much of the reporting comes from 85% of the soya is GM. That's why there's such a push to greenwash GM soya.

TAKE ACTION:

Protest at WWF's involvement in GM soya greenwashing: via this form:
http://www.panda.org/faq/visitor_emailadmin.cfm

Tell the supermarkets you don't want products derived from GM soya:
http://www.bangmfood.org/take-action

or e-mail Sven Sielhorst at gmsoydebate@global-connections.nl asking him to forward your concerns to WWF Netherlands and WWF International.

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Group opposes genetically engineered papaya trees

Rutland Herald (USA), 7 December 2008.

GAINESVILLE, FLA. – Scientists, organic farmers, bee keepers and others have joined to oppose a federal agriculture proposal that would allow commercialization of genetically engineered papaya trees in Florida.

"The use of GE papaya trees in Hawaii caused a rapid contamination of backyard and organic papaya," Dr. Neil Carman of the Sierra Club's Biotechnology Committee said recently.

GE papaya trees were developed a commercial crop a decade ago in Hawaii, where activists and scientists assert that their use hasn't brought positive results, according to representatives of STOP Genetically Engineered Trees Campaign.

One study has shown that there's been a 50 percent contamination of backyard wild and organic papayas only a few years after the genetically engineered papaya plants were released on the Big Island of Hawaii, the STOP GE Trees group said.

"That the USDA continues to promote destructive genetically engineered trees and foods despite ... 140 cases of genetic contamination is disgraceful," said Anne Petermann, coordinator of the STOP GE Trees Campaign and co-director of Global Justice Ecology Project.

Another study found that GE papaya, engineered to resist the ringspot virus, are increasingly susceptible to another disease, the black spot fungus.

The appearance of that fungus has led to the use of fungicides to control the problem. The USDA has conceded that the release of GE papaya in Florida causes contamination, yet they continue to pursue it, the GE group said.

The approval of GE papaya trees in Florida could set a dangerous precedent that could open the door to commercialization of other GE forest trees in the United States.

For example, it could help pave the way for huge plantations of non-native and invasive GE eucalyptus trees across southern states, the STOP GE group said.

Such a change would increase destruction of native forests, and devastate the communities that depend on them.

The STOP GE Trees Campaign has teamed up with the Sierra Club, the Center for Food Safety and Florida Organic Growers to publicize the USDA's plans to deregulate GE papaya in Florida and encourage opposition to the plan.

More than 12,000 people have taken a stand against steps that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has taken to commercialize the genetically engineered papaya tree, according to representatives of STOP Genetically Engineered Trees Campaign.

As few as 17 people submitted statements supporting the change, the group said. Members of the grass-roots group include 137 organizations across the world that are seeking a worldwide ban on genetically engineered trees of all types.

Addressing one government claim that contamination could be beneficial, the STOP GE Tree group said the USDA hasn't recognized that such a change could wipe out the organic papaya farmers in Florida.

STOP GE Trees has criticized the USDA's environmental assessment for not including consideration of the potential impacts on human health, pollinating bees or wildlife.

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6 December 2008

Biotech crops in food and feed prompt warning on monitoring

Des Moines Register (USA), December 6 2008. By Philip Brasher.

Washington, D.C. - Federal agencies should improve their monitoring of genetically engineered crops to ensure they don't harm the environment or human health, government investigators say.

In at least six incidents since 2000, unapproved versions of biotech crops got into the food and feed supply, and there are likely to be more because it is so easy for plant genetic material to spread, according to a report released Friday by the Government Accountability Office.

The report urged the three federal agencies in charge of regulating biotech crops - the Agriculture Department, Food and Drug Administration and Environmental Protection Agency - to work more closely together to evaluate and monitor crops, including those already on the market. A concern scientists have is that the use of herbicide-tolerant crops could lead to the spread of weedkiller-resistant weeds.

The report also called on the FDA to post on its Web site safety evaluations of biotech crops. FDA officials said that they would try to do that but that other concerns have taken a higher priority.

The chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin, plans to get commitments from the incoming Obama administration "to pay closer attention to these issues," said Kate Cyrul, a spokeswoman for the panel.

Harkin "will also keep the pressure on the responsible people in the agencies to improve coordination," she said.

Both the USDA and the EPA are responsible for monitoring research plots. But the USDA doesn't have the resources to inspect all sites, and neither the EPA nor the states it has delegated the job to has made such inspections a priority, the investigators said. Most contamination incidents have been reported by the crop developers.

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5 December 2008

Gregory Jaffe: GAO Calls for Greater Coordination, Monitoring of Genetically Engineered Crops

U.S. Center for Science in the Public Interest,
Statement by Biotechnology Director, Gregory Jaffe, 5 December 2008.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest supports all of the recommendations in today's Government Accountability Office report on genetically engineered crops. The federal government established a coordinated framework for the regulation of GE crops more than 20 years ago. Yet, as pointed out by GAO, the three regulatory agencies -- USDA, FDA, and EPA -- still do not adequately coordinate their regulation of the food safety or environmental consequences of these crops.

The incoming Obama Administration should implement all of the GAO recommendations, especially one requiring post-approval monitoring for unintended environmental and food safety consequences. The federal government's response to that recommendation by GAO is inadequate and short-sighted, as resources spent on post-market monitoring would protect consumers, the environment, and our trading partners.

The FDA should also meet its commitment to the public made several years ago to publish on the Internet the results of its early food safety assessments of experimental GE crops. Lack of resources and having other safety priorities is not an excuse. Uploading decision documents to the web should simply be normal operating procedure.

Government Accountability Office report on genetically engineered crops: http://cspinet.org/new/pdf/d0960.pdf

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Organic platform promotes more research and funding

Food Navigator, 5 December 2008.

The EU needs to channel more funding into organic research to counter the ills facing agriculture, say advocates at the launch of the new Technology Platform: Organics.

Wider adoption of organic agricultural practice has been proposed as a way to address challenges facing food and farming, such as climate change, biodiversity loss, migration away from rural areas and food security.

The new platform, which was launched this week with a presentation to the permanent presentation of the Czech Republic, incoming holder of the rotating presidency, sets out to define organic policy-makers and "defend them vis-à-vis the policy makers.

"EU should lose not time and use the tool of the 7th EU Research Framework programme to boost organic research," said Marco Schluter, director of the IFOAM EU Group.

"The EU can't allow missing this change to foster innovations and economic development in line with the need of society for sustainable solutions. Sufficient efforts in organic research are of utmost importance to secure future potentials."

The presentation included a practical element with an outline of the first major publication of the platform, Vision for an Organic Food and Farming Research Agenda to 2025, which was produced after a year of consultations.

This scopes out the potential for organic food to mitigate some of the problems, and reinforces the call for research in priority areas, and the need for more funding.

The organic market in the EU is said to be almost €16bn, accounting for over half organic food sales worldwide.

But commercially successful as it may be, Eric Gall if the Fondation Sciences Citoyennes said competitiveness in one industrial sector is not the only thing that matters. Rather, budgets and priorities set today "largely define how society will look in 20 years time".

"Consumers increasingly chose foods which satisfy high quality, environmental and social standards. These added values are part of the organic food ethics and praxis."

The Technology Platform Organics brings together the organic sector, research community and civil society, and follows the model of other EU-acknowledged technology platforms.

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Increased oversight of GMO crops needed: government

Reuters, 5 December 2008. By Jasmin Melvin.

WASHINGTON -- More oversight and coordination is needed among federal agencies to prevent unapproved releases of genetically modified crops into the environment and food and feed supply, the investigative arm of the U.S. Congress said on Friday.

Since 2000, there have been six known unauthorized releases of GMO crops into the food supply involving GMO corn and rice.

Earlier this week, Monsanto Co, the leading developer of biotech crops, said some unapproved GMO cotton was harvested. The resulting cottonseed meal may have entered the livestock feed supply.

The Government Accountability Office said in a report that more incidents of unauthorized releases could have occurred in the United States and simply gone unnoticed.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulate GMO crops.

"As pointed out by GAO, the three regulatory agencies still do not adequately coordinate their regulation of the food safety or environmental consequences of these crops," the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nonprofit health advocacy group, said.

Each agency contends that the unapproved GMO crops that were released have not caused any harmful effects to people, animals or the environment.

But, the releases have led to food recalls and lost trade opportunities that economists estimate cost producers millions of dollars, the GAO said.

"When unapproved genetically engineered crops are detected in the food and feed supply, food safety concerns rise, markets are disrupted and consumer confidence falls," said Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa in a statement.

Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia agreed that unapproved GMO crops in the market is a problem requiring swift action.

"We must do all we can do to enhance the effectiveness of oversight functions so the technology continues to be available as new products are introduced," he said in a statement.

Crop developers are subject to periodic inspections, but the GAO says the Agriculture Department lacks the resources to inspect every site and the EPA has not made inspections a priority. Most of the known unauthorized releases were self-reported by the crop developers, the report said.

To boost oversight, the GAO recommended that the FDA make the results of its early food safety evaluations of GMO crops public. The FDA agreed and said it intends to post the results on its Web site.

Also, the GAO recommends that the FDA and Agriculture Department improve their coordination. The GAO suggested developing a formal agreement to share information on GMO crops that could have adverse health implications.

The last recommendation involved all three agencies collaborating to monitor GMO crops on the market.

More than 70 percent of processed foods sold in the United States have ingredients from GMO crops, according to the report. GMO seeds sold in 2007 amassed a global value of $6.9 billion.

Yet, oversight focuses mostly on crops in the testing phase with little monitoring after crops are marketed. The GAO believes this leaves room for problems with GMO crops approved for the food supply to fly under the radar.

"The incoming Obama administration should implement all of the GAO recommendations, especially one requiring post-approval monitoring for unintended environmental and food safety consequences," the Center for Science in the Public Interest said. "Resources spent on post-market monitoring would protect consumers, the environment and our trading partners."

(Editing by Christian Wiessner)

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Bush's Environmental Legacy on GMOs Is Irreversible

Huffington Post (USA), December 5 2008. Jeffrey Smith.

In a few hundred thousand years, after all weather effects of 21st century climate change have disappeared from the earth's surface, after our quietly smoldering nuclear waste has been extinguished, two destructive impacts traceable to George Bush's policies will yet remain.

The first is extinctions. Species that have died out, including the subset resulting from Bush's environmental policies, will forever deprive our evolving biosphere of their contribution.

The second is genetically modified organisms (GMOs) -- animals, plants, bacteria, and viruses, who's DNA have been mixed and mangled by insertions from foreign species. Once released into the ecosystem, by intention or accident, the genetic pollution self-propagates. No recall by the Obama administration can clean up Mexico's indigenous corn varieties, now contaminated by our genetically modified (GM) corn. No executive order can remove or even identify the wild mustard plants now carrying altered genes bestowed on it by the pollen from its cousin, GM canola.

We all know stories that illustrate the exponential effects of invasive species. Here's my favor

"On Christmas Day 1859, the Victorian Acclimatization Society released 24 rabbits into the Australian countryside so that settlers could hunt them for sport and feel more 'at home.' The rabbits multiplied to well over 200 million, spreading out over 4 million square kilometers. That Christmas present now costs Australian agriculture about $600 million per year." http://geneticroulette.com/

Will GMOs of today show up as the "Australian rabbits" of the future? While their impact on our ecosystem and diet is largely unstudied, that has not stopped the current and past administrations from presiding over the release of millions of acres of GM crops. Not only does each plant carry a gene from bacteria or viruses, its DNA has hundreds or thousands of mutations resulting from the disruptive process of genetic engineering. Reports suggest that the side effects of GMOs are quite dangerous. http://geneticroulette.com/

Bush policies institutionalize GMO contamination

If we were to ban GMOs today, as is more than justified, some contamination from commercialized GM food crops will nonetheless carry forward in the gene pool of those (and related) species. This includes contaminants from our largest farmed GM crops, including soybeans, yellow corn, cotton, and canola, as well as the smaller crops: Hawaiian papaya, zucchini, and crookneck squash. Newly added--in this year's harvest--are GM sugar beets and white corn. There are also GM tomatoes and potatoes no longer on the market, but whose genes and seeds, to some degree, continue to persist "out there." But the dirty laundry list actually includes over 100 different experimental GM crops, field trialed at more than 50,000 sites in the US since 1986.

Although the government is supposed to make sure that these trials won't contaminate the surrounding environment, a 2005 report by the USDA Office of Inspector General harshly condemned the USDA's abominable oversight. "Current regulations, policies, and procedures," said the report, "do not go far enough to ensure the safe introduction of agricultural biotechnology." The agency's weaknesses "increase the risk that regulated genetically engineered organisms will inadvertently persist in the environment."

But George Bush's pro-biotech response was to further weaken the agency's GMO oversight--and he's trying to do it quickly, before Obama steps in. The proposed ruling makes gene escape more likely, even from GM crops designed to produce pharmaceutical drugs and industrial chemicals. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jeffrey-smith/www.aphis.usda.gov/brs/fedregister/BRS_20081009.pdf

Monsanto admits more contamination

As a backdrop to Bush's rushed proposal, Monsanto just admitted that an acre of its field trialed, not-yet-approved GM cottonseeds, was inadvertently harvested and mixed with approved cotton. It then entered our food chain as animal feed and cottonseed oil. Oops.

But the FDA, EPA, and USDA employed another of the Bush administration's institutionalized abdications of GMO oversight. They declared the cottonseed contamination safe, in spite of insufficient data to support their claim.

If Bush gets his new USDA rule into effect, let's hope Obama heeds the advice of the Union of Concerned Scientists, which "recommends that the new administration make revocation, revision and strengthening a top priority." http://www.ucsusa.org/news/press_release/GE-contamination-as-USDA-weakens-rules-0166.html

No that won't fully clean up our altered gene pool. But it will start to contain the runaway long-term genetic pollution that is now out of control.

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Environment Council considers GMO assessment
Green Party Leader supports French initiative to tighten GMO assessment standards


Statement by John Gormley, Irish Minister for the Environment, 5 December 2008.

Speaking at an Environment Council in Brussels yesterday, Green Party Leader and Minister for the Environment John Gormley supported a French Presidency initiative to favour GMO-free zones and to tighten standards for assessing GMOS.

Minister Gormley said: "Ireland fully supports the adoption of these draft conclusions which seek to promote enhancement of the environmental assessment of GMOs intended for cultivation.

"Many of our citizens are uneasy about GMOs, and about their cultivation especially. It would be unwise for this Council and the Commission, as bodies in a democratic system, not to take account of this.

"Ireland agrees that the assessment procedure for GMOs, the application of scientific method, and the data and knowledge available to the assessors, must all be as comprehensive as possible. Additionally, all these procedures and the evidence adduced must be transparent and publicly available. The highest standards of risk assessment, transparency and impartial decision-making must be applied.

"I would also stress the importance of giving bio-geographical conditions appropriate representation in the assessment process.

"I agree that Member States such as Ireland which are committed through their own democratic processes to formalising a status free of GMO cultivation should be facilitated by the rules to be applied at EU level."

Minister Gormley concluded by saying: "Ireland commends France for taking this important initiative."

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EU GMO campaign success!

Greenpeace International, 5 December 2008

Thanks to your amazing support, we managed to prevent pro-GMO countries from wrecking yesterday's important EU environment ministers' meeting on Genetically Modified Organisms and food safety.

Over 70,000 messages were sent to EU politicians, including over 3,000 sent directly in the last 48 hours to the UK and German ministers!

Yesterday, EU member states sent a clear signal to the European Commission that we need to improve the way risks from GM crops are assessed -- risks to the environment, to our health and to the lives of millions of farmers.

In a nutshell, EU environment ministers have agreed:

The long-term effects of GMOs on the environment, living organisms and health need to be assessed.

There should be independent scientific research on GMOs, and access to information that is currently kept secret by agro-biotech companies.

The European Food Safety Authority should consider the environmental impact of herbicides spread over GM crops.

They also said that pesticide-producing GM crops should be treated in the same way as chemical pesticides.

Regions and local communities have a right to establish GM-free zones.

Unfortunately though, we didn't get everything we wanted from this meeting. The text is generally good, but we need to continue campaigning for it to be implemented and the wrong bits made right.

For now, please show some solidarity for the campaign in Australia to introduce labelling and testing laws there for GM food. http://www.greenpeace.org/australia/take-action/online/genetic-engineering/our-right-to-know-gm-food-la

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Ministers agree to much tigher GM controls
• More devolution of decision-making
• Curtailment of EFSA powers


GM Free Cymru press release, 5th December 2008

At yesterday's meeting of the EU Environment Ministers, the member states sent an unequivocal message to the Commission and to EFSA, its advisory body: there must be a dramatic improvement in the way in which GMO risks to health and the environment are assessed.

Prior to the meeting, there were signs that the UK and Germany were planning to wreck the emerging consensus across Europe. However, after a massive lobbying campaign across Europe, with 70,000 messages sent to EU politicians and 3,000 more messages sent in 48 hours to German and UK ministers, they backed off and agreed to a form of words that acceded to most of the demands of the GMO "sceptics."

The agreed words of the statement are -- as ever -- couched in diplomatic terms, and are in many cases open to interpretation; but NGOs and consumer will take great heart from the following key components of the document:

1.

There is a re-statement of the precautionary principle as a guiding principle in GMO assessments. This was undoubtedly insisted upon by many nations who had perceived a gradual replacement of the principle (in countries including the UK) by the "anti-precautionary principle."

2.

There is to be a strengthening of the environmental impact assessment for GMOs and a strengthening of monitoring requirements.

3.

There will be more emphasis on the consequences of use of herbicides and on the indirect effects of using herbicide-tolerant GM varieties. This is in line with the recent tightening of rules within the EU on the use of agricultural chemicals. Most important, the Ministers said that pesticide-producing GM crops should be treated (in the assessment and approval process) in the same way as chemical pesticides.

4.

Member states, competent authorities and EFSA will in future have the right to make specific assessments of the impacts of GMOs in specific geographical areas / ecological niches.

5.

Responding to the new research on damaging health effects associated with GM varieties, Ministers are now demanding that if new information becomes available with regard to the risk of the GMOs to human health, the competent authority must prepare an assessment report and indicate how the conditions of the consent should be revised or the consent terminated.

6.

There must be a harmonisation of assessment procedures between states. This means that those countries where GMO assessment procedures are lax or non-existent must get themselves organized.

7.

For the first time, there is to be a role for independent scientists, scientific organizations and NGOs in the GMO assessment process. An important role is accepted for organizations related to ecological issues. There must also be effective coordination and cooperation between scientists.

8.

For the first time, socio-economic effects arising from the cultivation and / or marketing of GMOs are to be considered as relevant to the assessment process.

9.

It looks as if (without actually saying so) EFSA'a powers are substantially reduced, and it is instructed to revise its GMO assessment procedures by 2010. Henceforth there will be a key role for member states, including states other than the applicant state.

10.

The member states are also given a greater role in GM monitoring where crops are grown. This means that monitoring procedures can in themselves be published and used as "disincentives" for potential GM growers.

11.

There will be greater protection from GMOs for special areas -- National Parks and other protected or designated areas like SSSIs. There is to be scope for the declaration of GM Free Zones coinciding with these protected areas.

12.

The Ministers insist on a massive reform of the secretive and corrupt assessment process as currently operated by EFSA. Member States and the Commission must henceforth ensure that systematic and independent research is conducted on the potential risks involved in the marketing and growing of GMOs. The necessary resources should be secured for such research by the Community and Member States. Most importantly, independent researchers must be given access to all relevant dossier material, while respecting intellectual property rights. Finally, Member States and the Commission must collect and exchange information on this research.

13.

On the matter of the "adventitious presence" of GMOs in organic or conventional crops or products, thresholds must now be set at the lowest practicable, proportionate and functional levels so as to ensure freedom of choice to producers and consumers of conventional, organic and GM products alike. The thresholds must take account of the most recent scientific observations and information on dispersal, adventitious presence and mixing in the process of breeding, multiplication, marketing and using seeds.

14.

Finally, regions and local communities will henceforth have the right to declare GM-Free zones.

Speaking for GM Free Cymru, Dr Brian John said "These measures, which the Commission and EFSA will now have to accept, represent a fantastic step forward in protecting the environment and the health of consumers. We were seriously worried that the UK, in pursuit of its insane pro-GM agenda, would seek to wreck the emerging consensus in Europe on tighter GM controls, but in the event it appears that common sense has prevailed. NGOs and consumer groups across Europe had mobilized their supporters in advance of yesterday's meeting, and individual pleas to Ministers must have had some effect. But in the light of the recent research linking actual harm to the consumption of GM food, it would have been criminally negligent if the Ministers had failed to act.

"The measures now to be introduced represent a substantial vote of no confidence in EFSA, which must be one of the most widely despised of all European institutions. EFSA is required to reform itself and to change dramatically its methods of doing business. We hope we will now see much greater transparency and honesty in the GM approvals process, and much less promotion of the commercial interests of Monsanto, Syngenta and the other biotechnology corporations who have had it their own way for far too long. We will have to ensure that the fine words in the document are not "re-interpreted" or ignored, but not before time, it looks as if the interests of EU consumers are coming to the fore."

Contact:

Dr Brian John
Tel: + 44 1239-820470

Notes / links:

http://links.mailing.greenpeace.org/servlet/MailView?ms=MzA2MzQ5NDIS1&r=MTM1Mzc5NDQ4MAS2&j=NDM1NTgxODYS1&mt=1&rt=0

http://www.consilium.europa.eu/ueDocs/cms_Data/docs/pressData/fr/envir/104510.pdf

http://www.pharmiweb.com/pressreleases/pressrel.asp?ROW_ID=5251/

http://www.gmfreecymru.org/pivotal_papers/petition.htm

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Docs meet Ramadoss over GM food issue

Finanial Express (India), 5 December 2008. By Ashok B. Sharma.

Union health minister Anbumani Ramadoss is now faced with a new problem of have to resolve the issue of the release of genetically-modified (GM) food crops. A group of doctors from various areas of medical therapy have urged the minister to intervene and halt the release of GM food crops likely to pose health hazards.

The group under the umbrella - Doctors for Food and Bio-safety - in a memorandum to the minister said : "Bt brinjal [aubergine] is a first-of-its-kind food with the Bt gene and is allowed nowhere else in the world. Reports indicate that we are just a few months away from Bt brinjal coming on to our plates, if the biotech industry has its way. You are aware of the fact that some illegal GM food in the form of imported products have already been discovered in supermarket shelves in the country.0"

Bt Brinjal has antibiotic (neomycin and streptomycin) resistance marker genes which when consumed can cause resistance to many life-saving drugs and make them ineffective, the group said. The doctors opposed the development of GM medicinal herbs like Jivanti (holostemma adakodien), Brahmi (bacopa monniera), Ashwagandha (witharia somnifera) and Creat - kariyat or Indian chinacea (andrographis paniculata).

Ramadoss has already been cornered by NGOs when the government recently soft-pedalled on the pressures from the tobacco industry and deferred implementation of pictorial warning on tobacco products. He also earned the ire of NGOs when the proposal for mandatory labeling of GM food recommended by the expert committee of stakeholders constituted by the health ministry was not implemented and referred to the newly set up Food Safety and Standards Authority for review.

The group of doctors which included the president of Ayurvedic Medical Association of India, VG Udayakumar; National Siddha Pharmacopeia committee, Sivaraman; president, Orissa Homeopathic Druggists Association, RN Dutta; environmental epidemiologist, SG Kabra convener, Environmental Health Action Group, GPL Singh and director, Initiative for Health, Equity and Society, Mira Shiva alleged that health ministry representatives did not regularly attend meetings of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) which approved the trials and release of several GM crops.

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Obama's USDA Short List Solidly Supports Agribusiness

OpEdNews.com, 5 December 2008. By Pamela Drew.

On the campaign trail Obama pitched the idea of change we can believe in, but in the area of agriculture policy it's starting to look like change that agribusiness can count on as more of the same.

The Washington Post published a short list of candidates for Secretary of Agriculture along with their qualifications. Since the WaPo omitted some of the candidates most important areas of influence and ties to agribusiness it might be useful to take a look at where these administrators for "change" have their loyalty.

First on the WaPo list is Kathleen Sebelius, Governor of Kansas.

Only 22 Congressional Districts get over 50% of the USDA subsidies and Kansas takes two of the top three spots for USDA payments in those two districts alone. The USDA subsidies in Kansas totaled $9.7 billion from 1995-2006 and the top 5% of recipients were paid almost 50% percent of that.

The concentration is in the largest commodity crops of corn and soy, which in American crops means solidly for Monsanto's gmo varieties. Hooray for agribusiness, but the biotech support goes far beyond simple subsidies. Kansas was at the forefront of efforts to attract Ventria biopharm rice growers. The Kansas City Star reported the efforts in 2006 along with reaction from Union of Concerned Scientists.

While it may be an advantage to grow pharmaceutical rice in a state like Kansas with no commercial rice production, it's still a "bad idea" to produce pharmaceutical compounds in food, said Jane Rissler, a senior scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists.

"This is not agricultural production - this is drug production," Rissler said. "This is pharmaceutical production and pharmaceutical production in food plants should be discouraged."

Next up on the short list is Charles W. Stenholm, former Congressman from Texas. Good time Charlie seems to have kept his hand in the Texas farming, though the subsidy checks are mailed to a Washington D.C. The bulk of Stenholm's payments come from upland cotton, ironically a huge biotech crop, that has just this week been the source of a contamination accident that Monsanto called no threat to consumers and FDA reported without fanfare.

Charlie is currently working as an agribusiness lobbyist, which is a classic, revolving door move for a Congressman who had his top campaign contributors include the herbicide makers that form the Crop Protection Association. Hey, it's no accident that 42% of the almost $20 billion a year in subsidies is paid to the 22 Congressional Districts with Members sitting on the Agriculture Committee.

Last, but certainly not the least agribusiness could have in the USDA's top spot, is Dennis Wolff.

Currently serving as the Secretary of Agriculture in Pennsylvania Wolff is a real standout as a former dairy farmer who has actively campaigned for Monsanto's bovine growth hormone treatments as a dairy management tool, which consumers should have no right to know about. Last year Wolff lent his name and support to a handful of Monsanto dairy farmers in an astroturf campaign led by Daniel Brandt and his brother Karl.

Lancaster Farming reported, Brandts manage one of the highest producing herds in Pennsylvania, posting a herd average of 31,973 pounds of milk on 96 cows for May 2007. Brandt estimates a potential gain of 15 pounds of milk per cow per day from using rbST on his intensely managed herd. Monsanto gives a typical figure of 10 pounds increase per cow per day. www.lancasterfarming.com/node/649

Of course this isn't about the money it is about "choice" for consumers, right? My review of the specifics were written in November 2007 in Pennsylvania Shoppers Too Dumb to Buy Milk.

Wolff said: "Consumers are getting confused with the extra labels. The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture is not in a position to say use rBST or not. The key word is 'choice.' If producers are asked to give up a production efficiency, and if that efficiency nets them $3,000 or $10,000 a year for their dairy farm... That's a lot of money. That's money for insurance premiums or groceries. I would hate to see a safe and approved management tool taken away. What we oppose is the negative advertising or the selling of fear. All milk is healthy milk.

Long time blogger on the benefits of hormones for dairy cows, Etherton is generally referred to as "Dr. Etherton" by the PR campaigns that feature him as an expert and there isn't one Monsanto front group that doesn't feature his views.

Etherton isn't afraid to offer his assurances about human health effects, despite having no medical degree. Out on the stump for taking hormone free claims off of consumer packaging Etherton told the following to a gathering of farmers.

Dr. Terry Etherton, Ph.D. department head, Penn State University department of Dairy and Animal Science, presented the realities of science and his assessment of the 'rBST-free' labeling issue. Etherton said: "There is a significant element of deception in differentiating whether milk is produced using rBST or not. ..There is no way on this green earth for rBST to have a biological effect on a human."

Interestingly, Etherton's view is not shared by most of the countries of the world where the rBGH is banned over concern for increased risk of certain cancers and diabetes. According to the CDC the rate of diabetes in America has doubled between 1990 and 2005, but of course there would be no reason to suspect that correlates with the introduction of hormone dairy into the US food supply when we have assurances from "experts" like Terry Etherton who "know" it is safe. Isn't it just the people who don't understand science and are afraid of technology who create unfounded fear over things like rBHG dairy?

Sure it is, like the lemmings and know-nothing reactionaries at the American Medical Association. The AMA is promoting a "Do No Harm" policy in foods that excludes hormone treated dairy. In fact the AMA is late to the party in objecting to this decade long debate over rBGH.

The public health committee confirmed earlier reports of excess levels of the naturally occurring Insulin-like-Growth Factor One (IGF-1), including its highly potent variants, in rBGH milk and concluded that these posed increased risks of breast cancer, colorectal cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, lymphoma, arthritis from the elevated levels of IGF-1 hormones http://www.psrast.org/bghcodex.htm

JECFA The Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) is an international expert scientific committee that is administered jointly by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO). It has been meeting since 1956, initially to evaluate the safety of food additives.

The AMA and World Health physicians and scientists may not agree with Dennis Wolff and other Monsanto dairy farmers that all milk is safe milk, but having these corporate views dominating the USDA certainly heralds change we can make believe in.

Reference links...

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/12/03/AR2008120303381.html

http://farm.ewg.org/farm/progdetail.php?fips=00000&progcode=total&page=district

http://www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_1131.cfm

http://www.fda.gov/bbs/topics/NEWS/2008/NEW01920.html

http://www.opensecrets.org/politicians/summary.php?cycle=2002&cid=N00006060http://www.opensecrets.org/politicians/summary.php?cid=N00006060&cycle=Career

http://www.implu.com/lobby/274626

http://farm.ewg.org/sites/farmbill2007/person1614.php?custnumber=005857742&summlevel=lotsofdetail

http://www.politicalfriendster.com/showPerson.php?id=6096&name=Dennis-C-Wolff/A>

http://www.politicalfriendster.com/showPerson.php?id=6122&name=Terry-Etherton

http://www.holsteinworld.com/news/rBST-free.htm

http://www.opednews.com/maxwrite/print_friendly.php?p=life_a_pamela_d_071118_pennsylvania_s_shopp.htm

http://www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/category/18732.html

http://pameladrew.newsvine.com/

Pamela Drew tracks the legislation, politics, science and spin surrounding the genetically altered foods. She is a freelance researcher, writer and documentary film producer living in New York City, where she works with advocacy groups and small producers to create sustainable farming practices and community based agriculture programs. Pamela is the executive producer of the controversial film 'Roundup Ready Nation - dying for profits' www.roundupreadynation.com

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4 December 2008

Environment ministers want reform of EU GMO authorisation system

Greenpeace press release, 4 December 2008.

Brussels -- Despite the wrecking attempts by a small group of countries, EU environment ministers have sent a strong message today, calling for an improvement in the way the impact of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is being assessed, said Greenpeace. Today's meeting marks the end of a six-month debate initiated by the French EU presidency.

"Member states have sent a clear signal to the Commission that we need to improve the way we assess the impact of GM crops on the environment, on our health and on the lives of millions of farmers," said Marco Contiero, Greenpeace EU GMO policy director. "It's now up to the Commission and the European Food Safety Authority to implement these recommendations."

EU environment ministers have called for assessing the long-term effects of GMOs on the environment, living organisms and health. They also encourage independent research by scientists on GMOs and access to information that is currently kept secret by agro-biotech companies. Ministers meeting at the Environment Council also urged the European Food Safety Authority, which is at the heart of all decisions taken in the EU on GMOs, to consider the environmental impact of herbicides spread over GM crops. They also said that pesticide-producing GM crops should be treated in the same way as chemical pesticides and recognised the right of regions and local communities to establish GM-free zones.

But under pressure from the United Kingdom and the European Commission, ministers failed to ensure that the seeds that are bought and sold in the EU would remain free of GM contamination.

"The Council has put the future of agriculture at risk and has buckled under pressure from the UK and the Commission which are pushing to lower safety standards on GMO seed contamination," said Contiero.

As environment ministers made recommendations for the review of the GMO assessment in the EU, Greenpeace accused the European Commission of showing contempt for the criticisms expressed by the member states about the current flawed authorisation process by approving Monsanto's herbicide-tolerant Roundup Ready 2 soyabean (MON89788).

"No GM crop should be authorised until the EU risk assessment process is thoroughly improved and EFSA is equipped to assess the impact of GM crops," said Contiero.

Contacts:

Marco Contiero - Greenpeace EU GMO policy director: +32 (0)2 274 1906, +32 (0)477 777 034 (mobile), marco.contiero@greenpeace.org

Mark Breddy - Greenpeace EU communications manager: +32 (0)2 274 1903, +32 (0)496 156 229 (mobile), mark.breddy@greenpeace.org

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EFSA Approves Pioneer GM Corn

Farm Chemicals International, 4 December 2008.

The European Feed Safety Authority (EFSA) has examined the potential risks that Pioneer's genetically modified (GM) corn 59122xNK603 could represent to health and the environment and has determined that it does not represent a particular danger. The favorable opinion was issued on December 1 for the marketing of the glyphosate and glufosinate tolerant and insect-resistant corn for use in food and feed.

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Fish Facts: Atlantic Salmon

The Fish Site (USA), 4 December 2008.

By the National Fisheries Institute – This article looks at the facts surrounding the farmed Atlantic Salmon.

Atlantic salmon are native to rivers in North America and Europe. They spawn in fresh water but spend much of their lives in the ocean. Atlantic salmon are similar to King salmon in oil content, but its meat is more orange in color.

Wild Atlantic salmon stocks are at depressed levels and those spawning in U.S. waters cannot be sold. Fortunately, Atlantic salmon is relatively easy to farm and is grown in large quantities by farmers in the United States, Chile, Canada and Norway and are available year-round. These fish are reared to smolt size in shorebased fresh water hatcheries and then transferred to floating sea cages. They remain in the cages for about 18 months, until they are ready for market.

Salmon farmers operate under very stringent regulations regarding the siting of their farms, farm practices, fish health and treatment, site management, environmental monitoring, research, and food product safety and inspection. The end result is a system that ensures environmental protection and a sustainable product.

Because salmon need a healthy environment to survive, farmers must protect the environment or their salmon will die. Advancements in technology and science have significantly reduced the amount of salmon excrement and unconsumed feed released into the ocean. In Maine, for example, divers regularly sample the ocean floor beneath the salmon pens to monitor the health of the ecosystem, and farms must shut down if they don't meet strict pollution standards.

Because salmon are susceptible to bacterial, viral and fungal diseases as well as parasites, salmon farmers also rigorously maintain prevention and control systems to prevent the loss of their fish and the potential spread of diseases into wild populations. Concerns have been raised regarding antibiotics, vaccines, and other therapeutants used in farming. Use of medicated feeds, however, is low (less than 2%) and must be conducted through veterinarian prescription.

Sometimes sea cages fail and release salmon into adjacent waters. Although escaped salmon tend to remain near their farms, some can enter nearby rivers to spawn and possibly interbreed with wild salmon. Conservation groups and Maine's salmon farmers have signed a precedent-setting agreement to monitor and improve measures to reduce the accidental release of salmon through mandatory, verifiable containment systems.

Genetic experiments are being conducted to accelerate growth rates, improve flesh color and increase disease resistance of Atlantic salmon. One firm has engineered an Atlantic salmon to grow four to six times faster than a wild salmon using a "promoter gene" from either a flounder or an ocean pout and has applied to U.S. and Canadian officials for approval to market the product. Plans are to sterilize these fish before putting them in net pens so that they cannot establish breeding populations if they escape. Critics argue that the risk of interbreeding cannot be eliminated and are opposed to this proposal. Another issue surrounding genetically modified organisms is the use of genetically engineered ingredients in some of the salmon feed (e.g. soy protein).

Salmon farming is a very efficient way of producing protein because it takes less than two pounds of feed to produce one pound of salmon. In the wild, salmon must eat about 5 pounds of fish to produce one pound of salmon. Production of fishmeal used for fish and animal feed has remained relatively stable for the past 15 years, and stocks of food fish, such as menhaden, are healthy.

Farm salmon help conserve wild salmon populations by providing an alternative source for consumers and by ensuring that the species continues to have a broad genetic pool.

For more information, visit the National Marine Fisheries Service website at www.nmfs.noaa.gov, the FDA's Fish Encyclopedia at www.fda.gov or the National Fisheries Institute website at www.nfi.org.

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EU citizens should not be force-fed GM food
– Former Chair, European Food Safety Authority


GM-free Ireland Network press release, 4 December 2008.

DUBLIN, IRELAND -- In a video released on YouTube yesterday [1], the former Chairman of the European Food Safety Authority [2], Prof Patrick Wall [3], says people have lost confidence in EFSA's ability to assess the risks of GM food. "Do we want corporate giants to own the food chain? GM food has no benefits for consumers... EFSA is a consumer protection agency; it is not meant to rubberstamp biotech dossiers... We cannot force-feed European citizens products that they don't want. We live in a democracy. People have a right to have objections... If people don't want (GM) technology they have a right not to have it."

Prof Wall's remarks came ahead of today's meeting of the EU Council of Environment Ministers, whose agenda includes reform of EFSA's GMO risk assessment process with credible research and consideration of new scientific evidence of the heath and environmental dangers of GM animal feed and food [4].

EU Council of Ministers debate EFSA reform following accusation of fraud by European Parliament

The European Parliament submitted a Petition to the EU Commission last week, accusing EFSA of failing to comply with EU regulations to protect the right of EU citizens to safe food. "EFSA ignores scientific evidence that GM animal feed and food are dangerous, and continues to rely on secret dossiers with partial, selective, and biased 'advocacy science' submitted by the applicant companies – which cannot be fully examined by independent scientists for peer review. Such practices are fraudulent, and place Europeans at risk since GM crops and foods cleared as 'safe' on the basis of dossier evidence may in fact be dangerous." [5]

EU Commission must change the rules

Although Prof Wall personally believes GM foods approved by EFSA are safe, he said EFSA's GMO panel is "populated by experts who are comfortable with the technology; you have a lot of molecular scientists who have been playing around with recombinant DNA technology since 1969... and many of them use it in their laboratories and their research institutions and they're quite comfortable with it; and so – for them – they wouldn't see the same risks that maybe a citizen would see or someone that wasn't familiar with the technology". He likened the situation to a motorbike convention: fif you ask the motorbike riders 'do you think riding a motorbike is dangerous?' they say 'no', whereas other people would think they're half crazy!" "There is a criticism by many people that the dossiers submitted to EFSA are prepared by the companies. And so, obviously, the companies would present data that are more favourably disposed to their varieties and products. We have in the scientific literature a thing called 'publication bias' – literature with positive findings is more likely to be published than issues with negative findings... There is a huge issue with consumer confidence.... Consumers would be more confident if we had more publicly-funded research, where the researchers had no vested interests in getting their products over the line. Perhaps we should look at the other dimensions to the technology... like ethical issues [with] other disciplines sitting around the table." "Science is an evolving subject, and nobody can say there's absolutely no risk. Of course there's a risk! So therefore you have to assess the risk with all the available information... People have to have confidence in the process, and if people haven't got confidence in the process, the process has to be changed! Could EFSA's risk assessment be improved? Could there be a completely different procedure required to enter the approvals process into the EU? Of course it could! But that would be a decision taken by the Commission."

US approvals of GM food not acceptable for EU citizens

The USA, Canada and the agri-biotech industry recently convinced EU President Barosso to set up a "Sherpa group" to side-step EU Agriculture, Health and Environment ministers who refuse to scrap the EU "zero tolerance" for GMOs that have been "deregulated" by the US Food and Drug Administration without proper oversight, but that are not approved in the EU [6]. Commenting on the US approval system, Prof Wall said "European citizens would not accept that same arrangement... We had a BSE crisis and the Dioxin crisis. EFSA is a consumer protection agency – not something to rubberstamp biotechnology dossiers!"

Ireland's GM-free policy

"Ireland is a unique small country, it's an island, we're potentially the bread-basket of Europe. And Irish farmers have a high cost-base. So we need to see how to differentiate ourselves in a global marketplace from other countries that have economies of scale... I would like to see us in Ireland looking at the pros and cons of being GM-free as opposed to being just another intensive farming country. Can we deliver a competitive advantage to Irish farmers by being GM-free? If there's an economic advantage in being GM-free, farmers will consider it. At the moment we don't even get into the discussion: farmers are told 'if they don't go forward with the technology, they're going to lose out, and be left behind, and they will be commercially non-viable'. Well, we haven't had a proper debate!" [7]

Contact

Michael O'Callaghan
Co-ordinator, GM-free Ireland Network
tel + 353 (0)404 43885 • mobile + 353 (0)87 799 4761
email: mail@gmfreeireland.org • web: www.gmfreeireland.org

Note:

Prof Patrick Wall is not a member of the GM-free Ireland Network. He can be rechaed at:
School of Public Health & Population Science, University College Dublin, Ireland
tel + 353 (0)1 716 2052 • mobile + 353 (0)87 694 0417 • email: Patrick.Wall@ucd.ie

Notes to the editor:

1. Watch the video interview by Michael O'Callaghan at http://www.gmfreeireland.org/efsa/index.php

Interview transcript: http://www.gmfreeireland.org/efsa/GMFI-PatrickWall-interview.pdf

Format: High definition broadcast quality (HD XDCAM, 16:9 aspect ratio); running time: 26 minutes 40 seconds. Credits: Producer / director / interviewer: Michael O'Callaghan, Co-ordinator, GM-free Ireland Network. Camera / sound / web processing: Eoin Campbell. Produced for the GM-free Ireland Network by Global Vision Consulting Ltd in association with Just MultiMedia

2. EFSA is the EU Agency mandated by the European Commission to provide its opinion on the safety of conventional and genetically modified animal feed and food for the entire food and feed supply chains, and on issues directly impacting on these such as animal welfare, animal health and plant health: http://www.efsa.europa.eu

3. Professor Patrick Wall (MB, BOA, BCh, MVB, MBA, MRCVS) was the Chair of the European Food Safety Authority Management Board from September 2006 - June 2008. He is Associate Professor of Public Health in University College Dublin's School of Public Health and Population Sciences (www.ucd.ie/phps) which hosts the National Nutrition Surveillance Centre (www.nnsc.ie). His teaching and research interests include food borne diseases, lifestyle related diseases and health damaging consumer behaviour. He is a co-director of the UCD Centre for Behaviour and Health (http://geary.ucd.ie/behaviour). He was the first Chief Executive of the Irish Food Safety Authority (www.fsai.ie) which is currently run by Dr. John O'Brien, a former Director of the biotech industry lobby group, International Life Sciences Institute! Prof. Wall was one of seven non-Chinese nationals on the committee overseeing food safety arrangements for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. He is also the Chairperson of the (Irish) Mental Health Commission's Research Committee, and is a member of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland's Healthy Eating Guidelines steering committee. Prof Wall bio: http://www.ucd.ie/foodandhealth/people/academicstaff/profpatrickwall/home/

4. Reforming the European Food Safety Authority: http://www.gmfreeireland.org/efsa/index2.php

Austrian report: Biological effects of transgenic maize NK603xMON810, 11 November 2008:
http://www.greenpeace.org/eu-unit/press-centre/reports/Biological-effects-of-transgenic-maize- NK603xMON810

Greenpeace calls on Commission to shut down EFSA GMO panel, 31 October 2008:
http://www.greenpeace.org/eu-unit/press-centre/press-releases2/Shut-down-EFSA-GMO-panel

GMO orientation debate - Environment Council, 20 October 2008:
http://www.greenpeace.org/raw/content/eu-unit/press-centre/reports/GMO-orientation-debate-Environment-Council-20-October-2008.doc

The EU GMO environmental risk assessment needs reforming, 30 September 2008:
http://www.greenpeace.org/eu-unit/press-centre/policy-papers-briefings/Reform-of-EU-GMO-risk-assessment

Flaws in the EU authorisation process for GMOs:
http://www.greenpeace.org/raw/content/eu-unit/presscentre/ policy-papers-briefings/flaws-in-the-EU-authorisation.pdf

5. EU Parliament Petition No. 0813/2008: The importance of impartiality within EFSA & the food safety rights of EU citizens. From Dr. Brian John, GM-free Cymru. Hosted by Kathy Sinnnott MEP (Ireland South):
http://www.gmfreecymru.org/pivotal_papers/petition.htm

6. EU animal feed imports and GMO policy:
http://www.greenpeace.org/eu-unit/press-centre/policy-papersbriefings/ eu-animal-feed-imports-and-gmo-policy

7. The Irish media provide scant and biased coverage of GM issues, despite the fact that GM crops are banned or restricted across the EU. For more on this see http://www.gmo-free-regions.org, http://www.genet-info.org and http://www.planet-diversity.org

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The problem with GM rights

Irish Farmers Journal (letters), 4 December (dated 6 December) 2008.

Dear Sir,

Current debates regarding the use of Genetic Engineering in food production (Irish Farmers Journal, 21/11/2008) seldom if ever allude to the fact that the originators of GM are the sole owners and suppliers of GM seeds and technology.

These corporations can and do invoke the law to retain their exclusive, absolute, total domination of GM techniques. It is a criminal imposition on the material welfare of 'the rest' of mankind, to allow unelected citizens have such influence, without responsibility to the public. Some people are committed to 'natural' methods of husbandry, which have served mankind to date, and are fearful of unknown consequences of new techniques; others believe the expanding world population will require the extra volumes they promise.

Before genetic modification, dramatic multiplication of the possible output, per hectare per per animal of food, was achieved by scientists, mainly by selective breeding of plants and animals.

Therefore I find it hard to condemn as dangerous all their recent progress. And then there are the innovators of these techniques, whose main, if not only motive, is to profit from them. Their alacrity in applying them to produce a replacement for oil (causing inflation of food prices rather than increasing volume of food supplies) proves the point.

Lest I be misunderstood, I admire the contribution of science and scientists to the welfare of humankind over countless years. Often individual genius was spectacular. Those gifts deserve reward in generous measure, if for no other reason than to ensure society continues to benefit from contnuing research, invention, development, etc.

However my admiration stops short of permitting science, scientists, or their patrons, to hold society at large hostage to their demands in perpetuity, especially when traditional public access to the produce of nature is thereby compromised. That is the current legal position, to the best of my knowledge.

It seems that 'intellectual assets' remain the sole propery of their discoverer / inventor forever! If this is true, it is bad law, and should be changed. If is not clear when, how or by whom it was introduced, but it did not always exist. Otherwise, the descendants of the inventor of the wheel would be very, very wealthy! Its abuse for the benefit of a few cannot be tolerated. Supporters of the separate arguments in my second paragraph above make their cases in recent correspondence. It is disappointing that, except for a spirited effort by Kate Carmnody (herself of the 'natural' persuasion), none expressed concern about the absolute, dictatorial, commerical control in perpetuity, by concerns like Monsanto, presently in place. The contribution so far by the IFA [Irish Farmers Association], in what it says, and especially in what it does not, indicates that its normal ambivalence about contentious matters is alive and well, and so cancels the value of its smug enquiry 'who fears knowledge?'

Is it possible that the financial scale of 'corporate enterprise' enables it to dictate its requirements to governments? With that awesome power, the Hitlers and Stalins of the past would have destroyed civilisation. Is it justifiable to allow commercial corporations to have similar powers?

Liam Cashman
Woodview, Glanmire, Co. Cork, Ireland.

Comment from GM-free Ireland:

In 1970, the first version of the U.S. 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.

Patenting of plants was made a cornerstone of the Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), administered by the World Trade Organization (WTO)negotiated at the end of the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) in 1994.

The TRIPS agreement was introduced into the WTO by Peter Sutherland, the former Fine Gael politican, Irish Attorney General, EU Commissioner and Director General of the GATT, who is currently "Consultor of the Extraordinary Section of the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See" (a financial adviser to the Vatican)!

Biotech companies now own patents on some 20% of the genes in the human body.

The Irish Patent Office has granted hundreds of patents on GM crops. According to the IPO's chief biotechnology patent officer Fergal Brady, there is no provision in EU or Irish law to prevent patent owners like Monsanto from filing patent infringment lawsuits against Irish farmers who have been contaminated by wind-blown pollen or seed drift from patented GM crops, as happened to Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser.

For more on this, see:

Who owns nature: ETC Group press release, 12 November 2008:
http://www.etcgroup.org/_page24?pub_id=706

Who owns nature? ETC Group report (7MB PDF file):
http://www.etcgroup.org/upload/publication/pdf_file/707

Don't allow GM crops in Ireland! A message from Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser, October 2004:
http://www.gmfreeireland.org/interviews/schmeiser.php

Percy Schmeiser: Keynote address to the Green Ireland Conference, June 2006:
http://www.gmfreeireland.org/conference/trans/pschmeiser.php

Biopiracy: the plunder of nature and knowledge
By Vandana Shiva. Green Books, in Association with The Gaia Foundation, 1998. ISBN 1 85649 993 • www.greenbooks.co.uk.

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EU approves Monsanto biotech soybean for import

Reuters, 4 December 2008. By Jeremy Smith.

BRUSSELS -- The European Union has authorised imports of a genetically modified (GM) soybean type for sale across its 27 national markets for the next 10 years, the European Commission said on Thursday.

Developed and marketed by Monsanto (MON.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz), the soybean is destined to be imported for use in food and animal feed, not for growing. It is a second-generation GM product known by its code number MON 89788 and commercially as Roundup RReady2Yield.

The soybean is designed to resist glyphosate Roundup Ready herbicides and produce increased yields for farmers.

EU law allows for rubberstamp GMO approvals when ministers cannot, after a certain period, secure a consensus agreement under a complex weighted voting system -- a so-called qualified majority -- either to approve or reject the company application.

Since 2004, the Brussels-based European Commission has approved a string of GM products, nearly all maize, in this way, outraging green groups. But the pace of GMO approvals has still been very slow, to the frustration of the biotech industry.

"MON 89788 soybean underwent the full authorisation procedure set out in the EU legislation," the Commission said.

"The authorisation is valid for 10 years, and any products produced from this GM soybean will be subject to the EU's strict labelling and traceability rules," it said in a statement. v Europe's livestock and feed manufacturing industries have a keen interest in the EU authorising more soybean imports since they depend heavily on shipments of soy products -- beans, meal -- as a source of protein-rich and high-quality feed.

EU countries produce a minimal amount of soybeans in terms of overall EU consumption, so imports are crucial. Soybean meal is the primary source of protein for the EU animal feed market, representing more than 60 percent of vegetable protein.

In September, the Commission issued a similar 10-year import approval for a GM herbicide-tolerant soybean developed by Bayer CropScience, known as A2704-12, also for use in food and animal feed. (Reporting by Jeremy Smith; editing by Sue Thomas)

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Gene-Altered Cotton in Feed

Washington Post, 4 December 2008.

An unauthorized strain of genetically modified cotton was accidentally mixed in with other harvested cotton in Texas last month, but government officials yesterday played down any safety concerns.

A quarter-ton of cotton seed engineered to contain a protein that produces a pesticide was combined with 60 tons of commercial cotton growing nearby, said Eric Flamm of the Food and Drug Administration.

The mixture, grown near Lamesa, Tex., was then stored with 20,000 tons of commercial cotton seed in a warehouse. Nearly half the crop was processed into cottonseed oil and cotton meal for use as animal feed before officials at Monsanto, which grows the experimental cotton on a test plot, realized the mistake.

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Genetically Modified Crops Reach 9 Percent of Global Primary Crop Production

WorldWatch Institute, 4 December 2008.

WASHINGTON -- Genetically modified crops reached 9 percent of global primary crop production in 2007, bringing the total GM land area up to 114.3 million hectares, according to Worldwatch Institute estimates published in the latest Vital Signs Update. The United States continues to be the global leader in production, accounting for half of all GM crop area.

GM production has been on the rise since the crops were first introduced more than a decade ago, and it now includes 23 countries. But controversy over the benefits of genetic modification continues, including questions about the technology's ability to deliver on promises of enhanced yields and nutrition.

"GM crops are definitely not a silver bullet," said Alice McKeown, a researcher for the Worldwatch Institute. "They sound good on paper, but we have yet to see glowing results."

Even as GM crop area expands, tensions are building. The European Union is expected to offer new guidance on the crops by the end of the year. Meanwhile, a new scientific study funded by the Austrian government suggests that a popular variety of GM corn reduces fertility in mice, raising questions about the technology's safety.

"There are still many unanswered questions about GM crops," said McKeown. "But the good news is that we have solutions to food security and other problems available today that we know work and are safe for humans and the environment, including organic farming."

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Unauthorized Monsanto GE cotton variety harvested

U.S. Food and Drug Administration news release, 4 December 2008.

The U.S. government announced today that there is no food or feed safety concern from an incident in which a small portion of an unauthorized genetically engineered (GE) cotton variety was harvested along with commercially available GE cotton.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) are working together following notification by the Monsanto Company that a small amount--less than an acre--of an unauthorized GE cotton variety was harvested along with 54 acres of a commercially available GE cotton variety.

This unauthorized GE cotton variety produces a pesticide that is a plant-incorporated protectant (PIP) nearly identical to a registered product already in a marketed corn variety. EPA and FDA have concluded that there are no food or feed safety concerns related to this incident. Also, if animals had consumed meal made from the unauthorized GE cotton variety, there would be no residues in the meat, milk or eggs. Additionally, USDA has determined that the unauthorized GE cotton poses no plant pest concerns.

According to Monsanto, an estimated 60 tons of cottonseed was harvested, of which less than 0.5 percent was from the unauthorized GE cotton variety. Government policies for handling low-level presence (LLP) of unauthorized materials are applicable to incidents in which unauthorized materials become inadvertently mixed with commercial grain or seed. FDA, EPA and USDA are working together to investigate the matter.

The U.S. government is investigating whether a small amount of meal from the unauthorized GE cotton variety may have been inadvertently released into the animal feed supply. It is important to note that it has not been determined whether unauthorized cottonseed meal actually entered the feed supply. The processor is holding potentially affected material (both processed and unprocessed) pending further investigation.

Based on additional data provided by Monsanto on the protein produced in the GE cotton--a variant of Cry 1A 105 that acts as a pesticide against cotton insect pests--EPA has concluded that there would be no risk to animals consuming small amounts of feed from the unauthorized cotton, nor to humans from consuming meat or milk from these animals. While EPA has concluded that consuming small amounts of the cottonseed poses no food or animal feed safety risks, under that Agency's LLP policy, the presence of this material in food or feed would be illegal.

FDA, USDA and EPA are the three government entities primarily responsible for regulatory oversight of GE crop plants and their products. Their responsibilities are complementary. FDA has jurisdiction over food and feed uses of all foods from plants. USDA has jurisdiction over the introduction into the environment of GE plants which may be plant pests. EPA regulates pesticides produced by GE plants such as the pesticidal protein produced by the cotton in this case. These pesticides are called PIPs.

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GM crop output rises but can it deliver?

Food Navigator, 4 December 2008.

The US remains the global leader in the production of genetically modified crops but questions remain over their ability to address promises of enhanced yields and nutrition, according to a new report.

The total global area of GM crops increased 12 percent in 2007 compared to the previous year, bringing total GM land area up to 114.3million hectares, said the Worldwatch Institute in its latest estimates published in its Vital Signs Update.

This means it accounts for nine percent of global primary crop production and four cash crops account for virtually all GM production: soybean (51 percent); corn (31 percent); cotton (13 percent); and canola (5 percent).

In a climate of rising food insecurity where food manufacturers face volatile commodity prices and supply issues, GM crops have been promoted as a way of helping to ease a food crisis.

Companies leading the GM march include Monsanto. The report said its GM crop traits are found in more than 85 percent of global GM crop hectares and the company controls 23 percent of the global proprietary seed market, said the report.

However, controversy over the benefits of genetic modification continues, including questions about the technology's ability to deliver on promises of enhanced yields and nutrition.

The report said: "Claims of potential benefits from GM crops include increased yields and nutritional value, although to date no commercially available crops have been modified for these purposes.

"Some studies have shown that GM crops reduce yield performance, including a 5- to 10-percent yield drag in GM soybeans.

"And although nutrition-related traits have been promised over the last decade, they are still at least five years away from market."

It also highlighted several concerns surrounding GM crops, including the transfer of food allergens across crop species, the unintentional spread and gene flow of GM crops, contamination of organic and other non-GM crops, the development of weed and pest resistance, and toxicity to animals that may feed on or near the crops.

Alice McKeown, a researcher for the Worldwatch Institute and author of the report, said: "GM crops are definitely not a silver bullet. They sound good on paper, but we have yet to see glowing results."

"There are still many unanswered questions about GM crops. But the good news is that we have solutions to food security and other problems available today that we know work and are safe for humans and the environment, including organic farming."

The United States produced half of all GM land area in 2007 as biotech crops grew on 57.7m hectares, which was an increase of six percent on the previous year.

The second and third largest countries for GM crop area are Argentina and Brazil.

The report said that two GM crop traits continue to dominate worldwide herbicide tolerance (63 percent) and insect resistance (18 percent), with a combination of the two traits accounting for the rest.

The Worldwatch Institute says it is an independent research organization that offers accessible, fact-based analysis of critical global issues.

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3 December 2008

USDA/FAS GAIN report: Repeal of the introduction of GM feed ban; update on GM cultivation law

USDA/FAS GAIN report PL 8029, 3 December 2008.

Report Highlights:

Top Polish decision makers, industry, scientists, producers, and regional political leaders worked together to prevent biotechnology crops in animal feeds from being outlawed. Their work had a direct impact on the repeal of a feed ban in Poland, which was to prohibit import, production and use of animal feed derived from biotech crops by August 12, 2008. Introduction of the feed ban has now been extended until the end of 2012, which effectively has killed this legislation. However, Poland's Ministry of Environment is pushing forward on their anti-GMO position with a new draft of a cultivation law, which legislators hope to put into effect by the beginning of 2009. The draft cultivation law is the longest draft law published in Polish history. The law is long, complicated and designed to prevent planting of GM seeds. This point is made in the printed justification as an appendix to the law.

Full report: http://www.fas.usda.gov/gainfiles/200811/146306617.pdf

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UK Parliament: Early Day Motion on Genetically Modified Crops

EDM 72: Ainsworth, Peter

That this House understands the public concern caused by the development of genetically modified organisms; believes that consumers have the right to choose non-GM foods and that all foods containing GM material should be clearly labelled as such; further notes that it is scientifically established that the presence of GM can be traced down to, or close to 0.1 per cent. and believes that this should be the trigger point for GM labelling; and calls on the Government to ban any commercial planting of GM crops until or unless science shows that this would be safe for people and the environment, and until or unless issues of liability and crop segregation are resolved.

Updated list of signatories

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Unapproved GMO cotton shipped to gin: Monsanto

Reuters, 3 December 2008.

WASHINGTON -- A small amount of an unapproved research line of genetically modified cotton in Texas was accidentally harvested and sent to a processor earlier this fall, Monsanto Co said on Wednesday.

Some of the resulting cottonseed meal may have entered the livestock feed supply, regulators said, noting the matter was under investigation.

But even if livestock ate the meal, it would not harm them, and there would not be any residues in meat, milk or eggs from the animals, regulators from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Agriculture Department said in a statement.

Monsanto, the leading developer of biotech crops, said it notified regulators that about two-tenths of an acre of unapproved GMO cotton was harvested along with 54 acres of an approved, commercially available variety.

Of the 60 tons of production, less than 0.5 percent was from the test lines, regulators said. It was shipped for ginning and processing in late October, but was held once the mistake was detected.

The research variety produces a pesticide within cotton, and is similar to an approved corn variety, regulators and the company said. (Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Christian Wiessner)

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Association of Molecular Pathology urges and end to the practice of granting patents on single genes and gene sequences in the human genome and to exclusive licences to genetic discoveries
• In newly adopted Position Statement, group also calls for stakeholders to develop more innovative models of intellectual property to encourage innovation and improve patient access to improved molecular tests


Biomedical Market Newsletter Press Release, 3 December 2008.

WASHINGTON DC, USA -- In a statement delivered two days ago before the Secretary of Health and Human Services' Advisory Committee of Genetics, Health and Society (SACGHS), the Association of Molecular Pathology (AMP) urged an end to the practice of granting patents on single genes, sequences of the genome or correlations between genetic variations and biological states. AMP also encouraged groups that currently hold gene patents, including higher educational and research institutions, not to grant exclusive licenses to access these patents.

This statement reflects AMP's newly adopted Position Statement on Gene Patents and Licensing Practices and comes as the Secretary's Advisory Committee is reviewing a preliminary draft report that addresses questions about whether gene patents and certain licensing practices are affecting patient access to genetic tests.

Debra Leonard, MD, PhD, Vice Chair of Laboratory Medicine and Director of the Clinical Laboratories in the Department for Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the Weill Cornell Medical College and New York-Presbyterian Hospital, as well as a member of AMP's Professional Relations Committee, presented the AMP statement to the SACGHS, which includes the following: "Gene patents can serve as a disincentive to innovation in molecular testing because they deny access to a vital baseline of genomic information that cannot be invented around. Moreover, threat of enforcement from a patent holder and ensuing litigation costs lead to a chilling effect as clinical laboratories are reluctant to develop new tests that could directly benefit patients."

The AMP statement continues, "In addition to the concern about gene patents, exclusive licenses that confine molecular testing to a single provider are detrimental to the public interest by limiting patient access to testing, restricting medical practice and research, impeding the advancement of medical knowledge and enhancement of the public's health through informed clinical decision making." The AMP Position Statement also advocates that financial terms for licenses to genetic discoveries for clinical test development should be reasonable and that "sole source" tests should be prohibited.

Finally, the Position Statement calls on a number of involved stakeholders to work cooperatively to develop alternatives to gene patents and exclusive licenses with the goal of increasing patient access to health care and achieving greater benefit from the existing body of intellectual property linked to the human genome.

This Position Statement marks the first significant re-statement of AMP's policy on Intellectual Property since 1999, according to Jan A. Nowak, PhD, MD, of North Shore University Health System's Evanston Hospital and the President of AMP. "AMP has always advocated an open access approach to clinical testing and research, believing it to be in the best interest of both the laboratories and the patients we serve. In this new era of personalized, predictive and pre-emptive health care, modern technology allows us to look across the genome with incredible depth and diversity, giving clinical labs the ability to develop increasingly sophisticated and individualized tests. However, labs can only develop this next generation of tests when they have access to the broadest base of genomic discoveries."

Full text of the Position Statement can be found at: http://www.amp.org

About AMP:

The Association for Molecular Pathology is a not-for-profit scientific society dedicated to the advancement, practice, and science of clinical molecular laboratory medicine and translational research based on the applications of genomics and proteomics. AMP was founded in 1995 to provide structure and leadership to the then emerging field of molecular diagnostics. Through its Council and Committees, AMP pursues topics of importance to those at the forefront of this growing discipline. From the beginning, AMP has worked to develop mechanisms for training and certification in diagnostic molecular pathology. AMP has assumed national visibility with its efforts to shape regulations and policy that influence research and the practice of molecular diagnostics. The organization is divided into the scientific subdivisions of genetics, infectious diseases, hematopathology, and solid tumors. Each subdivision addresses issues, identifies goals, shapes policy, and provides member benefits specific to that particular discipline. Members can participate in any or all of these subdivisions. The AMP membership includes individuals from academia, government, and industry, including basic scientists, laboratory directors, medical technologists, and trainees. Through the efforts of an enthusiastic membership from across the United States and around the world, AMP continues to grow in numbers and influence.

Contact:

Mary Steele Williams, MT(ASCP)SM
Chief Operating Officer and Director of Scientific Programs
Association for Molecular Pathology
9650 Rockville Pike
Bethesda MD USA 20814
301-634-7921 phone
301-634-7990 fax
mwilliams@amp.org

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2 December 2008

Cuba Ready to Authorize GM Corn Crop: Scientists

Reuters, 2 December 2008.

Havana - Cuba could soon authorize the planting of 124 acres of genetically-modified corn for the first time to help reduce its dependence on costly food imports, Cuban scientists said on Tuesday.

Regulators are expected to approve this initial crop of biotech corn, which would provide enough seed to expand to 14,830 acres next year, said Carlos Borroto, deputy director of state-run Institute for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology.

"We expect over the next few days to get the license for those 50 hectares," he told reporters. "This is very important, because the alternative is to keep relying on imports."

Cuba imports around 60 percent of its food, including large amounts of soy, wheat and corn. The United States is the Communist-ruled island's largest food supplier under an amendment to its trade embargo on Cuba.

Cuban President Raul Castro recently called increased agricultural output a matter of "national security" as soaring international food prices are expected to drain more than $2 billion from the government's coffers this year.

Some environmental groups oppose transgenic crops because they say the food may hold unknown long-term health dangers. But GMO supporters say the crops carry no health risks and are the only way to reduce world food shortages.

Borroto said biotech corn similar to the Cuban type had already passed strict controls in Japan, Canada and Europe. Cuban laboratories are also in the development stages of producing genetically modified soy, potatoes and tomatoes.

International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications, a non-profit group promoting biotech foods, estimates GMO crops are now grown in 23 countries, mostly by poor farmers in developing countries.

"You have a need for more and better food, nutritionally. This technology can provide you with that option," said the group's founder Clive James, a British scientist who was invited to Havana by the Cuban institute. "I believe there is an opportunity for Cuba to do so in the near term."

Cuba's harvests have been battered this year by three hurricanes that the government estimates caused nearly $10 billion in damages. The storms destroyed 30 percent of the country's crops, touching off brief food shortages.

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NGO activists are not unlike employees in other professions

The Jakarta Post (Indonesia), 2 December 2008.

Greenpeace strongly criticized the recent annual meeting of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) in Bali for being too soft on its "green-washing" members (growers and buyers). Abetnego Tarigan, the newly elected director of palm oil business watchdog Sawit Watch, shared with The Jakarta Post's Kornelius Purba his views about the RSPO, Indonesia's palm oil situation, and his experience as an NGO activist.

Question: Greenpeace strongly criticized the RSPO for being too weak on its green-washing members. As an NGO, why did your organization co-found the RSPO along with other palm oil stakeholders?

Answer: At the beginning we were preoccupied with ideological issues. Perhaps we were na‘ve. For instance, we kept shouting that (measures against) the robbery of people's rights should be prioritized, we demanded total land reform. But after a few years, we got better ideas.

We then fully involved farmers and the people in our campaigns. We asked them to testify about their suffering to spark public anger. We were naive. For instance, we shouted loudly about the theft of people's lands. But we were too demanding on people's rights. The other side (plantation owners and buyers) can also talk about their legal rights. They have official permits, they pay taxes. Now we must find a way to package it.

How was the RSPO established?

We met directly with industry players and put them in the RSPO. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Unilever and Sawit Watch initiated its establishment in 2003. There was a rather bad experience with the World Forest Council. It has conducted certification for 20 years, but they could only certify 12 percent of the total wood, and there is still much illegal wood. It is possible that the RSPO could make the same mistake.

At that time, there was very strong resistance and suspicion against us. We faced problems, (including with) China, which only cares about pricing.

Why is it important to have the RSPO?

When we see the pros and cons of the RSPO, this organization grows through a very long process. When state policy is not able to respond to civil society demands, for instance about the rampant land conversion. In 1998, then forestry minister Muslimin Nasution estimated (forests) covered 20 million hectares of land. Slash-and-burn practices continue despite the government ban.

NGOs have also launched intensive campaigns to pressure banks such as ABN-Amro (now RBS), HSBC and Rabo Bank. They accommodate our pressure through their internal policies, the code of conduct. ABN-Amro, for instance, has a code of conduct on forestry investment and the plantation sector. But it is also not very effective.

When NGOS tried to pressure financial institutions or palm oil buyers, there were hundreds of institutions, buyers and plantations. It is impossible to face them one by one. NGOs do not have that capability.

Is there any other organization like the RSPO here?

We have the Indonesian Eco Labeling Agency (LEI). But there are still many problems with it. There is also much disappointment. Certificates have been issued but conflicts at the grass roots still continue, which delegitimize the LEI certificates. There are also problems with budgeting. And they mainly work on wood.

The Forestry Ministry is the most frequently protested ministry in this country. That is why they are the most relaxed ministry when facing demonstrations.

But forest fires still continue?

This is true, but it has declined much over the last two years because NGOs now have access to remote sensing analysis technology. It is very easy to campaign. We have maps of forestry concessions, we just announce the areas where we find hot spots. We do not talk about the law. Legally, they are untouchable, but their international image is severely damaged.

What is the danger of the RSPO?

When facing pressure, the criticized companies say they are RSPO members, as though they have complied with RSPO rules in their activities. This is the worry of many people.

NGOs are often criticized for using foreign funding. How about you?

Ideally it is not right to use foreign funding. Ideally we must get local public funding. The government actually allocates funds for civil society empowerment, but the money goes to youth organizations, the affiliations of certain political parties.

But aren't there many NGOs which face good governance problems?

This is our challenge. In the early stage, the will was there and the results were very good. But when an organization becomes bigger and receives bigger supports, we need to make internal improvements, but not change the culture of the NGOs. For instance, we conduct institutional audits, and not project audits. NGOs also need to issue financial reports and activities to the public.

Comment by TraceConsult™

An Indonesian NGO official speaks his mind about Greenpeace's recent criticism of the RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) process and of his own organization's learning curve with the RSPO, not without raising some criticism himself. All of this might be an interesting reference for comparison with the RTRS (Roundtable on Responsible Soy)

_______________________

1 December 2008

Regulation of Transgenic Salmon

CRIIGEN press release, 1 December 2008.

Among the first animal GMOs in the world waiting the approval to be commercialized on a wide scale, we find salmons with growth hormone genetic doping. A Franco-Québécois team has just published, in an American review Environmental Science & Policy a whole file on risks and guidelines for the assessment of salmons and more generally of transgenic animals.

This GMOs dissemination could not be without a crucial respect of environment, at the time of a deep biodiversity crisis. When some regulatory organizations (EFSA, FDA...) request insufficiently rigorous toxicity tests on GMOs (not more than one or three months of consumption by mammals before authorizations), this multidisciplinary research insists on the introduction of health, environmental and socio-economic criteria, which should be produced within a rigorous and independent scientific and social assessment of what is becoming a possible deep transformation of world agriculture and aquaculture.

This peer-reviewed article is the result of research directed by Pr. Louise Vandelac and financed by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. This research was supported also by CRIIGEN and by CINBIOSE.

Contact in Québec:

Pr. Louise Vandelac
Department of Sociology and the Institut des sciences de l'environnement.
Researcher at CINBIOSE, a Collaborating Centre of WHO and PAHO. Université du Québec à Montréal C.P. 8888 succ. "Centre-Ville" Montréal Québec, Canada, H3C 3P8.
Tel: 514-987-3000 ext. 4307.
Fax: 514-987-6183
email: vandelac.louise@uqam.ca

Contact in France:

Pr Gilles-Eric Séralini, Biochemistry, Institute of Biology, University of Caen, Esplanade de la Paix, 14032 Caen, France.
Tel: 33(0)2-31-56-56-84.
Fax: 33(0)2-31-56-53-20.
Corinne Lepage President of CRIIGEN, email: criigen@unicaen.fr

"Factors to consider before production and commercialization of aquatic genetically modified organisms: the case of transgenic salmon", by Olivier Le Curieux-Belfond, Louise Vandelac, Joseph Caron and Gilles-Eric Séralini. In: Environmental Science & Policy 2008, vol. 12, x , pp xxx-xxx
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/14629011

_______________________

December 2008

Letter in Support of the Latest Hearing on a Petition for a Moratorium on GM Crops Filed with the Supreme Court in India

ISIS press release, 1 December 2008.

To Whom It May Concern

I write on behalf of the Institute of Science in Society (ISIS), a civil society organisation dedicated to providing critical scientific information to the public and to promoting social accountability and ecological sustainability in science. Our scientists have monitored and reviewed extensive scientific literature and empirical evidence on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) over the past ten years. I am on the Roster of Experts for the international Cartegena Protocol on Biosafety that seeks to protect biological diversity from the potential risks of GMOs and came into force on 11 September 2003.

We fully concur with Dr. Pushpa Bhargava's recommendations to the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) on the biosafety assessment of GMOs, and take great exception to GEAC's defamatory remarks on him and its unscientific and unprofessional response to his recommendations. We are referring to GEAC's Counter Affidavit of September 2008, the Indian Government's 'Reply' to the Application filed by Aruna Rodrigues and others in August 2008 (Reference Application I.A. No. 25 of 2008 in the matter of Writ Petition (Civil) No. 260 of 2005).

Dr. Bhargava, founder and director of India's prestigious Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, is an acknowledged world-class authority on genetic engineering, biotechnology and molecular biology, and highly regarded in international scientific circles. GEAC's defamatory remarks on him betray its possible lack of competence in the relevant scientific and technological disciplines on which the Committee is providing advice to the Indian Government, and/or its willingness to compromise science to serve vested interests in GMO approval.

All of Professor Bhargava recommendations are fully justified on the most rigorous scientific basis as key elements of biosafety assessment, and consistent with widely recognized standards of good, responsible science; as is also clear from both the text and 'annexures' to the Petitioner's Rejoinder Affidavit of November 2008. Ample evidence has been presented in depositions by several leading biosafety experts appended to the Rejoinder Affidavit.

In the Rejoinder Affidavit of November 2008 the Petitioners have abstracted the essential elements of a biosafety assessment protocol from world-class biosafety experts in section 23, and noted that Dr Bhargava's guidelines are virtually the same. The testing procedures outlined in Section 23 of the Rejoinder, which are to be combined with standard crop testing procedures, to determine if a new GM product falls within the accepted norm of safety of current food crops, are:

1. The Ames test for mutagenicity

2. Metabolic Profiling for toxic and nutritional compounds; to detect unexpected changes in small-molecule metabolism

3. Molecular analysis of the gene insertion sites and transformation-induced mutations

4. Extended multigenerational animal feeding studies for carcinogenic, reproductive, and other adverse effects

5. Allergenicity testing,

6. Genomic profiling/DNA Finger Printing/Proteomics

7. Gene flow, testing on non-target organisms, soil micro-organisms

8. Post market surveillance, both health and the environment

The list is complete except for tests on genetic stability of the GM insert, which is required in EU Directive for environmental release, although it is seldom enforced (see Transgenic Lines Unstable hence Illegal and Ineligible for Protection (http://www.i-sis.org.uk/transgenicLinesUnstable2.php). Transgenic instability in the field essentially compromises all safety assessment performed before environmental release, a point that has been stressed by ISIS from the beginning.

The Austrian Government study published in November 2008 (GM Maize Reduces Fertility & Deregulates Genes in Mice http://www.i-sis.org.uk/GmMaizeReducesMiceFertility.php), followed by a peer-reviewed report from the Italian Government showing that GM Maize Disturbs Immune System of Young and Old Mice (http://www.i-sis.org.uk/MON810gmMaizeMiceImmuneSystem.php) confirm a string of previous findings on adverse health impacts from GM food and feed, which has served to convince scientists like us that GM is Dangerous and Futile (http://www.i-sis.org.uk/GMDangerousFutile.php), essentially because the technology is based on an obsolete view of genetics.

The recent studies find problems with fertility, immune response and gene regulation in different GM maize varieties by carrying out precisely the kind of tests recommended by Dr Bhargava and other scientists; i.e., long-term multi-generational feeding trials, coupled with DNA arrays, proteins and metabolic profiling. The GM crops in the feeding trials have been commercialized; they were approved by government regulators in United States and Europe that have ignored stern scientific warnings over safety, as documented in ISIS' peer-reviewed publication (Ho MW, Cummins J and Saunders PT. GM food nightmare unfolding in the regulatory sham. Microbial Ecology in Health and Disease 2007, 19, 66-77, http://www.i-sis.org.uk/pdf/GM_Food_Nightmare_Unfolding.pdf). GEAC should not be allowed to repeat their mistake, which is overwhelmingly condemned by the European and American public.

For India to implement the series of assessments recommended by Dr. Bhargava and other scientists would not only be good science, but would also be extremely prudent government policy in view of India's great genetic biodiversity, and her many farming communities whose health and livelihood depend on crops that are proven safe and productive through appropriate tests. At the very least, a five-year moratorium would allow the desired protocols for rigorous safety assessment to be put in place to ensure that any GMO introduced will not cause harm.

ISIS brought together an Independent Science Panel (ISP) of dozens of eminent scientists from nine countries to compile all the evidence on the health and environmental impacts of GM crops on the one hand, and the benefits and successes of non-GM sustainable agriculture on the other. The ISP produced a report in 2003, The Case for a GM-free Sustainable World (http://www.i-sis.org.uk/pdf/GM_Food_Nightmare_Unfolding.pdf), calling for a world-wide ban on further releases of GMOs and a comprehensive shift to non-GM sustainable agriculture. The report was translated into at least 5 languages and republished within a year. Our demands have proven all the more relevant and urgent since then, as evidence of harm from GMOs has accumulated further, while organic, localized agriculture is now widely acknowledged as the solution to the current food, fuel and financial crisis as well as the most important means for mitigating and adapting to climate change (see ISIS Report, Food Futures Now: *Organic *Sustainable *Fossil Fuel Free (http://www.i-sis.org.uk/foodFutures.php)

Yours sincerely,

Dr. Mae-Wan Ho
Director
Institute of Science in Society
www.i-sis.org.uk


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