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31 May 2008

Ireland: No vote may end EU membership - MEP

The Irish Times, 31 May 2008. By Jamie Smith in Brussels.

VOTE OPTIONS: The Chairman of the European Parliament's constitutional affairs committee, Jo Leinen, has suggested that Ireland could be asked to leave the EU if it votes against the Lisbon Treaty.

He also said that another option would be for Ireland to seek opt-outs from various European policies and put an amended treaty to another referendum.

"If one country, Ireland or anyone else, is having a No and 26 (states) are having a Yes, it is as well not very democratic or acceptable that the 26 are blocked. Then I think it is reasonable to find out exactly what the No means. Is it a No to the total EU? Then, in fact, the country should leave the EU," Mr Leinen told The Irish Times.

Mr Leinen, who is one of the most senior German MEPs, said all member states had an obligation of "loyalty or loyal co-operation" to the EU, which meant a state should not misuse its veto right and block other countries.

"In the event of a No vote the Union has to ask Ireland what exactly it objected to? If it has a principled problem with EU integration then it must negotiate a special relationship with the EU," he said. "Ireland would be part of the EC (European Community), but not part of the EU."

One example of this type of arrangement is Norway, which rejected joining the EU in referendums held in 1972 and 1994.

Mr Leinen's comments conflict with those of European Commission president José Manuel Barroso, who has consistently said there is no "plan B" if there is a No vote. But a majority of MEPs have already voted against an amendment that would have committed them to respect the Irish referendum result, suggesting the parliament would try to implement Lisbon, with or without Ireland.

Mr Leinen said he did not think Ireland would leave the EU because it generally accepted European unity. A more likely option was adding opt-outs or declarations to the treaty to enable a new referendum, as occurred with the Nice Treaty, he added.

But he said this would not be easy because there were very few new EU competences created by the Lisbon Treaty and Ireland had already negotiated opt-outs.

A country tends to be weakened when it opts out of various EU policies, added Mr Leinen, citing Denmark, which after saying no to the Maastricht treaty in 1992 negotiated opt-outs from justice, defence, citizenship and the euro. Denmark is to hold a referendum in the autumn to remove some of these exceptions.

"So you [Ireland] could lose time and lose comfort and be a bit marginalised," he added.

He said for this reason it was risky for the Government to hold a referendum on the treaty, which all other EU states are ratifying through their parliaments.

Mr Leinen said he was in favour of holding EU-wide referendums in the future, which would enable all EU citizens to vote on treaties or big ethical issues such as genetic engineering or genetically modified organisms. These would be based on the will of the majority of EU citizens. This would engage citizens on European issues rather than allow internal or local issues to dominate referendums in any one member state, he added.

A No vote would also provoke a crisis in the EU that would boost anti-EU forces ahead of next year's European elections and severely weaken the EU's position internationally, Mr Leinen said.

He said a referendum defeat would block the implementation of the treaty, and mean a host of necessary policies on energy, fighting terrorism and migration could not be passed. EU states would remain fragmented and could not create a common energy policy, leaving the Baltic states and Poland vulnerable to Russia, which he noted was "still playing games with them".

Europe could not expect to leave foreign policy issues such as Kosovo to the US. But each member state was too small to solve this issue on its own, he said.

Comment from GM-free Ireland:

The statement by the Chairman of the European Parliament's constitutional affairs committee, Jo Leinen MEP, that Ireland "could be asked to leave the European Union if it votes against the Lisbon Treaty" is fear-mongering with no basis in political reality or European law.

It also reveals how less democratic the EU will become if Irish citizens don't vote against the Treaty in our referendum on 12 June.

A majority of MEPs have already voted to reject a "no" result in our referendum (499 to 129, with 33 abstentions, on 20 February). This makes a mockery of the democratically agreed requirement that Lisbon and other Treaties require unanimous approval by all member states. What's the point of having a veto if it will be ignored?

Mr Leinen's declaration that all member states have an "obligation" of "loyalty or loyal cooperation" to the EU reminds one of similar proclamations by Hitler, Mao, and George W. Bush, whose administrations stifled democratic discourse by requiring oaths of allegiance and loyalty to the Official Doctrine and the Great Leader. We want a democratic Europe, not a totalitarian superstate!

Mr Leinen's apparent support for future EU-wide referenda "on treaties or big ethical issues such as genetic engineering or genetically modified organisms" sounds nice. But in reality, 482 million citizens of the other member states are now being denied their democratic say on the Lisbon Treaty. And he proposes that Ireland should be kicked out of the EU if the results of our referendum do not please him!

The mention of GM food and farming as a subject for EU-wide referenda may be a sop to our Government policy to ban GM crops on this island. But if the Lisbon Treaty is approved, the Commission will have greater powers to continue ignoring the results of such referenda – just as it has ignored the EU-wide petition signed by one million citizens in 2007 which demands mandatory labelling of food produced or derived from GM ingredients (including meat, poultry and dairy produce), based on citizens' fundamental right to information required for consumer choice.

Far from recognising the democratic right of member states to have the final say on policies such as food safety and GMOs, the Lisbon Treaty will – if approved – extend Qualified Majority Voting (QMV) to 60 new policy areas. QMV is repeatedly used when the EC requests member states to approve or reject the placing on the market of GM seeds, animal feed and food. Despite the member states' failure to reach a qualified majority for or against in over a dozen votes, the so-called "comitology" procedure empowers the EC bureaucracy to legalise the GMOs anyway, against the wishes of the actual majority of Member States and over 70 per cent of EU consumers.

Unless Ireland comes to the rescue, the Lisbon Treaty will copperfasten the growing power of unaccountable transnational corporations to make unelected EC bureaucrats decide policy in almost every major issue of collective concern, for decades if not centuries to come. As Gistard d'Estaing said, "Public opinion will be led – without knowing it – to adopt the policies we would never dare present to them directly. All the earlier proposals [of the rejected EU Constitution] will be in the new text but will be hidden or disguised in some ways..."

The Lisbon Treaty is a flawed proposal for an undemocratic Europe. Let's hope the citizens of Ireland reject it, for the sake of the 482 million other citizens of EU member states who are being denied their right to do so.


Ireland: Agriculture to be worth €40bn by 2030 - Teagasc

The Irish Times, 31 May 2008. By Sean Mac Connell, Agriculture Correspondent.

THE VALUE of agriculture to the national economy will double to €40 billion by 2030, according to a report commissioned by Teagasc, the agriculture and food development authority, which held a conference in Dublin Castle yesterday.

Teagasc director Gerry Boyle predicted an exciting new era in farming and food production in the future with the agri-food sector playing a wider role in a broader knowledge-based bioeconomy.

The report, Teagasc Foresight 2030 was presented at the conference, at which the organisation marked 50 years of service to agriculture. The forerunner of Teagasc, An Foras Tal™ntais (AFT), was set up in 1958.

Prof Boyle said agriculture was on the cusp of profound change. There were immense challenges and opportunities, but also a positive future for the sector.

"An internationally competitive Irish dairy industry, exploiting the natural advantage that grass provides, is set for substantial expansion as the EU milk quota system changes. We anticipate a period 'post-peak oil' when industries switch from fossil fuels, with a need to derive chemicals from plants as an alternative to petroleum-based products," he said.

"The opportunities to find alternative sustainable fuels from plants will provide a challenge for research and exciting opportunities for those involved in the agri-food industry," he said.

Teagasc's role would be to provide science-based innovation support requiring partnership, leadership and accountability. "Teagasc is adapting and ready for change," he added. He told the conference, attended by more than 300 people, that a number of critical initial steps had already been taken, including the establishment of bioscience research centres, to ensure that science, technology and innovation were at the heart of development of the agri-food sector, he said.

The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Brendan Smith, said the report would strengthen the strategic capabilities of Teagasc and its relevance to its stakeholders, enabling it to provide proactive leadership in the rapidly changing open market environment.

He said we were now entering a new debate around the issue of food security which would serve to further heighten the importance of the agri-food sector. As a food-producing nation, Ireland had a responsibility to ensure the issue of food security features at EU level.

Recalling the establishment of AFT in 1958, the Minister said that at the time, somewhat over 60 per cent of total national exports were agricultural, and that production levels had been relatively static for a considerable period. Its establishment was critical to the subsequent development of Irish agriculture.

Significant progress, he said, had been made since then but it was essential that we continued to seek to build a truly knowledge-based society which offered new opportunities for employment and social advancement.

The keynote speaker, Dr Gale Buchanan of the United States department of agriculture, said that applying science and education to agriculture had improved human health and environmental quality.

Comment from GM-free Ireland:

Teagasc continues to rip-off Irish taxpayers by using public funds to promote patented GM crops owned by Monsanto and other foreign transnational agri-biotech corporations.

Last year Teagasc made the fabulous claim that Irish farmers would lose €60 million unless the European Commission allows more contamination of our food chain with untested GM ingredients that are illegal in the EU for health and environmental safety reasons.

Now they claim that allowing GM pharma crops in Ireland will double Ireland's agricultural income to €40 billion!

This is not surprising, since Teagasc Director Prof Gerry Boyle is an agricultural consultant to the World Bank, which uses public tax-payer funding from the rich countries to distribute and promote patented GM seeds and biopiracy in the developing countries.

Teagasc's propaganda requires some linguistic deconstruction:

For "a need to derive chemicals from plants as an alternative to petroleum-based products", read GM pharma or agrofuel crops which contribute to rising food prices, world hunger, and contamination of food crops with genes that produce industrial chemicals.

For "Teagasc's role... to provide science-based innovation" read increased taxpaper funding for GM crop R&D owned by foreign transnational corporations, including the existing €10m "bioscience research centres" at Oak Park and other locations.

For "a truly knowledge-based society" read one where the revolving door between biotech industry and government policy makers and regulatory bodies ensures that scientific research which does not support GM industry policies is ignored and whistleblowers are discredited.

Teagasc's selection of Dr. Gale Buchanan as the keynote speaker for its conference in Dublin castle is further proof of its GM advocacy. This man was appointed by George W. Bush as USDA Under Secretary of Agriculture for Research, Education and Economics. USDA is notorious for its revolving door policy with Monsanto et al. It co-owns patents on the highly controversial GM Terminator seeds together with Delta and Pine Land Co., now part of Monsanto. After violating US environmental laws, USDA lost three federal court cases filed by the U.S. Center for Food Safety for its failure to implement environmental risk assessments on GM alfalfa, bentgrass and biopharmaceutical crops which it released into the environment. More recently, USDA cut its pesticide reporting programme which until then provided the only reliable and nuanced statistics on pesticide use in American agriculture.

In August, Teagasc will host an international conference promoting GM seeds and crops at University College Cork, on behalf of a Canadian biotech industry front group called the Agricultural Biotechnology International Conference (ABIC) Foundation, managed by Ag-West Bio Inc. and funded by Monsanto. ABIC's Board of Directors includes Jimmy Burke (the former head of Teagasc Crops Research), the conference chair Ashley O'Sullivan (a former Monsanto employee), Roger Kemble (President of Syngenta Biotechnology Inc), and Malcolm Devine (former employee of Aventis CropScience and Bayer CropScience)!

Our new Minister for Food and Agriculture Brendan Smith should support the agreed programme for Government to declare this island a GM-free zone. Instead of lending credibility to Teagasc's biotech propaganda, the Minister should immediately shut down all Teagasc funding for GM research, and redeploy the public spend for research and development of the safe, sustainably produced and organic food which the vast majority of Irish and European consumers want.


30 May 2008

Global Biofuel Output To Soar In Next Decade-Report

Reuters, 30 May 2008. By Sybille de La Hamaide

PARIS - Global production of biofuels will rise rapidly over the next decade, helped by high government blending targets and subsidies, the OECD and the UN's FAO food agency said in a report published on Thursday. *

These rises will boost already soaring world agricultural commodities prices and reduce their availability for food and feed, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the Food and Agriculture Organisation said in co-drafted report.

"With a biofuel output that should more than double over the next 10 years, according to the most conservative estimates, the pressure on agriculture will flare up," Jacques Diouf, head of the Rome-based FAO, told a news conference in Paris.

Global ethanol production was projected to reach about 125 billion litres in 2017, twice the quantity produced last year.

Biodiesel output was set to grow even faster with production forecast at around 24 billion litres by 2017, up from nearly 11 billion at the end of 2007 and less than 1 billion in 2000, the report said.

"Increased blending mandates should stimulate demand and boost international trade in the initial years of the (2008-2017) outlook," the report said.

Biofuels were not blamed directly, as they can increase farmers' revenue both in developing and wealthier economies, but on "distortive" policies in some large producing countries, which encouraged production of fuel-destined crops on land previously devoted to food, they said.

Ethanol trade to grow

Biofuels, mainly made of grains, oilseeds and sugar, have been increasingly accused of causing sharp rises in food prices by diverting production away from food and animal feed towards an additive for vehicle fuel.

Protests and riots in many poor countries over high food costs have added urgency to the debate. A sharp rise in biofuels output that would influence food prices could keep the issue high on the international political agenda.

The OECD and FAO stressed that their forecasts did not anticipate changes in the United States and/or European Union policies which widely support the production and use of biofuels through blending targets and tax incentives.

Second generation biofuels, made from domestic and agricultural waste rather than food crops, were not expected to be produced on a commercial basis over the next decade.

Ethanol prices were seen exceeding $55 per hectolitre in 2009 as crude oil prices rose, but should fall back to levels around $52-53 per hectolitre later in the 2008-2017 period covered by the report, as production capacity expanded.

International ethanol trade was expected to grow rapidly to reach 6 billion litres in 2010 and almost 10 billion litres by 2017. Most of this trade would originate in Brazil and would be destined for markets in the EU and the United States, it said.

The growth in biodiesel output would occur despite the fact that world prices were expected to remain well above production costs of fossil diesel, within the range of $104-106 per hectolitre, for most of the projected period.

International trade of biodiesel was seen largely unchanged in following years, notably due to technical constraints in the use of palm-oil based biodiesel in cool climates and as output in the main consuming countries increased.

(Editing by Christopher Johnson)


Poland - a guinea pig?

Sunday Catholic Weekly, 30 May 2008. By Stanislaw Wiackowski.

The activities of big biotechnological concerns aim at gaining control over the food production and farmers, including the Polish farmers, and subordinating them to their commercial objectives.

Dangerous GM soy

The biotechnological industry makes the highest profit on GM soy, which has driven the branches of agriculture, which have been important so far, e.g. the production of cattle, milk and diary, crops as well as orchards and various branches of horticulture. This has been accompanied by massive social tragedies and bankruptcies of small firms and farms. Hundreds of farmers had to move to slums in big cities. If the world demand for soy decreases, and it is very likely to happen in the U.S.A., Brazil or Paraguay, it will cause a real catastrophe. The decrease is caused by lower prices in international markets, constant growth of production costs, transport and energy, drought, mycotic diseases, massive growth of super weeds and super pests. No wonder that the countries that are interested in selling GM soy exert great influence on the EU.

Influence on the EU

They use many false arguments, e.g. difficulties in buying more expensive unmodified soy, the threat to cattle breeders because of the lack of soy as a valuable ingredient of feedstuff, which can lead to liquidation of the animals. Some are afraid of the lack of soy because China can buy it out. These are false arguments. We have genetically modified soy and it can be bought without any difficulty. Paraguay has 20% of the soy and Brazil has 60%. Although China imports soy but not for feedstuff but for growing. Being aware of the boom for soy China has planned soy production on a large scale since 2003. Considering the low labour cost in China its soy will be surely cheaper than the soy produced in both Americas. The cost of soy production in Ukraine or the EU countries with warm climates, e.g. in Romania or Greece, should be even lower due to the low cost of transport.

Profit before ethics?

We often hear the argument about the lack of research that would justify our keeping away from GMO. It is the producer, and not the customer, that is responsible for the quality of his products. However, the biggest biotechnological giant Monsanto, whose worth is estimated to be over 73 billion dollars, claims that its aim is profit and not ethics, and because of that he has neglected the obligatory tests, conducting only pilot studies, which cannot be regarded as sufficient in any case. At the same time this firm uses huge means to corrupt politicians and higher officials. Thus the firm shuts the mouth of all those who would like to inform society on the basis of their own research about the danger of GM plants for people's health, for animals and for the environment. In Indonesia alone, Monsanto spent ca. 700,000 dollars to bribe officials. After this scandal was revealed and the case had been brought into court the firm had to pay one million dollars for infringing the anti-corruption law. In spite of saving money on research the industry was extremely wasteful because it spent immense sums for corrupting the people they needed and not allowing any publications that were unfavourable to the interests of the big concerns. The firm has lost its credibility completely. The initiatives to conduct research have been taken by institutions and independent scientists in spite of them having any special financial means. In the years 2002-2005, in Italy Manuela Malatesta and her collaborators conducted solid research for two years and showed that GM soy given to mice caused serious changes in their liver, pancreas and testicle cells. Other authors had similar results after having fed rats with GM soybeans. In the years 2005-2006, the scientists from the Russian Academy of Sciences informed that the rats fed with genetically modified soy had an excessive number of stunted offspring. Over half of them died within three weeks whereas those who survived were completely sterile. Recently, a team of outstanding French biotechnologists directed by Prof. Seralini has proved the toxic effects of MON863 corn, which has been forced in Europe and in Poland, on kidneys and liver. Besides the solid and long standing research one should mention the famous London scientific panel, signed by over 600 scientists from all over the world, and the books 'Seeds of Deception' or 'Genetic Roulette' by Jeffrey Smith, which include hundreds of publications about the negative effects of GM plants on people's health, animals and the environment. Those who have not read these works should not present their opinions on this subject.

The world defends itself against GMO

Because of such information the world is less interested in GM. An increasing number of countries stop using GM soy. Many Italian and French producers of cheese seek GM-free feedstuff. One can observe similar reactions of Austrian and Dutch producers of milk and beef. In Great Britain the poultry in hypermarkets is marked as GM-free. Since September 2006 Poland has imported soy having the certificate 'GMO-free product', as feedstuff for pigs in firms exporting to the German market. In response to the information about the toxic effects of MON863 corn Russia has also closed its market to GM soy. Last year the biggest Russian importers and soy processors 'Sodruzhestwo' and 'Rybflotoprom' declared trade free of GMO. This undermines the claim of the Polish producers of feedstuff that the production based on unmodified ingredients is impossible.

Healthy Polish food

The idea to produce transgenic food in the light of the difficulties with the excess of food produced both in Poland and in the entire European Union is commonly undermined. One cannot allow Poland to be treated as a laboratory and to treat Poles as guinea pigs. Poland has no reason to import, and moreover to produce, GMO, having overproduction of her own, increasingly more praised food. Poland is a region that produces highly tasty foods. The Polish export goes up from ? to 1/3 every year. It has not been disturbed by the high exchange rate of zloty and the Russian embargo. The number of people who like Polish foods is increasing. The report 'Polish foreign farm and food trade in 2006' says that it was a record year. The export had a 21% increase ‚ to 8.5 billion euros. The important importers of Polish foods include: Germany (16%), Czech Republic (44%), Great Britain (36%), Holland (24%), Italy (33%), China (82%), Ireland (74%) and Lithuania (56%) ‚ the increase in percentage was given in brackets. Russia has fallen to a lower place at her own wish. As a result, the Polish agriculture is experiencing a great success and the less the world is interested in GM the more prosperous the situation could be for us. In this situation the introduction of toxic products in our market and the predatory strange competition for Polish agriculture would be an unimaginable stupidity.

Prof. Dr. Engineer Stanislaw Wiackowski

He is a professor emeritus at Jan Kochanowski University of Kielce. He directed the Chair of Ecology and Environmental Protection; was appointed professor 24 years ago. He has written over 500 scientific and popular works, including 25 books. He was an MP and president of the Parliamentary Commission for Environmental Protection, Natural Resources and Forestry. He was delegated to two commissions of the Council of Europe in Strasburg. He was the president of the Parliamentary Club for Ecology and an advisor to the Minister of Environmental Protection.


Portugal: Attack on GM cornfield labelled as terrorist act

Euro Weekly News, 30 May 2008.

IN the last 'EU terrorism situation and trend' report released by European police force, Europol, the partial mowing of a genetically modified cornfield in Silves last summer, has been classified as an act of terrorism.

The report says it received information from Portugal concerning one single issue terrorist attack believed to be linked to environmental terrorism which took place last year. It concludes that the attack was committed against a transgenic cornfield, adding that more than 100 people took partİ and more than one hectare of the field was destroyed in the attack.

Environmentalist group NGO GAIA have already issued a protest against this report, stressing that: " France, Germany and the UK, similar actions are often far more radical and happen regularly, yet, they are not classified as terrorist acts in the report. Currently, in Germany an occupation of experimental GM fields is taking place." GAIA who are running a national campaign against GMO (genetically modified organisms) in agriculture, has a strong activist component, addressing ecological problems by criticising the social and economical model which, according to them, "exploits and harms our planet, our society and our future generations".

GAIA member Johan Diels said: "Even the lawyer of the accusing party declared that he could not see any elements that would justify labelling the destruction of the GM field of his client as 'terrorist'. A specialist in penal law also declared he could not establish any relation between the action in Silves and terrorist acts." Blaming the government for this 'huge amplification of a small symbolic event', Diels stated:

"It is becoming obvious that the Portuguese government is grabbing all opportunities to crush opposition against GM crops, by classifying a non-violent, political action as an act of terrorism."


29 May 2008

US says biotech key to easing food crisis

AFP, 29 May 2009

WASHINGTON - The United States will propose biotechnology as a strategy to boost agricultural production at a UN global food crisis summit in Rome next week, the top US farm official said Thursday.

Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer, who will lead the US delegation to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) world food security conference that opens Tuesday in Rome, said he would deliver a "straightforward" message.

With the United States contributing more than one-half of all the world's food aid, he said, "the world's other developed nations have an obligation to provide food efficiently without obstructing access to it or limiting safe technologies to produce it."

Schafer said he would propose "a long-term, three-pronged strategy to combat rising global prices."

The US will focus "immediate and expanded" humanitarian aid to countries unable to meet minimum nutrition standards and supports "urgent measures" to combat the underlying causes of food scarcity in developing countries that have the capacity to rapidly increase production and availability of staple foods.

The third measure, he said, will be a US proposal "that all countries consider strategies that expand research, promote science-based regulations, and encourage innovative technology -- including biotechnology."

Schafer said he would host an exhibit on new technologies on the sidelines of the three-day Rome summit "to showcase developing countries that have moved forward with public investment in adoption of bioengineered products."


US to urge end to limits on technology to boost food supply

TREND, 29 May 2009

The United States will urge other countries to boost food supplies by lifting restrictions on bio-engineering technologies to drive down costs and alleviate the global crisis in food shortages, a top US official said Thursday, dpa reported.

US Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer said he will press developed nations to become more efficient in producing food to combat the rising price of food at a UN conference in Rome June 3-5 to address the shortages in poorer countries.

"The United States contributes more than one-half of all the world's food aid, and the world's other developed nations have an obligation to provide food efficiently, without obstructing access to it or limiting safe technologies to produce it," Schafer told reporters.

Some European and African countries are sceptical about the safety of bio-engineered or genetically modified foods.

Schafer said he will also try to dampen the argument that bio- fuel production has been the main source of the spike in food costs. He said a Department of Agriculture analysis concluded that the shift in recent years by farmers to produce bio-fuels instead of food crops has only accounted for a 2-3 per cent rise in food costs.

"Bio-fuels are just one contributor to increased food prices, as demonstrated by price increases on all commodities, both food and nonfood," Schafer said.

Some developing countries have called for an end to subsidies for bio-fuels derived from food crops such as maize. The World Bank has said US production of maize-based ethanol is the chief cause of a spike in maize prices over the last few years.

Schafer said ethanol production was spurred by an increased yield from US maize crops and was not pulling resources out of "traditional markets."

He said the increase in food prices can be largely blamed on record-high energy prices that have also prompted a rise in food transportation costs. Bio-fuels help cut down on the dependence on oil and greater production of bio-fuels would ease the crunch in producing and shipping food.

"This is not distorting the global price of food and it's an important direction we need to go," Schafer said.

Schafer said the United States has focused on humanitarian assistances to countries unable to meet minimum nutritional standards and will urge countries at the conference to expand research into innovative technology to produce food, including biotechnology.

"Some basic examples of this are encouraging a policy environment that invests in water management, fertilizer and seed marketing, agriculture credit, and improved post-harvest management," he said.

More than 40 heads of state are expected to attend the UN conference.


GM crops banned in Switzerland until 2012

Agra Europe, 29 May 2008

The Swiss Federal Council (government) has voted to extend the country's moratorium on genetically modified (GM) plants for a further three years beyond the current expiry date of November 2010, Dow Jones reports.

The extension is to allow time for a national research programme into the benefits and risks of GM crops to be completed and the results assessed. Questions over the biological safety of GM plants and the coexistence of GM, conventional and organic crops are being addressed.

The Council imposed a moratorium on the commercial cultivation of GM crops in 2005, on the basis that there was no demand for them in Switzerland at the time and that big gaps remained in scientific knowledge about the risks of this technology.

Shortly after that, the research programme was launched, and this is expected to reach a conclusion around the middle of 2012. However, the Council said last week that it must be allowed to take its course without political pressure.

According to the Council, the moratorium has not caused any obvious problems, either for the farming industry, researchers, or international relations. In fact, it claimed, Swiss farmers have benefited from being able to market their produce on international markets as GM-free.


Penalties deferred on GMOs

Western (Canada), 29 May 2008. By Sean Pratt.

[Extract only]

Saskatoon -- Grain producers, handlers and exporters have received a two-year reprieve from potential liability rules associated with GMO contamination.

Governments gathering at the Fourth Meeting of the Parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety couldn't agree on a deal that would make the grain industry pay for damages caused by the presence of unwanted genetically modified crops.

Full text (subscription required):


Food, Fuel, Famine

The Baltimore Sun (USA), 29 May 2008. By Stephen J. Hedges.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer, who travels to a world food security conference in Rome next week, laid out the Bush administration's strategy today for meeting the current worldwide crisis of rising food costs and shortages.

The Bush plan, though, may not play well in Rome.

Speaking to reporters, Schafer said he will press the Bush administration's campaign to use bio-engineered, or genetically modified, crops as a way to help countries that now face food emergencies.

Schafer said that new crop technology can increase crop yields, especially in places where drought and harsh conditions are prevalent.

Schafer also defended the development of biofuels, arguing that they have not diverted significant amounts of the food supply to energy production.

"We think that policy-wise in the United States of America, and certainly in the rest of the world, as we see the price of oil and petroleum escalate dramatically beyond everyone's imagination, one of the ways to deal with that is biofuels," Schafer said, adding that, "In the U.S. and other countries as well, all ethanol production specifically has come from increased yields in corn corps, not pulling out of any traditional markets."

Some aid groups have argued that, worldwide, the increased production of biofuels has contributed to increasing crop demand and food prices.

Higher food prices have made it difficult for those living on the edge of poverty to afford food. The UN estimates that more than 850 million people worldwide face daily food emergencies.

The Bush administration has tailored its food aid to include the use of genetically modified organisms, or GMO, crops, which are made by a number of U.S. companies. The White House argues that development aid that emphasizes GMO crops will help countries feed their own populations. It contends that those crops are more resistant to drought and pests, and will work well in countries where farming is difficult.

The organic farming community opposes the use of such crops, which they argue require sophisticated and expensive fertilizers and other pesticides. But some aid groups say the use of higher yield crops makes sense, especially in drought-prone East Africa.

Schafer described the U.S. strategy going into the Rome food summit as three-pronged: "Provide food and other support to people who are hungry now, direct development assistance to those countries best able to rapidly increase the production of key food staples that can help feed the hungry, and encourage action to address multilateral and country-specific policies that prevent access to food and the technologies that produce food."

The use of GMO crops, though, will probably meet with opposition from European countries at the conference. Many won't allow GMO seed, or the import of foods made from GMO crops. They argue that the health effects of such crops are not clear.

That ban even caused several African nations in 2002 to consider forgoing U.S. aid that included GMO crops because they feared important European export markets would be lost. Eventually the U.S. grain aid was crushed into flour to prevent its use as seed.

Schafer and U.S. negotiators hope that the dire food emergency will change opinions on GMO crops, both abroad and at home.

"Certainly the bioengineered crops are but one of many solutions," Schafer said, "for increasing yields across the country if we're going to meet the demand of increased consumption."


MEPs divided over EU biofuels target

ENDS Europe Daily, 19 May 2008.

The European parliament's energy committee is split over EU plans to raise the share of renewable energy in the transport sector to ten per cent by 2020. The proposal is part of a plan to grow the share of renewables in total EU energy consumption to 20 per cent by 2020 (EED 23/01/08 Most of the target in the transport sector would be met by increasing the use of plant-based biofuels.

In an unlikely alliance, the committee's rapporteur on the plans, Green MEP Claude Turmes, and centre-right shadow rapporteur MEP Werner Langen of the parliament's largest group, the EPP, both called for the ten per cent target to be scrapped in a committee debate on Wednesday. All other MEPs that spoke wanted to retain it.

Socialist MEP Dorette Corbey, who has previously questioned the target, even suggested that ten per cent would be a "rather low" target if it included electric cars using renewably generated power (EED 16/04/08

But Mr Turmes called the biofuels issue a "smokescreen" that was hiding EU "transport policy failures". It is impossible to achieve the ten per cent target with strict biofuel sustainability criteria, he said. "Maybe five per cent, maybe eight per cent," he offered instead.

MEPs could reach a compromise around eight per cent. Centre-right MEP Anders Wijkman, who is leading parliamentary debate on related biofuel sustainability criteria, supports eight per cent.

Mr Wijkman and Mr Turmes say EU sustainability criteria should apply to all biomass, not just biofuels. In a separate report for the environment committee (see below), Mr Wijkman says biofuels should create net greenhouse gas savings of at least 50 per cent to be eligible to contribute to the EU target, and that the saving must be calculated regionally according to local circumstances, to take better account of emissions from land use change and soil carbon (EED 08/05/08

Mr Turmes has strong support across all political groups for making interim targets for increasing the share of all renewables across the EU binding (EED 13/05/08 His plan to set more detailed, demanding requirements for national action plans met with approval by MEPs and the European commission.

Many MEPs supported Mr Turmes's proposal for an "opt-in" rather than "opt-out" renewables trading system. This would provide greater legal certainty and protect national renewables support schemes, they said. Some governments also want this (EED 28/05/08

Follow-up: Industry, research and energy committee 38;body=ITRE, tel: +32 2 28 43299,
plus Turmes's amendments 155en.pdf
and Wijkman's amendments
See also Copa-Cogeca on biofuels
Article Index: biodiversity, climate, energy, sustainability, transport


Top chefs say no to GM food

Sydney Morning Herald (Australia), 29 May 2008.

More than 50 of the country's top chefs have united to protest against the introduction of genetically modified (GM) food crops to Australia. Last month, GM canola crops were planted for the first time in NSW and Victoria after the two states announced they would let their bans on genetically engineered food crops expire.

In response, local celebrity chefs including Neil Perry and Kylie Kwong have signed on to the GM Free Chefs' Charter, launched in collaboration with Greenpeace in Sydney today.

The charter, unveiled at chef Jared Ingersoll's Danks Street Depot restaurant in the inner-city Sydney suburb of Waterloo, calls for the NSW and Victorian governments to reverse their position on growing GM canola and demands thorough labelling of all food products that contain GM ingredients.

Oils, starches and sugars, as well as animal feed derived from GM ingredients, should all come with a label, says the charter, which will be presented to Australian governments later this year.

Meat from animals which have eaten GM feed should also be signposted, it says.

There are currently no laws on the labelling of food containing GM canola.

Speaking at the charter's launch, Mr Ingersoll said the unknown long-term effects of eating GM foods were a major concern to him, both as a chef and a parent.

"I don't really want to put food in the mouth of my children that I'm not sure whether or not it's going to be damaging for them," he said.

"I'm not the sort of person that stands in the way of technology making advancement to make things better for people ... but with genetically modified food, once we go down that path then there's no going back.

"We are in the very unique position of having an amazing countryside that can produce lots of beautiful food and if we do take the path of Canada and other GM nations, it's going to be really limiting as to what direction we go in," he said.

GM food crops are known to be difficult to contain, and a 2001 Western Australian parliamentary inquiry into gene technology found the segregation of GM crops from non-GM crops was not practical and cross-contamination was "inevitable".

Mr Ingersoll said the rigorous labelling of GM foods was essential to allow consumers to make informed choices about what they ate.

"What I want to see happen today is that we start to see some labelling, we start to see some responsible action being taken that gives the consumer the opportunity to make the decision, because one thing I know is that politicians will do what they want, big companies will do what they want, but everybody relies on customers," he said.

"Without people supporting these (GM) businesses then these businesses won't be there. So we need to get this labelling in place to give consumers the ability to make their decisions."


Top chefs whip up a GM-free charter

Greenpeace Australia Pacific, 29 May 2008.

SYDNEY, Australia – It reads like a "who's who" of Australia's top food experts. Over 50 of our most respected chefs have signed their names to a charter opposing GM food. Australia's top chefs have united to oppose serving genetically modified (GM) food in their restaurants, by endorsing the GM Free Chefs Charter.

The charter calls for thorough labelling of all food products containing GM ingredients. It also opposes the recent introduction of GM canola in New South Wales and Victoria. The Chefs Charter is a major initiative launched by Greenpeace and was unveiled at Jared Ingersoll's Danks Street Depot, attended by chefs from some of Sydney's top restaurants. Among the many high profile signatories are Maggie Beer, Stephanie Alexander, Kylie Kwong, Justin North, Sean Moran, Margaret Fulton, Dure Dara, Neil Perry and Holly Davis.

Read the charter and full list of chefs

Chefs call for GM labelling

This year, Australia will grow GM canola for the first time. Canola is used in a huge range of everyday foods, from breakfast cereals to oil, margarine and bread. But, under current laws, it won't be labelled as GM.

Greenpeace and the Chefs Charter call on the federal government to introduce labelling of all GM foods and food products derived from GM crops, so that Australians can avoid GMİ ingredients if they want to.

The charter will continue to grow and will be delivered to Australian governments later in 2008. Supporting chefs can also choose to display a GM free Chefs Charter logo in their restaurant, windows and on their website to certify their support.

Chefs who want to endorse the GM Free Chefs Charter can email


Secret Ingredients

Seattle Post Intelligencer, May 29 2008. Andrew Schneider.

Absence of food labeling laws keep U.S. consumers from knowing whether or not their food is genetically altered.

Back a couple of months, a couple of you asked how you could determine whether or not your food contained genetically modified organisms. It took a while, but I found a bit of information that might help you better understand this bomb-filled arena, or just add to your confusion.

Here's one point that's indisputable. It is difficult for consumers to know whether the food they're buying was genetically modified, especially in this country. Most of the industrialized countries demand that GMO products be labeled as such. But not the U.S.

The Pew Research Foundation reported that more than 90 percent of American shoppers want food labeled as to its contents, including GMO. Unless I missed it, there was nothing in the farm bill that finally passed last week that will give us a clue to the presence of GM ingredients.

Monsanto, which has a chokehold on the world's use of genetically modified seeds, is now using its extensive network of lawyers and lobbyists to pressure state agriculture agencies not to allow milk producers to label dairy products as not coming from cows fed with GM food or bovine growth hormone.

To learn more about Monsanto, check out this link to Don Barlett and Jim Steele's very well done and balanced investigative report in this month's Vanity Fair.¤tPage=all

As with almost everything controversial, all the opinions on GMO have to be weighed by considering the source of the information. The Institute for Responsible Technology makes no pretense about its concern over the danger of using genetically modified substances in our food.

The institute, founded in 2003 by Jeffery Smith, the author of "Seeds of Deception," says many consumers in the U.S. mistakenly believe that the FDA approves GM foods through rigorous, in-depth, long-term studies. In reality, the agency has absolutely no safety testing requirements.

Smith says it's easy to understand the FDA's industry-friendly policy on regulation of GMOs when you see the revolving door between agency regulators and the companies they regulate.

The FDA has claimed it was not aware of any information showing that GM crops were different "in any meaningful or uniform way" from non-GMO crops and therefore didn't require testing. But Smith says that 44,000 internal FDA documents made public by a lawsuit show that this was not true.

But getting back to the original question of how to identify GMO-tainted food, the institute has released a four-page guide on what to watch out for, including a lengthy list of food items containing GM ingredients.

The guide and other GMO information can be found at the institute's Web site at this link.

As expected, Monsanto says its processes are safe and beneficial and it "helps farmers grow food more efficiently and in a more sustainable manner. We do this through science and the development of agricultural technology. Our products have changed the way food is grown, to the benefit of both farmers and consumers," its Web site states.

For the rest of the story, or at least Monsanto's side of the GMO issue, this link will take you to a long list of stories that the worldwide chemical company has presented on its position.

Good luck sorting through all of this.

Wouldn't shopping be an easier and possibly safer chore if all food were properly labeled?


Food prices to stay high as "grain drain" fuel blamed

Reuters, 29 May 2008. By Brian Love.

Paris -- Food prices will remain high over the next decade even if they fall from current records,, meaning millions more risk further hardship or hunger, the OECD and the U.N.'s FAO food agency said in a report published on Thursday.

Beyond stating the immediate need for humanitarian aid, the international bodies suggested wider deployment of genetically modified crops and a rethink of biofuel programmes that guzzle grain which could otherwise feed people and livestock.

The report, issued ahead of a world food summit in Rome next week, said food commodity prices were likely to recede from the peaks hit recently, but that they would remain higher in the decade ahead than the one gone by.

"It's time for action," Jacques Diouf, head of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation told a news conference in Paris, saying he expected 40 leaders in Rome for a summit on what should be done immediately or in the future.

"There's an immediate need for humanitarian aid to avoid poor people going hungry," added Angel Gurria, head of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Beef and pork prices would probably stay around 20 percent higher than in the last 10 years, while wheat, corn and skimmed milk powder would likely command 40-60 percent more in the 10 years ahead, in nominal terms, the joint FAO/OECD report said.

The price of rice, an Asian staple expected to become more important also in Africa in the years ahead, would likely average 30 percent more expensive in nominal terms in the coming decade than over the 1998-2007 period.

"In many low-income countries, food expenditures average over 50 percent of income and the higher prices contained in this outlook (report) will push more people into undernourishment," the report said.

Millions of people's purchasing power across the globe would be hit, said the report.

The cost of many food commodities has doubled over the last couple of years, sparking widespread protests and even riots in some of the worst affected spots, such as Haiti.

Many factors, including drought in big commodity-producing regions such as Australia, explained some of the acceleration in prices, as did growing demand from fast-developing countries such as China and India, the report said.

Grain drain

But it singled out the big drive to produce biofuels as an alternative to fossil fuels, a push the U.S. government is sponsoring heavily, and Europe as well.

"Biofuel demand is the largest source of new demand in decades and a strong factor underpinning the upward shift in agricultural commodity prices," said the report, adding it was time to consider alternatives.

The benefits at environmental and economic level as well as in terms of energy security were "at best modest and sometimes even negative", the report said.

Under U.S. plans, about a quarter of the U.S. corn crop will be channelled into ethanol production by 2022 while the European Union is also aiming for as much as 10 percent of road transport fuel to be produced using crops by 2020.

The impact of high food commodity prices on retail food prices is clearer in developing countries than wealthy nations.

The proportion of total funds that households use to pay for food varies hugely, from more than 60 percent in Bangladesh, to 27 percent in China and just 10 percent in the United States or Germany, the report said.

It also highlighted the impact of financial investors in the commodities futures markets, saying this added upwards pressure on prices in the short term but that the jury was still out as to the long-term impact, beyond generating greater volatility.

(Additional reporting by Sybille de la Hamaide, Editing by Peter Blackburn)


Most Developing Countries Ill-Equipped To Ensure Global Biosafety: UN University

Medical News Today, 29 May 2008.

A two-year UN study of internationally funded training programmes in biotechnology and biosafety warns that as many as 100 developing countries are unprepared to effectively manage and monitor the use of modern biotechnologies, leaving the world community open to serious biosafety threats.

The report, from the United Nations University Institute of Advanced Studies, says training and management deficiencies in most countries of Africa, Central Asia, Oceania and the Caribbean, "are so pervasive and broad that there is no effective international system of biosafety at the moment."

In addition, the global resources available from donor countries and agencies, already inadequate to help developing countries meet basic international agreement obligations, are being cut back. It is estimated that, over the past 15 years, just $135 million has been invested globally by public and private sources in capacity building in developing country.

The UNU-IAS assessment, released at this month's Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in Bonn, takes no sides on genetically modified organisms and other biotech-related controversies. It was designed simply to shed a neutral, independent and objective light on international biotechnology and biosafety training programmes intended to allow developing countries to make and implement informed choices.

Among other questions examined:

Are current capacity building initiatives directed towards particular policy or regulatory outcomes?

Do they drive the policy process in developing countries?

Are capacity building initiatives in biosafety and biotech demand driven?

How can integrated capacity building be provided given lack of international consensus about nature and extent of risks posed by Living Modified Organisms?

Are regional approaches appropriate for capacity building in biosafety and biotech?

Is there sufficient donor coordination to avoid inappropriate duplication?

Are existing activities sustainable?

How should capacity building differentiate between developing countries at different stages of uptake of modern biotech?

How can capacity building gaps and problems be addressed?

Authors, Sam Johnston, Catherine Monagle, Jessica Green and Ruth Mackenzie say the use and prevalence of biotechnology in agriculture and other sectors seems certain to increase. And the widespread ratification of the world's Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (CPB), which will mark the 5th anniversary of its coming into force on Sept. 11, 2008, "demonstrates the desire for biosafety measures to go hand in hand with the development of biotechnology."

However, they cite the lack of technical, policy and enforcement capacities in developing countries as "a potentially contributing factor to the spread of bioterrorism" -- the deliberate release of naturally-occurring or human-modified bacteria, viruses, toxins or other biological agents.

Among other points and observations:

Globalization, resulting in the increasing flow of information, people and resources, has weakened the power of states to manage technology development and will make it harder to develop an effective international regime;

The lack of capacities and the associated policy vacuum allow for vested interests to predominate, dampen support for research and create hesitation on the part of governments to properly engage with the issue;

A country that lacks capacity is more likely to bring in very restrictive systems in order to counterbalance its deficiencies and undermines their ability to consider less contentious uses of biotechnology, such as in diagnostics, industrial enzymes, pollution remediation, combating drought and reversing salinity;

The lack of capacity creates dependency in developing countries;

The use of genetically-modified crops in many developing countries makes future trade bans and disruption likely;

The lack of an effective biosafety regime undermines the potential for developing countries to consider the role of biotechnology in critical areas such as addressing climate change.

Most available capacity building resources to date have been devoted to developing policy and regulatory regimes, including approval procedures and risk assessment. Scientific training has focused mostly on risk assessment and, to a lesser extent, on the detection of genetically modified organisms.

The authors offer a suite of recommendations, emphasizing that capacity needs should be identified locally, not internationally, and point to success stories on which world efforts should be built.

The findings raise fundamental questions about "the extent to which capacity deficits are undermining the promise that advances in biotechnology would directly address the needs of the poor," says UNU-IAS Director A.H. Zakri.

"There may also be broader implications of a capacity deficit in biosafety and biotechnology. These may include an impaired ability to meet the challenges of global issues such as climate change, or to protect humans and the environment against biosecurity risks."

Article adapted by Medical News Today from original press release.

Information for the assessment was assembled from available literature and previous assessments, country visits to the Philippines, Uganda, Bangladesh and Cameroon, stakeholder interviews and participation in several international meetings, overseen by an advisory committee of senior experts and critiqued by a range of reviewers.

The full report is online here (pdf)

UNU Institute of Advanced Studies

The Institute of Advanced Studies is part of the United Nations University's global network of research and training centres. IAS undertakes research and postgraduate education on leading sustainable development issues, convening expertise from disciplines such as economics, law, biology, political science, physics and chemistry to better understand and contribute creative solutions to pressing global concerns. UNU-IAS works to identify and address strategic issues of concern for all humankind, for governments and decision makers and, particularly, for developing countries.

United Nations University

Established by the U.N. General Assembly, UNU is an international community of scholars engaged in research, advanced training and the dissemination of knowledge related to pressing global problems. Activities focus mainly on peace and conflict resolution, sustainable development and the use of science and technology to advance human welfare. The University operates a worldwide network of research and post-graduate training centres, with headquarters in Tokyo


Terry Collins
United Nations University


28 May 2008

EU makes a pig's ear of GM-free feed regulation Farmers slam EU's zero tolerance approach

Food, 28 May 2008. By Rick Pendrous.

Farmers' leaders have raised the spectre that Britain's pig and poultry sectors could be "decimated" by spiralling genetically modified (GM)-free feed costs after a virtual ban on GM animal soya feed in the EU.

Meurig Raymond, deputy president of the National Farmers' Union, said the "zero tolerance" approach to GM contamination would cause feed prices to soar. "It could easily add &ound;200/t in two years' time," he warned.

"The amount of land that is being planted with GM soya across the world has just rocketed," said Raymond. "So the chances of being able to purchase non-GM protein in the next two years is going to be difficult." His harshest criticism was the slowness of the EU in authorising the use of new GM soya varieties and the low 0.9% tolerance level allowed for GM contamination in imported soya. "Unless the European Commission eases the conditions on tolerance, then it is going to make life difficult, particularly for the pig and poultry sector," he said.

Raymond called for a tolerance of 25-40% to be permitted. But he recognised getting agreement on this would take a long time. He claimed the French government was one of the main protagonists against GM technology and relaxing the tolerance levels. "They have changed their stance in the last couple of months and I can't understand why," he said.

The irony is that pigs and poultry fed on GM feedstock can be legally imported into the EU. "If we are uncompetitive in western Europe in pigs and poultry, we are going to be importing [more of] the product which has been fed on GM material anyway," he added. "So there is some hypocrisy here."

His concerns were echoed by Patrick Wall, chairman of the European Food Safety Authority.

Comment by GM-free Ireland

The UK National Farmers Union is flogging a dead horse as reports have long since made it clear that rising feed costs have nothing to do with the EU's requirement to protect European farmers from illegal GM animal feed varieties. The NFU is advocating a race to the bottom against meat from GM-fed livestock imported from South America which Europe can never win, based on lower labour and input costs there. Instead of promoting the interests of the giant consolidated agri-biotech companies and commodity traders bent on forcing the EU market open to their unwanted GM products, EU farmers' organisations can - and should - (a) source certified non-GMO soya which, despite the propaganda, is available for only a small extra premium from Brazil and other countries, and (b) leverage the EU's market clout to request farmers in the feed producing countries to grow the GM-free soya which the EU market demands.


Organically reared cows produce healthier milk says Newcastle University

The Times (UK), May 28 2008. By Valerie Elliot.

Milk from organic cattle that eat a fresh grass diet is likely to be better for your health, according to a new study by the University of Newcastle

This organic milk contained more good fatty acids such as omega-3 and conjugated linoleic acid known as CLA9 than milk produced at intensive commercial dairy farms. The difference was even more marked during the summer with levels of CLA9 about 60 per cent higher in milk from cattle that graze in fields.

Gillian Butler, livestock project manager for the university's Nafferton Ecological Farming Group, who led the research, said: "Our work has not looked at the impact on human health, but I would say organic milk should be better for health from what we know of the benefits of these good fatty acids. She added: "They are effective in combating cancer, coronary heart disease and type II diabetes."

The sampling of milk took place during 2004 and 2005 but the results were published only yesterday in the Journal of Science of Food and Agriculture.

Mrs Butler, 53, said that she had switched to drinking organic milk three years ago after analysing the data. "My interest now is that if we can improve the quality of milk we can also improve the health qualities of butter and cheese," Mrs Butler said.

Organic cattle in the South of England spent most of their lives out of doors but in the North and Scotland cattle are brought indoors to live in sheds from the end of September or October, depending on rain and cold temperatures.

Researchers found that by adding a mix of soya beans, rapeseed and linseed to the daily food rations for each cow kept indoors, milk quality improved and was comparable to the milk from an outdoor cow eating a fresh grass diet.

"We've shown that significant seasonal differences exist. Our future research is focusing on how to improve the nutritional composition of milk during the winter, when cows are kept indoors and fed mainly on conserved forage," she said.

The study, which was a collaboration between scientists at Newcastle and the Danish Institute for Agricultural Science, is part of a European Commission-funded project about milk quality and minimising use of antibiotics in dairy production. The scientists also discovered interesting results from a group of non-organic farms that used similar production methods to organic systems.

These cattle lived outdoors from March until November, eating almost a 100 per cent fresh grass diet. This milk had higher levels of the good fatty acid CLA9, whereas organic milk had higher levels of omega-3.

Further work is under way but Mrs Butler believes that the difference is linked to the amount of clover in fields. Organic farms have more because they do not use fertilisers.

The findings delighted the Soil Association, which champions organic food and farming in Britain.

Peter Melchett, policy director at the the association, said: "This research confirms what organic farmers and consumers have long believed to be true.

"Some sceptics have thrown doubts on the benefit of organic milk because scientists had not shown precisely how organic farming makes a positive difference. This latest research demonstrates that it is the cows' organic diet that makes their milk healthier. Other research has shown the same is true for beef and lamb reared on grass."


Biofuel production Africa threatens wetlands and forests

Wetlands International press release, 28 May 2008.

Bonn, 28 May 2008. Africa is expected to produce a substantial part of the global biofuel demand in 2020. Production will hardly take place in current agricultural areas. Especially natural areas of wetlands and rainforest - the hotspots for biodiversity - are vulnerable for this development.

These are the main outcomes of the study 'Biofuel production in Africa' , presented by Wetlands International at the Convention of Biological Diversity in Bonn. The report describes the expected impact of biofuel production on African wetlands and their values in 2020.

Little risk for African wide food production

Africa wide food production is not directly at risk being pushed away by biofuel production. Although millions of African hectares might be turned into biofuel production, this will largely take place outside existing agricultural areas. The African share of biofuel production for EU and North American and upcoming Asian markets is expected to remain relatively modest in the coming decades (an assumed 5% in 2020). Major consumer markets (US, EU) will preferably support their own agricultural sector to produce feedstocks for biofuels. Countries like Brazil will remain better equipped to extend its biofuel production and to serve the world markets with low production costs.

Increasing agricultural prices

A large and increasing share of European and American agricultural production is turned into biofuels. As a result, African food prices too will rise. This creates opportunities for farmers but also jeopardizes the position of the landless and urban poor when foodprices rise.

Southern and Eastern Africa for sugar cane

The most promising crops are sugar cane for ethanol and palm oil for biodiesel; and sorghum and cassava at a later stage. Jatropha will only be attractive for smallholders, for local use; not for global markets. Southern Africa and Eastern Africa (South-Africa, Monzambique, Tanzania and Kenya) are expected to become the most important producers for sugar cane. Western Africa will be more suitable for palm oil.

Promising crops cause wetland loss

Oil palm fruits and sugar cane are very perishable and need processing within one or two days. This demands huge plantations of thousands of hectares in the proximity of a mill. These crops also use lots of water, usually much more than rainfall provides. These two factors make natural wetlands and rainforests with uninhabited or communal lands very attractive areas for biofuel production: enough water and little problems with land rights when establishing huge plantations at once. Even with a modest share at the global level, African biofuel production for the Northern markets and for domestic African use will demand millions of hectares in Africa. The areas at risk, with low population densities and enough fresh water are also the most important 'hotspots' for African biodiversity. Similar trends are visible in South-east Asia where complex land rights in populated areas make peatswamp forests popular for palm oil plantations. The first examples in Africa (like the Tana wetlands in Kenya, TanoÈ swamp forest Ivory Coast, Wami wetlands in Tanzania) confirm this expectation.

Impact on people locally

In addition to the loss of natural areas, biofuel production has negative local impacts on people downstream of the plantations. Biofuels like sugar cane consume large quantities of water, cause erosion and demand fertilizer and pesticides. Especially in Africa, this will affect many people as many directly depend on water quantity and quality of nearby wetlands such as rivers and marshes. Locally, food production might be at threat by the establishment of biofuel plantations.

The need for rapid processing of feedstocks make farmers dependent on the owners of the mills. This makes exploitation of farmers more likely than for other cash crops, with little opportunities for smallholders.

Opportunities for Africa

While biofuel production for EU and USA markets are expected remain relatively modest, according to the study there are promising opportunities for African countries to shift their fuel demands to biofuels. Currently, African countries spend around 10 to 20% of their import value on fuels. This is increasing due to high oil prices. Biofuels can provide better and eventually cheaper energy security, improved trade balance and create added value. A country like Brazil depends now mostly on bio-ethanol for fuel, as it is cheaper compared to fossil oil. Biofuel support policies of for instance South-Africa and Malawi are the first examples of this.

Wetlands International sees major threats but also opportunities for biofuel production in Africa. The NGO calls for global biodiversity and social criteria to apply in consumer countries, producing countries and within product sectors and for donor policies to guide this major development. Wetlands International is working on an early warning system of wetland conversion.

Note: This press release is based on a study commissioned by Wetlands International and carried out by AIDEnvironment about the expectations for 2020 on biofuel production in Africa. You can download our report on


Alex Kaat
Wetlands International
+31 (0)6 50601917 (mobile)
+31 (0)317 486776


No evidence GM increases yields

Farmers Weekly (UK), letter to the editor, 28 May 2008.

Did anyone else spot that throughout Julian Little's talking point (It's yield that will matter from now, 9 May 2008), in which he attempted - on behalf of the GM industry - to make the case for GM crops on the basis of increased yields, he failed to provide a shred of evidence that GM crops do in fact increase yields?

This is not surprising given that the conclusion of the recent United Nations International Agriculture Assessment report, written by 400 scientists and supported by 60 countries, was that there was no evidence that GM crops increase yields. The biotech industry was so disgruntled by the report's lack of support that it pulled out of the entire process last year, and the USA has refused to sign up to the final document for the same reasons.

No one disputes that we face huge challenges; farming must be both competitive and environmentally friendly. But GM crops have failed to deliver on both counts. Most GM crops grown are modified to be herbicide tolerant, leading to dramatic increases in the use of pesticides as more and more resistant weeds emerge. There is not a single GM drought tolerant crop on the market.

The International Agriculture Assessment made it clear that the way forward must be through localised solutions, combining scientific research with traditional knowledge in partnership with farmers and consumers. The fact that the UK does not grow GM crops is a chance for UK farmers to continue to produce the GM-free food the market demands.

Clare Oxborrow
Food Campaigner
Friends of the Earth
London N1 7JQ


The facts on productivity


"currently available GM crops do not increase the yield potential... In fact, yield may even decrease if the varieties used to carry the herbicide tolerant or insect-resistant genes are not the highest yielding cultivars".

Authors: Fernandez-Cornejo, J. & Caswell
Title: Genetically Engineered Crops in the United States
Source: USDA/ERS Economic Information Bulletin No. 11, April 2006

An earlier US Department of Agriculture report also noted that GM crops do not increase yield potential and may reduce yields (p21). That report also says, "Perhaps the biggest issue raised by these results is how to explain the rapid adoption of GE crops when farm financial impacts appear to be mixed or even negative." (p24)

Authors: Jorge Fernandez-Cornejo and William D. McBride
Title: Adoption of Bioengineered Crops
Source: Agricultural Economic Report No. AER810, May 2002


Australian News: MAdGE marches against GM food

Green Left Weekly issue #752, 28 May 2008. By Sue Bolton.

MAdGE (Mothers Against Genetic Engineering) took its opposition to genetically modified food to the streets on May 21, to coincide with a May 21-22 GM crops summit in Melbourne.

MAdGE was formed in 2007 when the Victorian ALP government announced it was reviewing the moratorium on GM food. Premier John Brumby's government lifted the moratorium on February 28.

MAdGE organiser Fran Murrell slammed the limitations of the government review: "The panel ... was only required to look at the economic aspects of lifting the ban. There was no obligation to examine the health effects of GM crops or their effect on the environment.

She added: "Data from the US Department of Agriculture shows 15 times more pesticide is sprayed on US crops since the introduction of GM crops ... Farmers have reported that pigs fed GM corn had fertility problems and gave birth to bags of water. We need this dangerous technology out of our food until full tests are done."

Vicki Wilson from the Concerned Consumers Group told the protesters, "This technology is in its infancy ... they are playing with our food and making us the guinea pigs. Eventually, like the tobacco industry, the harm that GM could do to us will be revealed, but at what cost?" MAdGE points out that Food Standards Australia New Zealand does no independent testing of GM foods, relying instead on studies done by the biotech companies themselves.

Several Gippsland farmers were among the 100 protesters. One told Green Left Weekly that she was disgusted with the Victorian Farmers Federation for believing the Monsanto propaganda about GM crops.

The protest demanded: that governments stop approving GM crops and food until multi-generational, independent trials are done; that GM foods currently in the food chain be removed until they are proven safe; and that GM canola planted in Australia this year be uprooted before it can flower, spread pollen and seed, and pollute the environment.


27 May 2008

UK: Government accused of "GM crop fixation" while food crisis deepens

Press Notice from GM Free Cymru (Wales), 27th May 2008.

The Government has been accused of maintaining a fixation on GM crops and foods while international food prices escalate and while the spectre of starvation is faced by millions of poor people worldwide.

In spite of frequent appeals from scientists and NGOs the UK Government continues to promote GM crop approvals within the EC, with Peter Mandelson taking an aggressive pro-corporate and pro-GM stance on the spurious grounds that "trade liberalisation" will assist the poor (1). Supposedly independent regulatory bodies like FSA and ACRE continue to maintain the pretence that GM crops and foods are harmless and healthy, and to peddle the "freedom of choice" argument in spite of the fact that no consumers actually seem to want to eat GM products. In other words, they slavishly follow the line laid down by DEFRA and the Government.

More to the point, the Government has pointedly refused to sign up to the recent IAASTD report which was very sceptical about the role of GM in contributing to future sustainable and environmentally friendly agriculture in the poorer nations. Scientists, aid workers, civil servants, and farm representatives from around the world endorsed instead a pattern of agriculture which is sustainable, independent of high chemical and energy inputs, and responsive to local needs and aspirations. The Report was signed by 57 nations (2), and the only ones which have refused to sign are the USA, Canada, Australia and the UK. In response to frequent prompting, the Government has still done no more than "welcome" the report, while pointedly refusing to "support" it. This is embarrassing, to say the least, for Professor Bob Watson, Chairman of IAASTD, who also acts as Chief Scientific Adviser to DEFDRA (3). Without much conviction, he has tried to convince the media that his statements about the limitations of GM technology have the "full support" of the Prime Minister. On the other hand Douglas Alexander, the Secretary of State for International Development, has confirmed in a letter to GM Free Cymru (4) that he will continue surreptitiously to use taxpayers' money to fund GM research, in spite of the wishes of the poorer nations for future research to be concentrated on conventional crop breeding and cultivation methods which will enhance food security, maintain biodiversity and facilitate the survival of rural communities.

Commenting on the Government's refusal to support the aspirations of the nations which have signed up to the IAASTD Report, GM Free Cymru spokesman Brian John said: "We find the Government's attitude to the IAASTD recommendations patronising and even arrogant. Clearly, the colonial "donor/client" mind-set within DFID is still present, with the Government apparently convinced that it knows better than the poorer nations themselves what is good for them (5). This Government is scared to death of the USA and the WTO, and far too close to despicable multinational corporations like Syngenta and Monsanto. It is high time that it started to listen to what British taxpayers and representatives of the developing nations are saying to them -- namely that the GM fixation has wasted millions of pounds thus far, has never delivered any benefits to the poor and hungry, and has no role to play in the delivery of future food security."



Dr Brian John
Tel + 44 1239 820470





(4) Rt Douglas Alexander MP
Secretary of State for International Development DFID
22nd May 2008
Dear Mr Alexander
The IAASTD Report and the DFID fixation on GM crops
(Text available on request)

OPEN LETTER from GM Free Cymru
to: Rt Hon Gordon Brown MP, Prime Minister 10 Downing Street, London
16th April 2008
Dear Prime Minister
GM crops will not feed the world


Global Forest Coalition:
Activists Symbolically Cut Trees to Save Forests and Call for GE Trees Ban

Global Forest Coalition press release, 27 May 2008.

Bonn, Germany - A large number of activists today stopped and cut Genetically Engineered frankentrees that attempted to invade a tree planting ceremony outside of the meeting of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

"We came here to this event because this tree planting ceremony is representative of corporate green-washing initiatives pretending to protect biodiversity," said Peter Gerhardt of the German based group Robin Wood. "The tree planting ceremony is symbolic of what industry is pushing--non-native, often invasive trees for monoculture timber plantations. If industry has its way, in the near future these will be genetically engineered (GE) trees for production of second generation agrofuels or pulp and paper," he continued.

The activists expressed concern about the refusal of the EU and Brazil to ban GE trees. "These trees are simply too dangerous, not only to forests, but also to local communities and Indigenous Peoples who depend on forests for their existence," stated Camila Moreno of Terra de Direitos of Brazil.

"Already forest dependent communities, especially women, are threatened by monoculture timber plantations and GE trees will mean more plantations and an even greater threat," stated Anne Petermann, of Global Justice Ecology Project, and the STOP GE Trees Campaign. [1] "Imposing a ban on the release of genetically engineered trees into the environment is the only sensible position, which is supported by the entire African delegation plus numerous Parties from Asia and Latin America."

The environmentalists also expressed their concern about the One Billion Trees campaign of the UN Environment Program. [2] "This campaign fails to inform people that planting the wrong tree at the wrong place can be ecologically and socially harmful", stated Dr. Miguel Lovera, Chairperson of the Global Forest Coalition.

"Companies also want to use GE trees and other tree monocultures for offsetting carbon emissions," highlighted Ana Filippini of World Rainforest Movement and the STOP GE Trees Campaign. "The destruction of forests, which are important carbon sinks, for new tree plantations releases huge amounts of carbon, worsening climate change. What we need is forest restoration with native species, not monocultures."

A potential ban on GE trees was discussed at length during the first week of the Biodiversity Convention and will now move into the High Level Session where Ministers from around the world will decide what will happen with this issue. A decision to stop GE trees is considered critically important at this time because of the rapid advancement of GE trees technology, which is being especially driven by the projected increase in demand for wood that would accompany cellulose-based second generation agrofuels.


[1] The STOP GE Trees Campaign is comprised of 137 organizations in 34 countries.

[2] The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has launched a major worldwide tree planting campaign called Plant for the Planet: Billion Tree Campaign.


Orin Langelle, GFC Media Coordinator Tel: +49 (0)176 771 87583

Dr. Miguel Lovera, GFC Chairperson Tel: +49 (0)152 225 344787


South Africa: Minority judgment defends public interest litigation

Legalbrief Environmental, 27 May 2008.

Non-governmental organisation Biowatch has won a protracted legal battle to force the bodies responsible for regulating genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to grant access to a range of records relating to how those bodies made decisions to authorise the growing and sale of GMO crops.

Despite the victory, Acting Judge Dunne refused to order those bodies or the Minister of Agriculture to pay Biowatch's legal costs and ordered Biowatch to pay the costs of the multinational giant Monsanto, which had intervened in the litigation. Biowatch appealed this judgment. Last November two judges of the Transvaal High Court decided that, despite the fact that making costs orders against parties that litigate in the public interest to enforce constitutional rights would have a 'chilling effect' and discourage such litigation, it would not be appropriate for the Appeal Court to interfere with the discretion of Acting Judge Dunne regarding costs. However, in a strongly worded and meticulously researched dissenting judgment released last week, Judge Poswa rejected the view of the majority that there was no rule that a winning party should be awarded costs and held that although a judge must apply this rule flexibly, he or she must have good reasons to depart from it. Poswa found that Biowatch had demonstrated that it was acting in the public interest and had been 'wholly successful' against the state and Monsanto and was accordingly entitled to its costs. Biowatch has announced its intention to appeal to the Constitutional Court on the basis of this dissenting judgment. All those who believe that public interest litigation has a vital role to play in upholding our Constitution will be hoping that Biowatch succeeds in overturning a precedent that has substantially increased the risks of such litigation.

Visit the EnAct International site

Read an additional report in the Cape Argus (subscription needed)

View the court papers (including the minority judgment) on the Biowatch site


USA: Kiplinger comments on Monsanto, 27 May 2008. reports:

Simply put, Monsanto helps farmers grow more food than they would otherwise. And the company can charge a pretty penny for its assistance thanks to innovative products, such as seed that results in corn that is resistant to pests.

Monsanto (symbol MON) is the top dog in the herbicide and seed sector. DuPont (DD) is second and Syngenta (SYT) a distant third, says Credit Suisse analyst Mark Connelly. He says Monsanto will continue to remain ahead of the competition over the next five years.

Monsanto's domination of the market is no secret. The stock has climbed from around $7 in 2003 to more than $100 today.

Sales and profits of the herbicide Roundup, or glyphosate as chemists call it, has contributed mightily to Monsanto's performance. In the second fiscal quarter, which ended Feb. 29, sales of glyphosate and other herbicides soared 85 percent, to $982 million, from the same period a year earlier.

Meanwhile, gross profit (sales minus cost of goods sold) surged 133 percent, to $595 million. The company forecasts a doubling of gross profit from glyphosate sales for the fiscal year that ends Aug. 31.

Corn and soybeans are the engines of Monsanto's seed business. Corn accounted for 57 percent of Monsanto's profit in fiscal 2007, while soybeans contributed 19 percent. All other crop seeds accounted for the rest.

Strong demand for corn in Argentina, Brazil and the United States is boosting results. In the second quarter, the company generated gross profit of $1.6 billion, up 37 percent from the same quarter a year ago. Sales totaled $2.5 billion, up 39 percent.

Some agricultural analysts expect that farmers will plant less corn this year to take advantage of higher soybean prices. Such a move could hurt Monsanto's sales. But Argus Research analyst Bill Selesky calls those concerns "overblown."

Monsanto has yet to unleash a possibly game-changing innovation. It has partnered with Dow Chemical (DOW) to combine eight genetically engineered traits -- such as herbicide tolerance and insect resistance -- into one corn hybrid. Farmers buy hybrid seed because it produces more corn per acre and allows them to use less herbicide.

Monsanto recently raised its quarterly dividend 40 percent, to 17.5 cents a share. The stock yields 0.6 percent based on an annual dividend rate of 70 cents per share.


BASF Plant Science and Academia Sinica (Taipei) to cooperate on gene discovery;
Focus on yield increase and stress tolerance in crops such as rice and corn;
Third plant biotech agreement by BASF Plant Science in Asia within eight months, 27 May 2008.

Limburgerhof, Germany and Taipei, Taiwan -- BASF Plant Science and Academia Sinica, the leading research institute in Taiwan, today signed a cooperation agreement.

Focus is on the discovery of genes that increase yield and improve stress tolerance in major crops such as rice and corn.

Financial details have not been disclosed.

Within the scope of the cooperation, Academia Sinica will continue their work on the detailed functional analysis of genes in rice. BASF will evaluate genetically modified rice plants and further develop the most promising genes in rice as well as other crops. Target is to market several genetically enhanced crops with improved yield. The duration of the cooperation has initially been set for two years.

We are impressed by the broad expertise that our partner brings to the coopera-tion, said Dr. Jurgen Logemann, Vice President Technology Management, BASF Plant Science. BASF was able to select those genes from preliminary studies at Academica Sinica that show the largest potential to increase and secure yield in crops.

We are delighted to partner with BASF Plant Science for identification of rice genes that control stress tolerance and beneficial agronomic traits through study of our gene library and database called TRIM, said Dr. Su-May Yu of the Institute of Molecular Biology at Academia Sinica, who heads the project. TRIM stands for Taiwan Rice Insertional Mutant library and database.

Essential genes identified during the cooperation could be used to improve yield in rice and other cereal crops such as wheat, corn, and grass species, which are very much needed in order to ensure food and bioenergy security for the rapidly growing world population, Dr. Yu added.

After agreements with CFGC (South Korea) and NIBS (Beijing), the agreement with Academia Sinica is the third cooperation agreement that BASF Plant Sci-ence has entered within the past eight months. BASF Plant Science highly values the quality of work carried out by research institutes in Asia-Pacific, said Logemann.

About Academia Sinica

Academia Sinica, is the most prominent academic institution in Taiwan. It was founded in China in 1928 to promote scholarly research into the sciences and humanities. After the Republic of China government moved to Taiwan in 1949, Academia Sinica was re-established in Taipei. It is now a modern institution with a worldwide reputation and a proud tradition.

Academia Sinica is currently under the leadership of President Chi-Huey Wong. It is divided into three divisions, the Division of Life Sciences, the Division of Humanities and Social Sciences, and the Division of Mathematics and Physical Sciences. Altogether it boasts a total of 24 institutes and 7 centers, the research from which can be seen regularly in international scholarly journals. In the 10 years from 1996 to 2006 Academia Sinica published a total of 9662 papers, 104 of which were listed as within the top 1% of highly cited research papers worldwide.

More at 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

About BASF

BASF is the worlds leading chemical company: The Chemical Company. Its portfolio ranges from oil and gas to chemicals, plastics, performance products, agricultural products and fine chemicals. As a reliable partner BASF helps its customers in virtually all industries to be more success-ful. With its high-value products and intelligent solutions, BASF plays an important role in finding answers to global challenges such as climate protection, energy efficiency, nutrition and mobility.

BASF has more than 95,000 employees and posted sales of almost 58 billion in 2007. Further information on BASF is available on the Internet at


26 May 2008

U.S. rice farmers want class-action suit against Bayer

Associated Press, 26 May 2008. By Christopher Leonard.

ST. LOUIS – A federal judge will decide whether to consolidate several lawsuits over genetically engineered rice under one class-action suit that would include thousands of rice farmers throughout the United States.

U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry heard arguments in the case Thursday that hinged on whether farmers suffered economic damage after a strain of Bayer CropScience AG's experimental rice was released into the food supply in 2006.

Some foreign countries temporarily banned U.S. rice exports after the release of the so-called Liberty Link rice, drying up key foreign markets and causing the price for U.S. rice to drop.

Perry made no ruling last week, but if she grants the suit class-action status, it could have potentially enormous implications for the biotech seed industry.

Every major biotech seed company grows experimental biotech crops outdoors. The U.S. rice farmers say the companies should be held liable for any economic losses on global grain markets if experimental strains escape and crimp export markets.

Bayer attorney Mark Ferguson said making dozens of lawsuits into a single class-action against his client would be impractical because it would include any rice farmer who set a price for their crop after Liberty Link was released in August 2006.

Don Downing, an attorney for Gray Ritter and Graham of St. Louis, who represents a group of farmers in the case, said the farmers suffered the same damage because they sell a commodity whose price is set by global markets.

Downing didn't say what kind of financial damages the farmers would seek. But the sum could be vast, according to testimony from Colin Carter, an agricultural economics professor at the University of California, Davis. Carter said the rice markets were "shocked" in 2006 when European nations restricted U.S. rice imports. Such a shock becomes a permanent factor in setting the price for a commodity like rice, because traders always know it might happen again.


Africa: How Media is Pushing GM Crops

The East African, 26 May 2008. By John Mbaria (Nairobi).

Unwitting African countries are being coaxed and coerced to cultivate and consume genetically modified crops in a campaign bankrolled by giant biotech multinationals and executed by cash-rich "scientific" organisations who extol technology as the panacea for the continent's hunger and low agricultural productivity.

The big-bucks campaign has been picking up steam in East Africa in recent months with one announcement after another being made through compliant media outlets of grandiose initiatives aimed at helping the region's countries to fight hunger.

The media reports on these initiatives rarely query the role of the global biotech giants nor do they examine the broader agenda behind the big pro-GMO push in African countries. Almost all the reports on the GMO initiatives either explicitly endorse them or end up reproducing without comment the glowingly positive picture painted by the GMO proponents.

As a result, the possible social, economic and health consequence of cultivating and consuming GM "Frankenfoods" are rarely covered. Observers say the uncritical attitude of the media means that it has unwittingly been incorporated into the campaign and has failed to inform millions of African smallholder farmers and their families about the entire truth on GMOs.

The safety aspects aside, this is likely to prove a fatal oversight in a region that has in the past few decades invested heavily in production for export of coffee, vegetables, flowers and other agricultural produce to Western markets - a growing proportion of it comprising organic or specialty items tailored to niche markets obsessed with purity and traceability of ingredients.

The European market in particular is increasingly hostile to genetically modified crops. In April 2007, according to the GMO-Free Europe website, at least 174 regions, over 4,500 municipalities and other local entities and tens of thousands of farmers and food producers in Europe have declared themselves "GMO-free," expressing their commitment not to allow the use of genetically modified organisms in agriculture and food in their territories.

On May 7 this year, the European Commission sent three controversial genetically modified crops back to its food safety agency in what activists described as "a huge vote of no-confidence in the EU's approval system."

The European Food Safety Authority was asked to review its previous opinion on the safety of a genetically modified potato in light of concerns raised by the World Health Organisation, the Institut Pasteur and the European Medicines Agency. The GM potato, produced by German chemicals company BASF, contains a gene which confers resistance to certain antibiotics considered "relevant" for human and animal health.

The food safety body was also asked to review its previous assessment of two GM maize varieties developed by the companies Syngenta and Pioneer/Dow, that are engineered to produce their own pesticide and which it had originally stated were safe. There is said to be growing scientific evidence showing that the insecticide could affect wildlife and may have knock-on effects on Europe's biodiversity.

Last week, the Chicago Tribune reported that the United States government is using the prevailing global food crisis to promote the use of genetically modified crops particularly in Africa. Recently, the paper said, US had proposed a $770 million package to ease the global crisis. However, Bush had subsequently directed the USAid to spend $150 million of the money "on development farming, which would include the use of GMO crops." The paper also reported that the Bush administration has been trying to "persuade European nations to lift their objection to the use of GMO crops in Africa."

In April, the paper reported, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had suggested at a Peace Corps conference that, "We need to look again at some of the issues concerning technology and food production. I know that GMOs are not popular around the world, but there are places that drought-resistant crops should be a part of the answer."

The US had earlier tried to introduce GMO crops to Africa in 2002, with an offer of aid that included corn, some of which was genetically modified. Despite a severe drought, Zambia, under European Union pressurer rejected the aid altogether. Several other countries accepted the US corn, but only after it was milled. The Bush administration is reportedly working to persuade European nations to lift their objection to the use of GMO crops in Africa.

Not to be left behind, in its 2008 World Development Report, the World Bank urges rich countries to "sharply" raise financial support to countries willing to embrace genetic engineering in food production.

Perhaps taking its cue from the World Bank, Britain's Department for International Development (DfID) recently set up a $13 million fund to finance research on genetic engineering to control pests that ravage a number of staple crops in Kenya and Tanzania - bananas, rice, maize, sweet potatoes and coconuts.

Indeed, biotech multinationals appear to be designing GM-varieties specifically for particular African countries. For instance, on May 3, 2006, the head of Monsanto's Kenyan subsidiary, Kinyua M'Mbijiwe, revealed that the US-based giant had developed a GM-maize variety for the Kenyan market.

Meanwhile, the latest major initiative was covered in this very paper. In The EastAfrican last week, it was announced that the Africa Bio-fortified Sorghum Project - a consortium of nine scientific bodies - is to launch a scheme to use genetic engineering in loading sorghum with additional nutritional contents. The $21 million initiative intends to "fortify" sorghum with vitamins A and E as well as iron and zinc, thus converting it into a more nutritious, easily digestible and attractive foodstuff.

It was claimed that when fully introduced, the GM-sorghum would solve a range of nutritional problems in sub-Saharan Africa, where "millions of people suffer from health problems associated with vitamin and mineral deficiency." And like similar reports on the potential benefits of GMOs for Africa, the report graphically replayed the plight of the poor in the continent. Arid climates and poor soils, the story stated, mean that 80 per cent of the children in the region "receive inadequate amounts of vitamin A (while) half the entire population suffers from iron deficiency and a third from zinc deficiency."

Typically, once the news reports paint the African scenario in such heartrending terms, they proceed to predict almost magical scenarios in which the yet-to-be-tested GMOs eradicate such difficulties once and for all. In many cases, such self-declared GMO proponents as the head of Africa Harvest, Dr Florence Wambugu, are invited to make supporting arguments.

"Malnutrition remains a leading direct and indirect cause of the rise in many non-communicable diseases in Africa," Dr Wambugu told The EastAfrican last week, adding that lack of micronutrients brings about impaired immune systems, blindness, low birth weight and so on.

In most cases, such stories conclude at that point. Rarely is any effort made to answer such questions as who is behind the funding of the GM research or who will end up getting the patents for such improved crop varieties. "There is a lot of manipulation going on and Unwitting African countries are being coaxed and coerced to cultivate and consume genetically modified crops in a campaign bankrolled by giant biotech multinationals and executed by cash-rich "scientific" organisations who extol technology as the panacea for the continent's hunger and low agricultural productivity.

Mr Ngonyo said East Africans are not only provided little or no information about the health consequences of consuming GM-crop varieties but are also left in the dark about the implications of cultivating them in the poor and/or fragile soils prevailing in the region.

"The way the GMO story is told is like a fairy goddess has come to us, eager to give Africa all it ever needed," he added.

Local oversight institutions mandated to police the proliferation of plant materials also appear oddly complacent. In a report carried in our sister paper, The Sunday Nation, in late March, this writer cited evidence that Kenyans have unwittingly been growing and consuming genetically modified maize.

The variety in question - PHB30V53 - is a hybrid that has its origins in the US and is patented by Dupont, one of the world's leading biotech companies. It is imported into Kenya from South Africa ,where it is multiplied and packaged for the African market.

A determined effort by a group of 45 farmer organisations and non-governmental organisations operating under the auspices of the Kenya Biodiversity Coalition (KBioC) led to the finding that PHB30V53 is contaminated with traces of the genetically modified organism Mon810, which is patented by Monsanto. KBioC had sought the help of Greenpeace scientists who took 42 samples of maize seeds from agrovet shops in Kibwezi, Machakos, Thika, Nakuru, Eldoret and Kitale towns. The samples were of maize seed varieties owned and marketed by local and international seed companies.

After sampling, the scientists ground the seeds into flour and after preliminary testing, 19 of the samples were found to be suspect and shipped to the laboratories of the Germany-based Eurofins GeneScan GmbH for further tests.

"Eurofins isolated PHB30V53, a variety that is owned and patented by Pioneer, a South African company," Dr Daniel Maingi, a scientist with KBioC, told this writer.

The sampling and testing took place late last year. Several South African and European publications covered the saga, with South Africa's Business Day quoting the director of the African Centre for Biosafety, Mariam Mayet, on March 20 as saying, "The maize seeds are contaminated with a genetically engineered variety, Mon810, belonging to Monsanto, that has not been approved in Kenya."

She added that maize laced with Mon810 contains a novel gene that is considered unsafe and is banned in several European countries. When the matter became public in Kenya, the Kenya government temporarily banned the marketing of the variety, only to lift the ban following an announcement by the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (Kephis) that its own analysis had established that the GMO traces in PHB30V53 were insignificant.

The organisation's director, Chagema Kedera, criticised KBioC for going public over the matter before getting the signed certificate from Eurofins. This writer then managed - through the assistance of GreenPeace officials - to secure a signed certificate from Eurofins. It also emerged that the Kephis tests of the maize variety could only have been "preliminary" since the organisation does not have the necessary equipment to do a proper GMO test.

Later, Jan van Aken, of Greepeace's Sustainable Agriculture Campaign, told The EastAfrican that though Eurofins had detected a mere 0.1 per cent contamination, this did not mean that the contaminated PHB30V53 variety is safe to grow and consume or that it has no negative effects on the environment.

"Even at 0.1 per cent, it could be disastrous in the long run," he said, further arguing that even if it is assumed the Pioneer maize variety were planted on a mere 1,000 hectares in the country, this would mean a total of 80 million plants - in other words, 0.1 per cent of the 80 million plants amounts to 80,000 genetically modified plants "growing, pollinating and seeding" in Kenya this year alone.

In mid June last year, officials from the Kenya Biodiversity Coalition sampled 10 food items sold in some of Nairobi's key supermarkets. They then sought assistance from Greenpeace International in screening the items for GMOs. KBioC released the results at a press conference on October 15, 2007, in which they announced that genetically modified foods had actually infiltrated the Kenyan market without being labelled as such.

The findings flew in the face of government officials repeated denials that GM foods are on sale in the country.

With the billions of dollars they generate each year, the giant biotech multinatinals have a great deal of clout when it comes to pushing for their interests with governments in industrialised countries, let alone Africa. In Death of Bees: GMO Crops and the Decline of Bee Colonies in North America, Brit Amos says that the power wielded by biotech conglomerates is enough to "manipulate government agricultural policy with a view to supporting their agenda of dominance in the agricultural industry."

He alleges that such American conglomerates as Monsanto, Pioneer HiBred and others, have created "seeds that reproduce only under certain conditions, often linked to the use of their own brands of fertiliser and/or insecticide."

This power may now be translating into decisive influence not only over East African agricultural policies but also law-making processes in Kenya and other countries.

Observers cite the saga surrounding the yet-to-be enacted Biosafety Bill in Kenya that played out publicly over much of last year.

Although there was ample evidence that the Bill was weak in many respects, top politicians and a number of officials in Kenya's Agriculture Ministry gave the nod to the Bill.


GM patents exploit the poor

Eureka Street (Australia), May 26 2008. By Dr Charles Rue *

My work colleagues in Eastern Asia and Latin America have witnessed the negative effects of genetically modified crops on the farmers they work with.

Farmers in the developing world have been used as guinea pigs. Film stars, employed by biotech companies as PR agents, con farmers into buying GM seed with promises of increased crop yields.

This is a lie. Neither GM cotton yields in India nor GM soy bean yields in Latin America have increased.

Unsuitable cotton crops in India have failed. The net result is that the farmers who borrowed money to buy the failed GM seed cannot pay back their debts. Hundreds have committed suicide in despair.

GM also undermines farmers' practice of saving and swapping seeds for their next crop, by contaminating the traditional seed banks. The multiple varieties developed by these farmers over thousands of years to cope with varied soil and weather conditions were their insurance policy, but seed contamination destroys this insurance.

Destroying natural seed banks has worldwide implications for the bio-diversity of staple food crops, exposing nations to starvation as countries lose their food security.

Australia has aligned itself with countries such as the USA and Switzerland in implementing the Trade Related Intellectual Properties Agreement (TRIPs). GM companies use international patenting laws as their legal mechanism of control and extortion.

Often the seeds that are patented as GM varieties capture traits which were first bred into crops by farmers in the developing world. These poor farmers are robbed twice over.

GM companies claim that GM is needed to feed the hungry of the world. The Vatican was almost conned into supporting this PR line and was stopped three years ago by the lobbying of my fellow Columbans and Jesuits from southern Africa.

Rumour has it that the PR companies have again lobbied the Vatican for its support of GM on the pretext that it will feed the world. If so, this is blatant lying and must be opposed.

Brazil produces plenty of food, has large exports and, notably, grows plenty of GM crops. Yet 40 per cent of its people go to bed hungry. GM is about making money, not about feeding the hungry.

The proposal by GM companies to insert a terminator gene into living organisms to make them infertile and so guarantee company profits from patents shows how much they really care about feeding the hungry.

Some Australian states, including Victoria and New South Wales, have lifted the moratorium on GM crops, although it was extended in South Australia. When Australia permits the growing of GM crops locally and supports the international agreement on patenting laws, it is cooperating in ripping off the poor of the world.

I challenge the Federal Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Tony Burke, to stop listening to the pro-GM economic analysis from the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and listen to the experience of poor farmers in developing countries.

* Dr Charles Rue is a Sydney-based priest of the Columban Missionary Society, and coordinator of Columban JPIC (Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation). This article is adapted from his speech at Wednesday's rally of MAdGE (Mothers Against Genetic Engineering) in Melbourne. Following short speeches by mothers and farmers, more than 200 people, escorted by police, marched from the State Library to the steps of Parliament House. Other speeches followed from political leaders, teachers, organic farmers, and Greenpeace.


MAdGE (Mothers Against Genetic Engineering):

Columban Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation:


Are We Ready to Risk Smaller Brains, Livers And Testicles?

The East African / All Africa Global Media, 26 May 2008. By John Mbaria.

Nairobi -- Although evidence is mounting that GM crops are not safe for consumption and that they pose significant risks for the environment, Africa is still being exhorted to feed its people on GMOs.

The GMO push, backed by big dollars, is coming at a time when the technology is being rejected elsewhere. For instance, in April 1999, the anti-GMO campaign in Europe forced most big manufacturers there to publicly commit themselves to stop using GM ingredients in their European brands.

European anti-GMO campaign received a massive boost from one of the top researchers in the field, Arpad Puszai, in early 1999. Working at the Rowett Institute in Scotland, he managed to prove that rats fed on supposedly harmless GM products developed cells that were potentially cancerous, smaller brains, livers, and testicles, and ended up with damaged immune systems. Puszai found that the rats' plight was due to the unpredictable side-effects arising from the very process of manipulating genes.

By implication, this meant that GM foods already on the European market, which were created from the same process, could also have been having such effects on humans. The interesting part of the Puszai experiment came when he publicly expressed his concern: He was fired from his job and subsequently silenced with threats of a lawsuit, while his 20-member research team was disbanded. There are also reports that authorities embarked on an extensive disinformation campaign to discredit the study's results and protect the reputation of GM foods.

This scenario was to change when Puszai managed to secure an invitation to testify before the UK parliament. From then onwards, Europeans seem to have fundamentally altered their attitudes to GM foods.

But even with such evidence, Africa is still being enticed with big cash to embrace and consume GMOs with no questions asked. Besides the media, some top scientists working in outfits such as the 15 "harvest centres" under the umbrella of the Consultative Group of International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), and others with such national research organisations as Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) seem to be abetting the process.

Their principal argument is that genetic engineering has the potential to turn around African agriculture from a low productivity, smallholder-dominated and unsustainable sector into one characterised by high productivity, food security and market orientation. Others have argued that Africa cannot afford to ignore the prospects being opened up by the manipulation of naturally occurring genes.

Another argument states, "When GM-biomass is used to generate energy in an efficient and sustainable way, it has a role to play in the fight against climate change."

Greenpeace sees this as yet another of the many myths spread by the biotech giants. It cites counter-argument raised by independent studies that portray fuel based on maize as an "unsustainable" form of bio energy.

"Firstly, the use of maize for ethanol drives up food prices and threatens the food security of the poor in certain regions," says Greenpeace, adding that the carbon dioxide savings from maize-based fuels "are small or even negative" when one takes into account the production techniques used and the source of the energy inputs. Further, it says that the use of genetically engineered maize for biofuels poses an unacceptable risk since the GM-maize designed for industrial fuel contains proteins that are not normally present in the human diet.

It seems, therefore, that GE ethanol maize can easily contaminate the food chain.

"In other words, if the agrochemical industry gets its way, your breakfast cornflakes could soon contain GE ethanol maize, an energy boost you don't need."

That using GM-maize for fuel has the potential to pump toxins into the environment besides causing allergies was underscored by the South African Department of Agriculture, which rejected Syngenta's application for the approval of its GE maize for ethanol in March 2007 on the basis that the company's testing was inadequate.

Interestingly, those who raise concerns over the concerted campaign to introduce GM foods into Africa are often reminded that Americans and, to some extent, Canadians have been cultivating and consuming such foods for over a decade now and that no serious health effects have been noticed.

While this is largely true, there have been recent attempts to kick such foods out of US supermarkets.

For instance, many retailers, distributors, manufacturers, and growers have joined the Campaign for Healthier Eating in America, which hopes to eliminate GMOs from thousands of products. The campaign also aims to force the major food companies to stop using GMOs to make it easier for American families to feed on a "healthier" non-GMO diet. They also hope to totally eradicate genetic engineering from the entire US food supply.


24 May 2008

Campaign for a GM-free U.S.A.
"Genetic Roulette" documents health risks by genetic engineering, 24 May 2008.

Bonn - With approximately half of all the GM-planted acreage globally, the U.S.A. undisputedly is the number one country in genetic engineering. Thus the plan of the American science journalist Jeffrey Smith, which he presented [here recently] on the Planet Diversity conference (, sounds accordingly unbelievable: Within two years Smith intends to render the U.S. free of genetic engineering.

The basis of the "Campaign for Healthier Meals in America" (,5096) is made up of dozens of scientifically documented cases that point out health risks through genetically modified organisms (GMOs). "Healthy meal means No GMOs" is the core message of the campaign. Health-conscious shoppers are to force the food industry to do completely without GM components in their products. This is to be implemented in three steps: It is important first, in cooperation with the organic food manufacturers, to develop a generally recognized definition for the term "GM-free". Then health-conscious buyers are to be provided with information everywhere and finally shopping guides are to be handed out making it possible for consumers to target products free of biotechnology.

In his new book Genetic Roulette Smith not only points out the health risks from GMOs on the basis of 65 documented cases, but also the lies by the responsible US authorities around the approval. "To start off with, something can go wrong with the gene transfer", Smith explains. It is thus possible that the DNA changes by around two to four percent, which can lead to "substantial collateral damage".

The most prominent example are the research results, hotly debated in 1998, by British-Hungarian scientist Arpad Pusztai, who, in the context of a 1.6-million pound research project, modified potatoes and fed them to rats at the Scottish Rowett Research Institute. To everyone's complete surprise, some of the animals showed solid signs of disease. White blood cells reacted more slowly making the animals more susceptible to infections and disease, thymus glands and spleens showed damages. Some of the animals fed with GM potatoes had smaller, badly developed brains, livers and testicles, while others had tissue enlargements, also in the pancreas and in the intestines. In addition, significant structural changes and a growth of cells in stomach and intestines provide indications that a higher cancer risk could exist. Out of "gratitude" for his findings Pusztai was dismissed and discredited. One year later the British scientific magazine "Lancet" published his results that turned out to be correct. "The problems arose from the implanting of the foreign gene", explained Pusztai in the context of the Planet Diversity conference.

As an additional basis for health risks Smith points to the newly produced protein in the plant, like, for example, the poison of Bacillus thuringiensis. Thirdly, there is the possibility that the transgene mutates and produces an unexpected protein, as it happened in a trial of the national Australian research institute CSIRO. A bean gene was brought into a pea, which surprisingly led to health damages in the experimental animals, whereupon the project was put to rest. Smith also lays out in his book how the accumulation of toxic substances and the horizontal gene transfer caused health problems.


23 May 2008

GM Foods the Problem, Not the Solution

Inter Press Service, 23 May 2008. By Julio Goday.

BONN - The food crisis has prompted some looks towards genetically modified food production as a solution. That in turn has led to stronger warnings over the consequences of such food for health and the environment.

These concerns have been raised in Bonn again as more than 3,000 delegates from 147 countries met for the UN conference on biosafety. The conference has sought to ensure safe use of modern biotechnology.

Feeding the debate, scientists, farmers and environmental activists in many countries continue to warn that genetically modified agriculture presents a risk, and not a contribution, to food production.

In France, organic farmers are complaining that genetically modified (GM) plants are poisoning their plantations. Julien and Christian Veillat, two farmers who grow organic maize in the Breton locality of Villiers-en-Plaine some 400 kilometres west of Paris, say their fields have been contaminated with GM maize, even though the nearest GM crops field is 35 kilometres away.

The contamination was established during a routine analysis late in April by an organic agriculture cooperative near the Veillats' village. Following the detection, the organic maize was diverted for use as cattle fodder.

The Veillats have now filed a legal complaint against the central government in Paris. "The contamination could only have come from the GM maize," spokesperson for the local association against GM agriculture Georges Castiel told IPS. "At the organic cooperative, they control the seeds very carefully."

Jean-Pierre Margan, producer of organic wine in the Provence in the south told IPS that contamination of organic farms is a constant problem. "Particles of GMOs are transported by wind and water, and can be carried very far away, and contaminate your plantation even if you have worked hard to protect it from every risk," he said.

Serge Morin, deputy president of the local government in the province of Poitou Charentes said it is necessary that "the French state revises all procedures concerning GMOs, including the immediate stop of all open air GM plantations. In addition, all organic farmers whose plantations are contaminated should be paid indemnities."

Such instances have led renowned chefs and wine producers in France to launch a public campaign to prevent the spread of GMOs in food and beverages.

"We don't have the scientific competence to intervene in the debate on the health consequences of GMOs," they wrote in a public letter addressed to the French parliament. "But we consider that, in accordance with the precautionary principle in questions of food and health, GMOs must simply remain banned from our tables." Similar campaigns are under way in other European countries.

Several scientists and environmental activists say that apart from the health concerns, GMOs are not a solution for food scarcity either.

"Most of the genetic modifications introduced in crops aim at making them resistant to pests or weed killing, but not to increase yields," says Hans-Joerg Jacobsen, biologist at the University of Hanover in Germany.

Jacobsen told IPS that "modern cultures, free of any genetic modification, have higher yields than genetically modified seeds."

"The idea that GM agriculture could help feed the world is part of the propaganda that the biochemical industry has used for years, but it is false," Arnaud Apoteker, who heads the campaign against GMOs for the French branch of the environmental organisation Greenpeace, said in an interview.

Some representatives of the biochemical industry acknowledge this. "Genetically modified agriculture will not solve the world's hunger problem," Hans Kast, managing director of the plant science branch of the chemical giant BASF told the German newspaper Die Sueddeutsche Zeitung.

Take Africa, the only continent that does not produce enough food to feed its own population, even though some 70 percent of African people work in agriculture.

"By applying conventional agricultural methods, free of any genetic modification, you can substantially increase agricultural productivity in Africa," Hans Joachim Preuss, managing director of the German non-governmental food organisation Welthungerhilfe told IPS. "What African agriculture mostly needs is better, more efficient irrigation systems, and not genetically modified seeds."

According to figures released in Bonn by CropLife International, a global federation representing the biochemical corporations, last year "biotech crops were grown on 114.3 million hectares in 23 countries by over 12 million farmers."


Should Scotland go GM-free?, 23 May 2008.

The case for a GM-free Scotland by organic farmer Carey Coombs

GM-free status for Scotland gives the country the opportunity to invest in modern agricultural food systems which deliver environmental and economic efficiency, according to a leading organic farmer from Lanarkshire.

Carey Coombs, who produces organic beef and lamb on his 900-acre hill farm near Biggar, argues that far from being a saviour, GM cultivation will only exacerbate food security issues.

"Global food problems are likely to be severe in future, but the solutions must be driven by the needs of the people who are to consume, whereas GM research at the moment is driven by the need to commercialise and profit," he states.

Mr Coombs, who has been an organic farmer for 10 years and grows cereals in a bid to make his farm self-sufficient, says he is sympathetic to the economic pressures of those buying in animal feed from the global market, but says that believing a slackening of the GM approvals procedure would help is a red herring.

"If we are serious about feeding ourselves into the future, then we must take a very hard look at livestock farmers' dependence on imported protein crops. With a rising global population, these importations make absolutely no economic, ethical or environmental sense. It is time we undertook real agri-ecosystem design and management. It might be a lot more successful than GM."

Author: Nancy Nicolson


Should Scotland go GM-free?, 23 May 2008.

Against a GM-free Scotland, by farmer Shirley Harrison

The Scottish government's GM-free zone policy is creating division, frustration and resentment in a country which has a global reputation for being at the forefront of agricultural advances and plant breeding.

And at a time when livestock farmers are struggling with spiralling feed costs, and food security has a higher profile than at any time since the last war, the pros and antis appear to be lining up for a second-round battle which the biotechnology companies are determined to fight all the way.

The one-year-old SNP administration and its conviction that Scotland should be prepared to take an independent stance on the controversial technology have prompted the NFU Scotland president, Jim McLaren, to call for urgent talks with environment minister Mike Russell in a bid to persuade him to change one of his government's main policies.

But while Mr Russell told Farmers Weekly he was "always willing to have a debate", he went on to condemn as "unreliable" the technology already used by 12 million farmers in 22 countries.

"There is a lack of reliable science, there is a potential risk to the environment, and the subsequent damage to the reputation of Scottish produce, should there be a problem," the minister said. "And even if there was greater faith in the science, the reputational damage would pose such a threat there would be a positive disadvantage.

"A situation exists where there is a level of GM in food which we, alas, in European terms have to accept. But there is a big difference between that and saying we have to give up the fight."

According to Jim McLaren, however, there is a fatal flaw in the Scottish government's argument.

"It would be a case of having to reverse from where we already are, because retailers' shelves are full of GM tomato paste or imported meat products, and many of the livestock produced in Scotland are fed on GM crops, so we need to get real on what we're actually doing at the minute," he stated.

The industry will not go against the informed opinion of consumers, but he believes restrictions have already cost the country a global advantage.

"When we do come to adopt the technology in the future, it's almost certain that it will be work that has been developed in other countries, and I'd have far more faith in technology developed in Scotland and the UK than any developed in either North or South America," he said.

Author: Nancy Nicolson

Comment by GM Watch:

The UK's Farmers Weekly have done podcasts and interviews on GM in Scotland, including a great interview with Mike Russell, Scotland's Environment Minister.

Podcasts on GM in Scotland ‚ interviews with Mike Russell, (anti) and Jim McLaren, NFU Scotland (pro).

And farmers' views for and against, including McLaren's are given above.

Incidentally, despite the fact that McLaren demands that with GM "we need to get real on what we're actually doing at the minute", he claims that Scottish "retailers' shelves are full of GM tomato paste", which is very odd given that the last can of GM tomato paste was sold in the UK in June 1999 after which it was withdrawn because of the lack of consumer acceptance.

This level of inaccuracy seems to be par for the course with Jim McLaren who has also claimed leading environmentalists recognise the value of GM crops. However, the only "leading environmentalist" he's actually named is Jonathon Porritt who has very little to say that is of comfort to McLaren.


22 May 2008

Causes and Strategies on World Hunger
Green Revolution versus Sustainable Agriculture

Global Policy Forum / World Economy & Development in Brief, May 2008. By Katarina Wahlberg.

World hunger is not new. Before the current price increase, 850 million people - 13% of the world's population - were chronically hungry. The number of under-fed people has steadily climbed over the past decade. Now, the World Food Programme estimates that the crisis has driven another 100 million people into hunger, including even urban middle class people in Indonesia and Mexico. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, World Bank President Robert Zoellick and other leaders are urging governments to act promptly. But before jumping on the official bandwagon, we must ask what kind of action, and what brought this crisis on.

Green Revolution for Africa?

Food prices are escalating because agricultural production has not increased fast enough to meet booming demand. According to conventional economic theory, production will rise automatically to meet this demand, and once supply is up, prices will fall. Following this approach, the World Bank, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation are promoting a "New Green Revolution" in Africa. Already underway, this initiative will "seize an opportunity from the higher demand for food" - to increase agricultural production through scientific development of more productive crops, improved fertilizers, and better farming techniques. The World Bank is doubling its lending to $800m to increase agricultural productivity. And the Rockefeller and the Gates Foundations have allocated $150m to make seeds more productive and suitable for Africa's unpredictable rainfall patterns.

The World Bank is also urging countries to cut tariffs and eliminate barriers to international trade. Again, this follows conventional economic theory, which holds that a liberalized market will foster growth as each country specializes in producing the goods and services that it is particularly suited to produce.Unfortunately, conventional economic theory fails to recognize that the earth cannot be exploited indefinitely. Following the Green Revolution of the 1960s, farm productivity increased but at a high social, economic and environmental cost. Industrial farming and heavy use of fertilizers and pesticides led to soil degradation, health problems and climate change. Agriculture currently contributes 30% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. And climate change is already threatening production in many countries through shifting weather patterns, including an increase of droughts and floods.

New dependencies

The last three decades of international trade liberalization may have increased overall economic growth, but wealth has been distributed very unevenly. The rich have become richer, while the poor are poorer. Through the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and numerous trade agreements, rich countries pressured poor countries to dismantle tariffs and other barriers to trade. Meanwhile rich countries have supported large agribusiness with almost $300bn each year in agricultural subsidies. Now, a handful of companies, such as Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland, ConAgra and Monsanto dominate the global production and trade of many commodities. Unable to compete with large agribusiness and subsidized goods, millions of small-scale farmers have been driven off the land. Meanwhile, large-scale industrialized farming of export crops dominates remaining agricultural production. Most poor countries no longer produce enough food to satisfy domestic needs. Thirty years ago, Haiti was almost self-sufficient in rice. Today, Haiti imports most of its rice from the US. Mexico used to produce enough corn to feed its population but since joining the North American Free Trade Agreement, Mexico depends on imports from the US. International trade also puts a strain on the environment as agricultural commodities are being processed, packaged and transported over long distances.

What about demand?

The most important factors behind the current price hike relate to the demand side - not the production side - of the equation. So why not reduce demand? Hunger analysts identify biofuel production as a leading cause of the current crisis. In the US and the EU, large subsidies, tax exemptions and mandatory targets have created an artificial demand for biofuels. Instead of producing for human consumption, farmers make larger profits from growing biofuel crops. But, filling one SUV car tank with biofuel requires 200kg of corn, which could feed one person for one year. Climate scientists also warn that biofuel production is speeding up global warming. Rising global consumption of meat and dairy is another major factor behind the rising food prices. Beef is grain-intensive. To produce one pound, seven pounds of grain are needed. Since the 1970s, global meat production has more than doubled, putting enormous strain on global cereal stocks, as well as the environment. The cattle industry is responsible for 18% of all greenhouse gas emissions.

While analysts identify population growth as a less immediate cause of the food crisis, population plays a major role over the long term. The UN expects world population to grow from 6.7 to 9.2 billion in 2050. But these numbers depend on fertility decreases in the poorest countries, which require improved access to family planning and reproductive health services. Partly due to the anti-family planning policy of the US government, international organizations promoting these issues have faced financial constraints. Since 2002, the US government has withheld $34m in annual funding from the UN Population Fund and millions more in grants to private agencies.

Sustainable agriculture as an alternative

The global food crisis has brought attention to the long-standing problem of hunger. It is time that world leaders are held accountable for their past promises of food for all. Governments must immediately increase food aid, ban biofuel production and develop policies to supersede factory farms and other unsustainable farming practices. In recent weeks, an important international report presented a compelling vision of truly sustainable agriculture. The IAASTD (International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development) based this report (see reference) on three years of international research, involving 400 scientists and development specialists.

The landmark project provides an alternative to the "New Green Revolution." It focuses less on increasing yields, and more on reducing hunger, through "environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable development." The report talks about addressing the needs of small-scale farmers, by increasing their access to land and natural resources. It cautions against Genetically Modified (GM) crops, as too little is known about their long-term effects. Further, the report warns that patenting of GM crops undermines local farming practices and concentrates ownership of resources. Finally, the authors propose financial incentives to reduce deforestation and conserve natural habitats so as to mitigate climate change. A "fundamental shift" in agricultural policy is needed. Otherwise, says IAASTD Director Robert Watson, hunger, income inequality and environmental degradation will increase further and "we face a world no one would want to inhabit."


Synthesis Report of the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), see; for the NGO debate on the report see

About the Author: Katarina Wahlberg is Social and Economic Policy Coordinator at Global Policy Forum.


Agreement lays groundwork for holding producers liable for biotech

Feedstuffs (USA), 22 May 2008. By Jacqui Fatka.

The Cartagena Protocol on the transboundary movement of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) will be revised by 2010 to include legally binding rules on liability and redress for damage to biodiversity. This is the basic path agreed on by the 147 parties to the international convention at the 4th meeting of the UN Conference on Biosafety (MOP 4) in Bonn, Germany.

However, many questions concerning the details remain unanswered. Experts are to clarify how damage to biodiversity is identified, evaluated in financial terms and compensated. "What is clear is that the burden of proof will lie with the injured party. The injured party will have to prove the causative link between the use of GMOs and the biodiversity damage claimed. Then the injured state will be able to claim damages from the party responsible for the environmental damage," according to information from the GMO Safety EU team. "For developed industrial nations, this means practically no change to the status quo, according to an expert involved in the negotiations. Developing countries in particular, however, would gain legal certainty vis-ı-vis GMO-exporting states by ratifying the revised Cartagena Protocol."

The agreement would not be legally binding on the United States, however, since Washington has not ratified the 1992 Biodiversity Convention and is not a party to the convention's Cartagena Protocol on the safety of biotech products.


Cartagena Protocol fails to ensure global liability

Yahoo India, 22 May 2008.

The fourth meeting of parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety which concluded in Bonn in Germany last week failed to ensure a global liability regime for the damages likely to be caused by the living modified organisms (LMOs) due to India not taking an assertive position, alleged the convener of Gene Campaign, Suman Sahai.

Gene Campaign was invited to attend the Bonn meeting as observer and Sahai said "we were closely watching the position of different countries which are parties to the Cartagena Protocol.

India is a member of the "like minded" group of 80 countries which has a common stand on demanding a global liability regime and strict implementation of the precautionary principles of the Cartagena Protocol. While Malaysia, The Philippines, Columbia and other countries of the group strongly lobbied for the birth of a global liability regime, Brazil, Japan and Peru opposed the move and as a result the conference could not take a decision, but agreed to discuss in the next meeting, she said.

Indian delegation was led by the ember-secretary of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), Ranjani Warrier. Sahai alleged "India instead of asserting for a global liability regime made an utterly presentation saying that it had implemented the relevant provisions of the Cartagena Protocol."

She said, "India has no provision for participation of civil society groups or public representatives in the decision making on issues relating to LMOs, which is contrary to Article 23 of the protocol. Though there is a law relating to right to information, the government had on many occasions refused to divulge data on biosafety. The social and economic impact of GM crops has not yet been assessed so far. Government has not yet accommodated precautionary principles relating to GM crops or any mechanism for addressing liability and redress and has not introduced labeling of GM food. Instead it is introducing GM brinjal [aubergine] in the centre of its origin."


Terminator seed ban under threat

The Guardian (UK), letters to the editor, 22 May 2008.

As the world grapples with the impact of global food shortages (Six million Ethiopian children at risk of malnutrition, May 21), the livelihoods of 1.4 billion of the world's poorest farmers who rely on harvesting seeds from one crop for sowing the next season is under threat from biotech companies which are pushing to commercialise "terminator" technology - genetic engineering that results in plants producing sterile seeds.

The advent of these so-called suicide seeds represent an insidious attempt to privatise plant life - and force poor families in developing countries to buy new seeds each year from the large companies that control the $19bn global seed market.

A global ban on terminator technology struck eight years ago is now under threat from a powerful alliance of biotech companies and countries with vested interests. They argue terminator technology should be considered on a case-by-case basis, thereby undermining the blanket moratorium. We fear the ban will once again come under pressure at this week's UN summit on the convention on biological diversity in Bonn.

Biotech companies' claims that terminator technology will prevent contamination between GM and non-GM crops are hotly contested, yet the EU and, by implication, British taxpayers are contributing to the development of the technology through a GBP3.4m EU research project investigating ways that seeds can be brought back to life with chemicals.

In the developing world, small-scale farming is how millions of families survive. It is vital that at the Bonn summit this month the UK government strongly supports the continuing global ban on terminator technology.

Sol Oyuela
Environmental Officer


For Progessio's press release on Terminator see

Read their full report at


Tasmanians urged to go organic

FoodWeek (Australia), 22 May 2008

The Tasmanian government wants to expand the state's organic farming industry.

Primary Industries Minister, David Llewellyn, says it wants to brand the state with clean and natural practices. To that end it is hosting a conference on organic conversion in Launceston this week.

Llewellyn says organic produce commands premium prices in national and international markets.

"It's something that I really think is very important and we've redoubled our efforts to try to get some interest in organics, more than what is already very significant interest already here in Tasmania."

Meanwhile, a group of Tasmanian farmers has secured a deal to supply Japan with canola that's free of genetically-modified materials.

They will combine with farmers from South Australia's Kangaroo Island to supply canola.

Two shipments have already arrived in Japan.

The deal will treble the amount of canola grown in Tasmania to about 3,000 tonnes next year.


21 May 2008

Biotech Companies Using Food Crisis as Opportunity for More GMO Crops

Disaster Capitalism in the News, April 21 2008. By Naomi Klein.

Soaring food prices and global grain shortages are bringing new pressures on governments, food companies and consumers to relax their longstanding resistance to genetically engineered crops....

With food riots in some countries focusing attention on how the world will feed itself, biotechnology proponents see their chance. They argue that while genetic engineering might have been deemed unnecessary when food was abundant, it will be essential for helping the world cope with the demand for food and biofuels in the decades ahead.

Opponents of biotechnology say they see not so much an opportunity as opportunism by its proponents to exploit the food crisis. "Where politicians and technocrats have always wanted to push G.M.O.s, they are jumping on this bandwagon


Captain Hook Awards for Biopiracy 2008

The Coalition Against Biopiracy* exposes Hooks and celebrates Cogs
Winners announced at the UN's Biodiversity Convention in Bonn

Coalition Against Biopiracy, 21 May 2008

Today the world learned which corporations, governments, institutions and individuals earned a spot in biopiracy's hall of shame when the Coalition Against Biopiracy (CAB) announced the winners of the 5th Captain Hook Awards at a lunch-time ceremony during the Ninth Conference of the Parties (COP9) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Bonn, Germany.

"The Maritim Hotel, where the CBD meets this week and next, was the perfect place to dock our ship and divvy up booty between black-hearted biopirates and hard-working cogs ‚ those tireless biopiracy resistors working to foil plots to monopolize genetic resources and indigenous knowledge," said Golda Hilario of SEARICE, who doubled as Tinkerbell at today's award ceremony. SEARICE, based in the Philippines, is a member of the Coalition Against Biopiracy. [N.B. In the Middle Ages, cogs were small ships built with high sides to make them less vulnerable to pirate attacks.]

"Climate-change profiteers commanded the stage for the first time at the biopiracy awards," noted Jim Thomas of Ottawa-based ETC Group, another CAB member. Thomas donned eye-patch and cape to transform himself into Captain Hook, Tinkerbell's less endearing counterpart. "Climate chaos offers biopirates unprecedented opportunities for pillaging the commons," explained Thomas. "On the one hand, we have Gene Giants like Monsanto and BASF monopolizing so-called 'climate-ready' genes in crops; on the other hand, we have geo-engineering companies like Planktos, Inc. and ONC trying to break into the carbon market with reckless ‚ and scientifically dubious ‚ schemes to sequester carbon in algae; and, on the...hook, we have companies pilfering high oil-content plant varieties to grow more of their destructive agrofuel crops."

A special crowd pleaser at today's award ceremony was the prize for "Best Smokescreen" won by non-profit Public Research and Regulation Initiative, "for tirelessly advocating and defending corporate biotech interests under the banner of publicly funded researchers."

But biopirates have met their match in the most resilient cogs sailing the high seas. Today's Captain Hook winners were forced to make room at the podium for Cogs to receive well-deserved recognition. Veronica Villa of ETC Group points out that, "While some are trying to profit from climate change, others are working to help the world survive it. The Nyeleni World Forum on Food Sovereignty, involving more than 500 people from over 80 countries, received a Cog award for advocating the right to food sovereignty and the primacy of community-based food." Villa laments, however, that many Cogs honored today must spend so much of their time, energy and talent on fighting out-of-control biopirates. "Civil society organizations in the Philippines, for example, received a Cog award for demanding their government to stop an Australian-based company called Ocean Nourishment Corp. from carrying out a dangerous climate-change profiteering scheme that involved dumping urea in the Sulu Sea."

Hope Shand of ETC Group points out that, "Ironically, the majority of biopirates receiving awards in Bonn today haven't broken the law. The problem is that intellectual property regimes and internationally trade agreements legally condone patents and activities that are predatory on the indigenous knowledge or sovereign genetic resources of other people. And the CBD, thus far, has failed to provide mechanisms to effectively combat these regimes and agreements."

Two posters listing all the awards presented today in Bonn, along with citations, can be downloaded from the CAB web site:

For further information about biopiracy and the Captain Hook Awards, please contact:

Hope Shand, Kathy Jo Wetter or VerÛnica Villa, ETC Group
mobile tel. in Bonn: 49 17628423278

Golda Hilario, SEARICE

Pat Mooney, ETC Group
mobile tel. in Bonn: 49 17677126044

Silvia Ribeiro, ETC Group
mobile tel. in Bonn: 49 17677064731

* The Coalition Against Biopiracy is a group of civil society and peoples' organizations that first came together at the 1995 Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity meeting in Jakarta. CAB notes that the Awards are a collaborative effort and acknowledges it would could not identify the most deserving Hooks and Cogs without the vigilance and analysis of civil society and peoples' movements from around the world. This fifth Captain Hook Awards ceremony is preceded by ceremonies at COP8 in Curitiba, Brazil (2006), COP7 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (2004), COP6 in The Hague (2002) and COP5 in Nairobi (2000).


Anti-GM protest in Melbourne

Concerned Consumers Group, 21 may 2008

ANTI-GM protesters marched on the streets of Melbourne, Australia this week to protest about the lack of scientific testing on Genetically Modified food and the non-labeling of GM contaminants.

More than 200 people attended the rally, marching from the State Library representing the font of knowledge to parliament house steps representing the government, voicing their concerns that they want a choice to avoid GM food which would be impossible due to contamination.

Vicki Wilson from the Concerned Consumers Group said "full independent scientific testing was needed before consumers were forced to eat this food and all testing is not to be manipulated by any corporation or government".

She also said "This technology is in its infancy no matter what they say, and they are playing with our food and making us the guinea pigs. But eventually, like the tobacco industry, the harm that GM could do to us, will be revealed, but at what cost?"

Boxes of scientific evidence with the dangers of genetically modified food, were presented to Senator Lyn Allison to give to her associates in the government to show that GM food is not sufficiently tested for dangers to the health of consumers and this research clearly showed that there is a potential for harm to all consumers.


US biotech company offers to clone man's best friend

AFP, 21 May 2008.

WASHINGTON - A US biotech company on Wednesday announced it will auction off the right for five dog owners to have their furry best friend cloned, with bidding starting at 100,000 dollars.

"BioArts International ... will sell five dog cloning service slots to the general public via a worldwide online auction," the California-based biotech start-up said in a statement.

Registration for the auctions opens Wednesday. Bidding in that first auction begins on June 18 at 1300 GMT and runs for 24 hours, BioArts says on its website.

BioArts is the only company in the world licensed to clone dogs, cats and endangered species, the company statement says.

It uses the same cloning method that gave the world Dolly the sheep, the first mammal to be cloned in July 1996 from an adult cell.

Dogs are arguably the most difficult mammal to clone, according to BioArts.

"We may or may not perform any additional commercial dog cloning services after this auction," the company says on its website.


GM food good: Vatican in policy switch

Catholic News, 21 May 2008.

The Vatican has moved from a neutral position in a Europe-US confrontation over GM food and will come down in favour of genetic modification in a major report to be released next month.

Truthabouttrade reports the Vatican has stunned opponents of genetically modified foods by declaring they hold the answer to world starvation and malnutrition.

Until Sunday's statement the Vatican had been neutral in the European Union-US confrontation over GM food, the paper says. Cardinal Renato Martino, head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, said the Vatican was preparing an official report on biotechnology, to be published next month, which would come down in favour of genetic modification. The document will coincide with a debate on GM by EU farm ministers.

He said the Pope was greatly interested in new technologies for food development as part of a policy of sustainable agriculture. He noted that 24,000 people died every day from starvation.

Cardinal Martino, who until last year was the Vatican representative at the UN, said he had lived for 16 years in the US "and I ate everything that was offered to me, including genetically modified products. They had no effect on my health. This controversy is more political than scientific."

The Vatican study will argue the future of humanity is at stake and that there is no room for the ideological arguments advanced by environmentalists.

Cardinal Martino said the Pope had been influenced by the growing weight of advice from the Vatican's scientific advisers. "The Pope ardently desires to do something for the billions of people who go to bed hungry every night," he said.

He said freedom from hunger was one of the fundamental rights of man. The Vatican's stand was consistent with its belief in "the right to life from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death."

Vatican officials said many in the West had made up their minds about genetic modification while ignoring the benefits to the world's hungry.

Velasio De Paolis, a professor of canon law at the Pontifical Urban University, said it was "easy to say no to GM food if your stomach is full."

Scientific progress was part of the divine plan, he said. "The introduction of new and more efficient technologies such as second and third generation GM foods, in harmony with sustainable development, is not a threat but a benefit."

Water gives life: Martino

In another story, Cardinal Martino has delivered a message for an international exhibition, Expo Zaragoza 2008, on the theme, "Water and sustainable development."

In his remarks, Cardinal Martino expressed the hope that the forthcoming exposition "will provide an opportunity to explore and raise awareness of water in the life of the world. This will be important for two reasons. First, the Social Doctrine of the Church recognises the nature of water as life-giving. ... Satisfying the needs of all, especially of those who live in poverty, must guide the use of water and of the services connected with it," he said.

"The second reason takes us back to our faith. At our Baptism, water was used as a sign of cleansing and new life. ... Water is life giving - both physical and spiritual; it is through water that we are invited to share in the life of Christ."

The cardinal also recalled one of the goals of the United Nations' Millennium Development, to halve the number of people unable to access safe drinking water by the year 2015. He pointed out that "clean water and safe sanitation are acknowledged as essential elements in the lives of every human being."

SOURCE Vatican says GM food is a blessing (Truthabouttrade, 20/5/08): [see article below under 20 May].

Comment by GM-free Ireland

The above story is bogus. The Catholic News was fooled by Truth About Trade and Technology (a GM lobby group) which gave yesterday's date for a story originally published in The Times of London in August 2003, under a different pope!

You can read the original story on the web site of another agri-biotech lobby group ( at

As GM Watch points out, "The joke is, of course, that the story turned out to be bogus the first time around - the Vatican never did endorse GM crops. But, hey, all the more reason to give it another whirl!"

This incident provides a good example of agri-biotech spin doctors planting lies that get disseminated by journalists who fail to excercise basic due diligence and fact checking.

Let's see if more media outlets disseminate this disinformation further in the days ahead.

Sure enough, the story was picked up on 21 May by Reason magazine under the headline Vatican Not Worried about the "Dignity of Plants" (

On 27 May the story was spun again by in an article called "Vatican set to support biotechnology" which quotes the US National Association of Wheat Growers story "Reversing Course, Vatican Said to Support Food Biotechnology" (!


Swiss retailers introduced new code of conduct, 21 May 2008.

Switzerland's leading food retailers introduced a new code of conduct. It obliges their food and packaging suppliers to provide detailed information about nanotechnology products. The code, which is drawn up by the IG DHS (Swiss retailers association), responds to the criticism drawn by some store operators after they stocked genetically modified food. İ

According to Mr. Meili, CEO of the Innovation Sociaty, which specialises in nanotechnology risk management, retailers like Migros and Coop had negative experience with GM products. Therefore, they wanted to avoid bad consumer publicity regarding nanotechnology, reports The Innovation Sociaty worked with the retailers to assess the potential risks from nanotech products in food and packaging and to draw up the code of conduct. İ

Mr. Meili continues that consumers are not sceptical about nanotechnology as such. But with food, consumers want to know and be able to make informed decisions. İ

The Swiss retailers used the definition of 'nano' which is also used by the national government, applying to particles that are 100 nanometers in diameter or less. Mr. Meili states that this is just a working definition, however, and it would have to be refined within time. İ

There has been no feedback from food producers when the code was drawn up, but Mr. Meili stressed that the retailers expected to hear from their suppliers in the near future once the code became more widely known.


20 May 2008

Cottonseed changes to impact Georgia economy

Farm Press (USA), May 20 2008. By Paul L. Hollis.

Future changes in cottonseed technologies could be costly to Georgia farmers and the state's cotton industry and general economy, according to a recent study conducted by the University of Georgia Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development.

Cotton is now ranked as Georgia's No. 1 row crop in acreage and farm income. However, the elimination of currently available single-gene Bollgard technology could lead to declines in cotton productivity, resulting in losses to the state's cotton industry and economy, according to the study, conducted by Archie Flanders, Don Shurley and John McKissick.

The total economic output loss to the Georgia economy due to changing seed technology could be $128.32 million, say the economists, with changes in the Georgia cotton industry having economic impacts throughout the state's economy.

Due to expected declines in production, Georgia cotton producers are expected to lose $54.65 million in income, which averages approximately $59 per acre. Reduced yields also will contribute to lost revenues associated with ginning, marketing, classing and storing cotton.

Monsanto, which owns the single-gene Bollgard technology, has opted not to re-register the variety with the Environmental Protection Agency due to insect resistance concerns. The registration for Bollgard (B1) is set to expire on Sept. 30, 2009. EPA will allow growers to plant carryover seed in 2010 as long as the seed is purchased and delivered by Sept. 30, 2009.

The study estimates employment declines by 808 jobs as declining cotton production has impacts in other sectors of the state economy. Employment declines in the agricultural sector are concentrated in ginning but also extend to other agricultural support industries including those related to cotton marketing.

According to the study, a decline in the services sector of 255 jobs occurs because of decreased spending. Decreased employment in the trade sector is concentrated in retail trade as demand decreases due to declining income.

Losses in total state wages and benefits are pegged at $78.87 million. Income to farmers declines by $54.65 million which averages $59 per acre.

Diminished economic activity and income losses also impact tax revenues collected by state and local governments. State tax revenue losses are estimated to be $2.36 million, and local governments in the state have declining revenues of $1.84 million.

As expected, economic impacts associated with a change in cottonseed technology are concentrated in rural Georgia counties with economies that are dependent on cotton production.

Georgia continues to be a national leader in cotton production, ranking second in the United States in cotton acres planted and typically third in total cotton production. This past year, Georgia accounted for 9.5 percent of U.S. acres harvested and 8.7 percent of U.S. production.

In 2007, Georgia and U.S. cotton acres decreased due to high prices and relatively high net returns from corn and soybeans, but cotton remains the state's largest crop in acreage and value. Georgia farmers planted 1.03 million acres of cotton in 2007. Cotton acres in the state reached a high of 1.5 million acres in 1995 and again in 2000.

The 2007 Georgia crop is valued at an estimated $550 million of lint and cottonseed. Cotton production in the state had a $1.4 billion economic output impact on Georgia's economy in 2006 and led to 11,700 jobs. Cotton production composes more than 1 percent of the total economy in 46 Georgia counties. Of these 46 counties, total economic output impact from cotton is greater than 3 percent of the economy in 21 counties, greater than 7 percent in 10 counties, and greater than 10 percent in three counties.

Of last year's total acreage, more than 92 percent was planted in B1 varieties, reports the University of Georgia study. More than 83 percent of the state's cotton acreage is planted in the DPL 555BR variety, which contains the single-gene Bollgard technology. DPL 555BR has proven to be a consistently high-yielding variety in the University of Georgia Official Variety Trials.

Newer two-gene Bt varieties such as Bollgard II and WideStrike have not yet gained widespread acceptance among growers, but Extension cotton specialists and industry leaders are encouraging farmers to begin planting a portion of their cotton acreage in these insect-resistant varieties.

Bollgard II was commercialized in 2003 and WideStrike was commercialized in 2005.

"From an insect resistance management standpoint, the move from the single-gene Bollgard technology to two-gene Bt cotton technologies is advantageous," says Phillip Roberts, University of Georgia Extension entomologist.

"In terms of insect control, both Bollgard II and WideStrike are superior to Bollgard. The two-gene Bt cottons have a broader spectrum of activity and increased efficacy," says Phillips. "However, the potential of caterpillar damage remains and both technologies should be scouted and treated on an as-needed basis. We have evaluated these technologies for several years and have a general understanding of insect control performance. However, as these cottons are planted on tens or hundreds of thousands of acres, we will learn more."

Growers, he adds, should consider planting a portion of their acres to varieties with Bollgard II or WideStrike technology. "Growers need to gain experience in how these two-gene technologies and varieties perform on their farms and in their production systems," he says.



Peer Review under the Spotlight

Institute of Science in Society press release, 20 May 2008.

What matters most is the lack of public scrutiny rather than the lack of peer review in times of corporate corruption of science Prof. Peter Saunders

A fully referenced version of this article is posted on ISIS members' website. Details here

An electronic version of this report, or any other ISIS report, with full references, can be sent to you via e-mail for a donation of £3.50. Please e-mail the title of the report to:

You've probably come across the expression "peer-reviewed" a lot recently, especially in discussions on GM food, mobile phones, or organic farming. . It's almost always used as part of a sentence that begins "There is no peer-reviewed evidence for..." or "There is nothing about this in any peer-reviewed journal..." What you're meant to understand by that is: "there is no credible evidence for whatever it is, and you can safely ignore anything you've heard about it." When the question is about safety, as it often is, it means the regulatory authorities are not going to look into it.

A lot of people take peer review very seriously, or at least they say they do. When Sir David King, then the Chief Scientific Adviser to the British government, put forward a code of ethics for scientists, one of his chief examples of unethical behaviour, right up there with plagiarism, was "disseminating work before it has been peer reviewed". You may remember Arpad Pusztai who spoke for 150 seconds in a television programme on unpublished results indicating that genetically modified (GM) potatoes were harmful to rats, because he saw it his duty to warn the public. He was subjected to fierce attacks from the scientific establishment (led by the Royal Society) that continue to the present day.

The scientific establishment's double standard

The scientific establishment may claim to oppose disseminating results that have not been peer-reviewed, but there is a blatant double standard being applied, and all too often. Just recently, a UK government research funding agency, the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) put out a press release that was not only highly misleading about farmers being upbeat about GM crops ("UK Farmers Upbeat about GM Crops" Debunked and Marketing Masquerading as Scientific Survey, SiS 38); but was also based on research that had not been peer-reviewed, according to the ESRC's own web site.

Another recent example came from the top mainstream journal Nature Biotechnology. In an editorial, it criticised the Italian National Research Institution for Food and Nutrition (INRAN) for not publishing some results that were allegedly favourable to GM crops.

The director of the project in question, Giovanni Monasatra, wrote to the journal to put the story straight, and his letter was published along with a response from the editor, Andrew Marshall. In his letter,İ Monastra dealt with the points raised in the editorial and expressed his surprise that Marshall, far from criticising Salute, Agricolura, Ricerca (SAGRI) for organising a press conference to publicise data that were, according to Marshall, "too preliminary for peer-reviewed publication," instead complained that the Italian media did not give it even more coverage than they did.

Marshall's response is that the data had [his italics] to be press released by SAGRI because they were of interest to the public and political debate. Yet, in 1999, Marshall had written in Nature Biotechnology that Arpad Pusztai's work should be submitted for peer review before it could be considered, even when safety was at stake.İ The difference is that he was then writing about results that were against the interests of the biotech industry.

It is not at all unusual for scientific bodies and lobby groups to issue press releases and hold press conferences on non-reviewed material.İ The people who set themselves up as the guardians of sound science either say nothing or even join in, except when it is a matter of things the corporations don't want the public to hear. In that case, they suddenly rediscover their strong objection to the practice.

Peer review is a useful part of the scientific process, but it is not as effective, as important, or as universal as some would have us believe, and it needs to be put in perspective.

What is peer review?

One of the distinguishing features of science is that when you discover something, you don't expect other people just to take your word for it. You're expected to describe exactly what you have done and why this justifies what you claim, and the usual way of doing this is to publish a paper in a scientific journal. When you submit your paper to a journal, the editor will generally send it to be reviewed by experts in the field. The referees, usually two or three, are supposed to read the manuscript carefully and assure themselves as best they can that the work was done using appropriate techniques, that it takes into account and properly acknowledges earlier relevant work, and that the conclusions are properly derived from the data, or, in the case of a theoretical paper, that the arguments are sound. They advise on whether the work is interesting enough and contains enough that is new to be worth publishing, and, even if it is, whether they consider it is suitable for the particular journal. They may also suggest ways in which the paper could be improved.

This peer review system is important in science. It prevents many very poor papers from being published and it improves many others. Above all, it helps maintain a consensus of what is expected in a scientific paper; what you find in a scientific journal is very different not only from the popular press but even from most papers in the humanities or social sciences.

But peer review is very limited in what it can do. Referees, who are not paid, vary considerably in the time and effort they devote to the task. They are all too likely to nod a paper through if it looks plausible and comes from a lab or a group that they know and trust, or to reject one because they disagree with it or don't understand it and haven't the time or inclination to go through it carefully. They may reject a paper as "not interesting" when what they mean is that it's not the sort of thing they and their friends are interested in.

Referees do not go into the laboratory to watch the experiments being carried out. They do not have access to the authors' notes and raw data. They make their decisions on the basis of nothing more than what the reader will see if the paper is accepted. Even the most conscientious are simply not in a position to guarantee that the results are correct or even that the work was done properly.

Peer review could certainly be improved, and there are a number of ways in which this might be done. For example, research has confirmed the suspicion of many scientists that there is often bias, whether conscious or not, and it has been suggested that referees should not be told the authors' names or institutions, or even their gender. But while the system could be improved, it is hard to see how it could do much more, even if we really want it to. The real test of a paper comes after it is published and is open for comment by the whole of the scientific community, and that can be a far more stringent test. Indeed, many poor or outright fraudulent works have been exposed after they were in print. One recent example is a paper published in the British Food Journal and given an Award for Excellence, which provoked 40 scientists and two MPs to sign an open letter demanding its retraction (Wormy Corn Paper Must be Retracted, SiS 37). We shouldn't expect peer review to do more than it actually can, and by the same token we shouldn't claim to the public that it does.

Not all science is peer reviewed

If all real science were peer reviewed before it was made public or used in decision making, then you might want to say that peer review, rightly or wrongly, defines real science. In fact, there are a number of ways in which science often gets into circulation without peer review. For example, the work can be published in the proceedings of scientific meetings or, especially in rapidly moving subjects like theoretical physics, circulated as a preprint or posted on a web server.

On the whole, exceptions like those don't matter much. Most of the work will eventually be refereed or else just forgotten. In any case, it is out in the open for anyone to see and criticise. The absence of peer-review matters in regulation but not as much as the absence of public scrutiny

There is, however, an area in which the absence of peer review matters a great deal, and that is in regulation. Many products, including pharmaceuticals and GM foods, have to be licensed. The manufacturers are required to carry out trials, safety tests and risk assessments and submit the results to the regulators. Much of this work is never peer reviewed. What is more, much of it is never published, and worse, concealed from the public and often from the regulators as well under claims of "commercial confidentiality", so that other scientists are never able to comment on it.

Companies use commercial confidentiality in much the same way that the UK government uses the Official Secrets Act, less as a means of keeping sensitive information from a possible competitor than to ensure that nothing embarrassing reaches the public. And as with the Official Secrets Act, the claim that something must be kept confidential on commercial grounds is seldom challenged. Just to quote one example, even after the TGN1412 trial went so disastrously wrong (see Post Mortem on the TGN1412 Disaster, SiS 30), and it was abundantly clear that the drug would never be developed further, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) still refused to release some details of the test protocol on the grounds of commercial confidentiality. It is hard to imagine how a competitor of either Te Genero, the company that developed the drug, or Parexel, the company that ran the trials, could have gained any unfair advantage from the information, though it might have been of use to anyone trying to improve the safety of trials, and more importantly, to provide effective remedy for the victims.

The absence of peer review is nowhere near as important as the absence of public scrutiny. To make claims on the basis of research that you will not reveal to the scientific community is to go against one of the basic principles of science: that we provide evidence for the claims we make. It is all the more serious when these claims can affect health and the environment. Such data should never be held secret on grounds of commercial confidentiality.


Peer review is a useful part of science but it is not and cannot be the dividing line between good science and bad, between what can be relied upon and what must be dismissed out of hand. In particular, when we are told that there is no peer-reviewed evidence,İ that does not mean that there is no evidence, nor does it mean there is no credible evidence. The scientific establishment has been deliberately applying a double standard to exclude evidence unfavourable to industry. What is worse, our regulators have accepted all kinds of evidence in approving new products and processes not just without peer review, but without the possibility of scrutiny by the public or even by the regulators themselves.


Vatican says GM food is a blessing, 20 May 2008.

The Times THE Vatican has stunned opponents of genetically modified foods by declaring they hold the answer to world starvation and malnutrition.

Until Sunday`s statement the Vatican had been neutral in the European Union-US confrontation over GM food.

Archbishop Renato Martino, head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, said the Vatican was preparing an official report on biotechnology, to be published next month, which would come down in favour of genetic modification. The document will coincide with a debate on GM by EU farm ministers.

Archbishop Martino said the Pope was greatly interested in new technologies for food development as part of a policy of sustainable agriculture. He noted that 24,000 people died every day from starvation.

Archbishop Martino, who until last year was the Vatican representative at the UN, said he had lived for 16 years in the US "and I ate everything that was offered to me, including genetically modified products. They had no effect on my health. This controversy is more political than scientific."

The Vatican study will argue that the future of humanity is at stake and that there is no room for the ideological arguments advanced by environmentalists.

One Vatican official said: "The Book of Genesis clearly establishes the domination of man over nature. God has entrusted mankind to preserve nature but also to use it."

Archbishop Martino said the Pope had been influenced by the growing weight of advice from the Vatican`s scientific advisers. "The Pope ardently desires to do something for the billions of people who go to bed hungry every night," he said.

Archbishop Martino said freedom from hunger was one of the fundamental rights of man. The Vatican`s stand was consistent with its belief in "the right to life from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death".

Vatican officials said many in the West had made up their minds about genetic modification while ignoring the benefits to the world`s hungry. Velasio De Paolis, a professor of canon law at the Pontifical Urban University, said it was "easy to say no to GM food if your stomach is full".

Scientific progress was part of the divine plan, he said. "The introduction of new and more efficient technologies such as second and third-generation GM foods, in harmony with sustainable development, is not a threat but a benefit."

Carlo Bernardini, editor of Italy`s leading scientific magazine, Sapere, said he hoped Italy, which holds the rotating EU presidency, would take its lead from the Pope.

But Alfonso Scanio Pecoraro, head of the Italian Greens and a former agriculture minister, said he was horrified by the Vatican`s intervention. "The church is using its authority to support a scam by the US multinationals," he said.

He suspected the administration of US President George W. Bush had put pressure on the Holy See.

Comment by GM-free Ireland

The above story is bogus. Truth About Trade and Technology (a GM lobby group) gave today's date for a story originally published in The Times of London in August 2003, under a different pope!

You can read the original story on the web site of another agri-biotech lobby group ( at

As GM Watch points out, "The joke is, of course, that the story turned out to be bogus the first time around - the Vatican never did endorse GM crops. But, hey, all the more reason to give it another whirl!"

This incident provides a good example of agri-biotech spin doctors planting lies that get disseminated by journalists who fail to excercise basic due diligence and fact checking. The false story was disseminated on 21 May by the Catholic News (see above under 21 May).

Let's see if other media outlets disseminate this disinformation further in the days ahead.


French lawmakers pass bill on GM crops

Reuters, 20 May 2008. By Emile Picy.

PARIS - French legislators passed a bill on genetically modified crops on Tuesday, after blocking the same text by a single vote last week in what had been an embarrassment for President Nicolas Sarkozy.

The bill, which will regulate the cultivation of GM crops in France, passed by 289 to 221 after the ruling right wing UMP party achieved an almost unified front along with centrists.

Last week, the right had been split and many deputies were absent for the vote on the bill, a thorny issue which stirs strong passions in France.

At one point on Tuesday, clerks had to intervene to stop deputies coming to blows. Pro-GM members see the bill as too restrictive and opponents call it overly lax.

France is the European Union's main agricultural power and its largest exporter of farm products. The bill has drawn criticism from a wide spectrum of interest groups on both sides.

France's upper house of Parliament, held by a UMP majority, will examine the bill on Thursday and still has to approve it before it becomes law.

Opposition Socialists, left-wing parties, and environmental campaigners oppose the bill, which they say is too favourable to the interests of biotech companies such as U.S. giant Monsanto.

Environmentalists say it blurs the line between natural and GM foods to the detriment of farmers and consumers, while advocates of GM crops say it does not go far enough in protecting biotech companies from sabotage.

Opinion polls show a vast majority of French people are opposed to GM crops because they have not seen enough proof that such crops pose no risk to consumers and the environment.

(Writing by Brian Rohan; Editing by Charles Dick)


Klein warns of climate disasters, 20 May 2008. By Andrew Williams.

Naomi Klein is the brains behind worldwide best-seller No Logo, which raised awareness of globalisation. Her new tome, The Shock Doctrine, argues Western capitalists have exploited global crises - from wars to natural disasters - for their own economic benefit. The Shock Doctrine is out now, published by Penguin, £8.99.

What is the main point of your argument?

The book documents how, over the past 35 years, radical pro-corporate policies have required large-scale crises to advance.

How has this been done?

While New Orleans was under water there was aggressive lobbying not to rebuild the public school system but replace it with a privatised one. Not repair the public housing projects but replace them with hotels. The response to the disasters is also being privatised. The private company Blackwater USA showed up after the levees broke, playing the role of the police force. We're seeing more examples of 'disaster capitalism' in the current food crisis. Agribusinesses are using the crisis to push through genetically modified crops in countries where they're banned.

Where will it all end?

During the California fires last year, we saw the emergence of private fire fighters for the first time in more than a century in the US. This basic government service is now seen as a market opportunity. If we don't avert climate chaos, disasters will become the new market opportunity. There is now VIP fire protection in wealthy areas, insurance companies send out private fire fighters if you pay the premium. It's ending with a vision of disaster apartheid where response to the crises caused by the current economic model is the final frontier for privatisation. The way to get off this course is to get serious about tackling global warming, which will also reduce resource wars over oil, gas and water. We need to create a more sustainable economic model.

What impact can you have on that as an individual?

Put pressure on your political leaders. Changing your shopping habits isn't enough. There's bafflement as to why our leaders are so sanguine in the face of climate change and a global economy that creates serial crises. We need to respond as political beings.

Aren't people cynical about politics? We've seen governments ignore huge public marches.

People are cynical - and rightly so. However, the right wing exploits crises and responds to emergencies by putting through unpopular policies because they know if they don't take advantage of these crises there will be a progressive response. After the Wall Street crash, people knew the market couldn't regulate itself - they saw mass poverty and hardship - and didn't just sit back and let politicians make changes for them. They organised social movements. The current crises can also be used to make social progress. The current economic model is an attempt by the elites to liberate themselves from the advances that cut into their profits. People are cynical about what a march or vote can do, that's why we have to use sustained political pressure that organising change requires.

If we don't take action to avert climate chaos, disasters will become the new market opportunity

Haven't the days of grass roots activism gone?

You can't effect change by going on a demonstration alone. It's all interlinked. The economic model of the past 30 years doesn't just create a divide between rich and poor, it wages war on organisations such as trade unions, which weakens society. We've been reduced to blogging or going on a march - that's different to organising a counter-power.

Are you hoping to politicise people with the book?

My goal was to track the strategy which takes advantage of disorientation after a crisis - demonstrated by what happened after 9/11. The political leadership in the US expertly started hoarding power and privatised huge parts of the economy without any debate whatsoever. It's a strategy that relies on us not knowing it happened. The process of understanding how it works means the next time this tactic is employed you don't become disorientated. It makes people more able to organise in the face of a crisis.

Did No Logo make a different or was it just a fashion accessory for middle class lefties?

It was clearly not about saying 'don't buy this or that' it was a gateway for understanding how globalisation worked. There was very little literacy about what globalisation meant. I was talking about how these brands had become education tools, young people were learning how this baffling economic model worked by tracing the journey of their running shoes or Big Macs. I ended the book saying you don't change the world one brand at a time or by changing your shopping habits. Changing the system was about addressing the World Monetary Fund. The Seattle protest outside the World Trade Organisation happened in 1999, it changed the focus from individual companies to questioning the whole economic model. What happened after September 11th was that a lot of progressives became focussed on stopping wars. The economic model, which was fuelling the wars, fell off the agenda. I'm trying to connect the wars and economic agenda with the new book. They are intimately connected.


The Global Forest Coalition:
Governments Prioritize Forest Exploitation
Many Governments Fail to Comply with CBD Mandate, 20 May 2008.

Bonn, Germany--Global Forest Coalition [1] released a major report, "Forests and the Biodiversity Convention," [2] at the Convention on Biological Diversity today. This report contains the summaries and research undertaken in 22 countries [3] by independent country monitors [4] to examine whether or not Parties are implementing the decisions made through the CBD Programme of Work (POW) of Forest Biological Diversity [5]. The civil society groups from the 22 countries who elaborated the reports presented at their findings at a press conference this morning.

The Coordinator of the report and Chairperson of the Global Forest Coalition, Dr. Miguel Lovera said, "Even though isolated actions have been taken by some governments, they fall short of complying with the CBD/POW which mandates that forests be regarded as ecosystems and not as mere resources." He continued, "The consequences of this are that forest species are being lost at a rate of more than 100 a day and huge areas of forests are being lost, such as in the Amazon, Congo Basin and throughout the earth. To make things worse, governments and corporations are obsessed with promoting false solutions to climate change, like relying on agrofuels and genetically engineered trees to replace oil."

Wolfgang Kuhlmann, Director, ARA (Working group on Rainforests and Biodiversity) from Germany stated, "To implement the Expanded Programme of Work on Forest Biodiversity of the CBD the German government supports numerous activities abroad (e.g. National Forest Plans in 20 countries). However, up to now activities in Germany can't compare to that." Kuhlmann adds, "The POW is hardly known by anybody outside those German government agencies that are directly involved in CBD and UN Forum on Forests related activities. Reports on CBD/POWs implementation primarily refer to ongoing activities that have started well before 2002. New activities are either lacking or insufficient. So what are they doing?"

Many countries omitted implementing the CBD/POW for diverse reasons, but one outstanding example is the lack of political will as exemplified by Brazil.

"After the resignation of Marina Silva as Minister of the Environment, any agreement with Brazil on environment and forests becomes a blank check" said Camila Moreno, from Terra de Direitos, the country monitor for Brazil. "It is clear that there isn't any support from popular movemnts and civil society for the environmental aberrations of (President) Lula's government to the ethanol crusade. This crusade is already an obsession of international corporations and governments. This is not admissible," she adds.

Hubertus Samangun, Director of ICTI, Tanimbar, Indonesia, Southeast Asia Regional Coordinator of the International Alliance of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples of the Tropical Forests explained, "The Indonesian government is cutting down millions of hectares of forests and replacing them with palm oil plantations." Samangun continued by quoting an Indonesian NGO saying, "The government is on high speed to destroy the biodiverse forests of Indonesia.

Agrofuel expansion and the expansion of large-scale monocultures for both agrofuels and other agro-industrial purposes, bad forest governance and the lack of a proper definition of forests were identified as some of the main causes of forest loss in the 22 countries monitored. The report concludes that there have been some clear success-stories of forest conservation, especially on indigenous lands and territories, but indigenous peoples are still not able to participate in national and international forest policies.


[1] The Global Forest Coalition (GFC) is an international coalition of NGOs and Indigenous Peoples' Organizations (IPOs) involved in international forest policy. The GFC was founded in 2000 by 19 NGOs and Indigenous Peoples Organizations from all over the world. It is a successor to the NGO Forest Working Group, which was originally established in 1995. It participated in international forest policy meetings and organized joint advocacy campaigns on issues like Indigenous Peoples Rights, the need for socially just forest policy and the need to address the underlying causes of forest loss.

[2] The report can be downloaded [3] The countries monitored are Australia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Canada, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Georgia, Germany, Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan, Mexico, Mozambique, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Panama, Paraguay, Russian Federation, Samoa and Uganda.

[4] Country Monitors are available for interviews. Please see ENDNOTE as they are listed with different areas of expertise, regional knowledge and languages.

[5] The CBD/POW provides Parties to the CBD guidance on how to achieve the biodiversity conservation goals enshrined in the Millennium Development Goals, which mandate United Nations members to "reverse the loss of environmental resources." However, deforestation rates are extraordinarily high, in the order of 2% per year (FAO 2005). Rapid deforestation and degradation of forests is also leading to an estimated extinction of up to 100 species every day (WRI 2001), and the rampant erosion of forest peoples rights, knowledge and habitats.


Miguel Lovera, GFC Chairperson
Tel: +316 15345379 Spanish, English, French, Portuguese, Dutch and Italian.

Wolfgang Kuhlmann, Director, ARA (Working group on Rainforests and Biodiversity)
Tel: +49 (0)175 6040772 German and English

Orin Langelle, GFC Media Coordinator
Tel: +49 (0)176 77187583 English


Human Impacts, Climate Change Pushing Species to Extinction

Environment News Service, 20 May 2008.

BONN, Germany - German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel Monday urged governments to take stronger action to protect the diversity of life. Opening the largest UN biodiversity gathering yet, Gabriel warned that the world is not on the right path to protect the diversity of species and said the world would not reach its agreed target of the year 2010 for reversing biodiversity loss.

Nearly 7,000 participants from 191 countries opened the United Nations Conference on Biodiversity in Bonn on Monday. Before the meeting closes on May 30, participants are expected to take steps to conserve and sustainably manage the world's biodiversity in light of what UN officials are calling "the alarming rate of loss of species, compounded by the pressures from climate change."

Gabriel called for a clear roadmap, similar to the one on climate reached in Bali last December, toward a plan to establish an international set of rules for biodiversity that would govern the providing of access and equitable sharing of the benefits.

Rules would set the terms under which users of biodiversity resources, such as pharmaceutical companies, would have access to resources.

These terms would be balanced with provisions to guarantee that the providers of these resources, such as local communities or national governments, many of which are in developing countries, receive an equitable share of any of the benefits that are produced, said the minister.

The conference is timed to coincide with the International Day for Biological Diversity on May 22.

As food prices spiral ever upwards, this year's theme for the day is "Biodiversity and Agriculture."

The Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, an international treaty, wants the Parties to highlight sustainable agriculture "not only to preserve biodiversity, but also to ensure that we will be able to feed the world, maintain agricultural livelihoods, and enhance human well being into the 21st century and beyond."

Representatives of the International Youth Conference called Biodiversity on the Edge, which took place last week in Bonn, are seeking the integration of sustainable development education into school curricula; a protocol on protected areas; no patents on living organisms; prohibition of genetically modified organisms; full and effective participation of indigenous and local communities; and measurable targets for biodiversity protection.

Urgent issues before participants include the food price crisis, the loss of forests, climate change, and efforts to eradicate poverty.

The gathering will submit its results next week to the Bonn Biodiversity Summit, which will be chaired by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The attendance of 120 heads of states and ministers is expected.

Another deadline looming over this Bonn conference to create a fair-share system was agreed by the government Parties to the treaty two years ago in Brazil.

They intend to devise a system that provides access to, and shares the benefits from the genetic resources of the world fairly between developing and developed countries.

The Bonn Biodiversity meeting is taking place at a defining moment in the history, said Ahmed Djoghlaf, executive secretary to the Convention on Biological Diversity.

"Every species is a vital piece in the complex puzzle of the life web of our planet. Interlinkages are what keep the puzzle glued together - for the planet to function," Djoghlaf told the participants in his opening address to the conference on Monday.

"About two thirds of the food crops that feed the world rely on pollination by insects or other animals to produce healthy fruits and seeds. Included among these are potato crops," Djoghlaf said.

"Here in Germany, there has been a 25 percent drop in bee populations across the country," he said. "In the eastern United States, bee stocks have declined by 70 percent. If pollinators disappear, so too will many species of plants. If we take away one link, the chain is broken."

Djoghlaf quoted the great physicist Albert Einstein as saying, "'If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.'"

"The unfolding global food crisis sounds like a wake-up call to the serious consequences of human activities on the ability of our planet to continue sustaining life on Earth," Djoghlaf said. "The dramatic rise in crop prices is a symptom of the unprecedented loss of agricultural biodiversity and certainly a reflection of its far-reaching impacts on humankind."

"The challenge is daunting and I call upon all states to adopt exceptional efforts," he said.

Losing the benefits that biodiversity provides would cost the world $3.1 trillion a year or six percent of the global gross national product, according to a new study by development economist Pavan Sukhdev, cited by Djoghlaf during his speech.

In Bonn, countries also will consider how to address the problem of invasive alien species, the loss of rainforest biodiversity, the degradation of marine ecosystems, and methods to value biodiversity in economic terms.

The conference will consider how to expand the successful establishment, maintenance, expansion and financing of a global network of protected areas, both on land and in marine ecosystems.

Currently over 10 percent of the terrestrial area is covered by parks and conservation areas, but the level of protection in the oceans and seas of the world is lower, according to the secretariat.

With 191 governments as Parties, the Convention on Biological Diversity, CBD, has near-universal participation among countries committed to preserving life on Earth.

From its Montreal headquarters, the CBD seeks to address all threats to biodiversity and ecosystem services, including threats from climate change.

It employs scientific assessments, develops tools, incentives and processes, transfer of technologies and good practices, and tries to engage "the full and active involvement of relevant stakeholders," including indigenous and local communities, youth, nongovernmental organizations, women and the business community.


South Africa: Biowatch to go to ConCourt on costs

LegalBrief Environmental, 20 May 2008.

SA anti-genetically modified organisms (GMO) lobby group Biowatch is to lodge an application for leave to appeal to the Constitutional Court against the order that it pay the costs of Monsanto SA (Pty) Ltd, local component of the world's largest genetically modified seed company, notes an I-Net Bridge report.

The option of appealing to the Constitutional Court has been opened by a dissenting judgment from one of the three judges who heard Biowatch's appeal in April 2007. In his judgment handed down this month, Judge Justice Poswa said the costs order in favour of Monsanto SA (Pty) Ltd should be reversed, according to Biowatch. Poswa also said that SA's statutory bodies responsible for regulating GM crops should pay Biowatch's legal costs. These are the Minister of Agriculture, the GMO Executive Council and the GMO registrar. All of this is in line with Biowatch's appeal to a full Bench of the Pretoria High Court in 2007. The costs order arose from a court application from Biowatch for access to information that would shed light on decision-making about the permitting of GM crop applications. Biowatch asked the court to order the Minister of Agriculture, the GMO Executive Council and the GMO registrar to provide access to information about the permitting of GM crops.

Full I-Net Bridge report:


Poland doesn't want GMOs

Polskie Radio, 20 May 2008.

The environment ministry has prepared a new bill on GMO, which does not include a formal ban on the cultivation of transgenic plants, but provides tools which allow to practically excludeİGMOs. İ

Former environment minister professor Jan Szyszko said that the bill practically allowsİregions of Poland to remain GMO-freeİzones.İ İ

Poland is seen as an ecologically clear country in theİEuropean Union, whichİproduces more food than is needed in the country, but is restricted by EU quota. İ

The EU law forbids the member statesİto overtly ban the cultivation of transgenic food. The current Polish regulations protect the agriculture from GMOs,İandİare in conflict with the European Commission. İ

Aİscientific conference on genetically modifiedİorganisms has been held today in Torun. Professors and students of the local university debated the issue with invited guests.


Poland eyes new GMO rules

UPI, 20 May 2008.

WARSAW -- Poland's Environment Ministry says it has authored a bill that would keep genetically modified organisms out of some Polish regions.

The ministry said the bill would not constitute a complete ban on cultivating transgenic plants, but would effectively create zones free of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, in the country, Poland Radio reported Tuesday.

European Union laws prevent member states from creating outright bans on transgenic food. Officials said current Polish regulations on GMOs, which are designed to protect the country's agriculture, contradict the EU regulations.


Poverty exacerbated by GM seeds
UN Committee censures Indian Government's support for GM seeds
Case was presented on behalf of small farmers at a UN Committee in April 2008. The Committee has urged the Indian Government to provide subsidized generic seeds which farmers can save., 20 May 2008. By Arun Shrivastava.

In its 40th session, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has stated that genetically modified seeds produced by Trans-national corporations are exacerbating extreme poverty of small-hold farmers. The full paragraph is quoted below:

"The Committee is deeply concerned that the extreme hardship being experienced by farmers has led to an increasing incidence of suicides by farmers over the past decade. The Committee is particularly concerned that the extreme poverty among small-hold farmers caused by the lack of land, access to credit and adequate rural infrastructures, has been exacerbated by the introduction of genetically modified seeds by multinational corporations and the ensuing escalation of prices of seeds, fertilisers and pesticides, particularly in the cotton industry."
[Item 29; E/C.12/IND/CO/5; page 5 & 6]

It may be noted that many civil society organizations had made their presentation to the Committee during the consultative phase in April-May 2008. In one of the presentations, the representative of Delhi-based Navdanya had linked the steps taken by the Government of India to release genetically modified organisms to violation of human rights.

The introduction of GMOs (particularly seeds) and the escalation in price of other agriculture inputs like fertilizers and pesticides has been adversely impacting the operations of small and marginal farmers. Needless to say, the worst hit are cotton farmers who have reported repeated crop losses, lower yield, more expenditure on pesticide, despite claims by trans-national corporations that their seeds are pest resistant and enhance yield. These claims have been proved to be incorrect.

In its direction to State Party (in this case India) the Committee has urged that state subsidy be given to farmers to purchase generic seeds which would allow them the re-use of saved seeds. The Committee feels that this strategy would eliminate farmers' dependence on trans-national seeds companies who only sell patented seeds and also prohibit replanting from saved seeds.

Readers should also note that the Indian Government has approved many food crops for trials without proper bio-safety assessment.


Africa: maize prices still high

The Citizen / All Africa Global Media, 20 May 2008. By Hassan Mghenyi [EXTRACT ONLY]

East Africa's maize prices are still high although a harvest season is approaching, a Regional Agricultural Trade Intelligence Network (Ratin) report shows.

As of last week, a tonne of maize was sold for $292 in Dar es Salaam, $332 in Nairobi, $317 in Kampala and $271 in Kigali. In Mombasa, the price was $349 while in Eldoret and Nakuru prices were $308 and $323 respectively.

The wholesale price statistics maintained by Ratin indicate that maize prices have increased significantly in the last two months in Nairobi by over $40 per tonne.

The prices are forecast to continue to rise steadily until fresh supplies are received.

...Meanwhile, Kenya has approved a plan to import 270,000 tonnes of white maize free of genetically modified organisms from South Africa through the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB). This is an emergency measure to cushion the country's food anticipated food deficit in August and September.

Kenya's maize stocks will run below the minimum requirement of 270,000 tonnes a month in August.

NCPB will import maize duty free under this arrangement which would have otherwise attracted a 50 per cent duty because it is originating from outside the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa.

Harvesting GM-free white maize in South Africa will start next month.

The earliest time Kenya can receive the maize is early August. In addition, only limited quantities will be available since most of the white maize produced is genetically modified.

Full article: link


'Living Computers' Created Using Genetically Altered Bacteria

Medical News Today, 20 May 2008.

US researchers have created 'living computers' by genetically altering bacteria. The findings of the research, published in BioMed Central's open access Journal of Biological Engineering, demonstrate that computing in living cells is feasible, opening the door to a number of applications including data storage and as a tool for manipulating genes for genetic engineering.

A research team from the biology and the mathematics departments of Davidson College, North Carolina and Missouri Western State University, Missouri, USA added genes to Escherichia coli bacteria, creating bacterial computers able to solve a classic mathematical puzzle, known as the burnt pancake problem.

The burnt pancake problem involves a stack of pancakes of different sizes, each of which has a golden and a burnt side. The aim is to sort the stack so the largest pancake is on the bottom and all pancakes are golden side up. Each flip reverses the order and the orientation (i.e. which side of the pancake is facing up) of one or several consecutive pancakes. The aim is to stack them properly in the fewest number of flips.

In this experiment, the researchers used fragments of DNA as the pancakes. They added genes from a different type of bacterium to enable the E. coli to flip the DNA 'pancakes'. They also included a gene that made the bacteria resistant to an antibiotic, but only when the DNA fragments had been flipped into the correct order. The time required to reach the mathematical solution in the bugs reflects the minimum number of flips needed to solve the burnt pancake problem.

"The system offers several potential advantages over conventional computers" says lead researcher, Karmella Haynes. "A single flask can hold billions of bacteria, each of which could potentially contain several copies of the DNA used for computing. These 'bacterial computers' could act in parallel with each other, meaning that solutions could potentially be reached quicker than with conventional computers, using less space and at a lower cost." In addition to parallelism, bacterial computing also has the potential to utilize repair mechanisms and, of course, can evolve after repeated use.


Scientists Make Stem Cells Without Embryos, 20 May 2008.

Scientists have figured out how to make stem cells out of ordinary skin cells – a long-awaited breakthrough that could bypass ethical wrangling over embryos and eggs. Two teams of researchers, one American and one Japanese, arrived at the process independently, the Washington Post reports. One scientist called the discovery "the biological equivalent to the Wright Brothers' first airplane."

The researchers used genetically engineered viruses to change ordinary cells into stem cells. The development carries huge implications for the future of stem cell research, because opponents of harvesting embryos as a source will likely have no objection to stem cells made in this way. "I see no reason on Earth why this would not be eligible for federal funding," said an NIH official.


UK lawmakers approve embryo research

Associated Press, 20 May 2008. By David Stringer.

British lawmakers voted Monday to approve controversial plans to allow the use of animal-human embryos for research. The proposed laws, the first major review of embryo science in Britain for almost 20 years, have provoked stormy debate - pitting Prime Minister Gordon Brown and scientists against religious leaders, anti-abortion campaigners and a large number of lawmakers.

Brown has said he believes scientists seeking to use mixed animal-human embryos for stem cell research into diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's are on a moral mission to improve - and save - millions of lives.

The process involves injecting an empty cow or rabbit egg with human DNA. A burst of electricity is then used to trick the egg into dividing regularly, so that it becomes a very early embryo, from which stem cells can be extracted.

Scientists say the embryos would not be allowed to develop for more than 14 days, and are intended to address the shortage of human embryos available for stem cell research.

By allowing such mixed embryo experiments, Britain is expected to maintain its reputation as a leading center for stem cell research. Unlike the United States, where such research is tightly controlled, British scientists say the progressive environment in the U.K. has led to many firsts, including the world's first test tube baby and cloned animal.

Legislation in Britain might also influence other European countries where such research is pursued. Chinese laws on stem cell and embryology research also closely mirror those in Britain.

"I believe that we owe it to ourselves and future generations to introduce these measures, and in particular, to give our unequivocal backing within the right framework of rules and standards, to stem cell research," Brown wrote Sunday in an op-ed piece for The Observer newspaper.

But opponents warn that an easing of laws on creating the embryos could lead to the genetic engineering of human beings.

Legislators voted 336 to 176 against a proposed ban on research using animal-human embryos and by 286 to 223 against a separate proposal covering a specific type of animal-human embryos.

Human Genetics Alert, a science watchdog in favor of the ban, claims the laws could lead to the creation of genetically modified "designer babies."

"Once we start down the road to human genetic modification, it will be very difficult to turn back," the group warned in a briefing paper for lawmakers.

Opposition Conservative lawmaker Edward Leigh, who tabled an amendment seeking to ban the practice, said the technique was a step too far for science.

"In many ways we are like children playing with land mines without any concept of the dangers of the technology that we are handling," he said in the House of Commons.

Britain's Human Fertilization and Embryology law, which regulates all stem cell and embryology research, was drafted in 1990. Brown has said it must be completely redrawn to take account of scientific advances.

Debate on other aspects of the bill are to be debated Tuesday. A final vote is expected in the coming weeks.


South Korea: Maeil Dairy announces plans to give GMOs a wide berth

Joong Ang Daily, 20 May 2008. By Cho Jae-eun Staff Reporter []

With public concern over food safety rising to new heights in Korea, Maeil Dairy said yesterday that it will not use genetically modified ingredients in its products.

Present food safety laws do not require that labels indicate when genetically modified objects are used when producing oils or sugars, including those made from cornstarch, meant for human consumption, but Maeil plans to make all its products GMO-free by the end of the year.

With regards to baby foods, the company said that the new policy was implemented yesterday. The company is in the process of executing the policy for its beverages as well, it said.

We will have to spend around 5 billion won ($4.8 million) yearly to replace all our ingredients with their non-GMO counterparts, said Han Do-mun, an executive at Maeil.

However, we decided to do this because we felt food which is meant for babies needs to be as safe as possible, he added.

The company also stated that it will strengthen the quality control process and carry out strict food safety inspections at its factories.

Korean consumers and civic groups have given the 57,000 tons of genetically modified corn that arrived in Ulsan, South Gyeongsang on May 1 from the U.S. a mixed reception. Leading starch manufacturers, Daesang and Samyang Genex ordered the corn. Both companies said they will use the corn to make starch and starch sugar for snacks, breads and beverages.

This was the first time that Korea has imported GM corn as a raw material intended for human consumption. Previously, GM corn has been bought from other countries, but only as animal feed.


UK: 'Frankenstein' embryo bill backed by MPs

Daily Express, 20 May 2008. By Gabriel Milland Political Correspondent

MPs last night backed a new law which will let scientists create "Frankenstein-style" part-human, part-animal embryos.

A Tory backbencher's amendment, which would have banned the practice, was defeated by 176 to 336 - giving the Government a majority of 160.

Another amendment which would have banned only certain types of hybrid was defeated by a much smaller majority of just 63.

Scientists hope that cells from the so-called "Frankenstein" embryos can be used to create brain, skin, heart and other tissue for treating diseases.

The Tories and Lib Dems have given their MPs a free vote on all parts of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill.

But Gordon Brown allowed Labour MPs and ministers a free vote on only four key issues for the Bill's committee-stage reading in the Commons. His decision followed a fierce campaign led by the Catholic Church.

When the Bill returns for its third and final reading later in the summer, prominent Labour Catholics like Ruth Kelly will have to fall into line or face the sack. The Transport Secretary voted in favour of the outright hybrids ban and the compromise.

Apart from Ms Kelly, those who voted in favour of the ban and the compromise included Defence Secretary Des Browne, Welsh Secretary Paul Murphy and Europe Minister Jim Murphy.

Tory leader David Cameron voted against the full ban but abstained on the compromise, despite it being put forward by his frontbench.

Scientists will now be allowed to insert human DNA into animal eggs.

Smaller than a pinhead, the hybrid embryos will be allowed to grow for up to 14 days before being destroyed.

Scientists believe that stem cells harvested from these embryos could provide the key to the treatment of conditions such as Parkinson's disease, cystic fibrosis or muscular dystrophy.

Research is currently being held up by the shortage of human eggs to create stem cells.

MPs were also due to vote on so-called "saviour siblings" - babies genetically engineered to provide material for ill family members.

Tory MP Edward Leigh, who gave the Frankenstein warning, said the Bill would allow for the creation of true hybrids - in which an animal egg is fertilised by a human sperm.

Opening the debate with an amendment prohibiting outright the creation of hybrid "admixed" embryos, Mr Leigh claimed there was "no evidence yet to substantiate" the claims that they could lead to cures.

But Labour MP and former biology lecturer Ian Gibson said: "Some people have done that, actually.

"It is kind of secret in some ways because there is commercial interest, but some drugs have been developed using embryos and the effects of them."

Today debate will centre on making it easier for lesbians to have IVF babies, as well as the abortion limit.

Mr Brown will vote for the removal of a requirement for IVF clinics to consider a child's "need for a father", while Mr Cameron believes it should stay.

The Tory leader has also indicated that he would like to see a reduction in the current 24-week limit for abortion, while Mr Brown wants it to remain.


'Stuffed and Starved' Should Be Widely Read
Important book takes on global food conglomerates

Ohmy News, 20 May 2008. Book review by Benjamin Terrall.

The arrival of Raj Patel's Stuffed and Starved in US bookstores could not come at a more appropriate time. Global food distribution is suddenly big news, as a result of poor populations rioting over dramatic price increases in rice and other staples in Cambodia, Indonesia, Egypt, Haiti and in countries throughout Africa. The predictably superficial US media discussion of this rioting leaves an enormous vacuum, which Patel's book fills nicely.

A former policy analyst with the US progressive outfit Food First, Patel spent years pulling together the research marshaled in this book. He shows how giant companies like Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland helped push policies that created an enormous surplus of corn, which ADM and others then turned into high fructose corn syrup, one of the key contributors to the obesity epidemic now plaguing the US. Today, that corn surplus is feeding government-subsidized ethanol, which takes more energy to produce than it releases and produces more CO2 than it saves.

Along with tracking the rise of global food conglomerates, Patel introduces us to peasants and poor farmers confronting those giant corporations. Some of the best sections in the book are Patel's descriptions of spending time with the landless peasant movement (MST) in Brazil, and with poor farmers in India connected to the international Via Campesina network.

Patel talks to the daughter of the founder of the KRRS farmer's movement in Karnataka, India, who tells him, "All we want is a fair price. We're not asking for anything more. My father called it a "scientific" price -- a price that includes the cost of growing, the costs of labor, the cost of land. Nothing more."

Another KRRS farmer tells Patel, "Our message is this to the world: we the farmers need to stand on our own two legs. We don't want financial assistance; we know how to do this with our own resources. We don't want to be dependent on the WTO, the IMF (International Monetary Fund), the World Bank. What they give, they give to spoil us. We're not beggars. We're creators. We have self-respect and we can be self-reliant. We can control our own resources."

Sometimes this demand for basic human dignity leads to militant tactics. A farmer in Haryana state responded to Monsanto's overtures to rent his land for growing genetically modified crops by saying, "It's not good for the farm, for the environment, for human life; I'm happy to see it burn." Given that in most cases other avenues of resistance have either been blocked or exhausted, increasing numbers of farmers around the world feel the same way, and more are taking the route of the Indian farmers' association, which in 1998 launched "Operation Cremate Monsanto."

One of the book's more-horrific sections examines recent suicides of Indian farmers, most of whom took their lives by eating pesticides provided by agents of global agribusiness. Patel connects this tragic development to the wave of farmer suicides that began among US farmers, especially black farmers, in the 1980s. Not coincidentally, that trend began when "Big Agra," with the help of taxpayer subsidies, was taking over markets that used to sustain small farmers.

Patel avoids the obfuscation that too often plagues mainstream analysis of these issues. On GMO food he writes: "The technology presents itself as a feel-good solution for politicians who'd rather not face the more profound, persistent and difficult questions of politics and distribution.ğ The plain fact is that the majority of children in the Global South suffer and die not because there is insufficient food, or because beta-carotene is nationally lacking. They are malnourished and undernourished because all their parents can afford to feed them is rice."

He continues, "It is absurd to ask a crop to solve the problems of income and food distribution, of course. But since that is precisely the root cause of vitamin A deficiency, the danger of crops such as Golden Rice is not merely that they are ineffective publicity stunts. They actively prevent the serious discussion of ways to tackle systemic poverty."

In a recent interview, Patel argued, "People do need to get their hands dirty by getting involved in social change. There is a particularly American fantasy that we can together create a better world by shopping. It's absolutely a case of thinking we can go to Whole Foods, choose the right thing, shop here, pay for this and all of a sudden we will lift the righteous above the impure."

The political activism Patel was referring to will have to involve more than simply replacing Republicans with Democrats. The Democratic Party played a key role in pushing a new Farm Bill through the US Congress which will continue disastrous policies of deregulation and massive subsidies for ecologically and socially destructive mega-farms.

The first step in moving beyond this disastrous status quo is countering the propaganda that says it is acceptable. Patel's book should be a key part of that work.


19 May 2008

Consumers Worried about Genetically Modified Foods despite Mandatory Labeling

Centre for European Economic Research, 19 April 2008.

The labeling of genetically modified (GM) foods is mandatory in the European Union. Nevertheless, it is easy to unsettle consumers when it comes to differentiate between GM foods and non-GM foods. This is the finding of a study conducted by the Centre for European Economic Research (ZEW) in Mannheim, which analyses consumer behaviour by means of controlled laboratory experiments. German consumers require a price reduction of about 50 percent to purchase GM foods. The sales opportunities for GM foods in Germany and the impacts of different labelling regulations on customer behaviour are spotlighted in the study.

In total, 164 volunteers aged between 18 and 75 participated in the laboratory experiments. The participants bid in real auctions for candy bars and soy bean oil. These products either contained GM or non-GM ingredients. It was the first study in Germany in which participants had to make real purchase decisions about GM foods. In contrast to surveys in which the participants only answer hypothetical questions, auctions give participants the incentive to reveal what they are willing to pay in reality.

The study's findings indicate that consumers definitely prefer non-GM foods. More than 80 percent of the auction participants offered higher prices for non-GM foods than for GM foods. On average, participants demanded a price reduction of about 50 percent to purchase GM foods. GM foods, therefore, are only likely to sell if they are offered at a much cheaper price than non-GM foods.

Current regulations allow additional labeling of non-GM foods with labels saying "produced without genetic engineering", and products labeled "GM-free" are readily found on the German market. The ZEW study shows that this redundant labelling affects consumers' trust in the current mandatory labelling scheme, shattering consumer confidence in the GM-free character of products that do not carry a label.

As the imminent commercialisation of GM foods in the German market is likely to increase producer incentives to label their product as GM-free, consumers' lack of confidence in the regulatory scheme may worsen. Policy makers should act promptly to either increase consumers' trust in the existing labelling regulations, for example through information campaigns, or consider the possibility to change the existing regulation by banning or requiring "GM-free" labels.

This study is published as ZEW Discussion Paper No. 08-029 in English language. Download:


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Agri-biotech firms committing 'intellectual property grab'

ENN, 19 May 2008.

Some of the world's major agri-biotech companies are applying for hundreds of patents on genetically engineered 'climate crops', carrying out what amounts to an "intellectual property grab" in the lucrative market, according to a recent report.

BASF, Monsanto and Syngenta have applied for patents to control almost two-thirds of gene families resistant to environmental stresses that will increase with climate change, according to the Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration (ETC) Group, a Canada-based civil society organisation.

About 530 patents have been applied for worldwide, with a few dozen granted and hundreds pending. They include traits such as drought, flooding, high salt level, high temperatures and ultraviolet radiation – all of which endanger food security.

The report says that this move could hinder farmers in the developing world. Patents demand that farmers purchase new seeds every year, rather than saving seeds for subsequent re-plantation.

Control of the seed industry by only a few multinationals may undermine publicly- funded creation of freely available crop varieties, the report says, as well as using the dominance of the crops to tap into previously resistant markets.

Spokespeople from the companies said that they should be acknowledged for developing climate-change resistant crop varieties – which would not have occurred without patent protections.

But others say that both sides have oversimplified the argument. Richard Jefferson, from Cambia, an organisation that helps companies work together on patents, says it's not patents but the lack of competition that is the problem.

"We don't have the economic ecology that lets other companies compete with [the large multinationals] - the big guys end up in a place like a cartel".

Link to full article in The Washington Post;


France: vote on GMO law this week

L'Ecologiste, 19 May 2008.

Over 40,000 people have signed the petition organised by L'Ecologiste magazine and the OGM Dangers association demanding a ban on GMOs, thus contributing to the rejection of the proposed law on GMOs going throught its second reading in the General Assembly on 13 May.

The same law proposal will be presented Tuesday 20 May to the deputies and on Thursday 22 May to the Senators.

Bear in mind that the proposed law would authorise transgenic plants and animals, against the wishes of the vast majority of French people, according to unanimous polls over the past ten years.

The Ecolgiste magazine and the GMO Dangers association thus appeal to the conscience of all parliamentarians to confirm their rejection of the proposed law.

We request the secretary-general of the UMP Patrick Devedjian to vote in favour of a ban on cultivation of GMOs at the National Assembly, in line with the ban on GM food in canteens, which he has passed in his capacity as President of the Assembl of the Hauts de Seine.

You may circulate this email for people to sign online at and to write and get others to write letters to the parliamentarians from the web site. It's urgent and effective!

Association OGM Dangers

L'Ecologiste magazine


UK lawmakers vote on new laws to govern hybrid embryo research, abortion

Associated press, 19 May 2008.

LONDON - Contentious plans to allow the use of animal-human embryos for research, legitimize so-called "savior siblings" and offer easier access to fertility treatment to lesbians were being considered by British lawmakers on Monday.

The proposed laws, the first major review of embryo science in Britain for almost 20 years, have provoked a stormy debate - pitting Prime Minister Gordon Brown and scientists against religious leaders, pro-life campaigners and a large section of lawmakers.

Debates taking place in the House of Commons on Monday and Tuesday also will include the first major vote on revising British abortion laws since 1990.

Opposition party chief David Cameron - and several Cabinet ministers - advocate a lowering of the 24-week limit for abortions in Britain. Legislators will vote Tuesday on whether to retain the current limit or lower it to 22, 20 or 16 weeks.

Brown has said he believes scientists seeking to use mixed animal-human embryos for stem cell research into diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's are on a moral mission to improve - and save - millions of lives.

The process involves injecting an empty cow or rabbit egg with human DNA. A burst of electricity is then used to trick the egg into dividing regularly, so that it becomes a very early embryo, from which stem cells can be extracted.

Scientists say the embryos would not be allowed to develop for more than 14 days, and are intended to address the shortage of human embryos available for stem cell research.

"I believe that we owe it to ourselves and future generations to introduce these measures, and in particular, to give our unequivocal backing within the right framework of rules and standards, to stem cell research," Brown wrote Sunday in an op-ed piece for The Observer newspaper.

But opponents warn that an easing of laws on creating hybrid embryos could lead to the genetic engineering of human beings.

Human Genetics Alert, a science watchdog opposed to the proposed changes, claims the laws could lead to the creation of genetically modified "designer babies".

"Once we start down the road to human genetic modification, it will be very difficult to turn back," the group warns in a briefing paper for lawmakers.

Ann Widdecombe, an opposition Conservative lawmaker, said there is no proof that hybrid embryo research could help treat diseases that currently have no cure. "There is no evidence at all that it will save millions of lives," Widdecombe told Britain's GMTV.

Dr. Robin Lovell-Badge, a stem cell biologist at the U.K.'s National Institute for Medical Research, said that greater understanding of genetic diseases at the cellular level could speed the development of treatments.

"We have to be careful not to overhype it, because we can't promise anything will work, but if it does work then there will be a lot more understanding. More understanding is crucial to developing new treatments," he said.

Britain's Human Fertilization and Embryology law, which regulates all stem cell and embryology research, was drafted in 1990.

Lawmakers will vote Monday on whether to fully authorize the screening of embryos for genetic characteristics to create "savior siblings." These are cases where parents seek to have a child with specific non-diseased characteristics to help a diseased older sibling through tissue or organ donation.

The proposed laws are in line with the latest scientific developments and would provide Britain's Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority with clearer guidelines. The decisions are currently vulnerable to challenges in court, Lovell-Badge said.

Proposals to end the requirement for in-vitro fertilization clinics to consider the need for a child to have a father are being debated on Tuesday. Advocates say the change is necessary to enable lesbian couples and single women to gain easier access to fertility treatment.

Opponents insist the change fails to acknowledge the role of a father in a child's life.

Brown has said he will allow his Labour Party lawmakers to vote as they wish on the three controversial sections.

Three Catholic Cabinet members - including Defense Secretary Des Browne - and around nine junior ministers are believed to have reservations about some aspects of the plans.


UK lawmakers back hybrid embryo research
Proposed laws would allow scientists to create and use human-animal cells

Associated press, 19 May 2008.

LONDON - British lawmakers voted Monday to approve controversial plans to allow the use of animal-human embryos for research. The proposed laws, the first major review of embryo science in Britain for almost 20 years, have provoked stormy debate – pitting Prime Minister Gordon Brown and scientists against religious leaders, anti-abortion campaigners and a large number of lawmakers. Brown has said he believes scientists seeking to use mixed animal-human embryos for stem cell research into diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's are on a moral mission to improve – and save – millions of lives.

The process involves injecting an empty cow or rabbit egg with human DNA. A burst of electricity is then used to trick the egg into dividing regularly, so that it becomes a very early embryo, from which stem cells can be extracted.

Scientists say the embryos would not be allowed to develop for more than 14 days, and are intended to address the shortage of human embryos available for stem cell research.

By allowing such mixed embryo experiments, Britain is expected to maintain its reputation as a leading center for stem cell research. Unlike the United States, where such research is tightly controlled, British scientists say the progressive environment in the U.K. has led to many firsts, including the world's first test tube baby and cloned animal.

Legislation in Britain might also influence other European countries where such research is pursued. Chinese laws on stem cell and embryology research also closely mirror those in Britain.

"I believe that we owe it to ourselves and future generations to introduce these measures, and in particular, to give our unequivocal backing within the right framework of rules and standards, to stem cell research," Brown wrote Sunday in an op-ed piece for The Observer newspaper.

But opponents warn that an easing of laws on creating the embryos could lead to the genetic engineering of human beings.

Legislators voted 336 to 176 against a proposed ban on research using animal-human embryos and by 286 to 223 against a separate proposal covering a specific type of animal-human embryos.

Human Genetics Alert, a science watchdog in favor of the ban, claims the laws could lead to the creation of genetically modified "designer babies."

"Once we start down the road to human genetic modification, it will be very difficult to turn back," the group warned in a briefing paper for lawmakers.

Opposition Conservative lawmaker Edward Leigh, who tabled an amendment seeking to ban the practice, said the technique was a step too far for science.

"In many ways we are like children playing with land mines without any concept of the dangers of the technology that we are handling," he said in the House of Commons.

Britain's Human Fertilization and Embryology law, which regulates all stem cell and embryology research, was drafted in 1990. Brown has said it must be completely redrawn to take account of scientific advances.

Debate on other aspects of the bill are to be debated Tuesday. A final vote is expected in the coming weeks.


UK: MPs back creation of human-animal embryos, 19 May 2008.

MPS voted on Monday to allow the creat?ion of hybrid human-animal embryos for research, in one of the most emotive pieces of legislation for 20 years.

They voted 336 to 176 against banning study which could lead to treatments for Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's.

'The ignoramuses have voted to waste money that will achieve nothing,' said Phyllis Bowman of Right to Life.

But Liberal Democrat MP Evan Harris argued: 'If scientists can show the best way to make progress in research into treatments, then it should be permissible to use the hybrids.'

To make a hybrid, an empty cow or rabbit egg is injected with ?human DNA and made to divide regularly with an electric shock.

It creates a very early embryo, from which stem cells can be taken for study.

They will not be allowed to develop for more than 14 days and will help address a huge shortage of embryos for research.

But critics fear it may lead to the ?creation of genetically modified babies.

At the weekend, Gordon Brown hailed it as 'an inherently moral endeavour', which could save millions of lives.

But ministers had a free vote, meaning they could go against the proposals.

Three Roman Catholics did - defence secretary Des Browne, transport secretary Ruth Kelly and Welsh secretary Paul Murphy.

MPs were also expected to allow 'saviour siblings' - children born to provide tissue to seriously ill brothers or sisters.

On Tuesday, the Commons will decide whether to cut the time a foetus can be aborted from 24 to 20 weeks and whether a father needs to be named for IVF treatment.


Ready for Frankenbeer?

The East African, 19 May 2008. By Kitavi Mutua.

Nairobi -- Two high-profile parallel initiatives are underway to promote the production of genetically modified sorghum grain in Kenya for domestic and industrial use.

Launched separately by different agricultural experts, if successful, the twin initiatives will have far-reaching economic implications for thousands of peasant farmers in the country.

The first plan is an international scientific research innovation aimed at improving sorghum grain to nutritious levels through genetic engineering.

The Ksh1.3 billion ($21 million) project intends to turn the widely unpopular sorghum grain, largely considered food for the poor and underprivileged into a more nutritious foodstuff.

A consortium of nine global scientific research bodies have come together under the Africa Bio-fortified Sorghum (ABS) project to develop the nutritional value of sorghum in search of long-term solutions to malnutrition in Africa.

Sorghum is ranked the fifth most important staple food in the world after wheat, rice, maize and barley.

The project seeks to develop more nutritious and easily digestible sorghum varieties that contain increased levels of essential amino acids, vitamins A and E, and more available iron and zinc.

The approach adopted by the ABS project is to introduce selected genes mainly from plant sources into the genome of sorghum in a more careful and gradual way that does not compromise other attributes of the grain.

At the local level, a parallel legislative plan is in progress to change agricultural policies that have discouraged the crop's production over the years.

This second initiative seeks to discourage brewing firms in the country from importing barley for beer making in favour of the cheaper, locally produced sorghum in order to benefit farmers.

Kitui south MP Isaac Muoki wants to introduce legislation to compel the government to impose heavy taxes on barley importation in order to promote sorghum growing.

The legislator says that if adopted, the move would substantially improve the economic wellbeing of millions of poor farmers in arid regions where erratic weather patterns make farming difficult.

"This country is living a big irony. We import barley from Russia and Canada at very exorbitant prices to make beer when cheap sorghum can be grown locally for the same purpose at great economic benefits to poor farmers," he said.

Farmers, Mr Muoki said, would effectively cultivate enough sorghum as long as the market for their produce was guaranteed.

Barley, the grain traditionally used to brew most beer, grows best in countries with cooler climates, but its rising price due to high global demand and shipping costs have made beer making more expensive than ever.

The ABS project, the first of its kind in Africa, is the first attempt to use genetic modification for the improvement of sorghum, which is an indigenous crop with wild relatives in many African countries.

The GM sorghum's proponents say millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa suffer from health problems associated with vitamin and mineral deficiency. The situation is made worse by arid climates with poor soils that cannot support the production of the foods such as fruits and vegetables needed to naturally supply these essential nutrients.

It is estimated that up to 80 per cent of children in the region receive inadequate amounts of Vitamin A, which half the entire population suffers from iron deficiency, and a third from zinc deficiency.

Sorghum is one of the few crops that grow well in arid climates, but it lacks most essential nutrients, hence the move to improve it through genetic engineering.

The institutional partners in this initiative are Kenya's Africa Harvest, South Africa's Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Pioneer HiBred International and the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) based in the US.

Others are the Agricultural Research Council (ARC), the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), the International Crops Research Institute for Semi Arid Tropics (Icrisat) and the Universities of Pretoria and California-Berkeley.

Dr Florence Wambugu, the chief executive officer of Africa Harvest, the lead organisation in the ABS consortium, said that in the wake of global warming challenges, food security cannot be achieved without improving locally bred cultivars of some indigenous grain crops like sorghum and other staple foods.

"Malnutrition remains a leading direct and indirect cause of the rise in the many non-communicable diseases in Africa where deficiencies in essential micronutrients bring about impaired immune systems, blindness, low birth weight and stunting and impaired neuropsychological development," Dr Wambugu said.

She said that the nine-member consortium had adopted the GM technology because the regular breeding approaches can not produce the magnitude of change needed to make a significant impact.

"We hope that through this project will substantially improve grain digestibility and make essential vitamins and micro-nutrients more available," she added.


UK: A design for life
Embryo bill: The proposed law is more about paving the way for GM children than alleviating disease or furthering research

The Guardian unlimited, 19 May 2008.

Is the mother of parliaments about to give birth to designer babies?

While the Commons debates today and tomorrow the contentious issues of human-animal hybrid embryos, same-sex parents and saviour siblings, all permitted by the new human fertilisation and embryology bill, overlooked in the general melee will be the bill's most dangerous innovation it would lift a ban in the HFE Act 1990 (pdf) against the genetic modification of human embryos. This would permit researchers here in the UK to try to alter the DNA that makes us human. Some enthusiasts applaud such a measure, seeing it as the first step towards bringing evolution under human control, but others (pdf) fear the complete commodification of children or even the rise of a genetically fixed two-tier society, as in the film Gattaca.

Are these hopes or fears excessive? After all, the bill prohibits implanting GM embryos in either human or animal wombs. The embryos are to be created "for research purposes" only. But what is the ultimate goal of such research?

You might think it's to prevent children from being born with genetic diseases. The fact is that we already know a considerable amount about how to do this. Couples who know they carry genes for a hereditary disease can have fertility treatment and their embryos screened, with only unaffected ones placed in the mother's womb, a less harrowing alternative to the older process of pre-natal testing and abortion of affected foetuses. They can use eggs or sperm from unaffected donors. They can adopt. They can choose to remain childless. In the case of some diseases, scientists are close to discovering ways of correcting genetic defects later in life, as has recently been done with one form of hereditary blindness.

So there is really no need to alter human embryos in order to combat genetic diseases. However, if the ultimate goal is to be able to learn safe ways of adding genes at will to human embryos to boost their intelligence, say to create true "designer children", then this tinkering is absolutely essential. Indeed, in the consultation document preceding the HFE bill, the government stated that its goal was the development of safe forms of human genetic modification.

More recently, the government's declared aims have been much more modest. They've claimed that such embryos might be useful for studying inherited disease. In fact, isolated cell cultures are far more powerful and convenient research tools.

The other principal reason the government gives when pressed on this issue is that altering embryos would help scientists to understand how they develop and implant in the womb. However, the law requires embryos to be destroyed before or at 14 days (when the nervous system begins to develop), too early to learn much, and as implantation continues to be prohibited, the bill itself undermines this reason. Or could the government have long-term plans to extend the 14-day limit or to permit GM embryos to be implanted, most likely when artificial wombs become available?

But most likely the government's real reason for allowing early experiments in altering the genes of human embryos is to allow UK scientists to establish a lead and claim intellectual property rights in basic techniques. We should not overlook the fact that Robert Winston and Ian Wilmut already hold patents on some methods that could be used to create genetically modified children.

But does the British public want GM children? Do members of parliament want to approve this measure without even properly debating it? If MPs don't wake up soon, they will set themselves up for a perfect storm of public opprobrium that will make the furore over GM crops the merest shower by comparison.


USA: Scientists Create First Genetically Modified Primate

RedOrbit, 19 May 2008.

Scientists at Emory University have genetically engineered monkeys to have Huntington's disease in hopes of gaining a better understanding of the fatal, hereditary ailment to develop possible new treatments.

The researchers, from Emory University's Yerkes National Primate Research Center in Atlanta, said the monkeys are the first primates to be genetically modified.

Describing their work, they said one of two surviving rhesus macaque monkeys engineered to have the defective gene that causes Huntington's in humans is already is exhibiting the tell-tale signs of the disease at an age of only 10 months. İ

Huntington's disease is the result of a single irregular gene that causes certain nerve cells in the brain to deteriorate.İ Although people are born with the gene, symptoms of the disease do not usually appear until middle age.

While researchers frequently perform laboratory studies on animals such as mice to gain insight into the fundamental biology of various diseases, monkeys and other primates are closer to people than rodents in neurological, physiological and genetic characteristics.

"Rodent species can capture some of the characteristics of the disease, but they have not been satisfactory in being able to really capture the essence of the disease," Stuart Zola, head of the Yerkes center, said during a telephone interview with Reuters.

"Now we have a genetically modified nonhuman primate that really has captured the clinical signs that we see in patients with Huntington's disease."

Those with the progressive, degenerative disease experience uncontrolled movements, mental deterioration and emotional problems.

And while drugs can help manage symptoms, they do not prevent the mental and physical decline, and patients typically die within 10 to 15 years after symptoms appear.

The researchers said they decided to genetically modify the monkeys with Huntington's because of the simplicity of the disease, which is associated with mutations in a single gene rather than multiple genes.

Zola said the achievement could lead the way to studies of other genetically modified primates with neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease.

"This research allows scientists to advance beyond mouse models, which do not replicate all of the changes in the brain and behavior that humans with Huntington's disease experience," John Harding, a primate resources official at the National Institutes of Health, told Reuters.

Using something called viral vector technology, the researchers transferred the Huntington's gene into an egg cell of a monkey.İ Through in vitro fertilization, the egg grew into a four-cell embryo and was then implanted in the womb of a female monkey acting as a surrogate mother.

Two of the five babies born using the process had died within about a day, and another one died about 30 days later.İİ Two are still living and are approximately 10 months old, according to Anthony Chan of the Yerkes center.İİ Chan said one of the two surviving monkeys is exhibiting the telltale Huntington's disease symptoms of involuntary movements of the face and hands.

The other monkey has not shown any symptoms, but may develop them later, Chan said.


South Africa: Biowatch says to appeal Constitutional Court cost order

Creamer Media's Engineering News, 19 May 2008. By Christy van der Merwe.

Non-governmental organisation (NGO) Biowatch said it would lodge an application for leave to appeal to the Constitutional Court against the order that it pay the legal costs of Monsanto South Africa - the local component of the world's largest genetically modified (GM) seed company.

This came after Biowatch had put in a court application for access to information on decision-making about the permitting of GM crop applications. Biowatch asked the court to order the Minister of Agriculture, the genetically modified organism (GMO) executive council and the GMO registrar to provide access to information.

"Monsanto insisted on joining in as a respondent, arguing its confidential business information was at risk. It was the only respondent to insist on costs, right to the end of the case," Biowatch said in a statement.

In February 2005, acting judge Eric Dunn ordered that Biowatch be granted access to almost all the information it had requested. He reaffirmed that Biowatch had a constitutional right to this information, that access to the information was in the public interest and that Biowatch had been forced to go to the court to get access to it. But, he also ordered Biowatch to pay the legal costs of Monsanto South Africa.

Biowatch appealed to a full bench of the Pretoria High court to reverse the costs order in favour of Monsanto and for South Africa's GM crop regulatory authorities to be ordered to pay Biowatch's legal costs.

In November 2007, judge Fanie Mynhardt and judge Mpho Molopa-Sethosa dismissed the Biowatch costs order appeal. They ordered Biowatch to pay Monsanto's legal costs and also ordered the NGO to pay the appeal legal costs of the government statutory bodies against whom the original court application was brought.

The option of appealing to the Constitutional Court was opened by a dissenting judgement from one of the three judges who heard Biowatch's appeal in April 2007. In his judgement handed down in May 2008, judge Justice Poswa said the costs order in favour of Monsanto South Africa should be reversed.

Judge Poswa said that South Africa's statutory bodies responsible for regulating GM crops should pay Biowatch's legal costs. These were the Minister of Agriculture, the GMO Executive Council and the GMO registrar.


The Real Villain in the World Food Crisis

Huffington Post, May 19 2008. By Carl Pope.

What's behind the world food crisis? Yes, the growing world population is a huge contributor to the need for more food. Yes, reckless food- and oil-seed-based biofuel subsidies have added to the problem. Yes, the climate crisis will contribute enormously. Yes, greater prosperity by previously vegetarian consumers in India and China will increase demand for feed grains.

But the media only occasionally touch on why we are having this particular food crisis: market fundamentalism and the privatization of world food security. Sunday's New York Times has a devastating article on the dismantling over the past 20 years of the network of publicly funded and accountable agricultural research centers.

What was supposed to take the place of public research? Privatized, market-driven, corporate research. How were they going to ensure food security? By developing genetically modified foods. What would motivate them? Profit -- geared to patented GMO (genetically modified organism) seed varieties. These patented seeds would cost more, but farmers' yields would go up so much that the world would be better off. Unfortunately, the hard truth is that GMOs have actually made the world's food supply smaller -- because the varieties developed for crops like soy beans and cotton, thus far at least, have yields that are lower than the conventional strains they replace.

This might mean that GMO crops simply can't produce the continually increasing crop yields that their advocates have promised. But it is also fair to say that we have no real idea whether they can or can't, because the privatized market for developing GMOs has almost no interest in crop yield per se -- it has been developed for purposes such as making crops that are more tolerant of the herbicide Roundup.

In fact, the Department of Agriculture concedes that not a single GMO crop on today's market was designed to increase yields. By contrast, the entire focus of the publicly funded agricultural research that led to the Green Revolution was increased yields.

For years a staple of the literature advocating GMO crops has been salt-tolerant barley for marginal soils in Africa. I'm not a crop scientist, so I have no idea whether salt-tolerant barley is feasible -- and if it is feasible, no idea whether GMO crops are the most likely pathway to develop it. But I know enough economics to be pretty sure that Monsanto won't get rich selling the seeds of a GMO salt-tolerant barley to marginal farmers in Mauritania -- the market is neither big enough nor rich enough. Wheat farmers in the Dakotas are a much better investment for Monsanto, especially when they are backed by huge crop subsidies, and the company has followed the market signals. As a result, virtually all the crops emerging from the privatized corporate agricultural research establishment are designed not to increase yields or to lower costs but to increase resistance to herbicides or a narrow range of first-world pests.

Even today, we don't need GMO rice to fight the current devastating outbreak of brown plant hopper on Asian rice fields. The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) has identified more than a dozen conventional varieties that could produce resistance if they were crossbred into the commercial types in common use in Asia. But the IRRI lacks the funds to do the necessary work. And private seed companies lack the financial inventive, because the hopper continually evolves, so even if a private food corporation developed a resistant variety, it could market it for only a few years. Seed sales just wouldn't make a big enough profit.

As a result, we have poor farmers in India committing suicide because their GMO cotton crops didn't meet expectations or failed; we have governments trembling from Haiti to Afghanistan because their people can no longer afford to eat; we have newly empowered pests chewing their way through the world's rice paddy fields; we have inadequate stores of grain to survive even modest droughts in Australia -- and we act as if this should be a surprise.

It's not as if this is a new problem. At least as far back as the Irish potato famine, it has been clear that unregulated markets can't handle the inevitable ups and downs of food production. Ireland actually had plenty of food to feed itself, but Victorian market fundamentalists insisted that most of it be exported. Then, as now, intentional public policy was needed to avoid famine and starvation.

Dare we hope that this fall that the Presidential candidates will actually be asked about this issue? Only if we insist. And the debate will be meaningful only if we ask the hard questions about why we have abandoned publicly funded and accountable agricultural policy mechanisms for the long-discredited concept that privatization of research and market fundamentalism will feed the world.


Jatropha: Another Bad Path to Biofuels, 19 May 2008. By The Panelist.

As I mentioned on The Panelist...

With oil at an all-time high of $128 per barrel, and gasoline prices soaring - not to mention double-digit inflation in food prices (4.9 in 2007-08 as compared to the usual 2.1), some consumers are becoming hard-pressed to fuel their bodies or their vehicles.

Biofuels may be the answer, but not as currently practiced in the U.S. and elsewhere. Currently, biofuel production diverts food crops like wheat, soybeans and corn, or plants alternative crops on the same land, reducing food-crop harvests.

In fact, diverting corn from food supplies to biofuel has resulted in a 60-percent rise in cornmeal prices in Mexico over the past few years, making a staple food like corn tortillas almost unaffordable to Mexico's poorest. One expert estimates that, by 2009 - if all proposed U.S. biofuel plants become operational - U.S. grain supplies for food will be reduced by almost 30 percent. The effect on bread and other staple prices will be inconceivable.

Some have speculated that the use of non-food crops, planted on marginal land useless for food production, could resolve the food and biofuels conflict. Since 2007, a company called ArborGen has been trying to genetically modify eucalyptus trees to reduce lignine content, that stuff that makes it so hard to extract cellulose for bioethanol production. Latin American partners in this attempt (the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation, the Catholic University of Brasilia, and the Genolyptus project) project that, if successful, eucalyptus growing on S. American plantations could solve Latin America's burgeoning fuel crisis.

The danger of these GMO trees is that they proliferate wildly, displacing native species and contaminating native seed and rootstocks by cross-pollination (as is currently happening in China with native poplar trees). Monocultures also use up regional water supplies, displace indigenous people and habitats, and benefit (often government-subsidized) corporations and large landholders at the expense of the poor, whose government-funded social welfare net is depleted by these subsidies. In countries like Brazil, Chile and Argentina, natives forests and savannahs have given way to soy and palm oil plantations, leaving the poor both poorer and landless, and agribusiness giants like Cargill (a private company), Archer Daniels Midland (ADM - $43.35) and Bunge (BG - $124.48) hip-deep in the new wealth of biofuels.

In the U.S., proposed monocultures like jatropha, eucalyptus and palm across the South will have the same effect as in S. America, for several reasons. First, the South is historically an area of depressed economies, where residents are often forced to work at low-paying jobs just to survive. Second, the South's climate - warm winters and moderate to heavy rainfall - is largely conducive to food crops, which would inevitably be displaced by biofuel crops. Last, the tremendous biodiversity of areas like the Everglades would be seriously impacted by both non-native and GMO species. Look at the damage already done by kudzu, Australian pine and melaleuca.

One company, Terasol Labs, is developing jatropha, a species of euphorbia (a succulent native to Central America) that produces seeds which contain up to 40 percent oil. Jatropha is resistant to pests and drought and grows vigorously in many soil types. In its native habitat it is a weed. Jatropha oil, once extracted, can be used to fuel diesel engines with little or no further preparation or additives. Terasol is not genetically modifying jatropha, but is looking for suitable cultivars via tissue propagation and hybridization. These jatropha strains are maximized for their tolerance to various climates, pest-resistance, and oil yields. In other words, they are being adapted to survive in ways that no native plants can compete with.

In LaBelle, Florida, My Dream Fuel LLC is promoting jatropha, and looking for farmers willing to plant the more than 1 million seedlings currently in the ground at a Hendry County nursery. My Dream's owner and founder, Paul Dalton (a former attorney and child advocate who has apparently re-evaluated his career choice) plans to open a $1.5 million, 15,000-square-foot seed-processing and plant cloning facility in Fort Myers, Fl. Local environmentalists don't appear to be opposing jatropha development, and local growers seem keen on the idea of a crop that doesn't require vast amounts of water or intensive labor. No one seems concerned about cross-species contamination, the destruction of biodiversity, or jatropha's effect on soils - this latter an unknown quantity.

Money talks, and jatropha is clearly a cash crop. In 10 years or so, when the downside of jatropha cultivation begins showing up as orange trees bearing strange fruit (or none at all) and native plant species are all but wiped off the face of the earth, I probably will be too. This is likely a good thing since I seem to be the only one who has glimpsed the dark underside of this project to fuel gas-guzzling American cars and SUVs made by companies like GM and Ford. Of course, there is always the possibility of changing our driving habits and purchasing decisions based on environmental considerations.

"What experience and history teach is this - that people and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it." ~ G. W. F. Hegel

Disclosure: I don't own stock in any of the companies mentioned in this article. is a website that analyzes ethical investments.


New report: European banks financing damaging agrofuels in Latin America
Friends of the Earth International urges banks to stop fuelling harmful agrofuel boom

Friends of the Earth Europe press release, 19 May 2008.

Brussels (Belgium) / Montevideo (Uruguay) - Many major European banks are funding the rapid expansion of agrofuel production in Latin America, leading to large scale deforestation, increasing human rights abuses and threatening food sovereignty, according to a new report released today. [1]

The report - released by Friends of the Earth Europe amid global worries about the increasing impacts of rising food prices - calls for an end to investments by European banks in harmful agrofuel projects. [2]

Agrofuels have been blamed as a major factor driving up food prices. According to the UN and the World Bank, 100 million more people are currently facing severe hunger due to higher prices for basic foods. [3]

'European financing of agrofuel production in Latin America' documents how major European banks, such as Barclays, Deutsche Bank, BNP Paribas, Axa, HSBC, UBS and Credit Suisse are investing billions of Euros in the production and trade of sugar cane, soybeans and palm oil in Latin American countries.

Fuels from sugar cane, soybeans and palm oil are increasingly used in Europe. Their large scale production in countries such as Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Colombia is extremely controversial as it leads to the destruction of the Amazon and other valuable ecosystems, as well as to the contamination of drinking water. Large scale plantations also lead to human rights violations against peasants, with working conditions on some plantations in Brazil classed as modern slave labour.

At the same time agrofuel companies are making record profits, enabled by loans, investments and other financial support from private banks. All major European banks have invested billions of Euros over recent years in agrofuel producing companies such as Cargill, Bunge, ADM, Cosan and Brasil Ecodiesel. Several of these companies have been involved in, and convicted of, illegal activities in Latin America. [4]

Some examples of European banks involvement:

in 2007 Deutsche Bank owned 35 per cent of the shares of Brasil Ecodiesel

Bunge currently has credit facilities worth more than a billion Euro from banks such as Barclays, BBVA, BNP Paris, Deutsche Bank, HSBC, Royal Bank of Scotland, KBC and Credit Suisse

in 2007 Deutsche Bank and Credit Suisse provided financial services totalling more than a billion Euros to Cosan

Paul de Clerck, Friends of the Earth International corporate campaign coordinator, said: "Agrofuels are a booming business and banks are out to make maximum money while millions of people are suffering from lack of food and the environment is being destroyed. Banks should immediately stop their investments in such harmful agrofuel development."

Friends of the Earth is also calling on the European Commission to revise its plans for a mandatory 10 per cent target for the use of agrofuels in transport by 2020, which it says will exacerbate the problems associated with the production of agrofuels. Agrofuels are billed as a solution to climate change but growing scientific evidence shows that they may actually increase rather than decrease greenhouse gas emissions, especially if wider knock-on effects, such as changes in land use, are taken into account.

"Using crops to feed cars instead of people is a false solution to climate change," added Mr de Clerck.

For more information, please contact:

In Brussels
Paul de Clerck, Friends of the Earth International: Mobile: +32494380959,

In Montevideo:
Carlos Santos, Friends of the Earth Uruguay: Mobile: +5491160191836 / +59898889498


[1] The full report 'European financing of agrofuel production in Latin America' is online at:

[2] Biofuels are plants grown to make fuel instead of food. When they are grown in intensive agricultural systems, such as environmentally-damaging large-scale monoculture plantations, they are called agrofuels.

[3] This number was cited by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on April 29 2008 when he announced a new task force to tackle the global food crisis.

[4] In March 2007, the Supreme Court in Brazil judged that Cargill operated illegally while constructing a terminal on the banks of the Tapajos River to facilitate exports of soy beans without proper Environmental Impact Assessment. See fact sheet at:

In March 2008 the Federal Regional Tribunal in Brasil ordered Bunge to immediately stop using wood as energy source for its facilities in Piaui due to the lack of necessary permits. See fact sheets at: and


Behind Latin America's Food Crisis

Americas Program Center for International Policy, Special Report, 19 May 2008. By Laura Carlsen.

Even a year ago, few people would have predicted that a global food crisis would make headlines as one of the major concerns for the future of the world. Yes, critics of agrofuels warned that food shortages and price hikes would result from the headlong rush to divert land from food to fuel production. And climate change experts predicted that global warming would hit small farmers – who even in today's world of industrialized agribusiness still produce much of what we eat – the hardest. Agricultural economists alerted the world to the dangers of leaving the food supply to a highly concentrated international market.

But all these threats seemed nascent, not imminent.

So what happened? How did we get to a full-blown crisis, with children who before were fed going to sleep hungry, with rioters banging empty pots in the streets, with mud cakes standing in as dinner?

The answer involves all the dire warnings above. How they have played out depends in part on where you are. The interplay of pests and policies, drought and dollars, futures and farmers has always made agriculture a hard call for both almanac writers and policymakers. But international trends and a case-by-case analysis show common culprits.

In the Western Hemisphere, two countries – Haiti and Mexico – reveal the forces that are leading societies into a crisis that could become permanent if deep changes aren't made to our food and agriculture systems.

Death and Dirt Cookies in Haiti

The half-island nation of Haiti is the West's basket case. The suffering there makes the news only when it explodes into violence. That happened again in early April, when demonstrations began across the country to protest rising food prices. Beginning in the provinces and spreading quickly to the nation's capital Port-au-Prince the mobilizations left five dead, stores looted, and desperation unmasked.

It wasn't just spring fever that drove people into the streets. In a recent Americas Program article, researcher Mark Schuller reports back on street interviews done shortly before the disturbances. The comments of Sylvie St. Fleur, a laid-off factory worker, summed up the frustration among the poor: "The thing that destroys the country is that you can't buy anything. This high cost of living is killing us in Haiti."

In a nation where half the population lives on less than one dollar a day, price increases of 50% and more in staples like rice and beans mean the difference between eating or not.

Or eating dirt cookies. This invention of resourceful street vendors to trick empty stomachs rapidly became a tragic symbol of how intense hunger even broke the usual human taboo on eating dirt. Food items bore the brunt of price increases and are most keenly felt. But these hikes combined with low wages and high gas prices to decimate family economies.

No Harvard-educated economist keeps better statistics on prices than a poor woman feeding a family. Sylvia proves the point: "If you used to buy a sack of rice for 1,000 goud, now you have to buy it at 1,500 goud ($37.50). Only now, a cup of sugar costs 25 goud, a cup of rice costs 18 or 19 goud, a cup of beans costs 25 goud. Even if you work for 70 goud per day (minimum wage), you buy a gallon of gas for 150 goud ($3.75) ... you see? Here you can work two whole days and you can't even buy a gallon of gas."

Haiti is not a poor country for all Haitians. UN statistics show it's the second most unequal nation in the world. Haitian millionaires live a life thousands of slum-dwellers cannot even imagine.

Both the social inequality and the food crisis stem from neoliberal economic policies. Haiti was self-sufficient in rice, its main staple, until the 1980s but by the 1990s when trade liberalization policies took hold imports began to surpass production. In 1995, rice tariffs were slashed from 35% to 3% under an IMF "medium-term structural adjustment strategy." Direct food aid from the United States following the 1991-94 coup period that supplanted local production and diversion of resources to pay an onerous foreign debt also added to the slow demise of Haitian agriculture.

After a coup d'etat that bore signs of U.S. involvement drove out President Jean-Bertrand Aristide on Feb. 29, 2004, Interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue further lowered tariffs and promoted an export-oriented approach to reinvigorate the nation's agriculture. As a result of all these factors, Haiti is almost entirely dependent on foreign food imports and now imports an estimated 82% of total rice consumption.

According to a 2004 study by American University, "... rice production in Haiti has collapsed, threatening the economic well-being of Haitian rice farmers and tens of thousands of others who participate in the cultivation, processing, and sale of Haitian rice. Though this decline can be blamed on a variety of causes including the poor condition of Haiti's natural environment, and several other factors that have handicapped Haitian farmers ... trade liberalization policies are at the center of this phenomenon."

Haiti's rice tariffs are the lowest in the Caribbean and Haiti has earned a top rating on the IMF's trade-restrictiveness index. But this is a case where the top student is at the bottom of the class, which makes one wonder what exactly is being taught. Tariff reduction has decimated production and led to an influx of "Miami rice" at what some experts have called dumping prices.

Journalist Reed Lindsay quotes Frantz Thelusma, a community organizer, expressing the demands of the mobilizations: "First, we demand the government get rid of its neoliberal plan. We will not accept this death plan. Second, the government needs to regulate the market and lower the price of basic goods." The protests led to the recall of Prime Minister Jacques-Edouard Alexis on April 12, and negotiations to lower the price of imported rice.

The world responded to Haiti's "food riots" with major media attention and promises of emergency aid. The UN made a commitment to establish community kitchens and school meals, as well as delivering 8,000 tons of food hand-outs. In implicit recognition of Haiti's broken food supply, international agencies promised to "jump-start" Haiti's agriculture through programs to provide fertilizers, and restore environmentally damaged areas.

If everyone knew that Haitian agriculture has been stalled by the side of the road for some time now, why didn't anyone think of this sooner? As long as imports were available and the country could accumulate the foreign debt needed to pay for them, most policymakers seemed to think the system was working fine. Until now.

Mexico's Tortilla Crisis and the Battle for Corn

In Mexico, an eventual showdown over corn wasn't difficult to predict. Mexicans have been battling over corn for decades. Nothing brings to the fore the contradictions in Mexican society, the clash of values and class confrontation, the way the nation's staple crop and main food source does.

In January of 2007 tens of thousands of Mexicans marched in the streets to protest a leap of 50% in the price of corn tortillas. Although many analysts have attributed the sudden spike to a rise in international prices due to demand for ethanol production, the root cause is far more complex and predates the biofuels boom.

What happened in Mexico, and continues to happen, was caused by the confluence of several factors: the rise in the international price, the increase in the price of gas, and the concentration of corn markets by transnational companies as a result of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

As Mexican maize expert Ana de Ita points out, "The price rises were not due to a lack of national production, since in 2006, 21.9 million tons were produced, a record output. At the same time record volumes of corn were imported – 7.3 million tons of yellow corn and 254,000 tons of white corn. If imports of broken corn are included, the total reaches 10.3 million tons. Bizarrely, in a year of crisis allegedly due to a decrease in the corn supply, corn stocks reached their highest volumes ever."

It wasn't due just to the international market either. In late 2006, the price of corn on the international market showed a clear upward tendency. But the steep rise in prices within Mexico far surpassed the tendency on the world market. The main culprit was speculation and hoarding on the part of the transnationals. Four companies – Cargill, Maseca-Archer Daniels Midland, Minsa-Arancia Corn Products International, and Agroinsa – are the main buyers of the Mexican corn harvest and also the principal importers of corn from the United States.

The large corporations had two motives in driving the price up. The first was profit. De Ita's research shows that these buyers – whose access to capital and storage and transportation facilities gives them a tremendous edge in the Mexican market – bought corn at 1,450 pesos from the autumn-winter 2005-2006 harvest, which starts in April for producers in Sinaloa and Tamaulipas, and at 1,760 pesos from the producers of the 2006 spring-summer cycle, which starts in September. In late December they began selling this same corn on the domestic market for between 3,000 and 3,500 pesos.

The second reason was to capture the corn flour market. In Mexico about half of tortillas are made with industrialized corn flour and the other half with corn milled the traditional way from whole corn by small mills. The traditional sector includes 70,000 small mills and tortilla producers. The large corn processors have long wanted to make further inroads into this market. After spiking the price of corn to the mills, they moved in to sell corn flour at lower prices to tortilla producers and flood large retail chains with processed tortillas below the cost of the traditionally made tortillas. Maseca alone accounts for 73% of the corn flour market and just three other companies make up most of the rest. Small producers have dubbed this collusion of interests and market control in the hands a few large corporations the "corn-tortilla cartel" and accused the Mexican government of " discouraging domestic production, gambling on unstable imports, and (causing) volatility in domestic corn prices ..."

Indeed, the Mexican government handed over millions of pesos in marketing subsidies. According to data from the government marketing agency Aserca, the Mexican government paid 37,776,174 pesos in "direct payments for marketing" to Cargill and Minsa alone for the fall-winter white corn harvest of 2005-2006 in the state of Sinaloa. The subsidy program has been harshly criticized; according to farm organization leader VÌctor Su·rez, "Aserca is the main agency for transferring public resources to monopolies ... maintaining disorder in agriculture and food markets, and advancing the concentration of production, marketing, and industrialization in very few hands."

As the poor clamored for food in the streets, Cargill – the world's largest grain trader – registered an 86% increase in profits from commodity trading in the first quarter of 2008. In Mexico, small farmers have seen producer prices fall as a result of imports and the elimination of government programs. Two million farmers have been displaced since NAFTA went into effect.

What many people don't know is that the tortilla crisis of January 2007 is not over. The government's voluntary program to place a ceiling on corn prices remains in place and the price has stabilized in some areas but the higher price continues to affect the diet of the poor. On May 5, tortilla vendors in the state of Chiapas announced a nearly 18% price hike to 10 pesos a kilo. Although a 15-cent increase may seem like a pittance to many consumers in the developed world, in Mexico's poorest state it threatens nutritional intake for thousands of families.

In a survey at a market in Mexico City's low-income urban neighborhoods, women shoppers said that after the January 2007 tortilla crisis they had to reduce their family's tortilla consumption by half. As one seÒora pointed out, "If we can't eat corn, we can't eat."

No part of the tortilla crisis had to do with a real problem of scarcity. And yet the response has been focused on unsustainable agricultural practices to raise yields. The biotech lobby has used the crisis to argue for an end to a government ban on cultivation of genetically modified corn. The new rules of a biosafety law made-to-order to their interests have encouraged seed companies like Monsanto to pressure for permits to sow GM corn, now claiming that the higher yields of these varieties will solve the tortilla crisis and lead to greater food security. Farmers' organizations warn that lifting the ban threatens native corn varieties, livelihoods, and the nation's food sovereignty. Mexico is a center of origin for corn, with hundreds of native varieties developed over the years by indigenous and non-indigenous small farmers. GM corn cross-pollinates naturally with native varieties, leading to already documented cases of genetic contamination of varieties that indigenous farmers have developed over centuries. The use of GM seed also makes farmers dependent on transnational seed companies, instead of relying on the millennia-old practices of seed-saving.

According to experts, a full-blown food crisis in Mexico is gestating. Tortilla vendors show signs of breaking the pact, and meat prices are on the rise. Food expert Blanca Rubio warns that scarcity could become a problem. Since NAFTA has eliminated all controls on imports, transnational corporations can threaten to import rather than paying decent prices to local producers, leading to disincentives to produce.

The Bank of Mexico reports that in 2007 Mexico paid $5 billion dollars more for 127 basic foods and agricultural inputs than in 2005 – a 62% increase. Two-thirds of the increases were for five products: corn, wheat, soy, powdered milk, and seeds. The cost of Mexico's food dependency totally cancelled out its windfall earnings from high oil prices.

"The Rich Don't Understand the Poor"

The standard explanation for the global food crisis rests on the convergence of the demand for food crops due to agrofuels, the hike in gas prices, urbanization, increased demand from emerging economies, climatic changes, and environmental deterioration from erosion and pollution.

All of these factors have played a part in the crisis. Agrofuel development has been mandated well into the future, although it may be slowing down as criticism mounts. A recent report by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) blames biofuels in part for price hikes. The report concludes, "Governments need to carefully consider the impact of bio-fuels on the poor." Gas prices are likely to remain high. With so much food moving around under free trade policies this will continue to affect the price and access.

Another, less mentioned, factor in the hike is speculation as investors search for new opportunities to make money out of money. On the Arancia corn website, a typical pitch from an investment company titled " How to Profit from the Corn Crunch of 2008" offers an easy way "to profit from ag-flation – a way that could reward forward-thinking investors with returns of 61% or more." The Economist reports "more febrile behavior seems to be influencing markets: export quotas by large grain producers, rumors of panic-buying by grain importers, money from hedge funds looking for new markets."

With agribusiness corporations posting record highs (like Cargill, ADM saw profits soar from $363 million in 2006 to $517 for 2007) and investors salivating over "ag-flation" windfalls, it's clear that what's a crisis for some is a bonanza for others. That in itself should be a clue that the structural problems with the global food system do not lie in poor yields, "inefficient" small farmers, or climatic disasters. It's manipulated prices; faulty trade, aid, and promotion policies; distribution and wrong priorities that are starving the world's most vulnerable inhabitants.

In Port-au-Prince, Sylvie St. Fleur has a simpler explanation. "Haiti doesn't suffer from a lack of food because there's no food, no! It is because the rich don't understand the poor."

Inadequate Proposals From the International Community

The food crisis is here to stay. The World Bank reports a 181% increase in wheat prices over the 36 months prior to February 2008, and overall global food prices registering an 83% percent rise. It predicts that food crop prices will remain high in 2008 and 2009 and then begin to decline, but maintain levels far above 2004 prices through 2015. World Bank president Robert Zoellick warns that the food crisis could push 100 million people worldwide into deeper poverty.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called it " an unprecedented challenge of global proportions that has become a crisis for the most vulnerable," and t he FAO has summoned a High-Level Conference on World Food Security, Climate Change, and Biofuels for June 3-5. U.S. President Bush has asked Congress for an emergency request of $700 million in food aid.

With information pouring in on the breakdown of access to food for the world's poorest across the globe, it's clear that the crisis is real. But a crisis mentality in seeking solutions only serves to divert attention from the deep structural faults in global food production, distribution, and consumption.

Oddly enough, international solutions do not address these fundamental issues. Policy prescriptions from the wealthy countries and international financial institutions emphasize hand-outs and more free trade. They tend toward increasing, not diminishing, developing country dependence on imports and aid, and further lining the pockets of the companies that are fleecing the public.

The World Bank's proposals include: "calling on the international community to make up the $500 million food gap required by the UN's World Food Program to meet emergency needs," increasing its loans for agriculture (promoting the same model that led to the loss of food sovereignty in developing countries facing today's food crisis), "expanding and improving access to safety net programs, such as cash transfers, and risk management instruments to protect the poor" and strengthening free trade through "advocacy on the negative impacts of policies such as export bans, which create price spikes in importing countries, and the high levels of trade tariffs and subsidies in the developed world." World Bank President Robert Zoellick, IMF Director Dominique Strauss-Kuhn, and former WTO President Pascal Lamy have all used the food crisis to argue for a reinvigorated Doha Round of the WTO to deepen the free trade system. This constitutes an offensive against measures that question the international markets which helped cause the food crisis.

Emergency aid measures focus on moving food around the globe, from where there's too much to where there's too little. This movement of food will add even more to the coffers of traders and agribusiness surplus producers, paid for by taxpayers. At the same time, it will do little or nothing to improve production. Moreover, wasn't that exactly what the free market system was supposed to do?

Bush's aid request once again repeats the model of food aid in-kind that has been harshly criticized for destroying markets for local production. Although he announced that approximately a quarter would go to purchasing local production, this is still a fraction of the amount and does not represent a thought-out change in priorities or practices.

Some proposals also center on boosting yields. The Economist , which has called the food crisis "the silent tsunami," inexplicably concludes that "farmers, slow to respond, will eventually plant more to reach a new market equilibrium." The conclusion is inexplicable since its own article states that "in most places there are no absolute shortages and the task is to lower domestic prices without doing too much harm to farmers." So why has the response of international agencies been focused on increasing production through technological innovation?

The answer is that international agriculture and food policy have been playing a stuck record for decades. Pat Mooney of the ETC Group has extensively criticized what he calls the "Silver Bullet" approach to the food crisis that relies on new technologies to increase yields when evidence shows that the lack of access to food for the hungry stems far more from prices and distribution. The "silver bullet" approach became global policy with the advent of the "Green Revolution" in agricultural technologies, which increased yields but led to environmental degradation and dependency of small farmers on chemical and seed purchases.

Small farmers should be supported to produce more food so their communities can depend less on the corporate-controlled international market. But under current conditions that will be difficult. Fertilizer prices in some cases have tripled over the last year. Some organizations note that this is a good opportunity to convert to organic production but they will need government support to do this and that support has not been forthcoming. If the price and market system is not corrected, small farmers will not be able to produce more in a more sustainable way, nor will they be able to market their product at decent prices.

Asking the Right Questions

As experts and policymakers begin to ask questions and commission studies to solve the global food crisis, it's remarkable that certain questions prevail and others have been virtually shut out of the discussion. The excluded areas of the debate include:

Government subsidies: Many articles and statements to date have named government subsidies as the cause of market distortions in food distribution and production. Indeed, free trade in agriculture with wealthy nations that heavily subsidize already privileged producers has hurt small farmers in developing countries. But how to encourage capital-starved family farmers in both developed and developing countries without government support programs? Negotiations in the World Trade Organization and bilateral agreements treat government agricultural subsidies as if they were the same issue for developed and developing countries, for agribusiness and for family farmers. They are not. Why not take into account the purpose, the type of subsidy (beyond the boxes), and who it helps? Why not create subsidies that encourage society's goals of agriculture that leads to creation of stable livelihoods, a sustainable food supply, and environmental conservation, and eliminate those that work contrary to those interests?

Patents on living organisms: Patents inhibit public research into public-interest agriculture by restricting the ability to share findings. Moreover, they have led to cases of looting of public gene banks by private interests. The production and promotion of patented plant and seed products has led to genetic contamination and stolen knowledge and livelihoods from small farmers and indigenous peoples. It's time for a serious debate about who these protections really benefit.

Concentration of global food trade: Institutions of global governance must take a hard look at the human cost of allowing a handful of transnational companies to control so much of our global food supply. Anti-trust laws must be applied to break up their stranglehold on international markets.

Supply management and market control measures: Governments need to rethink their absolute dependence on the international market for food. In addition to developing national food sovereignty policies, they should consider building reserves and supply management systems to control price volatility.

The policy recommendations of Mexican small farmers' organizations in the Chilpancingo Declaration of February 2007 sum up an alternative approach to the food crisis that reflects proposals of farmers' organizations in other parts of the world. Among them are to e stablish policies that promote food sovereignty through production of basic foods; campesino subsistence agriculture and organic production and that finance and assist campesino-owned corn storage and distribution businesses; strengthen campesino training and education and promote their organization in collective marketing agencies; eliminate subsidies to large producers, corporate sellers, and processors; renegotiate the agriculture chapter of NAFTA and eliminate any commercial agreements on "basic and strategic" products; establish a floor price for corn and other basic food products that compensates the costs of production; establish a mechanism by which the state regulates prices, supply, imports, and exports for corn and other basic foods.

The mass media portrays "food riots" in Latin America – demonstrations in the streets of Haiti, women banging on empty pots in Lima, cries for an affordable tortilla in Mexico – as ominous signs of instability. Instead they should be seen as wake-up calls to fix our most vital link to each other and to life itself – the food system.

Laura Carlsen (lcarlsen(a) is director of the Americas Policy Program ( in Mexico City.


Biofuels: Whose Cry for Food Shall Be Answered?

Commodity Online, 19 May 2008.

MUMBAI -- amished bellies are crying from across the globe and the world's granaries are empty. Still, developed and developing nations are busy converting foodgrains into biofuels to feed their monster automobiles. Here, there is a question of priority for the world to answer. Whose cry for food should be answered first the man or the machine. It seems, if the present indications are anything to go by, nations are turning a deaf ear to the screams of empty stomachs in the world.

Hell-bent on tackling the global warming issues and bust to embrace the so-called development bandwagon, nations are blindly converting food grains like corn into fuel. But, one thing they forget is that you cannot convert thousands of litres of petroleum into a single wheat grain.

If you want to know the story of growing hunger, read on. The great wheat panic of 2007 saw global prices of the grain shoot up by over 92%. Rice and corn prices also rose sharply. Food riots have been reported from Kolkata to Namibia, Zimbabwe, Morocco, Uzbekistan, Austria, Hungary and Mexico. And the Food and Agricultural Organisation declared that 854 million people go hungry around the world. Things are expected to get worse in 2008.

Global consumption of wheat and rice has outstripped production for the past seven years running, except in 2004-05. Production is growing, but population is growing faster. If production is less than demand, then how do people get enough food? Each year, a certain portion of foodgrains is kept in stock, to be used next year. This is now getting used up for meeting excess demand.

Global wheat stocks were down to 107 million tonnes in 2007, compared with over 197 million tonnes in 2001; rice stocks were just 71 million tonnes compared with 136 million tonnes. All this means that the future supply of both wheat and rice is becoming more uncertain. That means prices are likely to shoot up further.

India stands at a tipping point, especially as foodgrain production is stagnating. Wheat output was 72.8 million tonnes in 2002. This year it is estimated at about 74 million tonnes. Rice output was 93.3 million tonnes in 2002 and this year it is estimated at about 90 million tonnes. Meanwhile, population has increased by about 88 million. So, there will be need for imports.

This, in turn, will fuel global prices. Several nations, which are facing food scarcity, have blamed the U.S. policy of diverting foodgrains such as corn for producing biofuels for the spurt in food grain prices globally. Union finance minister P. Chidambaram also criticised lack of adequate regulations in the U.S. sub-prime market, which has caused global financial uncertainties.

"It has been estimated that nearly 20% of corn grown in the United States is diverted for producing biofuels. As citizens of one world, we ought to be concerned about the foolishness of growing food and converting it into fuel," Chidambaram said. He said the demand for staple food was on the rise, leading to higher prices, but diverting food for fuel had also contributed to increase in food prices. "If this had happened in developing countries, we would have been lectured on the virtues of bankruptcy. Since this is happening in developed countries, no one pauses to ask whether all the old arguments are not being made to stand on their head," Chidambaram said. Wondering what had happened to the declaration of the Millennium Development Goals and the inspiring slogan 'Make Poverty History', Chidambaram said, "If we are serious about ending poverty, the place to start is to make food and fuel available at reasonable prices at which people can consume adequate quantities of food and at which fuel becomes not a constraint but a driver of growth."

Joining Chidambaram's concerns is Nobel Peace Prize winner and climate change scientist Rajendra Pachauri. He said: "The world must take care when developing biofuels to avoid perverse environmental effects and higher food prices." He questioned whether the United States' policy of converting corn into ethanol for use as a transport fuel would reduce the emission of greenhouse gases blamed for global warming.

Environmentalists and politicians say the move has raised food prices, distorted government budgets and led to deforestation in Southeast Asia and Brazil. "We should be very, very careful about coming up with biofuel solutions that have major impact on production of food grains and may have an implication for overall food security," Pachauri, chairman of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said. Scientists say some kinds of biofuels generate as much carbon dioxide (CO2) as the fossil fuels they replace.

Supporters, however, say biofuels are the only renewable alternative to fossil fuels and do generally result in greenhouse gas emission savings. Pachauri said it was crucial to look at other ways of producing biofuels, including investing strongly in research and development to convert cellulosic material into liquid fuels, as well as using agricultural residues. Even if all of the American land under cultivation today is used to produce biofuels, U.S. will only be able to meet 6% of its diesel and 12% of its petrol requirements by 2020.

Similarly, some 40% of Europe's cultivated land would need to go under biofuel production to meet the 10% replacement target. Clearly diverting this amount of land currently under cultivation in the U.S. and E.U. to biofuels is unlikely and the burden of biofuel and grain production would hence shift, in part, to the already stressed developing countries.

It is noted that even with the current level of diversion of soybean cultivation to corn in the U.S. has doubled its price in a year. Prices of edible oils, wheat, corn, rice and other food commodities have also gone through the roof in recent years as more and more land provides the feedstock for biofuels. The world food stocks are at a 25-year low. It is pointed out that the high price of foodgrains does not help the poor and hungry.

It is estimated that for every 1% rise in the price of cereals the calorie intake of the poor goes down by half a percent. Thus, instead of eradicating hunger, the world is at a risk of doubling its 800 million hungry by 2030 if it sticks to its plans for growing first generation biofuels based on corn, sugarcane, edible oils and newer crops such as sweet sorghum and jatropha.

Clearly, the roadmap for promoting first generation biofuels is a treacherous one. Yet India and the world must pursue biofuels in an energy-starved world, the choice is not which energy form should nations pursue, but which other energy form can we pursue. This is even more critical for India where bioenergy is, and shall remain, an important part of its energy mix.

The Positive Side

And, the rosy side of biofuel is also there. In Brazil, cars have been running on biodiesel for years, while in Sweden, Ford's flex-fuel models are outselling its ordinary petrol and diesel cars. Such progress for the fuel is not primarily due to a particularly environmentally-aware customer base. Rather, it has come about through government incentives.

In Brazil, where biofuel cars now outsell ordinary cars, a state-run bioethanol fuel programme was originally set up for patriotic, not financial or environmental reasons. It was a strategic decision taken by the military government that ran the country from 1964 to 1985, inspired by a desire to reduce its dependence on petroleum imports following the 1970s oil crisis.

Sweden's state-backed bioethanol programme, meanwhile, ensures that there is no duty on the fuel. E85-enabled cars are offered free parking in Gothenburg, Stockholm, and other municipalities. Biofuel cars are also 20% cheaper to insure and are exempt from the Stockholm congestion charge, while both personal and fleet users pay less tax.

But if this sounds like a high economic price to pay for a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, consider this: Sweden gets more than that for its money. As is the case in Britain, Sweden too needs to create rural jobs, and the biofuels sector has the potential to provide that in spades. Then there is the potential benefit from being at the cutting edge of a new technology; there is even talk of a future where grain is genetically modified to create more efficient biofuels.

The world market for biofuels has expanded rapidly in recent years as combination of domestic politics, rising oil prices, increasing concerns about global warming, and potential economic opportunity have spurred a broad range of countries to pass laws that support biofuel industries.

World biofuel production will track increases in demand as most countries seek to foster domestic biofuel industries, both to reduce reliance upon imported oil and to spur domestic economic development. This will continue to favour the development of cereal-based (maize and wheat) bioethanol capacity in North America and Western Europe, as well as sugarcane-based bioethanol production in Latin America.


Basic biofuels 'make no sense,' EU commissioner says

EU Observer, 19 May 2008. By Leigh Phillips.

The EU's enterprise and industry commissioner has called for a stronger focus on so-called second-generation biofuels, which do not compete with food crops and are more environmentally friendly.

"It makes no sense to make car fuel from plants that ought to provide human and animal food," commissioner Gunter Verheugen said in an interview with German newspaper Bild am Sonntag over the weekend.

"What matters to the commission is sustainable development," he added. "It will not work if production of basic foodstuffs is hindered or tropical forest is cut down [to make way for biofuel crops]."

The commissioner highlighted technology using hydrogen, referring to the second-generation fuel, biohydrogen, which is produced from biomass feedstock and can be used in fuel cells to produce electricity.

Biofuels in transport

EU leaders last spring agreed that the EU should increase the use of biofuels in transport fuel to 10 percent by 2020, up from a planned 5.75 percent target to be achieved by 2010.

But Mr Verheugen's statement echoes worries that first-generation biofuels such as biodiesel and bioethanol in some cases emit more greenhouse gases over the course of their lifecycle and use source crops which can compete with staple food crops, helping push up world food prices.

Second-generation biofuels, also known as "lignocellulosic" fuels can use any parts of a plant - stalks, leaves, corncobs, rice hulls and other "waste."

Such fuels are much more environmentally friendly, with a much higher net energy gain than first-generation biofuels. Lignocellulosic ethanol can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by around 90% when compared with fossil petroleum.

As the source materials are not edible, they should not have any effect on food prices.

Production technology is not yet as advanced as for first-generation counterparts, however.

And some environmentalists worry that using agricultural waste as biofuels rather than to replenish fields with nutrients would mean an increased use of fertilisers, and hence still requiring a dependence on fossil fuels as they are used in the production process, in particular nitrogen fertiliser's use of natural gas.

The biofuels industry, for its part, is concerned that without policy support for first-generation biofuels, investment funds will not become available for the development of second or even third generation models.

Biofuels moratorium

In a separate development on Friday (16 May), the International Food Policy Research Institute issued a report urging the European Union and the United States to halt biofuel subsidies and called for a biofuels moratorium.

The Washington-based research centre described a basket of influences that had resulted in high food costs. "Rising energy prices and subsidised biofuel production, income and population growth, globalisation, and urbanisation are among the major forces contributing to surging demand," it said.

The report also blamed land and water constraints, poor rural infrastructure, weather disruptions and export bans in certain countries.

It singled out EU and US biofuels policy for particular criticism: "With the US government and the European Union subsidising agriculture-based energy, farmers have massively shifted their cultivation toward crops for biofuel."

"Increased biofuel demand from 2000-2007 contributed to some 30 percent of the average increase of cereal prices," the report said.


18 May 2008

Biosafety Protocol parties to work for legally binding rules

APU Newswire, 18 May 2008.

New York -- A week-long meeting of parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Bio-Safety has agreed to work towards legally binding rules of liability and redress for potential damage caused by movement of genetically modified organisms (GMO).

But reaching an actual agreement could take years as several contentious issues would need to be sorted out.

The contents of the legally binding instrument for liability and redress for the GMOs will be discussed at the next meeting of the parties to the Protocol, itself a supplementary agreement to the Convention on Biological Diversity.

That meeting is scheduled to take place in October 2010 in Nagoya, Japan.

Ahmed Djoghlaf, Executive Secretary to the Convention, welcomed the agreement, calling it "great news for the biodiversity family." While GMOs have the potential to increase agricultural yields and to grow in habitats otherwise unfavourable to crops, there are also widespread concerns that they might pose major threats to local ecosystems and biodiversity.

The Protocol on Biosafety, which came into force on Sept 11, 2003, seeks to protect biodiversity from potential risks posed by living modified organisms resulting from modern biotechnology.


Biopirates hijack traditional knowledge about nature

Deutsche Presse-Agentur, 18 May 2008.

Hamburg - Business concerns in the West often make money by patenting their own medicines and agricultural products based on the traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples.

A US company has patented a yellow bean grown for thousands of years in South America, while pesticides using substances from the Indian neem tree have been sold by transnational corporations in Europe and elsewhere.

A company in Germany is marketing a cure for respiratory ailments based on extracts from the African Pelargonium plant genus.

Some of these patents have been returned after years of litigation, but that is not enough for some participants at the UN conference on biodiversity, which takes place in Bonn from May 19-30.

The UN gathering wants to make traditional knowledge less vulnerable to unauthorized use and ensure that adequate financial compensation is made to the communities that possess such knowledge.

'The foundation stone has to be laid so that we can come to a concrete agreement by 2010,' says Konrad Uebelhoer, biodiversity director at the German Society for Technical Cooperation (GTZ).

One of the main demands, he said, is that business and researchers be required to seek permission in the individual countries before they start searching for medicinal plants or genes.

The local communities should also be consulted in the application of traditional knowledge, which is based on practice and has often been passed on through many generations.

'It is necessary to have a clear formula for profit-sharing,' according to Uebelhoer. This could also include transferring the technology used to identify the active ingredients to the countries of origin, he says.

Some 190 nations have signed up to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. The only industrialized nation that has not joined is the United States, one of the world's leading pharmaceutical producers.

Washington, Uebelhoer says, does not object to the first two goals of the convention - the protection of biodiversity and its sustainable development. It is the third aim of justly distributing the profits from the use of biological agents that has run into opposition from the powerful US pharmaceutical industry.

Andreas Drews, who also works for the GTZ, says those applying for patents are not required to state where the biological ingredients come from, leading to an undetermined amount of biopiracy.

The scientist wants changes made to the way patents are granted in order to stop this practice.

'We demand a formal disclosure of where the resources come from before biological ingredients, novel food and cosmetics can be registered,' he says.

'Novel food' is the term used for new foodstuffs, in particular genetically modified foods.

This is already the case in Norway, says Drews, whose organization is responsible for carrying out projects authorized by the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development.

There has already been some success in ensuring that some of the wealth gained from derivatives of traditional knowledge is returned to the holders of that knowledge.

Among the beneficiaries are the San people in southern Africa, according to Frank Barsch, an expert on the protection of species at the environmental organization WWF.

These hunter-gatherers chew the cactus-like hoodia plant to still hunger and thirst pangs on their long journeys through the inhospitable Kalahari desert.

The South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) isolated the appetite suppressant P57 contained in the plant and patented it as a dietary supplement. Dutch-based Unilever is now developing the product.

After much protest, CSIR signed a deal with the San in 2003 on sharing the potential benefits of the product, which is being touted as a potential cure for obesity.

Under the deal, to which Unilever is expected to contribute from 2009, San communities will be able to access royalties from a trust fund to finance social projects.

'This does not happen enough because the peoples involved have to be taught how to make an application for compensation,' says Barsch, who spent three years with the San, helping them replant the hoodia because it was in danger of being eradicated.

The WWF wants the Bonn conference to agree to royalties from such products being used for a social and ecological sustainable development.


Conservationists lament departure of Brazilian minister

World Wide Fund for Nature, 18 May 2008.

The sudden resignation of Brazilian Environment Minister on 13 May has been greeted with shock and regret by the conservationist community.

"This is a clear sign that environmental issues are not in the agenda of the government"?, said Denise Hamú, WWF-Brazil's Secretary General.

"Since Marina Silva took office in January 2003, she was counteracted and discredited by the Federal Government"?, said Hamú. "Examples include during the debates on genetically modified organisms (GMOs), alternatives for agri-business and especially the process to license hydroelectric dams on the Madeira River in the Amazon."

WWF-Brazil paid tribute to significant progress in the environmental field achieved during Minister Silva's office. Among others: the forestry policy to grant forest concessions, measures to monitor, prevent and fight deforestation, the creation of the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation (ICMBio) to manage federal protected area sites; efforts for the approval of the Atlantic Forest Law in the Congress, and the creation of the Brazilian Forestry Service.

According to Denise Hamú, the minister's resignation is generating much insecurity towards the future.

"She tried in vain to build a sustainable development policy that involved all ministries and not just her own.

Another factor that, according to WWF-Brazil, contributed to the Minister's resignation was President Lula's recent decision not to delegate to her the coordination of the Sustainable Amazon Plan launched earlier in May.

For WWF-Brazil's Secretary General, the resignation of Marina Silva is also a great loss, because of her background. She was born in a village in a remote area of the Amazon region, has strong links with the social movement and has been very active in environmental defence during her whole political career.

"Marina Silva's resignation will have international repercussions for Brazil, and the only positive aspect is that we will have an excellent senator back", said Hamú.

The politician was re-elected senator in 2002 for the State of Acre and her terms ends in 2010.

On the same day Marina Silva resigned, some 200 farmers, forest product workers and fishermen participated in a public hearing in the House of Representatives on the delay caused by defining the status of protected area sites.

And on May 13 also, a demonstration was held in front of the National Congress with the objective to put the Federal Government under pressure so as to accelerate the creation of extractive reserves in the northern, northeaster and Midwestern regions of the country.


Brazil: Environmental cloud over Silva's exit seen to clear

Financial Times, 18 May 2008. By Jonathan Wheatley in São Paulo.

Brazil will get a new environment minister this week amid a storm of controversyover the departure of his predecessor.

Marina Silva, who held the job for five years, stepped down last week after becoming increasingly isolated within government. Her resignation caused dismay among environmental activists around the globe.

It is easy to see why. Ms Silva has a powerful personality and a straight-talking determination that helped her overcome poverty, disease and illiteracy in her childhood and adolescence in the Amazon state of Acre. In rising to the ministry and, in effect, the guardianship of more than half of the world's surviving tropical rainforest, she showed a readiness to tackle the loggers and farmers who have cleared 1m sq km of land in the Amazon in recent decades.

Her departure has been seen as clearing the way for this destruction to continue unchecked. But Ms Silva's going may not precipitate the disaster many have predicted. She was remarkably unsuccessful in her job, losing one battle after another to the "developmentalists" in President Luiz In·cio Lula da Silva's government and, most recently, antagonising farmers and ranchers, many of whom had begun to adopt more responsible practices.

"For the environmental movement, she was the best minister we've ever had, no doubt about it," says Paulo Moutinho, head of Ipam, an Amazon research institute in BrasÌlia. He counts among her big achievements the formulation of a forest management programme and the fact that 11 different ministries now share responsibility for the environment.

"She changed the government's way of thinking," he says. "Five years ago it hated even talking about deforestation." Now Brazil is leading moves to get international funding to pay for environmental services provided by forest preservation.

But in terms of battles fought and lost - over genetically modified crops, Brazil's third nuclear reactor and many others - Ms Silva was a failure. Most damaging, perhaps, will be the antagonism she has sparked over what appears to be a worsening pace of deforestation on the southern rim of the Amazon, after three years of substantial improvement.

Ms Silva's punitive measures especially irritated Blairo Maggi, governor of Mato Grosso state, where most of the worst-affected counties are located. Mr Maggi is one of the world's biggest producers of soya and in recent years has gone from villain almost to hero of the environmental movement for his leadership of a soya moratorium, under which traders have stopped buying the crop from recently deforested land.

Ms Silva opposed moves to help farmers and ranchers conform with the law, insisting they should be punished. Yet many producers say they are forced into criminality by legal inconsistencies and that her tough line will undermine initiatives encouraging them to replant sensitive areas.

Ms Silva's successor is Carlos Minc, formerly environment secretary in the state of Rio de Janeiro, where he earned a reputation for cutting red tape holding up environmental licences for infrastructure projects.

He has promised less bureaucracy but greater rigour in the licensing process and has also pledged to continue Ms Silva's policies unchanged. His biggest challenge will be to deliver results as successfully as Ms Silva raised awareness of environmental issues.


Groups and Scientists Call for Halt to Releases of Genetically Engineered Trees

The Canadian, 18 May 2008. by Phiona Hamilton-Gordon, ed.

BONN, Germany -- Organizations and scientists from around the world spoke about their opposition to genetically engineered trees in relation to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity's Ninth Conference of the Parties (CBD COP-9). [1] They are demanding that governments at the UN agree to accept the proposal to suspend all releases of genetically engineered (GE) trees into the environment, due to their extreme ecological and social threats.

Camila Moreno, a researcher from Terra de Direitos in Brazil further explained, "there is a clear link between two of the major issues to be discussed at this meeting -- agrofuels (biofuels) and GE trees." She added, "A clear sign of this is the ethanol cooperation agreement being signed by Brazil and Germany. While German Chancellor Angela Merkel was in Brazil, Brazil's President Luiz In·cio Lula da Silva assured her that so-called second generation biofuels -- made from GE trees and other cellulose -- would better suit the German market."

"Genetically Engineered trees threaten to contaminate native forests around the world with unnatural and destructive traits such as the ability to kill insects, or have reduced lignin--the substance that enables a tree to stand up straight and withstand disease," stated Anne Petermann, Co-Director of Global Justice Ecology Project (the North American Focal Point for Global Forest Coalition) and Co-Coordinator of the STOP GE Trees Campaign. "Escape of these GE tree traits into forests would devastate wildlife, biodiversity and forest-dependent communities. It is for this reason that 137 groups from 34 countries have become members of the STOP GE Trees Campaign to demand a global ban on genetically engineered trees," she added.

At the CBD COP-8 in Curitiba, Brazil in 2006, the CBD passed an historic decision that urged countries to use the precautionary approach with regard to genetically engineered trees. This amounts to a de facto moratorium since the precautionary approach is a direct reference to the precautionary principle, enshrined in the CBD. Groups are now calling on the CBD to strengthen this decision into a binding halt to any release of GE trees into the environment.

"The CBD should take measures to stop the expansion of large-scale monoculture plantations, and ban both transgenic trees and 'terminator' technology. This is the request supported by many organizations around the world as stated in our 'Open letter to the COP', " said Ana Filippini, of the World Rainforest Movement, one of the organizations promoting this initiative. WRM is the Southern Hub of the STOP GE Trees Campaign. The Campaign will have a very visible and vocal presence throughout the COP-9, with numerous events and activities planned throughout the two-week period.


[1] Speakers included:

Dr. Ricarda Steinbrecher, biologist, geneticist, Director, EcoNexus, Representative, Federation of German Scientists; Dr. Michael Hansen, Researcher, Consumers Union Camila Moreno, Researcher, Terra de Direitos, Brazil; Anne Petermann, Co-Director, Global Justice Ecology Project, North American Focal Point for Global Forest Coalition and Co-coordinator of STOP GE Trees Campaign; Lucy Sharratt, Coordinator, Canadian Biotechnology Action Network.


India: 'Panel ignored Bt cotton toxicity evidence'

The Times of India, 18 May 2008

NEW DELHI: While Bt brinjal is at an advanced stage of being cleared for commercial cultivation, a Supreme Court nominee to the regulatory body has come up with a "major argument" to suspend the existing cultivation of Bt cotton due to bio-safety concerns about genetically modified crops.

Molecular scientist P M Bhargava, who was appointed three months ago at the instance of SC as a special invitee to the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), found that the regulator had ignored evidence of toxicity in Bt cotton leading to the death of hundreds of sheep in Andhra Pradesh.

In a letter to GEAC dated May 14, Bhargava said that the three documents relied upon by the regulator "contradict ... unequivocally" its own claim that the mortality of sheep might be due to pesticide residues rather than Bt toxin.

According to the minutes of the GEAC meeting held on April 2, other members told Bhargava that the studies commissioned by them "indicate that the sheep deaths might be due to high content of nitrates/nitrites, residues of hydrocyanide (HCN) and organophosphates which are common ingredients of pesticides used during cotton cultivation and not those of Bt toxin."

But the three expert reports given to Bhargava subsequently, in a bid to justify GEAC's clean chit to Bt cotton, have turned out to be, in his opinion, evidence strongly suggesting "the possibility or even the probability" of Bt cotton causing the death of sheep which had grazed on that crop.

Dept of Animal Husbandry, govt of AP, in its letter dated May 9, 2007, admitted that "bio-safety studies were not taken up in sheep and also trials did not include continuous grazing/feeding of complete Bt cotton plants to animals."

It also said that the samples were "negative for HCN, Nitrates, Nitrites, Alkaloids and Glycocides." The state government therefore advised shepherds "not to graze their animals in harvested Bt cotton fields till the definite cause is established."

Indian Veterinary Research Institute, Izatnagar, Uttar Pradesh, in its letter dated June 18, 2007, said, "Bt cotton samples tested in the Toxicology Laboratory of this centre showed absence of HCN, Nitrate/Nitrite, Alkaloids and Glycocides."

Sri Venkateswara University, Tirupati, wrote to GEAC that "the bio-safety studies on grazing Bt cotton crop by sheep are lacking."

In keeping with his SC-given mandate of lending more transparency to GEAC's functioning, Bhargava called for a review of its assertion that the rise in sheep mortality had nothing to do with Bt cotton. He said the three reports cited by GEAC "underscore the fact that no serious studies to rule this out have been done so far.

This would be a major argument to suspend all cultivation of Bt cotton until we have definitive data on the toxicity of Bt plants to animals on field."

Founder director of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Bhargava was a member of the Knowledge Commission set up by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

In February, the Supreme Court directed his appointment to GEAC along with another scientist, M S Swaminathan, on a PIL filed by activist Aruna Rodrigues alleging that the regulatory system for GM crops was skewed in favour of multinational companies to the detriment of bio-safety.


Is biotech food ethical?

Beyond Biotechnology: The Barren Promise of Genetic Engineering
Craig Holdrege and Steve Talbott
University Press of Kentucky, 272 pp., $45

The Star-Ledger (USA). Book review by Kitta McPherson.

One of the most disturbing as pects of the bitter, roiling 1990's debate over the safety of genetically modified food was the fact that it pitted groups of very good scientists against one another.

How was a public to decide?

Molecular biologists, made confident by the medical advances brought on by the techniques of genetic engineering, could see little difference between those earlier experiments and those proposed in altering or substituting genes in plants or animal products that would be consumed by humans. Ecologists, on the other hand, were shocked by what they viewed as the cavalier attitude of the mol-bio crowd to play dice with what ecologists saw as an intricately connected web of life in which every change matters.

Ultimately, the U.S. government, through agencies like the Department of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration, allowed such food to be brought to market. But it's difficult to say who really won the argu ment, if the success of chains like Whole Foods is any indicator. Eco logical scientists have certainly not conceded defeat and have not given up watching and waiting. They take the long view.

With this work, Craig Holdrege, director of the Nature Institute, and Steve Talbott, a senior researcher there, are laying the philosophical groundwork for this continued opposition. They are in good company. The book is part of a se ries examining the "new agraria nism" with an advisory board that includes some of ecology's leading lights -- Wendell Berry, Wes Jackson, Bill McKibben and Michael Pollan among them.

Agricultural biotechnology, the authors say, is doomed to fail be cause its practitioners have the wrong worldview -- one that is too reductionist. The gene manipula tors, they say, literally cannot see the forest for the trees, and are doomed by such ignorance. The book opens with the iconic image of an endless expanse of Nebraskan prairie, filled with gently swaying, genetically engineered corn. The reader is invited to decide whether the vision is ideal or hellish.

Genetic engineering allows us the possibility of manipulating living organisms, by zeroing in and making single-gene changes, much more efficiently than ever before. But that precision, the authors say, is illusory. Mankind does not know enough about the complexities of a cell, let alone an ecosystem, to be making such changes. And, the authors press on, even if we did possess such knowledge, such changes would be morally wrong.

"This is the decisive question," they write: "Does the organism possess a wholeness, an integrity, that demands our respect? And can we gain a deep enough understanding of it to say, 'This change is a further expression of the organism's governing unity, and that change is a violation of it.'?"

While some chapters are dedicated to criticizing other aspects of agricultural biotechnology, questioning claims about the viability of the much celebrated and still experimental "golden rice" (genetically engineered to contain Vitamin A), the book extends its inquiry by looking more widely at genetics research.

The authors correctly skewer some of the architects of the human genome project whose claims to have decoded the "book of life" now seem premature. The authors are on shakier ground when they try to link the mindsets of molecular biologists and particle physicists. True, scientists in both fields often do focus on the realm of the super-small. They can still, however, possess a view that's as big-picture as any ecologist's.

Kitta MacPherson is a science writer based in Princeton.


17 May 2008

Participants at UN-backed meeting agree to work towards rules on biosafety

UN News Centre, 17 May 2008.

More than 2,000 participants attending a week-long biosafety meeting that wrapped up yesterday have agreed to work towards legally binding rules for liability and redress for potential damage caused by the movements of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) reports.

The participants at the fourth meeting of the Parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, held in Bonn, Germany, and said to be the largest ever gathering on the issue, have reached a deal on both a timetable and a framework for negotiating the rules and procedures.

The contents of the legally binding instrument for liability and redress for the GMOs, also known as living modified organisms (LMOs), will now be discussed at the next meeting of the parties to the Protocol, itself a supplementary agreement to the Convention on Biological Diversity. That meeting is scheduled to take place in October 2010 in Nagoya, Japan.

Ahmed Djoghlaf, Executive Secretary to the Convention, welcomed the agreement, calling it "great news for the biodiversity family."

While GMOs or LMOs have the potential to increase agricultural yields and to grow in habitats otherwise unfavourable to crops, there are also widespread concerns that they might pose major threats to local ecosystems and therefore biodiversity.


USA: Tomato Genetically Modified To Be More Expensive

The, 17 May 2008.

PASADENA, CA – Geneticists at the California Institute of Technology announced Monday that they have developed a tomato with a 31 percent larger price tag than a typical specimen of the vine-ripened fruit. "By utilizing an exciting new breakthrough in gene-splicing technology, we've been able to manipulate this new tomato with recombinant DNA in such a manner as to make it nearly as pricey as a similarly sized tangelo," said Dr. Lee Nolan, who headed up the project.

"Genetically modified crops such as this will be instrumental in helping average grocers keep pace with unaffordable organic stores such as Whole Foods." In addition to vastly surpassing similar produce in expense, the new tomato will reportedly wipe out four species of ladybugs.


16 May 2008

Study shows: Research and authorities infiltrated by biotech lobby, 16 May 2008.

The non-governmental organization Corporate Europe Observatory exposes who is behind the allegedly independent "Public Research and Regulation Initiative (PRRI)". PRRI claims to represent thousands of scientists of various institutions. It is also present at the Ninth Conference of the Parties (COP) of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity and at its preparatory conference. A leading member of PRRI is Gerard Barry who used to work for the biotech company Monsanto. Willy de Greef, board member of PRRI, was recently elected to be the secretary general of the lobbying organization EuropaBio, representing the interests of the biotechnology industry in Europe. Among others, this initiative is financed by Monsanto, CropLife International and by ISAAA, an organization promoting the spreading of biotech seed material in developing countries.

Corporate Europe Observatory Study "How public are the public research lobbyists of PRRI?" [1]

How intimately business, lobbying organizations and approving authorities are intertwined is shown in a study commissioned by Ulrike Höfgen, spokesperson for Nutrition and Consumer Questions of the Green Party Faction in the [German] Parliament. The interests of the biotech industry can, repeatedly, be found in the scientific positions of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the [German] Federal Agency for Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL). One of the reasons for this is, e.g., that working groups formulating the guidelines for the surveillance of biotech plant cultivation are manned by agro-multinationals such as Bayer and Monsanto. Currently, the biotech lobby is attempting in Bonn to prevent international regulations concerning the liability for contamination and consequential effects and to put "voluntary commitments" in its place.

Study by Antje Lorch and Christoph Then commissioned by Ulrike Höfken "Kontrolle oder Kollaboration ‚ Agro-Gentechnik und die Rolle der Beh–rden" (title translation: "Control or Collaboration ‚ Agro-Biotechnology and the Role of Government Authorities") [2]

Report and Comments on the Study on Ulrike H–fgenís website "Alles Filz, oder was?"[3]

[1] (in English)

kontrolle_oder_kollaboration_agrogentech.pdf (in German)

kontrolle_oder_kollaboration_agrogentech.html (in German)


Group agrees on liability for GMO damage

Business Week, 16 May 2008. By Arthur Max.

Amsterdam, Netherlands -- An international conference agreed Friday to hold producers or handlers of genetically engineered organisms liable for damage their products cause to native plants or animals when transported across borders.

The agreement, concluding a five-day, 147-nation conference in Bonn, Germany, will be refined into an accord that will have the force of law for its signatories -- a process expected to take two years, said the German government representative, Ursula Heinen.

The agreement would not be legally binding on the United States, however, since Washington has not ratified the 1992 Biodiversity Convention and is not a party to the convention's Cartagena Protocol on the safety of biotech products, which came into force in 2003, conference spokesman David Ainsworth said.

"We will have a legal obligation as regards to liability and redress for damage caused to biodiversity, to plants and animals," Heinen said at a news conference broadcast on the Internet.

"This is a political compromise. Now the legal experts will begin working at it," she said.

The agreement, adopted by consensus at the final plenary, could be a major step in the bitter debate over genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, which are widely used in U.S. agricultural products.

Most GMO products are banned in Europe, for fear that their seeds will accidentally spread and alter the natural surroundings.

The Greenpeace environmental movement, which denounces gene-modified plants as dangerous, says the agreement has too many loopholes that could be exploited during the next two years of negotiations.

Brazil, an exporter of modified crops, led the opposition to legally binding measures, but finally agreed to a text that could allow it to opt out under certain conditions, said Greenpeace campaigner Doreen Stabinsky.

"There's still a big fight ahead of us. I am not at all optimistic about the ultimate outcome," Stabinsky said.

The meeting, which focused on safety and responsibility for transporting and handling GMOs, set the stage for a major conference of 6,000 delegates on the Biodiversity Convention, due to begin Monday in Bonn.

Talks on liability have been going on for four years and were to have been concluded in Bonn. That target has now been set back to the next Biodiversity Convention conference in 2010 in Japan.

The accord says "operators" responsible for contamination by GMOs will be held liable, but the experts must define how responsibility will be assigned and how they would be assessed for damages, said Heinen, who is a deputy minister for food, agriculture and consumer protection.

Ahmed Djobhlaf, the secretary general of the Biodiversity Convention, said public pressure is mounting on companies to protect biodiversity and produce green products.

"This battle of life on earth we will not win if we do not have the active economic sector on board," he said.


UN biosafety conference agrees in principle on liability deal

Deutsche Presse Agentur, 16 May 2008.

BONN - A UN conference on biosafety reached a preliminary agreement Friday on liability for environmental damage arising from the use of genetically modified organisms in farming. The accord initially provides for countries to claim compensation from those directly responsible for environmental damage or from the manufacturers of the genetic products that caused the damage.

But the conference was unable to finalize an internationally legally binding agreement that identifies those who should be held liable and who should pay compensation.

Further negotiations were needed to work out the details, said Ahmed Djoghlaf, executive secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, at the end of the five-day meeting in Bonn.

He said the negotiations would take place over the next two years and the result presented to the next biosafety conference to be held in Japan in 2010.

Ursula Heinen, the agriculture ministry secretary of state who represented Germany at the Bonn conference, called the outcome "a genuine success."

It was the first time in four years that the around 150 nations linked by the convention were able to agree in principle on rules for government liability and compensation, she said.

Environmental groups claimed the agreement did not go far enough.

Greenpeace's Doreen Stabinsky said the conference "has failed" because it did not agree on clear rules that would hold gene technology concerns accountable for damage.

The organization's biosafety expert, Jan van Aken, blamed Japan and Brazil for blocking a legally binding agreement.

The negotiations centred on who is liable for compensation caused by possible damage to the environment resulting from the use of genetically modified crops or plants.

The signatories to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety had set 2008 as the goal for reaching a binding agreement.

The world's leading gene technology companies wanted a voluntary agreement instead of binding rules but dropped this demand in Bonn, Heinen said.

There are no legally defined redress and liability elements in the Cartagena Protocol, making it difficult to determine who can claim and who has to pay for economic, health or environmental damage.

Less well-off developing countries are particularly keen on binding rules, otherwise they see little chance of success in damage claims involving biotechnology concerns.


Terminator seeds are "grossly immoral" say theologians

Independent Catholic News (LONDON), 16 May 2008

Three widely respected theologians have condemned Terminator technology - which produces genetically engineered plants with sterile seeds - as "grossly immoral".

Writing in a new publication, commissioned by Catholic development charity Progressio, Jesuit Priest Roland Lesseps, Father Seán McDonagh and Father Donal Dorr say the controversial GM technology, which is currently restricted by a temporary UN ban, offers "no benefit for farmers and consumers" and would have "long-term consequences for the environment".

Biotechnology companies claim that 'Terminator' seeds would be used to produce GM crops and trees which are engineered to stop GM traits spreading to other plants by inserting a 'suicide' gene. But Father Seán McDonagh, writing in the new publication, says: "There is simply no such thing as a safe and acceptable form of Terminator".

Instead, the theologians warn that the technology could have catastrophic effects on the poorest farmers in the developing world. Presently, 1.4 billion farmers rely on the practice of seed-saving to grow food to feed their families. If Terminator technology is commercialised, farmers' food security would be under threat. "Since poor farmers cannot afford to buy seed every year, they will go hungry", writes Roland Lesseps.

The theological argument against Terminator is equally striking, say the report's authors. "Terminator technology attacks the very principle of life itself", writes Lesseps. "Destroying the life principle in an organism is not a right relationship with creation which should be received as a gift from God to be shared by all."

The new publication, entitled "Unless the grain of wheat shall die", has been produced to coincide with the May 19-30 meeting of the UN's Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), where the current UN ban on Terminator technology is likely to be discussed. The CBD has the power to lift the ban completely.

Progressio also launches its new report on Terminator technology, Against the Grain, today. The report urges the UK and EU to voice their support for the current UN ban on the technology and ensure it is upheld. The new report is available online at:

Progressio is a UK-based Catholic charity working to tackle poverty and injustice in developing countries. It has been campaigning against Terminator technologies since 2005 and is a founding member of the UK Working Group on Terminator technology and its current Chair. Progressio is also a member of the UK Food Group.


Key UN Committee slams effects of GM corporate feudalism in India

Fortieth session
28 April - 16 May 2008


Concluding Observations of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights INDIA

29. The Committee is deeply concerned that the extreme hardship being experienced by farmers has led to an increasing incidence of suicides by farmers over the past decade. The Committee is particularly concerned that the extreme poverty among small-hold farmers caused by the lack of land, access to credit and adequate rural infrastructures, has been exacerbated by the introduction of genetically modified seeds by multinational corporations and the ensuing escalation of prices of seeds, fertilisers and pesticides, particularly in the cotton industry.

69. The Committee urges the State party, in addition to the full implementation of the planned farmer debt waiver programme, to take all necessary measures to address the extreme poverty among small-holding farmers and to increase agricultural productivity as a matter of priority, by inter alia: developing the rural infrastructures including irrigation as part of the Bharat Nirman programme; providing financial and other forms of assistance to families of suicide victims; ensuring that the existing agricultural insurance schemes, including the Crop Insurance Scheme and the Calamity Relief Fund, are fully implemented and are accessible to all farmers; providing state subsidies to enable farmers to purchase generic seeds which they are able to re-use, with a view to eliminating their dependency on multinational corporations. The Committee also recommends the State party to review the Seed Bill (2004) in light of its obligations under the Covenant and draw the attention of the State party to para. 19 of the Committee's General Comment No.12 on the right to adequate food (1999).


Aresa has achieved to get permission from the Serbian authorities to plant transgenic tobacco for the detection of explosives

M2 Presswire, 16 May 2008.

Aresa has achieved to get permission from the Serbian authorities to plant transgenic tobacco for the detection of explosives It is the second time in two attempts that Aresa has achieved to get permission to plant transgenic plants in Serbia. This time the permission is related to the recently transformed RedDetect version in the tobacco plant.

"I am very delighted that we receive the permission now, as it means we can continue our plans of sowing our genetically modified tobacco for the detection of explosives from land mines in Serbia this summer", says Steen Thaarup, CEO of Aresa, and continues: "We have now achieved two of the four objectives we set up for 2008, and we still expect to be able to report a successful color change in tobacco after growth in soil with explosives by the end of 2008".

The first objective achieved in Q1 was the successful transfer of the RedDetect technology into tobacco, and the second is this permission from Serbia.

It is still part of the objectives to establish a winter test area in a subtropical or tropical area to have a longer growth period for the tobacco plants enabling more results in 2008.

The content of this message is not expected to have impact on the result for the current financial year.


Aresa is a plant biotech company established in 2001 by the company's current CSO, Carsten Meier. It originates from the Institute of Molecular Biology at Copenhagen University.

Aresa focuses on the plant-based technology platform: BioSensor for the detection of substances in soil, including leakage of explosives from landmines.


Australia plays the biotechnology cowboy

On Line Opinion, 16 May 2008. By Duncan Currie.

In the global biotechnology arena, Australia has once again taken on the cowboy role, by refusing to participate in the international United Nations Biosafety Protocol negotiations being held in Bonn, Germany this month. This meeting will deal with the impacts of genetically engineered organisms (GMOs) contaminating the food chain. Issues of liability and redress for damage caused by GM contamination will culminate at these negotiations with no input from Australia.

This is a crucial misrepresentation of Australian interests. The recent lifting of the New South Wales and Victorian bans on commercial genetically modified (GM) food crops has brought GM contamination and liability issues into sharp focus. Australian farmers, communities and the environment face threats as a result of gaping holes in state, national and international law.

By standing outside the Biosafety Protocol negotiations, Australia has joined the minority group of pro-GM countries. The United States, Canada and Argentina, all big exporting countries of GM foods and seeds, also refuse to be bound by the protocol - yet they are profiting the most from the trade. If their products are safe, why not stand behind them, with liability provisions and an international fund to ensure that any damage caused as a result of GM contamination can be cleaned up?

On January 29, 2000, the Conference of Parties of the Biodiversity Convention - the United Nations organisation set up in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 to protect the world's biodiversity - agreed a Biosafety Protocol to regulate the international trade in GMOs. The protocol provides countries with information, procedures and the ability to control the import of GMOs into their territory.

The protocol gathered massive support internationally with 103 signatures by June 2001. Australia however, was absent. Now the protocol is in force and 147 countries have joined it. But still not Australia.

GMOs, if they escape or behave in an unexpected way, can cause damage to plants and biodiversity as well as injury to humans, such as through eating or otherwise ingesting GMOs not intended for humans. Countries have been meeting intensively for four years to determine how the protocol can best include liability and redress provisions in order to hold companies trading GMOs accountable for damages. And yet, even though Australia has now embraced GM crops, its delegates still remain outside this important process.

A regime to protect the environment and people from damages caused by GMOs is needed to ensure that victims can get compensation for damage, or to prevent or repair environmental damage. The "polluter-pays" and "precautionary principles" should be implemented to provide assurance for countries when considering the import and use of biotechnology. There are already situations where this liability should have been applied internationally.

For example in Mexico, maize (corn), is a staple crop and has significant traditional, cultural, symbolic and spiritual value in Mexico. Most importantly it is a centre of origin for maize. GM maize is not approved for cultivation in Mexico but it is approved as an import for animal feed and processing from the United States. However, between 2003 and 2007 significant GM contamination of maize crops was found in many states in Mexico. This contamination is likely to be persistent and is in essence a contamination of the genetic reserves of maize in a centre of origin for this staple crop.

In 1995 herbicide tolerant GM canola was introduced into commercial agriculture in Canada. Within three years, three weeds were found to be resistant to the same herbicide due to out-crossing or gene stacking within these weeds. Today the extent of contamination of Canadian canola with GM canola is so high that over 90 per cent of certified non-GM canola contains unintended transgenes from GM canola. Contamination is so wide spread that organic canola farming cannot continue in Canada, as no assurance can be given that organic canola will be GM free.

Farmers stand to lose the most through loss of international markets and GM-free certification. They are also most vulnerable to the damage caused by GMOs which could escape, contaminate fields and the environment and act unpredictably.

If Australia wants to ride with the biotechnology cowboys, there must be recognition of the threats posed to farmers, individuals and the environment, and responsibility taken for harmful impacts of rogue genetic organisms.


Ireland: ICSA says food crisis exacerbated by GM vested interests

Leitrim Observer, 16 May 2008.

ICSA [Irish Cattle and Sheepfarmers Association] President Malcolm Thompson has said the current food crisis will be exacerbated by the vested interests of global GM companies, following comments mad by Olivier de Schutter, UN Food Envoy, who described food shortages affecting 100 million people as a "Silent Tsunami".

Mr De Schutter criticised the concentration of economic power in the hands of a few large multinational companies that provide seeds and fertiliser, process food and distribute it.

"Mr De Schutter has hit the nail on the head. ICSA have been saying for years that regardless of the health benefits or otherwise of GM food, and most people would agree that the jury is still out on that one, it is economic suicide to put our business and livelihoods in the hands of these enormous conglomerates who basically own the right to produce the seed that farmers need. Small farmers worldwide are struggling to stay in business, and the idea that they will no longer be able to harvest their own seeds spells disaster for them", said the ICSA President.

"These companies are trying to patent genetic material that has been used for centuries, and taking away the most basic rights of farmers in the process. We cannot have the world being held to ransom by these corporations, who are acting only in the interests of shareholders."


15 May 2008

Predatory Agribusiness

Alai-amlatina, 15 May 2008. By Silvia Ribeiro.

Food prices continue rising around the world giving rise to intolerable conditions in the most vulnerable countries like famine, often combined with drought or flooding, the perverse effects of climate change. Faced with the seriousness of the crisis, the masks slip and the speeches get emptier with biofuel prescriptions, the supposed benefits of free trade and agriculture for export.

Now head of the World Bank, Robert Zoellick announces that those food prices will stay high for several years and that it is necessary to strengthen food aid to manage the crisis. Zoellick, who took up that post after being chief negotiator at the World Trade Organization for the United States, knows what he is talking about: from that former position he did all he could to destroy countries' food sovereignty in favour of the interests of big agribusiness multinational corporations.

Even that prescription of food aid is in fact yet more covert assistance to those same multinationals who have traditionally sold to grain to the World Food Programme, which then charitably hands it over to starving people, all on condition that they themselves do not produce the foods they need. The big winners in the crisis are also the main big winners in the promotion of biofuels: the multinational corporations that dominate national and international grain trade, seed businesses and who make pesticides and herbicides.

In many cases, the same companies dominate these last two sectors: globally, Monsanto is the main commercial seed company and the fifth in agro-toxins. Bayer is the first in agro-toxins and the seventh in seeds. Syngenta is the second in agri-toxins and the third in seeds. Dupont is the second in seeds and the sixth in agro-toxins. Including BASF and Dow (third and fourth in agro-toxins), these six corporations control all the world's genetically manipulated seeds, which coincidentally is also the solution they put forward to every new problem - problems they have been prime movers in bringing about.

Along with the businesses that control more than 80% of the world cereals market - Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland, ConAgra, Bunge, Dreyfus - all these corporations have profited quite shamelessly from food shortages, the encouragement and subsidy of biofuels and the increase in oil prices (agro-toxins are petro-chemicals). GRAIN's excellent report "The business of killing by hunger" documents these profits: for 2007, Cargill's profits increased 36%; Archer Daniels Midland's by 67 %; ConAgra by 30%; Bunge's by 49%; and Dreyfus's profits in the last quarter of 2007 grew by 77%. Monsanto's profits increase was 44% over 2006 and Dupont-Pioneer's 19%.

To this situation one can add the fact that, faced with the financial and property crisis, the big speculative investment funds transferred money by the billion to control agricultural products and commodities in international markets. Right now it is reckoned these funds control 60% of wheat and large percentages of other basic grains. The greater part of the next few years' soya harvest is already bought up as futures. These foods have become just one more object of stock market speculation, whose price changes and rises not on the movements of local markets or on people's need but on speculative snatches.

Despite the global beating ordinary people have taken, worse for the most dispossessed, the multinationals are still not satisfied and are going after more. They are now preparing the next hijack, monopolizing via patents the genetic characteristics they consider useful to make plants resistant to drought, salinity and other climatic stress factors.

The governments who serve them, like Mexico's, try gasoline to put out the fire: instead of food sovereignty and rural families controlling seeds and inputs, they propose genetically modified products carrying even more changes and risks, genetically modified maize to increase contamination and dependence and that even the most impoverished rural families, with public subsidies, sow biofuels instead of food.

Silvia Ribeiro is a researcher with the Erosion, Technology and Concentration Group

Translation copyleft Tortilla con Sal.


Seed giants see gold in climate change

Asia Times, May 15 2008. By Hope Shand.

First the biotech industry promised that its genetically engineered seeds would clean up the environment. Then they told us biotech crops would feed the world. Neither came to pass. Soon we'll hear that genetically engineered climate-hardy seeds are the essential adaptation strategy for crops to withstand drought, heat, cold, saline soils and more.

After failing to convince an unwilling public to accept genetically engineered foods, biotech companies see a silver lining in climate change. They are now asserting that farmers cannot win the war against climate change without genetic engineering.

According to a new report from ETC Group, the world's largest seed and agrochemical corporations such as Monsanto, BASF, DuPont, Syngenta, Bayer and Dow, along with biotech partners such as Mendel, Ceres and Evogene, are stockpiling hundreds of patents and patent applications on crop genes related to environmental stress tolerance at patent offices around the world. They have acquired a total of 55 patent families corresponding to 532 patents and patent applications.

In the face of climate chaos and a deepening world food crisis, the gene giants are gearing up for a public relations offensive to rebrand themselves as climate saviors. The companies hope to convince governments and reluctant consumers that genetic engineering is the essential adaptation strategy to insure agricultural productivity.

In the words of Keith Jones of CropLife International, an industry-supported non-profit organization, "GM foods are exactly the technology that may be necessary to counter the effects of global warming." But rather than an effective way to confront climate change, these so-called "climate-ready" crops will be used to drive farmers and governments onto a proprietary biotech platform.

Human-induced climate change is triggering climate shocks in all ecosystems. It will profoundly affect crops, livestock, fisheries and forests and the billions of people whose livelihoods depend on them. Agriculture and food systems in the South, especially in South Asia and southern Africa, will be the first and most negatively affected. Extreme climate events (especially hotter, drier conditions in semi-arid regions) are likely to slash yields for maize, wheat, rice, and other primary food crops.

For instance, Asian rice yields will decrease dramatically due to higher night-time temperatures. With warmer conditions, photosynthesis slows or ceases, pollination is prevented, and dehydration sets in. A study by the International Rice Research Institute reports that rice yields are declining by 10% for every degree Celsius increase in night-time temperatures. Such declines will affect, for example, South Asia's prime wheat-growing land, the vast Indo-Gangetic plain that produces about 15% of the world's wheat crop, with losses that will place at least 200 million people at greater risk of hunger.

For the world's largest agrochemical and seed corporations, genetic engineering is the technofix of choice for combating climate change. It is a proprietary approach that seeks to expand an industrial model of agriculture, one that is largely divorced from on-the-ground social and environmental realities. It is also an approach that fails to learn from history.

Many of the problems with saline soils and soil degradation, for example, have been exacerbated by the use of intensive production systems. The gene giants are now focusing on the identification and patenting of climate-proof genetic traits (genes associated with abiotic stresses), especially related to drought and extreme temperatures. "Abiotic" stresses refer to environmental stresses encountered by plants, such as drought, temperature extremes, saline soils and low nitrogen.

The monopoly game

Monopoly control of crop genes is a bad idea under any circumstances. But in the midst of a global food crisis with climate change looming, such control is unacceptable and must be challenged. Patented gene technologies will concentrate corporate power, drive up costs, inhibit independent research, and further undermine the rights of farmers to save and exchange seeds. Globally, the top 10 seed corporations already control 57% of commercial seed sales. A handful of transnational seed and agrochemical companies are positioned to determine who gets access to patented genes and what price they must pay.

Many of these patent claims are unprecedented in scope because a single patent may claim several different environmental, or abiotic, stress traits. In addition, some patent claims extend not just to abiotic stress tolerance in a single engineered plant species, but also to a substantially similar genetic sequence in virtually all engineered food crops.

The corporate grab extends beyond the United States and Europe. Patent offices in major food producing countries such as Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Mexico, and South Africa are also swamped with patent filings. Monsanto, the world's largest seed company, and BASF, the largest chemical firm) have entered into a US$1.5 billion partnership to engineer stress-tolerant plants. Together the two companies account for nearly half of the patent families related to engineered stress tolerance.

Farming communities in the developing world, those who have contributed least to global greenhouse emissions, are among the most threatened by climate chaos created by the world's richest countries. Will farming communities now be stampeded by climate profiteering? The focus on genetically engineered, so-called climate-ready crops will divert resources from affordable, farmer-based strategies for climate change survival and adaptation.

In a bid to win moral legitimacy for their controversial GM seeds, the gene giants are also teaming up with philanthro-capitalists to introduce climate-tolerant traits in the developing world. Monsanto and BASF, for instance, are working with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center and national agricultural research programs in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and South Africa to develop drought-tolerant corn. The program is supported by a $47 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In March this year, the African Agricultural Technology Foundation announced that Monsanto and BASF have agreed to donate royalty-free drought-tolerant transgenes to the African researchers.

Market-based philanthropy aims to open African markets for high-tech seeds that will undoubtedly be accompanied by intellectual property laws, seed regulations, and other products and practices amenable to agribusiness. To African farmers, this is hardly philanthropic.

As the climate crisis deepens, governments may well offer corporate subsidies by encouraging farmers to adopt prescribed biotech traits that are deemed essential adaptation measures. The US government's Federal Crop Insurance Company announced in October 2007 that it would begin a pilot program that offers a discount to farmers who plant Monsanto's "triple-stack" corn seeds on non-irrigated land, reportedly because the biotech corn, engineered for herbicide tolerance and two kinds of insect resistance, provides a lower risk of reduced yields when compared with conventional hybrids. The decision was especially controversial because USDA relied on Monsanto's data to substantiate this claim.

Staying the corporate hand

In the face of climate chaos and a deepening global food crisis, the corporate grab on so-called climate-tolerant genes is business as usual. Governments must respond urgently by:

Recognizing, protecting, and strengthening farmer-based breeding and conservation programs and the development of on-farm genetic diversity as a priority response for climate change survival and adaptation.

Suspending all patents on climate-related genes and traits and conducting a full investigation of the potential environmental and social impacts of transgenic abiotic stress-tolerant seeds.

Adopting policies to facilitate farmers' access to and exchange of breeding materials and eliminate current restrictions on access to seeds and germplasm (especially those driven by intellectual property, agribusiness-inspired seed laws, trade regimes, and corporate oligopoly). In the midst of climate crisis, spiraling food prices and food scarcity, restrictions on access to seeds and germplasm are the last thing that farmers need in their struggle to adapt to rapidly changing climatic conditions.

Genetically engineered "climate-tolerant" seeds are a technological fix that distracts from the root causes of climate change and the imperative to cut greenhouse gas emissions and reverse consumption patterns - especially in the North.

Hope Shand is the research director of the ETC Group ( and a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus.


Buffer Zones Can Not Prevent GMO Cross-contamination
GMO cross-fertilization by airborne pollen found at surprisingly large distances

Keisuke Amagasa (No! GMO Campaign), 15 May 2008.

Tokyo, Japan -- Genetically modified organisms (GMO) pollution caused by pollen drift is spreading in GM crops cultivation areas such as the USA and in Canada. GMO contamination will occur once GM crops are cultivated. Therefore, the co-existence between GMO farming and conventional farming or organic farming is very difficult. This fact was proven by a research study conducted in Hokkaido, Japan.

The national guidelines for GM crop cultivation in Japan by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries of Japan (MAFF) has set the buffer zones for outdoor cultivation for research purposes. However the distances for buffer zones are set extremely short, thus there is no way to prevent GMO pollution under such circumstances.

According to Hokkaido's Ordinance for Prevention of Cross-fertilization Cultivation of GM Crops, which was enforced in January 2006, commercial planting of GM crops is banned in principle, trial cultivation is allowed upon notification, in which case isolation buffer zones from conventional crops on ordinary farmland are stipulated. The isolation buffer zone distances stipulated under the Ordinance are quite severe, being at least twice those mentioned under MAFF guidelines. For rice, for example, the MAFF guideline buffer zone distance is 30 m, but under Hokkaido's Ordinance it is 300 m.

Hokkaido has carried out cross-fertilization trials for three years from 2006 to 2008 in order to test whether the isolation buffer zone distances stipulated in the Ordinance were meaningful or not. The results announced on 13 February 2008 were the results for the trials in 2007.

The five crops covered by the trials were rice, soybean, maize, rapeseed and sugar beet. With regard to rapeseed, only the kinds of insects that visited the flowers and the preventive effect of insect nets were investigated. For soybeans, a similar investigation as that for rapeseed was carried out in addition to the cross-fertilization trial. In the cross-fertilization trials, pollen collecting pots were placed at various distances downwind, each grain being analysed after collection.

In the case of rice, since cross-fertilization had occurred during the 2006 trial at the maximum distance stipulated in the Ordinance, 300 m, the trial was carried out using the distances of 450 m and 600 m in 2007. The result was that cross-fertilization occurred even at the 600 m distance. Cross-fertilization was also found to occur for maize at the maximum distance of 1200 m, and at 990 m for sugar beet.

As can be seen from the case of rice, it has been confirmed that airborne diffusion of pollen occurs over surprisingly large distances. The view that the current buffer zone distances are insufficient to prevent the occurrence of cross-fertilization is now becoming widespread. At the same time, the unrealistic nature of the MAFF guidelines has been thrown into sharp focus.

From this data we have to conclude that buffer zones can not prevent GMO cross-contamination.

Table 1: Cross-fertilization Trial Results

[table can be seen at]

As for the cases of sugar beet, 57 test spots were set within 4 m and 2500 m. In the result, within 4 m and 50 m, cross-fertilizations were found in all spots, and 4 spots among 33 spots in the areas further than 80m cross-fertilizations were found. Those 4 spots are shown in the table. (Source: Hokkaido Department of Agriculture, Food Safety Promotion Agency, Food Administration Section)

Table 2: Isolation Buffer Zone Distances

[table can be seen at]

Table 3: Estimation of Cross-fertilization Possibility


Life-span of pollen
5-6 minutes
WV 1m/sec
0.3 km
WV 3m/sec
0.9 km
WV 5m/sec
1.5 km


Life-span of pollen
2-3 days
WV 1m/sec
172.8 km
WV 3m/sec
518.4 km
WV 5m/sec
864.0 km


Life-span of pollen
5-6 days
WV 1m/sec
432.0 km
WV 3m/sec
1296.0 km
WV 5m/sec
2160.0 km

The numbers were calculated using the lower limits of life-span multiplied with the wind velocity. 1 month is calculated as having 30 days.

(Source: Mr. Hyoji Namai, former professor at Tsukuba University, Japan)


Japanese Government blocks UN Talks
NGOs call on Japan to protect their consumers from GMO damage

Consumers Union of Japan press release, 15 May 2008.

Bonn -- The Consumers Union of Japan is condemning today the Japanese Government for their blocking attitude during United Nations talks on Genetically Modified Organisms. More than 140 Countries are meeting now in Germany with the aim of achieving an agreement to tackle damage derived from GMOs.

The majority of countries have called for strong rules to deal with the risks of GMOs, and the damages that can occur after they are released into our environment and our food. Despite the strong demands from the majority of countries present in the UN talks, the Japanese Government has systematically blocked almost every key issue.

"It is not acceptable that our Government behaves in this way. Japanese consumers want to be protected from the risks of GMOs and we expect our delegation in Germany to support the adoption of strict rules on liability to deal with GMO damages" said Ryoko Shimizu of Consumers Unions in Japan.

The attitude of Japan is not in line with a country that has offered to host the next round of UN talks on GMOs. These talks are expected to take place in the next Meeting of the Parties in 2010 in the Japanese city of Nagoya.

"The Japanese Government deserves to be criticized because it betrays the hope of the international community to be protected from GMOs. If the Japanese Government continues to have the same attitude it doesn't deserve to host the next UN talks in 2010 in Japan" said Keisuke Amagasa the President of the Citizens Biotechnology information Center of Japan

"The attitude of the Government of Japan is very disrespectful towards the majority of countries, which are negotiation in good faith to protect their citizens from the risks of GMOs," said Juan Lopez Villar of Friends of the Earth International

The UN Treaty on GMOs called the Biosafety Protocol was adopted in 2000 and has been ratified by more than 140 countries. Japan is a member since 2004. (1)

For more information:

Ryoko Shimizu, Consumers Union of Japan in Bonn: + 81 90 6001 0495



Seed aid to African farmers not meeting local communities needs: Experts

ANI, May 15 2008

Analysts participating in a recently held international meeting of agriculture and development experts in Norwegian capital Oslo have called for alternatives to 'seed aid', mass handouts of seeds to crisis-stricken African farmers.

The analysts believe that help through seed handouts has not been successful in meeting the needs of local communities to date.

Louise Sperling, a Rome-based analyst at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, said that seed handouts might in fact undermine the recovery of farming markets.

She pointed out that farmers just might develop a tendency to continue accepting handouts long after they should have been able to make themselves self-sufficient.

Sperling and her colleagues wrote in their study report that they examined the seed aid given to 15 African countries dating back to 1974, and found that the international community had spent huge amounts of money on seed handouts for crops such as maize (corn).

The analysts said that though seed aid accounted for only two to three per cent of the amount spent on direct food aid, the amount spent on seeds run to hundreds of millions of dollars.

"When seed aid started it was seen as something very innovative. Instead of giving food and making people (feel like) victims, you give them seed and empower them," Nature magazine quoted Sperling as saying.

"Very often seed availability is not the problem farmers don't have the cash to access it, so social networks break down," she added.

Sperling further said: "One of the big things we have learned is that you can have big drops in food for example 95 per cent of your sorghum harvest might fail but with five per cent left you still have enough for seed."

The meeting in Oslo is the first sign that European governments are beginning to follow suit.

The Norwegian Government has issued a white paper calling for a revision of its international food aid strategy.

"We are hoping Norway will bring this to the attention of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the European Union," says Sigrid Nagoda, a Norwegian spokesperson for international aid agency Caritas, which jointly sponsored the meeting. (ANI)


Latin American summit confronts hunger crisis

Workers World, 15 May 2008. By Berta Joubert-Ceci.

With the theme "Sovereignty and Food Security: Food for Life," delegations from 15 countries met in Managua, Nicaragua, on May 7 to discuss and plan strategies to confront the serious hunger crisis that is affecting the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean.

This presidential summit was the result of an April 23 emergency meeting of four of the five ALBA (Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples of Our America) countries held in Caracas, Venezuela. At that time, Bolivian President Evo Morales, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and Cuban Vice President Carlos Lage met with Venezuelan President Hugo Ch·vez to sign a special agreement that would develop agricultural and industrial sectors to increase the production of grains like rice and corn, oil-containing beans, meat and milk. According to Prensa Latina, "The agreement reached by the ALBA member countries also favors the setting up of a food commercialization network and includes a joint commitment to create a fund with $100-million initial capital to allow the implementation of the programs and plans with the initiative."

However, since the essence of ALBA is the integration and well-being of all the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean, a larger summit was necessary to address the current food crisis.

The May 7 summit in Managua was attended by delegations from Bolivia, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Honduras, Haiti, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Cuba, Venezuela, El Salvador, Guatemala, Belize, Panama, Dominican Republic, Mexico and Nicaragua. There were also representatives of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, U.N. World Food Program, UNICEF, PARLACEN (Central American Parliament) and PARLATINO (Latin American Parliament).

Opening remarks from each country addressed concerns and proposals about the crisis, but also overwhelmingly pointed to the policies of the imperialist countries as the main culprit of the catastrophe. The television network TeleSUR covered the session.

Ralph Gonsalves, prime minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, eloquently stated the need to include fishing in the agricultural and food discussions, noting that small island countries such as his do not have the space for cattle raising and depend more on small farm animals and sea products, but global warming is affecting fishing, since the fish tend to go deeper in the sea. He concluded, "I do not see the Americans helping us, or the Europeans, and in fact, many times when they bring programs for diversification, agriculture production, etc., they perpetuate a fraud among the people, they increase their expectations and there are few things they deliver."

Vice President Lage from Cuba summed up the real basis of the current crisis: "The essence of the crisis is not in these recent phenomena, but in the unequal and unjust distribution of the wealth at global level, and in the untenable neoliberal economic model, imposed with irresponsibility and fanaticism over the last 20 years."

President Ortega, who chaired the meeting, conveyed the hunger crisis through the facts: "Data from the international organizations tells us that every 5 seconds a child under 10 years of age dies from undernourishment, from hunger. Every minute that we are here talking, exchanging ideas about this problem, 12 children are dying. And every hour, 720 children under 10 years are dying from hunger!"

The final declaration signed by 12 countries rejected subsidies in the developed countries and the unfair trade that affects the underdeveloped countries. They also rejected the use of food for biofuel. A detailed Action Plan was proposed that would help strengthen the countries' economies and food production in a sustainable way. A proposal from Mexico, which volunteered to host a high-level meeting on technology at the end of May, was accepted.

Other gatherings about the issue have been taking place in Latin America. The Cuban News Agency (ACN) reported that more than 100 representatives from 30 Latin American and Caribbean countries participated in a conference on child malnutrition in Santiago de Chile on May 6. On May 16-17, the Fifth European Union-Latin America and Caribbean Summit (EU-LAC) will take place in Lima, Peru. The main themes will be "Poverty, inequality and inclusion" and "Sustainable Development: the environment, climate change and energy." At the May 7 presidential summit, it was decided that the food crisis be raised at the EU-LAC and all other international meetings in the near future.

Imperialists meet behind closed doors

Nine days before the Managua summit, on April 28, World Food Program Executive Director Josette Sheeran and World Bank President Robert Zoellick met behind closed doors in Berne, Switzerland, with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and executives from 27 U.N. agencies to discuss rising food prices and uprisings in 37 countries due to extreme hunger.

According to ACN, Ban demanded $2.5 billion in aid to help fight the world food crisis during a press conference in Berne on April 22.

What was Zoellick's solution to the food crisis? Showing his real class interest, he called on not restricting the export of oil products.

How can the imperialists solve a crisis they created? As Via Campesina, an organization of Indigenous, small farmers and peasants throughout the world, stated in a document entitled "An Answer to the Global Food Crisis" (, neoliberal policies have destroyed the capacity of the countries to feed themselves.

Although they mention biofuel and global warming that affects harvests as causes for the food crisis, they see the lack of sovereignty in food as the most prominent cause: "This crisis is also the result of many years of destructive policies that have undermined domestic food production. ... Farmers have been forced to produce cash crops for transnational corporations (TNCs) and buy their food on the world market."

The article shows the example of Mexico, which, after NAFTA, went from being a corn-exporting country to one dependent for 30 percent of its corn on imports from the U.S. However, now that U.S. corn production is increasingly used for fuel, there is less available for Mexico. It also mentions the case of Indonesia, which in 1992 produced enough soy to satisfy domestic consumption of the staples tofu and tempeh. After opening its doors to neoliberal policies, cheap soy from the U.S. inundated its market, bringing domestic production down. Sixty percent now is imported from the U.S. and prices have doubled.

Therefore, without the ability to produce their own food due to neoliberal prescriptions, combined with severe climate changes, poor countries are victims to the speculation of the food market and the diversion of food production to biofuel. While food consumption accounts for probably 10 to 20 percent of a person's income in most developed countries, in the Third World it is 60 to 80 percent. And the products most affected by the current crisis are staples of poor people's tables, like rice and corn.

No wonder masses have been rising up in Mexico, Indonesia, Yemen, the Philippines, Cambodia, Morocco, Senegal, Uzbekistan, Guinea, Mauritania, Egypt, Cameroon, Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Peru, Bolivia and Haiti.

Haiti merits special attention, since it is one of the poorest nations on Earth where the genocidal greed of the transnational corporations is obscenely and patently clear. Eighty percent of the population lives under the poverty line and 54 percent in abject poverty. According to Servicio Paz y Justicia en América Latina, "Twenty years ago Haiti produced 95 percent of the rice that its people consumed; today it imports from the U.S. 80 percent of that product." (

The extreme hunger in Haiti has forced people to feed their children with "Pica" crackers made of mud, a poisonous remedy against hunger. In Cité-Soleil, the crackers are made with yellow mud from the country's central plateau, mixed with salt and oil. It costs $5 to make 100 crackers, but even at that price, many Haitians cannot afford a cracker made of dirt! It might fill a child's belly, but the mud also carries parasites and potentially deadly substances.

Cuba and Venezuela have stepped up to help the Haitian people. Among other actions, Venezuela sent 600 tons of food on April 13 and 50 farm trucks. Cuba has been providing medical care to the most poor, who did not have access to doctors. For five years, 400 Cuban doctors have been working in Haiti; and 600 Haitian students study medicine in Cuba. According to Haitian President René Préval, for the Haitian people "after God, there are the Cuban doctors."

People starve while food corporations thrive

In an April 14 press release, U.S. food giant Cargill reported "net earnings of $1.03 billion in the 2008 third quarter ended Feb. 29, up 86 percent from $553 million in the same period a year ago. Earnings in the first nine months totaled $2.9 billion, a 69 percent increase from $1.71 billion a year ago." (

The release continues: "'Cargill posted a third consecutive strong quarter in a year in which the dimensions of change in global agriculture are striking,' said Greg Page, Cargill chairman and chief executive officer. 'Demand for food in developing economies and for energy worldwide is boosting demand for agricultural goods, at the same time that investment monies have streamed into commodity markets. Relative to demand, world grain stocks today are at their lowest levels in 35 years. Prices are setting new highs and markets are extraordinarily volatile.'"

Monsanto, another U.S. company, also reported huge profits. In a newswire on May 6, the company stated: "As a technology company in agriculture, we have a unique opportunity because our technology creates value for our farmer customers regardless of which crop they grow, where they ultimately sell their grain, or at what price that grain is sold on the commodity markets. ... Monsanto's strong earnings growth continues to be reflected in dividend payouts. Monsanto has increased its dividend six times – an increase of 200 percent – since 2001." (

Monsanto is the main culprit behind the genetically engineered seeds that have inundated and destroyed agriculture in Third World countries, making them dependent on Monsanto's seeds and products.

Articles copyright 1995-2008 Workers World. Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved.


Ireland: Anti-GM lobby seek funding

Irish Farmers Journal, 15 May (dated 17 May) 2008.

The anti-GM campaign group 'GM-free Ireland' has circulated an interesting document looking for funding.

It describes itself as having "membership of 130 organisations, with the greatest number and broadest diversity of any NGO on this island, with over 22,000 members."

It claims that the campaign has mostly been funded by its coordinator, Michael O'Callaghan, to the tune of around €150,000, since 2004. The document says that the Irish Organic Farmers and Growers Association (IOFGA) chipped in €40,000 from 2006 to 2008, while Glenisk are credited with a €5,000 contribution in 2007.

The document states that "Michael can no longer continue to fund the campaign, and also wants to phase in someone to replace him as coordinator as soon as possible."

In the remainder of the document, GM-free Ireland implies that some of the island's leading scientific advisers are "biotech industry lobbyists."

Dr Paddy Cunningham, the nation's Chief Scientific Officer, is "outed" as a member of a taskforce of the European Federation of Biotechnology, and a member of the Irish National Council on Bioethics, whose report on GM foods is described as "a masterfully crafted work of biotech industry spin."

The proof supplied of this is the report's conclusion that "the genetic modification of crops is not morally objectionable in itself".

Teagasc [the Irish Government Agriculture and Food Authority] Director, Professor Gerry Boyle, is revealed to be an agricultural consultant to the World Bank, according to the missive. This organisation is also part of the global GM conspiracy.

The Irish Farmers Journal is accused - along with IFA [Irish Farmers Association], IGFA [Irish Grain and Feed Association], and Teagasc - of being part of a massive disinformation campaign by the usual suspects.

Half the cabinet is listed as failing to halt the march of the biotech industry. Mary Coughlan [Deputy Prime Minister and former Minister for Agriculture and Food], Mary Harney [Minister for Health and Children], Micheal Martin [Minister for Trade and Enterprise], Dermot Ahern [Minister for Foreign Affairs], and even John Gormley [Head of the Green Party and Minister for Environment and Local Government] fail the meet the approval of GM-free Ireland. As Kermit the frog once sang, it's not easy being green!

Comment from GM-free Ireland:

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Ireland: Playing God

The Irish Catholic, 15 May 2008. By Breda O'Brien.

In March, there were a spate of media report that the Vatican had named seven new deadly sins. Of course, no such thing had happened. Bishop Giancarlo Girotti, and official of the Apostolic Penitentiary, was merely musing aloud in an interview with L'Osservatore Romano about social sins, and their increasing importance in a globalised world.

The author of Ecclesiastes suggests in his first chapter, written several centuries before Christ, that there is nothing new under the sun. With apologies to that royal philosopher, the infinite variety of ways in which humans can conspire to damage their fellow human beings never fails to amaze me. Certainly, there are no new sins, but we are very inventive about new variations on old sins.

Ever since the advent of farming, some 10,000 years ago, seeds and domestic animals have been central to that enterprise. For most of that time, the idea that seeds could be patented, or that farmers would not be allowed to save seed for the next season, would have been seen as bizarre.

It is still an essential part of life, especially in the developing world. Farmers plant in the spring, harvest in the autumn, then save and clean the seeds in winter to re-use the following spring.

It takes a certain kind of perverse genius to intervene in that natural cycle for commercial profit, but the giant Monsanto corporation has done just that. It developed genetically modified seeds that would resist its own herbicide, 'Roundup', offering farmers a convenient way to spray crops without damaging them.

Monsanto then patented the seeds. It has become the world leader in genetic modification of seeds, and has won 674 biotechnology patents. Farmers who buy this seed must sign an agreement not to clean and re-use it.

Incidentally, most of the information from this article was gleaned from the May edition of Vanity Fair, which led to an interesting conundrum. Remember that old excuse of males for reading Playboy, that they only bought it for the articles? I feld a bit like that, given that the cover of Vanity Fair features Madonna, in all her almost fifty-year-old glory, wearing a corset and thigh-high boots. The things I have to do for research!

The article paints a deeply disturbing vision of a company ruthlessly enforcing its patents. Monsanto goes after farmers, farmers co-ops, seed dealers, anyone it suspects may have infringed its patents of genetically modified seeds.

As interviews and reams of court documents reveal, Monsanto relies on a shadowy army of private investigators and agents in the American heartland to strike fear into farm country. They fan out into fields and farm towns, where they secretly videotape and photograph farmers, store owners and co-ops, infiltrate community meetings and gather information from informants about farming activities. Innocent farmers, who have never bought Monsanto seeds, have been threatened with court action, simply because GM seeds from neighbouring farms have blown onto their land and grown. The majority of the farmers cave in and settle. The prospect of going to court against a global giant with deep pockets is simply too much for them.

Monsanto seeds are estimated to account for 90% of soybean production, used in products without counting. People who wish to avoid GM products in the US have virtually no possibility of doing so.

There is great resistance to GM food in Irelandm, not least because it threatens Ireland's image a producer of green food.

Monsanto now manufactures an artificial hormone, known as rBGH, that makes cows produce more milk. Some US milk producers had grave doubts about it, and advertised that their cows are not treated with it. Unsurprisingly, sales soared for non rBGH milk.

Monsanto turned its guns on these milk producers, claiming that to advertise that the cows were not treated with this bovine growth hormone was to suggest that there was something damaging about their product. They want such advertising banned, on the grounds that they have scientific proof that ther is no harm to cows, or to people, who consume milk from treated cows.

However, according to Vanity Fair, Monsanto admitted that possible side effects include lameness, disorders of the uterus, calving difficulties, and mastitis.

As someone reared on a farm, it strikes me as profoundly wrong that a giant corporation should have the ability to patent seeds, especially for plants that are resistant to such a toxic blend of chemicals. Pity, too, the poor cows that are forced into even greater milk production. Perhaps it might strike readers as far-fetched, but to me, these are variations on old, old sins. The sins of greed and attempts to play God have been around forever.

Monsanto have just invented a new twist on these old sins. When will we learn that such attempts always end in tears?


Genetically modified crops not a solution to poverty, hunger, and climate change: Report

New Kerala (India), 15 May 2008.

Washington, May 15 : Based on an assessment of the global agriculture scenario, experts have come to the conclusion that genetically modified (GM) crops are not a solution for poverty, hunger or climate change.

The final report of the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), which was signed by the governments of about 60 countries in April in Johannesburg, suggests that it is necessary to introduce a fundamental change in farming practices to address soaring food prices, hunger, social inequities, and environmental disasters.

The report acknowledges that GM crops are highly controversial, reports the Environmental News Network.

IAASTD Director Robert Watson said that much more research was needed to prove whether GM crops offer any benefits, and are harmless to human health and the environment.

The study-sponsored by a number of major international organizations, including the United Nations, the World Bank, the UN Food and Agricultural Organization, and UNESCO-revealed 22 facts about global agriculture.

An analysis of its findings gives the impression that industrial large-scale agriculture is unsustainable because such farming is dependent on cheap oil and causes negative impacts on ecosystems.

The comprehensive report produced by over 400 scientists also warned against the expansion of biofuels, saying that turning food crops into fuels could exacerbate food shortages.

It recommends small-scale farming and agro-ecological methods as ways to solve the current food crisis and to meet the needs of local communities, declaring that indigenous and local knowledge play as important a role as formal science.

The United States, Canada, and Australia were the only governments in attendance not to sign.

Despite being among the stakeholders who selected the report's authors, they accuse the assessment of being "unbalanced", and are attacking the authors' independence.


U.S. promotes GMO crops in food package

United Press International, 15 May 2008.

WASHINGTON -- U.S. officials say a $770 food aid package proposed by President George Bush contains language promoting the use of bio-engineered food.

Proponents say genetically modified crops can result in higher yields from plants that are hardier in harsh climates, the Chicago Tribune reported Wednesday.

"We certainly think that it is established fact that a number of bio-engineered crops have shown themselves to increase yields through their drought resistance and pest resistance," Dan Price, a White House food aid expert, told the newspaper.

Opponents say genetically modified crops could cause medical problems and are being promoted to to help U.S. agribusiness. "I think it's pretty obvious at this point that genetically engineered crops -- they may do a number of things, but they don't increase yields, Ronnie Cummins of the Organic Consumers Association told the newspaper.


USA: Montville resident stands by seed moratorium

Morning Sentinel (Maine), letter to the Editor, 15 May 2008.

Monsanto-funded spokesman, Doug Johnson, recently wrote about one of Montville's main concerns with genetically modified seeds: health.

Corporations that create genetically modified organisms (and stand to make billions when on the market) do most of the testing, along with government agencies under enormous lobbying pressure.

Independent third-party testing does not exist.

How can we know if people are having adverse reactions when labels don't tell us which GMOs people are consuming?

Perhaps the recent rise in autism is due to GMO foods?

We can thank Monsanto for PCBs and dioxin, which it tested and promised were safe and for 50 Superfund sites ("Monsanto's Harvest of Fear" by Pulitzer-prize winning journalists, Donald Bartlett and James Steele).

The human body is extremely resilient.

For example, a person can smoke tons of cigarettes a day for years without getting cancer or suffering severe symptoms. But eventually the body can no longer protect itself, and illness sets in.

Feeding people GMOs is a human health experiment. We simply cannot know what these products will do with a few years of profit-driven testing.

This year, Johnson never requested to attend our meetings.

Montville is full of smart, well-informed people who would have listened to him. Most, however, would have found that the information he offered had that somewhat fishy smell of propaganda disguised as science and truth.

The overwhelming majority voted to place a 10-year moratorium on GMO seeds. This ordinance has no affect on biomedical research.

Susie O'Keeffe


Monsanto's Harvest of Fear

Vanity Fair, May 2008. By Donald L. Bartlett and James B. Steele.

Monsanto already dominates America's food chain with its genetically modified seeds. Now it has targeted milk production. Just as frightening as the corporation's tactics - ruthless legal battles against small farmers-is its decades-long history of toxic contamination.

Gary Rinehart clearly remembers the summer day in 2002 when the stranger walked in and issued his threat. Rinehart was behind the counter of the Square Deal, his "old-time country store," as he calls it, on the fading town square of Eagleville, Missouri, a tiny farm community 100 miles north of Kansas City.

The Square Deal is a fixture in Eagleville, a place where farmers and townspeople can go for lightbulbs, greeting cards, hunting gear, ice cream, aspirin, and dozens of other small items without having to drive to a big-box store in Bethany, the county seat, 15 miles down Interstate 35.

Everyone knows Rinehart, who was born and raised in the area and runs one of Eagleville's few surviving businesses. The stranger came up to the counter and asked for him by name.

"Well, that's me," said Rinehart.

As Rinehart would recall, the man began verbally attacking him, saying he had proof that Rinehart had planted Monsanto's genetically modified (G.M.) soybeans in violation of the company's patent. Better come clean and settle with Monsanto, Rinehart says the man told him – or face the consequences.

Rinehart was incredulous, listening to the words as puzzled customers and employees looked on. Like many others in rural America, Rinehart knew of Monsanto's fierce reputation for enforcing its patents and suing anyone who allegedly violated them. But Rinehart wasn't a farmer. He wasn't a seed dealer. He hadn't planted any seeds or sold any seeds. He owned a small – a really small – country store in a town of 350 people. He was angry that somebody could just barge into the store and embarrass him in front of everyone. "It made me and my business look bad," he says. Rinehart says he told the intruder, "You got the wrong guy."

When the stranger persisted, Rinehart showed him the door. On the way out the man kept making threats. Rinehart says he can't remember the exact words, but they were to the effect of: "Monsanto is big. You can't win. We will get you. You will pay."

Scenes like this are playing out in many parts of rural America these days as Monsanto goes after farmers, farmers' co-ops, seed dealers – anyone it suspects may have infringed its patents of genetically modified seeds. As interviews and reams of court documents reveal, Monsanto relies on a shadowy army of private investigators and agents in the American heartland to strike fear into farm country. They fan out into fields and farm towns, where they secretly videotape and photograph farmers, store owners, and co-ops; infiltrate community meetings; and gather information from informants about farming activities. Farmers say that some Monsanto agents pretend to be surveyors. Others confront farmers on their land and try to pressure them to sign papers giving Monsanto access to their private records. Farmers call them the "seed police" and use words such as "Gestapo" and "Mafia" to describe their tactics.

When asked about these practices, Monsanto declined to comment specifically, other than to say that the company is simply protecting its patents. "Monsanto spends more than $2 million a day in research to identify, test, develop and bring to market innovative new seeds and technologies that benefit farmers," Monsanto spokesman Darren Wallis wrote in an e-mailed letter to Vanity Fair. "One tool in protecting this investment is patenting our discoveries and, if necessary, legally defending those patents against those who might choose to infringe upon them." Wallis said that, while the vast majority of farmers and seed dealers follow the licensing agreements, "a tiny fraction" do not, and that Monsanto is obligated to those who do abide by its rules to enforce its patent rights on those who "reap the benefits of the technology without paying for its use." He said only a small number of cases ever go to trial. Some compare Monsanto's hard-line approach to Microsoft's zealous efforts to protect its software from pirates. At least with Microsoft the buyer of a program can use it over and over again. But farmers who buy Monsanto's seeds can't even do that.

The Control of Nature

For centuries – millennia – farmers have saved seeds from season to season: they planted in the spring, harvested in the fall, then reclaimed and cleaned the seeds over the winter for re-planting the next spring. Monsanto has turned this ancient practice on its head.

Monsanto developed G.M. seeds that would resist its own herbicide, Roundup, offering farmers a convenient way to spray fields with weed killer without affecting crops. Monsanto then patented the seeds. For nearly all of its history the United States Patent and Trademark Office had refused to grant patents on seeds, viewing them as life-forms with too many variables to be patented. "It's not like describing a widget," says Joseph Mendelson III, the legal director of the Center for Food Safety, which has tracked Monsanto's activities in rural America for years.

Indeed not. But in 1980 the U.S. Supreme Court, in a five-to-four decision, turned seeds into widgets, laying the groundwork for a handful of corporations to begin taking control of the world's food supply. In its decision, the court extended patent law to cover "a live human-made microorganism." In this case, the organism wasn't even a seed. Rather, it was a Pseudomonas bacterium developed by a General Electric scientist to clean up oil spills. But the precedent was set, and Monsanto took advantage of it. Since the 1980s, Monsanto has become the world leader in genetic modification of seeds and has won 674 biotechnology patents, more than any other company, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.

Farmers who buy Monsanto's patented Roundup Ready seeds are required to sign an agreement promising not to save the seed produced after each harvest for re-planting, or to sell the seed to other farmers. This means that farmers must buy new seed every year. Those increased sales, coupled with ballooning sales of its Roundup weed killer, have been a bonanza for Monsanto.

This radical departure from age-old practice has created turmoil in farm country. Some farmers don't fully understand that they aren't supposed to save Monsanto's seeds for next year's planting. Others do, but ignore the stipulation rather than throw away a perfectly usable product. Still others say that they don't use Monsanto's genetically modified seeds, but seeds have been blown into their fields by wind or deposited by birds. It's certainly easy for G.M. seeds to get mixed in with traditional varieties when seeds are cleaned by commercial dealers for re-planting. The seeds look identical; only a laboratory analysis can show the difference. Even if a farmer doesn't buy G.M. seeds and doesn't want them on his land, it's a safe bet he'll get a visit from Monsanto's seed police if crops grown from G.M. seeds are discovered in his fields.

Most Americans know Monsanto because of what it sells to put on our lawns – the ubiquitous weed killer Roundup. What they may not know is that the company now profoundly influences – and one day may virtually control – what we put on our tables. For most of its history Monsanto was a chemical giant, producing some of the most toxic substances ever created, residues from which have left us with some of the most polluted sites on earth. Yet in a little more than a decade, the company has sought to shed its polluted past and morph into something much different and more far-reaching – an "agricultural company" dedicated to making the world "a better place for future generations." Still, more than one Web log claims to see similarities between Monsanto and the fictional company "U-North" in the movie Michael Clayton, an agribusiness giant accused in a multibillion-dollar lawsuit of selling an herbicide that causes cancer.

Monsanto's genetically modified seeds have transformed the company and are radically altering global agriculture. So far, the company has produced G.M. seeds for soybeans, corn, canola, and cotton. Many more products have been developed or are in the pipeline, including seeds for sugar beets and alfalfa. The company is also seeking to extend its reach into milk production by marketing an artificial growth hormone for cows that increases their output, and it is taking aggressive steps to put those who don't want to use growth hormone at a commercial disadvantage.

Even as the company is pushing its G.M. agenda, Monsanto is buying up conventional-seed companies. In 2005, Monsanto paid $1.4 billion for Seminis, which controlled 40 percent of the U.S. market for lettuce, tomatoes, and other vegetable and fruit seeds. Two weeks later it announced the acquisition of the country's third-largest cottonseed company, Emergent Genetics, for $300 million. It's estimated that Monsanto seeds now account for 90 percent of the U.S. production of soybeans, which are used in food products beyond counting. Monsanto's acquisitions have fueled explosive growth, transforming the St. Louis-based corporation into the largest seed company in the world.

In Iraq, the groundwork has been laid to protect the patents of Monsanto and other G.M.-seed companies. One of L. Paul Bremer's last acts as head of the Coalition Provisional Authority was an order stipulating that "farmers shall be prohibited from re-using seeds of protected varieties." Monsanto has said that it has no interest in doing business in Iraq, but should the company change its mind, the American-style law is in place.

To be sure, more and more agricultural corporations and individual farmers are using Monsanto's G.M. seeds. As recently as 1980, no genetically modified crops were grown in the U.S. In 2007, the total was 142 million acres planted. Worldwide, the figure was 282 million acres. Many farmers believe that G.M. seeds increase crop yields and save money. Another reason for their attraction is convenience. By using Roundup Ready soybean seeds, a farmer can spend less time tending to his fields. With Monsanto seeds, a farmer plants his crop, then treats it later with Roundup to kill weeds. That takes the place of labor-intensive weed control and plowing.

Monsanto portrays its move into G.M. seeds as a giant leap for mankind. But out in the American countryside, Monsanto's no-holds-barred tactics have made it feared and loathed. Like it or not, farmers say, they have fewer and fewer choices in buying seeds.

And controlling the seeds is not some abstraction. Whoever provides the world's seeds controls the world's food supply.

Under Surveillance

After Monsanto's investigator confronted Gary Rinehart, Monsanto filed a federal lawsuit alleging that Rinehart "knowingly, intentionally, and willfully" planted seeds "in violation of Monsanto's patent rights." The company's complaint made it sound as if Monsanto had Rinehart dead to rights:

During the 2002 growing season, Investigator Jeffery Moore, through surveillance of Mr. Rinehart's farm facility and farming operations, observed Defendant planting brown bag soybean seed. Mr. Moore observed the Defendant take the brown bag soybeans to a field, which was subsequently loaded into a grain drill and planted. Mr. Moore located two empty bags in the ditch in the public road right-of-way beside one of the fields planted by Rinehart, which contained some soybeans. Mr. Moore collected a small amount of soybeans left in the bags which Defendant had tossed into the public right-of way. These samples tested positive for Monsanto's Roundup Ready technology.

Faced with a federal lawsuit, Rinehart had to hire a lawyer. Monsanto eventually realized that "Investigator Jeffery Moore" had targeted the wrong man, and dropped the suit. Rinehart later learned that the company had been secretly investigating farmers in his area. Rinehart never heard from Monsanto again: no letter of apology, no public concession that the company had made a terrible mistake, no offer to pay his attorney's fees. "I don't know how they get away with it," he says. "If I tried to do something like that it would be bad news. I felt like I was in another country."

Gary Rinehart is actually one of Monsanto's luckier targets. Ever since commercial introduction of its G.M. seeds, in 1996, Monsanto has launched thousands of investigations and filed lawsuits against hundreds of farmers and seed dealers. In a 2007 report, the Center for Food Safety, in Washington, D.C., documented 112 such lawsuits, in 27 states.

Even more significant, in the Center's opinion, are the numbers of farmers who settle because they don't have the money or the time to fight Monsanto. "The number of cases filed is only the tip of the iceberg," says Bill Freese, the Center's science-policy analyst. Freese says he has been told of many cases in which Monsanto investigators showed up at a farmer's house or confronted him in his fields, claiming he had violated the technology agreement and demanding to see his records. According to Freese, investigators will say, "Monsanto knows that you are saving Roundup Ready seeds, and if you don't sign these information-release forms, Monsanto is going to come after you and take your farm or take you for all you're worth." Investigators will sometimes show a farmer a photo of himself coming out of a store, to let him know he is being followed.

Lawyers who have represented farmers sued by Monsanto say that intimidating actions like these are commonplace. Most give in and pay Monsanto some amount in damages; those who resist face the full force of Monsanto's legal wrath.

Scorched-Earth Tactics

Pilot Grove, Missouri, population 750, sits in rolling farmland 150 miles west of St. Louis. The town has a grocery store, a bank, a bar, a nursing home, a funeral parlor, and a few other small businesses. There are no stoplights, but the town doesn't need any. The little traffic it has comes from trucks on their way to and from the grain elevator on the edge of town. The elevator is owned by a local co-op, the Pilot Grove Cooperative Elevator, which buys soybeans and corn from farmers in the fall, then ships out the grain over the winter. The co-op has seven full-time employees and four computers.

In the fall of 2006, Monsanto trained its legal guns on Pilot Grove; ever since, its farmers have been drawn into a costly, disruptive legal battle against an opponent with limitless resources. Neither Pilot Grove nor Monsanto will discuss the case, but it is possible to piece together much of the story from documents filed as part of the litigation.

Monsanto began investigating soybean farmers in and around Pilot Grove several years ago. There is no indication as to what sparked the probe, but Monsanto periodically investigates farmers in soybean-growing regions such as this one in central Missouri. The company has a staff devoted to enforcing patents and litigating against farmers. To gather leads, the company maintains an 800 number and encourages farmers to inform on other farmers they think may be engaging in "seed piracy."

Once Pilot Grove had been targeted, Monsanto sent private investigators into the area. Over a period of months, Monsanto's investigators surreptitiously followed the co-op's employees and customers and videotaped them in fields and going about other activities. At least 17 such surveillance videos were made, according to court records. The investigative work was outsourced to a St. Louis agency, McDowell & Associates. It was a McDowell investigator who erroneously fingered Gary Rinehart. In Pilot Grove, at least 11 McDowell investigators have worked the case, and Monsanto makes no bones about the extent of this effort: "Surveillance was conducted throughout the year by various investigators in the field," according to court records. McDowell, like Monsanto, will not comment on the case.

Not long after investigators showed up in Pilot Grove, Monsanto subpoenaed the co-op's records concerning seed and herbicide purchases and seed-cleaning operations. The co-op provided more than 800 pages of documents pertaining to dozens of farmers. Monsanto sued two farmers and negotiated settlements with more than 25 others it accused of seed piracy. But Monsanto's legal assault had only begun. Although the co-op had provided voluminous records, Monsanto then sued it in federal court for patent infringement. Monsanto contended that by cleaning seeds – a service which it had provided for decades – the co-op was inducing farmers to violate Monsanto's patents. In effect, Monsanto wanted the co-op to police its own customers.

In the majority of cases where Monsanto sues, or threatens to sue, farmers settle before going to trial. The cost and stress of litigating against a global corporation are just too great. But Pilot Grove wouldn't cave – and ever since, Monsanto has been turning up the heat. The more the co-op has resisted, the more legal firepower Monsanto has aimed at it. Pilot Grove's lawyer, Steven H. Schwartz, described Monsanto in a court filing as pursuing a "scorched earth tactic," intent on "trying to drive the co-op into the ground."

Even after Pilot Grove turned over thousands more pages of sales records going back five years, and covering virtually every one of its farmer customers, Monsanto wanted more – the right to inspect the co-op's hard drives. When the co-op offered to provide an electronic version of any record, Monsanto demanded hands-on access to Pilot Grove's in-house computers.

Monsanto next petitioned to make potential damages punitive – tripling the amount that Pilot Grove might have to pay if found guilty. After a judge denied that request, Monsanto expanded the scope of the pre-trial investigation by seeking to quadruple the number of depositions. "Monsanto is doing its best to make this case so expensive to defend that the Co-op will have no choice but to relent," Pilot Grove's lawyer said in a court filing.

With Pilot Grove still holding out for a trial, Monsanto now subpoenaed the records of more than 100 of the co-op's customers. In a "You are Commanded Ö " notice, the farmers were ordered to gather up five years of invoices, receipts, and all other papers relating to their soybean and herbicide purchases, and to have the documents delivered to a law office in St. Louis. Monsanto gave them two weeks to comply.

Whether Pilot Grove can continue to wage its legal battle remains to be seen. Whatever the outcome, the case shows why Monsanto is so detested in farm country, even by those who buy its products. "I don't know of a company that chooses to sue its own customer base," says Joseph Mendelson, of the Center for Food Safety. "It's a very bizarre business strategy." But it's one that Monsanto manages to get away with, because increasingly it's the dominant vendor in town.

Chemicals? What Chemicals?

The Monsanto Company has never been one of America's friendliest corporate citizens. Given Monsanto's current dominance in the field of bioengineering, it's worth looking at the company's own DNA. The future of the company may lie in seeds, but the seeds of the company lie in chemicals. Communities around the world are still reaping the environmental consequences of Monsanto's origins.

Monsanto was founded in 1901 by John Francis Queeny, a tough, cigar-smoking Irishman with a sixth-grade education. A buyer for a wholesale drug company, Queeny had an idea. But like a lot of employees with ideas, he found that his boss wouldn't listen to him. So he went into business for himself on the side. Queeny was convinced there was money to be made manufacturing a substance called saccharin, an artificial sweetener then imported from Germany. He took $1,500 of his savings, borrowed another $3,500, and set up shop in a dingy warehouse near the St. Louis waterfront. With borrowed equipment and secondhand machines, he began producing saccharin for the U.S. market. He called the company the Monsanto Chemical Works, Monsanto being his wife's maiden name.

The German cartel that controlled the market for saccharin wasn't pleased, and cut the price from $4.50 to $1 a pound to try to force Queeny out of business. The young company faced other challenges. Questions arose about the safety of saccharin, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture even tried to ban it. Fortunately for Queeny, he wasn't up against opponents as aggressive and litigious as the Monsanto of today. His persistence and the loyalty of one steady customer kept the company afloat. That steady customer was a new company in Georgia named Coca-Cola.

Monsanto added more and more products – vanillin, caffeine, and drugs used as sedatives and laxatives. In 1917, Monsanto began making aspirin, and soon became the largest maker worldwide. During World War I, cut off from imported European chemicals, Monsanto was forced to manufacture its own, and its position as a leading force in the chemical industry was assured.

After Queeny was diagnosed with cancer, in the late 1920s, his only son, Edgar, became president. Where the father had been a classic entrepreneur, Edgar Monsanto Queeny was an empire builder with a grand vision. It was Edgar – shrewd, daring, and intuitive ("He can see around the next corner," his secretary once said) – who built Monsanto into a global powerhouse. Under Edgar Queeny and his successors, Monsanto extended its reach into a phenomenal number of products: plastics, resins, rubber goods, fuel additives, artificial caffeine, industrial fluids, vinyl siding, dishwasher detergent, anti-freeze, fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides. Its safety glass protects the U.S. Constitution and the Mona Lisa. Its synthetic fibers are the basis of Astroturf.

During the 1970s, the company shifted more and more resources into biotechnology. In 1981 it created a molecular-biology group for research in plant genetics. The next year, Monsanto scientists hit gold: they became the first to genetically modify a plant cell. "It will now be possible to introduce virtually any gene into plant cells with the ultimate goal of improving crop productivity," said Ernest Jaworski, director of Monsanto's Biological Sciences Program.

Over the next few years, scientists working mainly in the company's vast new Life Sciences Research Center, 25 miles west of St. Louis, developed one genetically modified product after another – cotton, soybeans, corn, canola. From the start, G.M. seeds were controversial with the public as well as with some farmers and European consumers. Monsanto has sought to portray G.M. seeds as a panacea, a way to alleviate poverty and feed the hungry. Robert Shapiro, Monsanto's president during the 1990s, once called G.M. seeds "the single most successful introduction of technology in the history of agriculture, including the plow."

By the late 1990s, Monsanto, having rebranded itself into a "life sciences" company, had spun off its chemical and fibers operations into a new company called Solutia. After an additional reorganization, Monsanto re-incorporated in 2002 and officially declared itself an "agricultural company."

In its company literature, Monsanto now refers to itself disingenuously as a "relatively new company" whose primary goal is helping "farmers around the world in their mission to feed, clothe, and fuel" a growing planet. In its list of corporate milestones, all but a handful are from the recent era. As for the company's early history, the decades when it grew into an industrial powerhouse now held potentially responsible for more than 50 Environmental Protection Agency Superfund sites – none of that is mentioned. It's as though the original Monsanto, the company that long had the word "chemical" as part of its name, never existed. One of the benefits of doing this, as the company does not point out, was to channel the bulk of the growing backlog of chemical lawsuits and liabilities onto Solutia, keeping the Monsanto brand pure. But Monsanto's past, especially its environmental legacy, is very much with us. For many years Monsanto produced two of the most toxic substances ever known – polychlorinated biphenyls, better known as PCBs, and dioxin. Monsanto no longer produces either, but the places where it did are still struggling with the aftermath, and probably always will be.

"Systemic Intoxication"

Twelve miles downriver from Charleston, West Virginia, is the town of Nitro, where Monsanto operated a chemical plant from 1929 to 1995. In 1948 the plant began to make a powerful herbicide known as 2,4,5-T, called "weed bug" by the workers. A by-product of the process was the creation of a chemical that would later be known as dioxin. The name dioxin refers to a group of highly toxic chemicals that have been linked to heart disease, liver disease, human reproductive disorders, and developmental problems. Even in small amounts, dioxin persists in the environment and accumulates in the body. In 1997 the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a branch of the World Health Organization, classified the most powerful form of dioxin as a substance that causes cancer in humans. In 2001 the U.S. government listed the chemical as a "known human carcinogen."

On March 8, 1949, a massive explosion rocked Monsanto's Nitro plant when a pressure valve blew on a container cooking up a batch of herbicide. The noise from the release was a scream so loud that it drowned out the emergency steam whistle for five minutes. A plume of vapor and white smoke drifted across the plant and out over town.Residue from the explosion coated the interior of the building and those inside with what workers described as "a fine black powder." Many felt their skin prickle and were told to scrub down.

Within days, workers experienced skin eruptions. Many were soon diagnosed with chloracne, a condition similar to common acne but more severe, longer lasting, and potentially disfiguring. Others felt intense pains in their legs, chest, and trunk. A confidential medical report at the time said the explosion "caused a systemic intoxication in the workers involving most major organ systems." Doctors who examined four of the most seriously injured men detected a strong odor coming from them when they were all together in a closed room. "We believe these men are excreting a foreign chemical through their skins," the confidential report to Monsanto noted. Court records indicate that 226 plant workers became ill.

According to court documents that have surfaced in a West Virginia court case, Monsanto downplayed the impact, stating that the contaminant affecting workers was "fairly slow acting" and caused "only an irritation of the skin."

In the meantime, the Nitro plant continued to produce herbicides, rubber products, and other chemicals. In the 1960s, the factory manufactured Agent Orange, the powerful herbicide which the U.S. military used to defoliate jungles during the Vietnam War, and which later was the focus of lawsuits by veterans contending that they had been harmed by exposure. As with Monsanto's older herbicides, the manufacturing of Agent Orange created dioxin as a by-product.

As for the Nitro plant's waste, some was burned in incinerators, some dumped in landfills or storm drains, some allowed to run into streams. As Stuart Calwell, a lawyer who has represented both workers and residents in Nitro, put it, "Dioxin went wherever the product went, down the sewer, shipped in bags, and when the waste was burned, out in the air."

In 1981 several former Nitro employees filed lawsuits in federal court, charging that Monsanto had knowingly exposed them to chemicals that caused long-term health problems, including cancer and heart disease. They alleged that Monsanto knew that many chemicals used at Nitro were potentially harmful, but had kept that information from them. On the eve of a trial, in 1988, Monsanto agreed to settle most of the cases by making a single lump payment of $1.5 million. Monsanto also agreed to drop its claim to collect $305,000 in court costs from six retired Monsanto workers who had unsuccessfully charged in another lawsuit that Monsanto had recklessly exposed them to dioxin. Monsanto had attached liens to the retirees' homes to guarantee collection of the debt.

Monsanto stopped producing dioxin in Nitro in 1969, but the toxic chemical can still be found well beyond the Nitro plant site. Repeated studies have found elevated levels of dioxin in nearby rivers, streams, and fish. Residents have sued to seek damages from Monsanto and Solutia. Earlier this year, a West Virginia judge merged those lawsuits into a class-action suit. A Monsanto spokesman said, "We believe the allegations are without merit and we'll defend ourselves vigorously." The suit will no doubt take years to play out. Time is one thing that Monsanto always has, and that the plaintiffs usually don't.

Poisoned Lawns

Five hundred miles to the south, the people of Anniston, Alabama, know all about what the people of Nitro are going through. They've been there. In fact, you could say, they're still there.

From 1929 to 1971, Monsanto's Anniston works produced PCBs as industrial coolants and insulating fluids for transformers and other electrical equipment. One of the wonder chemicals of the 20th century, PCBs were exceptionally versatile and fire-resistant, and became central to many American industries as lubricants, hydraulic fluids, and sealants. But PCBs are toxic. A member of a family of chemicals that mimic hormones, PCBs have been linked to damage in the liver and in the neurological, immune, endocrine, and reproductive systems. The Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.) and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, part of the Department of Health and Human Services, now classify PCBs as "probable carcinogens."

Today, 37 years after PCB production ceased in Anniston, and after tons of contaminated soil have been removed to try to reclaim the site, the area around the old Monsanto plant remains one of the most polluted spots in the U.S.

People in Anniston find themselves in this fix today largely because of the way Monsanto disposed of PCB waste for decades. Excess PCBs were dumped in a nearby open-pit landfill or allowed to flow off the property with storm water. Some waste was poured directly into Snow Creek, which runs alongside the plant and empties into a larger stream, Choccolocco Creek. PCBs also turned up in private lawns after the company invited Anniston residents to use soil from the plant for their lawns, according to The Anniston Star.

So for decades the people of Anniston breathed air, planted gardens, drank from wells, fished in rivers, and swam in creeks contaminated with PCBs – without knowing anything about the danger. It wasn't until the 1990s – 20 years after Monsanto stopped making PCBs in Anniston – that widespread public awareness of the problem there took hold. Studies by health authorities consistently found elevated levels of PCBs in houses, yards, streams, fields, fish, and other wildlife – and in people. In 2003, Monsanto and Solutia entered into a consent decree with the E.P.A. to clean up Anniston. Scores of houses and small businesses were to be razed, tons of contaminated soil dug up and carted off, and streambeds scooped of toxic residue. The cleanup is under way, and it will take years, but some doubt it will ever be completed – the job is massive. To settle residents' claims, Monsanto has also paid $550 million to 21,000 Anniston residents exposed to PCBs, but many of them continue to live with PCBs in their bodies. Once PCB is absorbed into human tissue, there it forever remains.

Monsanto shut down PCB production in Anniston in 1971, and the company ended all its American PCB operations in 1977. Also in 1977, Monsanto closed a PCB plant in Wales. In recent years, residents near the village of Groesfaen, in southern Wales, have noticed vile odors emanating from an old quarry outside the village. As it turns out, Monsanto had dumped thousands of tons of waste from its nearby PCB plant into the quarry. British authorities are struggling to decide what to do with what they have now identified as among the most contaminated places in Britain.

"No Cause for Public Alarm"

What had Monsanto known – or what should it have known – about the potential dangers of the chemicals it was manufacturing? There's considerable documentation lurking in court records from many lawsuits indicating that Monsanto knew quite a lot. Let's look just at the example of PCBs.

The evidence that Monsanto refused to face questions about their toxicity is quite clear. In 1956 the company tried to sell the navy a hydraulic fluid for its submarines called Pydraul 150, which contained PCBs. Monsanto supplied the navy with test results for the product. But the navy decided to run its own tests. Afterward, navy officials informed Monsanto that they wouldn't be buying the product. "Applications of Pydraul 150 caused death in all of the rabbits tested" and indicated "definite liver damage," navy officials told Monsanto, according to an internal Monsanto memo divulged in the course of a court proceeding. "No matter how we discussed the situation," complained Monsanto's medical director, R. Emmet Kelly, "it was impossible to change their thinking that Pydraul 150 is just too toxic for use in submarines."

Ten years later, a biologist conducting studies for Monsanto in streams near the Anniston plant got quick results when he submerged his test fish. As he reported to Monsanto, according to The Washington Post, "All 25 fish lost equilibrium and turned on their sides in 10 seconds and all were dead in 3 and a half minutes."

From the beginning some consumers have consistently been hesitant to drink milk from cows treated with artificial hormones. This is one reason Monsanto has waged so many battles with dairies and regulators over the wording of labels on milk cartons. It has sued at least two dairies and one co-op over labeling.

Critics of the artificial hormone have pushed for mandatory labeling on all milk products, but the F.D.A. has resisted and even taken action against some dairies that labeled their milk "BST-free." Since BST is a natural hormone found in all cows, including those not injected with Monsanto's artificial version, the F.D.A. argued that no dairy could claim that its milk is BST-free. The F.D.A. later issued guidelines allowing dairies to use labels saying their milk comes from "non-supplemented cows," as long as the carton has a disclaimer saying that the artificial supplement does not in any way change the milk. So the milk cartons from Kleinpeter Dairy, for example, carry a label on the front stating that the milk is from cows not treated with rBGH, and the rear panel says, "Government studies have shown no significant difference between milk derived from rBGH-treated and non-rBGH-treated cows." That's not good enough for Monsanto.

The Next Battleground

As more and more dairies have chosen to advertise their milk as "No rBGH," Monsanto has gone on the offensive. Its attempt to force the F.T.C. to look into what Monsanto called "deceptive practices" by dairies trying to distance themselves from the company's artificial hormone was the most recent national salvo. But after reviewing Monsanto's claims, the F.T.C.'s Division of Advertising Practices decided in August 2007 that a "formal investigation and enforcement action is not warranted at this time." The agency found some instances where dairies had made "unfounded health and safety claims," but these were mostly on Web sites, not on milk cartons. And the F.T.C. determined that the dairies Monsanto had singled out all carried disclaimers that the F.D.A. had found no significant differences in milk from cows treated with the artificial hormone.

Blocked at the federal level, Monsanto is pushing for action by the states. In the fall of 2007, Pennsylvania's agriculture secretary, Dennis Wolff, issued an edict prohibiting dairies from stamping milk containers with labels stating their products were made without the use of the artificial hormone. Wolff said such a label implies that competitors' milk is not safe, and noted that non-supplemented milk comes at an unjustified higher price, arguments that Monsanto has frequently made. The ban was to take effect February 1, 2008.

Wolff's action created a firestorm in Pennsylvania (and beyond) from angry consumers. So intense was the outpouring of e-mails, letters, and calls that Pennsylvania governor Edward Rendell stepped in and reversed his agriculture secretary, saying, "The public has a right to complete information about how the milk they buy is produced."

On this issue, the tide may be shifting against Monsanto. Organic dairy products, which don't involve rBGH, are soaring in popularity. Supermarket chains such as Kroger, Publix, and Safeway are embracing them. Some other companies have turned away from rBGH products, including Starbucks, which has banned all milk products from cows treated with rBGH. Although Monsanto once claimed that an estimated 30 percent of the nation's dairy cows were injected with rBST, it's widely believed that today the number is much lower.

But don't count Monsanto out. Efforts similar to the one in Pennsylvania have been launched in other states, including New Jersey, Ohio, Indiana, Kansas, Utah, and Missouri. A Monsanto-backed group called afact – American Farmers for the Advancement and Conservation of Technology – has been spearheading efforts in many of these states. afact describes itself as a "producer organization" that decries "questionable labeling tactics and activism" by marketers who have convinced some consumers to "shy away from foods using new technology." afact reportedly uses the same St. Louis public-relations firm, Osborn & Barr, employed by Monsanto. An Osborn & Barr spokesman told The Kansas City Star that the company was doing work for afact on a pro bono basis.

Even if Monsanto's efforts to secure across-the-board labeling changes should fall short, there's nothing to stop state agriculture departments from restricting labeling on a dairy-by-dairy basis. Beyond that, Monsanto also has allies whose foot soldiers will almost certainly keep up the pressure on dairies that don't use Monsanto's artificial hormone. Jeff Kleinpeter knows about them, too.

He got a call one day from the man who prints the labels for his milk cartons, asking if he had seen the attack on Kleinpeter Dairy that had been posted on the Internet. Kleinpeter went online to a site called StopLabelingLies, which claims to "help consumers by publicizing examples of false and misleading food and other product labels." There, sure enough, Kleinpeter and other dairies that didn't use Monsanto's product were being accused of making misleading claims to sell their milk.

There was no address or phone number on the Web site, only a list of groups that apparently contribute to the site and whose issues range from disparaging organic farming to downplaying the impact of global warming. "They were criticizing people like me for doing what we had a right to do, had gone through a government agency to do," says Kleinpeter. "We never could get to the bottom of that Web site to get that corrected."

As it turns out, the Web site counts among its contributors Steven Milloy, the "junk science" commentator for and operator of, which claims to debunk "faulty scientific data and analysis." It may come as no surprise that earlier in his career, Milloy, who calls himself the "junkman," was a registered lobbyist for Monsanto.

Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele are Vanity Fair contributing editors.


14 May 2008

Market signs improving, but GMO caution crucial

Farm Week (USA), 14 May 2008.

While global food pressures may be reshaping attitudes toward GMO crops, European market concerns continue to dictate that U.S. producers be cautious.

Jack Bernens, Syngenta head of industry relations for seeds and biotechnology, is encouraged by growing biotech acceptance (see accompanying story). At the same time, Bernens stressed the need for continued awareness of GMO market acceptance this fall.

That's especially true of "triple stacks" and "quad stacks" that combine various insect resistance and herbicide tolerance traits in one variety. Several stacked varieties are approved for the Japanese market but have not yet been cleared for grain export to the European Union (EU).

That underlines the continued importance of observing GMO corn production stewardship guidelines and post-harvest marketing agreements.

"Good progress is being made around the world - Korea and Japan taking shipments of biotech corn for food purposes is evidence of that," he told FarmWeek.

"The EU is still an area where approvals are coming very slowly. In fact, a number of products being sold in the U.S. - particularly some of the stacked products - are not approved in Europe. Of course, there's not much corn going to Europe anymore -not even corn gluten."

Producers can review EU GMO approvals at the National Corn Growers Association Know Before You Grow website ( .

The U.S. saw a major pullback in European gluten sales beginning in the fall of 2006. Bernens is "hopeful but not overly optimistic" the EU might re-evaluate its GMO stance amid tight, high-priced corn/feed grain supplies.

The European Commission last week delayed approval for EU production of Syngenta Bt11 and Pioneer Hi-Bred-Dow Agrosciences 1507 corn varieties, pending additional scientific review by the EU's food agency.

But Bernens noted some European producers are "pushing hard" for GMOs, and Illinois Corn Growers Association Executive Director Rodney Weinzierl sees a more "top-down push" for biotech movement despite continued squabbling among EU member nations. "Having a shortage of feed is helping," Weinzierl said.

As GMO crop production accelerates in Brazil and Argentina, "they're going to be taking on more of the trait stacks," fueling GMO importation pressures, Bernens argued. American Farm Bureau Federation biotech analyst Russell Williams agrees with Bernens' assessment that the EU is "quickly becoming more and more of an island."

"With food prices and everything, you start to hear grumblings across the world that maybe biotech's not such a bad idea," Williams said. "That's even starting in Europe." - Martin Ross


Switzerland: Cabinet calls for GMO-free agriculture

Swiss Info, May 14 2008.

The government has come out in favour of extending a ban on genetically modified organisms (GMO) in agriculture until 2013. Voters approved a five-year blanket ban in a nationwide ballot in 2005, but research remains permitted. Parliament is to debate the government proposal.

The Federal Environment Office said the current moratorium had had no adverse impact on farming or research in Switzerland, and Swiss agriculture could benefit from its GMO-free status.

Results of a national research programme into genetically modified plants are expected by 2012.

Leading farmers' organisations, environmental and consumer groups support the government's policy on GMOs, according to the authorities.


France: Setback for Sarkozy as parliament throws out GM bill

AFP, 14 May 2008

PARIS - French President Nicolas Sarkozy's government suffered a setback on Tuesday as lawmakers unexpectedly threw out a controversial bill on genetically-modified (GM) crops.

Although Sarkozy's ruling right holds an absolute majority in the National Assembly, one third of his UMP party rebelled and joined left-wing lawmakers to vote out the text on technical grounds, by a whisker-thin 136 votes to 135.

Cheers broke out outside the parliament building where anti-GM campaigners had gathered in protest as the bill, which aimed to bring France into line with a 2001 European Union law, was rejected.

Anti-globalisation activist José Bové, who has been jailed several times for ripping up GM crops, called it a "historic victory".

"This is a collective victory for the citizens of this country who refuse GMOs (genetically-modified organisms). The government will not be able to do anything it wants after this," said a cheering Bové.

Left-wing critics attacked the legislation, drawn up following a national conference on the environment last October, as lacking strong enough safeguards to protect conventional crops from possible contamination from GMOs.

They also attacked its plans to make ripping up GM crops, a tactic of choice for French anti-GM activists, a criminal offence punishable by up to two years in jail.

Opposition among members of Sarkozy's UMP party was for different reasons: many argued the text gave too much ground to environmentalists by making it compulsory to publicly disclose any GM field under cultivation.

Green party deputy Noel Mamere said the National Assembly vote was "a fine lesson for the government and for Nicolas Sarkozy", while Greenpeace said it was "happy" the text had been voted out.

GM crops have proved divisive even in French government ranks, where Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo and his junior minister, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, have openly clashed on the issue.

Prime Minister Francois Fillon said the text would be submitted to a new vote in both the lower-house National Assembly and the supper house Senate, and that a bi-partisan committee would meet Wednesday to start studying the text.

But the Socialist opposition warned the government it would not accept the text being forced through parliament.

Reflecting widespread public hostility to GM crops in France, the government in February banned the only strain of genetically-modified corn currently grown in France, MON810, produced by the US agribusiness giant Monsanto.

GM crops cover less than one percent of farmland in France, Europe's top agricultural producer.

While production of GM maize remains small, it has increased: some 22,000 hectares (54,000 acres) of the crop were planted in France in 2007, up from 5,000 hectares in 2006.


France: Sarkozy suffers legislative blow

Time magazine, 14 May 2008. By Bruce Crumley.

[Photo caption: Anti-GMO activists demonstrate in front of the National Assembly as a much disputed law is likely to be approved, which they say blurs the line between natural and GM foods.]

The raucous standing ovation of French parliamentarians on Tuesday was a scene French President Nicolas Sarkozy could have done without; it was the opposition Socialists, not his own conservative majority, that were celebrating. The government suffered a surprise defeat over a law on genetically modified crops, but more importantly, the divisions that vote revealed within the French right threaten more trouble for the President in the future.

In any other country, the proposed legislation on the cultivation of genetically modified crop organisms (GMO) would have produced more yawns than fireworks; it was intended only to bring restrictive national laws in line with European Union directives that are more tolerant of GMOs. Yet wide public hostility towards GMOs – combined with disapproval of Sarkozy's heavy-handed leadership style – turned Tuesday's vote into political drama of the first order. Conservatives have an enormous parliamentary majority of 343 out of 577. But on Tuesday, many of them were missing, and others ready to defect to a leftist motion to reject the bill. The result: a razor-thin 136-135 defeat of the government's GMO measure. It was the first time in ten years that an opposition-led effort has defeated legislation proposed by a French government.

"This is a very beautiful lesson for the government and Nicolas Sarkozy," said Green Party legislator NoÎl MamËre, one of many Sarkozy opponents who have criticized the conservatives for seeking to ram through controversial legislation without consultation or debate. "I hope that, as I speak, the President is eating the Elysée carpet, because this is a victory of the French people over a government that wanted pass a law by force."

José Bové, the environmentalist and anti-globalist who sat in the public gallery during the vote, had a similar message. "This is a collective victory for the citizens of this country who refuse GMOs," he said. "The government will not be able to do anything it wants after this."

French Prime Minister FranÁois Fillon immediately convened a committee of both houses of French parliament to review and reintroduce the legislation for another vote, when whips will presumably insure a full turnout to gain passage. Despite public suspicion of GMOs, that shouldn't prove difficult, since the bill is hardly radical. It obliges farmers to separate natural and GMO cultivation, and sets permitted limits of GMO "contamination" to surrounding plots; requires public disclosure of where GMO crops are located; and make the destruction of GMO crops by protesters – an act for which Bové has been repeatedly arrested – a criminal offense. Such measures would be considered minimal in many countries, and will have limited impact even in France, where less than 1% of all crops raised are GMOs. So why all the fuss?

Because of what it says about Sarkozy, of course, who totally dominates political debate in France even as he languishes in the opinion polls. "This setback is mainly significant against the background of serious public displeasure with Sarkozy's leadership, and the growing incidence of conservatives openly defying him and the government to show their disagreement," says Dominique Reynié, a French political analyst and professor at the Fondation National des Sciences Politiques in Paris. Despite the President's recent efforts to alternatively charm and threaten his party members back into order, Reynié says unhappiness over the meager results of Sarkozy's reform agenda have left conservatives disinclined to follow his lead. That wariness among his own allies contributed to the multiplication of problems the increasingly unpopular Sarkozy has faced this year. "As long as he was popular and helping the right win elections, conservatives in parliament were happy to vote through whatever Sarkozy told them to," says Reynié. "Now they are not only refusing to do that, but on issues like the GMO law, openly demonstrating that they stand with the public, not with the President and government."

That does not bode well for Sarkozy, who must get the reintroduced GMO bill passed before tabling sweeping institutional and constitutional reform, including changes to parliament itself, in June. Many conservatives have already expressed concern over such measures and are looking to the left as possible allies to turn them away. If that happens, Sarkozy may soon be hearing more parliamentary applause of the sort he'd prefer to avoid.


French assembly rejects proposal on GM crops

AFP, 14 May 2008. By D. Crossan.

The Government's law proposal on GM crops was rejected by the French Assembly. French PM FranÁois Fillon has appointed a commission of deputies and senators to find a consensus and put the proposal back on the table.

The French parliament rejected a bill on genetically modified (GM) crops on Tuesday after hundreds of activists marched in Paris to protest against a text they said blurred the line between natural and GM foods.

In a shock move, National Assembly members used a procedural veto to block debate on the text, postponing a vote indefinitely. The veto was passed by 136 votes to 135, mostly due to the absence of many legislators from the ruling party, which has been divided on the bill. İ

The bill was intended to lay down conditions for the cultivation of GM crops in France, Europe's largest grain producer and exporter, and create a body to oversee GMO use. İ

Prime Minister Francois Fillon said immediately after the vote he would ask a committee to work on a new bill that would be submitted to the lower and upper chambers. The new bill could be very similar in content since Tuesday's vote was on a technicality, not on the substance of the bill. İ

The setback for the government's bill is the latest sign that the debate on transgenic food is still vivid in France. İ

Polls show that a vast majority of people are opposed to GM crops because they lack proof that they pose no risk to consumers and the environment. İ

Opposition parties including the Socialists and the Greens, as well as environmental activists, welcomed the news. İ

"The government has been defeated, clearly and starkly, on a subject that worries the French," the head of the Socialist group at the National Assembly said. İ

Hundreds of protesters, some wearing yellow hats in the shape of maize cobs and others dressed in white suits imitating scientists, had gathered near the National Assembly ahead of the debate to voice their opposition to the proposed text. İ

"We must give consumers the choice of eating quality products, with or without GMO," said Jean Terlon, a cook at the restaurant Le Saint-Pierre in Longjumeau, close to Paris. İ

While GM crops are common in the United States and Latin America, France and many other European countries are dubious about using the new genetic technology in agriculture. İ

France banned the sole GM crop grown in the European Union, a maize (corn) developed by U.S. biotech giant Monsanto, in February because it had serious doubts about whether it was environmentally safe. GMO cultivation is still legal, however. İ

The new French bill was criticised both by pro-GMOs who said it did not go far enough and by opponents, including members of the ruling majority, who said changes made in exchanges between the parliament and the upper house had made it too lax. İ

"The problem of this law is that it legalises contamination because anything with a GMO content of less than 0.9 percent can be called GMO-free," Romain Chabrol, a spokesman of the environmental group Greenpeace France, said.


U.S. using food crisis to boost bio-engineered crops

Chicago Tribune, May 14 2008. By Stephen J. Hedges Washington Bureau.

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration has slipped a controversial ingredient into the $770 million aid package it recently proposed to ease the world food crisis, adding language that would promote the use of genetically modified crops in food-deprived countries.

The value of genetically modified, or bio-engineered, food is an intensely disputed issue in the U.S. and in Europe, where many countries have banned foods made from genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

Proponents say that GMO crops can result in higher yields from plants that are hardier in harsh climates, like those found in hungry African nations.

"We certainly think that it is established fact that a number of bio-engineered crops have shown themselves to increase yields through their drought resistance and pest resistance," said Dan Price, a food aid expert on the White House's National Security Council.

Problems anticipated

Opponents of GMO crops say they can cause unforeseen medical problems. They also contend that the administration's plan is aimed at helping American agribusinesses.

"This is a hot topic now with the food crisis," said Ronnie Cummins, national director of the Organic Consumers Association. "I think it's pretty obvious at this point that genetically engineered crops - they may do a number of things, but they don't increase yields. There are no commercialized crops that are designed to deal with the climate crisis."

President George W. Bush proposed the food package two weeks ago as aid groups and the UN World Food Program pressed Western governments to provide additional funds to bridge the gap caused by rising food prices. The aid must win congressional approval.

It would direct the U.S. Agency for International Development to spend $150 million of the total aid package on development farming, which would include the use of GMO crops.

The U.S. is the UN food program's largest donor, providing nearly half the help the group receives from governments. It gave about $1.1 billion to the WFP in both 2006 and 2007. The WFP provided $2.6 billion in aid in 2006.

In April, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice suggested at a Peace Corps conference that "we need to look again at some of the issues concerning technology and food production. I know that GMOs are not popular around the world, but there are places that drought-resistant crops should be a part of the answer."

Some aid organizations agree that it is time to consider GMO crops.

"I think it's good, that it should be part of the package," said Mark Rosegrant, an environment and technology specialist with the International Food Policy Research Institute. "It shouldn't be the only thing in the package. It is now showing quite a bit of potential in starting to address some of the long-term stresses, drought and heat."

But Noah Zerbe, an assistant professor of government and politics at Humboldt State University in California, said that GMO crops might not be appropriate for developing countries.

"You get fantastic yields if you're able to apply fertilizer and water at the right times, and herbicides to go along with that," Zerbe said. "Unfortunately, most African farmers, they can't afford these inputs."

Africa ambivalent

The U.S. tried to introduce GMO crops to Africa in 2002, with mixed results. European Union opposition was part of the reason that several African nations that year balked at an offer of U.S. aid that included corn, some of which was genetically modified.

In a severe drought, Zambia rejected the U.S. aid altogether. Several other countries accepted the U.S. corn, but only after it was milled.

The NSC's Price said the administration is working to persuade European nations to lift their objection to the use of GMO crops in Africa. Rosegrant of the research institute said that, given current food shortages, new bio-safety measures could resolve such problems.

"There's evidence that those fears tend to be overblown," Rosegrant said.


German universities bow to public pressure over GM crops
Plug is pulled on maize research

Nature News, 14 May 2008. By Quirin Schiermeier.

Scientists have decried the decision by two German universities to pull the plug on field trials of genetically modified (GM) crops, calling it a "disgraceful" interference with scientists' freedom to research.

"I am not happy at all with this decision," says Stefan Hormuth, president of the Justus Liebig University in Giessen, Hesse.

"Unfortunately, we were no longer able to deal with the massive opposition from politicians and the general public. The university has a reputation in the region that we cannot risk losing."

Andreas Schier had to stop his field trials of GM maize.

Last month, the university announced that it would stop its planned cultivation of insect-resistant GM maize in nearby Gross-Gerau after activists occupied the 1,500-square-metre field.

Another local field trial of GM maize, in Rauischholzhausen, was also stopped because of massive protests from the public and local politicians. Both trials had been approved by the national consumer protection and food safety body (BVL) and were to be conducted on behalf of Germany's authority for agriculture variety and seed affairs.

Earlier in April, the rector and external advisory board of N¸rtingen-Geislingen University in Baden-W¸rttemberg "urgently recommended" that a faculty member stop his field trials on insect-resistant and fungal-resistant GM maize. The experiments, which were also approved by the BVL, had been going on since 1996. "We have always been very critical of this kind of research," says economist Werner Ziegler, the university's rector. "Lately things got out of control. There were e-mail attacks, vandalism, intimidation and personal threats. People started calling us 'Monsanto University'."

The final straw, Ziegler says, was when the local population brought food and blankets to activists occupying the university's Oberboihingen test site. Local media and supporters hailed the illegal action as a brave act of civil inconvenience.

The university's experiments were led by Andreas Schier, who studies fungal toxins in maize. Although legally the university could not have forced him to stop the field trials, he says he eventually gave in because the pressure on him had become too great. "Scientifically, there was no reason whatsoever to discontinue the experiments," Schier says. "But scientific arguments don't count in a climate of mass hysteria."

Schier claims that Ziegler and members of the advisory board threatened to publicly distance themselves from him and his research if he were to continue. "I couldn't stand the pressure any more," he says.

The incidents reveal a new level of public hostility to plant genetic engineering in Germany, says Heinz Saedler, a director at the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research in Cologne, which this year is not cultivating GM crops either. "It is a very sad thing that some universities here haven't got the backbone to withstand illegal activism and public pressure," he says. "I honestly don't have much hope left for the future of academic research on GM crops in Germany."

"If it is indeed true that universities in Germany hinder faculty members from doing field research on GM crops for fear of being vandalized by anti-GM activists, then this is disgraceful," says Vivian Moses, a visiting professor of biotechnology at King's College London.


Brazil's environment minister quits

Financial Times, 14 May 2008. By Jonathan Wheatley in São Paulo

Brazil's environment minister has resigned after becoming increasingly isolated within the government.

Marina Silva, who rose from poverty in the Amazon state of Acre to become a global figurehead for environmental activists, resigned late on Tuesday in a manner typical of her way of operating: she wrote to President Luiz In·cio Lula da Silva and immediately announced her decision to the media, leaving no room for possible negotiation.

The final straw for Ms Silva appears to have been the appointment of Roberto Mangabeira Unger, the minister for strategic affairs, to take charge of a new plan for sustainable development in the Amazon.

But during five years in the job she found herself in growing conflict with ministers pressing for the approval of infrastructure projects, many of which have been held up by the long process of obtaining environmental licences.

The most visible such project concerns the River Madeira in the Amazon, where two hydroelectric generating plants are to be built against fierce resistance from indigenous people and environmental groups. Mr Lula da Silva irritated Ms Silva by commenting that Brazil's economic development was being held up "for the sake of a few fish".

Many environmentalists were dismayed by Ms Silva's departure from government, which came days after a landowner in the Amazon had a conviction for ordering the killing of a US missionary nun overturned.

Ms Silva described the ruling in the case of Dorothy Stang, apparently murdered in 2005 for her activism on behalf of landless family farmers, as "lamentable".

In a statement, Greenpeace, the international environmental group, said Ms Silva had "taken the credibility of Lula's government with her". It said: "With her exit, a faction of the government which is pressing for economic development at any cost . . . has won a major victory against those who seek to reconcile development with sustainability."

Others will be less alarmed. Ms Silva was criticised by many for seeing conservation as a "zero-sum game" and for her opposition to initiatives attempting to reconcile the interests of ranchers and farmers with conservation. No replacement had been announced on Wednesday.


Groups say Amazon vulnerable after resignation

Associated Press, 14 May 2008.

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil - Marina Silva brought impeccable credentials to her post as Brazil's environment minister: The daughter of a poor Amazon rubber tapper, she was a colleague of slain rain forest defender Chico Mendes.

But environmentalists said Wednesday that her sudden resignation a day earlier showed that her prestige had masked the intentions of a government bent on economic growth and development regardless of the environmental cost.

"Now the emperor has no clothes. The intention of Lula's government is clear," said Roberto Smeraldi, director of Friends of the Earth Brazil, referring to President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva by his nickname. "This thing where Marina says one thing and the government does the opposite has ended."

Marina Silva, who is not related to the president, resigned at a moment when Brazil's rain forest is threatened by dams and other big public works projects, as well as farmers bent on tilling the region's soil to meet the world's growing demand for food and biofuels.

President Silva said Wednesday that the resignation took him by surprise. But he vowed it would not weaken protection of the Amazon.

"Brazil's environmental policy will not change," the president said at a news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. "The policies are not the minister's policies but the government's policies."

Conservation International's vice president for Latin America, Jose Maria da Silva _ not related to the president or the former minister _ said the resignation complicates Brazil's efforts to reassure the world that ethanol and other biofuels do not threaten the Amazon.

"Without her, the government's credibility drops significantly," he said. "The government still hasn't proven its guarantees about the environmental sustainability of biofuels." Merkel called Silva's resignation a "warning sign."

"Biofuels are a way toward replacing classic fossil energy sources," she said, "but only if they are cultivated sustainably."

Since assuming her post in 2003, Marina Silva had opposed genetically modified crops, tightened environmental licensing for public works projects and urged limiting biofuel plantations in the rain forest.

She tried to work with other agencies for an integrated approach to protecting the environment _ but lost almost every time she was opposed by another department.

Recently she came under attack from the president's powerful chief of staff, Dilma Rousseff, who complained about delays in granting environmental licenses. Agriculture Minister Reinhold Stephanes criticized her policy of denying government credit to farmers caught illegally deforesting. He advocates opening more of the Amazon to sugarcane crops for ethanol.

The final straw apparently came last week, when the government announced its "Sustainable Amazon" plan led by the minister of long-term planning, Mangabeira Unger, long known for arguing that the Amazon cannot be left untouched.

Marina Silva's resignation letter cited "difficulties in advancing the federal environmental agenda."

She now returns to her seat in the Senate representing the Amazon state of Acre.

The president's office announced she will be replaced by Rio de Janeiro state Environmental Secretary Carlos Minc.


Interview about attacks on GM Watch

GM Watch, 14 May 2008.

Here is a transcript of a new GM Watch podcast in which you can hear GM Watch founder, Jonathan Matthews, being interviewed by Peter Brown - GM Watch's podcast producer, about the cyber attacks that recently drove the GM Watch website offline.

We had a few problems with phone line quality when recording this so if Jonathan sounds like he's got a heavy cold and is less than fully audible at any point, please refer to the transcript.

Our podcasts are available for free by subscribing via iTunes. If you don't already have iTunes installed, it's best to do this first. iTunes is available for free at and it will work on a PC or a Mac. When iTunes is installed, click on the following URL:

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Peter Brown: This is the first in a series of GM Watch podcasts in which we're going to look at the PR war that continues to rage over GM crops.

With me to discuss this is Jonathan Matthews, the founder of GM Watch, which for a number of years has been in the front line of those trying to challenge and expose the often bogus PR claims and dubious tactics employed by the biotech industry.

Jonathan, I want to begin this series by asking you about the recent attacks on GM Watch that forced your website and all your lists offline. What's the current state of play on this?

Jonathan Matthews: Well, we're back online again, so that's the good news. We've got a temporary website and we've also re-established our lists and we've been contacting all our subscribers, so they have got the opportunity to resubscribe with us. So we're gradually picking up the pieces but it's been a very damaging attack.

Peter: But, just to be clear about this, now, the GM Watch site has profiles on the PR players in the promotion of GM crops, and George Monbiot has called it the world's most comprehensive database on the impact and politics of GM crops - is that still offline?

Jonathan: Yes, obviously we hope to make the same information available again in the not too distant future - but the GM Watch site as was is gone.

Peter: And that's because of this recent attack?

Jonathan: Yes, following the most recent attack our web host decided to take the GM Watch site offline - and to keep it offline, unfortunately, until we found someone else to host the GM Watch and LobbyWatch sites.

Peter: But surely that's a bit short sighted. Aren't these attacks on websites getting really common these days? I saw a recent headline from Computer World that said that something like half a million web pages had been infected by hack attacks. How does it help to discontinue the relationship with GM Watch?

Jonathan: Well, yes it's certainly true that there have been a lot more websites getting hacked recently, and we're talking about websites that people might expect to be pretty secure, so that includes government websites, in the U.K. for instance, and United Nations websites have been hacked and even, I understand, the Dept. of Homeland Security apparently! So it's certainly not just GM Watch.

Peter: So if these attacks are going on, doesn't that mean that the attack on your website might be just indiscriminate. In other words it might not have been an attack personally against the GM Watch organisation? Surely, you're just one amongst many who are suffering from this?

Jonathan: Well, it's certainly possible that we're talking about something random, but that's not the view of our web host - for a number of reasons. The first one is that this most recent attack wasn't a one-off. In fact, he's actually been at the sharp end of about 14 months of this, so...

Peter: So that's been a really sustained attack - for over a year, you mean?

Jonathan: Yes, though the form of the attacks has varied quite a bit in that time. It originally started in February of last year when the server was hacked into and a lot of material was deleted off both our sites at that time, and they also got at the back up for the sites on the server and attacked that, so that caused us a lot of problems.

That's where it started, but after that they stopped hacking for a while and it moved over to what are called Denial of Service attacks, you know, which are attacks where they try and make it hard for people to access your site.

Peter: So how does that work? How do they do that?

Jonathan: Well, initially they were exploiting the fact that the pages on our sites were generated from a database type system and this enabled them to inject into that in a way that completely slows down the site and makes it difficult to access.

And that went on and on and on. They just kept that up - it's something that can be automated, apparently. And in the end we agreed with our web host that the site should be changed over from dynamic to static pages, so it moved off that database system.

And that was effective in bringing those attacks to a halt, but the interesting thing is as soon as we made it impossible for them to launch that form of attack, then they hacked back in again and they defaced the site again. But that time we were ready for them - you know, we had new measures in place and it was easy to restore the sites (and) get back online.

And then they shifted over to a new form of Denial of Service attack where they pounded the sites with huge numbers of hits. Again that's a type of attack that can be automated, but actually the site stood up to it pretty well. So then they hacked back in again and really attacked the site big time.

Peter: So now you're talking about the most recent attack? What did they exactly do?

Jonathan: Well, the attack itself was pretty devastating. They hacked into the server and attached over 20 different viruses plus spyware to the GM Watch site. And they may also have put in some malicious code, as well. A network engineer who our web host brought in to advise on what damage had been done said that he'd actually never seen anything like it in his 20 years in the industry. They also deleted some of the site content, as well.

Peter: Some of the site content? So what did they delete?

Jonathan: Well, the home page off the LobbyWatch site went. The interesting thing actually was that in this last attack, unlike the earlier attacks when they hacked in and defaced the sites - on those occasions what they'd done, it was clear, was just try to delete everything they could - but this time they seemed to just target certain specific pages.

So we lost, as I said, the home page on the LobbyWatch site. We had some pages linking through to GM Watch material that had been translated into different languages - pages with those links on were deleted for some reason. And then we had an interview I'd done with Marina Littek of Green Planet which went into a lot of detail about the dirty tricks campaign Monsanto and its Internet PR agency Bivings had been involved in that we'd uncovered. So that interview went, and the main page on the 'wormy corn' scandal, that was deleted as well.

Peter: So that 'wormy corn' scandal... that was what lead to calls for the retraction of a pro-GM paper in a science journal, wasn't it?

Jonathan: Yes, and to legal threats against our web host by one of the researchers, and that lead to the GM Watch site being shut down for... only about a week last August. Those were the only pages we've been able to identify as having been deleted in this last attack.

Peter: But don't you think this is just another example of the current attempts to target certain types of servers on the Internet?

Jonathan: Well, our web host thinks not. His point is that if these attacks had simply been coming about because hackers had spotted certain vulnerabilities in his server - you know, certain things they could exploit, like versions of code or software products they knew they could target, then why over that 14 month period did they always target our websites and not any of the 300 or so other websites he's also got on that server. I mean, it was just always us and I think that persuaded him that there was something personal about this!

Because those other websites are operating off exactly the same kind of platforms as us - and in fact over time because of the attacks, obviously, he was making changes to our sites, like moving us off a dynamic system onto static pages and doing other things to make it hard to attack us, so in a way other sites on his server became relatively easier to attack than us, but they didn't ever attack those, even though they still had those loopholes and we'd closed them on our sites. They kept coming after our sites each time, changing tactics and the form of attack.

Peter: Yes, it does seem rather strange. So none of these other websites have suffered any defacement - any deletion of pages - or viruses - or spyware-attachments, or any Denial of Service attacks, or anything like that, then?

Jonathan: No, that's right. All the attacks have been focused exclusively on us, so he feels that when you're looking at multiple attacks, and attacks sustained over a period of more than a year, that that's got to be beyond any sort of coincidence.

Peter: So that's why your web host doesn't want to continue to host GM Watch?

Jonathan: Well, in fairness, it's not that he doesn't want to continue to host us. He's very uncomfortable with the sort of freedom of speech issues that this brings up. It's just a commercial decision that he can't actually afford it. He's had to make that decision because of the costs it's involving him in - the work and the time, as well as money from bringing in other people's expertise. He's just been spending time trying to make his server more secure, trying to make it impossible to go on attacking our sites, but the tactics keep changing and the attacks keep coming. And, funnily enough, since he shut down our site nearly 3 weeks ago, it's all stopped.

Peter: He's had no more attacks?

Jonathan: No. Our web host has not failed to inform us that in the 3 weeks since our site's been down, he's had no problems at all. So peace reigns after 14 months of attacks. And... you know, perhaps I shouldn't mention this, because perhaps they'll now attack his server just to prove they weren't chasing after us!

Peter: And do you have any idea who's behind these attacks? Is there any technical way of identifying that?

Jonathan: Well, to an extent there is. There are logs - web logs - for the site, which can give some information about what's going on and where any attack has apparently come from. So that should be able to tell you what machine, which country, etc. But, in fact, the information from our site logs has been pretty limited because when our web host came to examine it, he discovered a lot of the logs had been corrupted.

Now, he assumes that this has come about as the result of the most recent attack, because he didn't have a problem with web logs before that, and he hasn't got a problem with the logs on any of his other sites. They all seem to be OK. It's just ours where there's a problem, so his assumption is that our logs have been targeted in some way.

Peter: So the information is pretty limited that he's gleaned?

Jonathan: Yes, it is limited, though one thing that is clear is that not all the attacks have come from the same place.

Peter: But doesn't that mean if it isn't the same people that are targeting you, doesn't that support the idea that these attacks are not really connected?

Jonathan: Well, in the view of our web host, then because the focus has been exclusive to our sites and because of the continuity of the attacks, then he feels that even though different attackers have been involved, then it means the attacks are being deliberately directed at us as an organisation.

So, what he thinks has been happening is that someone - you know, some individual or some organization - has actually been commissioning the attacks - probably commissioning them from well-known hacking and defacing communities that have expertise in this sort of thing.

Something that might support that is the timing of some of these attacks. From our point of view, being on the receiving end of these attacks, there have been some remarkable coincidences.

Just to give a couple of examples, after the first attack we got the site back online and we launched a financial appeal and 24 hours later the Denial of Service attack was up and running for the first time. Now what was interesting about that was that our financial appeal was heavily dependent on people going to a page on the site and linking from there to make a donation online, and that's the way that most people would donate. And, of course, the effect of the Denial of Service attack was that we were getting loads of e-mails from people saying, 'Look, we want to donate, we want to support you, but we can't actually get onto your site, we can't get onto this page to make the donation'. So, if you were going to design an attack and time an attack, it couldn't have been timed better.

There was another remarkable coincidence, which was at the end of this sequence of attacks, so in terms of the latest attack. And what was interesting about that was that about a week before that attack we actually commented on the attacks, which we hadn't really done for about a year. And we put out a statement on our lists saying how these attacks had been going on - giving some idea of what had happened, but basically saying that we seemed to have weathered the storm. And actually, you know, we were feeling fairly complacent in a way because of the changes that had been made. We didn't feel that their most recent attacks had really been very successful, so we were feeling a little bit smug almost. And then in comes this huge attack that drives us off line and makes our web host decide that we need to go and find someone else to host us.

Peter: I suppose the other question is why would anybody want to drive you off line. There are lots of effective anti-GM campaigns out there, in some cases involving big hitting organisations, so why pick on GM Watch?

Jonathan: Well, I suppose I could use the well known mosquito analogy: you don't always have to be big to get under people's skin or to make them want to swat you. And it's also the case that we've published some quite hard hitting material - you know, sometimes exposing dubious claims, and sort of underhand tactics - dirty tricks campaigns and so on, and that definitely hasn't been welcomed. Our sites, as you mentioned, have also included extensive personal profiles on biotech PR players, and these have sometimes contained material that we know that people would prefer not to have disclosed. So there is probably no shortage of people who 'owe us a grudge', you might say.

And, I think, the other thing that our investigative work has taught us is that there are people out there engaged in promoting GM who are willing to engage in pretty dubious tactics to achieve their ends. And we're not the only ones, you know, who have uncovered that. There's been an extensive article that came out in the US recently which looked at what they call 'black ops' against environmental groups, and this involved surveillance, infiltration, stealing stuff like laptops and confidential documents, people's personal financial details, and quite a bit of this was targeted against anti-GM groups.

So we know there are some pretty unscrupulous people out there. And some of the PR people are quite clear that they're encouraging their corporate clients to play hard ball. They seem quite clear about that.

The boss of one of the PR firms mentioned in the recent article explains his philosophy by quoting Al Capone who apparently said: 'You can get more with a smile, a kind word, and a gun than with a smile and a kind word. ' So there are definitely people out there who think that playing hard ball is a good idea.

Monsanto's former head of Internet PR also had a favourite quote that he'd tell to PR audiences, which was about the Internet being a weapon. He said, 'Think of the Internet as a weapon on the table. Either you pick it up or your opponent does - but somebody's going to get killed.'

So, we're a campaign group whose impact has absolutely been centered on our lists, our websites. What we're doing - our work - lives or dies by the Internet, and our impression is that there are some people out there who are determined to try and make sure that it dies.

Peter: Yeah, so what are you doing to make sure that they don't succeed in killing GM Watch off?

Jonathan: Well, we've got the lists up and running again - I mean, that's a major step forward. And we're having to get people resubscribed but that is steadily happening. We've got a temporary website in place, and now everything we are doing is centered on security.

And happily we've got some excellent technical support and advice coming in, and so we're looking to re-establish the sites but to re-establish them on a very secure basis so that we can weather whatever other targeting occurs.

Peter: So, thanks Jonathan for explaining all that's been happening with GM Watch.

As Jonathan mentions, GM Watch has a temporary website for the moment which you can find at and you can find the latest news there on what's happening.

And if you would like to subscribe - or resubscribe - to any of the GM Watch lists please send an e-mail to the following e-mail address, saying whether you would like to subscribe to their weekly, monthly or their busy daily list. They also now have a list for German speakers. The e-mail address once again is

And thank you for listening to this GM Watch podcast.


Africa: Only the Cover is Green

Inter Press Service, 14 May 2008 (Johannesburg). By Julio Godoy (Bonn).

Notice how green the public relations campaigns of multinational corporations have become.

Major companies, from beer producers to airlines to automobile makers, want to tell you they're doing their bit to save the environment from global warming and loss of biodiversity. What these companies actually do is another matter.

That became evident at the fourth meeting of the parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety which opened in Bonn Monday.

Major biochemical companies are either trying to boycott tougher international regulations against genetically modified organisms, or they are ignoring rules on intellectual property rights in order to profit from traditional knowledge in developing countries.

Take the plant Umckaloabo (Pelargonium sidoides, or South African Geranium). The South African government, the African Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) and the Berne Declaration, a Swiss non-governmental organisation, all say the plant has been used in traditional medicine for centuries against respiratory diseases.

But for years now, an extract of the plant has been commercialised by the German pharmaceuticals company Spitzner, claiming that medical application of Umckaloabo has been known in Europe at least since 1935. Spitzner also sells derivatives of Umckaloabo as drugs against AIDS.

The Africans say the German patents are illegitimate because they are based on a genetic resource and traditional knowledge from southern Africa.

The German "extractive methods (of Umckaloabo) are neither new nor innovative" when compared to the traditional techniques used by South African healers, says Fritz Doeldner, legal counsellor for the South African case.

The South African government and the two other organisations have filed a plea before the European Patents Office to contest Spitzner's claims to the medical uses of Umckaloabo.

According to the South African view, Spitzner also violates the UN convention on biodiversity (article 15, paragraph 5) under which the South African government and South African healers who have using Umckaloabo for generations must give "prior informed consent" for international commercial use of their genetic resources.

Spitzner denies that such consent is necessary for European commercialisation of Umckaloabo and its derivatives.

Given the intensive commercialisation of Umckaloabo, the South African kingdom Lesotho registered the plant in 2004 as "in danger of extinction."

Meanwhile, six biochemical giants have opposed binding international rules on liability for health and environmental damage caused by genetically modified organisms that they have developed.

The six companies (BASF, Bayer CropScience, Dow AgroSciences, DuPont/Pioneer, Monsanto and Syngenta) want instead a "compact" proposal to settle claims through compensation agreements with individual countries, rather than through general binding rules.

Several environmental groups, including Friends of the Earth (FoE), have condemned this position. "Such a proposal is seen as totally inadequate by many stakeholders, since there would be no liability in most scenarios of GMO contamination," Juan Lopez, international coordinator of the FoE campaign against genetically modified organisms told IPS.

"The majority of developing countries participating in the talks are requesting solid international rules to protect them against possible damage from genetically modified crops," Lopez added. "The polluter must pay, and should not be allowed to dictate the terms of the compensation."

Christine von Weizsaecker, president of the environmental institute Ecoropa, said the companies really want to "privatise international environmental law-making."

More than 3,000 delegates from 147 countries, all parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, are participating in the UN conference in Bonn that seeks to ensure safe use of modern biotechnology, including an agreement on international rules on liability. The debates in Bonn will continue until May 16.

The Cartagena protocol, adopted in January 2000, is a supplementary agreement to the Convention on Biological Diversity, and seeks to protect biodiversity from the potential risks posed by modified organisms.

Among other procedures, the agreement envisages a standard procedure for international information exchange to ensure that countries are provided with the data necessary to make informed decisions before agreeing to import of modified organisms into their territory.

The Bonn conference on the Cartagena protocol precedes a meeting of the body that implements the UN's Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). That meting begins in Bonn May 19.

Some 5,000 representatives from 190 countries will take part in that conference. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva will be among the leaders who will gather to discuss issues related to the destruction of indigenous forests and the plundering of the sea, and to avoid the resulting loss of biodiversity.

The CBD conference takes place two years before the deadline for achieving the 2010 biodiversity target, adopted in 2002 by 110 heads of state and government. The agreement sought to significantly reduce the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010.


Terminator Mosquitoes to Control Dengue?

ISIS Press Release, 14 May 2008.

Why take a dangerous, costly, and untested high tech option when safe, effective, and affordable alternatives are available?

Submitted to the US Environmental Protection Agency and Food and Drug Administration by Prof. Joe Cummins and Dr. Mae-Wan Ho.

Read article:


13 May 2008

Video: Making a killing from the food crisis

The Real News, 13 May 2008.

Devlin Kuyek explains how the likes of Cargill, Dupont, Monsanto, and others are doubling and tripling prices and profits while people around the world are suffering an increased threat from hunger.

Devlin Kuyek is a researcher on global agribusiness for GRAIN. He is also the author of The Real Board of Directors: The construction of biotechnology policy in Canada, and Good Crop/Bad Crop: Seed Politics and the Future of Food in Canada .

Making a killing from the food crisis

A new report by GRAIN -

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

GRAIN, "Making a killing from hunger: We need to overturn food policy, now!" Against the grain, April 2008, and in PDF


French activists say "non" to GMO law

Reuters, May 13 2008. By Geert de Clercq and Sybille de La Hamaide.

PARIS - Hundreds of activists marched in Paris on Tuesday ahead of the expected approval of a law they say blurs the line between natural and genetically modified (GM) foods.

The bill lays down conditions for the cultivation of GM crops in France, Europe's largest grain producer and exporter, and creates a body to oversee GMO use. The vote is due to take place late on Tuesday or on Wednesday.

Protesters, some wearing yellow hats in the shape of maize cobs and others dressed in white suits imitating scientists, gathered near the National Assembly to voice their opposition.

"We must give consumers the choice of eating quality products, with or without GMO," said Jean Terlon, cook at the restaurant Le Saint-Pierre in Longjumeau, close to Paris.

While GM crops are common in the United States and Latin America, France and many other European countries are dubious about using the new genetic technology in agriculture.

France banned the sole GM crop grown in the European Union, a maize (corn) developed by U.S. biotech giant Monsanto, in February because it had serious doubts about whether it was safe for the environment. GMO cultivation is still legal, however.

The new French law, which would implement a European Union directive adopted in 2001, sets the rules a farmer has to respect to grow GM crops. These include limiting dissemination of pollen to conventional fields.

The text is criticised by pro-GMOs who say it does not go far enough and by the antis, including deputies of the ruling majority, who say changes made in exchanges between the parliament and the upper house make it too lax.

Legal contamination

Approved amendments include a rate of GM dissemination to conventional crops of up to 0.9 percent, a level fiercely contested by ecologists seeking to protect France's biodiversity and organic crops from GM contamination.

"The problem of this law is that it legalises contamination because anything with a GMO content of less than 0.9 percent can be called GMO-free," Romain Chabrol, a spokesman of the environmental group Greenpeace France, said.

The rate in Germany was set at 0.1 percent.

French Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo said the new law would be the "most protective in the world".

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has repeatedly said he does not want to close the door on the technology or ban research so as to limit the number of biotech companies put off by the destruction of their outdoor experiments by activists.

French cooperative Limagrain, which has a 70 percent stake in the world's fourth-largest seed maker Vilmorin, said this year its research unit Biogemma had moved its tests on GM crops to the United States after repeated attacks on its fields.

Such attacks would be more severely punished under the law. (Editing by Robert Woodward)


Patenting the "Climate Genes" ...and Capturing the Climate Agenda

ETC Communique, May/June 2008.

Issue: The world's largest seed and agrochemical corporations are stockpiling hundreds of monopoly patents on genes in plants that the companies will market as crops genetically engineered to withstand environmental stresses such as drought, heat, cold, floods, saline soils, and more.

BASF, Monsanto, Bayer, Syngenta, Dupont and biotech partners have filed 532 patent documents (a total of 55 patent families) on so-called "climate ready" genes at patent offices around the world. In the face of climate chaos and a deepening world food crisis, the Gene Giants are gearing up for a PR offensive to re-brand themselves as climate saviours.

The focus on so-called climate-ready genes is a golden opportunity to push genetically engineered crops as a silver bullet solution to climate change. But patented techno-fix seeds will not provide the adaptation strategies that small farmers need to cope with climate change. These proprietary technologies will ultimately concentrate corporate power, drive up costs, inhibit independent research, and further undermine the rights of farmers to save and exchange seeds.

The Gene Giants are staking sweeping patent claims on genes related to environmental stresses - not just those in a single engineered plant species - but also to a substantially similar genetic sequence in virtually all engineered food crops. Beyond the U.S. and Europe, patent offices in major food producing countries such as Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Mexico and South Africa are also swamped with patent filings. Monsanto (the world's largest seed company) and BASF (the world's largest chemical firm) have forged a colossal $1.5 billion partnership to engineer stress tolerance in plants. Together, the two companies account for 27 of the 55 patent families (49%) of those identified by ETC Group.

Impact: Farming communities in the global South - those who have contributed least to global greenhouse emissions - are among the most threatened by climate chaos created by the world's richest countries. The South is already being trampled by the North's super-size carbon footprint. Will farming communities now be stampeded by climate change profiteering? The patent grab on so-called climate-ready traits is sucking up money and resources that could be spent on affordable, farmer-based strategies for climate change survival and adaptation. After decades of seed industry mergers and acquisitions, accompanied by a steady decline in public sector plant breeding, the top 10 seed companies control 57% of the global seed market. As climate crisis deepens, there is a danger that governments will require farmers to adopt prescribed biotech traits that are deemed essential adaptation measures. Will governments be pressured to give biotech companies carte blanche to use genetic engineering - and sidestep biosafety rules - as the last resort for tackling extreme climate?

Policy: Governments meeting at the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity in Bonn (May 19-30) and at the joint United Nations-FAO High-Level Conference on World Food Security and the Challenges of Climate Change and Bioenergy (3-5 June 2008) must recommend that governments suspend the granting of all patents on climate change-related genes and traits. There must be a full investigation, including the social and environmental impacts of these new, un-tested varieties. Given the global state of emergency, ETC Group urges inter-governmental bodies to identify and eliminate policies such as restrictive seed laws, intellectual property regimes, contracts and trade agreements that are barriers to farmer plant breeding, seed-saving and exchange. Restrictions on access to germplasm are the last thing that farmers need in their struggle to adapt to rapidly changing climatic conditions. Farmer-led strategies for climate change survival and adaptation must be recognized, strengthened and protected.


French Parliament Blocks Bill to Allow Genetically Modified Crops

Voice Of America News, 13 May 2008

The French parliament has thrown out a bill that would have allowed farmers to grow genetically modified crops.

Lawmakers narrowly rejected the bill Tuesday 136 to 135.

Protesters against the bill, some wearing hats shaped like corn cobs, cheered when the results were announced.

French Prime Minister Francois Fillon says he plans to submit a new bill to parliament.

Genetically modified crops have had their DNA engineered to make them resistant to disease and pests.

Surveys show many French oppose such foods, saying their safety is still not assured.

In February, France imposed a temporary ban on genetically modified corn approved for sale by the European Union. The corn is produced by the U.S. company Monsanto.


Biodiversity talks hi-jacked by corporate interests?

Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), 13 May 2008

Talks on the UN Convention on Biodiversity and Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (COP9/MOP4) take place in Bonn from 12th - 30th May. Key issues on the agenda include liability for GM contamination, genetically engineered trees and the role of GM Terminator technology.

Corporate Europe Observatory is working with the Activism Network COP 9 - bringing together small farmers and campaigners from around the world - and will be busy monitoring the activities of corporate lobbyists at the talks. The biotech industry has campaigned vigorously to limit the effects of the Cartagena Protocol and will be working hard in Bonn. For more information, see:

CEO will also be putting other so-called public interest groups under scrutiny after unveiling the close ties between the Public Research and Regulation Initiative (PRRI) and industry. This group, which claims to represent the public research sector, brings together key figures from the world of biotech research, most of whom receive funding from the biotech industry.

A CEO investigation highlights just how closely allied to industry this group really is - but also reveals how it has won EU funding to promote its aims and help change public perceptions of the GM industry. Read the report "How Public are the Public Research Lobbyists of PRRI":


How public are the public research lobbyists of PRRI?

Corporate Europe Observatory
Briefing for COP/MOP, Bonn, 2008 [EXTRACT ONLY]

[See full briefing at:]

The UN Convention on Biological Diversity's (CBD) biosafety negotiations have been the target of biotech industry lobbyists and pro-biotech governments from the outset. But some have taken a more subtle approach to their lobbying, hiding their agenda beneath a veneer of public interest. Scrape beneath the surface however and their links to the biotech industry become clear.

One such organisation is the Public Research and Regulation Initiative (PRRI) which appeared on the scene after the first biosafety negotiations under the CBD. Apparently independent from industry, this group claims to represent the "public research sector" - but how public is public research when GM is involved?

PRRI members' links with industry

A number of PRRI members have close links to industry. As stated above, Dr. Gerard Barry, who is now an employee of the International Rice Research Institute, was formerly a research director at Monsanto. PRRI chairman, Prof. Phil Dale, works at the John Innes Centre, a research centre which receives tens of millions of pounds in funding from big biotech corporations. And PRRI member Roger Beachy, is founding president of the Danforth Center, set up and funded by Monsanto, along with other biotech companies, as well as former co-chair of the scientific advisory board of the Akkadix Corporation, a global agricultural biotechnology company.

Willy de Greef, until recently a PRRI member, was former global head of regulatory affairs for Syngenta until 2002, then becoming director of his own private consultancy. De Greef left PRRI in April 2008 to become the new Secretary General of EuropaBio, the European biotech industry lobby group, where he sees his challenge as "to overcome society's fear of change and convince decision makers to welcome innovative improvements".

Syngenta, De Greef's former employer, has been a key player in the Global Industry Coalition which has represented the biotechnology industry during the Biosafety Protocol negotiations.

De Greef was involved in an early initiative to give a voice to "public researchers" when the Global Industry Coalition brought together a panel of researchers in 1997 during the course of the Biosafety Protocol negotiations. Although unsuccessful, this appears to have provided a model for PRRI - with the crucial difference that the researchers are now presented as wholly independent of industry.

Piet van der Meer, another key player in PRRI, is married to a lobbyist for the Global Industry Coalition (a lobby group of biotech and seed corporations with a special focus on the Biosafety Protocol), Laura Reifschneider. Piet van der Meer was involved in negotiating the Biosafety Protocol, ostensibly as a non-partisan expert, but others found him far from impartial. Dr Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egziabher, Chair of the Africa Group at the Protocol negotiations, described him as the most unfair of the chairs in the negotiations. "Many of our delegates were, understandably, not very fluent in English. He used to make them sound as ridiculous as he could by finding fault with how they said what they said, instead of focusing on the content," he recalled. "Sometimes he championed ideas, disregarding the fact that he was chairing." 5

Piet van der Meer went on to be Programme Manager at the United Nations Environmental Program-GEF Projects on Implementation of National Biosafety Frameworks where he was also criticised for his industry bias. He eventually quit.

Dr Steven Strauss, co-chair of the PRRI working group on genetically engineered (GE) trees, is director of the Tree Biosafety and Genomics Research Cooperative (TBGRC - previously known as TGERC) at Oregon State University and is a well-known advocate of the commercial benefits of genetically engineered trees.

Members of TGERC, who contribute to research through financial and in-kind contributions, have included Arborgen, the world's biggest forest biotechnology company - currently running field trials with GM poplar, eucalyptus, pine, sweetgum and cottonwood trees6; the paper and packaging group Mondi and paper company Potlatch. Recent work on GE trees has been funded by the US Departments of Agriculture, Energy and Agricultural Research Service (ARS), together with Arborgen.

"That someone who has been funded by the likes of Weyerhaeuser, Monsanto and International Paper passes himself off as a publicly funded researcher is an affront to real publicly funded research."

– Anne Petermann
Global Justice Ecology Project.


Firms seek patents on 'climate-ready" altered crops

Washington Post, 13 May 2008. By Rick Weiss.

A handful of the world's largest agricultural biotechnology companies are seeking hundreds of patents on gene-altered crops designed to withstand drought and other environmental stresses, part of a race for dominance in the potentially lucrative market for crops that can handle global warming, according to a report being released today.

Three companies -- BASF of Germany, Syngenta of Switzerland and Monsanto of St. Louis -- have filed applications to control nearly two-thirds of the climate-related gene families submitted to patent offices worldwide, according to the report by the Ottawa-based ETC Group, an activist organization that advocates for subsistence farmers.

The applications say that the new "climate ready" genes will help crops survive drought, flooding, saltwater incursions, high temperatures and increased ultraviolet radiation -- all of which are predicted to undermine food security in coming decades.

Company officials dismissed the report's contention that the applications amount to an intellectual-property "grab," countering that gene-altered plants will be crucial to solving world hunger but will never be developed without patent protections.

The report highlights the economic opportunities facing the biotechnology industry at a time of growing food insecurity, as well as the risks to its public image.

Many of the world's poorest countries, destined to be hit hardest by climate change, have rejected biotech crops, citing environmental and economic concerns. Importantly, gene patents generally preclude the age-old practice of saving seeds from a harvest for replanting, requiring instead that farmers purchase the high-tech seeds each year.

The ETC report concludes that biotech giants are hoping to leverage climate change as a way to get into resistant markets, and it warns that the move could undermine public-sector plant-breeding institutions such as those coordinated by the United Nations and the World Bank, which have long made their improved varieties freely available.

"When a market is dominated by a handful of large multinational companies, the research agenda gets biased toward proprietary products," said Hope Shand, ETC's research director. "Monopoly control of plant genes is a bad idea under any circumstance. During a global food crisis, it is unacceptable and has to be challenged."

Ranjana Smetacek, a spokeswoman for Monsanto, said companies deserve praise for developing crop varieties that will survive climate change.

"I think everyone recognizes that the old traditional ways just aren't able to address these new challenges. The problems in Africa are pretty severe," she said, noting that Monsanto and BASF are participating in a project, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to develop drought-resistant corn that would be made available to farmers in four southern African countries royalty-free. "We aim to be at once generous and also cognizant of our obligation to shareholders who have paid for our research," Smetacek said.

Gene patents allow companies to limit others from marketing those genes.

The 35-page ETC report, "Patenting the 'Climate Genes' . . . and Capturing the Climate Agenda," documents about 530 applications for climate-related plant genes filed at patent offices in the past five years. A few dozen patents have been issued; hundreds of others are pending.

Of the 55 major gene families at the heart of those applications, BASF filed 21, the report says. Other major players include Syngenta, seven; Monsanto, six; and Bayer of Germany, five.

Among the report's concerns is the breadth of many applications. Protective genes are usually discovered in one variety of plant, and after minimal testing they are presumed to be useful in others, Shand said. In one typical case, a BASF patent claim for a gene to tolerate "environmental stress" seeks to preclude competitors from using that gene in "maize, wheat, rye, oat, triticale, rice, barley, soybean, peanut, cotton, rapeseed, canola, manihot, pepper, sunflower, tagetes, solanaceous plants, potato, tobacco, eggplant, tomato, Vicia species, pea, alfalfa, coffee, cacao, tea, Salix species, oil palm, coconut, perennial grass and a forage crop plant."

Publicly funded developers of freely accessible plant varieties could succumb to biotech's market dominance, the report warns. One of the biggest is the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, which runs 15 research centers worldwide and is funded by several international aid organizations. CGIAR has long emphasized non-biotech breeding to develop varieties ideal for subsistence farmers and their local conditions.

Facing big budget cuts from its traditional funders, CGIAR is now a central player in the Gates-funded collaboration with Monsanto and BASF -- a project that a CGIAR spokesman defended as a "global public good."

Other experts said that both sides have oversimplified the pros and cons of biotech crop patents.

"I don't mind Monsanto developing these tools. I mind that we don't have an economic ecology that lets other companies compete with them," said Richard Jefferson, founder and chief executive of Cambia, a nonprofit institute based in Australia that helps companies worldwide sort through patent holdings so they can build on one another's work instead of stymieing one another.

Under the current system for patenting genes, he said, "the little guys shake out and the big guys end up in a place a lot like a cartel."

Jefferson characterized the ETC report as extreme in its anti-corporate views but praised it for drawing attention to what he said is a real problem of corporate consolidation in the seed industry. Happily, he said, patent offices are "getting a lot better" about not allowing overly broad gene patents.

Jonathan Bryant, managing director of BASF's U.S. division, said plants have tens of thousands of genes, most of them unexplored. "I think there's still plenty of opportunity for many companies and institutions," he said. "We're all looking to bring our technology together for a common good."


Bush Food Aid Package Promotes Genetically-Modified Crops

Chicago Tribune, 13 May 2008.

WASHINGTON _ The Bush administration has slipped a controversial ingredient into the $770 million aid package it recently proposed to ease the world food crisis, adding language that would promote the use of genetically modified crops in food-deprived countries. The value or detriment of genetically modified, or bio-engineered, food is an intensely disputed issue in the U.S. and in Europe, where many countries have banned foods made from genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

Proponents say that GMO crops can result in higher yields from plants that are hardier in harsh climates.

"We certainly think that it is established fact that a number of bio-engineered crops have shown themselves to increase yields through their drought resistance and pest resistance," said Dan Price, a food aid expert on the White House's National Security Council.

Opponents of GMO crops allege that they can cause allergies, illnesses and unforeseen medical problems in those who consume them. They also contend that the administration's plan is aimed to help American agribusinesses such as Monsanto, which manufactures genetically modified varieties of seed.

"This is a hot topic now with the food crisis," said Ronnie Cummins, national director of the Organic Consumers Association. "I think it's pretty obvious at this point that genetically engineered crops _ they may do a number of things, but they don't increase yields. There are no commercialized crops that are designed to deal with the climate crisis."

Bush proposed the food package two weeks ago as aid groups and the U.N. World Food Program pressed Western governments to provide additional funds to bridge the gap caused by rising food prices. The aid must win congressional approval.

It would direct the U.S. Agency for International Development to spend $150 million of the total aid package on development farming, which would include the use of GMO crops.

The U.S. is already the U.N. food program's largest donor, providing nearly half of the help the group receives from governments. It gave about $1.1 billion to the WFP in both 2006 and 2007. Overall, the WFP provided $2.6 billion in aid in 2006.

The U.N. estimates that 852 million people are facing a daily food emergency.

In April, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice suggested at a Peace Corps conference that "We need to look again at some of the issues concerning technology and food production. I know that GMOs are not popular around the world, but there are places that drought-resistant crops should be a part of the answer."

Some aid organizations agree that it is time to consider GMO crops in tough growing conditions.

"I think it's good, that it should be part of the package," said Mark Rosegrant, an environment and technology specialist with the International Food Policy Research Institute. "It shouldn't be the only thing in the package. It is now showing quite a bit of potential in starting to address some of the long-term stresses, drought and heat. It improves yields in some of these very difficult environments."

But Noah Zerbe, an assistant professor of government and politics at Humboldt State University in California, said that sophisticated GMO crops might not be appropriate for developing countries.

"You get fantastic yields if you're able to apply fertilizer and water at the right times, and herbicides to go along with that," Zerbe said. "Unfortunately, most African farmers, they can't afford these inputs."

The U.S. tried to introduce GMO crops to Africa in 2002, with mixed results. European Union opposition was part of the reason that several African nations that year balked at an offer of U.S. aid that included corn, some of which was genetically modified.

In the throes of a severe drought, Zambia rejected the U.S. aid altogether. Several other countries accepted the U.S. corn, but only after it was milled to prevent farmers from planting it and growing their own GMO corn.

The National Security Council's Price said the administration is working to persuade European nations to lift their objection to the use of GMO crops in Africa. Rosegrant of the research institute said given current dire food shortages, new bio-safety measures and negotiations with countries receiving aid could resolve such problems.

"There's evidence that those fears tend to be overblown," Rosegrant said. "The crops they're exporting are not the crops that are genetically modified. It's a little too soon to tell, but it looks like there's some increasing acceptance because of the high food prices."


12 May 2008

Thousands gather for meeting on UN-backed treaty on biosafety

UN News Centre, 12 May 2008.

More than 3000 participants from 147 countries have assembled in Bonn, the former German capital, for the start of a week-long meeting on how to improve their commitments to ensuring the safe use of modern biotechnology as outlined under a United Nations-backed treaty.

The fourth meeting of the parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, itself a supplementary agreement to the Convention on Biological Diversity, began today in Bonn, according to a news release issued by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

The agency said that one of the priorities of this week's meeting will be to try to reach agreement on international rules on liability and redress for potential damages caused by the movements of living modified organisms (LMOs), often known as genetically modified organisms.

Ahmed Djoghlaf, Executive Secretary to the Convention, urged the delegates at the meeting to "seize the moment" and reach agreement. "You are mandated to fulfil the requirement, set out in Article 27 in 2000, when the Protocol was signed," he said. "In doing this, you will ensure the effective implementation of the Protocol."

Participants at the conference in Bonn will also discuss other issues, including finding ways to finance the continued work of the Protocol and assessing the socio-economic impact that LMOs have on biodiversity.


GM crop foes march in Germany as U.N. summit starts

Reuters, May 12 2008

BERLIN - About 5,000 activists marched through the German city of Bonn on Monday to protest against genetically modified food at the start of a U.N. conference to discuss risks linked to the technology.

Campaigners, many waving colorful flags and banners with slogans such as "Biofuel Creates Hunger" and "Good Food Instead Of GM Food", walked and danced through the western German city. Some drove tractors and floats.

"We are protesting for biodiversity and against the destruction of nature, against GM, for the protection of biodiversity," activist Amira Busch told Reuters Television.

About 2,000 government and non-governmental officials will attend the five-day U.N. conference in Bonn to discuss global protection measures for the transfer of genetically modified plants, including rice and soya.

The issue has become particularly sensitive due to a recent surge in food prices which has sparked anger and protests in some developing countries.

The experts will try to agree on ways to help implement a U.N. agreement on the trading of living genetically modified organisms called the Cartagena protocol.

In Europe, consumers are fairly skeptical about GM crops but the biotech industry says its products are as safe as non-GM equivalents.

The conference, which starts on Monday, precedes a bigger summit next week on biodiversity in Bonn where some 4,000 international experts and government ministers will try to agree on ways to slow the rate of extinctions.

"We want biodiversity to be part of humanity's wealth and a precondition to overcome hunger," said Greens EU lawmaker Friedrich-Wilhelm Graefe zu Baringdorf who was on the march.

"We demand that all other activities, which probably boost industry's profits, do not endanger food security for future generations," he told Reuters Television.

(Reporting by Reuters Television, Writing by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Matthew Jones)


France: In Deux-Sèvres, organic maize is contaminated from 35 kilometres away

Le Monde, 12 May 2008 (translated by GM Watch).

Farmers specializing in the cultivation of organic maize, Julien Veillat and his father Christian, whose farm is located in Villiers-en-Plaine in Deux-Sevres, have filed a complaint with the local gendarmerie. Their produce has been contaminated with genes from transgenic maize, although the closest plots of GM maize are officially over 35 kilometres distant from their fields...

GMOs did not really worry the two farmers until a routine analysis, conducted by the Regional Cooperative of Organic Agriculture (Corab), revealed the contamination of their corn by the release of transgenic maize in the environment.

This case has brought a full parliamentary review of the GMO Act. The Socialist MP Deux-Sevres, Delphine Batho, also referred it to the tribunal of the National Assembly in order to denounce the risks of transgenic plants and the lack of safeguards surrounding their cultivation.

The Poitou-Charentes region, headed by [the Socilaist leader] Ségolène Royal, has always shown itself hostile to GM crops being grown in open fields and supports the complaint of the two farmers. They have asked the State for full compensation for the damage they feel they have suffered. In the absence of a reply, they plan to take legal action. The Corab and Poitou-Charentes region have announced their intention of bringing a civil suit.

Julien and Christian Veillat may see their maize downgraded: due to the GM contamination there's no possibility of its benefiting from the organic label. And at present, no insurance company is willing to insure against the risk of contamination by GMOs.

The two farmers want their right to compensation to be recognized and want their case to make the farming world aware of the dangers presented by the cultivation of GMOs in open fields. To defend their interests, they have chosen a specialist team of lawyers: the firm Huglo-Lepage, owned by the former environment minister Corinne Lepage.

Serge Morin, Vice-President (Greens) of Poitou-Charentes, reminded people that Madame Royal wanted "the state to review its procedures, GM crops not to be grown in open fields, compensation for farmers who suffered contamination -- and that the damage likely to affect the reputation of certain agricultural products [due to GM contamination] be taken into consideration -- like Echiré butter, which is known globally, the region where it is produced being located in the territory of this commune."


11 May 2008

Scientists create first GM human embryo

HGA and international civil society groups, scientists and ethicists call for moratorium
British Government must withdraw legalisation of GM embryos pending full public debate

Human Genetics Alert, 11 May 2008

Human Genetics Alert (1) has discovered that American scientists have created the world's first genetically modified (GM) human embryo, without notifying the public or the media. In response, HGA's Director, Dr David King called on the Government to halt its plans to legalise GM embryos in the Human Fertilisation and embryology Bill (HFE Bill), which will be debated in Parliament tomorrow. HGA and an international group of civil society organisations also called for an international moratorium on such experiments until there has been a full debate.

A team of scientists based at Cornell University, and led by Nikica Zaninovic genetically engineered human embryos last year (2). Dr Zaninovic confirmed that this is the first time that a GM human embryo has been created. Government plans to legalise such experiments in the HFE Bill are being debated by MPs tomorrow, yet few MPs are even aware of the plans.

An HFEA document (3) says that, 'The Bill has taken away all inhibitions on genetically altering human embryos', It acknowledges that this raises, 'large ethical and public interest issues', without saying that, despite HGA's repeated warnings about GM embryos, these issues have not been publicly debated.

Attached briefings outline the government's plans and the case against Human Genetic Modification (HGM). In brief, the Government initially stated openly its aim of allowing genetic modification of human embryos in order to permit the development of safe technology to create GM children (4). It even proposed to eventually legalise GM children by executive decision, rather than by a full Parliamentary debate! Although the Bill, in its current form bans the implantation of GM embryos for the present, this is clearly not a permanent ban, since it would be illogical allow the development of technology and then continue to ban its use.

The creation of GM children is not just a hypothetical scenario - leading British scientists, Robert Winston (a Government adviser on these issues), and Ian Wilmut have patented techniques for Human Genetic Modification (5). The ban also contains a major loophole, in that it contains powers for the Government to permit the implantation of GM embryos to treat mitochondrial genetic diseases, without full Parliamentary debate (Clause 3ZA (5)) (6).

HGM is unnecessary for medical purposes, since there are many alternative ways of avoiding passing on genetic conditions, but if permitted it will very soon be used to create 'enhanced' 'designer babies'. This would turn children into objects, designed just like other consumer commodities, and would lead to a new eugenics in which the rich are able to give their children genetic advantages over others. Because of these concerns, nearly all EU countries and many others, have permanently banned HGM, and the EU has banned the creation of cloned and GM embryos, in its last two major research funding programmes (7). Britain must not break this international consensus.

Dr David King, Director of Human Genetics Alert said: "When I discovered these experiments on the Internet I was shocked at these scientists' irresponsibility. This might seem like a small thing, but it is a large first step on the road that will likely lead to the nightmare world of designer babies and a new eugenics. We may be entering the era of Human Genetic Modification, which would be no less significant for humanity than the nuclear era.

"The HFEA is right to say that the creation and legalisation of GM embryos, 'raises large ethical and public interest issues', but neglects to mention that these have not been debated at all. I have been speaking to MPs all week, and no one even knows that the Government is legalising GM embryos. The public has had enough of scientists and Government sneaking these things through and then presenting us with a fait accompli The Government must withdraw these plans, so that we do not cross crucial ethical lines without a full debate."

Dr Marcy Darnovsky, Associate Executive Director, Center for Genetics and Society, a public affairs organization based in California, said: "A small group of researchers has decided on its own to overstep a key ethical boundary that is observed around the world. In response the UK appears ready to lower its own standards. This is a global issue and highlights clearly demonstrates the need for international regulation and for far greater involvement by the public and civil society."

Silvia Ribeiro from ETC Group, a civil society group, based in Mexico City, said: "If the UK Parliament legalises GM Human embryos it would set an awful precedent for the rest of the world. GM embryos may be sold to policymakers today on the vague promise of 'curing disease' but the real money is in 'human performance enhancement' applications (known as HyPEs). In a world in which diabetes drugs are sold with much more profits as 'bikini drugs' and Alzheimer drugs as 'cognitive enhancers', any germ line manipulation will open the door to market-designed babies. Human diversity would be seen as abnormal, further marginalizing disabled people and those too poor -or not wanting- to be 'improved', according to a market-led standard of what and who is a proper human being."

Dr Stuart Newman, Professor of Cell Biology and Anatomy at New York Medical College, said: "Human embryos, particularly within their first two weeks, are poor systems in which to study basic biology or the development of disease. It is clear that technologies for genetically altering human embryos are being developed with the hope and expection that legal prohibitions against gestating them for extended periods will eventually be dropped, ultimately leading to organ harvesting and full term GM infants. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill is just another step in this unfortunate direction."

Dr Richard Nicholson, Editor of the Bulletin of Medical Ethics, said: "The Government seems willing now to permit scientists to do whatever they like in the field of reproductive technology. It thinks it is helping British scientists to keep ahead of the competition elsewhere. But there is little competition because most other countries recognise how obviously unethical any genetic modification of human embryos would be."


Dr David King will be available for interview on Sunday, May 11th from 8a.m. He can be reached on +44 (0)20 7502 7516, or +44 (0)7854 256040, and by email at

Marcy Darnovsky, +1 510 625 0819 ext 305;

Notes for editors

1. Human Genetics Alert is a London-based independent secular watchdog group, which supports women's reproductive rights,

2. Fertility and Sterility, Volume 88, Supplement 1, September 2007, Page S310 N. Zaninovic, J. Hao, J. Pareja, D. James, S. Rafii, Z. Rosenwaks. This abstract can be found at enter Zaninovic in the author search box. HGA's discovery is reported in today's Sunday Times.

3. The document, 'Lay summary of meeting' can be found at, along with 'Gene transfer into male germ lines and embryos' which mentions the Zaninovic abstract.

4. The original consultation document can be found at The key paragraphs are 5.33 to 5.38.

5. Patent numbers: US2006064763, GB2331751 (Wilmut) and US2002138865, WO0069257, WO0029602 (Winston).

6. HGA's legal briefing on the HFE Act is attached, along with its Parliamentary briefing, and a more detailed summary of the arguments against HGM. The HFEA's documents also mention the loophole for mitochondrial conditions.

7. For EU Framework Programme 6, see

For FP7,


Scientist team creates first GM human embryo

The Times, 11 May 2008. By Sarah-Kate Templeton.

Scientists have created what is believed to be the first genetically modified (GM) human embryo.

A team from Cornell University in New York produced the GM embryo to study how early cells and diseases develop. It was destroyed after five days.

The British regulator, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), has warned that such controversial experiments cause "large ethical and public interest issues".

News of the development comes days before MPs are to debate legislation that would allow scientists to use similar techniques in this country.

The effects of changing an embryo would be permanent. Genes added to embryos or reproductive cells, such as sperm, will affect all cells in the body and will be passed on to future generations.

The technology could potentially be used to correct genes which cause diseases such as cystic fibrosis, haemophilia and even cancer. In theory, any gene that has been identified could be added to embryos.

Ethicists warn that genetically modifying embryos could lead to the addition of genes for desirable traits such as height, intelligence and hair colour.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, which will have its second reading this week, will make it legal to create GM embryos in Britain.

The bill will allow GM embryos to be created only for research and will ban implantation in the womb. Ethicists, however, say that the legislation could be relaxed in the future.

The HFEA has said that it is preparing for scientists to apply for licences to create GM embryos. A paper, published by the authority, states: "The bill has taken away all inhibitions on genetically altering human embryos for research. The Science and Clinical Advances Group [of the HFEA] thought there were large ethical and public interest issues and that these should be referred for debate."

The Cornell team, led by Nikica Zaninovic, used a virus to add a gene, a green fluorescent protein, to an embryo left over from in vitro fertilisation.

The research was presented at a meeting of the American Society of Reproductive Medicine last year but details have emerged only after the HFEA highlighted the work in a review of the technology.

Zaninovic pointed out that in order to be sure that the new gene had been inserted and the embryo had been genetically modified, scientists would ideally need to grow the embryo and carry out further tests.

The Cornell team did not have permission to allow the embryo to progress, however.

Scientists argue that the embryos could be used to study how diseases develop. They also say GM embryos could be more efficient in generating stem cells.

However, Dr David King, director of Human Genetics Alert, warned: "This is the first step on the road that will lead to the nightmare of designer babies and a new eugenics. The HFEA is right to say that the creation and legalisation of GM embryos raises 'large ethical and public interest issues' but neglects to mention that these have not been debated at all."

He added: "I have been speaking to MPs all week and no one knows that the government is legalising GM embryos. The public has had enough of scientists sneaking these things through and then presenting us with a fait accompli."


UK: University given go-ahead for open field trial of GM potato crop

Yorshire Post, 10 May 2008. By Chris Benfield.

LEEDS University has been given the go-ahead to grow genetically modified potatoes in an open field.

The potatoes have had their genes tweaked by Professor Howard Atkinson to give them resistance to a parasite. Now seedlings are on standby in glasshouses on the university's experimental farm in Tadcaster and 400 will be moved outdoors later this month.

The move was announced yesterday by the Department of Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (Defra), headed by Leeds MP Hilary Benn.

Some other EU countries already grow GM crops commercially - particularly rape, beet and maize - but development of the GM business in this country has been held back by fear of vandalism by opponents.

The Leeds trial centres on potatoes resistant to the parasite commonly known as "eel worm".

Prof Atkinson said: "This is a university. We don't think it is appropriate to take extreme security measures but also we do not think it is appropriate for people to stop academic research. We have promised to behave responsibly and we hope we will be left to do it."

The potatoes will be used for laboratory purposes only and the soil they are grown in will be sterilised after the harvest.

The NFU has no objections. Its Driffield-based vice president, Paul Temple, has taken part in field trials of GM crops and he says most members are relaxed about them. He said: "We are importing thousands of tons of GM material every day, from other countries in Europe, and we want to see the trials take place and see what happens."

But Pete Riley, of campaign group GM Freeze, said: "This approval is unwise and unnecessary. We are very concerned that Defra persists in approving applications which contain antibiotic-resistant marker genes involving antibiotics which are still in clinical use. These genes are not needed and should be removed. All in all, it's a bad decision by Defra."


Genetically modified crops get mixed response in Asia

AFP, 11 May 2008. By Karl Wilson.

MANILA (AFP) - With food prices hitting record highs the jury is still out in Asia as to whether genetically modified crops hold the key to future food security.

The Philippine government has openly embraced the commercial growing of genetically modified (GM) corn, but neighbouring countries appear less than enthusiastic.

"There has been a lot of talk about developing high-yielding crops and crops that can cope with climate change using GM seeds," said Daniel Ocampo, a genetic engineering campaigner with the environmental group Greenpeace.

But, he said, the technology was still a long way from "addressing these needs."

Even so this has not stopped the Philippines from subsidising the production of GM corn.

"This is despite the fact that GM corn and some conventional varieties have the same yield potentials," Ocampo said.

While Japan does not grow GM crops due to safety concerns among consumers it does import GM grains for use in making products such as cooking oil, animal feed and manufactured goods.

Japanese companies have been reluctant to test the market for consumer-ready GM food because of labelling requirements and public safety worries.

While Japan does not ban GM farming, strict regulation has discouraged corporate investment in the area.

But with rising food prices causing increasing concern in a country that imports more than half of what it eats, the government has said that GM crops may be a way to ease food security and environmental problems.

"Because of strong public concern about consuming genetically modified food, it does not make business sense for Japanese firms to farm genetically modified plants commercially," a Japanese farm ministry official said.

"However, given the expansion in the cultivation of GM products abroad and rising demand for food, we are reviewing ways to have the option of commercial farming in the future," he said.

In South Korea a law which came into effect on January 1 this year imposed strict rules on the import of GM seeds.

While there are domestic GM seed programmes for experimental purposes none are for commercial use, an agriculture ministry official said on condition of anonymity.

"So far all imported GM seeds have been processed immediately after being cleared through customs," the official said.

"There have been no cases of imported or home-grown GM seeds being used for commercial cultivation here and we are not considering easing our rules despite price hikes," he added.

In Bangkok the regional headquarters for the United Nation's Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) said it had not seen any signs that governments in Asia were pushing for genetically-modified seeds.

"With modern agricultural technology countries should be able to produce enough food without genetically-modified seeds," said He Changchui, the FAO's regional representative for Asia.

"You don't need them. Just try to supply good fertiliser and good water," he said.

In China the State Council, or cabinet, issued detailed rules in 2001 covering safety, labelling, licensing for production and sales, and import safety policies of all GM products.

Xie Yang of the Development Research Centre, a major think tank under the State Council, said: "No genetically modified grain, including seeds, is allowed for edible consumption in China.

"Genetically modified products are allowed for indirect uses, such as making edible oil, but it must be labelled clearly."

There is successful research in China, but no commercial application yet, he said, adding: "It is said that there are breakthroughs in the research of (genetically modified) rice and corn. But none is allowed on to the market."

According to Greenpeace's Ocampo the Philippines is the first country in Southeast Asia, and possibly all Asia, to have a commercial GM food crop.

"The government would say it is because the Philippines should not be late in embracing a technology that promises to help increase the income of farmers and provide higher yields.

"But the fact is the Philippines is so close to the US that whatever policies the US have regarding GM crops we (Philippines) usually follow suit."


9 May 2008

Greenpeace calls on UN biosafety conference to make "genetic polluters pay"

Greenpeace International, 9 May 2008.

From 12-16 May, governments from around the world will gather in Bonn, Germany to hammer out the final details of global liability and redress measures for damage caused by genetically engineered (GE) organisms. Greenpeace will attend the 4th meeting of the Parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (1), telling governments "GE polluters must pay for the damage their crops wreak on the environment, on farmers, and on human health."

At the meeting Greenpeace will release a briefing paper that draws on the most recent GE global contamination scandals, involving an illegal GE maize variety from Syngenta (2), and GE rice from Bayer (3).İ The paper highlights the general lack of access of government authorities to information about both experimental and commercially available GE crops.

"Genetic Engineering companies indiscriminately pollute the world's food and seed supplies, and natural environments with their wandering genes" said Jan van Aken, Greenpeace International agriculture campaigner.İ "They refuse to provide governments with the necessary information to detect those genes.İ And they are doing everything they can, including blaming God (4), to shirk responsibility. Governments must stand up to this - genetic polluters must pay!"

In addition to liability and redress, governments at the meeting will negotiate on several other controversial political issues, including sharing of information and harmonisation of methods to detect illegal international movements of GE organisms.

To facilitate detection and clean-up, and to prevent the highest risk organisms from contaminating food supplies in the first place, Greenpeace demands governments ensure that sequence information and reference material for all genetically engineered plants on the global market is made available to all regulatory authorities worldwide.

"The companies shouting the loudest that GE is safe are also those fighting the hardest to avoid liability for their dangerous products.İ GE companies want to take no responsibility for their unproven technology. GE crops pose an unacceptable risk to human health and the environment. Last week's decision by the EU Commission to send three new types of GE crops back to the European Food Safety Authority shows that Europe's most senior lawmakers are starting to make the right decisions. But much more must be done" concluded van Aken.


Notes to Editor

1. The Fourth Meeting of the Parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, is meeting from 12-16 May 2008, in Bonn, Germany. A Greenpeace briefing outlining the current play of the negotiations is available at

Greenpeace's position paper on sampling, detection and the problem of illegal transboundary movements is available at

2. In 2005, Syngenta finally admitted that they had sold hundreds of tonnes of the wrong GE maize (Bt10 instead of Bt11) in the US for four years. The mistake was discovered in 2004 but instead of informing farmers and consumers, Syngenta entered into secret talks with the US government.

3. In 2006 traces of Bayer's GE rice variety LL601, were discovered in US rice supplies. The contamination came from experimental field trials which had ended in 2001. The discovery triggered the largest financial and marketing disaster in the history of the US rice industry, and at least 30 countries were affected. Greenpeace calculated that the total costs of the disaster could exceed $1.2 billion



Contact information

Greenpeace contacts at the UN Biosafety meeting:

Dr. Jan van Aken, +49 151 1805 34 15

Dr. Doreen Stabinsky, +1 202 285 73 98


USA: New Study Shows Genetically Modified Crops Produce Less
Frankenfoods aren't so miraculous after all.

AlterNet, 9 May 2008. Byt Manila RYce.

While many studies have shown that GM foods pose serious health and contamination risks, a new study carried out for three years at the University of Kansas has shown that genetically modified crops also produce less food. This dispels the great corporate myth, perpetuated by the Department of Agriculture, that GM technology is necessary to solve world hunger. Professor Barney Gordon, of the university's department of agronomy, began the study when farmers who had switched over to the GM crop had noticed that even under optimal conditions their yields were not as high as expected. The yields of GM soybean were 10 percent less than those of an almost identical conventional variety grown in the same field.

The new study confirms earlier research at the University of Nebraska, which found that another Monsanto GM soya produced 6 per cent less than its closest conventional relative, and 11 per cent less than the best non-GM soya available.

The Nebraska study suggested that two factors are at work. First, it takes time to modify a plant and, while this is being done, better conventional ones are being developed. This is acknowledged even by the fervently pro-GM US Department of Agriculture, which has admitted that the time lag could lead to a "decrease" in yields.

But the fact that GM crops did worse than their near-identical non-GM counterparts suggest that a second factor is also at work, and that the very process of modification depresses productivity. The new Kansas study both confirms this and suggests how it is happening.

The Kansas study suggested that genetic modification hindered the soya's ability to absorb manganese from the soil. However, even when additional manganese was added, the GM soya yield was only able to equal that of the conventional crop, failing to surpass it as promised.

Low yields have also been seen with other GM plants, such as cotton, where the total US crop declined as GM technology took over the industry. To counter the embarrassing results, Monsanto falsely claimed that the GM soybeans used in the study were not modified to increase yields, but said it was now developing one that would. Last week, the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development concluded that GM was not the answer to world hunger.


UK: Defra approves GM potato trial

M2 PressWIRE, 9 May 2008.

After public consultation, Defra has given approval to Leeds University to conduct a research trial this year of GM potatoes. The research is on potatoes that have been genetically modified to resist infection by potato cyst nematodes.

The Leeds University application has been evaluated by the independent expert group the Advisory Committee of Releases to the Environment (ACRE). It is satisfied that the proposed trial will not result in any adverse effect on human health or the environment.

Reflecting ACRE's advice, precautionary conditions have been attached to the statutory consent for the trial. These aim to ensure that GM potato material does not persist at the trial site. The harvested GM potatoes will not be used for food or animal feed.

Note for Editors

1. The Leeds University application, the statutory consent, and the relevant ACRE advice can be found on the Defra website at .

The consent reference is 07/R31/01.


EU: Commission hesitant to approve more GM cropsİ, 8 - 9 May 2008.

The Commission has referred a number of pending GMO approvals back to the EU's food safety agency (EFSA)İfor further review of scientific evidence ofİthe GMOs'İpotential effects onİtheİenvironment and human health.

The College of Commissioners held anİorientation debate on GMOs on 7 May "to takeİstock of the current situation and to set out how to move forward on pending authorisation cases and longer-term issues". The commissioners wereİoriginally due toİclarify the EU executive's policy onİGMOs in early February, but delayed their decision.İ

On the agenda was the approval ofİthree new GM crops (two maize varieties andİone potato)İto which the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) had already given favourable opinions, but on which the Council failed to reach a consensus.İInstead of rubber-stamping theİEFSA opinion and authorising the varieties, the Commissionİdecided that "in order to take decisions, it needs additional elements of scientific advice," saidİits spokesman Johannes Laitenberger.

The Commission is thus delaying its decision on the pending GMO cases until EFSA has completed its safety analysis of the products and confirmed its positive opinions. Laitenberger said the Commission has "every faith in EFSA" and feels it isİthe best placed scientific bodyİto carry out a comprehensive, independent evaluation ofİGMO safety. The Commission will continue to base its decisions on science "as required by the legislation," he added.

The Commission asked EFSA to:

Analyse further scientific evidence on the effects on the environment and human health of the Amflora starch potatoİ(seeİEurActiv 17/07/07) and three hybrid maize varietiesİ(MON863xMON810, MON863xNK603, MON863xMON810xNK60"), all of whichİcontainİantibiotic resistant genes;

review new scientific information onİGMO maize Bt11 and 1507 and confirm the saftey of these products (which engineer their own pesticide to resist insects), and;

confirm that the scientific evidence on herbicide-resistant GMO rice LL62 is complete.

The EU executive alsoİasked its services to find a technical solutionİto the issue ofİlow-level presence of non-approved GMOs in feed and foodstuffs before the summer.


TheİEuropean Association for Bioindustries (EuropaBio) immediately expressed its disappointment about theİCommission decision to send the dossiers back to EFSA and argues that the EU executive is denying European farmers access to technology. "In Europe, only one biotech crop is available for farmers, an insect-resistant Bt maize. Since 1998 not one single new biotech crop has been allowed to reach the market for cultivation. This stands in stark contrast to the 120 plus products for 23 crops available to farmers worldwide. With such politically motivated steps, Europe is holding up a well-established technology and is putting its credibility at risk,"İstates the association.İ "We would have hoped the Commission could haveİdone more for European farmers so that they can actually cultivate more biotech crops and not just import them," saidİEuropaBio Director Nathalie Moll.İ

Environmental NGOsİFriends of the Earth Europe andİGreenpeace qualifiedİtheİdecision as "a huge vote of no confidence" in the EU's GMO approval system, saying it raises "serious concerns about the ability of the agency to check the safety of GM crops".

The decisions alsoİ"vindicate Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas' concerns about scientific inconsistencies in the EU GMO assessment," saidİMarco Contiero, Greenpeace's EU GMO campaign director. "If the Commission has no qualms with EFSA, then why is it asking it to review three products for the third time? EFSA has always found in favour of GMOs and relies entirely on data from the agro-chemical industry. By sending back the three GM plants today, the Commission has found that its food safety authority cannot be fully trusted although it does not dare to say so."

"Commissioners are right to reject previous EFSA opinions on the three crops, but wrong not to take a decision on the two pesticide maizes. Given the serious scientific concerns linked to these crops, the dossier should have been rejected today, instead of delaying the process by two years by sending them back to EFSA," saidİHelen Holder,İ GMO coordinatorİatİFriends of the Earth Europe. İ


It is not clear how long the new EFSA review process will take.

If approved, the Amflora starch potato and GMO maize varieties Bt11 and 1507 wouldİbe the first new biotech crops authorised by the EU for cultivation since 1998. Currentlyİonlyİone crop - the insect resistant Bt maize crop -İis authorisedİfor cultivation in the EU.


European Union

Commission press release: Summary of today's orientation debate on GMOs in Commission (7 May 2008)

European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)

Commission: Food safety website

Business & Industry

European Association for Bioindustries (EuropaBio) press release: Commission procrastinates on GMOs while millions of farmers worldwide are growing them (7 May 2008)


Friends of the Earth Europe press release: EU food agency under fire as Commission debates GMOs (7 May 2008)

Greenpeace statement: Commission vote of no confidence in EU food safety authority (7 May 2008)


Approving genetically modified organisms (GMOs) involves a request for authorisation by a producer. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is mandated to conduct a scientific assessment and to report to the Commission, which then submits its decision to the Council.

In the event that the Council cannot reach a qualified majority for or against authorisation, the matter is sent back to the Commission, which is free to authorise the GMO based on aİspecial regulatory procedure

Both the special regulatory procedure and the role of EFSA haveİbeenİthe subject of criticismİ(see EurActivİ05/12/05İandİ10/03/06), and the Commission hasİdecided toİintroduce practical changes to EFSA's GMO-approval process (EurActivİ12/04/06).

Up till now, EFSA has never given a negativeİGMOİrecommendation. Since 2005, the Commission has decided toİauthorise the import ofİ16 GMOs.

Several member states have repeatedly invoked an EU safeguard clause enablingİthem to suspend the marketing or growth onİtheir territory of GM crops that have EU-wide authorisation. But the Commission has never substantiated their applications and has always ordered them to lift the national bans.

In October 2007, Portuguese Environment Minister Francisco Nunes Correia saidİthe majority of member states were opposedİto the Commission forcing them to lift such bans. He added: "The Commission proposal prevails against the explicit will of one member state and that is something that has to give us pause for thought."

More on this topic:

News: İ GMO debate continues to divide EU

News: İ France suspends GM maize, citing new scientific evidence

Other related news:

'Era of cheap food is over,' says EU

Scientists find 'new method' to prevent accidental spread of GM crops

EU considers 'pause for thought' on GMOs

GMOs: 'We shouldn't mix the precautionary principle and public perception'

Interview: Biotech sector awaits further GMO approvals


EU: Speed of approvals under the spotlight

Farmers Guardian, 9 May 2008.

EU Agriculture Commissioner, Mariann Fischer Boel's call for a shift away from the zero tolerance position on non-food GMOs so European meat production can remain competitive has been warmly welcomed by CLA Wales, which in turn has come attack from the GM Free Cymru pressure group.

"Her position shows recognition of the need to rely on science - but I would like her to go further if we are to start to have a competitive agricultural model in Europe," said CLA Wales director, Julian Salmon.

"It is extremely important we do not get left behind in terms of scientific and technological developments."

Responding to a question from Mr Salmon, the Commissioner told the recent Women's Food and Farming Union conference in South Wales, that European farmers were facing huge difficulties because of zero tolerance.

Having recently returned from South America, Mr Salmon wondered how Europe could compete "if we cannot accept what science and technology offer us."

Mrs Fischer Boel seized the opportunity, saying that she had had 250,000 emails on the subject - "and you can imagine from where they are coming."

She explained that, because Europe took at least twice as long as the US, Brazil, and Argentina to approve a new GMO and had a zero tolerance on non-approved GMs, there were extra costs attached to soya exported to Europe for meat production. It was much easier to export to China and India.

"Therefore, we need to have a discussion on the speed at which we approve new GMs and I think we also need, although it is going to be difficult, a tolerance of a very, very, low level.

"A very low level to me is 0.1 per cent - otherwise I think our meat sector in Europe is facing huge difficulties." She stressed that she was referring only to imports for meat production and not for cultivation.

However, CLA Wales has been accused of being 'fooled' by the GM industry hype in an attack by the GM Free Cymru pressure group, which said the CLA appeared to believe livestock farmers in the EU were suffering high prices for livestock feed because of the EU's slow rate of GM approvals.

"There is actually no connection at all," said group spokesman, Dr Brian John.

Dr John said US livestock farmers were suffering the same price problems as the EU, with those in Monsanto's home state of Missouri complaining that a 10 per cent ethanol target was triggering a livestock industry meltdown by leading to higher feed prices.

"Tyson's Foods - the huge US broiler conglomerate - has just announced a loss, which is blamed, in part, on high feed prices, while the USDA estimates that corn feed price increases added nearly 9 per cent to the price of US beef last year. "All of this shows that the attempt to establish a link between the rise in feed prices and EU rules on GMOs is completely false and disingenuous," added Dr John.

The US Department of Agriculture's review of 10 years of GM crop cultivation in the States had, in fact, concluded that currently available GM crops did not increase yield potential.


UK: Is in vitro meat the future?
Chicken, beef and pork that has never been a living animal could be better for people and the planet. But will it catch on?

The Times, 9 May 2008. By Carol Midgley.

Here is a question that you must try to answer honestly. Would you eat meat that had been grown in a Petri dish? Let's be clear: I don't mean "mock" meat made from soya, or even the flesh of a cloned animal. I mean real, in vitro meat that has been cultured in a laboratory from, say, pig stem cells but has never formed part of a living, breathing, kicking, oinking creature. Meatro, if you like.

If the idea makes you reach instinctively for your Tesco vacuum-packed streaky bacon, perhaps you had better steel yourself and get used to it. Last month, in Norway, the first international In Vitro Meat Symposium was held, and scientists seem to agree that "victimless" meat - be it beef, pork or chicken - bought off the shelf could become a reality within the next decade.

What might propel the process along even faster was a radical move last week by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta). The organisation, which has long promoted vegetarianism, has offered a $1 million (£507,400) prize to "the first person to come up with a method to produce commercially viable quantities of in vitro meat at competitive prices by 2012". The rules specify that the meat in question must be chicken, with the same taste and texture as meat taken from a living bird. Peta says that the world's use and abuse of chickens is the most urgent issue to be tackled, as billions of them are slaughtered each year - 100 times more than pigs and 200 times more than cattle.

Some members of the organisation are incensed by the gesture. Ingrid Newkirk, its co-founder and president, says that it has caused "near civil war" in the Peta offices. Many purist animal rights campainers abhor absolutely the idea of eating meat, even if no animal died to produce it, regarding it as a moral surrender.

The other view, growing in credence among both carnivores and vegetarians, is that, since human beings seem unlikely ever to kick their meat-eating habit, this may be the ideal - indeed, the only - compromise. It is a possible "third way" that would, theoretically, be kinder to both the animal kingdom and the environment. And, because the meat would not have been pumped full of steroids and antibiotics and fed on grisly reconstituted foodstuffs, it would be healthier. Harmful saturated fats could be removed and good fats, such as omega-3, introduced instead. Probable result: fewer heart attacks. And is the whole idea far-fetched? Not necessarily. Researchers have already produced small amounts of the meat in laboratories, and have been able to get heart cells to beat in test tubes. The technology still has a long way to go, and at present the process is prohibitively costly (it would cost nearly $1 million to turn out a 250g piece of beef). But with enough research and funding, it is not inconceivable that one day the scientists could produce a steak or a lamb chop.

The question then would be: will people eat it? A quick survey of the carnivores I know reveals an instinctive revulsion from at least 70 per cent. "It's perverted," says my colleague at the next desk. "It's a disgusting, freakish idea." Which, to a vegetarian (like me), is deeply weird. How can it possibly be more disgusting than, say, eating chickens that have ulcered backsides from sitting for weeks in their own excrement, bodies five times their natural size, with leg abscesses the size of 50p pieces, and end their lives strung upside down with their heads hacked off?

Personally I would have nothing against eating in vitro meat in principle, because it was never a conscious animal in the first place and never had to travel hundreds of miles in an airless van, live in a cage or come within a country mile of the slaughterman's knife. If it supported an industry that would eradicate the need to keep animals in factory conditions, then I'd not only eat it, I'd buy shares in it.

Realistically, though, there is bound to be initial distrust of a relatively untested field of science with possible health implications. Words such as "Frankenfood" are likely to be bandied about. Fred Kirschenmann, of Iowa State University's Leopold Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, has said that, while he doesn't deny that the idea could work, "every time we mess around with our ecological heritage there are unintended side-effects. We have a long history of unintended consequences."

Yet it is important to be clear that in vitro tissue engineering is not the same as genetic engineering: it is imitating nature, not trying to change it. Stig W. Omholt, director of the Centre for Integrative Genetics and professor at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, which hosted the conference in Norway, says that any health risks would need to be evaluated through experimental tests, though "we cannot foresee that this will become an issue". Nutritional experts with whom he has consulted in fact suggest the opposite - that people's health will benefit.

According to Peta and to many scientists the world over, the ways in which we now produce and consume meat are simply not sustainable. Each year, worldwide, people eat 240 billion kilos of meat. In the US alone, a million chickens are eaten every hour. In terms of CO2 equivalents, the gaseous emissions from livestock production account for about 18 per cent of the global warming effect - more than the whole transport sector. Yet, with each animal killed, a sizeable proportion of it is wasted. With cultured meat nothing is wasted: you grow only the parts you want.

New Harvest, a US organisation that supports the development of meat substitutes, highlights that food-borne diseases - most commonly caused by contaminated meats - are responsible for more than 76 million episodes of illness, 325,000 admissions to hospital and 5,000 deaths each year in America.

Although purists argue that it is an abuse of animals even to use their stem cells to create meat, Newkirk says that she doesn't mind taking "uncomfortable positions" if it means fewer animals suffering in the future. The amount of grain required to feed farmed animals, which in turn feed the world's voracious appetite for meat, is causing a global food crisis, she says. About 760 million tonnes of grain are used to feed chickens, pigs and other farmed animals - more than seven times the amount used to produce biofuels. It can take up to 16lb (7.3kg) of grain to produce just 1lb of meat. Since the Earth's population is predicted to grow to nearly nine billion people by 2050 - with a commensurate rise in the quantity of livestock needed to feed them - this cannot continue. As Bruce Friedrich, a Peta campaigner, says: "We will have to stop eating animals in the way that we do for simple self-preservation."

As the science already exists, in years to come the pressure to move towards in vitro meat may become irresistible. The process works like this. From a living animal you take some stem cells known as myoblasts, which are pre-programmed to grow into muscle, and place them in a nutrient-rich fluid - the "growth medium". They are poured on to a sponge-like scaffold to which they can attach themselves, and stimulated to grow by using electrical impulses. The resulting sheet of meat can be pulled off, ground up, cooked and consumed as a boneless, processed meat - perhaps in a pie. Professor Omholt says that, for now, scientists are likely to concentrate on producing mincemeat on an industrial scale, rather than whole organs such as kidneys. The concept of creating the whole "animal with no brain" is not high on the agenda. But the production of ground meat for use in sausages, burgers and chicken nuggets could take a great leap forward within five to ten years, he says. And does he think that one day, as some have gloomily predicted, such meat will threaten the existence of mooing, baaing animals on farms? "I don't think we will ever see a world where [living] animals are not produced for meat," he says. "I see this as being an alternative."

By and large, the scientific community is motivated more by environmental concerns than animal welfare ones. But the mood and the timing may be right for such a compromise, as ethical halfway houses are becoming de rigueur. The idea of guilt-free - or, at least, less cruel - animal products is increasingly appealing to consumers who are waking up to the horrors of factory farming. Sales of organic foodstuffs have soared and "ethical" versions of luxury foods are catching on fast, even though they are generally more expensive. "Humane" foie gras, in which geese or ducks are not force-fed to make their livers swell to many times their natural size, is becoming popular. Waitrose's "Faux Gras" (it has banned the original type), which is made from free-range ducks and geese but blended to taste like the traditional French product, took off so unexpectedly that stocks sold out at Christmas. The Duke and Duchess of Hamilton, from one of Britain's most aristocratic families, are boycotting Selfridges because it is still selling foie gras.

Ditto farmed caviar. Waitrose stopped selling caviar amid concerns that the Caspian Sea sturgeon population was nearing extinction, but last year in 15 stores it sold sustainable caviar produced by farmed Siberian sturgeon in fish farms in Bordeaux. Demand was so high that this winter it will be offered in 60 stores.

Although the in vitro technology is not yet developed enough to synthesise blood vessels and so grow large steaks, Friedrich believes that this will happen eventually. "In vitro meat has already been created - not with the taste and texture of animal-corpse meat, but it is on its way," he says. "Eventually the technology should be such that you could grow all the parts of an animal, minus the brain. Where there's a will, there's a way." Professor Omholt knows that persuading many people to overcome their knee-jerk distaste for lab meat - or "meat without feet", as one animal organisation has referred to it - will be tricky. "It will be a challenge," he says, "but when you talk people through this, as long as they have any sort of conscience around animal welfare, they will start to agree. You can pose the question the other way round - do they want to make a less intense footprint in the world?"

Whether such meat would pass muster with carnivores, whether it would be deemed to meet kosher and halal criteria, is hard to say at the moment. But Peta's grand gesture has had the desired effect of creating a debate about the issue. The feedback has been mixed, and some people thought it was a hoax - perhaps understandably, as Peta put out an April Fool story recently in which it claimed to have created "Newkirk Nuggets" made from cells from an upper-arm biopsy of Ingrid Newkirk, marketed as "100 per cent Human(e)".

But, as Newkirk has said, she did so "to make the point that flesh addiction is revolting - and if I am healthier, as I am, than the average animal used for meat, and giving my flesh voluntarily, why is this revolting but eating flesh from a probably gut-infected, tumour-laden chicken or cow is not?" Nevertheless, $1million is a lot of money for Peta to pay out. If someone, somewhere, does come up with the goods by 2012, would it definitely honour the deal? "Absolutely, yes," says Freidrich. "It would be the best $1 million we ever spent."

The meaty questions

What will it look like?

In vitro processed meat, such as sausage or hamburger, could look just like the meat we eat.

How long will it take?

We may be able to make processed in vitro meat within years. Unprocessed meat may take a decade or longer.

What are the potential benefits?

Fat content can be more easily controlled, the incidence of food-borne disease reduced and, in theory, one cell could produce enough to feed the world for a year.

What are the risks?

The system could be abused, to produce genetically modified in vitro meat, which would carry the same risks as GM foods.

How will it taste?

In theory, the same as the real thing - but several technical obstacles still need to be overcome. How much will it cost?

It may one day be cheaper than normal meat.

Source: New Harvest, a not-for-profit research organisation working to develop meat substitutes


EU: MEPs vote to tighten up rules for Brussels lobbyists

EU Observer, 9 May 2008. By Honor Mahoney.

BRUSSELS - MEPs have voted to tighten up the rules governing the lobbyists, requiring those seeking to influence officials in the EU's three main institutions to register themselves and provide income details.

The resolution, passed by an overwhelming majority of euro-deputies, suggests that lobbyists have to adhere to a code of conduct and face sanctions, such as being barred from an institution, if they flout the rules.

MEPs want the rules to apply to the European Parliament, the European Commission, which is responsible for proposing EU laws, and the council of ministers, which represents member states.

Once a lobbyist - defined as anyone "influencing the policy formulation and decision-making processes of the European institutions" - is registered in one of these institutions, then they will be automatically registered in the other two as well, according to the one-stop-shop proposal agreed by the euro-deputies.

The register would require professional lobbyists to list their major clients and the amount they spend on lobbying, while think-tanks would be obliged to state their main sources of funding.

Meanwhile, a "legislative footprint" would list all those who have a "significant input" into laws worked on by MEPs, but this would only be voluntary.

"It is an important step towards more transparency in European legislation," said Ingo Friedrich, the German centre-right MEP, in charge of the dossier in the parliament.

However, the measures have been criticised by some MEPs, particularly from the Green group, as they fall short of strict financial disclosure, with the details to be thrashed out later.

In addition, they voted to exempt lawyers from the measures.

"Lawyers are exempted from the scope of rules, which, given all available evidence is absurd," said Italian Green MEP Monica Frassoni.

"Lawyers play an increasingly important role in influencing policy in Brussels and they promote themselves as such on their own websites," she added.

The measures are hoped to be in place for the European Parliament in time for the European elections next year in June. They would update the minimal register that has been in place in the parliament since 1996.

For its part, the European Commission, which has been working on transparency rules for the past three years, is expected to launch its voluntary online register next month.

The three institutions are to set up a working group to try and come up with some common rules in the area in light of the MEPs' vote. Of the three institutions, the council has shown the least interest in the transparency move so far.

There are thought to be about 15,000 lobbyists operating in Brussels, of which 5000 are registered in the European Parliament.

Brussels has been making noises about shedding light on the system since recent high-profile scandals in Washington came to light, with some fearing the same sort of corruption could be exposed in the EU capital.

In addition, MEPs are set to gain even greater powers over EU legislation when the proposed new EU treaty comes into place, possibly next year, increasing the need for more stringent controls.


8 May 2008

USA: Mother's Day Candy from Monsanto Not So Sweet

The Huffington Post, 8 May 2008. By Andrew Kimbrell.

This Mother's Day, as you give and receive the boxes of candy that are so much a part of the holiday, enjoy those luscious chocolate covered crËmes, nougats and truffles. There's no denying that chocolate is the taste of Mother's Day, but this may very well be your year for worry-free Mother's Day candy, and I'm not referring to calorie count. Sadly, biotech companies want to take away the chocolate our mothers know and love, and look forward to receiving.

Sugar in your Mother's Day candy comes from several sources, including sugar beets. A new option available to farmers this year is Monsanto's Roundup Ready sugar beet, genetically engineered to survive multiple direct applications of the weed killer, Roundup. At the request of Monsanto, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency increased the allowable amount of glyphosate residues on sugar beetroots by a whopping 5,000% -- glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup. Sugar is extracted from the beet's root and the inevitable result is more glyphosate in our sugar. This is not good news for those who want to enjoy their chocolate morsels without the threat of ingesting toxic weed killer.

The availability of the new genetically modified (GM) beet will have wide-ranging ramifications on where the sugar in your everyday food comes from as well. If sugar beet seed farmers decide this spring to go ahead and plant Roundup Ready, the seeds they produce will proliferate through the nation's sugar beet farms. The sugar produced from those farms will be mixed in with other types of sugar, unlabeled and untraceable. You couldn't avoid sugar from Roundup Ready beets even if you tried.

That result is a nightmare for consumers who won't buy food with GM ingredients; there are hundreds of millions of these consumers nationwide and overseas. Producers of candy, cereal, granola bars, baby food, breads - anything that contains sugar - would be hard pressed to avoid sugar derived from GM sugar beets. A consumer backlash could force these companies to use sugar from crops that haven't been genetically modified, like sugarcane. This would be a real blow to all sugar beet farmers, and food producers would need to factor in the costs of new packaging with labels declaring that their foods contain sugar that is "not derived from GM beets."

If that isn't enough to make you want to give up candy (or cereal, or bread), consider the issue of crop contamination. Beets are wind-pollinated, which means that plants from one field routinely pollinate beets in other fields up to several miles away. Sugar beet seed is primarily grown in Oregon's Willamette Valley, a prime region for growing related species like table beets and chard. Contamination from cross pollination would be unavoidable, and that could put chard and table beet farmers there and elsewhere in the U.S. where GE sugar beets are grown, out of business due to loss of markets, something the USDA utterly failed to consider when approving Roundup Ready sugar beets for commercial use.

In the late spring of 2007, a federal court ruled that USDA broke the law when it approved Roundup Ready alfalfa for commercial use because it failed to conduct the serious environmental review required by law. Since many of the same points of law apply, a suit filed this January against FDA for clearing Roundup Ready sugar beets for planting will hopefully reach a similar verdict. But, whenever citizens are forced into court to ensure their rights, the outcome is never a forgone conclusion, and although I believe that this won't turn out to be the case, this could be the last year Mother's Day candy doesn't contain elevated pesticide levels.

So moms, enjoy this Mother's Day. Savor those coconut crËmes, toffee crunches, and cherry cordials - and confidently share them with your kids. Next year, they may not seem quite so sweet to you.


USA: GE Roundup Ready sugar beets and Mother's Day candy -- Andrew Kimbrell on Huffington Post blog

Food Law Prof Blog, 8 May 2008.

Genetically engineered sugar beets are on the way, and next year's candy will include sugar from the new plants.İ Andrew Kimbrell of the Center for Food Safety has a post on The Huffington Post that's kind of interesting.İ I had assumed that sucrose is sucrose is sucrose, always a glucose molecule stuck to a fructose molecule.İ And I just assumed it's always pure.İ But here's an excerpt from the article suggesting I may be too calm about it:

Sugar in your Mother's Day candy comes from several sources, including sugar beets. A new option available to farmers this year is Monsanto's Roundup Ready sugar beet, genetically engineered to survive multiple direct applications of the weed killer, Roundup. At the request of Monsanto, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency increased the allowable amount of glyphosate residues on sugar beetroots by a whopping 5,000% -- glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup. Sugar is extracted from the beet's root and the inevitable result is more glyphosate in our sugar. This is not good news for those who want to enjoy their chocolate morsels without the threat of ingesting toxic weed killer.

Read Mothers Day Candy from Monsanto Not So Sweet:


EU considers tightening rules on biofuels

EU Observer, 8 May 2008. By Leigh Phillips.

BRUSSELS - As opposition to biofuels among international institutions, economists and NGOs grows, the European Union is under great pressure to develop a set of sustainability rules governing the controversial alternative fuel source, but EU member states disagree on what constitutes 'sustainable'.

In recent months, biofuels have moved from climate saviour to climate villain, as concerns have arisen that biofuels contribute to food price rises and in some cases release scarcely fewer greenhouse gas emissions than fossil fuels.

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

In the face of the varied criticism however, the European Commission and member states formed a working group that has developed a series of sustainability proposals.

Ambassadors from the EU countries met for the first time on Wednesday to discuss the working group proposals, the heart of which is a two-step scheme whereby biofuels would have to meet a threshold of greenhouse gas savings on what is produced by oil. This threshold would then be raised at a later date.

Officials close to the negotiations say that little agreement was reached a the initial meeting, but that diplomats were close to consensus on an initial threshold figure of 35 greenhouse gas savings on oil and the two-step approach.

Where disagreement remained was over the figure for the subsequent threshold and a date by which it would have to be met.

Regarding biofuel imports, the ongoing discussions will also investigation whether and how to monitor social and labour conditions.

Three options

There are three options on the table arising from the working group that are under consideration by EU diplomats.

The first, and most stringent, would require that countries exporting biofuels would have to be signatories to a minimum of ten out of twelve various international conventions on social and environmental standards.

The second would require that biofuel-exporting countries had passed sufficient domestic environmental legislation, particularly with regard to soil and water standards.

The third option would require some sort of reporting standards on environmental and social conditions be established, either by the country or the company involved.

A source close to the discussions told the EUobserver that in discussions on the criteria, the UK and the Netherlands have pushed for much higher greenhouse gas savings thresholds, of 50 to 55 percent, with Germany also supportive of a stricter threshold.

France however, is believed to be most strongly opposed to any upwards movement of the 35 percent figure. The source said this was because the country is very interested in developing crops for biofuels itself, but that little of what can be grown there offers a saving of over 35 percent. Spain is also believed to favour the lower threshold.

A Belgian official however said they are looking at the threshold from a different angle. As some second generation biofuels offer greenhouse gas savings on oil of 80 percent, but have yet to be fully developed, Belgium would like to see a review of the threshold every two to three years.

This would allow the possibility of adjusting the threshold to reflect the science of biofuels as it develops, and as more advanced forms of biofuels come online, the threshold can be increased as appropriate.

Frauke Thies, renewables campaigner with Greenpeace called the greenhouse gas emissions threshold of 35 percent "not enough to secure effective greenhouse gas savings and aid in the climate struggle.

"We're demanding at least 60 percent greenhouse gas savings on oil of at least 35 percent."

"What is curious is how many of the biofuel crops that can be grown in Europe hover at around or not much above a 35 percent savings. This is where this figure comes from.

"Biodiesel made from rapeseed for example has a savings on oil of 36 percent according to commission figures."

Indirect effects

Greenpeace spokesperson Mark Breddy said: "The question is: Do we adjust biofuels targets to ensure sustainability or do we adjust sustainability criteria to match our biofuels targets?"

Ms Thies is also worried that the criteria currently under discussion do not look at indirect land-use changes that result from biofuel crop cultivation.

Environmentalists say that problems arise not simply when farmers make a decision to begin growing biofuels instead of something else, but there is an 'indirect' problem when other land is used to replace what would have been grown otherwise.

In a speech to the European Policy Centre think-tank on Tuesday (6 May), agriculture commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel said that the sustainability criteria proposals do factor in direct land conversion.

"We take this issue very seriously," she said.

However, she also said they do not take into account indirect land conversion fall-out "because there are no reliable studies to show that biofuel production causes indirect conversion."


Australia: Boost For Green Plastics From Plants

PlasticsNet, 8 May 2008.

Australian researchers are a step closer to turning plants into 'biofactories' capable of producing oils which can be used to replace petrochemicals used to manufacture a range of products.

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

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

"Using crops as biofactories has many advantages, beyond the replacement of dwindling petrochemical resources," says the leader of the crop development team, CSIRO's Dr Allan Green. "Global challenges such as population growth, climate change and the switch from non-renewable resources are opening up many more opportunities for bio-based products."

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

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

The team will announce the successful completion of the first stage of the CBI on 28 April during the Fifth Annual World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology & Bioprocessing (WCIBB), being held in Chicago, Illinois, from 27-30 April 2008.

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

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

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

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


Food prices and protest - Taking the strain
Political fallout has been limited – so far

The Economist, 8 May 2008.

WHEN Haiti's prime minister resigned last month after a week of food riots, it seemed to confirm a warning that Bob Zoellick, the president of the World Bank, had given ten days before. He said 100m people were being pushed into hunger and malnutrition – and 30-odd countries faced social upheaval unless food policy improved and the rich world got its act together to help. A month on, policy has not improved, and the rich world's response has mostly been muddled – yet surprisingly, poor countries have been able to contain the unrest, albeit at heavy cost.

Simon Maxwell, head of Britain's Overseas Development Institute, a think-tank, says one problem is that donors need a single, simple guide on how and where to help, not a clamour of competing United Nations bureaucracies with different plans. There are moves in this direction. The first priority has been to finance the World Food Programme (WFP), the world's largest distributor of food aid. The WFP asked for $750m this year and has so far got about two-thirds of that.

The UN is also trying to make the international response more coherent. Ban Ki-moon, its secretary-general, has set up a task-force to co-ordinate what the UN agencies are doing and has called a food summit in early June to work out a plan.

Rich countries are already managing to be fairly incoherent without any UN infighting. The hope, at least among economists, was that higher prices would induce rich countries to cut state aid to farmers and – says Paul Collier, a development expert at Oxford University – "lead people to question their pleasant fantasies about GM [genetically-modified] food in Europe and biofuels in America." So far, there are few signs of that.

The current American farm bill proposes only modest cuts in ethanol subsidies. The EU has not changed its biofuels target (10% of all fuel by 2020); it continues to bully developing countries not to plant GM crops and this week refused permission to grow varieties of GM maize and GM potatoes in Europe.

While donors squabble, poor countries face riots. But so far, these have had less political impact than many expected. Around 30 countries have suffered protests but only Haiti has seen its government fall. In the Middle East, the part of the world most dependent on food imports, there have been demonstrations and strikes in Egypt, Morocco and Jordan. But all three countries withstood more serious food riots in the late 1970s and 1980s.

In some of the poorest countries, rising food prices have been causing less distress than might have been expected because benefits have also appeared. In Bangladesh, one of the most vulnerable countries, the rice crop is up 10%, prices are about four times production costs and wages for landless peasants are soaring.

Bangladesh has a lot of rural poverty. In countries with millions of urban poor, governments have so far survived demonstrations in part because they are seen to be reacting, whether by issuing ration cards (Egypt and Pakistan) or setting up and expanding social-protection programmes (this is happening almost everywhere, even America). Sometimes, admittedly, reactions are fairly daft. Thailand proposed an OPEC-style cartel for rice, an idea that went nowhere. Many food exporters have gone for beggar-thy-neighbour trade restrictions. Each time one limits or bans food exports, it pushes up world prices – and other governments, equally anxious to keep food inside the country, follow suit. About 30 countries have imposed some form of trade restraint.

Food importers don't have the luxury of making such mistakes. They are buying time by, for example, boosting food subsidies or hiking wages. In Egypt, bread used to be about a fifth of the world price; now it is less than a tenth. Several Arab states have decreed hefty pay rises: 25% for public-sector workers in Syria, 30% in Egypt.

These policies are inflationary and expensive. Oil exporters, or countries like Egypt that benefit from big remittances from them may be able to afford them for a while. Others are not so lucky. In Indonesia, where half the population lives on less than $2 a day, inflation is 9% and food prices are soaring (the price of subsidised rice to the poor was jacked up 60% in April). The government is planning to fuel subsidies, which would make social protection and subsidised rice more affordable. The response: more protests.


USA: Risky business forİHollywood

International Herald Tribune, 8 May 2008. By Martha Bayles.

From the negative depiction of Washington in most Hollywood movies and the frequent criticism of Hollywood in Washington, you'd never guess the film industry and the U.S. government are an old married couple who quarrel at home but are united before the rest of theİworld.

This unity was on display last month in Washington at a contentious panel discussion sponsored by Vanderbilt University's Curb Center for Art, Enterprise and Public Policy. The issue at hand was the export of American films to billions of people around the globe who both welcome and resentİthem.

Hollywood and Washington have cooperated closely on this export, now more than 10 times larger than America's import of foreign films, creating a balance of trade more favorable than that of any other industry saveİaerospace.

The problem, however, is that our old married couple achieves this by treating film like any other product - and in the process ignores foreign resentment toward Hollywood's enormous culturalİpower.

Many Americans assume that the popularity of American films is a natural outcome of global consumer preferences. And in much of the world, demand has always beenİstrong.

But equally strong have been the cajoling, persuading and downright strong-arm tactics that for years have been applied to foreign governments by the Motion Picture Association of America and various players in Washington, from the Defense Department to (most recently) the Office of the U.S. TradeİRepresentative.

These tactics have fostered resentment - and resistance. On the Washington panel, one speaker was a former minister of Canadian Heritage, Sheila Copps, who recently lobbied Unesco to adopt the Cultural Diversity Convention, a resolution affirming the right of any country to exempt "cultural goods and services" from the rules of international tradeİagreements.

This is not the first such initiative, and to opponents, it is just an excuse to erect protectionist barriers against the "free flow of information" (especially Hollywood films). To its advocates, it is a crucial defense of national cultures against the onslaught of "global mono-culture" (especially Hollywoodİfilms).

The Cultural Diversity Convention was adopted by Unesco in 2005 by a vote of 148 to 2, with only Israel joining America in opposition. The resolution is not binding. Even so, such a high-profile endorsement of cultural protectionism should worry both Hollywood andİWashington.

But Hollywood could care less. On the panel, Dan Glickman, president of the Motion Picture Association, jokingly recalled that when he was secretary of Agriculture under Bill Clinton, his European Union counterpart tried to block U.S. farm products on the grounds that "genetically modified food was cultural." The Cultural Diversity Convention, Glickman said, felt like "déjà vu all overİagain."

Yes, you heard right. The world's most powerful film lobbyist dismisses the idea that movies are culture and insists that they are mereİcommodities.

To repeat, this has long been the U.S. stance in high-pressure trade negotiations. After all, argues Curb Center director Bill Ivey in his new book, "Arts, Inc.," America has never had a ministry of culture, charged with supporting the arts at home and shaping their flow to the rest of the world. This is mainly because we've never wantedİone.

Yet this lack of leadership leaves Hollywood and Washington talking about America's most important cultural exports as though they were so many bioengineeredİeggplants.

It is also ironic, because when the Motion Picture Association was founded in 1922, it was in reaction to a 1915 Supreme Court decision that defined cinema as "business, pure and simple," and therefore not eligible for First Amendmentİprotection.

Because this ruling raised the specter of state censorship, the major film studios agreed to adopt the Production Code that restricted sex and violence. Only later did the courts redefine cinema as protected speech - which is to say, as artisticİexpression.

American film makers today have more freedom than any of their predecessors or peers. Sometimes the results are wonderful. But sometimes they are deeply offensive: empty spectacle, sniggering adolescent treatments of sex and ultra-violentİimagery.

As a result, millions of foreigners - not just ministers of culture, but also ordinary people - feel assaulted. When Hollywood and Washington respond to their concerns by reducing film to the status of "business, pure and simple," they add insult to perceivedİinjury.

Martha Bayles is writing a book about America's cultural image.


USA: The role of GMOs in Napa Valley wine production raises concerns

Plenty Magazine, 8 May 2008. By Nathalie Jordi.

The increasing, unadvertised research and development of GMO in Napa winemaking is starting to ring alarm bells. In three Napa Valley Register articles published last week, journalist Juliane Poirier Locke points to the genetically modified yeasts and genetically engineered grapevines that are being developed at UC Davis, Cornell, and other universities around the country – or insinuating themselves into the winemaking industry in California and elsewhere.

The manipulation of grapevines is not a new concept. Ever since the phylloxera epidemic of the late 1800s, when most of the vineyards in Europe were destroyed, winemakers worked to hybridize or develop resistant rootstocks to make the vines stronger and disease-resistant. But today's engineering is much more high-tech: Geneticists are using genes from pears, peas, herb amaranth, synthetic material, and even African clawed frogs to create disease-resistant grapevines.

Although genetically engineered vines and fruit are still in the R&D phase, genetically modified yeasts have hit the market. The use of added yeasts isn't novel – most wines are now made with a wide range of commercial yeasts. But two new yeasts on the market – ML01 and ECMo01 – haven't just been cross-bred, they've been genetically engineered to prompt speedier fermentation and reduce urethane, a suspected carcinogen.

While no local winemakers have admitted to using these yeasts, they're not required to, and in a consumer climate so GMO-wary, who would? Locke, however, cites a 2006 Sacramento Bee article in which a distributor of yeasts is quoted stating that some GMO-yeast wines from California are already on the market.

Napa Valley, where Locke's articles were researched, has a few outspoken anti-GMO advocates who are meeting regularly to monitor the issue. PINA, or Preserving the Integrity of Napa's Agriculture, and the Napa GMO Stakeholder Group, are lobbying to pass the same kinds of bans on GMOs that Mendocino and Santa Cruz County have effectuated (a GMO ban in Sonoma County was rejected in 2005).

Many people believe we can solve our pest problems without the use of GMOs. "The history of agriculture shows us that there will always be another pest," said Miguel Altieri, a professor of agroecology at UC Berkeley. "Will we have to keep re-engineering the vines for each one? The solution is not in genetic re-engineering but in making our agricultural systems more resilient." He believes in a more diverse vineyard, in which insects have food choices other than the grapevine.

Battles like these are being fought in every sector of the industry, from wine to vegetables to cheesemaking. Which side of the lobby will prevail?


GM debate in Wales hots up, 8 May 2008. By Andrew Forgrave.

Industry leaders have called for a profound shift in agricultural policy to prevent Welsh farming being left behind by its competitors.

Late 20th-century anti-production policies are no longer valid in a world of falling incomes and looming food shortages, said CLA Wales Julian Salmon. İ

And Prof Chris Pollock, the Assembly Government's chief scientific adviser, was quoted in the Observer newspaper saying it was "perverse" to rule out technologies such as GM crops "as the world begins to starve". İ

Both comments are seen as a challenge to Cardiff 's hard-line opposition to GM technology. İ

Dr Brian John, of campaign group GM Free Cymru, immediately called for Prof Pollock to be sacked and accused Mr Salmon of cosying up to the pro-GM lobby. İ

He said: "Prof Pollock is a breach of the code by which scientific advisers keep quiet on issues where their opinions differ from those of their employers." İ

Controversy erupted at last week's Women's Food and Farming Union conference in Bridgend. İ

During a debate on the rate of non-food GM approvals - much slower in the EU than elsewhere - Mr Salmon complained that, as a result, soya exports to Europe for meat production were prohibitively expensive, with disastrous consequences for the UK 's poultry and pig sectors. İ

He contrasted domestic attitudes with those in the US and emerging economies which have been much quicker to embrace new food production technologies. İ

"In this country it is seen as heresy to question populist opposition to bio-technologies, and even to challenge orthodox climate change science," he said. İ

"I cannot see the logic or rationale of shutting the door on the enlightenment that science provides, and which has got us as a species to where we are today." İ

Mr Salmon said there needed to be a debate on the future direction of Welsh agriculture. İ

He pointed to last month's creation of a the new research giant, the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (Ibers), Aberystwyth, to address 21st century challenges such as climate change, fuel alternatives and food shortages. İ

"As things stand, Wales will be producing world-class food production research that will only be beneficial to our competitors," he said. İ

Farmer Henry Fell told the WFU conference that, without a scientific revolution, including GM, world food production would have to spread to environmentally fragile land. İ

He was supported by Prof Pollock who, in the Observer, was quoted: "To stop widespread starvation, we will either have to plough up the planet's last wild places to grow more food or improve crop yields. İ

"GM technology allows farmers to do the latter - without digging up rainforests. It is therefore perverse to rule out that technology for no good reason." İ

Dr John rejected claims that EU farmers were suffering high prices for livestock feed because of GM approval rates, claiming US livestock farmers were experiencing similar problems. İ

High grain prices were being driven by biofuels, global demand and weather patterns, he said. Moreover, GM crops were unproven in terms of increased yields and drought tolerance. İ

"The anti-GM watchdog group suggests that Mr Salmon is either a willing stooge for the GM industry, or that he is gullible enough to actually believe the hype that comes out of the industry's highly sophisticated PR machine," Dr John added. İ

He claimed Prof Pollock, who retired last year as Iger director in Aberystwyth, was a well-known GM proponent. He is current chairman of Defra's Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment. İ

"Prof Pollock is effectively saying that those who 'rule out technology' - including the Welsh Assembly - are behaving perversely, since they have 'no good reason' for their opinions and policies," said Dr John. İ

Rural affairs minister Elin Jones told the WRU conference there was political consensus in Wales against the introduction of GM crops. İ

"This has cross-party support in the National Assembly," she added.


Australia: People must be across risks and benefits of GM crops: Academic

ABC News, 8 May 2008.

A legal academic has told a Tasmanian parliamentary inquiry more than science should be considered in deciding whether to extend or lift a ban on genetically modified foods. The University of Tasmania's Dean of Law, Don Chalmers, is also on a Federal Government's gene technology ethics committee.

Professor Chalmers told the Tasmanian joint select committee there can never be a total guarantee that GM foods are safe.

He says the public must be well informed to assess the potential risks and benefits. "With all technology, not just simply GMOs, that there are going to be people involved in the use of those technologies," he said.

"That means there's individual rights involved, there's the social questions because of the effects and of course if we've got the technology and others haven't some people are going to profit from it, which are economic questions."


Kenya: An Angry Son And the Hungry of the World Get a Raw Deal

The Nation (Nairobi), 8 May 2008. By Charles Onyango-Obbo.

[Extract only. For full text see]

Zimbabwe's economic crisis (inflation is now 170,000 per cent) has left many of its citizens going hungry. Now, says the World Bank, 100 million people in the world are facing severe hunger too as global prices of food shoot through the roof.

But like the soaring oil prices that have enabled the giant oil companies to rake in unprecedented profits, there are multinationals that are making a killing from the high food prices.

According to a report in The Independent on Sunday, Monsato (famous for its controversial genetically modified foods) last month reported that its net income for the three months up to the end of February this year had more than doubled over the same period in 2007, from $543m (Sh33bn) to $1.2bn (Sh76bn).

Its profits increased from $1.44bn (Sh89bn) to $2.2bn (Sh136bn). Cargill's net earnings soared by 85 per cent from $553m (Sh34bn), to $1.12bn (Sh69bn) over the same three months.

AND ARCHER DANIELS MIDLAND, one of the world's largest agricultural processors of soy, corn and wheat, increased its net earnings by 42 per cent in the first three months of this year from $363m (Sh22bn) to $517m (Sh32bn).

The operating profit of its grains merchant merchandising and handling operations jumped 16-fold.

The unjust thing about some of this is that, according to a new authoritative study carried out over the past three years at the University of Kansas in the US, contrary to the hype that genetic modification increases crop yields, the opposite is actually true. Genetic production, the study found, cuts the productivity of crops. GM soya, for example, produces 10 per cent less food than its conventional equivalent.

The new study confirms earlier research at the University of Nebraska, which found that another Monsato GM soya produced 6 per cent less than its closest conventional relative, and 11 per cent less than the best non-GM soya available.

Mid last month the biggest study of its kind ever conducted - the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development - concluded that GM was not the answer to world hunger.

Now, that leaves us in a tight spot.


Ireland: Call to review GM feed restrictions

Irish Examiner (Farm supplement), 8 May 2008. By Stephen Cadogan (editor).

THE EU's system for importing livestock feeds made from genetically modified crops has been slammed as "fundamentally unbalanced and discriminatory" by the European Parliament Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development chairman Neil Parish.

He has asked the European Commission to review its zero-tolerance regime on imported feed stuffs containing traces of GM soya or maize.

With the power to veto or even dismiss the commission, the Parliament has emerged as an important ally for livestock farmers who have to pay more for feeds because of import restrictions.

Irish farmers are worst affected because they rely more on imports of animal feed than any other EU country, with more than 50% of animal feed ingredients imported. Ironically, Ireland is one of the member states restricting the feed imports. Their votes against GM animal feeds in EU committees such as the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health reflect the 58% opposition to genetically modified organisms among EU citizens. Meanwhile, revealed Mr Parish, EU consumers are offered imported meats, 90% of which come from animals fed on GM crops, many of which are unapproved in the EU.

Livestock farmers in Europe have to compete against these imports without access to millions of tonnes of GM feeds from the US, Canada, Brazil and Argentina.

Mr Parish pointed out that any container arriving in an EU port from these countries, with even a trace of non-approved GM contamination, may be sent back.

Meanwhile, farmers and feed millers here had to wait 34 months for Herculex maize to be approved for import into the EU - more than 50 varieties of GM feed await approval.

Mr Parish has asked the commission to speed up its approval for new varieties of GM feed deemed safe by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

"It is a great irony that we import poultry, pig and beef meet from outside the EU from animals fed on products we deny our own farmers. This helps no one. Consumers have no idea whether their meat has been fed on GM, and farmers have to pay through the nose for feed," said Mr Parish.

"We also have to address the zero tolerance issue. I am not suggesting a free-for-all on GM, but we must ensure any threshold is fair and achievable for non-GM feed. With new varieties of GM soya being planted around the world, it will be virtually impossible to guarantee any shipment into the EU is truly GM-free. I doubt anyone will bother sending GM-free shipments to the EU as a result, and this will make non-GM feed even scarcer and more expensive for our farmers.

If the EU does not take urgent action, we are in danger of exporting much of our industry outside of the EU," said the high-ranking MEP, who farms in Somerset.

Comment from GM-free Ireland:

This article by the editor of the Irish Examiner farm supplement, Stephan Cadogan, is full of disinformation designed to dupe Irish farmers into becoming unwiting pawns in the war to deprive them of their capacity and human right to produce the safe GM-free food which EU consumers demand:

Cadogan's opening statement gives the false impression that the EU's system for importing GM animal feed has been slammed as "fundamentally unbalanced and discriminatory" by the European Parliament Committee on Agriculture. In reality it reflects only the views of its controversial chairman, Neil Parish.

Cadogan claims the European Parliament "has the power to veto or even dismiss the Commission" on GM animal feed approvals - which is absolutely false. The Parliament has no say in the process whatsoever, let alone any veto or right to dismiss. The European Parliament is not consulted when the EU deliberates the authorisation of new varieties of GM crops. Nor is the Committee of the Regions, nor the European Economic and Social Committee. The Commission's undemocratic "comitology" procedure allows unelected EC bureaucrats to approve GMOs for feed, food and cultivation against the wishes of the majority of member states.

He implies the Parliament favours GMO, while in reality it rejects them.

In June 2003 the Parliament ratified the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety which clearly recognises the legal right of individual signatory countries (including Ireland) to ban the importation of live GMOs based on the Precautionary Principle.

In November 2005, at the European Parliament Conference on GMOs Safeguarding Sustainable European Agriculture: Coexistence, GMO Free Zones and the Promotion of Quality Food Produce in Europe, Regional Ministers and MEPs re-iterated the right of EU regions to ban the use of GMOs, the right to practice quality GM-free farming and food production, and the need to provide for regional decision-making in proposed new EU level legislation on the so-called "coexistence" of GM crops, contrary to the discredited "one-size fits all" National measures that the Commission was then proposing (see; this call is also backed by the Assembly of European Regions, representing more than 250 member regions from 33 European countries and 13 interregional organisations.

In the lead-up to the meeting of the parties to the Convention on Biodiversity in March 2006, the Parliament overwhelmingly voted against the relese of GM Terminator seeds.

In June 2006, the EU Parliament issued a Declaration calling for every member state and region to have the right to completely prohibit the import, growing and sale of genetically modified organisms; it urged the Council and the European Commission to implement strict and unlimited liability for gene technology firms concerning all damages to the environment, health and the economy which result from the introduction and utilisation of GMOs; and called for all patent rights on living organisms to be declared invalid (see

In March 2007 the Parliament strongly opposed an EC proposal to allow GM contamination of organic food, and completely rejected a controversial draft resolution to weaken GM food and farming regulations.

Cadogan's claim that Irish farmers are "worst affected" by the EU's "zero tolerance" for unapproved GMOs is the opposite of the truth. Irish farmers are least affected for the simple reason that Irish cattle and sheep enjoy a mostly grass-based diet, thus consuming far less compound feeds (including GM ingredients) per capita than livestock in most other EU member states. Moreover, Irish farmers can thus phase out risky GM feedstuffs with less hassle than their EU competitors, many of whom are already well on their way to doing so.

His claim that "Ireland is one of the member states restricting the feed imports" with "votes against GM animal feeds" is false. Ireland used to vote in favour of them, but has recently resorted to abstaining - thus empowering the unelected EC bureaucrats to decide in favour of legalising them, via the so-called "comitology" process that autmatically ends up approving GMOs against the wishes of the majority of EU member states, retailers and consumers.

He implies that European farmers are suffering "without access to millions of tonnes of GM feeds from the US, Canada, Brazil and Argentina". In reality the EU continues to import millions of tonnes of EU-approved GM feedstsuffs from these countries.

While it is true that EU livestock farmers have to compete against cheaper imports of meat from Brazil (where livestock are routinely fed on GM feeds that are not approved in the EU), it would be a mistake to follow their example by relaxing EU safety standards in a "race to the bottom" that would quickly exclude Irish beef and dairy produce from EU supermarket shelves which are increasingly excluding produce from GM-fed livestock and introducing GM-free labels for meat and dairy produce, as in Germany.

Cadogan fails to point out that one million citizens of EU member states signed a petition demanding mandatory labelling for meat, poultry and dairy produce from livestock fed on GM ingredients, in order to guarantee consumer's human right to choose what we eat. ( With this label in place, EU consumers who don't want GM-fed animal produce will be free to chose the safe GM-free alternatives.

Cadogan repeats Parish's statement that imported shipments "with even a trace of non-approved GM contamination" may be sent back, without mention of the fact that the 5,131 tonne shipment of animal feed contaminated by the then illegal GM Herculex maize (intercepted by GM-free Ireland and Greenpeace in Dublin port last year) entered the EU food chain through Ireland after half of it was fraudulently sold to Irish farmers because the Department of Agriculture failed to test it before it was placed on the market, relying on fake "GM-free" export certificates from the USA. And rather than being "sent back" to the USA, the importer, R&H Hall sat on it for months and then sold the rest after Herculex was eventually approved by the EC months later. Ironically, the now-approved Herculex was subsequently found to be itself contaminated by another illegal GM ingredient called "Event 32"!

He quotes Parish's statement about the European Food Safety Authority's claims that GM feed is "deemed safe", without mentioning EFSA's own admission that it is unable to carry out the legally required assessment of indirect and long-term impacts. In April 2008, the Commission agreed that EFSA would need two more years to develop its capacity to do so. On 7 May 2008, the Commission re-iterated its recognition that EFSA does not have the capacity to conduct proper risk assessments and relies on safety claims made by the applicant companies!

He fails to mention that the EU does not approve new GM varieties without evaluating their health risks, and that the scientific evidence of their health impacts on livestock and humans includes liver damage, kidney damage, pre-cancerous growths, and allergic reactions.

He quotes Parish's complaint that EU farmers "have to pay through the nose for feed" in a way that implies that high feed costs are caused by EU reluctance to approve untested GM varieties. In reality feed costs have also risen in the USA, and certified non-GMO feed from the USA, Brazil and other countries is widely available for only a small premium, which can be re-couped from EU retailers and consumers who pay more for safe food.

He fails to question Parish's assertion that "truly GM-free" animal feed is "virtually impossible" to guarantee. In reality, non-GMO soya meal, independently certified to be over 99.9 per cent GM-free has been - and continues to be - shipped to Europe from various countries including the USA and Brazil, where the Agrenco Group ( and IMCOPA ( have the capacity to provide the entire EU market for soya meal feed with GM-free product!

43 EU Regions have adopted GM-free quality agriculture policies: see the GM-free Ireland report on the European Conference on GM-free Animal feed: Quality production and European regional agricultural strategy held in December 2007 at the European Committee of the Regions in Brussels: (3.2MB pdf download).

See also the forthcoming International Non-GMO Soy Summit 2008: Strategic Alliances for Sustainable, Responsible Non-GMO Soy to be held in Brussels on 7 - 9 October 2008

As one of the world's most powerful trading blocks, the EU has sufficient economic clout to demand that farmers in the USA and other countries planning to export to the EU cultivate the kind of GM-free crops which our regulators, markets, retailers and consumers demand. The EU can also request these exporting countries to stop approving new GM crops which are not wanted in Europe, following the lead of Argentina and Brazil which are cautious about approving new GM crops that could hurt their exports to the EU.

Instead of promoting the race to the bottom advocated by Neil Parish and Stephen Cadogan, Ireland should strongly urge its fellow EU Member States and the European Commission to continue to push for producer countries to cultivate the safe GM-free animal feed and food which European consumers demand.

Ireland should follow the good advice of Friends of the Earth Europe to:

work at the EU level to develop plant protein crops in Europe with a view to becoming less dependent on animal feed imports which would be the solution to getting real GM-free animal products, in line with the wishes of the majority of consumers, and

ensure that the EU resists pressures to weaken its GMO regulations and instead promotes and defends high health and safety standards for consumers, animals and the environment around the world.


An Insatiable Global Hunger for Grain

The Pig Site, 8 May 2008.

Wheat is by far the most traded grain as it is so adaptable to many uses, but production for the world market has so far been the privilege of a handful of countries.

But the economic growth of emerging nations, coupled with their urbanisation, has profoundly changed people's eating habits. They are eating more, particularly meat. The Chinese, for example, consumed five times more meat in 2005 than in 1980. Three kilogrammes of grain are needed to produce 1kg of poultry; more than double that is needed for 1kg of beef. Feed and oil-producing grain are part of livestock's daily diet.

With a growing world population and a better quality of life in emerging nations, the demand for grain is growing inexorably. International wheat exports tripled between 1960 and the beginning of the millennium. Egypt, which used to supply the wheat for ancient Rome, has become the product's leading importer. Increased cheap imports during the times of plenty strangled local agriculture in the Mediterranean region and sub-Saharan Africa . The food bill for these countries has reached exorbitant levels.

In a report by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in June 2007, the economist Adam Prakash concluded that food imports will cost 90% more on average than in 2000 for the least advanced countries (3). The UN experts drove the point home a few months later. At a press conference in Dakar on 9 November 2007, Henri Josserand, head of the Global Information and Early Warning Service at the FAO, calculated that the food bill for African nations had grown by a third, or even 50% for the most dependent among them, between 2006 and 2007.

3rd World Human Hunger

African populations are suffering the consequences of rising grain prices, and there have been hunger riots and demonstrations against the cost of bread. Meanwhile, grain is breaking all records on the American markets.

Food security is once again causing concern, even in industrialised nations. Observers such as Jean Ziegler (until recently UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food) raise the spectre of famine in west Africa. Even in the United Kingdom, where agriculture was long ago sacrificed in favour of industrial revolution (1), the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) raised concerns about the dangers facing food security in a study published in December 2006 (2).

Just over a year later there is real anger on the streets about the high cost of living - in the UK but also, and especially, in the South where people depend on imports to feed themselves but with incomes that are unimaginable for the British. Prices (milk, oil, rice and wheat) have exploded and the surge has been most spectacular on the grain markets.

Prices doubled during the summer of 2007 when farmers in the North were harvesting. The price of wheat rose from $200 to $400 per ton between May and September at the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, the benchmark for the international grain trade. The same occurred in Paris where milling wheat peaked at §300 ($477) per ton at the beginning of September. Prices rose again in mid-March when the United States had almost exhausted its export capabilities. One bushel (27kg) passed the symbolic $13 mark - a record. In one year the price of wheat increased by 130% on the American futures market. Millers and manufacturers of pasta and livestock feed in developed countries were taken by surprise and protested loudly.

But for several years there has been a noticeable difference between supply and demand. The final reserves (what is left in the silos of producer countries before the start of the harvest) have been shrinking while demand has been growing. The market is no longer regulated by the growth of supply but by the use of the accumulated reserves of the large exporter countries.

In 2007 this precarious balance collapsed for two reasons: increased demand generated by the boom in biofuels, and poor harvests due to the vagaries of the weather. These two phenomena came to a head as tension grew, caused by the growing demand of emerging nations such as China .

Biofuels absorb 10% of world corn production, but this is only partially responsible for the spectacular surge in grain prices because US companies, its main manufacturers, increased their corn production to meet this new demand. However, according to the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), the ethanol industry could increase the price of corn by at least a quarter, and possibly by as much as 72%, by 2020 (see "Ethanol: the new anti-depressant").

Weather played a crucial role in 2007. Drought in Australia, lack of sun and too much rain in Europe, frost in Argentina ; all weakened production. No one is talking about a shortage at this point but, in the trading rooms where sales and purchasing decisions are based mainly on final reserves, such a substantial drop encouraged a surge in prices throughout the season.

First to benefit

The large exporter nations are the first to benefit from the situation. The leader of the pack, the US, registered record agricultural export revenue in 2007 - $85bn. According to estimates from the United States Department of Agriculture, the 2008 harvest looks even more promising. In France grain farmers have doubled their income. The large trading companies are also, discreetly, recording astronomical results.

Anger is brewing at the other end of the chain in the developing countries which are net importers. Riots have broken out in Mexico, Senegal, Morocco and Mauritania . Local agriculture cannot cover the population's needs in these countries.

The increased cost of groceries may be bearable in developed economies where food represents only 14% of household expenses, but it becomes unmanageable in sub-Saharan African nations where 60% of income is taken up by food.

In the face of such food inflation, emerging nations which have traditionally been exporters have raised barriers to keep local prices at an affordable level. Argentina (4) and Russia have imposed taxes on exports as well as restricting the amount distributed. When these measures are reflected on the world market, the tension is pushed up a notch.

The most exposed countries, the net importers, have resorted to subsidies when their finances allow it. In Morocco last September the rise in bread prices set by the bakers union provoked violent demonstrations in several towns. Fearing that the anger in the streets would lead to riots, the government preferred to cancel the increase and suspend several taxes on importing wheat to support the millers. The Tunisian government even asked bakers to reduce the weight of bread to avoid increasing the price.

'Food aid vanishes'

According to the agronomist Marc Dufumier, an expert on comparative agriculture, famine can be triggered by the most insignificant climatic incident and will be even more difficult to deal with at a time when world food aid reserves are becoming dangerously low.

"Food aid vanishes when the price of wheat rises," he says. "Countries in the northern hemisphere are generous when they have a surplus. Aid reduces reserves and contributes to supporting prices at home. But as soon as prices take off, they sell to anyone who has a solvent demand."

Figures published by the International Grains Council (5) confirm this. During 2005-06 8.3m tons of grain were exported as food aid; only 7.4m tons were exported in 2006/2007. Aid is expected to fall to 6m tons for the season which is now coming to an end.

The hunger riots show no signs of burning themselves out. While supply does not satisfy demand, prices will continue to rise. To reverse this trend, governments could ask their populations to eat less couscous, bread and particularly meat, but this suggestion is hardly likely to be favourably received in countries where food standards are just starting to improve - not to mention those who have not even seen such improvement thus far.

In China, for example, the health minister is encouraging women to consume dairy products to absorb more calcium. Milk requires livestock, and grain to feed them. Demand will almost certainly grow in the years to come.

Investors seduced

There is the speculative trend too. In the autumn of 2007 Financeagri, a French firm specialising in raw agricultural materials, encouraged its subsidiaries in an email to "play a part in the volatility of agricultural markets. Don't just be a spectator. Find out more." Their commercial offer illustrates the current revolution taking place on the agricultural futures markets. Initially created to cover the risk of price variation, they have become a hunting ground for all kinds of speculators, be they regular (investors and negotiators) or occasional (farmers). The arrival of regular investors has had a sharp effect on listings by feeding price volatility.

Agricultural indexes, which reflect the current evolution, are popular with investment funds. According to Barcap (a Barclays subsidiary specialising in investment), between the end of the first and fourth quarters of 2007 - when the grain markets really took off - the volume of capital managed by listed investment funds (ETFs in finance jargon) on European agricultural products grew fivefold from $156m to $911m (6). The same source has indicated that the amount of capital placed on the American agricultural markets jumped even further, increasing sevenfold between the first and last quarters of 2007.

The convergence of the prices for energy products and grain for the biofuels industry has also seduced investors. An increasingly voracious (and carnivorous) population, and undervalued agricultural products compared to other raw materials, could create a long-term surge in agricultural products. The metal and energy markets have been bubbling away nicely for five years. Now it's the turn of agricultural products.

In such a euphoric atmosphere producers are also seeking to maximise profits. According to an analyst with a large trading company, "high prices have strengthened the position of operators". In France many contracts have not been honoured, particularly as regards the delivery of milling wheat and brewing barley. Producers believed that more profit could be generated from direct sales to manufacturers and have had to reimburse the injured cooperatives.

'Land is an investment in the future'

For Philippe Mangin, president of Coop de France, this attitude is entirely understandable. "Small farmers have never faced such volatility," he says. "Prices have tripled in 15 months. It's enough to make your head spin, especially after three lean years."

However, he deplores this development. Faced with the concentration of industrial demand and the disengagement of the public sector, the solidarity of producers, underwritten by the cooperative movement, would be particularly helpful.

According to the International Grains Council's assessments, farmers are starting to react. Wheat fields should increase by 4% in 2008, comparable to the progress observed the last time the grain market was so active in 1995-96.

But when all grains are taken together, few countries have the necessary technical means or, more importantly, the available land. "Land is an investment in the future," maintains British investor Jim Slater. He made his fortune in the metal market and is now turning his attention to agriculture, focusing on investments in irrigation programmes.

Russia, particularly the vast steppes in East Siberia, and Ukraine, thanks to its famous black earth, could develop farming. But the continental climate makes this a risky enterprise as frost can cause returns to fall drastically from one year to the next. Argentina and Brazil, on the other hand, can convert pampas and forests into farmland.

According to Dufumier, "there are still unexpected productivity gains to be had". Not in Europe, though, where the return per hectare is the highest in the world. The future of export agriculture is probably to be found in these new countries where production costs are low and returns still weak.

It will involve rolling out genetically modified organisms (GMOs) which are already omnipresent in Argentina, across the board - and will lead to a series of harmful consequences for the environment, such as deforestation in Brazil .

The countries most affected by the grain explosion will be saved by the renaissance of their own agricultural industry. Mali strengthened its own productivity and has therefore been relatively spared, thanks to investments made in rice cultivation in the Niger delta and the common sense of its cotton farmers.

Disappointed by the ever-lower prices offered by cotton companies for a kilo of seed cotton, they used the materials allocated for this crop for sorghum and corn seedbeds. In neighbouring Burkina Faso, soya fields have advantageously replaced the cotton trees.

Faced with a lack of generosity by the donor countries on which it depends, the World Food Programme is trying to support internal production by intensifying local purchases. In West Africa their share increased from 13% in 2005 to 30% in 2007.

The explosion in grain prices again raises the question of what role agriculture should play in development. It should be at the heart of Europe's Common Agricultural Policy and the Doha negotiations. The World Bank, which contributed to weakening agriculture in some countries by imposing economic liberalisation, has now put this sector at the heart of its efforts to fight poverty in its 2008 report on development.


7 May 2008

Euro Commission shies away from crucial decisions on GMOs
Application process for GM crops exposes incompetence of European Food Safety Authority

Green Party UK, 7 May 2008.

The European Commission has once again failed to show leadership on GMOs, according to UK Green MEP Caroline Lucas, after it again shied away from making crucial decisions this morning on the fate of a number of applications by GM companies.

Dr Lucas MEP said: "The constant indecision and the shirking of responsibility on GM crops within the European Commission is embarrassing. The Commission has failed to take its role in risk-management seriously by once again delaying the decision to ban insect resistant bt-maize variants 1507 and bt11.

"Instead of enacting the ban proposed by Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas, the Commission compromised and decided to send back the files to the EFSA, which has already proven its incapacity to judge long-term effects.

"I welcome the fact that the Commission has so far refused to authorise the genetically modified starch potato Amflora, produced by BASF. However, yet again, by sending back the application to EFSA the main problem has not been solved.

"EFSA has already ignored an argument against the use of Amflora by the European Medicines Agency. The existing conflict can only be solved if the Commission assumes a clear position and takes the precautionary principle seriously, thus taking into account the fact that no conclusive long-term studies yet exist, and so banning the crop altogether.

"The Commission can no longer hide behind EFSA and delay important decisions on GMOs. Sending back these files for reconsideration is a farce and weakens the standing of the Commission itself."

Dr Lucas concluded: "The reform of EFSA is long overdue. It is obvious that EFSA has failed to do a proper risk-analysis of GM products and various member states are asking for a total reassessment. The Commission has to eliminate the weaknesses of EFSA in order to ensure that it does not weaken the credibility of the Commission."


Safety of GM Crops? Alarm bells ring for European Commissioners

Greenpeace International, 7 May 2008.

The GM food industry suffered another serious setback today as European Commissioners overturned the verdict of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), who had given assurances that three new types of GM crops were safe. For the first time, Europe's most senior lawmakers are publicly doubting the safety of GM crops.

The EFSA had previously given the green light for a new type of GM potato and two types of GM maize to be grown. However, when Europe's leaders began to delve into the data on safety of these crops alarm bells rang.

Leading experts from the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Institut Pasteur and the European Medicines Agency (EMEA) have already raised concerns about the impact of German chemical giant BASF's GM potato on human health. The crop could result in people and animals developing resistance to certain types of antibiotics which are used to treat diseases. The data on the two types of GM maize wasn't much better. Scientists believe that they could harm wildlife such as butterflies and other insects.

And if this mounting body of evidence wasn't enough to make Europe's Commissioners sit up and think again, then the 130,000 email messages from Greenpeace supporters certainly helped them to do so. Since last autumn, when Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas first stood up to the biotech industry, tens of thousands of environmentalists have kept the heat on the European Commission about this issue. We posted comments on Commission blogs, we wrote them emails, we sent them postcards and petitions.

Greenpeace International's Geert Ritsema certainly thinks that the decision is another nail in the coffin for the GM food industry. On hearing of the Commission's decision, Ritsema said, "that policy makers at the very highest levels are now questioning the safety of GM crops is very significant".İ

"The fact that the Commission has ordered a second investigation also raises huge questions over the EFSA's ability to do its job properly. How can we trust it to get it right on other crops if it has got it so badly wrong this time?" İ

Of course, scientific opinion means littleİwhen the giants of the GM industry are using every trick in the book to make sure that the crops are given the go ahead. It's no secret that the industry has been trying to intimidate Europe into giving the go ahead by threatening to launch a law suit against the Commission if it didn't agree. İ İ

The Commission should be given a pat on the back for not caving into industry pressure. Having said that, why is the Commission asking the EFSA to look again at the crops when it has shown itself completely incapable of doing so the first time round? İThere is no escaping the facts. The impact on the environment and on human health of GM crops that produce their own insecticides is completely unknown. The Commission should have recognised this and rejected the new crops outright.İ


European Commission Discusses How Best to Move Forward on the Authorization of Pending GMO Applications

Business Wire, 7 May 2008.

WASHINGTON -- President Barroso of the European Commission today convened a meeting of Commissioners to discuss Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), a highly complex matter and subject to lively and often controversial debate in Europe which has the world's strictest system of approval for GMOs based on safety, consumer choice and protection of biodiversity.

The Commission confirmed that in fulfilling its institutional responsibilities and respecting its international obligations, it will finalize decisions on pending cases where existing procedures require the Commission to act, and will examine new cases. The Commission confirms its confidence in the scientific advice provided by the European Food Safety Authority, and will continue to base its decisions on science as it is required to do.

The Commission agreed to proceed on the following pending GMO applications:

Amflora potato and three hybrid maize (MON863xMON810, MON863xNK603, MON863xMON810xNK60") - these products contain an antibiotic marker gene. The Commission will ask EFSA to analyse further scientific evidence on the effects of these GMOs on the environment and human health. The Commission will adopt these pending decisions if and when EFSA has confirmed the safety of the products.

GMO maize Bt11 and 1507 (application for cultivation): the Commission agreed to request EFSA to review the scientific information that came to the attention of Commission's services at the end of 2007 and that has not yet been reviewed by EFSA. The Commission will adopt the pending decisions if and when EFSA has confirmed the safety of the products.

GMO rice LL62: the Commission agreed to request EFSA to confirm that the scientific evidence is complete. The Commission will present a draft decision to the regulatory committee if and when EFSA does this.

The Commission has instructed its services to find a technical solution for the issue of low level presence of non approved GMOs in feed and foodstuffs as soon as possible and at the latest before the summer.

The Commission will continue to work closely with EFSA and support the agency's capacity to assess the long term environmental impacts of GMO cultivation.

The Commission today also adopted two decisions requesting Austria to lift its bans on the import of 2 GMO maize.


EU delays decision on approving more GM crops

Reuters, May 7 2008. By Jeremy Smith.

BRUSSELS - The European Commission, the EU's executive arm, delayed a decision on Wednesday on whether farmers may grow more genetically modified crops, saying further scientific analysis was needed before approval could be given.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) will be asked for more assessment of the risk of growing two GM maize crops, and a potato modified to produce extra starch. That move is likely to put off EU approval of the crops for several months.

EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas, one of the 27-strong Commission's most GMO-wary members, had wanted to reject the two maize applications, pitting himself against many Commission colleagues more favourable towards biotechnology. He has also delayed deciding on the potato for nearly a year.

"The Commission will adopt the pending decision if and when EFSA confirms the safety of these products," Commission spokesman Johannes Laitenberger told a news conference, referring specifically to the two modified maize types.

One type has been engineered by Swiss agrochemicals company Syngenta (SYNN.VX: Quote, Profile, Research). The other was developed jointly by Pioneer Hi-Bred International, a unit of DuPont Co (DD.N: Quote, Profile, Research), and Dow AgroSciences (DOW.N: Quote, Profile, Research) unit Mycogen Seeds.

The potato, known as Amflora, is made by German chemicals company BASF (BASF.DE: Quote, Profile, Research) and designed to produce high amounts of starch for use in industrial processing but whose by-products can also be used within animal feed.

The EU has not approved any GM crops for growing since 1998.

In return for sending the three applications back to the scientists, Dimas will sign an order for Austria to lift its ban on import and processing of two GM maizes -- although cultivation will continue to be prohibited. "The Commission today adopted two decisions requesting Austria to lift its ban on the import of two GM maizes," Laitenberger said. Those products are MON 810 maize made by U.S. biotech company Monsanto (MON.N: Quote, Profile, Research), and T25 maize developed by German drugs and chemicals group Bayer (BAYG.DE: Quote, Profile, Research).

Austria is the only remaining EU country cited in a World Trade Organisation case filed against the Commission by Argentina, Canada and the United States -- the world's top three GM crop growers -- where national bans on specific GMO products are still in effect.

"The Commission has furthermore instructed its services to find a technical solution for the issue of low-level presence of non-approved GMOs in food and feedstuffs as quickly as possible and at the latest before the summer," Laitenberger said.

For months, the Commission had been due to debate the issue in a bid to end a policy vacuum and also show its major trading partners like the United States, the world's top biotech crop grower, that Europe is in the market for GMOs.

Europe has long been split on biotech policy and the EU's 27 countries regularly clash over whether to approve new, finished GM varieties for import. The Commission usually ends up issuing a rubberstamp approval, which it may do under EU law. (Reporting by Jeremy Smith; Editing by Dale Hudson)


Brussels delays decision on GMO crops

EU Observer, 7 May 2008. By Leigh Phillips.

BRUSSELS - The European Commission has pushed back a decision on whether to permit three genetically modified crops, saying that additional scientific analysis on their effects on the environment and human health was needed before they could be approved.

One of the crops is a potato that produces extra starch - suitable for industrial uses and animal feed - and contains a gene that confers resistance to certain antibiotics, and the other two are maize varieties engineered to produce their own pesticide.

The commission asked its in-house food safety analysts, the European Food Safety Agency, to once again review the three strains - the third time it has requested EFSA review these particular crops.

In its previous assessments of the two GM maize varieties, EFSA stated that both varieties were safe.

"The commission will adopt these decisions if and when EFSA has confirmed the safety of these products," said commission spokesperson Johanes Laitenberger

The move reflects a sharp division within the commission. Environment commissioner Stavros Dimas had wanted the two maize crops rejected, while other commissioners are eager to show Europe is open for GMO business.

While member states are responsible for any decisions on approval of GM crops, they are often divided on the matter and meaning final decisions on the matter then revert to the commission.

However, the commission normally adopts decisions based on the opinion of EFSA, which anti-GMO campaigners complain bases its investigations on data provided by the GM industry itself. It has always declared any GM crops it has studied to be safe.

A number of member states have also accused EFSA of bias and say it gives the nod to GMOs without the necessary research.

The one maize crop was developed by Pioneer Hi-Bred International and Mycogen Seeds, while the other is a Syngenta product.

The potato, meanwhile, comes from the stable of Germany chemicals manufacturer BASF. Concerns about the possible negative effects of the potato have been raised by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Institut Pasteur and the European Medicines Agency (EMEA).

Simultaneously, the commission asked Austria to lift its ban on the import and processing of two other strains of GM maize - MON 810 from Monsanto and T25 from Bayer.

Green MEP Caroline Lucas said: "The constant indecision and the shirking of responsibility on GM crops within the European Commission is embarrassing."

"The Commission can no longer hide behind EFSA and delay important decisions on GMOs. Sending back these files for reconsideration is a farce and weakens the standing of the Commission itself."

"Under current practices, the crops will only have been tested for 90 days for health effects - as opposed to the two-year testing requirement for standard pesticides.

"Additionally, the GM potato contains a gene that makes cells resistant to antibiotics. We have already seen some of the problems associated with the widespread use of antibiotics and resulting resistance. If this gene were to be released into the environment, it could create serious problems in treating a range of diseases."

Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth Europe called for EFSA to be reformed, "to ensure that its opinions are scientifically sound and impartial.

"The agency is understaffed and lacks the appropriate expertise to fulfil its legal obligations on EU GMO risk assessments," said the two groups in a statement.

Marco Contiero, Greenpeace Europe's GMO campaigner, said: "Today's decisions are a huge vote of no confidence in the EU food authority and vindicate environment commissioner Stavros Dimas' concerns about scientific inconsistencies in the EU GMO assessment."

"If the commission has no qualms with EFSA, then why is it asking it to review three products for the third time?" he asked.

"EFSA has always found in favour of GMOs and relies entirely on data from the agro-chemical industry. By sending back the three GM plants today, the commission has found that its food safety authority cannot be fully trusted although it does not dare to say so."

"Asking Europe's underfunded and inadequate food agency to look at the safety of these crops for the third time is like putting a fox in charge of a hen house," he added.

The commission however defended its food safety authority, saying: "[We] will continue to work closely with EFSA and support the agency's capacity to assess the long term environmental impacts of GMO cultivation."


EU delays decision on licensing to grow new biotechİcrops

International Herald Tribune, 7 May 2008.

BRUSSELS, Belgium: The European Commission delayed decisions on licensing the cultivation of three biotech crops Wednesday – raising doubts about whether the EU will open its market to genetically modifiedİfoods.

Applications for growing two biotech corn products and an engineered potato were sent back to the European Union's food agency, EFSA, for further scientific review, EU spokesman Johannes Laitenbergerİsaid.

The agency has already approved the products, but "the Commission has decided to ask EFSA to take another look" after new scientific facts were raised late last year, Laitenbergerİsaid.

The Commission will make a final decision based on the evidence, not political or emotional arguments, heİsaid.

The EU executive is under pressure from both industry and environmental groups over the applications, with exporters of biotech products – including the U.S. and Canada – also watching the decisionİclosely.

EU member nations are divided between those supporting economic arguments for wider biotech crop cultivation, and those concerned with the potential long-term effects on health and the environment. With EU member states in disagreement, the EU Commission has the lastİsay.

The three products include the Bt-11 corn seed, made by Switzerland's Syngenta AG, and the corn 1507, produced by U.S.-based Pioneer Hi-Bred and Dow Agrosciences. Also being considered is Germany's BASF AG's "Amflora" potato, designed to provide starch for industrialİuses.

The companies expressed frustration with Wednesday's delay. They say their products would offer pest resistance, help reduce global food shortages and pose no harm to human health or theİenvironment.

"The 1507 maize cultivation application was submitted nearly seven years ago," said Gyula Kovacs, Pioneer Europe's director of operations. She urged the Commission "to live up to" EU rules for approving biotech crops and act on EFSA's previousİapprovals.

BASF renewed a threat of legal action over the nine-month delay for its potato application. Company official Mette Johansson said there was "no new scientific data" suggesting Amflora wasİunsafe.

Environmental groups argue, however, that the maize seeds contain pesticides that could pose problems for wildlife and humans. They warn the potato contains a gene making it resistant to antibiotics that could spread to conventional crops and taint the foodİchain.

Marco Contiero, of Greenpeace, said the delay was "a clear vote of no confidence" inİEFSA.

If licensed, the biotech crops would be the first in a decade to be authorized for cultivation withinİEurope.


EC "regulatory shambles" over GMOs

GM Free Cymru (Wales) press notice, 7 May 2008.

In the light of today's decision by the European Commission to refer three GM varieties (1) back to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) for scientific review, NGOs with an interest in GM matters have claimed that there is now a complete regulatory shambles in the GM assessment process.

At its GMO "orientation debate" on the morning of 7th May (2) the Commission decided not to support Commissioner Stavros Dimas, who had asked for a refusal of consent for the three varieties on the grounds that there have been serious doubts about the reliability of the long- standing EFSA decisions that they are safe and harmless to the environment. Many concerns have been raised about the Amflora potato by international institutions such as the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Institut Pasteur and the European Medicines Agency (EMEA); and the GM maize varieties have been subjected to intense scrutiny by national regulators and independent scientists, who have confirmed that there are considerable risks associated with them.

Speaking for GM Free Cymru, Dr Brian John said: "This decision is a political fudge which has nothing at all to do with science. Commissioner Dimas was perfectly correct in seeking to use the precautionary principle as a basis for the refusal of consent for these three varieties. But President Barroso has bowed to pressure from the Americans and the WTO, and in a feeble attempt not to upset them he is sending the three varieties back to EFSA for further study. This is completely ludicrous -- there is ample scientific evidence to show that these varieties are likely to damage both public health and the environment."

"How many times does Mr Barroso want EFSA to look at these varieties? It has looked at them twice already. EFSA is a corrupt organization which is predisposed to advise consent for ALL GM varieties, and it systematically rejects all the concerns raised by independent researchers and institutions. It is not fit for purpose, and it does not have the resources to undertake scientific analyses of its own. It has to depend upon the dossiers of evidence submitted by the applicant corporations, and we know from experience that these dossiers are cynically manipulated to screen out anything "inconvenient." So what we now have is the worst of all possible worlds. There has been a lack of decisive leadership, a refusal to accept the advice of the Commissioner who handles the GM portfolio, and now a botched attempt to get EFSA to "strengthen" its advice. President Barroso wants approvals at all costs, regardless of the evidence or the consequences (3). When will he and his Commission finally accept that there are major scientific doubts about GM varieties, that nobody needs them, and that the European public does not want them?"



Dr Brian John Tel + 44 1239820470


(1) The three varieties are the BASF "Amflora" GM potato, the Syngenta GM maize referred to as BT11, and the Pioneer/Dow GM maize referred to as line 1507. The first of these contains a gene which confers resistance to certain antibiotics, and the other two are engineered to produce their own insecticide. For further information on the dangers associated with GM maize varieties and the GM potato see and

EU delays decision on approving more GM crops
Wed May 7, 2008 3:56pm IST

(3) "The commission will ask EFSA, the European Food and Safety Authority, to analyse further scientific evidence on the effects of these GMOs on the environment and human health," spokesman Johannes Laitenberger said. "The commission will adopt these decisions if and when EFSA has confirmed the safety of these products," he added.

So what happens when EFSA, true to form, has "confirmed the safety of these products" for the third time, while other scientific bodies say the evidence points to harmful side effects? The standoff will continue, bringing further ridicule down upon the head of President Barroso.


EU food agency under fire as Commission debates GMOs

Friends of the Earth Europe / Greenpeace press release, 7 May 2008.

Brussels - Today's European Commission decision to send three controversial genetically modified crops back to its food safety agency is a huge vote of no confidence in the EU's approval system claim Friends of the Earth Europe and Greenpeace, who say it raises serious concerns about the ability of the agency to check the safety of GM crops.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) will be asked to review:

its previous opinion on the safety of a genetically modified (GM) potato in light of concerns raised by international institutions such as the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Institut Pasteur and the European Medicines Agency (EMEA). The GM potato, produced by German chemicals company BASF, contains a gene which confers resistance to certain antibiotics which are highly relevant for human and animal health;

its previous assessment of two GM maize varieties engineered to produce their own pesticide. Despite widespread scientific controversy about the safety of pesticide GMOs, EFSA originally stated that both varieties were safe. EFSA then recognised that it was unable to carry out the legally required assessment of indirect and long-term environmental impacts. Last month, the Commission agreed that EFSA would need two years to develop its capacity to assess the long-term and indirect impacts of GMOs.

Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth Europe call for EFSA to be reformed, to ensure that its opinions are scientifically sound and impartial. The agency is understaffed and lacks the appropriate expertise to fulfil its legal obligations on EU GMO risk assessments.

"The result of today's Commission debate is a clear vote of no confidence in EFSA. The question is now how many more times Barroso is prepared to ignore scientific evidence and public opinion until he gets the decision he wants. Asking Europe's underfunded and inadequate food agency to look at the safety of these crops for the third time is like putting a fox in charge of a hen house," said Marco Contiero, Greenpeace EU GMO campaign director.

"Commissioners are right to reject previous EFSA opinions on the three crops, but wrong not to take a decision on the two pesticide maizes. Given the serious scientific concerns linked to these crops, the dossier should have been rejected today, instead of delaying the process by two years by sending them back to EFSA. The Agency is in dire need of complete reform if it is to be trusted in making important judgements about the safety of GM crops," said Helen Holder, GMO coordinator for Friends of the Earth Europe.

For more information please contact:

Marco Contiero - Greenpeace EU GMO campaign director,
tel. BE +32 22741906, BE +32 477777034 (mob.),

Helen Holder - Friends of the Earth Europe GMO coordinator,
tel. BE +32 25420182, BE +32 474857638 (mob.),

Mark Breddy - Greenpeace EU communications manager,
tel. BE +32 22741903 Chiama, BE +32 496156229 (mob.),

Francesca Gater - Friends of the Earth Europe communications officer,
tel. BE +32 2542 6105, +32 485 930515 (mob),

Notes to the editor:


The two GM maize varieties, developed by the companies Syngenta and Pioneer/Dow are engineered to produce their own insecticide. There is growing scientific evidence showing that the insecticide could affect wildlife and may have knock-on effects on Europe's biodiversity. The Commissions environment department in charge of approval under EU law has proposed to reject these crops.

Also up for discussion was BASF's 'Amflora' potato - a GM potato containing a gene which confers resistance to certain antibiotics. The World Health Organisation, the European Medicines Agency and the Institut Pasteur are at odds with EFSA on the possible impact of this product on human health and the environment.


The legal bans are in France, Austria, Poland, Hungary and Greece.

See p.66 of the March 2008 Eurobarometer survey:

The French government has called for a debate on the review of the EU

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) has also repeatedly criticised the EU for "undue delays" in the authorisation of GMOs. See the latest WTO ruling:

For more information on the dangers associated with GM maize varieties and the GM potato see and


Europe Delays Decision on Growing of Modified Crops

New York Times, 7 May 2008. By James Kanter.

The European Union authorities delayed decisions on Wednesday on whether to allow European farmers to grow types of genetically modified crops, heightening tensions with agro-science companies and risking further friction with trading partners like the United States.

The commission has come under pressure from industry and environmental groups over the products, which include a potato produced by the German chemicals giant BASF, and two strains of corn, one from DuPont and Dow AgroSciences of the United States, and another from the Swiss company Syngenta.

Rather than make a final decision on whether to approve or disallow them, the European Commission directed the European Food Safety Authority, an independent body that reports to the commission, to conduct additional safety tests on the products, saying that was the most effective way to reach a decision.

A commission spokesman, Johannes Laitenberger, did not say how long the review would take.

Countries in the European Union are divided over gene-altered foods. Some countries and commission members favor a ban on certain products for environmental and health reasons, and others want speedy approvals to bolster food security, lower the price of feedstuffs for dairy and livestock farmers and improve trade relations, mainly with the United States and Canada.

Europe recently approved a swathe of gene-altered crops for import, but it has not approved any genetically modified crops for growing for a decade. That has frustrated the United States, which has accused the commission of failing to follow its own rules for assessing biotech products, which require the food safety agency to assess risks and make recommendations to the commission.

Argentina, Canada and the United States have already won a case against Europe at the World Trade Organization for illegally delaying approvals of genetically modified products. The United States and Canada still could retaliate against Europe for its policies.

Peter Power, a spokesman for the European trade commissioner, Peter Mandelson, said that while some trading partners regarded the pace of approval for many genetically modified products as too slow, the United States should recognize that Europe was making progress.

He cited a separate decision made by the commission Wednesday to force Austria lift its ban on the import of gene-altered corn varieties for food and feed use. Even so, he acknowledged that some trading partners remained frustrated by bans on growing such crops in countries that include Austria, France, Greece, Hungary and Poland.

Agro-science companies said they were disappointed by the decisions.

"Today represents continued procrastination and unnecessary delay," said Mike Hall, a spokesman for Pioneer Hi-Bred, the maker of a corn variety engineered to produce a toxin, commonly called Bt, that is poisonous to certain insect pests. Mr. Hall said that the corn already had received two positive safety opinions from the European food safety authority.

Pioneer last year sued the commission at the European Court of First Instance in Luxembourg for delaying approval. A judgment is pending.

BASF has warned of legal action against the commission if it did not rule soon to allow cultivation in Europe of the company's high-starch biotech potato, the Amflora. The food safety agency "has repeatedly stated that Amflora is safe for humans, animals and the environment," a spokeswoman for BASF, Susanne Benner, said.


European Commission Procrastinates On GMOs While Millions Of Farmers Worldwide Are Growing Them

Medical News Today, 7 May 2008.

Today, the EU Commission held a debate on the biotech crop approval process in Europe and sent out a disappointing signal when it agreed to send back three cultivation dossiers which had been positively assessed. Europe is already lagging behind worldwide competition when it comes to biotech crops: more than 40 products are awaiting EU approval. Furthermore, in the light of the current bottlenecks in the supply of food and feed, it is unacceptable to keep putting off decisions by asking the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to reconsider dossiers such as the three biotech crops for cultivation which came before the Commission today: two insect resistant corn varieties and the starch potato Amflora which had been positively assessed by EFSA years ago.

In doing so, European farmers are being denied access to the technology. In Europe, only one biotech crop is available for farmers, an insect-resistant Bt maize. Since 1998 not one single new biotech crop has been allowed to reach the market for cultivation. This stands in stark contrast to the 120 plus products for 23 crops available to farmers worldwide (1). With such politically motivated steps Europe is holding up a well-established technology and is putting its credibility at risk. The existing EU approval system, which has been agreed upon between the Commission, the Member States and the European Parliament includes a thorough examination involving the scientific assessment of each and every biotech crop and its potential environmental as well as health and safety impact. Europe is still just talking about the technology, while the rest of the world is moving ahead rapidly, causing Europe to become increasingly isolated. "Today's debate at the EU Commission is yet another example of procrastination. The system is in place, and it should be allowed to function," says Bernward Garthoff, Vice Chairman of EuropaBio - the EU association for bioindustries.

"Although we welcome the measures addressed to imports such as the Commission decision to ask Austria to lift its ban on two biotech maizes, and find a technical solution to the issue of low level presence before the summer, we would have expected the Commission to do more for European farmers so that they can actually cultivate more biotech crops and not just import them," says Nathalie Moll, Director of EuropaBio.

Europe wants and needs to reduce the environmental impact of agriculture and to mitigate the effects of climate change. Biotech crops can contribute to both these goals. With over ten years experience of commercial biotech planting, analysis has shown considerable biotech crop-related carbon dioxide emission savings (1). In 2006; these were equal to the removal off the roads of 6.5 million cars, equal to about 25% of all registered cars in the UK (2).

Biotech crops have been adopted by farmers at record pace around the world because they offer better protection of harvests - farmers can actually reap more of what they sow on the same amount of land. Biotech crops also decrease the need for spraying and reduce energy use as well as save on labour. Biotech can endow crops with special traits so that they can be grown in saline soils, or with less need of precious water resources.

At a time where food security is high on the agenda, as prices for agricultural commodities continue to surge globally with unprecedented speed, agricultural biotechnology has an important role to play in meeting the world's challenge to feed itself. It is unacceptable that Europe's hesitation to apply its own regulatory approval process is affecting developing countries that would like to take up this technology.

(1) Brookes G and Barfoot P. (2006) GM crops: the first ten years - Global socio-economic and environmental impacts. ISAAA Brief Nƒ36. ISAAA: Ithaca, NY. linkLink (pdf).

(2) In 2007, the global biotech crop area grew 12 percent or 12.3 million hectares to reach 114.3 million hectares, the second highest area increase in the past five years. Two million more farmers planted biotech crops in 2007 making a total of 12 million farmers globally enjoying the advantages from the improved technology. Notably, 9 out of 10 of the benefiting farmers, were resource-poor farmers (11 million in total), exceeding the 10-million milestone for the first time. In fact, more developing countries planted biotech crops in 2007 than industrialized countries.

About EuropaBio

EuropaBio is the European Association for Bioindustries, solely and uniquely bringing together bioscience companies from all fields of research and development, testing, manufacturing and distribution of biotechnology products. It has 85 corporate members operating worldwide, 7 associate members, 5 BioRegions and 25 national biotechnology associations representing some 1800 small and medium sized enterprises involved in research.


Brussels hosts long anticipated GM debate, 7 May 2008. By Laura Crowley.

The approval process of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and the future of three GM products are up for discussion today by the European Commission.

The current situation facing GMOs in Europe is inconsistent, with bans on the cultivation of GM crops implemented in France, Austria, Poland, Hungary and Greece.

Today's debate has been much anticipated by both supporters of biotechnology and critics, as all hope for some reforms to GM policy to bring it in line with recent developments across the industry and in public perceptions.

Additionally, organisations are eager to finally see a decision on the fate of three cultivation dossiers, which have been in the pipeline for many years. The last time a GM product was approved was in 1998.

Commissioners could today decide the future of two GM maize varieties containing insecticides, developed by Syngenta and Pioneer/Dow.

Also on the table is BASF's Amflora potato - a GM potato containing genes that provide resistance to certain antibiotics.

GM opinions across industry

Nathalie Moll, director of green biotechnology at EuropaBio, said: "Recent polls have shown 20 per cent of Britons and Europeans are concerned about GMOs, demonstrating that the Europeans are moving away from their historical stance on such products. Therefore, we would like to see all institutions mirroring this in their decisions."

Ian Ferguson, chief executive of Tate & Lyle and president of the UK Food and Drink Federation, said: "As a nation [the UK], we have to face up to the issue of genetic modification and as an industry we have to rise to the challenge of helping to foster a fair and scientific debate on an issue that has typically been clouded by suspicion and lack of trust."

However, environment organisations remain cautious over GM products, fearing their possible long term health risks and effects on the environment. One of the main concerns is regarding cross-contamination with conventional crops.

"The Commission has its back to the wall and Barroso must face up to his responsibilities," said Marco Contiero, Greenpeace EU GMO campaign director. "The Commission cannot once again pass the buck to EFSA, but must address the concerns of the scientific community and member states," added Contiero.

And Friends of the Earth Europe campaigner, Helen Holder, said: "Growing these GM crops would put farming and wildlife at an unacceptable risk. The Commission's own department in charge of GMOs is proposing to reject the two maize varieties. Never before have Barroso and his commissioners thrown out a proposal, so why should they do so now?"

Current GM cultivation in Europe

At the moment, the only type of GM crop grown in the EU is maize, which was approved in 1998. It is not cultivated for human consumption but for animal feed.

The maize contains a gene that defends the crop against the European corn borer, aninsect pest that eats the stem, present primarily in southern and middle Europe but moving northwards.

One of the main concerns regarding GM crops is that pollination could cross-contaminate non-GM crops grown in the vicinity - and that ultimately the long-term health effects of GM on humans are not known.

Last year, over 110,000 hectares of biotech crops were harvested in seven EU member states, compared to 62,000 hectares in 2006. This represents a 77 per cent increase.

French GM crop cultivation experienced the greatest increase in Europe, quadrupling in size from 5,000 hectares in 1996 to over 21,000 hectares last year.


Food aid alone will not solve global food crisis, economist tells EU

EU Observer, 7 May 2008. By Leigh Phillips.

BRUSSELS - The EU should provide structural aid to increase yields from peasant farmers in poor countries if it wants to help the global food crisis rather than just throwing emergency food aid at the problem, American economist Jeffrey Sachs told the European Parliament on Monday (5 May).

"If we just stay at the level of emergency food aid, we will not solve the problem," said the economist who is instead urging the bloc to look at ways to help farmers boost food production.

Emergency food aid is a response that should indeed be applied, he said, but "in the most short term" with a "time horizon of just the next six months. It won't solve anything longer term. For a longer term solution, we need to address the structural supply."

"Rather than just shipping expensive food aid, we should be helping the poorest of the poor to grow more food."

The biggest success story of this sort, said Mr Sachs, has been the doubling of food production in Malawi in last three years. "This can be replicated in many places, and I urge the EU to follow this kind of logic."

The former advisor to ex-UN-Secretary-General Kofi Annan and repentant architect of the 'shock therapy' market strategy that was applied to Bolivia in the mid-1990s and Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall told the parliament's development committee that the crisis in food prices around the world was a product of "growing world demand for food hitting against rather stagnant supply."

This crisis of supply and demand was in turn caused by a series of factors. Food production in poor regions was "far below what it should be." These regions, he said, are producing only a third or even a quarter of their potential food output. The solution, he said, is to raise food output to levels that meet their full potential.

Additionally, food production is being hit by "a number of climate shocks" in recent years, with changed weather patterns affecting harvests.

The American economist also added his voice to the growing criticism of biofuels saying: "We should cut back significantly on our biofuels programmes, which were understandable at a time of much lower food prices and much lower food stocks but do not make sense now at a time of global food scarcity condition."

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

In the wake of criticisms of the policy from the UN World Food Programme, the World Bank and its own scientists, the EU last week claimed that although American biofuels policies are affecting food prices, its own strategies are having only a minimal effect. But Mr Sachs argues this is false.

"The biofuel impact is greater in the US because it's a larger programme. In Europe, it's still a real impact though due to two things: to a modest extent food, wheat for example, is used for creating biofuels in Europe and that amount is to multiply considerably in the years ahead. Secondly, land that is crop-growing land is diverted from grains to rapeseed and other inputs for biodiesel."

"The US has a larger impact, but neither of them makes much sense in terms of the environmental effect, the energy balances or the food impact," he said.

He favours instead second generation biofuels research. "I'm a strong supporter of gaining expertise by research into biofuels that do not compete with foodstuff, such as cellulosic ethanols, which are not yet ready for commercial application but need more research.

Mr Sachs would also like to see more funding on research into improved seed varieties that are drought and "climate-proof", as "these climate shocks will continue to come."

However, he stressed that this meant conventional crops, along with increased use of fertilisers and small-scale irrigation, and not genetically modified organisms.


In With the Old, Out With the New: Organic Agriculture - A Growth Industry

Frost & Sullivan, 7 May 2008. By Cameron Wilson, Research Analyst, Environmental & Building Technologies.


Throughout history agricultural production has been the life-blood of civilization. Societies that have failed to secure a sustainable means of food production have failed to survive. Food scarcity has been a driver of evolution throughout the ages where populations of organisms have exploited unique opportunities to find food. Plants evolved out of the sea to find more sunlight in terrestrial environments, and animals followed them. The same is true today as the evolution of agricultural production is undergoing its latest metamorphosis: the organic revolution.

Since the discovery of the effects of guano on crop yields over 100 years ago, conventional agriculture has employed the use of external inputs in ever increasing amounts to produce higher outputs. These inputs have come in the form of chemical pesticides and fertilizers, genetically engineered crops, and synthetic hormones. Each of these miraculous products has increased the outputs of conventional farms to numbers previously thought to be unattainable. The results have been such things as larger, juicier, and more abundant fruits and vegetables, drought resistant grains, and over-producing dairy cattle.

All of these benefits seem wonderful on the surface, but just beneath the surface lays the unspoken truth of the matter: this is not sustainable. While all of these products have increased agricultural yields, they do so at the expense of non-renewable natural resources and energy in the form of fossil fuels. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), a branch of the United Nations, agricultural production, packaging and distribution accounts for 19% of the United States' fossil fuel energy use. What will happen to these crop yields as the costs of the inputs (energy, pesticides, and fertilizers) increase with the scarcity of the resources used to produce them? Is there an alternative?

Enter Organic Agriculture

Organic Agriculture is defined by the USDA as " ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles, and soil biological activity. It is based on minimal use of off-farm inputs and on management practices that restore, maintain and enhance ecological harmony."

Put simply, organic agriculture is a sustainable system of farming that focuses on reducing off-farm inputs, and replacing the energy requirements of conventional farms with human labor. The benefits of these systems include lower operating costs for the farmer in terms of materials, healthier food products for consumers, and lower energy and non-renewable resource consumption for society as a whole.

With 21% growth in sales of organic products in the United States in 2006 to just under $18 billion annually, to say that organic agriculture is a growth industry is a bit of an understatement. The fact that this accounts for only 2.8% of the nearly $600 billion market means that there is room for vast expansion. Chart 1.1 illustrates the recent trends in the sales of organically grown food products and demonstrates the relative size of the potential market. The chart also demonstrates the steady increase in market share that organic foods have shown in recent years. Currently, the largest proportion of the organic agriculture market is food products, which account for approximately 95% of all organically grown products. This leaves plenty of room for growth in the non-food agricultural market - a market that is rapidly expanding on its own. Non-food agricultural products include such things as cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, bio-fuels, and fibers (e.g. Linen, cotton, and hemp). Due to the fact that cosmetics and pharmaceutical products come into direct contact with the people who use them and provide a mode of entry for any potential toxins contained within, these products may be affected by public concerns over environmental impact and health concerns. However, the fuel and fiber markets are primarily cost driven as the consumers perceive far less risk to their health, and identify even the conventionally grown products as being more "natural" than their petroleum, or synthetic based counterparts.

While we have seen more and more farmers making the switch to organic practices in recent years, the proportion of agricultural land that has been devoted to organic practices in North America is still very small. According to a United Nations study conducted in 2006, organically managed farms represent only 0.3% of all agricultural land in North America. This market is still extremely small with a great deal of room for growth.

Who's buying? And Why?

To date, the reasons for consumers to switch to organic products have been mostly related to concerns about health and sustainability. The public perception is that organically grown foods are more environmentally friendly, and offer health benefits over their conventionally grown counterparts. Some consumers have put their money where their mouths are, so to speak, by footing the bill for products that they perceive as better either in terms of their heath promoting qualities or sustainability. It is this perception of organic products that has enabled the market to grow despite the availability of cheaper alternatives. People are genuinely concerned about the quality of products produced by conventional agriculture and the impact that these products have on the environment, particularly when it comes to products that they feed to their families.

There still remains a large segment of consumers that cannot afford to spend the extra money on organics. The price difference between organic and conventionally grown products can range anywhere from 25% for items like carrots and broccoli, to 250% for poultry and meat products. It is for this reason that conventionally grown food products still hold 97% of the market share according to the US Organic Trade Association. But will these price differences remain as they are? In the short term, it is likely that organic food products will carry a premium price-tag. However, as time goes by and energy prices rise, the costs of conventionally grown products will likely rise with them, thus eventually narrowing the price gap between organically grown and conventionally grown produce.

While sustainability is a selling feature in the non-food product market, health benefits still play relatively minor role in the decision-making process of consumers. Recent public concerns over health issues associated with polycarbonate plastics used in food and beverage containers could open a niche for bio-plastics made from organically grown materials. Currently, though, there remain relatively few organically grown non-food products. It is the price gap that keeps the conventionally grown products on top in the non-food market as consumers of these products are more concerned with the cost than they are with the health and environmental impacts of their purchase. However, because these products are primarily price driven, when the price of organics reaches parity with conventionally grown products we could see their respective market shares begin to swing in the other direction.

Energy Conservation is the Key to Growth

Organic farming systems use, on average, 30-50% less fossil fuels than their conventional agricultural counterparts. The energy costs of packaging and distribution remain the same for both farming systems, although certification groups are considering setting guidelines for the packaging of organic foods. The fossil fuel energy saved in organic systems is largely replaced with human or animal labor which accounts for the price differences. Organic operations generally require about 35% more human labor than conventional farms. However with the rising costs of fossil fuel energy, we could see the costs start to come into line.

Conventional intensive agricultural practices require the input of off-farm products such as fertilizers and pesticides. These off-farm products require fossil fuel energy to produce, and in some cases are actually made of petrochemicals. As oil prices rise, so too would the prices of fertilizers and pesticides; driving the costs associated with intensive agriculture up with them.

A secondary agricultural by-product of rising oil prices is the demand for bio-fuels, or the growing of oil seeds for the purposes of replacing our non-renewable fossil fuel sources. Employing conventional agricultural practices in the production of bio-fuels consumes more fuel than it produces. However, using organic agricultural practices, the scales swing in the much more profitable direction. Organic practices offer a potentially sustainable source of renewable energy. The question of whether or not agricultural land should be used to produce fuel rather than food is the subject of a totally different debate. However, the potential for growth in this industry is unquestionable.

Where is it Going?

Currently, the end-user costs of organically grown agricultural products are significantly higher than their conventionally grown counterparts. While more and more customers are purchasing these products in spite of the costs, the 2.8% market share reported by the OTA in their 2007 manufacturers' survey leaves a lot of room for growth. It is the fact that consumers are willing to pay more, which indicates that larger gains are on the way. If the price gap should close, we could potentially see a total rejection of conventionally grown food in favor of organically grown products. The implication here is that the growers who have not yet made the switch to organics could find it difficult to off-load their produce. If the price gap reverses, and organic practices become cheaper than conventional ones, the non-food market could switch to organics as well.

Those who stand to gain from the growth of the organic agricultural industry are companies who support the organic movement with products and services geared towards the increasing numbers of organic growers. Examples include: manufacturers of specialty farming equipment, accredited certification agencies, retail outlets that specialize in organic products (although more and more non-specialized retail stores are offering organic alternatives). Patenting an organic farming process could prove to be a lucrative investment for some of the early adopters of organic agriculture. The opportunity to franchise a "tried-and-true" one-stop farming strategy may be the savior to some of the late-bloomers.

Concluding Remarks

The very nature of the sustainability of organic agriculture implies that over time it will remain as the only viable option for the agricultural industry. Conventional farming practices will certainly provide short-term benefits as they do produce cheaper and more abundant products. However, consumers are only becoming more environmentally conscious and energy costs are unlikely to drop, therefore it is conceivable that sustainable practices could eventually replace conventional farming as a mainstream practice.


UK: Parish calls for GM feed relaxation, 7 May 2008.

The influential chair of the European Parliament's agriculture committee has called for the European Union (EU) to relax its zero-tolerance ban on imports of animal feed contaminated with GM material.

In a formal question to the European Commission, British Conservative MEP Neil Parish warned of a "rising number of incidents", where feed cargoes have been turned away from EU ports because of the accidental "presence of traces of genetically modified crops not yet authorised in the EU", but approved for use in Europe's major trading partners. He warned that the tough policy was "likely to result in ever higher feeding stuff prices in the EU", noting that "given the high import dependency of the EU for protein-rich feeding stuffs (eg soybean meal, corn gluten feed)", the competitiveness of the European livestock sector was at risk.

Parish asked whether the Commission had considered a more flexible system, where a certain small level of accidental GM contamination be permitted for GM material in feed yet to receive formal EU market authorisation. This should only happen, he stressed, if such GM material had already received a positive assessment from the European Food Safety Authority, or had received a feed and food safety risk assessment under UN Codex Alimentarius procedures.

Comment from GM-free Ireland:

See the Irish Examiner article "Call to review GM feed restrictions" 8 May 2008 (above) followed by our comments on Parish's claims.


Australia May Use Genetically Modified Canola in 2% of Crop

Bloomberg, 7 May 2008. By Madelene Pearson.

Grain growers in Australia, the world's third-largest canola exporter, may produce as much as 2 percent of this year's harvest from genetically modified seed after bans on GM crops were lifted in two states.

Farmers in New South Wales and Victoria may plant a total of 10,000 hectares to 12,000 hectares of Roundup Ready canola this year, or about 1 percent to 2 percent of the nation's crop, Anna Hall, spokeswoman for Monsanto Co.'s Australian unit, said in a telephone interview from Melbourne.

"It's very, very small scale this year and it's mainly because this year is the year we've had the opportunity to bring it to market because of the moratoriums," Hall said. "We'll watch and see how it goes this season."

Victoria and New South Wales states ended four-year prohibitions on genetically modified crops last November, opening the market to Monsanto and Bayer AG. Other states including Western Australia and South Australia are maintaining their bans. Monsanto, the world's biggest developer of GM seeds, developed Roundup Ready and has licensed three seed companies to produce varieties for the Australian market, Hall said.

About 150 growers will plant GM seeds this year, while 440 have been accredited to grow the crop, she said.

Canada is the world's largest canola exporter, followed by Ukraine and Australia, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.


USA: As StarLink episode closes, many biotech issues remain

Farm Week, 7 May 2008.

Federal officials effectively have closed a murky chapter in ag biotechnology's history, but the lessons of StarLink linger as federal regulators consider the industry's future.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced it had withdrawn 'voluntary guidance' to corn dry millers and flour manufacturers to test corn for Cry9C protein, the key genetic trait in StarLink Bt corn hybrids.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently concluded Cry9C has been sufficiently removed from the human food supply.

FDA guidance was put in place in January 2001 after discovery of unapproved StarLink protein in U.S. corn shipments sparked Japanese concerns and U.S. grower lawsuits.

The national Biotechnology Industry Organization subsequently launched a stewardship program to guide companies in ensuring key market approvals and acceptance of new GMO products.

But American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) biotech specialist Russell Williams notes Japan continues its own StarLink testing regimen. Further, Dow AgroScience recently reported some corn varieties grown in Iowa in 2007 were contaminated with traces of protein from its unapproved 'Event 32.'

USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) concluded the extremely low contamination levels posed no environmental threat, but Dow recalled suspect 2008 seed.

Meanwhile, FDA and APHIS are revising federal regulations for biotech crop development and approval. AFBF has urged Ag Secretary Ed Schafer to expedite the process, 'given recent court decisions, lawsuits, regulatory challenges, and advances in biotechnology.'

Noting concerns about how the next administration could view biotech issues, Williams hopes agencies will release new regulations before the end of the year.

'If you get someone in the presidency who starts stacking the administration with people unfriendly toward the technology, you could have a serious problem,' he told FarmWeek.

For example, USDA has proposed expanding its authority to consider human health issues related to GMO products - an area currently within FDA's scope.

AFBF supports such a move, but without proper regulatory guidance, Williams warned the move could backfire under 'the wrong administration.'

AFBF favors continued regulation on a product-specific 'event-by-event' basis, rather than based on individual genetic traits. While supporting improved public access to biotech product information, AFBF stressed APHIS must ensure trade secrets, field trial locations, and other business data 'are safeguarded effectively.'

AFBF urges permit exemptions for interstate movement of GMO organisms 'that are well-studied and present little or no environmental risk.' One example: Arabidopsis, a plant engineered for crop drought tolerance research. - Martin Ross


6 May 2008

Green Euro-MP Urges Commission to say no to GMO on eve of crucial vote

Green Party UK, 6 May 2008.

I call on Commissioner Mandelson and his fellow Commissioners to put the wishes of Europeans above those of the agro-chemical industry by rejecting the request for permission to grow these new GM crops

The Green MEP for the South East has urged the European Commission to oppose an application to grow two new GM crops in the EU when a key vote takes place tomorrow in Brussels, highlighting the fact that there are still major doubts over the safety and sustainability of such crops.

In a letter to Commissioner Peter Mandelson, Dr Caroline Lucas MEP, a long time campaigner against the use of genetically modified crops, warned that the application for two GMOs - a pesticide-producing maize plant and a potato that contains an antibiotic resistant gene - should be rejected.

Dr Lucas said: "I have particular concerns about the two varieties which will be considered by the Commission tomorrow. Each produces its own pesticide, yet under current practices the crops will only have been tested for 90 days for health effects - as opposed to the two year testing requirement for standard pesticides.

"In addition, the GM potato contains a gene that makes cells resistant to antibiotics. We have already seen some of the problems associated with the widespread use of antibiotics and resulting resistance. If this gene were to be released into the environment, it could create serious problems in treating a range of diseases.

"The European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) has admitted that it lacks the methods for carrying out long term assessments of the health and environmental impacts of GMOs. It is also relying on incomplete data submitted by the agro-chemical industry. In the absence of adequate data, it would be deeply irresponsible of the Commission to give the go ahead to these new maize and potato varieties."

She continued: ""Every country and region should have the right to completely prohibit the import, growing and sale of genetically modified organisms. More than 170 EU regions and 4,500 other zones have now declared themselves GMO-free, yet the Commission continues to authorise new GM varieties, forcing countries to permit their cultivation. This is undemocratic and utterly unacceptable. It rides rough shod over the 70% of EU citizens who are opposed to GM crops and food stuffs.

"I call on Commissioner Mandelson and his fellow Commissioners to put the wishes of Europeans above those of the agro-chemical industry by rejecting the request for permission to grow these new GM crops."


Monsanto's harvest of fear

Democracy Now, May 6 2008.

Monsanto already dominates America's food chain with its genetically modified seeds. Now it has targeted milk production. Just as frightening as the corporation's tactics - ruthless legal battles against small farmers - is its decades-long history of toxic contamination. We speak to James Steele, contributing editor at Vanity Fair. [includes rush transcript below]

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AMY GOODMAN: Monday's top story on the popular financial website begins with this advice to potential investors: "Everywhere you look people are grumbling - and in many cases rioting -about the high price of food. Before you buy a 20-pound bag of rice at Costco, consider hording shares of Monsanto."

It's true. While the rising cost of food pushes millions around the world into deeper hunger and scarcity, agricultural companies like Monsanto are posting record profits. The top seed maker in the world, Monsanto's stock has gained 95 percent over the past year and 1,600 percent over the past five years. Monsanto's profits topped $1.6 billion in the first quarter, up 37 percent from the same quarter last year.

Monsanto rose to prominence as one of the leading chemical giants of the twentieth century, but its focus today is agriculture. A company statement says, "At Monsanto, we apply innovation and technology to help farmers around the world be more successful, produce healthier foods, and better animal feeds, and create more fiber, all while reducing agriculture's impact on the environment."

But critics have accused Monsanto of undermining local farmers and public health through a wide means of corporate bullying. The latest issue of Vanity Fair has a lengthy article profiling some of Monsanto's controversial corporate practices, from patenting seeds to fighting warning labels on milk cartons. It's called "Monsanto's Harvest of Fear."

Vanity Fair contributing editor James Steele joins us here in our firehouse studio. He is the co-author of the piece, along with Donald Bartlett. And we welcome you to Democracy Now!, Jim.

JAMES STEELE: Nice to be with you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Why did you look at Monsanto?

JAMES STEELE: I think one of the reasons, it's one of these companies that's sort of below the radar screen to a lot of Americans at this point, and one of the things that fascinated us is the transformation of this company. I think a lot of people think of them for chemicals, fibers, all of those things that the name – that the company made its reputation on. But below that, in recent years, has been this remarkable revolution, where they are now an agricultural company, a life sciences company, and they want to completely put their chemical past behind them, in that sense, to concentrate on these new areas: genetically modified seeds and artificial supplements to increase milk production, and so forth. So it became just one of those interesting companies that people sort of know the name, but they don't really know much about. That's the kind of thing that's always appealed to Don and me.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about Pilot Grove, Missouri.

JAMES STEELE: Pilot Grove, Missouri is a little town right smack dab in the middle of Missouri, 750 people, in the midst of a very productive soybean growing area.

By the way, I'm now Vanity Fair's resident expert on soybeans. I'm not sure exactly where I can go with this in the future, but I didn't realize exactly how pivotal soybeans are to every aspect of our food supply, foods, you name it. And they're an extremely important thing in terms of an export crop in this country.

Pilot Grove is in the midst of one of these great soybean growing areas. And Monsanto has been targeting farmers and a seed co-op in that area over the last few years, accusing them of patent infringements. Monsanto, when they developed genetically modified seeds, patented the process. And unlike soybean seeds back to millennia, where farmers saved them, cleaned them over the winter and then replanted them in the spring, Monsanto prohibits that. You are to repurchase a new bag of seeds every spring and start the process over again. They claim this is necessary to justify the kind of money they invested to produce the genetically modified seed in the first place.

But a lot of farmers don't always know that. Sometimes conventional soybean seeds get mixed in with genetically modified seeds. They look exactly the same. There's absolutely no difference. And as a result of that, when they suspect that somebody has infringed on their patent, they unleash their investigative corps and private investigators to look at farmers, seed dealers, and so forth.

And that's what happened in Pilot Grove, and it's been going on for several years now. They've targeted many farmers there, and upwards of two dozen, the last time I looked at things, had settled with the company, had not gone to court, had just reached some confidential agreement.

But the co-op, the seed co-op that is sort of the pivotal unit in that county, did not agree to a settlement. They felt, how in the world can we agree to this? We – farmers bring us seeds. We don't know whether these are traditional seeds or whether these are genetically modified seeds. They're basically saying, "You want us to be a policeman of our customers." So they resisted, and they're in court over this.

But as a result of this, Monsanto has unleashed the full weight of its investigative forces in this little county. No less than seventeen surveillance videos by private investigators have been made of farmers in and around this town. I mean, this was eye-opening to us, the idea that a company is out there videotaping farmers, apparently, in their fields, coming out of stores. I'm not exactly sure where some of these videos were taken, but the court record refers to those. And these are part of the evidence that they gather to then confront farmers and say, "Look, you need to settle. You need to come clean. You're infringing on our patent. It's time to really make an agreement with us."

So – and it turns out, most cases that Monsanto gets involved in never get this far. When the farmers are faced with certain possibility of litigation, most simply settle. It's easier. They don't have the resources to fight, even if they think they're innocent. And they go on about their business. But this is one of the exceptions, and this is why this case is so remarkable, because it lays out exactly the methods the company uses, and so forth. Other farmers have talked about this in many other parts of the country for absolutely – over the last few years, ever since these genetically modified seeds were introduced in the late '90s.

AMY GOODMAN: Jim Steele, you talk about – you begin your piece with Gary Rinehart. Explain what happened to him.

JAMES STEELE: Gary Rinehart was just – is not a farmer. He's not a seed dealer. He's not even somebody in agriculture. But one day he was in his store in a small town in Northwest Missouri, and a man comes in and accuses him of infringing on Monsanto's patents on soybean seeds. Gary resisted – or denied this, said he wasn't a farmer, had nothing to do with this, couldn't figure out what the man was up to.

The man became increasingly boisterous and suggesting that "Really, you need to settle with us, because Monsanto is big. You really can't fight them. You're just going to end up paying." And [Rinehart] said, Look, you've got the wrong man. I'm not even a farmer. I don't even sell these seeds. I don't have these seeds."

AMY GOODMAN: Rinehart said this.

JAMES STEELE: Rinehart said these things. The investigator from Monsanto apparently ignored this, and several months later Monsanto filed a lawsuit in federal court.

AMY GOODMAN: Against the store owner.

JAMES STEELE: – against the store owner, Gary Rinehart, accusing him of infringing on Monsanto's patents. It turned out totally false. He had not. He had submitted an affidavit to that effect, even though a Monsanto investigator submitted an affidavit saying the exact opposite. But when Gary was forced to get a lawyer to defend himself, and when that lawyer actually took this information to Monsanto's attorneys, the case was immediately dropped. Most farmers are not really quite that fortunate. Usually, most of these things work their way further through the system, and many end up reaching some sort of an agreement with Monsanto.

AMY GOODMAN: We're talking with James Steele, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter together with Don Bartlett, wrote the piece in Vanity Fair, "Monsanto's Harvest of Fear." Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: Monsanto has denied our request for a spokesperson to appear on Democracy Now! with James Steele, but they did share with us their initial response to your questions, Jim, while you were reporting this article. I want to read some of what they had to say on a few of the issues you've raised. On patenting and lawsuits, Monsanto says, quote, "Protecting our customers' interest in research that will bring new advancements and future productivity tools to their operations is critical to their success, and to ours. One tool in protecting this investment is patenting our discoveries and, if necessary, legally defending those patents against those who might choose to infringe upon them...

"While the vast majority of farmers and seed dealers follow the licensing agreements they sign with our company, there have been a tiny fraction who have chosen not to honor their agreements over the years. Monsanto then has an obligation to the thousands of our customers who have chosen to honor their agreements to enforce our patent rights to protect the integrity of the licensing process and to maintain a level playing field in the marketplace. The growers who honor their commitments have made it abundantly clear to us that others should not be allowed to reap the benefits of the technology without paying for its use." Jim Steele, your response?

JAMES STEELE: I think the biggest issue is the tactics that they use in going about enforcing those patents. And I mean, you just saw in the case of Gary Rinehart, even with a guy who says, "Look, I'm innocent, I didn't do this," they very often don't listen to that and barge ahead, in terms of the investigation. I think it is the aggressiveness by which they go about protecting their patents. I mean, other companies have also developed genetically modified seeds, and they do not have the reputation in the Heartland that Monsanto does in terms of these tactics, the private investigators very often confronting farmers in their fields, urging them to sign documents that will then give them a free and unfettered access to all of their crop records, and so forth. I think that's what separates them from some other companies.

And the issue isn't just the amount of litigation filed, because Monsanto makes the point that very few cases actually go to trial. But the significant thing are the total numbers of these investigations, which are substantial and considerable.

AMY GOODMAN: I was surprised to see your reference to Iraq and L. Paul Bremer, one of his last acts when he was in charge in Iraq.

JAMES STEELE: One of his last acts was to issue an order that basically would set up the same kind of regimen over in Iraq that we have in this country, which is that you cannot recycle the seeds. Basically, you can only use them for one crop season. You would not be able to clean them, which of course Iraqi farmers have done for years and years and millennia. And you would have to buy them each year, just as American farmers do with soybeans and many other products. Monsanto has maintained that they have no intention of enforcing that or going that route. But the fact is, if those seeds should ever become widely available, there would be the option of enforcing that law, the order.

AMY GOODMAN: The order stipulating "farmers shall be prohibited from re-using seeds of protected varieties." Monsanto has said it has no interest in doing business in Iraq, but should the company change its mind, the American-style law is in place. Jim Steele, milk?

JAMES STEELE: One of the things that just amazed us is like milk is this other whole battle that's going on out there that people are not aware of. Monsanto developed an artificial hormone for to increase milk production. Cows are injected with this, and as a result of that they give more milk. Many farmers, many dairy farmers, do not want to use this artificial hormone. They want to just get milk the old-fashioned way, the way cows have always produced this.

And because there's such a movement in this country, that people want to know what is in their food, what is in their milk, many of these dairy farmers simply put on their milk carton "No RBGH," which means "no bovine growth hormone." It doesn't say anything beyond that. In fact, on the back of many of these cartons it says something to the effect that studies have shown there's no difference in the milk between cows that receive the artificial growth hormone versus those that don't.

But even so, Monsanto has taken action, first with the Federal Trade Commission, to try to get some action to restrict that label and to change that labeling. This is one case where the FTC has not gone along with Monsanto. They've denied that request. Monsanto is now working through various state agricultural departments, especially in big dairy producing states, to try to get similar action on the milk cartons.

And the dairy farmers I've talked to who do this, who have actually been singled out by Monsanto – one fellow down in Louisiana, in particular, said, "Look, consumers want to know what's in their food, what's in their products. All we are doing is telling them that." And what many of them are finding is that their sales actually increase as a result of that. The milk may cost a little more, but if consumers want it, they should have the right to have that choice.

AMY GOODMAN: I was driving through Vermont this weekend the passed Ben & Jerry's, and they took on Monsanto.

JAMES STEELE: That's right, years ago.

AMY GOODMAN: - just wanting to put on that they are RBGH-free. On labeling BST-free milk, BST or – what's the difference?

JAMES STEELE: RBST is the more scientific term. It's a real mouthful. But RBGH is the more popular and means "bovine growth hormone," but it's basically the same thing.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Monsanto says, quote, "Monsanto supports accuracy in consumer labeling. Dairy product labels that make unqualified absence claims, such as 'no hormones' or 'BST-free,' imply a safety or quality difference and are misleading to consumers. These labels undermine consumer confidence in dairy products," they say.

JAMES STEELE: Most of the dairies that were singled out by Monsanto in its action where it sought some results from the FTC, these were dairies that did not make those claims on their cartons. The fellow down in Louisiana, in particular, just simply says on the front of it "No RBGH," which means no artificial growth hormone. But Monsanto has taken the position that even that disparages the product.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to quickly jump to a last point, the investigation you did of the health effects in two places that have Monsanto plants, in Alabama and West Virginia.

JAMES STEELE: Right. Before, when Monsanto was a chemical company, and which was most of its history, in Nitro, they produced an agricultural herbicide, and one of the offshoots of this was dioxin, which is one of the most polluted and contaminated substances imaginable. And the other place, Anniston, Alabama, they produced PCBs, which was this industrial lubricant used in all kinds of electrical equipment, machinery, and so forth. Both of these places, Monsanto operated these facilities for decades, and now both of them are tremendously polluted places, particularly Anniston. Many of the people in that community are walking around with elevated levels of PCBs in their bodies, which apparently will never change. Once these get in your system, it's very, very hard to get them out. Both of these are sort of a legacy of Monsanto's past, from the time it was a chemical giant.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, James Steele, I want to thank you very much for being with us. James Steele is the co-author with Donald Bartlett of "Monsanto's Harvest of Fear" in the latest Vanity Fair magazine.


The genetic food fight

Haleakala Times (Hawai'i), 6 May 2008. By Rob Lafferty.

"It does not mean that France does not participate in GMO research. It does not mean that there will not be GMOs in the future. It simply means that with the principle of precaution at stake, I am making a major political decision to carry our country to the forefront of the debate on the environment." - French President Nicolas Sarkozy speaking in January about France's ban ofİ Monsanto 810 genetically modified corn.

In a world where every living thing is a food source for some other living thing, from the ultimate predator to the most primitive microbe, the quality of life for every species and plant genus is directly related to the quality of food available. We are what we eat.

Since the dawn of time humans have had WYSIWYG food - when you sat down to eat, What You Saw Is What You Got. If it looked and tasted like a potato, it was a potato. But you can't be as sure as your ancestors were about what's on your plate, because scientists are genetically modifying edible things in an ever-growing number of ways.

That's not necessarily a bad thing, but our science has progressed faster than our ability to use it wisely. As a result of both greed and misguided zeal, Genetically Modified Organisms now make up a large percentage of the basic food crops that Earthlings eat. Like the proverbial careless farmer's daughter, we've put a lot of our food into the same genetically modified basket.

And it's not just humans who consume transgenic foods, or what some folks call "Frankenfoods" - the animals we eat are also being given GMOs in their feed along with a steady diet of antibiotic and hormone-laced food supplements.

Four patented products in particular serve as global examples of the problems and promises of GM crops - AstraZeneca's "Golden" rice; Monsanto's "MON 810 YieldGard Cornborer" corn and "NewLeaf" potato varieties; and BASF's "Amflora" potato.

FrankenSpuds and Maize

Monsanto's "NewLeaf Superior" potato, marketed by their subsidiary company NatureMark, was engineered to produce the insecticide Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). Intended to kill nematodes and the Colorado potato beetle, the chemical was present in every cell of the plant. Because the strain also contained a patented "RoundUp Ready" gene that made it resistant to Monsanto's specific formula of herbicide, NatureMark was required to register it with the Environmental Protection Agency as a pesticide, not a food. The Food and Drug Administration had no authority to regulate any NewLeaf potato varieties because the agency doesn't regulate pesticides.

That's all past tense; last fall NatureMark closed the facility that produced NewLeaf seed potatoes. They couldn't get farmers to buy them because farmers couldn't sell the finished crop. The old operation in Crystal, Maine is now being used to grow non-GM seed potatoes under a new company called SeedPro, formed by former NatureMark employees.

In 2006, GM potatoes accounted for almost five percent of the total U.S. potato production. In 2008 that number might be zero, as the market simply doesn't exist in America to openly sell pesticide-laced, "RoundUp Ready" potatoes.

Last January France joined six other EU countries in suspending all cultivation of Monsanto's patented YieldGard variety of corn, also marketed as Mon810 maize, anywhere within the country. The French responded to solid evidence that Bt in "Mon810" has a negative effect on insects, earthworms and microorganisms, and that its wind-born pollen can travel a hundred miles or more from the growing site and contaminate every organic or non-GMO cornfield along the way.

The "Amflora" potato developed by BASF is different from Monsanto's NewLeaf brand. Instead of containing pesticides and being herbicide resistant, the Amflora has been modified to produce higher levels of starch. It's also useless for human consumption - although it looks, feels and smells like an ordinary potato, it tastes terrible. That's not a problem for BASF because they plan to market the GMO for its amylopectin content, a starch useful in the food, paper, and chemical industries as paste, glue or as a lubricant. Normal potatoes contain two glucose polymers; amylopectin and amylose. According to company statements, BASF researchers have "switched off" the gene for amylose in Amflora potatoes to produce larger quantities of amylopectin, the more desirable starch for most applications.

The problem for consumers comes indirectly, as BASF also wants to market the potato residue after starch extraction for use in animal feed. That might not be a problem, except that the potato also contains antibiotic-resistant marker genes (ARMGs).

Public health agencies are concerned about the potential for ARMGs to be transferred from plants to bacteria, which would make those bacteria resistant to antibiotics. If Amflora residue is then fed to livestock, the GMOs it contains and the antibiotic resistance would enter the food chain on an even more widespread basis. That could destroy the effectiveness of antibiotics for treating specific infections in humans, which is already a growing health problem throughout the world.

The Amflora spud will probably gain approval to be grown in the European Union this spring with strict restrictions on open-field cultivation, but not all members will be required to allow it in their fields. A law that took effect in January makes farmers using GM plants legally responsible for the contamination of non-GMO crops and requires that all land used for GMO cultivation be listed in a public register.

From 1998 to 2004 the EU kept a moratorium against new GMOs in place while each country developed laws and policies regarding their use. As a result, only one percent of the GM crops grown on the planet are currently growing in Europe. The World Trade Organization and the United States (where 55 percent of the world's acreage in GMO exists) have made progress in pressuring the EU to open its market following a 2006 WTO ruling that any ban on GMOs was an illegal trade barrier.

New, beautiful and fortified

In 2000, a merger involving several divisions of two companies, AstraZeneca and Norvartis, was completed to form a new Swiss-based company named Syngenta. That company then bought an exclusive license for the commercial use of Vitamin A-fortified "Golden" rice, a GM variety that looks lovely and produces provitamin A, more commonly known as beta-carotene. The intended use is meant mostly to address vitamin A deficiencies in the diets of poor and disadvantaged people in Third World countries.

Genes from daffodil flowers and from the bacterium Erwinia uredovora were inserted in the rice genome to produce the enzymes necessary to boost provitamin A levels by as much as 40 percent. Syngenta, which also makes a patented GA21 corn variety, plans to sell the seed cheaply to farmers in developing countries by charging more in the prosperous parts of the world. That almost sounds like a good thing, but there's one glaring problem with using a transgenic approach to solving a dietary deficiency.

Since 1985, the International Food and Agricultural Organization has been fighting that same vitamin A deficiency by encouraging farmers and families to grow more leafy vegetables and add them to their primary diet of rice. The dietary problem has grown over the years in direct relationship to the number of farmers who accept government-funded incentives to grow high-yield "green revolution" rice varieties in a monoculture.

The subsequent loss of crop diversity was coupled with the fact that newer rice strains must be milled and polished in order to withstand the long periods of storage required for export. Unpolished, unmilled rice naturally contains vitamin A and iron; the modern process of polishing it for storage removes those nutrients. In the end, farmers and consumers are caught in a dependent cycle that is the exact opposite of the concept of sustainable living.

Proteins, amino acids and genetic mysteries

Lots of children in poor or overpopulated countries suffer from a lack of protein that hinders their physical growth, while a lack of lysine can slow their brain development. Modifying a plant for protein and amino acid enrichment is considered less risky than other forms of gene-tinkering because it usually involves splicing genes from other plant sources.

"If you're going to use genetic modification at all, use it for this," said Suman Sahai of India's Gene Campaign, a consumer group that generally opposes GMOs and patented plants. "India's problem is that we're vegetarian, so tubers, pulses and legumes are the main protein source, but they're in short supply and expensive."

Plant geneticists at India's national plant genome research center in Delhi are using a patented "AMA1" gene to create new varieties of potato, rice, cassava and yam. The gene is synthesized from the oddly named Amaranthus hypochondriacus plant that also serves as a food source.

According to Dr. Subhra Chakraborty of the New Dehli center, "These crops contain mostly carbohydrates and little protein at all. By adding the AMA1 gene we expect to render these foods more nutritious than they are at present." Chakraborty said that the AMA1 gene boosted the protein content of potatoes by as much as 45 percent, raised the levels of two key amino acids and increased crop yields by 20 percent. It's what she couldn't say that raises troubling questions for consumers.

"We still do not know how exactly this gene does this," said Chakraborty, who has been involved in this field of research for over 14 years.

Although it may be a good application of a high-risk, technology-based approach to increasing the quality and quantity of the food supply, it certainly isn't the only answer. Adding even a small amount of peanut flour to ordinary wheat flour can enrich it with both protein and lysine. But peanut flour can't be patented or licensed, so there's little or no profit to be made unless you happen to be a peanut farmer.

At the point of pollination

The role of GMO technology in the rapid decline of commercial bee colonies in North America is just now coming under scrutiny. One possible factor are the crops grown from patented "Terminator" seeds developed by Monsanto, PioneerHiBred and other companies. Crops grown from such seeds are either sterile or will only geminate under specific conditions that usually include a patented fertilizer or insecticide as a necessary ingredient.

Genetic modification of a plant changes the flower pollen that plant produces. Bees collect that pollen and distribute it widely. If they didn't, you'd probably be hungry right now, because there would be a lot fewer nuts, fruits, veggies and grains available - more than a third of North American food crops are pollinated by commercial beehives trucked around from place to place.

It's those "domesticated" bees that are having health problems and abandoning hives. Wild bees, at least for now, are showing far lower rates of hive collapse. Other bees and insects aren't raiding those deserted hives as they normally would, which has led bee researchers to the theory that a toxic overload is the cause of collapse. Many are concerned that the increased epidemic of the bee colony collapse has risen in conjunction with the increased emergence of GMOs in their food supply.

The end result

If there's an upside to all the disturbing news about the future of food on Planet Earth, it may be that the emergence of GMO technology is providing an unexpected boost to backyard gardening and to the organic farming industry. It may not be possible to eliminate all Frankenfoods from the supply on grocery store shelves, but it is still possible to grow or buy a potato that looks, smells and tastes like the kind of potato your grandparents ate without getting some extra genetic material included.


Italy: Confagricoltura President, Federico Vecchioni, believes "the new Government should re-initiate GMO experiments"

Wine News (Italy), 6 May 2008.

"While the areas destined for genetically modified crops continue to increase all over the globe, in our country we continue with a moratorium on cultivation, to which has been added a block on all experiments, the fruit of an internal conflict within the old government. We hope that the new government will finally be able to resolve the problem in a pragmatic way, keeping in mind the demands of an evolving internal and international market, and giving incentive for research". This was the affirmation made by the president of Confagricoltura, Federico Vecchioni, at a conference held recently in the Republic of San Marino.

"We want" - continued Vecchioni - "the consumer to be informed, know what is being consumed and have the freedom to choose; just as the European norms for labeling prescribe. But, at the same time, we desire that science is not restrained, that it can continue experimenting, and create innovation for scientific clarifications". President Vecchioni also noted that France's current parliamentary process for the approval of a law for the coexistence of conventional and genetically modified crops, "could be an important precedence for Europe that could be reached after a long internal reflection and which would resolve the stalled situation created by the single ban authorized in Europe, thus overcoming the doubts of those who do not believe in the possibility of a coexistence between these types of cultivation".


EU ministers to debate approving GM cotton imports

Reuters, 6 May 2008.

BRUSSELS, May 6 (Reuters) - European Union farm ministers are likely to debate by mid-July whether to allow imports of a genetically modified strain of cotton to be used as a food ingredient and in animal feed, a document showed on Tuesday.

The cotton, known as LLCotton25 and developed by Germany's Bayer CropScience (BAYG.DE: Quote, Profile, Research), has been engineered to resist certain herbicides and would not be grown in Europe's fields.

Back in February, a panel of national EU experts failed to muster the consensus required under the EU's complex weighted voting system either to approve or reject the company's request for an import licence -- normally valid for 10 years.

So, under EU law, the European Commission has now escalated the dossier to ministers who must debate within three months whether to issue an import authorisation. If they fail to agree, then the Commission gains the right to rubberstamp an approval.

However, EU officials said country voting positions were unlikely to alter when the ministers tackled the issue. Three ministerial meetings are scheduled before the EU summer break: May 19, June 23-24 and July 15.

EU countries rarely agree on anything to do with GMOs and their discussions on authorising imports on new modified products usually descend into an ill-tempered deadlock.

At the February experts' meeting, when the bloc's member states were represented, 14 countries voted in favour of authorising, nine against, three abstained and one country was not represented: not enough to secure a majority, since weighted country voting influence varies widely.

If approved by the EU, Bayer CropScience would be allowed to import LLCotton25 seeds and derived products for use as food -- crushed into oil, for example -- as well as animal feed, like cottonseed meal and seed hulls. EU farm ministers are also due to vote before the summer on another Bayer CropScience import application, for a biotech soybean known by its codename A2704-12. Again, the product would be grown outside the EU and imported for use in food and feed.

(Reporting by Jeremy Smith; editing by Chris Johnson)


Sachs to EU: Food Aid Won't Solve Crisis
The U.S. economist urges EU lawmakers to address the food crisis abroad more through farming assistance than emergency aid

Business Week, 6 May 2008. By Leigh Phillips.

The EU should provide structural aid to increase yields from peasant farmers in poor countries if it wants to help the global food crisis rather than just throwing emergency food aid at the problem, American economist Jeffrey Sachs told the European Parliament on Monday (5 May).

"If we just stay at the level of emergency food aid, we will not solve the problem," said the economist who is instead urging the bloc to look at ways to help farmers boost food production.

Emergency food aid is a response that should indeed be applied, he said, but "in the most short term" with a "time horizon of just the next six months. It won't solve anything longer term. For a longer term solution, we need to address the structural supply."

"Rather than just shipping expensive food aid, we should be helping the poorest of the poor to grow more food."

The biggest success story of this sort, said Mr Sachs, has been the doubling of food production in Malawi in last three years. "This can be replicated in many places, and I urge the EU to follow this kind of logic."

The former advisor to ex-UN-Secretary-General Kofi Annan and repentant architect of the 'shock therapy' market strategy that was applied to Bolivia in the mid-1990s and Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall told the parliament's development committee that the crisis in food prices around the world was a product of "growing world demand for food hitting against rather stagnant supply."

This crisis of supply and demand was in turn caused by a series of factors. Food production in poor regions was "far below what it should be." These regions, he said, are producing only a third or even a quarter of their potential food output. The solution, he said, is to raise food output to levels that meet their full potential. Additionally, food production is being hit by "a number of climate shocks" in recent years, with changed weather patterns affecting harvests.

The American economist also added his voice to the growing criticism of biofuels saying: "We should cut back significantly on our biofuels programmes, which were understandable at a time of much lower food prices and much lower food stocks but do not make sense now at a time of global food scarcity condition."

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

In the wake of criticisms of the policy from the UN World Food Programme, the World Bank and its own scientists, the EU last week claimed that although American biofuels policies are affecting food prices, its own strategies are having only a minimal effect. But Mr Sachs argues this is false.

"The biofuel impact is greater in the US because it's a larger programme. In Europe, it's still a real impact though due to two things: to a modest extent food, wheat for example, is used for creating biofuels in Europe and that amount is to multiply considerably in the years ahead. Secondly, land that is crop-growing land is diverted from grains to rapeseed and other inputs for biodiesel."

"The US has a larger impact, but neither of them makes much sense in terms of the environmental effect, the energy balances or the food impact," he said.

He favours instead second generation biofuels research. "I'm a strong supporter of gaining expertise by research into biofuels that do not compete with foodstuff, such as cellulosic ethanols, which are not yet ready for commercial application but need more research.

Mr Sachs would also like to see more funding on research into improved seed varieties that are drought and "climate-proof", as "these climate shocks will continue to come." However, he stressed that this meant conventional crops, along with increased use of fertilisers and small-scale irrigation, and not genetically modified organisms.


Jamaica: How to beat the food crisis

The Jamaica Observer, 6 May 2008.

Dear Editor,

No one should be surprised at the global food crisis. Jesus predicted it in Matthew 24:7.

With the First World industrialised countries pushing globalisation and genetically modified seeds, we have created a food system that leaves the people hungry instead of feeding them.

Whereas starvation and malnutrition were confined to Africa in the past few decades, they are now spreading to India and some parts of South-East Asian countries such as Indonesia.

Some of the causes of the looming crisis are:

The growth of the middle class in China and India, thus leading to increased demand for rice and other commodities. China and India, two of the world's most populous countries, each with population sizes of 1.5 billion, have been purchasing in large quantities some of the foodstuff that would normally be sold to the less developed countries.

With the need to find alternative energy sources because of the rising cost of fuel, scientists have been turning to food supplies to help create this alternative source of energy. Sugar cane is being used to create ethanol supplemented by the use of grapes and even corn. All the food is going into the gas tanks of cars. Therefore, in the future, it will not be uncommon to see people driving from place to place looking for food, when the truth is, their vehicle's gas tank contains the food they are looking for.

Climate change, like global warming, contributes to the mass failure of crops. Jamaica needs to respond in a positive way to the challenge by removing any tax on locally produced food and encourage greater investments in agriculture and growing of our indigenous crops.

Derrick Clarke
Meadowbrook Estates


Safeguard Own Economic Interests, Africa Urged

The Herald / All Africa Global Media, 6 May 2006. By Sifelani Tsiko.

Harare, May 06, 2008 ( -- AFRICA must safeguard its economic and social interest at the forthcoming ninth Conference of Parties to the Convention of Biological Bio-diversity and ensure that industrialised countries in the North do not sideline its concerns on agriculture, food security and agricultural bio-diversity conservation.

Participants to a three-day regional consultative workshop on preparations for the COP9-CBD scheduled to be held in Bonn, Germany (May 19 - 30) said African negotiators must take a firm stand particularly on issues related to the global agro-fuels production push, biosafety, farmers rights, emerging technologies and climate change.

These issues, the participants said, have serious implications on food security, agricultural bio-diversity conservation and sustainable use of the continent's biological resources.

The regional workshop, which was held recently in Darwendale, was organised by the Community Technology Development Trust to discuss critical issues affecting the continent's agro-bio-diversity and make recommendations to state parties and civil society going to COP9/MOP4 of the CBD.

"The main objective of this workshop is to deliberate and formulate positions on some of the critical issues that will be coming up for discussion during the COP9 such as agro-fuels production, biosafety, farmers rights, climate change, emerging technologies and access to and benefit sharing mechanism of genetic resources," said Mr Andrew Mushita, an agronomist and director of CTDT.

"We hope this workshop will enable us to critically analyse and make recommendations into issues affecting agro-bio-diversity within the country and also contribute to Zimbabwe and indeed other African member-states position at COP9/MOP4."

The United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity is the first global agreement on the conservation and sustainable use of all components of bio-diversity including plant genetic resources and species.

Governments from different parts of the world first signed the agreement at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.

The CBD is made up of 188 national governments and one regional economic bloc. The main objective of the CBD is the conservation of bio-diversity, the sustainable use of its components and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of genetic resources.

COP7 was held in Kualar Lumpur, Malaysia, in 2004 while COP8 was held in Curitiba, Brazil, in March 2006.

"We need to influence our delegates to take the right positions. We should know the delegates before hand and influence them to take our concerns on board to the negotiations," said Mr Patrick Kasasa, an agronomist and Africa region programme co-ordinator of the Community Bio-diversity Development and Conservation Africa.

He said Zimbabwe is a signatory to the convention and is required among other issues to integrate bio-diversity protection into relevant policies and programmes, identify and monitor activities that harm bio-diversity and protect bio-diversity through a range of measures to ensure sustainable use.

Prof Carol Thompson, a visiting political economist from the University of Arizona in the US, said African countries should reject the growing push for agro-fuels production arguing that it will lead to loss of land, food security and sovereignty and perpetuate a model of industrial agriculture that is not environmentally sustainable.

"The science behind agro-fuels is as controversial as the science behind genetically modified organisms. They (industrial North) have started calling Africa the "Green Opec of Africa," she said.

"Agro-fuels pose a huge threat to smallholder farmers. Land use in Africa will be firmly under foreign control and this will be for foreign consumption and not for Africa. This is something that needs serious discussion."

She said the push by the industrial North for agro-fuels would lead to the extensive growing of food crops for fuel leading to food insecurity, poverty and hunger.

"The impact of agro-fuels will be huge, the practice of monoculture will destroy bio-diversity, the growing of agro-fuel crops will open the way for the bulldozing of GM crops and trade agreements will be used as weapons of control. Labour will be sub

ordinate to the whims of large and powerful conglomerates," Prof Thompson said. She added that: "It's not about market issues, but profit. The single goal is profit, not sustainable and efficient use of resources. It is certainly not about people. Africa should not give land back to foreign control."

Lovemore Simwanda of Zambia echoed similar sentiments.

"Agro-fuels are a big threat to land ownership in Africa. It's really worrying that governments in the region are pushing people to grow jatropha without analysing the impact of agro-fuels on land use and the resultant rise in food prices."

"People are being pushed to sacrifice their land to plant jatropha.

"It's really worrying and people will lose their land to multinationals who want their agenda to succeed by all means necessary," said another delegate from Malawi.

Added Mr Mushita: "Its (agro-fuels agenda) perpetuating the same kind of development agenda. We are responding to the agenda of the North.

"We have so much solar here but we can't invest on solar energy development. African land will be used for cheap production. Our policymakers are running with agro-fuels issue driven by the North and I don't know why they can't see that this will not serve the interest of Africa in anyway."


Farmers seek ban on GM crops in India

The Hindu, 6 May 2008.

New Delhi (PTI): Farmers on Tuesday demanded a complete ban on genetically modified (GM) crops and food in India saying it would not only affect humans and livestocks, but also soil and environment.

Protesting against GM crops in the national capital, farmers under the banner of 'Coalition for a GM-Free India' voiced against government's decision to allow field trials of Bt brinjal [GM aubergine] in the country.

Addressing the farmers, senior BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi said that GM crops are yet another attempt by corporates to take over Indian agriculture. He exhorted farmers to resist it forcefully.

Member secretary of the Coalition, Kavitha Kuruganti expressed similar views and said that allowing GM field trials shows lack of vision for Indian farming.

"The government should make it clear as to where does it intend to take the country's farming by promoting GM food and crops, which are harmful for one and all," she said.

On bt brinjal, farmers' representatives pointed out that entry of such vegetable in India would put an end to consumers choice of differentiating between normal and genetically modified brinjal, as there is lack of segregation and labeling facility in India.

They said the government should take a cue from the adverse impacts of bt cotton cultivation.

"Farmers who even touched the crop developed allergy while animals grazing on it died. The fate would be similar in case of any other GM crop and food," they said, adding that studies on GM food have found various adverse health results like stunted growth, impaired immune systems, bleeding stomach and reduced digestive enzymes among humans.

The farmers' call was also supported by cine stars Nafisa Ali and Milind Soman among others.


Wales: Call for Assembly to sack top adviser

Western Mail, 6 May 2008. By Steve Dube.

FIRST Minister Rhodri Morgan is being urged to sack the National Assembly's Chief Scientific Adviser following critical comments by the adviser in a Sunday newspaper.

Professor Chris Pollock, who retired last year as director of the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research in Aberystwyth, told the Observer newspaper last week that it was "perverse" to rule out the cultivation of GM crops.

The campaign group GM Free Cymru has written to the First Minister complaining that the statement is "a clear assault on the Assembly's carefully considered and long-standing commitment to keep GM crops out of Wales".

Group spokesman Dr Brian John said: "This statement from Prof Pollock is a breach of the code by which scientific advisers keep quiet on issues where their opinions differ from those of their employers." Dr John said Professor Pollock, who was appointed last September, is a well-known proponent of GM technology, and chairman of Defra's pro- GM Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment.

"That involved an obvious conflict of interests, but when we raised this with the First Minister we were assured that Prof Pollock would not seek to challenge the Assembly's opposition to GM crops in any way," said Dr John.

But he drew attention to an Observer article entitled, "As the world begins to starve it's time to take GM seriously", where Prof Pollock was quoted as saying: "To stop widespread starvation, we will either have to plough up the planet's last wild places to grow more food or improve crop yields."

Professor Pollock went on: "GM technology allows farmers to do the latter - without digging up rainforests. It is therefore perverse to rule out that technology for no good reason. Yet it still seems some people are willing to do so."

Dr John said the statement was "plainly absurd", since the biggest risks to the planet's wild places come from industrial monocultures involving GM crops.

"GM plantings of soya, maize and canola do not improve yields, and studies show that in areas where GM crops are widely grown yields go down and chemical use goes up," said Dr John.

"Much of the output goes into animal feed and biofuels. What is that scenario going to do for the hungry people of Africa?"

"More to the point, Prof Pollock is effectively saying here that those who 'rule out the technology' - including the Welsh Assembly - are behaving perversely, since they have 'no good reason' for their opinions and policies.

GM Free Cymru says that given such a calculated criticism of the Welsh Assembly position, Prof Pollock should be invited to either support the Assembly's GM policy on the record, or resign his position. "If he will do neither he should be sacked, thereby freeing him to say what he likes in the future about the supposed merits of GM crops and foods," said Dr John.

Invited to comment, the First Minister's office made no reply.


GM industry opinion poll slammed as "utterly worthless"

GM Free Cymru (Wales) press release, 6 May 2008.

An opinion poll organized by the GM industry and featured on the GMO Compass web site (1) has been slammed as "ludicrous and utterly worthless" by observers who have examined the wording of the questions (2).

All three questions are classic examples of leading or loaded questions, specifically designed to elicit a positive response and to confirm the presuppositions of the questioner. The questions themselves are therefore corrupt, and would never have been approved by any reputable polling organization.

Speaking for the GM watchdog organization GM Free Cymru, Dr Brian John said: "Nothing surprises us any more when we look at the desperate last-ditch tactics being used by the GM industry to promote its commercial agenda. In recent months we have seen examples of manipulated research results, a corrupt publication process in which an honest scientist was "set up" by Nature Biotechnology for an attack by four self-selected and so-called "GM experts", and a carefully orchestrated "survey" of farmers' attitudes to GM crops by an Open University team which misrepresented its results to the media. This grubby little poll is in the same tradition, and it is being promoted by a desperate and dishonest industry which has no respect for the truth. Its predetermined results, when they are published, should be consigned to the waste bin."

The poll results will be used on Wednesday 7th May in an attempt to pressurise the Commission into authorizing the release of two more GM varieties into the environment -- against the advice of Commissioner Stavros Dimas. They will be subjected to intense lobbying, and a considerable propaganda assault is planned by the GM industry. However, GM Free Cymru is reminding the Commissioners that the poll is corrupt, and is asking them to concentrate on the scientific evidence now stacking up which shows that there are grave doubts about the safety of the two GM maize varieties being considered.



Dr Brian John
Tel + 44 1239 820470



This web site is supported by the EU, and instead of honestly reporting all sides of the GM debate, it unashamedly allows itself to be used as a promotional vehicle for GM technology. Most European consumers (who are by a large majority opposed to GM) do not realize that they are supporting this propagandist site through their taxes.

(2) The three loaded questions:

a. Should European agriculture make use of the best available technologies, including biotechnology and genetic engineering, to minimise negative effects on the environment and to optimise the global food supply?

b. Should all available technologies, including biotechnology and genetic engineering, be considered as tools to improve plants and crops in order to meet the challenges of increasing production while reducing environmental impact?

c. Do you agree that plants which, for example, grow well under drought conditions and/or have been improved for nutritional content, should be available to be grown as a means of improving global food supply and combating malnutrition?


UK: BASF targeted in GM protest

Farmers Guardian, 6 May 2008. By Alistair Driver.

PROTESTORS claim to have shut down BASF UK's headquarters at Cheadle Hulme, near Manchester, this morning (Tuesday, May 6) in protest at the company's GM potato trials.

In a statement protest group Earth First! said 30 of its activist had shut down the plant 'to highlight the company's role in pushing GM onto our plates'.

BASF is planning to run the UK's only trial of GM crops this year featuring blight resistant potatoes.

The statement said the protesters arrived early in the morning and have since been blockading the gate to the plant by sitting in front of it and locking on sing d-locks and other equipment. The protesters, who have hung a giant 30 x 10ft banner reading "No To GM", were planning to blockade the gate for several hours.

"They are successfully preventing any staff from entering and are demanding the company pull out of GM immediately," the statement said.

Mary Sunderland from Earth First! Said: "GM has no part to play in our future: it's a dangerous, unwanted and unproven technology geared towards maximising profits for multinational corporations such as BASF. It is not the answer to food shortages, hunger or climate change. The real solution is to change now to a sustainable farming system and to distribute resources fairly around the world."


Anti-GM protest shuts down BASF UK headquarters, 6 May 2008.

This morning 30 protesters from Earth First! have shut down the BASF UK headquarters (1) at Cheadle Hulme near Manchester (2), to highlight the company's role in pushing GM onto our plates. BASF is planning to run the UK's only trial of GM crops this year, a trial of blight resistant potatoes.(3)

The protesters arrived early in the morning at the flagship offices and have since been blockading the gate by sitting in front of it and locking on sing d-locks and other equipment. They are successfully preventing any staff from entering and are demanding the company pull out of GM immediately. They have also hung a giant 30 x 10ft banner reading "No To GM". The protesters are planning to blockade the gate for several hours.

Mary Sunderland from Earth First! Said: "GM has no part to play in our future: it's a dangerous, unwanted and unproven technology geared towards maximising profits for multinational corporations such as BASF. It is not the answer to food shortages, hunger or climate change. The real solution is to change now to a sustainable farming system and to distribute resources fairly around the world."

The bio-tech industry claims GM will feed the world's poor, but experts disagree. A major new study published in April shows that modified soya produces 10 per cent less food than its conventional equivalent, confirming earlier studies showing the same trend. The study finds that the very process of modification depresses productivity.(4)

This revelation came just a week after the biggest study of its kind ever conducted,the International Assessment of Agricultural Science, concluded that GM was not an answer to world hunger. The UN study, conducted by over 400 scientists and approved by over 54 governments is a sobering account of the failure of industrial farming. The key message of the report is that small-scale farmers and agro-ecological methods provide the way forward to avert the current food crisis and deal with the effects of climate change.(5)

Neil Ross from Earth First! UK adds: "It's time for everyone who is concerned about the future of our food and environment to stand up again and to say 'No to GM'. When five years ago 86 per cent of the UK public said that they did not want GM foods the government and bio-tech industry brushed those concerns aside as unscientific. Science is now proving that we were right to oppose GM. Thanks to the courage of many ordinary people who ripped up GM crops our countryside has been GM free for the past four years. (6) We are determined to keep it that way. The message to BASF and the government couldn't be clearer. Stop wasting money on GM (7) and start investing in the real solutions to hunger: small-scale organic farming and equitable trade."


(1) BASF is the world's leading chemical company.

(2) Heading south from Manchester on the A34, turn right onto Stanley Road (B5094). Take the second left onto Earl Road. Continue under the flyover (Manchester Airport Eastern Link Road) and BASF HQ is on your right.

(3) The UK trials of BASF's blight resistant potatoes were due to take place from last spring at two locations for a period of five years. One site is a research centre in Cambridge, where last year anti-gm campaigners succeeded in destroying the field during a night time raid. The second trial site was never planted as BASF was unable to find a site for it. Campaigners have already vowed to decontaminate the Cambridge site again, should BASF go ahead with the controversial trial. Many believe that the trials are unnecessary as blight resistant potatoes are already available through conventional breeding.

(4) The study was carried out over the past three years by the University of Kansas in the US grain belt and published by Professor B Gordon in the journal 'Better Crops'. He grew a Monsanto GM soy bean resistant to the herbicide Round-up and compared it with a conventional variety. The GM bean produced only 70 bushels per acre compared to 77 bushels for the conventional bean.

(5) The report from the United Nations World Food Programme, the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) called for a back-to-basics approach to farming to meet the challenges of climate change and escalating food prices. The authors saw little role for GM technology in feeding the poor. The report was based on a rigorous and peer-reviewed analysis of the empirical evidence by hundreds of scientists and development experts.

(6) When GM crop trials started in the UK in 1998, no one could have predicted the public opposition to it. Within just 5 years, all GM companies including Monsanto, Syngenta and Bayer had retreated from Britain, numerous field trials had been destroyed and a moratorium against GM crop growing had been imposed.10 years later, Britain is still free from any commercial growing of GM crops. This opposition has also sparked massive resistance elsewhere in Europe.

(7) Using the Freedom of Information Act Friends of the Earth managed to obtain still partial information in October 2007 which shows that the Government gave at least GBP50 million a year for research into GM crops and food, compared with GBP1.6 million for research into organic agriculture last year, in spite of repeated promises to promote environmentally friendly, sustainable farming.

_______________________ p class="s">India: Farmers from 15 states protest, seek ban on GM crops and food

NetIndia123, 6 May 2008

NEW DELHI: Hundreds of farmers and consumers from 15 states today converged near Parliament demanding a complete ban on Geneticaly Modified or Engineered (GM or GE) crops and food saying that such 'unsafe' cultivation and consumption, already rejected by a majority of countries, should not be thrust down on the unsuspecting Indians. The protest came at a time when the Indian regulators were actively considering to allow the seed production of brinjal with Bt (Bacillus thurengiensis) gene, known as Bt Brinjal- the first GM vegetable yet to be commercially produced anywhere in the world.

The agitating assemblage was supported by six mainstream MPs and nd several well-known celebrities like Milind Soman, Nafisa Ali, Nandita Das, Amala Akkineni, Sonal Mansingh and Rabbi Shergill who pledged that they would remain GM-free and urge their followers to do so.

Addressing the protesters gathered under the borad banner of "Coalition for a GM-Free India", several speakers castigated the government for raising "false bogey of increased need for food security in India and which could be met with GM food only".

In fact, the Coalition leaders said, it was concocted and motivated presumption since the GM soyabean had proved that GM crops could not increase productivity since "yield is a 'multi-genic' function".

"If you take away lands from the agricultural use, cut down the goodgrains land and shift to bio-fuel production and live stock feed and if the government's policies are anti-farmer, how can food security be ensured?" the meet questioned.

The protest meet pointed out that if Bt Brinjal, promoted by Mahyco, a subsidiary of Monsanto- an American multinational, was allowed into India, the choice to choose between Bt Brinjal and non-GM brinjal would be completely lost for the consumers since the system of segregation and labelling were impossible in the country.

"This kind of tinkering with our food safety and our health is completely undemocratic for any government, particularly when organic and ecological farmiong is gaining ground both among the farmers and consumers", the meet in a memorandum submitted to Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar at the end of daylong protest said.

"Allowing GM trials shows that the government lacks a vision for Indian farming and succumbing to the pressure and mechinations of multinational companies out to introduce an industrial dependent agriculture in the country," the meet said. On the other hand, Mahyco said brinjal is an important vegetable in the Indian diet and the brinjal crop is heavily sprayed with the most destructive pesticide. Hence it needed insect-tolerant variety which is being produced as Bt Brinjal with help of advanced


India: Farmers' rally today against GM crops

The Hindu, 6 May 2008

NEW DELHI: Several members of Parliament will address a farmers' rally here on Tuesday against sale and distribution of genetically modified crops and seeds in general and Bt brinjal [aubergine] in particular. Bt brinjal is the first GM food crop which will be approved for a second and final season trial before commercialisation.

The "Coalition for a GM-free India," which will organise the rally, represents farmers' unions, environmental organisations, organic farming groups and women's organisations.

It has one of the largest membership of practising ecological farmers.

Farmers from Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh will participate. Consumers from Delhi are also expected to join the farmers in the protest against the government and big agribusiness corporations.

Large-scale trials

"In India, we are standing on the verge of the first GM food crop, Bt brinjal, being approved for the second [and probably last] year large-scale trials this kharif 2008. It is at this juncture that this protest, a symbol of the building resistance against GM crops, is being organised for an informed debate on genetically modified crops as food safety is an issue that concerns all of us," said Kavitha Kuruganti, Coalition member-secretary.

The Tamil Nadu-based Indian Farmers and Toilers Party said AIADMK MPs V. Maitreyan and K. Malaisamy would participate in the rally.


5 May 2008

EU: Can Commission Back Out of GMO Impasse?

Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth Europe, 5 May 2008.

Brussels - The credibility of the European Commission will be seriously undermined if it is unable to respond to intense pressure to reform EU GMO policy at a long-awaited internal debate on Wednesday 7 May, warned Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth Europe today.

There are bans on the cultivation of GM crops in five EU countries and no cultivation in 16 others. New official European data clearly shows public opposition to GM foods and there are calls from member states to review the authorisation process that relies exclusively on industry data. As a result, the Commission and its president José Manuel Barroso are under increasing pressure to reform GMO policy. (1)

"The Commission has its back to the wall and Barroso must face up to his responsibilities," said Marco Contiero, Greenpeace EU GMO campaign director. The Commission persists in hiding behind the often-misguided opinions of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). "The Commission cannot once again pass the buck to EFSA, but must address the concerns of the scientific community and member states," added Contiero.

Commissioners could decide the future of two GM maize varieties, developed by the companies Syngenta and Pioneer/Dow. The Commission's department in charge of approval under EU law is proposing to reject the crops. There is growing scientific evidence showing that the insecticide the plants were designed to produce affects wildlife and may have knock-on effects on Europe's biodiversity. (2)

"Growing these GM crops would put farming and wildlife at an unacceptable risk. The Commission's own department in charge of GMOs is proposing to reject the two maize varieties. Never before have Barroso and his commissioners thrown out a proposal, so why should they do so now?" said Helen Holder, GMO coordinator for Friends of the Earth Europe.

Also up for discussion is BASF's 'Amflora' potato - a GM potato containing a gene which confers resistance to certain antibiotics. The World Health Organisation, the European Medicines Agency and the Institut Pasteur are at odds with EFSA on the possible impact of this product on human health and the environment. (3)

Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth call on the Commission to:

support proposals to prohibit the cultivation of the two pesticide GM maize varieties; and reject the GM potato;

reform EU GMO risk assessment by involving the European Environment Agency in environmental risk evaluations and restructuring EFSA to ensure scientific consistency and impartiality in its opinions.


[1] The legal bans are in France, Austria, Poland, Hungary and Greece.

The French government has called for a debate on the review of the EU's GMO authorisation process to take place at the environment Council on 5 June.

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) has also repeatedly criticised the EU for "undue delays" in the authorisation of GMOs.

[2] [3] For more information on the dangers associated with GM maize varieties and the GM potato see and


Environmental groups appeal to EU to tighten biotech rules

International Herald Tribune, 5 May 2008.

BRUSSELS, Belgium: Environmental groups appealed to the European Union on Monday to reject applications from the biotech industry to approve new potato and corn products for cultivation in the EU.

Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth Europe also argued for tighter rules on biotech crops to ensure such genetically modified products are kept off the market until there is firm proof that they are safe.

The EU's 27-member executive is to decide Wednesday whether to grant licenses for the use of two biotech corn products and an engineered potato. If approved, they would be the first new biotech crops authorized by the EU in a decade.

"Growing these GM crops would put farming and wildlife at an unacceptable risk," said Helen Holder, from Friends of the Earth Europe.

The European Commission is under heavy pressure from both industry and environmental groups over the new products. The biotech industry claims such products offer resistance to pests, will help reduce global food shortages and offer no risk to health or the environment.

However, the environmentalists say there is a potential threat and more tests are needed. They are calling for a tougher assessment from independent scientific groups and for bolstering the role of the EU's food safety authority, which already drafts safety reviews on biotech products.

Holder told a news conference that she believes the EU will reject the applications to license the Bt-11 corn seed made by Switzerland's Syngenta AG and the corn 1507 product produced by the U.S.-based Pioneer Hi-Bred and Dow Agrosciences.

The biotech industry has long claimed EU approval procedures are too slow and restrictive. It is pushing the EU to open its doors to more GM crops, arguing that that is the only way to deal with shortages of food in developing countries.

German chemicals giant BASF AG has warned of legal action if there is no decision soon on cultivation of their biotech potato crop, which has been under review for nine months. The two corn products have been under review since 2005.

The "Amflora" potato is designed to provide starch for industrial uses, such as making glossy magazine coatings and as an additive in sprayable concrete. BASF says byproducts could also be used to make animal feed, if given further clearance, but the potato is not designed to be eaten by humans.

Environmental groups warn the potato contains a gene making it resistant to antibiotics that could spread to conventional crops and taint the food chain. They say food shortages are not due to Europe's biotech rules and can easily be made up by increasing production of conventional crops.


EU urged to reject 3 new biotech crops

Associated Press, 5 May 2008. By Constant Brand.

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM --Environmental groups appealed to the European Union on Monday to reject applications from the biotech industry to approve one newly engineered potato variety and two corn crops.

Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth Europe also argued for rules to ensure these and other genetically modified products are kept off the market until there is firm proof they are safe.

The EU's 27-member executive is to decide Wednesday whether to grant licenses for the three products. If approved, they would be the first new biotech crops authorized by the EU in a decade.

"Growing these GM crops would put farming and wildlife at an unacceptable risk," Helen Holder, from Friends of the Earth Europe, said at a news conference.

Holder said she believes the EU will reject the applications to license the Bt-11 corn seed made by Switzerland's Syngenta AG and the corn 1507 product produced by the U.S.-based Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc. and Dow AgroSciences.

The European Commission is under heavy pressure from both industry and environmental groups over the new products. The biotech industry claims the products offer resistance to pests, defense against global food shortages and no risk to health or the environment.

Environmentalists say they may threaten the environment and more tests are needed. They want tougher assessment from independent scientific groups and a bigger role for the EU's food safety authority, which reviews biotech products.

The biotech industry has long claimed EU approval procedures are too slow and restrictive. It is pushing the EU to open its doors to more GM crops, arguing they are the only tool to deal with food shortages in developing countries.

The two corn products have been under review since 2005.

German chemical company BASF AG has warned of legal action if the EU doesn't decide soon about its biotech potato, which has been under review for nine months.

The "Amflora" potato is designed to provide starch for industrial uses, such as glossy magazine coatings and additives for sprayable concrete. BASF says byproducts could also be used to make animal feed, if given further clearance, but the potato is not designed to be eaten by humans.

Environmental groups warn the potato contains a gene making it resistant to antibiotics that could spread to conventional crops and taint the food chain.

Environmentalists say food shortages are not due to Europe's biotech rules and can easily be made up by increasing production of conventional crops.


World Bank climbs down on markets

The East African, 5 May 2008. By John Mbaria.

The World Bank has admitted that its push for a market-oriented approach to agricultural development in East Africa and elsewhere in the developing world has failed, and is now calling for renewed state intervention.

This admission marks a radical abandonment of the Bank's 25-year campaign of foisting the deeply controversial and unpopular structural adjustment programmes (SAPs) on African countries that are blamed for entrenchment of massive poverty in most of these nations.

According to the World Development Report 2008: Agriculture for Development, the World Bank has acknowledged that governments are the custodians of the public good and have an important role to play in promoting agricultural growth, particularly in the smallholder sectors.

It further admits that its push for market-oriented growth has failed. "Market failures are pervasive, especially in the agricultural-based countries, and there is a need for public policy to secure desirable social outcomes."

It further acknowledges that the state "has a role in market development, which includes providing core goods and improving the investment climate for the private sector."

It hails Uganda for pioneering the contracting out of agricultural advisory services and for giving producer organisations a say in awarding the contracts.

The Bank's new-found social activism is a far cry from its past development philosophy and practice. Indeed, the Bank seems to belatedly embrace humanitarian concern for the plight of millions upon millions of smallholder farmers by focusing on the plight of women farmers. "An African woman, bent under the sun, weeding sorghum in an arid field with a hoe, a child strapped on her back÷(is) a vivid image of rural poverty."

That report further talks of "bringing governments closer to the people"; calls for "more" and "better" international commitments to end hunger and poverty and asks the world to establish "fair rules" for international trade. It avers: "If the world is committed to reducing poverty and achieving sustainable growth, the powers of agriculture must be unleashed."

However, the report is a contradiction of sorts. For instance, it will not escape even the casual reader that the about-turn made by the Bank is contradicted by the praise it heaps on its earlier market-oriented approach, saying, "Quality improvements and fair trade can open new opportunities for more remunerative markets for some smallholders."

The question of whether the Bank is itself committed to what it asks other donors to do, has become the subject of heated debate since the report was released.

In African agriculture and the World Bank: Development or impoverishment, the Sweden-based Nordic Africa Institute delivers a scathing attack on the Bank, saying, "Consistently, World Bank agricultural policies have displayed contradictory tendencies and a glaring discrepancy between stated objectives and actual outcomes."

The institute says that on the one hand, the Bank expresses concern for smallholder farmers, and indeed pressurised African governments to implement the structural adjustment policies in the name of making markets and the allocation of resources efficient so that smallholder farmers could benefit from competitive prices for their produce.

But, the Swedish Institute says, the World Bank continues to espouse "market fundamentalism" or the "unshakeable belief" in the power of the market as the "prime mover" of production and trade without regard to such other considerations as "political imbalances and social biases of markets as historical institutions."

Paradoxically, in the World Development Report 2008, the Bank betrays, in more ways than one, its desire to have East African and other sub-Saharan African countries continue adhering to the dictates of the market. It asserts that liberalised markets will remain the fundamental force for raising productivity and alleviating poverty.

It goes on to concur with proponents of a Green Revolution in Africa that this is the path through which the continent will achieve farm productivity worth writing home about.

The push for Africa's own version of the Green Revolution is been spearheaded by the Kofi Annan-led Alliance for the Green Revolution in Africa, a body that is funded jointly by the Melinda & Bill Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation.

Now the World Bank looks set to join in by championing the "revolution" and expressing support for the proliferation of genetically modified foods in Africa and elsewhere.

In this regard, the report notes that biotechnology is concentrated in the private sector; is driven by commercial interests, and has limited impacts on smallholder farming in developing countries.

It, however, says, "The potential benefits of these technologies will be missed unless the international development community sharply increases its support to interested countries."

The import of the Bank's admission that SAPs might not, after all is said and done, have been such a good idea, will not be lost on policy makers in East Africa and elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa. This is where - in an advocacy bordering on intimidation - the World Bank has continued to play a leading role in pushing these countries to embrace its policies to the detriment of their own agricultural sectors.

It will not be lost on East African policy makers that they only agreed to implement the SAPs after the World Bank made it mandatory for them to do so before receiving development aid over the past 25 years.

To the weak East African economies, this was a "do-or-die" situation; the kind of situation where they either implemented the SAPs or lost development aid and budget support.

With a reluctance that proved amply justified in hindsight, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania went about implementing these policies and suffered a horrendous two decades of sustained low agricultural growth rates and deepening rural poverty.

On its part, the Nordic Africa Institute delivers a scathing attack on the Bank for directly contributing to the mass impoverishment of hundreds of smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere in the developing world. "Smallholder farming has been eroding over the past three decades, perpetuating rural poverty and marginalising remote rural areas."

The institute further says that over the past quarter of a century, African smallholder farmers have been losing their share of the global markets for such traditional export crops like coffee, cocoa, tea, as well as cotton, tobacco and cashew nuts. This share has declined steadily to the point where it is now "negligible."

In real terms, this has meant that producers of these crops in East Africa and elsewhere on the continent could no longer produce with advise from extension staff who (particularly in Kenya) were laid off en masse.

The implementation of SAPs also meant that farmers' incomes dwindled and they could no longer afford to take their children to school while family diets became poorer by the day.

These difficulties were compounded by such other developments as widespread fragmentation of land, continued growth in rural population, the emergence of new diseases (HIV/Aids) and new strains of old diseases (e.g. tuberculosis), weakening of alternative social support structures, and lack of credit to raise farm productivity.

The net effect, as is typified in most rural areas of East Africa, has been deepening of poverty, rural misery and all their negative ramifications.

To escape this rural misery, millions of East Africans have been fleeing to urban areas. But many are not well prepared for the unforgiving urban life.

Indeed, the World Development Report says that with little education, millions of migrants have limited chances for getting integrated into formal job market.

Consequently, a significant proportion of the migrants have "exported" poverty to urban areas since they can only afford to live in such slums as Kibera in Nairobi.

The report states that migration to urban areas might not be the answer after all, and the rural poor stand a better chance on the farm. It says; "More than 80 per cent of the decline in rural poverty is attributable to better conditions in rural areas rather than out-migration of the poor."

But if migration is not such a good option, what chances do East African farmers have of bettering their lot on the farm? The Bank now recognises the need for sound public policy to help the farmers.

It acknowledges that such policy must be sensitive to farmer differentiation; that there are yawning differences that characterise farmers.

It says that besides heterogeneity in terms of scale of production (large as opposed to small-scale farmers), farmers are differentiated by gender, ethnicity and social status, which "imply differing abilities to use the same assets and resources in responding to opportunities."

The options offered in the report include enabling smallholder farmers to be more productive, improving the prices of foodstuffs, raising the quantity and quality of public investments and the promotion of innovations through science and technology.

And in a departure from the past, the Bank asks rich countries to remove their long-running protection for their own farmers.

By removing such protection, industrial countries would "induce annual welfare gains" in developing countries by an estimated five times the current annual flow of aid to agriculture. The report further calls for the establishment of fair rules for international trade.

During a recent visit to Kenya, Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni, disparaged "mobile advisers" and attributed many of Africa's problems to such advice.

The Nordic Africa Institute for its part casts doubt on the ability of the World Bank to deliver advice to developing countries. It quotes the World Bank's own recent evaluation, which challenged the institution's reputation as the world's "knowledge bank" and criticised its habit of taking "new and untested results as hard evidence that informed its policies."

No one, it seems, will ever hold the World Bank accountable for the monumental SAPs fiasco. As the Nordic Institute says, this is because sub-Saharan and other developing countries are too dependent on the Bank's financial aid to complain even when they know that implementing its policies is likely to lead to massive repercussions for their people.

"The World Bank has not been held accountable for the agricultural policy misjudgements and blunders they have enforced in Africa over the past 25 years through structural adjustment policy and debt conditionality," says the report.


USA: Monsanto struck down in Vanity Fair, 5 May 2008. By Nathalie Jordi.

Most of Vanity Fair's "green" initiatives seem to involve a naked celebrity – or several – on the cover, but a May 2008 article by Donald Barlett and James B. Steele on the history and current state of affairs of international seed-company-and-then-some Monsanto is a string of hard-hitting condemnations meant to raise the ire of VF readers everywhere.

It's almost Michael Moore-esque in its one-sidedness, but at least it remains grounded in fact. The article takes us through Monsanto's inception as a chemical company, started by an Irishman with a sixth-grade education, that established itself by selling saccharin to Coca-Cola, then added vanillin, caffeine, sedatives and laxatives to its list of offerings. When World War II cut off supply, they started manufacturing their chemicals independently, and quickly dominated the market.

Plastics, resins, fuel additives, artificial caffeine, vinyl siding, dishwasher detergent, anti-freeze, fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and rubber goods came next (plus dioxin and and PCBs, though we'll gloss over those), but Monsanto's emergence as an unstoppable force in agriculture didn't happen until 1982, when company scientists were the first to genetically modify a plant cell. They'd struck gold again: all during the 1990s, they genetically modified cotton, soybeans, corn and canola with the ultimate effect being that an estimated 90% of the soy grown in the U.S. today is bought direct from Monsanto (and, under a clause, legally but technically unnecessarily re-purchased every year, filling Monsanto's coffers). One 1990s Monsanto president even claimed that G.M. seeds were "the single most successful introduction of technology in the history of agriculture, including the plow." The company now spends more than an already unbelievable $2 million a day in research...

Further controversy has ensued with the debate over cow hormone rBGH, manufactured by Monsanto under the brand name Posilac. Farmers who choose to produce milk naturally, and subsequently label their product "BST-free" or "From Cows Not Treated with rBGH," have been aggressively sued by Monsanto. The company, in fact, has been litigious to an extreme: suing farmers on whose land "Monsanto-owned" seeds have naturally drifted, or others whom they judge may have infringed upon its patents.

This may seem like just another power-hungry company scrambling for intellectual – and financial – control of their far-flung products, and angry farmers lashing back. But controlling the world's supply of seeds, as the article points out, "is not some abstraction. Whoever provides the world's seeds controls the world's food supply."

Good point.

Note: See the original Vanity Fair article in our April news section.


Genetically-modified crops get mixed response in Asia

AFP, 5 May 2008.

Manila: With food prices hitting record highs the jury is still out in Asia as to whether genetically modified crops hold the key to future food security.

The Philippine government has openly embraced commercial growing of genetically modified (GM) corn, but neighbouring countries appear less than enthusiastic.

"There has been a lot of talk about developing high-yielding crops and crops that can cope with climate change using GM seeds," said Daniel Ocampo, a genetic engineering campaigner with the environmental group Greenpeace. But, he said, the technology was still a long way from "addressing these needs."

Even so this has not stopped the Philippines from subsidizing production of GM corn. "This is despite the fact that GM corn and some conventional varieties have the same yield potentials," Ocampo said.

Japan does not grow GM crops

While Japan does not grow GM crops due to safety concerns among consumers it does import GM grains for use in making products such as cooking oil, animal feed and manufactured goods.

Japanese companies have been reluctant to test the market for consumer-ready GM food because of labelling requirements and public safety worries.

While Japan does not ban GM farming, strict regulation has discouraged corporate investment in the area. With rising food prices causing increasing concern in a country that imports more than half of what it eats, the government has said that GM crops may be a way to ease food security and environmental problems.

S Korea: GM seeds not used for commercial cultivation yet

In South Korea, a law which came into effect on 1January this year imposed strict rules on the import of GM seeds.

While there are domestic GM seed programmes for experimental purposes none are for commercial use, an agriculture ministry official said on condition of anonymity. "So far all imported GM seeds have been processed immediately after being cleared through customs," the official said.

"There have been no cases of imported or home-grown GM seeds being used for commercial cultivation here and we are not considering easing our rules despite price hikes," he added.

In Bangkok the regional headquarters for the United Nation's Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) said it had not seen any signs that governments in Asia were pushing for genetically-modified seeds.

"With modern agricultural technology countries should be able to produce enough food without genetically-modified seeds," said He Changchui, the FAO's regional representative for Asia. "You don't need them. Just try to supply good fertilizer and good water," he said.

China has research but no commercial aplication

China the State Council, or cabinet, issued detailed rules in 2001 covering safety, labelling, licensing for production and sales, and import safety policies of all GM products.

Xie Yang of the Development Research Centre, a major think tank under the State Council, said: "No genetically modified grain, including seeds, is allowed for edible consumption in China.

"Genetically modified products are allowed for indirect uses, such as making edible oil, but it must be labelled clearly."

There is successful research in China, but no commercial application yet, he said, adding: "It is said that there are breakthroughs in the research of (genetically modified) rice and corn. But none is allowed on to the market."

According to Greenpeace's Ocampo the Philippines is the first country in Southeast Asia, and possibly all Asia, to have a commercial GM food crop.

"The government would say it is because the Philippines should not be late in embracing a technology that promises to help increase the income of farmers and provide higher yields. But the fact is the Philippines is so close to the U.S. that whatever policies the U.S. have regarding GM crops it usually follows suit."


USA: Designer Genes
Drew Endy uses DNA to make new and improved versions of life.

Good Magazine, 5 May 2008. By Rebecca Cathcart.

When Drew Endy envisions the future, he sees giant gourds engineered to grow into four-bedroom, two-bathroom houses. He sees people alerted to nascent tumors in their bodies by internal biological sensors, and cars fueled by bacteria-produced gasoline. Endy, 37, is a pioneer in synthetic biology, a field that combines biology, chemistry, and engineering to remake biological systems to act according to human design. In other words, he's a little like God, if God were a geek.

For Endy, who has roots in civil and environmental engineering, biology offers the most sophisticated building materials in the world, potentially far more useful than anything created by modern technology. Endy is attempting to create a biological programming language by identifying, cataloging, and standardizing small sequences of DNA that tell a cell to perform a specific task.

After joining the faculty at MIT, in 2004, Endy co-founded the Registry of Standard Biological Parts, an open-source catalogue of DNA segments with specific functions, such as those that make DNA strands fold into shapes like microscopic origami or cause cells to change color. These "BioBrick" parts, as Endy calls them, are fitted with special links at either end where they may be easily connected with other DNA segments, much in the manner of lego blocks. The segments snap together to form more complex instructions, so that scientists can manipulate exactly what task a cell performs. "We've started to collect genetic words that speak to the cell and tell it to do something," he says. For example, Endy's colleague Jay Keasling has found a way to reengineer E. coli so that they naturally produce an anti-malaria drug. Soon, huge vats of bacteria will be making the medicine, at a fraction of the current cost.

"He's a little like God, if God were a geek."

But that's a fairly rare example. For now, the use of BioBricks is limited, because making DNA is difficult. DNA synthesizers can use the genetic information of BioBricks to create new DNA – the idea is akin to the "replicators" from Star Trek that caused food to appear on command – but today's machines are rudimentary; they work slowly and create only a small amount of DNA. We're a long way from having Earl Grey tea materialize, mug and all. Though Endy – through Codon Devices, a biotech company he co-founded in 2004 – is working to improve DNA replication technology, no one is yet close to assembling sophisticated biological systems.

But as the science and technology mature, the questions that surround biological engineering and DNA synthesis become more complex. Controversy already surrounds the genetic modification of crops, a relatively simple and straightforward process. Synthetic biologists, by contrast, aim to engineer life itself from whole cloth, which brings up obvious ethical questions, not to mention the possibility that deadly new pathogens could be created and released into the environment, intentionally or by mistake. Endy acknowledges that these risks are real, and even likely, but he believes they are outweighed by the possible benefits synthetic biology can bring to future generations.

Endy and some MIT colleagues started the International Genetically Engineered Machine competition, in which student teams engineer living systems. In 2006, one team made bacteria that changes color when it detects arsenic in well water.

In fact, Endy believes that the best counter to these risks is for the synthetic biologists not to shy away from the potentially dangerous research, but rather to help ensure that it is used in the right way. Endy takes this a step further, by promoting a free, open exchange of information about DNA sequences, allowing synthetic biologists to focus on problems-solving rather than profit, and closely monitor any impending disasters. To that end, he also serves as president of the BioBricks Foundation, an organization of scientists and legal experts working to develop technical standards and legal protections for genetic sequences. "When we arrive at the future with a first generation of parts that can work together," he says, "we'll have the parts open and free, and people will be able to build what they want." And Endy has many ideas about what that future will look like: "Imagine large-scale cities grown from bio-matter," he muses. "Or, how about bacteria that smell like bananas? That sounds nice."


UK: FDF spells out factors affecting manufacturers

Food Production Daily, 5 May 2008. By Jess Halliday.

Health, the environment, and food prices are key themes for manufacturers for the next 12 months, according to the president of the UK's FDF, and collaboration with government is important for the industry's future.

Speaking at the Food and Drink Federation's (FDF) annual dinner in London last week, president Iain Ferguson (who is also chief executive of Tate & Lyle), stressed that the industry needs to work closely with government and other stakeholders over issues like reformulation, labelling and the potential for GM foods in securing future supply.

He drew attention to trade body's new structure, which is based around three steering groups: health and wellbeing; food safety and science; and sustainability and competitiveness.

"This has given us a more effective way to ensure that members are fully engaged in the organisation's agenda and its work," he said.

The new structure also fits well with the key factors identified by Ferguson, who is in his third and final year as president.

Heath and wellbeing

Ferguson noted that the FDF's members have been working to a health and wellbeing action plan in 2004, which covers reformulation, labelling and workplace well-being.

Although the food industry remains the target of some level of criticism in the media for marketing of foods regarded as unhealthy, the FDF has worked in close collaboration with regulatory bodies to improve the health profile of food.

"On reformulation, it's worth remembering that a lot of work has been done... through a positive working relationship with our regulator, the Food Standards Agency," said Ferguson, "and this has set a model that others in Europe are now hoping to emulate".

One of the areas of focus has been on reducing salt levels. Going forward, the FDF expects to follow a similar collaborative model over saturated fat and energy reduction - although the speaker added that "we all recognise this will be a rather more difficult issue".

Beyond the FDF, Ferguson said that the government as a whole needs to develop strong working relations with industry leaders.

"How best to make this a reality has been an important point of discussion in our ongoing meetings with health ministers and senior officials. We recognise it's not easy but we stand ready to be willing partners, and want to work constructively to deliver solutions that will make a positive difference for consumers."

Over the introduction of food labelling schemes intended to make it easier for consumers to understand the nutritious properties of the products they buy.

Ferguson noted that the two main approaches - the FSA's traffic light system and the guidance daily amount (GDA) system developed by the European food manufacturers association, the CIAA - have been portrayed as solutions at odds with each other.

"I think it is worth stressing again that we have never seen this as a battle," he said.

Rather, the FDF is looking forward to seeing the results of research being carried out by the FSA on which formats and schemes are most helpful to shoppers in informing their buying choices and helping them change their behaviour.

Environment and sustainability

FDF also has a programme in place to help reduce the environmental impact of the food manufacturing sector, with its Five-Fold Environmental Ambition, launched last October.

This covers areas in which the federation sees the industry can have an impact: CO2 emissions, landfill, packaging waste, water use, and food transport miles.

"Our five aspirations are ambitious, but already many members have taken bold steps to start turning them into a reality," said Ferguson.

Food prices and GM

Ferguson also discussed an issue that that has been preoccupying industry for the last few years, but which has only relatively recently appeared on the mainstream news agenda: food prices.

Citing World Bank estimates that global food prices have risen 83 per cent in the last three years, Ferguson propounded the potential of genetically modified foods to help ease the pressure on global supply systems.

The speaker previously made his position on GM foods and agriculture clear at the National Farmers' Union conference in February.

Last week he reasserted this, saying: "As a nation, we have to face up to the issue of genetic modification and as an industry we have to rise to the challenge of helping to foster a fair and scientific debate on an issue that has typically been clouded by suspicion and lack of trust."

He said that the current economic climate with rising food prices and concerns over food security and long-term availability of commodities could provide an opportunity to start a process to overcome the challenges to GM, together with government, farmers, food processors and retailers.

Most importantly, consumers need to be given a reason to trust food manufacturers and open up the debate, Ferguson said.


4 May 2008

Multinationals make billions in profit out of growing global food crisis
Speculators blamed for driving up price of basic foods as 100 million face severe hunger

The Independent on Sunday, 4 May 2008. By Geoffrey Lean, Environment Editor.

Giant agribusinesses are enjoying soaring earnings and profits out of the world food crisis which is driving millions of people towards starvation, The Independent on Sunday can reveal. And speculation is helping to drive the prices of basic foodstuffs out of the reach of the hungry.

The prices of wheat, corn and rice have soared over the past year driving the world's poor - who already spend about 80 per cent of their income on food - into hunger and destitution.

The World Bank says that 100 million more people are facing severe hunger. Yet some of the world's richest food companies are making record profits. Monsanto last month reported that its net income for the three months up to the end of February this year had more than doubled over the same period in 2007, from $543m (£275m) to $1.12bn. Its profits increased from $1.44bn to $2.22bn.

Cargill's net earnings soared by 86 per cent from $553m to $1.030bn over the same three months. And Archer Daniels Midland, one of the world's largest agricultural processors of soy, corn and wheat, increased its net earnings by 42 per cent in the first three months of this year from $363m to $517m. The operating profit of its grains merchandising and handling operations jumped 16-fold from $21m to $341m.

Similarly, the Mosaic Company, one of the world's largest fertiliser companies, saw its income for the three months ending 29 February rise more than 12-fold, from $42.2m to $520.8m, on the back of a shortage of fertiliser. The prices of some kinds of fertiliser have more than tripled over the past year as demand has outstripped supply. As a result, plans to increase harvests in developing countries have been hit hard.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation reports that 37 developing countries are in urgent need of food. And food riots are breaking out across the globe from Bangladesh to Burkina Faso, from China to Cameroon, and from Uzbekistan to the United Arab Emirates.

Benedict Southworth, director of the World Development Movement, called the escalating earnings and profits "immoral" late last week. He said that the benefits of the food price increases were being kept by the big companies, and were not finding their way down to farmers in the developing world.

The soaring prices of food and fertilisers mainly come from increased demand. This has partly been caused by the boom in biofuels, which require vast amounts of grain, but even more by increasing appetites for meat, especially in India and China; producing 1lb of beef in a feedlot, for example, takes 7lbs of grain.

World food stocks at record lows, export bans and a drought in Australia have contributed to the crisis, but experts are also fingering food speculation. Professor Bob Watson - chief scientist at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who led the giant International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development - last week identified it as a factor.

Index-fund investment in grain and meat has increased almost fivefold to over $47bn in the past year, concludes AgResource Co, a Chicago-based research firm. And the official US Commodity Futures Trading Commission held special hearings in Washington two weeks ago to examine how much speculators were helping to push up food prices.

Cargill says that its results "reflect the cumulative effect of having invested more than $18bn in fixed and working capital over the past seven years to expand our physical facilities, service capabilities, and knowledge around the world".

The revelations are bound to increase outrage over multinational companies following last week's disclosure that Shell and BP between them recorded profits of £14bn in the first three months of the year - or £3m an hour - on the back of rising oil prices. Shell promptly attracted even greater condemnation by announcing that it was pulling out of plans to build the world's biggest wind farm off the Kent coast.

World leaders are to meet next month at a special summit on the food crisis, and it will be high on the agenda of the G8 summit of the world's richest countries in Hokkaido, Japan, in July.

Additional research by Vandna Synghal


'Bush comments aimed at mounting pressure on India'

The Hindu, May 4 2008

Chennai (PTI): The BJP on Sunday said US President George W Bush's comments that global food shortage was due to increasing demand from India's middle class for quality food, was aimed at mounting pressure on India to accept the agricultural practices propounded by the country.

Bush was trying to put the blame on India, instead of having a look at his country's policies and the way rich countries were managing globalisation, senior BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi told reporters here

"Instead of agriculture, they have gone for agri-business. America's diversion of corn to produce ethanol and trading practices have resulted in acute food shortage," he said, adding that the major objective of the Western food policy was to keep a large number of countries dependent on them.

"Our Prime Minister has already entered into an agreement with the US on agricultural sector and it's unfortunate that the Centre has not come out openly to discuss the agreement."

Joshi said the Centre has already appointed a board, with representatives from Monsanto and Wal-Mart in it, to implement the provisions of the agreement. "However, both multinational companies do not have any knowledge on the Indian agricultural sector," he said.


Gotcha? Anglers rejoice as GM trout prove easier to catch

The Sunday Times (UK), 4 May 2008. By Jonathan Leake, Science Editor.

NOW there'll be no excuse for the one that got away. Britain's rivers and lakes are to be restocked with trout carrying genetic modifications that make them easier to catch.

The move has been ordered by the Environment Agency which wants to prevent interbreeding between native brown trout and those introduced for anglers.

However, its research has shown that the genetic modifications, which are designed to render the fish infertile, also make them easier to hook.

"It is an unexpected bonus," said Dr Dafydd Evans, the agency's head of fisheries. "It means anglers can catch more and so get more sport out of them."

The study was prompted by concerns about the ecological impact of the annual restocking of lakes and rivers with 900,000 farm-reared brown trout. They are needed because the low numbers of native fish mean that Britain's more than 2m anglers would otherwise stand little chance of catching anything.

However, the problem is that farm-reared fish can interbreed with wild ones and so pass on undesirable genes. "We knew one answer could be to release so-called triploid fish – which have been altered to have an extra set of chromosomes," said Evans. "This makes them infertile so they cannot interbreed with native fish."

Evans asked the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust to examine the impact of releasing such fish into rivers including the Honddu in mid Wales and Arrow in Herefordshire as well as lowland chalk rivers such as the Avon, Allen, Frome and Piddle in the south of England.

Dylan Roberts, the trust's head of fisheries, said: "Releasing farmed fish is a bit like letting battery chickens into the jungle.

"They are bred for eating and have lost many of the genes vital for survival. We don't want them giving those genes to native populations," he added.

In his research Roberts tagged about 1,000 genetically modified farmed fish and released them into the rivers. He attached alternative tags to a similar number of farmed fish with normal genes and released them too.

Then he surveyed fishermen, asking them to declare how many of each they caught and how they fought.

The results are being written up for publication in a scientific paper but show that dozens more of the genetically modified fish were caught.

One reason for this could be that fish with normal genes stopped feeding when they were ready to spawn.

The genetically modified fish, by contrast, had no interest in sex and just kept eating.

Restocking British lakes and waterways with fish for anglers has become big business because of the soaring popularity of the sport. Besides brown trout, about 2m rainbow trout, which originate from America, are poured into British waters every year. Research suggests that rainbow trout are unable to breed in British waters, probably because water temperatures and quality are not right for them.

The brown trout reared by fish farms are mostly derived from a handful of lineages, most of which began with fish caught in Loch Leven, Scotland in the 1850s. This was when the first fish farms were established.

The practice of restocking with farm-reared fish remains highly controversial among anglers as well as environmentalists. Some critics argue that the mass release of farm-reared brown trout simply for capture is akin to releasing cows into the woods and then shooting them.

However, supporters argue that recreational fishing is an industry that generates millions of pounds for rural areas and which offers urbanites a healthy hobby that gets them out of doors.


UK: 'Modified trout 'are easier to catch'

The Telegraph, 4 May 2008. By David Thomas.

British rivers are to be stocked with specially modified trout that are easier for anglers to hook. İ

The freshwater fish have been engineered in a way that makes them infertile, to avoid them interbreeding with native wild species.

But a side effect of the engineering is a low sex drive in the fish, which it is believed is making them easier to catch.

When breeding, wild trout migrate and will not eat, meaning they are not attracted to anglers' lures. The modified fish have no such tendency.

Dr Dafydd Evans, the Environment Agency's (EA) head of fisheries, said the effect was "an unexpected bonus" for anglers.

"It means anglers can catch more and so get more sport out of them," he said.

The agency is introducing 900,000 farm-reared brown trout with the genetic changes after concerns were raised that normal farmed trout introduced for anglers in rivers could pass on undesirable traits into the wild population.

The fish are not genetically modified but were treated with heat or high pressure when they were fertilised eggs to make them sterile - which means they cannot mate with wild fish and spread undesirable genetic traits.

However, the EA's research has shown that the modification also makes the fish easier to hook.

"The fish do not spend energy on reproduction, nor do they go into the side streams with the wild trout when it is time to breed," Dr Evans said.

"They stay close to where they were put in to the river."

The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust was asked to examine the impact of releasing such fish into rivers in mid Wales and the south of England.

By 2015, the EA wants all farmed fish released into the wild to be sterile as part of a wider scheme of river management.

It tagged about 1,000 modified farmed fish and released them into the rivers along with a similar number of farmed fish with normal genes.

Anglers were then asked to declare how many of each they caught.

The results are being written up for a scientific paper but show that dozens more of the modified fish were caught.


Food or fuel? Grain becomes tug-of-war

The Wall Street Journal, 4 May 2008.

At a time when parts of the world are facing food riots, Big Agriculture is dealing with a different sort of challenge -- large profits.

Archer-Daniels-Midland Co., a grain-processing giant, said Tuesday that its fiscal third-quarter profits jumped 42 percent, including a sevenfold increase in net income in its unit that stores, transports and trades grains such as wheat, corn and soybeans.

Monsanto Co., which produces seeds and herbicides, Deere & Co., which builds tractors, combines and sprayers, and fertilizer-maker Mosaic Co. all reported similar windfalls in their latest quarters.

The robust profits are emerging against the backdrop of a food crisis that some experts say is the worst in 30 years. The secretary-general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, has called for the creation of a high-level global task force to deal with the cascading impact of high grain prices and oil prices. He said that countries must do more to avert "social unrest on an unprecedented scale" and should contribute money to make up for the $755 million shortfall in funding for the World Food Program, which feeds the world's hungry.

President Bush told reporters last week that he's "deeply concerned about people who don't have food abroad," and all three presidential contenders have recently cited high food and energy prices as causes for concern. Arizona Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican candidate, has said he favors scrapping the 51-cents-per-gallon ethanol tax credit and a 54-cents-per-gallon tariff imposed on most imported ethanol, ideas abhorred by farmers and many politicians. The crisis stems from a combination of heightened demand for food from fast-growing developing countries such as China and India, low grain stockpiles caused by bad weather, rising fuel prices, and the increasing amount of land used to grow crops for ethanol and other biofuels rather than food.

Food companies say they're not to blame for the soaring prices and are committed to working toward a solution. They say that bigger profits can be used to develop new technologies that will ultimately help farmers improve productivity.

Monsanto says it's designing improved genetically modified seeds that can squeeze even more yield from each acre of planted grain, while ADM says it's investing in tools that can mitigate supply disruptions.

"Maybe the question should be not, 'Are you making money?' but, 'What are you doing with the money that you make?'" said Victoria Podesta, the vice president of corporate communications at ADM.

Some observers think that financial speculation has helped push up prices as wealthy investors in the past year have flooded the agriculture commodity markets in search of better returns.

Total index-fund investment in corn, soybeans, wheat, cattle and hogs has increased to more than $47 billion, up from about $10 billion in 2006, according to AgResource Co., an agriculture research firm. The Commodity Futures Trading Commission held a hearing in Washington last month to examine the role that index funds and other speculators are playing in driving up grain prices.

Not all food-related companies are benefiting. Companies that work most directly with farmers are gaining the most from higher food and grain prices, while companies further along in the food chain, such as meat producers Tyson Foods Inc. and Pilgrim's Pride Corp., are smarting because they've had trouble passing along the increases to consumers.

Tyson, which posted a $5 million loss Monday for its latest quarter, has been hurt by higher prices for grains to feed its chickens. Earlier this month, Pilgrim's Pride said it plans to cut weekly chicken processing by 5 percent to counteract higher grain costs.

"Anybody who is early in the chain is going to benefit," said Ann Gilpin, an analyst with Morningstar. "I don't think this is going to last forever, but there are some significant tailwinds to cause this to persist for a couple of years."

Flush with more revenue than they have enjoyed in years, and eager to take advantage of the highest grain prices they've seen in years, farmers are paying more money for seeds, fertilizer and farm gear. That has translated into large revenue jumps and handsome profit increases for the companies that sell these products.

Patricia Woertz, ADM's CEO, said she empathizes with consumers who are paying more for food, but she directed the blame at gasoline prices that force up food-transportation costs, rather than the use of crops for biofuels, saying that the food-vs.-fuel debate is "misguided."


The perfect storm
Growing food for fuel is only one of the reasons why a global food shortage looms

Ottawa Sun (Canada), 4 May 2008. By Vivian Song.

The global food shortage that has sparked bloody riots around the world serves as another grim reminder of how international crises are intimately tied to the state of the planet.

Last year, this column devoted a page to Darfur that explained how the humanitarian crisis that has killed 200,000 people and displaced another 2.2 million has its roots not in a web of politics, but in an "ecological crisis" described by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Similarly, extreme weather patterns linked to climate change, the rising price of oil and the frenzied production of ethanol are all being blamed for the "silent tsunami" that has the potential of becoming a humanitarian crisis of unprecedented scale.

For years, environmentalists and economists have been sounding the alarm about food security.

Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute has long warned of the folly of raising food crops for fuel. About one-third of the American corn crop is now being used to produce biofuel -- at a time when 18,000 children around the world die of hunger a day.

Ten years ago, the world's carryover stocks of grain had enough food to last six months. Today that number is down to 40 days, said Don Smith, chairman of the Department of Plant Sciences at McGill University.

"That's perilously trim," he said.

But the global food shortage that has killed 40 people in Cameroon in violent riots and raised the price of food by 83% since 2005 was a long time coming, Smith said, with several forces at work to create the perfect storm of events.

"The situation was already precarious," he said. "It came to a tipping point in a number of ways, and biofuels was one of them."

Increased wealth in countries such as China and India translates into increased consumption of meat, for example, which demands increased production of crops.

It's been estimated that in a few decades, 80% of the world's meat will go to China. Meanwhile, it takes 10 kilos of plant material to produce one kilo of beef, Smith said.

The world's population is growing at a pace the planet can't sustain.

The number of humans on the planet has grown more since 1950 than it has in the past 400 million years, from one billion in the 1900s to 6.6 billion today. Much of that growth is concentrated in the developing world.

Meanwhile, Canada, the U.S. and the European Union have long been under fire for their history of agricultural subsidies that undercut African farmers. For decades, American and European farmers have enjoyed huge subsidies, allowing them to export their agricultural surplus to Africa and sell it at a price well below production, forcing their own farmers who can't compete to go bust.

Achim Steiner, head of the UN's Environmental Programme, has said there's enough food to feed everyone on the planet and blamed market speculation for distorting availability, resulting in the stockpile of supplies and driving up prices.

Extreme weather patterns have also sent cues to the world, when droughts in Australia halved its wheat production last year.

Warming has been projected to reduce maize production by 30% in southern Africa, and a 15% drop in wheat yields by 2030.

The crisis has renewed fresh debate over the role of "Frankinfoods," genetically modified foods advocates say will become a necessity in order to feed the planet. But like the knee-jerk reaction of modifying corn for fuel, perhaps it's best to tread with caution when tampering with our food supplies.

"We'll see more extreme weather patterns which will reduce global production of grains. This is going to be an ongoing problem," Smith said.

All of these issues -- ecological warfare, ethanol euphoria and overpopulation -- have been discussed in these pages and are sadly reunited under this one giant human disaster. Indeed, it has become the perfect storm.


China: Processing seen as top food threat

Shanghai Daily, 4 May 2008.

About 70 percent of Shanghai residents said improper food processing could be the biggest threat to food safety. And they want the government to tighten monitoring and punishment on illegal food production and sales, according to a survey conducted by, a government-run website.

The website interviewed more than 3,800 residents after the National People's Congress issued a draft on Food Safety Laws.

About 90 percent of residents told the survey their top concern was the abuse of food additives such as coloring and preservatives.

They were also concerned with antibiotic and pesticide residues, the hygiene of unpacked food, and the use of genetically modified materials without that information being carried on food labels.

Of all outlets, supermarkets were considered the safest. Some 88 percent of residents expressed confidence in supermarket food, with 6 percent choosing convenience stores, 4 percent wet markets and 2 percent the wholesale market.

About 70 percent of residents said processing was the most questionable sector, while 13 percent worried about planting and cultivation, 11 percent about the wholesaling and retailing sector and 6 percent about consuming and dining out.

Illegal food processing and the government's lenient punishment of irregular practices were seen as the top two causes of repeated food safety problems, according to the survey.

Though the draft said that enterprises and individuals had the right to report illegal behavior in the food business and get compensation 10 times the money paid for tainted food, only 35 percent of residents said they would complain to the government.

To improve food safety, 91 percent of residents wanted the government to tighten punishment for illegal practices and 83 percent said they wanted the authorities to improve monitoring and inspection of the food industry.


How shortages, stockpiles led to a global food crisis

Washington Post, 4 May 2008. By Anthony Faiola.

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

In Chicago, Minneapolis and Kansas City, traders watched from the pits early last summer as wheat prices spiked amid mediocre harvests in the United States and Europe and signs of prolonged drought in Australia.

But within a few weeks, the traders discerned an ominous snowball effect - one that would eventually bring down a prime minister in Haiti, make more children in Mauritania go to bed hungry, even cause executives at Sam's Club to restrict sales of large bags of rice.

As prices rose, major grain producers, including Argentina and Ukraine, battling inflation caused in part by soaring oil bills, were moving to bar exports on a range of crops to control costs at home. It meant even less supply on world markets.

Corn prices had already been climbing for months on the back of booming government-subsidized ethanol programs. Soybeans were facing pressure from surging demand in China. But as supplies in the pipelines of global trade shrank, prices for corn, soybeans, wheat, oats, rice and other grains began shooting through the roof.

At the same time, food was becoming the new gold.

Investors fleeing Wall Street's mortgage-related strife plowed hundreds of millions of dollars into grain futures, driving prices up more. By Christmas, a global panic was building. With fewer places to turn to, and tempted by the weak dollar, nations staged a run on the U.S. wheat harvest.

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

"Japan, the Philippines, [South] Korea, Taiwan - they all came in with huge orders, and no matter how high prices go, they keep on buying," said Jeff Voge, chairman of the Kansas City Board of Trade and himself a trader.

The food price shock now roiling world markets is destabilizing governments, igniting riots, and threatening to send a new wave of hunger rippling through the poorest nations. It is outpacing even the Soviet grain emergency of 1972-75, when world food prices rose 78 percent.

By comparison, from the beginning of 2005 to early 2008, prices leapt 80 percent, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.

At least 14 countries have been racked by food violence.

After hungry mobs beset Port-au-Prince, Haitian Prime Minister Jacques-Edouard Alexis was forced to step down in April.

In Malaysia, Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi is struggling for political survival after a March rebuke from voters furious over food prices. In Bangladesh, 20,000 workers protesting food prices rampaged through the streets, injuring 50 people.

To quell unrest, Indonesia and other countries are digging deep to boost food subsidies. The U.N. World Food Program has warned of an alarming surge in hunger in areas as far-flung as North Korea and West Africa.

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

Prices for some crops - such as wheat - have begun to descend from their highs. As farmers rush to plant more wheat now that profit prospects have climbed, analysts predict prices may come down as much as 30 percent in coming months. But few believe they will go back to where they were in early 2006. The world must cope with the new reality of more costly food.

For the one billion people living on less than $1 a day, it's a matter of survival.

In a mud hut on an edge of the Sahara, Manthita Sou, a 43-year-old widow in the Mauritanian desert village of Maghleg, is confronting wheat prices that are up 67 percent on local markets in the last year. Her solution: stop eating bread. Instead, she has downgraded to cheaper foods, such as sorghum.

But sorghum has jumped 20 percent in the last 12 months. Living on the 50 cents a day she earns weaving textiles to support a family of three, her answer has been to cut out breakfast, drink tea for lunch, and ration a small serving of soupy sorghum meal for dinners.

Countries that have driven food demand in recent years are now grappling with the cost of their own success - rising prices. Although China has tried to calm its people by announcing reserve grain holdings of 30 to 40 percent of annual production, a number that was a state secret, anxiety is still running high.

Grain hoarding is reported in the province of Guangdong; consumers have stripped store shelves of bags of rice in Hong Kong.

In India, the government recently scrapped all import duties on cooking oils and banned exports of all but the distinctive basmati rice.

At a dusty and nearly empty market in one New Delhi neighborhood, shopkeeper Manjeet Singh, 52, said people had started hoarding out of fear that stocks of rice and oil would run out. He said customers also were asking for cheaper goods, like groundnut oil instead of soybean oil.

Even wealthy nations are being forced to adjust to a new normal. In Japan, a country with a distinct cultural aversion to cheaper, genetically modified grains, manufacturers are risking public backlash by importing them for use in processed foods.

In the United States, experts say consumers are scaling down on quality and scaling up on quantity if it means a better unit price.

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

The crisis is driven by an unusual linkage in the food chain.

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

"If you didn't have ethanol, you would not have the prices we have today," said Bruce Babcock, a professor of economics and director of the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development at Iowa State University.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the world seemed to shrink as markets rapidly opened, trade surged, and communication and transportation improved.

Given new market efficiencies and the wide availability of relatively cheap food, the once-common practice of hoarding grains to protect against the kind of shortfall the world is suffering now seemed more archaic. Global grain reserves plunged.

Yet there was one big problem. The global food trade never became the kind of well-oiled machine that has made the price of manufactured goods such as computers and flat-screen TVs increasingly similar worldwide.


3 May 2008

India: Greenpeace alert on genetically modified food in Indi

CNN - IBN, 3 May 2008. By Mohit Joshi.

New Delhi -- Look around any supermarket in the Capital and you'll come across many imported food items, which you'll pick up without an iota of suspicion.

Greenpeace, one of the biggest NGOs, has tested some of the imported products - mostly corn and soya - from shops in Khan Market and Vasant Vihar in New Delhi.

The result is worrisome - it has found genetically modified content in it. India imports a major chunk of corn and soya products from USA, the world's biggest exporter of genetically modified crops.

Greenpeace activist Rakesh Krsihnan says, "Since there is no proper screening in the country we fear there is enough genetically modified food in the country. We did a random test - maybe 70 per cent of these kind of foods is already in India."

In 1989, dozens of Americans died and several thousands were left impaired by a genetically altered version of the food supplement - L -Tryptophan. In 1996, several hundreds of people died in Brazil, following allergic reaction to genetically modified food.

Nutrionist Ritika Sammadar says, "If you mutate the wrong kind of genes then gene mutation can happen which can cause death."

And most of us are hardly aware of the harmful effects of genetic modification of food products.

Even though the Indian government does not allow importing genetically modified products, perhaps more stringent checks are required to immediately stop import as well as make consumers aware.


Serbia forced to accept GM food imports

B92 News, 3 May 2008.

BELGRADE -- After a two-day break the newspapers are back in business, and lead with stories about a fatal dog attack and announced investments into Serbia's car industry...

An article in KURIR entitled "What did they sign", says that the SAA [Stabilization and Association Agreement] also binds Serbia to import genetically modified food.


India: GM food silently taking over menu?

The Times of India, 3 May 2008.

NEW DELHI: Did you know that when you eat imported food items you could be consuming genetically modified content? Tests commissioned by Greenpeace, an international NGO have shown that Pepsico's Doritos Corn Chips sold through a supermarket in Delhi contained GM variety of corn as ingredients.

With some parts of the world, such as EU member countries, staying away from consuming genetically modified food in the wake of a general insecurity about its public health impacts, the Greenpeace tests come as a shocker for India.

Under existing Indian laws, Rajesh Krishnan, campaigner for the NGO, said, "Every importer is required to label the products containing any GM content as well as get prior approval from the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee which falls under the environment ministry. The presence of these products in the supermarket shelves proves that the regulatory system is in a shambles. India seems to have become a dumping ground for genetically modified products rejected due to their risk to health elsewhere."

PepsiCo in response to queries by Greenpeace said, "Approval of genetically modified food differs from country to country regarding both use and labelling. PepsiCo adhers to all relevant regulatory requirements regarding use of GM food crops and food ingredients within countries it operates."

An independent laboratory based in Germany conducted the tests. PepsiCo's Doritos Corn Chips were found to contain genetically modified Mon 863 and NK 603 variety corn ingredients. These two varieties are Monsanto's genetically modified corn products.

Mon 863 has a bacterial gene to give pest tolerance, while NK 603 has a bacterial gene for herbicide tolerance. Greenpeace representatives said that independent analysis led by a member of the French National Committee For Risk Assessment of GMOs had found both Mon 863 and NK 603 posing serious health concerns.

Consequently, in many parts of EU the cultivation of GM corn was stopped. The human consumption of these varieties is not approved in India till date.

The government enacted a strong Food Safety Act in 2006, but the health ministry is still to notify and implement it. Only recently, the ministry moved an amendment to a partially notified part tilting the balance in the Food Safety Authority, meant to oversee the implementation of the Act, in favour of the industry. Yet the rest of the Act is yet to see the light of the day.


2 May 2008

UK: Ethics and financial performance: The big question - Is there really a business case?, 2 May 2008.

[Extract only. Full article at]

The case for good judgment

There is no one thing called "corporate social responsibility". It is an umbrella label that covers a range of choices, dilemmas, principles and values. As a result, there can be no one business case that covers it - each proposed course of action requires its own rationale, will carry with it a degree of judgment, and will require skill in execution in order to achieve success.

Take Iceland, the frozen food retailer. When it became the first retailer in the UK to shun genetically modified foods in 1998, was that corporate social responsibility? It was certainly a response to a growing concern among key stakeholders. Well, it worked. The company received huge credit from customers, evidenced in a 10 per cent sales increase, and from other stakeholders alike. An obvious illustration of a business benefit.


Towards a "Green Revolution" in Africa?

Salzburg Global Seminar - transcript of press conference, 2 May 2008.

"Towards a 'Green Revolution' in Africa?" is an Initiative of the Salzburg Global Seminar (, the Institute of Development Studies (, and the Future Agricultures Consortium ( The following is the transcript of a press conference held at the Salzburg Global Seminar in Salzburg, Austria on Friday, May 2. The press conference was held in conjunction with the above-named event which gathered agricultural and economic experts to explore new opportunities and critical challenges to fostering a 'uniquely African Green Revolution.'


Edward MORTIMER: I am Edward Mortimer the vice president of the Salzburg Global Seminar, and we are speaking to you from Salzburg in Austria, and we have a panel of speakers at this remote press conference, in that I will ask them to introduce themselves, starting with Kofi Annan who probably needs no introduction but he is, amongst other things, the chairman of the Alliance for a Green revolution in Africa, AGRA. Mr. Annan.

Kofi ANNAN: I think I have already been introduced as Kofi Annan, the chairman of AGRA, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa.

Akin ADESINA: My name is Akin Adesina. I am the vice president of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa.

Baba DIOUM: My name is Baba Dioum, general coordinator of the Conference of West and Central Africa Ministers of Agriculture in 20 countries, and by the meantime lead institution of the (inaudible).

Mamadou GOITA: My name is Mamadou Goita. I'm from an organisation called IRPAD Afrique in Mali, and the member of the coalition COPAGEN. This is the coalition to protect the (inaudible) in West Africa.

Agnes KALIBATA: My name is Agnes Kalibata. I'm the state minister of Agriculture for Rwanda.

Edward MORTIMER: Thank you very much and before we answer your questions, I think Mr. Annan has a few opening remarks.

Kofi ANNAN: Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen and dear friends. I am speaking to you from Salzburg, Austria, on the last day of an important conference. For the last two days, experts from many parts of Africa, with friends from other parts of the world, have been debating the theme "Towards a Green Revolution in Africa?" I think no question is more important for the future of our continent, and that is why last year I agreed to become Chairman of AGRA - the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa.

Of course at this time of rising food prices and widespread hunger the most urgent task is to get food to the people who desperately need it now. I welcome President Bush's announcement last night, and especially the fact that he is offering not only food aid but also money for agricultural development in Africa. I very much hope that governments here in Europe will follow suit.

But no one should think that once that is done they can sit back and relax. Humanitarian aid must be only the first prong of a three-pronged strategy. The second prong, for the medium term, must be a pro-poor approach to raising productivity and food security in Africa. And the third - which will take much longer, but that's precisely why we need to start on it now - is to enable African farmers to dramatically increase their output, so that Africa can feed itself and not be dependent on food aid. That is what the Green Revolution is all about.

It's also much easier said than done you will say, and it is vital we get it right. We need to learn from past mistakes, and we need to listen to all voices - voices from African governments, from researchers, from civil society, from the private sector, from donors, from regional and international organizations, and above all from African farmers themselves.

That is what we have been doing these last two days, thanks to the Salzburg Global Seminar, the Institute of Development Studies and the Future Agricultures Consortium. They have brought together a remarkable group of people, some of whom are with me at this table. They have introduced themselves already and now we will try to answer your questions. Thank you.

Edward MORTIMER: Right, well, we had a number of people on the line and we have one journalist present in the room with us from the Swiss newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung, and we have also - many questions were sent in in advance by e-mail. And there is one question which I would like to put first to Kofi Annan because it was sent by so many people, and that is that is this: What is new about AGRA? What does it propose that was not done before and which can really turn around the agricultural situation in Africa? In what ways does AGRA expect to help improve the food production chain in Africa? Mr. Annan.

Kofi ANNAN: Thank you, Edward, for that question. I think one thing AGRA has done is to acknowledge that you have to work along the value chain. That we need to work with Africans to ensure they breed of a right see they need, that they to improve their soils, and we are working with them on both, and we intend to work on what management and irrigation and food processing and marketing. So, we will work with the farmer to get his produce from the farm gate to the market. We are working with African scientists, training as many scientists as possible, to ensure that they can breed the right seats, and that they can work their soils. We will be working directly with the farmers themselves, and particularly the women farmers who produce of the food on the continent. I am not implying we will ignore the governments. We will work with the governments because they have a role to play. We would encourage them to come up with the right policies, pro-poor policies and policies that encourage rural development. I think this approach is workable and we're not going to be doing it alone. We are open to all those who share our mission, and we're going to work with other partners within Africa and without.

Edward MORTIMER: Thank you very much. Well, we have one member of an African government also on the panel: Ms. Kalibata and perhaps she would like to respond to what Kofi Annan has just said? Or to the question? If, well, if she would like. Okay, she wants to parts for now. Does any other member of the panel which to comment on this opening question? Eh, yes, Mr. Dioum.

Baba DIOUM: yes, I think that Africa is in a big turn due to many things happening together, particularly the heads of state five years ago decided themselves to take the lead and the leadership to define their own agenda. This is very new - to open their minds and their spirits to collaborate with the rest of the world by a partnership. And also to recognize that states themselves cannot achieve this. They say that the private sector, civil society have to be on board really and to work with them. This is very new, this is a new approach in Africa. It is why we are happy to be here and to be very inclusive with this initiative of AGRA. We think that we can speak of achieving what the heads of state have decided a few years ago.

Edward MORTIMER: Thank you very much. And now I think it is the turn of Mr Thomas Botner from the Neue Zürcher Zeitung. If you could come to the podium and ask your question please.

Thomas BOTNER: thank you very much. This is an honour for me to speak first. I have two different questions. First, as a Swiss, I would be interested if there is a connection with you the global a humanitarian forum which is located in Geneva, and the second question is, what about what do you think about the microcredit system as it is installed for instance in Bangladesh. These are my two questions. Thank you very much.

Edward MORTIMER: so the first question clearly is for Kofi Annan.

Kofi ANNAN: Yes, I will take the first one. In a way the global humanitarian forum in Geneva is focused, at least for this year and next, on the impact of climate change on communities and individuals. And this directly links up with agriculture. We have talked about the impact of climate change on agricultural production, changing brain patterns, long droughts, making formerly fertile lands unploughable. We have seen how deserts expand at a rate of 7 km per year. All this has impacted on agricultural productivity. And if we do not take measures, serious adaptation measures, we will even lose a little gains that we have made (unintelligible) to meet the millennium goals, or we will see degradation in African agriculture. So whatever we do has to be sustainable. We need to bear mind impact of climate change, we need to be able to adapt, to be able to sustain our efforts, and what the forum is doing in Geneva is to help build capacity in these vulnerable countries so that you increase the resilience and reduce the vulnerability of the people for them to be able to maintain their livelihood. So we come in, not only on the issue of adaptation but also insisting on sustainable development.

Edward MORTIMER: Thank you very much. Would anyone want to answer the question about microcredit? Madame Kalibata, from the government of Rwanda.

Agnes KALIBATA: Thank you. The question on microcredit is extremely important, especially when we look at where we are going with the Green Revolution. The issue of inputs becomes extremely important. The increasing prices of inputs that we have seen today, inputs, especially fertilisers have more than have increased by five times more as last year. So farmers who are accessing fertilisers last year have to pay five times as much to put fertilisers in the same piece of land to produce the same amount of food that they produced last year. Then in terms of seeds, too, production of seeds involves investment in terms of (inaudible) stuff like that, still we need to be helping farmers accessing seeds through us, to access credit. Another thing the Green Revolution (inaudible) and this will increase microcredit systems to farmers. Thank you.

Edward MORTIMER: Thank you very much. Another question that was sent in by many journalists in Africa was: are you afraid that the food prices will spur new conflicts in African countries? And if so is the food crisis likely to pose obstacles to your plan? Mr Annan would you like to have a first go at that?

Kofi ANNAN: We have already seen demonstrations around the world, because of the food prices and the food crisis. I think it is important that we take urgent measures to ensure that those who need the food get it. And that is why I am very encouraged by the generous offers of governments from President Bush and other European leaders to offer of the resources needed by the world food programme to continue this programme and to acquire food at the new higher prices that we have seen. I think governments may also be able to reduce some of the tariffs and take measures internally to make food available to the poor. If we tackle the humanitarian emergency as effectively as we should and take measures of the medium to the longer term, to ensure forward security in Africa, and make a sustained effort to bring about a green revolution, I think that the current crisis, need not to make the current situation worse, in fact, it could be an opportunity for all of us to focus on an urgent task that we have ignored far too long.

Edward MORTIMER: I think Madame Kalibata would like to comment on that question as well.

Agnes KALIBATA: yes, I think, like, the secretary general has said, I think this is a great opportunity. One, because I think that in Africa and most of the food crisis that has been talked about really should not be a case in point for Africa today. But it is going to be next year, and the year after because whatever is happening in terms of biofuel and stuff like that hasn't really been happening here. What has been happening is that we have probably been affected by whatever inputs are coming to Africa. But in terms of production it should probably - nothing should have changed. What needs to be done is to take these and ensure that we produce to take care of whatever is coming in as food aid or inputs. So it's an opportunity for people to get to import and increase whatever is needed in terms of inputs and (inaudible) systems to make sure that food prices does not become a bigger problem in Africa. There is a potential for that to happen, if we don't something about it.

Edward MORTIMER: Mr. Mamadou Goita who has worked with small farmers' organisations, particularly in Mali.

Mamadou GOITA: Yes, I would like to talk a bit about this food crisis because people are really mixing some of the points. I'm concerned about it because I know there are problems with food issues in Africa. But the marches are beyond the issue of food. All the marches that have been organised now are on different things. They are marching for better salaries, there are marching for oil prices going up in the countries, so they want to take out taxes and all these things, and also for food prices. So when we restrict it to only food problem, I think that is a mistake because that is really giving just one part of the problem. So this is the point I wanted to make. And the second thing is that people also having these marches in different cities because of the prices of rights, in most of the cases, and wheat. If you take the African context, this is really related to big cities, mainly, because these are two crops that are mainly used at city level. Coming from a country like Mali, but also having contact with West African countries, in my own case, eating a lot of millet in my family and so on, I am not affected. I am not affected because farmers form, I am working with they don't even have a (inaudible) price for the millet. So talking about prices-we have to talk, just where of the problem is. So this will lead us to go behind this simplified way of talking about food crisis. Habit will have changed at city level, so people are now eating more rise, more wheat with bread and so and so forth, so it's an opportunity for us in the case of Mali, because of those of us living in the city's fighting just to get better salaries and having access to (inaudible) and so and so forth, the government has decided to put 47 billion CFA next year for this production. It's a good thing. But we say that this is just tackling the problem on a crisis basis, but we need (inaudible) on a structural basis. So I really want to talk about this because it is really important. (Inaudible) of these marches are not only for food. So when we talk about food riots we are exaggerating things to my concern. Thank you.

Edward MORTIMER: Dr Adesina, you want to add something?

Akin ADESINA: Yes. I think we should also realise that the current food crisis - we're calling it crisis because for the first time there are people on the streets in the cities. But Africa has always had food crises. There has been a silent hunger going on in Africa of the last 30 years, and per capita production of food has been declining for the last 30 years. It's just been affecting the rural folks. So we should realise that that silent hunger has been there and Africa is one region where it is projected that we are not going to be able to reach MDG goal one, to end poverty and hunger are because of that low productivity of agriculture. So that's really way of the crisis years. That's where it bites. It bites and those the supposed to be producing food-farmers, but they can't even produce enough for themselves much less sell the food to others. So that's one point. Second one is, as Mr Annan pointed out, this doesn't have to be something that leads into civil crisis but in fact some of that can lead to new opportunities. Remember though, in Asia in the 70s, when the Asian Green Revolution happened, there were the same set of factors: the price of energy was very high, global food supply was very very low, and the price of rice was so high that you had rice riots all across Asia. But that's what pushed the Asian governments to invest more in agricultural research that led to a green revolution. So we are hoping that the African governments would see that as an opportunity to invest more in agriculture, raise agricultural productivity, and get a Green Revolution that would really address this problem at its roots.

Edward MORTIMER: Thank you very much. The correspondent from Radio France International?

RFI Correspondent: Which forms of aid are most appropriate for which countries?

Baba DIOUM: (translation) I've seen this crisis manifest itself in several countries. On the streets you can watch it it, it's there. And tomorrow and the day after tomorrow there will be more countries who demonstrate in the same fashion. In any case, the first measures that have been taken, and that will impact on future agricultural development, is a reduction in tax on imports. Perhaps tomorrow this will impact on (inaudible) the state budget which cannot subsidise (food) at the expense of other items. But what really worries me is that this urgency obscures something very basic and fundamental. If, as Mr Annan said, we do not know whether this crisis will change our policies, accelerate the process, then we're going to lose the battle against hunger. And that's where I think there is an opportunity.

Edward MORTIMER: O.K. Let me read a question which has been sent in by Beatrice Kemunto from The Nation in Kenya. And she - I think it was addressed to AGRA: Have you set yourselves specific objectives by which success can be judged, for example, have you got a time frame within which you want to achieve some level of food security or progress in the same line? So I will ask Mr Annan to answer that first but maybe others will have comments on how they would judge whether the Green Revolution is succeeding or not.

Kofi ANNAN: I would want Adesina to deal with that question, but let me say the way the question is drafted it implies that all the responsibility lies on AGRA. AGRA is a partner and is going to work with African governments and African farmers to make it happen and with other partners. I think that success will depend on how seriously we take this effort, and how we sustain this effort. And I believe that if we all take it seriously and work in a sustained manner then the approach we have tried to define - I think we will succeed and we should be able in my judgement to double or triple food production by the African farmers in a period of five to 10 years. But at least we should be able to do that. Akin, do you want to add something?

Akin ADESINA: Mr. Annan mentioned in his remarks yesterday at the opening of the conference that talk is cheap. And I think in Africa both at the continental level, the African heads of state through the (inaudible) programme and the NEPAD programme political support, and also at AGRA level, we think that it's time to move processes to action. So you can only have success, if you are actually having action. So AGRA and its partners are going to be action driven. We think that success needs to be measured in terms of the number of farmers that you see using improved varieties of seeds and able to significantly raise the productivity of their food crops (inaudible) children improve their nutrition because their parents are able to produce more food and more nutritious food for themselves. We will be able to measure it in terms of the income that farmers are able to get because they are able to now have more to sell (inaudible) and also requirements. Now, these of course cannot be done tomorrow. But we believe that with the work of AGRA our partners we are working hard to produce varieties of crops that that applicable to different geographical zones of Africa that farmers are benefiting from right now; we are working on integrated soil fertility strategies that are helping farmers to raise productivity and we are developing markets to assist them as well. So we think that in the next five to 10 years you will see significant changes in Africa but if you go out right now. You would not even begin to see that (inaudible) farmer feel. So these are very clear indicators that I think we should all measure ourselves by.

Edward MORTIMER: Well, I'd be interested to know what Mr. Goita thinks about that from this perspective of small farmers on the ground in west Africa.

Mamadou GOITA: Yes, I cannot say if there is any framework for assessing AGRA right now because I'm not directly involved in the process but what I can say is that there are conditions for the sustainability of this initiative. The first one is bringing on board small-scale farmers. This is one condition because we know that the majority of producers in Africa are small-scale farmers. I'm not talking about South Africa and other countries where you have big producers. You take the case of my country. We have about 8% of the population working on the farm issues - agriculture, cattle breeding, fishing, and so forth. And out of these more than 90% are small-scale farmers. And if these people are not involved in the process, not just been consulted about giving them responsibility on the issue, for me there is no way, it cannot work. And the second thing is the content of the different actions that will be taken because of the sustainability of some of these things have already been assessed. We're talking about bringing fertilizers to farmers. There is a lot to think about because we already have experience with cotton, with peanuts in Senegal, Mali, Benin and Burkina Faso. Once you have opportunity for farmers to get annexes to fertilizers, because they have to renew the process, and if the funding system stops, usually the process will also stop. So there is a lot to think about that. When you bring these kinds of input to them how wicked we sustain the process of the funding system to allow these small scale farmers to continuously have access to it. And that's why I say, look, there are other opportunities also, other things that need to be taken into account. This is what they are doing now in terms of soil fertility issues but also in terms of water management system that is sustainable. So, there is a lot of conditions that we need to think about and the other structural issues, because this is also the kind of blockage we have between some types of research being done by research institutes, and farmers doing research is a participatory process. So these are some of the conditions. We may have others much to make it short. So if farmers in the process of having a leadership on it. Secondly, the different elements that of the green revolution is including is water management, the use of water, the use of fertilizers, and the use of hybrid seeds. And if this system is based on a system that we know, on Green Revolution, it will be a problem. So sustainability is also assessed in terms of accountability, in terms of transparency, in terms of implications for farmers in the process.

Edward MORTIMER: Thank you very much. I think Mr. Dioum wants to make a comment.

Baba DIOUM: In (inaudible) process a major issue is accountability and how we make it. We set up all the process of benchmarking and monitoring and evaluation. And we have criteria to measure very frequently what kind of progress we made on the commitment in Maputo about the 10% budget allocation, but also on the 6% growth. This allows us now to really set up a mechanism with our partners, what we call the peer review mechanism, meeting every six months to measure what progress has been made.

Edward MORTIMER: Thank you very much. Well, Mr Annan is going to have to leave us in a moment but I would like to put one question to him before he leaves, which was sent in by Jeffery Mbanga from the Weekly Observer in Uganda. And the question is: does the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa embrace the use of genetically modified foods as a measure to counter the current food crisis?

Kofi ANNAN: Let me say that today were using conventional breeding efforts to improve seeds and to be able to help farmers. We believe that working with the farmers this approach we will be able to increase food production. Of course the issue of GMO is not going to go away because AGRA has a different approach. As we move forward, that debate will continue. Research on GMOs is continuing around the world and it cannot be stopped. It is possible that down the line African governments may decide to adopt GMOs. For the moment, most African governments have not taken that decision I'm sure there would be organizations and institutions ready to work with them. AGRA is using conventional breeding at the moment. Thank you.

Edward MORTIMER: Thank you very much and I'm sorry that you have to leave us now. If the other members of the panel are willing to stay for a few minutes, I still have quite a few questions that have been sent in. Here is one actually from the Ghana News Agency. Nate Glover-Meni says: some major problems soil management, lack of storage facilities, lack of farming technology. Also, a high yielding seeds alone are not the answer unless farmers are educated about the use of technology, farming practices and processing. Finally, stable markets are important. How does AGRA intend to make sure that its objectives all come together? Perhaps Dr. Adesina you could say something about that?

Akin ADESINA: The Green Revolution is most focused on the farmers, the small farmers and the use of knowledge is critical to that. We must also recognize that farmers have their own local knowledge, their own indigenous knowledge, so it's not a question of trying to bring new knowledge to farmers. We must deal with what farmers already know. And this is very important in Africa because the archaeological zones in Africa are very diverse, the crops are many and the food preferences are so different. So at the end of the day it is the small farmer (inaudible) that can best decide where to plant that variety. Whether to apply fertilizer or not. How much to apply on it. And so on. So we really cannot make decisions for those farmers, they have to make those decisions. When it comes to how all these things come together on the ground, it is again the countries that have to make these things happen. AGRA works with governments, with the private sector, with civil society organisations at country level to implement their own programmes. AGRA doesn't have any programme different from what the government wants us to support. And so own way of working is to say we need to focus on breadbasket areas. These are vast areas of Africa where, if you have the right kind of seed, the right kind of soil fertility practices, you have irrigation and good roads and market access, we can double, triple, and in some cases quadruple production now. But we have to focus on those areas where the opportunities are. So at the country level, where you are saying there is no scarce resources, focus on breadbasket areas. Bring the markets, the seat, the soil fertility, the irrigation, everything together in an area where you have a good infrastructure so that you can really push production, don't disperse resources everywhere.

Edward MORTIMER: Thank you very much. And now a question from Dorothy Nakaweesi of The Monitor in Uganda. And she asks: how does the Green Revolution plan to address land rights, especially in a country like Uganda, where she says, the women till the land but have no say over it. Well, Dr. Kalibata you spent part of your life in Uganda and you are the only woman on this panel so you might have some news on this question, I think.

Agnes KALIBATA: Thank you but I will not speak for AGRA... (laughs)

Edward MORTIMER: No, this is the Green Revolution, it cannot be confined to AGRA.

Agnes KALIBATA: ... o.k., o.k., the issue of land rights is extremely important when it comes to how agriculture is done. We have taken a decision in Rwanda that they has to be equal rights to land irrespective of gender. So this land bias that is not allowing most of the population that is tilling the land to have rights to the land is something that really needs to be worked on. And the land is telling system is extremely important in raising agricultural productivity. Basically with people and the willingness to invest in the land and the amount of investment you going to put into land is direct related to whether you own this land or whether you are renting it. so I would encourage people to start thinking about equitable land rights. Thank you.

Edward MORTIMER: Thank you very much. Mr. Fletcher, the Reuter correspondent in West Africa, if he is still on the line, would he like to ask a question?

FLETCHER: I would like to ask a question to Mr. Annan directly.

Edward MORTIMER: Well Mr. Annan is no longer with us, but he has asked Dr. Adesina, who is the Vice President of AGRA, to answer any remaining questions on his behalf. So please go ahead and put your question.

FLETCHER: Okay, well I would basically like to ask whether (inaudible) we've been hearing from the international community since the beginning of the year and that there is a deficit in funding for food aid for WFP. In that time, we have seen US and European central banks provide billions, billions of dollars to ease the credit crunch that the effects of the sub prime crisis. Yet we don't seem to have filled the deficit for food aid of 750 million as I understand it for the WFP. So does the panel think that the urgency as they are for the international community to respond to this crisis?

Edward MORTIMER: Akin?

Akin ADESINA: Yes. Clearly we have a situation where there are so many of the poor in developing countries that are negatively affected by the current food crisis. We households spend 60-70% of their incomes on food. And so you know, when somebody is hungry, they become very angry. And so you can understand why you have to solve that problem first in the immediate sense. You cannot have peace on an empty stomach. But the amount of resources that are going to be needed to allow Africa to significantly raise agricultural productivity in the medium and in the long-term are quite significant. So the donor community shouldn't think that because the current despite goes away, then the problem is over. No. A large amount of funding will be needed in Africa for agricultural research, for agricultural extension, for seed systems production, markets development, for building infrastructure, roads, storage facilities that are going to be required. Green Revolution cannot happen on the cheap, we can't do this on a shoestring budget. So we are asking that we are not losing perspective on the long-term that the world is listening and that there will be significant support to allow African countries achieve their much needed green revolution.

Edward MORTIMER: Well thank you. I find that I might ask a follow-up question to Mr. Fletcher's. Kofi Annan said at the beginning that he hoped that Europe would follow Bush's lead in promising increased aid for agricultural development in Africa. What we actually see in Europe at the moment are debates with many governments seeking to reduce for budgetary reasons the amount of money they have pledged to provide for development, and I think we are nowhere near the famous Gleneagles commitments. Maybe Dr. Kalibata, you would have a comment on that. No? Well, Mr. Dioum.

Baba DIOUM: Yes, or as far as let's say more money is concerned, it's really a very big time now as they say. The world now sees that stability is really linked to the development. Instability is linked to poverty. Do we think that sitting somewhere in OECD countries we are in a good position when people in Africa are hungry? This is another issue. We have to look it through. Now the global village as we say, is there. These boats coming from Africa drawing young people in Europe due to what? Just lack of development. Please invest, not just like business as usual. But take the global world as your global world. Invest where (inaudible) have to make their own development to be free. This is very important. I think that money is necessary, but also the technology is necessary. How people can use in the best way the money they got. This is also very important. Because we cannot make development just by giving money, no, we have to train people, educate them, give them the opportunity to make business in their own country. We have to develop our regional markets. This is a very big issue that we have to face now.

Edward MORTIMER: But all of that costs money.

Baba DIOUM: Yes.

Edward MORTIMER: Mr. Goita.

Mamadou GOITA: I think this is not new what he is talking about - Europe or the US promising things and not doing it, this is not new. What is new is the way that things are happening. Of course we can talk a lot about this so this is not the time for that. Because if you go fine to the histories of the 80s - why African agriculture is in that stage today. So we need to ask this question. If we ask this question, we can learn from the past because most of the foundations that are involved in the current process have already invested a lot in African agriculture, theoretically - I'm talking about (in audible), foundation for instance in my country and all these things, but things have not changed. That is one thing we need to talk about. When they talk about technical assistance, human resources, it is the key thing for agriculture. In the 80s, with adjustment programs, we stopped all the assistance, technical assistance to farmers because of the World Bank. And even teachers' schools have been closed. So this is another issue but I want to talk about food assistance...

Edward MORTIMER: Quickly please because we're running out of time.

Mamadou GOITA: So that's one point. Yes, the US government had decided to put, I think if I remember very rightly, $200 million on food aid, of food aid to Africa. So it's a tricky thing. Because the knows that, at any time, that such situation happen in Africa, you know, production is going down, because it will destroy the production system. Secondly, people will be used to some type of product that they are not used to. This happens to many of the (inaudible) countries in the past and $200 million of food aid in the continent this year, and we all know that last seasons most of that countries had extra production in cereals. We talk about Mali. We talk about Niger. We talk about Burkina Faso. They all had extra production of food. Statistic will show and this is the reality. So in this context there are riots about many other things and you bring $200 million of food in the continent, this is destroying the system that is in place.

Edward MORTIMER: Adesina.

Akin ADESINA: I would like to say that we're actually witnessing a good trend, a development that we should not lose sight of. There was the World Bank Development Report 2008 which brought the importance of agriculture back onto the development agenda. And we think, in AGRA, that is a very very positive development. The president of the World Bank also announced recently that the Bank will be increasing its support for Africa from $400 million to $800 million next year. We think that's a very significant very important development. And President Bush also announced in terms of new aid coming in. So those are very significant developments. So we should work on these developments. We also realised that Africans themselves are putting up money, they are not just going saying 'give us more money'. The African heads of state agreed to increase the share of their total budget in agriculture to 10%. Many of them are already meeting those targets they agreed to in their Maputo Declarations. Now I am from Nigeria, and we have a proverb that says that it is the baby that opens its hand that you actually carry. What am trying to say is that African governments themselves are trying to do a lot and they open their hands so they deserve support for us to succeed. Now what the African governments or are saying and what we would like to also emphasize is: help us to produce our own food. Being able to produce food in Africa is a matter of dignity. It is a matter of national security. And therefore any support that is given to Africa is helping African farmers and governments to feed their people with dignity, and everybody wants that. So I think it's very important for the world development community to honour the commitments they have made. But more than ever that this is the time to act on resources for African agriculture.

Edward MORTIMER: Thank you very much. And for the last word I turn to Agnes Kalibata from the government of Rwanda.

Agnes KALIBATA: Thank you. In short, I would like to say what came out of this clearly food crisis in Africa has been there at the household level. At the country level food crisis will happen in the next few years, beginning next year if we don't do anything about it. Because, like I said before, the price of inputs, the price of seeds and fertilizers, the price of fuel (inaudible) indicated that are going to all the other things that are important in getting food to the table have all gone up. So if we continue doing business as usual in Africa, if we don't pay attention to the fact that an increase in seeds and fertilisers is necessary in the coming years, we will definitely have a bigger food crisis, actually a national food crisis. So it will move from the household to the national level. We need to be doing something about it. Thank you.

Edward MORTIMER: Thank you very much. So thank you from the Salzburg Global Seminar and goodbye.


Global famine

Global Research, 2 May 2008. by Michel Chossudovsky.

Humanity is undergoing in the post-Cold War era an economic and social crisis of unprecedented scale leading to the rapid impoverishment of large sectors of the World population. National economies are collapsing, unemployment is rampant. Local level famines have erupted in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and parts of Latin America. This "globalization of poverty" --which has largely reversed the achievements of post-war decolonization-- was initiated in the Third World coinciding with the debt crisis of the early 1980s and the imposition of the IMF's deadly economic reforms.

The New World Order feeds on human poverty and the destruction of the natural environment. It generates social apartheid, encourages racism and ethnic strife, undermines the rights of women and often precipitates countries into destructive confrontations between nationalities. Since the 1990s, it has extended its grip to all major regions of the World including North America, Western Europe, the countries of the former Soviet block and the "Newly Industrialized Countries" (NICs) of South East Asia and the Far East. This Worldwide crisis is more devastating than the Great Depression of the 1930s. It has far-reaching geo-political implications; economic dislocation has also been accompanied by the outbreak of regional wars, the fracturing of national societies and in some cases the destruction of entire countries. By far this is the most serious economic crisis in modern history. (Michel Chossudovsky, The Globalization of Poverty, First Edition, 1997)


Famine is the result of a process of "free market" restructuring of the global economy which has its roots in the debt crisis of the early 1980s.İ It is not a recent phenomenon as suggested by several Western media reports. The latterİnarrowly focusİonİshort-term supply and demand for agricultural staples, while obfuscating the broader structural causes of global famine.

Poverty and chronic undernourishment is a pre-existing condition.İThe recent hikes in food prices have contributed to exacerbating and aggravating the food crisis.İThe price hikes are hitting an impoverished population, which has barely the means to survive.İ

Food riots have eruptedİ almost simultaneously in all major regions of the World:

"Food prices in Haiti had risen on average by 40 percent in less than a year, with the cost of staples such as rice doubling.... In Bangladesh, [in late April 2008] some 20,000 textile workers took to the streets to denounce soaring food prices and demand higher wages. The price of rice in the country has doubled over the past year, threatening the workers, who earn a monthly salary of just $25, with hunger. In Egypt, protests by workers over food prices rocked the textile center of Mahalla al-Kobra, north of Cairo, for two days last week, with two people shot dead by security forces. Hundreds were arrested, and the government sent plainclothes police into the factories to force workers to work. Food prices in Egypt have risen by 40 percent in the past year... Earlier this month, in the Ivory Coast, thousands marched on the home of President Laurent Gbagbo, chanting "we are hungry" and "life is too expensive, you are going to kill us.

Similar demonstrations, strikes and clashes have taken place in Bolivia, Peru, Mexico, Indonesia, the Philippines, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Thailand, Yemen, Ethiopia, and throughout most of sub-Saharan Africa." (Bill Van Auken, Amid mounting food crisis, governments fear revolution of the hungry, Global Research, April 2008).

"Eliminating the Poor"

With large sectors of the World population already well below the poverty line, the short-term hike in the prices of food staples is devastating. Millions of people around the World are unable to purchase food for their survival.

These hikes are contributing in a very real sense to "eliminating the poor" through "starvation deaths". In the words of Henry Kissinger:İ "Control oil and you control nations; control food and you control the people."İ

In this regard, Kissinger had intimated in the context of the 1974 National Security Study Memorandum 200: "Implications of Worldwide Population Growth for U.S. Security and Overseas Interests", that the recurrence of famines could constitute a de facto instrument of population control.İ

According to the FAO, the price of grain staples has increased by 88% since March 2007. The price of wheat has increased by 181% over a three year period. The price of rice has increased by 50% over the last three months (See Ian Angus, Food Crisis: "The greatest demonstration of the historical failure of the capitalist model", Global Research, April 2008):

"The most popular grade of Thailand rice sold for $198 a ton, five years ago and $323 a ton a year ago. In April 2008, the price hit $1,000. Increases are even greater on local markets – in Haiti, the market price of a 50 kilo bag of rice doubled in one week at the end of March 2008. These increases are catastrophic for the 2.6 billion people around the world who live on less than US$2 a day and spend 60% to 80% of their incomes on food. Hundreds of millions cannot afford to eat" (Ibid)

Two Interrelated Dimensions

There are two interrelated dimensions to the ongoing global food crisis, which has spearheaded millions of people around the World into starvation and chronic deprivation, a situation in which entire population groups no longer have the means to purchase food.İ

First, there is a long term historical process of macroeconomic policy reform and global economic restructuring which has contributed to depressing the standard living Worldwide in both the developing and developed countries.İ

Second, these preexisting historical conditions of mass poverty have been exacerbated and aggravated by the recent surge in grain prices, which have led in some cases to the doubling of the retail price of food staples. These price hikes are in large part the result of speculative trade in food staples.

Speculative Surge in Grain Prices

The media has casually misled public opinion on the causes of these price hikes, focusing almost exclusively on issues of costs of production, climate and other factors which result in reduced supply and which might contribute to boosting the price of food staples. While these factors may come into play, they are of limited relevance in explaining the impressive and dramatic surge in commodity prices.

Spiraling food prices are in large part the result of market manipulation. They are largely attributable to speculative trade on the commodity markets. Grain prices are boosted artificially by large scale speculative operations on the New York and Chicago mercantile exchanges. It is worth noting that in 2007, the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT), merged with the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME), forming the largest Worldwide entity dealing in commodity trade including a wide range of speculative instruments (options, options on futures, index funds, etc).İ

Speculative trade in wheat, rice or corn, can occur without the occurrence of real commodity transactions.İThe institutions speculating in the grain market are not necessarily involved in the actual selling or delivery of grain.

The transactions may use commodity index funds which are bets on the general upward or downward movement of commodity prices. A "put option" is a bet that the price will go down, aİ "call option" is a bet that the price will go up. Through concerted manipulation, institutional traders and financial institutions make the price go up and then place their bets on an upward movement in the price of a particular commodity.

Speculation generates market volatility. In turn, the resulting instability encourages further speculative activity.

Profits are made when the price goes up. Conversely, if the speculator is short-selling the market, money will be made when the price collapses.

This recent speculative surge in food prices has been conducive to a Worldwide process of famine formation on an unprecedented scale.

The Absence of Regulatory Measures Triggers Famine

These speculative operations do not purposely trigger famine.

What triggers famine is the absence of regulatory procedures pertaining to speculative trade (options, options on futures, commodity index funds). In the present context, a freeze of speculative trade in food staples, taken as a political decision, would immediately contribute to lower food prices.İ

Nothing prevents these transactions from being neutralized and defused through a set of carefully devised regulatory measures.İ

Visibly, this is not what is being proposed by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.İ

The Role of the IMF and the World Bank

The World Bank and the IMF have come forth with an emergency plan, to boost agriculture in response to the "food crisis". The causes of this crisis, however, are not addressed.

The World Bank's presidentİRobert B. Zoellick describes this initiative as aİ "new deal",İan action plan "for a long-term boost to agricultural production.", which consists inter alia in a doubling of agricultural loans to African farmers.

"We have to put our money where our mouth is now so that we can put food into hungry mouths"İ(Robert Zoellick, World Bank head, quotedİİby BBC, 2 May 2008)

IMF / World Bank "economic medicine" is not the "solution" but in large part the "cause" of famine in developing countries. More IMF-World Bank lending "to boost agriculture" will serve to increase levels of indebtedness and exacerbate rather alleviate poverty.

World Bank "policy based loans" are granted on condition the countries abide by the neoliberal policy agenda which, since the early 1980s, has been conducive to the collapse of local level food agriculture.İ

"Macro-economic stabilization" and structural adjustment programs imposed by the IMF and the World Bank on developing countries (as a condition for the renegotiation of their external debt) have led to the impoverishment of hundreds of millions of people.İ

The harsh economic and social realities underlying IMF intervention are soaring food prices, local-level famines, massive lay-offs of urban workers and civil servants and the destruction ofİ social programs. Internal purchasing power has collapsed, famines health clinics and schools have been closed down, hundreds of millions of children have been denied the right to primary education.İ

IMF Shock Treatment

Historically, spiraling food prices at the retail level have been triggered by currency devaluations, which have invariably resulted in a hyperinflationary situation. In Peru in August 1990, for instance, on the orders of the IMF, fuel prices increased overnight by 30İtimes. The price of bread increased twelve times overnight:İ

"Throughout the Third World, the situation is one of social desperation andİhopelessness of a population impoverished by the interplay of market forces. Anti-SAP riots and popular uprisings are brutally repressed: Caracas, 1989. President Carlos Andres Perez after having rhetorically denounced the IMF of practicing "an economic totalitarianism which kills not with bullets but with famine", declares a state of emergency and sends regular units of the infantry and the marines into the slum areas (barrios de ranchos) on the hills overlooking the capital. The Caracas anti-IMF riots had been sparked off as a result of a 200 per cent increase in the price of bread. Men, women and children were fired upon indiscriminately: "The Caracas morgue was reported to have up to 200 bodies of people killed in the first three days ... and warned that it was running out of coffins". Unofficially more than a thousand people were killed. Tunis, January 1984: the bread riots instigated largely by unemployed youth protesting the rise of food prices; Nigeria, 1989: the anti-SAP student riots leading to the closing of six of the country's universities by the Armed Forces Ruling Council; Morocco, 1990: a general strike and a popular uprising against the government's IMF-sponsored reforms." (Michel Chossudovsky, op cit.)

The Deregulation of Grain Markets

Since the 1980s, grain markets have been deregulated under the supervision of the World Bank and US/EU grain surpluses are used systematically to destroy the peasantry and destabilize national food agriculture. In this regard, World Bank lending requires the lifting of trade barriers on imported agricultural staples, leading to the dumping of US/EU grain surpluses onto local market. These and other measures have spearheaded local agricultural producers into bankruptcy.

A "free market" in grain --imposed by the IMF and the World Bank-- destroys the peasant economy and undermines "food security". Malawi and Zimbabwe were once prosperous grain surplus countries, Rwanda was virtually self-sufficient in food until 1990 when the IMF ordered the dumping of EU and US grain surpluses on the domestic market precipitating small farmers into bankruptcy. In 1991-92, famine had hit Kenya, East Africa's most successful bread-basket economy. The Nairobi government had been previously placed on a black list for not having obeyed IMF prescriptions. The deregulation of the grain market had been demanded as one of the conditions for the rescheduling of Nairobi's external debt with the Paris Club of official creditors. (Michel Chossudovsky, The Globalization of Poverty and the New World Order, Second Edition, Montreal 2003)İ

Throughout Africa, as well as in Southeast Asia and Latin America, the pattern of "sectoral adjustment" in agriculture under the custody of the Bretton Woods institutions has been unequivocally towards the destruction of food security. Dependency vis-ı-vis the world market has been reinforced leading to a boost in commercial grain imports as well as an increase in the influx of "food aid".İ

Agricultural producers were encouraged to abandon food farming and switch into "high value" export crops. oftenİ to the detriment of food self-sufficiency. The high value products as well as the cash crops for export were supported by World Bank loans.

Famines in the age of globalization are the result of policy. Famine is not the consequence of a scarcity of food but in fact quite the opposite: global food surpluses are used to destabilize agricultural production in developing countries.

Tightly regulated and controlled by international agro-business, this oversupply is ultimately conducive to the stagnation of both production and consumption of essential food staples and the impoverishment of farmers throughout the world.İ Moreover, in the era of globalization, the IMF-World Bank structural adjustment program bears a direct relationship to the process of famine formation because it systematically undermines all categories of economic activity, whether urban or rural, which do not directly serve the interests of the global market system. The earnings of farmers in rich and poor countries alike are squeezed by a handful of global agro-industrial enterprises which simultaneously control the markets for grain, farm inputs, seeds and processed foods. One giant firm Cargill Inc. with more than 140 affiliates and subsidiaries around the World controls a large share of the international trade in grain. Since the 1950s, Cargill became the main contractor of US "food aid" funded under Public Law 480 (1954).

World agriculture has for the first time in history the capacity to satisfy the food requirements of the entire planet, yet the very nature of the global market system prevents this from occurring. The capacity to produce food is immense yet the levels of food consumption remain exceedingly low because a large share of the World's population lives in conditions of abject poverty and deprivation. Moreover, the process of "modernization" of agriculture has led to the dispossession of the peasantry, increased landlessness and environmental degradation. In other words, the very forces which encourage global food production to expand are also conducive antithetically to a contraction in the standard of living and a decline in the demand for food.

Genetically Modified Seeds

Coinciding with the establishment the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995, another important historical change has occurred in the structure of global agriculture.İ

Under the articles of agreement of the World Trade Organization (WTO)), the food giants will have unrestricted freedom to enter the seeds markets of developing countries. The acquisition of exclusive "intellectual property rights" over plant varieties by international agro-industrial interests, also favors the destruction of bio-diversity.

Acting on behalf of a handful of biotech conglomerates, GMO seeds have been imposed on farmers, often in the context of "food aid programs".İ In Ethiopia, for instance, kits of GMO seeds were handed out to impoverished farmers with a view to rehabilitating agricultural production in the wake of a major drought. The GMO seeds were planted, yielding a harvest. But then the farmer came to realize that the GMO seeds could not be replanted without paying royalties to Monsanto, Archer Daniel Midland, et al. Then, the farmers discovered that the seeds would harvest only if they used the farm inputs including the fertilizer, insecticide and herbicide, produced and distributed by the biotech agribusiness companies. Entire peasant economies were locked into the grip of the agribusiness conglomerates.

Breaking The Agricultural Cycle

With the widespread adoption of GMO seeds, a major transition has occurred in the structure and history of settled agriculture since its inception 10,000 years ago.İ

The reproduction of seeds at the village level in local nurseries has been disrupted by the use of genetically modified seeds.İ The agricultural cycle, which enables farmers to store their organic seeds and plant them to reap the next harvest has been broken. This destructive pattern - invariably resulting in famine - is replicated in country after country leading to the Worldwide demise of the peasant economy.


The Globalization of Poverty and the New World Order
By Michel Chossudovsky

In this new and expanded edition of Chossudovsky's international best-seller, the author outlines the contours of a New World Order which feeds on human poverty and the destruction of the environment, generates social apartheid, encourages racism and ethnic strife and undermines the rights of women. The result as his detailed examples from all parts of the world show so convincingly, is a globalization of poverty.

This book is a skilful combination of lucid explanation and cogently argued critique of the fundamental directions in which our world is moving financially and economically.

In this new enlarged edition -which includes ten new chapters and a new introduction-- the author reviews the causes and consequences of famine in Sub-Saharan Africa, the dramatic meltdown of financial markets, the demise of State social programs and the devastation resulting from corporate downsizing and trade liberalisation.

Michel Chossudovsky is Professor of Economics at the University of Ottawa and Director of the Centre for Research on Globalization (CRG), which hosts the critically acclaimed website He is a contributor to the Encyclopedia Britannica. His writings have been translated into more than 20 languages.

Published in 12 languages. More than 150,000 copies sold Worldwide.

The Globalization of Poverty in its First and Second editions has been published in twelveİlanguages. Twelve Englishİlanguage editions and co-editions in the US, UK, Canada (2 editions), Australia, Malaysia (2 editions), South Africa, India (2 editions), Philippines (2 editions)), French (2 editions), German, Spanish, Portuguese (two editions, Brazil and Portugal), Finnish, Turkish, Japanese, Korean, Italian (2 editions), Arabic, Croatian.

Click here to order The Globalisation of Poverty:


New Green Revolution And World Food Prices

Fahamu (Oxford), 2 May 2008. By Raj Patel and Eric Holt-Giménez.

It was just a matter of time... and not long at that. The world food crisis and the explosion of "food riots" across the globe has been turned into an opportunity. By whom? By the same institutions that created the conditions for the crisis in the first place: proponents of the new Green Revolution.

In their April 10 editorial entitled The World Food Crisis, the New York Times warns that increases of 25-50% in the price of food and basic grains have sparked unrest "from Haiti to Egypt." The Times rightly lays part of the blame on the doorstep of northern countries' thirst for ethanol, pointing out that the substitution of fuel crops for food crops, "[Accounts] for at least half of the rise in world corn demand in each of the past three years." A rise in demand means a rise in price. This puts food out of reach of poor consumers.

But then confusing economic demand with actual availability, the Times jumps to a dubious solution. Quoting World Bank president Robert Zoellick, the paper calls for "[A] 'green revolution' to increase farm productivity and raise crop yields in Africa." This was of course, a likely response from the World Bank, the institution that, along with the International Monetary Fund, forcibly applied the Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) responsible for destroying the capacity of African nations to develop or protect their own domestic agricultural systems from the dumping of subsidized grain from the U.S. and Europe. Over the same 25 years in which SAPs were being implemented, the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) invested over 40% if its $350 million/year budget in Africa's "Green Revolution." The result? A big zero. Actually, it was worse, because as African marketing boards, agricultural ministries, national research programs and basic infrastructure fell under the scythe of the mighty SAPs, Africa's agricultural systems steadily eroded. Now their entire food systems are hopelessly vulnerable to economic and environmental shock--hence the severity of the current food price inflation crisis.

How do CGIAR and other Green Revolution champions explain this debacle? The Green Revolution, they claim, 'bypassed" Africa. If that is the case, then where on earth did CGIAR spend all that money? If not, and the Green Revolution was simply a failure, then how will more of the same solve the present food crisis?

Of course, the Green Revolution is not just one institution, and it is not static. The new genetically-engineered Green Revolution is a conglomeration of public and private research institutions, supported by both tax dollars and conditional investments from a handful of powerful seed/chemical and fertilizer monopolies. The Green Revolution is an industrial modernization paradigm, as well as a campaign for penetrating agricultural markets in the Global South. But above all, the Green Revolution is a political strategy designed to gain and keep control over the Global South's food systems firmly in the hands of northern corporations and institutions. It is precisely this political dimension of the current food crisis that is so tacitly avoided by the New York Times, the World Bank, and other Green Revolution promoters.

The politics of food, however, are inescapable. Food First associate Raj Patel, author of the recently-released book Stuffed and Starved (, points out that "food riots" have to be understood historically, in the context not of shortages, but of poverty, not of lack of technologies, but of lack of democracy.

"Historically," writes Patel, "there are two things to look out for. The first is a sudden and severe entitlement gap; a gap between what people believe they're entitled to and what they can in fact achieve. Agricultural prices have risen because of a perfect storm of biofuels, rising meat consumption, oil price increases, low grain reserves, and bad harvests. That inflation has meant that people believe they ought to be able to feed their families at one level, but end up being able to feed them significantly less. The existence and spread of this entitlement expectation gap is one of the things that matters in the precipitation of food riots.

But there's a second element. Riots tend to occur in places where there isn't any other means of making the government listen. It's a sign, in other words, that democratic proscesses do not exist or have been exhausted. Haiti has long been beset by political instability, and now led by U.S. backed, president, RenÈ PrÈval. He recently commanded people to return to their homes, perhaps not realizing that through their protests, the people were commanding him to make their food cheaper...

But the real question here is why governments are unable to respond to the needs of their citizens. There are two answers. First, the policies that would mitigate the price rises (grain reserves, tariffs, social expenditure for poor people) have all been eroded by decades of neoliberal and free market global trade and development policy.

In order to implement this policy, governments have had to close their ears to the demands of their people. The World Bank won't give loans without 'structural adjustments' that cut deeply into social programs. There has been a strong financial incentive, in other words, for governments to behave less democratically."

The current protests--over 50 people have been killed in the last two months--are less chaotic riots of starving people than they are angry rebellions of hungry people fed up with the inequitable global food system. The solution to the present food crises is not bringing in the institutions of "disaster capitalism" that created the disaster in the first place. The solution is to democratize the world's food systems, taking the control away from the handful of agri-food oligopolies and putting it back in the hands of the farmers and consumers who are supposed to benefit from agriculture.

Raj Patel is the author of "Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System" and Eric Holt-Giménez is the Executive Director of Food First (


USA: Press Briefing on Food Aid by OMB Deputy Director Steve McMillin, CEA Chairman Ed Lazear, and Deputy National Security Adviser for International Economic Affairs Dan Price

[Extract only: for full text go to:

White House press release, 2 May 2008.

Q Hi there.A question for Dan, if I may. Could you go into more detail on the role of GM foods in this issue -- genetically modified foods? How big a role could GM foods play in increasing global food supply? And have the barriers to genetically modified foods in Europe and elsewhere contributed to the current crisis?

MR. PRICE: Well, we think they are a challenge, and in two ways. First, biotech crops lead to higher yields, and bans on GMOs or biotechs discourage the planting of biotech crops in the developing world. That has two effects. It deprives them of the higher yields domestically, and it deprives them of export markets.

Q So these could be very significant in increasing food supplies.

MR. PRICE: We think so. Biotechnology and crops developed through biotechnolgy really have done wonderful things in terms of crop yield, drought resistance and insect resistance.

Q And just to make clear what the President is doing on this, he's -- will he press Europe on this issue in the forthcoming EU summit and at the G8 summit?

MR. PRICE: We will be -- as the President said, we will be urging all countries who have these barriers or restrictions in place to remove them.


Illegal corn chips on sale

The Telegraph (India), 2 May 2008.

New Delhi -- A brand of US-made corn chips containing genetically modified (GM) ingredients is being sold in the Indian market without mandatory approvals by government agencies, an environment group claimed today.

Greenpeace officials in India said tests on samples of Doritos corn chips, a brand owned by PepsiCo, picked up in a Delhi supermarket, have shown the presence of GM herbicide-tolerant maize that had been embroiled in a safety controversy in Europe.

Under rules governing GM products, food with GM material can be sold in India with permission from the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) of the ministry of environment and forests.

Greenpeace has released documents obtained through the Right to Information Act that suggest the committee had not cleared the sale of the corn chips. In response to a query about the import of GM products between 2005 and 2008, the environment ministry had said the GEAC had approved refined vegetable soybean oil. It did not mention corn chips. "The government appears clueless about what's sold in India," said Rajesh Krishnan, a Greenpeace campaigner.

PepsiCo said the company did not import this product into India. "While Doritos is a PepsiCo brand, the product is not manufactured in India, we do not import it to India and we do not authorise others to import it to India," a spokesperson said.

Greenpeace officials said the product could have been imported by any private trader.


US Patent Office Rejects US Company's Patent Protection for Bean Commonly Grown by Latin American Farmers
Controversial Court Patent Case for Simple Yellow Legume has Become Rallying Point for "Biopiracy" Concerns

International Center for Tropical Agriculture, 2 May 2008.

For original text with hyperlinks not included here, go to:

Washington, DC (2 May 2008) – The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) today rejected all of the patent claims for a common yellow bean that has been a familiar staple in Latin American diets for more than a century.

The bean was erroneously granted patent protection in 1999, as US Patent Number 5,894,079, in a move that raised profound concerns about biopiracy and the potential abuse of intellectual property (IP) claims on plant materials that originate in the developing world and remain as important dietary staples, particularly among the poor. A research center, the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (known by its Spanish acronym, CIAT), which is supported by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), led the legal challenge to the patent through the USPTO's reexamination process.

"We are happy that the patent office has reached a final decision in this case but remain concerned that the ex partes patent reexamination procedure meant that these patent claims remained in force for such a long time," said Geoffrey Hawtin, Director General of CIAT, which has been fighting the patent since 2001. "For several years now, farmers in Mexico, the USA and elsewhere have unnecessarily endured legal threats and intimidation for simply planting, selling or exporting a bean that they have been growing for generations."

At issue is a hearty and nutritious yellow bean-similar to the pinto bean-that is known to plant breeders as Phaseolus vulgaris but is commonly called azufrado or Mayocoba bean by Latin American farmers and consumers. In the 1990s, a Colorado man, Larry Proctor, bought some beans in a market in Mexico and after a few years of plantings, claimed he had developed what he called "a new field bean variety that produces distinctly colored yellow seed which remains relatively unchanged by season." He dubbed it the "Enola bean," filed a patent application and obtained a 20-year patent that covered any beans and hybrids derived from crosses with even one of his seeds.

Under USPTO rules, material published before a patent application that was not brought to the attention of the patent examiner can be used to reverse a granted claim. CIAT sought a reexamination of the Enola patent. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations and ETC Group (formerly RAFI, the Rural Advancement Foundation International), a Canada-based nongovernmental organization dedicated to conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, also denounced the Enola bean patent.

CIAT was able to dispute the inventor's claims to a unique color by providing published evidence of 260 yellow beans among the almost 28,000 samples of Phaseolus in its crop "genebank." At least six of the CIAT varieties were, to most observers, identical to the bean described in Proctor's patent documents on the basis of color and genetic markers. CIAT also put forward publications to show that the claims in the patent application took credit for research already widely available in scientific literature and thus claims made regarding the breeding of the bean in his patent also failed to meet the patent office's statutory requirements for "non-obviousness and novelty."

In addition, CIAT pointed out that Proctor had not obtained a permit to export the beans from Mexico and that a version of the bean variety in question had been released to the public by the Mexican government in the 1970s.

Yet Proctor actively enforced his patent. At one point, the patent-holder's US$0.6-claim on every pound of yellow beans sold in the United States caused a steep decline in exports of such beans from Mexico to the USA, according to Mexican government sources.

The patent office issued a preliminary decision in 2003 rejecting all the patent claims and gave a final rejection in December 2005. Proctor filed an appeal through the USPTO, and in accordance with USPTO rules, the patent remained in force while the appeal was being considered by the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences (BPAI). Proctor can still appeal the USPTO decision in the US federal courts, all the way to the Supreme Court venue, a costly move; if he so chooses.

"We understand that individuals and companies have a right to patent what are clearly novel agriculture innovations," said Hawtin. "But when food crops are involved, particularly crops that have been used for years, governments have a duty to ensure that they have been presented with a clearly distinct and novel discovery and that the plant material used in the research and development was lawfully obtained. Agricultural researchers have a responsibility to make sure that publications are easily available to patent examiners."

CIAT officials said that, while they were concerned about the immediate economic impact of the Enola patent, more broadly, they worried that the patent would establish a precedent threatening public access to plant germplasm-the genetic material that comprises the inherited qualities of an organism-held in trust by CIAT and research centers worldwide.

The CIAT genebank is one of 11 maintained worldwide by the CGIAR, where crop materials such as seeds, stems and tubers are held in trust with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The genebanks house a total of about 600,000 plant varieties in publicly accessible collections, which are viewed as the pillar of global efforts to conserve agriculture biodiversity and maintain global food security. Plant breeders in both the public and private sectors are constantly seeking access to these resources to help them breed new types of crop varieties, particularly when existing varieties are threatened by pests or disease.

"Hopefully, this case can help guide future reviews of patent applications and future preventive actions on the part of the CGIAR Centers, so that farmers who have been growing a particular variety for over 100 years will not wake up one day to discover that their traditional crops have suddenly become someone else's intellectual property," said Victoria Henson-Apollonio, Manager of the CGIAR Central Advisory Service on Intellectual Property (CAS-IP), the CGIAR office charged with assisting the Centers on matters of IP.

CIAT's patent challenge is part of the CGIAR's ongoing effort to ensure that intellectual property claims regarding plant materials do not falsely seek to privatize materials already in widespread use. The challenge was endorsed by the FAO and the Genetic Resource Policy Committee of the CGIAR.


India: Greenpeace alert on genetically modified corn in Indian food products, 2 May 2008. By Mohit Joshi.

New Delhi -- Greenpeace, an environmental activist group sounded an alert in New Delhi on Friday on the presence of Genetically Modified (GM) corn in Indian food products that is harmful to humans.

Tests conducted at an independent laboratory on products picked up randomly from a supermarket in New Delhi revealed that Pepsico's Doritos corn chips contain genetically modified Mon 863 and NK603 variety corn ingredients.

Both Mon 863 and NK 603 are Monsanto's genetically modified corn varieties. Mon 863 has a bacterial gene for pesticide tolerance while NK 603 has a bacterial gene for herbicide tolerance

. "In 2007, an independent analysis by well known toxicologists and microbiologists in Europe confirmed that genetically modified corn is not safe for eating. The same corn is being sold in India. The products of the same corn are being sold in India. We want to show this to the people and the government that this has been going on and it is high time that the government take action," said Rajesh Krishnan, campaigner, Sustainable Agriculture, Greenpeace India.

The debate that ensued led many countries in Europe including France and Romania to stop the cultivation of GM corn. None of these varieties have been approved by in India for human consumption.

Greenpeace is demanding that the Health Ministry take notice of this serious violation and threat to human health and constitute the Food Safety and Standards Authority at the earliest. (ANI)


GM crops? We don't have a choice

The Telegraph (UK), 2 May 2008. By Julia Hailes.

I've been to a lot of food ethics events recently - being a member of the Food Ethics Council (FEC) is keeping me busy!

Chief scientist: Britain should lead world on GM/A>
GM papaya to reveal gene modification effects
UK farmers want to grow GM crops

I've chaired three of their Business Forum meetings - on food miles, meat consumption and ethical labelling.

I also attended a working group meeting on the conflict between limiting air-freight food and fair trade; spoke at a food ethics conference in Birmingham co-hosted by the Food & Drink Innovation Network; and the FEC's most recent meeting was a discussion on GM food - that's going to be a feature for September's newsletter.

It's not just me - food is in the headlines. Can we afford it? Will there be enough for all of us? What's the carbon impact of a pack of crisps? And how much food are we throwing away? There aren't many quick and easy solutions in the food arena. Take tomatoes for instance - they were one of the topics I included in my Birmingham speech. Should we be buying English tomatoes or Spanish? It sounds obvious - local is best because it means less food miles. What's more English tomatoes use far less pesticides than Spanish ones. But Spanish ones actually have a smaller carbon footprint, even when transport emissions are counted - they don't need heated greenhouses because there's enough sun to ripen the tomatoes in situ. But then again the Spanish tomatoes take up far more land space and regularly replace their plastic polytunnels, creating waste - I don't know if this plastic film is recycled. And tomatoes need large quantities of water to grow, which is more scarce in Spain. So what's the conclusion?

And we haven't even covered GM tomatoes, which were first introduced in this country in tomato puree. It was cheaper (because less tomatoes were needed to make it) than the non-GM brand and people were happy to buy it until GM hit the headlines and the puree was whipped off the supermarket shelves in a jiffy. You might think that the GM issue has gone away but this couldn't be further from the truth. I think it will be back in the headlines any time soon.

And, in my view, the debate will go back to where it started - that we're not being given a choice. It's simply impossible for get animal feed on a large scale that is GM-free. So GM crops are being imported into Europe, almost by the back door.

My view is that GM crops are not the solution to feeding the world but it won't be possible to feed the world without it, simply because we won't have any choice in the matter - GM rules.

But perhaps the debate over meat and fish will be even more pressing. As world population rises and developing countries get wealthier, the demand for protein increases but supplies don't. And I haven't even mentioned biofuels. . . .


South Korea Begins Imports of Biotech Corn Because of Shortage of Conventional Grain

AP, 2 May 2008. By JAE-SOON CHANG Associated Press Writer

Major South Korean corn processors have begun importing genetically modified varieties of the crop because of shortages of conventional corn on the world market since China began limiting its exports, officials said Friday. About 63,000 tons of genetically modified U.S. corn arrived in South Korea on Thursday, the first large-scale imports for human consumption since the government began regulating biotech crops in 2001.

Four major South Korean companies, which make up about 90 percent of the corn processing market, had refrained from importing such corn because of negative perceptions among consumers of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. But now they say they cannot help but import GMO corn.

"China has stopped exports, while European countries are sweeping off non-GMO corn from Latin American nations," said Yoo Chang-kyu, an official with the Korea Corn Processing Association, the business lobby for the four companies. "We don't have any other options."

The companies use corn to produce corn starch, a key ingredient in cookies, beverages, ice cream and other foods. Environmental and consumer groups protested the import of biotech corn, calling it "monster food."

"The safety of genetically modified corn has not been fully verified," they said in a joint statement. "If food is made with it, the health of our nation's people can be threatened."

On Thursday, activists held a protest at the port of Ulsan, where the GMO corn arrived, Yonhap news agency reported.

South Korea imported about 10.5 million tons of corn last year, with 8.2 million tons intended for animal feed and 2.3 million tons for human consumption, according to the Agriculture Ministry.

About half of the amount for human consumption was imported from China, 30 percent from the United States and the remainder from Brazil and other Latin American nations, it said.

China began limiting corn exports last year to avoid domestic shortages.

Local newspapers said the four Korean companies are expected to import about 1.3 million tons of GMO corn this year.

But Yoo, of the corn processing association, said the amount is likely to be less than that considering the expected backlash from consumers. He provided no exact estimate. Yoo said the price of non-GMO corn has more than doubled to about US$360 per ton since 2006.

İ South Korea enforced a regulation in 2001 that calls for the labeling of products that contain GMOs. Although no GMO corn had been imported in large amounts since then, about 70 percent of the country's soybean imports are genetically modified, according to the Korea Food and Drug Administration.


Bush backs modified crops to ease crisis

Financial Times, 2 May 2008. By Andrew Ward and Daniel Dombey in Washington

George W. Bush on Thursday stepped up pressure on the European Union and other governments to lift restrictions on genetically modified crops to help ease the crisis in global food supplies.

The US president said modified crops offered a ?partial solution to the food crisis gripping some parts of the world because of their high yields and resistance to drought and disease.

"These crops are safe," he said, "and they hold the promise of producing more food for more people."

The remarks came as Mr Bush proposed a fresh $770m (€498m, £390m) in food aid, in addition to the $200m in emergency aid announced two weeks ago.

If approved by Congress, the funds would increase total US food aid this year to $2.3bn, up from $2.1bn last year.

"We're sending a clear message to the world: that America will lead the fight against hunger for years to come," said Mr Bush.

Global food prices have increased by 43 per cent over the past year because of soaring demand from developing countries and droughts in Australia and other crop growing countries, according to the White House.

Decreased supply and rising prices have led to food shortages from Haiti to the Philippines.

The White House rejected criticism that its support for the development of ethanol for fuel had contributed to the crisis by increasing pressure on corn supplies.

Officials said that the use of corn to produce ethanol accounted for just 2-3 per cent of the increase in food prices, and a third of the increase in corn prices.

However, the White House acknowledged the need to develop alternative sources of ethanol to reduce pressure on corn supplies - pointing to the $1bn committed for research into the use of grasses, wood chippings and agricultural waste to produce energy.

Dan Price, the US national security adviser for international economic affairs, said that most of the aid would go to Africa, with some of the funds earmarked for technical assistance to help countries grow more food.

He said GM crops would allow poor countries to ?produce larger, more resilient harvests but said restrictions in Europe and elsewhere provided a deterrent to investment in GM crops.

The US last year provided more than $2.1bn of food aid to 78 developing countries, with more than $1.8bn dispersed by Food for Peace, the agency that is the main provider of US food aid to the rest of the world.


UK: Is it time for the EU to end their GM isolation?

Farmers Guardian, 2 May 2008. By Robert Forster.

Soaring global hunger for food, and equally stratospheric commodity price rises, demand that the EU's policies on GM food are reappraised.

UK cereal farmers are among those keen to use new varieties to help them harvest bigger crops, off less land, with reduced impact on soil and water quality - and livestock farmers are equally anxious to get their hands on feedstuff that is cheaper.

This search for a win/win solution is a result of the world, quite suddenly, discovering that more than 50 per cent of its population lives in cities.

This crucial demographic tipping point means that more people are dependent on others to produce food than there are people in a position to either produce it for them - or for themselves.

And as the global economy continues to develop even more former subsistence farmers, in Brazil, India and China, will abandon their land to take up urban employment and add to world food supply pressures.

Evidence of the global battle to meet rising demand is plain to see. Cereal prices hover at record levels, rice has hit an excruciating high, world trade in meat and other products is being curbed by export bans - and there is increased political instability in developing countries where there are food shortages.

But despite these warnings there are some, no doubt encouraged by protectionist attitudes to production developed only a short time ago when food was more abundant and cheaper than it is now, who continue to frown on helpful GM techniques.

Independent observers struggle to understand why GM output, which was first licensed more than 20 years ago, still attracts well positioned, and influential, opponents and continues to be pilloried by them.

However, there can be no doubt that lobbying from objectors has been successful. Only one GM crop, an insect resistant maize, is grown inside the EU while a second crop, a blight resistant potato has still to complete its production trials.

In contrast the world's commercial GM production has rocketed since its standing start in 1996 because more governments are encouraging farmers to take advantage of a technique that allows more food to be produced off less land with the least possible damage to the environment.

Last year commercial GM crops were adopted by 12 million farmers, covered 114 million hectares, and plantings are expected to double before the end of 2015.

Major exporters like the US and Argentina have dedicated the most land (57.7 million hectares and 19 million respectively) because of expectations that the technology improves yields by offering protection against insects, drought and disease.

They are followed by Brazil (14 million hectares), then Canada (seven million) but most interestingly by India and China, where most new expansion is expected to take place.

This isolates the EU and also means it is inevitable that more, import reliant, consumers will purchase products containing an increasing proportion of GM ingredient as more of the world's production embraces GM techniques.

It is also predicted that by 2015 some 100 million farmers will plant GM crops in 45 countries - which means that whatever position Europe takes it will find GM products impossible to avoid.

Although EU objectors to GM cropping include aggressive campaigners like anti-globalisation and animal rights activists, as well as the more traditional support of organisations like Greenpeace, they also include farmers.

And they are backed by political opposition to GM production that has resulted in the unilateral banning of WTO approved imports which include several useful crop varieties.

Former chief scientist, Prof Sir David King, has calculated that the cost of the UK's failure to embrace GM crops has already cost up to £4 billion.

Animal feed importers, who have predicted spectacular rises in livestock feed prices and a corresponding reduction in livestock population unless the backlog of GM approvals for importation into Europe is quickly cleared, are also alarmed.

They are especially keen to introduce substitutes for record priced EU feed grain, and remove obstacles to import approval for gluten derived from the new GM maize variety, Herculex, now grown across both North and South America - and also new varieties of GM soya.

It is clearly an untenable situation when the EU Commission, which is being pilloried by the WTO for blocking GM imports without scientific basis, cannot gather enough support to approve the importation of products that have already been cleared by the European Food Safety Authority.

Neither the EU, nor the UK, can afford to ignore the world's emerging food crisis, especially, as after 12 years of crop growing, the most entrenched GM objectors have still to show that GM products introduce environmental complications, when unstoppable commercial GM adoption in an increasing number of countries demonstrates there are firm benefits from increased yields.

Robert Forster is a former Farmers Guardian journalist and former chief executive of the National Beef Association.


USA: Bush seeks millions in food aid

Washington Post, 2 May 2008.

President Bush yesterday asked Congress to authorize $770 million to ease the global food crisis, most of which will be focused on Africa, while the administration denied that corn-for-ethanol subsidies are a major cause of the worldwide surge in food prices.

"We're sending a clear message to the world that America will lead the fight against hunger for years to come," Mr. Bush said in a statement to reporters in the White House.

But agricultural experts testified on Capitol Hill yesterday that high food prices are here to stay, as robust demand for food worldwide collides with record fuel costs to put unprecedented pressure on food prices.

Although the prices for basic foods like corn, wheat and oil have been soaring, the prices paid to farmers are only a small part of what consumers pay at the store. As much as 75 percent of the retail price of food can be attributed to processing, packaging, transportation and distribution. These costs have also risen substantially, mainly because of high fuel prices.

"With the average food item traveling more than 1,500 miles before reaching the final consumer, it is no wonder that food costs are increasing," Tom Buis, president of the National Farmers Union, told the Joint Economic Committee. "When looking back over the last seven years, gasoline prices have increased 198 percent and diesel fuel prices have increased almost 250 percent."

The cost of food globally has spiked 43 percent in the past year, Edward Lazear, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said on a conference call with reporters.

Government energy-policy supports for ethanol, which raises the demand for corn and thus its price, also have come under fire to the point that The Washington Times reported yesterday that Congress is considering cutting them.

But Mr. Lazear and White House spokesman Tony Fratto both criticized the notion that ethanol production is a main cause of rising food prices, and both the White House and the congressional witnesses offered a barrage of other, longer-term factors.

"The bottom line is that we think ethanol accounts for somewhere between 2 and 3 percent of increasing global food prices," Mr. Lazear said.

An American Farm Bureau Federation analysis found that 44 percent of rising food costs are due to rising prices for natural gas and fuels used to make fertilizer and to run farm machinery as well as to process foods and to transport them to market. The bureau said the farmer's share of retail food prices has been at about 25 percent since the 1970s.

"After many commodities leave the farm gate, high costs for energy, fuel and transportation are added and passed onto the consumer," bureau president Bob Stallman told Congress. "Increased retail prices can especially be seen on highly processed foods."

In his announcement of increased food aid, the president also called on countries both rich and poor to lower restrictions on agricultural trade, including some developing nations that are banning food exports and thus discouraging production of food, leading to shortages and higher prices.

"Some countries are preventing needed food from getting to market in the first place, and we call upon them to end those restrictions to help ease suffering for those who aren't getting food," Mr. Bush said.

He also called for other nations to reduce barriers to genetically modified foods.

"These crops are safe, they're resistant to drought and disease, and they hold the promise of producing more food for more people," Mr. Bush said.

The $770 million would be part of the fiscal 2009 budget and therefore not be available until October, but White House officials said aid groups would benefit from the advanced knowledge of such a large amount. Mr. Bush said the U.S. is set to give $5 billion toward global food relief this year and next year.

The new money will be divided into three parts: $395 million will go to emergency food aid, $225 million to disaster assistance, and $150 million to development assistance. The Bush administration last month announced that $200 million would be made available for food relief through the Department of Agriculture's Bill Emerson Humanitarian Trust.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said, "The Congress will respond rapidly to the growing urgent need for international food assistance.

"This is not only a humanitarian issue; it is a matter of national security as well," she said.

In his congressional testimony, Joseph Glauber, chief economist at the Agriculture Department, said food trade worldwide is being transformed by the rise of the middle class in China, India and other fast-growing countries. Their increased appetite for meat, which requires greater use of grains for animal feed, has spawned an era of permanently higher prices, he said.

"High incomes are increasing the demand for processed foods and meat," he said. "These shifts in diet are leading to major changes in international trade," including increasing use of the world's corn, wheat and soybean crops for animal feed.

The resulting shortage of supplies has caused countries that previously were major exporters of food staples – including Argentina, China, India, Kazakhstan and Vietnam – to stop exporting and even to impose taxes on exports that are making the matter worse by further raising prices, he said.

Although the shift to ethanol and biodiesel fuels made from corn and soybeans has had an "important" effect, causing a doubling of corn and soybean prices in the U.S. and raising prices for baked goods and animal feeds, the food experts told Congress that it is not to blame for the broad increase in food prices.

However, biofuel mandates have increased the price of cereal, baked goods and vegetable oil, while ethanol-driven increases in feed prices for chickens and cows likely led to increased prices for milk and eggs, which were the fastest-rising categories of food prices last year, he said.

Shortages and record high prices for wheat and rice worldwide, Mr. Glauber said, were due more to droughts and poor crop yields in major producers, though Mr. Glauber added that he saw some relief looming in the wheat market.

The influence of ethanol production on food prices has gotten much attention from legislators, because Congress was responsible for putting in place the mandate for an increasing share of ethanol in gasoline last year and could now revisit the issue as it works on the farm bill.

An unusual alliance of liberal anti-poverty and environmental groups has joined up with food businesses and conservative free-market and taxpayer organizations to call for the repeal of the biofuel mandates.

"The humanitarian impact of the biofuels boondoggle is all the more tragic for having been so clearly foreseen," said Competitive Enterprise Institute Senior Fellow Marlo Lewis. "An array of analysts and scholars warned policy-makers against the politically expedient path of using food crops for fuel."

"Congress needs to take a closer look at the connection between bio-based fuels and rising food prices," said Gawain Kripke, policy director for the Oxfam America anti-poverty group.

Sean Lengell contributed to this report.


Artificial Foods and Corporate Crops: Can We Escape the 'Frankenstate'?
Taking a technological approach to agriculture has put the future of the world's food supply in jeopardy.

Beacon Press. Posted May 2, 2008. By Claire Hope Cummings.

The following excerpt is reprinted from Uncertain Peril: Genetic Engineering and the Future of Seeds by Claire Hope Cummings. Copyright © 2008 by Claire Hope Cummings. By permission of Beacon Press.

On a frozen island near the North Pole, a huge hole has been blasted out of the side of an Arctic mountain, and a tunnel has been drilled deep into the rock. When the facility under construction here is completed, it will be lined with one-meter-thick concrete, fitted with two high-security blast-proof airlock doors, and built to withstand nuclear war, global warming, terrorism, and the collapse of the earth's energy supplies.

It's known as the "Doomsday Vault," and in it will be stored millions of seeds and mankind's hope for the future of the world's food supply. The idea is that in the event of massive ecological destruction, those seeds could be used to reconstruct the planet's agricultural systems. Exactly who might remain to begin replanting the earth after such a catastrophe is only one of the questions this astounding project raises. The more immediate question is, are seeds in peril?

The answer is yes, especially the seeds that provide us with food, fiber, and fuel. Both the diversity and the integrity of seeds are threatened, in the wild and on our farms. They are being put at risk by agricultural technologies, patents and corporate ownership, and the overall degradation of the environment. The plight of seeds is one of the most important environmental stories of our time. Until now, however, this critical issue has not received the attention it deserves.

Seeds are as critical to our survival as air, water, and soil. And yet despite the everyday miracles that they perform, we tend to take them for granted. Seeds sustain the beauty and vitality of the earth. Seeds are essential to the regenerative capacity of the planet. We will need their natural resilience and adaptability even more as temperatures rise.

Biologically, each seed has a unique way of fulfilling its promise. Taken together, the world's seeds maintain the plant systems that keep the planet breathing. Every breath we take has been exhaled by a plant which turned it into oxygen for us. Seeds have always been our silent partners in maintaining life on earth.

People and plants coevolved through the ages, and that relationship has been mutually beneficial. Seed plants dependably meet our needs, producing the corn and rice we eat, the flax and cotton we weave, and the oak and pine we use for shelter. Eighty percent of the people in the world still rely on plants as their primary source of medicine. The remains of long-dead plants provide all of us with our fossil fuels. As metaphors, seeds are a rich source of inspiration in art, literature, and religion. We cannot afford to lose any more of this generosity, this beauty, this abundance.

We find ourselves at a dramatic turning point for life on earth. Population and consumption are rapidly expanding. Industrial food production is exhausting the planet's basic biological support systems, making them even more vulnerable to the effects of global warming. The natural world is experiencing catastrophic losses of biodiversity, fresh water, and fertile soil. All of these trends are threatening seeds and forcing us to take a careful look at how we will feed ourselves in the future. It comes down to this: Whoever controls the future of seeds controls the future of life on earth.

Is industrial agriculture, with its focus on chemical and genetic technologies, the best choice for ensuring a healthy future? Genetic engineering is a commercial technology controlled by private corporations, who use it to dominate agricultural production from seed to stomach and to profit from every bite. Given the enormous environmental stress the planet is under right now and increasing demands on our natural resources from all forms of human activity, can this one technology provide for our food and environmental security? The answer is, unequivocally, no.

There are five solid reasons that genetic engineering is not right for agriculture.


It's bad science. It was developed on the basis of flawed assumptions which have since been discredited by the scientific community.


It's bad biology. It was deployed without regard for its potential for genetic contamination and its risks to human health.


It's bad social policy. It puts control over seeds and the fundamentals of our food and farms into the hands of a few corporations who have their own, not our, best interests in mind.


It's bad economics. After billions of dollars and thirty years, only a few products have been commercialized, and they offer nothing new. No one asked for genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and given a choice, consumers would reject them.


It's bad farming. GMOs don't address the real issues plaguing agriculture; they're designed to substitute for or increase the use of proprietary weed and pest control chemicals. Patented and genetically altered seeds perpetuate the very worst problems of the industrial food system, and they are undermining the autonomy of the farmers who use them.

According to the Global Crop Diversity Trust, the organization that is building the Doomsday Vault, there are more than 50,000 edible plants in the world. About 150 of them have been commercialized, and only 40 of those are cultivated regularly. Only three of them -- rice, corn, and wheat -- provide most of humanity with its mainstay foods. Three others -- soy, cotton, and canola -- get more than their fair share of attention because of their industrial uses.

Other plants are important sources of sustenance for many people in the world, especially potatoes, cassava, and taro, as well as barley and sorghum. That's the short list of plants that we rely on for our basic needs, and all of them, as well as tobacco, sugar, coffee, sunflowers, and most fruits and vegetables, have been patented or genetically modified. Seeds are the common heritage of all humanity, and yet they are being stolen right from underneath our noses. If someone came into your kitchen and took all the food off the shelves and out of the refrigerator, you'd notice. If someone came onto your farm and stole the seeds you were about to plant, you'd notice. But the theft of the world's genetic heritage has not been so overt. It's been done by changing the biological and legal character of plants, so that while the food and seeds remain where they were, ownership of them has shifted.

While all this has been going on, there have been plenty of welcome countertrends. A dynamic new food and farming movement is rising up all over the world, bringing local food and farming back to life and restoring agriculture to its ecological roots. This is where the hope lies. It can be found in the natural world, in the promise of the seed, and in the hands of the farmers and the native planters who tend the earth with the wealth of nature in mind.

Organic farmers, chefs, urban and rural youth, artists, and activists are all working in their own ways, and sometimes together, to change the way we produce and consume food. New sustainable strategies and green technologies are being created. There are many proven ways to produce food and energy that protect both human health and the life of our soil and water while providing for our prosperity. These new agrarians are restoring respect for the skills of the human hand and the ingenuity of the natural world. They're putting the culture back into agriculture.

The story of agriculture is often told as the story of humans' domination of nature. Now a new story is being told. The new story of agriculture combines the guidance of the old creation myths with the insights of science. We are learning the language of generosity from nature and of tolerance from our experiences in returning to local economies. As we go about searching for ways to return meaning and morality to our lives, and possibly, dare I hope, to the political system, the decisions we make now, and the wisdom that we choose to guide us, will make all the difference. What's at stake is nothing less than the nature of the future.

The Doomsday Vault is only one way of preparing for an uncertain future. Someday we may be glad it was built. My hope is that we will create a future for ourselves in which it will never be needed. Right now we can let others decide our fate and continue living in a fundamentalist "Frankenstate" where the corporate gene giants feed us artificial food and drugs produced with their genetically modified patented plants and lull us into complacency with their choice of electronic conveniences and entertainment. Or we can summon the courage to resist the worst of all that and begin restoring ourselves to our rightful places, as members of both human and biological communities and caretakers of our commonwealth.

We are facing a planetary emergency, as Al Gore says, but our "collective nervous system" still has trouble recognizing the threats to our survival. As an environmental journalist, I see this all the time. I often feel it myself. I wrote this book because I love seeds and because I have found that telling the stories of the people and places behind these issues can help us face them and the complex challenges they present. Industry spends millions telling its story and defending its products, and it stands poised to convert our upcoming ecological crisis into a commercial opportunity. I'm not offering a prescription for the future, just an invitation to consider our options carefully. The answers we need will come when we begin the conversation that starts with telling and listening to each other's stories.

I have brought all my life experiences, as a mother, a farmer, an environmental lawyer, an advocate for traditional native land rights, and a journalist, to weave together a meaningful context for the subject of genetic engineering and the future of seeds. All of my work has been guided by one central value: respect for the integrity of the natural world. This is what I have learned: if we can, even for a moment, pause and stop looking at the world through the lens of technology, then suddenly the beauty and wonder of nature reappear. Then we remember who we are and where we are, and the healing begins.

Claire Hope Cummings is an environmental journalist specializing in stories about the environmental, health, and political implications of how we eat. She was an environmental lawyer for 20 years, including four years with the United States Department of Agriculture, then practiced environmental and cultural preservation public interest law.


Bush Seeks More Food Aid for Poor Countries

New York Times, May 2 2008. By Steven Lee Myers.

WASHINGTON – President Bush on Thursday proposed spending an additional $770 million in emergency food assistance for poor countries, responding to rising food prices that have resulted in social unrest in several nations.

The president's proposal came only days after Democrats in Congress called for increases, and it received a largely positive response, though some Democrats criticized the fact that the additional aid would not be available until the next fiscal year, which begins in October.

Mr. Bush's proposal, announced in a previously unscheduled appearance in the East Room of the White House, underscored how quickly the global food crisis had risen to the top of Washington's agenda.

The administration last month ordered the Department of Agriculture to release $200 million in commodities paid for by a special trust fund, while the United States Agency for International Development promised $40 million more in emergency aid to countries hardest hit by soaring prices and shortages.

"In some of the world's poorest nations, rising prices can mean the difference between getting a daily meal and going without food," Mr. Bush said.

The $770 million would be included in next year's budget, increasing total American food assistance to $2.6 billion, the deputy budget director, Stephen S. McMillin, said in a telephone conference. In the current year, the administration has proposed supplemental spending to bring the total to $2.3 billion, he said.

Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the chamber's second-ranking Democrat, welcomed the president's proposal "as a sign of the magnitude of this problem." But a fellow Democrat, Senator Robert P. Casey Jr. of Pennsylvania, said in a telephone interview that the administration needed to act with "a real sense of urgency" and endorse a swifter increase. Mr. Casey and Mr. Durbin this week asked the administration for an immediate $200 million increase in foreign food aid, on top of a $350 million emergency package the administration had already proposed in a supplemental spending measure.

"The dollar amount is significant," Mr. Casey said of the president's latest proposal. "The commitment is important. It is way too late."

In his remarks, Mr. Bush also called on other countries to ease trade barriers restricting agricultural imports or exports and to lift bans on genetically modified foods. He urged Congress to give the government greater flexibility in dispersing assistance. He said the administration wanted to use a quarter of all the American aid to buy food from local farmers in foreign countries rather than here in the United States.

"In order to break the cycle of famine that we're having to deal with too often in a modern era, it's important to help build up local agriculture," he said. He did not insist on that approach as a condition for increasing aid, though.

The proposal received strong support on Thursday from the charity Oxfam America. "While America provides half of the world's food aid, this generosity is undermined by legal restrictions and bureaucracy, as food aid must be purchased in the U.S. and transported on U.S.-flagged ships," Oxfam said in a statement.

Addressing growing anxiety about rising food prices at home, the subject of a Senate hearing on Thursday, the White House emphasized that even with the proposed increases, foreign food aid was equal to only a small fraction of the $62 billion the government was expected to spend this year on domestic food programs, mostly for food stamps and children's nutrition programs.

"The American people are generous people, and they're compassionate people," Mr. Bush said. "We believe in a timeless truth: to whom much is given, much is expected."


Agro-fuels: The Trojan Horse for GM food
New Report from Institute for Food and Development Policy Warns of Widespread Genetic Contamination, Corporate Domination of Agriculture through "Agro-fuels Trojan Horse"

Food First / Institute for Food and Development Policy press release, 2 May 2008.

CALIFORNIA -- A new report from the Institute for Food and Development Policy examines a little looked at side of the biofuels debate: Will agriculturally-derived fuels (agro-fuels) be genetically engineered? The report answers a resounding "Yes!" Entitled "The Agro-fuels Trojan Horse: Biotechnology and the Corporate Domination of Agriculture," the new report finds that by accepting an energy future based on agro-fuels, the world is bringing genetic engineering into our food system through the back door.

The report describes our situation as a "precipice," citing an impressive, if not frightening biotechnology pipeline for fuel crops: from the genes of deep sea thermal vent bacteria in corn, to traits that make food plants like sugarcane and sorghum produce biomass instead of food. The author explains how special genetically engineered fuel traits are poised to take over the ag sector as the ethanol market continues to boom. "The biotechnology industry is hoping that consumers will be more likely to buy genetically modified products if they are destined for their gas tanks, instead of the dinner table," says the report's author Annie Shattuck of Food First.

However, the trouble with this logic is that there is no guarantee GM fuel traits will not contaminate their food-producing cousins. In fact, widespread genetic contamination is almost certain. Many of the new species being modified as fuel crops are wild. Some have pollen that can travel up to 1200 miles. The report's author sees the genetic modification of agro-fuels as a "Trojan Horse," a way to circumvent public debate and sound science by basking in the "sunny glow of alternative fuels."

The report examines the history of the biotechnology industry, concluding that until now, its lack of public credibility has kept it from expanding beyond a few industrial commodity crops. Previous biotechnology offerings spurred incredible consolidation in the agricultural industry. Three major biotech companies now control 40% of the global seed market. The report warns that agro-fuels will give a few corporations monopoly power over both our food and fuel systems.

In the current climate of a dual food and fuel crisis, this new report calls for a moratorium on agro-fuels and local solutions that respect biodiversity, the autonomy of small farmers, and food sovereignty.

The full text of the report can be found at


Food First / Institute for Food and Development Policy
Eric Holt GimÈnez Ph: + 1 510 654 4400 ext 227 or cell: + 1 202 288 8699


1 May 2008

(The World According to Monsanto) William Clinton and Monsanto - a Team for Mutual Profit, 1 May 2008. By Siv O'Neall.

[Note: the original text of this article contains numerous hyperlinks not included here. For linked text go to]

How did we come to this state of the world where we don't know what we eat or drink, where there is nothing but secrecy as far as what the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is plotting with the gigantic Monsanto corporation? Secrecy for the purpose of making Monsanto immune to legal suits, secrecy to make people unaware of what risks they are running when they drink rBGH milk, which is not labeled as coming from cows injected with the dangerous Bovine Growth Hormone. Yes, you read this right. U.S. dairy products are not even labeled as originating from rBGH milk. Incredible? Shocking? You bet.

There is no more any freedom to choose what we eat, what kind of seeds farmers sow, or even what cultures we are going to grow in our own fields. There is no more freedom. Individual freedom has been replaced by control. Giant corporations like Monsanto decide how we live and die. They put our health in danger and since the governments have sold out to them, are working hand in hand with them, there are no legal means of putting an end to this unethical and life-threatening control by Big Brother. Big Brother runs the world, Big Brother is going to drive the world into ever increasing poverty and starvation - under the pretense of solving the problems of world-wide hunger.

If Big Brother decides that you should grow corn to produce ethanol, so be it, but where goes the culture you used to grow to produce food and not fuel?

How did this whole sordid business start?İ

It was a clever plan by biotech companies to increase food production under the pretext of saving the world from hunger. In reality, it was intended to make biotech companies filthy rich, to own the world. Today it's the giant Monsanto corporation that controls 90% of all the genetically engineered products world wide. Genetically Modified (GM) products are planted, sold and eaten all over the world, without, lots of the time, the public being aware of what they are consuming.

"The United States Government has been financing research on a genetic engineering technology which, when commercialized, will give its owners the power to control the food seed of entire nations or regions. The Government has been working quietly on this technology since 1983. Now, the little-known company that has been working in this genetic research with the Government's US Department of Agriculture-- Delta & Pine Land-- is about to become part of the world's largest supplier of patented genetically-modified seeds (GMO), Monsanto Corporation of St. Louis, Missouri."İ(William Engdahl)

"Bill[Clinton]'s FDA gave Monsanto permission to market rBGH [dairy products] in 1993 (a GE bovine growth hormone), the first genetically engineered product let loose on us (or did tomatoes with fish DNA get there first?)." (Linn Cohen-Cole)

The Rose Law Firm, the corporate law firm of which Hillary Clinton was a partner from 1977 is home to Industrial Agriculture and genetic engineering.İ[1]

Why is the public not informed?

In the U.S. dairy farmers for over a decade were not allowed to label their products as non rBGH, free from synthetic growth hormones. How come Monsanto can get away with their secrecy policy, with criminal acts such as banning the correct labeling of dairy products? Instead of being sued themselves for lack of transparency, Monsanto sued the farmers who labeled their milk non rBGH. Does that sound pretty much like the upside-down world to you? Yes, probably it does,İ because it is.

The truth behind this shocking state of things is the fact that Monsanto and the Food and Drug Administration have been working very close together ever since the Clinton era. Michael Taylor, formerly legal advisor to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (Deputy Commissioner for Policy at FDA (1991-94), had also previously worked as a lawyer for Monsanto. "One of Taylor's duties was to represent Monsanto's efforts to get its bovine growth hormone approved by the FDA."İ (Political Friendster)İ[2]

"[Michael Taylor was the] Attorney for Monsanto who rewrote the "regulations" for Genetically Modified foods. His brilliant addition is the "substantial equivalence" measure which says if the nutrition measures are the same ... [as its conventional counterpart...]" (Political Friendster).

Since they were now declared to be "substantially equivalent", there was no more any need for proof as to their harmlessness for human consumption.[3]

The Clinton administration even attempted to alter the organic food standards to include genetically engineered foods, irradiated foods, and sewage sludge as fertilizer for organic crops.

Quote from ZMag (Cashing in on the organic market - by Signe Waller)

"Among the most egregious USDA proposals are ones that would allow genetically engineered and irradiated foods to carry the organic label. Other alarming features concern guidelines on the use of raw manure and toxic sludge. The proposed federal regulations would allow meat, eggs, dairy, and other animal products to be labeled "organic" even if the animals were kept in intensive confinement."

Comment from Linn Cohen-Cole (via

"Had the FDA not refused to comply, rBGH-containing milk and irradiated food could have been labeled "organic" and drug, chemical, vaccine and antibiotic-containing animal waste from factory farms, a pollution nightmare for Tyson [Foods - poultry corporation] and others, could have been sold as "organic" fertilizer."

Monsanto's attack on no-BGH labels - March 12, 2008

"Monsanto, the maker of recombinant bovine growth hormone (scientific name, recombinant bovine somatotropin or rBST; trade name, Posilac), is embarked on a national state-by-state campaign to get legislatures to rule that food products cannot be labeled that they are rBGH-free or rBST-free. In his weekend column, The Feed, Andrew Martin details how Monsanto has organized its very own "grass-roots" group, Afact, to campaign on the company's behalf. As Martin puts it, "consumer demand for more natural products...has certainly interfered with Monsanto's business plan for Posilac." As I discuss in my book, Safe Food, Monsanto's aggressive stance (in this and so many other issues that concern its products) has elicited much suspicion of its motives and of genetically modified foods in general. In 1994, Monsanto worked hard to convince the FDA that GM foods did not have to be labeled as such. Now, this company has only itself to blame for consumer resistance to its products." (Marion Nestle)

From Food Democracy:

"In 2006, the FDA announced that cloned meat and dairy products are safe for human consumption, and [the food may be marketed] without any label identifying how it was made."

It's the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) that are the lunch ladies who won't share the recipe. Fortunately, the recipe isn't too difficult to find: v One part cloned meat: Last month, the California legislature passed the first law mandating labels that disclose cloned meat or dairy products. The bill is now marinating on Governor Schwarzenegger's desk. As for the rest of us, we may be stuck eating Dolly. In 2006, the FDA announced that cloned meat and dairy products are safe for human consumption, and may market the food without any label identifying how it was made.

One part genetically modified (GM) food: Just because your box of cornflakes is void of a GM notice doesn't mean it's not a frankenfood. The FDA refuses to label food that has been genetically modified, so consumers have no clue when they're ingesting something that's been altered. What's more, the FDA may not even know which food contains GM ingredients; the agency only requires companies developing GM food to voluntarily submit to an evaluation process. (my emphasis)

FDA scientists went to Congress to report that the results of the studies on rBGH milk had been altered to fit in with Monsanto's claims. They were fired.

BGH Manufacturer Acting Like a Bully

Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH) manufacturer Monsanto, continues to use fear and intimidation tactics to push its product on the U.S. market. The biotech company has been rallying "pro-market" forces within the federal government and using them to trash existing laws that would benefit those fighting the industrial use of BGH.

BGH is a bio-engineered additive injected into dairy cows in order to stimulate their milk production. One year after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave Monsanto permission to market BGH, its use continues despite nationwide reports of the hormone causing illness and death in cows injected with it. Most befuddling, the FDA is allowing Monsanto to go on producing BGH and wield influence over federal regulations regardless of a very angry, very vocal nationwide consumer base that has repeatedly come out against the use of such chemicals.

The latest victory for the biotech company occurred when US agriculture officials warned all dairy companies labeling their products "BGH Free" that they could have their products confiscated from store shelves. FDA officials maintain such labels give these companies "an unfair market advantage." Threats such as this have caused many dairies, and dependent companies such as Ben & Jerry's of Vermont, to remove the "safe" labels from their products.

Interesting side note: USFDA Deputy Commissioner, Michael Taylor, a proponent of BGH, was formerly counsel to Monsanto and other biotech firms. (Humane Farming Association)

Quotes from Linn Cohen-Cole (via

"Grains: Forty-nine percent of U.S. corn acreage was planted in Bt corn in 2007. A French study proved Monsanto's Bt corn (Genetically Engineered) causes kidney and liver toxicity. Soft drinks and candy have highly concentrated Bt corn, in the form of high-fructose Bt corn syrup. The U.S. food system depends most on two crops, soy (90 percent GMO, 90 percent of traits owned by Monsanto) and corn, the largest crop (60 percent GMO, nearly 100 percent Monsanto traits). "Essentially our entire food supply is genetically modified, to the benefit of one company."

Further quotes from Proliberty:

"Cohen-Cole explained that she saw a News Hour piece on Maharastra, India, about farmers committing suicide because Monsanto had used Bollywood [India's equivalent to "Hollywood"] actors to "sell" illiterate farmers on the idea they could get rich from the big yields that come with planting Monsanto's Bt (genetically engineered, or "GE") cotton seeds. "The expensive seeds needed expensive fertilizer and pesticides (Monsanto, again) and irrigation. There is no irrigation there. Crops failed. Farmers had larger debts than they'd ever experienced," Cohen-Cole explained. "The farmers could not collect seeds from their own fields to try again the following season because Monsanto "patents" its DNA-altered seeds and the company has a $10 million budget to prosecute patent-violating farmers. According to Cohen-Cole, "Since the late 1990s (about when industrial agriculture took hold in India), 166,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide and 8 million have left the land."

See also 'The Suicide Economy Of Corporate Globalisation' By Vandana Shiva

The Indian peasantry, the largest body of surviving small farmers in the world, today faces a crisis of extinction. Two thirds of India makes its living from the land. The earth is the most generous employer in this country of a billion, that has farmed this land for more than 5000 years.İ

İ However, as farming is delinked from the earth, the soil, the biodiversity, and the climate, and linked to global corporations and global markets, and the generosity of the earth is replaced by the greed of corporations, the viability of small farmers and small farms is destroyed. Farmers suicides are the most tragic and dramatic symptom of the crisis of survival faced by Indian peasants.

Cows treated with the Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH)

The bovine growth hormone is designed to boost growth rates and increase body mass and the quantity of milk they produce. More meat, more milk, more money for Monsanto. However, problems surfaced with rBGH milk and also grave problems concerning the animals treated with the growth hormone.

In the documentary I refer to in my recent essay 'The World According to Monsanto - A documentary that Americans won't ever see'[4]İ Marie-Monique Robin shows us the unnaturally and painfully enlarged udders of cows treated with rBGH. During the Clinton administration