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NEWS ABOUT GM ISSUES • December 2009

This page provides global media coverage of GM issues. For related email updates, we recommend you subscribe to GM Watch Newsletters at www.gmwatch.org/newsletters


31 December 2009

GM crops to be planted in Britain again this year
• A new wave of genetically modified (GM) crops are to be planted in the British countryside this year as the Government increases its support for the technology.


By Louise Gray, Environment Correspondent The Telegraph [UK], 31 December 2009:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/earthnews/6953732/GM-crops-to-be-planted-in-Britain-again-this-year.html

Leeds University, where a successful trial was carried out last year, is to apply for a licence for a new field trial of GM potatoes.

Meanwhile the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB) want to plant GM crops on a demonstration farm as part of a new drive to boost public understanding of the latest developments in plant breeding.

It comes as John Beddington, the Government's chief scientist, said the UK should be carrying out more research into GM and further applications are expected to come forward in the future.

Environmentalists, including the Prince of Wales, have argued that altering the genetic material of plants could prove "catastrophic" for delicate ecosystems around the world.

However, with increasing concerns about food security and millions of hectares of GM already planted in the Americas, there is growing pressure on the UK to accept the science.

The UK Government has recently licensed a number of research projects into GM plant breeding in the laboratory but only one field trial in Leeds.

Last week Hilary Benn, the Environment Secretary, said that Britain could revolutionise farming and food production over the next 10 years.

The research into a pest-resistant potato was successfully carried out last year and scientists may plant a new crop this spring.

Dr Peter Urwin, of the Faculty of Biological Sciences at the University of Leeds, said researchers would also be applying to test another type of GM potato this year.

Both trials are looking at a GM potato that is resistant to a microscopic parasitic worm, the nematode, which costs British farmers £65m per year.

A few hundred potatoes will be planted in a highly secure sight in Tadcaster in North Yorkshire.

"It is disappointing that we have to secure things behind fences and have security patrols," said Dr Urwin. "But as a country, if we are to go forward in food security and agriculture then we have to look at these things."

Meanwhile NIAB want to plant GM crops on a new demonstration farm as part of a new drive to teach the public about the latest developments in plant breeding

"Innovation Farm" in Cambridgeshire will begin operating this year and is expected to include new breeds of wheat and potatoes.

Lydia Smith, of NIAB, said the GM crops could be planted on the farm as they are developed so that farmers, media and members of the public could see the benefits.

"We want to present the biotechnology truthfully and without bias. There has been almost no opportunity to do that," she said. "GM is something we are looking at alongside other techniques."

Prof Beddington said GM must be looked at as a possible technique for boosting food production, whilst reducing the use of chemicals and water.

He said the trashing of open air field trials in the past was holding back UK science and the Government would be looking at ways to make it easier to research GM. This could include Government sites where the plants are better protected and relaxing EU rules that mean scientists have to publish the grid reference of every field trial.

"We have a real problem. We have to get 50 per cent more food in 20 year's time on the same amount of land. How are we going to do that? It won't be solved by GM but we should not throw away a tool when we have a problem like this."

However Peter Riley, of GM Freeze, said there are still question marks over environmental and health impacts.

"The Government has an obsession with GM that is not backed up by the crops that have been demonstrated so far. We have had year and years of trials and they are simply not performing and companies are not interested. The Government need to look outside this process and look at existing methods or new breeding techniques that provide high quality food and protect the environment."

_______________________

21 December 2009

If you want to know who's to blame for Copenhagen, look to the US Senate
• Obama's attempt to put China in the frame for failure had its origins in the absence of American campaign finance reform


George Monbiot
The Guardian [UK], 21 December 2009:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/dec/21/copenhagen-failure-us-senate-vested-interests

The last time global negotiations collapsed like this was in Doha, in 2001. After the trade talks fell apart, the World Trade Organisation assured delegates that there was nothing to fear: they would move to Mexico, where a deal would be done. The negotiations ran into the sand of the Mexican resort of Canc™n, never to re-emerge. After eight years of dithering, nothing has been agreed.

When the climate talks in Copenhagen ended in failure last week, Yvo de Boer, the man in charge of the process, urged us not to worry: everything will be sorted out "in Mexico one year from now". Is Mexico the diplomatic equivalent of the Pacific garbage patch: the place where failed negotiations go to die?

De Boer might pretend that this is just a temporary hitch, but he knows what happens when talks lose momentum. A year ago I asked him what he feared most. This is what he said. "The worst-case scenario for me is that climate becomes a second WTO ... Copenhagen, for me, is a very clear deadline that I think we need to meet, and I am afraid that if we don't then the process will begin to slip, and like in the trade negotiations, one deadline after the other will not be met, and we sort of become the little orchestra on the Titanic."

We can live without a new trade agreement; we can't live without a new climate agreement. One of the failings of the people who have tried to mobilise support for a climate treaty is that we have made the issue too complicated. So here is the simplest summary I can produce of why this matters.

Human beings can live in a wider range of conditions than almost any other species. But the climate of the past few thousand years has been amazingly kind to us. It has enabled us to spread into almost all regions of the world and to grow into the favourable ecological circumstances it has created. We enjoy the optimum conditions for supporting seven billion people.

A shift in global temperature reduces the range of places which can sustain human life. During the last ice age, humans were confined to low latitudes. The difference in the average global temperature between now and then was 4C. Global warming will have the opposite effect, driving people into higher latitudes, principally as water supplies diminish.

Food production at high latitudes must rise as quickly as it falls elsewhere, but this is unlikely to happen. According to the body that summarises the findings of climate science, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the potential for global food production "is very likely to decrease above about 3C". The panel uses the phrase "very likely" to mean a probability of above 90%. Unless a strong climate deal is struck very soon, the probable outcome is a rise of 3C or more by the end of the century.

Even in higher latitudes the habitable land area will decrease as the sea level rises. The likely rise this century - probably less than a metre - is threatening only to some populations, but the process does not stop in 2100. During the previous interglacial period, about 125,000 years ago, the average global temperature was about 1.3C higher than it is today, as a result of changes in the earth's orbit around the sun.

A new paper in the scientific journal Nature shows that sea levels during that period were between 6.6 and 9.4 metres higher than today's. Once the temperature had risen, the expansion of sea water and the melting of ice caps in Greenland and Antarctica was unstoppable. I wonder whether the government of Denmark, whose atrocious management of the conference contributed to its failure, would have tried harder if its people knew that in a few hundred years they won't have a country any more.

As people are displaced from their homes by drought and rising sea levels, and as food production declines, the planet will be unable to support the current population. The collapse in human numbers is unlikely to be either smooth or painless: while the average global temperature will rise gradually, the events associated with it will come in fits and starts - in the form of sudden droughts and storm surges.

This is why the least developed countries, which will be hit hardest, made the strongest demands in Copenhagen. One hundred and two poor nations called for the maximum global temperature rise to be limited not to 2C but to 1.5C. The chief negotiator for the G77 bloc complained that Africa was being asked "to sign a suicide pact, an incineration pact, in order to maintain the economic dominance of a few countries".

The immediate reason for the failure of the talks can be summarised in two words: Barack Obama.

The man elected to put aside childish things proved to be as susceptible to immediate self-interest as any other politician. Just as George Bush did in the approach to the Iraq war, Obama went behind the backs of the UN and most of its member states and assembled a coalition of the willing to strike a deal that outraged the rest of the world. This was then presented to poorer nations without negotiation: either they signed it or they lost the adaptation funds required to help them survive the first few decades of climate breakdown.

The British and US governments have blamed the Chinese government for the failure of the talks. It's true that the Chinese worked hard to mess them up, but Obama also put Beijing in an impossible position. He demanded concessions while offering nothing. He must have known the importance of not losing face in Chinese politics: his unilateral diplomacy amounted to a demand for self-abasement. My guess is that this was a calculated manoeuvre guaranteed to produce instransigence, whereupon China could be blamed for the outcome the US wanted.

Why would he do this? You have only to see the relief in Democratic circles to get your answer. Pushing a strong climate programme through the Senate, many of whose members are wholly-owned subsidiaries of the energy industry, would have been the political battle of his life. Yet again, the absence of effective campaign finance reform in the US makes global progress almost impossible.

So what happens now? That depends on the other non-player at Copenhagen: you. For the past few years good, liberal, compassionate people - the kind who read the Guardian - have shaken their heads and tutted and wondered why someone doesn't do something. Yet the number taking action has been pathetic. Demonstrations which should have brought millions on to the streets have struggled to mobilise a few thousand. As a result the political cost of the failure at Copenhagen is zero. Where are you.

Is this music not to your taste, sir, or madam? Perhaps you would like our little orchestra to play something louder, to drown out that horrible grinding noise.

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20 December 2009

Food Sunday: Something Rotten in the State of Denmark

Jill Richardson
FDL, 20 December 2009:
http://seminal.firedoglake.com/diary/19936

[Note: the original text features some hyperlinks not included here]

Copenhagen is finally over and the result is a non-binding, inadequate deal. My gold standard source of environmental information is the Center for Biological Diversity (they stand up for what's right when other environmental groups back down) and they say:

"We all know what we must do to solve global warming, but even the architects of this deal acknowledge that it does not take those necessary steps. Merely acknowledging the weaknesses of the deal, as President Obama has done, does not excuse its failings. If this is the best we can do, it is not nearly good enough. We stand at the precipice of climatic tipping points beyond which a climate crash will be out of our control. We cannot make truly meaningful and historic steps with the United States pledging to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by only 3 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. The science demands far more."

Looking at the big picture in Copenhagen, we're already at 390 ppm CO2 in the atmosphere and we need to be at 350 ppm. The deal the U.S. was proposing would put us at 550 ppm. Likewise, we're already at a 0.7 degree Celsius global temperature increase, and the deal (which is non-binding) calls for a 2 degree increase. African nations call that a death sentence, as 2 degrees globally equates to 3.5 degrees in Africa. They ask for "1.5 to stay alive." Yet, if each nation reduces emissions by what they pledged, we're looking at a 3 degree increase. Weak.

So what about agriculture? I've posted draft language for the agriculture agreement on my blog. It seems that none of this was included in the final text of the agreement. But it certainly shows the direction international negotiations are going on ag. And I fear they are going down the wrong road.

The global peasants organization La Via Campesina put out a statement saying:

"Even though the "Copenhagen deal" doesn't mention agriculture explicitly, it seemed during the two weeks talk that the UNFCCC wanted to include soils in the carbon capture methods, and include agriculture in it's technology transfer - opening up space for transnational companies to receive subsidies for introducing GMO seeds and industrial agricultural methods such as non-till agriculture. This is exactly the type of agricltural development that has led us to the current environment and social crisis in the countryside."

This is echoed by the organization Food First, who says:

"This comes at the same time that radical proposals to subsidize soil carbon storage (likely through ëbiochar', RoundUp Ready GM crops and industrial tree plantations) with carbon offsetting schemes made it back into the draft after having been presumed dead. The proposals would allow wealthy countries to buy carbon credits through the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) instead of reducing emissions at home.

The inclusion of agriculture in the CDM is extremely problematic - transaction costs to participate in the program are high, giving structural advantage to large-scale industrial technologies like GM monocultures. Moreover, a recent civil society study of CDM projects found that 75% did not provide any emissions reductions whatsoever."

But let's back up. The Copenhagen meeting didn't happen in a vacuum. Here's the big picture of international ag negotiations. A few years back, the World Bank teamed up with five agencies of the UN to assess global agriculture, agricultural technology, and its ability to feed the world. The result is the IAASTD report, which came out in 2008. The report is enormous and dense, but I feel it is summed up very well in this article. In short, the report recognizes that agriculture does more than just feed us. It provides livelihoods and it affects the environment in which we live. We need to produce food in a way that nourishes ourselves and our planet and provides meaningful livelihoods for those who produce our food. The report says that business is usual is not an option, and they recommend "agroecological" methods of farming (a.k.a. organic) to feed the world. They also felt that GMOs were NOT the wave of the future that would feed the world and clean up the planet. You can read a longer analysis of their findings here.

When this report came out, it was buried. It wasn't what those who commissioned it wanted to hear. While some pesticide and biotech interests were included in writing the report, they (Syngenta and CropLife) walked off the project because they didn't like the report's findings. The Gates Foundation then funded the Chicago Council on Global Affairs to write their own report on how to feed the world, and they involved GMO-advocate Robert Paarlberg to help write it. While efforts such as this one do not always blatantly say "More chemicals! More GMOs!" (although sometimes they do), they ALWAYS bring the focus around to yield and productivity. We need MORE FOOD they say. (The subtext to this is: Organics can't produce enough food. This has been proven false, and in fact a study found that going organic would INCREASE productivity by 80% in the developing world, but they repeat the lie anyway as if it were true.)

The roots of this message aren't new either. They stem from the Green Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s. This was when the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations funded major agriculture research around the world to increase productivity in the developing world and help starving people. The Green Revolution brought industrialized ag to the developing world, perhaps most notably to Mexico and India. However, while efforts were made to bring the Green Revolution to Africa, they largely failed. Today, the Gates Foundation is involved in the Alliance for an African Green Revolution, and they also just formally joined the Green Revolution group CGIAR - the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research.

There's also a bit of a revolving door between Monsanto, Gates, and the U.S. government. Take, for example, Rajiv Shah. He's from Gates, but was just nominated to head up USAID. Then there's Roger Beachy, formerly head of Monsanto's non-profit arm, but now nominated to serve in the Obama USDA. And Islam A. Siddiqui, formerly a top pesticide/biotech lobbyist for CropLife, now nominated to be the Chief Agricultural Negotiator in the U.S. Trade Rep's office. Oh, and there's also Rob Horsch, a Monsanto vice president, who is now involved in agriculture work at Gates. Plus numerous public-private partnerships between these three groups.

In short, when you see somebody talk about solving world hunger by increasing productivity, they are most likely in the Green Revolution "we need more chemicals and GMOs" school of thought. When you hear the term food sovereignty or you see a reference to the IAASTD report, then you're listening to someone who believes that agroecology is the way to fix our problems. Food sovereignty is defined as:

"Food sovereignty is the peoples', Countries' or State Unions' RIGHT to define their agricultural and food policy, without any dumping vis-ý-vis third countries. Food sovereignty includes :

prioritizing local agricultural production in order to feed the people, access of peasants and landless people to land, water, seeds, and credit. Hence the need for land reforms, for fighting against GMOs ((Genetically Modified Organisms), for free access to seeds, and for safeguarding water as a public good to be sustainably distributed.

the right of farmers, peasants to produce food and the right of consumers to be able to decide what they consume, and how and by whom it is produced.

the right of Countries to protect themselves from too low priced agricultural and food imports.

agricultural prices linked to production costs : they can be achieved if the Countries or Unions of States are entitled to impose taxes on excessively cheap imports, if they commit themselves in favour of a sustainable farm production, and if they control production on the inner market so as to avoid structural surpluses.

the populations taking part in the agricultural policy choices.

the recognition of women farmers' rights, who play a major role in agricultural production and in food.

As you may have guessed, the language that was in the agriculture draft from Copenhagen called for increased productivity and efficiency. They also called for sustainability, but proponents of GMOs and agrichemicals often call their products "sustainable" because they claim such products help them use LESS pesticides or fertilizer or help them pollute less in other ways (i.e. no-till farming). However, I would like to point you to the work of the Rodale Institute, which has decades of scientific research showing that up to 40% of the world's emissions could be sequestered into the soil by switching all of the world's cultivated acreage to organic, agroecological farming methods. Furthermore, their methods result in a 2/3 decrease in oil usage AND equal or greater productivity compared to conventional farming. So when a pesticide company calls its product "sustainable," what they are really saying is that a Ford Expedition is sustainable compared to a Hummer, while forgetting that some people drive hybrids or even ride bikes.

As for the business of carbon offsets, I highly recommend checking out The Story of Cap and Trade. The idea of a carbon offset is simple. You take some carbon OUT of the atmosphere and then earn the right to put the same amount of carbon back INTO the atmosphere. Or you can sell that right. Which works out just fine, IF you actually took carbon out of the atmosphere in the first place. I heard a great comparison of carbon offsets to the Catholic church's sales of indulgences prior to the Protestant Reformation. Somebody gets to sin, the church gets money, and everyone's all fine - except that the sin is still there. Same thing with bogus carbon offsets. I am not opposed to non-bogus carbon offsets but it doesn't sound like that's what's on the table.

In fact, moving from Copenhagen to DC and the House climate bill (ACES), the USDA has projected that the bill will result in a net increase in farm income because farmers will have to pay more for energy but they won't be accountable under cap and trade (no limits on ag emissions), and they can make a lot of money by selling offsets.

So there's my assessment of Copenhagen. Quite frankly, it sucks. A lot of the worst stuff seems to be left on the cutting room floor, but that doesn't mean it went away.

Also, if you read the piece I wrote about backyard chickens last week, I have an update. The San Diego paper just published a rather nasty editorial about my effort to legalize chickens in my town. I've posted it on my blog, along with several letters to the editor that more progressive-minded San Diegoans have sent in.

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Copenhagen failure 'disappointing', 'shameful'

Leigh Phillips
EU Observer, 20 December 2009:
http://euobserver.com/9/29181/?rk=1

BRUSSELS - The Copenhagen summit, billed as a historic meeting about nothing less than saving the planet for human habitation, ended this weekend with a low-key accord that was rejected by poor nations, described as "disappointing" by EU leaders and condemned by NGOs as a "shameful, monumental failure."

After two years of preparations and ever grimmer scientific assessments of the state the planet is in, from its melting ice-caps to acidifying oceans, in the small hours of Saturday morning (19 December), it all came down to a deal agreed to by about 25 heads of state and put together outside the UN process by a clutch of countries led by China, South Africa, India, Brazil and the US.

The five-page-long text, which only "recognises" the need to limit global temperatures to rising no more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, but does not require that this happen, was itself only "recognised" by the 193 countries attending the Copenhagen summit and not approved by them.

Most developing countries - the hardest hit by global warming - have been pushing for an upper limit of 1.5 degrees as 2 degrees of average change still results in growth of up to four degrees in some parts of the planet.

No emissions reduction ambitions were delineated for the key year of 2020, and even a previous target of cutting CO2 emissions by 80 percent by 2050 was abandoned. This came as a surprise to many observers, as commitments to quite deep cuts long after the current generation of politicians has left the stage have been nowhere near as controversial as discussions over shorter-term goals.

The European Union in the end did not make the leap from a 20 percent cut in emissions to 30 percent, reckoning that the other reduction offers on the table were not sufficiently ambitious.

While the scientific consensus is that at a minimum, CO2 must be reduced by developed countries by between 25 and 40 percent, the reduction pledges made by global powers amounted to between 13 and 19 percent. According to a late-hour analysis by the UN leaked to the press on the eve of the final talks, this would result in a temperature change of three degrees.

Despite the EU decision to hold back its 30 percent offer, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso insisted such a move was not ruled out at some point in the future. "This is not the final say. We need to keep working on this," he said.

The Copenhagen deal sets no year for a peak in emissions, although its implementation is to be reviewed by 2015.

The accord also "sets a goal" of delivering $100 billion a year to developing countries to help them deal with the effects of climate change and to move towards a low-carbon development path.

But this headline figure includes no reference to how much will come from government coffers and how much from funds that would flow anyway via normal market mechanisms.

Emerging nations such as China are to monitor their emissions reduction efforts and report to the UN every two years. The US and the EU to a lesser extent have been pushing for the richer developing nations to agree to mechanisms that could verify whether cuts had in fact been achieved.

Fredrik Reinfeldt, Sweden's prime minister and holder of the EU's six-month rotating presidency, admitted the conclusion to the conference will not counter global warming.

"Let's be honest. This is not a perfect agreement. It will not solve the climate threat," he said.

For a summit that was in many ways, until the appearance of US and Chinese leaders, dominated by the European Union, both as participant and through the Danish presidency of the UN process, the result is a particular embarrassment for the bloc.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the accord was "a positive step but clearly below our ambitions," while adding: "I will not hide my disappointment."

Developing countries were more scathing. Lumumba Di-Aping, the chief negotiator of the G77 group of nations called the end product of the two-week conference "the lowest level of ambition you can imagine. It's nothing short of climate change scepticism in action. It locks countries into a cycle of poverty for ever."

Fury, disappointment

Mr Di-Aping called the pact "a solution based on values, the very same values in our opinion that funneled 6 million people in Europe into furnaces." The rich north had "asked Africa to sign a suicide pact, an incineration pact, in order to maintain the economic dominance of a few countries."

Bolivia's UN ambassador, Pablo Solon, was furious that the accord had been drafted without the participation of most of the world's countries: "This is completely unacceptable. How can it be that 25 to 30 nations cook up an agreement that excludes the majority of the 190 nations?" he asked.

Green and development NGOs took all developed countries to task but singled out the United States, which failed to up its emissions reduction beyond 17 percent on 2005 levels, which amounted to a cut of just four percent when using the international benchmark year of 1990.

"Unless this outcome is improved in the coming months the US will have signed the death warrant for those most vulnerable to climate change - people in small island states, Africa and the least developed countries," said Rashed Titumir of UK-based Action Aid.

"This summit has been in complete disarray from start to finish, culminating in a shameful and monumental failure that has condemned millions of people around the world to untold suffering," said Tim Jones, of the World Development Movement. "The leaders of rich countries have refused to lead. They have been captured by business interests at a time when people need leaders to put justice first."

As the dust was settling on the conference, some worried that the north would only offer climate cash to those countries that signed onto the accord. UK environment minister Ed Miliband told developing countries to sign on to the deal "so the money can start flowing."

"The US appears to be more interested in saving face than saving the planet," said Friends of the Earth executive director Andy Atkins. "They are now using strong-arm tactics to bully the developing world into backing a plan that completely undermines the existing UN process."

"This summit has been a complete failure - the climate accord should be sent to the recycling bin," he added, referring to the Danish capital as "Brokenhagen."

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18 December 2009

Biosecurity bill to prohibit GMO food production in Turkey

Ercan Baysal
Today's Zaman [Turkey], 18 December 2009:
http://www.todayszaman.com/tz-web/news-195895-105-biosecurity-bill-to-prohibit-gmo-food-production-in-turkey.html

ANKARA - The Ministry of Agriculture submitted a biosecurity bill to Parliament on Wednesday in a bid to set rules and regulations for genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which have caused nationwide controversy over the past several months.

The bill prohibits the production of foods containing GMOs in Turkey and makes it mandatory to secure permission from the ministry to transport these products through Turkey. Individuals who produce genetically modified plants or animals or release them into the environment will be subject to a prison term of between five and 10 years or the imposition of a fine ranging between TL 1,500 and TL 2,500, according to the bill. If the production of GMO-containing products causes damage to humans, animals, plants or the environment, the prison sentence will be increased to at least seven years or a fine of no less than TL 2,000. In the event that these cases involve anti-smuggling laws, the prescribed penalties will double, the bill states.

A biosecurity commission will be set up consisting of nine members appointed by the ministries of agriculture, environment and forestry, health and industry and trade and the Foreign Trade Undersecretariat. Of the members, one must be selected from a university and one from a trade body, the bill states. The head of the commission will be determined by the agriculture minister. According to the biosecurity bill, individuals who have secured the permission required to conduct operations related to products containing GMOs will still be responsible for any possible damage caused to the health of humans, animals or plants or to the environment.

If products containing GMOs are used for purposes other than the ones determined by the commission, in the case of damage resulting of their import and distribution around the country, the person or persons will face a prison term of no less than five years or a fine of TL 1,500. Those who use or force others to use products containing GMOs against commission rules will be sentenced to a prison term of between two and four years or a fine of between TL 500 and TL 1,000, and in the event of resultant damage, these penalties will be raised to no less than three years or a minimum fine of TL 750. False statements in applications to the ministry will result in a prison sentence of between two and four years. If some of these acts are carried out by corporate bodies, that body will face an administrative fine ranging from TL 100,000 to TL 200,000 according to the seriousness of the act.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Agriculture filed an appeal on Wednesday in response to a decision of the common council of the 10th and 13th chambers of the Council of State to stay the execution of parts of a regulation addressing the control of food and feed products containing GMOs that went into effect on Oct. 26.

Minister of Agriculture Mehmet Mehdi Eker, responding to journalists' questions ahead of the opening of the fourth annual Agriculture, Animal Breeding, Seed Growing, Arboriculture and Dairy Industry Fair yesterday in Istanbul, said the biosecurity commission will be an independent body and will regulate the import of products containing GMOs.

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17 December 2009

New Copenhagen Draft Proposals Subsidize Forest Destruction and Land Grabs

Press release by Global Forest Coalition, Biofuelwatch, Grupo de Reflexion Rural, Gaia Foundation, Focus on the Global South, Noah (Friends of the Earth Denmark), Robin Wood, Campaign against Climate Change, Campaign against Climate Change Trade Union Group, Ecologistas en Accion, Corporate European Observatory, Econexus, ETC Group, Rettet den Regenwald.

17 December 2009.

Copenhagen - The new draft proposals released yesterday at the Copenhagen Climate Conference will lead to large-scale destruction of ecosystems and unprecedented land grabs as spurious 'offsets' will allow Northern countries to burn ever more fossil fuels say civil society groups who have been tracking negotiations.

Proposals (1) are expected to lead to huge carbon credits under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) for tree and crop monocultures, including for biochar production (2), 'no-till' GM soya (3), and tree and shrub monocultures falsely classed as 'carbon sinks'. Details are to be worked out by a technical UNFCCC meeting next year (4).

Stella Semino from Grupo de Reflexion Rural (Argentina) states: "If these new proposals are agreed upon we will see a massive boost for crop and tree plantations alike which, in the name of 'climate change mitigation', will speed up the destruction of forests and other vital ecosystems, the spread of industrial agriculture, and land-grabbing against small-farmers, indigenous peoples and forest communities. Industrial monocultures are already a major cause of climate change and their expansion will make it worse."

Under the terms of the Kyoto Protocol, no CDM offsets are allowed for existing forests nor soil carbon although a very limited number of CDM credits can go towards industrial tree plantations. Current proposals for large-scale offsetting for 'carbon sinks' closely resemble those contained in the US climate bill. Back in 2001, when the US proposed such offsets, the EU had refused them, warning that this would render a climate change agreement completely ineffective.

"The right kind of agriculture, such as organic and biodiversity-based farming, has the potential to store carbon in soils and increase resilience to climate change" said Anne Maina of the African Biodiversity Network, "But realistically, small-scale organic farmers in Africa are not going to be the ones participating and benefiting from the CDM or these complex UNFCCC market mechanisms. They will be locked out of the process, and their livelihoods will be threatened. If heads of state accept this language, it will lead to a destruction of the very same solutions we need to support."

Camila Moreno from Global Forest Coalition adds: "In Brazil we're seeing an obscene agribusiness lobby presenting themselves as the solution while they destroy Brazil 's unique rainforest and savannah habitats and contribute massively to climate change. Yet they continue too ply their trade in the highest political circles with impunity. Theses new CDM rules will further mandate this ransacking of the global South."

Contacts:

Deepak Rughani, Biofuelwatch

Teresa Anderson, Gaia Foundation

Notes:

(1) The proposals can be found at http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2009/awg10/eng/l15.pdf

(2) Biochar is fine-grained charcoal applied to soils. It is being promoted widely as a means of sequestering carbon even though there are major scientific uncertainties over the amount of carbon in charcoal which will remain in soils for different periods, over possible losses of existing soil carbon as a result of charcoal additions and over the potential of charcoal dust to worsen global warming in the same way as a black soot from fossil fuel and biomass burning does.

(3) Monsanto has promoted the inclusion of no-till agriculture into the CDM since the late 1990s and they have just been awarded the Angry Mermaid Award for their lobbying (http://www.angrymermaid.org/). Industrial no-till agriculture involves large-scale agro-chemical spraying to destroy weeds rather than ploughing the soil and herbicide-resistant GM crops are most commonly used with no-till, particularly in North and South America . The impacts on soil carbon are scientifically debated and uncertain, there is evidence that this method can lead to more emissions of the very powerful greenhouse gas nitrous oxide, and the introduction of no-till GM soya in Argentina has been shown to have accelerated the destruction of the Chaco forest.

(4) It is proposed that the 2010 SBSTA meeting of UNFCCC will recommend new CDM methodologies for example for tree plantations, 'forest management', a term widely used for industrial logging, and soil carbon management.

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'Retrograde' closure of bioethics body criticised

Dick Ahlstrom, Science Editor
The Irish Times, 17 December 2009:
http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/ireland/2009/1217/1224260838471.html

THE IRISH Council for Bioethics is to close at the end of this month after a decision by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment to terminate its funding.

Its director, Dr Siobhán O'Sullivan, said the move was a retrograde step that would leave Ireland as the only EU country without an independent oversight body for bioethics.

"We are to be defunded at the end of the month," she said.

"You would really want to question the wisdom of shutting down such a body in light of the Supreme Court ruling this week," she added, in a reference to Tuesday's ruling on access to three frozen embryos.

The fact that Ireland does not have good regulatory controls on bioethical issues could hurt foreign investment in high-tech medical areas, Dr O'Sullivan said.

"No body will want to invest if there is no governance system. People do not want to invest without regulatory control and there is no regulation in this area."

The Supreme Court in its judgment this week found the failure to legislate in the area of fertility treatment as "disturbing".

Dr O'Sullivan added: "We will be the only country without a council for bioethics."

Last April the department indicated to the group led by economist Colm McCarthy that savings could be achieved if the council was closed. The McCarthy report subsequently accepted that view in its report.

The council's 2009 budget of §365,000 maintains a small secretariat and funds printing of its reports. Its board operates on a voluntary basis and includes some of the country's leading bioethicists. It is chaired by Dr Dolores Dooley and its two vice-chairs are Dr Peter McKenna of the Rotunda Hospital and Mr Asim Sheikh, an expert in forensic and legal medicine at UCD.

The council's board received a written decision from the department on December 3rd indicating that funding would end on December 31st.

The Irish Council for Bioethics was established in 2002 as an independent body to consider the ethical issues arising from developments in science and medicine. The Royal Irish Academy originally set up the body after a request from the department.

Its most recent report, Biometrics: Enhancing Security or Invading Privacy?, was published on November 4th. In 2008 the council published a seminal report: Ethical, Scientific and Legal Issues Concerning Stem Cell Research.

It has also dealt with other controversial issues including the use of human biological material and genetically modified organisms.

The decision was criticised by ethicists including UCC lecturer and author of Medicine, Ethics and the Law, Dr Deirdre Madden. "In my opinion it is an ill-thought out, retrograde step and very short-sighted in terms of some of the ethical issues that will undoubtedly be facing Ireland in the coming years." The board's chair Dr Dooley, who lectured in ethics at UCC for 30 years, expressed her regrets. "The Government is going to be at a terrible loss. It will be an unfortunate loss of expertise."

"The moral, legal and ethical issues are not going to go away," said vice-chair Mr Sheikh.

The Irish Stem Cell Foundation expressed its regret, saying: "Given the legislative challenges facing the Oireachtas after the recent court ruling surrounding IVF embryos and the rights of sperm donors, it seems shortsighted to do this."

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Comment by GM-free Ireland

Good riddance to a pro-GM lobby group!

The Irish Council for Bioethics was chaired by Dermot Gleeson, the former Attorney General and former Chairman of Allied Irish Banks (AIB), whose risk management expertise left the Irish taxpayers with a massive €24 billion euro bailout.

Another member of the Council, the Goverment Chief Scientist Prof Paddy Cunningham, is a member of the biotech industry lobby group European Action on Global Life Sciences (EAGLES), a task force of the European Federation of Biotechnology whose members comprise numerous biotech and pharmaceutical industry groups including Monsanto Europe, the Association of German Biotech Companies, the Biotechnology Industry Organisation (USA), etc. EAGLES is co-chaired by Prof David McConnell, the Chairman of the non-profit Trust which owns the Irish Times. Cunningham is also the former Chairman of the EU Advisory Committee on the Future of Biotechnology, and a former member of the European Group on Life Sciences. He recently worked as a consultant for the US company Elanco (a division of the US pharmaceuticals giant Eli Lilly and Co. that markets Monsanto's GM-produced Recombinant Bovine Somatotrophin growth hormone Posilac, which is illegal in the EU.

Back in 2005, Monsanto Services International's Director of Government Affairs (Europe-Africa), Mella Frewen, represented Ireland as part of our Government delegation to the WTO Ministerial Conference in Hong Kong.

That same year, the Irish Council for Bioethics published a report called "Genetically Modified Crops and Food: Threat of Opportunity for Ireland?" Launched at the Royal Irish Academy with Monsanto Ireland manager Patrick O'Reilly in attendance, the carefully nuanced text of the 74-page report gives the impression of due diligence but concludes that "the Council does not view the genetic modification of crops as morally objectionable... GM crop and food technology holds a great deal of promise", and calls for "public research programmes in GM crop development that are mainly targeted at developing countries."

When the Danish Environment Minister proposed the same idea to the EU Council of Ministers, the EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said "if GM crops are not acceptable for us in Europe, we can't promote them for developing countries!"

Ironically, the Bioethics Council report included the results of its own survey which found:

98% of respondents want all foods containing GM ingredients to be clearly labelled (most Irish meat and dairy produce, from animals fed a GM diet, is not labelled as such);

85% believe genetic modification interferes with nature more unacceptably than traditional breeding;

84% are not confident that the development of GM food and crops is carefully regulated;

82% think GM crops pose a threat to the environment;

81% believe GM crops can not safely "co-exist" with conventional and organic crops;

78% do not trust scientists and government organisations to provide factual information;

77% are opposed to the introduction of GM crops in Ireland, even if carefully regulated and monitored;

71% refuse to eat food containing GM ingredients under any circumstances;

71% do not believe or are not sure that GM foods may contain less pesticides than conventional foods;

70% think GM food will adversely affect future generations;

68% trust environmental and NGO to provide factual information;

60% do not believe GM crops can improve the food supply in developing countries;

Only 10% believe that GM foods currently on sale are safe.

The Irish Council for Bioethics has a Working Group on Genetically Modified Organisms, chaired by Professor Peter Whittaker (Chairman Centre for Economic and Social Aspects of Genomics (CESAGen), Institute of Environment, Philosophy and Public Policy, Lancaster University). The other members of this Working Group are Dr James Burke (Head of Biotechnology at Teagasc), Matt Dempsey (Editor of Irish Farmers' Journal), Dr Patrick Flanagan (formerly with the Environmental Protection Agency), Professor Patrick Hannon (St Patrick's College, National University of Ireland, Maynooth), Dr Jonathan Hughes (Centre for Professional Ethics, Keele University, UK), Dr Richard Hull (COBRA - Centre of Bioethical Research and Analysis, Department of Philosophy, National University of Ireland, Galway), Professor Tony McGleenan (School of Law, University of Ulster), Dr Tom McLoughlin (Environmental Protection Agency), Dr Nora O'Brien (Faculty of Food Science, Food Technology, and Nutrition, National University of Ireland, Cork), Professor Fergal O'Gara (Microbiology Department, National University of Ireland, Cork), Dr Patrick O'Mahony (Food Safety Authority of Ireland), Dr. Siobhán O'Sullivan (Irish Council for Bioethics), and Professor Seán Strain (Centre for Molecular Biosciences, University of Ulster).

Among the Working Group members who advocate GM food and farming are Dr. James Burke of Teagasc (who claims GM crops have been a huge success in Spain, despite widespread contamination of conventional and organic farmers), Matt Dempsey of the notoriously pro-GM Irish Farmers Journal, and Prof. Fergal O'Gara of UCC.

O'Gara's team includes the Canadian Government employee Shane Morris (see http://www.gmfreeireland.org/morris/index.php) who threatened GM-free Ireland and GM Watch with defamation lawsuits after we reported that the pro-GM "wormy corn" scientific paper co-authored by Morris and published in the British Food Journal (BFJ) had been widely discredited as a "flagrant fraud." 40 scientists, including experts from Britain, Canada, the US, Norway, France, Italy, Brazil, Venezuela, Indonesia and Japan called on the BFJ to retract the paper which, they said, "has brought science and the BFJ into disrepute." Irish Senators David Norris, Dan Boyle, Deirdre de Burca, Pearse Doherty, and Phil Prendergast asked the Leader of the Senate to request the Government to formally intervene to stop "the extraordinary interference by an agent of the Canadian Government in political discourse in this country". In the UK, 26 British MPs including the former UK Environment Minister Michael Meacher tabled an Early Day Motion in the House of Commons deploring "the continuing efforts by an employee of the Canadian Government, Shane Morris, to close down websites in the UK and Republic of Ireland which have, along with Dr Richard Jennings of Cambridge University, said that research which claimed that consumers prefer GM sweetcorn published by this employee and others and given an Award for Excellence, is a flagrant fraud."

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Genetically modified canola hits non-GM sites

Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), 17 December 2009:
http://www.abc.net.au/rural/news/content/200912/s2774290.htm

Genetically modified canola has been delivered to non-GM silos in western Victoria at Dunolly and Lillimur.

Each silo received five tonnes of GM canola in a 500 tonne sample.

Graincorp says that the canola is still non-GM overall, because the level of contamination is below industry standards.

Anti-GM groups say growers are delivering GM canola to non GM sites to cut transport costs and get a price premium.

But Graincorp corporate affairs manager David Ginns says that's not the case.

"We do not believe that any grower has done anything malicious or intentionally delivered the wrong grade to the wrong site. It would appear that a mistake has been made."

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16 December 2009

Why Argentine Beef Isn't What It Used To Be

AllVoices.com, 16 December 2009:
http://www.allvoices.com/contributed-news/4819269-why-argentine-beef-isnt-what-it-used-to-be

An article today in the New York Times [A market for beef ambles across a border http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/16/world/americas/16uruguay.html], though reporting about the rise of the beef industry in Uruguay, also says plenty about what is happening in Argentina, where beef production is retreating to make way for more soybean production.

This article does not fully explain this is happening. While it points to government price controls and short-term droughts, the lessening of beef production is largely due to the large farm interests converting pastureland to maximize soybean production for export. In the short run this is much more profitable. In the long run, it not only is hurting Argentina's reputation for beef worldwide, but is bad for the land, the air, and the general population in Argentina.

With much of the land for cattle grazing being converted to high-yield soy production, much of the remaining cattle production is being converted to feedlot production. This high density production is much more profitable because one can produce fatter cows on much less land, as is done in the United States. This type of cattle production is a big threat to global warning, producing much more greenhouse gasses. It also produces inferior beef.

Traditionally, much of the cattle in Argentina feeds off existing grasslands, which makes these cows more environmental friendly producing less greenhouse gas. And the land for grass fed cattle is left in a more original state. With the type of soybean production popular in Argentina they use lots of chemicals, chemical fertilizers, genetically modified crops, etc. While converting huge swaths of wetlands and grasslands to soybean production the land and ecosystem is being seriously impacted. In addition, in the process of converting grasslands for soy production, and I understand in the harvest process too, the farmers set many fires. These fires pollute large cites like Rosario and Buenos Aires, affecting the health of millions of people.

The federal government attempted to thwart this, by raising taxes on those who profit the most from soybean exports. The agricultural interests in Argentina are very powerful, to the point in the past they were instrumental to the rise of the dictatorship in the late 1970's. This time they have been heavy handed as well, blockading food distribution while manipulating the press to foment a popular taxpayer revolt. This has become a heavy political battle which had a lot to do with the current president's party losing many seats in congress.

Argentine people consume a lot of red meat and could benefit from turning more vegetarian to include soy in their diet, but that's not happening. This soybean production is for export, produces unhealthy genetically modified food, severely harms the environment, and puts a lot of wealth in the hands of a few elite farmers.

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Amid Monsanto's antitrust troubles, another study questions the health effects of GMOs

Tom Philpot
Grist [USA], 16 December 2009:
http://www.grist.org/article/2009-12-16-monsanto-GMO-safety-health/

Pity executives at genetically modified seed giant Monsanto. Not only are they having to knock heads with Department of Justice lawyers over the company's business practices, but some of their most-cherished PR talking points are being obliterated by researchers.

In the past few months, we've learned that its much-vaunted technologies don't really increase yields after all; and aren't really all that promising for adapting to climate change.
http://www.ucsusa.org/food_and_agriculture/science_and_impacts/science/failure-to-yield.html
http://www.ucsusa.org/assets/documents/food_and_agriculture/no-sure-fix.pdf (PDF)

We're also getting a trickle of information that calls into serious question the PR talking point on which the entire GMO seed industry hangs: that GMO products are safe to eat. This is a widely held assumption; but as Don Lotter showed in a recent paper in the International Journal of the Sociology of Food and Agriculture, there has actually been shockingly little research done on the long-term effects of eating GMO foodsóand most of what has been was conducted by the industry itself.
http://www.ijsaf.org/archive/16/1/lotter1.pdf

The problem is that government funding for independent research on GMOs is scantóand industry funding is non-existent. And it's extremely difficult for independent researchers to get their hands on GMO seeds without signing restrictive contracts with their patent holders, as the New York Times reported earlier this year.
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/20/business/20crop.html?_r=1

The independent research that has been done on the health effects of GMOs paints an alarming picture. Here's my discussion of the results of a multigenerational study, funded by the Austrian government, that came out last year on the effects of GMO corn on mice. Short story: in the third and forth generations, mice fed GMOs showed "statistically significant" reproductive dysfunction.
http://www.grist.org/article/gm-oh-no/

And now comes this study by three French university researchers. It's a fascinating piece of work. The researchers analyzed data from tests done on rats by Monsanto and another biotech firm, Covance Laboratories, submitted to European government in 2000 and 2001. The firms conducted the tests to prove that their products were safe to eat; scrutinizing the same data, the researchers arrived at a different conclusion.
http://www.biolsci.org/v05p0706.htm

The three products in question are still quite relevant: one strain of Roundup Ready corn, engineered to withstand Monsanto's flagship herbicide; and two strands of Bt corn, engineered to contain the insect-killing gene from the BT bacteria. Roundup Ready and Bt products are ubiquitous in the U.S. seed supply, often "stacked" into the same seed.

Here's what the researchers found:

"in the three GM maize varieties that formed the basis of this investigation, new side effects linked to the consumption of these cereals were revealed, which were sex- and often dose-dependent. Effects were mostly concentrated in kidney and liver function, the two major diet detoxification organs, but in detail differed with each GM type. In addition, some effects on heart, adrenal, spleen and blood cells were also frequently noted. As there normally exists sex differences in liver and kidney metabolism, the highly statistically significant disturbances in the function of these organs, seen between male and female rats, cannot be dismissed as biologically insignificant as has been proposed by others [4]. We therefore conclude that our data strongly suggests that these GM maize varieties induce a state of hepatorenal [i.e., kidney] toxicity."
http://www.biolsci.org/v05p0706.htm

The researchers also found "clear negative impact" on their livers of rats fed all three kinds of GMO corn.

They added that it's impossible to tell, based on the data, whether the damage was caused by the specific genes introduced to the corn, orómore troubling stillóif the very process of genetic modification creates a toxic effect. And they call for more research:

"In conclusion, our data presented here strongly recommend that additional long-term (up to 2 years) animal feeding studies be performed in at least three species, preferably also multi-generational, to provide true scientifically valid data on the acute and chronic toxic effects of GM crops, feed and foods."
http://www.biolsci.org/v05p0706.htm

Here's hoping that governments find the will - and the courage - to fund such research; it's clear that industry won't.

I want to acknowledge that one risks sounding like a fanatic or a "denier" when bringing up the issue of GMOs and human health. Here's why. Nearly our entire corn and soy crops crops are genetically modifiedóand have been for nearly a decade. Corn and soy course through the food system like blood in a body. If GMOs caused harm, wouldn't it be obvious by now?
http://www.grist.org/article/2009-10-31-michael-specter-denialism-organic-GMO/

Moreover, most corn and soy goes into animal feed. Last I checked, pigs, chickens, and cows on factory animal farms haven't been dropping dead en masse before their date with the executioner. Again, if GMOs were dangerous, why aren't factory animal farmers rejecting them?

This thinking, I think, represents educated opinion on GMOs. The logic would be persuasive, if scientists were claiming that GMOs caused spectacular, virulent illnesses, the kind associated with, say, E. coli 0157 or salmonella. But instead, the evidence I'm referring to suggests that GMOs cause low-level, chronic damage.

And think of the U.S. diet. People here tend to survive on refined sugars and processed food, and are routinely exposed to toxic chemicals like BPA. Moreover, we have high and growing levels of chronic ailments. To me, it's highly plausible that yet more low-level toxins could enter the food stream without causing immediately identifiable trouble.

As for animals on factory farms, their lives are by design short, nasty, and brutish. The game is to fatten them as quickly as possible for slaughter, not to make sure they're feeling well. So, again, it seems plausible that subtly health-damaging feed could be introduced without causing much of a stir.

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Seed behemoth Monsanto stumbles into antitrust trouble

Grist [USA], 16 December 2009:
http://www.grist.org/article/2009-12-15-seed-behemoth-monsanto-stumbles-into-antitrust-trouble/

[NOTE: The original text has numerous hyperlinks not included here]

Even as it bombards the airwaves and magazine ad pages to tout its commitment to "sustainable agriculture," GMO seed giant Monsanto has been having a rough go on the PR front of late.

First came a report (http://www.organic-center.org/reportfiles/13Years20091126_FullReport.pdf PDF) from the Organic Center showing that the company's core Round Up Ready products have sparked a veritable monsoon of herbicide use. According to the report, since the introduction of "herbicide tolerant" corn, soy, and cotton in 1996, farmers have sprayed 382.6 million more pounds of herbicides than they otherwise would haveóthe overwhelming bulk of it Monsanto's "Roundup" brand glyphosate.

And the gusher is only growing larger. As farmers have come to increasingly rely on Roundup applications, glyphosate-resistant superweeds are spreadingóinspiring farmers to both spray more Roundup and add other toxic chemicals to create herbicide cocktails. "Herbicide use on [herbicide-tolerant] crops rose a remarkable 31.4% from 2007 to 2008," the report states.

Now that's sustainable agriculture!

Meanwhile, Monsanto's dominance over the GMO seed marketóand thus over U.S. corn, soy, and cotton productionóhas become so intense and obvious that "U.S. Department of Justice lawyers are seeking documents and interviewing company employees about its marketing practices," AP reports.

The DOJ is also gearing up for a public workshop on competition in the seed industry, to be held in Iowa next March 10. The workshops, designed to hear farmer concerns over consolidation in the agriculture industry, will be co-directed by the Department of Agriculture. If U.S. authorities actually did crack down on companies that use their market power to squeeze farmers, it would would mark an epochal shift in antitrust policy, as Barry C. Lynn shows in this classic 2006 Harper's essay.

Monsanto execs better hope that DOJ lawyers don't get their paws on a devastating recent report (PDF) from the Farmer-to-Farmer Campaign of Genetic Engineering.

The report establishes two facts that would, under any reasonable criteria, force the DOJ to take antitrust action: 1) Monsanto utterly dominates the market for GM traits in corn, soy, and cotton; and 2) it is using its market power to raise prices to farmers and limit their access to non-GM seeds.

To make a long story short, Monsanto supplies proprietary traits to 85 percent of corn planted in the United States, and 92 percent of soy. Corn and soy are the lifeblood of the U.S. food system. If you eat a standard diet, you're ingesting a Monsanto-originated product with just about every bite you take.

Nor is the company a benign monopolist, the report shows. GMO corn seeds have jumped from $110 per unit in 1999 to upwards of $190 by 2008; for soy, prices soared from less than $25 to more than $40. A huge portion of those jumps can be explained by the so-called "technology fee"óthe price Monsanto charges for its proprietary traits. For Roundup Ready soy, the fee has tripled since 2000. As the report puts it:

This means a farmer who plants one bag of Roundup Ready soybeans per acre on 1,000 acres of soybeans has seen his production costs rise by $11,000 in five years due to the trait price increase alone.

Microsoft, in all of its ë90s-era brazenness, never dreamt of such price hikes for operating system software.

The report brims with testimony from farmers and small seed-company owners bristling against Monsanto's massive market power. "I feel like a puppet in a string," one seed owner says.

That sentiment is echoed in an excellent investigative report by Associated Press' Christopher Leonard. The story's opening paragraph says it all:

Confidential contracts detailing Monsanto Co.ës business practices reveal how the world's biggest seed developer is squeezing competitors, controlling smaller seed companies and protecting its dominance over the multibillion-dollar market for genetically altered crops, an Associated Press investigation has found.

With all of this information on the table and circulating in the public record, DOJ lawyers will have a hard time avoiding a showdown with Monsanto over its practices.

Yet Monsanto is so powerful and well-connected that it just might skate free of antitrust trouble. To gauge whether a publicly traded company faces a real threat from outside forces like antitrust issues, I check in with how its stock is faring. Monsanto's stock price (chart) is actually up about 10 percent over the last monthóevidence that investors think that the DOJ investigators are pussycats and that the company can continue imposing higher prices on farmers.

Let's hope the "smart money" is wrong. Monsanto itself seems to be taking the threat somewhat seriously. The Iowa Independent reported two weeks ago:

As the U.S. Departments of Justice and Agriculture gear up for an unprecedented series of investigative workshops on agricultural competition and regulatory issues, a Des Moines law firm with deep political ties has signed on to represent agribusiness giant Monsanto.

The Independent reports that the firm has signed a lobbying contract with Iowa lawyer and politico Jerry Crawford ó a long-time friend and financial supporter of USDA chief and former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack:

In addition to supplying the Vilsack campaigns (1998 to 2002) and Heartland 527-PAC [Vilsack's political-action committee] with more than $150,000 in donations, Crawford was listed as the Heartland PAC treasurer on documents filed with the Internal Revenue Service. He also served on the board of directors for the Democratic Governors Association, and has been called "one of the leading Democratic strategists in Iowa." Crawford has been chairman of the Polk County Democratic Party, and has served as state chairman or legal counsel for presidential campaigns in Iowa for nearly as long as the state's first-in-the-nation caucuses have held influence.

Meanwhile, there also recently came a cold slap to one of Monsanto's most hyped promises: that it will soon deliver genetically engineered corn, rice, and wheat strains that demand much less nitrogen fertilizer. Nitrogen fertilizer is a major ecological liability of industrial agricultureósynthetic nitrogen pollutes streams and blots out fish life, destroys soil organic matter, and enters the atmosphere as nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 300 times more potent than carbon.

In a recent report (http://www.ucsusa.org/assets/documents/food_and_agriculture/no-sure-fix.pdf PDF), the Union of Concerned Scientists' Doug Gurian-Sherman pointed out that thus far, the GM crop industry has had zero success at engineering crops with "complex traits" like improved nitrogen efficiency.

Splicing in a gene that makes corn tolerate a certain herbicide is one thing; improving a highly complex, multi-gene, not-completely-understood process like nitrogen efficiency is completely different. Despite all the hype around nitrogen-efficient GM corn, the GM seed giants are conducting relatively few trials to test crops in the field, Gurian-Sherman reports.

"Although a few genes that appear promising for improving NUE [nitrogen-use efficiency] have been identified in the public literature, they have yet to demonstrate that they can improve consistently in various environments, and without significant undesirable side effects that could harm our agriculture, environment, or public health," Gurian-Sherman writes. Meanwhile, other methods of reducing nitrogen use, like traditional breeding and ecosystem approaches, have proven track records.

Gurian-Sherman is also the author of another report http://www.ucsusa.org/food_and_agriculture/science_and_impacts/science/failure-to-yield.html this year that shattered one of Monsanto's most cherished myths: that GM technology increases yields. Actually, it does nothing of the sort.

Comments

Grist food editor Tom Philpott farms and cooks at Maverick Farms, a sustainable-agriculture nonprofit and small farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Follow my Twitter feed; contact me at tphilpott[at]grist[dot]org.

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Our voice needs to be heard at Copenhagen

The Guardian [UK], 16 December 2009:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/dec/16/copenhagen-climate-change-global-south

As representatives of people from the developing world who are most affected by climate change, we are still fighting to ensure our voices are heard in Copenhagen. We are alarmed about the potential failure of the talks (Report, 15 December). People in many of our countries in the global south are already experiencing the destructive effects of climate change. It is these people, who have not contaminated the planet, who hold the solutions in their hands. It is the rural farmers, indigenous, and the poor people of the world that can teach us how to sustain life on the planet through learning from and living in harmony with nature.

We urgently hope that in the few days left Copenhagen changes the status quo which continues to damage the natural world. We hope that the global north recognises its ecological debt to the world's impoverished peoples; that it begins to repair our villages and ecosystems and reaches substantial agreements to ensure greenhouse gas emissions are curbed. Enough funds should be provided to southern countries to support this socio-environmental restoration: the climate debt to the world's poor must be settled.

If Copenhagen achieves nothing, the resulting delay to securing these vital agreements will be a terrible sentence for all human beings and the planet. The earth is a unique global ecosystem in which everything is interrelated. Today, misery afflicts many peoples of Africa, Asia and Latin America. Tomorrow other countries will face extinction too.

Innocent Hodzongi, Programmes director, Environment Africa, Zimbabwe
Lloyd Simwaka, Progressio country director, Malawi
José Ramon Avila, Director of the National Association of NGOs, Honduras
António Pacheco, Director, Social and Economic Development Association of Santa Marta, El Salvador
María Elena Salas Dias, Director, Cajamarca Ideas Centre, Peru
Dinorah Granadeiro, Executive director, NGO Forum, Timor-Leste
Victor Ochoa, President, Campamento Environmental Movement, Honduras
Dr Angel Ibarra, Director, Salvadorian Ecological Union, El Salvador
Ego Lemos Founding, director, Permaculture Timor-Leste, East Timor
María Elena Mendez, Director, Centre for Women's Studies, Honduras
Anna Zucchetti Director, GEA Group, Peru
Kevin Ndemera Progressio Country Director, Zimbabwe
Antonio Gaybor Executive secretary, National Water Resources Forum, Ecuador
Manuel Ernesto Cruz Director, Youth Development Foundation, El Salvador
Deometrio do Amaral, Executive director, Haburas Foundation, Timor-Leste
Carmen Medina, Progressio country - director, El Salvador
Larry Jose Madrigal Rajo, General co-ordinator, Bartolome de las Casas Centre, El Salvador
Dulce Marlen Contreras, Co-ordinator of Rural Women's Association of La Paz, Honduras
Luís Camacho, Progressio country director, Ecuador
Lidia Castillo, Director, Centre for the Investigation and Promotion of Human Rights, El Salvador
Roque Rivera, Executive director, Popol Nah Tun, Honduras
Jesus Garza, Co-ordinator of the Honduran Coalition for People's Action, Honduras
Marianela Gibaja, Progressio country director, Peru
Dr Juan Almendares Bonilla, Founding director, Mother Earth Movement, Honduras
Xiomara Ventura, Progressio Country Director, Honduras
Maximus Tahu, Researcher, La'o Hamutuk, Timor-Leste
Juvinal Dias, Researcher, La'o Hamutuk, Timor-Leste
Jesus Garza, Coordinator, The Honduran Coalition for People's Action, Honduras
Tibor van Staveren, Progressio country director, Timor-Leste
Dr Jeannette Alvarado, Director, Maquilishuat Foundation, El Salvador

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Friends of the Earth suspended from UN climate talks

Press statement
Friends of the Earth International, 16 December 2009:
http://www.foei.org/en/media/archive/2009/friends-of-the-earth-suspended-from-un-climate-talks

Copenhagen, Brussels - Friends of the Earth representatives have been barred from the United Nations climate talks in the Bella Centre in Copenhagen today (Wednesday 16 December 2009). Every delegate from the international environmental campaign group arrived at the centre this morning to find their badges were no longer valid.

Friends of the Earth representatives from countries ranging from Nigeria to Japan and Denmark have been taking part in the negotiations over the past two weeks calling for a strong and fair agreement, with rich countries leading the way with emissions cuts of at least 40 per cent by 2020 without offsetting.

Magda Stoczkiewicz, director of Friends of the Earth Europe said: "It is a crisis of democracy when campaign groups like Friends of the Earth which represents millions of people around the globe are prevented from participating in the talks where we are pushing for a just and effective agreement to the climate crisis.

"If Friends of the Earth is not allowed inside the UN negotiations we cannot play our crucial role in bringing the voices of citizens to the talks, especially the voices of those who are disadvantaged and already suffering most because of climate change. These draconian measures are completely unjustified.

"Friends of the Earth is one of the most prominent groups calling for a strong and fair agreement and we will not be silenced. We continue to pressure rich countries, and especially the European Union to finally commit to deep emissions reductions and its fair share of the urgently needed climate finance for developing countries."

Friends of the Earth International Chair Nnimmo Bassey had the following statement: "We are surprised and shocked that Friends of the Earth member groups from around the world and other non-governmental organizations have been denied access to the negotiations this morning.

"Our organisations represent millions of people around the world and provide a critical voice for climate justice inside the UN."

Friends of the Earth is petitioning UN climate secretary Yvo De Boer to protest against the ban and calling for members of the public to add their name at www.foe.co.uk

For more information and for interviews please contact:

Francesca Gater, communications officer for Friends of the Earth Europe, +45 298 42677 (Danish mobile) or +32 4 85 930 515 (Belgian mobile), francesca.gater@foeeurope.org

Sonja Meister, climate campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe, +45 617 27520 (Danish mobile), sonja.meister@foeeurope.org

Magda Stoczkiewicz, director of Friends of the Earth Europe, +45 617 22145 (Danish mobile), magda.stoczkiewicz@foeeurope.org

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Monsanto tops poll of firms accused over climate change

Frank McDonald in Copenhagen
The Irish Times, 16 December 2009:
http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/world/2009/1216/1224260761298.html

MONSANTO, THE US multinational chiefly known for its aggressive marketing of genetically modified (GM) crops, has emerged as the surprising winner of the "Angry Mermaid" awards for business lobbyists against taking action on climate change.

Presented here yesterday by author and activist Naomi Klein, the premier award went to Monsanto in a poll conducted mainly on the internet. It won 37 per cent of the 10,000 votes cast. The runners-up were Royal Dutch Shell and the American Petroleum Institute.

Monsanto was nominated for promoting its GM crops and biofuels as a "solution" to climate change. "The expansion of GM soy in Latin America is contributing to major deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions," according to Friends of the Earth International.

It said the awards were to "recognise the perverse role of corporate lobbyists and highlight those business groups and companies that have made the greatest effort to sabotage the climate talks, and other climate measures, while promoting often profitable, false solutions."

Ms Klein said there was an "embarrassment of riches" among the nominees for the award, named after Copenhagen's Little Mermaid. "We've had endless sessions here about poor countries adapting to climate change, but none on the corporations causing it."

The author of No Logo and The Shock Doctrine said there were so many "common sense solutions" that were also being ignored - such as levying taxes on the windfall profits of oil companies, or closing down the extraction of oil from tar sands in Alberta, Canada.

Speaking as a Canadian, she branded her country a "carbon criminal" for allowing the oil companies to continue with this environmentally destructive activity. "We need to denounce false solutions and focus on real solutions that are kept off the agenda."

Asked about the curious choice of Monsanto as a major culprit, Ms Klein said people were "struck by the fact that a company producing such products with negative impacts, such as GM crops and biofuels, will be able to get public subsidies" from climate change funds.

Announcing that she would be joining a "Reclaim Power" protest march today, she appealed to participants to "observe the rules against violence", so that there would be no excuse for the "outrageous" behaviour of Danish police towards protesters.

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15 December 2009

Sweden: Lantmannen Cerealia Withdraws Linseed Products on GMO Discovery

Flex-News-Food.com, 15 December 2009:
http://www.flex-news-food.com/pages/27495/Sweden/sweden-lantmannen-cerealia-withdraws-linseed-products-gmo-discovery.html

Lantmännen Cerealia has withdrawn some crushed linseed products manufactured under the GoGreen brand in Sweden after finding traces of a genetically modified linseed.

"Lantmännen Cerealia has given instructions to its dealers to immediately stop sales of the product. Consumers who have purchased GoGreen crushed linseed with best-before date 01.09.2010 are asked to contact Lantmännen Cerealia", the company told FLEXNEWS in a statement.

The origin of the linseed was not disclosed.

The discovery occurred only a few months after the EU quarantined several consignments of Canadian flax shipments that had genetically modified flaxseed in them.

Under its zero tolerance policy for genetically-modified material, the EU does not accept any GMO flax.

Canada supplies approximately 70% of the total linseed used in the EU annually.

According to Lantmännen Cerealia, GoGreen is a leading brand in Sweden for products including beans, lentils and salsas also belongs to the business area. GoGreen has significant positions in Finland and Norway as well.

The brand is manufactured by food company GoGreen AB, which mainly sells bean salad and soya drinks, cashew nuts and dips.

The GoGreen brand was launched in Sweden in autumn 2004 and has expanded strongly ever since. GoGreen became a limited company in 2005, when Finnish food group Raisio purchased 50% of the shares from Swedish-owned Cerealia, now Lantmännen. In January 2008, Lantmännen regained 100% ownership of the company.

GoGreen is based in Linköping, Sweden, where it packs and distribute the majority of our products. The marketing organisation and the CEO are located in Solna, just north of Stockholm.

Sourced from many different parts of the world, the products come to Linköping for distribution out to Nordic supermarkets. The Nordic region provides the oats for our liquid oat products, and brown beans and yellow peas are grown on Swedish farms.

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Germany's poultry meat pioneer for GMO-free

Norman Dunn
WattAgNet, 15 December 2009:
http://www.wattagnet.com/Poultry_International/12563.html

[This article was previously published in Poultry International 12/2009 under the headline GMO-free product line introduced in Germany]

German producer Gebr¸der Stolle has a new label on the home market, the first GMO-fee chicken meat.

The new gene technology-free logo introduced by Germany earlier this year.

Pioneer work from German poultry integratorÝGebr¸der StolleÝhas brought the first chicken meat products onto the market with a label that reads "produced without gene technology".

"This is not only a first for GMO-free poultry meat in Germany but is a world premier as far as we know," announced Albert Focke, communications manager with Stolle, which has its own feed mills, parent flock producers and contracted poultry farmers with an output of around 450,000 chickens and 10,000 turkeys daily.

Market share in Germany for Stolle chicken products, many of them portioned, cooked and deep frozen under retail outlets' own labels for the convenience sector, is put by the company at 20 percent for the first quarter of 2009.

Some 100,000 chicken are now labeled as produced without gene technology. This number is set to rise this year as other Stolle production plants are fully certified under new German legislation that now allows such claims, following inspection by independent bodies.

Naturally, the GMO-free output from the family firm's three poultry processing plants plus delicatessen production facility, with headquarters in Gudensberg, northern Germany, depends on the guarantee of non-GMO feed from the company-owned feed mill.

Like the poultry plants, this is not only HACCP certified but also produces according to theÝInternational Food StandardÝ(IFS) and is subject to control under the German quality system Vitacert. The feed mill, producing under the name "BEST 3 Gefl¸gel[er]n”hrung GmbH", in the village of Twistringen, is dedicated to producing for contracted Stolle poultry growers, with ownership shared by Stolle and the farmer producer groups involved.

The mill also runs a full traceability program, which means that its feed batches can be traced back to individual components. The system is also applied to the poultry meat portions produced by Stolle, which means that these can be traced back to the respective parent flocks involved.

Longterm GMO-free suppliers

Stolle makes all [of] it[s] own feed and, for the last 12 years, has refused to incorporate any ingredients that contain, or could contain, GMO material.

Mr Flocke explains: "The company feed has been continuously tested independently to make absolutely sure of this standard. Now, theÝEuropean Community GM Food and Feed Regulation 1829/2003, finally passed into German law last year, means we can actually labelÝ our products as GMO-free, if production has been certified under the regulations.

"This naturally entails independent testing of feed components from the country of production, right through the shipping, storage and milling process. We employ a recognized and fully independent institute ëIntertek' with its global network of more than 1,000 laboratories and offices and over 23,000 employees in more than 100 countries to supervise and conduct this careful checking procedure."

[Photo caption: Stolle's Visbek headquarters and main processing plant, where whole chickens and cooked and frozen chicken pieces are prepared for the German market.]

Brazil soya only

The company notes that it has, briefly, considered using feed protein sources other than soya bean as guaranteed non-GMO material in poultry feed, but was unable to find anything that equally met all-round poultry feed amino acid needs. Consequently, it was decided to continue with soya beans, but to source them only from regions where GMO freedom could be guaranteed.

Brazil has been the Stolle's soya bean supplier for many years now, and the spot checks start on the country's farms and end in the laboratories back in Germany. However, the feed quality controls cover much more than soya bean meal.

"We source our main energy components in the feedÝ- corn and wheat - from German farms only," says Mr Focke. "This makes things a little easier for us because, so far, there's no permission in place that would allow the growing of GM maize in Germany."

Up to the end of May 2009, 5 percent of Stolle contract broiler growers were still not using feed that is certified GMO-free. However, the company has strictly separated production systems and feed channels so that no cross-contamination can occur. Sooner rather than later, all of Stolle's chicken production will come under the non gene-technology label.

Broad approach

Stolle's turkey production will also become subject to the same strict feed requirements and certification.

"It's very much a step-by-step process," emphasizes Mr Focke.

This careful approach is not only applied to feed. Mr Flocke continues: "Some of our convenience products are breaded joints or steaks, and this, of course, means that these components have to be reliably checked for the presence of GMO and, like the birds and the feed, have full traceability."

Ninety percent of the products from the Gebr¸der Stolle plant are sold in the German market but there is a growing export demand for the company's processed chicken and turkey, with main customers Russia, the Middle East and the Far East.

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Comment from TraceConsult™

In our coverage of the release of the German "Ohne Gentechnik" seal by Agricultural Minister Ilse Aigner on 10 August 2009 we already reported on the pioneer poultry producer, Gebr¸der Stolle. Itself certified under Intertek's Non GMO Standard, the company's own feed mill, BEST 3, uses essentially raw material certified from Brazil to Europe by Cert ID under that company's Non-GMO Standard.

While not required by law, using certified feed components and becoming certified under such a standard oneself is the best assurance for a European producer to make a GMO-free claim under the law of the respective country where the production is based. In the EU, at the moment such claims are regulated in Austria and Germany, in the making are France and Ireland, while Italy offers a segmented possibility.

Stolle, Germany's second-largest poultry producer, as well as other manufacturers of food products, has reported that since their entry into the GMO-free claims sector sales have grown despite a general trend in the opposite direction. Probably the most prominent member among such companies is FrieslandCampina Germany, on whose reported sales increase of its Landliebe premium brand we commented on 22 June as well as on 21 September 2009.

In Austria, the pioneer in GMO-free claims legislation with its Codex Alimentarius Austriacus, hundreds of products already bear the "Gentechnik-frei erzeugt" seal.

Companies have already become aware of the fact that the EU's common market principle offers interesting intra-EU export opportunities for GMO-free claimed products even to Member States where such claims currently are not regulated at all. For example, an Austrian or a German manufacturer could export his product carrying a GMO-free claim on the package in compliance with the laws of the producing country to a country like the United Kingdom, where not one product currently carries such a claim. The common market principle gives such a manufacturer the right to do so - and a hitherto unknown competitive situation would arise in the target market.

Needless to say that both Austria and Germany require GMO-free feed ingredients to be used in such a claim program. This means authorities verify that raw materials are below the general detection limit of 0.1 percent GMO content. Anything above that threshold, must prove to be adventitious or technically unavoidable. Anything other ingredients would fall under the scope of EU Regulations (EC) No. 1829/2003 and 1830/2003 and would have to be labeled as containing GMOs - a certain way to be excluded in a GMO-free claims production.

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Getting at the Roots of Climate Change: Food

Paula Crossfield, Managing Editor of civileats.com
The Huffington Post [USA]:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paula-crossfield/getting-at-the-roots-of-c_b_393064.html

[NOTE: The original text has many hyperlinks not included here.]

Around one third of global greenhouse gas emissions come from the way we produce, process, distribute and consume the food we eat according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Meanwhile, farmers the world over will be the most affected by climate change, as higher carbon in the atmosphere and higher temperatures increase erratic weather patterns, pests, and disease occurrence, while decreasing water availability, disrupting relationships with pollinators and lowering yield and the efficacy of herbicides like glyphosate (aka Round-Up) -- all detailed in a revealing new report from the USDA called The Effects of Climate Change on U.S. Ecosystems [pdf].

We should all give the USDA credit for keeping the ties between agriculture, food and climate change at the forefront of the discussion. Even in Copenhagen, where agriculture is getting less attention than it arguably should be considering its impact and potential for mitigating climate change, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack spoke about the need for research, and seeing agriculture as an opportunity for climate change mitigation. He even said to the delegates in Copenhagen, "We need to develop cropping and livestock systems that are resilient to climate change." While I agree on the surface with these statements, taking a deeper look reveals potentially problematic ideas for just how to do this.

Outlined in Vilsack's prepared remarks are a few clues for how the U.S. is looking at adapting agriculture in the face of climate change. I find it valuable to do a little point-by-point debunking here, so we can look at the facts again, laid out so clearly in the USDA report above, and come up with real solutions. And since the U.S. is responsible for the most greenhouse gases, and we were the first to adopt intensive agriculture practices, we have an opportunity to lead the world to a more sustainable future.

No-Till. Here is a classic case of agribusiness co-opting a perfectly good solution and making it bad (and then whispering it into the USDA's ear). Sustainable no-till practices involve building soil fertility with cover crops, which sequester carbon, and then turning them into a healthy mulch. No chemicals are used, and soil fertility increases. This practice is being studied at places like the Rodale Institute. The co-opted version, on the other hand, which I'll refer to as chemical no-till, is the one touted by Monsanto with it's Round-Up Ready seeds, which can be planted and doused with glyphosate -- killing the weeds and not the soybeans. Aside from the fact that superweeds are more and more common as pesticides increase in use, the life in the soil is also being killed by these chemicals. What this means is that the earthworms, protozoa, ants and other decomposers that are actively 'tilling' the soil are not there to do so. Furthermore, bacteria in the soil, like rhizobia, actively fix nitrogen. Without nitrogen-fixing soil life to intervene, a putrefaction process called denitrification results in lost soil fertility, as nitrogen is released as nitrous oxide into the atmosphere. What is totally not funny about nitrous oxide is the fact that it is 298 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Do you get where I'm going with this? Nitrous oxide may only represent 7.9% of our greenhouse gas emissions in total, but it is one powerful source, coming directly from synthetic agriculture fields.

Carbon Markets. Sure it sounds good to offer cash benefits to farmers who use more sustainable farming practices. But what would this look like? Would it encourage farmers to utilize fewer fossil fuels, or to transition to organic farming? A lot of Big Ag players would kick up dust if that were the case, even though these are truly the ways to draw down our agricultural footprint. Unfortunately there are some ugly manipulations of carbon markets to watch out for. And according to a report by Helena Paul et al and prepared for the Bonn Climate talks last June called Agriculture and Climate Change: Real Problems, False Solutions [pdf], getting this wrong could mean exacerbating global warming instead of preventing it. Paul told the Ecologist about a few worries: First, that chemical no-till might be one of the so-called "sustainable" practices that qualify. Second, that stipulating the use of biochar, or charcoal, as a soil remediation technique, could result in plantations as sources for the biomass, adding incentive to cut down forests. Thirdly, she mentions that some Big Ag players argue for further intensification of livestock operations, making the case for using manure to make biogas. We can't afford such paltry solutions.

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). If Monsanto had its way, our government would be paying farmers to grow GMOs. However, GMO manufacturers have been promising 'sustainable' drought tolerant and higher yielding crops for decades now with no results. All these companies have figured out how to do in the short-term is to create herbicide resistant plants and plants that make pesticides. Meanwhile, these technologies have brought with them a whole host of new problems for the environment: genetic contamination; the addition of 318 million pounds of chemicals into our soils, water and air; and a significant loss of biodiversity. There are agro-ecological solutions that could be employed now to build our soils and sequester carbon -- because this is a new technology that hasn't been tested in the long term, and we need solutions now, it is worth rethinking the billions spent on GMOs for twenty years from now.

Ethanol. Vilsack and President Obama talk about ethanol as if it had the potential to quench our thirst for oil. What you need to know is this: ethanol takes more energy to make than it produces. However, a cottage industry has emerged to get politicians to support ethanol -- the growth in use of which helped fan the flames of last year's food crisis. Unfortunately ethanol offers a talking point, and fulfills our desire to give a quick, silver bullet solution to a difficult problem: how to maintain our standard of living in the coming resource-starved era.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has said that we will need to double world food production by 2030 in order to feed 9 billion people. I often see this statistic: 14% of greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture, while 17% come from deforestation -- used by agribusiness to justify industrial farming as saving rain forests. In fact, it is the commodity market that encourages deforestation through increasing the size of farms and through over-production. Most of what is produced in this way is wasted or fed to factory-farmed animals. Since smaller, diverse and well-managed fields are more productive, we do not need to cut down the forest in order to feed a growing population sustainable food. Indeed, there will have to be more farmers willing to do the work, eaters willing to eat less meat, and better policies that support farmers before agribusiness. And I agree with Vilsack, we need more research. We also need to nurture soil life, as that is where the real heavy lifting is happening in agriculture.

Here in New York City, we are hopeful that we can change the climate impact food has in our city. But without federal, agricultural solutions to these problems, we will all continue dog-paddling through the flotsam and jetsam of unhealthy, resource-intensive, climate damaging food-like substances.

Follow Paula Crossfield on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/civileater

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Monsanto named worst corporate climate lobbyist

The Ecologist [UK], 15 December 2009:
http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_round_up/381809/monsanto_named_worst_corporate_climate_lobbyist.html

US company wants its GM crops to be given carbon credits and to be at the forefront of tackling climate change despite link to deforestation

Biotech giant Monsanto has been criticised for its aggressive corporate lobbying on climate change at the Copenhagen summit.

In a public vote organised by an alliance of NGOs, including Friends of the Earth and Spinwatch, the US agricultural company came out ahead of oil giant Shell and the American Petroleum Institute.

Monsanto was nominated for its promotion of genetically modified (GM) crops as a solution to climate change and for pushing its crops to be used as biofuels.

According to the alliance, the expansion of GM soy in Latin America is contributing to major deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions.

Carbon credits

The company has also been lobbying for carbon credits for its RoundUp Ready crops on the basis that it does not need ploughing because it can be heavily sprayed with herbicides.

While not ploughing the fields leaves more carbon in the ground, the alliance says the spread of soy monocultures in Latin America has caused deforestation, the displacement of local people and an increase in the use of herbicides, which have been linked to health problems.

'Big business must not be allowed to sabotage action against climate change by promoting their vested interests,' said vote organiser Paul de Clerk from Friends of the Earth International.

'All the nominated companies have lobbied to protect their own profits and prevent effective action to tackle climate change. Governments need to stop listening to them and choose real solutions to the climate crisis.'

The other nominees for the Angry Mermaid Award for corporate lobbying were:

American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity
American Petroleum Institute (API)
European Chemical Lobby (Cefic)
International Air Transport Association (IATA)
International Emissions Trading Association (IETA)
Sasol
Shell

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Farmers address the heads of state: "Our farms are not for sale on the climate market"

Press release
La Via Campesina, 15 December 2009:
http://viacampesina.org/main_en/

Copenhagen - The international peasants movement La Via Campesina representing millions of small farmers, landless people, rural men and women from around the world demand that the heads of state coming to Copenhagen for the Climate conference do not trade on the future of agriculture.

Small farmers are severely affected by the current climate crisis; suffering from floods, droughts, changes in weather patterns and increased pests and disease. The current climate chaos, as well as the combined food and financial crises are the direct results of the capitalist mode of production and consumption over recent decades. Industrial agriculture, represented by large monocultures, plantations and intensive livestock production is responsible for around half of the world's total greenhouse gas emissions. However, the mechanisms currently discussed within the UNFCCC serve only to further support for industrial agriculture and exclude small producers.

Under the concept of mitigation currently in negotiation at the UNFCCC agrofuels are encouraged and "responsibly" certified GM soya is a suitable recipient of "clean development mechanism" support. As a result, unsustainable, intensive production is rewarded along with systems which result in direct environmental pollution. Meanwhile the positive contribution of sustainable farming to the climate, the environment and employment is overlooked by the Climate talks.

More than 150 Via Campesina farmers have come to Copenhagen to claim that a radical change in the food system has the potential to achieve reductions of between 50-75 per-cent of current global emissions. This would include returning organic matter to the soil, developing local markets and reversing intensive livestock production. Farmers are not begging for carbon credits or other trade based solutions, they are offering a solution to the current crisis; a diverse food system that supports local markets and promotes food sovereignty.

In order to save the climate we must change the current production and consumption models.

Information and Interviews with farmers' leaders from around the world:

Boaventura Monjane and Isabelle Delforge: + 45 50598325
Fergal Anderson: + 45 50598429

More on www.viacampesina.org

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Naomi Klein gives 'Angry Mermaid Award' in Copenhagen

RabbleTV, 15 December 2009

Watch the video online at:
http://rabble.ca/rabbletv/program-guide/2009/12/features/naomi-klein-gives-angry-mermaid-award-copenhagen

From the KlimaForum09 (the People's Summit in Copenhagen) - Naomi Klein presents the Angry Mermaid award, set up to recognise the perverse role of corporate lobbyists, and highlight those business groups and companies that have made the greatest effort to sabotage the climate talks, and other climate measures, while promoting, often profitable, false solutions.

From The Angry Mermaid site:

Out of the eight nominees that were put forward for public vote on this website and at the Klimaforum in Copenhagen, Monsanto emerged as the winner of the Angry Mermaid Award 2009 with 37 per cent of the ten thousand votes that were cast.

Oil giant Shell ended second place (18 per cent), for lobbying to sabotage effective action on climate change, followed by the American Petroleum Institute (14 per cent).

Agriculture giant Monsanto was nominated for promoting its genetically modified (GM) crops as a solution to climate change and pushing for its crops to be used as biofuels. The expansion of GM soy in Latin America is contributing to major deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions.

The Round Table on Responsible Soy (RTRS) of which Monsanto is a member, is helping to promote the company's cause by allowing GM soy to be labelled as "responsible". Monsanto also wants GM soy to be funded under the Clean Development Mechanism.

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Monsanto wins award for worst corporate climate lobbyist in Copenhangen

Press release
Friends of the Earth International, Attac Denmark, Corporate Europe Observatory, Focus on the Global South, Oil Change International, SpinWatch
15 December 2009:
http://www.angrymermaid.org/press-release-winner

Copenhagen - The winner of the Angry Mermaid Award 2009, announced by award-winning writer and journalist Naomi Klein at the UN climate talks in Copenhagen today is the biotech giant Monsanto with 37 per cent of the total vote [1].

Oil giant Shell took second place (18 per cent) in the Award for lobbying to sabotage effective action on climate change, followed by the American Petroleum Institute (14 per cent).

Ten thousand people voted in the Angry Mermaid Award, named after the iconic Copenhagen mermaid who is angry about corporate lobbying on climate change.

Eight candidates were put forward for public vote at http://www.angrymermaid.org and individuals at the Klimaforum were also invited to vote [2].

Agriculture giant Monsanto was nominated for promoting its genetically modified (GM) crops as a solution to climate change and pushing for its crops to be used as biofuels. The expansion of GM soy in Latin America is contributing to major deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions.

The Round Table on Responsible Soy (RTRS) of which Monsanto is a member, is helping to promote the company's cause by allowing GM soy to be labelled as "responsible". Monsanto also wants GM soy to be funded under the Clean Development Mechanism [3].

Speaking for the award organisers, Paul de Clerk from Friends of the Earth International said: "Monsanto has attracted thousands of votes from individuals who are outraged that such an environmentally-damaging form of agriculture should be put forward to tackle climate change.

"Big business must not be allowed to sabotage action against climate change by promoting their vested interests. All the candidates for the Angry Mermaid Award have lobbied to protect their own profits and prevent effective action to tackle climate change. Governments need to stop listening to them and choose real solutions to the climate crisis."

The Angry Mermaid is organised by Attac Denmark, Corporate Europe Observatory, Focus on the Global South, Friends of the Earth International, Oil Change International and Spinwatch.

For more information please contact:

Nina Holland, Corporate Europe Observatory + 45 5268 5295
Paul de Clerk, Friends of the Earth International 32 494 380 959
Dorothy Guerrero, Focus on the Global South +45 5010 8908
Helen Burley, Corporate Europe Observatory, + 45 5399 5927

Notes

[1] Naomi Klein is an award-winning journalist, syndicated columnist and author of the New York Times and #1 international bestseller, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.

[2] The eight nominees for the Angry Mermaid Award were:

American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) http://www.angrymermaid.org/accce
American Petroleum Institute (API) http://www.angrymermaid.org/api
European Chemical Lobby (Cefic) http://www.angrymermaid.org/CEFIC
International Air Transport Association (IATA) http://www.angrymermaid.org/iata
International Emissions Trading Association (IETA) http://www.angrymermaid.org/ieta
Monsanto http://www.angrymermaid.org/monsanto
Sasol http://www.angrymermaid.org/sasol
Shell http://www.angrymermaid.org/shell

[3] Monsanto was nominated for lobbying for carbon credits for their RoundupReady crops, which are being grown for agrofuel. RoundupReady soy doesn't need ploughing because it can be heavily sprayed with herbicides. Not ploughing the fields leaves more carbon dioxide in the ground, but the vast spread of soy monocultures in Latin America have caused deforestation, the displacement of people, and massive amounts of toxic weed-killer being used instead.

Monsanto also wants GM soy to be funded under the Clean Development Mechanism which would allow polluting industry in the developed world to offset their emissions by buying credits from GM soy projects. Offsetting is a false solution to climate change and does not lead to emissions reductions in developed countries.

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Monsanto & the Round Table on Responsible Soy (RTRS) win Copenhagen's Angry Mermaid Award Biggest Greenweasher

Angry Mermaid Award, 15 December 2009:
http://www.angrymermaid.org/monsanto

Monsanto and the Round Table on Responsible Soy (RTRS)

Nominated for lobbying for RoundupReady (RR) soy to be considered a "climate-friendly" crop that is eligible for carbon credits and subsidies under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM); and for pushing for meaningless 'responsible' label for RoundupReady soy, which could be used to certify 'sustainable' agrofuels.


Background

Monsanto is the world's largest seed company (http://www.gmwatch.org/gm-firms/10558-the-worlds-top-ten-seed-companies-who-owns-nature), which has controversially been promoting genetically modified (GM) crops for over a decade. According to Monsanto, GM crops are not just the solution to world hunger, they can also help tackle climate change.

Biotech companies are pushing for public subsidies for their "climate-friendly" crops. They also want to profit from the international carbon trade by pushing for these "climate-friendly" crops to be eligible for carbon credits under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).

The RoundTable on Responsible Soy (RTRS) (http://www.responsiblesoy.org/) of which Monsanto is a member, is helping to promote the company's cause by allowing GM soy to be labelled as "responsible". This may mean that RTRS certified GM soy will in the near future be considered as a "sustainable" source of agrofuel; or be eligible for carbon credits through CDM projects.

Monsanto claims (http://www.monsanto.com/pdf/products/conservetillbrochure.pdf) its RoundupReady crops help tackle climate change because they can be grown without ploughing the soil, known as 'no tillage' or 'conservation tillage' agriculture. Ploughing soil releases carbon dioxide (CO2) Instead RoundupReady crops rely on large quantities of herbicides to control weeds. Monsanto argues that this means it should be eligible for carbon credits because it is locking CO2 in the soil.

But RoundupReady soy, which is grown on over 40 million hectares across South America, has severe social and environmental impacts (http://www.foe.co.uk/resource/briefings/livestock_impacts.pdf), with increased pesticide use leading to damage to human health and the environment. These vast monocultures of soy have replaced valuable forest - resulting in huge CO2 emissions - and have displaced rural and indigenous communities.

Monsanto also co-founded the Alliance for Abundant Food and Energy (http://www.spinprofiles.org/index.php/Alliance_for_Abundant_Food_and_Energy), a lobby group set up to counter criticisms that agrofuels take land from food production, pushing up the price of food.

A History of Exerting Influence

Monsanto's climate lobbying can be traced back to 1998 when the company was active at the UN Climate Talks, claiming the US could meet up to 30% of its CO2 emission reduction targets by using 'no till' agriculture. Monsanto was also one of a number of companies pushing the idea of 'carbon sinks' (http://www.biotech-monitor.nl/4605.htm), which allow land and trees to be used to store carbon.

Robert B. Horsch (http://www.biotech-monitor.nl/4605.htm), Monsanto's President for Sustainable Development, explained that "Monsanto and others worked hard and successfully at the meeting to persuade delegates to look into agricultural carbon 'sinks' as a way to reduce atmospheric greenhouse gases."

Monsanto was also active inside the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the official scientific body on climate change. Monsanto representative Peter Hill contributed to an IPCC Special report on land use, land use change and forestry in May 1999.

The lobbying effort appears to have paid off: at the following UN Climate talks the issue of soil sinks became a major bargaining chip for the US, which wanted 25 million tons of US farm soils to be recognised as a 'carbon sink'. The US repeatedly threatened not to ratify the Kyoto Protocol (http://www.eoearth.org/article/Kyoto_Protocol_and_the_United_States) unless sinks were included.

Monsanto's Lobby Today

The biotech industry remains close to the US government (http://www.examiner.com/x-6495-US-Intelligence-Examiner~y2009m8d23-Obama-appoints-Monsanto-fox-to-guard-food-safety-hen-house) and President Obama has appointed several former Monsanto chiefs and allies to high positions. Monsanto continues to actively lobby in the US (http://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/clientissues.php?lname=Monsanto+Co&year=2008). It has also formed alliances with the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to promote 'Conservation Tillage' (http://www.fao.org/ag/ca/) as a climate solution.

Monsanto has lobbied the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) body, UNFCCC working groups and the FAO to get carbon credits and CDM funding for 'no-till' practices. A CDM methodology was approved in October 2009 for biodiesel production (http://www.pointcarbon.com/news/1.1257543%20or%20http:/cdm.unfccc.int/UserManagement/FileStorage/CDM_ACMXXRJY0KM1HPYFDRDZF2R2BMQZ3TPJD) from crops grown for fuel on marginal lands, allowing agrofuel producers to directly benefit from carbon credits for the first time.

A key soy producer, Monsanto had actively lobbied the CDM office in Argentina for 'no till' RoundupReady soy production to be included under the CDM (http://www.grr.org.ar/documentos/CARBON%20CREDITS.pdf). The head of the Argentine office, Hernan Carlino, became a member of the CDM Executive Board (http://cdm.unfccc.int/EB/025/eb25annagan3.pdf) in 2007 and following his appointment, the issue of carbon credits for 'no till' agriculture were discussed at the UN COP13 climate talks (http://www.grr.org.ar/). Monsanto has so far not managed to have 'no till' approved, but Monsanto soy will be eligible for credits, provided it is grown on existing plantations and not on newly cleared land.

Monsanto has also been pushing for carbon credits from 'no till' in the US Climate Bill. The US position on this will be key at the Copenhagen climate talks. During the first quarter of 2009, Monsanto reportedly spent $2,094,000 on lobbying activities in the US (http://disclosures.house.gov/ld/pdfform.aspx?id=300158847), including on the Climate Bill proposal. In the second quarter of 2009 (http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/columns/Pelosi-buys-off-agri-business-to-advance-climate-bill-7881538-49108077.html), the company spent $2,080,000. Six Monsanto lobbyists have been declared by the company (http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/columns/Pelosi-buys-off-agri-business-to-advance-climate-bill-7881538-49108077.html) to be working on the Climate Bill.

Monsanto has also contributed to the development of an "agriculture soil carbon standard", supporting other lobby groups in developing their strategy, One Congressional Briefing report noted (http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/columns/Pelosi-buys-off-agri-business-to-advance-climate-bill-7881538-49108077.html) that "With the help of Monsanto, Novecta, a consulting and lobbying arm of the Iowa and Illinois Corn Growers Associations, has called on Congress this spring to grant farmers valuable offsets for shifting to 'no-till' farming - a shift that will spur sales of Roundup and RoundupReady seeds. Thanks to the Peterson-Pelosi deal, this scheme could become law".

Monsanto employs lobbyists Ogilvy Government Relations in Washington, which is listed by Public Integrity as one of the main lobby consultancies battling climate legislation (http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0509/22723.html). It also works as part of the US biotech industry lobby group, BIO, which also lobbied the Senate for free pollution permits.

The company is an active member of BIO. A recent leaked document revealed the US biotech industry lobbying strategy for Copenhagen, which includes working closely with the US government, including their Special Climate Envoy, Todd Stern: "Although the prospects for a new treaty in December are highly questionable, BIO and its members have significant interests in engaging over the next several months to ensure any treaty text does not harm the biotechnology industry, and potentially supports innovation," the leaked document said (http://www.nzbio.org.nz/portals/3/files/BIO%20updated%20action%20plan-UNFCCC.pdf).

Lobbying through NGOs

Monsanto's inclusion in the Roundtable on Responsible Soy was a major breakthrough for the company, providing it with an opportunity to claim green credentials for GM soy.

Some industry critics argue the label is meaningless. The criteria (http://www.responsiblesoy.org/downloads/news/GA-OUT-01.2-ENG-RTRS-Principles-and-Criteria-for-Field-Testing-Version.pdf) allow soy expansion and deforestation to continue, and give a 'responsible' label to herbicide resistant crops, even though evidence is growing (http://gmsoydebate.global-connections.nl/sites/gmsoydebate.global-connections.nl/files/library/2009%20WUR%20Research%20Report%20GM%20Soy.pdf) that the production of RoundupReady soy (in combination with non-till practices) leads to more, not less pesticide use. There is no consensus from civil society (http://www.corporateeurope.org/agrofuels/content/2009/05/open-letter-gm-soy-not-responsible) in producer countries that these criteria will lead to a 'responsible' product.

The RTRS, which includes WWF, has continuously promoted the option of certifying 'sustainable' soy biodiesel. WWF is now openly calling for carbon credits for RTRS-certified RoundupReady soy. The leaked BIO lobby document (http://www.nzbio.org.nz/portals/3/files/BIO%20updated%20action%20plan-UNFCCC.pdf) mentions that the European biotech lobby association, EuropaBio, is planning to organise a debate in Copenhagen "moderated by WWF".

Monsanto was asked to comment on its nomination for an Angry Mermaid Award but did not respond.

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Emerging science aims to manipulate human DNA
• Research on mice might have meaning for many human illnesses


Rachel Saslow
The Washington Post, 15 December 2009:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/12/14/AR2009121402894.html

Two mice. One weighs 20 grams and has brown fur. The other is a hefty 60 grams with yellow fur and is prone to diabetes and cancer. They're identical twins, with identical DNA.

So what accounts for the differences?

It turns out that their varying traits are controlled by a mediator between nature and nurture known as epigenetics. A group of molecules that sit atop our DNA, the epigenome (which means "above the genome") tells genes when to turn on and off. Duke University's Randy Jirtle made one of the mice brown and one yellow by altering their epigenetics in utero through diet. The mother of the brown, thin mouse was given a dietary supplement of folic acid, vitamin B12 and other nutrients while pregnant, and the mother of the obese mouse was not. (Though the mice had different mothers, they're genetically identical as a result of inbreeding.) The supplement "turned off" the agouti gene, which gives mice yellow coats and insatiable appetites.

"If you look at these animals and realize they're genetically identical but at 100 days old some of them are yellow, obese and have diabetes and you don't appreciate the importance of epigenetics in disease, there's frankly no hope for you," Jirtle says.

He offers this analogy: The genome is a computer's hardware, and the epigenome is the software that tells it what to do.

Epigenomes vary greatly among species, Jirtle explains, so we cannot assume that obesity in humans is preventable with prenatal vitamins. But his experiment is part of a growing body of research that has some scientists rethinking humans' genetic destinies. Is our hereditary fate -- bipolar disorder or cancer at age 70, for example -- sealed upon the formation of our double helices, or are there things we can do to change it? Are we recipients of our DNA, or caretakers of it?

Last year, the National Institutes of Health announced that it would invest $190 million to accelerate epigenetic research. The list of illnesses to be studied in the resulting grants reveals the scope of the emerging field: cancer, Alzheimer's disease, autism, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, asthma, kidney disease, glaucoma, muscular dystrophy and more.

When Jirtle planned his first epigenetics conference in 1998 in Raleigh, N.C., epigenetics was such a small field that he worried nobody would come. About 160 people attended. Jirtle hosted another conference in 2005; it attracted 470.

"It's the flavor of the month," says Michael Meaney, a brain researcher at McGill University in Montreal.

When a gene is turned off epigenetically, the DNA has usually been "methylated." Biologists have known for decades that methylation is involved in cell differentiation in utero, making one cell a skin cell, another cell a liver cell, and so on. Cell differentiation is also what happens when scientists prompt an embryonic stem cell to grow into a specific type of cell. But five years ago, when Meaney submitted a paper suggesting that DNA methylation happens throughout life in response to environmental changes, he was told, "This just can't happen." (Most DNA methylation occurs prenatally and during infancy, puberty and old age, Jirtle says. Research suggests that epigenetically, humans are pretty stable during adulthood.)

Duke Department of Medicine researcher Simon Gregory described the link between DNA methylation and autism in a paper published in October in the journal BMC Medicine.

Most genetic studies of autism focus on variations in the DNA sequence itself, especially on genes that are missing. Gregory and his colleagues looked at an oxytocin receptor gene, called OXTR, and found that about 70 percent of the 119 autistic people in his study had a methylated OXTR; in a control group of people without autism, the rate was about 40 percent. Oxytocin is a hormone that affects social interaction; difficulty relating to others is common for those with autism spectrum disorders.

Because this was only a pilot study, more research is necessary. But Gregory says methylation-modifying drugs might be a new avenue for treatments. He also hopes that his findings will provide a new tool for doctors to diagnose autism.

"Methylation has been very hot in the cancer field for a number of years," Gregory says. "To find something like this associated with autism is very exciting."

Epigenetic therapy is still very inexact -- "a pretty broad brush," says Jirtle. But oncologists have seen some success in using it against leukemia. Azacitidine, sold as Vidaza and used to treat bone-marrow cancer and blood disorders, became the first FDA-approved epigenetic drug in 2004. When tumor-suppressing genes aren't doing their job, due to a genetic mutation or hypermethylation, cancer cells can replicate uncontrollably. But by manipulating the epigenetic marks, doctors can get tumor-suppressing genes to work again. Toxicologists also have a big stake in epigenetics. A 2005 study by Washington State University molecular biologist Michael Skinner generated buzz with his finding that when a pregnant rat was exposed to high doses of pesticides, her offspring plus the next three generations suffered from high rates of infertility. (Some scientists have challenged Skinner's work because they have not been able to reproduce his results in their labs.)

The potential human implications -- do the chemicals we ingest today affect our great-grandchildren? -- are tremendous. In addition to pesticides, toxicologists are studying chemicals in plastics, such as phthalates and bisphenol A, to see if they could enhance our risk of disease by altering the epigenome.

Jirtle says that he and his fellow researchers usually discuss epigenetics only on the microscopic level, but when he pulls back and looks at the big picture, he is awed.

"I've got goose bumps right now talking about it," he says. "You're looking at the book of life, how it's read and how you can change it."

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14 December 2009

Schmeiser: GMOs will "contaminate Europe if they are planted"

AgBiotech Reporter (incorporating AgraFood Biotech), 14 December 2009:
http://www.agra-net.com/portal2/home.jsp?template=newsarticle&artid=20017729405

[Extract only: subscription required for full article]

GMOs will contaminate conventional crops and end organic farming in Europe if they are ever planted in Europe even if 50km distances are kept between the GMO and other crops. This was the doomsday warning in the European Parliament from Percy Schmeiser, a farmer in Canada who lost a long running court battle with GM giant Monsanto...

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Monsanto seed business role revealed

Christopher Leonard, AP agribusiness writer
Associated Press, 14 December 2009:
http://www.seattlepi.com/business/1310ap_us_seed_giant.html

ST. LOUIS -- Confidential contracts detailing Monsanto Co.'s business practices reveal how the world's biggest seed developer is squeezing competitors, controlling smaller seed companies and protecting its dominance over the multibillion-dollar market for genetically altered crops, an Associated Press investigation has found.

With Monsanto's patented genes being inserted into roughly 95 percent of all soybeans and 80 percent of all corn grown in the U.S., the company also is using its wide reach to control the ability of new biotech firms to get wide distribution for their products, according to a review of several Monsanto licensing agreements and dozens of interviews with seed industry participants, agriculture and legal experts.

Declining competition in the seed business could lead to price hikes that ripple out to every family's dinner table. That's because the corn flakes you had for breakfast, soda you drank at lunch and beef stew you ate for dinner likely were produced from crops grown with Monsanto's patented genes.

Monsanto's methods are spelled out in a series of confidential commercial licensing agreements obtained by the AP. The contracts, as long as 30 pages, include basic terms for the selling of engineered crops resistant to Monsanto's Roundup herbicide, along with shorter supplementary agreements that address new Monsanto traits or other contract amendments.

The company has used the agreements to spread its technology - giving some 200 smaller companies the right to insert Monsanto's genes in their separate strains of corn and soybean plants. But, the AP found, access to Monsanto's genes comes at a cost, and with plenty of strings attached.

For example, one contract provision bans independent companies from breeding plants that contain both Monsanto's genes and the genes of any of its competitors, unless Monsanto gives prior written permission - giving Monsanto the ability to effectively lock out competitors from inserting their patented traits into the vast share of U.S. crops that already contain Monsanto's genes.

Monsanto's business strategies and licensing agreements are being investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice and at least two state attorneys general, who are trying to determine if the practices violate U.S. antitrust laws. The practices also are at the heart of civil antitrust suits filed against Monsanto by its competitors, including a 2004 suit filed by Syngenta AG that was settled with an agreement and ongoing litigation filed this summer by DuPont in response to a Monsanto lawsuit.

The suburban St. Louis-based agricultural giant said it's done nothing wrong.

"We do not believe there is any merit to allegations about our licensing agreement or the terms within," said Monsanto spokesman Lee Quarles. He said he couldn't comment on many specific provisions of the agreements because they are confidential and the subject of ongoing litigation.

"Our approach to licensing (with) many companies is pro-competitive and has enabled literally hundreds of seed companies, including all of our major direct competitors, to offer thousands of new seed products to farmers," he said.

The benefit of Monsanto's technology for farmers has been undeniable, but some of its major competitors and smaller seed firms claim the company is using strong-arm tactics to further its control.

"We now believe that Monsanto has control over as much as 90 percent of (seed genetics). This level of control is almost unbelievable," said Neil Harl, agricultural economist at Iowa State University who has studied the seed industry for decades. "The upshot of that is that it's tightening Monsanto's control, and makes it possible for them to increase their prices long term. And we've seen this happening the last five years, and the end is not in sight."

At issue is how much power one company can have over seeds, the foundation of the world's food supply. Without stiff competition, Monsanto could raise its seed prices at will, which in turn could raise the cost of everything from animal feed to wheat bread and cookies.

The price of seeds is already rising. Monsanto increased some corn seed prices last year by 25 percent, with an additional 7 percent hike planned for corn seeds in 2010. Monsanto brand soybean seeds climbed 28 percent last year and will be flat or up 6 percent in 2010, said company spokeswoman Kelli Powers.

Monsanto's broad use of licensing agreements has made its biotech traits among the most widely and rapidly adopted technologies in farming history. These days, when farmers buy bags of seed with obscure brand names like AgVenture or M-Pride Genetics, they are paying for Monsanto's licensed products.

One of the numerous provisions in the licensing agreements is a ban on mixing genes - or "stacking" in industry lingo - that enhance Monsanto's power.

One contract provision likely helped Monsanto buy 24 independent seed companies throughout the Farm Belt over the last few years: that corn seed agreement says that if a smaller company changes ownership, its inventory with Monsanto's traits "shall be destroyed immediately."

Another provision from contracts earlier this decade - regarding rebates - also help explain Monsanto's rapid growth as it rolled out new products.

One contract gave an independent seed company deep discounts if the company ensured that Monsanto's products would make up 70 percent of its total corn seed inventory. In its 2004 lawsuit, Syngenta called the discounts part of Monsanto's "scorched earth campaign" to keep Syngenta's new traits out of the market.

Quarles said the discounts were used to entice seed companies to carry Monsanto products when the technology was new and farmers hadn't yet used it. Now that the products are widespread, Monsanto has discontinued the discounts, he said.

The Monsanto contracts reviewed by the AP prohibit seed companies from discussing terms, and Monsanto has the right to cancel deals and wipe out the inventory of a business if the confidentiality clauses are violated.

Thomas Terral, chief executive officer of Terral Seed in Louisiana, said he recently rejected a Monsanto contract because it put too many restrictions on his business. But Terral refused to provide the unsigned contract to AP or even discuss its contents because he was afraid Monsanto would retaliate and cancel the rest of his agreements.

"I would be so tied up in what I was able to do that basically I would have no value to anybody else," he said. "The only person I would have value to is Monsanto, and I would continue to pay them millions in fees."

Independent seed company owners could drop their contracts with Monsanto and return to selling conventional seed, but they say it could be financially ruinous. Monsanto's Roundup Ready gene has become the industry standard over the last decade, and small companies fear losing customers if they drop it. It also can take years of breeding and investment to mix Monsanto's genes into a seed company's product line, so dropping the genes can be costly.

Monsanto acknowledged that U.S. Department of Justice lawyers are seeking documents and interviewing company employees about its marketing practices. The DOJ wouldn't comment.

A spokesman for Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller said the office is examining possible antitrust violations. Additionally, two sources familiar with an investigation in Texas said state Attorney General Greg Abbott's office is considering the same issues. States have the authority to enforce federal antitrust law, and attorneys general are often involved in such cases.

Monsanto chairman and chief executive officer Hugh Grant told investment analysts during a conference call this fall that the price increases are justified by the productivity boost farmers get from the company's seeds. Farmers and seed company owners agree that Monsanto's technology has boosted yields and profits, saving farmers time they once spent weeding and money they once spent on pesticides.

But recent price hikes have still been tough to swallow on the farm.

"It's just like I got hit with bad weather and got a poor yield. It just means I've got less in the bottom line," said Markus Reinke, a corn and soybean farmer near Concordia, Mo. who took over his family's farm in 1965. "They can charge because they can do it, and get away with it. And us farmers just complain, and shake our heads and go along with it."

Any Justice Department case against Monsanto could break new ground in balancing a company's right to control its patented products while protecting competitors' right to free and open competition, said Kevin Arquit, former director of the Federal Trade Commission competition bureau and now a antitrust attorney with Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP in New York.

"These are very interesting issues, and not just for the companies, but for the Justice Department," Arquit said. "They're in an area where there is uncertainty in the law and there are consumer welfare implications and government policy implications for whatever the result is."

Other seed companies have followed Monsanto's lead by including restrictive clauses in their licensing agreements, but their products only penetrate smaller segments of the U.S. seed market. Monsanto's Roundup Ready gene, on the other hand, is in such a wide array of crops that its licensing agreements can have a massive effect on the rules of the marketplace.

Monsanto was only a niche player in the seed business just 12 years ago. It rose to the top thanks to innovation by its scientists and aggressive use of patent law by its attorneys.

First came the science, when Monsanto in 1996 introduced the world's first commercial strain of genetically engineered soybeans. The Roundup Ready plants were resistant to the herbicide, allowing farmers to spray Roundup whenever they wanted rather than wait until the soybeans had grown enough to withstand the chemical.

The company soon released other genetically altered crops, such as corn plants that produced a natural pesticide to ward off bugs. While Monsanto had blockbuster products, it didn't yet have a big foothold in a seed industry made up of hundreds of companies that supplied farmers.

That's where the legal innovations came in, as Monsanto became among the first to widely patent its genes and gain the right to strictly control how they were used. That control let it spread its technology through licensing agreements, while shaping the marketplace around them.

Back in the 1970s, public universities developed new traits for corn and soybean seeds that made them grow hardy and resist pests. Small seed companies got the traits cheaply and could blend them to breed superior crops without restriction. But the agreements give Monsanto control over mixing multiple biotech traits into crops.

The restrictions even apply to taxpayer-funded researchers.

Roger Boerma, a research professor at the University of Georgia, is developing specialized strains of soybeans that grow well in southeastern states, but his current research is tangled up in such restrictions from Monsanto and its competitors.

"It's made one level of our life incredibly challenging and difficult," Boerma said.

The rules also can restrict research. Boerma halted research on a line of new soybean plants that contain a trait from a Monsanto competitor when he learned that the trait was ineffective unless it could be mixed with Monsanto's Roundup Ready gene.

Boerma said he hasn't considered asking Monsanto's permission to mix its traits with the competitor's trait.

"I think the co-mingling of their trait technology with another company's trait technology would likely be a serious problem for them," he said.

Quarles pointed out that Monsanto has signed agreements with several companies allowing them to stack their traits with Monsanto's. After Syngenta settled its lawsuit, for example, the companies struck a broad cross-licensing accord.

At the same time, Monsanto's patent rights give it the authority to say how independent companies use its traits, Quarles said.

"Please also keep in mind that, as the (intellectual property developer), it is our right to determine who will obtain rights to our technology and for what purpose," he said.

Monsanto's provision requiring companies to destroy seeds containing Monsanto's traits if a competitor buys them prohibited DuPont or other big firms from bidding against Monsanto when it snapped up two dozen smaller seed companies over the last five years, said David Boies, a lawyer representing DuPont who previously was a prosecutor on the federal antitrust case against Microsoft Corp.

Competitive bids from companies like DuPont could have made it far more expensive for Monsanto to bring the smaller companies into its fold. But that contract provision prevented bidding wars, according to DuPont.

"If the independent seed company is losing their license and has to destroy their seeds, they're not going to have anything, in effect, to sell," Boies said. "It requires them to destroy things - destroy things they paid for - if they go competitive. That's exactly the kind of restriction on competitive choice that the antitrust laws outlaw."

Quarles said some of the Monsanto contracts let companies sell their inventory for a period of time, rather than be required to destroy it. Seed companies also don't have to pay royalty fees on the bags of seed they destroyed.

"Simply put, it was designed to facilitate early adoption of the technology," he said.

Some independent seed company owners say they feel increasingly pinched as Monsanto cements its leadership in the industry.

"They have the capital, they have the resources, they own lots of companies, and buying more. We're small town, they're Wall Street," said Bill Cook, co-owner of M-Pride Genetics seed company in Garden City, Mo., who also declined to discuss or provide the agreements. "It's very difficult to compete in this environment against companies like Monsanto."

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Comment by TraceConsult™

It shouldn't really come as a surprise to vigilant observers that the U.S. Department of Justice as well as two states have at last opened up investigations against Monsanto on possible violations of American antitrust laws. The comparison may be a bit crude, but Monsanto's market dominance in the seed sector is very similar to the market dominance of Microsoft's Windows® operating system - both are in the area of 90 percent globally.

It is clearly too early to make any detailed predictions, but we should not be entirely surprised if the development of this antitrust investigation targeting Monsanto takes a similar course as that against Microsoft only a few years ago. Just to remind you: The U.S. Department of Justice plus a number of states, after several years of investigation, finally reached a settlement that committed Microsoft to a few technical compliances in its software and some other obligations. However, it did not provide for the company to pay any fines for its anti-competitive and market-controlling behavior.

It took the European Commission in 2007 and 2008 to fine Microsoft a total of over EUR 1.4 billion (=approx. USD 2.1 billion) for the same offenses.

Looking at the detailed AP reporting (see below) covered by a host of publications around the world, it is not too far-fetched to see a similar development in the Monsanto case. Since the first Clinton Administration, both Democratic and Republican governments have not at all been bashful about demonstrating their unrestricted support for the cause of the U.S. biotech industry, in general, and of Monsanto, in particular. Up until today, senior Monsanto people have held highest positions in the U.S. Department of Agriculture and related agencies. This culminated in Ann M. Veneman, a former Board member of Monsanto subsidiary Calgene, Inc., the creator of the first commercially approved GMO, the notorious Flavr Savr® tomato, serving as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture in the Bush Administration. A few years before, while still Deputy Secretary of the USDA, the same Ann Veneman had the honor of deregulating said Flavr Savr tomato for commercial production in 1992.

This closeness of various U.S. governments and Monsanto plus the prior Microsoft experience make it seem rather unlikely that the current investigation will lead to anything serious for the biotechnology leader.

Those bits of recent historical evidence, however, should sharpen the vision of both the European Commission as well as of European food manufacturers and retailers. Unless they want to expose themselves and their private consumer clientele to the eventual risk of significant price hikes an investigation had better be launched in Europe as well. The AP investigation reported below provides enough reasons to do so.

How efficient such a procedure can be in the end has been demonstrated in the case of Microsoft. Recent operating system software has clipped the anti-competitive claws its predecessors had. It is about time to show Monsanto its limits, too. And the EU Commission would be doing a favor not only to Europeans but also to governments in other parts of the world that have not yet woken up to the risks its farmers and citizens are facing in their food supply.

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12 December 2009

Compounding the climate crisis: Corporate agriculture and Geoengineering

Press release
ETC Group, 12 December 2009:
http://www.etcgroup.org

ETC Group (Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration) is pleased to announce two new research reports that challenge prominent views on solutions to climate change. They are:

Retooling the Planet: Climate Chaos in a Geoengineering Age, a report commissioned and published by the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation. This critical overview of controversial geoengineering technologies examines the politics and social and ecological implications of attempts to add large-scale, intentional manipulation of the climate system to the menu of possible responses to climate change. The report offers a sampling of how these technologies are being patented, the threats they pose and contests the notion that geoengineering should get more funding for research and experimentation precisely at the time when its advocates are stepping up the pressure for Plan B.

Who Will Feed Us? : Questions for Food and Climate Change This fact-packed overview contests the received wisdom that agriculture must be further industrialized to meet the challenge of feeding the world in an era of climate change, and compares the industrial food chain to the peasant food web where billions of small-scale and diverse producers already feed more than 70% of the world. The report argues that this diverse, decentralized and dynamic food system is being undermined by governments and corporations, in the name of increasing global food production - a strategy that will worsen the already devastating hunger and climate crises.

ETC Group is in Copenhagen and will be available to answer questions on these publications at a press conference on Monday, December 14 at 8:30 in the "Asger Jorn" room in Hall H of the Bella Center.

This press conference is open to observers and Parties as well as media.

Information:

Silvia Ribeiro (ETC) : local number : +45 52 69 1147 (silvia@etcgroup.org)
Diana Bronson (ETC): local number: +45 52 69 1151 (diana@etcgroup.org) or +1 514 629 9236
Pat Mooney (ETC Group in Ottawa) +1 613 240 0045
Niclas Hallstrom (SSNC): +46-70-382 6998

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11 December 2009

Study proves three Monsanto corn varieties' harmfullness to the organism

Le Monde with AFP [France], 11 December 2009:
http://www.truthout.org/1215091

A new European study "clearly reveals ... new side effects linked with GM maize consumption" affected the liver and kidneys, but also other organs for three Monsanto GMO corn varieties. (Photo: DawnOne)

A study published in the International Journal of Biological Sciences demonstrates the toxicity of three genetically modified corn varieties from the American seed company Monsanto, the Committee for Independent Research and Information on Genetic Engineering (Criigen, based in Caen), which participated in that study, announced Friday, December 11.

"For the first time in the world, we've proven that GMO are neither sufficiently healthy nor proper to be commercialized. [...] Each time, for all three GMOs, the kidneys and liver, which are the main organs that react to a chemical food poisoning, had problems," indicated Gilles-Eric Seralini, an expert member of the Commission for Biotechnology Reevaluation, created by the EU in 2008.

Caen and Rouen University researchers, as well as Criigen researchers, based their analyses on the data supplied by Monsanto to health authorities to obtain the green light for commercialization, but they draw different conclusions after new statistical calculations. According to Professor Seralini, the health authorities based themselves on a reading of the conclusions Monsanto has presented and not on conclusions drawn from the totality of the data. The researchers were able to obtain complete documentation following a legal decision.

"Monsanto's tests, effected over 90 days, are obviously not of sufficient duration to be able to say whether chronic illnesses are caused. That's why we ask for tests over a period of at least two years," explained one researcher. Consequently, the scientists demand a "firm prohibition" on the importation and cultivation of these GMOs.

These three GMOs (MON810, MON863 and NK603) "are approved for human and animal consumption in the EU and especially the United States," notes Professor Seralini. "MON810 is the only one of the three grown in certain EU countries (especially Spain); the others are imported," he adds. A meeting of EU ministers over MON810 and NK603 is scheduled Monday

Translation: Truthout French Language Editor Leslie Thatcher.

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Three Major GMOs Approved for Food and Feed Found Unsafe

Press release
CRIIGEN - Committee of Research and Information on Genetic Engineering [France], 11 December 2009:
http://www.criigen.org/images/stories/pressrelease-3ogm-ijbs_1209.pdf

A Comparison of the Effects of Three GM Corn Varieties on Mammalian Health
Int J Biol Sci 2009; 5(7), 706-726
View online: http://www.biolsci.org/v05p0706.htm
Download PDF: http://www.biolsci.org/v05p0706.pdf

Caen, 14 December 2009: In what is being described as the first ever and most comprehensive study of three major GMOs about assessing the effects on mammalian health, researchers from CRIIGEN and Universities of Caen and Rouen have highlighted a number of new sex and often dose dependent side effects linked with their consumption. Their study of the 90-day feeding trials data of insecticide producing Mon 810, Mon 863 and Roundup herbicide absorbing NK 603 varieties of GM maize clearly underlines adverse impacts on kidneys and liver, the dietary detoxifying organs, as well as different levels of damages to heart, adrenal glands, spleen and haematopoietic system. Ironically, the confidential raw data of Monsanto about feeding trials on rats that these researchers have analyzed allowed the international authorization of these three commercialized GMOs in different parts of the world.

Although different level of adverse impact on vital organs were noticed between the three GMOs, the research done by J. Spiroux de Vendomois, F. Roullier, D. Cellier and G.E. Seralini and appeared in the International Journal of Biological Sciences shows specific effects associated with consumption of each GMO, differentiated by sex and dose. Their research follows in the wake of European Governments obtaining the raw data related to feeding of rats for 90 days and making it publically available for scrutiny and counter-evaluation.

The researchers have concluded that all the 3 GMOs that they have studied contain novel pesticide residues that will be present in food and feed and may pose grave health risks to those consuming them. They have, therefore, called for immediate prohibition on the import and cultivation of these GMOs and have strongly recommended additional long-term (up to 2 years) and multi-generational animal feeding studies on at least three species to provide true scientifically valid data on the acute and chronic toxic effects of GM crops, feed and foods.

CRIIGEN denounces in particular the past opinions of EFSA, AFSSA and CGB, committees of European and French Food Safety Authorities, and others who spoke on the lack of risks on the tests which were conducted just for 90 days on rats to assess the safety of these three GM varieties of maize. While criticizing their failure to examine the detailed statistics, CRIIGEN also emphasizes the conflict of interest and incompetence of these committees to counter expertise this publication as they have already voted positively on the same tests ignoring the side effects.

Contact:

Prof. Gilles-Eric SERALINI, criigen@unicaen.fr; tel. +33 2 31 56 56 84, or +33 6 70 80 20 87.

Citation:

de Vendômois JS, Roullier F, Cellier D, Séralini GE. A Comparison of the Effects of Three GM Corn Varieties on Mammalian Health. Int J Biol Sci 2009; 5:706-726. Available from http://www.biolsci.org/v05p0706.htm

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Comment by GM-free Ireland

These dangerous GM maize varieties are approved for feed and food in the EU. They are widely fed to Irish livestock, and are also found in food sold in Irish supermarkets, pubs, restaurants, hotels, schools, hospitals and nursing homes.

According to information obtained today from the Department of Agriculture, around 100% of Ireland's imported soy feed is GM, and around 90% of our imported maize gluten and distillers grains feedstuffs are GM. However, most of our imported whole maize feed is Non-GM (the majority coming from France, where cultivation of GM maize is banned). Most - but not all - of our imported oilseed rape feedstuffs also come from Europe and are Non-GM.

The authors of the study emphasise that these GM feed and food products contain novel pesticide residues which may pose grave health risks to livestock and humans consuming them, and called for immediate prohibition on their import and cultivation.

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EU Approval of GM Feeds Welcomed by US Growers

The Pig Site [UK], 11 September 2009:
http://www.thepigsite.com/swinenews/22678/eu-approval-of-gm-feeds-welcomed-by-us-growers

US - Feed ingredient suppliers have welcomed recent EU approvals of genetically modified (GM) raw materials, such as maize.

The recent approval of a number of biotech corn varieties in the European Union (EU) is a step in the right direction for a resumption of trade in US feed ingredients such as distillers dried grains with solubles (DDGS) and corn gluten feed for the current marketing year, according to the US Grains Council USGC).

These events include YieldGard VT ProTM (MON 89034) and YieldGard VT Rootworm/RR2® (MON 88017), both developed by Council member Monsanto Company; and Agrisure RW (MIR 604), developed by Council member Syngenta.

Each of these events have been authorized as safe for food and feed use by the European Food Safety Authority and the European Commission.

Gary Schmalshof, USGC Biotechnology Advisory Team leader, said: "Time after time, the Council's DDGS and corn gluten feeding trials have proven to provide significant input cost savings. These approvals will allow the EU feed industry to have more choices with regard to feed ingredients, which directly impacts their bottom lines."

While these approvals are a positive step, the EU's zero tolerance of unapproved varieties will continue to provide a significant market challenge.

Rebecca Fecitt, USGC director of biotechnology programmes, commented: "The EU needs to make progress in its regulatory processes in order to provide a long-term, permanent solution to issues of timeliness of biotech approvals and tolerances for low-level presence of unapproved varieties that meet internationally-adopted guidelines. We are optimistic these approvals are a step in the right direction and we will continue to work with European Union on this important issue."

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Marel USA - Farmer awarded $1.9 million in GM crop case

Meat Trade News Daily [USA], 11 December 2009:
http://www.meattradenewsdaily.co.uk/news/111209/usa___farmer_awarded__million_in_gm_crop_case.aspx

A St. Louis jury on Friday found Research Triangle Park-based Bayer CropScience responsible for traces of genetically modified rice that was released into the U.S. rice supply in 2006.

A jury awarded Missouri farmers Ken Bell and Johnny Hunter $1.9 million and $53,336, respectively in compensatory damages. The farmers say they lost sales following the release of the Bayer CropScience rice. The jury did not award punitive damages in the case.

In a statement, Bayer CropScience says punitive damages were not warranted and the company says the claims have no basis. But the company says it is disappointed in the award of compensatory damages and will study the decision and consider further options. Bayer CropScience, a subsidiary of German company Bayer AG, employs about 700 people in RTP.

"At this time, there are additional cases scheduled for trial in the near future, which will be different from these initial cases, both in plaintiffs' situations and claims," Bruce Mackintosh, general counsel for Bayer CropScience said in a statement. "We are presently preparing for those trials."

When Bayer CropScience's rice was released into the rice supply in 2006, the U.S. Department of Agriculture barred such genetically modified products from the U.S. rice supply, according to Adam Levitt, an attorney representing the plaintiffs. The release affected U.S. rice exports. Some markets, including the European Union, refused to purchase rice from the United States.

"Companies such as Bayer who elect to test and develop genetically engineered crops in the United States need to play by the rules and not put American farmers at risk," Levitt said in a statement.

Bayer CropScience says the traces of biotech rice posed no food safety issues. The company says the protein involved in the product, which makes the rice tolerant to an herbicide, has been deemed safe for various crops by regulators in Canada, the European Union, Japan and the United States. Bayer CropScience also says the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Department of Agriculture have determined Bayer CropScience biotech rice to be safe for human consumption. But the company has not yet commercialized the biotech rice.

An investigation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture was unable to determine how the biotech traces entered the long-grain rice supply.

Source: Triangle Business Journal

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Transgene from GM Corn Found in Soil-Dwelling Animals

Current [USA], 11 December 2009:
http://current.com/items/91657414_transgene-from-gm-corn-found-in-soil-dwelling-animals.htm

Source: Eco-Farm.org http://www.eco-farm.org/blogs/genetic-engineering/transgene_from_gm_corn_found/

Despite evidence that transgenes (from species other than the "engineered" species) in genetically modified (GM) plants can persist in the soil, little research has been done to determine the extent of such contamination. This is an important issue because environmental contamination by transgenes "hazardous implications for environmental health, including human safety," according to Canadian scientists who recently tested various soil-dwelling animals for the transgene (responsible for resistance to the herbicide glyphosate) present in GM Roundup Ready® corn.

They collected the animals in May, August, and October (macroarthropods and nematodes) or in May and August (microarthropods and earthworms) from a field of Round-up Ready® corn.

The transgene was present in all types of animals on all collection dates, with the exception of nematodes collected in August. About 81% of nematodes collected in October tested positive for the transgene.

More than one-third of microarthropods (thrips, collembolans, and mites) tested positive. And slightly more than 10% of macroarthropods (mostly various insects) and earthworms tested positive.

Concentrations of the transgene tended to decrease in nematodes and earthworms and to increase in arthropods during the growing season. Levels of the transgene in the soil (free of plant tissues) were usually considerably lower than levels in the animals. The scientists who conducted this experiment rather matter-of-factly note: "Whether the presence of transgenes in the soil food web presents a risk for soil animals is not known."

We admit to being quite astounded by this statement, which appears to indicate that GM crops are being used far and wide without a clear understanding of their effects on the environment!

The bottom line is that (for the first time after years of commercial cropping of GM plants) there is "evidence for large concentrations of transgenic DNA in animals from the food web associated with RoundUp Ready® corn.

This indicates that the transgene does not significantly degrade within the food web.

Further, the guts of these animals may provide opportunity for genetic transformation into native soil bacteria." And that last "opportunity" might lead to movement of transgenes into non-GM plants and ultimately pose risks to human health.

It could very well be the case that the commercialization of GM crops will produce animals containing genes that could do great harm to humanity. A perhaps enormously problematic can of worms (and bugs), indeed!

Reference: Miranda M. Hart (Dept. of Integrative Biology, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, CANADA N1G 2W1), et al., "Detection of Transgenic cp4 epsps Genes in the Soil Food Web," Agronomy for Sustainable Development 29(4), October/December 2009, 497-501. (EDP Sciences, 875 Massachusetts Ave., 7th Floor, Cambridge, MA 02139.)

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UCLA Researchers Engineer Bacteria to Turn Carbon Dioxide into Liquid Fuel

Press release
UCLA Newsroom [USA], 11 December 2009:
http://newsroom.ucla.edu/portal/ucla/ucla-researchers-engineer-bacteria-149726.aspx

By Matthew Chin

Global climate change has prompted efforts to drastically reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas produced by burning fossil fuels.

In a new approach, researchers from the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science have genetically modified a cyanobacterium to consume carbon dioxide and produce the liquid fuel isobutanol, which holds great potential as a gasoline alternative. The reaction is powered directly by energy from sunlight, through photosynthesis.

The research appears in the Dec. 9 print edition of the journal Nature Biotechnology and is available online.

This new method has two advantages for the long-term, global-scale goal of achieving a cleaner and greener energy economy, the researchers say. First, it recycles carbon dioxide, reducing greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the burning of fossil fuels. Second, it uses solar energy to convert the carbon dioxide into a liquid fuel that can be used in the existing energy infrastructure, including in most automobiles.

While other alternatives to gasoline include deriving biofuels from plants or from algae, both of these processes require several intermediate steps before refinement into usable fuels.

"This new approach avoids the need for biomass deconstruction, either in the case of cellulosic biomass or algal biomass, which is a major economic barrier for biofuel production," said team leader James C. Liao, Chancellor's Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at UCLA and associate director of the UCLA-Department of Energy Institute for Genomics and Proteomics. "Therefore, this is potentially much more efficient and less expensive than the current approach."

Using the cyanobacterium Synechoccus elongatus, researchers first genetically increased the quantity of the carbon dioxide-fixing enzyme RuBisCO. Then they spliced genes from other microorganisms to engineer a strain that intakes carbon dioxide and sunlight and produces isobutyraldehyde gas. The low boiling point and high vapor pressure of the gas allows it to easily be stripped from the system.

The engineered bacteria can produce isobutanol directly, but researchers say it is currently easier to use an existing and relatively inexpensive chemical catalysis process to convert isobutyraldehyde gas to isobutanol, as well as other useful petroleum-based products.

In addition to Liao, the research team included lead author Shota Atsumi, a former UCLA postdoctoral scholar now on the UC Davis faculty, and UCLA postdoctoral scholar Wendy Higashide.

An ideal place for this system would be next to existing power plants that emit carbon dioxide, the researchers say, potentially allowing the greenhouse gas to be captured and directly recycled into liquid fuel.

"We are continuing to improve the rate and yield of the production," Liao said. "Other obstacles include the efficiency of light distribution and reduction of bioreactor cost. We are working on solutions to these problems."

The research was supported in part by a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.

The UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, established in 1945, offers 28 academic and professional degree programs, including an interdepartmental graduate degree program in biomedical engineering. Ranked among the top 10 engineering schools at public universities nationwide, the school is home to seven multimillion-dollar interdisciplinary research centers in wireless sensor systems, nanotechnology, nanomanufacturing and nanoelectronics, all funded by federal and private agencies.

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10 December 2009

Soybean Imports Reflect Changing Dynamic in Russia

Dow Jones USA (via Agriculture Online), 10 December 2009:
http://www.agriculture.com/ag/futuresource/FutureSourceStoryIndex.jhtml?storyType=grain&storyId=176000773

Russia's soybean imports have grown sharply over the past five years supported by rising demand, primarily from the poultry sector, and policies encouraging expansion in soybean crush capacity, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said Thursday in its "Oilseeds: World Markets and Trade" report posted on the Foreign Agricultural Service Web site.

Rising Soybean Imports Reflect Changing Market Dynamics in Russia

Russia's poultry production has doubled over the past five years and is currently forecast to grow 10 percent next year, steadily stimulating demand for soybean meal. A five percent temporary import duty on soy meal, which is set to expire at the end of this month, has strengthened demand for imported soybeans. Consumption of soybean meal should remain strong in 2010 although abundant feed grains could limit the extent of growth.

Russia primarily buys Brazilian soybeans because of a preference for GM-free, and Brazil's expanding productive capacity continues to meet rising international market demand.

Prices

U.S. soybean export bids, FOB Gulf, in the first week in December averaged $413 per ton, a steady increase from last month. Record sales, primarily destined for China, pushed export bids higher. As of week-ending November 26, 2009, U.S. soybean sales commitments (outstanding sales plus accumulated exports) to China totaled 17.0 million tons, compared to 9.2 million a year ago.

Total commitments to the world amounted to 27.8 million tons compared to 17.6 million the same period last year.

Trade changes in 2009/10

U.S. soybean exports are boosted 0.4 million tons to a record 36.5 million supported by record sales to date and demand in China.

Brazil's soybean exports are down 0.2 million tons to 23.7 million in response to much smaller exports in November.

Argentina's soybean imports are down 0.2 million tons to 0.3 million as the pass through program with Paraguay ended.

China's soybean imports are boosted 0.5 million tons to 41.0 million in response to large sales and shipments from the U.S.

India's palm oil imports are up 0.2 million tons to 6.6 million supported by continued strong demand.

Canada's rapeseed exports are up 0.4 million tons to 6.2 million due mainly to large shipments seen in the early season.

China's rapeseed imports are up 0.4 million tons to 1.1 million prompted by large imports from Canada occurred before the issue of black leg fungus.

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Atlantic salmon swim to forefront of science

John McPhee, environmental reporter
The Chronicle Herald Nova Scotia [Canada], 10 December 2009:
http://thechronicleherald.ca/NovaScotia/1157031.html

A genetically modified Atlantic salmon escapes from a fish farm into a river.

But it doesn't live long enough to enjoy its freedom. Because the salmon isn't eating a particular feed, a "kill gene" kicks in and it dies.

It may sound like science fiction but researchers are well on their way to this kind of genetic tweaking, said Fred Whoriskey, of the Atlantic Salmon Federation, in an interview Wednesday.

Genome mapping and research will eventually open up a wide array of biological tools. Most of them are much less ominous than creating a genetic smart bomb that ensures escaped farmed salmon don't survive to degrade the wild salmon population.

For example, fish farmers will be able to manipulate brood stocks for faster and more uniform growth, said Mr. Whoriskey, vice-president of research and environment for the salmon federation.

"That will help the Canadian aquacultural industry become far more competitive than it was before," he said from the federation's headquarters in St. Andrews, N.B.

Genetic information will also be invaluable for conserving the dwindling wild Atlantic salmon population, Mr. Whoriskey said. The database will allow researchers to determine exactly where a particular salmon came from, right down to the river where it was spawned.

"The management implications of that are quite enormous," he said.

Much work already has been done on mapping the genome of several fish species. But an organization in British Columbia hopes to land the Atlantic salmon's entire genome by 2011.

Genome British Columbia has teamed up with government and research organizations in Chile and Norway for the project.

The co-operative will spend $6 million for the first phase of the research, which is expected to be completed by early 2011.

The information will be released into the public domain soon after that, said Pierre Meulin, chief scientific officer of Genome B.C., in an interview from Vancouver.

The human genome project was completed in 2003, so you might think the Atlantic salmon's genome would be an easy catch. Not so, Mr. Meulin said.

"It's very complex and very large, the size of the human genome," he said.

Genome B.C. has been involved in mapping the Atlantic salmon's genome because of its importance in the province's aquaculture industry. About 90 per cent of farmed fish in the province are Atlantic salmon.

As well, the information will provide a reference point for the genomes of other "salmonid" species, which include Pacific salmon, rainbow trout and smelt, Mr. Meulin said.

Canada exported salmonid products worth about US$800 million in 2007. It's an even more lucrative export for Chile and Norway, which is why government and private sector organizations in those countries came aboard for the genome project.

The contract for the first phase of the project was awarded to a genomics firm in Massachusetts after an international call for proposals.

The second phase, expected to be completed by late 2011, is yet to be tendered.

The genetic modification potential of the work isn't a part of the project, Mr. Meulin said. He emphasized the same benefits noted by Mr. Whoriskey.

"We hope the sequencing will allow both the managers of wild and aquacultural industries to really understand what's going on and better manage salmon stocks," Mr. Meulin said.

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Plaintiffs to demand immediate seed ban
• Attorney says seeds too dangerous to be allowed anywhere


Wes Sander
Capital Press [USA], 10 December 2009:
http://www.capitalpress.com/content/ws-Sugar-Beets-121109

An attorney in a lawsuit challenging federal approval of genetically modified sugar beet seeds says plaintiffs will try to stop growers from planting the seeds next year.

In September, federal Judge Jeffery White ordered USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to produce an environmental impact statement to support its deregulation of seed developer Monsanto's Roundup Ready seeds.

The decision came in a suit filed in January 2008 by the Center for Food Safety, Organic Seed Alliance, Sierra Club and High Mowing Organic Seeds.

At a procedural hearing in U.S. district court in San Francisco on Friday, Dec. 4, White set a June date for a hearing on whether, or under what conditions, growers can use the seeds while APHIS completes the environmental document.

That means the planting season will have passed before the court decides whether the seeds can be used. Earthjustice attorney Paul Atchitoff said he will ask the court for a preliminary injunction to bar production or use of the seeds until the permanent injunction is in place.

"Our position is that there are damaging effects that cannot be avoided except by (disallowing the seeds)," Atchitoff said.

A seed ban would impact most domestic producers, who would need to find conventional seeds for next year's crop. Industry watchers say there's likely enough conventional seed to go around, but the varieties won't be as well-tailored to growing regions and pest pressures as are genetically modified seeds.

The U.S. sugar beet industry contends it would suffer billions of dollars in losses if Roundup Ready varieties are banned next year, according to attorneys representing growers and processors.

"At this point, a halt on planting Roundup Ready sugar beet seed for the 2010 root crop in 10 states would create severe seed shortages in many areas of the country and pose other very significant problems potentially resulting in billions of dollars in damages to thousands of sugar beet farmers, to cooperatives and processors and to communities across the country... " attorneys Gilbert S. Keteltas, John F. Bruce, Christopher H. Marroro of Washington, D.C., and Joanne Lichtman of Los Angeles, said in court documents filed in the case.

At the Dec. 4 court appearance, attorneys for the industry came prepared to argue for an evidentiary hearing -- one with live witnesses, allowing a more forceful argument against an injunction.

But White said he would accept arguments before the hearing only in written form, and set dates beginning in March for plaintiffs and defendants to submit briefs.

The June hearing date could be changed, White said, if the court decides an evidentiary hearing is warranted.

Atchitoff asked White to move the case forward in hopes of having an injunction before spring.

"Much of what we are asking for will be moot," he said.

But White said altering the schedule would be difficult.

"We're talking about four months to have a complete round of briefing," he said. "I don't see that as being possible. It forces the court to totally reorganize the schedule."

Luther Markwart, executive vice president of the American Sugarbeet Growers Association, said he's happy with White's schedule because it allows time for a deliberative process.

"This is a big decision," Markwart said. "And you want to make sure that you're able to depose people, and you're able to present documents that you feel are relevant."

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Final Report: Agriculture and Climate Change: Real Problems, False Solutions

EcoNexus [UK], 10 December 2009: http://www.econexus.info

Final Report: Agriculture and Climate Change: Real Problems, False Solutions
By Helena Paul, Almuth Ernsting, Stella Semino, Susanne Gura & Antje Lorch.
Published by Econexus, Biofuelwatch, Grupo de Reflexion Rural and NOAH - Friends of the Earth Denmark.

Final version: Comprehensively revised for Copenhagen, including a new chapter. December 2009. (Copenhagen) - 44 pages

download final report (409 KB pdf file)
http://www.econexus.info/pdf/Agriculture_climate_change_copenhagen_2009.pdf

download executive summary of final report (203 KB pdf file)
http://www.econexus.info/pdf/Agriculture_climate_change_copenhagen_2009-summary.pdf

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Note from GM-free Ireland:

The "Let's Look Before We Leap!" declaration, co-signed by GM-free Ireland, was released this morning at the UNFCCC climate negotiations in Copenhagen (COP15). The related press conference was webcast and archived at http://www2.cop15.meta-fusion.com/kongresse/cop15/templ/ovw.php?id_kongressmain=1&theme=unfccc&=

A PDF version of the declaration is available online in English at http://www.etcgroup.org/en/node/4956

French, Spanish, Chinese and italian versions are also online at http://www.etcgroup.org.

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Negotiators warned to Look before Leaping!
• Civil Society Alarmed at Climate Technology Quick Fixes in Copenhagen


ETC Group, 11 December 2009:
http://www.etcgroup.org/en/node/4963

Copenhagen, December 10, 2009 - Over 160 civil society groups, including social movements and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), today released a joint declaration on technology: "Let's Look Before We Leap!". The declaration alerts governments to the absence of any precautionary environmental and social assessment mechanisms in the draft Copenhagen agreement on technology, and claims that the current approach poses grave threats to human health, human rights, rural livelihoods, diverse ecosystems and climate stability.

The negotiating texts in Copenhagen refer repeatedly to the need to rapidly develop and deploy so-called "environmentally sound technologies". However, the text is silent on evaluating controversial new technologies which claim to be climate-friendly but are in fact harmful. Civil society groups are increasingly concerned that many technologies that will be fast-tracked through this new system are risky and untested, potentially adding a new wave of environmental and social problems that will compound the climate crisis. The declaration released today points to technologies such as geoengineering, genetic engineering, agrofuels (biofuels) and biochar as examples of risky or hazardous technologies that may receive an unwarranted boost through agreements made in Copenhagen.

"On top of being the victims of the climate crisis, we don't want to become guinea pigs for new unproven technologies or for old hazardous technologies such as nuclear power, with the excuse that more technology is needed to fix the climate," said Ricardo Navarro from Friends of the Earth International. "It is totally irresponsible that negotiators are discussing the development and transfer of technologies without any mechanism to filter which ones can be useful and which ones will create more problems for people and the environment. We need the immediate inclusion and application of the precautionary principle", added Navarro.

Among the climate change techno-fixes that could be promoted under the present text are proposals for large-scale climate manipulation, known as geoengineering. Geoengineering proponents include industry-friendly climate skeptics such as Bjorn Lomborg who claim that a large technical fix skirts the need for action on emissions reductions. "Fighting climate change with geoengineering is like fighting fire with gasoline," explains Silvia Ribeiro from ETC Group's Mexico office. "Proposals such as dumping tonnes of iron in our oceans or injecting sulphates in the stratosphere to reflect sunlight are extremely dangerous. They could worsen existing problems, like ozone depletion and drought in sub-Saharan Africa, and their impacts will be felt in countries and by people who won't even have a chance to say what they think of these ideas. Geoengineering is geopiracy and this kind of gambling with Gaia needs to be excluded from any consideration in climate negotiations."

Paul Nicholson from La Via Campesina, the international peasant movement representing small farmers in 69 countries, reminded delegates that new technologies introduced over the past few decades, such as genetically modified crops and tree monocultures, have had extensive negative impacts on peasants and the environment. "We small-scale farmers and peasants of the world already have a diversity of proven technologies that are cooling the planet and feeding the majority of the people in the world. These need to be affirmed, not threatened by the introduction of new dangerous technologies that can displace or contaminate the diversity of crops and cultures that are a real solution for both the climate and the food crises."

"Whatever technology agreement comes out of this meeting must not just become a funding mechanism for venture-capital-backed green-washing exercises", said Chee Yoke Ling from Third World Network. "In the context of the carbon trade, "environmentally sound technologies' are often more hype than heft. We need an agreement that will facilitate access to truly environmentally sound technologies and clean energy and that will not result in the global expansion of bad ideas. Governments already recognize the principle of prior assessment in the international Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. We need even stronger rules in an agreement on climate technology", she added.

"At a time when the geoengineering lobby is jockeying for money, influence and power, a wide-open agreement facilitating the rapid expansion of technological fixes is suicidal", reminded Silvia Ribeiro from ETC Group. "The geoengineers will argue that it is too late for mitigation, and that humanity is on an inevitable march to manipulate the climate by applying extreme technologies. The geopirates are standing in the wings, and increasingly on stage, waiting for this COP to fail so they can step into the breach with their own fast and cheap solution," concluded Ribeiro.

The statement "Let's Look Before We Leap" demands a clear and consistent international approach for all new technologies on climate change: States at COP 15 must ensure that strict precautionary mechanisms for technology assessment are enacted and are made legally binding, so that the risks and likely impacts, and appropriateness, of these new technologies, can be properly and democratically evaluated before they are rolled out. Any new body dealing with technology assessment and transfer must include equitable representation of communities most affected by climate change, as well as ensuring gender and regional balance, participation of peasants and indigenous peoples so that their views will be taken into account.

The "Let's Look Before We Leap" statement and the list of organizations that have signed it to date can be downloaded in English, French, Spanish, Italian and Chinese at http://www.etcgroup.org/en/node/4956

Further information:

Ricardo Navarro (FOEI) + 45 6172 3116 , cesta@cesta-foe.org

Paul Nicholson (La Via Campesina) + 45 5059 8325, idelforge@viacampesina.org

Silvia Ribeiro ETC Group, +45 5269 1147 silvia@etcgroup.org

Diana Bronson, ETC Group, tel + 1 514 6299236 diana@etcgroup.org

Chee Yoke Ling, Third World Network + 45 5269 4755 yokeling@thirdworldnetwork.net

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9 December 2009

Concentration in the seed industry leads to less choice, higher prices for U.S. farmers
Press release
Farmer to Farmer Campaign on Genetic Engineering [USA], 9 December 2009:
http://farmertofarmercampaign.com/Out%20of%20Hand.Press%20Release.pdf

American farmers are feeling the effects of a concentrated seed industry.

Seed options are diminishing while prices increase at historic rates.

A new report, Out of hand: Farmers face the consequences of a consolidated seed industry, examines these troubling trends, substantiating the U.S. Department of Justice's investigation into alleged anticompetitive conduct in the seed industry.

"Farmers are facing fewer choices and significantly higher prices in seed," says Kristina Hubbard, author of the report. "Seed options narrow when a handful of companies dominate the marketplace."

Discussions on seed industry concentration typically center on the dominant firm, the Monsanto Company, which achieved the No. 1 position by capturing the markets for most major crops through a series of acquisitions and mergers. Monsanto accounts for 60 percent of the corn and soybean seed market through direct seed sales and seed trait licensing agreements with other companies. Monsanto's biotechnology traits are planted on more than 90 percent of U.S. soybean acreage and more than 80 percent of U.S. corn acreage.

The report outlines events that led to extensive concentration, including weak antitrust law enforcement and Supreme Court decisions that allowed genetically engineered crops and other plant products to be patented. These factors have created unprecedented ownership and control over plant genetic resources in major field crops.

"We are encouraged that the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Justice have launched a joint investigation into anticompetitive practices in agriculture," says Bill Wenzel, national director of the Farmer to Farmer Campaign on Genetic Engineering. "We believe this report will shed light on the severe negative impacts that these practices have had on producers and provide insight on what changes in policy are necessary to protect farmers' rights and interests."

Out of Hand uses industry sources, government data, and personal interviews with farmers and seed industry representatives to document the consequences of concentration in the seed industry. One important finding is a general fear in agricultural communities that simply talking about problems in the seed industry will result in backlash from industry leaders, namely Monsanto.

Paul Rozwadowski, a farmer in Chippewa County, Wisconsin, says he has seen his seed options rapidly decrease in the last five years.

"Seed corn varieties that I once relied on are difficult if not impossible to locate," Rozwadowski says. "And the prices of seed available have skyrocketed these last two growing seasons."

"The trend in seed corn is for the largest firms to stack as many traits as possible into single varieties," Rozwadowski says. "Not only are conventional varieties more difficult to locate, farmers have a hard time finding biotechnology varieties with just one or two traits."

Todd Leake, a farmer in Grand Forks County, North Dakota, says he is concerned about the lack of breeding programs focused on bringing conventional soybean seed to the marketplace.

"Most of the conventional, non-GE varieties that I can find are ten to twelve years old," Leake says. "Their disease resistance and yield have fallen well behind the Roundup Ready varieties. The disease package and yield come from conventional soybean breeding, not from any GE trait."

"Public breeding programs historically met the diverse needs of farmers, including conventional varieties with good genetics for yield and disease resistance," Leake adds. "But the focus of these programs has changed in the face of increased biotechnology industry funding. For the last ten years, many public breeding programs and private firms have only been interested in offering the newest genetics in seed with expensive biotechnology traits."

The report also examines the role patent law has played in encouraging concentration. Over the course of decades, Congress has visited intellectual property protection for breeders of living organisms and consistently argued that patents on sexually reproducing plants would curtail innovation, threaten the free exchange of genetic resources, and increase market concentration. These problems are now being realized.

The report recommends that the U.S. Department of Justice closely examine anticompetitive conduct in the industry, enforce antitrust law, and engage the public in assessments of proposed and pending mergers. Other recommendations include revamping patent law as it pertains to crops because such patents are reducing farmer choice and researcher access, and directly contribute to the concentration of power over plant genetic resources. The U.S. Department of Agriculture should also reinvigorate public breeding and cultivar development programs to ensure that the needs of farmers and the general public are met and that research is conducted in an open and honest way.

"Competition in the seed industry is crucial to the success of American farmers," Hubbard says. "Farmers deserve an open and fair marketplace that encourages innovation and provides a variety of seed options at competitive prices."

The full report can be downloaded at http://www.farmertofarmercampaign.org.

The Farmer to Farmer Campaign on a Genetic Engineering is a national network of farm organizations that serve as a voice for family farmers on agricultural biotechnology issues. Farmer to Farmer seeks to build a farmer driven campaign focused on concerns around agricultural biotechnology and to provide a national forum for farmers on these issues.

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Graphic: What business wants in Copenhagen

The Ecologist [UK], 9 December 2009:
http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_round_up/378739/graphic_what_business_wants_in_copenhagen.html

[Extract]

Copenhagen is awash with lobbyists of all creeds and colours, but those representing big business interests have more power than most. Here are their demands...

Click on a lobby group in the graphic above to learn more about their lobbying demands.

[Note: Cliking on the BIO button reveals the following text:]

The Biotechnology Industry Organisation (BIO) is an umbrella lobby organisation for the likes of Syngenta, Monsanto, Dow and Tate & Lyle. A leaked BIO strategy document for Copenhagen reveals its aims for COP15: access to climate-subsidies for biotech products; fending off potential threats to Intellectual Property Rights, and allaying 'false' messages a bout GMOs.

Download and read the full report on business lobbying at Copenhagen from Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) here http://www.corporateeurope.org/climate-and-energy/content/2009/12/corporate-lobbies-copenhagen

CEO is also running the 'Angry Mermaid' award for the worst corporate lobbying at COP15. Visit the website and cast your vote http://www.angrymermaid.org/l

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Climate Change: Latin American Women Want Modified Trade Rules

Daniela Estrada
Inter Press Service (via Faxts.com News), 9 December 2009:
http://www.faxts.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1476:climate-change-latin-american-women-want-modified-trade-rules&catid=105:breaking-news

COPENHAGEN - "We don't need to change the climate, we need to change trade," said Brazilian activist Marta Lago at Klimaforum, the civil society meeting held in parallel with the climate change summit in the Danish capital.

Lago and Norma Maldonado from Guatemala, who belong to the International Gender and Trade Network (IGTN), criticised the free trade treaties signed by Latin American countries with the United States and the European Union in a panel Tuesday.

They said free trade agreements accentuate poverty and the loss of biodiversity, as a result of megaprojects for the extraction of natural resources which use water intensively, spew out pollution, and exacerbate the effects of climate change.

Examples are mining projects, construction of large hydroelectric dams, and plantations of monoculture crops and genetically modified (GM) organisms.

Free trade deals include strict regulation of intellectual property rights for patented GM seeds, which harms small farmers, creating food insecurity in poor communities that already suffer from harvest variability because of global warming.

"Where there is biodiversity, where there is wealth, where there is culture, that's where corporate interests flock," Maldonado, deputy head of Ecumenical Services for Christian Development in Central America (SEFCA), an organisation working with women and young people for community development and political effectiveness, told TerraViva.

SEFCA's work covers a wide range of issues, focusing on the recovery of traditional farming practices, the carving out of local markets for products, the improvement of the diets of people in rural communities and the provision of training for international trade negotiations.

"The trade treaties give (foreign countries) a legal claim to plunder our natural resources. We cannot separate the trade treaties from their everyday effects: the privatisation of water; the loss of land; the mining companies that use 250,000 gallons of water a minute for free, while polluting our rivers," she said.

"Guatemala was the birthplace of many food crops, and yet its people are undernourished. Children are dying of hunger. How can we have a country that produces food, but all of it for export, to sell to the great international markets?" she demanded.

In her view, the EU "gives with one hand," through development aid, "and takes away with the other," by means of its trade treaties.

In Guatemala, SEFCA works with Q'eqchi' indigenous communities that are recovering degraded coffee plantations.

Women bear the brunt of climate change effects, Lago and Maldonado said, as the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) stated in its latest report.

SEFCA is making a documentary to raise awareness on the water crisis, which includes footage, screened at Klimaforum, showing rural women who spend four hours a day fetching water from streams around their communities.

According to Maldonado, "the problem of water has been, and will continue to be," a women's issue, "for cultural reasons," because they are the ones who do most of the cooking, bathing of children and washing of clothes in their homes.

"Lack of access to water adds to women's burden," already a heavy one, she said.

"Women take four hours to fetch two gallons of water at a time, and then we want them to further their education and participate in community affairs. What time do they have for this?" she asked.

How much do Guatemalan women supported by SEFCA know about climate change? According to Maldonado, they are unaware of factors like greenhouse gas emissions and other scientific aspects. "Actually, I don't understand them very well myself, yet," she admitted.

"What we are very well aware of is that there are constant landslides and floods, while we women can't even swim, that the weather is getting hotter all the time, that the rhythm of the crops is altered - sometimes the coffee is ripe in January and previously it was in October - and the cycles and agricultural calendars are upset, and we don't have enough water," said the activist.

"We may not know what a carbon sink is, but we do know that our land is being taken from us," said Maldonado, who said she has been threatened and intimidated for her opposition to free trade agreements in Guatemala.

"A wave of repression swept the country when the first free trade treaty between Guatemala and the United States was signed. Since then there has been systematic persecution of the leadership and raids on organisations (opposed to the trade accords). They searched my house, injured two colleagues, took our computers: we are on their blacklist," she complained.

Maldonado is in Copenhagen, but she said she "expects nothing" from the Dec. 7-18 15th Conference of the Parties (COP 15) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, attended by delegates from 192 countries and 3,500 journalists. She says she is putting her faith in the alliances that emerge from Klimaforum, where the keynote is scepticism of the current development model.

This huge alternative meeting is being held in a multi-purpose centre in the Danish capital that includes a conference centre and is 15 minutes by train from the Bella Centre, the venue for COP 15.

The Klimaforum programme lists 150 panels and talks, 50 exhibitions and 30 artistic events, including documentaries, theatre and music, which will continue until Dec. 18.

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Canada flax not shipping to EU, key port to close

Rod Nickel
Reuters (via Yahoo! News), 9 December 2009:
http://ca.news.yahoo.com/s/reuters/091209/canada/canada_us_flax_canada_gmo

WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - Canada has not shipped any of its new flax crop to its top market, the European Union, because of concerns about genetically modified (GMO) material, the Flax Council of Canada said on Wednesday.

And the window of opportunity is closing as the crop's most important port nears closure for the winter.

The European Union, which traditionally buys 70 percent of Canada's flax, first detected GMO material in a Canadian flax shipment in July. There is no GMO flax approved in the EU, where consumers are wary of long-term GMO effects.

Although the EU has not banned all flax imports from Canada, exporters deem shipments to the EU risky even with Canada and the EU agreeing on testing protocols.

Flax shipments travel from Western Canada to the Port of Thunder Bay, through which they reach the Atlantic Ocean. The port's shipping season typically ends in late December when its harbor on Lake Superior and the Welland Canal joining Lake Ontario and Lake Erie freeze.

There has been talk in the industry about exporters making test shipments to Europe, but Flax Council president Barry Hall said he's not aware of it.

"I don't think anything has shipped at all."

Shippers could move flax by rail to the St. Lawrence Seaway or through Port Metro Vancouver on the Pacific Coast, Hall said, but added those options may raise concerns about logistics and distance.

Canada is the world's largest producer and exporter of flax -- also called linseed -- that produces oil for industrial use like linoleum flooring and seed for baked goods.

Canadian farmers grew an estimated 930,000 tons of flax this year, according to Statistics Canada.

GMO flax has also turned up in Japan, Canada's No. 3 market, leading to checks of all flax for food use.

With the key port to Europe about to close, farmers will store more flax than usual over the winter, said Allen Kuhlmann, chair of the Saskatchewan Flax Development Commission.

Longer storage times, plus cash prices that are C$3 per bushel lower than usual at C$8-C$9, means many farmers face hard times, he said.

"People rely on flax as a cash crop in fall to pay their inputs. If they haven't been able to move the product, then they're sitting with their bills unpaid."

Farmers may also sour on flax enough that planted acreage could shrink next year, he said.

FP967 is the only GMO flax variety ever produced. A Canadian university researcher developed it in the 1990s and officials in Canada and the U.S. authorized it for use in feed and food. The flax industry successfully lobbied the Canadian government to deregister it in 2001 and acquired most of the seed to be destroyed or crushed domestically.

($1=$1.06 Canadian)

(Editing by Jim Marshall)

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Biotechnology 'No Sure Fix' for World's Nitrogen Fertilizer Pollution Problem, New Report Finds
• Traditional Breeding and Ecological Practices Show More Promise in Curbing Nitrogen Overload


Union of Concerned Scientists [USA], 9 December 2009:
http://www.ucsusa.org/news/press_release/biotechnology-no-sure-fix-0321.html

WASHINGTON - After more than a decade of effort, the biotechnology industry has yet to produce any commercial crops engineered to reduce nitrogen fertilizer pollution, while traditional breeding and other methods have improved the nitrogen use efficiency of wheat, rice, and corn by about 20 percent to 40 percent, according to a report released today by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

"Nitrogen pollution is among the world's worst environmental problems," said Doug Gurian-Sherman, a senior scientist in UCS's Food and Environment program and author of the report. "A number of very promising solutions have begun addressing the problem, but so far genetic engineering has yet to make a contribution."

Plants, including commodity farm crops, need large amounts of nitrogen to thrive and grow. Soils often do not contain enough nitrogen for plants to attain optimal productivity, but many farmers apply far more synthetic nitrogen fertilizer to their soils than what the plants can use. More than half of the nitrogen fertilizer applied on U.S. farms, for instance, is not absorbed by crops, and much of it becomes a pollutant.

Nitrogen pollution causes harm in multiple ways. Chemical fertilizers from farms, for example, are the largest contributor to the Gulf of Mexico's "dead zone"óan area the size of Connecticut and Delaware combined where excess nutrients indirectly rob the region of oxygen, making it uninhabitable for commercially valuable fish and other marine life for much of the year. In addition, nitrogen in the form of nitrate can seep into drinking water and become a health risk, especially to pregnant women and children. Nitrogen entering the air as ammonia, meanwhile, contributes to smog, respiratory diseases and acid rain, which damages forests and other habitats.

Nitrogen overuse in agriculture also is the largest domestic, human-caused source of nitrous oxide, a global warming gas that is nearly 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, agricultural soil management accounts for two-thirds of the nation's human-induced nitrous oxide emissions.

One solution to the nitrogen overload problem is to develop crops that use nitrogen more efficiently, which would reduce the amount of nitrogen fertilizer farmers apply to their fields. Traditional breeding methods have already proven successful at doing this. Meanwhile, the biotechnology industry has identified genes that have the potential to reduce nitrogen pollution and have tested them in laboratories and field trials, but none are commercially available. The UCS report, "No Sure Fix: Prospects for Reducing Nitrogen Fertilizer Pollution through Genetic Engineering," evaluated the new genes and concluded that the prospects for their commercial use are uncertain due to the complexity of nitrogen metabolism and genetics in crops.

The report documents a number of practices that can complement nitrogen-efficient crops in reducing nitrogen fertilizer pollution. Precision farming, for instance, times fertilizer applications to match crop growth, which reduces the amount of nitrogen applied to fields. Farmers also can grow cover cropsóplants grown between cash crop growing seasonsóto protect the soil, add organic nitrogen and other nutrients, and remove excess nitrogen. Even if genetically engineered crops were commercially viable, they would not be able to reduce the large amount of nitrogen pollution that occurs when farmers are not growing cash crops.

"We need to pursue all reasonable approaches to solve the nitrogen overload problem," said Margaret Mellon, director of UCS's Food and Environment Program. "We should focus first on making the necessary public investment in traditional crop breeding, cover crops, precision farming, and other proven approaches to boost nitrogen efficiency. Our nitrogen pollution problem will only worsen as global food demand increases, which makes it all the more critical that we invest in technologies and methods we know work."

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German MON810 feeding trial results are worthless
• Did the researchers manipulate the trial so as to obtain their desired "no harm" result?


Dr. Brian John
GM Free Cymru [Wales, UK], 9 December 2009:
http://www.gmfreecymru.org

Recent work in Germany, flagged up as the "the most detailed and most precise study ever conducted worldwide" and involving MON810 fed to cattle over a period of 25 months, has been shown to be worthless.

The results were promoted to the media as showing "that feeding with transgenic maize does not have any impact on the food chain" and that "transgenic maize has no impact on lactating cows." The study has also been cited in the course of a German dairy industry campaign in support of GM components in soy-based and Bt corn-based feed: http://www.bio-pro.de/magazin/thema/03700/index.html?lang=en

In an English-language paper (Steinke et al, 2009) it was claimed that "Feeding Bt maize over a period of 25 months had no effects on the performance and metabolic parameters in this study. The statistical differences between isogenic and transgenic fed dairy cows (milk protein, milk fat and glucose) in the first lactation were not confirmed in the second lactation and are probably due to individual or physiological differences between animals."

However, a close examination of the original German-language study by Greenpeace (1) and Testbiotech (2) revealed that the conclusions arising from the research had effectively been announced before it had even commenced! The lead researchers declared in a joint statement of 14 January 2005: "It is secured in the science and common ground that the feeding of genetically modified feed to cows does not mean that the milk of these cows is any different from the milk that comes conventionally-fed cows." During the feeding trial, the researchers in charge of the work, from Munich Technical University, then changed or ignored their original protocols in a number of ways that must have corrupted their results. For example, only 18 of the 54 cows used in the trial were fed for the full 25 months; the rest were changed at unspecified times and for unspecified reasons, without this being revealed in the English-language paper published afterwards. Only nine of the cows were kept on the GM diet for the full research period. The data relating to the cows that survived the whole trial were aggregated with data for replacement animals. The exact reasons for the removal of other animals were not given, let alone scientifically defined precisely. Some animals might have been removed from the trial simply because they were reacting badly to a GM diet. It is striking, however, that the number of medical treatments in the animals fed with GM maize was consistently higher than in the control group animals. The physical condition of animals fed on conventional maize in the second lactation was significantly better than in the animals on the GM diet. These differences were simply glossed over or dismissed by the researchers. The statistics do not show which animals took part in the feeding trials, and over which periods of time. Specific and detailed investigations concerning certain organs, as well the examination of the calves, are missing from the published study. In spite of abundant and clear evidence of experiment manipulation, the researchers finally aggregated their data sets in such a way as to show that there were "no significant differences" between the various groups of animals used.

Further, it is not clear to which extent the Bt toxin was deactivated by the heating process performed for the preparation of the feedstuff. With regard to the test methods used for the identification of plant DNA in milk and animal tissues, the techniques and protocols used were not in accordance with international standards and were technically not sufficiently precise for showing any metabolic or physiological Bt effects that might have occurred in those animals fed on MON810. The techniques were not verified against other proven accurate techniques. Finally, it was not clear whether some of the "control group" of animals had been fed on GM material (incorporating GM soy or maize) prior to the commencement of the trial; if they had been, that would have rendered the trial useless.

These manipulations and data presentation defects cannot have been accidental, and it must be concluded that they were made in order to disaggregate or scramble data and to obtain a desired "no harm" result. In the Greenpeace critique of the study, it is stated:

"Chronic subclinical adverse effects, in cows which consumed genetically modified corn, can not be excluded by this study. Under the chosen experimental conditions (with disturbed animal health and performance oriented feeding) signs of acute damage to the health of the animals could not be picked up. Unfortunately, the experimental setup was not suited to investigate the serious questions of DNA transfer and health damage".

These criticisms -- arising from a close reading of the German- language report of the study -- have been presented to the research team on a number of occasions, without response.

What is particularly galling about this latest piece of scientific manipulation is that the research was conducted under the leadership of a senior academic at a public university, and not by Monsanto, Syngenta or any other industry organization.

Other studies arising from the same 25-month feeding trial must now also be suspect, and deserve very careful scrutiny. See for example Paul et al, 2009, "Degradation of Cry1Ab protein from genetically modified maize (MON810) in relation to total dietary feed proteins in dairy cow digestion" http://www.springerlink.com/content/717h6n4215l5u32u/

Commenting on behalf of GM-Free Cymru, Dr Brian John said: "It is profoundly disappointing that this study, widely flagged up as showing that cows suffer no ill-effects when fed on MON810 as part of their diet, should turn out to be deeply flawed. It is even more disturbing that admissions about slapdash procedures and deviations from international standards of project management should have been mentioned in passing (but not properly quantified) in the German- language report of the work, and not mentioned at all in English- language reports. The research team, when confronted with this and other research defects over a period of months, has not seen fit to reply. On the face of it, therefore, we have to conclude that there has been research manipulation in pursuit of a pre-determined result, and that statements to the press, and abstracts presented to the scientific community, have been designed to mislead. We would be only too happy to revise our opinions on this worthless study, should the research team see fit to answer the questions properly raised by Greenpeace and Testbiotech."

ENDS

Contact

Dr Brian John
GM-Free Cymru
Tel: + 44 1239 820470

(1) Then, C. (2009) "Bayerische Fütterungsstudie der TU München zu Gen-Mais weist Mängel auf", Greenpeace Germany e.V., April 2009 (Bavarian GM Maize feeding study by the Technical University of Munich has shortcomings), Critical opinion on the "Final Report on Research Projects A/05/12, Use of transgenic maize (MON810) in dairy cows: breakdown, transfer and potential interactions of DNA and Bt protein in cattle" (TU Munich, Bavarian State Institute of Agriculture Food, Land use and Environment, by Heinrich H.D. Meyer, Hubert Spieker, Frieder Black, Patrick Guertler, Vijay Paul, Kerstin Steinke, Wolfgang Preissinger, Christiane Albrecht, Steffi Wiedemann, 2009), by Dr. Christoph Then for Greenpeace e.V., April 2009

(2) Risk Reloaded Risk analysis of genetically engineered plants within the European Union
A report by Testbiotech e.V. Institute for Independent Impact Assessment in Biotechnology
http://www.testbiotech.org
October 2009
by Christoph Then and Christof Potthof

---

Extract

"A research project involving feeding trials with the transgenic maize MON810 illustrates how difficult the conditions for independent research into risks in Germany are. Its results were presented by the Technical University of Munich (TUM) in 2009 (Meyer et al., 2009), in the midst of political discussions in Germany about the prohibition of the cultivation of MON810 maize. According to scientists involved in this feeding trial, which lasted 25 months, the findings can be taken as proof that the transgenic maize has no impact on lactating cows. It further highlighted that no residues from the transgenic maize could be detected in the animals' meat or milk. The study was presented to the press as the best study ever made:

"The study by Munich Technical University, the most detailed and most precise study ever conducted worldwide, has shown yet again that feeding with transgenic maize does not have any impact on the food chain." (Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Herrmann, president of the Technical University Munich, quoted in Landshuter Zeitung, page 2, 7st Aprile, 2009.) The results were also published in an international magazine (Steinke et al, 2009). The publication mentions that the findings are of robust quality because of the long duration of the feeding trials: "Feeding Bt maize over a period of 25 months had no effects on the performance and metabolic parameters in this study. The statistical differences between isogenic and transgenic fed dairy cows (milk protein, milk fat and glucose) in the first lactation were not confirmed in the second lactation and are probably due to individual or physiological differences between animals."

But as a comparison between the results as presented in German (Meyer et al. 2009) and English (Steinke et al., 2009) shows (Then 2009 c), the international publication does not mention several relevant data and furthermore hides the fact that many animals were removed from the trials during them. Only one third of the cows (18 animals) were fed over a period of 25 months as stated by Steincke et al., 2009. The rest of the 54 cows were changed during the trials without concrete reasons or the exact timing of the substituting being made public. Despite the fact that changing the animals in this way is highly plausible as the main reason why significant results could not be confirmed over the whole period of the study, the official international publication does not mention this important fact.

Further analyses of the data shows that the study hardly allows any final conclusions to be made. As mentioned, the statistical figures do not show which animals took part in the feeding trials over which period of time. Specific and detailed investigations concerning certain organs, as well the examination of the calves, are missing. Further, it is not clear to which extent the Bt toxin was deactivated by the heating process performed for the preparation of the feedstuff. All in all the conclusions of Steincke et al (2009) and the presentation of the results in the press have to seen as being as inadequate and even misguiding.

The second part of the study, which aimed to detect residues (such as specific DNA) of the genetically engineered plants in animal products (especially milk), also has to be discussed in a critical way. The methods and protocols used are not in accordance with international standards and technically not sufficient for showing the highest likelihood of making such a detection successfully (Then, 2009c).

The project was funded partially by the dairy industry. Some of its members were repeatedly criticised by consumer and environmental organisations because they allowed the use of genetically engineered plants in their animal feed. Even before the trials were started, the leading scientist in the project signed a declaration stating that residues from genetically engineered plants cannot be found in animal products (see Then, 2009c). All in all this research project provides a lot of good reasons to raise doubts in the independence of public research."

End of extract

---

This extract is from:

Risk Reloaded
Risk analysis of genetically engineered plants within the European Union
A report by Testbiotech e.V. Institute for Independent Impact Assessment in Biotechnology
http://www.testbiotech.org
October 2009
Christoph Then, Christof Potthof
Editing: Andrea Reiche

References:

Meyer, H.H.D. et al. (2009) Abschlussbericht zum Forschungsvorhaben A/ 05/12, "Einsatz von transgenem Mais (MON810) bei Milchkühen: Abbau, Transfer sowie potentielle Interaktionen von DNA und Bt-Protein im Rind", TU München, Bayerische Landesanstalt für Landwirtschaft (LfL) und Wissenschaftszentrum Weihenstephan für Ernährung, Landnutzung und Umwelt. http://www.lfl.bayern.de/ite/rind/35021/linkurl_0_2_0_0.pdf

Steinke K., Paul V., Gürtler P., Preissinger W., Wiedemann S., Albrecht C., Spiekers H., Meyer H.H.D., Schwarz F.J. (2009) Effects of long- term feeding of genetically modified maize (Bt-maize, MON810) to dairy cows on performance and metabolic parameters. Proceedings of the Society of Nutrition Physiology 18 (2009) 110

Then, C. (2009c) Bayerische Fütterungsstudie der TU München zu Gen- Mais weist Mängel auf, on hehalf of Greenpeace Germany e.V., April 2009 http://www.greenpeace.de/fileadmin/gpd/user_upload/themen/gentechnik/Kritische_Stellungnahme_Fuetterungsversuch_final_gesamt.pdf

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Kanematsu to Boost Soybean Shipments as Overseas Supply Gains

Aya Takada and Ichiro Suzuki
Bloomberg [USA], 9 December 2009:
http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601101&sid=ajrskqBtk_xI

Kanematsu Corp., Japan's largest importer of food soybeans, plans to boost sales of the oilseed by 67 percent in three years as it expands crop supply contracts in Canada and widens shipments to Europe and Asia.

Sales of non-genetically modified soybeans will gain to 200,000 metric tons in 2012 from 120,000 tons this year to meet demand in countries including Japan, South Korea and Spain, Katsumi Morita, general manager at Kanematsu's grain & oilseed department, said in an interview. The trading company plans to expand contracts in Canada, the second largest supplier to Japan, to more than 130,000 tons from 80,000 tons, he added.

Food makers in Japan, the largest export market for non-GMO soybeans, are paying rising premiums to secure supplies as farmers in the U.S., the biggest producer, increase planting of modified crops that are higher yielding and easier to grow. Companies including Kikkoman Corp. are reluctant to use the crops because of consumers' food safety concerns. Taiwan and South Korea also import non-GMO food soybeans.

"Non-GMO soybeans may become more scarce as China may start seeking them," Takaki Shigemoto, an analyst at research and investment company JSC Corp. in Tokyo, said. "To secure enough supplies, Japanese companies need to diversify." Currently, China uses local soybeans for food use and imports the oilseed for crushing to produce cooking oil and animal feed.

Soybeans in Chicago climbed to a five-month high of $10.7850 a bushel Dec. 1 and have gained 6 percent this year as China, the world's largest importer, purchased record overseas volumes to meet demand from crushers. The January-delivery contract fell 0.5 percent to $10.39 at 10:18 a.m. Tokyo time.

Price Premiums

Premiums for non-GMO soybeans doubled in 2008 from 2007 because of tight supplies and held at similar levels this year, Morita said yesterday, declining to give details.

Genetically modified soybeans represent about 92 percent of the crop in the U.S. and 60 percent in Canada, according to Morita. Tokyo-based Kanematsu plans to start non-GMO soybean output in Australia's Tasmania state as early as 2011 as it seeks to diversify supply, he added. Tasmania was suitable as the government's stance favored non-GMO crops, he said.

The company also plans to acquire a stake in Ontario, Canada-based Hendrick Seeds to gain access to research.

"We want to develop soybean seeds especially for Japan's market," Morita said. "The big seed developers have stopped research and development on non-modified soybeans."

Miso, Tofu

Japan's demand for food soybeans is forecast at 1.03 million tons this year, little changed from 2008, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. The oilseed is used for foods including tofu, soy sauce, miso paste and natto, or fermented beans.

About 900,000 tons of the demand is met from imports, with the U.S. supplying 500,000 tons a year and Canada shipping 300,000 tons, Morita said.

Kanematsu this year began sourcing food soybeans from about 50 growers on Canada's Prince Edward Island. The company plans to boost the contracted production to as much as 50,000 tons by 2014 from 7,000 tons this year, as it starts shipments to Europe.

"We plan to supply part of the increased output to soymilk makers in Europe, where consumers prefer non-GMO food," Morita said. "We are also considering selling the products to South Korea and Southeast Asian markets."

Kanematsu also sources non-GMO Canadian soybeans through production contracts in Ontario province, he said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Aya Takada in Tokyo atakada2@bloomberg.net; Ichiro Suzuki in Tokyo at isuzuki@bloomberg.net

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8 December 2009

'Genetically modified food crops will not improve productivity'

The Hindu [India], 8 December 2009:
http://www.hindu.com/2009/12/08/stories/2009120861450400.htm

BANGALORE: Expressing reservations on allowing commercial cultivation of Bt brinjal [aubergine] in the country, panellists at a public discussion stated that genetically modified (GM) crops would not improve productivity as claimed by some. They also urged the public to raise their voice against GM food crops, as it was in their best interests.

At a public discussion on "Genetically modified food: how does this matter to a common man," organised here by CIVIC, chairman of the Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security Devinder Sharma said that introduction of GM crops might reduce crop loss to a certain extent, but would not increase productivity.

Stating that the global food production was sufficient, Dr. Sharma said that it was sufficient to feed 11 billion people, whereas six billion people inhabit the earth. "The argument in favour of introduction of GM food crops should not revolve around linking increased productivity and hunger," he said. While there had been no human clinical trial conducted with respect to GM foods, no medical essay was available to treat any possible impact on genes, Dr. Sharma added.

He also said that agricultural scientists in India had been catering to the corporates than the public.

Why brinjal?

"If food security was an issue behind introduction of GM food crops, then why was brinjal chosen though it is not a staple diet? Why not pulses or cereals?" Narayan Reddy, a national award winning organic farmer questioned. He pointed out that a family used just about a kg of brinjal a week.

Bt brinjal may be resistant to fruit and borer disease, but not to many others. The introduction of GM food crops may create a monopoly situation, and farmers would not be able to purchase seeds, Dr. Reddy said.

"The Government should look into the foodgrains that were being lost in the FCI godowns if it wants to address the issue of hunger." The problem in India was not about scarcity, but about wastage, he added.

However, justifying the introduction of GM food crops, the former director of Monsanto Research T.M. Manjunath said that research had shown that GM food crops had shown reduction in losses due to pests. Stating that Bt. cotton had become popular among the farmers, he said that from being a cotton importer India was now exporting it.

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Smith blamed for rise in feed costs

Caitriona Murphy
Irish Independent, 8 December 2009:
http://www.independent.ie/farming/smith-blamed-for-rise-in-feed-costs-1966882.html

Minister for Agriculture Brendan Smith has been accused of costing Irish farmers more than €20m in additional feed costs this year.

The Irish Grain and Feed Association (IGFA) has estimated that delayed approval of the soya bean variety MIR604 resulted in Irish farmers paying €23m in additional feed costs.

The European Commission approved the variety on November 30 after it received a positive safety assessment from the European Food Safety Authority.

Routine testing for low levels of genetically modified varieties in feed, and food imports to Europe, resulted in 100 alerts this summer, compared to 30 in 2008.

As a result, the supply of US soya into Europe ground to a halt, and the price of soya soared.

"As far back as May, the Irish Grain and Feed Association highlighted the potential shortfall in the soya bean marketplace this season," said IGFA director Deirdre Webb.

"Finally, the Commission itself authorised the last variety at the centre of these alerts, MIR604," she added.

Ms Webb accused Minister Smith of causing real damage to the feed industry by instructing his officials to abstain from voting on approval.

"Our own Minister for Agriculture has played a very real role in delaying these approvals," she said.

However, Minister Smith revealed in the Dáil last week that he had written to the European Commission with a view to setting a tolerance level for the low-level presence of genetically modified varieties.

In response to a Dáil question, Minister Smith said he had informed Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou, of DG Sanco, that his officials would work closely with her officials to bring forward a proposal for the setting of a tolerance.

Ms Webb said the IGFA welcomed the minister's third announcement that he would support a tolerance.

"However, until he is prepared to share the content of his most recent communication with the commissioner with us, it is impossible to comment further," she said.

"Without a functioning approval system, Irish farmers are being refused the right to choose and are being burdened with the cost."

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Comment from GM-free Ireland

This article by Caitriona Murphy is emblematic of the biotech industry propaganda which the Irish Grain and Feed Association (IGFA) is disseminating through the Irish farm press to push untested GM animal feed from the USA into the EU market. IGFA's current strategy makes use of disinformation to attack the EU "zero tolerance" food safety policy which protects our food chain from contamination by GM feedstuffs from the USA that have not been subject to any independent health risk assessment and/or are not approved in the EU.

Ms. Murphy starts by uncritically reporting IGFA's accusation that our Agriculture Minister Brendan Smith has cost Irish farmers €23 million because of Ireland's abstention on recent votes which resulted in "delayed approval" to approve new GM feedstuffs from the USA. The word "delayed" implies that new GM feedstuffs - "deregulated" in the USA based on the safety claims provided by the applicant companies - will automatically be approved in the EU and that the "delay" is due to red tape. This implication is absolutely false.

EU approval requires a scientific risk assessment leading to a positive opinion by the European Food Safety Authority, followed by a favourable Qualified Majority Vote (QMV) by the Member States at the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health, or by the Council of Agriculture Ministers. The approval can be rejected at any one of four stages: if the applicant refuses to provide the required health data to EFSA (as happened this summer with Monsanto's high lysine GM maize), if EFSA considers the product to be unsafe, or if the Member States reach a Qualified Majority Vote against it at the Standing Committee or at the Council of Ministers.

Contrary to what the article implies, Ireland was not the only country that didn't vote in favour of approving Monsanto's patented MIR604 for feed and food. The final "No" opinion was delivered by the 27 EU farm ministers: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Poland and Slovenia voted against it, as did Bulgaria and Germany in the earlier vote at the Standing Committee. Only Ireland and France abstained. In the absence of a QMV for or against, unelected bureaucrats in the Commission subsequently rubber-stamped the approval against the wishes of the vast majority of EU citizens.

Let us now examine IGFA Director Deirdre Webb's accusation that Ireland's abstention is to blame for the rising price of soy feed in Europe.

Commenting on the article last week, Bernt Antonsen - the Commercial Director of AgroTrace SA (http://www.agrotrace.eu) an EU-wide commodity trader based in Geneva, Switzerland - said: "The price volatility of imported GM soy feedstuffs sold to Irish farmers has nothing to do with Europe's 'zero tolerance' food safety policy. The price moves on soy products up the end of September 2009 were caused by financial speculation due to market uncertainty about the harvest and carry-out stocks and climate change in the producing countries. It does not take much uncertainty of this kind for the speculators to jump in and buy up all they can."

The fourth paragraph of the article implies that reduced animal feed imports from the USA were caused by the discovery of "low levels of genetically modified varieties". This creates the false impression that GM feed is banned in EU.

In reality, the EU imported millions of tonnes of approved GM animal feed this year, as it has done for the past decade. The author fails to mention that feed imports from the USA were reduced this year because of repeated contamination by ILLEGAL varieties of GM maize that were not approved in the EU. Stating this fact would have exposed IGFA's accusation as unfounded, for it's obvious that our Minister of Agriculture is not to blame for the United States' unwillingness or inability to segregate its unapproved GM from approved GM and Non-GM varieties before shipping for export.

The author also claims that "routine testing" "resulted" in 100 GM contamination incidents in the EU (which the article refers to as "alerts").

The majority of these EU Rapid Alerts for Food and Feed had nothing to do with animal feed: they were triggered by the detection of illegal GM Triffid flax (linseed) which escaped from Canada in 1998-2001 and contaminated the food chain in 30 countries around the world earlier this year. This GM flax has never been the subject of an EU approval request for feed or food. Nor was the testing "routine" - it was mostly driven by international alerts issued by Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network. The only GM animal feed products imported into the EU that are likely to be contaminated by illegal GMOs from the USA are maize, soy and oilseed rape.

Then comes the Big Lie: "As a result, the supply of US soya into Europe ground to a halt, and the price of soya soared."

The vast majority of the EU's imported animal feed products are NOT imported from the USA. The latest Irish Government trade data (2007-2008) make this very clear: only 4.21% of Ireland's imported soy, maize and oilseed rape animal feed comes from the USA, with 95.79% coming from other countries. Here are the details:

soya bean feed products (786,981 metric tonnes)

9.51% from USA (74,855 MT)
90.49% from other countries (712,126 MT)

maize feed products (756,966 MT)

0.82% from USA (6,117 MT)
99.18% from other countries (750,789 MT)

oilseed rape feed products (500,150 MT)

1.02% from USA (5,099 MT)
98.98% from other countries (495,051 MT)

Why does the Irish Independent keep disseminating IGFA's GM industry propaganda?

By scaremongering, disinformation, its near monopoly control of feed imports, and its refusal to provide Irish farmers with the affordable supplies of certified Non-GMO animal feed available to their competitors in other EU Member States, IGFA is making it impossible for the Irish agri-food sector to compete effectively in the rapidly growing EU-wide market for GM-free meat, poultry, fish and dairy produce. This was made clear at the GM-free Ireland press conference on 17 November, which was attended - but not reported - by the newspaper's agriculture correspondent Aideen Sheehan. For details see:

GM-free Irish label good for business: Added value, increased market share, better branding and unique selling point: the most credible GM-free food brand in Europe. GM-free Ireland Network press release, 17 November 2009: http://www.gmfreeireland.org/press/GMFI46.pdf

GM-free food production: a unique selling point for Ireland - the food island. 47-page briefing with GM-free market survey, 17 November 2009 (1.2MB pdf): http://www.gmfreeireland.org/GMFI-briefing-3.pdf

The business case for GM-free labelling in Ireland: video of press conference presentations and discussion with Michael O'Callaghan (GM-free Ireland Network), Dr. John Fagan (Cert ID), Malcolm Thompson (Irish Cattle and Sheepfarmers Association), Evan Doyle (the Taste Council, Organic Trust and Euro-Toques Ireland), Darina Allen (Slow Food Ireland, Good Food Ireland, Free Choice Consumer Group, Artisan Food Forum, and the Farmers Market movement), and Michelin star celebrity chef and TV host Richard Corrigan, 17 Nov. 2009: http://www.gmfreeireland.org/videos/

Instead of abstaining on future GM feed approval votes, the Minister for Agriculture should put Ireland's real interests first, and vote No!

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7 December 2009

Agriculture: Copenhagen's blind spot

Peter Melchett
The Ecologist [UK], 7 December 2009:
http://www.theecologist.org/blogs_and_comments/commentators/other_comments/376739/agriculture_copenhagens_blind_spot.html

By not properly discussing agriculture at national or international climate negotiations, we are avoiding tackling not just a huge source of emissions, but also a potential carbon sink

We may not get a new climate treaty at Copenhagen this year. Given the desperate urgency of tackling climate change, any delay is indefensible. But even now there is a glaring gap in the emissions on the table for discussion at Copenhagen.

Food, farming, forestry and land use change are together responsible for a third of global greenhouse gas (ghg) emissions. Soils contain more carbon than the atmosphere or the oceans. Historically, around 10 per cent of human induced greenhouse gas emissions came from land use change. Forest destruction and land use change is frequently driven by agriculture, and in particular by demand for more industrially produced pork, chicken, beef and dairy products.

Yet farming hardly features in national or international climate change discussions. Worse, people convinced that there must be a magic bullet to solve these problems frequently turn to agriculture for salvation. Biofuels, which often increase rather than decrease ghg emissions, were the first example of this, and attempts to get moribund and out-dated GM technology back off the ground are another.

Difficult to measure

Greenhouse gas emissions from farming are especially difficult for scientists, let alone politicians, to understand. The complexity of the relationships in farming between the nitrogen cycle, the carbon cycle and releases of methane, carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide from soils, balanced against quantity of food produced and a host of other variables, are daunting. Then there are cultural, economic, political and social aspects of farming, and vital concerns about food security, resource depletion, local production, animal welfare and wildlife conservation.

It is not surprising that people in- and outside agriculture seize on simple solutions, hence the flurry of excitement about biofuels and eating less meat. In the UK, the Government is fixated on anaerobic digestion (a way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from some animal and green wastes), and more efficient use of artificial nitrogen fertiliser. But tinkering at the edges will not be enough - systemic changes in farming are needed.

Changing what we eat

The solution to all of this is, in fact, simple - but only if we accept the need both to change to climate-friendly diets and climate-friendly farming. We need to change from the Western model of meat intensive diets, to diets with less dairy and meat, more grass fed beef, lamb and mutton, and more fruit, vegetables and pulses. We need to change from industrial agriculture, dependent on artificial inputs like oil-based nitrogen and mined phosphates, to a system that relies on the sun to fix nitrogen through legumes, such as clover.

In the UK, this would allow us to give up our reliance on industrial (especially white) meat and dairy production, routine use of antibiotics in many livestock systems, and the widespread use of artificial poisons - pesticides - to kill insects and plants that compete with crops. Instead, extended crop rotations and mixed crop and animal farms provide defences against competing plants and insects. Half our wheat goes to feed animals: in future most would be available to feed people. We would end the massive imports of protein, mainly soya, to feed intensively-farmed animals, and imports of vegetable oils, mainly palm oil, to feed the processed food industries.

A new climate treaty needs to signal to the world that agriculture must change direction from the disastrous course it has been on over the last sixty years. The UN Committee on Trade and Development and many development NGOs recognise that the best hope of feeding the hungriest people in the world lies with agri-ecological systems of farming, of which organic is the best example. This is what the IAASTD Report, based on the work of 400 international scientists, recommended.

Putting carbon in the soil

The Soil Association has just published a major report on soil carbon http://www.soilassociation.org/Whyorganic/Climatefriendlyfoodandfarming/Soilcarbon/tabid/574/Default.aspx showing that we could reduce UK emissions from farming by nearly one-quarter over the next 20 years just from the additional carbon sequestered in soils, if we converted to organic farming. Globally, the Soil Association estimates that soil-carbon sequestration under organic farming could reduce global greenhouse gas emissions from all sources by 11 per cent. Reports published by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation suggest that a switch of the world's agriculture to organic would reduce all greenhouse gas emissions from farming by nearly 60 per cent - and over 80 per cent with improved techniques.

According to the IPCC, 90 per cent of agriculture's GHG mitigation potential is from soil carbon sequestration. Based on a review of all the available studies, we have found 28 per cent higher levels of soil carbon in organic compared to non-organic cultivated farmland in the UK. The amount of carbon sequestered each year if all the UK was organic would be equivalent to the annual emissions of 1 million family cars, and this would continue every year for a period of at least twenty years. The immediate adoption of this approach over 20 years represents a quicker and more effective means of locking up CO2 (by using soil as a carbon sink) than any other single strategic approach. If all UK cultivated land was converted to organic there would also be reductions in N2O emissions, but just the soil carbon sequestration would be equivalent to 23 per cent of UK current agricultural emissions, two to three times the UK Government's 2020 target for emissions reduction from farming (6 per cent - 11 per cent).

Unless we combat climate change we won't be able to feed the world whichever way we farm. Agriculture is the only industry that can take carbon released into the atmosphere and return it safely to the soil. Carbon remains in soils for one hundred years or more, but the biggest gains are in the first twenty years, exactly the period when we need to do most to combat climate change. This is why agriculture is too important to be left out of any new climate change treaty.

Peter Melchett is policy director of the Soil Association

Useful links

Soil Association soil carbon report:

http://www.soilassociation.org/Whyorganic/Climatefriendlyfoodandfarming/Soilcarbon/tabid/574/Default.aspx

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Let's look before we leap
• Civil society calls for Technology Assessment as part of any Copenhagen deal


ETC Group, 7 December 2009:
http://www.etcgroup.org/en/node/4956

Download PDF (296.3 KB): http://www.etcgroup.org/upload/publication/pdf_file/LET'S%20LOOK%20BEFORE%20WE%20LEAP%20final%20071209.pdf

Technology transfer is one of the four key topics being discussed under negotiations on Long-Term Cooperative Actions in Copenhagen (the others are mitigation, adaptation and financing). The inter-governmental negotiating text that is under discussion contemplates various measures for accelerating the diffusion of technologies. It will most likely create an 'Action Plan' as well as a 'Technology Body' and various technical panels or innovation centres that will prove influential in the coming years in deciding which technologies get financial and political backing. We need to make sure the right technologies get the support they need and the wrong ones are discarded. That won't happen without a comprehensive social and environmental assessment process. We, civil society groups and social movements from around the world, understand the urgent need for real and lasting solutions to climate change. We recognise the deadly consequences that we all face if these are not achieved. We must urgently strengthen our resilience to meet the climate change challenge while dramatically reducing our greenhouse gas emissions.

Some corporations, individuals and even governments are fostering panic and helplessness to push for untested and unproven technologies, as 'our only option'. However we do not wish to see a proliferation of unproven technologies without due consideration of their ecological and social consequences. Some technologies being promoted for their capacity to store carbon or to manipulate natural systems may have disastrous ecological or social consequences. Technologies that may be beneficial in certain contexts could be harmful in others.

In many cases, action to address climate change is within our reach already and does not involve complex new technologies but rather conscious decisions and public policies to reduce our ecological footprint. For example, many indigenous peoples and peasants have sound endogenous technologies that already help them cope with the impacts of climate change, and to overlook these existing practices in favour of new, proprietary technologies from elsewhere is senseless. Technologies assessed as both environmentally and socially sound need to be exchanged. Intellectual property rules should not be allowed to stand in the way. But some technologies that are being promoted as 'environmentally sound' have foreseeable and serious negative social or environmental impacts. ÝFor example:

Nuclear power carries known environmental and health dangers, as well as a strong potential for nuclear weapons proliferation.

Crop and tree plantations for bioenergy and biofuels can lead to large-scale displacement of farmers and indigenous peoples, and destruction of existing carbon-dense ecosystems, thus accelerating climate change.

Agricultural practices involving genetically modified crops and trees, use of agrochemicals and synthetic fertilisers, large-scale monocultures and industrial livestock-rearing, present dangers to climate, human health and biodiversity.

Intentional, large-scale, technological interventions in the oceans, atmosphere, and land (geoengineering) could further destabilise the climate system and have devastating consequences for countries far away from those who will make the decisions.

Ocean fertilisation could disturb the food chain.and disrupt marine ecosystems.

Injecting sulphates into the stratosphere could cause widespread drought in equatorial zones, causing crop failures and worsening hunger.

Biochar is unproven for sequestering carbon or improving soils, yet strongly promoted by certain commercial interests.

In Copenhagen, a new international body responsible for climate-related technologies is likely to be created and new funds will be made available to it. But so far, the negotiating texts make no mention of the need for this new body to assess the socio-economic and environmental impacts of these technologies (which are frequently trans-boundary), or to consider the perspectives of populations likely to be affected, including women, indigenous peoples, peasants, fisher folk and others.

Precaution demands the careful assessment of technologies before, not after, governments and inter-governmental bodies start funding their development and aiding their deployment around the globe. There is already a precedent in international law: the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, ratified by 157 countries, gives effect to this principle on genetically modified organisms. National and international programs of public consultation, with the participation of the people who are directly affected, are critical. People must have the ability to decide which technologies they want, and to reject technologies that are neither environmentally sound nor socially equitable.

We therefore demand that a clear and consistent approach be followed internationally for all new technologies on climate change: States at COP 15 must ensure that strict precautionary mechanisms for technology assessment are enacted and are made legally binding, so that the risks and likely impacts, and appropriateness, of these new technologies, can be properly and democratically evaluated before they are rolled out. Any new body dealing with technology assessment and transfer must have equitable gender and regional representation, in addition to facilitating the full consultation and participation of peasants, indigenous peoples and potentially affected local communities.

To add your organisation's signature, send email with subject line: Look Before You Leap to Francesca@etcgroup.org

This document is signed by (as of Dec 7, 2009):

Acción por la Biodiversidad – Argentina
Advocates of Science and Technology for the People (AGHAM) – Philippines
African Biodiversity Network – Kenya
African Indigenous Women's Organizaton – Kenya
Alliance for Human Biotechnology – USA
Amigos de la Tierra Costa Rica (COECOCEIBA) – Costa Rica
Arul Anandar College (Autonomous) – India
Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact – Thailand
Asian Women's Indigenous Network – International
Asociacion Ambientalista Guerreros Verdes A.C. – Mexico
Asociacion ANDES – Peru
Association des Jeunes pour la Protection de L'environnement – Chad
Austrian-African Society – Austria
Biofuelwatch – UK
BIOS Argentina – Argentina
BUKO Agrar Koordination – Germany
Canadians for Action on Climate Change – Canada
Center for Biological Diversity – USA
Centre for Food Safety – USA
Centro ecologico – Brazil
Centro Ecológico la Primavera de Organizaciones Campesinas A. C. – Mexico
Centro Internazionale per la Cultura e i Diritti dell'Uomo - CICEDU – Italy
Climate XL – Africa
Coalition for Plant-Based Solutions to Feed All – Italy
Colectivo Voces Ecológicas – Panama
Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach – USA
Comisión Multisectorial – Uruguay
Coordinadora de Comunidades Guatemaltecas por la Defensa de los Manglares y la Vida (COGMANGLAR) – Guatemala
Corner House –UK
Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN) – Philippines
Díaz-Rentería
EAPSEC A. C. – Mexico
Eco Pax Mundi –International
Ecological Society of the Philippines – Philippines
Ecologistas en Acción – Spain
Ecology Party – USA
EcoNexus – UK
Ecoropa – Europe
Edmonds Institute – USA
Escuela de Pensamiento Ecologista – Guatemala
Escuela de Pensamiento Ecologista (SAVIA) – Guatemala
ETC Group – International
Evangelischer Entwicklungsdienst e.V. – Germany
Fair – Italy
Food First – USA
Food Secure Canada – Canada
Forum for Environment – Ethiopia
Friends of the Earth Australia – Australia
Friends of the Earth El Salvador (CESTA) – El Salvador
Friends of the Earth Mauritius (MAUDESCO) – Mauritius
Friends of the Earth Timor-Leste (Haburas Foundation) – East Timor
Friends of the Earth USA – USA
Gaia Foundation – UK
Gender CC- Women for Climate Justice – Germany
Gene Campaign – India
Global Exchange – USA
Global Justice Ecology Project – USA
GM-free Ireland Network – Ireland
GMWatch – International
Green Delaware – USA
Greenvironment, LLC – USA
Grupo Armonia – Costa Rica
Grupo de Trabajo Suiza Colombia – Switzerland
Grupo Semillas – Colombia
Hållbart Universitet – Sweden
Huertas Donde Sea – Costa Rica
Indian Biodiversity Network – India
Indigenous Environmental Network – USA
Indigenous Information Network – Kenya
Indigenous Peoples Biodiversity Network (IPBN) – International
Iniciativa Radial – Argentina
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) – USA
Institute of Science in Society – UK
International Centre for Technology Assessment – USA
International Forum on Globalization
International Indigenous Peoples' Biocultural Climate Change Assessment Initiative (IPCCA) – International
Kentucky Heartwood – USA
Kiee Lu'u S.S.S. – Mexico
Kritische Oekologie / ifak e.V. – Germany
L'Association de Développement Durable de Médenine – Tunisia
La Asociación Trashumancia y Naturaleza – Spain
MamaEarth – South Africa
Mangrove Action Project – USA
Movimiento de la Juventud Kuna – Panama
Movimiento Social Misiones – Argentina
National Farmers Union – Canada
National Toxics Network Inc. – Australia
Nexos S.A. – Costa Rica
NGO Working Group on the Asian Development Bank – International
Núcleo de Estudos, Pesquisas e Projetos de Reforma Agrária – Brazil
Organización de Agricultores Biológicos A. C. – Mexico
People & Planet – UK
Pesticide Action Network North America Regional Center (PANNA) – USA
Philippine Network on Climate Change – Philippines
Post Carbon Institute – USA
Proyecto de Bioseguridad de Puerto Rico – Puerto Rico
Proyecto Lemu – Argentina
Red de Coordinación en Biodiversidad – Costa Rica
Red Ecologista Autónoma de la Cuenca de México – Mexico
Red Latinoamericana Contra los Monocultivos de Arboles (RECOMA) – Uruguay
Rede de Investiacion em Nanotechlologia, Sociedad e Meio Ambiente (Renanosoma) Brazil
Rettet den Regenwald e.V – Germany
Sankofa Initiatives – Austria
Save Our Seed – Germany
SEARICE – Philippines
Seeds Action Network (SAN) – Germany
SmartMeme – USA
Society for New Initiatives and Action (SONIA) – Italy
Soledad Piazza
Spire, Youth of the Development Fund – Norway
St. John's Eco-Cell – Canada
STOP GE Trees Campaign – USA
Sunray Harvesters – India
Sustainable Development and Renwewable Energy Initiative – Nigeria
Sustainable Energy and Economy Network – USA
Tebtebba Foundation International – Philippines
Texas Drought Project – USA
The Enviro Show – USA
The Temple of Understanding – USA
Third World Network (TWN) – Malaysia
Tintern Schools – Australia
Tropical Nursery – South Africa
Unidad de la Fuerza Indígena y Campesina (UFIC) – Mexico
Unidad Ecológica Salvadoreña (UNES) – El Salvador
Universidad de la República – Uruguay
USC Canada – Canada
VivAgora – France
Women and Media Collective – Sri Lanka World Development Movement – UK

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Tories would stop short of embracing GM foods

AgriMoney.com [UK], 7 December 2009:
http://www.agrimoney.com/news/tories-would-stop-short-of-embracing-gm-foods--1077.html

The Conservative Party, which is tipped to win power in the UK next year, would stop short of embracing genetically modified crops despite farm productivity, its top agriculture spokesman has said.

Nick Herbert, the favourite to become UK farm secretary should the Conservatives win next year's elections, said that raising crop yields is the best way to secure supplies ahead as the world approaches a "perfect storm" of population growth, climate change and pressures on arable land.

However, while highlighting the importance of improved equipment, seeds and fertilizer, he stopped short of endorsing a push in genetically modified technologies which hold potential for huge yields increases.

"Science has to take a lead" in establishing the virtues of the technology, Mr Herbert, shadow agriculture secretary, told a City dinner.

The technology is hugely controversial in Europe over concerns for its broader environmental impact.

Indeed, there was little point in farmers growing it until consumers are prepared to buy it, he added, while making a comparison with nuclear power, which has gone from pariah status to widespread acceptance.

'Similar policy stance'

The speech indicated that the political climate for seed companies would change little even if the Conservatives succeeded in ousting Labour, said Icap, the broker which organised the event.

"It would appear that the Conservatives are adopting a similar policy stance to that of the current Labour government on GM," the broker said.

This meant "encouraging trials and research and development but stopping short in lobbying for widespread EU GM adoption".

Current UK agriculture secretary Hilary Benn came suggested in August that GM could have a role in raising UK farming, but also failed to endorse it.

Subsidy cuts ahead

Mr Herbert also said that financial pressures in Brussels, which spends about 40% of its budget on farm support, implied pressure on agriculture subsidies.

The next round of agriculture reform, due in 2013, will likely distance subsidies further from production and decrease their overall levels.

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6 December 2009

New website helps shoppers avoid GMO foods

The Independent [UK], 6 December 2009:
http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/new-website-helps-shoppers-avoid-gmo-foods-1835338.html

Shopping for products that aren't genetically modified (GM) can be challenging, particularly in the United States where there are as yet no laws governing the labeling of products with GM ingredients. To make it a little easier on concerned shoppers, the US advocacy group Institute for Responsible Technology (IRT) this week launched a new website for consumers who want to avoid buying products containing genetically modified organisms (GMO) and gene-spliced food products.

While it's impossible to provide a complete list of GM foods marketed in the US, the new guide aims to take the guesswork out of avoiding GM food and features straightforward brand-by-brand comparisons of non-GM products and products likely to contain GM ingredients. It's been widely reported that most Americans would like to know if their food contains GMO ingredients and would avoid foods they knew contained GM ingredients.

But there are some basic rules of thumb in avoiding GM products and are applicable worldwide:

Buy 100 percent organic: Some organic products (with multiple ingredients), however, may contain non-organic ingredients, so it's best to stick to single ingredients. Because something says "organic" on it doesn't mean it doesn't contain GM ingredients. In fact, it could contain up to 30 percent GM ingredients, so be sure the labels say 100 percent organic.

Avoid processed foods likely to be made with ingredients from the "Big Four" GM crops: corn, soy, canola (for rapeseed oil), and cotton (for cottonseed oil).

Avoid sugar unless it's 100 percent cane sugar: GM beet sugar is one of the latest additions to the food supply; avoid aspartame, an artificial sweetener derived from GM organisms.

Look at what is (or isn't) on the labels: If a product is not labeled as being GMO-free, most likely it contains some GM ingredients.

The shopping guide also has a long list of so-called invisible GM ingredients that can make their way into one's diet.

For more information, go to: http://www.nongmoshoppingguide.com

There are plenty of other websites with detailed information on GM foods and genetic engineering, some of which also provide downloadable shopping guides for consumers. Some of them include:

http://www.sustainablestuff.co.uk
http://www.seedsofdeception.com
http://www.truefoodnow.org
http://vivresansogm.org
http://guideogm.greenpeace.ca
http://www.non-gmoreport.com

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5 December 2009

Large concentrations of GM DNA in soil food web

GM Watch [UK], 5 December 2009:
http://www.gmwatch.org/latest-listing/1-news-items/11784-large-concentrations-of-gm-dna-in-soil-food-web

Note: A new study examined soil invertebrates in a Roundup Ready cornfield for the presence and quantity of transgenic corn genes (cp4 epsps) with the goal of identifying the location of the transgenes in a soil food web.

The study tested macroarthropods, microarthropods, nematodes, and earthworms.

It found evidence for large concentrations of transgenic DNA in animals from the food web associated with RoundUp Ready corn.

This indicates that the transgene does not significantly degrade within the food web. Further, the guts of these animals may provide opportunity for genetic transformation into native soil bacteria.

Refererence

Miranda, M. H.
Detection of transgenic cp4 epsps genes in the soil food web,
Agron. Sustain. Dev. 29(2009)497-501.
Available online at http://www.agronomy-journal.org
Available as PDF at http://bit.ly/6gauyk

Abstract

The persistence and movement of transgenic DNA in agricultural and natural systems is largely unknown. This movement poses a threat of horizontal gene transfer and possible proliferation of genetically modified DNA into the general environment. To assess the persistence of transgenic DNA in a field of Roundup Ready corn, we quantified the presence of the transgene for glyphosate tolerance within a soil food web. Using quantitative real-time PCR, we identified the cp4 epsps transgene in bulk soil microarthropods, nematodes, macroarthropods and earthworms sampled within the corn cropping system. We found evidence of the transgene at all dates and in all animal groups. Transgenic DNA concentration in animals was significantly higher than that of background soil, suggesting the animals were feeding directly on transgenic plant material. It remains to be tested whether this DNA was still within the plant residues, present as free, extracellular DNA or had already undergone genetic transformation into competent bacterial cells. These results are the first to demonstrate the persistence of transgenic crop DNA residues within a food web.

Conclusion:

We found evidence for large concentrations of transgenic DNA in animals from the food web associated with RoundUp Ready corn. This indicates that the transgene does not significantly degrade within the food web. Further, the guts of these animals may provide opportunity for genetic transformation into native soil bacteria. It remains to be determined how far down the food web the transgene is detectable and whether or not the identified gene is available for transformation. It may be that animals associated with the soil food web provide an excellent starting spot for detecting genetic transformation in the natural environment.

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Comment from GM-free Ireland:

This devastating news confirms the scientific predictions made by GM-free Ireland and many other organisations that GM crops would spread their transgenic DNA into completely unrelated organisms whose ecosystem services (including the maintenance of fertile topsoil) are vital for the environment, farmers, consumers, and the food security of future generations.

If follow-up research finds that the GM DNA has been horizontally transferred into the DNA of the contaminated organisms and/or the bacteria that live inside their guts, this will effectively close the global debate on GM food and farming.

The US and Canadian Governments, European Commission, Monsanto, BASF, Bayer, Syngenta and all the other agri-biotech companies, universities, public relations firms, political parties, scientists, regulators, journalists and spin doctors who claimed otherwise will then share the responsibility for unleashing this new and uncontainable form of biological pollution that will self-propagate and damage the health and stability of our planetary biosphere in perpetuity.

All governments must now take immediate action to terminate field trials and cultivation of GM crops.

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$2 million verdict against Bayer CropScience

Joe Whittington and Andrew M. Harris
Bloomberg News [USA], 5 December 2009:
http://www.stltoday.com/stltoday/business/stories.nsf/0/5075056DB7F3020186257683000BD26F?OpenDocument

Bayer CropScience LP must pay about $2 million for losses sustained by two Missouri farmers when an experimental variety of rice the company was testing cross-bred with their crops, a federal jury ruled.

Friday's verdict in St. Louis came in the first trial in what is intended to be a series of test cases against the unit of Leverkusen, Germany-based Bayer AG. The jury of four men and five women began deliberating Wednesday, about a month after it began hearing claims brought by Kenneth Bell and Johnny Hunter.

Farmers from Missouri, Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi have filed more than 1,000 similar cases against Bayer since the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced in August 2006 that trace amounts of the genetically modified LibertyLink rice were found in U.S. long-grain rice stocks.

Bayer and Louisiana State University had been testing the rice, bred to be resistant to Bayer's Liberty-brand herbicide, at a school-run facility in Crowley, La. The variety eventually "contaminated" more than 30 percent of U.S. ricelands, Don Downing, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said at the start of the trial.

The jury awarded only compensatory damages and rejected the farmers' request for a punitive judgment. Grant Davis, one of the farmers' lawyers, had told jurors an $80 million punitive award was "not too much to send a message."

Within four days of the 2006 USDA announcement, rice futures plunged, costing U.S. growers about $150 million, according to a consolidated complaint filed by the farmers.

The jury awarded Bell $1.96 million and Hunter $53,336. Bayer's negligence cost Bell more than $2.2 million, Downing said during the trial. Hunter quit rice farming and lost $50,000 because of the contamination, Downing said.

While the USDA later approved Bayer CropScience's biotech rice to be grown and sold for human consumption, it hasn't been commercially marketed. The USDA never determined how the LibertyLink rice entered the nation's long-grain rice supply, Bayer CropScience's statement said.

The next test, or bellwether trial, involving farmers from Arkansas and Mississippi, is scheduled to start on Jan. 11 in St. Louis.

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Agriculture minister not informed of rejection of GMO regulation

Today's Zaman [Turkey], 5 December 2009:
http://www.todayszaman.com/tz-web/news-194634-105-agriculture-minister-not-informed-of-rejection-of-gmo-regulation.html

Minister of Agriculture Mehmet Mehdi Eker, speaking at the 1st Annual Food Safety Congress organized by the Turkish Food Safety Association yesterday, revealed that he had not been informed by the Council of State about them stopping the execution of a new regulation for genetically modified food.

Speaking on genetically modified agricultural goods, Eker stated that before Oct. 26 of this year, any foodstuffs that were declared to be genetically modified were automatically denied entry to Turkey. If these goods were not declared to be genetically modified, then "we couldn't do anything about it under the old legislation, which was compatible with international law and standards."

He added that the new regulation for genetically modified organisms (GMOs), the execution of which was cancelled by the Council of State earlier this week, would have further regulated the import of GMO foods. He stated that the regulation was presented by the media to the public in a way that "made it seem like [importing GMO foods] was restricted before and that this new regulation would make it easier to import them. ... Our goal was to create a regulatory framework that would control food with GMOs more tightly. We wanted to protect the health of consumers and the public. Unfortunately people calling themselves 'experts,' people who had no prior experience with the issue, confused the public to the fullest extent."

The minister added that he had not been informed about the Council of State's decision to stop the execution of the new GMO regulation. He said he had not been asked by the council to defend the legislation verbally or in a written statement. Revealing his confusion over the matter, Eker added: "We have to abide by the council's decision. ... But honestly, why was the regulation rejected? Who opposed it?"

The minister also spoke on food safety regulations and stated that Turkey's food safety management, administration and legislation is much stronger than claimed, and that claims that consumers are being fed untested and unsafe foods are "completely exaggerated and false." Eker stated that his ministry had taken over food safety management and had increased the number of food safety control cases from 40,000 in 2002, to 340,000 in 2008.

Moreover, the minister spoke about the claim that 60 to 70 percent of the food consumed is Turkey is produced in the informal market and is not subject to farming and food production standards. He stated that this was "misleading" and revealed that "nearly all of the sector is in the formal economy and is tied to the addresses where they produce. ... There are roughly 3.1 million agricultural enterprises in Turkey and nearly all of these are in the formal economy."

Professor Chris Griffith, the director of research and enterprise and the head of the food research and consultancy unit at the University of Wales Institute, Cardiff, and the editor of the British Food Journal, also spoke at the event, highlighting the importance of food safety for the economic wellbeing of a nation. In addition to the health problems associated with bad food safety management, Griffith highlighted the case of a food poisoning outbreak in the Dominican Republic as a threat to the economy. "As result of the outbreaks of food poisoning the Dominican Republic had, their tourism declined by 12 percent over a two year period," he said.

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4 December 2009

New twist to controversy over commercial release of Bt brinjal

K. Venkateshwarlu
The Hindu [India], 4 December 2009:
http://beta.thehindu.com/news/national/article60225.ece

Was the chairman of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee's second expert committee (EC2), R. Arjula Reddy, under "tremendous pressure" to recommend commercial cultivation of Bt brinjal [aubergine] in the country?

In what appears a new twist to the controversy over the impending commercial release of the genetically modified crop, with the toxin producing Bt gene in it, strongly resisted by civil society groups, Professor Reddy is stated to have confided to P.M. Bhargava, scientist and Supreme Court nominee on the GEAC, that he was under pressure and that he received calls from "Agriculture Minister, GEAC and industry" to give his nod.

Prof. Reddy disclosed this to Dr. Bhargava during a confidential telephonic conversation, while confirming that eight of the tests Dr. Bhargava had suggested could not be taken up. Even in the case the tests that were conducted, "they were not done satisfactorily and adequately." When contacted, Prof. Reddy's mobile kept indicating that he was not available.

Dr. Bhargava says that when Prof. Reddy conveyed his dilemma, he advised him to follow his conscience. Dr. Bhargava has now sent a signed statement, recalling this conversation, to accompany a memorandum by the Coalition For a GM-Free India to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh, urging them to reconsider the approval.

Report 'rigged'

G.V. Ramanjaneyulu, executive director of the Hyderabad-based Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, which is part of the Coalition, told The Hindu that Prof. Reddy's admission vindicated civil society groups' stand that the report was 'rigged' to favour the commercial release of Bt. Brinjal without proper tests. "It looks like EC2 has been designed to approve Bt brinjal," he said demanding withdrawal of the report.

Prof. Reddy's admission is not the only issue. The Coalition has brought to light other facts. K.K. Tripathi, Member-Secretary of the Review Committee on Genetic Manipulation (RCGM in the DBT) and member of EC2, has a Central Vigilance Commission complaint pending against him of exercising undue discretionary powers to promote the interests of the companies of his choice, Mahyco in this instance, and harm others.

Conflicting interests

At least two Bt brinjal developers on EC2 bring in conflicting interests. One of them, Mathura Rai, director of the Indian Institute of Vegetable Research, is part of the consortium project that is developing Bt brinjal in India with American aid, the Coalition alleged. Moreover, he supervised large scale trials of Mahyco's Bt brinjal during the last two years, and now is part of EC2 asked "to review findings of his own institution's large scale trials and biosafety tests."

"The new information puts a huge question mark on the scientific value and objectivity of this Expert Committee in assessing Bt brinjal and its safety," Dr. Ramanjaneyulu said.

Arjula Reddy is stated to have confided to court nominee that he received calls from "Agriculture Minister, GEAC, industry"

A complaint is pending against EC2 member for promoting interests of companies of his choice, Mahyco in this case.

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In Bellwether Trial in Billion-Dollar MDL, St. Louis Jury Finds Bayer Liable for Contaminating U.S. Rice Crop

Alison Frankel
The American Lawyer: Litigation Daily, December 4 2009:
http://www.law.com/jsp/tal/digestTAL.jsp?id=1202436071420&In_Bellwether_Trial_in__BillionDollar_MDL_St_Louis_Jury_Finds_Bayer_Liable_for_Contaminating_US_Rice_Crop

If you care about mass tort litigation, there's a very interesting experiment underway right now in St. Louis. Federal district court judge Catherine Perry is overseeing some 3,000 suits in which rice farmers allege that Bayer CropScience was careless in its handling of an experimental, genetically modified strain of long-grain rice, permitting the non-approved strain to contaminate the U.S. long-grain rice crop. Last August the judge overseeing the multidistrict litigation refused to certify it as a class action, which meant that the lead plaintiffs counsel--Adam Levitt of Wolf Haldenstein Adler Freeman & Herz and Don Downing of Gray Ritter & Graham--faced the prospect of thousands of individual trials.

And they were up against a defendant (and law firm) with plenty of mass tort experience. Bayer and its lead counsel in the rice MDL, Bartlit Beck Herman Palenchar & Scott were justly celebrated a few years back for their hard-nosed, but sensible, approach to the product liability litigation over Bayer's cholesterol-lowering drug Baycol. Bayer said would pay damages to the relatively small number of plaintiffs who could demonstrate an injury directly linked to Baycol. All the others, it said, would have to go to trial. When the first two Baycol trials ended with defense verdicts, plaintiffs lawyers started dropping Baycol cases by the thousands.

That's not going to happen anytime soon in the rice litigation. In the first two cases to go to trial, a St. Louis jury on Friday awarded two Missouri farmers almost $2 million in compensatory damages, which, according to plaintiffs lawyer Levitt, was almost all the farmers claimed. "The facts and evidence adduced in this case speak for themselves, and speak very loudly," Levitt told the Litigation Daily. (Downing was lead trial counsel for the plaintiffs.)

The jury didn't award the farmers any punitive damages, but if the compensatory awards in these bellwether cases are any indication, Bayer faces "certainly hundreds of millions" in liability for rice crop contamination, Levitt said. "This is a healthy nine-figure case," he told us.

The next test case is scheduled for trial next month. It's a good bet that Bayer won't start thinking about settlement before several more juries render verdicts. But the Baycol mold is already broken. As mass tort junkies, we're very curious to see what happens next.

We called and e-mailed Bayer CropScience and lead defense counsel Mark Ferguson of Bartlit Beck but didn't hear back. A Bayer spokesman told Bloomberg that the company "acted responsibly with regard to its handling and testing of its biotech rice."

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Iowa law firm files as Monsanto lobbyist ahead of DOJ/USDA antitrust workshops

Lynda Waddington
The Iowa Independent [USA], 4 December 2009:
http://iowaindependent.com/22980/iowa-law-firm-files-as-monsanto-lobbyist-in-advance-of-ag-antitrust-workshop

[Photo caption: Iowa attorney and Democratic political insider Jerry Crawford, longtime supporter and friend of U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, has signed on as a lobbyist for Monsanto. (Photo: Crawford, Quilty & Mauro)]

As the U.S. Departments of Justice and Agriculture gear up for an unprecedented series of investigative workshops on agricultural competition and regulatory issues, a Des Moines law firm with deep political ties has signed on to represent agribusiness giant Monsanto.

The five workshops, which will begin in Ankeny in March 2010 and span four other states over the next year, are an opportunity for producers to speak directly to federal officials about antitrust concerns.

In several key agricultural sectors, farmers and producers have long complained that their revenue seems to bear little relation to the prices consumers pay for their products or the prices that dominant companies make for ultimately selling to them. For example, as dairy farmers have struggled through recent volatile price markets, some producers have pointed to evidence of corruption and soaring profits for processors, who sit between producers and consumers in the distribution chain.

The Iowa workshop, which will serve as an introduction to the entire series, will focus primarily on seeds - a market that is dominated by Monsanto. The company now controls nearly all genetically modified cotton, soy and corn seeds. In fact, it is estimated that more than 80 percent of all corn and more than 90 percent of all soybeans in Iowa are grown from genetically modified seeds on which Monsanto holds a government patent.

Because of its market dominance, it is impossible to imagine a discussion on crop seeds that does not include both criticism and applause for the work of Monsanto and, by that same token, impossible to imagine a discussion that does not also include criticism and applause for U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.

When he was nominated to President Obama's Cabinet, many of Vilsack's critics pointed to the fact that he was named Governor of the Year by the Biotechnology Industry Organization for his "support of the industry's economic growth and agriculture biotechnology research." The former Iowa governor's critics have long argued that he gave too much preference to agribusiness in general - and to Monsanto in particular.

Although any investigation stemming from the planned workshops will be initiated and managed by the Department of Justice, the fact that they are being jointly sponsored by the USDA is raising some flags simply due to Vilsack's connection to agribusiness and biotechnology.

Adding fuel to the fire, The Iowa Independent has learned that long-time Vilsack friend and monetary supporter Jerry Crawford has signed on as a federal lobbyist for Monsanto. The Crawford, Quilty & Mauro law firm in Des Moines filed lobbying registration papers with both the U.S. House and Senate on Nov. 10, indicating that they would be representing Monsanto in the areas of competition/antitrust, environmental law, regulations and policies. The firm has no other federal lobbying contracts, and Crawford has a personal history with Vilsack.

In addition to supplying the Vilsack campaigns (1998 to 2002) and Heartland 527-PAC with more than $150,000 in donations, Crawford was listed as the Heartland PAC treasurer on documents filed with the Internal Revenue Service. He also served on the board of directors for the Democratic Governors Association, and has been called "one of the leading Democratic strategists in Iowa." Crawford has been chairman of the Polk County Democratic Party, and has served as state chairman or legal counsel for presidential campaigns in Iowa for nearly as long as the state's first-in-the-nation caucuses have held influence.

Two additional attorneys in the firm - Nicholas Mauro and Jim Quilty - are also listed on the federal lobbyist registration forms. Monsanto also employs seven state lobbyists, according to state records, none of whom appear to have direct ties to the Crawford law firm.

Philip J. Weiser, deputy assistant attorney general in the Department of Justice's Antitrust Division, spoke frankly with producers gathered in August for a conference on competitive markets saying that the department "understand[s] that there are concerns regarding the levels of concentration in the seed industry - particularly for corn and soybeans."

"In studying this market, we will evaluate the emerging industry structure, explore whether new entrants are able to introduce innovation, and examine any practices that potentially threaten competition," he said.

Mark Kuhn, a 12-year Democratic state legislative veteran from Charles City who is not seeking re-election, plants non-modified soybeans and some modified corn. "You just have to be careful," he advised, "and make sure that you don't co-mingle or contaminate the non-GMO soybeans. It is manageable."

In 2005, Kuhn was also a lead legislative opponent of a bill that removed local and state oversight as to where modified crops could be planted. The bill ultimately succeeded. It's a piece of law that those who oppose genetically-modified crops refer to as seed preemption - and one of the chief arguments cited by those who opposed Vilsack being named U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.

"I just felt that local governments should be given the right, if they want to, to decide where transgenic crops can be grown or not grown," Kuhn said. "In certain areas the organic market is a viable market, and if a grower or a community or a county decides that they want to tailor to that market, they should have the right to do so."

Kuhn describes the Iowa legislation, which many feel was prompted by then-Gov. Vilsack, as "a rush to stop a movement that had begun in California" to ban modified crops.

"It is interesting because you would assume that [if local governments could not have oversight] that the state would have some control over it or some ability to determine what is a transgenetic crop. But we don't. That's all federal," he said.

"We don't even have a definition on our seed label of what transgenetic crops are. Yet we label weed seed, inert seed and everything else - germination, when it was grown, where it was grown - but we have no definition for genetically engineered seed. There's nothing required on the label; therefore, there is no requirements on the patent holder."

As the dates of the workshops near, the Department of Justice plans to provide additional updates and information, including the names of speakers. Comments are also being accepted in advance of the workshop. The should be sent to the Department of Justice, 450 5th St. NW, Suite 11700, Washington, D.C. 20001, no later than Dec. 31. They can also be sent by e-mail to agriculturalworkshops@usdoj.gov.

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Council of State places limits on parts of GMO legislation

Today's Zaman [Turkey], 4 December 2009:
http://www.todayszaman.com/tz-web/news-194550-100-council-of-state-places-limits-on-parts-of-gmo-legislation.html

The Council of State has ruled to prevent parts of a recently adopted regulation addressing the control of food and feed products containing genetically modified organisms (GMO) from fully entering into effect.

In response to a lawsuit filed on Oct. 26, the common council of the 10th and 13th chambers of the Council of State stopped the execution of parts of the new regulation on grounds that there is a need to clearly draw a framework for the import, export, use and inspection mechanisms of GMOs.

The Council of State evaluation also indicated that the Ministry of Agriculture, which has been sued over the issue, has already been working on a bio-security law.

"The developments show that there needs to be a new legislation," the Council of State announced. "When public health and security are concerned, the regulation does not have enough legal support."

The new regulation went into effect on Oct. 26 after publication in the Official Gazette, but drew widespread opposition from agricultural organizations, consumer associations and political opposition parties, which claimed that the regulation places the nation's health at risk by making the import of GMO crops in Turkey free. GMOs can be produced by gene cloning methods in which a non-native gene is introduced and expressed in a new organism. Until today, genetically modified soybean and corn have been entering Turkey due to an absence of legislation.

Turkey does not yet have a bio-security law, setting rules and regulations for GMOs; hence, the government says it wants to take these crops under supervision until a comprehensive law comes into effect.

Critics say the regulation does not restrict or ban the import or use of GMOs but only introduces some criteria for their import and that it has shortcomings and runs counter to international standards about the use of genetically modified crops.

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Transgene from GM Corn Found in Soil-Dwelling Animals

Ecological Farming Association [USA], 4 December 2009:
http://campaign.constantcontact.com/render?v=0018lFCxjd71KMb6GIvcMl-eIibhSt_5UJNOXtdauubJXH0y2QldDSIspISd02ZqTwjj7pL1R9VgxXFMn92Ge-lsio_gr4CjcLVyyTEWDpWv-rtbcMpJcjoXCvWh5yYLxXN

Despite evidence that transgenes (from species other than the "engineered" species) in genetically modified (GM) plants can persist in the soil, little research has been done to determine the extent of such contamination.

This is an important issue because environmental contamination by transgenes "has serious implications for environmental health, including human safety," according to Canadian scientists who recently tested various soil-dwelling animals for the transgene (responsible for resistance to the herbicide glyphosate) present in GM Roundup Ready® corn.

They collected the animals in May, August, and October (macroarthropods and nematodes) or in May and August (microarthropods and earthworms) from a field of Roundup Ready® corn.

The transgene was present in all types of animals on all collection dates, with the exception of nematodes collected in August. About 81% of nematodes collected in October tested positive for the transgene. More than one-third of microarthropods (thrips, collembolans, and mites) tested positive. And slightly more than 10% of macroarthropods (mostly various insects) and earthworms tested positive.

Concentrations of the transgene tended to decrease in nematodes and earth-worms and to increase in arthropods during the growing season. Levels of the transgene in the soil (free of plant tissues) were usually considerably lower than levels in the animals.

The scientists who conducted this experiment rather matter-of-factly note: "Whether the presence of transgenes in the soil food web presents a risk for soil animals is not known."

We admit to being quite astounded by this statement, which appears to indicate that GM crops are being used far and wide without a clear understanding of their effects on the environment! The bottom line is that (for the first time after years of commercial cropping of GM plants) there is "evidence for large concentrations of transgenic DNA in animals from the food web associated with RoundUp Ready® corn. This indicates that the trans- gene does not significantly degrade within the food web. Further, the guts of these animals may provide opportunity for genetic transformation into native soil bacteria." And that last "opportunity" might lead to movement of transgenes into non-GM plants and ultimately pose risks to human health.

It could very well be the case that the commercialization of GM crops will produce animals containing genes that could do great harm to humanity. A perhaps enormously problematic can of worms (and bugs), indeed!

Reference:

Miranda M. Hart (Dept. of Integrative Biology, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, CANADA N1G 2W1), et al., "Detection of Transgenic cp4 epspsGenes in the Soil Food Web," Agronomy for Sustainable Development 29(4), October/ December 2009, 497-501. (EDPSciences, 875 Massachusetts Ave., 7th Floor, Cambridge, MA 02139.)

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EU takes big step towards common patent system

Andrew Willis
EU Observer, 4 December 2009:
http://euobserver.com/9/29099/?rk=1

BRUSSELS - The European Union took a big step towards creating a single Europe-wide patent system on Friday (4 December), a move that is expected to save businesses many millions in annual costs.

As part of the deal, industry ministers meeting in Brussels reached a political agreement on the setting up of a single EU-patent to replace the multitude of national patents that innovators are currently forced to acquire to protect their products.

The ministers also reached a deal on the establishment of a EU patent court system that would see the setting up of a single European appeals courts for patent infringement disputes.

This would help end the need for companies to take out parallel litigation proceedings in different member states, a costly procedure.

"Today's agreement cannot be overestimated. It comes at a moment when it is most needed," said the EU's industry commissioner, Gunter Verheugen, after the deal was struck.

EU studies predict that companies paying for patents stand to save a combined figure of at least €150 million per year through a more efficient and cost effective patent system.

Festivities on hold

However, there are still a number of outstanding issues to be resolved before a fully functioning European patent system can be put in place, including the need to bring down European patent translation costs.

"We have won an important battle, but not yet the war," said Arnaldo Abruzzini, secretary general of Eurochambres, an umbrella organisation representing European businesses.

"It is not sustainable that a company cannot protect an invention on the whole EU territory for less than €70,000 while this costs around €20,000 in the US and even less in Japan," he added.

The European Court of Justice is also in the process of determining whether a new European patent court system can be set up, with CEOs likely to wait until this latest political accord is transformed into a detailed agreement before popping the champagne corks.

The commission proposed a regulation on a EU patent as far back as 2000, but the process stalled in 2004 and a final deal was never reached.

Businesses see good patent protection as vital to achieving high levels of innovation, with the EU frequently criticised over its laborious and expensive procedures compared to competing countries.

The bloc is currently in the process of devising a new 10-year economic plan to kick in when the Lisbon Strategy expires at the end of 2010. Innovation, especially in the area of green technology, is expected to feature prominently.

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Food sustainability: Modified opinions

Editorial
The Guardian [UK], Friday 4 December 2009:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/dec/04/food-sustainability-gm-genetically-modified

Historians of the future may mark the early 21st century as the point where the science of agriculture finally broke into public understanding. Ten years of ill-tempered debate over genetically modified organisms (GMOs) has had many malign effects, not least adding to public scepticism about science and scientists. But it has had one benign one. It has pumped dye into the veins of the global food business, graphically illustrating the monopolistic ambitions of agribusiness and ultimately, perhaps, its ability to control the very food we eat.

On Wednesday night a debate on GMOs at the illustrious Royal Society of Chemistry HQ in London suggested a breakthrough. Afterwards the feeling was that it was a win on points for the GM sceptics. This is not what was meant to happen: the scientific community, and the government, insist Britain's future food sustainability depends on employing some form of GM to increase yields, as the Royal Society recently argued. But they can take heart: the debate was less a defeat for GM than for the way it has developed. The corollary is that if the government really believes that the only way to increase yields is through GM technology, it will have to fund this itself.

The winning argument on Wednesday was not really about science at all, but about the ethics of a method of increasing yields that delivers such power into the hands of the multinationals. Yesterday the Soil Association published a report claiming that next year's GM soya bean seed will cost US farmers almost half as much again as this year's. Genetically modified seed is, as a technology, intended primarily to benefit the corporations that develop it. Claims that it is the way to save the world came later. This does not necessarily make it a bad technology; it only means - as Sussex University's Erik Millstone argued in the debate - its commercial trajectory is too narrow to provide much in the way of answers to global hunger. It is a technology developed for large-scale agriculture in advanced capitalist economies that has scant regard for other producers or other economic models. It has been accompanied by unsubstantiated claims which, according to independent scientists backed by the powerful voice of Scientific American, cannot be tested, since all research on GM seed has to be licensed as part of the impenetrable defences erected by agribusiness around its expensive patents.

This model excludes all kinds of developments that might make a more significant contribution to food sustainability than merely increasing yield (often by enabling heavier use of herbicides or pesticides). Food sustainability in an era of climate change requires not only, nor even primarily, higher yields, but greater resilience - the ability to survive in harsher conditions and on poorer soils. There is work to be done on developments that would lower the need for high-cost (and often high-carbon) inputs, by for example developing crops grown as annuals into perennials, or breeding varieties that do not require soil cultivation, or that improve the soil by fixing nitrogen.

Here, GM may be a small part of the answer. But it has a mixed record in Asia, where it has tended to enrich the rich and impoverish the poor, and it is unlikely to be any part of the answer to food security in Africa for the foreseeable future. As the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation pointed out last year, there is enough food for everyone. It just isn't available in the right places. Subsistence farmers are cut off from all but the most local markets, and if they take the risk of buying commercial GM seed their increased yield might just lower local prices. They need simpler improvements. And globally the need is for publicly funded science to investigate sustainable agriculture in the widest possible meaning of the word: better farming practices, a viable pricing system and, for the global north, a radical change in patterns of consumption.

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3 December 2009

New evidence shows huge price rises for GM seed - a stark warning to UK farmers

Soil Association [UK], 3 November 2009:
http://www.soilassociation.org/News/NewsItem/tabid/91/smid/463/ArticleID/222/reftab/92/Default.aspx

Against a background of continuing calls from the GM lobby for the Government to back the growing of GM crops in the UK, a new report published today (3 Dec) shows that GM seed prices in America have increased dramatically, compared to non-GM and organic seeds, cutting average farm incomes for US farmers growing GM crops. [1]

The report is being launched at a public meeting at Westminster Central Hall (from 10am, 3 Dec), by Dr Charles Benbrook, Chief Scientist at the US Organic Center. The launch includes a panel discussion with National Farmers' Union Acting Director General Martin Haworth, Dominic Dyer of the Crop Protection Association and Clare Oxborrow of Friends of the Earth, and will be attended by Monsanto.

In the 25 years from 1975 to 2000, non-GM soybean seed prices rose a modest 63%. Since 2000, as GM soybeans came to dominate the market, the price rose by a massive 230%.

Farmers buying Monsanto's new Roundup Ready 2 soybean seed in 2010 will pay 42% more per bag than they paid in 2009.

Maize (corn) growers planting the new GM variety 'SmartStax', will pay more than twice as much as farmers planting conventional non-GM seeds. This is almost four times more than conventional farmers paid just ten years earlier.

Today, GM cotton seed costs $700, a staggering six times the price of non-GM cotton seed. From 1975 to 1996, the price of cotton seed only doubled, but in the GM cotton era, it has risen from $73 to $589. [2]

In a recent speech Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant said the company's goal was to double gross profits in 2012, from 2007 levels. He said that increases in the price of new GM RR 2 soybeans and GM 'SmartStax' maize hybrids will create about one-third of the company's gross profit growth in 2012.

Peter Melchett, Soil Association policy director, said:

"This new data on the massive rises in the costs of GM seeds for those US farmers who now have no alternatives, coupled with steep increases in pesticide use, should serve as a stark warning to UK farmers. If GM crops are allowed here, UK farmers could find themselves contributing to another doubling of Monsanto's profits."

The Organic Center's report concludes:

"At the present time there is a massive disconnect between the sometimes lofty rhetoric from those championing biotechnology as the proven path toward global food security and what is actually happening on farms in the U.S. that have grown dependent on GM seeds and are now dealing with the consequences."

The huge increases in GM seed prices only make economic sense if farmers are able to make big savings by reducing pesticide use, but recent research by The Organic Center in America found that GM crops are actually pushing pesticide use up at a rapidly accelerating pace. Farmers applied 318 million more pounds in weight of pesticides over the last 13 years as a result of planting GM seeds. In 2008, overall GM crops required over 26% more pounds of pesticides per acre than non-GM varieties. [3]

The cost of GM seed is cutting into US farmers' average net income:

From 1975 to 1997 soybean farmers spent 4% - 8% of their income from the crop on buying seed. In 2009, for farmers planting GM soybean seeds, this rose to 16.4% - over twice the historic average. For farmers planting RR2 soybeans in 2010, a projected 22.5% of their gross income per acre will go on buying these GM seeds.

In 2009, GM maize seed accounted for 19% of gross income and 34% of operating costs per acre, about twice historic norms.

The cost of GM cotton seed has helped drive net farm income on cotton farms into the red since 2008. In the GM era, average net returns on cotton farms have dropped by roughly $200 per acre and the cost of GM cotton seed has increased by almost $100 per acre. [4]

The report states that if these GM seed price and income trends continue the consequences will be of historic significance, as dollars once earned and retained by farmers are transferred to the biotech seed industry.

Ends

Notes for Editors

[1] 'The Magnitude and Impacts of the Biotech and Organic Seed Price Premium'; by Dr Charles Benbrook, Chief Scientist at the US Organic Center - the full report can be downloaded here http://www.organic-center.org/reportfiles/Seeds_Final_11-30-09.pdf

[2]


[3] 'Impacts of Genetically Engineered Crops on Pesticide Use: The First Thirteen years' - the full report can be downloaded here http://www.organic-center.org/science.pest.php?action=view&report_id=159

[4]

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Minister backs tolerance for genetic modification in EU feed imports

Stephen Cadogan
Irish Examiner, 3 December 2009:
http://www.irishexaminer.com/archives/2009/1203/features/minister-backs-tolerance-for-genetic-modification-in-eu-feed-imports-106954.html

AGRICULTURE Minister Brendan Smith is to support tolerance for low level traces of genetically modified material in animal feed imported into the EU. He told the Dáil [Parliament]: "I have informed Commissioner Vassiliou of DG Sanco that my officials will work closely with her officials to agree a proposal for the setting of a tolerance for the low level presence of, as yet, unauthorised GM events."

Feeds have been dearer in the EU because an estimated 180,000 tonnes of US soybeans have been blocked at EU ports this year, because of the EU's zero tolerance of trace amounts of two GM maizes as yet not approved by EU member states.

Mr Smith said: "Most of the recent problems being experienced by the animal feed industry have revolved around asynchronous authorisation of GM varieties between the feed exporting countries and the EU, and the detection of traces of two GM maize varieties, not yet authorised in the EU, in soya and maize feed imported shipments, resulting in their rejection.

"This has led to uncertainty in the trade of these products, which in turn were replaced by more expensive alternatives."

"I am pleased that the commission has recently authorised one of these varieties and hopefully will authorise the other before year end."

He was responding to a Dáil question from Fine Gael Deputy George Lee.

---

Comment by GM-free Ireland

Note how the Editor of the Irish Examiner's Farming Supplement, Stephen Cadogan, begins by falsely framing the "zero tolerance" issue as if it were about low level traces of GM ingredients in imported animal feed, and as if GM animal feed were something new to Ireland. In reality, 95% of our imported soy, maize and oilseed rape feedstuffs have been genetically modified for years.

Cadogan then fails to reveal that what is at stake is increased pollution of the food chain with illegal GM feedstuffs that have never been subject to health risk assessment, and/or have not been approved in the EU. He also fails to specify that the principal source of the contamination is the USA. He then blames increased feed costs on EU safety regulations instead of the contaminated shipments, thus justifying the outrageous notion that farmers must pay for the pollution instead of the companies responsible.

This biased journalism misleads farmers into supporting the giant agri-biotech, commodity trade and animal feed cartel's campaign to persuade the EU to solve the problem of genetic pollution by allowing more of it.

The agri-biotech PR machine aims to destroy the EU's "zero tolerance" [1] food safety policy to protect the food chain from unapproved GMOs. Their fabricated term "asynchronous approval" falsely implies that the difference in approvals between the USA and the EU is simply a matter of timing.

That is pure progaganda. European approval of GMOs requires examination of the scientific evidence of their health dangers [2]. Only last week, it was revealed that the Monsanto / Cargill joint venture, Renessen Europe, withdrew its application for EU approval of two new GM maize feedstuffs in April 2009 because of health concerns, after refusing to supply the European Food Safety Authority with requested risk assessment data [3]. This did not and could not happen in the USA, where the US Food and Drug Administration routinely accepts the safety claims made by the applicant companies without risk assessent of any kind.

The use of the terms "asynchronous" and "as yet unauthorised" GMOs by the Minister for Agriculture, Brendan Smith, shows how propagandized our own regulators have become.

Smith's support for the agri-biotech campaign to abandon the EU's "zero tolerance" food safety policy shows a blatant disregard for the health of European livestock and consumers.

Such acceptance of Monsanto's "contaminate first, legislate later" strategy legitimises the lack of US regulatory supervision, encourages US farmers to grow more untested GM varieties, and will increase the genetic pollution of our food chain for decades to come.

It also undermines the credibility of the Irish Government policy to introduce a voluntary GM-free label for meat, poultry, fish and dairy produce fed on GM-free feedstuffs - which would provide Irish farmers and food producers with a unique selling point. [4]

Contrary to what the agri-biotech industry, commodity traders and animal feed cartels want Irish farmers to believe, safe certified Non-GMO animal feed is affordable and widely used by farmers across Europe - and the global market for GM-free meat, poultry, fish and dairy produce is growing rapidly. GM-free Ireland documented this a detailed study published on 17 November. [5]

But the Irish Examiner did not report about that.

Notes:

1. EU animal feed imports and GMO policy European Farmers Coordination, Friends of the Earth Europe and Greenpeace, May 2008:
http://www.foeeurope.org/GMOs/animal_feed/Briefing_animal_feed_GMOs_May_2008.pdf

Zero tolerance - acting to prevent widespread GMO contamination, Friends of the Earth Europe:
http://www.foeeurope.org/GMOs/zero_tolerance.html

Defra/FSA Ignore Food Security as they try to please the GM lobby, GM Freeze press release, 13 August 2009:
http://www.gmfreeireland.org/news/2009/aug.php#freeze1

2. Effects of GMOs and pesticides systematically understimated CRIIGEN appeal to public authorities.
Committee of Independent Research and Information on Genetic Engineering, July 2009:
http://www.criigen.org/images/stories/pressrelease-ijbs_080709.pdf

Listing of 50 scientific papers on the health risks of GMOs:
http://www.gmfreeireland.org/health/studies.php

3. Approval procedure for genetically engineered maize LY038 stopped for safety reasons?
Monsanto and Cargill withdraw joint application after EFSA concerns.
Test Biotech, 1 December 2009:
http://www.testbiotech.org/en/node/286

Commission accused of six-month cover-up in pursuit of pro-GM agenda.
Open letter to Jose Manuel Barroso, President, European Commission, 25 November 2009:
http://www.gmfreecymru.org/open_letters/Open_letter25Nov2009.html

4. GM-free Irish label good for business: Added value, increased market share, better branding and unique selling point: the most credible GM-free food brand in Europe.
GM-free Ireland Network press release, 17 November 2009:
http://www.gmfreeireland.org/press/GMFI46.pdf

5. GM-free food production: a unique selling point for Ireland - the food island.
47-page briefing with market survey, 17 November 2009 (1.2MB pdf download):
http://www.gmfreeireland.org/GMFI-briefing-3.pdf

_______________________

2 December 2009

EFSA suggests ways to strengthen GMO allergy assessment

Food Navigator, 2 December 2009:
http://www.foodnavigator.com/Science-Nutrition/EFSA-suggests-ways-to-strengthen-GMO-allergy-assessment

The European Food Safety Authority has published a draft report on ways to strengthen existing methods for assessing allergenicity of genetically-modified organisms, and is seeking comments from stakeholders.

EFSA's existing guidance recommends step-by-step, case-by-case assessment of GMO allergenicity that draws conclusions based on the weight of evidence. Such an approach is in tune recommendations from the Codex Alimentarius Commission.

The new draft report stands by this method, but seeks to update this guidance - and make the weight-of evidence approach stronger - by taking account of the latest developments in clinical aspects of allergic reactions, structural aspects of GM food and feed, in silico approaches, IgE binding studies, cell-based methods, profiling techniques and animal models.

Amongst the general recommendations, it suggests optimising the search for sequence homology and structural similarities by having comprehensive, good quality allergen databases.

"In general, the alignment based criterion involving 35 per cent sequence identity to a known allergen over a window of at least 80 amino acids is considered a minimal requirement," it says.

For measuring the capacity of a newly expressed protein to bind serum IgE from allergic individuals, the report recommends using sera from well-characterised individuals rather than pooled sera.

And improvements to the physiological conditions in which in vitro digestibility tests are carried out are suggested, to take into account the impact of the food matrix and processing, as well as the pH value and protein-to-enzyme ratio in the stomach. Moreover, infants and others may have different digestive physiology, and that should be taken into consideration.

Whole foods and beyond

When it comes to assessing a whole GM food, the report suggests including allergens in a list of compounds for comparison between the GM plant and its non-GM equivalent, and to conduct qualitative and quantitive comparisons taking into account cultivars' natural variability.

The draft report also makes some suggestions about additional testing that could be conducted. This includes animal models, and developments on 3-dimensional structure of allergens, profiling technology, post-market monitoring and exposure assessment.

The report is available here http://www.efsa.europa.eu/cs/BlobServer/Call_Consultation/gmo_091130.pdf?ssbinary=true.

EFSA is accepting comments via its online system until 31 January 2010.

_______________________

New Commission puts innovation and entrepreneurship to the fore

Anna Jenkinson
Science Business [UK], 2 December 2009:
http://bulletin.sciencebusiness.net/ebulletins/showissue.php3?page=/548/art/16035

Innovation, entrepreneurship, climate action and the digital agenda are all buzzwords that appear for the first time in the job titles of Europe's proposed new Commissioners, reflecting JosÈ Manuel Barroso's policy priorities for his second term as Commission President.

This chimes with the EU2020 strategy, which, as Barroso spelt out last week, has three key themes: creating a competitive, connected and greener economy; generating value by basing growth on knowledge; and empowering people in inclusive societies.

Emphasising the central role that research and innovation will play in this agenda, Barosso named Europe's first innovation commissioner, Ireland's Máire Geoghegan-Quinn. A former career politician, Geoghegan-Quinn has spent the past ten years sequestered at the European Court of Auditors. Her full title will be Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science, and as such she takes over an expanded portfolio from the current commissioner, Janez Potocnik.

Bringing research and innovation closer together is a very good move, according to Horst Soboll, former chair of the European Commission's European Research Advisory Board. "This must not just be a change in name though. It must be in substance too," he said.

As for the appointment of Maire Geoghegan-Quinn, Soboll expressed satisfaction that it was someone who knows her way around the, "nuances of the European system." The ability to communicate the directorate's main projects and ideas to her colleagues is much more important than the need to be a scientist. She will have plenty of advisers for that, he added.

In particular, of course, the holder of the new post of EU Chief Scientific Adviser, whose name is yet to be announced.

Máire Geoghegan-Quinn to be new R&D Commissioner

The new European Commissioner for Research, Development and Innovation is to be Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, Ireland's representative at the European Court of Auditors since 1999. Geoghegan-Quinn was the Irish Minister of Justice from 1993 to 1994, Minister for European Affairs from 1987 to 1991, and held other ministerial roles in education and tourism in the Irish government.

Geoghegan-Quinn, born in 1950, has no formal scientific background, having trained as a primary school teacher. She was not long in the teaching profession, entering the Irish parliament in 1975 as member for Galway West, a constituency that was represented by her father before her from 1954 to 1975. She resigned from Irish politics in 1997.

The appointment plays well to Ireland's national ambitions for creating a smart economy based on investments in specific areas of science, such as biopharmaceuticals, which it is believed will attract high tech inward investment and spawn new industries.

This was highlighted by Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Brian Cowen's decision to announce Geoghegan-Quinn's posting at an event at Intel's Irish site near Dublin on Friday.

The former holder of the R&D post, Janez Potocnik, takes over responsibility for the environment.

While making innovation part of the R&D portfolio will be no doubt be favoured by industry, it will not go down well with scientists who are resentful of the increasing incursion of commercial imperatives into the research agenda.

The addition of innovation to the R&D portfolio immediately throws up one turf war: who will be responsible for the EU's plans for a European Innovation Act, which aims to put in place general principles that create a coherent policy on innovation? Until now, DG Enterprise and Industry has for the most part taken the lead, for example by organising the public consultation, which closed on November 16.

While innovation has been added to the research portfolio, the Marie Curie programme has been lost to Education, where it will sit alongside the European Institute of Technology.

But it is DG Enterprise and Industry that emerges looking more streamlined. Innovation policy aside, the department has lost other units. Better regulation, which deals with reducing the administrative burden on business, has moved to the Secretariat-General, where it will be closer to Barroso's sphere of influence, and the Trans-Atlantic Economic Council will move to DG Trade.

More significantly for industrial R&D, the pharmaceutical products and cosmetics units are to be transferred from DG Enterprise to the directorate for health and consumer affairs, a move that the pharmaceutical industry has resisted.

As a result, Italy's Antonio Tajani will be inheriting a weaker DG Enterprise and Industry. There is some consolation perhaps in the new title, DG Industry and Entrepreneurship, though that also begs the logic of corralling innovation and entrepreneurship into separate portfolios.

The pharmaceutical switch received a mixed response. The European Public Health Alliance welcomed the move, with its Secretary General Monika Kosinska saying, "The Health and Consumer Policy Commissioner is now better equipped to lead a consistent and coherent approach to public health policy and more specifically to ensure protection of patients and safety of medicines throughout the European Union."

The European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA) greeted the news with more caution, keen to ensure that the business side of pharmaceuticals isn't neglected. "The new Commissioner must recognise the industry's dual roles of meeting the health needs of Europe's patients and its significant contribution to Europe's economic well-being via a significant positive trade balance, high-quality employment and substantial investment in European-based research," Colin Mackay, EFPIA's director of communications and partnerships, told Science|Business.

The industry's fears that this directorate is not equipped to support the sector's huge economic and competitive importance were perhaps confirmed by the decision to once again unite the health and consumer protection portfolios. They were split between two commissioners in 2007.

The move means the new health and consumer policy commissioner, Malta's John Dalli, an accountant by profession, gains oversight of one of Europe's most important regulators, the European Medicines Agency

In another snub to industry, Dalli will also take on the Biotechnology, Pesticides and Health unit from DG Environment, leaving him in charge of the policy morass concerning genetically modified organisms.

The environment directorate, which will be where Potocnik moves to, will lose climate-change related issues through the creation of a brand-new directorate for Climate Action to be led by Denmark's Connie Hedegaard. As the woman who has been organising the upcoming UN Climate Change conference in Copenhagen in her capacity as Denmark's Climate and Energy Minister, Hedegaard is certainly someone with experience in this area.

Just as green issues are moving up the agenda, so is the digital world. The Commission says one of its priorities is delivering a single digital market, where for example consumers can benefit from competitive prices offered in other member states. But again the industry may be dismayed to see this portfolio, with its new moniker of Digital Agenda, go to Neelie Kroes, who as Competition Commissioner has pursued some of the leading companies in the sector in anti-trust cases.

However, the fact that Kroes was previously responsible for the powerful competition portfolio is "a strong sign that the Digital Agenda is high on the Barroso II agenda" said Janis Emmanouilidis, senior policy analyst at the European Policy Centre.

One role that isn't clear, says Emmanouilidis, is, "Who is Mr or Mrs Lisbon?" In other words, who will be the person in charge of coordinating all the different strands of this post-Lisbon strategy? Perhaps Barroso himself plans to fill that role.

Still, "Barroso has divided the portfolios creatively, but logically. If you look at the cards in his hand, he played them well," Emmanouilidis said.

The new portfolios and their proposed holders were announced on November 27. Before taking up their posts, all the Commissioners have to pass the hurdle of European Parliament hearings between January 11 and 19. The Parliament's vote is scheduled for January 26. The new Commission's term runs until 31 October 2014.

_______________________

Crony of agriculture chief now a Monsanto lobbyist

Timothy P. Carney
The Washington Examiner [USA], 2 December 2009:
http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/politics/Crony-of-agriculture-chief-now-a- Monsanto-lobbyist-8612856-78264977.html

Jerry Crawford, an Iowa lawyer and lobbyist with deep ties to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, recently registered as the Washington representative for Monsanto, a biotechnology and agrichemical giant that embodies the "special interests" President Obama planned to drive from the temple of federal government.

The Des Moines Register calls Crawford a "well-connected, high-profile Des Moines lawyer" and "Democratic power broker."

Examine his record, and you see what the paper means. Crawford was once chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party. He was the Iowa chairman for the presidential campaigns of Michael Dukakis, Bill Clinton, Al Gore and John Kerry. In 2008, he was Hillary Clinton's Midwest campaign chairman.

Of greater significance today, he is also a "longtime Vilsack friend and adviser," a "Vilsack ally," a "top Vilsack insider," and "a guru for and a big friend of Gov. Tom Vilsack," according to the Register.

In 1998, Crawford got in near the ground floor of Vilsack's rise in politics, putting his reputation and wealth behind the long shot gubernatorial candidate. Crawford hosted at least one fundraiser for Vilsack that year, which netted $23,000.

Questions arose early in Vilsack's tenure about conflicts regarding Crawford's work as a lobbyist and his closeness to Vilsack. A 1999 Register article reported that Vilsack, before firing members of the gambling commission disliked by the casinos, had raised $17,000 from gambling interests. "Most of the $17,000 Vilsack received came from Jerry Crawford, a lawyer for the Iowa Greyhound Association," the article reported.

At play here is not likely a quid pro quo or bribery, but just a close friendship: Crawford donates to his friend's campaign, and Vilsack takes his friend's calls on state issues. But this chumminess is exactly how special interest politics works. And the chumminess runs deep.

In 2001, as Vilsack ran for re-election, Crawford was Vilsack's top individual donor, giving him $31,000. When Vilsack traveled the Midwest stumping for Kerry in 2004, Crawford was one of Gov. Vilsack's two travel mates, according to CNN.

So, Sen. Kerry, Secretary of State Clinton and Secretary Vilsack are all tight with Crawford. And Vilsack and Hillary Clinton, Crawford told me, are "good friends, and have been for a long, long time."

Although Obama was Crawford's third choice in 2008 (after Vilsack and then Clinton), Crawford still ponied up a $10,000 check for the Obama Victory Fund last August. This contribution didn't violate Obama's no-lobbyist-cash pledge because Crawford was lobbying only state government (with Monsanto as a client), not the federal government.

But now Crawford has registered to represent Monsanto in Washington on "Competition/antitrust issues within the agricultural industry; environmental laws, regulations and policies related to the agricultural industry," according to a Nov. 10 filing. Monsanto is a multinational corporation most famous for its genetically modified seeds and for its herbicide Roundup. The company is also a leading member of the Biotechnology Industry Organization, which in 2001 named Vilsack governor of the year.

This situation -- the agriculture secretary's top fundraiser, top donor and longtime confidant serving as a Monsanto lobbyist -- would seem to create an awkward situation for the Obama administration given the president's pledges to crush lobbyist influence. Crawford tells me he hasn't met with anyone yet on Monsanto's behalf. I called and e-mailed Vilsack's office Monday asking if he would meet with Crawford in the future if Crawford requested a meeting. By Tuesday evening, Vilsack's office hadn't responded.

Monsanto's lobbying army already has made an incursion into the Obama administration. The top food safety adviser at the Department of Health and Human Services is Michael Taylor, Monsanto's former vice president for government affairs. As I reported in my column on Friday, Obama has nominated Isi Siddiqui to be his agriculture trade representative; Siddiqui is the vice president for regulatory affairs and a former lobbyist at CropLife America, which is a pro-pesticide lobbying coalition of which Monsanto is a prominent member.

Monsanto, lying at the intersection of agriculture and biotechnology, is deeply dependent on government favor. The company stands to benefit from the House's global warming bill, which subsidizes biofuels and gives carbon credits to farmers who control weeds with herbicides rather than tilling the ground. Also, the company constantly fights to ward off new regulations on pesticides and genetically modified food.

Monsanto is a poster boy for special interests and is a favorite target of the environmental Left. With Secretary Vilsack's fundraiser, donor and confidant carrying its flag, Monsanto figures to have even more clout in Washington.

_______________________

1 December 2009

GMO-free labelling system in the works

Natalia Real
Fish Information and Services (FIS), 1 December 2009:
http://www.fis.com/fis/worldnews/worldnews.asp?monthyear=&day=1&id=34767&l=e&special=&ndb=1

The French Government's biotechnology advisory council has published an outline of rules for a voluntary GMO-free labelling system.

No European regulation on what constitutes GMO-free currently exists; products that contain more than 0.9 per cent genetically modified ingredients, however, must indicate their GM content. Nonetheless, this rule does not apply to meat and dairy products, and distinguishing between those that come from animals fed GM or non-GM feed is not required.

The Haut Conseil des Biotechnologies' recommendations are expected to go into effect in the second half of 2010. These include a 0.1 per cent limit for genetically modified material in plant products and animal feed and a proposal for public authorities to establish a minimum distance between apiaries and fields used to grow GM crops.

Product labels would then tell apart GM foods from plant products that are "GMO-free," animal products as "fed on GMO-free feed" or "derived from animals fed without GM feed" and honey as "biotech-free," Food Production Daily reports.

Setting "technically achievable and socially acceptable" thresholds would benefit both food manufacturers and producers who avoid GM ingredients by making them stand out, while also informing consumers in case they wish to evade GMO-free products. The labelling project was launched to tackle the difficulties caused by the coexistence of GMO-free, conventional and organic production, the council's report said.

"A number of French food companies (for example, companies producing high-quality free-range chickens) are likely to welcome such a regulation with a 0.1 per cent threshold, which would allow them to publicize their efforts towards biotech-free products, make it a marketing tool, and thus justifying the higher than average prices of their products," the US Department of Agriculture's Foreign Agricultural Service stated.

French authorities have required a threshold in the past of 0.01 per cent for GM products, but this labelling was not technically possible.

The Haut Conseil des Biotechnologies also suggested an intermediate label for products in the "grey area" containing 0.1-0.9 per cent GM ingredients during a phase-in period of five years. The council has requested comments to help decide on the wording for such a label to avoid confusing consumers.

UK-based non-profit GM Freeze applauded the news earlier this month and is requesting the UK to follow France's example.

Germany, Italy, Austria and Switzerland have already legislated for GM-free labels and Ireland intends to follow suit. A UK opinion survey conducted in 2006 found 87 per cent support for GM feed labelling.

_______________________

Approval procedure for genetically engineered maize LY038 stopped for safety reasons?
• Monsanto and Cargill withdraw joint application after EFSA concerns


Test Biotech, 1 December 2009:
http://www.testbiotech.org/en/node/286

Munich, Parma -- The company of Renessen (a Monsanto and Cargill international joint venture) withdrew its application for market authorisation of the genetically engineered maize LY038. The decision was taken in April 2009, but was made public just recently by several stakeholders. According to documents received by Testbiotech e. V., the European Food Safety Authority, EFSA, raised safety concerns related to the maize. Prior to the withdrawal the EFSA wrote several letters to Renessen asking for more information on the risk assessment of this product. The maize shows several unintended changes in its composition.

The EFSA raised some crucial points related to a possible impact on human health. In its last letter of 24 March 2009 to Renessen it is even requested that animal feeding trials with rats should be repeated - as known so far the EFSA has never asked for such a procedure before. In the feeding trials presented rats had shown some significant changes in blood parameters as well as in their urine. But this study was rejected by the EFSA for major methodological deficiencies. Several other EU member states had also raised health risk related issues. In 2005 experts from New Zealand expressed serious concerns for human health if the maize were ever to enter the food chain.

In its letter to the EFSA announcing the withdrawal Renessen only gave economic reasons for its decision - there was no mention of safety concerns. The product is already authorised in other markets such as the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. This type of genetically engineered maize produces high levels of Lysin, an amino acid meant to enhance the quality of the maize for its use in animal feed. LY038 maize is an example of the so called 'second generation' of genetically engineered plants that are supposed to create benefits beyond traits achieved so far, such as herbicide tolerance. Many of these crop plants of the 'second generation' do not prevail in the markets. It is therefore unclear whether this product failed mainly for economic reasons or whether Renessen's U-turn has in fact been caused by substantial risk problems.

The withdrawal glaringly highlights current discussions on the right concept for risk assessment of genetically engineered plants. In most cases the EFSA does not require any animal feeding studies and proceeds on the assumption that genetically engineered plants are 'substantially equivalent' to plants derived from conventional breeding. By withdrawing their application, Monsanto and Cargill effectively prevented the EFSA from taking a closer look at this specific product since they requested that all related documents be sent back. Perhaps they wanted to avoid any discussions on the safety of genetically engineered crops.

Testbiotech will continue to observe the EFSA's decisions on GMOs. The EFSA-watch newsletter is available at http://www.testbiotech.org

Contact:Ý

Dr. Christoph Then, Tel.: 0151- 54 63 80 40
oder Andrea Reiche, Tel: 089 - 35 89 92 76

Further information:Ý

Discussion about Maize LY038
http://www.gmfreecymru.org/

Discussion about Maize LY038
http://www.bioscienceresource.org/news/article.php?id=43

Discussion about Maize LY038
http://greenbio.checkbiotech.org/news/gm_corn_pulled_due_food_safety_concerns

Attachment

2009-03-24 - letter EFSA to applicant - stop the clock (2).pdf
http://www.testbiotech.org/sites/default/files/2009-03-24%20-%20letter%20EFSA%20to%20applicant%20-%20stop%20the%20clock%20(2)_0.pdf (381.76 KB)

LY038-highlysinecorn-INBIsubmission_Heinemann.pdf
http://www.testbiotech.org/sites/default/files/LY038-highlysinecorn-INBIsubmission_Heinemann_0.pdf (1.01 MB)

_______________________

GMO Rice, Corn Approval May Boost Food Supply

Bloomberg / Reuters, 1 December 2009:
http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601087&sid=aoOJchhPdJ30&pos=7

China, the world's biggest grain producer, has approved strains of genetically modified rice and corn that may help ensure food supplies in a country facing shortages of water and farmland.

The move "has huge implications because this is the first time a major grain producer is endorsing the use of GMO technology in a food staple," said Zhu Zhen, biotechnology professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. China has declared several corn and rice varieties safe to grow and use, a Ministry of Agriculture statement sent to Bloomberg News said today.

China produces 31 percent of the world's rice and 20 percent of its corn, U.S. Department of Agriculture data show. Only genetically modified cotton has previously been approved for output on a large scale. The technology may greatly increase yields in China which uses 7 percent of the world's arable land to feed a quarter of its population, Li Qiang, managing director at Shanghai JC Intelligence Co., said today.

"Corn crops in China yield 30 to 40 percent less than in the U.S. and the GMO technology can boost yield by 12 to 15 percent," said Li, who spoke by phone from northeastern Heilongjiang. "This approval signals a big step forward in China's progress in endorsing genetically modified technology."

Crops planted with the technology will be pest and herbicide-resistant, the ministry said. Further approvals are required before the crops can be grown commercially, it said.

Trial Planting

"Mass-production and commercialization will only take place after trial planting, marketing and public acceptance of the crops," Li said. "China's attitude towards GMO crops is cautious but always positive, having realized it is the way to boost yields and farmers' incomes."

China's food security and social stability may be at risk unless the country invests more to fight the effects of drought, a report from New York-based McKinsey & Co. said Nov. 24. Major investments needed include seed technology, water-saving irrigation, planting and engineering measures, it said.

The country currently has a "favorable food security situation," the China Daily reported Nov. 17, citing Vice Premier Hui Liangyu. Grain reserves are abundant and staple agricultural produce is in sufficient supply, he was cited as saying. China is self-sufficient in all grains and relies on imports to meet its soybean needs.

The government said in July last year it aimed to develop home-grown biotechnology by creating new species and seeds resistant to herbicides, insects and diseases.

"This an important achievement for domestically researched GMO technology with independent property rights and provides a good base for commercial manufacture," the ministry said in the statement.

--Feiwen Rong. Editors: Richard Dobson, James Poole

To contact Bloomberg News staff for this story: Feiwen Rong in Beijing at +86-10-6649-7563 or frong2@bloomberg.net


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