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NEWS ABOUT GM ISSUES • November 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


30 November 2009

EFSA consults on the assessment of allergenicity of GM food and feed

Press release
European Food Safety Authority, 30 November 2009:
http://www.efsa.europa.eu/EFSA/efsa_locale-1178620753812_1211903078052.htm

EFSA's GMO Panel has published for public consultation a draft report updating its assessment of allergenicity of GM plants and microorganisms and derived food and feed. The document, which is an EFSA initiative, was prepared in order to review and update current methods of evaluation and provides conclusions for assessing the allergenic potential of GM plants and microorganisms.

GMOs could contain quantities of new or existing proteins which might cause food allergies in people and animals. EU legislation therefore requires that the allergenicity of GM foods be assessed before they can be placed on the market.

In the report, the GMO Panel makes some new recommendations for assessing the allergenic potential of the proteins contained in GM plants. In particular, it describes how to analyse the sequence of the proteins in order to identify possible similarities with known allergens; how to test the potential of the proteins to bind with specific antibodies (suggesting they could trigger an allergic reaction); and how to test the breakdown of the protein during digestion. Recommendations from this report are aimed at updating and complementing EFSA's GM allergenicity assessment presently included in its Guidance documents for the risk assessment of GM plants and microorganisms and derived food and feed.

All stakeholders and interested parties will be able to provide their comments up to 31 January 2010. In line with its policy on openness and transparency, EFSA will publish on its website a summary report of the comments received and will take them into consideration before finalising its report.

Public consultation on the draft report for assessing the allergenicity of GM plants and microorganisms and derived food and feed
http://www.efsa.europa.eu/EFSA/efsa_locale-1178620753812_1211903078245.htm

For media enquiries, please contact:

Ian Palombi, Press Officer or
Steve Pagani, Head of Press Office
Tel: +39 0521 036149
Email: Press@efsa.europa.eu

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GM Corn Pulled Due to Food Safety Concerns

Helena Bottemiller
Food Safety News (via CheckBiotech.org), 30 November 2009:
http://greenbio.checkbiotech.org/news/gm_corn_pulled_due_food_safety_concerns

Monsanto has dropped its push for approval from European regulators on two types of "second generation" genetically modified seeds.

The company informed the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) that it was withdrawing its approval request for GM maize LY038 and the stacked variety LYo38 x MON810, both of which were designed for the express purpose of accelerating the growth rate of animals.

Some scientists believe that the company's decision to pull the plug on the approval process was fueled by food safety concerns, rather than the economic constraints cited by the company in its formal withdrawal request.

According to European organic media Green Planet, Monsanto's subsidiary, Renessen, sent EFSA two letters to confirm the withdrawal. Each letters cites economic demands--saying that the "decreased commercial value worldwide" and the state of the highlysene varieties "will no longer be a part of the Renessen business strategy in the future."

The paper also noted that Renessen requested that regulators return all the materials relating to the approval process, including experimental protocols and test results, so that no future research can be done on the project.

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Scientist takes on the GMO industry

Paul Louis
30 November 2009:
http://www.eco-farm.org/

The Organic and Non-GMO Report recently interviewed a California scientist and college professor who has published a paper critical of GMO science. The interview was published on The Organic Consumers Association website. Ph.D Agro-ecologist Don Lotter's 2009 paper titled "The Genetic Engineering of Food and the Failure of Science" was published in the International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food.

In the interview, Don Lotter expressed concern over the politics and business of University funded research as well as the bad science. He pointed out that the politics and business of funding is largely responsible for the lack of critical thinking and proper research on GM foods.

When biotechnology was rushing to industry eminence with less federal regulation and more funding in the 1980's, the The Bayh-Dole Act was passed. This act gives universities intellectual property control of their research results, making them virtual industry partners. Third party scientific objectivity gets buried by vested interests.

According to Lotter, the basic scientific premise that spawned the biotechnology industry is flawed. That premise was based on the doctrine of one gene for one protein. But the Human Genome Project discovered humans have fewer genes than many simple organisms, while having one to two million proteins.

This simplified view of genes monitoring protein production was the entire basis for advancing genetic engineering technology. " [However] the process of splicing genes into plant genomes, transgenics, causes serious genetic damage-mutations, multiple copies of the transgenic DNA, gene silencing," Lotter said.

"The cauliflower mosaic virus promoter (CaMV 35S) is used in most transgenic crops to activate foreign genes which have been artificially inserted into the host plant. It is potentially dangerous." (Natural Law Party - Wessex, source below)

Lotter explains it was originally thought the CaMV 35s virus would simply be neutralized in the human digestive system. It turns out the virus is not neutralized. Lotter reveals, "It has been shown to promote the transfer of transgenes from GM foods to the bacteria within our digestive system, which are responsible for 80% of our immune system function; they are enormously important".

Don Lotter is not tenured. He expects his outspoken paper to be "career destroying" within the public university circuit. But he feels getting at the truth is more important, and he is hopeful that others will soon be inspired to question GMO's.

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EU clears Syngenta GMO maize for feed, food imports

Reuters, 30 November 2009:
http://www.reuters.com/article/marketsNews/idUSBRU01057520091130

BRUSSELS - The European Commission on Monday approved Swiss company Syngenta's (SYNN.VX) genetically modified maize type MIR604, a move that could enable the resumption of imports of soymeal and soybeans for animal feed.

The Commission, executive arm of the 27-nation European Union, said in a statement that it had authorised the maize type for food and feed uses and imports and processing.

"MIR604 maize received a positive safety assessment from the European Food Safety Authority and underwent the full authorisation procedure set up in the EU legislation," the Commission said.

(Reporting by Pete Harrison, writing by Bate Felix)

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Shoppers want to see GM food labelling

Matt Kwong
The National [United Arab Emirates], 30 November 2009:
http://www.thenational.ae/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20091201/NATIONAL/711309920/1010

ABU DHABI - With food labelling regulations still to be introduced in the region, a survey of consumers has found that an overwhelming majority want the opportunity to know exactly what they are eating, particularly when it comes to genetically modified foodstuffs.

On a survey of 300 people in Abu Dhabi and Dubai who were interviewed by researchers from Zayed University, more than nine in 10 said it was important to be able to tell what foods contained GM ingredients. If choosing between non-GM and gene-altered fare, 95 per cent said they would shun the engineered produc

With labelling regulations still to be introduced in the region, a survey of consumers found that an overwhelming majority want the opportunity to know exactly what they are eating.

Of 300 people in Abu Dhabi and Dubai who were interviewed by researchers from Zayed University, 93 per cent said it was important to be able to tell the difference. And if choosing between organic ingredients and gene-altered fare, 95 per cent said they would shun the engineered products.

There is no evidence GM foods are harmful, and their advocates claim many advantages. But Mariam al Mansoori's curiosity about the origin of the groceries in her trolley motivated her to conduct the survey while studying at Zayed. It was completed in January.

"It's clear that many people are against GM foods," said Ms al Mansoori, now a researcher at the university. "People want to be aware of what they're putting in their mouths. It's about consumers' rights to know."

Policymakers, she said, "should be considering consumers' input before making their decisions".

Draft regulations to control testing, production and labelling of GM foods were to be endorsed by GCC states this year.

However, Dr Mariam al Yousuf, the executive director of policy and regulation at the Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority, said discussions were continuing.

"We took a lead in hosting the GCC subcommittee for genetically modified foods last year in Abu Dhabi and we are still developing the standard," she said.

"We are completely aware of the right for consumers to informed choice by labelling non-conventional foods, including GM."

The problem for consumers such as Abdullah al Marzoui, 55, is that they cannot identify GM foods by taste, touch or sight.

Mr al Marzoui, shopping in Al Wahda Mall, agreed that while labels would satisfy his curiosity about food ingredients, a "genetically modified" tag might also discourage him from buying those products.

"I personally would like to know what kind of materials are part of my food before I buy them," said Mr al Marzoui, a retired Emirati said.

"Your food is your medicine, as they say in Arabic. And if you eat well, your health will be good."

Opponents of labelling are concerned that GM stickers might scare off shoppers, or that uninformed consumers might misinterpret labels. In the Zayed survey, 91 per cent said they would be unlikely to buy an item with a GM seal but they would buy the same item at the same price without such a seal.

Scientists, however, have declared bio-engineered ingredients safe. "GM could apply to your cornflakes, your sunflower oil, your wheat and rice," said Dr Mohammed Aly, a member of the GCC subcommittee for GM foods and a professor of genetic engineering biotechnology at UAE University. "I support this and I think it's time for everybody to adopt it, as long as it is safe."

Even so, Dr Aly is in favour of labelling. Avoiding all ingredients manipulated through modern gene technology is unrealistic in most developed countries, especially with the globalisation of processed food.

Of five samples of food on sale in Dubai that were tested in a laboratory, Ms al Mansoori identified GM corn.

Officials in Abu Dhabi have confirmed that such products are on sale in the capital. Dr Muhammad Safdar, an associate professor in agribusiness at UAE University, said 51 per cent of 500 respondents to his own survey said they were aware that GM food was available in the UAE.

Local dieticians said residents of the UAE were almost certain to have eaten GM food. Rania Tawil, a dietician for the Joslin Diabetes Centre at Dubai Health Authority, said: "I recommend every food to be labelled. Some people may have ethical or religious issues, so they would prefer conventional foods."

A vegetarian might object to eating a piece of fruit if it was derived via the splicing of an animal gene, Ms Tawil said. Similarly, inserting a pig gene into another crop could raise concerns among Muslims.

Scientists had also voiced concern about GM organisms triggering allergic reactions, Ms Tawil said. "Let's say a strawberry has been inserted with a gene from a kind of fish that can sustain very cold temperatures in the ocean," she said.

"This means you can grow the strawberry in extreme weather conditions, but could there be an allergenicity problem from the fish?"

For Ms Tawil, the issue was one of consumer choice. She said: "There are people who won't read labels, and people who may read them and not care. The point is it's you. You should decide what you eat."

mkwong@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by Samihah Zaman and Deepthi Unnikrishnan Text

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Best of 2009: New GMO labeling website showcases hard-to-find product comparisons

NJ Jaeger
Examiner.com / Los Angeles' Holiday Guide [USA], 30 November 2009:
http://www.examiner.com/x-5148-LA-Environmental-Health-Examiner~y2009m11d30-Best-of-2009-New-GMO-labeling-website-showcases-hardtofind-product-comparisons

Today the Institute for Responsible Technology (IRT) launched a new website www.nonGMOShoppingGuide.com that takes the guesswork out of how to avoid genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and gene-spliced food products. With polls indicating that 9 out of 10 Americans want GMOs labeled, the site's brand vs. brand comparison is expected to have a significant influence in shifting the choices shoppers make in supermarkets.

The site was developed for the 53% of Americans who say they would avoid GMOs if labeled. It lists popular brands that don't use ingredients from the eight GM crops such as GM soy and corn. It also lists dairy products that don't allow the controversial GM bovine growth hormone.

Ann Marie Michaels, proud mom of a two-year old, says "I am so grateful IRT put up this site. The Non-GMO Shopping Guide fits easily into my purse, and now I wouldn't leave home without it. I've posted some of this hard-to-find information on my website, and sent the link to my friends, who will tell their friends, who will tell their friends."

IRT's Executive Director Jeffrey Smith, who hears from thousands of consumers on trips around the US, frustrated at the lack of labeling, says "Our new website gives consumers back the power to make an informed choice."

Dr. Ted Nordquist, founder and CEO of WholeSoy & Co., America's number one maker of Non-GMO Organic soy yogurts, says "WholeSoy understands the negative impact of pesticides and herbicides on our environment and does not use any genetically modified organisms in our products. We are happy to be listed and to see a growing trend towards safety conscious food shopping."

Maria Emmer-Aanes, director of marketing and communications from Nature's Path, North America's number one organic cereal manufacturer, says, "We have been at the forefront of the organic food movement since the inception of the company almost 25 years ago, and have never supported the use of GMO ingredients." She says, "We are extremely concerned about transparency and letting consumers make an informed choice about whether or not they eat GMOs, so we applaud the creation of this resource and are happy to be listed on the website."

Doctor's Orders

Physician Amy Dean, who is a board member of AAEM, a Physicians' association that recently asked doctors to prescribe non-GMO diets to all patients, says she regularly provides the Non-GMO Shopping Guide for her patients, and is pleased to recommend IRT's informative and easy-to-use new website.

The Non-GMO Shopping Guide is a joint production of IRT and the Center for Food Safety. Find more information on GMOs at http://www.HealthierEating.org.

The Institute for Responsible Technology's Campaign for Healthier Eating in America mobilizes citizens, organizations, businesses, and the media, to achieve the tipping point of consumer rejection of genetically modified foods.

Website: http://www.nonGMOShoppingGuide.com

NJ Jaeger writes for the Campaign for Healthier Eating in America.

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Barroso wants to establish new Super EU Commissioner for biotech

European Biotechnology News, 30 November 2009:
http://www.eurobiotechnews.eu/service/start-page/top-news/?no_cache=1&tx_ttnews[tt_news]=11674&tx_ttnews[backPid]=12&cHash=4c2fc43a26

Brussels ā John Dalli from Malta will be given almost all-important competencies, in the area of biotechnology in the next European Commission. The re-elected Commission President Manuel Barroso has concentrated a huge array of important responsibilities with Dalli who is to lead the DG Sanco.

Dalli will take over liability for the European Medicines Agency (EMEA), and a cosmetics unit from DG Enterprise and Industry. The current Maltese Minister for Social Policy will take over all responsibilities for agribiotechnology - together with those relating to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) - from the DG Environment, which will now be led by the former Research Commissioner Janez Potocnik.

In addition, Dalli will control the EU's Plant Variety Office, the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC), and will take over from Potocnik's new authority the competencies for consumer protection, together with those for the Executive Agency for Health and Consumers (EAHC).

The Maltese nationalist party member is thought to be a strong supporter of biotechnology, although his country is a blank spot on the biotech map. The new Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy has told the media that "the ideal investment for his country should target biotech, pharma or electronics."

Barroso's decision to give large biotech competencies to a single commissioner comes after conflicts over agribiotech in the former Commission between the GMO-supporting commissioners Verheugen (Industry), Fisher-Boel (Agriculture), Potocnik (Research), and the former GMO sceptical Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas.

Another important commissioner in the area of biotech will be Dacian Cilios. The former Romanian Minister for Agriculture oversaw decisions both backing GM maize and rejecting a GM potato.

Furthermore, the new Research Commissioner Maire Geoghegan-Quinn will be overseeing the Joint Research Centres (JRC), the European Research Council (ERC, and its executive agency ERCEA), as well as the Research Executive Agency (REA). The newly established Commissioner for Climate Action, Connie Hedegaard, will play an important role in branches of industrial biotech involved in the fermentation of renewable feedstocks and in the biotech production of carbon dioxide-consuming platform chemicals. Her new DG Climate Action has taken over most of the divisions of the previous Directorate C of Potocnik's DG Environment.

Information on all the new commissioners-to-be can be found here.

The new Commission must next gain approval from the European Parliament before taking office for a term running until 31 October 2014. The vote of consent on the new Commission as a whole is expected to take place on 26 January. The Commission will be appointed by the European Council on the basis of this vote, at which point it will finally begin work.

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France defines GMO-free labelling threshold

By Caroline Scott-Thomas
NutraIngredients.com, 30 November 2009:
http://www.nutraingredients.com/Publications/Food-Beverage-Nutrition/FoodNavigator.com/Legislation/France-defines-GMO-free-labelling-threshold/?c=J99gJmheq%2Bif3rJoW1KTag%3D%3D&utm_source=newsletter_daily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Newsletter%2BDaily

The French government's advisory council on biotechnology has outlined rules for a voluntary GMO-free labelling system in a new report.

Currently, there is no European regulation on what constitutes GMO-free, although products that contain more than 0.9 per cent genetically modified ingredients must indicate GM content. However this does not apply to meat and dairy products, with no requirement that a distinction be made between those that come from animals fed GM or non-GM feed.

The recommendations from the Haut Conseil des Biotechnologies, which are expected to become law in the second half of 2010, include a 0.1 per cent threshold for genetically modified material in plant products and animal feed, and propose that public authorities should set a minimum distance between apiaries and fields where GM crops are grown. Labels could then designate plant products as 'GMO-free', animal products as 'fed on GMO-free feed' or 'derived from animals fed without GM feed', and honey as 'biotech-free'.

The council said that setting "technically achievable and socially acceptable" thresholds would benefit food manufacturers and producers that take steps to avoid GM ingredients by distinguishing them on the market, while giving consumers the information necessary to choose GMO-free products. The labelling was proposed in response to the difficulties raised through the coexistence of GMO-free, conventional and organic production, the report said.

Commenting on the report, the US Department of Agriculture's Foreign Agricultural Service 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 percent 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."

French authorities have previously required a threshold of 0.01 per cent for GM material, meaning that labelling was not technically feasible.

The council has also suggested an intermediate label for those products in the "grey area" that contain between 0.1 per cent and 0.9 per cent GM ingredients during a phase-in period of five years, and it has invited comments to determine how such a label could best be worded to avoid consumer confusion.

The full report (in French) is available online here http://ogm.gouv.fr/Recommandation_CEES_sansOGM.pdf

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Food for thought as 'pork' grown in the lab

By Nick Britten in London
The Independent [Ireland], 30 November 2009:
http://www.independent.ie/world-news/europe/food-for-thought--as-pork-grown-in-the-lab-1958561.html

THE move towards artificially engineered food has taken a step forward after scientists grew a form of meat in a laboratory for the first time.

Researchers in Holland have created what was described as soggy pork and are investigating ways to improve the muscle tissue in the hope that people will one day want to eat it.

The scientists have not tasted the product, but it is believed the artificial meat could be on sale within five years.

Mark Post, professor of physiology at Eindhoven University, said: "What we have at the moment is rather like wasted muscle tissue. We need to find ways of improving it by training it and stretching it, but we will get there.

"This product will be good for the environment and will reduce animal suffering. If it feels and tastes like meat, people will buy it."

The scientists extracted cells from the muscle of a live pig and put them in a broth derived from the blood of animal foetuses. The cells then multiplied and created muscle tissue. The project, backed by the Dutch government and a sausage maker, follows the creation of fish fillets from goldfish muscle cells.

Thumbs-up

A spokesman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta), the animal rights group, said: "As far as we're concerned, if meat is no longer a piece of a dead animal there's no ethical objection."

However, the Vegetarian Society said: "How could you guarantee you were eating artificial flesh rather than flesh from an animal that had been slaughtered?"

The advent of meat grown in a laboratory could reduce the billions of tonnes of greenhouse gases emitted each year by farm animals and help meet the growth in meat consumption, which the United Nations predicts will double by 2050.

The latest breakthrough is certain to cause concern among opponents of genetically modified (GM) foods.

Prince Charles, a fierce opponent of GM food, said last week that people were creating problems by "treating food as an easy commodity rather than a precious gift from nature".

His comments came as the results of a survey showed that UK shoppers wanted to be told whether meat or milk from cows was genetically modified -- through clear labelling.

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Scaremongering over GM foods

Meat Trade News Daily [UK], 30 November 2009:
http://www.meattradenewsdaily.co.uk/news/301109/united_kingdom___scaremongering_over_gm_foods.aspx

Shoppers are demanding better labelling of meat and milk from animals fed on a GM diet.

A Food Standards Agency focus group says consumers need to be told when any 'Frankenstein Food' process is used.

Shoppers are kept in the dark about the majority of meat and milk in supermarkets which comes from animals on a GM diet.The agency published the details of the demand for honest labelling ahead of a public information and consultation exercise on the future of GM farming and food.

No genetically modified crops are grown in the UK, but millions of people are eating food from animals raised on GM every day. The focus group found misgivings about GM and its impact on health with both those in favour and those with doubts on GM saying it was important for consumers to be told what they are eating for dinner.

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29 November 2009

Monsanto's dominance draws antitrust enquiry

Peter Whoriskey
The Washington Post [USA]:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/11/28/AR2009112802 471.html?hpid=topnews

Patented seeds are go-to for farmers, who decry their fast-growing price

For plants designed in a lab a little more than a decade ago, they've come a long way: Today, the vast majority of the nation's two primary crops grow from seeds genetically altered according to Monsanto company patents.

Ninety-three percent of soybeans. Eighty percent of corn.

The seeds represent "probably the most revolutionary event in grain crops over the last 30 years," said Geno Lowe, a Salisbury, Md., soybean farmer.

But for farmers such as Lowe, prices of the Monsanto-patented seeds have steadily increased, roughly doubling during the past decade, to about $50 for a 50-pound bag of soybean seed, according to seed dealers.

The revolution, and Monsanto's dominant role in the nation's agriculture, has not unfolded without complaint. Farmers have decried the price increases, and competitors say the company has ruthlessly stifled competition.

Now Monsanto -- like IBM and Google -- has drawn scrutiny from U.S. antitrust investigators, who under the Obama administration have looked more skeptically at the actions of dominant firms.

During the Bush administration, the Justice Department did not file a single case under antimonopoly laws regulating a dominant firm. But that stretch seems unlikely to continue.

This year, the Obama Justice Department tossed out the antitrust guidelines of its predecessor because they advocated "extreme hesitancy in the face of potential abuses by monopoly firms."

"We must change course," Christine Varney, the Obama administration's chief antitrust enforcer, said at the time.

Of all the new scrutiny by Justice, the Monsanto investigation might have the highest stakes, dealing as it does with the food supply and one of the nation's largest agricultural firms. It could also force the Obama administration, already under fire for the government's expanded role in the economy, to explain how it distinguishes between normal rough-and-tumble competition and abusive monopolistic business practices.

Monsanto says it has done nothing wrong.

"Farmers choose these products because of the value they deliver on farm," Monsanto said in a statement. "Given the phenomenally broad adoption of these technologies by farmers, such questions are normal and to be expected."

Even with the growing cost, farmers have embraced the genetic modifications because they save work and enable them to cultivate more land. The modified plants can stand up to the powerful herbicide glyphosate, best known commercially as Roundup, allowing them to use the weedkiller not just before planting but also after the crops have come up.

"Everybody wants it, and Monsanto is seeing what the market will bear," said Lowe, 39. "People say that's capitalism. The question is, where does capitalism meet corruption?"

Before it jumped into biotechnology, Monsanto was already one of the nation's largest chemical companies and had patented glyphosate, bringing it to market as Roundup in the '70s.

The product kills just about all weeds, and for farmers it served as a wonderfully effective herbicide. Instead of tilling the earth, they could simply blanket it with Roundup. Because the chemicals in Roundup break down quickly in the sun and rain, seeds could be planted shortly afterward.

It became one of the best-selling herbicides ever, and the seed patents at the center of the antitrust allegations were built upon that chemical's appeal.

If there was a practical drawback with Roundup, it was that it couldn't be used after planting: Applying Roundup at that point would kill the crops, too.

Scientists wondered: Could they develop plants that could withstand Roundup?

The answer emerged, partly by accident, out of Louisiana muck.

Monsanto was producing Roundup at a plant in Luling, La., and the water and sludge in the waste ponds around the plant were exposed to the chemical. It was the perfect place to find organisms that could withstand the chemical's lethal effects.

After bacteria discovered in the pond sludge proved resistant to the chemical, scientists isolated the gene that gave the bacteria Roundup tolerance and placed that gene, known as CPS4, into soybeans, then corn.

The resulting plants, called "Roundup Ready," represented a billion-dollar breakthrough and, as Monsanto sees it, a just reward for its $1.5 billion investment in biotech research.

"During the same period, our competitors . . . largely ignored biotech," the company said in a statement. "Monsanto took risks our competition chose not to take."

Although farmers have grumbled about Monsanto's regular price increases for Roundup Ready technology for seeds, it is DuPont, a Monsanto rival, that has pressed the antitrust case.

Farmers and seed companies "are afraid to speak in public, worried that they will become victims of retaliation," Thomas L. Sager, DuPont senior vice president and general counsel, said in a statement. "That's why it's so important that antitrust investigators move quickly -- to learn the truth before even more harm is done to America's farmers."

In court papers, DuPont argues that Monsanto has used the dominance of the Roundup Ready brand to prevent competitors from bringing innovations to market.

In its view, Roundup Ready is so popular that any new biotech innovations must be designed to work with Monsanto's technology. But Monsanto effectively freezes out the competition, it says, by making it difficult for other companies to win a license to add their traits to Monsanto-patented seeds.

"Monsanto has abused its unlawfully-acquired monopoly power to block competition, thwart innovation and extract from farmers unjustified price increases of over 100 percent in recent years," DuPont argues in court documents.

A recent paper by Diana Moss of the American Antitrust Institute broadened the antitrust case against Monsanto and called for legal enforcement, citing "an almost intractable situation for competition." The institute has taken donations from DuPont but does not cater to its donors' viewpoints, officials said.

Monsanto says that the allegations of stifling competition are "without merit" and that it broadly licenses its technology.

"We license Roundup Ready technology to hundreds of independent seed companies and our major competitors," Lee Quarles, a company spokesman said.

The company won't license Roundup Ready without restriction, however, because it wants to ensure that any other traits that are stacked onto the Roundup Ready seeds actually function as promised, a precaution that protects their brand and their customers, Monsanto officials say.

Out in the fields, meanwhile, there remains resentment and wonder about the Monsanto-patented seed.

According to Moss, the price of seed from 2000 to 2008 outpaced the growth of crop yields by 2 to 4 percent a year.

Several farmers said the cost of Roundup Ready seeds seemed to rise faster than their own margins. But that doesn't mean, at least just yet, that they'll stop using them.

"Everybody likes Roundup Ready," said William Layton, a grain farmer on the Eastern Shore. "Maybe it costs a little more than we like. But everybody's going to keep using it."

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Scientists 'grow' meat in laboratory

Nick Britten
The Telegraph [UK], 29 November 2009:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/foodanddrink/6684854/Scientists-grow-meat-in-laboratory.html

The move towards artificially engineered foods has taken a step forward after scientists grew a form of meat in a laboratory for the first time.

Researchers in the Netherlands have created what was described as soggy pork and are now investigating ways to improve the muscle tissue in the hope that people will one day want to eat it.

No one has yet tasted the product, but it is believed the artificial meat could be on sale within five years.

Vegetarian groups welcomed the news, saying there was "no ethical objection" if meat was not a piece of a dead animal.

Mark Post, professor of physiology at Eindhoven University, said: "What we have at the moment is rather like wasted muscle tissue. We need to find ways of improving it by training it and stretching it, but we will get there.

"This product will be good for the environment and will reduce animal suffering. If it feels and tastes like meat, people will buy it.

"You could take the meat from one animal and create the volume of meat previously provided by a million animals."

The scientists extracted cells from the muscle of a live pig and then put them in a broth of other animal products. The cells then multiplied and created muscle tissue. They believe that it can be turned into something like steak if they can find a way to artificially "exercise" the muscle.

The project is backed by the Dutch government and a sausage maker and comes following the creation of artificial fish fillets from goldfish muscle cells.

Meat produced in a laboratory could reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with real animals.

Meat and dairy consumption is predicted to double by 2050 and methane from livestock is said to currently produce about 18 per cent of the world's greenhouse gases.

It was supported by animal rights campaigners. A spokesman for Peta said: "As far as we're concerned, if meat is no longer a piece of a dead animal there's no ethical objection."

However the Vegetarian Society said: "The big question is how could you guarantee you were eating artificial flesh rather than flesh from an animal that had been slaughtered.

"It would be very difficult to label and identify in a way that people would trust."

The advent of meat grown for consumers could reduce the billions of tons of greenhouse gases emitted each year by farm animals and help meet the United Nation's predictions that meat and dairy consumption will double by 2050.

However, the latest breakthrough is certain to cause concern amongst the anti-GM lobby.

Last week Prince Charles, a fierce opponent of GM food, warned that people were creating problems by "treating food as an easy commodity rather than a precious gift from nature".

His comments came as the results of a survey commissioned by the Food Standards Agency revealed concerns about long-term health and environmental impacts of genetically modified products.

It showed shoppers want to be told when meat and milk from cows

is genetically modified through clear labelling.

GM supporters say they are aware of risks associated with "engineered" food but believe it benefits the Third World.

_______________________

27 November 2009

Debate: Chickens fed GM feed means GM birds

WorldPoultry.net, 27 November 2009:
http://www.worldpoultry.net/news/debate-chickens-fed-gm-feed-means-gm-birds-4600.html

An attack on poultry producer Inghams Enterprises could be based on a technicality with some scientific evidence indicating birds fed on genetically modified feed are not modified themselves, reports The National Business Review.

The Commerce Commission recently issued Inghams with a warming claiming it risked breaching the Fair Trading Act through false advertising. The company advertised its products as being GM-free, contained no GM ingredients, no added hormones or artificial colours. Inghams also stated that "Inghams GM policy is clear. Our poultry contains no GM content and are not genetically modified."

The commission conducted an investigation into the company after media interest regarding its GM policy and its labelling raised concern after allegations of false advertising emerged most recently in June this year.

Inghams claimed its chickens were GM free even though its birds were eating feed mixed with 13% soy, reports state. The commission asked University of Canterbury professor of genetics and molecular biology Jack Heinemann to research whether chickens that have eaten GM feed could contain GM ingredients in their meat.

Prof Heinemann said; "The cumulative strength of the positive detection reviewed leaves me in no reasonable uncertainty that GM plant material can transfer to animals exposed to GM feed in their diets or environment, and that there can be residual difference in animals or animal-products as a result of exposure to GM feed."

However, the New Zealand Food Safety Authority said international scientific consensus showed that animals that eat GM feed are themselves not genetically modified.

In New Zealand, food that has been modified, as in the DNA or the protein present in the final food (animal), or if the food has "altered characteristics as a result of the GM process" has to be labelled GM.

In Inghams case, the chickens themselves were not modified - only 13% of the feed was modified.

In an email to NBR, AgSearch scientist Jimmy Suttie said: "Professor Heinemann's use of English, as reported, is confusing. He says (effectively) there is a chance that the plant DNA may be transferred to animals and that this transfer could lead to residual differences÷ But in response, while it is undeniable that plant DNA is ingested by animals when they eat a feed, it is by no means certain that that DNA will be incorporated into the animal's genome rather than being fully digested. For example, every time you eat a fresh tomato or lettuce, you consume plant DNA. This is digested by our bodies."

Dr Suttie said just as consumed tomato DNA does not become a part of your DNA, chicken feed does not become part of a bird's DNA.

"Even if any DNA were to be incorporated into the eaters genes, this would be as single constituents of DNA (nucleotides) rather than a piece of gene sequence. These constituents carry no genetic information, in themselves. In addition as the genetic code is conserved, then whether this DNA was from a GM or a non GM source is immaterial: the DNA itself is identical."

Suttie went on to say that any residual effect of that DNA being incorporated into the genome is very unlikely, and that the source of the DNA, GM or non-GM would not influence the chance of such incorporation.

"In the vanishing small chance that a residual effect of any DNA was found, the question of the relevance of that, in terms of food safety, is left hanging by Professor Heinemann. Even the professor uses the term 'can be' rather than a more definitive verb," he added.

Dr Suttie said GM corn, soy and canola have been grown worldwide since 1996, and the products have been consumed safely by animals and humans alike.

Source: The National Business Review

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Mexico's GM maize a bad idea, say scientists

SciDevNet, 27 November 2009
http://www.scidev.net/en/news/mexico-s-gm-maize-a-bad-idea-say-scientists.html

Mexico is ill-equipped to protect its natural maize varieties from transgenes, say scientists concerned about the planting of genetically modified (GM) maize in the country's northern region.

More than 2,000 scientists have signed a petition calling for the trials, run by agricultural companies Dow Agri-Sciences and Monsanto, to be blocked.

Both companies have received government approval to plant GM maize in the past month. Mexico had banned the planting of GM maize for 11 years.

Government officials say measures are in place to prevent gene flow from the crops to natural varieties. Plantations will be small, planting will occur at different times from natural varieties and farmers will be asked about any negative effects of GM maize on their crops.

But José Sarukhán, a prominent Mexican biologist, said the country is unable to safely carry out GM planting.

"If Mexico experimentally plants transgenic maize it should be done with ideal experiments and a great capacity to monitor them ů but we don't have either," he said.

One concern is over Genetic ID, the US company hired to train staff for two transgene-testing laboratories in Mexico City.

Whether the firm has sensitive enough methods to detect transgenes has been questioned by Elena Alvarez-Buylla, a geneticist at the Institute of Ecology in Mexico City, whose team reported this year that GeneticID failed to detect transgenes in blinded samples.

GeneticID said that the results were because of sample contamination.

Link to full paper in Nature http://www.nature.com/news/2009/091125/full/462404a.html

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China gives safety approval to GM rice

Reuters, 27 November 2009:
http://www.forbes.com/feeds/reuters/2009/11/27/2009-11-27T053939Z_01_PEK31809_RTRIDST_0_CHINA-GMO-EXCLUSIVE-URGENT.html

China, the world's largest rice producer and consumer, has approved genetically-modified rice as safe, paving the way for large-scale production in 2 to 3 years, Chinese scientists said on Friday.

The Ministry of Agriculture's Biosafety Committee has issued biosafety certificates to Bt rice, a pest-resistant genetically modified (GM) type, two committee members told Reuters.

The clearance for Bt rice, along with approval for phytase corn, which was announced last week, mark China's first two approvals for grains, although it already permits GM papaya, cotton and tomatoes.

(Reporting by Niu Shuping and Tom Miles; Editing by Jonathan Hopfner)

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26 November 2009

NGO joint response to the conference 'GMOs in European Agriculture and Food Production'

26 November 2009: http://www.foeeurope.org/GMOs/NGO%20joint%20response.pdf

NGOs have always pointed out the urgency to address the socio-economic impacts of GMOs. But the set up of this conference was biased towards the supposed benefits of GMOs. There was no time for real constructive debate. During the brief opportunities for dialogue with participants that were provided, some diverse opinions were expressed focusing on the risks and negative impacts of GMOs on farmers, consumers, food producers, agriculture, environment and markets. These viewpoints should be clearly reflected in the final conclusions, which we understand will be published as the official outcome of the conference.

The opening speech of Agriculture Minister Verburg [from the Netherlands] made evident that the intention of the conference was to speed up the EU GMO approval process and abolish the zero-tolerance policy for non-authorised GMOs. This is not what the debate on socio-economic impacts should be about.

The discussion should also not be narrowed down to just GM crops grown in Europe as Minister Cramer proposed. We strongly oppose this approach.

Within the EU, we need a socio-economic impact assessment for all the costs caused by imports and production of GMOs such as installation of segregation systems, controls and product recalls. The issues of contamination and liability have to be included.

We urge the European decision makers to take into account the experience gained with GMOs in other non-EU countries:

health and environmental damage from the use of pesticides

deforestation and loss of biodiversity

the breakdown of rural communities

The EU has to take responsibility for its imported commodities as well.

The organisers of the 2-day conference not only failed to invite critical speakers from Brazil and the USA but also refused suggested speakers from Argentina and Paraguay who can give evidence of their negative experience with herbicide resistant crops, especially those living in the vicinity.

The outcome of the conference should take into account the conclusions of the IAASTD presented by Dr. Herren: Business as usual is not an option. Large scale imports of soy as animal feed can never be sustainable. To respond effectively to urgent problems of climate change, food security and environmental degradation we need a paradigm shift in agriculture. We have to focus on the existing ecological farming solutions. GMOs are part of the old paradigm and do not fit in the new one.

Greenpeace International
Friends of the Earth Europe
Corporate Europe Observatory
X-Y Solidarity Fund

---

Note: based on information from Diederick Sprangers, Genethics Foundation in the Netherlands:

Here's a powerful joint declaration made by 4 NGOs - Greenpeace International, Friends of the Earth Europe (FoEE), Corporate Europe Observatory and X-Y Solidarity Fund - at the closing debate of the two-day European Union conference (GMOs in European Agriculture and Food Production) in the Hague, that took place this week.

The main message of the conference was strongly pro-GM despite critical comments from the NGOs, a performance at the entrance (a living marionette making participants jump through a hoop) and some critical talks (including one by FoEE), and even two critical session chairmen (Bernward Geier and Helmut Gaugitsch).

The microphone of Heike Moldenhauer of Friends of the Earth was even cut off while reading the enclosed declaration. It occurred in the middle of the sentence "The EU has to take responsibility ...", while Agriculture Minister Verburg was chairing the closing debate.

All presentations should be put on the conference website, http://www.minlnv.nl/portal/page?_pageid=116,1640393&_dad=portal&_schema=PORTAL&p_document_id=111104&p_node_id=2054158 http://bit.ly/548xT3

The conference is one of the inputs for the Dutch government's standpoint on how to assess the socio-economic implications, as the EU Environment Council requested last year from all member states.

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Letter to head of UK Food Standards Agency

NOTE: This is a letter to Lord (Jeff) Rooker, head of the UK's Foods Standards Agency, from Peter Melchett, Policy Director of the Soil Association, calling for compulsory labelling of *all* food derived from GM crops in the light of new FSA research.

Incidentally, when Jeff Rooker was the minister of state for food safety he said: "I accept the argument that genetic modification is not simply speeding up the natural process. It cannot be when genes are mixed from different species. There is some comfort in the regulatory process for medicine which, I admit, is not in place for food and agriculture." (House of Commons, July 30 1998)

There have been no significant changes to the regulatory system since.

----

26 November 2009

Dear Jeff,

The Soil Association has read with interest the research you published today looking at attitudes to GM, as part of your programme of consumer engagement on genetic modification. I was surprised to hear about the FSA press conference on this, as it seemed to risk prejudging the work of your 'panel of experts' and indeed the input of the Sciencewise Expert Resource Centre for Public Dialogue In Science and Innovation. I understand that your press conference took place on the same day as, but before the start of the first meeting of your GM Dialogue Steering Group.

As you will know, your report 'Exploring attitudes to GM food' states that: "The principles of transparency and consumer choice were clearly a priority for people holding a range of attitudes towards GM foods and this shaped their views on regulation and labelling." The study also states that "People in this study felt strongly that all products which involve GM processes should be labelled. This included products produced with GM technology and products from animals fed on GM animal feed, which do not currently have to be labelled." The researchers note that these views were held by people in favour as well as those opposed to GM food. As a result, the report concluded that "There was widespread support for labelling of all GM food products, including where GM is used as a processing aid or in animal feed".

In the light of your findings, the Soil Association is asking the Food Standards Agency to introduce compulsory labelling of any meat or dairy products from animals fed on GM animal feed.

There is significant evidence that consumers respond to labelling of products produced by animals given GM hormones or fed on GM feed. For example, when American milk was labelled as GM hormone free, sales of GM milk dropped, and in response to their customers' wishes, major companies like Walmart, Safeway, Starbucks and Kraft insisted on buying hormone free milk for their own label products. As you know, accurate labelling has always been vigorously opposed by GM companies in the USA and in Europe.

In Europe, new GM labelling laws in Germany and Austria have made clear that only if products are produced by animals not fed with GM feed can they be labelled as GM free.

Although little research has been done in this area, it is clear that plant chloroplast DNA from GM feed survives in eggs, meat and milk from animals that are fed GM maize and soya. In three published scientific studies, three separate teams of researchers have found GM DNA from animal feed (Roundup Ready oilseed rape, Monsanto's GM MON 810 maize and GM soya) in meat and milk.

I know I have reminded you of this before, but I was very struck by your passionate defence in the House of Commons in 1998 of the need to protect consumers' right to choose non-GM and organic food if that is what they want. Your Agency can now help to deliver that consumer choice by ensuring consumers have accurate information on whether the pork, beef and dairy products they buy come from GM-fed animals (chicken and eggs should be fine, as almost all UK chickens are already fed non-GM feed).

I understand that when the issue of labelling was raised with your staff this morning, they dismissed these points on the basis that your study is unrepresentative. Is this your view, and if so, I wonder if you feel the Agency were wise to spend taxpayers' money on it, and to hold a major press conference to release it?

I look forward to your reply.

Best wishes,

Peter

Peter Melchett
Policy Director
The Soil Association

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Science favours 'emotional' GM opponents

Geoffrey Lean
Daily Telegraph [UK], November 26 2009:
http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/geoffreylean/100018049/science-favours-emotional-gm-opponents/

Trust the Food Standards Agency. Charged with conducting a national debate on GM food and crops, it starts out by denigrating opponents to them as governed by emotion and ideology rather than reason. So the official line that the exercise is about promoting a balanced dialogue - rather than, say, using it as a way to persuade a reluctant public to embrace the stuff - is blown from the very beginning.

It is true that emotion and ideology do guide some opponents - but they are exploited just as much by supporters of the technology. Many exhibit a truly ideological intolerance of anyone who disagrees with them. And what else but an appeal to emotion is the constantly repeated claim that GM is needed to feed the world, when the world's biggest study into the issue - endorsed by many governments including our own - concluded that it is not?

In fact the cold, unemotional science favours the protesters, at least over the environmental effects. A painstaking government study, conducted through real field trails over several years found that growing GM crops was more damaging to wildlife than conventional agriculture, even though it was widely expected (some would say was designed to) exonerate them. And it is well established that genes escaping from them will contaminate other crops and plants, creating superweeds. The evidence on possible effects on health is not clear either way; shamefully very few good, independent and peer-reviewed studies have been carried out.

At least the Food Standards Agency is running true to form. Four and a half years ago its own performance review called on it to review its policies on GM and organic agriculture saying that the "vast majority" of its "stakeholders" believed it had "deviated from its normal stance of making statements based solely on scientific evidence, to giving the impression of speaking against organic food and for GM food". But it has carried on regardless, in defiance of its supposed role as an impartial, unideological arbiter.

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GM crop sceptics 'emotional', Government food watchdog report claims

John Bingham
The Telegraph [UK], 26 November 2009:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/foodanddrink/foodanddrinknews/6653594/GM-crop-sceptics-emotional-Government-food-watchdog-report-claims.html

Public opposition to genetically modified food is based on "emotion" rather than "reason", a Food Standards Agency report which will help shape future Government policy claims.

The study published as the Government embarks on a major review of the current restrictions on GM crops, suggests opponents are motivated by "ideological" considerations while others take a "pragmatic" line.

It portrays those against the controversial technology as being sceptical about science in general, relying on "emotive language" to make their case, often drawn from "popular press slogans".

Campaigners dismissed the report as "patronising" and an attempt to "pigeonhole" opposition.

But the study, carried out by a research group on behalf of the agency, is set to play a key role in a major national consultation exercise on possible changes to the current laws on GM crops.

Opponents fear that the so-called "GM Dialogue" will be an attempt to soften up public opinion to efforts to lift restrictions on the technology.

The Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said that the findings would inform the Government's food strategy although rules on labelling and approving GM crops are set at European level.

While almost four in 10 people in Britain are undecided about the benefits of the technology, according to recent findings from the Office for National Statistics, 31 per cent are against with only 17 per cent in favour.

Previous plans to grow GM crops commercially on a large scale in Britain were scrapped after official trials showed that the method of growing could harm the environment.

It followed a concerted campaign and a backlash by consumers who refused to eat so-called "Frankenstein foods".

But a recent Government-published report highlighted warnings from manufacturers that it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep GM products out of the food chain.

Hilary Benn, the Environment Secretary, also said in August that there needed to be a ''radical rethink'' of the way the UK produces and consumes food is needed, to cope with future world shortages.

Under the current rules products made through GM technology must be labelled but meat and milk from animals which themselves may have eaten genetically modified feed do not.

Although there is no blanket ban on growing GM crops in Britain, permission has to be sought on a case-by-case basis.

Opponents fear that the year-long consultation, run by the FSA, could lead to recommendations for changes.

A committee of experts charged with overseeing the process met on Wednesday for the first time to discuss how it would be organised.

Each member was presented with a copy of the study Exploring Attitudes to GM Food, carried out by the National Centre for Social Research, containing the findings of a focus group, involving a sample of only 30 people.

The study, which cost £73,000 sets out to "explore the circumstances in which people change their views".

Just over a third of participants told the researchers at the outset that they thought that the disadvantages of GM technology outweighed the benefits.

The study found strong support for all products involving possible GM ingredients, even at the animal feed level, should be labelled while the system was dismissed as "inconsistent and confusing".

But opponents were described in the report as having "varied and often contradictory" views.

"Research has found that perceived lack of knowledge about the subject area causes the majority of people in a survey situation to give an emotional or affective response to the idea of GM food rather than a reasoned or thought out position," it says.

"It has been argued that this inclines people to view GM food more negatively."

The attitudes of those who took a "cynical approach" to GM technology are also "clearly underpinned" by a general scepticism towards science.

They were "prone to articulate their views towards scientific development using emotive language".

By contrast, the report says: "Pragmatic, as opposed to ideological, concerns played a primary role for participants who took the middle ground or felt more positively towards GM food."

Peter Riley, campaigns director of GM Freeze, a coalition of groups calling for a halt to GM cultivation, said: "I think it is extremely patronising to people, most people understand what is going on in the food chain.

"This language suggests that the terms of reference for this study were not necessarily to try to find out what people are thinking but to pigeonhole people."

He added: "We are really concerned that this GM Dialogue is more to do with trying to persuade the public that the Government's view is right and that the view of treating GM with caution is wrong.

"The steering group that has been charged with overseeing this process are going to have to be extremely diligent in their work to make sure that the process is open and fair and really captures what people genuinely feel about food production and GM in particular"

Peter Melchett, policy director of the Soil Association, said: "This Government-ordered exercise is a huge waste of public money designed to keep the GM industry quiet."

Emma Hockridge, the group's policy manager, added: "The last time the public were consulted on GM, the message was a loud and clear no.

"This research clearly shows that people's fears over the technology are still there, and for good reason."

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Consumers want better GM labelling: Report

Caroline Scott-Thomas
Food Navigator, 26 November 2009:
http://www.foodnavigator.com/Financial-Industry/Consumers-want-better-GM-labelling-Report/?c=4UZvOL3vyw3tNSW60T7cog%3D%3D&utm_source=newsletter_daily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Newsletter%2BDaily

Consumers think that current labelling regulation for genetically modified (GM) foods is inadequate, according to a new report from the UK's Food Standards Agency (FSA).

The FSA-commissioned report, compiled by independent researchers at the National Centre for Social Research, used a combination of surveys, workshops and in-depth interviews to explore consumer attitudes to GM foods, as well as how those attitudes are formed. It found a broad consensus that consumers think labels should flag all GM processes in foods, including products produced using GM technology or animals fed GM animal feed, which do not currently have to be labelled.

"This study found that existing labelling of food is considered inconsistent and confusing," the report said. "For example, people reported that the labelling of some foods as 'non-GM' or 'GM-free' had led them to believe that GM ingredients were widely used in other products."

The UK government's overall policy on the cultivation of GM crops is that it should be assessed on a case-by-case basis, but genetically modified foods are still not widely available in the UK, according to the FSA.

Most UK consumers are either undecided or opposed to genetically modified (GM) foods, and most are mistrustful of information sources on the subject, the report said.

In a letter to FSA chair Jeff Rooker, the Soil Association's policy director Peter Melchett renewed the organisation's appeal for all foods - including meat and dairy - to be considered for GM labelling.

He wrote: "In the light of your findings, the Soil Association is asking the Food Standards Agency to introduce compulsory labelling of any meat or dairy products from animals fed on GM animal feed."

Attitudes to science

Among the report's key findings, it said that those with positive attitudes toward science and technology were more likely to have positive attitudes toward GM foods.

"They argued against the claim that GM food is unnatural, viewing it as an extension of evolving scientific and agricultural practices" it found. "The potential risks of GM food were recognised but it was claimed that these were outweighed by the benefits."

However, the opposite was also the case, with those who had negative views of science in general more likely to oppose GM technology.

"From this perspective, the risks involved in scientific activity were less acceptable and the motives and effectiveness of regulation of new food technologies were questioned," the report said. "Another facet of this viewpoint was that scientific progress was perceived to be happening too fast without sufficient attention to the ethical consequences that it raises."

Transparency and consumer choice were highly valued across the attitudinal range.

The report concluded that it raises implications for the FSA in terms of information, communication, labelling and regulation.

Although many study participants said that they did not trust the media, government or the food industry - seed companies in particular - to provide them with impartial information, on the whole the FSA was seen as separate from government and a credible source of information. People also saw academics and health professionals as reliably impartial.

The full report can be accessed online here http://www.food.gov.uk/multimedia/pdfs/gmreportnov09finalreport.pdf.

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Consumers demand honest GM labelling of meat and milk

Daily Mail [UK], 26 November 2009:
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1230995/Consumers-demand-honest-GM-labelling-meat-milk.html

Shoppers are demanding better labelling of meat and milk from animals fed on a GM diet.

A Food Standards Agency focus group says consumers need to be told when any 'Frankenstein Food' process is used.

Shoppers are kept in the dark about the majority of meat and milk in supermarkets which comes from animals on a GM diet.

The agency published the details of the demand for honest labelling ahead of a public information and consultation exercise on the future of GM farming and food.

No genetically modified crops are grown in the UK, but millions of people are eating food from animals raised on GM every day.

The focus group found misgivings about GM and its impact on health with both those in favour and those with doubts on GM saying it was important for consumers to be told what they are eating for dinner.

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Public wants labelling of all GM food

The Ecologist [UK], 26 November 2009:
http://www.theecologist.co.uk/News/news_round_up/369542/public_wants_labelling_of_all_gm_food.html

UK citizens are confused by the current publicly available information on GM foods and want clearer facts made available in shops and supermarkets

There is widespread support for compulsory 'GM' labelling on all food produce in the UK, according to new research.

A survey, commissioned by the Food Standards Agency (FSA), found consumers were confused by current labelling and wanted more information to be made available on GM food.

'People reported that the labelling of some foods as "non-GM" or "GM-free" had led them to believe that GM ingredients were widely used in other products,' said the survey's findings.

There was support for the development of a GM food range in shops similar to organic ranges or a traffic light system with products labelled according to whether they contained no GM material, GM derived ingredients (such as animals being given GM feed) or GM ingredients.

The research, conducted by the National Centre for Social Research, involved interviews with 30 people and will be used to advise the FSA's new GM Dialogue Steering Group, set up to start a public debate on GM food.

Overall, the study revealed that public knowledge of GM foods was varied. For example, respondents remained largely unaware of the extent to which GM food is already available both in the UK and internationally.

Support for GM was also varied and the survey said, 'transparency and consumer choice' were the key priorities for people of all attitudes towards GM foods.

Responding to the survey, campaign group GM Freeze said it was wrong for the FSA to be conducting research into changing people's views on GM crops.

'The FSA is supposed to be at arm's length from government and act in the interest of food safety on behalf of UK citizens,' said GM Freeze campaigner Pete Riley. 'Exploring "the circumstances in which people change their views" on GM is a step too far - the FSA appears to be doing the work of the Government, which does not always coincide with the wishes of UK citizens,' he said.

Useful links

Public attitudes to GM food

http://www.food.gov.uk/news/newsarchive/2009/nov/gmreport

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Soil Association call for GM labels
• Soil Association calls for compulsory labelling of food from GM crops in light of new FSA research


Press release
Soil Association [UK], 26 November 2009:
http://feedingtheworldconference.wordpress.com/2009/11/26/soil-association-call-for-gm-labels/

The Soil Association today wrote to the new Chair of the Food Standards Agency (FSA), Lord Rooker, asking him to support the compulsory labelling of any meat or dairy products from animals fed on GM animal feed in the light of the findings of research published yesterday (25 November) by the FSA.

The FSA report 'Exploring attitudes to GM food' [1] states that: "The principles of transparency and consumer choice were clearly a priority for people holding a range of attitudes towards GM foods and this shaped their views on regulation and labelling." In what will be a controversial finding for the UK Government, but supports the Scottish and Welsh governments' opposition to GM, the study states that those consulted thought that "GM food was considered potentially unsafe and harmful or expressed concerns about the use of GM animal feed".

The study states that "People in this study felt strongly that all products which involve GM processes should be labelled. This included products produced with GM technology and products from animals fed on GM animal feed, which do not currently have to be labelled." The researchers note that these views were held by people in favour as well as those opposed to GM food.

As a result, the report concluded "There was widespread support for labelling of all GM food products, including where GM is used as a processing aid or in animal feed".

There is significant evidence that consumers respond to labelling of products from animals given GM hormones or fed GM feed. For example, when American milk was labelled as GM hormone-free, sales of GM milk dropped, and in response to their customers' wishes, major companies like Walmart, Safeway, Starbucks and Kraft insisted on buying hormone free milk for their own label products. [2] Accurate labelling has always been vigorously opposed by GM companies in the USA and in Europe.

In Europe, GM labelling laws in Germany and Austria have made clear that only if products are produced by animals not fed with GM feed can they be labelled as GM free.

Although little research has been done in this area, it is clear that plant chloroplast DNA from GM feed survives in eggs, meat and milk from animals that are fed GM maize and soya. In three published scientific studies, three separate teams of researchers have found GM DNA from animal feed (Roundup Ready oilseed rape, Monsanto's GM MON 810 maize and GM soya) in meat and milk. [3]

Peter Melchett, Soil Association policy director, said: "Many years ago when he was a minister at the then Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food, Lord Rooker spoke passionately in the House of Commons about the need to protect consumers' right to choose non-GM and organic food if that is what they want. [4] We are asking him to deliver on that promise by ensuring consumers have accurate information on whether the pork, beef and dairy products they buy come from GM-fed animals - chicken and eggs should be fine, as almost all UK chickens are already fed non-GM feed."

"This research seems to be a bit of an own goal for the FSA. It released this study in advance of the start of what is meant to be a neutral consultation with the British public about GM food, because it thought it contained a pro-GM message. When the clear results on labelling were pointed out, it dismissed its own study as unrepresentative. This raises the question - why spend taxpayers' money on it and why hold a major press conference to release it?"

Ends

For more information call press and e comms officer Jack Hunter + 44 (0)117 3145170

Notes to editors

[1] Exploring attitudes to GM food exec summary http://go2.wordpress.com/?id=725X1342&site=feedingtheworldconference.wordpress.com&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.food.gov.uk%2Fmultimedia%2Fpdfs%2Fgmreportnov09suumary.pdf and Exploring attitudes to GM food full report http://go2.wordpress.com/?id=725X1342&site=feedingtheworldconference.wordpress.com&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.food.gov.uk%2Fmultimedia%2Fpdfs%2Fgmreportnov09finalreport.pdf

[2] Land of the GM Free: How the American public are starting to turn against GM http://go2.wordpress.com/?id=725X1342&site=feedingtheworldconference.wordpress.com&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.food.gov.uk%2Fmultimedia%2Fpdfs%2Fgmreportnov09finalreport.pdf

[3] Silent Invasion: the hidden use of GM crops in livestock feed http://go2.wordpress.com/?id=725X1342&site=feedingtheworldconference.wordpress.com&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.soilassociation.org%2FWhyorganic%2FGM%2FReports%2Ftabid%2F390%2FDefault.aspx

[4] 30th July 1998. Hansard (House of Commons Debates), Volume 317, Column 626

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25 November 2009

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

Dear President Barroso,

We are writing to ask you to explain very carefully the role played by EFSA and the Commission in hiding from the public the withdrawal of two high-lysine GM maize varieties from the assessment process by Monsanto's subsidiary Renessen Europe (1).

As you will be aware, these withdrawals are of great significance, not simply because EFSA has -- for the first time -- urged a GM corporation to abide by the Codex protocols in the matter of comparators in scientific studies, but because Monsanto has pulled out of commercializing these varieties very clearly because of safety concerns. It is also clear (as pointed out by scientists in New Zealand) that there were at least a hundred major defects in the research submitted by Monsanto in its dossier. In other words, the original research seems to us to have been fraudulent -- it was designed to mask undesirable health effects, in order to obtain the commercial consents required, regardless of risks to animals and the public.

These withdrawals came to light just a short while ago (2) on a website in New Zealand -- and upon investigation it transpired that the withdrawals were made on 30th April 2009 in two letters to EFSA. We have copies of these letters in our possession. But when we checked on the EFSA web site and various EC web sites, we could find no mention of this withdrawal. There was no press release, no minuted record, and no statement of any kind.

So for more than six months EFSA and the Commission appear to have connived with Monsanto to keep this withdrawal hidden from the public. Was that simply a matter of oversight? We have reason not to think so. We will be grateful for information in response to the following questions:

1. Who was responsible for keeping this matter away from the public? Was that decision made entirely within EFSA, or was the European Commission involved?

2. Why, during the six months following the withdrawal of LY038 and LY038 x MON810, was the public record on GMO-Compass not amended? (3) When we checked this site (which claims to be the definitive record of the "state of play" of GM varieties going through the assessment process) on 10th November, we found this statement: "proceedings have been suspended." We pointed out to the site managers that this implied that the clock had stopped while investigations were under way, and that the statement was misleading. They then agreed that the statement "The application has been withdrawn" should have been put on the site. That statement has now been added. So who made the decision NOT to announce the withdrawal of these two contentious varieties on the GMO Compass website?

3. Were the national regulators and governments of all of the EU states informed, at the beginning of May 2009, that Monsanto had pulled these two varieties because of safety concerns raised by EFSA? And were they all kept fully informed, in March 2009, with regard to EFSA's concerns about the flawed if not fraudulent science contained in the Monsanto dossiers?

We have tried to get answers to these questions from EFSA, with no response. There is prima facie evidence of a cover-up here, of perhaps the most sinister kind. Why would EFSA and the Commission seek to keep this information away from the public? Quite simply because, in the period May - October 2009, several highly significant decisions were due to be made (and have now been made) with regard to GM crops and food within Europe.

For a start, there has been the on-going row in Europe about the status of national bans on MON810 -- one of the varieties used in creating the hybrid LY038 x MON810. A revelation about the withdrawal of that high-lysine variety on safety grounds would probably have had a negative impact on the prospects for MON810 also, and quite rightly so, as MON810 is also problematic with regard to safety. Then there were the highly controversial votes within the European Council on the Pioneer "stacked" variety called 59122 x NK603, and the Monsanto varieties called MON88017 and MON89034. You gave consent for these varieties on 30th October 20098, only a week after the EU countries had failed to agree to import for food and feed use. That was an extraordinarily rapid move on the part of the Commission; could its timing have been influenced by the knowledge that the LY038 withdrawal story (and the bye-line relating to Monsanto's fraudulent science) was about to break? On 15th October your colleague Mariann Fischer-Boel made a speech in which she argued for a loosening of regulatory controls on GM in Europe, and a greater tolerance of contamination in animal feed supplies coming in from the United States. She has been heavily criticised by us for her disloyalty and irresponsibility (4) -- and we are sure that she would have been laughed out of court at the time by everybody else, if it had been public knowledge that two high-lysine varieties intended as animal feed components had recently been withdrawn on safety grounds.

In our view -- and in the view of many of our colleagues who watch the European GM scene -- this is prima facie evidence that EFSA and the Commission have been involved in a six-month cover-up of the developments relating to high-lysine GM corn, so as to push ahead with the agenda of GM approvals and GM promotion (5).

This is a serious charge, and we do not make it lightly. We accuse the Commission of deliberately hiding information relating to the safety of GM crops and foods from public view, in the furtherance of its plans to introduce more and more GM material into the European food chain. In doing so, you have knowingly increased the risks to the health and safety of European consumers.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Brian John
GM Free Cymru

Notes:

(1) Letters from Renessen Europe to EFSA, dated 30th April 2009

(2) http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/3020246/Europe-balks-at-GE-corn-in-NZ
Europe balks at GE corn in NZ By PAUL GORMAN - The Press Date 02/11/2009

http://www.scaleplus.law.gov.au/ComLaw/Legislation/LegislativeInstrument1.nsf/0/AB8C37AADA6E442FCA25732B0005D45D/$file/A549GMCornLy038ES.pdf

(3) http://www.gmo-compass.org/eng/gmo/db/86.docu.html

(4) To: Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel Re: Your advocacy of corrupt GM science
http://www.gmfreecymru.org/open_letters/Open_letter20Oct2009.html

(5) A request made to EFSA on 8th November for key information (including correspondence) relating to this matter, and EFSDA has now said that it needs 30 days in which to reply. This is simply not acceptable. The information does not "have to be assembled". It is already assembled, having been sent to at least one other party.

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GM 'still seen as Frankenstein food'

Sophie Goodchild, Health Editor
Evening Standard [UK], 25 November 2009:
http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-23774938-gm-still-seen-as-frankenstein-food.do

GM food is still seen as "Frankenstein" science and causes huge splits in opinion, a survey showed today.

The snapshot poll commissioned by the Food Standards Agency revealed concerns about long-term health and environmental impacts of genetically modified products.

It showed some people believe labelling should be extended to meat and milk from GM animals.

GM supporters say they are aware of risks associated with "engineered" food but believe it benefits the Third World.

The survey of 30 people will be presented today at the first meeting of the GM Dialogue Steering Group, was set up by the Government to improve information on the issue.

Ministers say there is no scientific case for a blanket ban.

Proposed uses of GM food are assessed on a case-by-case basis and GM products are not widely available in British supermarkets.

The survey was carried out for the food agency by the National Centre for Social Research.

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FSA GM Dialogue Must Put Citizens First
• Survey raises concerns about political nature of latest research and new public "dialogue"


Press release
GM Freeze [UK], 25 November 2009:
http://www.gmfreeze.org/page.asp?id=408&iType=

GM Freeze has expressed deep concern as to why the FSA should ask the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) [1] to "explore the circumstances in which people change their views" on GM crops.

This was one of the objectives of research published today by the FSA ahead of the first meeting of the Steering Committee for the FSA's GM public dialogue.

Commenting Pete Riley of GM Freeze said:

"The FSA is supposed to be at arm's length from government and act in the interest of food safety on behalf of UK citizens. Exploring "the circumstances in which people change their views" on GM is a step too far - the FSA appears to be doing the work of the Government, which does not always coincide with the wishes of UK citizens.

"The results to the NatCen research highlighted that the public is skeptical about GM food for a variety of reasons and want clear labels so they can choose whether to buy products made using GM technology, including meat, dairy products and eggs, which are currently not labelled in the UK. If Government and political parties want to know how to change public opinion, they should pay for the research themselves and not involve the public's food safety watch dog. They have made an serious error in judgment in asking NatCen to explore this area, and the FSA should now not be part of the new public dialogue.

"The GM Dialogue will look at a very small part of the food chain - GM - which has already been done several times, most recently by NatCen's research. So why bother again? And why not look at other vital issues such as food security? The GM Public Dialogue is about the wrong issue, organised by the wrong body, and we see no justification for more public money being spent on this. If it goes ahead, the Steering Committee must be allowed to conduct it free of government influence and interference."

ENDS

Calls to Pete Riley + 44 (0)7903 341065

Notes

1. See http://www.food.gov.uk/news/newsarchive/2009/nov/gmreport

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Consumers still wary of GM food and want clear labelling - new research

Press release
Friends of the Earth [UK], 27 November 2009:
http://www.foe.co.uk/resource/press_releases/gm_fsa_25112009.html

Responding to new research published by the [UK] Food Standards Agency on public attitiudes to GM food, Friends of the Earth's senior food campaigner, Clare Oxborrow, said:

"Many people will be shocked to find out that GM crops are sneaking onto their plates via unlabelled meat and dairy products made from animals fed imported GM feeds.

"This new research is clear that consumers want control over the food they eat, and control is what they stand to lose if the Government moves further down the GM blind alley.

"Labelling rules must be tightened up so that people can choose GM-free meat and dairy and the Government must take action to reduce farmers' reliance on imported animal feeds which are trashing forests in South America, and instead support farmers in Britain to use non-GM, home-grown feeds.

"GM crops don't feed the world - but they do make massive profits for the big businesses that sell patented seeds and the chemicals needed to grow them."

Notes to editors

1. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is today publishing findings of a qualitative research project commissioned to explore public attitudes to genetic modification (GM). http://www.food.gov.uk/news/newsarchive/2009/nov/gmreport

2. Friends of the Earth's Food Chain Campaign is calling on the Government to back planet-friendly farming http://www.fixthefoodchain.com

If you are a journalist seeking press information please contact the Friends of the Earth media team on + 44 (0)20 7566 1649.

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People want independent information on GM foods, finds new study

Daily Telegraph [UK], 25 Nov 2009:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/earthnews/6652037/People-want-independent-information-on-GM-foods-finds-new-study.html

People want truly independent information to help them make up their minds about genetically modified (GM) foods, according to a new study for the Food Standards Agency (FSA).

Shoppers also want a clear labelling system to tell them if the food they buy is genetically modified or if products like milk and meat were produced from animals given GM feed.

The study, Exploring Attitudes to GM Food, was published by the FSA as a group set up to prompt public discussion on GM food meets for the first time.

The report will be presented to the independent GM Dialogue Steering Group which was set up by the FSA at the Government's request to decide how best the public can be informed and involved in discussions on GM food.

The new research suggests consumers do not trust all the information they receive about GM products and are suspicious of the Government's stance.

The report's conclusions say the FSA is "well positioned" to provide the public with information about GM food but only if it can "provide evidence to the public of its independence from government, from business and from campaigning organisations".

Shoppers told the National Centre for Social Research, which carried out the study, that they find current labelling "inconsistent and confusing" and they want all GM food products to be clearly marked.

Suggestions to improve labelling included clearly marked specialist GM ranges within stores or a traffic light system grading food according to whether it contains no GM material, GM derived ingredients or GM ingredients.

Researchers questioned 30 people who had previously responded to a question about GM food in the annual British Social Attitudes survey.

They were chosen to represent a range of opinions so the study could look at how they formed their views on GM foods.

The study also quizzed those who did not have a strong opinion and came to the conclusion that while some were unlikely to form a firm view in future, others were undecided because they felt uninformed.

Researcher Clarissa Penfold said: "We found people aren't indifferent but they are undecided or unsure. There are people who don't care but there were others who found it difficult to form an opinion."

The steering group, which meets for the first time today and tomorrow, aims to find out consumers' views on GM food and will discuss what information people need to make an informed choice about what food they eat.

Its work will inform future Government policy.

In August Environment Secretary Hilary Benn warned that a "radical rethink" of the way the UK produces and consumes food is needed,

His remarks came as the Government published an assessment showing that future global food supplies could be threatened by the impacts of climate change, expansion of crops grown for fuels and a growing population eating more.

The new steering group is chaired by John Curtice, a politics professor and director of the Social Statistics Laboratory at the University of Strathclyde.

Other members include Dr Guy Barker, director of the Genomics Resource Centre at Warwick HRI, Warwick University, Professor Ian Crute, chief scientist for the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, Dr Helen Wallace, director of GeneWatch UK, a not-for-profit organisation that campaigns for genetics to be used in the public interest and Brian Wynne, professor of science studies at Lancaster University, and associate director of the ESRC Centre for Economic and Social Aspects of Genomics.

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Dow AgroSciences buys Hyland Seeds

Better Farming, via CheckBiotech.org, 25 November 2009:
http://greenbio.checkbiotech.org/news/dow_agrosciences_buys_hyland_seeds

The acquisition brings the former Thompsons Ltd. division "into the inner circle" of biotechnology says Hyland's general manager.

Privately owned Hyland Seeds' acquisition by Dow AgroSciences Canada, announced today, is yet another sign that stacked, genetically modified technologies in corn is seen as the way of the future.

The acquisition by Dow AgroSciences brings Hyland Seeds "into the inner circle" of biotechnology, and guarantees Hyland's access to biotech going forward, says John Cowan, general manager of Hyland Seeds, currently a division of Thompsons Ltd. in Blenheim.

The acquisition, which takes effect soon, will allow Hyland to grow and compete and continue to be a highly successful part of the marketplace," says Jim Wispinski, Dow AgroSciences Canada president and CEO.

Smartstax technology introduces eight traits to corn to provide herbicide and insect tolerance. It was developed jointly by Dow AgroSciences and Monsanto and is licensed to a number of seed breeding companies.

Hyland will also have access to Dow AgroScience's Herbicide Tolerant Trait Technology, designed to address concerns about glyphosate resistance. Wispinski says seeds are close to being submitted to registration and will be commercialized between 2012 and 2015. Both corn and soybean varieties will be tolerant to 2,4-D in combination with glyphosate and also the Aryloxyphenoxy propionate (FOP) family of herbicides used for grass control in various crops.

Cowan says Hyland Seeds will continue breeding programs in corn in Blenheim as well as soybeans in Blenheim and in Grand Forks North Dakota.

Winter and spring cereal breeding programs will continue in Ontario.

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23 November 2009

No to GM Corn

Slow Food, 23 November 2009:
http://www.slowfood.com/sloweb/eng/dettaglio.lasso?cod=C2744B881b6b52EE31LHS1721D97

Mexico's history and identity are entwined with maize, but today this centuries-old relationship is threatened by the introduction of gentically modified (GM) crops. Slow Food is supporting producers and citizens in a protest against the experimental planting of GM corn in Mexico, as the contamination of native varieties with these crops could have major consequences for Mexican farmers, for local biodiversity and genetic reserves more broadly.

To bring attention to this campaign, the Tehuacán Mixteca Popoloca convivium has organized an event in the Tehuacán valley to bring together its 1,100 members and producers of corn, beans, amaranth (a Slow Food Presidium), and other local traditional crops on the occasion of Terra Madre Day - the global celebration of Slow Food's 20th anniversary and 'eating locally', which will also provide an opportunity for farmers around the world to communicate the threats and problems they face today.

The Mexican government granted permission for the first two sowings of an experimental planting of GM maize on October 15 2009. The decision has been viewed by many as favoring multinationals in the agricultural sector at the expense of the food sovereignty and security of millions of Mexicans and small-scale farmers. The government has approved the crops despite protests that have been occurring across the country for some time, as well as disagreement from many Mexican institutions and organizations.

The National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity, (CONABIO) have stated that they are absolutely opposed "to full commercial liberalization of genetically modified corn, as in this case, and with reasons of great weight, cannot evade the principle of precaution given the serious risks this would pose to the varieties of maize in the country".

Letter of support from Slow Food

Slow Food International President Carlo Petrini has written an open letter to express the concern of the entire Slow Food association about the situation in Mexico and its solidarity with the producers both in Tehuacán and the entire country. Click here to download this letter in Spanish.

Contact the campaign

To show your support for this campaign, you can write to the coordinator of the Tehuacán Mixteca Popoloca convivium Raôl Hernandez Garciadiego: raulhernandez@alternativas.org.mx

Terra Madre Day

Click here http://www.slowfood.com/terramadreday/pagine/eng/dettaglio_mappa.lasso?-id_evento=343 to find out more about the Terra Madre Day event in Tehuacán (in Spanish) or to see all other Terra Madre Day events happening around the world, visit the Terra Madre Day Website http://www.slowfood.com/terramadreday/pagine/eng/mappa.lasso

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EU farm chief stresses need to 'bolster production'

EurActiv, 23 November 2009:
http://www.euractiv.com/en/cap/eu-farm-chief-stresses-need-bolster-production/article-187496

The European Union should resist the temptation to cut support for its common agricultural policy and instead give farmers the right tools to increase food production in Europe, EU Farm Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel told EurActiv in an interview.

"I'm looking to be able to maintain production of food in Europe," said Fischer Boel, asked about her priorities for the future Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

She did not say Europe should be able to feed its own people, but stressed the importance of having a strong agricultural sector amid increasing global competition.

A situation in which Europe is dependent on food imports from countries with unstable governments would be "a nightmare," she said.

Responding to growing global demand

While the EU is the world's biggest exporter of agricultural products, it is also its biggest importer, the commissioner said. But "we and the sector have been very clever to add value to production," she stressed, saying "we are mostly importing raw materials - putting maybe soybeans through the pigs - but then exporting high quality products worldwide".

With the world's population predicted to increase from its current six billion to nine billion by 2050, Fischer Boel hopes that the future CAP will provide farmers with the tools to respond to growing demand for food. She believes the CAP should help farmers to "bolster their production in a way that they will be able to produce from an environmental and animal welfare point of view products that will be high on the agenda for all those countries in Asia that will need products in the future".

"We don't want in the future to force a farmer to produce a specific product. I think it is much more important to give the farmer freedom to produce what the market is actually asking for," said Fischer Boel. In this sense, the CAP Health Check was "a step on the path towards a more market-oriented agricultural sector," she said.

Food security

Asked whether Europe should produce more to contribute to world food security, the commissioner said Europe "would be actually able to produce more using new technologies," adding that she is "not afraid of biotechnology".

85-90% of all soybean imports to Europe are already genetically modified (GM). If Europe decided not to accept this, it would lead to "a dramatic reduction in meat production in Europe" and increased imports of meat derived from animals fed with GM crops that are not approved in Europe, explained Fischer Boel.

Comment from GM-free Ireland:

Rubbish! Brazil alone has the potential to supply all of Europe's needs with certified Non-GM soy. For detailed information on the global availability of Non-GMO animal feed see pages 23-26 of our briefing paper GM-free food production: a unique selling point for Ireland - the food island (1.2MB pdf download): http://www.gmfreeireland.org/GMFI-briefing-3.pdf

She believes that biotech crops and new types of enhanced cereal can help developing countries in particular, as these nations experience harsher weather conditions and greater water scarcity problems than the EU.

'Green growth' CAP pillar CAP to address new challenges

Fischer Boel believes that climate change, water management, biodiversity and energy are the four main challenges that the agricultural sector will face in the future and that the CAP needs to "equip farmers to deal with these challenges".

"I don't think that wheat or cereals is the future, but waste from the sector: straw, woodchips, and residues from the slaughterhouses, which can be transformed into renewable energy, such as ethanol and biodiesel," she said.

She argued that farmers need more money to use their raw materials. This could be provided via a "green growth pillar" of rural development policy, she said.

While the future of CAP payments is not yet clear, Fischer Boel believes direct payments will continue, especially in less-favoured areas. These will be topped up with a building block from the rural development policy's 'green growth pillar', which farmers would be free to choose themselves.

The agricultural sector must contribute to the EU's overall goal of reducing CO2 emissions by 20% by 2020, the commissioner stressed. A lot can be done, she said, saying "I'm not that pessimistic about the contribution from the agricultural sector" and even expressing her willingness to discuss an emissions trading scheme for agriculture.

CAP budget

To put CAP budget discussions into the right context, Fischer Boel stressed that people who criticise the policy's total share of the EU budget tend to forget that it is only so high because "it is the only common policy we have". If it were linked to the GDP of the member states, then agriculture's share is only 0.4%, "considerably lower than any budget for defence, health or social policies, for example," she said.

She warned against moves to co-finance the CAP's first pillar with direct payments with member states, which she said would only lead to the renationalisation of EU farm policy. Describing such a move as the "totally wrong decision," she said it would not benefit all farmers in all member states and would "completely spoil" the common farm policy. The CAP is needed to maintain a level playing field and allow equal competition between all EU farmers, she said.

Meanwhile, "a more flat rate distribution of the direct payments" is needed and any reductions of current payments would need a "long transitional period" to allow farmers adapt to the new situation. A large proportion of direct payments has been capitalised on the price of land and without a transition period, "you would be devastating the sector," Fischer Boel said.

CAP subsidies and trade

While the Americans "have a certain interest in hammering the CAP," EU agricultural subsidies are "much much less trade-distorting than the American policy," which is linked to production, Fischer Boel argued.

She also stressed that the Commission has been much more forthcoming in contributing to a positive outcome of the Doha Round of trade talks than the US, which is "not yet ready to deliver".

Failing to get a deal on Doha is "one of the regrets that I have before leaving," Fischer Boel said. Although discussions are still underway, "the next ministerial meeting in early December will not conclude anything," she added

Furthermore, if there is no agreement on the modalities for concluding the Doha Round by the end of March at the latest, "the window of opportunity is gone" and bilateral agreements will take over instead, she added, expressing hope that we will see clear commitments from the US and emerging economies India and China, to which the US wants more market access.

There is nothing wrong with bilateral agreements, she said, but added that "we cannot discipline domestic support in a bilateral agreement". "If we really want to reduce distorting domestic support we need a multilateral agreement," the commissioner said.

To read the interview in full, please click here.
http://www.euractiv.com/en/cap/fischer-boel-future-farm-policy-bolster-production/article-187490

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Small is beautiful for food security

The Guardian [UK], 23 November 2009:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/nov/23/food-security-support-small-farmers

Governments at the world summit on food security at the headquarters of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation in Rome last week took few of the required steps to respond to rising hunger (World leaders agree to global food strategy, 17 November). As with the food security strategy agreed at the L'Aquila G8 meeting, much of the summit declaration protects the status quo and the interests of biotechnology corporations which have already made a killing from the food crisis, rather than acting decisively to put food for people at the centre of policy.

However, we welcome the summit's support for a reformed FAO committee on world food security which could act to give those who actually grow and harvest most of our food a central role in determining global food policy. It is not as if we don't know how to turn the food crisis around. Recent research confirms that globally more than two-thirds of food is provided by small-scale producers, not global food companies, though they claim - and would wish to control - more. These small-scale food providers - farmers, livestock keepers, fisher peoples - many using resilient ecological approaches which have been proven successful in helping them adapt to climate change, need increased recognition and inclusion in decision-making at all levels, including in the FAO. This will have a high impact on eradicating hunger now.

Governments should explicitly support the FAO process and these people who feed the world.

Patrick Mulvany, UK Food Group
Tim Aldred, Progressio
Kato Lambrechts, Christian Aid
Kirtana Chandrasekaran, Friends of the Earth

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22 November 2009

Liam Clarke: Anti-GM brigade will turn feast into famine

Sunday Times [Ireland], 22 November 2009:
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/ireland/article6926771.ece

GM-Free Ireland, a new pressure group calling for genetically modified crops to be banned throughout the island, is entitled to its point of view. What it is not entitled to do is start a health scare and bamboozle the public with a cloud of buzz words such as "sustainability" and "natural".

Malcolm Thompson, president of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association, who is quoted by the lobby group, has added another dimension to the campaign. He says Irish farmers will be quick to switch to GM-free products when they see them demanding a premium price. In other words, GM-Free Ireland can also be seen as a campaign for dearer food.

Darina Allen, the celebrity chef and owner of a cookery school, believes that "supporting the GM-free policy provides a way for every farmer, food producer and consumer to help create a sustainable future for us all". So it could be argued that much of the impetus for this campaign is about the bottom line.

Genetically modified foods have been around since about 1996 and there have been no proven adverse effects on human health. In America, 89% of soybeans, 60% of corn and 83% of cotton (whose oil we consume) are grown from GM stock. There have been no problems. On the rare occasions when adverse effects were detected during animal testing, products were withdrawn. When a nut gene added to soy beans was suspected to be a possible trigger for nut allergy, production was halted.

Compare that with the health record from "natural" food. BSE was given to us by farmers feeding cows the brains of other animals in preference to soya beans, genetically modified or otherwise, which would have been more expensive. Foot and mouth was spread by the greed of a minority of farmers evading regulation. Our diet is unhealthy. Yet the governments north and south spend money promoting the consumption of more red meat and animal fat which, unlike GM foods, have proven health costs in the quantities in which they are consumed.

Ireland, under the combined influence of the Greens and the farming lobby, has a disgraceful record of blocking cheaper animal feed by abstaining in key votes on the authorisation of GM products, but later seeking export refunds for animal products because of increased feed costs.

The European commission estimates that the price of non-GM soybeans will rise by up to 600% in the next two years. That would drive food prices in a GM-free Ireland through the roof. In the UK, 54 GM crops have been approved. Nearly all dairy, pork and red meat products, as well as many frozen and processed meat and dairy products, are produced from animals fed on GM crops, according to the Soil Association, which represents organic farmers. Even vegetarian rennet in cheese is a GM product.

Opinion polls show that Europeans prefer non-GM food in principle, but Ireland's farming and GM-free lobby need to consider just how much of a premium people will pay if there is no benefit in taste or quality. The growth of cross-border shopping shows that price often trumps patriotism. The reasons we should embrace GM crops are simple enough: they are higher yield and easier to grow. Our present method of food production and consumption cannot be sustainable without a big reduction in population, perhaps through famine, a drop in meat consumption or both.

The world's population, estimated at 200m in 1AD, reached one billion in 1804. That was when Thomas Malthus, the political economist, wrote that "the power of population is so superior to the power of the Earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race".

His thinking shaped the laissez-faire attitude to the potato famine in Ireland. Luckily there turned out to be a technical fix in the shape of the agricultural revolution, but if we had stuck to traditional methods we would have starved.

The population rose to two billion in 1927 and topped three billion in 1959, around the time that the green revolution introduced high-yielding cultivars, chemical fertilisers, herbicides, pesticides, irrigation and large-scale farming.

There will be nine billion of us by 2050 and food demand will have increased by 56% to 120% compared with 2000. At the same time, food producers will be contending with increasing climate instability as well as loss of arable land by salinisation and erosion. Only about 18% of the planet's surface is arable land and, unless we can bring more into production, that percentage will be further reduced by the demands of housing and transport.

Feeding the world means a constant race for improved methods, and standing still isn't an option. That's why the scare stories and pseudo science pedalled by the anti GM-lobby must be taken head on.

The crankiest of them all is probably Prince Charles, who last year terrified Daily Telegraph readers with warnings of "millions of small farmers all over the world being driven off their land into unsustainable, unmanageable, degraded and dysfunctional conurbations of unmentionable awfulness".

That is what is referred to as the "frigging Monsanto" argument after the corporation that takes the lead in GM crops. It produced herbicides to kill weeds and then genetically engineered seeds that could survive the herbicide. Some seeds have a "terminator gene" which makes them infertile in the second generation, forcing people to go back to Monsanto if they want more.

This is more a criticism of the tendency of capital to seek to expand and establish monopolies than of GM per se. The answer, as in other industries, is regulation and competition. As with drug companies, a limit could also be put on the length of time that a product can remain exclusive to its developer, with special dispensations for the Third World.

In some ways, though, Monsanto can't win. When it leaves out the terminator gene, as it frequently does, the accusation is that its product will cross-pollinate with other crops, producing so-called Frankenstein foods.

When it marketed crops that would not need spraying for pests because they produce BT, a toxin fatal to insects but harmless to humans, that too was criticised. When it was pointed out that BT was used by organic farmers, the next scare was that, if it was used widely, insects might develop resistance to it and then organic products would be eaten alive.

Those arguing against GM foods are full of superstitious what-ifs, but those are bridges that will have to be crossed if we come to them. It's a level of caution that we apply to few other human endeavours.

It is not as if we have never tampered with nature. High-yield dairy cows would never have evolved in nature. They were selectively bred from wild ancestors and would die outside the unnatural environment of dairy farms. Yet nobody calls them Frankenstein buffalos.

All of our more than 200 varieties of dog were bred from wolves, yet who would argue that greyhounds or french poodles should be banned as unnatural abominations? It happens in food, too, where few of our staples would flourish in nature.

Compared with the genetic manipulation involved in selective breeding, not to mention techniques such as grafting and cross-pollination in plants, genetic engineering is technically difficult, but not all that complicated.

All plants have a common ancestor and a fairly similar genome. Gene splicing between modern species may be innovative but the result is generally to get cells to produce, or fail to produce, a single protein. It has been compared with turning a single bolt in a car. It could conceivably cause a problem but it's possible to anticipate and test for that.

If, as argued, it is such a good idea to go GM-free because we are an island, why, one wonders, doesn't Australia declare itself the GM-free continent? Instead it has been licensing GM crops since 2000 without any apparent ill effects. Stormont should do everyone on this island a favour by blocking this screwy cross-border initiative.

_______________________

Government's stance on GM crops is wrong-headed

Shane Morris
Sunday Tribune (Letters) [Ireland], 22 November 2009:
http://www.tribune.ie/news/article/2009/nov/22/governments-stance-on-gm-crops-is-wrong-headed/

I would like to bring to your attention an area what makes a mockery of Ireland's so-called "knowledge economy". Innovation and knowledge are words that are repeated often in the new programme for government.

However, in practice, it is clear the government has turned its back on the scientific search for knowledge by ruling out research trials on GM crops. This Luddite stance effectively throws the baby out with the bath water by refusing to even research the issue. This commitment goes against EU law, contradicts advice from the Irish chief science advisor, short changes Irish farmers and is a sad attempt to mislead the Irish public.

The ludicrous nature of this proposal is reflected in several facts. Firstly, EU regulations govern research trials of GM crops so it is not currently legally possible for the Irish government to ban such research. This was highlighted by Fianna Fáil's Noel Dempsey when, as environment minister, he accepted as government policy an independent public consultation report which ruled out a ban on crop trials in Ireland stating that it would not be legally possible to ban them. The report also warned that, if Ireland rejects or ignores GM biotechnology, it will not remain attractive to investors in high-tech industries or competitive in food production.

Secondly, the current government has only recently drafted specific wording on research trials of GM crops in their Environment Liability Act which will regulate GM crops cultivated in Ireland under EU law. Such a move seems strange if they believe a programme for government can ban such research.

Thirdly, banning GM crop research trials would contradict the government's own Strategy for Science, Technology and Innovation (2006 to 2013) which identified the importance of building a capability in agri-biotechnology in order to assess, harness and adopt new technological innovations.

This goal will be impossible if GM crop research trials are banned.

In addition, it should be noted that the IFA, in their "Meeting Challenges" policy submission to government, stated: "Provided that the use and release of GMOs meet all the detailed regulatory requirements, IFA's assessment of GM technology is that, like science and technology generally, it can have many positive implications for agriculture and food production." This perspective was supported by professor Patrick Cunningham, Ireland's chief science advisor, who recently issued a report to the current government on GM foods. The report looked at safety, benefits and risks, and highlighted that GM technology was of value to Ireland. Public research into GM crop development is seen to be of growing importance for many countries, including our EU partners. On the global stage GM crop research is seen as a key technology platform. Cuba, the ultimate public sector state, has had 59 GM field trials. China has just committed to investing the equivalent of $3,500m of new public funds into GM crop research.

The new programme for government's shortsighted, scientifically unsupported GM policy, developed without any scientific, stakeholder or public consultation, now excludes the basic research and development tool of GM crop field trials. This puts Ireland at the back of the class in terms of EU research as scientific GM research trials in the EU now number over 2,400 and have reported no negative impacts on health or the environment. France, the bastion of good food, has sanctioned over 587 GM crop trials.

Fianna Fáil, who previously allowed research trials of GM crops in Ireland, have conceded to the ż la carte scientific illiteracy of the Greens. Like most irrational positions it is one of contradiction. While Irish publicly funded GM technology to prevent potato blight sits on a lab shelf, the current government is happy to let over 250,000 pounds of toxic fungicide be used annually on Irish potatoes against blight. Greens in government elsewhere in Europe have allowed GM crop research trials. So while the programme for government proclaims "Ireland will be a test-bed for emerging technologies", when it comes to agri-food innovation, the government is happy to hide under the bed. It makes a joke of Ireland's claim to be a leading science location.

Shane H Morris,
Deparment of Biochemistry,
Lee Maltings,
Prospect Row,
University College Cork

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Comment from GM-free Ireland:

Shane Morris is an employee of the Canadian Government agency, Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada, who has been accused of scientific fraud on GMOs. For details see http://www.gmfreeireland.org/morris/index.php and his Spin Profile http://www.spinprofiles.org/index.php/Shane_Morris

_______________________

21 November 2009


Comment from GM-free Ireland:

The following article is an emblematic example of agri-biotech industry propaganda, brought to you at tax-payers' expense by the Irish Government's renegade pro-GM Ariculture and Food Development Authority, Teagasc (http://www.teagasc.ie).

The article is so outrageous that we have chosen to deconstruct it in detail.

Its co-authors, Dr. Peadar Lawlor and Maria Walsh, are scientists employed as researchers by the Pig Development Unit at Teagasc's Moorepark Research Centre (http://www.agresearch.teagasc.ie/moorepark). The article was first published by Teagasc in the current issue of T Research, Volume 4, Number 4, Winter 2009, ISSN 1649-8917 (http://www.teagasc.ie/publications/tresearch/tresearch200910.pdf), and is currently being disseminated on the Pig Site, a popular web portal for the UK pig industry (http://www.thepigsite.com).

Could Teagasc be worried that the millions of Euro it has received from Irish taxpayers for GM research will be cut under the Government's new GM-free policy?

The two authors of this article react with propaganda worthy of the PR department of Monsanto.

(Note in passing that Monsanto loves pigs. Not content with owning patents on 95% of all GM seeds, Monsanto has also filed patent applications on pig breeding methods, pig herds, and their offspring - including patents on naturally-occuring genes and any pigs that contain them. This could empower Monsanto to legally prevent Irish farmers from breeding pigs whose characterisics are described in the patent claims, or force them to pay patent royalties. If Ireland approves the patents, many Irish pigs, their offspring, and the use of the genetic information for breeding will be entirely owned by Monsanto, Inc. and any replication or infringement of their patent by man or beast will mean royalties or jail for the offending farmer. The patent applications were filed in the EU and over 160 countries in 2005. For details see "Monsanto files patent for new invention: the pig" http://www.greenpeace.org/international/news/monsanto-pig-patent-111.)

Our comments continue as insertions throughout the article text in this format [indented, in brown colour, between square brackets].

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The GM Debate and the Irish Pig Meat Sector
• Peadar Lawlor and Maria Walsh, Principal Research Officer and Research Officer in the Pig Development Unit based at Moorepark Research Centre, explore the viability of the Irish pig industry in the presence of a GM feed ban.


Peadar Lawlor and Marie Walsh
The Pig Site [UK], 21 November 2009:
http://www.thepigsite.com/articles/3/feed-and-nutrition/2931/the-gm-debate-and-the-irish-pig-meat-sector

Over millennia, plants and animals have undergone substantial genetic changes, as those individuals with the most desirable characteristics were selected by humans for breeding the next generation. These desirable characteristics are naturally occurring variations in the genetic make-up of individuals. Recently, it has become possible to modify the genetic material of living cells and organisms using techniques of modern gene technology. Organisms, such as plants and animals, whose genetic material (DNA) has been altered in such a way, are called genetically modified organisms (GMOs) (Europa, 2008). The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines GMOs as those organisms in which the DNA has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally (WHO, 2002). The technology is often called 'modern biotechnology' or 'gene technology', sometimes also 'recombinant DNA technology' or 'genetic engineering'. It allows selected individual genes to be transferred from one organism into another and also between non-related species.

Continuation of comments by GM-free Ireland:

[ The authors begin the article with the agri-biotech industry PR trick of framing the issue of genetic modification as if were just a modern extension of traditional breeding methods. No mention of the fact that most GM crops contain transgenic mixtures of DNA from a virus, a bacterium, and/or a plant or animal, that their genomes are usually scrambled as a result of the modification process, and that it is scientifically imposssible to predict the systemic long-term impacts of these changes on the modified organisms, on the animals and humans who consume them, and on the surrounding ecosystem into which they are released. Sound science?

The authors also fail to mention the peer-reviewed scientific evidence of the health dangers of GM food and farming. This omission is particularly odd, since Peadar Lawlor is a Work package leader on the EU FP7 funded project Biomarkers for post market monitoring of short and long-term effects of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) on animal and human health (http://www.feast.org/projects/636), whose official web site admits "Currently, however, little is known about exposure levels, whether adverse effects are predictable, and the occurrence of any unexpected effects following market release of GM foods." (For details see http://www.gmsafood.com.)

The first paragraph also fails to mention the very-well known environmental impacts of GM crop production and of the related increased used of pesticides, the massive consumer rejection of GM food, and the rapidly-growing global market for certified s GM-free animal produce. Bias? ]

What is a GM Food or Feed?

The food and feed that contain or consist of such GMOs, or are produced from GMOs, are called genetically modified (GM) food or feed (Europa, 2008). Regulation (EC) 1829/2003 established 0.9 per cent as base level for 'presence of GMO'. Therefore, in the EU, any food or feed containing more than 0.9 per cent GMO is legally considered a GM food or feed.

[ This mis-states EU law. There is no such thing as a "base level for 'presence of GMO'". The Regulation requires ALL animal feed and food containing and/or produced from GMOs to carry a GM label, with the sole exception of GM content below 0.9% subject to the condition that such contamination can be proven with substantiating documentation to be "adventitious" or "technically unavoidable." ]

Global Picture

This year is the 14th year in which GM crops were grown commercially in the world. Worldwide, 125 million hectares of GM crops were planted in 2008. The unprecedented uptake of this technology is due to the substantial economic benefits to farmers worldwide (James, 2008).

[ Here the authors exaggerate the global acreage of GM crops, based on discredited statistics provided by Clive James of ISAAA. This creates the false impression that Ireland is missing out on a European trend towards increasing GM food and farming, which is the exact opposite of the truth. ]

Twenty-five countries grew GM crops (15 developing countries and 10 industrialised countries) in 2008. In order of largest area grown, they were: the USA, Argentina, Brazil, India, Canada, China, Paraguay, South Africa, Uruguay, Bolivia, the Philippines, Australia, Mexico, Spain, Chile, Colombia, Honduras, Burkina Faso, the Czech Republic, Romania, Portugal, Germany, Poland, Slovakia and Egypt. The first eight of these countries grew more than one million hectares each. The USA is by far the largest grower of biotech crops, with 62.5 million hectares grown there in 2008 (James, 2008).

[ But the only GM crop authorised for cultivation in the EU (Monsanto's patented MON810 maize) is grown on 0.06% of arable land in the Union, and is banned or restricted at the national level in 11 EU countries and by 260 Regional Governments across 22 EU Member States. All the European market signals show increasing consumer demand for GM-free food and farming, not less, as the article appears to imply. ]

If more than one gene from another organism has been transferred to a particular crop, the created GMO has stacked genes (or stacked traits), and is called a gene stacked event. Many new GM varieties contain two or three 'stacked traits', which confer multiple benefits. For this reason, adoption growth can be more precisely measured when expressed as 'trait hectares', rather than hectares. In 2008, 166 million 'trait hectares' were grown globally (James, 2008).

Stacked trait hybrids are likely to play a major role in the continued adoption of GM crops worldwide.

[ Here we see the authors promoting the new untested and extremely controversial "gene stacked" crops - with no mention of the fact that Codex international food safety guidelines clearly state that "stacked" GM traits can lead to unintended effects and should be subject to a full safety assessment.

To add insult to injury, the authors then use the absurd concept of stacked "trait hectares" to blatantly inflate the global area under cultivation of GM crops from the already discredited 125 million hectares to 166 million hectares - an exaggeration of 33 per cent which adds 41 million hectares of non-existent GM crops! ]

Ireland and GM Crops

Currently, no genetically modified (GM) crops are cultivated in Ireland. However, Ireland relies more on imports of animal feed ingredients than any other country in the European Union (EU). Ireland is 52 per cent reliant on imports, while the UK is only 36 per cent, France 19 per cent, and Germany 26 per cent dependent (Hughes, 2008). In particular, Ireland does not have enough land to be self-sufficient in the protein supplements required for animal feeds.

[ The claim that Ireland relies more on animal feed imports than any other EU country in the EU is often repeated by those who want to persuade Irish farmers that their livestock will soon starve unless the EU fast-tracks the approval of more GM feedstuffs and abandons its "zero tolerance" food safet policy to prevent contaminatin of the food chain with GMOs that have not been subject to health risk assesments and/or not been approved for placing on the market in EU. But the claim is grossly misleading.

The Department of Agriculture data clearly show that Irish cattle and sheep consume a mostly grass-based diet, with very low levels of GM animal feed inputs compared to livestock in many competing EU countries.

While the imported portion of compound feed ingredients may be higher in Ireland than in other Member States, it is absolutely false to suggest that we rely more on feed imports - GM or Non-GM -than our competitors. For example, France imports 400% more soy feed than Ireland, and 25% of these French soy imports are GM-free - equivalent to all of Ireland's GM soy imports in 2007. ]

The high protein content in pig diets is achieved by using imported soybean and maize products (corn gluten feed, distillers dried grain), which are primarily sourced from the US, Brazil and Argentina. A large proportion of these are GM ingredients authorised for feeding in the EU. Between 2005 and 2007, over 3.4 million tonnes of GM feed ingredients were imported to offset the deficit in domestic feed supplies.

The US, listed above as the No. 1 source of Irish GM feed imports, is actually in position number 17 for oilseed rape, position 9 for maize and position no 2 for soy, as shown in the following government data for 2008:

Maize feed imports 2008 in metric tonnes:

240,025 from France (all GM-free)
120,145 from Brazil (no unapproved GM varieties)
40,290 from Northern Ireland
39,566 from other countries
only 2,089 from the USA (mostly GM)

441,567 total

Soy feed imports 2008 in metric tonnes:

180,268 from Argentina (no unapproved GM varieties)
64,325 from USA (mostly GM)
59,107 from other countries

47,456 from Brazil (no unapproved GM varieties)

351,156 total

Rape seed imports 2008 in metric tonnes:

90,139 from Poland (presumably GM-free)
58,864 from France (all GM-free)
47,043 from Belgium
80,393 from other countries
10,163 from Canada (probably GM)
less than 1 from USA (probably GM)

286,602 total

Cost of Substituting Imported GM Feed with a Non-GM Equivalent

The idea of declaring Ireland a GM-free country has been raised by some as a mechanism to enhance the export potential of the Irish food industry.

[ The so-called "idea raised by some" (a national ban on GM crops and a voluntary GM-free label) is, in fact, Government policy – announced six weeks ago as part of the Revised Programme for Government!

The authors falsely suggest that this policy includes a national ban on GM feedstuffs, despite the fact that GM-free Ireland and the Government have NEVER called for a ban on GM animal feed, although we encourage farmers to phase it out voluntarily for their own economic benefit. This is another tactic used by agri-biotech industry propaganda meisters to scaremonger farmers with Apocalyptic headlines like "Britain will starve without GM crops" which appeared in the UK Telegraph in October!]

It is important to note that EU law prohibits the imposition of a national ban on GM crops/feed unless scientific research can support a ban based on health/environmental fears.

[ Note the use of the word "fears", which denigrates the fact that GM crop bans are based on peer-reviewed scientific evidence of their health and environmental dangers and on the Precautionary Principle. ]

The only way that Ireland could adopt a GM-free position would be to do so based on a voluntary decision by the Irish agricultural sector.

[ From the context created in the second previous sentence, the authors here imply that the Government policy will ban GM feed, which is absolutely false.

A voluntary decision by the farming community is NOT the only way to create a ban on GM crops that the EC will recognise under current law. 11 EU Member States and 260 Regions across 22 EU Member States have banned GM crops, invoking, inter-alia, the so-called "Safeguard Clause".

The authors also fail to mention the Precautionary Principle, whereby governments faced with reasonable concerns are supposed to take preventative action before health or environmental damage starts to occur. The Precautionary Principle is enshrined both in EU law and in the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, to which Ireland and the EU are a party. This Treaty explicitly upholds the right of Parties to ban imports of GMOs and to impose higher safety standards when there is scientific uncertainty about their short to long-term safety.

Since the Biosafety Protocol was drafted and negotiated in the 1999 and 2000, scientific backing of the precautionary principle has increased in the light of additional evidence on the risks of genetically modified organisms to biodiversity (e.g. the Mexican maize contamination case, among others). A ban or embargo on GMOs in the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland would therefore be fully legitimate and backed by science. For more on this, see An Explanatory Guide to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, IUCN Environmental Policy and Law Paper No. 46. Published by IUCN - The World Conservation Union, Gland, Switzerland, 2003. ISBN: 2-8317-0671-8. Can be ordered online from: http://www.iucn.org/bookstore, tel: + 41 22 999 0001.

They authors also fail to mention that 12 EU Member States requested the EC earlier this year to recognise the legal right of every Member State to establish national blanket bans on GM crops if they so choose, and to do so for socio-economic as well as health and environmental reasons. (The first proposal came from the Netherlands, and was followed up by one from Austria (Genetically Modified Organisms - A Way Forward" at http://www.gmfreeireland.org/reserve/Austrian-et-al-proposal.pdf, which was officialy supported by Bulgaria, Ireland, Greece, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland and Slovenia). The European Commission then said it is favourably disposed to these proposals and is now consider the possibility of re-nationalising the cultivation of GM seeds that have been approved for placing on the EU single market.

It is very difficult to predict accurately the financial impact of a GM-free Ireland on the Irish pig industry. Soybean and maize would be the ingredients of most concern in this regard. Pig diets are formulated on a least cost basis and if one ingredient becomes expensive the formulation is altered to incorporate a cheaper alternative. In addition to the GM situation, other factors such as weather, freight, currency, energy cost and funds activity will all impact on ingredient supply and price, thus influencing the ingredient composition of pig diets. Today, the additional cost of formulating a GM-free pig diet would increase for the following reasons:

1. cost of sourcing similar non-GM ingredients.

2. cost of substituting GM ingredients with alternative protein and energy products, and

3. while GM maize by-products are not used to a great extent in pig diets, the effect of using more wheat and barley as substitutes in ruminant diets would make such cereals scarcer, thus increasing their cost of inclusion in GM-free pig diets.

[ Note how the authors address the "financial impacts" of a GM-free food chain on the pig industry, with no mention whatsoever of the financial benefits of a GM-free food chain including competitive advantage, improved branding, higher premia and increased market share which have already been secured by competing farmers and food producers, food brands and retailers all across Europe.

Most significantly, the authors fail to grasp the unique selling point that the government policy provides for Ireland: the most credible safe GM-free food brand in Europe. 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) and 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). ]

estimated costs

Table 1 contains an estimate of the cost of formulating a GM-free composite pig feed on 11 September 2009. At that time, GM-free soya was available at a premium of €35 per tonne. All the maize being imported at the time was GM-free with no premium over GM maize. However, there was a premium for non-GM maize gluten and maize distillers of €10 and €18, respectively. In Table 1, maize and maize products are not distinguished and a premium of €10 is assumed for non-GM over GM.

[ Note that maize gluten and distillers grains are by-products of the US beer and agrofuels industries. There is no mention of the fact that European maize is 99% GM-free. ]

If Irish farmers were to feed non-GM pig diets based on ingredient prices on 11 September 2009, the cost of feeding a pig would increase by €2.51 and the total cost to the pig industry would amount to in excess of €8.7 million per annum (Table 1). The EC Directorate-General for agriculture and rural development (2007) predicted that the additional cost of non-GM maize products could be as high as €60 per tonne for some Member States, including Ireland. Even if alternative feed ingredients were used instead of maize or maize by-products to formulate a GM-free diet, these alternatives would similarly increase in price. Table 1 shows a scenario where the full €60 per tonne premium for non-GM maize and maize by-products is absorbed. In this case, the cost of feeding a pig would increase by €3.93 and the total cost to the pig industry would amount to in excess of €13.8 million per annum (Table 1).

[ If you do the math on Teagasc's estimated extra cost of €2.51 to €3.93 per GM-free pig, with an average Irish pig deadweight of 70kg, the consumer would only have to €0.04 to €0.06 extra per kg of GM-free pig meat. That's less than one cent for a package of bacon or sausages!

Note that the Vice-Chairman of the IFA Pigmeat Commmittee, Pat O'Flaherty, produces over 8,000 pigs a year in his factory farm at Gort Na Muc in Rathangan, Co. Kildare, with no GM feed stuffs and no use whatsoever of soy feed - without incurring one cent in extra costs.

Related research found that the extra cost which a consumer would have to pay for a litre of GM-free milk in the UK is GBP 0.0045. ]

It is highly unlikely that the Irish pig industry could survive in a GM-free Ireland in the absence of a premium being paid for GM-free pig meat.

[ Not so. The principal economic benefit for GM-free producers in Europe is increased market share, for which GM-free Irish producers already have mutiple untapped competitive advantages including the most credible GM-free brand in Europe on top of our famous green image. ]

The history of recovering such premiums from the marketplace has not been a positive one.

[ Recovering a 5 cent premium can't be that hard. Thousands of farmers in the EU are already doing it, and selling their GM-free labelled pork, beef, lamb, poultry, eggs and farmed fish products to retailers and food brands across Europe.

The fact is that Irish meat and dairy produce made with GM feedstuffs is now being excluded from the premium brands and top quality GM-free shelves of supermarkets in Austria, France, Germany, Italy and Switzerland, and some retailers in the UK and Ireland! ]

EU Authorisation

As the area of GM crops increases year on year, it becomes increasingly difficult and more expensive to access non-GM alternatives.

[ European cultivation of GM crops has dramatically decreased since France and Germany banned them. In Brazil, the previous trend of increased plantings of GM soy came to a standsill this year. In the USA and Canada, many farmers are also going back to traditional GM-free soy and maize.

As Dr. John Fagan of Genetic ID explained at the GM-free Ireland press conference in Dublin on 17 November, the claims that GM-free animal feed is unavailable or unaffordable is total lie. "Production depends on demand. This year, Brazil harvested 28 million metric tonnes of Non- GMO soy beans, and together with India, has the capacity to produce 35 million tonnes. European maize is 99% GM-free. The extra cost per animal is tiny. The GM-free supply chain is fully segregated; and the certification process is reliable, inexpensive, and simpler than organic. Other countries need to invest in a traceability system for their GM-free production lines, but you have already set this up for beef in Ireland. It's really obvious: Ireland is ideally positioned to become the EU leader in this rapidly emerging market."]

In addition, it can take up to 33 months to get a GM feed ingredient authorised in the EU, which means that these crops are generally harvested before EU authorisation is received.

[ Here the authors falsely imply that all the GM crops, feed and food that have been "deregulated" in the USA will eventually be approved in the EU, and that the "delay" is due to European bureaucracy.

This is a gross distortion of the truth. The US FDA has accepted the scientifically untenable vies that GMOs are "substantially equivalent" to their conventional counterparts, and thus routinely "deregulates" them without any risk assessment, based on dodgy safety claims made by the applicant companies reminiscent of the tobacco companies' cover-up of their own evidence that cigarettes cause cancer.

The EU, on the other hand, rightly considers GMOs as novel feed and food which require environmental and health risk assessments, a favourable opinion from the European Food Safety Authority, followed by approval for placing on the market by Qualified Majority Vote of the Member States or by Commission decision. Most GM crops authorised for cultivation in the USA have not and will never be approved in the EU (with the sole exception of Monsanto's MON810 maize, as already mentionned), because everybody knows that doing so would contaminate conventional and organic seeds and crops in perpetuity, giving Monsanto, BASF, Bayer, Syngenta et al monopoly contol of the European food chain.

That said, EFSA's risk assessment has been unanimously condemned by the Council of Environment Ministers for providing positive opinions on GMOs based on secret risk assessement dossiers provided by the applicant companies without any possibility of independent scientific peer review, while also ignoring the views of member states, and refusing to consider any economic and social considerations.

Although the Member States never reach a Qualified Majority Vote for or against approval of GM feed and food (mostly because of US political pressure and ongoing threats of WTO trade sanctions), unelected bureaucrats in the Commission always end up rubberstamping their approval without any possibility of independent scientific peer review, and against the wishes of the actual majority of Member States and the vast majority of consumers. All Member States have requested this to change, with full disclosure of the risk assessment data. ]

The delay in the authorisation process results in a premium being paid by the industry for authorised GM alternatives or non-GM alternatives.

[ The "premium" which the authors blame on the EU authorisation process is actually the cost of segregating the illegal GMO pollution, which conventional farmers are obliged to pay in violation of the Polluter Pays principle. Blame the victim!

If US farmers want to sell their GM feed to Europe, all they need to do is follow the lead of their South American competitors, who take great care to grow only GM varieties that are already approved in the EU.

But Monsanto et al encourage US and Canadian farmers to plant new GM varieties as part of the industry's "contaminate first, legislate later" strategy. This enables a handful of global GM seed companies to leverage the European farming and commodity trade lobbies to pressure the Member States and the Commission to approve their latest untested GM products against the wishes of the majority of EU Governments, Regions, retailers, food brands and consumers.

This Teagasc article is a prime example of such propaganda. ]

Summary

Genetic engineering is a tool employed by plant breeders, which allows faster genetic improvement than is achievable with traditional plant breeding technologies. It is mainly used to confer herbicide resistance or insect resistance or both to a crop.

The authors fail to mention five key facts:

1.

So called "genetic engineering" is actually a hit-and-miss affair, requiring thousands of attempts to insert transgenic DNA into random locations of the target genome before achieving any kind of viable result. A far safer and reliable application of biotechnology for breeding environmentally sound traits is Marker Assisted Selection, which does not involve the unforeseeable consequences that result from the insertion of transgenic DNA.

2.

Herbicide resistant GM crops vastly increase the use of toxic chemicals such as Monsanto's Roundup which is not biodegradable and far more toxic than the company claims.

3.

Pesticide-producing Bt crops are saturated with hundreds of novel varieties of toxin which have never been properly risk assessed either in the USA or in the EU.

4.

Production of these GM crops has devastating agronomic, health, environmental, economic and social impacts in all the countries where they are grown, including plagues of GM superweeds in the USA and Canada, massive pollution and health problems in Argentina, and deforestation, land-grabbing, displacement of indigenous peoples and slave labour in Brazil and Paraguay.

5.

The patenting of GM crops by Monsanto and others enables these companies to secure a near monopoly on agricultural seeds, and to sue contaminated farmers for patent infringement.

The Irish feed industry is highly reliant on imported feed ingredients, particularly soya and maize by-products, as a source of protein.

Repeating a lie does not make it true. Irish cattle and sheep have a grass based diet with far less GM content than livestock in most competing countries.

If Ireland were to adopt a GM-free position, the resulting hikes in feed cost would make it difficult for the Irish pig meat sector to survive. As it is, Irish farmers pay a premium for authorised GM feed ingredients over world market prices because of the lengthy authorisation process currently in place in the EU.

[ Having reached this concluding paragraph, the authors' bias is clear for all to see. The article makes no mention whatsoever of the fact that Irish farmers who choose to adopt a GM-free food chain can secure a competitive advantage and unique selling point: the most credible safe GM-free food brand in Europe. 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 market survey, 17 November 2009 (1.2MB pdf download).
http://www.gmfreeireland.org/GMFI-briefing-3.pdf

The voluntary GM-free label is supported by the Irish Cattle and Sheepfarmers Association, Slow Food Ireland, the Taste Council, Euro-Toques Ireland, IOFGA, the Organic Trust, Good Food Ireland, Free Choice Consumer Group, Artisan Food Forum, the Farmers Market movement, the Irish Doctors Environmental Assciation and many other groups.]

References

Europa, 2008. GM Food & Feed.

European Commission, Directorate-General for agriculture and Rural Development. (2007). Economic impact of unapproved GMOs on EU feed imports and livestock production http://ec.europa.eu/agriculture/envir/gmo%20/economic_impactGMOs_en.pdf.

Hughes, R. 2008. Developments in feed grain markets. In: Proceedings of the Teagasc National Tillage Conference, January 2008, Carlow, pages 13-22.

James, C. 2008. Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2008. ISAAA Brief No. 39. ISAAA: Ithaca, NY, USA. Regulation (EC) no 1829/2003 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 September 2003 on genetically modified food and feed. Official Journal of the European Union. 23 pages.

Teagasc. 2008.

WHO 2002. Biotechnology (GM foods): 20 questions on genetically modified foods http://www.who.int/foodsafety/publications/biotech/20questions/en/index.html.

More reasons why Teagasc can't be trusted on GM issues:

The Director of Teagasc, Prof Gerry Boyle, is an agricultural consultant to the World Bank, which uses public tax-payer funding from the rich global North to promote GM farming in the South.

Under Boyle, Teagasc hosted an international conference promoting GM seeds and crops at University College Cork in 2008, on behalf of a Canadian biotech industry front group called the Agricultural Biotechnology International Conference (ABIC) Foundation, managed by Ag-West Bio Inc. and funded by Monsanto. ABIC's Board of Directors includes Jimmy Burke, the conference chair Ashley O'Sullivan (a former Monsanto employee), Roger Kemble (President of Syngenta Biotechnology Inc), and Malcolm Devine (former employee of Aventis CropScience and Bayer CropScience)!

Boyle makes the astounding claim that the record of GM crops internationally has been "very good" - completely ignoring the scientific evidence of health dangers, reduced yields, GM superweeds, crop failures, widespread contamination, patent infringment lawsuits, billion-dollar food industry losses, EU market rejection and loss of biodiversity.

GM propaganda

Teagasc maintains the Irish Government's official Information Centre for Genetically Modified (GM) Crops in Ireland, co-funded by the the Environment Protection Agency (EPA). The Centre's web site at www.gmoinfo.ie reads like a Monsanto advertisement. In the section on what it briefly refers to as the "perceived risks" of GMOs (with no mention of health, environment, economic and food sovereignty issues), the website states:

"Fortunately, within the EU a suite of legislation exists to ensure that GM crops must undergo a rigorous scientific and environmental risk assessment (by independent experts at the European Food Safety Authority) to ensure they pose no greater threat to the environment and human/animal health than their non-GM counterparts."

The animal feed section of the website repeats the false statement:

"Ireland relies more on imports of animal feed than any other country in the European Union."

In relation to Non-GM feed (which is widely used by farmers in 260 EU Regions), the website states:

"Cost to livestock farmers substituting imported GM feed with a non-GM equivalent?

There has been a debate recently as to the merits of substituting the imported GM feed with a non-GM equivalent. As part of the ongoing GM crop risk assessment programme, Teagasc pre-empted the debate by examining the economic impact of such a scenario on the beef and dairy sectors in 2006.

Published earlier this year, the findings of this report clearly concluded that such a scenario would negatively impact the dairy sector by up to ß17.7 million and the beef sector by up to ß18.6 million. The adoption of a GM-free approach to animal feedstuffs would also impact on the pig and poultry sectors which rely heavily on the use of GM feed in the animal's diet.

This Teagasc research concurs with the conclusions of a report by the European Commisssion's Directorate General of the Agriculture and Rural Development which states that countries such as Ireland would experience substantial economic consequences in trying to replace current GM maize products with non-GM material.

While the Teagasc GM-free study was initially conducted as a predictive exercise, the recent developments at EU level have highlighted the accuracy of the report in predicting that a disruption to the current GM-feed supply would elevate costs for the farmer."

Quotes from Gerry Boyle:

Ireland: ABIC conference: Science needs to meet growing food demand

Irish Farmers Journal, 28 August (dated 30 August) 2008. By Darragh Mullin.

"Currently, the debate in Europe around the risks and benefits of biotechnology is quite polarised, and it is widely accepted that the debate should be more open, transparent and inclusive, with a greater level of understanding by all the stakeholders. Openness and transparency are also required in the policy making process," he said. "If we are going to meet the world's future needs for food, feed, fibre, and fuel, we will need all the science and technology tools available," he added.

Ireland: Teagasc role is about science not politics, conference told

The Irish Examiner, 26 August 2008. By Ray Ryan, Agribusiness Correspondent

"In the absence of independent and credible information on biotechnology, the public is not given the opportunity to gain an understanding of, and make informed decisions on, the use of biotechnology in the agricultural and other sectors," he said.

The article above clearly shows that science takes second place when it comes to GMOs at Teagasc. The Government's hypocritical use of public funds for such private agri-biotech and commodity trade propaganda is unacceptable.

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Swine breed facts: Swabian-Hall swine

Judy Evans
Helium [USA], 21 November 2009:
http://www.helium.com/items/1655915-swine-breedfacts-swabian-hall-swine

Extract: "High ecological and nutritional standards, and high animal welfare practices, saw a new interest in the breed and the meat was soon in high demand in gourmet restaurants. More and more consumers began to look for high quality in their purchases. Today the name is protected by the EU and meat bearing the name 'Schwabisch-Hallisches Qualitatsschweinfleisch' must come from the Schwabisch Hall region. Farms are affiliated with the appropriate Farmer Producer Association and animals are not fed with any antibiotics, growth enhancers or drugs. Nor is any genetically modified feed given to the pigs."

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Full article:

King Wilhelm I is largely responsible for the establishment of the Swabian-Hall pig breed. Schwabishch Hall was in Baden-Wurttemberg in southern Germany. King Wilhelm I founded the Agricultural University of Hohenheim, the 'Wilhelma' zoological and botanical garden and the Arabian stud of Marbach/Weil. Yaks, Zebu, Somali sheep and Cashmere goats all attracted his attention and he was responsible for the development of several breeds of cattle and swine.

Early in the 1800s, King Wilhelm I imported pigs from China of the Chinese Meishan breed. These were crossed with local breeds in an attempt to improve the existing native animals, specifically by increasing the fat content of the meat. By 1844 the Schwabishch-Hallische Schwein (Swabian-Hall Pig) was regarded as the best breed in german-speaking countries. By 1959, 90% of swine in the area were of Swabian-Hall breeding. But by 1969 there were only a handful of these animals left. Being a traditional breed, they tended to run to fat and, with an increasing swing towards lean meat, such animals had become unfashionable for consumers and unprofitable for producers.

In 1984 Rudolf Buhler collected the last of the breed and, with seven sows and one boar, he began a program aimed at re-establishing the breed. High ecological and nutritional standards, and high animal welfare practices, saw a new interest in the breed and the meat was soon in high demand in gourmet restaurants. More and more consumers began to look for high quality in their purchases. Today the name is protected by the EU and meat bearing the name 'Schwabisch-Hallisches Qualitatsschweinfleisch' must come from the Schwabisch Hall region. Farms are affiliated with the appropriate Farmer Producer Association and animals are not fed with any antibiotics, growth enhancers or drugs. Nor is any genetically modified feed given to the pigs. When slaughtered, the meat is sent to specialist shops thus ensuring the animal can be traced back to the producer should the need arise.

The Swabian-Hall breed is large with a black head and black rear area separated by a band of white running right round the body behind the shoulders, rather like the English Saddleback breed. The central area shows as a grey area due to pigmented skin and unpigmented hair. Mature boars measure around 90cm at the shoulders and weigh around 350 kg. Sows are slightly smaller measuring 80cm tall and weighing around 280 kg. The breed is hardy and has good longevity. Sows average 9.2 piglets per litter and have good maternal instincts with ample milk for their offspring. The meat is darker than some pork from other breeds and has an intensive flavour. It is especially succulent with a distinctive aroma and a strong taste. Swabian-Hall pig numbers have increased dramatically and there are now a number of breeders fostering this traditional pig breed.

The breed remains an endangered species and is on the red list of the Society for the Conservation of Old and Endangered Livestock Breeds.

Sources:

http://www.ansi.okstate.edu

http://www.g-e-h.de

http://www.media-bw.de

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Organic food booms despite recession

Geoffrey Lean
The Telegraph [UK], 21 November 2009:
http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/geoffreylean/100017490/organic-food-booms-despite-recession/

Organic food and other green goods are selling surprisingly well, despite the recession, it seems. Supermarket sales of environmentally sustainable or 'ethical' products are set to rise by 8.7 per cent to nearly $38 billion this year, says a new study by a market research company, Packaged Facts. And chains like Wal-Mart and Safeways are increasingly moving them out of niche markets with prices often beginning to rival those of conventional products.

Even more surprising, perhaps, organic food is booming in Eastern Europe in these straitened times, if from a very low base. In Poland almost every supermarket sells it, while the sales of an organic online shop more than doubled in a year. In Romania sales of the pesticide-free produce in the first half of this year were more than 15 times higher than in the equivalent period in 2008 in 21 supermarkets owned by the French chain Carrefour. And in Hungary weekly organic markets are being held all over the country. Hungary for change, perhaps...

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France Finds Monsanto Guilty of Lying

Posted by Dr. Mercola
Food Consumer, 21 November 2009:
http://www.foodconsumer.org/newsite/Politics/Politics/france_finds_monsanto_guilty_of_lying_211120090805.html

France's highest court has ruled that U.S. agrochemical giant Monsanto had not told the truth about the safety of its best-selling weed-killer, Roundup. The court confirmed an earlier judgment that Monsanto had falsely advertised its herbicide as "biodegradable" and claimed it "left the soil clean." Roundup is the world's best-selling herbicide.

French environmental groups had brought the case in 2001 on the basis that glyphosate, Roundup's main ingredient, is classed as "dangerous for the environment" by the European Union.

In the latest ruling, France's Supreme Court upheld two earlier convictions against Monsanto by the Lyon criminal court in 2007, and the Lyon court of appeal in 2008, the AFP news agency reports.

Monsanto already dominates America's food chain with its genetically modified seeds. Now it has targeted milk production. Just as frightening as the corporation's tactics, including ruthless legal battles against small farmers, is its decades-long history of toxic contamination.

Sources:

BBC October 15, 2009
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/8308903.stm

Vanity Fair May 2008
http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/features/2008/05/monsanto200805

Vanity Fair June 19, 2009
http://www.vanityfair.com/online/oscars/2009/06/qa-food-inc-director-robert-kenner-on-monsanto-obama-and-breakfast.html

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GMOs Causing Massive Pesticide Pollution

Andrew Kimbrell
Executive Director of the Center for Food Safety
Huffington Post [USA], November 21 2009:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/andrew-kimbrell/new-report-gmos-causing-m_b_362888.html

There is one fact about genetically engineered foods that there is no debate about: no one wakes up in the morning eager to buy gene-altered food. There's good reason for this. Genetically modified foods do nothing for the "eating public". They provide no extra nutrition, flavor, safety or any other trait that people actually want. Instead, these food products only offer risks, which include potential toxicity, allergenecity, and lower nutritional value.

This presents a tough problem for the Monsantos of the world, who are pushing these GM foods. How can you sell something to the public that offers no benefits to them? And, because of their lobbying power, the biotech companies have ensured that their products are not labeled. So Monsanto's real request of the public is "be unknowing guinea pigs for foods that make us a lot of money and offer you nothing but risk."

Obviously this message is a PR nightmare, so Monsanto has come up with a spin that is old as public relations itself: "accept and buy our products because they will help the world." More particularly, their ads displayed in mass transit systems around the country and regularly on NPR claim that GM foods "will feed a hungry world" and "reduce the load of pesticides" used in agriculture.

Not surprisingly, both these claims turn out to be self-serving myths. Earlier this year the Union of Concerned Scientists issued a detailed report entitled "Failure to Yield". The report's findings were straightforward and incontrovertible. After 21 years of research, billions of dollars of investments in public and private funds, and more than 13 years of commercialization, GM crops have done nothing to significantly increase yield: so much for the "feeding the world's hungry" spin.

Now, a new report from The Organic Center, "Impacts of Genetically Engineered Crops on Pesticide Use: The First Thirteen Years", exposes the "less pesticide" myth. The report, which was released on Tuesday, was authored by Dr. Charles Benbrook, a leading agricultural scientist. In the spirit of full disclosure, I should also mention that Center for Food Safety helped fund the report.

It turns out that far from reducing pesticides, GM crops are a major reason for the massive expansion of pesticide use in recent years. This should not be a surprise. The majority of GE crops are "Roundup Ready," designed to survive heavy and repeated spraying with Monsanto's Roundup weedkiller. Roundup Ready crops have dramatically increased Roundup use, and spawned a growing epidemic of Roundup-resistant weeds, which now infest millions of acres of American cropland. Killing resistant weeds requires more herbicides. How much more? Dr. Benbrook's study - based on official USDA data - shows that GE crops have increased the overall use of weedkillers in the U.S. by a massive 383 million pounds since 1996.

Sometimes even more chemicals won't do the trick. In the South, cotton farmers are reverting to the pre-industrial practice of "chopping cotton," or manual hoeing, to rid their fields of Roundup-resistant pigweed.

Never fear, the biotech industry has "killer" solutions to the Roundup-resistant weed epidemic - you guessed it, new crops resistant to different and multiple herbicides. Dr. Benbrook describes these "next-generation" GE crops, which are the true pesticide-promoting future of agricultural biotechnology.

For instance, Dow Agrosciences will soon bring us GE corn, resistant to 2,4-D, one of the weedkillers in Agent Orange - the dioxin-laced defoliant used during the Vietnam War. 2,4-D-resistant corn will undoubtedly increase use of this dangerous weedkiller, which has been banned in Sweden, Norway and Denmark due to its links to cancer and reproductive disorders. Monsanto, DuPont, Bayer and Syngenta all have their own new "herbicide-tolerant" crops in the works, some resistant to two and even three herbicides each. The inevitable result will be continuing increases in the use of toxic chemicals to kill "next-generation" weeds resistant to multiple weedkillers.

In the face of all this, many farmers are becoming disillusioned with GE crops. In many states, demand for conventional seed, especially soybeans, is outstripping supply. Among the reasons given by farmers for this historic switch are dramatic price hikes for biotech seeds, increased pesticide costs due to resistant weeds, premiums for non-GM supplies, and importantly, the ability to save and replant conventional seeds, which is illegal with Monsanto's patented GE seeds.

Thanks then to the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Organic Center for debunking the myths about GM crops and foods. In terms of timing, the two reports released this year couldn't have come at a more crucial moment. Through careful scientific analysis they expose the false advertising that biotechnology companies are using in print and on our public radio airways.

We should all know what Monsanto and other companies are selling, and its not a solution to world hunger or a cleanser for the environment. What they are really selling is what they make best: chemicals. The biotech giants - Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta, Bayer and Dow - are, without exception, major pesticide manufacturers. They have each bought up sizeable chunks of the world's seed supply, and are using biotechnology to make those seeds sell their pesticides for them.

It may be good for their bottom line, but its bad for us, the safety of our food, and the health of our environment.

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Origin Agritech Announces Final Approval of World's First Genetically Modified Phytase Corn

Ad Hoc News [Germany], 21 November 2009:
http://www.ad-hoc-news.de/agritech-origin-agritech-announces-final-approval-of--/de/Unternehmensnachrichten/20729014

Origin Agritech Limited (NASDAQ GS: SEED) ('Origin'), a leading technology-focused supplier of crop seeds and agri-biotech research in China, today announced it has received the Bio-safety Certificate from the Ministry of Agriculture as a final approval for commercial approval of the world's first genetically modified phytase corn. Origin's phytase corn is the first transgenic corn to officially introduce the next generation of corn product approved and sold commercially into the domestic marketplace.

Genetically modified seed products in China must undergo five separate stages of approval beginning with a phase one laboratory approval to the final receipt of the Bio-safety Certificate in phase five. Currently, this GM seed approval process is restricted only to domestic seed producers such as Origin Agritech.

Phytase is currently used as an additive in animal feed to breakdown phytic acid in corn, which holds 60% of the phosphorus in corn. Phytase increases phosphorus absorption in animals by 60%. Phosphorus is an essential element for the growth and development of all animals, and plays key roles in skeletal structure and in vital metabolic pathways. Phytase, as an additive for animal feed, is mandatory in Europe, Southeast Asia, South Korea, Japan, and other regions for environmental purposes.

Phytase transgenic corn, developed by and licensed from Chinese Academy of Agricultural Science (CAAS) after 7 years of study, will allow animal feed producers the ability to eliminate purchasing phytase and corn separately. It will eliminate the need for mixing the two ingredients together, saving time, machinery, and labor for the animal feed producers.

Origin's GMO phytase-producing corn is expected to reduce the need for inorganic phosphate supplements as animals will directly absorb more phosphate from their feed, reducing animal feed's high cost. Inorganic phosphates may be contaminated with fluorin and heavy metal residues created in the manufacturing process. These fluorin and heavy metal residues in the feedstuff are toxic to animals, and dangerous to humans. Origin plans to release further details of the development of their phytase product line as this develops.

Dr. Gengchen Han, Origin's Chairman said, 'With this landmark seed approval, we are not only own the first GM corn seed product in China, but we are actively leading the new genetically modified generation of agricultural products for China, and will continue to do so for the future.'

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Living the Lie: Agent Orange Activist Confronts Monsanto

Thanhnien News [Viet Nam], November 21 2009:
http://www.thanhniennews.com/commentaries/?catid=11&newsid=53845

HANOI -- Len Aldis, Secretary of the Britain-Vietnam Friendship Society, wrote to Nguyen Anh Thi, director of Monsanto Vietnam, asking him to discuss Agent Orange, which Monsanto manufactured and the US government sprayed in Vietnam, poisoning millions.

Aldis asked for a meeting, but Thi said he was out of town and replied with a pre-written statement from Monsanto:

"During the Vietnam War, the US government, using its authority under the Defence Production Act, directed seven companies to manufacture this material [Agent Orange].The government specified how it would be produced and controlled how it was used in the field, including application rates...

"...The research on the issue of Agent Orange has gone on more than 30 years and continues today... all of this study has not conclusively demonstrated a cause-and-effect link between spraying of Agent Orange and the diseases that were evaluated."

On October 19, Aldis wrote back to Thi:

"Mr Nguyen, the danger of dioxin was known at the time of manufacture. The companies knew but shamefully kept silent.

Due to the US government requirement for more supplies of Agent Orange, the process of manufacturing was speeded up, so leading to yet more dioxin being produced. I repeat the companies knew of this but remained silent.

If the speed of manufacturing had remained as it was, the production of dioxin would have been much less. The companies that knew this - and I include Monsanto - must therefore share part of the blame along with the US government for the horrific consequences of the use of Agent Orange in Vietnam.

I must take issue with you when you write 'All of this study has not conclusively demonstrated a cause-and-effect link between spraying of Agent Orange and the diseases that were evaluated.' Mr Nguyen, this is an incredible statement that flies in the face of international research carried out by scientists from a number of countries.

The National Academy of Science has published lists of illnesses and disabilities due to the use of Agent Orange. These illnesses and disabilities are on record and cannot be denied.

US Veterans succeeded in their lawsuits against the companies that manufactured Agent Orange for the effects it has had on them, and their children, this is on record. In 1984 Monsanto was one of the companies involved in the out of court settlement of US $180 million. Mr Nguyen, if Agent Orange does not cause illnesses or disabilities, why did the companies agree to pay $184 million?

Let me remind you that 80 million liters of Agent Orange were sprayed over areas of Vietnam, not areas of the US. More reason surely for the companies, and the US government to make a financial settlement to the Vietnamese victims, and to their families.

I hope that you will make that visit to the Peace Village at Tu Du Hospital and see the children and teenagers, victims of Agent Orange, that I have seen. Look at the glass containers in the special room that contain the babies, stillborn due to the horrific abnormalities caused by Agent Orange. Look carefully at them Mr Nguyen, you will then perhaps understand the anger felt by thousands of people like me who will continue to seek justice for these tragic victims of the products produced by Monsanto.

Look also at the living youngsters in Tu Du, they are just a few of the many thousands of victims born years after the use of Agent Orange ended. Victims, Mr Nguyen, that need 24 hours attention day in day out, year in year out. These are the results of the product manufactured by the company you represent.

The New York Times on October 13 reported that the Department of Veterans Affairs had recognized three new afflictions as linked to Agent Orange exposure. The VA will now start providing free care to any of the 2.1 million Vietnam-era veterans who can show that they might have contracted any of those diseases by their exposure to Agent Orange.

Mr Nguyen, surely you must now agree that this report shows beyond any doubt that Agent Orange has had serious effects on the lives of US veterans and their families. I must also remind you again that 80 million liters of Agent Orange was sprayed over South Vietnam and not the US. In Ho Chi Minh City, at Tu Du Hospital, you can see the young living victims affected by Agent Orange."

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20 November 2009

Food sector at the forefront of sustainability, says Oxfam

Jess Halliday
Food Navigator, 20 November 2009:
http://www.foodnavigator.com/Financial-Industry/Food-sector-at-the-forefront-of-sustainability-says-Oxfam

FRANKFURT - Food and beverage manufacturers are driving sustainability in the supply chain, says an Oxfam specialist, but they face more risks in catering to demand for ethically-produced products than retailers. Since the early 2000s Oxfam http://www.foodnavigator.com/content/search?SearchText=Oxfam has been engaging with businesses in a number of industries over their contribution to development. Sustainability http://www.foodnavigator.com/content/search?SearchText=sustainability has become core business, and companies' activities can bring large-scale change and help them be competitive.

Dr Lea Borkenhagen, head of Oxfam's Sustainable Livelihoods Strategy, told FoodNavigator.com that the food and beverage industry is at the forefront of change because of the reliance on agricultural goods at the top of the supply chain.

But she said there is most dynamism and room for innovation in fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG). But FMCG companies also bear the most risks: For instance, they need to be able to source materials consistently, may need to change operations as conditions or supply availability changes, and cover transport costs that go up with fuel prices.

"FMCG is the crunch point in security of supply and consumer demand," she said.

Retailers, on the other hand, are driving consumer demand but they do not have to change their operations fundamentally to accommodate more sustainable products. They are very powerful in setting terms for their suppliers and can pick and chose which they buy from.

Oxfam has been exhibiting at this week's FiE trade show in Frankfurt, Germany, for the first time.

"Food ingredients companies can make very specific choices about how they meet demands of companies, such as where to source from and how to source," said Borkenhagen.

"We think it is possible to source in an ethical way, and from people to whom this would make a big difference."

Eighty-five per cent of the world's farmers are smallholders, and when companies buy from them they are investing in the community. This can help build stability in the area in the longer term.

Moreover, it is quite possible for smallholders' produce to be suitable for the export market. Ingredient companies can pass on knowledge about quality standards, and strategic investment can help them overcome such non-tariff barriers to profitable markets.

If produce is of a high quality, a farmer can sell to more companies and removed the insecurity that goes with having just one customer. This can mean higher revenues - and these, in turn, mean more investment.

Borkenhagen noted the downside to quality standards. When farmers have no extra money to invest, they cannot comply and may be shut out of the most profitable segments of the market. This can be particularly problematic for women farmers who are not in a position to increase their investment.

Changes in EU law can open up new possibilities, however. For instance, this year the European Commission has lifted restrictions on the shape of fruit and vegetables that can be sold in the bloc. This means farmers have new possibilities for selling produce that does not meet the aesthetic ideal.

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Comment by TraceConsult™

If the traveling food industry circus called FiE (Food Ingredients Exhibition) http://fieurope.ingredientsnetwork.com/home, this year in Frankfurt, offers a platform to an NGO like Oxfam ("We believe we can end poverty and injustice, as part of a global movement for change"), this clearly implies ongoing change indeed! This highly reputable confederation of 14 like-minded organizations definitely has no money to waste. If they decide to book expensive exhibition space at an FiE event this only reflects something that has already become a significant undercurrent in the food industry: Increasing attempts to ensure ethical sourcing.

Whether it is the social focus of Oxfam or the strong environmental and consumer health interests pursued by Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and others - the original position is always an ethical one. To see that a significant number of often major players in the food production and marketing chain have already adopted some of these views is probably more than just a small drop of consolation and inspiration to the hearts of NGO volunteers and staff.

It is a sign that common sense and an understanding of the interconnectedness of processes on this Earth are linking even seemingly distant forces in industry and civil society. Currently, there are major developments going on behind the scenes in the retail industry of a range of countries that point in the same direction. The sooner they manifest on the surface the easier it will be for the various supply chains to focus on newly defined ethical targets.

As has been so often the case: Defining the direction of ethics in food manufacture lies in the retailers' hands. There will be grateful beneficiaries everywhere!

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Gone to market
• Faced with competition from commercial farms in Canada, U.S. and Mexico, local organic farmers struggle to produce organic fruits and vegetables most Vancouverites can afford.


Sandra Thomas, Vancouver Courier [Canada]
20 November 2009:
http://www2.canada.com/vancouvercourier/news/story.html?id=5a11a30f-d2a3-41d0-9ccd-9113da18f4c1

"That will be $7.80."

That cost for six average-looking large potatoes might seem high, especially when a 10-pound bag at Safeway in October sold for $4.99, but no one within hearing range at the West End Farmers Market blinks an eye at the price.

The reason no one reacts is that people who frequent farmers markets probably understand the true cost of the produce. These shoppers know the local potatoes, carrots, apples and corn for sale were grown without the use of pesticides or synthetic fertilizers by certified organic farmers.

Those same shoppers also believe that while some of the fruits and vegetables aren't as pretty as the shiny versions found in large super markets, they taste better. They're also confident the workers who picked the produce received a decent wage, the eggs for sale come from free-run hens and the smoked fish is from a sustainable wild species.

All things considered, $7.80 for six organic potatoes begins to look reasonable. But try and explain that cost to a family trying to make ends meet, and that's where the dilemma begins. Food access and food security professionals from around the world are struggling to find ways to make healthy produce and organic goods affordable to everyone. Greater Vancouver is on board with the program. But how to make that happen depends on who you ask.

Addressing about 50 people packed into the Learning Resource Centre at the Britannia Community Centre last month for a debate on food justice, organic farmer Chris Bodnar explains what it takes to grow healthy food using responsible methods.

Bodnar is a farmer at Glen Valley Organic Farm Co-operative, which is a member of Langley Organic Growers. The key goals of the Glen Valley farmers include providing certified organic food for co-op members and the local community, owning and operating the farm cooperatively, and working the farm for the mutual benefit of the land, wildlife and people.

Bodnar says most small farmers in B.C. live below the poverty line. In 2007, Statistics Canada defined the poverty line as $21,666 before tax.

"We pay our workers $13 an hour," Bodnar told the crowd, "and we make about $11 an hour after expenses."

Workers who receive room and board make $10 an hour and all employees have shares in the farm.

Bodnar and other co-op farmers want to make more money, but they refuse to lower wages, use pesticides or grow quick cash crops, such as corn, that deplete the soil of nutrients and render the land useless. Bodnar says corn is a "huge issue" in the Lower Mainland. He explains corn draws a lot of nutrients from the soil and erodes the ground it's grown on. Most local corn is derived from genetically modified organisms, he says, created to withstand high amounts of the herbicide Roundup, a derivative of Agent Orange.

The problem with Roundup, says Bodnar, is that not only does it kill the pests that target corn, it also kills everything else it touches. Corn is also a cheap way to feed cattle, says Bodnar, who adds it creates meat much higher in fat than grass-fed beef.

"Ultimately corn creates some of the worst environmental damage and some of the most useless food nationally," says Bodnar. "On the social justice side it's one of the worst."

Bodnar says it's hard to compete economically with produce from Mexico, where workers typically make $2 a day. Pesticides are also widely used in Mexico-and on many commercial farms across Canada.

In B.C., pesticide use is regulated through Health Canada's Pest Management Regulatory Agency, the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture and Lands and the B.C. Ministry of the Environment.

But Bodnar and business partner, fellow Glen Valley farmer Jeremy Pitchford, say stronger restrictions are needed to level the playing field between organic and commercial growers. Bodnar says in Canada, farmers who grow genetically modified crops are allowed to use herbicides like Roundup, because the chemicals included are legal. It's the carrying agents that acts as the base for the herbicide, he notes, that haven't been properly studied.

"The genetically modified crops are designed to grow with it," says Bodnar. "But then it runs off into our streams."

Another problem facing organic farmers, says Pitchford, is the cheap produce from places like California that floods Lower Mainland grocery stores every summer.

Pitchford says there are so many costs associated with growing organic food he can't estimate the dollar amount of a crop from seed to sale. In the short term, organically grown produce is typically more expensive than its commercial counterparts because it's more labour intensive. Farmers and food access advocates argue that extra expense is worth it when compared to the long-term costs of commercial farming, which can damage the environment through pollution, and loss of wildlife habitat.

Paying workers a fair wage is an organic farmer's highest cost. Again, Pitchford and Bodnar want to see more regulations regarding wages for farm workers. Pitchford says the wages paid at commercial farms are typically so far below minimum wage, Revenue Canada has a separate category for them on income-tax forms. Exploiting workers on commercial farms is also not uncommon to B.C.

In 2004, the B.C. Federation of Labour found hand harvesters were typically middle-aged or older men who'd recently immigrated to Canada and possessed a limited grasp of English and their rights. The federation found 80 per cent of these workers were forced to illegally return some, if not all of their wages to contractors. In its investigation, the federation also discovered that many farm workers were paid less than minimum wage and for fewer hours then they actually worked. It was also discovered that some farm workers weren't being paid at all, but instead were given fake records of employment so they could collect employment insurance once the growing season was over.

"It's hard to compete when these big farms are paying people so much less," Pitchford laments.

Given all the hurdles, you wonder why Pitchford even bothers farming organically.

"For me, I feel like I'm at war with the corporations," he says. "They're trying to take away our food security and putting it in the hands of a few, rather than many. It's like privatizing water and that's dangerous."

Pitchford is calling for a national food policy before small farms dedicated to producing healthy food are lost.

B.C. Agriculture and Lands Minister Steve Thomson says national food policies already exist and include regulated markets for farming animals such as cows, chickens and turkeys.

In an email to the Courier, he notes instead of a national food policy, each province is free to adopt ideas that work for that region, such as the school fruits and vegetables nutritional program in B.C. School nutrition programs are something most food access advocates would like to see included in a national food policy.

As for raising wages for farm workers, Thomson says they're regulated by the Ministry of Labour. He notes the federal Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program regulates employment and labour standards for foreign workers in Canada under a bilateral agreement between the federal government and Mexico.

Thomson says the province supports small farmers and promotes B.C. agriculture and eating locally in several ways, including the creation of the B.C. Association of Farmers Markets, which provides education and training to market boards, managers and vendors, helps promote farmers markets to the public and industry stakeholders, initiates and manages research and development, and offers a unified industry voice for all B.C. farmers market associations.

The ministry also works with the B.C. AgriTourism Alliance, which promotes local agriculture and food and supports the Eat and Drink B.C. program of the B.C. Restaurant and Food Services Association.

"We strongly support initiatives that expand local food production," Thomson wrote. "We are encouraged by the upward trend in direct farm sales. We are also continuing to work with the B.C. Association of Farmers Markets to increase awareness of the markets throughout the province."

Thomson says B.C. has been a leader in establishing certified organic standards and has the highest percentage of certified organic producers in Canada, with more than 16 per cent of farms qualifying.

Tara McDonald, executive director of Vancouver Farmers Markets and member of the city's Food Policy Council, says farmers markets allow Vancouverites to buy food as fresh and as local as possible.

"We don't look at supporting farmers as if it's a special program," she says. "Food is a basic need in life like water. When people buy direct from farmers they know exactly how that food was grown. It goes directly from the farmer to the consumer. You can't get any more direct than that."

The goal of the Food Policy Council is to collaborate with government officials in creating a food system that is ecologically sustainable, economically viable and socially just. The council also examines our local food system and provides ideas and policy recommendations to improve it.

McDonald says last year farmers earned $4 million in revenue at the city's farmers markets. That $4 million, she says, translated into $10 million in spending regionally as shoppers purchased lunch and other items nearby, and farmers bought supplies and equipment, such as feed and tractors.

"And that's the message we're trying to get across to the decision makers and politicians," she says. "Farmers markets are not special events or community projects--they're an economic driver that employs hundreds of people and allows access to fresh food."

McDonald says it's a myth that farm-fresh organic produce is more expensive than commercially grown and imported fruits and vegetables. She says there are niche and artisan products for sale at the markets that do cost more, such as specialty cheeses and bread not available elsewhere, but adds the basics such as many organic fruits and vegetables are similar to large grocery store prices.

"No, you're not going to find cheap cheese or cheap imported produce from Mexico, but having said that, many products found at farmers markets are similar to the large retailers," she says.

McDonald says a recent price comparison showed some farmers markets products were cheaper than similar organic produce at large grocery stores, which often offer one product as a loss leader to get shoppers into a store. A 2007 cost comparison showed 75 per cent of 15 items, including lettuce, spinach, peppers, cucumbers, eggs, wild salmon and some cheese, were on par or less expensive at local farmers markets than at Safeway, she says. "We also found out that people are willing to spend more on local produce. For example, they'd rather spend $1.10 or $1.25 to buy apples from B.C. compared to ones from New Zealand for $1."

Ian Marcuse, community organizer for the Grandview Woodland Food Connection, says it's important to support local farmers because that's where the production of healthy food starts.

"To ensure an accessible and secure food system, we need to have control over food production, including supporting farmers independent of the global industrial food system, that are able to supply us with healthy food that is still within our control in terms of production, delivery and pricing," says Marcuse, who organized the October food justice forum at Britannia. "This is in opposition to a corporate system, which largely determines our food system for us."

The food is more expensive, he says, but the extra expense is worth it to ensure the quality of our food, social justice and equality for local farmers and workers.

"I also think these higher costs could come down if the government helps to support small farmers [in the form of subsidies] to a much greater extent," says Marcuse. "Keep in mind we are already supporting industry to the tune of billions to keep [non-organic] food costs low. We could certainly lower the cost to organically produced food and at the same time pay farmers and workers a decent wage. We need to decide how we use our tax dollars."

He says those low prices come with a high cost by way of transportation-based pollution, health issues and environmental damage.

"The government spends billions on farm subsidies, but the small farmer, the workers, the drivers and especially the environment, see very little benefit," he says.

Marcuse believes a successful national food policy would include programs that ensure all children have access to the healthiest food available, school programs including gardens, farms and school lunches and salad bars, as well as adding food security to curriculums. A national food policy should also provide opportunities for urban agriculture and dramatically increase financial, research, and technical supports for small farms using sustainable and organic growing practices.

"Even though Canada is a wealthy country we have immense poverty," he says. "In my community [Grandview Woodland] alone, over 20 per cent of community residents identified themselves as food insecure... Healthy, dignified food is a human right, not a commodity for only those who can afford it."

sthomas@vancourier.com

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Don't eat the hype:
Ecological farms: the only real way to feed an Increasingly hungry world


Debbie Baker
Grist [USA], 20 November 2009:
http://www.grist.org/article/2009-11-20-ecological-farms-feed-world

There are those who would like us to believe that industrialized farming is the only way to feed the earth's growing population. Disinformation comes daily from powerful industrial agricultural companies whose profits depend entirely on the sale of chemicals, genetically modified (GM) seeds, and food processing. Furthermore, they maintain that massive-scale farming methods are key to adapting to climate change.

This is just not so.

Contrary to what the propaganda tells us, yields from industrial crops do not consistently produce more food. It's an industry-generated myth that ecologically-safe organic agriculture yields less than conventional agriculture. In fact, a comprehensive study comparing 293 crops from industrial and organic growers demonstrates that organic farm yields are roughly comparable to industrial farms in developed countries; and result in much higher yields in the developing world.

Numerous studies unequivocally state that our survival depends on resilient and biodiverse farm systems that are free of fossil fuel and chemical dependencies. The 2008 World Bank and United Nations International Assessment on Knowledge, Science and Technology concluded that a fundamental overhaul of the current food and farming system is needed to get us out of both the food and fuel crises. The report's findings indicated that small-scale farmers and agro-ecological methods are the way forward.

This assessment dovetails with a 2002 United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report, which found that organic farming enables ecosystems to better adjust to the effects of climate change and has major potential for reducing agricultural GHG emissions. The FAO report also found that organic agriculture performs better than conventional agriculture in terms of both direct energy consumption (fuel and oil) and indirect consumption (synthetic fertilizers and pesticides).

Large-scale agriculture-dependent upon commercial seeds (including GM seeds), chemical sprays, and petroleum-based fertilizers-can only reliably feed one thing: company profits. These profits come at the expense of our climate as well as farmers who become wholly dependent upon these companies for their livelihood.

And it's farmers who are realizing through hard experience that this system doesn't work. Monsanto, a major proponent of GM seeds, agro-chemicals and industrialized methods, this week reports a massive $283 billion loss in the third quarter-quite a hit.

Monsanto and others in the industry are scrambling for a foothold in developing nations to save a failed agricultural and business model in the U.S. They're trying to convince foundations, aid agencies, and foreign governments that they hold the only key to staving off starvation. And, the way to do this is by smearing organic farming - which is the only truly dependable way to feed the world - and by ignoring climate change.

They're putting their shareholders' bottom line before a sick and hungry planet. It's time we held them to the truth.

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Debbie Barker served as the co-director of the International Forum on Globalization (IFG), a think tank that analyzes and critiques forms of economic globalization, from 1996 to 2008. She is the author of The Predictable Rise and Fall of Global Industrial Agriculture, co-author of The Manifesto on Climate Change and the Future of Food Security (2008), and served on the international committee of authors for the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD).

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Syngenta GM maize fails to get EU ministers' backing

Reuters (via Interactive Investor), 20 November 2009:
http://www.iii.co.uk/news/?type=afxnews&articleid=7638048&subject=economic&action=article

BRUSSELS - EU farm ministers failed on Friday to agree whether to approve a genetically modified maize made by Swiss firm Syngenta, paving the way for default approval by the European Commission, an official said.

Approval of the GMO maize type MIR604 is crucial for the resumption of imports of soybean and soymeal needed by livestock farmers, animal feed importers have said.

"There was no qualified majority for or against so it goes back to the Commission, which will decide," the EU official said.

Genetically modified food is a sensitive issue in many European Union countries and has become a point of diplomatic tension, as EU law allows for GMO authorisation to be rubber-stamped when ministers fail to agree after a certain time.

Since 2004, the European Commission has approved a number of GM products in this way.

This summer, more than 200,000 tonnes of soybean and soymeal were refused entry to EU ports, largely in Spain, because they contained small amounts of GMO corn (maize) varieties not approved in Europe

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USA - Cloned meat in the food chain

Meat Trade News Daily [UK], 20 November 2009:
http://www.meattradenewsdaily.co.uk/news/181109/united_states___cloned_meat_in_the_food_chain.aspx

To the untrained eye, Pollard Farms looks much like any other cattle ranch. Similar looking cows are huddled in similar looking pens. But some of the cattle here don't just resemble each other. They are literally identical ů clear down to their genes.

Of the 400-some cattle in Barry Pollard's herd of mostly Black Angus cattle there are 22 clones, genetic copies of some of the most productive livestock the world has ever known.

Pollard, a neurosurgeon and owner of Pollard Farms, says such breeding technology is at the forefront of a new era in animal agriculture. "We're trying to stay on the very top of the heap of quality, genetically, with animals that will gain well and fatten well, produce well and reproduce well," Pollard told a reporter during a recent visit to his farm.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2008 approved the sale of food from clones and their offspring, stating the products are indistinguishable from that of their non-clone counterparts. Japan, the European Union, and others have followed suit.

The moves have stirred controversy about whether tinkering with nature is safe, or even ethical, prompting major food companies to swear off food products from cloned animals. But consumers are likely already eating meat and drinking milk from the offspring of clones, which are technically not clones, without even knowing it.

Farmers can now use cloning and other assisted breeding technologies to breed cows that produce bigger, better steaks or massive amounts of milk, and animals that resist diseases or reproduce with clockwork precision. Premier genes can translate to improved feeding efficiency, meaning the ability to convert the least amount of feed into the most meat or milk, which results in a smaller environmental footprint.

"If you don't need as much corn to feed your cattle, you might be able to cut back on the amount of fertilizer put out there on the countryside that might end up in a river. You can cut the amount of diesel that's spent raising that corn," Pollard said. "Just like they improve the genetics of corn, so they can produce more bushels per acre, we're trying to do that same type of thing by using cloning and superior genetics to produce more meat with less input."

Rising food demand

The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization has said food production will need to double by mid-century to meet demand from a growing world population, with 70 percent of that growth coming from efficiency-improving technologies. Such forecasts have prompted calls for a second Green Revolution, a rethinking of the movement championed by Norman Borlaug, who won the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize for his work in boosting grain production for starving nations.

Biotechnological advances in grain production will remain at the forefront of the global fight to alleviate hunger, although animal agriculture will likely contribute in the longer term.

"When people talk about feeding the world, reducing or eliminating hunger, I don't think animal agriculture has much of a role to play. But, as people successfully move out of that extreme poverty, that's when you get the growth in demand for animal protein and potentially cloning could have positive benefits," said Robert Thomson, professor of agricultural policy at the University of Illinois.

Some animal breeds, ideally suited for arid climates, could be propagated to utilize grazing pastures unsuitable for crop production. Others may be bred to resist local maladies, like the Nguni cattle breed, which can develop resistance to ticks and immunity to tick-borne diseases.

Meanwhile, a growing and more affluent population in the developing world is seen boosting demand for meat and dairy products. Meat consumption in developing countries more than doubled from about 10 kilograms (22 pounds) per person per year in the 1960s to around 26 kg near the turn of the century, according to the FAO. By 2030, that was expected to rise to 37 kg per person. Milk and dairy product consumption has made similarly rapid growth.

Slow acceptance

Supporters say cloning will no doubt play a role in accelerating production, but the technology has been slow to take, primarily because of the high cost and resistance on ethical grounds. Of the more than 2.4 million Angus cattle that have been registered with the American Angus Association since 2001, only 56 were clones, according to Bryce Schumann, the group's chief executive.

It costs at least $15,000 to clone a cow and $4,000 to clone a sow, although improving efficiencies will likely lower those costs in coming years, said Mark Walton, president of ViaGen, a company in Austin, Texas, that provides animal cloning and genomics services.

ViaGen owns the intellectual property rights to the technology that in 1996 produced Dolly the sheep, the world's first animal cloned from an adult cell, at Scotland's Roslin Institute. ViaGen, along with its partner company, Trans Ova Genetics of Sioux Center, Iowa, produces the vast majority of the clones in the United States. Other cloning companies are in Brazil, Argentina, Australia, and China.

Of the roughly 102 million cattle and 66 million hogs in the United States, "no more than a few thousand" are clones, according to Walton. Global numbers are around 6,000.

The most common cloning technique is called somatic cell nuclear transfer, a process in which a donor egg cell's nucleus is removed and replaced with the nucleus (and genes) of a cell from the animal that scientists aim to duplicate. That cell is then stimulated and later implanted in a surrogate mother.

Walton said cloning is costly because it is a relatively tedious process and the technology is relatively immature, comparable to the production inefficiencies to that of the early automobile industry. Years ago, scientists were able to achieve success in only 2 or 3 percent of attempts, but ViaGen now boasts 10 to 15 percent efficiency in producing a calf. It's aim is nearer to 60 percent, about the same as traditional in-vitro fertilization, Walton said.

Consumer acceptance

Despite the steady improvement in the technology, consumer acceptance of cloning as a viable means to produce human food remains the top hurdle for breeders and cloning companies.

A survey conducted by the International Food Information Council found that half of Americans surveyed viewed animal cloning as "not very favorable" or "not at all favorable." A similar number said they were unlikely to buy meat, milk, or eggs from offspring of cloned animals, even if the FDA says the products are safe. Other surveys have found that nearly half of consumers have moral objections to cloning.

"When you're genetically modifying a plant, creating a seed that perhaps has a resistance to insects, that's different than cloning, and maybe modifying a sentient being," said Chris Waldrop, director of the Food Policy Institute at the Consumer Federation of America. "There are different ethical, religious, and moral issues that a society has to grapple with before they move forward on such a technology."

Despite cloning's gradually improving rate of success in producing healthy animals, the process still has a high rate of failure. Some animals are born with abnormalities and have to be euthanized and some have more health problems at birth than conventionally bred animals.

Large Offspring Syndrome also occurs more often with assisted breeding technologies like cloning. The syndrome causes the fetus to grow too large, causing problems for both the clone and the surrogate.

Opponents also say the FDA's risk assessment was not thorough enough and a long-term, multi-generational study of cloning's effects on food products is needed. At the very least, the products should be labeled as derived from cloning, they say.

"The largest study looked at milk from only 15 cows. Only one study used standard methods of toxicology, and that study looked at the effects of feeding 20 rats products from clones for 14 weeks," said Jaydee Hanson, policy analyst at the Center for Food Safety, a nonprofit advocacy and research group. "We don't think that cloning is a technology that's ready yet, and we certainly don't think it's ready to be on your plate."

The only way to definitively avoid food from clones is to buy organic products, which by the Organic Trade Association's definition are from only traditionally bred animals, he said.

The U.S. Agriculture Department has asked the livestock industry to voluntarily keep clones out of the food supply for the moment, but the moratorium does not apply to progeny of clones. Major meat and dairy companies, such as Tyson Foods, Smithfield Foods, and Dean Foods, have said they will not accept products from clones, citing the desires of their customers.

Breeders, not food

ViaGen's Walton said cloned animals are far too valuable as breeding stock to be used for food, but that the progeny of clones are "undoubtedly already in the food chain." However, he said, "the proportion is infinitesimally small compared to the total meat supply, a tiny little drop in the ocean."

Still, ViaGen and the Biotechnology Industry Organization have helped to create a supply chain management program to track clones from birth to death. ViaGen also gives farmers the incentive to disclose when and where they cull a clone by holding a deposit until the clone's owner can verify that the animal has been euthanized or slaughtered for meat.

In time, Walton said, consumers and food producers will become more comfortable with cloning, much like they have with genetically modified crops, but it will take time and it will take openness from cloning providers.

"Companies have a bottom line to protect, so they are cautious about new technologies and they are cautious about listening to their customers," he said. "No scientist can say definitively that nothing will be different tomorrow. But, given the body of knowledge and the amount of work that's been done, you can be extremely confident that the probability of something untoward happening is incredibly small."

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Major food brands commit to GM-free

Stock & Land [Australia], 20 November 2009:
http://sl.farmonline.com.au/news/nationalrural/agribusiness-and-general/general/major-food-brands-commit-to-gmfree/1682794.aspx

A COMMITMENT by four major food brands to avoid genetically modified organisms is a win for consumers wishing to avoid GMOs in their diet, according to the Biological Farmers of Australia (BFA).

With a large number of common foods now containing GMOs and in the absence of comprehensive GM labelling laws in Australia, consumers are increasingly opting to go organic, BFA claims.

The 2010 Truefood Guide released by Greenpeace recently, which rates over one thousand of Australia's top food and beverage brands for the presence of GM ingredients, claims four leading food brands are turning their back on genetically modified (GM) ingredients - for the Australian market.

BFA claims Nestl», Foster's, Schweppes and Lindt have undertaken to keep their Australian brands free from GM ingredients, joining other prominent Australian brands that include Milo, Uncle Toby's cereal, VB and Peters Ice Cream.

In the current marketplace state of play, BFA claims this a claimed as a significant step and win for consumers seeking no GMOs.

Despite this latest win, GMOs are increasingly finding their way into many common foods.

Equally disturbing, says BFA, is the fact that due to loose labelling laws in Australia most foods aren't required to declare that ingredients are GM on labelling, and consumers end up unwittingly consuming GMOs.

This year's commercial crops of canola from NSW and Victoria will find their way into pasta sauces, breads, cakes, baby food, oils and margarines, BFA claims

Conversely, the Irish government, in banning the cultivation of all GM crops, has joined Germany, Romania, Italy, Poland, France, Greece, Austria and Hungary as the ninth country to take a decision against the commercial planting of all, or a specific GM crop.

Australians who want to avoid GM food for health, environmental or ethical reasons have little option but to follow guides such as the True Food Guide or look for certified organic alternatives, according to the BFA, Australia's largest representative group for organics.

The group owns the Australian Certified Organic logo which is seen on around 80pc of organic food products in the marketplace.

BFA general manager Holly Vyner says "the move by four major brands to go GMO- free is indicative that consumer concern about GMOs is not lessening.

"Sixty-five per cent of consumers perceive the fact that organic food does not contain GMOs to be a benefit," Holly Vyner says.

"This is among the many and varied benefits that organic provides to consumers including no synthetic farm chemicals, free of artificial additives, environmentally friendly, animal welfare, antibiotic-free meat and biodiversity benefits."

Nutritionist for the BFA, Shane Heaton, says that the decision by the four major food brands is a welcome move.

"The Australian organic industry has always taken the precautionary principle against GMOs and welcomes the companies' decision," he says.

"As yet, the health and environmental implications of GM are unknown, though research in the public domain indicates that there are potential negative health implications.

"It is for this reason that the Organic Standard has excluded GMOs from organic produce, just as it has excluded food additives and synthetic pesticides."

In the absence of comprehensive labelling laws for GM ingredients in food, consumers have two options for avoiding GMOs: to avail themselves of the Greenpeace Truefood pocket guide (www.truefood.org.au) - or to look for an organic certification logo such as the Australian Certified Organic "Bud" logo on foods. Organic certification "ticks all the boxes" of food integrity for the health conscious and ethical consumer.

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19 November 2009

Monsanto: The Parable of the Sower
• The debate over whether Monsanto is a corporate sinner or saint


The Economist [UK], 19 November 2009:
http://www.economist.com/opinion/displaystory.cfm?story_id=14904184

FEW companies excite such extreme emotions as Monsanto. To its critics, the agricultural giant is a corporate hybrid of Victor Frankenstein and Ebenezer Scrooge, using science to create foods that threaten the health of both people and the planet, and intellectual-property laws to squeeze every last penny out of the world's poor. The list of Monsanto's sins dates back to when (with other firms) it produced Agent Orange, a herbicide notorious for its use by American forces in Vietnam. Recently "Food Inc", a documentary film, lambasted the company.

To its admirers, the innovations in seeds pioneered by Monsanto are the world's best hope of tackling a looming global food crisis. Hugh Grant, the firm's boss since 2003, says that without the sort of technological breakthroughs Monsanto has achieved the world has no chance of doubling agricultural output by 2050 while using less land and water, as many believe it must. Mr Grant, of course, would say that. But he is not alone. Bill Gates sees Monsanto's innovations as essential to the agricultural revolution in Africa to which his charitable foundation is committed. Josette Sheeran, the head of the United Nations World Food Programme, is also a fan.

Monsanto has come a long way from its roots in pharmaceuticals and chemicals (in which capacity it made Agent Orange). The original company was formed in 1901 to make saccharine. In 2000 it merged with Pharmacia & Upjohn, a drugmaker. Two years later the group's agricultural activities were spun off into a new Monsanto. At that time the company was best known for Roundup, a herbicide popular with farmers. Roundup is still a leading brand, but margins have been eroded by competition from Chinese producers of other forms of glyphosate weedkiller. Roundup's share of Monsanto's revenue is shrinking towards 10%. There is talk that it might be sold. "It is no sacred cow. We look at it every year," says Mr Grant.

Today most of Monsanto's $11.7 billion of annual sales come from seeds, increasingly of genetically modified (GM), or transgenic, varieties (see chart), and from licensing genetic traits. Indeed, it is now best known, for better or worse, for applying biotechnology to seed production, winning a string of the sort of patents on living organisms that became legal in America only after a Supreme Court decision in 1980. In July it gave its GM seed a new master brand: Genuity, a name that evokes "being genuine, authentic and original", according to a company spokesman. It will denote a "family of innovative products that will enable farmers to do what they do best, even better."

In the 13 years since GM seed was first farmed commercially, agricultureůand Monsanto with itůhas become increasingly central to several of the world's most pressing policy debates, says Mr Grant, a Scot who joined the company in 1981. Nowadays he spends a good deal of his time taking part in those debates, which range from concerns about higher prices and shortages of supply to the use of land for growing biofuels rather than food, climate change and water. Arguments over water, thinks Mr Grant, "will dwarf the discussion that has taken place so far over food." Monsanto is also getting caught up in the debate over intellectual-property rights in food and their implications for antitrust policy, on which Barack Obama's administration sounds less friendly than that of George Bush. It has already marked agriculture for attention.

How successful Monsanto and rival makers of GM seed, such as DuPont and Syngenta, are in winning round a sceptical public and policymakers will play a big part in determining how lucrative their innovations prove to be. In public attitudes to GM food, Mr Grant believes "there's been progress everywhere compared with 15 years ago." Still, Europe remains "slow, a real slouch. European farmers have been denied the right to choose." Although the European Union is slowly becoming open to imports of GM food, it is still largely opposed to growing the stuff. Monsanto has still to complete a test of any GM seed in Britain because protesters have destroyed its experiments. In Latin America, by contrast, Argentina and Brazil are both growing GM corn (maize) and soyabeans. In some ways, rising awareness of the food crisis has helped people to see "GM as something with potential benefits other than just boosting the profits of Big Food," says Mr Grantůto Monsanto's benefit. Well, maybe.

Turbo-charging Mendel

Monsanto's innovations fall into two categories. The first is breeding, which seedmakers have been doing with increasing sophistication for decades. Monsanto is able to accelerate the process of selective breeding through better mapping of a seed's genetic qualities and its suitability to grow in a particular place.

At Monsanto's research laboratory in St Louis, the company's home city, farmers on one of the many tours that are part of its marketing efforts are clearly fascinated by a piece of technology known as the corn chipper. A machine picks up an individual seed, rotates it to the right position, then chips off a sample, which has its genetic material analysed. (Getting the seed in the right position is the hardest step, because each one has a different shape and it is crucial that the chipper does not damage the embryo and thus stop the seed from growing properly.) The likely attributes of the plant that would grow from each seed are predicted from its DNA, the most promising seeds are planted, and the process is repeated with the seeds that those plants go on to produce.

The tour guide refers to the operation as "CSI: St Louis", although testing now goes on all year, at centres around the world. In the past three years this technology has helped speed up dramatically Monsanto's ability to identify and grow the most productive seed for any given location. "It is the mother and father of all dating agencies: we can analyse every single seed we harvest, do a health check, guess what its grandchildren will be like, send it anywhere in the world," says Mr Grant.

The second category of innovation, in which Monsanto is becoming increasingly adventurous, is genetic modification: identifying genetic traits with particular qualities and transplanting those traits into seeds to improve their performance. In essence, the goal is to pack as much technology into a seed as possible.

The biggest breakthroughs so far have been in weed and bug control. Perhaps the most common feature of Monsanto's range of seeds is that they are Roundup Ready, meaning that they are guaranteed to survive spraying with Roundup that will take out any surrounding weeds. Some plants have been bioengineered to deter pests from eating their leaves and roots, which reduces or even eliminates the need for insecticides. Farmers on their tours cannot fail to miss the display cases in which a healthy Monsanto plant grows next to a seriously ailing traditional specimen of the same variety.

Monsanto has just launched two new varieties of seed that have been engineered to be far more productive: Genuity SmartStax corn, which company trials suggest can increase yields by 5-10%; and Genuity Roundup Ready 2 Yield soyabeans, which in trials have shown yields 7-11% higher than the first generation of Roundup Ready soyabeans. Over the past couple of decades, soyabean yields have risen at an annual rate of barely 1%.

In around 2012 or 2013 Monsanto expects to launch a soyabean whose processing will result in fewer transfats. It will also offer an "omega-3 soyabean", genetically enhanced to give consumers the many proven health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids. Until now, omega-3 has been harvested from fish and so, in Mr Grant's words, "products with omega-3 in them taste a bit fishy." Fish derive omega-3 from algae, so Monsanto has done likewise, extracting the relevant genetic material from the algae and putting it into soyabeans. Now, he says, without the fishy taste, omega-3 will go well in yogurts, health bars and so forth.

The company is also aiming to engineer seed to use nitrogen more efficientlyůand hence to require less fertiliser. This would reduce farmers' exposure to the price of oil, from which fertilisers are made, and the damage done when nitrogen leaches into the water supply.

In about three years' time Monsanto expects to launch its first "drought tolerant" products. It is examining several ways of making plants more tolerant of drought. One is to improve the roots' take-up of water. Another is to reduce water loss through the leaves. A third is to alter plants' reaction to lack of water. When stressed, a plant shuts down growth in order to conserve what it has. They often over-react, and use a lot of energy when they restart. Genetic modification can help it interpret water conditions more accurately and avoid unnecessary stops and starts.

Because water shortages are predicted for many parts of the world, Monsanto expects these drought-tolerant plants to be a huge commercial success. The first of them will be corn, intended for a dry strip of America running from northern Texas to the Dakotas. Drought-tolerant technology has also prompted Monsanto to start focusing on dry-land wheat. Wheat acres have declined in recent years, contributing to shortages. In July the company paid $45m for WestBred, a wheat-seed firm.

Trust and antitrust

Acquisitions have been a key part of Monsanto's strategy, giving it access to new seed markets. In 2005, it began to apply biotech to vegetables after buying Seminis, the world's largest vegetable-seed company, for $1.4 billion. Since it was spun off, Monsanto has made more than 20 acquisitions (as well as several disposals). Those purchases are one reason why it was singled out as an appropriate target for the antitrust authorities in a paper published in October by the American Antitrust Institute, an independent competition watchdog. The paper laments the "impaired state of competition in transgenic seed"ůwhich it blames on Monsanto above all.

The company's acquisitions have been crucial in creating the horizontal and vertical integration that support its platforms in cotton, corn and soyabeans. Last year its share of the markets for GM corn and soyabeans was about 65% and that for GM cotton about 45%. The institute's paper argues that, thanks to its dominance, Monsanto is actually harming innovation in seed. Monsanto had to make concessions to win the antitrust authorities' approval for two of its biggest purchases, of DeKalb in 1998 and of Delta and Pine Land in 2007.

The next generation in the greenhouse

True, for the past 13 years Monsanto has been licensing its technology broadly, to hundreds of firms, including some of its main competitors. This, the paper concedes, has ensured that Monsanto has not ended up in "control of large, totally closed platforms in transgenic seed that could be challenged only by the unlikely emergence of rival platforms." However, it cites Monsanto's reputation for defending its intellectual property fiercely through the courts as another reason why the antitrust authorities should take a look at the firm.

Monsanto's terms of business require farmers to buy fresh seed every year. Its new Violator Exclusion Policy denies farmers who break the terms of its licences access to all its technology for ever. This summer it achieved its latest success in enforcing its stern line when it won a case against some Canadian farmers who had held on to seed.

Agricultural markets have been mentioned as an area under review by officials in the antitrust division of the Department of Justice. The DoJ is expected to make Google its main target, but it will be no surprise if Monsanto comes a close second. Already, the DoJ is looking into complaints by DuPont, perhaps Monsanto's fiercest rival. In May Monsanto sued DuPont, alleging that Pioneer, DuPont's seed arm, had broken licensing terms for herbicide-resistant technology in corn and soyabeans. After an ugly war of words, DuPont countersued and complained to the DoJ.

"We are in a hyper-competitive business. Farmers have no shortage of choice," insists the unapologetic Mr Grant. "Our goal is to be competitive every spring at the farmer's table. A farmer may be willing to abdicate the decision on what chemicals to use, but not on what seed to plant. We aim to win one field at a time, one spring at a time." Enforcing licences is crucial to that strategy. Just as in the drug industry, innovation is expensive: Monsanto has a research and development budget of nearly $1 billion a year, and reckons it costs $100m to bring a new GM seed to market. If there is to be innovation, the firm insists, intellectual property must be protected.

However, Monsanto is using different languageůand a different approach from that of big drugmakersůwhen it comes to dealing with the millions of poor people in Africa. Mr Grant says that he is determined not to repeat the mistakes of the pharmaceutical industry in holding back on making valuable innovations available to the developing world. He believes that "in a perfect world, on the same day you launch [a drought-resistant seed] in Kansas, you would launch it similarly in Nairobi"ůalthough in practice Africa and other poor places that are short of water will have to wait a while longer.

Over the past three years, the firm has started to play a leading role in efforts collectively described as an attempt to create a "green revolution in Africa". Mr Grant talks enthusiastically about his friendship with Norman Borlaug, the driving force behind the Green Revolution, first in Mexico, then in Asia, in the second half of the past century, which is generally reckoned to have saved at least 1 billion lives. Shortly before his death this year, aged 95, Borlaug reportedly expressed regret that he would not live to see the "gene revolution".

In white corn, a staple in Africa and Mexico, Monsanto has donated all its intellectual property, seed and know-how for developing drought-tolerant genes to Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA), a public-private partnership that has received grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the foundation of Howard Buffett, an Illinois farmer (and son of Warren Buffett). The five countries to benefit are Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda. Mr Grant expects to launch drought-tolerant corn in Africa within two or three years of the launch in America. The company is also working with Millennium Villages, an anti-poverty project led by Jeffrey Sachs, an economist at Columbia University.

Big Pharma versus Big Farma

In contrast to the anti-retroviral drugs that pharmaceutical companies sell in Africa, this product will generate no royalties for Monsanto, says Mr Grant. "The buzzword is the 'democratisation of technology' and we have learnt from Big Pharma the dangers of being too slow," says Mr Grant. The fact that seeds suited to one place do not necessarily grow well elsewhere greatly reduces the risk of parallel imports that affected the drugmakers. They feared that drugs given away in Africa would be shipped back to rich countries, undermining their business there.

That said, he does not believe that Monsanto could or should be expected to solve this problem on its own. "We studied what Borlaug did, which was work with local NGOs, tapped research institutes, brought disparate groups together. The new piece today is getting big companies involved, which hopefully means we can get this done much faster than Borlaug did."

Mr Grant nonetheless regards this approach as "good business", not least because the developing world will be a huge source of future growth for the firm. Monsanto sells more GM cotton in India than in America. Already, most of the countries where GM seed is sown are emerging ones. Around 90% of the world's 12m farmers with at least a hectare planted with GM seed are smallholders in developing countries. America has 250,000-300,000 active farmers; India has 15m cotton farmers alone, several million of whom Monsanto says it has reached already.

This reinforces the firm's fundamental message, that it is a driving force for higher farm productivityůand that higher productivity, not a return to the methods of the past, is likely to be the true source of agricultural sustainability. In America, GM seed has already brought about huge increases in productivity, says Mr Grant. He has no time for the "Malthusian thing about running out of food. This is eminently solvable." He sees huge potential in merely raising yields in the rest of the world to levels already achieved in America thanks to better farming practices, Roundup and improved seed productivity. American farmers average about 160 bushels (of 56lb, or 25.5kg) of corn per acre per year, against 60 in Brazil and 27 in sub-Saharan Africa (22 excluding South Africa).

Moreover, even in America there is the potential to double yields again. Already, farmers in Iowa are producing as many as 200 bushels an acre. Mr Grant believes that 300 bushels are achievable by 2030. "We have just scratched the surface," he says, pointing out that after the first GM crops came on the market in 1996, it took ten years for 1 billion acres to be planted. But the second billion took only another three years. "We are where transistors were in the 1970s."

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U.S: 25% of Adult Shoppers Frequently buy Organic Food Products Says New Report

PRLog press release [USA], 19 November 2009:
http://www.prlog.org/10420414-us-25-of-adult-shoppers-frequently-buy-organic-food-products-says-new-report.html

Report Buyer, the online destination for business intelligence for major industry sectors, has added a new market report.

The report "Ethical Food and Beverage, Personal Care and Household Products in the U.S." available at http://www.reportbuyer.com/go/PKF00176 states that despite the economic downturn of 2008-2009, ethical grocery products are continuing to make headway in the market, especially when contrasted with the relatively flat market for conventional groceries. Indeed, by many accounts, consumer demand is steadily increasing for products that fulfil eco-friendly, natural, organic, local, humane, and fair trade criteria. Major marketers and retailers are increasingly tapping into this trend by offering more ethical products, upping their corporate responsibility efforts through energy-efficient "green" facilities and sustainable business practices, and increasing their associated cause-related marketing efforts.

Underpinning market advancement is ongoing strong consumer demand for products perceived to be healthier and safer. According to the 348 page report, approximately one-fourth of U.S. adult shoppers frequently buy certified organic food or beverage products, and one-third are usually willing to pay more for organic foods-even in the midst of economic recession.

The report examines key issues and trends affecting the marketplace across two classifications - Foods & Beverages, and Non-Food Products -with the latter defined as encompassing personal care products (cosmetics, skin care, hair care, etc.) and household products (paper goods, diapers, detergents, cleaning products, light bulbs, etc.). Coverage includes historical and projected retail sales estimates from 2005 through 2014, case studies of key marketers and retailers, and trends in new product development and competitive positioning.

The report "Ethical Food and Beverage, Personal Care and Household Products in the U.S." is available from Report Buyer at:
http://www.reportbuyer.com/consumer_goods_retail/food_retailing/ethical_food_beverage_personal_care_household_products_u_s.html

Report Buyer product ID: PKF00176

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Fischer Boel: Future farm policy 'should bolster production'

EurActiv, 19 November 2009:
http://www.euractiv.com/en/cap/eu-farm-chief-stresses-need-bolster-production/article-187496

The European Union should resist the temptation to cut support for its common agricultural policy and instead give farmers the right tools to increase food production in Europe, EU Farm Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel told EurActiv in an interview.

[Extract:]

Do you think that Europe should produce more to contribute to world food security?

I think that we would actually be able to produce more using new technologies. I am not afraid of biotechnology. And I am quite sure that this is coming - one way or the other. There is some reluctance in some member states to cultivate GMOs and I think that the clear message from [European Commission] President [Jos» Manuel] Barroso in his hearing indicates that the Commission would like to give more possibilities for the member states to decide themselves whether they want to cultivate.

This, of course, without jeopardising the internal market. You would not be able to close your borders or production - but the cultivation can be discussed in member states if you can justify that the size of your fields is so small that you would never be able to avoid contamination. Here we should be able to find a solution, but we will need imports.

Today, 85-90% of all the soybean imports to Europe are GM [genetically modified]. And if we suddenly decided that we don't want them - a decision which would be based more on emotions rather than science - we would see a dramatic reduction in meat production in Europe. Then we would import and the imported animals or the meat would be fed with GMOs that were not even approved in Europe. From the consumer point of view, we would be shooting ourselves in the foot. Therefore, I think we need to find the right balance.

Comment from GM-free Ireland:

Rubbish! Brazil alone has the potential to supply all of Europe's needs with certified Non-GM soy. For detailed information on the global availability of Non-GMO animal feed see pages 23-26 of our briefing paper GM-free food production: a unique selling point for Ireland - the food island (1.2MB pdf download): http://www.gmfreeireland.org/GMFI-briefing-3.pdf

I think that there are a lot of possibilities in GM, also for developing countries, which have worse weather conditions and water scarcity. They can develop new types of cereals that can be resistant to these situations. We need to increase production in developing countries and that's why we introduced this ß1 billion EU food facility exclusively targeted at the countries where the food production could not at all reach the level of self-sufficiency. It was for seeds and fertilisers for farmers. I've said from the start that this help needs to be given to women, who are much more efficient. You need to support the women to try to generate more food production. This is a big issue and I hope that we can have a discussion on this in Rome.

We need to do more to secure that there is food production in developing countries. The EU food facility is one step.

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The new farm owners
• Corporate investors lead the rush for control over overseas farmland


Grain [USA], October 2009
http://www.grain.org/articles/?id=55

With all the talk about "food security," and distorted media statements like "South Korea leases half of Madagascar's land,"1 it may not be evident to a lot of people that the lead actors in today's global land grab for overseas food production are not countries or governments but corporations. So much attention has been focused on the involvement of states, like Saudi Arabia, China or South Korea. But the reality is that while governments are facilitating the deals, private companies are the ones getting control of the land. And their interests are simply not the same as those of governments.

"This is going to be a private initiative."

- Amin Abaza, Egypt's Minister of Agriculture, explaining Egyptian farmland acquisitions in other African nations, on World Food Day 2009

Take one example. In August 2009, the government of Mauritius, through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, got a long-term lease for 20,000 ha of good farmland in Mozambique to produce rice for the Mauritian market. This is outsourced food production, no question. But it is not the government of Mauritius, on behalf of the Mauritian people, that is going to farm that land and ship the rice back home. Instead, the Mauritian Minister of Agro Industry immediately sub-leased the land to two corporations, one from Singapore (which is anxious to develop the market for its proprietary hybrid rice seeds in Africa) and one from Swaziland (which specialises in cattle production, but is also involved in biofuels in southern Africa).2 This is typical. And it means that we should not be blinded by the involvement of states. Because at the end of the day, what the corporations want will be decisive. And they have a war chest of legal, financial and political tools to assist them.

"What started as a government drive to secure cheap food resource has now become a viable business model and many Gulf companies are venturing into agricultural investments to diversify their portfolios."

- Sarmad Khan, "Farmland investment fund is seeking more than Dh1bn", The National, Dubai, 12 September 2009

Moreover, there's a tendency to assume that private-sector involvement in the global land grab amounts to traditional agribusiness or plantation companies, like Unilever or Dole, simply expanding the contract farming model of yesterday. In fact, the high-power finance industry, with little to no experience in farming, has emerged as a crucial corporate player. So much so that the very phrase "investing in agriculture", today's mantra of development bureaucrats, should not be understood as automatically meaning public funds. It is more and more becoming the business of ... big business.

[Photo caption: Graeme Robertson of Vitagrain signing agreement with Mauritius Minister of Agro Industry Satish Faugoo. Source: Le Matinal]

The role of finance capital

GRAIN has tried to look more closely at who the private sector investors currently taking over farmlands around the world for offshore food production really are. From what we have gathered, the role of finance capital -- investment funds and companies -- is truly significant. We have therefore constructed a table to share this picture. The table outlines over 120 investment structures, most of them newly created, which are busy acquiring farmland overseas in the aftermath of the financial crisis.3 Their engagement, whether materialised or targeted, rises into the tens of billions of dollars. The table is not exhaustive, however. It provides only a sample of the kinds of firms or instruments involved, and the levels of investment they are aiming for.

Private investors are not turning to agriculture to solve world hunger or eliminate rural poverty. They want profit, pure and simple. And the world has changed in ways that now make it possible to make big money from farmland. From the investors' perspective, global food needs are guaranteed to grow, keeping food prices up and providing a solid basis for returns on investment for those who control the necessary resource base. And that resource base, particularly land and water, is under stress as never before. In the aftermath of the financial crisis, so-called alternative investments, such as infrastructure or farmland, are all the rage. Farmland itself is touted as providing a hedge against inflation. And because its value doesn't go up and down in sync with other assets like gold or currencies, it allows investors to successfully diversify their portfolios.

"We are not farmers. We are a large company that uses state-of-the-art technology to produce high-quality soybean. The same way you have shoemakers and computer manufacturers, we produce agricultural commodities."

Laurence Beltrão Gomes of SLC Agrícola, the largest farm company in Brazil

But it's not just about land, it's about production. Investors are convinced that they can go into Africa, Asia, Latin America and the former Soviet bloc to consolidate holdings, inject a mix of technology, capital and management skills, lay down the infrastructures and transform below-potential farms into large-scale agribusiness operations. In many cases, the goal is to generate revenue streams both from the harvests and from the land itself, whose value they expect to go up. It is a totally corporate version of the Green Revolution, and their ambitions are big. "My boss wants to create the first Exxon Mobil of the farming sector," said Joseph Carvin of Altima Partners' One World Agriculture Fund to a gathering of global farmland investors in New York in June 2009. No wonder, then, that governments, the World Bank and the UN want to be associated with this. But it is not their show.

From rich to richer

"I'm convinced that farmland is going to be one of the best investments of our time. Eventually, of course, food prices will get high enough that the market probably will be flooded with supply through development of new land or technology or both, and the bull market will end. But that's a long ways away yet."

- George Soros, June 2009

Today's emerging new farm owners are private equity fund managers, specialised farmland fund operators, hedge funds, pension funds, big banks and the like. The pace and extent of their appetite is remarkable - but unsurprising, given the scramble to recover from the financial crisis. Consolidated data are lacking, but we can see that billions of dollars are going into farmland acquisitions for a growing number of "get rich quick" schemes. And some of those dollars are hard-earned retirement savings of teachers, civil servants and factory workers from countries such as the US or the UK. This means that a lot of ordinary citizens have a financial stake in this trend, too, whether they are aware of it or not.

It also means that a new, powerful lobby of corporate interests is coming together, which wants favourable conditions to facilitate and protect their farmland investments. They want to tear down burdensome land laws that prevent foreign ownership, remove host-country restrictions on food exports and get around any regulations on genetically modified organisms. For this, we can be sure that they will be working with their home governments, and various development banks, to push their agendas around the globe through free trade agreements, bilateral investment treaties and donor conditionalities.

"When asked whether a transfer of foreign, 'superior', agricultural technology would be welcome compensation for the acquisition of Philippine lands, the farmers from Negros Occidental responded with a general weariness and unequivocal retort that they were satisfied with their own knowledge and practices of sustainable, diverse and subsistence-based farming. Their experience of high-yielding variety crops, and the chemical-intensive technologies heralded by the Green Revolution, led them to the conclusion that they were better off converting to diverse, organic farming, with the support of farmer-scientist or member organisations such as MASIPAG and PDG Inc."

- Theodora Tsentas, "Foreign state-led land acquisitions and neocolonialism: A qualitative case study of foreign agricultural development in the Philippines", September 2009

Indeed, the global land grab is happening within the larger context of governments, both in the North and the South, anxiously supporting the expansion of their own transnational food and agribusiness corporations as the primary answer to the food crisis. The deals and programmes being promoted today all point to a restructuring and expansion of the industrial food system, based on capital-intensive large-scale monocultures for export markets. While that may sound "old hat", several things are new and different. For one, the infrastructure needs for this model will be dealt with. (The Green Revolution never did that.) New forms of financing, as our table makes plain, are also at the base of it. Thirdly, the growing protagonism of corporations and tycoons from the South is also becoming more important. US and European transnationals like Cargill, Tyson, Danone and Nestl», which once ruled the roost, are now being flanked by emerging conglomerates such as COFCO, Olam, Savola, Almarai and JBS.4 A recent report from the UN Conference on Trade and Development pointed out that a solid 40% of all mergers and acquisitions in the field of agricultural production last year were South-South.5 To put it bluntly, tomorrow's food industry in Africa will be largely driven by Brazilian, ethnic Chinese and Arab Gulf capital.

Exporting food insecurity

Given the heavy role of the private sector in today's land grabs, it is clear that these firms are not interested in the kind of agriculture that will bring us food sovereignty. And with hunger rising faster than population growth, it will not likely do much for food security, either. One farmers' leader from Syn»rgie Paysanne in Benin sees these land grabs as fundamentally "exporting food insecurity". For they are about answering some people's needs - for maize or money - by taking food production resources away from others. He is right, of course. In most cases, these investors are themselves not very experienced in running farms. And they are bound, as the Coordinator of MASIPAG in the Philippines sees it, to come in, deplete the soils of biological life and nutrients through intensive farming, pull out after a number of years and leave the local communities with "a desert".

"Entire communities have been dispossessed of their lands for the benefit of foreign investors. (...) Land must remain a community heritage in Africa."

- N'Diogou Fall, ROPPA (West African Network of Producers and Peasant Organisations), June 2009

The talk about channelling this sudden surge of dollars and dirhams into an agenda for resolving the global food crisis could be seen as quirky if it were not downright dangerous. From the United Nations headquarters in New York to the corridors of European capitals, everyone is talking about making these deals "win-win". All we need to do, the thinking goes, is agree on a few parameters to moralise and discipline these land grab deals, so that they actually serve local communities, without scaring investors off. The World Bank even wants to create a global certification scheme and audit bureau for what could become "sustainable land grabbing", along the lines of what's been tried with oil palm, forestry or other extractive industries.

Before jumping on the bandwagon of "win-win", it would be wise to ask "With whom? Who are the investors? What are their interests?" It is hard to believe that, with so much money on the line, with so much accumulated social experience in dealing with mass land concessions and conversions in the past, whether from mining or plantations, and given the central role of the finance and agribusiness industries here, these investors would suddenly play fair. Just as hard to believe is that governments or international agencies would suddenly be able to hold them to account.

"Some companies are interested in buying agricultural land for sugar cane and then selling it on the international markets. It's business, nothing more"

- Sharad Pawar, India's Minister of Agriculture, rejecting claims that his government is supporting a new colonisation of African farmland, 28 June 2009

Making these investments work is simply not the right starting point. Supporting small farmers efforts for real food sovereignty is. Those are two highly polarised agendas and it would be mistaken to pass off one for the other. It is crucial to look more closely at who the investors are and what they really want. But it is even more important to put the search for solutions to the food crisis on its proper footing.

References

1 - It was not South Korea, but Daewoo Logistics.

2 - See GRAIN, "Mauritius leads land grabs for rice in Mozambique", Oryza hibrida, 1 September 2009. http://www.grain.org/hybridrice/?lid=221 (Available in English, French and Portuguese.)

3 - The table covers three types of entities: specialised funds, most of them farmland funds; asset and investment managers; and participating investors. We are aware that this is a broad mixture, but it was important for us to keep the table simple: http://www.grain.org/m/?id=266

4 - COFCO is based in China, Olam is based in Singapore, Savola is based in Saudi Arabia, Almarai is based in Saudi Arabia, and JBS is based in Brazil.

5 - World Investment Report 2009, UNCTAD, Geneva, September 2009, p. xxvii. Most foreign direct investment takes place through mergers and acquisitions.

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A message from Michael Pollan
• Help protect our farmers from assaults by Monsanto


Center for Food Safety [USA], 19 November 2009:
https://secure.ga3.org/03/FFF_Pollan/n81vgif1aBND4?

[Excerpt]

If you saw the film "Food Inc.", you heard Michael Pollan talking about the prosecution of farmers across the country by Monsanto for patent infringement. Starting several years ago, CFS discovered that Monsanto, the world's leading agricultural biotechnology company, has used heavy-handed investigations and ruthless prosecutions that have fundamentally changed the way many American farmers farm. The agribusiness giant has sued hundreds of farmers over GMO crops, and has been awarded more than $20 million from these farmers. The result has been nothing less than an assault on the foundations of farming practices and traditions that have endured for centuries in this country and millennia around the world, including one of the oldest - the right to save and replant crop seed.

As Michael Pollan explains in this week's video, CFS has been at the forefront of protecting farmers from these assaults by Monsanto. We have uncovered this startling practice of Monsanto suing farmers via our groundbreaking report "Monsanto vs. U.S. Farmers." We've helped and participated in farmer's legal defense again Monsanto. And we've set up a hotline for farmers to call if they're facing lawsuits or threats from Monsanto to help them get guidance and legal referrals. Please help CFS stop this corporate persecution of our farmers in its tracks by supporting our work today.

Monsanto is polluting American farms with its genetically engineered crops, not properly informing farmers about these altered seeds, and then profiting from its own›irresponsibility and negligence by suing innocent farmers.

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GM's renegade genes
• Ecological costs of a GM plant are higher than benefits


Susmita Dey
Down to Earth - Science and Environment Online [India], 19 November 2009:
http://www.downtoearth.org.in/full6.asp?foldername=20091130&filename=sci&sec_id=12&sid=2

WHEN plants are genetically modified, there is nothing to ensure that pollen from them would not be carried to their wild kin by pollinators. How the gene, originally introduced into the cultivated plants, settles down in an environment not meant for it requires observation. The gene's presence in the cultivated plant, too, makes it susceptible to unexpected trouble.

Farmers growing cucumber (Cucurbita pepo) were unhappy with the viral diseases that the plant is suceptible to. Hence it was genetically modifed for resistance. But this virus-resistant gene (vrt) did not restrict itself to the cultivated plants. Entering the wild Texana gourd speciesůweeds in soybean and cotton fieldsůit increased their weedines.

And that was not all. The gene also managed to invite non-viral predators to the cultivated plants.

Researchers led by biologist Miruna A Sasu from the Pennsylvania State University in usa studied the virus-resistant gene ( vrt) in the Texana wild squash species (Cucurbita pepo texana) and compared results with that of wild plants which did not have the gene. Both the types were grown together in experimental fields and studied for three years.

The plants without the gene were soon afflicted by viral diseases. Since the vrt plants were free of such diseases, they attracted more pollinators, produced more pollen and seeds. This is bad news for soybean and cotton farmers who have to deal with sturdier weeds now. "Transgenic cultivated plants and wild squash grow in close proximity in southwestern US and Mexico. The pollen from the transgenic plants produce seed in the wild squash populations and make them resistant to viral diseases that keep their populations under control," explained Andrew G Stephenson, professor of biology at Pennsylvania State University and a study member.

As the experiment progressed, the team saw that the herbivorous insects, too, flocked over to the vrt plants since they sported healthy foliage. There was an increased presence of the cucumber beetles. Soon the wilt disease bacteria joined the swarm. This undid the gene's work and reduced the reproductive output. The genetically modified variety had come as a relief to farmers. But the bacterial wilt disease spreads fast and is fatal too. The study reported in the October edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows the perils of genetic modification. While the future of a GM plant is uncertain, its genes lead to problems elsewhere.

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Leading article: Genetically modified food for thought

The Independent [UK], 19 November 2009:
http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/leading-articles/leading-article-genetically-modified-food-for-thought-1823097.html

The prospect of a hungry century looms. On our present course, we are caught in a pincer. Climate change is likely to turn much farmland around the globe into desert. And the growth of the global population will increase demand for food. Yields will fall and prices will rise. That is a recipe for starvation.

Professor Robert Watson, the chief scientific adviser at the Department for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs, argues in an interview with this newspaper today that the policy response of all governments, including our own, to this "nightmare scenario" should be greater support for genetically-modified crop technologies.

The potential benefits to mankind from GM are real. If crops can be genetically modified to be drought-resistant, or to grow on formerly barren land, they could well play an important role in feeding the planet in the coming decades.

The problem is that we are some way from developing such super crops. Instead, the crops which dominate the GM market are herbicide-resistant strains developed by Monsanto and a handful of other pesticide manufacturers. These allow farmers to soak the land in chemicals. If such ultra-intensive farming techniques were to be used in Britain's crowded countryside, it would threaten ecological disaster.

The central failure of our own Government on GM has been its inability to differentiate between the hypothetical technologies which hold out the welcome prospect of bringing marginal land into cultivation, and the existing technologies which destroy natural diversity. It is this ambivalence that has stoked the suspicion of environmentalists, prompting some activists to vandalise scientific GM trials.

If the Government is going to throw its support behind GM technology, ministers need to be explicit about what they are supporting. And they must establish a divide between commercial interests and the needs of the world's food consumers. A programme sponsoring independent research into drought-resistant crop strains, and other socially beneficial innovations, would have a chance of winning public support; a policy of carelessly throwing open Britain's markets to the pesticide giants - quite rightly - would not.

---

Comment by GM Watch:

It's not clear that Bob Watson has said anything new here, but The Independent has turned it into a headline and a Leading article. The Independent's generally pro-GM editorial line, by the way, shouldn't be confused with that of its sister paper the Independent on Sunday which has taken a far more critical perspective.

Watson's stance, like that of the IAASTD that he was involved in, doesn't centre stage GM crops, as is finally suggested by the last paragraph of item 1: "He recommends ending farming subsidies in developed countries, which would make the price of food produced in developing nations more competitive. He also spoke of the need to improve infrastructure, such as loans for farmers, and improve African farmers' education."

Does anyone without a vested interest, or a newspaper in search of a headline, seriously think those aren't far more important to ending hunger than GM crops?

---

Comment by the Soil Association

Professor Robert Watson spoke at the Soil Association's International Conference last week (The Future of Food, 12 Nov) where he emphasised that it was food availability that was the main problem in addressing food security rather then production. He said: "Today's hunger problems can be addressed with appropriate use of current technologies, emphasizing agro-ecological practices, coupled with decreased post-harvest losses."

---

Letter to the Editor from the Soil Association

Re: Leading article: Genetically modified food for thought

Does the Independent's opposition to the use of GM crops that "allow farmers to soak the land in chemicals" only apply to the UK countryside, or does it also apply to South America (including The Pantanal and the Amazon) where GM soya is grown and then imported into the UK, unknown to consumers, as animal feed. Perhaps the Independent's "enlightened" view on GM crops could include space given over to opposing the use of imported GM soya as animal feed, and the promotion of alternatives and of consumer choice.

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GM crops have a role in preventing world hunger, chief scientist says
• The Government should approve trials to develop crops resistant to climate change that would feed a growing population


Rachel Shields
The Independent [UK], 19 November 2009:
http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/food-and-drink/news/gm-crops-have-a-role-in-preventing-world-hunger-chief-scientist-says-1823219.html

[Photo caption: The pubic is concerned about the threat to bio-diversity posed by GM crops]

GM crops have a role to play in preventing mass starvation across the world caused by a combination of climate change and rapid population growth, a senior government scientist said yesterday.

Professor Robert Watson, the chief scientific adviser at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), called for UK trials of GM foods, arguing that the Government needs to be more open with the public about the risks and benefits of genetically modified foods.

"Over the next 20 to 50 years, the population is going to increase from 6.5 to 9 billion. There will be more extreme weather, more demand for food, meat, and water, a changing climate: it is a very challenging situation, which, if we don't deal with it, could become a nightmare scenario," said Professor Watson. "We have to look at all the technologies, policies and practices, all forms of bio-tech, including GM."

"We need to have trials in the UK, and to make them open and transparent," Professor Watson added. "We'd have to protect them, to stop them getting trashed. There are a whole range of situations in which science can play a very important role. We'll need seeds which are more temperature- and pest-tolerant."

The suggestion that the Government should resume trials of GM crops, which halted in 2008, has generated criticism from environmental campaigners who point out that the growth of herbicide-resistant GM crops in countries such as Argentina and the US has seen dramatic increases in pesticide use and created pesticide-resistant "super-weeds".

"If the Government does make the mistake of approving new field trials, then they should prepare themselves for the response of local communities, who will be worried about the risks that these crops pose," said Clare Oxborrow, senior food campaigner at Friends of the Earth. "The issues that applied a few years ago still apply. The risks of contamination have not been addressed; nor have any health and safety concerns."

A 2008 trial by Leeds University, in which potatoes were genetically modified to resist a parasitic worm, provoked anger from local residents and was destroyed by environmentalists. In addition to environmental fears about loss of bio-diversity and harm to other crops, consumers are also concerned about the possible health risks posed by GM food.

A study conducted by Eurobarometer in 2008 which surveyed 25,000 EU citizens found that 61 per cent thought that animal cloning was morally wrong. Meanwhile, a Gallup poll in 2005 found that 54 per cent of Britons were opposed to bio-technology in food production.

Professor Watson acknowledged that the subject is controversial. "It is similar to nuclear power," he said. "We have to look at all the risks and benefits, real and perceived, and tell the public what we are trying to achieve."

In 2008, however, Professor Watson led a study for the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development, of which he is the director, which found that GM foods are likely to play only a small role in feeding the world's poor. The report highlighted that the "assessment of the technology lags behind its development".

The chief scientist's comments add weight to the claims of the Royal Society which last month argued that GM crops will prove important in preventing future food shortages. The controversial report called for a 10-year research programme, in which £200m a year would be spent on science that improves crops and sustainable crop management - including research into GM crops.

However, Professor Watson emphasised that GM foods could only play one part in solving a world food crisis, stressing that improving farming in developing countries is also vital. He recommends ending farming subsidies in developed countries, which would make the price of food produced in developing nations more competitive. He also spoke of the need to improve infrastructure, such as loans for farmers, and improve African farmers' education.

_______________________

Cunningham is 'not for turning' over GM

Andrew Arbuckle
The Scotsman [UK], 19 November 2009:
http://business.scotsman.com/fooddrinkagriculture/Cunningham-is-39not-for-turning39.5837503.jp

SCOTTISH environment minister, Roseanna Cunningham gave a "the lady is not for turning" impression at yesterday's AgriScot when she rejected any government change of position on genetic modification.

When questioned about the prospect of a "spray free" potato being produced within the next ten or 15 years to by scientists using biotechnology, Cunningham stated "we are not changing our policy on GM".

She said that science should underpin policy not dictate it and expressed the view that other European countries such as France, Austria and Ireland were also in the "no GM" boat. Scotland would have to compete in the same market as these countries and she believed it should not put itself at a disadvantage by adopting GM technology.

But NFU Scotland chief executive James Withers saw this as government ducking out on an opportunity. "Government has a responsibility to lead and educate," and he compared Holyrood's position on GM as being similar to the recent dismissal by the UK government of the main scientist on drug policy.

"There are real opportunities and massive gains to be had in meeting our climate challenge targets if we adopt biotechnology." he said.

Research should be carried out by the public sector and not by multinational companies whose priorities may not coincide with the wider public interest, he added.

Withers' comments were backed up by his president, Jim McLaren, who stated "doors should not be closed as any improvement in crop protection or production would be a step forward".

The divide came during a debate on the challenges facing Scottish agriculture where the government's ambitious climate change targets featured.

The union claimed that agriculture's carbon footprint had reduced by 17 per cent since the government's base year of 1990. Part of this was due to reduced fertiliser inputs, claimed McLaren, with the industry now back at 1976 tonnages.

While going along with the government's targets, he did not want to see Scotland going it alone. Neither did he want to see livestock production being singled out as a target by those discussing pushing the climate change agenda. That would be very much to Scotland's disadvantage with such a large percentage of land in grassland with no other growing option.

The debate took place at AgriScot which, once again, drew the crowds to an extent that chairman of the organising committee, Robin Young, described it as an outstanding success. But one, he admitted might give them a future problem.

"We have all the covered space at Ingliston filled and there is a waiting list for trade space." With there being no entry fee, he said there was no way of knowing the exact attendance but felt it was "at least as good as last year".

The organisers have been casting their net wide and there were at least a dozen buses that had come up from England. In addition, there were a number of international visitors coming into nearby Edinburgh airport.

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EU blockade of US soya beans unlikely to be lifted

Stephen Cadogan
Irish Examiner, 19 November 2009:
http://www.irishexaminer.com/archives/2009/1119/features/eu-blockade-of-us-soya-beans-unlikely-to-be-lifted-105894.html

THE EU's approval of three genetically modified maize varieties is not expected to lift a blockade keeping soya beans from the US out of the EU.

Given the uncertainty, international traders have ceased all further shipments. The banned cargoes contained dust from unapproved genetically modified maize, contamination which comes from port storage and handling systems.

Ships containing 200,000 tonnes of soya are anchored in European ports, awaiting clearance. Some will be released soon, because the contamination comes from the three latest maizes approved for use in Europe. But a spokesman for the EU's Coceral grouping of cereal trade organisations said soya imports will not commence until GM-corn Mir 604 is approved. US soymeal exports to the EU are normally close to 500,000 tonnes. Stocks from South America are low, due to a dry growing season. EU approval for GM grains has been slow because of public concern about safety.

European meat industry groupings have written to the European Commission, warning that the soya blockade is precipitating the EU towards serious food and feed supply problems, especially for pig and poultry farmers, because there are no affordable feed protein alternatives to soya meal.

If the European feed industry cannot import soya from the US, the EU food sector will lose €4.4bn per year, according to LEI, a Dutch agricultural economic institute. It said the EU normally depends on the US for about 50% of its soya imports, and even more this year because of poor harvests in Argentina due to drought.

---

Comment from GM-free Ireland:

The EU has NOT imposed any "blockade" on US soya beans. Commodity traders have set up a self-imposed suspension of US soy bean imports contaminated by illegal GMOs, because the USA foolishly keeps planting GM varieties that are not approved in Europe, and can't - or won't - segregate its supply chain. This is part of Monsanto's "contaminate first - legislate later" stragegy to force GM products into the European market by hook or by crook.

The suggestion that "there are no affordable alternatives" to US soy is a Big Lie. Most European GM soy imports come from South America, where farmers take care to only grow GM varieties approved in the EU.

South America also grows plenty of GM-free soy. As Dr. John Fagan of Cert ID explained at the GM-free Ireland press conference last Tuesday, "Production depends on demand. This year, Brazil harvested 28 million tonnes of Non-GMO soy beans, and together with India, has the capacity to produce 35 million tonnes... The extra cost per animal is tiny. The GM-free supply chain is fully segregated; and the certification process is reliable, inexpensive, and simpler than organic."

Is this just a case of lousy journalism, or does the Irish Examiner have a vested interest in not reporting the facts?

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European Patent Office grants patent on the use of human egg cells
• Testbiotech sees clash with ethical boundaries


Press Release, Testbiotech, 19 November 2009:
http://www.testbiotech.org/en/node/269

Munich - In July 2009 the European Patent Office granted the Swiss company Merck Serono a patent on the ripening process of human egg cells including their use in in vitro fertilisation treatment. Once the patent was granted Merck Serono not only had a monopoly on the egg ripening process but also exclusive rights on the usage of the human eggs cells. Testbiotech believes that this new patent raises questions on the ethical boundaries of patent law.

"The European patent laws do indeed prohibit the patenting of human egg cells but this legal prohibition can be circumvented by having patents on the usage of egg cells," says Dr Christoph Then, executive director of Testbiotech. "There is an obvious loophole in the law here."

The initial application for the patent was an attempt to patent the egg cells themselves. It was rejected by the European Patent Office. In fact the EU patent directive (98/44 EC) in its recitals excludes any patents on human germ cells (sperm cells and egg cells). Thus the human body in all the phases of its genesis and development including germ cells is excluded from patentability. With the EP 1794287 patent there is however a danger of egg cells (also called oocytes) used for in vitro fertilisation being monopolised. Claim 8 of the above-mentioned patent is worded as follows: "A method of in vitro fertilization comprising producing a mature oocyte ... and treating the oocyte with sperm".

After finding this patent during her research Dr Ruth Tippe from the No Patents on Life initiative and current member of the Testbiotech board warns that "Human egg cells must not be used for business purposes," and that "the present wording of the patent laws does not provide adequate protection against the commercialisation of human life". She says that "if the patent office simply kept to the wording of the patent laws then it would even be possible to patent human organs".

Just last week the German Federal Court turned its attention to the question of patenting human embryonic stem cells. It declared its intention of submitting various questions to the European Court of Justice for clarification because the wording of the EU patent directive (98/44 EC) was not sufficiently clear. Dr Christoph Then acted as an patent expert on behalf to the environmental organisation Greenpeace Germany in this particular case.

Further Information on the patent:

European patent: https://data.epo.org/publication-server/search publication number EP 1794287
No Patents on Life: www.keinpatent.de
EU Directive 98/44/EC: http://tiny.cc/X8nro
Greenpeace Germany:
http://www.greenpeace.de/themen/patente/nachrichten/artikel/verfahren_gegen_bruestle_patent_ausgesetzt/

For more information please contact:

Christoph Then, Executive Director Testbiotech e.V., Tel +49 151 54 63 80 40
Ruth Tippe, No patents on life, +49 172 896 38 58
Andrea Reiche, Press Officer Testbiotech e.V., Tel +49 89 35 89 92 76

Testbiotech e. V.
Institute for Independent Impact Assessment in Biotechnology
Frohschammerstr. 14, 80807 Munich, Germany
Fon: +49 (0)89-35 89 92 76
Fax: +49 (0)89-359 66 22
info@testbiotech.org
www.testbiotech.org
Executive Director: Christoph Then

_______________________

GM-free label launched

Peter Young
Irish Farmers Journal, 19 [dated 21] November 2009:
http://www.irishfarmersjournal.ie

A voluntary GM-free food label, launched by GM free Ireland, is the latest mark available for Irish food.

"Government policy to keep Ireland off-limits to GM crops and the voluntary GM-free food label, provides untapped opportunity for Ireland's farm, food and tourist industries to grown their global market share and secure a unique selling point," said Michael O'Callaghan of GM-free Ireland at the launch in Dublin on Tuesday.

Among those backing the move were chefs Richard Corrigan, Darina Allen and Taste Council chairman, Evan Doyle.

Malcolm Thompson, president of the Irish Cattle and Sheepfarmers Association, and Paolo Garavelli of TLT International, the biggest live cattle exporter, were also behind the move.

Ireland joins Austria, Germany and France as the fourth EU member state to provide a voluntary GM-free label for food and livestock produced with certified non-GM ingredients, including beef, dairy, poultry, farmed fish, cereals, fruit and vegetables.

Michael O'Callaghan said: "Market research reveals that thousands of EU and USA food brands and retailers offer GM-free product lines as part of their corporate social responsibility, quality agriculture, biodiversity, food safety, fair trade, sustainable development and climate change strategies.

Most EU countries ban GM crops and 260 regions have GM-free policies.

Transformation

Farmers, food producers and tourist operators who choose the voluntary GM-free label and supply chain can transform this adantage into a unique sellling point for Ireland - the most credible GM-free food brand in Europe.

He said the study reports that Irish livestock production still relies on 1.5 million tonnes of imported GM feed and has difficulty sourcing GM-free feed available to their EU competitors. Dr John Fagan, chief scientific officer of Genetic ID, claimed to be the world's leading non-GMO certification company, disputed Irish feed importers' claims that GM-free feed is unavailable or unaffordable.

"This year, Brazil harvested 28 million tonnes of non-GMO soya beans, and together with India, has the capacity to produce 35 million tonnes.

Maize

"European maize is 99% GM-free. The extra cost per animal is tiny. The GM-free supply chain is fully segregated, and the certification process is reliable, inexpensive, and simpler than organic," he argued.

The president of the Irish Cattle and Sheepfarmers Association, Malcolm Thompson, said: "Competing against countries that can mass-produce cheapler low-quality food is a race to the bottom.

"The GM-free Irish label will provide added value, increased market share and a unique brand identity for farmers and livestock exporters who choose to use it," he said.

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18 November 2009

Are Ukrainians willing to buy genetically modified products - telephone survey results

CheckBiotech.org, 18 November 2009:
http://greenbio.checkbiotech.org/news/are_ukrainians_willing_buy_genetically_modified_products_telephone_survey_results

According to press release given by Gorshenin Institute to UNIAN, Almost 90 % of Ukrainians are against the import of products treated with Genetically Modified Organisms. Those are the results of the phone survey conducted by Gorshenin Institute on 13/1109-15/11/09.

According to the survey results absolute majority of Ukrainians (85.6%) know what Genetically Modified Organisms are and understand what the consequences of GMO treated products consumption might be. Only 12.1% of respondents do not have that information and 2.3% could not answer the question.

Overwhelming majority of Ukrainians (93.4%) are certain that it should be mandatory for producers to put information about GMOs on the packaging. Only 2.5 % don't consider it to be necessary and 4.1% don't have a position in this matter.

More than half of Ukrainians (57.1%) do not know about the government Decree on Mandatory Marking of Products that contain GMOs. 38.2 % do know about this legislation and 4.7% could not answer the question.

Majority of Ukrainians (89.7 %) think that Verkhovna Rada should pass the law banning import of Genetically Modified Products into Ukraine. 5.2 % do not agree with that position and 5.1% don't have a position in this matter.

Majority of Ukrainians (61.2%) said they would never buy products with GMO-s. Fewer than a quarter of Ukrainians (22.5 %) will buy products with GMO-s only if there's no other alternative. 12 % said it did not matter to them which products to buy and 4.3 % could not answer the question.

Majority of Ukrainians (74.7%) said they would not buy products with GMOs even if they were cheaper then their equivalent without GMOs. In this case 10.7 % would buy products with GMOs and 14.6 % could not answer the question.

This phone survey was conducted by Gorshenin Institute among 1000 respondents age 18 or older representing all 25 regional centers with the margin of error no higher then 3.2%.

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Impacts of Genetically Engineered Crops on Pesticide Use: The First Thirteen Years

Charles Benbrook, Ph.D., Chief Scientist
The Organic Center [USA], November 2009:
http://www.organic-center.org/science.pest.php?action=view&report_id=159

Genetically-engineered corn, soybeans, and cotton now account for the majority of acres planted to these three crops. A model was developed that utilizes official, U.S. Department of Agriculture pesticide use data to estimate the differences in the average pounds of pesticides applied on GE crop acres, compared to acres planted to conventional, non-GE varieties.

The basic finding is that compared to pesticide use in the absence of GE crops, farmers applied 318 million more pounds of pesticides over the last 13 years as a result of planting GE seeds. This difference represents an average increase of about 0.25 pound for each acre planted to a GE trait.

GE crops are pushing pesticide use upward at a rapidly accelerating pace. In 2008, GE crop acres required over 26% more pounds of pesticides per acre than acres planted to conventional varieties. The report projects that this trend will continue as a result of the rapid spread of glyphosate-resistant weeds.

The full report is 69 pages, and is accessible below. The Executive Summary is posted separately (15 pages). The Supplemental Tables listed in the report's Table of Contents are also posted below.

"Executive Summary" (1.44 MBs, 15 pages)
http://www.organic-center.org/reportfiles/EXSUM_13Years20091116.pdf

"Impacts of Genetically Engineered Crops on Pesticide Use: The First Thirteen Years" (3.68 MBs, 69 pages)
http://www.organic-center.org/reportfiles/13Years20091116.pdf

Supplemental Tables
http://www.organic-center.org/reportfiles/SupplementalTablesv2.pdf

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A New Report Reveals that GM Seeds Encourage Pesticides Use, Contribute to Growth of Superweeds

Paula Crossfield
The Huffington Post [USA], 17 November 2009:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paula-crossfield/a-new-report-reveals-that_b_360326.html

A new report out today, Impacts of Genetically Engineered Crops on Pesticide Use in the United States: The First Thirteen Years [pdf] authored by Dr. Charles Benbrook, chief scientist at The Organic Center, reveals that the use of genetically modified (GM) corn, soy and cotton crops has increased the amount of pesticides used in the past 13 years by 318 million pounds.

This information comes to light as the industry struggles to position itself as providing environmental benefit through use of bt technology -- insecticide producing seeds -- savings from which are diminished in light of a six times greater herbicide usage.

Farmers have become increasingly critical of both GM seed as it goes up in price, and herbicides like Roundup, also known as glyphosate, as 'superweeds' become prevalent in treated fields. The growth of pigweed, which can quickly reach widths of 6 inches at the stalk, and other invasive, glyphosate-resistant species increases farmers reliance on more high-risk herbicides, including 2,4-D, dicamba and paraquat, and has resulted in a return to hand harvesting and even abandoning of fields.

Dr. Benbrook used the USDA's National Agriculture Statistics Service data and publicly available Monsanto information to ascertain these findings. The report states that it became increasingly difficult to get such information from the USDA as it ceased collecting thorough data on pesticide usage in the US in recent years. Furthermore, the USDA has never conducted research on the relationship between GM crops and increased pesticide use, resulting in a lack of in-depth information to inform regulators. (I wrote about the need for more such research here, where Dr. Benbrook also chimed in.)

The report challenges researchers and regulators to consider the following:

Herbicides and insecticides are potent environmental toxins. Where GE crops cannot deliver meaningful reductions in reliance on pesticides, policy makers need to look elsewhere. In addition to toxic pollution, agriculture faces the twin challenges of climate change and burgeoning world populations. The biotechnology industry's current advertising campaigns promise to solve those problems, just as the industry once promised to reduce the chemical footprint of agriculture. Before we embrace GE crops as solution to these new challenges, we need a sober, data-driven appraisal of its track record on earlier pledges.

With glyphosate producer Monsanto encouraging farmers to diversify their herbicide use to control superweeds, this research shows that we could be at a turning point for Roundup Ready technology. As farmers realize the cost effectiveness of conventional seeds which deliver similar yields and allow seeds to be saved for reuse in future seasons, GM crops could prove a technological experiment gone wrong as we move toward creating a more durable and diverse food system.

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

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Biotech crops cause big jump in pesticide use: report

Carey Gillam
Reuters, November 17 2009:
http://www.reuters.com/article/environmentNews/idUSTRE5AG0QY20091117v

KANSAS CITY - The rapid adoption by U.S. farmers of genetically engineered corn, soybeans and cotton has promoted increased use of pesticides, an epidemic of herbicide-resistant weeds and more chemical residues in foods, according to a report issued Tuesday by health and environmental protection groups.

The groups said research showed that herbicide use grew by 383 million pounds from 1996 to 2008, with 46 percent of the total increase occurring in 2007 and 2008.

The report was released by nonprofits The Organic Center (TOC), the Union for Concerned Scientists (UCS) and the Center for Food Safety (CFS).

The groups said that while herbicide use has climbed, insecticide use has dropped because of biotech crops. They said adoption of genetically engineered corn and cotton that carry traits resistant to insects has led to a reduction in insecticide use by 64 million pounds since 1996.

Still, that leaves a net overall increase on U.S. farm fields of 318 million pounds of pesticides, which includes insecticides and herbicides, over the first 13 years of commercial use. The rise in herbicide use comes as U.S. farmers increasingly adopt corn, soy and cotton that have been engineered with traits that allow them to tolerate dousings of weed killer. The most popular of these are known as "Roundup Ready" for their ability to sustain treatments with Roundup herbicide and are developed and marketed by world seed industry leader Monsanto Co.

Monsanto rolled out the first biotech crop, Roundup Ready soybeans, in 1996. Monsanto officials declined to comment on the report. But the Biotechnology Industry Organization, of which Monsanto is a member, said the popularity of herbicide-resistant crops showed their value outweighs any associated detriments.

"Herbicide resistance crops are incredibly popular with farmers. They help them manage their weed problems in ways traditional crops don't," said Mike Wach, BIO managing director of science and regulatory affairs.

"If a farmer feels a crop is causing them more trouble than it is worth they will stop using it," Wach said. "Farmers are continuing to adopt these crops because they provide benefits, not liabilities and problems."

BIO officials pointed to a report issued earlier this year by PG Economics Ltd that said the volume of herbicides used in biotech soybean crops globally decreased by 161 million pounds, or 4.6 percent, from 1996 to 2007.

The report by the environmental groups states that a key problem resulting from the increase in herbicide use is the emergence of "super weeds," which are difficult to kill because they have become resistant to the herbicides.

"With glyphosate-resistant weeds now infesting millions of acres, farmers face rising costs coupled with sometimes major yield losses, and the environmental impact of weed management systems will surely rise," said Charles Benbrook, chief scientist of The Organic Center. The groups additionally criticized the agricultural biotechnology industry for claiming that higher costs for genetically engineered seeds are justified by multiple benefits to farmers, including decreased spending on pesticides.

The group said biotech corn seed prices in 2010 could be almost three times the cost of conventional seed, while new enhanced biotech soybean seed for 2010 could be 42 percent more than the original biotech version.

"This report confirms what we've been saying for years," said Bill Freese, science policy analyst for the Center for Food Safety. "The most common type of genetically engineered crops promotes increased use of pesticides, an epidemic of resistant weeds, and more chemical residues in our foods. This may be profitable for the biotech/pesticide companies, but it's bad news for farmers, human health and the environment."

(Editing by Christian Wiessner)

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White welcomes support for GM-free label
• Programme for Government commitment is a major opportunity for food producers


Statement by Mary White
Irish Spokesperson on Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Arts and Tourism; Community and Rural Affairs; Women's Affairs
Green Party [Ireland], 18 November 2009:
http://www.greenparty.ie/en/news/latest_news/white_welcomes_support_for_gm_free_label

Green Party enterprise spokesperson Mary White TD has welcomed the enthusiastic endorsement by restaurateurs and the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association of a GM-free label for Irish produce.

Commenting on a press conference organised yesterday by the lobby group GM-free Ireland, which included chefs Richard Corrigan, Darina Allen and President of the Irish Cattle and Sheep farmers Association, Malcolm Thompson, Chairman of the Taste Council, Evan Doyle, and GM-free Ireland's Michael O'Callaghan, Deputy White said: "I am very encouraged by the strong support demonstrated today for a GM-free label for Irish produce. I believe this step offers a major opportunity for Irish farmers and food processors to expand and enhance the market for their products both domestically, but also in the UK and continental Europe."

"The Government will shortly begin to establish the criteria and branding for a GM-free label," she said. "And I believe that this represents a major opportunity for Irish food producers to visibly declare their products to be GM-free and thus improve the marketability and value of their products in Ireland and abroad. It's a major enterprise and trade opportunity.

The Green Party Deputy Leader continued: "The new commitment to 'introduce a voluntary GM-Free logo for use in all relevant product labelling and advertising, similar to a scheme recently introduced in Germany,' was a key policy advancement for the Green Party in the talks last month to negotiate a renewed Programme for Government. It is a part of our drive to create real, sustainable and valuable jobs and business opportunities in these tough times," she added.

A selection of photos from yesterday's press conference is available at:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/thegreenparty/sets/72157622823232218/

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Irish food could be marketed as 'GM-free'

Irish Times, 18 November 2009:
http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/ireland/2009/1118/1224259044847.html

Ireland can become the most credible genetically modified-free food brand in Europe, according to a group which includes chefs Richard Corrigan and Darina Allen.

At a press conference yesterday, the group welcomed promises in the Programme for Government to ban the growing of GM plants and to introduce GM-free food labelling.

Irish farmers would be quick to switch to GM-free products when they saw them demanding a premium price, said Malcolm Thompson, president of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association.

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17 November 2009

Now is the time for Northern Ireland to go GM-free

Press release
Green Party, Northern Ireland.

The Green Party says it is disappointed that the Minister of the Environment has no plans to ban the growing of genetically modified crops here, describing it as a missed opportunity to promote Northern Ireland as a unique region for safe, clean and green food.

Green Party Assembly member Brian Wilson said: "There are major benefits for Northern Ireland if we declare ourselves as a GM free zone. Firstly it will enhance our image as a safe, clean and green producer of food. Declaring a region as GM Free also improves the quality of our organic agricultural sector and provides a real resistance to big business ideas of monopolizing seed patents. Now that the Irish government has announced its intention to ban the cultivation of GM crops in the Republic, there is an opportunity for the island of Ireland to benefit from such a progressive move. There are massive benefits for our food sector if it can market itself as being sourced from a GM Free zone."

Mr. Wilson MLA said: "The issue needs to be debated, it's too important to be ignored by Minister Poots. There is an awful lot of misinformation on GM crops being sold to the farming community. But this is not just an issue for the farming sector, this is an issue of far wider public interest, it's about the food we eat or health and protecting our environment."

_______________________

Govt's GM-free policy provides 'opportunities'

RTE News [Ireland], 17 November 2009:
http://www.rte.ie/news/2009/1117/gm.html

The Government policy to keep Ireland off-limits to GM crops and to introduce a voluntary GM-free food label provides an untapped opportunity for Ireland's farm, food and tourist industries, according to Michael O'Callaghan of GM-free Ireland.

Ireland will become the fourth EU member state (after Austria, Germany and France) to provide a Government-backed voluntary GM-free label for food and livestock produced with certified Non-GMO ingredients, including beef, dairy, lamb, pork, poultry, farmed fish, cereals, fruit and vegetables.

Among those backing the move are celebrity TV chefs Richard Corrigan and Darina Allen.

Dr John Fagan, Chief Scientific Officer of Genetic ID, the world's leading Non-GMO certification company, is also behind the scheme.

_______________________

Chefs welcome GM-free labelling promise

Genevieve Carbery, Irish Times, 17 November 2009:
http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/breaking/2009/1117/breaking90.htm

Ireland can become the most credible genetically modified (GM) free food brand in Europe, a group which included chefs Richard Corrigan and Darina Allen said today.

At a press conference the group welcomed promises in the Programme for Government to ban the growing of GM plants and to introduce GM-free food labelling.

Irish farmers would be very quick to switch to GM-free products when they saw them demanding a premium price, said Malcolm Thompson, president of the Irish Cattle and Sheepfarmers Association.

Dr John Fagan of GMO testing service Genetic ID denied that the cost and supply of GM-feed was prohibitive. GM-free feed was being delivered to the EU from South America but it was just a matter of getting it to Ireland, he said.

The premium on GM-free food would be less than half a cent on a litre of milk and around three cent on a kilogramme of pork, he said

Michael O'Callaghan of the GM-Free Ireland network explained that Ireland was already at an advantage in becoming a GM-free food producer due to its traceability system, lack of contamination from bordering countries and the organic grass-based diet of its cattle and sheep.

Richard Corrigan said Ireland's green image had got smaller, prices had collapsed and GM-free was the future market so Irish farming needed leadership on GM-free production.

Darina Allen predicted that the GM-free market would become much wider than the organic market "I think you'd be surprised at the numbers that would pay for that premium," she said.

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Food producers urge greater use of GM-free status

Evening Echo [Ireland], 17 November 2009:
http://www.eveningecho.ie/news/index.aspx?c=business&jp=eymheyojsnql

Leading figures in the Irish food industry say we should be capitalising on our status as a GM-free nation.

They say Ireland is one of the world's leading producers of food that is not genetically modified.

Now big names in the sector, including chef Richard Corrigan and Darina Allen from the Ballymaloe Cookery School, want to see a labelling system for non-GM Irish products.

It is hoped the initiative would expand the Irish food industry's global market share.

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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


Press release
GM-free Ireland Network, 17 November 2009:
www.gmfreeireland.org/press/GMFI46.pdf

DUBLIN - The Government policy to keep Ireland off-limits to GM crops and to introduce a voluntary GM-free food label (1) provides an untapped opportunity for Ireland's farm, food and tourist industries to grow their global market share and secure a unique selling point - the most credible GM-free food brand in Europe, Michael O'Callaghan of GM-free Ireland (2) said today.

Among those backing the move at a press conference in Dublin were celebrity TV chefs Richard Corrigan and Darina Allen, the President of Slow Food Ireland; Malcolm Thompson, President of the Irish Cattle and Sheepfarmers Association; the Taste Council Chairman, Evan Doyle, representing also the Organic Trust and Euro-Toques Ireland's 200 chefs; food writers Hugo Arnold and Tom Doorley of the Irish Times; and a visiting scientific expert from the USA, Dr. John Fagan, Chief Scientific Officer of Genetic ID - the world's leading Non-GMO certification company.

Ireland will become the 4th EU member state (after Austria, Germany and France) to provide a Government-backed voluntary GM-free label for food and livestock produced with certified Non-GMO ingredients, including beef, dairy, lamb, pork, poultry, farmed fish, cereals, fruit and vegetables.(3)

Unique selling point: the most credible GM-free food brand in Europe

Michael O'Callaghan said: "It's a no-brainer: Most EU consumers and retailers want GM-free food; we can produce it more cost-effectively than our competitors. Ireland is a major dairy producer and the biggest beef exporter in the Northern Hemisphere. Our cattle and sheep eat a grass-based diet, with less GM feed than livestock in many other countries. Although unlabelled, most of our poultry - and some of our pork and farmed salmon - is already GM-free. This lead start - along with our world-class beef traceability system, GM-free island status, geographical isolation from contamination by GM pollen, unpolluted topsoil, and clean green image - provides a big untapped competitive advantage for us. Farmers, food producers and tourist operators who choose the voluntary GM-free label and supply chain can transform this advantage into a unique selling point for Ireland: the most credible GM-free food brand in Europe."

Huge market opportunity

Market research (4) published today by GM-free Ireland reveals that thousands of EU and USA food brands and retailers offer GM-free product lines as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility, Quality Agriculture, Biodiversity, Food Safety, Fair Trade, Sustainable Development and Climate Change strategies. Most EU countries ban GM crops and 260 Regions have GM-free policies.(5) The study reports that Irish farmers have difficulty sourcing GM-free animal feed available to their EU competitors.(6) Irish livestock production still relies on 1.5 million tonnes of imported GM feed (soya meal mostly from South America, and maize gluten, oilseed rape and other by-products of the U.S. beer and agro-fuel industries). GM supplies from the USA are often interrupted by contamination from unapproved varieties. Most of our farm animals eat this GM feed, and the resulting food is sold without a label to inform consumer choice.

No problem with GM-free supply chain and certification

Dr. John Fagan of Genetic ID dispelled the feed importers' claims that GM-free animal feed is unavailable or unaffordable. "Production depends on demand. This year, Brazil harvested 28 million tonnes of Non-GMO soy beans, and together with India, has the capacity to produce 35 million tonnes. European maize is 99% GM-free. The extra cost per animal is tiny. The GM-free supply chain is fully segregated; and the certification process is reliable, inexpensive, and simpler than organic. Other countries need to invest in a traceability system for their GM-free production lines, but you have already set this up for beef in Ireland. It's really obvious: Ireland is ideally positioned to become the EU leader in this rapidly emerging market."

Added value, increased market share and better branding for Ireland - the food island

The President of the Irish Cattle and Sheepfarmers Association, Malcolm Thomson, said "Competing against countries that can mass-produce cheaper low quality food is race to the bottom. The GM-free Irish label will provide added value, increased market share and a unique brand identity for farmers and livestock exporters who choose to use it. We urge the Government to implement the legislation without delay."

Evan Doyle, the Chairman of the Taste Council, pointed out that Euro-Toques Ireland's 200 chefs have always wanted to reassure their customers that the food they serve is GM-free. "This label will provide them with a means to do so. It's a real breakthrough for Ireland - the food island."

Darina Allen of Slow Food Ireland concluded with a vision: "Supporting this GM-free policy provides a way for every Irish farmer, food producer and consumer to help co-create a sustainable future for all of us."

Media enquiries, speaker interviews, photos

FD, 12 Merrion Square, Dublin 2, Ireland
Lorraine Lally + 353 (0)87 121 4073, lorraine.lally@fd.com
Eugene Hogan +353 (0)87 249 7290, eugene.hogan@fd.com

Video / DVD

A broadcast quality video recording of this press conference will be made available on DVD and online at http://www.gmfreeireland.org/videos

Contact

For enquiries about GM-free certification, feed and labeling, please contact

Michael O'Callaghan, Co-ordinator, GM-free Ireland Network
+353 (0)087 799 4761, mail@gmfreeireland.org, www.gmfreeireland.org

Notes for editors

1. The Irish Government policy to ban GM crops will still allow the use of imported GM animal feed:

"We support clear labelling and the provision of the fullest information to allow freedom of choice."

- Statement of Strategy 2005 - 2007, Department of Agriculture and Food.

"The Government will seek to negotiate the establishment of an all-Ireland GMO-free [crop] zone."

- Programme for Government, June 2007.

The Government will "declare the Republic of Ireland a GM-Free Zone, free from the cultivation of all GM plants... To optimize Ireland's competitive advantage as a GM-free country, we will introduce a voluntary GM-free logo for use in all relevant product labelling and advertising, similar to a scheme recently introduced in Germany."

- Revised Programme for Government, October 2009.

2. The GM-free Ireland Network has the greatest number and broadest diversity of stakeholder groups of any Non Governmental Organisation on the island of Ireland: http://www.gmfreeireland.org

3. The call for an EU GM-free label is backed by the European Parliament ALDE, Green and ESP groups.

Non-GMO labels, Quality Production and European Regional Agriculture Strategies is the agenda of the 3rd World Conference on GM-free Animal Feed, organised by the EU Committee of the Regions on 3-4 February 2010 in Brussels: http://www.gmofree-euregions.net

4. GM-free production: Forging a unique selling point for Ireland - the food island.
GM-free Ireland Network briefing paper, 17 November 2009.
Download PDF: http://www.gmfreeireland.org/GMFI-briefing-3.pdf

5. Switzerland has a 5-year moratorium on the commercial cultivation and import of GM crops and animals. The Swiss Guarantee food label forbids the use of GM ingredients and GM animal feed.

22 EU Member states prohibit or restrict the cultivation of GM crops, which are now grown on only 0.06% of arable land in the EU. France, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Greece and Luxembourg ban the cultivation of Monsanto's patented MON810 GM maize (the only GM crop authorised for cultivation in the EU). In Italy, 16 of the country's 20 Regions have declared themselves GM-free. Greece bans the cultivation of all GM crops at the local level. Poland's 16 Regions have all declared themselves GM-free. Romania bans the cultivation of GM soy after Monsanto released it there illegally. Serbia bans GM crops and GM animal feed. In the UK, Scotland, Wales and 17 English Counties strongly oppose the cultivation of GM crops. Sweden's entire dairy industry is GM-free.

In 2009, 12 EU Member States (including Ireland) formally requested the EC to recognise the right of every Member State to implement blanket bans on GM crops. The Commission may do so in 2010.

More than 260 EU Regions, over 4,500 municipalities and other local entities (including 19 Local Authorities in Ireland), and tens of thousands of farmers and food producers in Europe have already declared themselves GMO-free, expressing their commitment to prohibit the use of genetically modified organisms for food and farming in their territories: http://www.gmo-free-regions.org

6. For example, France alone imports around 500,000 to 600,000 tonnes of GM-free soy feed annually, (20% to 25% of its total soy needs). This amounts to all of Ireland's annual soy imports. France's leading importer, AgriFeed charges a premium of €25-27 per tonne in summer, €30- €32 in winter, for Non-GM soy feed imported weekly via the port of Montoire, near Nantes, in Brittany.

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16 November 2009

GMOs and trade - the breaking point?

European Biotechnology News, 16 November 2009:
http://www.eurobiotechnews.eu/insight-europe/politics-law/articledetail/?tx_ttnews[tt_news]=11641&tx_ttnews[backPid]=27&cHash=b2c8cfc4b1

Shipments of soybeans from the US are unlikely to return to normal anytime soon, even though in November the European Commission expanded the range of transgenic species that may enter the bloc. "It's highly unlikely that imports of soybeans from North America will be restarted before Syngenta's MiR604 maize is authorised," said a spokesman for the US Grain Council, a lobby organisation of US farmers. This summer, more than 200,000 tons of soybean and soymeal from the US were refused entry to EU ports because they contained small amounts of Pioneer Hi-Bred's 59122xNK603 transgenic maize, Monsanto's GM maize lines Mon88017 or Mon 809034, or Syngenta's MiR604. Since mid-October, lobbyists from the European grain and oilseeds trade association Coceral have intensified lobbying efforts to lift the EU's zero-tolerance policy concerning GMOs. "We need these soy supplies now," said Klaus-Dieter Schumacher from Coceral. His organisation, together with the EU feed industry groups Fediol and Fefac, pointed out that the EU farming sector will require 6-7.5 million tons of soy feed from North America, because low harvests in South America have cut soy imports through the usual trade channels.

The industry's claims are supported by EU Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel, who called on member states in October to approve the GM maize crops. "The last thing EU farmers need now is an increase in feed prices," she said, adding that EU countries should listen to scientific evidence rather than emotional appeals when deciding on new bio?tech products. The coalition agreement for the newly-elected German government also supports dropping the zero-tolerance EU rule. While the EU has approved a string of GMOs, it does not currently permit the import of others - even in minute amounts - until EU approval for the product is given. New EU approval for GMO imports has been slowed to a standstill by public concerns about safety.

New study war heating up

A new industry-sponsored information campaign aimed at promoting science-based policy has now come into play. "Science Matters", which was launched by international PR giant Grayling in September, has received EUR100,000 in support from several chemical companies, according to EU observer. The information campaign will not focus solely on GMOs, but will also touch on other fields that are of concern to the wider public such as nanotechnology or risk assessment of chemicals. According to the campaign's supporters, environmental risk assessment has become politicised in the EU.

Critics say they are concerned that "Science Matters" will be just another PR campaign serving the interests of its supporters. According to sources from the European Greens, previous campaigns run by Graylings are full of misinformation. A month after "Science Matters" was launched, GMO opponents under former anti-GMO Greenpeace activist Christoph Then threw open a competing information portal called "Testbiotech". It focuses exclusively on GMO risk assessment, and criticises the European Food watchdog EFSA for only relying on data delivered by the companies seeking GMO market approval.

Testbiotech has just released a report attacking the current approach to GMO crop safety assessment. Instead of focussing on specific genetic events, its authors ask readers to take into acount that genetic engineering could have an impact on genetic regulation networks. They called for the establishment of a crash-test for GMOs that provides information on how they react to stress. Called "Risk reloaded", the study has been distributed to members of the European Parliament.

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Food Futures

Soil Association [UK], 16 November 2009:
http://www.soilassociation.org/Whyorganic/Climatefriendlyfoodandfarming/Foodfutures/tabid/565/Default.aspx

Why change is needed

Our current food systems are precarious and vulnerable to external 'shocks'. A combination of one or more external factors, such as extreme weather conditions, global conflict or trade disputes could easily disrupt the continuity of food supplies unless we make fundamental changes to the way we farm, process, distribute and eat our food over the next 20 years. That's the stark message behind this new report from the Soil Association which outlines what it believes should be a blueprint for a more sustainable approach to food and farming.

Strategies for a food secure future

A clear vision for food and farming: business-as-usual is unrealistic; a stategic food plan is needed across all levels of UK governments and wide ranging partnership is required to form a solution.

Climate change: higher mandatory targets required for agriculture to cut emissions; make the minimisation of soil carbon losses a condition of subsidy and incentivise carbon storage.

Energy use and resource-use efficiency: increase R&D funding for sustainable farming practices; farmers advisory programme for reducing oil, gas and phosphate-derived inputs and declare the British Isles a GM-free zone.

Healthy and sustainable diets: link healthy diets with a sustainable food system; support our 'Food for Life' catering standards and establish studies on the benefits of healthier food.

Build resilience through re-localising staple food production: planning policy to help increase self-sufficiency and reduce food miles; regional and local authorities need strategies on food security and UK and EU barriers to localisation need removing.

Re-skilling: training and apprenticeship programmes in sustainable agriculture; Local Authority provision for community 'growing belts' and allotments and give every school child experience of food growing and production through the Food for Life Partnership.

International trade and development: work with the WTO and international governments on food secure trade policy and encourage international implementation of the principles in the 2008 IAASTD report on food security and climate change.

Read the full document to find out more

Food Futures: Strategies for resilient food and farming [PDF, 428KB]
http://www.soilassociation.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=aBVYgjxtNOI%3d&tabid=565

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IOFGA welcomes the commitment to the growth and development of the organic setor

Press Release
Irish Organic Farmers and Growers Association, 16 November 2009:
http://www.iofga.org

In his keynote address to the IOFGA AGM, which was held on Sunday 15th of November in Birr, Co Offaly, Minister for Food and Horticulture Trevor Sargent reiterated the government commitment to the "growth and development of the organic sector". The Organic Farming Scheme will reopen in January 2010 and the Minister also hopes to reopen the schemes of Grant Aid for the Development of the Organic Sector in January.

To date in 2009, in spite of the difficult economic climate, sales of organic food have already reached €124 million. "The factors driving this growth in demand for organic food, are health and environmental concerns such as the wish for food to be GM-free. The Programme for Government declares Ireland to be a GM-Free food island, which means no release of genetically engineered live organisms into the Irish environment". A voluntary Non-GM label for producers is also in the planning stages.

On a personal level the Minister also expressed his delight at being one of the 155 new applicants who successfully registered as an organic producer with IOFGA in the past year. "Even though my patch is probably the smallest one in the country registered as organic I am delighted with it and enjoy all of the fresh produce that it yields though small in scale". The Ministers address was followed with some lively workshops which were very well attended by IOFGA members.

IOFGA welcomes its new chairperson Dr. Sinead Neiland from the Organic College in Dromcollogher on board. Newly elected board members were Dominic Leonard who is an organic farmer in Laois, Clare O'Connor owner of Mana Organic Store in Tralee and organic grower, Gillian Westbrook Research Executive from the ICSA, and Kitty Scully from the Nano Nagle Centre for Ecology and Spirituality in Cork.

The Irish Organic Farmers and Growers Association (IOFGA) is the largest organic certification organisation in Ireland representing approx 1,100 farmers, growers and processors. It is responsible for certifying the organic provenance of its members produce and the IOFGA symbol indicates that a product has met the highest standard of organic integrity. IOFGA also works to inform the public about the benefits of organic food and to support the development of organic food production in Ireland.

For further information please contact:

Grace Maher
Development Officer
IOFGA
+ 353 (0)87 6125989

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EU study explores economic impact of 'great extinction'

Andrew Willis
EU Observer, 16 November 2009:
http://euobserver.com/9/28991/?rk=1

BRUSSELS - Global policy makers could ultimately save more money if they step up investments to protect the Earth's biodiversity, according to a new report published on Friday (13 November).

Current-day decisions to exploit areas of land and sea frequently ignore the important role these areas play in regulating the environment and providing essential requirements such as fresh drinking water, with potential gains for society exceeding the fiscal costs of conservation by a ratio of 60:1, say the report's authors.

The 300-page, three-year-long study, The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity, which draws comparisons with the landmark Stern Report which made a similar economic case for combatting climate change, was set up by Germany and the European Commission in response to a proposal in 2007 by G8 environment ministers as well as their counterparts from Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa.

The document highlights the valuable role that nature plays in areas such as flood prevention and carbon storage, and shows that man-made efforts to tackle these issues invariably come at a far greater cost.

"Nature provides us with clean air, fresh water, food, materials and medicines. It helps regulate our climate and protects us from disaster," said EU environment commissioner Stavros Dimas at an event to launch the survey. "We tend to take them for granted but we can not survive without them."

The study's point man, Pavan Sukhdev, a senior figure at Deutsche Bank and a founder-director of the Green Accounting for Indian States Project, said current economic models largely ignore the value of these "environmental services."

And while the EU has done much to halt biodiversity loss with its Natura 2000 network of protected nature sites, there is still room for European improvement, the report added.

Species extinction at the global level is currently estimated to be occurring at between 100 and 1,000 times the normal rate, leading scientists to say we have entered the sixth Great Extinction in the planet's history, as a result of human activity.

At present, land-based protected areas cover 13 percent of the Earth's surface, with the figure a low six percent for territorial waters and 0.5 percent for open seas.

However, one sixth of the world's population (1.1 billion people) depend on these protected areas for a significant percentage of their livelihoods, with the communal benefits of environmental protection vastly outstripping any financial losses incurred by private individuals, the report says.

The economic argument to extend protected areas is therefore compelling, argue the authors, citing numerous case studies worldwide.

One example of the potential cost-benefit gains could be seen in Vietnam, where studies show that planting and protecting nearly 12,000 hectares of mangroves at a cost of just over $1 million (€0.67m) saved annual expenditures on dyke maintenance of well over $7 million (€4.7m).

Another could be seen in the Atlantic Ocean, with fishermen recording their best catches on the borders of protected areas that allow fish to grow to sexual maturity.

The report - the first in a four-part series - does not give a global aggregate for the potential savings through biodiversity preservation.

But the authors cite a 2002 study which estimates that increasing protected-area coverage to 15 percent of land and 30 percent of the earth's seas would cost roughly €30 billion ($45b) per year, but would net annual benefits of €3.0-3.5 trillion ($4.5-$5.2trn).

EU efforts and vested interests

As 2010 - the United Nations 'Year of Biodiversity' - draws closer, Mr Dimas said EU policies to protect species and habitats need to work their way into all levels of policy-making.

And while the bloc's list of protected areas under Europe's Habitat Directive and Wild Birds Directive have doubled over the last five years to over 25,000, vested interests are still working to slow the process to save species.

Mr Dimas also stressed the need for next month's UN climate conference in Copenhagen to deliver an agreement on tropical forest destruction. "This is crucial not only for the 80-90 percent of terrestrial biodiversity that live in the tropical forests, but also because 20 percent of global emissions are caused by tropical deforestation," he said.

Report

The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity: http://www.teebweb.org/

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Japan finds GMO in Canadian flaxseed shipments

Reuters, 16 November 2009:
http://ca.reuters.com/article/businessNews/idCATRE5AF10020091116

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan has found genetically modified flaxseed, which has not been approved by Japan, in imports from Canada, health ministry officials said on Monday.

In Japan, the bulk of flaxseed is used to produce oil for industrial uses such as the production of paint, with the waste from that process used to produce animal feed and some food for human consumption, a farm ministry official said.

"If the GMO material exceeds 1 percent, it cannot be used for animal feed," he said.

The ministry discovered the GMO material FP967 when it made spot checks on shipments of flaxseed for food use exported by Canmar Grain Products Ltd of Canada, that arrived in Japan in October.

A ministry official said all flaxseed shipments for food use must now be checked to make sure that it has not been contaminated by the GMO material.

The checks will continue until the Canadian government addresses the issue and takes steps to improve the situation, he said.

Such inspections usually take about a week to be completed.

Japan's Ministry of Agriculture said it would also begin checking Canadian flaxseed imported for feed use.

Japan imported 11,713 metric tons of flaxseed in 2008, all of which came from Canada.

The same GMO material has also been found in the European Union from Canadian flax shipments.

FP967, the only GMO flax ever produced, has been approved by both the Canadian and U.S. governments, but it is not accepted in the EU.

Canada is the world's top producer and exporter of flax, a blue-flowering plant also called linseed that produces oil for linoleum flooring and seed for baked goods, as well as animal feed.

(Reporting by Miho Yoshikawa and Risa Maeda; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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Solution to global warming is to work with nature, study finds

By Ann Cahill, Europe Correspondent
Irish Examiner:
http://www.irishexaminer.com/world/solution-to-global-warming-is-to-use-and-work-with-nature-study-finds-105708.html

[Photo caption: Stavros Dimas: 'Our future is tied to fate of nature.']

ECONOMISTS are joining up with scientists to help save the planet threatened by global warming while species disappear at an alarming rate.

A major report says that much of the solution is to use and work with nature rather than just putting resources into expensive technology.

The key joint EU-German global study, The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity, shows that it is essential to protect nature and that up to now we have failed to appreciate its value.

For the first time the study has calculated the cost of using nature to clean drinking water as against building treatment plants; closing off and protecting fishing grounds; protecting areas of natural beauty.

Eventually around one in every six jobs in Europe depends on the environment, or one in 40 if you take a narrow definition of such jobs based on organic farming, sustainable forestry and green forms of tourism.

They show that controlling and adapting to climate change is closely linked to halting the loss of biodiversity. For instance, the loss and damage to forests is responsible for around 20% of global CO2 - more than all forms of transport combined and points to the need for a halt to deforestation.

On fisheries the study says that it is an underperforming asset in danger of collapse and is generating €34 billion less than it could.

The study found that the benefit of protected areas under the EU's Natura scheme is considerable.

Species are becoming extinct at up to 1,000 times the normal rate so that more than half the earth's ecosystem has been degraded in the past 50 years. Should this continue at this rate in 40 years the cost will be 7% of global GDP.

"There is little doubt left in the minds of scientists that we have entered the sixth Great Extinction, and that the losses are due to human factors," said Stavros Dimas, European Commissioner for the Environment.

"Beyond the moral responsibility we have to protect our planet, the simple truth is that our future is inextricably tied to the fate of nature," he added.

The report points out that we have no way of measuring, monitoring and reporting natural capital, unlike economic and human capital and says we have only scratched the surface of what natural processes and genetic resources have to offer. In the future the value of nature and the services she provides, especially to poorer regions, must be measured and factored in by those in charge of deciding policy.

The report is available at: www.teebweb.org

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14 November 2009

Monsanto wins legal battle, may lose war

Laura Rance
Winnipeg Free Press [Canada], 14 November 2009:
http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/opinion/columnists/monsanto-wins-legal-battle-may-lose-war-70094902.html

One of the first lessons toddlers learn in the sandbox is when you want to play with someone else's toys, you play by their rules.

It's a lesson a few farmers in Ontario are learning the hard way after being found guilty of infringing on Monsanto's patented Roundup Ready technology.

Not only have the courts decided they must repay any profits derived from growing Roundup Ready soybeans without a licence from Monsanto, they must also pay a significant portion of the company's costs for taking them to court -- amounts ranging from $9,000 to $63,000 per individual.

As well, these four farmers are among the first to be confronted with Monsanto's new Violator Exclusion Policy. They will be denied all access to Monsanto's current and future technologies -- forever.

The same will apply to any future violators who refuse to settle out of court.

On one hand, it's hard to be critical of a company for protecting its property. Roundup Ready crops, which are genetically modified so farmers can apply the weed killer glyphosate to their fields, have been available to farmers for a decade and they've proven wildly popular. Fifty-two per cent of Canada's canola crop this year carried the Roundup Ready trait.

It is well known this technology is protected by patent, which means farmers must sign a "technology use agreement" and pay a fee to Monsanto over and above the seed cost.

As well, farmers are forbidden from saving and replanting any of the harvested seed. Other technology suppliers have developed similar patent protection policies.

The courts have upheld Monsanto's efforts to enforce its patents, all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. So the question "what were they thinking?" comes to mind when considering the plight of these poor saps in Ontario who were apparently trying to do an end-run around Monsanto while hitching a free ride from their neighbours who paid for the technology.

But the scenario is raising questions over whether the company has the moral authority to deny access to something so fundamental as seed.

True, there are alternative sources of soybean seed for these growers to use, but their list of choices has shortened considerably in recent years with all the consolidation in the seed business -- much at the hands of Monsanto.

This case, which is still under appeal, is unfolding just as questions are mounting in the United States about whether Monsanto has amassed too much market power, so much so that it is inhibiting competition and stifling innovation in the seed and crop trait business.

The U.S. government served notice earlier this year it would be reviewing certain sectors of agriculture, including the seed business, for evidence of anti-competitive behaviours. Two troubling indicators are that the cost of seed offering herbicide tolerant or insect resistant traits continues to rise more than a decade since its introduction -- and it's getting harder for competition to get into play.

The American Antitrust Institute (AAI), an independent Washington-based non-profit competition watchdog, has just published a white paper saying a closer look at Monsanto would be a good place to start.

The paper notes Monsanto's "acquisition spree" which saw it buy up nearly 40 seed and ag biotech companies since the late 1990s. It now owns four of the 13 major patented techniques, with the rest owned by seven other companies and universities. Because it licenses its technology out to other seed suppliers as well, it dominates 75 to 95 per cent of the market for specific traits in corn, soybeans and cotton.

The AAI also finds it significant that Monsanto has been involved in about three-quarters of approximately 60 agricultural biotechnology litigations over the last 10 years, a statistic only partially explained by its market dominance.

The institute says the transgenic seed business is an industry in which patent laws designed to foster innovation are at loggerheads with antitrust law designed to promote competition.

"It is indisputable that Monsanto possesses market power in innovation markets, in markets for genetic traits, and traited seed," the AAI says. "What would likely be the centerpiece of any antitrust investigation into Monsanto's practices is whether the agricultural biotechnology giant has exercised its market power to foreclose rivals from market access, thereby slowing innovation and adversely affecting prices, quality, and choice for farmers and ultimate consumers of seed products."

The United States, unlike Canada, tends to take antitrust and competition issues seriously. Maybe the rules of this sandbox are in for a shakeup.

---

Related article:

Monsanto bans fined farmers from future RR use

Country Guide [Canada], 21 October 2009:
http://www.country-guide.ca/west/issues/ISArticle.asp?aid=1000344715&PC=FBC& issue=10212009

Four southern Ontario farmers fined a total of over $90,000 for unlicensed use of Roundup Ready soybeans are the first to be banned from future use of Monsanto's patented genetics under its "violator exclusion" policy.

"One of the more significant outcomes of the case against these four growers is that it marks the first time Monsanto has implemented its violator exclusion policy," the Winnipeg-based Canadian wing of the U.S. seed and ag chem firm said in a release Monday.

"Under this policy, violators who do not reach a settlement with Monsanto and whose violation results in Monsanto having to go to court, lose all access to current and future Monsanto technologies."

The four growers' fines vary between $66 per acre and $185 per acre, the company said, for amounts owing to Monsanto between $9,228 and $62,748.

The court case, which dates back to the fall of 2005 and most recently involved a ruling on costs in July this year, is now awaiting a decision on whether an appeal by the four farmers will be allowed, Monsanto said.

The company said Federal Court Justice Russel Zinn "soundly rejected" the four growers' arguments that they should only be required to pay the license fees they didn't pay for buying Roundup Ready soybeans through proper channels, and that they made no profit from growing the Roundup Ready crops.

Monsanto Canada "is satisfied the Federal Court of Canada has sent a strong message that there are significant consequences associated with infringing our patent and we expect this will dissuade growers from infringing our patents in the future," the company said.

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13 November 2009

Lawmakers to restrict genetically modified food

Bao Van
Thanh Nien Daily [Viet Nam], 13 November 2009:
http://www.thanhniennews.com/politics/?catid=1&newsid=53636

A newly-proposed food safety law should restrict the amount of genetically modified elements in food, National Assembly representatives said.

Most representatives agreed with proposals in the draft law that would require stricter management of genetically modified (GM) food, but they also criticized the law for not stipulating the maximum limits of these elements permissible in food.

Genetically modified foods are those derived from genetically modified organisms that have had specific changes introduced into their DNA by genetic engineering.

According to the draft law, foods using GM materials must be certified as biologically safe by authorized agencies in the country of origin.

Dang Vu Minh, chairman of the National Assembly's Science, Technology and Environment Committee, said GM food is a "complicated and sensitive issue" and there should be restrictions as to how much GM food we use and eat.

He was speaking on the sidelines of the current National Assembly meeting, which is focusing on the draft food safety law.

The proportion of GM materials should also be indicated on product labels, he said.

Greenpeace, a US-based environmental conservation NGO, has described the use of GM food and crops as "a disaster."

The organization's website sites a monopoly on seed stocks by giant multinationals, cross-contamination of non-GM crops and organisms, crop failure, economic ruin for farmers, threats to biodiversity and potential risks to human health as part of this disaster.

The real reason for the development of GM foods "has not been to end world hunger but to increase the stranglehold multinational biotech companies already have on food production," according to Greenpeace.

"Even though consumers have rejected GM foods outright, the biotech companies and the governments that support them are still trying to force their inventions on us, purely for commercial gain."

'Cleaning up' the streets

The new food law should also give local authorities more power to manage street food, other representatives said.

"We don't have a big enough inspection force, we have only 12 inspectors," said Nguyen Dang Vang, deputy chairman of the National Assembly's Science, Technology and Environment Committee. "There should be between 5,000 and 7,000 inspectors to control street food."

"Local authorities should have more power to issue fines against violations," he told Thanh Nien.

He also said local authorities needed more authority to pass their own regulations on the matter.

Drafters of the new law have proposed for the first time regulations on street food, including the minimal distance food facilities must be from manholes, garbage dumps and other pollution sources. The draft stipulates that no one may sell their goods on the ground and all vendors must have enough clean water to clean their equipment and process their food hygienically.

More detailed requirements will be brought forth by the Ministry of Health, according to the draft law, which will be revisited on November 23 and November 26 and is expected to be approved next May.

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The truth about Bt brinjal [GM aubergine]

K P Prabhakaran Nair
Express News [India], 13 November 2009:
http://www.expressbuzz.com...

K P Prabhakaran Nair is chairman of a committee set up by the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, Hyderabad

At a biotech industry conference in the US in 1999 a representative of the leading consulting firm Arthur Anderson (now defunct) asked Monsanto, the world's number one agribusiness giant, what their ideal future looked like in 15-20 years. Monsanto representatives present replied: A world with 100 per cent seeds genetically modified and patented. Few people know that it was the legal firm of Hillary Clinton that represented Monsanto in one of the cases involving patent rights with genetically modified seeds.

"Whether we like it or not, GM crops are here to stay" said the director general of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research in New Delhi, not long ago. Outside his office activists of Greenpeace were protesting against the controversial Bt brinjal, which the ICAR and government are supporting.

The next time you savour your baingan ki bartha or kathirikai poriyal, you might be ingesting some highly toxic Bt toxin as well. Yes, I am writing about the just released Bt brinjal. October 14 will go down in the history of Indian agriculture as the day when the government-controlled Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) unrolled the red carpet for Monsanto and changed the course of Indian agriculture for all the time to come.

Jairam Ramesh, forest and environment minister, had assured us earlier that "There is a distinction between Bt cotton, which is a non-edible crop and Bt brinjal, an edible crop", and now has gone public that the question of commercial and widespread cultivation of Bt brinjal in India will be 'thoroughly' examined before giving Cabinet clearance to the GEAC decision.

Meanwhile concerned citizen groups, knowledgeable and committed scientists in India and overseas have termed the GEAC clearance a disaster for Indian agriculture. Let us now examine the controversy.

On September 22, 2006 in response to a public interest litigation (PIL) in Supreme Court against genetically modified crops, the court ordered that the question of GM crops and foods be examined by independent, knowledgeable and committed bodies/scientists. The question then before the court involved Bt brinjal, which Mahyco (Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company), Monsanto's Indian arm, had brought out and submitted to the GEAC for approval for commercial cultivation.

The Hyderabad-based Centre for Sustainable Agriculture set up an independent expert committee, with this author as chairman. The committee thoroughly examined the field data generated by Mahyco from all angles - from bio-safety protocol to marketing of end products - and submitted its report in late October. The committee noted the following breach of scientific protocols: The allerginicity of the protein extract from the Bt brinjal was tested on brown Norway rats and not on male rabbits as prescribed by the Department of Biotechnology; Department guidelines prescribe in vivo immunological assays for the detection of reactogenic antibodies in the test sera. This was not done; Though the Cry 1Ac gene was earlier considered innocuous, recent published scientific evidence indicates that the Cry 1 Ac protein from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) - is a potent systemic and mucosal adjuvant, which enhances serum and intestinal lg G antibody responses. This is the most serious biochemical and bio-safety threat from Bt brinjal; The field data were not statistically analysed for precise scientific interpretations, and as such, the conclusions drawn are invalid. No cost-benefit ratio for the farmer was calculated to examine whether or not this 'new' technology was economically viable. For instance, the promoters say that farmers now spray the brinjal 25-60 times to control the stem borer. This would amount to spraying a crop of 120-130 days duration almost on alternate days. No sensible farmer would spend so much on insecticide.

One of the most important parameters to test the safety of Bt crops is heat stability. Heat stability studies carried out on the Bt protein in Bt brinjal highlight serious lapses on the part of the GEAC, which, though a bio-safety watchdog, acts like the handmaiden of Monsanto. Heat stability tests demonstrate whether or not the Bt toxin persists after cooking. The company claims that, once cooked, the toxin is destroyed. Yet, available facts prove the contrary.

Bt protein is present even in non-GM brinjal before cooking. What does it prove? Is it a serious slip of the experimental procedure, or is it because both Bt brinjal and non-Bt brinjal were grown on adjacent plots, without appropriate 'refuge' or safety distance (200 m) in place? This is a clear case of pollen transfer from Bt brinjal to non-Bt brinjal, which will be the prime reason for environmental contamination. Look at the other disturbing facts.

Mahyco was conducting Bt brinjal field trials in West Bengal in 2007. But the matter was never communicated to the state government. The apex state agricultural university observed that it was asked to inspect Mahyco field trials on Bt rice and Bt okra at a very late stage when the crops were ready for harvest. No meaningful scientific data can be collected from such trials. Most distressingly, the farmer on whose fields the Bt rice was grown, was never told what it was. The same thing happened in Tamil Nadu, in Ramanathapuram district and Jharkhand two years ago. It is a distressing fact that it only in India do such clandestine things go on in the name of science.

The Arthur Anderson strategy is clearly unfolding in India. The larger strategy of Monsanto is to control the entire seed industry in India in 10-15 years. Bt cotton was the first step. Bt brinjal is the second. Before long, it will be Bt rice (clandestine field trials were conducted in Ramanathapuram district in Tamil Nadu and Jharkhand two years ago), Bt maize (field trials have started in India), Bt sorghum, Bt cauliflower, Bt cabbage, and so forth.

The first point is that brinjal has its origin in the Indian subcontinent. The biological rigour of a plant species is lost when it is genetically modified, more so in its place of origin. Mexico has vetoed genetic modification of maize, despite American pressure, as that is its place of origin. It is pathetic that India, with its gigantic agricultural set-up, mutely watches Monsanto bulldoze into our domain.

Genetic manipulation of Bt brinjal will have far-reaching environmental and bio-safety consequences. Gene modification technology is in its infancy and totally unpredictable consequences could follow. The development of super weeds, observed recently in UK, is an example.

But the most perplexing question of all is, who is behind this game to push a half-baked technology on unsuspecting millions? It does look as if India is up for sale, certainly its agriculture.

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Agri majors to boost farm investment in poor nations

Svetlana Kovalyova
Reuters UK, 13 November 2009:
http://af.reuters.com/article/topNews/idAFJOE5AC0OM20091113

MILAN - Major world food and agriculture companies pledged on Friday to pour more funds into farming in poor countries to boost food security but they stopped short of proposing precise sums.

The world needs to invest $83 billion a year in agriculture in developing countries to stamp out hunger and feed a projected population of 9.1 billion by 2050, up from 6.8 billion now, the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) says.

Seeking to drum up private sector support, FAO brought together leading food and agribusiness companies -- including Nestle, Unilever and Cargill, for a two-day meeting in Milan, ahead of a summit on food security in Rome next week.

"We stand ready to invest meaningfully to help build national capacities in applied agriculture and food systems research and technology transfer in developing countries," business leaders said a final declaration after the forum.

"We also recognise and embrace the need to take a longer term view of investment and business operations in developing regions, since the global challenge of food security requires sustained commitment," they said.

Business leaders said their existing multi-million dollar investments in sustainable agriculture in developing countries were part of strategies to boost reliable long-term supplies and reduce costs as well as setting the stage for expansion in new markets.

Last year's food price spikes were a wake-up call for food companies and, with price volatility expected to remain high, major firms have stepped up investments in farming to ensure they do not get caught off guard again.

FAO says foreign direct investment (FDI) in farming tripled to over $3 billion between 2001 and 2007 but that still was less than one percent of total world FDI inflows.

The figure also pales when compared with the $44 billion a year of official development assistance that FAO urges world leaders to agree to spend to help poor nations feed themselves.

Just for profit?

Business leaders said their efforts would become more effective if they work together with public bodies, governments and international organisations -- even though some admitted such partnerships have not always been easy.

"On the private side we get sometimes a bit frustrated: it takes a long time, it's very bureaucratic. On their (public) side, they think we are here just trying to exploit for profit reasons," John Atkin, Chief Operating Officer Crop Protection at Syngenta, the world's largest agrochemicals maker, told Reuters.

Paul Naar, Vice President of U.S. agribusiness giant Cargill , called on governments to encourage free trade with developing countries, without artificial barriers aimed at ensuring food self-sufficiency in separate countries.

Industry captains stopped short of setting an ambitious goal of eradicating hunger in the world, but said they would help to reduce food insecurity by providing inputs and technical expertise to boost farming output in developing countries.

"I feel more comfortable with an objective which says we will reduce the food insecurity, because I don't think that in a short period of time we can really eliminate it," Peter Brabeck, chairman of the world's biggest food group, Nestle, told reporters.

The number of hungry people has risen to a record 1.02 billion this year, up 100 million from 2008, the U.N. says.

The final declaration of the business meeting steered clear of thorny issues like the use of genetically modified crops and use of crops for biofuels, which critics say has helped drive food prices to record highs last year.

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11 November 2009

Proceed with caution

Lim Li Ching, Biosafety researcher, Third World Network
The Star [Malasia], 11 November 2009:
http://thestar.com.my/lifestyle/story.asp?file=/2009/11/10/lifefocus/5052983&sec=lifefocus

THE release and use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) remain controversial and there is still a debate going on regarding their risks and adverse impacts on health and the environment.

GMOs are regulated internationally and at the national level, as evidenced by the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, which has been ratified by 157 countries, including Malaysia. Other international standards such as those governing GM foods as set by the Codex Alimentarius Commission (the joint Food and Agriculture Organisation/World Health Organisation body), also reflect international concern over the risks of GMOs.

Contrary to widespread belief, the United States, which is the world's largest producer of GM crops, does not require any safety testing for GM foods. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) merely encourages the developers of GM foods to undergo a voluntary consultation process and to submit a summary of its assessment of the GM food. The FDA does not conduct a comprehensive review of data generated by the developer, despite the fact that it is highly unlikely that a GM food developer is going to highlight any adverse effects of its product. The FDA merely evaluates the submission, considers whether there are any unresolved issues and responds to the developer by letter; in effect stating that it has seen the assessment and does not disagree with the conclusions. (See www.fda.gov/Food/Biotechnology/default.htm)

While GM crops are regulated in the US by the relevant agencies, two recent court cases suggest that this is grossly insufficient. In September this year, a US federal judge ruled that the government had failed to adequately assess the environmental impacts of GM sugar beets before approving the crop for cultivation, and thus violated the National Environmental Policy Act. The decision echoes another ruling in 2007, involving GM alfalfa. In that case, the judge later ruled that farmers could no longer plant the GM alfalfa until the Department of Agriculture wrote the environmental impact statement; to date this has not been done and GM alfalfa, with rare exceptions, is not being grown.

GM crops have been in commercial use for 13 years, but so long as GM food is not labelled, as is the case in the US, it is impossible to monitor for any effects on health, as there is no way of knowing what people are eating and if any ill effect is caused by GM food. So, any claims of "no effect" are bogus.

Independent biosafety research is absolutely crucial. In May 2007, French researchers, led by Giles-Eric Seralini, published their reanalysis of Monsanto data and concluded that there were indications of liver/kidney toxicity in rats fed Bt corn MON863, saying that "with the present data it cannot be concluded that GM corn MON863 is a safe product". While this conclusion was rejected by some regulators, importantly, it was not invalidated.

Another review found that there are few studies designed to reveal health effects of GM food/feed, and that they demonstrate a very worrisome trend: studies conducted by industry find no problems, while studies by independent researchers often reveal effects that should have merited immediate follow-up. Such follow-up studies have not been performed, largely due to the lack of funds for independent research, and the reluctance of producers to provide GM materials for analysis.

Even where GM crops or food have been approved for commercial use, these decisions have not been unanimous. For example, in Europe, approvals of GMOs have been granted despite the objections of individual countries. In Europe, cultivation of GM crops is only of one corn event - MON810 - and France and Germany have recently banned its cultivation on environmental grounds, joining Austria, Hungary, Greece and Luxembourg.

Should any doubts linger about the safety of GMOs, the precautionary principle must apply. This means that when an activity raises threats of harm to the environment or human health, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. This approach underpins the Cartegena Protocol on Bisoafety and Malaysia's Biosafety Act 2007.

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Is Africa selling out its farmers?

Barry Malone & Ed Cropley
Reuters UK, 11 November 2009:
http://www.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idUSTRE5AB08Q20091112

BAKO, Ethiopia/JOHANNESBURG - For centuries, farmers like Berhanu Gudina have eked out a living in Ethiopia's central lowlands, tending tiny plots of maize, wheat or barley amid the vastness of the lush green plains.

Now, they find themselves working cheek by jowl with high-tech commercial farms stretching over thousands of hectares tilled by state-of-the-art tractors -- and owned and operated by foreigners.

With memories of Ethiopia's devastating 1984 famine still fresh in the minds of its leaders, the government has been enticing well-heeled foreigners to invest in the nation's underperforming agriculture sector. It is part of an economic development push they say will help the Horn of Africa nation ensure it has enough food for its 80 million people.

Many small Ethopian farmers do not share their leaders' enthusiasm for the policy, eyeing the outsiders with a suspicion that has crept across Africa as millions of hectares have been placed, with varying degrees of transparency, in foreign hands.

"Now we see Indians coming, Chinese coming. Before, we were just Ethiopian," 54-year-old Gudina said in Bako, a small farming town 280 km (170 miles) west of Addis Ababa. "What do they want here? The same as the British in Kenya? To steal everything? Our government is selling our country to the Asians so they can make money for themselves."

Xenophobia aside, a number of organizations -- including the foundation started by Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates -- argue that Africa should support its own farmers.

"Instead of African countries giving away their best lands, they should invest in their own farmers," said Akin Adesina, vice president of the Nairobi-based Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). "What's needed is a small-holder, farmer-based revolution. African land should not be up for garage sale."

Food for thought

Both sides of the debate agree on this much: a stark reality -- underlined by last year's food price crisis -- looms large over Ethiopia and beyond. The world is in danger of running out of food.

By 2050, when its population is likely to be more than 9 billion, up from 6 billion now, the world's food production needs to increase by 70 percent, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

In Africa, which for a variety of reasons was bypassed by the Green Revolution that transformed India and China in the 1960s and 1970s, the numbers are even more bleak. The continent's population is set to double from 1 billion now.

In all, the FAO says, feeding those extra mouths is going to take $83 billion in investment every year for the next four decades, increasing both the amount of cultivated land and how much it produces. The estimated investment for Africa alone is $11 billion a year.

For deeply impoverished Ethiopia, sub-Saharan Africa's second-most populous nation after Nigeria, even a fraction of those sums is unthinkable.

Yet with 111 million hectares -- nearly twice the area of Texas -- within its borders, the answer, in the government's eyes, is simple: Lease 'spare' land to wealthy outsiders to get them to grow the food. One unfortunate consequence of that thinking is Gudina and his little plot of maize are painted as part of the problem, rather than a potential solution.

"The small-scale farmers are not producing the quality they should, because they don't have the technology," said Esayas Kebede, head of the Agricultural Investment Agency, a body founded only in February but already talking about offering foreign farmers 3 million hectares in the next two years.

"There are 12 million households in Ethiopia. We can't afford to give new technology to all of them," he said, sitting in an office adorned with maps showing possible sites for commercial farms.

Indian agro-conglomerate Karuturi Global, whose involvement in Ethiopia so far has been exporting cut-flowers to Europe, has taken the hint, branching out into food production with a sprawling maize farm in Bako. Unlike with similar land deals elsewhere in Africa, the company insists crops will be exported only after demand is met in Ethiopia -- where 6.2 million people are said to be in need of emergency food aid because of poor seasonal rains.

"Our main aim is to feed the Ethiopian people," Karuturi's Ethiopia general manager, Hanumatha Rao, told Reuters, sitting under an awning at the Bako farm as hundreds of laborers harvested maize in the fields stretching up nearby hillsides. "Whatever we produce will go to the stomachs of the Ethiopian people before it goes to the international market."

Another African revolution

While many governments have been busy courting foreigners, in most cases from Asia or the Middle East, to increase Africa's food output, small farmers like Gudina are not totally without friends.

An initiative backed by the Melinda and Bill Gates and Rockefeller foundations is aiming to kick-start an African Green Revolution, carefully avoiding the pitfalls that had engulfed previous such attempts.

In particular, Africa boasts a dazzling array of soil types, climates and crops that have defied the one-size-fits-all solution of better seed, fertilizer and irrigation that worked in Asia half a century ago.

Its perennial tendency to corruption and official incompetence has also played its part in keeping average grain yields on the continent at just 1.2 tons per hectare, compared with 3.5 tons in Europe and 5.5 tons in the United States.

AGRA's Adesina says sub-Saharan governments are slowly realizing the importance of small farmers, who account for 70 percent of the region's population and 60 percent of its agricultural output. But he urges governments to make good on a pledge six years ago to raise farm spending to 10 percent of their national budgets.

For its part, AGRA is pouring money into research institutes from Burkina Faso in the west to Tanzania in the east to breed higher yielding and more drought- and pest-resistant strains of everything from maize and cassava to sorghum and sweet potato.

"We've been studying African agriculture for several decades and the message we keep getting back from farmers is: 'It's the seeds, stupid,'" said Joseph DeVries, director of AGRA's seed improvement division. "What you're planting is what you're harvesting."

As yet, the work -- carefully packaged as "Africans working for an African solution" -- involves only conventional breeding techniques, such as cross-pollination and hybridization, as genetically modified seeds remain prohibitively expensive for farmers subsisting on one or two dollars a day.

However, AGRA does not rule out a future role for GM food crops, a stance that has stoked fears it will inadvertently pave the way for U.S. seed companies into the continent beyond South Africa, the only country that allows widespread commercial use. It also accepts a need for chemical soil additives -- a source of concern to environmentalists -- although it stresses the importance of "judicious and efficient use of fertilizer and more intensive use of organic matter."

After 10 years of research, DeVries said, AGRA has developed, among other things, a cassava variety with double its previous yield and a hybrid sorghum strain that is producing 3 to 3.5 tons per hectare, compared with 1 ton before. It is also giving grants to rural shop-keepers to try to create seed distribution networks in countries that remain too small or inaccessible to attract interest from established commercial suppliers.

"There's huge demand for these new varieties, but there's just not nearly enough investment. It's logistics, and it's also capital," DeVries said.

Cash for crops

As ever in Africa, money -- or, rather, a lack of it -- is a major problem. According to AGRA's Adesina, only 1 percent of private capital on the continent is made available to farming, due to banks' concerns about loan collateral and a reluctance to deal with farmers who in many cases are barely literate.

However, the Green Revolution push has begun to attract some serious financial players.

With AGRA providing $10 million in loan guarantees, South Africa's Standard Bank, the continent's biggest bank, has earmarked $100 million over three years for small farmers in Ghana, Mozambique, Tanzania and Uganda. The pilot scheme suggests the bank is buying an argument slowly gaining traction: That Africa, a continent more renowned for war, famine and disasters, could and should evolve into the breadbasket of the world.

With less than 25 percent of Africa's potential arable land under cultivation, according to many estimates, and its current levels of yield at rock-bottom, it is a compelling, if distant, vision.

"The first step is improving the efficiency of small farmers in Africa," said Jacques Taylor, head of Standard Bank's agricultural banking arm in Johannesburg, seat of the gold on which most of South Africa's wealth has so far been based. "Can we get them to increase their yields from just over 1 ton to 3 tons to 5 tons? That's possible. It's not a dream. It's a reality."

Land-grabs and GM's Trojan horse?

Even though Standard Bank says it is keen to expand the funding, if all goes well, there is a very long way to go before such financing makes a dent in the $11 billion the FAO says has to be invested in Africa each year.

"Do we need more of this? For sure. $100 million is really a drop in the ocean when you look at the funding needs," Taylor said. "But we'd like to think this is a step in the right direction."

As such, it seems inevitable Africa will have to adopt a dual-track approach to its looming food crisis -- rolling out the red carpet for more Karuturis, but also making life easier for Berhanu Gudina and his colleagues in central Ethiopia.

While it is hard to fault the thinking behind either strategy, critics of both abound.

Across the continent, foreign deals have been condemned as "land-grabs" negotiated between barely accountable administrations and outside companies or governments who care little about poverty or development.

In one notable case, in Madagascar, a little-reported million-hectare deal with South Korean conglomerate Daewoo contributed heavily to a successful popular uprising in March against President Marc Ravalomanana.

Elsewhere, from Sudan and its numerous Gulf farmer-investors, to Republic of Congo and a group of white South African commercial farmers, to Ethiopia and its Indians, land has become a hot political potato.

The prevailing view outside governments is that the little guys are being forced to make way for the mega-deal.

"It cannot just descend on them from the sky. It has to be done in consultation with the people who occupy the land," Ethiopian opposition leader Bulcha Demeksa told Reuters. "But the government is not doing that. It is just going ahead and signing agreement after agreement with the foreigners."

Similarly, AGRA's detractors look to unintended consequences of India's Green Revolution -- particularly the environmental damage caused by widespread fertilizer use and drying up of water tables -- to argue Africa should look before it leaps.

Furthermore, says Mariam Myatt of the Johannesburg-based African Center for Biosafety, if India's experience is anything to go by, a Green Revolution would leave Africa's farmers as dependent on banks and seed and fertilizer companies as they are now on seasonal rains.

"The Green Revolution, under the guise of solving hunger in Africa, is nothing more than a push for a parasitic corporate-controlled chemical system of agriculture," she said.

With Bill Gates also pumping funding into biotech research at bodies such as the African Agriculture Technology Foundation, Myatt said, AGRA might end up as the unwitting Trojan horse that eases GM crops -- and Western corporate interests -- into Africa.

"It will go a long way toward laying the groundwork for the entry of private fertilizer and agrochemical companies and seed companies and, more particularly, GM seed companies."

For a graphic to go with this story see: here

http://graphics.thomsonreuters.com/119/GLB_FOOD1109.gif

(Writing by Ed Cropley; Editing by Jim Impoco and Walter Bagley)

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10 November 2009

Rice contamination suit gets underway in St. Louis

Southeast Missourian [USA], 6 November 2009:
http://www.semissourian.com/story/1585760.html

ST. LOUIS -- The first of several multi-jurisdictional civil trials that involve two Southeast Missouri rice farmers got underway Nov. 2 in St. Louis in the United States District Court, Eastern District of Missouri with Judge Catherine D. Perry presiding. Much of the first week of the trial was spent on jury selection.

The plaintiffs in the trial are Kenneth Bell Farms based in Bell City, Mo., and J.H. Hunter Farms based in Frisco, Mo.

Approximately 300 cases have been filed by rice farmers in five states involving Bayer CropScience of North Carolina. Bayer CropScience is owned by Bayer AG of Monheim, Germany. Farmers in those states allege that Bayer CropScience contaminated the U.S. rice supply with non-approved genetically modified strains of rice. There were 75 Southeast Missouri rice farmers initially involved.

Rice farmers who are part of the lawsuit allege that farmers incurred losses of over $1 billion due to the contamination.

In August 2006, Bayer CropScience found trace amounts of a genetically modified rice, LLRICE601, in commercial rice samples taken in the United States and Europe. The findings resulted in a several countries halting U.S. rice imports, and new testing regulations were instituted by numerous others.

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Leading European Food Safety Authority Staff Member Moves into Industry
• Scientific coordinator of GMO panel moves to Syngenta


Press Release
Test Biotech, 10 November 2009:
http://www.testbiotech.org/en/node/260

MUNICH / PARMA - A leading staff member of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has quit to work in industry. Suzy Renckens, scientific coordinator of the GMO panel, officially represented Syngenta in an expert hearing at EU level in 2008. She now holds a position there as Head of Biotech Regulatory Affairs for Europe, Africa and the Middle East. The Swiss company Syngenta is one of the world's leading producers of genetically engineered plants.

At the EFSA Mrs Renckens headed the GMO panel which has been responsible for developing guidance documents and the risk assessment of genetically engineered plants since the authority was established in 2002. She worked in that position until the end of 2007 and represented the EFSA in several meetings with industry. Previous to her position at the EFSA she worked in the same field for licensing authorities in Belgium. Her direct move from the EFSA to Syngenta might damage the reputation of the authority since it has already been criticised for being too close to the interests of industry.

"This move to industry poses a considerable problem for the EFSA," says Christoph Then, executive director of the German expert group Testbiotech. "It has become apparent that even staff members in leading positions are unable to distance themselves from industry. It also begs the question of why the EFSA does not make information on such unusual steps public. There is absolutely no transparency at all in the circumstances surrounding the direct move by Mrs Renckens from the EFSA to industry."

The EFSA declined to make any detailed comments on this case. After Testbiotech became aware of Renckens' move it filed a questionnaire directly to the EFSA. Emphasis was placed on the question of whether Syngenta might have made unjustifiably benefited by acquiring one of EFSA's leading staff members. The EFSA stated that it is unable to provide information related to individual staff members. According to EU staff regulations, all moves must be approved when EU employees take up a new position where there may be a possible conflict of interests with EU authorities.

Testbiotech believes that the circumstances of this move should be made transparent. EU regulations further state that a move without approval is possible only after two years. In Mrs Renckens' case the maximum period of time between her engagement with the EFSA and her position at Syngenta is one year.

More information:

Interview with Suzy Renckens:
http://www.efsa.europa.eu/EFSA/DocumentSet/comm_efsanews_02_en.pdf

Link Suzy Renckens at Syngenta:
http://www.europabio.org/JRC%20docs/13_Syngenta.pdf

Link FOE about EFSA:
http://www.foeeurope.org/press/2009/Jun30_EFSA_back_in_bed_with_GMO.html

Link EU Staff Regulations:
http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/personnel_administration/statut/tocen100.pdf

For further information please contact

Christoph Then, executive director, Tel +49 151 54 63 80 40 or

Andrea Reiche, press officer, Tel +49 (0)89 35 89 92 76

Testbiotech e.V. Institute for Impact Assessment of Biotechnology
Frohschammerstr. 14, 80807 Munich, Germany
info@biotech.org
http://www.testbiotech.org

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Monsanto Facing 'Distrust' as It Seeks to Stop DuPont

Jack Kaskey
Bloomberg, 10 November 2009:
http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601103&sid=aii_24MDZ8SU

Monsanto Co., reeling from its first market-share losses to DuPont Co. in a decade, may be losing the confidence of some investors based on early results from the new modified seeds it's counting on to beat competitors.

DuPont, the second-biggest seed maker, grabbed U.S. sales from Monsanto this year, showing its larger rival that farmers won't always pay for the most advanced seeds. Monsanto aims to regain market share with corn that contains eight genetic changes and the first update of its herbicide-resistant soybeans in 13 years.

Monsanto Chief Executive Officer Hugh Grant is counting on the new soy and corn varieties to add $1 billion to profit by 2012. A survey of growers early in the harvest now under way indicates the seeds aren't meeting yield expectations, contributing to an 11 percent decline in Monsanto's shares the week the results were circulated.

"The distrust that could be building in the market is very negative for Monsanto," Paul Baiocchi, a senior market strategist at Delta Global Advisors, which manages $1.5 billion, including Monsanto shares, said in a telephone interview from San Francisco.

The new soybeans, known as Roundup Ready 2 Yield, boosted yields 7.3 percent, St. Louis-based Monsanto said today in a presentation. That's at the low end of the company's prior forecasts for a 7 percent to 11 percent gain.

The new soybeans were planted on 1.5 million acres in their first year on the market and will be on as many as 10 million acres in 2010, a 2 million acre increase from previous plans, Monsanto said. They cost growers $74 an acre, 42 percent more than the earlier product.

Farmers' Expectations

About 20 farm managers and seed distributors in five states said in a report released Oct. 27 that yields from the new soybean seeds didn't meet their expectations, said Jon Gates, research director at OTR Global, the research firm that conducted the study.

"The initial performance here is not meeting the expectation in a pretty broad area," Gates said in a telephone interview.

Monsanto argues OTR's research is flawed because of the small sample size and because half of the soybean crop hasn't been harvested, Brett Begemann, Monsanto's executive vice president of seeds and traits, said in a telephone interview.

'Dust Settles'

"When all the dust settles and all the harvest is in, I think we are going to see ourselves right in that 7 to 11 percent range" in yield improvement, Begemann said.

Monsanto will give a full presentation on yields Dec. 8, he said.

Investors sent Monsanto's shares to their biggest weekly decline in almost a year in the last week of October, when Purchase, New York-based OTR began sharing its findings with clients.

Monsanto rose $1.97, or 2.8 percent, to $71.97 at 3 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading, and DuPont dropped 41 cents, or 1.2 percent, to $33.79. Monsanto dropped 0.5 percent this year through yesterday, while Wilmington, Delaware-based DuPont climbed 37 percent.

"Investors are now growing concerned about yield results for Monsanto's key Roundup Ready 2 Yield soybeans," Robert Koort, a Houston-based analyst at Goldman Sachs Group Inc., said in a Nov. 4 report. "Results from the field appear highly variable."

Price Increase

Monsanto last month lowered its price increase on triple- stack corn seed to 7 percent, after earlier saying prices would gain as much as 10 percent.

The new seeds are the heart of Monsanto's plan to grab at least 45 percent of the U.S. corn seed market by 2012, from 36 percent in 2008, and 34 percent of the soybean market, from 29 percent, Grant said in a May presentation.

Monsanto says SmartStax corn, which costs 17 percent more than the version it is replacing, will boost yields 5 percent to 10 percent. That's mostly because the Environmental Protection Agency ruled farmers can plant 95 percent of their acres with SmartStax, compared with 80 percent for earlier varieties.

Farmers won't be able to confirm yield claims until next year, when Monsanto plans to sell 4 million acres of SmartStax, developed with Dow Chemical Co., in what would be the industry's biggest product introduction. Monsanto plans to sell as much as 65 million acres of SmartStax a year later in the decade and 55 million acres of Roundup Ready 2 soybeans.

'Pretty Good'

"If crop prices remain fairly high and with Monsanto having two new products coming out, it should be a pretty good 2010," said Mark Demos, who helps manage $19.8 billion, including Monsanto shares, at Fifth Third Asset Management in Minneapolis.

Monsanto's forecasts that SmartStax will be such a hit are "very suspect" since customers haven't had an opportunity to try it, said Paul Schickler, president of DuPont's Pioneer seed unit.

DuPont gained 2 percentage points of U.S. corn seed sales this year, largely because it sells growers what they need, rather than the most advanced products, Schickler said in a telephone interview.

DuPont this year sold more double-stack seeds, which contain two gene modifications, than higher-priced triple stacks, while Monsanto sold almost eight times more triples than doubles.

DuPont still is awaiting EPA approval to sell AcreMax 1 corn seed with insect-resistant and conventional seeds in one bag so growers don't need to plant separate fields. Schickler said he expects approval in time for spring planting.

Even with a timely approval, AcreMax 1 won't be as popular as SmartStax, Ben Johnson of Morningstar Inc. said in a phone interview from Chicago.

"Given how compelling SmartStax is, Monsanto will be able to win some market-share momentum back," Johnson said

To contact the reporter on this story: Jack Kaskey in New York at jkaskey@bloomberg.net.

_______________________

9 November 2009

Chemistry of the Corn Belt is changing

GreenTech Pastures / Harry Fuller and Heather Clancy [USA], 9 November 2009:
http://blogs.zdnet.com/green/?p=8535

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) says there are less toxic pesticides in America's Corn Belt rivers. The study released today covers the decade ending 2006. http://pubs.usgs.gov/sir/2009/5132/

The USGS says, "Declines in concentrations of the agricultural herbicides cyanazine, alachlor and metolachlor show the effectiveness of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulatory actions as well as the influence of new pesticide products. In addition, declines from 2000 to 2006 in concentrations of the insecticide diazinon correspond to the EPA's national phase-out of nonagricultural uses."

"Scientists studied 11 herbicides and insecticides frequently detected in the Corn Belt region, which generally includes Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska and Ohio, as well as parts of adjoining states. This area has among the highest pesticide use in the nation - mostly herbicides used for weed control in corn and soybeans. As a result, these pesticides are widespread in the region's streams and rivers, largely resulting from runoff from cropland and urban areas.

"Elevated concentrations can affect aquatic organisms in streams as well as the quality of drinking water in some high-use areas where surface water is used for municipal supply. Four of the 11 pesticides evaluated for trends were among those most often found in previous USGS studies to occur at levels of potential concern for healthy aquatic life. Atrazine, the most frequently detected, is also regulated in drinking water."

"Only one pesticide - simazine, which is used for both agricultural and urban weed control - increased from 1996 to 2006. Concentrations of simazine in some streams increased more sharply than its trend in agricultural use, suggesting that non-agricultural uses of this herbicide, such as for controlling weeds in residential areas and along roadsides, increased during the study period."

"Glyphosate, an herbicide which has had rapidly increasing use on new genetically modified varieties of soybeans and corn, and which now is the most heavily used herbicide in the nation, was not measured until late in the study and thus had insufficient data for analysis of trends."

Monsanto markets glyphosate as Roundup. Roundup does not meet with universal acceptance with some researchers questioning its safety. http://www.environmentalhealthnews.org/ehs/news/roundup-weed-killer-is-toxic-to-human-cells.-study-intensifies-debate-over-inert-ingredients

The use of herbicides and pesticides is intensive in both the food industry and the biofuel industry that uses corn to make ethanol.

_______________________

The Hidden Cost Of Genetically Modified Foods

Press release
National Science Foundation [USA], 9 November 2009:
http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/WO0911/S00256.htm
Posted: 28 October 2009.

University Park, PA-Genetically modified squash plants that are resistant to a debilitating viral disease become more vulnerable to a fatal bacterial infection, according to biologists.

"Cultivated squash is susceptible to a variety of viral diseases and that is a major problem for farmers" said Andrew Stephenson, Penn State professor of biology. "Infected plants grow more slowly and their fruit becomes misshapen."

In the mid-1990s, the U.S. Department of Agriculture approved genetically modified squash, which are resistant to three of the most important viral diseases in cultivated squash. However, while disease-resistant crops have been a boon to commercial farmers, ecologists worry there might be certain hidden costs associated with the modified crops.

"There is concern in the ecological community that, when the transgenes that confer resistance to these viral diseases escape into wild populations, they will (change) those plants," said Stephenson, whose team's findings appeared Oct. 26 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "That could impact the biodiversity of plant communities where wild squash are native."

Stephenson and his colleagues James A. Winsor, professor of biology; Matthew J. Ferrari, research associate; and Miruna A. Sasu, doctoral student, all at Penn State; and Daolin Du, visiting professor, Jiangsu University, China, crossed the genetically modified squash into wild squash native to the southwestern United States and examined the resulting flower and fruit production.

Unlike a lab experiment, the researchers tried to mimic a real world setting during their three-year study.

The researchers then looked at the effects of the virus-resistant transgenes on prevalence of the three viral diseases, herbivory by cucumber beetles, as well as the occurrence of bacterial wilt disease that is spread by the cucumber beetles.

"When the cucumber beetles start to feed on infected plants they pick up the bacteria through their digestive system,"explained Sasu. "This feeding creates open wounds on the leaves and when the bugs' feces falls on these open wounds, the bacteria find their way into the plumbing of the plant."

The researchers discovered that as the viral infection swept the fields containing both genetically modified and wild crops, the damage from cucumber beetles is greater on the genetically modified plants. The modified plants are therefore more susceptible to the fatal bacterial wilt disease.

"Plants that do not have the virus-resistant transgene get the viral disease," explained Stephenson, whose team's work is funded by the National Science Foundation. "However, since cucumber beetles prefer to feed on healthy plants rather than viral infected plants, the beetles become increasingly concentrated on the healthy -- mostly transgenic -- plants."

During a viral epidemic, the transgene provides modified plants with a fitness advantage over the wild plants. But when both the bacterial and viral pathogens are present, the beetles tend to avoid the smaller viral infected plants and concentrate on the healthy transgenic plants. This exposes those plants to the bacterial wilt disease against which they have no defense.

"Wild and transgenic plants had the same amount of damage from beetles before viral diseases were prevalent in our fields,"said Stephenson. "Once the virus infected the wild plants, the transgenic plants had significantly greater damage from the beetles."

Results from the study show that over the course of three years, the prevalence of bacterial wilt disease was significantly greater on transgenic plants than on non-transgenic plants.

According to the researchers, their findings suggest that the fitness advantage enjoyed by virus-resistant plants comes at a price. Once the virus infects susceptible plants, cucumber beetles find the genetically modified plants a better source for food and mating.

"Our study has sought to uncover the ecological cost that might be associated with modified plants growing in the full community of organisms, including other insects and other diseases," said Ferrari. "We have shown that while genetic engineering has provided a solution to the problem of viral diseases, there are also these unintended consequences in terms of additional susceptibility to other diseases."

Content created by National Science Foundation http://www.nsf.gov

_______________________

GM contamination fears 'being ignored'

9 News [Australia], 9 November 2009:
http://currentaffairs.ninemsn.com.au/article.aspx?id=928761

Concerns that canola may become contaminated with the genetically modified (GM) variety are falling on deaf ears, a non-GM farmers group says.

The Network of Concerned Farmers says it's worried that non-GM canola being stored alongside GM varieties in silos in Victoria, NSW and Western Australia will be at risk of contamination.

Victorian non-GM grower Geoffrey Carracher said he was recently advised of a three-day delay in the delivery of non-GM canola to a silo run by his storage handler Graincorp while grain at the site was being tested for cross-contamination.

Mr Carracher, from Minimay, told AAP he has raised his concerns with Graincorp over reports of GM price penalties of $15 per tonne, the inability to meet contract provisions, liability for accidental contamination and legal recourse.

But the grain handler says his concerns should be forwarded to Monsanto or the Australian Oilseeds Federation, Mr Carracher said.

The Australian Oilseeds Federation says his concerns are a matter for the receival site or bulk handler, which in his case is Graincorp.

"If the site that we deliver to is condemned by some contamination, who picks up the bill for the difference in the price that the non-GM grower has delivered in good faith?" Mr Carracher said.

Contracts also run the risk of becoming null and void if they are contaminated, he said.

As a grower, Mr Carracher said he would stand to lose thousands of dollars if his contracts were axed due to his GM-free image being tarnished.

No one seems to want to answer the concerns of non-GM farmers, he said.

"Non-GM farmers producing 97 per cent of the canola in Australia this year could be condemned, contaminated by Monsanto's GM."

Mr Carracher said there was no contamination policy to deal with outbreaks of crops grown using GM technology.

"The federal government have to be responsible for allowing it to come this far down the track and still not protect farmers from contamination and the loss of income."

_______________________

Monsanto pulls GM corn amid serious food safety concerns
• Applicant's dossiers contained wide-ranging fraudulent research


Press Notice
GM-free Cymru [Wales, UK], 9 November 2009:
http://www.gmfreecymru.org/news/Press_Notice9Nov2009.htm

[You can download this press notice as a PDF]

For the first time, a GM multinational has pulled two GM corn varieties from the regulatory and assessment process at the eleventh hour (1), after planning for a future income of several billion dollars per year from global sales (2). Monsanto has abandoned its ambitious plans for a so-called "second generation GM crop" rather than accede to a request from European regulators for additional research and safety data (3).

Under conditions of great secrecy, Monsanto has informed EFSA that it no longer wishes to pursue its application for approval of GM maize LY038 and the stacked variety LY038 x MON810. Both of these varieties were designed to accelerate the growth rate of animals. Two letters were sent to EFSA from the Monsanto subsidiary company Renessen at the end of April this year confirming the withdrawal of its applications originally submitted in 2005 and 2006. The letters cite "decreased commercial value worldwide" and state that the high-lysene varieties "will no longer be a part of the Renessen business strategy in the near future." (4) There has been no announcement of these decisions on the Monsanto web site, and there are no mentions on EFSA or European Commission web sites either. In other words, there is a conspiracy of silence involving both the applicants and the regulators.

The two letters sent to EFSA in April requested the return of all dossier material (varietal characterization, experimental protocols, and test results) which was submitted with the applications for cultivation, animal feed and human food (4). EFSA acceded to this request, making it impossible for any future independent researchers to analyse the Monsanto / Renessen data. That in itself is profoundly disturbing.

Scientists who have followed these two applications are quite convinced that the "decisions to withdraw" have nothing to do with commercial considerations and everything to do with food safety. In other words, the varieties are too dangerous to be allowed onto the open market -- although they would certainly have been approved by EFSA and most other European regulatory authorities had it not been for the diligence of independent scientists in New Zealand who subjected the application dossiers to very close scrutiny (5). In the absence of such scrutiny in the United States, the varieties were approved in 2005 for cultivation, animal feed and human food use on the other side of the Atlantic (6). Consents for food and feed use were also given in Japan, Canada, the Philippines, and South Korea. In 2007 Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) approved LY038 for food and feed use in spite of strenuous objections from the Green Party and scientists at Canterbury University's Centre for Integrated Research in Biosafety (INBI) who warned that the new corn was not safe for humans when cooked (7). They also expressed concerns about unpredictable health effects, increased levels of toxins in high- lysene corn, and possible allergies and links to cancer.

It does not appear that the varieties have been grown or "commercialized" anywhere in the world (8), although test plantings probably occurred in the United States.

"Blatant scientific fraud by the applicants"

While INBI's detailed and devastating analysis of the applicant's supporting dossiers was dismissed out of hand by FSANZ, EFSA was forced to take it seriously because of concerns from a large number of European countries including Finland and Malta. The scientific bases of those concerns were highlighted by Jeffrey Smith in his book "Genetic Roulette" and by Prof Jack Heinemann in his book "Hope not Hype" (9). The Monsanto dossiers included rigged research and false assumptions in the reported experiments; a failure to offer any test results based on cooked or processed corn; a failure to test the whole GM plant in feeding trials; confusing and contradictory characterizations of the GM varieties and proteins; a fraudulent mixing of GM strains during trials; a pooling of crop data so as to mask undesirable effects in experiments; feeding trials too short to reveal true physiological changes in animal tissues; and the choice of an irrelevant, unrelated corn variety as the control group for comparison with the GM lines, with the clear intention of hiding potentially serious differences in composition or side effects on animals(10). The Codex guidelines for the testing of GM crops were thus comprehensively broken by Monsanto's subsidiary Renessen, and were not enforced by the regulators in the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand (11). All in all, this amounted to blatant scientific fraud by the applicants, and a cynical failure to enforce the rules, and to protect the public, by the regulators.

During the assessments of these two varieties in Europe, many countries used the INBI peer review of the applicant's dossiers to underpin their concerns, and these widely-expressed concerns forced EFSA to ask the applicants for additional studies and for a clarification of their experimental data (12). EFSA also asked -- for the first time -- for adherence to the Codex rules relating to GM and comparator studies. In the knowledge that their dossiers were now being subjected to an unprecedented level of scrutiny, Monsanto / Renessen simply decided that they would not cooperate in this process for fear of what might emerge. So they wrote to EFSA in April (4) to indicate that they were abandoning all plans for the cultivation and commercialization of the two GM crops.

"EFSA has been unfit for purpose"

Commenting for GM-Free Cymru, Dr Brian John said: "This is the first time, to our knowledge, that EFSA has sought to enforce the Codex rules relating to the use of isolines in the testing of GM crops, and the first time that it has expressed profound dissatisfaction about the content of an applicant's dossiers. It is also the first time that a GM multinational has withdrawn a GM product (or two products) at the eleventh hour. It was insane in the first place to seek to pass GM maize crops containing Bt toxins and "growth enhancers" straight into the human food chain (13). In addition, EFSA and the other regulators have been quite irresponsible in the past in assuming that "stacked" events, hybridized from two GM lines, are harmless if the applicant says so, and if the separate lines have been independently approved. That is simply bad science, since it fails to address the likelihood of synergistic effects and even accumulating toxins in the food chain (14).

"Nonetheless, we applaud the fact that EFSA has asked Monsanto some hard questions in this case, having in the past demonstrated, over and again, that its GMO Panel is simply unfit for purpose (15). This represents progress.

"We are quite convinced that Monsanto has been fully aware, from the beginning, that line LY038 and line LY038 x MON810 are both dangerous; and yet they persisted with their applications until the extent of their scientific fraud was exposed to the public. We should not be surprised by this. The corporation pushes dangerous products onto the food market all the time, and does whatever is necessary to hoodwink the regulators into the belief that all is well (16). We are convinced that Mansanto has other in-house studies which show that these varieties are unstable, unpredictable and harmful to health. Will we ever get to see these studies? No way!"

ENDS

Contact:

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

Notes:

(1) Based on information released under the Freedom of Information legislation. ›GM Free Cymru holds a folder containing all the key documents referred to in this Press Notice. ›GM crops have been "pulled" or withdrawn before -- for example the maize called Chardon LL -- but this is the first time this has happened specifically because of a request for new safety data from the regulators.

(2) ›http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/3020246/Europe-balks-at-GE-corn-in-NZ This article highlights the key role played, over several years, by Prof Jack Heinemann and his team at Canterbury University's Centre for Integrated Research in Biosafety (INBI) in revealing the shortcomings of the Monsanto applications.

(3) ›http://www.gmo-compass.org/eng/gmo/db/86.docu.html
http://www.gmo-compass.org/eng/gmo/db/85.docu.html
"Second generation" GM crops, including those with supposedly enhanced nutritional value, are likely to be non-uniform and unstable because they have complex introduced traits. If two or more GM lines are hybridized to introduce "stacked" GM traits, the potential dangers become even greater because of synergistic effects. In spite of this, regulators simply assume them to be safe if the parental lines themselves have been approved for cultivation or food or feed use. See: ›The Problem with Nutritionally Enhanced Plants, by David R. Schubert. Journal of Medicinal Food. December 2008, 11(4): 601-605.
http://www.liebertonline.com/doi/abs/10.1089/jmf.2008.0094
http://www.gmfreecymru.org/pivotal_papers/problem.htm
http://www.bioscienceresource.org/docs/BSR-2-BGERvol23.pdf
Transformation-induced Mutations in Transgenic Plants: Analysis and Biosafety Implications, by Allison K Wlson, Jonathan R Latham and Ricarda A Steinbrecher.›Bioscience Resource Project. The work of these independent scientists on so-called "genome scrambling" reveals how the genetic engineering of crops not only lacks precision but causes large scale genetic rearrangements of host DNA at transgene insertion sites, as well as large numbers of mutations scattered throughout the genome of each new transgenic plant. The significance of all this genetic damage is that the food safety of edible crops relies crucially on genetic stability. http://www.i-sis.org.uk/GE-maize.php

(4) ›These letters are available as PDFs on request.
Brussels, 30 April 2009, from Renessen Europe SPRL. Re: Application for authorisation of genetically modified LY038 maize submitted IIIlder. Regulation (EC) No 1829/2003 - Withdrawal of Application EFSA-GMO- NL-2006-31

Brussels, 30 April 2009, from Renessen Europe SPRL. Re: Application for authorisation of genetically modified LY038 x MON810 maize submitted IIIlder. Regulation (EC) No 1829/2003 - Withdrawal of Application EFSA-GMO-NL-2006-32

(5) ›Submissions to FSANZ from INBI relating to the dossier for LY038: Cretenet, M., Goven, J., Heinemann, J.A., Moore, B. and Rodriguez-Beltran, C. 2006. Submission on the DAR for Application A549 Food Derived from › High-Lysine Corm LY038: to permit the use in food of high-lysine corn.
http://www.inbi.canterbury.ac.nz

(6) ›Lucas, D. Petition for determination of nonregulated status for lysine maize LY038 -- USDA/APHIS 2004 http://www.aphis.usda.gov/brs/aphisdocs/04_22901p.pdf

Agbios database for LY038 and LY038 + MON810. ›Site currently designated as high risk.
http://www.biosafety-info.net/bioart.php?bid=358
High lysine corn (LY038) deregulated in the US, but safety still in doubt. Why Not Transgenic High Lysine Maize by Professor Joe Cummins, ISIS Report 23/11/05
http://www.i-sis.org.uk/highlysinemaize.php

(7) › http://www.greens.org.nz/press-releases/nz-must-withdraw-approval-ge-food

(8) ›http://www.biotradestatus.com/default.cfm

(9) ›Jeffrey Smith: "Genetic Roulette", pp 102-105 and Part 3, p 194
http://www.seedsofdeception.com/utility/showArticle/?objectID=892

Jack Heinemann: "Hope not Hype", see Chapter 4
https://sites.google.com/site/therightbiotechnology/

(10) ›Submission on Application A549 Food Derived From High Lysine Corn LY038: to permit the use in food of high lysine corn - Submitted to Food Standards Australia/New Zealand (FSANZ) by ›New Zealand Institute of Gene Ecology, January 22, 2005.

(11) ›Joint FAO/WHO Food Standards Programme. Codex Alimentarius Commission. Procedural Manual. 12th ed. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations : World Health Organization, 2001. Available online http://www.fao.org/DOCREP/005/Y2200E/y2200e00.htm. Access date 31 May 2006.

(12) ›Letter from EFSA to Monsanto / Renessen -- Ref: ›Ref. PB/AC/ mt (2009) 3826240 and the Member States' comments submitted during the three-month consultation period on this application.

(13) ›http://www.biosafety-info.net/bioart.php?bid=358

(14) ›SmartStax Approval Ignored Risks
http://www.gmwatch.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=...artstax-approval-ignored-risks
http://www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_18717.cfm
http://www.foeeurope.org/GMOs/Seeds.htm
Austrian Federal Department for Health: "A stacked organism has to be regarded as a new event, even if no new modifications have been introduced. The gene-cassette combination is new and only minor conclusions could be drawn from the assessment of the parental lines, since unexpected effects (e.g. synergistic effects of the newly introduced proteins) cannot automatically be excluded. Furthermore, it should not be neglected that two of the parental lines, GM maize MON89034 and GM maize MON88017 have not yet gained authorisation within the European Union."
http://www.gmwatch.org/latest-listing/1-news-items/11359-smartstax-in-europe

(15) ›http://www.gmfreecymru.org/open_letters/Open_letter10Dec2007.htm
Open letter,"EFSA is not fit for purpose", from GM-Free Cymru to Catherine Geslain-Laneelle, Executive Director, EFSA, Parma, Italy, 10th December 2007.

(16) ›http://www.gmfreecymru.org/pivotal_papers/quotes.html
More evidence of scientific malpractice in GM assessment process under wraps

Nature Biotechnology, Volume 27, Number 10, October 2009.
http://www.emilywaltz.com/Biotech_crop_research_restrictions_Oct_2009.pdf

The Genetic Engineering of Food and the Failure of Science - Part 2: Academic Capitalism and the Loss of Scientific Integrity by Don Lotter Int. Jrnl. of Soc. of Agr. & Food, Vol. 16, No.1, pp. 50-68
http://www.gmfreecymru.org/pivotal_papers/academic_capitalism.html

Exposed: Monsanto's fraudulent safety tests for GM soy.
http://www.gmfreecymru.org/pivotal_papers/exposed.htm

Abuse of the Scientific Method Seen in Monsanto Aspartame Research.
http://www.holisticmed.com/aspartame/abuse/

Criminal Investigation of Monsanto Corporation - Cover-up of Dioxin - Contamination in Products - Falsification of Dioxin Health Studies.
http://www.purefood.org/dioxcov.html

_______________________

Turkey allows GMOs' imports: opposition arises

Green Planet, 9 November 2009:
http://en.greenplanet.net/food/gmo/1100-turkey-allows-gmos-imports-opposition-arises.html

A recent legislation allowed genetically modified organisms to be imported to Turkey, thus raising controversy and scandalized reactions from several organizations and parties nationwide.

Following the publication of the new legislation about import, export, control and usage of GMOs to be uses as food in Turkey's Official Gazette, widespread opposition aroused from agricultural organizations, consumer associations and political opposition parties.

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, Turkish newspaper Today's Zaman reported.

However, opposition is fierce: Fatih Tasdögen, an executive board member of the Agricultural Engineers Association of the TMMOB, said while EU countries such as France, Germany, Austria, Poland and Hungary push for laws to ban the entry of GMOs, it was very difficult to understand why Turkey adopted such a regulation, which he said does not impose any restrictions on the import and use of these products.

As a person who participated in the talks on agriculture with the EU, Tasdögen warned that it will no longer be easy for Turkey to export food to Europe because more and more people there now prefer to consume natural and organic crops. He also noted that the EU never asked Turkey to adopt such a regulation -- either during entry talks or in any of the progress reports it has released so far.

There is virtually no market for GMOs in Europe as consumers and farmers have overwhelmingly rejected them. EU labeling and traceability regulations also give consumers better information to decide. Most of the 27 EU nations are opposed to GMOs because of risks to the environment and the type of cross-pollination, of which many Europeans have complained. ›

_______________________

8 November 2009

'There is paucity of data pertaining to GM food'

The Hindu [India], 8 November 2009:
http://www.hindu.com/2009/11/08/stories/2009110854670400.htm

MYSORE: A conference on "Genetic engineering, farming and food" held here on Saturday discussed the science behind genetically modified (GM) crops and examined their ramifications on food security, environment and genetic diversity.

The conference, organised by the Institution of Engineers in conjunction with Mysore Grahakara Parishat and the Deccan Development Society, Hyderabad, was held in the backdrop of the Government's move to introduce genetically modified brinjal in Indian market.

Delivering the keynote address, Michel Kimbert, Director, International Institute for Environment and Development, the United Kingdom, said bad science influenced by corporate power enabled genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to enter market. He cautioned against being carried away by the existence of regulatory frameworks to monitor GMOs and said they were not only inadequate but were conceived to expedite the introduction of GMOs under the influence of corporate power rather than protect the consumers. Dr. Kimbert, who was formerly the Principal Entomologist at the International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), warned that there were "huge unknowns" about the risks involved.

He said there was paucity of data pertaining to GM food, and pointed out that power was concentrated in a few companies which not only owned patents but also controlled the seeds. This would have a direct bearing on food security, he said.

Dr. Kimbert explained that farmers would be handicapped in the absence of seeds as they were patented, and this dependence on seeds would drive them further into penury while enriching the corporate houses. He said that GMOs had generally failed to deliver on what they promised. Studies consistently proved that GM crops failed or the yield was not significantly higher. Field trials had proved that GM crops could not coexist with non-GM crops, and transgenic contamination was unavoidable as wind carried the pollutants and deposited them elsewhere. Centres of genetic diversity for maize such as Mexico had witnessed 95 per cent of the sampled sites being contaminated, said Mr. Kimbert. Citing the Andhra Pradesh experience in cultivating bt cotton, he pointed out that it was largely a failure and had impact on soil ecology and fertility.

_______________________

Industry avoid the truth about GM segregation problems

Network of Concerned Farmers (NCF) [Australia], 8 November 2009:
http://www.non-gm-farmers.com

As farmers are commencing delivery of their canola, the agricultural industry is avoiding answering genuine questions from non-GM farmers who claim they need answering prior to delivery. According to the Network of Concerned Farmers (NCF), the grain industry is accepting GM contamination but refusing to outline the difficult conditions and consequences for non-GM farmers.

"This is a tragic and deplorable situation where no one will answer my questions." said Geoffrey Carracher, canola farmer from Minimay and NCF spokesperson.

"It is not going to be possible to sell as non-GM which shows how Governments and Grower Organisations have been bought by big businesses to profit by sabotaging Australia's rural industries and clean green image."

Victorian farmers were recently advised of a 3 day delay after delivery of non-GM canola while the storage and handler Graincorp determined if GM canola was detected in the combined non-GM canola silo. David Ginns of Graincorp was contacted with questions including reported GM price penalties up to $15/tonne, inability to meet contract provisions, compensation, further liability for accidental contamination and legal recourse.

"I also asked, what fines and what level of contamination is required before Monsanto deducts their end point royalty payment from my grain payments?" added Mr Carracher. "This appears to be up to Monsanto's discretion which leaves farmers wondering if we are signing a blank cheque to Monsanto on delivery."

David Ginns from Graincorp responded with, "If you have any questions relating to Roundup Ready canola, please address them to either Monsanto, the owner of the technology, or to the Australian Oilseeds Federation."

The NCF contacted Monsanto, Nufarm, the Australian Oilseeds Federation and more recently, Grain Trade Australia. The only response to date is from the Australian Oilseeds Federation who stated

"The questions you ask are really a matter between yourself and your receival site and/or bulk handler."

[NCF response] "But Graincorp is our receival site and bulk handler but they refuse to answer the questions."

"So we are left with the problem of all delivering our canola, not knowing if we have contamination or if we can fill our signed non-GM contracts, if we will lose our market or be paid less. We may even be fined or charged user fees for the contamination we could not avoid."

"Everyone is passing the buck as nobody wants to tell us the truth that non-GM farmers are faced with additional costs and liabilities that we have been previously told will not be a problem."

"It's just not good enough."

Media Contact:

Geoff Carracher (Pronounced "Karr - a - her") Minimay, Victoria Ph: 03 5386 6261

Further correspondence available and updated at www.non-gm-farmers.com media section

Or Julie Newman 0427 711644 for further information.

Questions asked:

I recently attended a Grain Corp meeting at Goroke where Grain Corp reps announced there would be a 3 day delay after delivery of NON GM canola to detect any GM contamination in the silo in the event of GM canola being delivered to the site. I have the following questions:

1. If the silo will be classed contaminated, will it effect the price we are paid for non-GM canola or for pre harvest contracted prices?

2. If it is not saleable as the non-GM canola that I delivered, how do I get paid my contract price?

3. As there is a $10-$ 15 price penalty for GM contaminated canola, how will we be compensated if we are unable to sell as non- GM canola. (Victorian Government, Grain Corp who received my uncontaminated grain and mixed it with contaminated grain, GRDC who designed the coexistence principles, the VFF who signed the coexistence principles, the GM patent owner or the farmer who delivered (either knowingly or unknowingly)

4. If contamination is found in my delivery, what are the consequences? Will I be fined? Will I be liable for contamination cleanup of the stack and price difference between non-GM and GM? What level of contamination is required before Monsanto deducts their end point royalty payment from my grain payments?

5. Do I as the innocent NON GM canola grower have to take legal action under Common Law to recover losses, if so who do I take action against?

Due to the seriousness of the situation, I wish to receive an authorised sample taken at the testing station from the same sample taken when I deliver my canola. I will retain this sample in case it is required for further action.

_______________________

GMO legislation spurs nationwide controversy

Fatma Dislizibak
Sunday's Zaman [Turkey], 8 November 2009:
http://www.sundayszaman.com/sunday/detaylar.do?load=detay&link=192314

ISTANBUL - The past week saw much criticism rain down on a recently adopted regulation related to the control of food and feed products containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs), with various nongovernmental organizations demanding the complete prohibition of these products on the grounds that they pose risks to public health, endanger Turkey's biological diversity and have the potential to make Turkey a dependent country.

The new regulation went into effect on Oct. 26 after it was published in the Official Gazette and 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 a void of legislation.

According to figures from the Turkish Union of Engineers and Architects' Chambers (TMMOB), Turkey imported 1.8 million tons of corn and 900,000 tons of soybean in 2003, while the amount of soybean imported in 2005 rose to 1.2 million tons.

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.

Holding a news conference on Wednesday, Agriculture Minister Mehdi Eker, the figure at the center of the criticism, dismissed allegations that the new regulation would open the way before the entry of GMOs to Turkey, explaining that the GMO trade will be supervised and that they will not escape supervision, as they had in the past, with this regulation. He also described the ongoing debates about the issues as aimed at misinforming the public.

The regulation does not restrict or ban the import or use of GMOs but only introduces some criteria for their import. It has shortcomings and runs counter to international standards about the use of genetically modified crops, said Victor Ananias, the head of the Bu?day (wheat) Association for Supporting Ecological Living.

Before marketing a product to the public, authorities should first inform the public about that product in detail and also find out the possible risks and hazards of that certain product, said Ananias, adding that only after doing this can the product be put on the market.

In the case of GMOs, he said, for the time being it is not completely possible to determine their hazard to human health and the environment and the potential damage their use will have on the next generations because they have not yet been properly tested. "A long time is needed to monitor their effects," he added.

An increasing number of scientists are warning that current gene-splicing techniques are crude, inexact and unpredictable -- and therefore inherently dangerous. They say the genetically modified seeds lead to resistance against antibiotics, heavy allergy, organ damage, disruption of blood and even infertility.

Regulation puts trade with EU at risk

Fatih Tasdögen, an executive board member of the Agricultural Engineers Association of the TMMOB, another fierce opponent of the controversial regulation, said while EU countries such as France, Germany, Austria, Poland and Hungary push for laws to ban the entry of GMOs, it was very difficult to understand why Turkey adopted such a regulation, which he said does not impose any restrictions on the import and use of these products.

As a person who participated in the talks on agriculture with the EU, Tasdögen warned that it will no longer be easy for Turkey to export food to Europe because more and more people there now prefer to consume natural and organic crops. He also noted that the EU never asked Turkey to adopt such a regulation -- either during entry talks or in any of the progress reports it has released so far.

There is virtually no market for GMOs in Europe as consumers and farmers have overwhelmingly rejected them. EU labeling and traceability regulations also give consumers better information to decide. Most of the 27 EU nations are opposed to GMOs because of risks to the environment and the type of cross-pollination, of which many Europeans have complained.

A new regulation on GMOs drew widespread condemnation from agricultural organizations, consumer associations and opposition parties, but Agriculture Minister Mehdi Eker says the measure is aimed more at imposing restrictions on GMO imports than clearing the way for these imports.

Anatolia is fertile, does not need GMOs

The reason why many demand a prohibition of GMOs in Turkey is because they say Turkey, as a mainly agricultural country, has the potential to feed its population with conventional crops and even export them to other countries.

Turkey, which enjoys a large biological diversity, has the potential to feed the nation through conventional food and should hence reject this technology, which was produced by the United States, Tasdögen noted.

Ananias agreed and said that if Turkey can manage its resources efficiently, there will be no need to import food from abroad, which might contain GMOs. He also warned that if Turkey chooses to import food and animal feed, it may end up being a country dependant on others to sustain its food industry.

Commercial concerns

Among the reasons for why many oppose GMOs is the argument that the production of GMOs requires advanced technology, meaning only large firms will be able to undertake GMO research and development, giving them complete control over the global food market.

In a statement released early this week, the Turkish Foundation for Reforestation, Protection of Natural Habitats and Combating Soil Erosion (TEMA) opposed the adoption of the GMO regulation, saying the cultivation of GMOs will soon be possible in Turkey, polluting Turkey's land, preventing farmers from saving seeds for the following year's farming and forcing them to buy seeds from multinational companies.

The regulation also forbids GMO-free producer companies to mention that on their products.

According to Tasdögen, this measure aims to protect GMOs from competing with GMO-free products.

Not everyone opposes GMOs

Not all have a problem with GMOs in Turkey, as some academics and analysts point out that the use of genetically modified crops may help the world overcome its looming hunger problem in the face of climate change and growing scarcity of land and water.

"Certain findings show that GMOs are harmful, but these findings contradict each other. Risks stemming from these foods for human and animal health should be thoroughly examined. If a conclusion is reached that they contain no risk, we should cultivate and use these foods," said Professor Sabahattin Özcan from Ankara University.

"Before treating these foods as if they are poisonous, should we not stop and think responsibly? Interestingly enough, those who create an uproar about the world's hunger problem are the ones who have the biggest problem with GMOs," wrote Bugün daily's Gülay GÖktürk in her Friday column.

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6 November 2009

GM grass trial aims to cut cows' gas

Eloise Gibson
New Zealand Herald, 6 November 2009:
http://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=10607618

A plan to grow paddocks of genetically modified grass created to cut the greenhouse gases produced by cows is in the pipeline at Crown-owned company AgResearch.

The proposal has already provoked criticism from anti-GM groups, who say outdoor trials could jeopardise New Zealand's reputation as a GM-free dairy exporter.

If successful, the grass could take a slice off New Zealand's methane and nitrous oxide emissions, which make up about half the country's emissions under internationally agreed standards.

AgResearch's applied biotechnologies manager, Jim Suttie, said an application would not be made to the Environmental Risk Management Authority until next year.

Enough grass would be needed in the test paddocks to feed "tens" of animals, but the location and size of the trial had not been decided.

When it was, iwi and others in the community would be consulted before the application was made.

Suttie said it was too early to say how much of a difference the grass could make to greenhouse gas emissions.

A trial mixing ordinary cut grass with lipids, or fat, found animals fed the mixture gained more weight from eating the same amount of food - reducing the number of animals needed to produce the same amount of milk or meat and potentially cutting emissions from each beast.

The goal of the trial would be to grow grass with double the lipid content of the best previously created.

GM-free campaigner Claire Bleakley said the trials would divert money from work being done using non-GM legumes and grasses to cut greenhouse gases and increase productivity in animals.

She said the Government should keep funding that research to give farmers the option of staying GM-free.

In May, Federated Farmers used the verbal image of New Zealand cows "grazing outdoors on GM-free grass" to rebut criticism by a British dairy company trying to persuade shoppers to boycott Fonterra's Anchor butter.

But exporters believe animal emissions from making milk and meat will also become an issue for shoppers.

Suttie said that although high-lipid grass had not been tested, it should cut emissions by growing each beast to productive size more quickly, and helping it digest food more efficiently.

Methane and nitrous oxide are both waste products produced by grazing animals.

If Erma approval was granted, Suttie said, the first test would be to graze animals on the GM grass and see if they would eat it. Researchers would then measure the emissions and growth of the animals.

This year, a GM vegetable trial by Crown company Plant and Food Research was axed after campaigners discovered plants supposed to have been destroyed had been left to flower.

Asked about concerns that the grass would escape, Dr Suttie said "quite a bit of thought" was needed to design proper controls.

"Of course it is going to be an issue and it is something that AgResearch takes very, very seriously."

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EU approach on GM criticised

Farm Business [UK], 6 November 2009:
http://www.farmbusiness.cc/news.asp?section=242&newsid=4874

The EU's testing process for establishing the safety of plants with genetically modified traits has been further criticised by a recently established group with concerns for the rigour of the EU's evaluation procedures.

The Institute for Independent Impact Assessment in Biotechnology, which says it seeks to mediate between anti and pro GM lobbies, has claimed that the EU's approval process fails to consider the impact on the health of animals fed a diet containing material with implanted traits. In particular it points to two varieties which have recently been approved for import in to the EU, though not grown here, from Monsanto and Syngenta."

The institute, also known as Testbiotech, has started a newsletter covering the European Food Safety Authority's approach to genetically modified plants.

"Risk assessment as performed by the EFSA has faced criticism from all sides," it said in a statement launching the newsletter. "Most recently two test reports were released that are likely to raise further controversial debates."

It criticized the recent approval of two new maize traits developed by Monsanto and Syngenta. Both maize plants are so-called stacked events, which in the genetically engineered plants means they contain several additional combined gene constructs. They have gene constructs which on the one hand produce insecticidal toxins (Bt-toxins) and on the other hand confer tolerance to herbicides.

The institute questioned the policy of EFSA's GMO panel that such plants have had enough testing if the single plants, from which they were crossbred, did not raise any safety concerns. It described this as "scientifically questionable."

"It ignores unexpected interactivities of the genetic constructs and their products," it said... "It disregards the fact that the risk assessment of the single plants before the cross-breeding had already given some good reasons for safety concerns."

"It is very likely that the EFSA's opinions will continue to cause many controversial discussions," the institute concluded.

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Concerns raised about EPA review of Monsanto corn product

Aberdeen News [Scotland, UK], 6 November 2009:
http://www.aberdeennews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20091106/FARMFORUM/911060307

NEW YORK CITY - The hurried review and approval this summer by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of Monsanto's SmartStax genetically modified corn has now been called into question by the late September federal court ruling against a genetically modified, herbicide-resistant strain of sugar beets, according to the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), a broad-based coalition of nearly 300 faith-based investors with over $100 billion in invested capital.

In March 2008, ICCR led a Web-based campaign targeting 63 leading U.S. restaurant, food, beverage and candy companies ? including such household names as McDonald's, Campbell Soup, Kellogg, Kraft Foods, Sara Lee, PepsiCo, Wendy's and Hershey's ? urging them to weigh in against the planting of genetically modified sugar beets. More than 54,200 emails were sent to companies by consumers participating in the ICCR campaign. The genetically modified sugarbeet crop would be used to make the sugar contained in thousands of the most widely consumed food products in the U.S.

On September 21, 2009, Federal Judge Jeffrey White ruled that the government illegally approved the "Roundup-Ready" genetically modified, herbicide-resistant strain of sugar beets without adequately considering the chance they will contaminate other beet crops, a federal judge in San Francisco has ruled.

ICCR Executive Director, Laura Berry said: "This is a major vindication for the investors and members of ICCR that have alerted companies for years that the regulatory oversight system for genetically engineered foods is weak and does not protect food companies from potential liabilities. We know that food companies rely almost exclusively on the oversight of USDA, EPA and FDA, regarding genetically modified organism (GMO) products."

A common misconception is that FDA "approval" is a safety assessment. The FDA, however, relies on safety data provided by the owner of the new genetically modified (GM) trait in it in "consultation" with the agency. The FDA's approval letter to the applicant makes clear that all risk arising from the GM product remains with the applicant.

ICCR Board Chair Margaret Weber said: "The recent ruling by Federal District Judge White that the US Department of Agriculture failed to do an adequate environmental assessment prior to approval of planting GMO-sugar beets, is a high profile reminder of the weaknesses in the approval process. It raises questions about the recent and inadequate approval by EPA of SmartStax without public notification of opportunity to comment. SmartStax is a complex genetically engineered corn with a total of 8 inserted genes."

SmartStax is jointly developed and marketed by Dow AgroSciences and Monsanto.

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Where is the science?

Sujatha Byravan
India Together, 6 Nov 2009:
http://www.indiatogether.org/2009/nov/agr-gmsci.htm

[Dr Sujatha Byravan writes on Science and Technology Policy. She is based in Chennai]

Genetically Modified (GM) crops are in the limelight again as the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) in India recently permitted commercial cultivation of Bt-brinjal. This brinjal contains the pesticide gene from Bacillus Thuringiensis and has been developed by Mahyco Monsanto Biotech, a joint-venture between Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company and the US seed colossus Monsanto. GEAC is supposedly India's highest regulatory body for genetically engineered plants, but its very name proclaims its charge - to give approval to genetically engineered substances, as opposed to being a disinterested regulatory body.

Given all the confusion regarding GM crops let us recapture a few lessons we have learnt and know for sure in the area of food security and agriculture. Biodiversity is critical to sustainable, healthy agricultural ecosystems; a farmer's ability to control agricultural productivity through ownership of seeds, access to markets and reasonably secure livelihoods is important; and to ensure food security, storage, distribution and purchasing power have to be part of the picture. For instance, India imported lentils recently to tide over its needs. Some agricultural experts suggest that improved storage methods would have made these imports unnecessary.

In essence, we need a systems approach to agriculture and food security instead of viewing them as requiring mere technical fixes. Thus while various technologies and innovations - such as better rural credit systems, improved methods to capture and store rainwater, and development of implements to enable women to work more easily in the fields - will remain crucial to agriculture, these developments must support the critical elements.

Science vs. anti-science?

What has been of particular interest in this and past debates on the subject is the way in which those who oppose GM crops are painted as being against science (see for instance, the editorial in The Hindu on 21 October, 2009 or Starved for Science by R Paarlberg). There is a blatant attempt by GM promoters to polarise the discussion and manufacture a science-vs.-antiscience debate. All those who oppose GM crops are neither anti-science nor luddites. Indeed, many scientists have been, and still are, critical of GM for a number of good reasons. Scientists and scientific academies, including the National Research Council of the US National Academy of Sciences, have expressed serious concerns regarding the scientific rigour of experiments and the impacts of GM crops, especially on biodiversity.

Those who support GM crops generally believe that science and technology can solve most problems, and see crops as requiring tinkering to improve agriculture. It is such short-term and piecemeal thinking that led to the excesses of the Green Revolution causing damage to soils, depletion of ground water and other harms to ecosystems. There are other supporters of GM who continue to believe that private production of goods and services is inherently superior to public ones, even as governments have been bailing out the private sector in the last year! And then there are those who have financial gains to make if the GM industry prospers.

Let me compare the GM debate with the other major scientific debate - global warming. While scientists who work on climate change and global warming rightly embrace the precautionary principle, many who work in the area of GM plant technologies abandon it altogether. A charitable explanation is that this may have to do with differing perceptions of risk in each case. Perhaps global warming is seen as a serious threat to the entire world, and GM crops may not be understood in the same way. Moreover, some benefits have been attributed to these crops by promoters, making it harder for people to reject them.

But while the naysayers of climate change have now been marginalised through more research and data, those who are concerned about GM crops have been silenced through smear campaigns launched against them. Some of the scientists, like Arpad Pusztai, who raised questions regarding the health effects of GM crops, have had their careers turned upside down. In order to learn about the tentacles and might of agribusiness, one must ask Ignacio Chapela from UC Berkeley about his gut-wrenching tenure battle, which followed his publication in Nature on the contamination of wild strains of Mexican maize by GM maize

The mere use of technology does not make an approach scientific, but this is a common fallacy even among scientists. Good science is characterised by transparency and falsifiability. These do not figure in GM. Instead, faith, the antithesis of science, features in a big way. There are few peer-reviewed journal articles on GM crops. When companies make claims about various positive contributions from their engineered crops, their statements cannot be verified or tested independently. Policymakers and even other scientists who work in the same area have to accept the results on faith.

Earlier this year, an anonymous public statement was signed and submitted to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by 26 leading scientists, entomologists who work with insects that infect corn. It stated that scientists are unable to conduct independent research on GM crops as patents prevent full access to research materials and the ability to grow and study these plants. As a consequence, the scientists state, the data that the Scientific Advisory Panel of the EPA has available to it is unduly limited. This means the claims of GM proponents cannot be verified independently or indeed be falsified.

There is general agreement among scientists and academics on the adverse effects on biodiversity as a result of cross-pollination from engineered to non-engineered crops. Still, field trials for GM crops in unmarked areas blow caution and engineered pollen to the winds in closely cultivated fields in India.

The potential damage to human health from GM crops has been shown quite clearly in a few animal systems, but perhaps needs further study. There is good peer-reviewed published evidence to show that Bt toxins are both immunogens (a substance that provokes an immune response) and immunoadjuvants (a substance that enhances immune response) for mammals. Moreover, studies have shown that Bt toxins bind to the mammalian small intestine and have effects on its proper functioning. The concerns raised by the use of viral promoters, which are hotspots for genetic recombination, the use of antibiotic resistance genes, and strong gene promoters (sequences that facilitate the transcription of a gene) to ensure that the foreign genes are expressed, have already been highlighted by many scientists.

The science behind genetic engineering of plants is itself outdated as it continues to view a gene as a single self-contained unit of DNA sequence that transfers information linearly to RNA (ribonucleic acid) and then to proteins. It has now become clear that this picture of gene expression is simplistic and incorrect. There is a complex array of interacting factors that influence gene expression. For instance, even sequences of DNA located at a distance from the gene in question can be involved in regulating it as can other cellular and environmental factors. Further, RNA and protein play a far more important role in gene expression than previously believed.

What this implies is that simply introducing a DNA sequence into a plant and expecting a complex trait to be successfully transferred is not justified. This explains why even after decades of experimentation with numerous traits, only a couple of characteristics (the pesticide gene and herbicide tolerance) have been transferred to plants and that too, many would argue, unsuccessfully.

By any means necessary

The truth is that agribusiness has been doing its best to gain control of food security for profit using many different tactics and it is supported from various quarters. While political coercion and economic pressure have been working to open some European markets to a few GM crops, the vast majority of the people and most of the countries in Europe remain doubtful about GM foods. In case of large-scale industrial farms (which receive generous subsidies from public coffers) in the US, GM crops seem to make farms easier to manage.

The conversion of farmers to using engineered crops in other parts of the world may work for a few seasons, but most of them find that pests grow resistant to the Bt gene compelling the application of more chemicals. This is reported to already be happening in the case of Bt cotton in India. The companies are beginning to respond to the problem by inserting more Bt and other pest-resistant genes.

The debate in GM plants is even more deeply suffused by vested interests than that on global warming. In addition to impeding research, companies also exert their influence on review and approval by way of revolving doors between agribusiness and regulators. Furthermore, outright threats came to light in the UK in 2003 when the government decided to hold panels to review GM foods. According to The Guardian "Dr Andrew Stirling, of Sussex University and a member of the Government's GM science review panel, was warned by a leading member of the scientific establishment his career would be ruined unless he stopped questioning the technology's safety. The pro-GM scientist tried to get Stirling removed from a research project by approaching its funders."

Another leading academic reported that he resigned from the science review after fearing that his funding might be withdrawn. "Professor Carlo Leifert, of the University of Newcastle, also felt it was improper that an employee of GM giant Monsanto had been allowed to draft a key chapter on the safety of GM foods for the science review." Individuals from biotechnology companies often occupy key decision-making positions in regulatory agencies. In India conflicts of interest and straightforward charges of corruption have been made in the appointment of GEAC members.

The battle lines are drawn, but not as visibly as they have been in the case of global warming. Developing countries such as India with its large population and huge potential for markets are very attractive to agribusiness. In India where the vast majority of the people still depend on agriculture for their livelihood, and where diverse ecoystems and crop varieties still thrive, control over food security needs to be a top priority that is not be handed over to anyone: corporations, governments or even civil society for that matter.

The state of Orissa has come out and taken a stand against GM crops. Orissa has over 100 varieties of local brinjal and those may be affected by GM contamination. India might be where the fight for control over food security between corporations and farmers now lies.

Although it seems important to demonstrate that the science and alleged benefits of GM crops are untrue we shouldn't have to invest a whole lot of money to show that GM crops don't cause harm. There is enough evidence to show that they do not increase yield consistently, that they are a serious threat to biodiversity, increase the use of chemicals over time and do not benefit consumers or small farm holdings.

Would we invest a lot of effort to counter claims by oil companies such as Exxon who have poured money into research to show that global warming is not taking place? We have enough work to do mitigating and adapting to climate change. Similarly, we need to focus on the challenge at hand - food security in an uncertain future. And we can do that without GM plants by using proven agricultural practices and other innovations that improve food security.

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FSA fails to alert public to banned GM ingredient

The Ecologist [UK], 6 November 2009:
http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_round_up/354009/fsa_fails_to_alert_public_to_banned_gm_ingredient.html

Campaign group finds traces of unauthorised GM linseed in loaf of Marks & Spencer bread and calls on Government food watchdog to issue public alert.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has defended itself after failing to alert consumers to the presence of unapproved genetically modified food in UK supermarkets.

Small amounts of GM linseed were found at the end of September this year in batches of unidentified produce from Canada.

The FSA alerted the food industry to the contamination and advised processors test any batches of linseed for genetically modified material to ensure produce was not affected.

However, the Agency decided against alerting the general public to the issue.

'As with any incident, we did a risk assessment and did not judge there to be a health risk to consumers,' said an FSA spokesperson.

'Consumption of small amounts of this GM linseed does not present a health risk. However, the product has not been licensed for sale as required under European law so should not be present in any foods.

'Where unauthorised GM material is found, the Agency works with importers and local authorities to identify where the affected product has been distributed and to remove it from sale,' said the FSA spokesperson.

Marks & Spencer

GM Freeze claim to have found traces of GM linseed in a loaf of bread they bought from a Marks & Spencer store after the FSA issued its industry alert. They had sent a sample to be analysed by Genetic ID's laboratory in Augsburg, Germany.

They criticised the FSA for failing to alert the public that they could be purchasing GM produce unauthorised for sale in Europe.

'Once again the body which is supposed to be the consumer's watchdog has failed when it comes to a GM contamination incident,' said GM Freeze campaigner Eve Mitchell.

'It's time Parliament stepped in to ensure UK food is safe. For all we know this GM contamination has been in our food for years without any safety testing'

Useful links

GM Freeze http://www.gmwatch.org/

Food Standards Agency (FSA) http://www.food.gov.uk/

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Illegal GM 'Triffid' seeds found in M&S bread

Sean Poulter
Daily Mail [UK], 6 November 2009:
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-1225754/Illegal-GM-Triffid-seeds-Marks-Spencer-bread.html

Illegal genetically modified 'Triffid' flax seed has been found in bread sold by Marks & Spencer.

Critics of GM farming say the discovery provides damning evidence that Britain's food watchdogs are failing to police the nation's food chain.

Flax seed oil, which is also known as linseed, is often used in health foods because it contains high levels of beneficial Omega-3 fatty acids. Concerns: 'Triffid' flax seed has been found in bread sold by Marks & Spencer

The problem of illegal GM flax seed and oil reaching Europe from contaminated crops in north America, specifically Canada, has been known about for several months.

However, Britain's Food Standards Agency (FSA) stands accused of refusing to order the necessary testing of imports to keep the GM contamination out.

Marks & Spencer has an exemplary record on making efforts to keep GM ingredients out of its food in line with demands from its customers.

The GM Freeze campaign, which found the GM flax, said the real problem lies with the FSA's failure to take GM contamination of the food supply seriously.

The food watchdog was criticised by a High Court judge for failing to make efforts to prevent illegal GM rice entering the UK from north America in 2006.

In this case, the FSA has refused to issue a 'Food Alert' to local authorities and retailers to advise them to test their supplies for illegal GM contamination.

Presence of the GM flax in the EU was first confirmed in early September. It has now been detected in products containing flax seeds in at least 36 countries around the world.

The contaminated bread was purchased by GM Freeze in October and analysed by Genetic ID (Europe) AG's laboratory in Augsburg, Germany.

Analysis was for a GM construct known to have been used in CDC Triffid Flax, which was grown on a commercial basis in small areas in Canada and the USA between 1998 and 2001.

It was subsequently deregulated and cannot be legally grown commercially or sold.

Oil from flax seeds (pictured) is often used in health food but flax that has been genetically modified is not allowed in the EU

There is no approval for GM flax of any type to be imported into the EU, and no applications for import have ever been made.

GM Freeze is a campaigning organisation representing a wide range of community groups such as the WI and green campaigners.

Spokesman, Eve Mitchell, said: 'We tested one loaf of bread and found this illegal GM when the FSA says there are 'no grounds' to issue a Food Alert.

'We were very surprised that it was from a company that has prided itself on its high level of traceability, but this illustrates the need for imports to be cleared before they leave ports.

'Most consumers will be shocked to learn that the FSA has let the contamination by GM flax continue for so long without issuing an official Food Alert to food companies warning them of the GM contamination and their legal responsibilities.

'It is astonishing that the FSA has not published the results of sampling if, indeed, any has been carried out by them.

'Once again the body which is supposed to be the consumer's watchdog has failed when it comes to a GM contamination incident.

'The UK's politicians need to start questioning why this is and take steps to ensure that the complacent attitudes are brought to an end.

'It's time Parliament stepped in to ensure UK food is safe. There is just no knowing if this contamination is unique to M&S or has found its way to all supermarkets. For all we know this GM contamination has been in our food for years without any safety testing.'

The M&S loaf with the GM flax contamination was its Super Seed Bread.

The Triffid flax has been genetically modified to withstand spraying by certain weedkillers.

It includes a gene that is resistant to the antibiotic kanomycin, which is used to treat infections in human medicine. There have been concerns that this gene could jump to bacteria that is harmful to humans, creating a so-called superbug.

The FSA said any products containing the illegal GM contamination should be removed from sale.

A spokesman said: 'The GM linseed was assessed and cleared for use by the Canadian authorities when it was first developed.

'Given this clearance and the low levels at which the GM linseed has been found to be present in Canadian exports, consumption of small amounts of this GM linseed does not present a health risk.

'Where unauthorised GM material is found, the Agency work with importers and local authorities to identify where the affected product has been distributed and to remove it from sale.'

M&S said: 'M&S has a strict non-GM policy and takes any allegations like this extremely seriously. We have immediately begun looking into this but can reassure customers that products currently on sale containing linseed aren't affected.

'GM Freeze only made us aware of their test earlier today and we started investigations into the allegations straightaway.'

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Comment by TraceConsult™

According to the Daily Mail, British retailer Marks & Spencer may have "an exemplary record" on limiting GM ingredients in their food products, but they certainly haven't invented the skill of avoiding brand damage. This latest case of illegal and not even marketable flax seed of Canadian origin showing up all over the EU could have been something to be resolved "by the book". That way it would have given M&S the chance to keep the entire issue completely dissociated from its brand, perhaps at the price of a few PCR tests for qualitative GMO analysis.

Not the Food Standards Agency is responsible for the company's main brand, but a group of policy and quality managers somewhere at company headquarters. It is probably safe to assume that these people follow media reports and this must have provided them with the information, as early as the end of August, that there was a significant GMO problem with the world's biggest flax producer, Canada.

Soon thereafter, authorities in the first EU country - Germany, in this case - discovered the illegal flax trait all over the country. Authorities in other EU Member States followed soon with the same results. Marks & Spencer were given several opportunities to react rigidly. That would have meant sampling one's private brand products, having them tested - and drawing conclusions.

With samples testing positive, the only conclusion would have been a recall of the respective products form M&S shelves. Now, that is happening, at last. But with added NGO and media involvement and probably a few sleepless nights for some retail officials.

Go back to college, M&S, the class you want to enroll in is Brand Damage Avoidance 101! And yet, the Mail and M&S do have a point in their criticism of FSA behavior over the past two months. According to an FSA spokesman, the agency "works with importers and local authorities" when "unauthorised GM material is found". "[W]here the affected product has been distributed" they "remove it from sale."

Notwithstanding Marks & Spencer's internal responsibilities, they have also been let down by the FSA. The agency's job is to provide protection for consumers and industry alike. After all, both pay their taxes regularly.

The question arises whether the extremely long reaction time of the FSA in this case demonstrates a particular attitude towards GMOs in the British Central Government that has trickled down to the FSA. Perhaps Marks & Spencer care to find out.

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GM Flax Contamination from Canada
Q&A for businesses and the media


GM Freeze [UK], November 2009:
Download as PDF: http://www.gmfreeze.org/uploads/FINAL_flax_Q&A.pdf

This briefing provides a summary of the current GM contamination incident of food crops involving GM flax based on the best available information at the time of writing. If significant new information becomes available, GM Freeze will provide updates as required.

What's Happening?

The world's supply of flax is contaminated with a GM event that has yet to be identified. The contamination was first detected into food products in Germany in mid September 2009. As of 19 October 2009 at least 36 countries[1] have found the contaminated flax, including the UK. Some 13 alerts have been issued by the EU Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF). Confirmation of the GM trait(s) and levels of contamination involved have not been made public.

What's Happened in the UK?

GM Freeze sent two samples for testing in Germany - one of whole flax seeds and one a loaf of bread from Marks and Spencer. The bread came back positive; it contains an unauthorised GM ingredient. Given the number of samples we had tested, it is clear one does not have to look very hard to find illegal GM in the UK food supply.

At the time of writing there has been no Food Alert issued by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to formally warn businesses of the extent of the problem or the risks, despite the FSA having initiated one of the EU alerts. So it is impossible to gauge the extent of contamination in the UK or elsewhere. The FSA insists that they only issue food alerts in "certain circumstances", and that unidentified, unauthorised GM material in the food chain provides "no grounds" for such an alert. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) says the FSA are "dealing with" the situation.[2]

GM Freeze believes that the UK authorities should have acted already. This situation repeats the poor performance by the FSA during previous incidents of GM contamination of the UK food supply, for example, the contamination of long grain rice in 2006/07 with the GM trait LL601. Until the nature and the source of the flax problem are confirmed, EU and UK authorities should be acting with utmost caution in line with the EU's precautionary approach and entirely sensible "zero tolerance" to substances unapproved as safe for human consumption entering the food chain.

What is the problem with flax in the EU?

No one knows, apart from the fact that an unidentified, unauthorised GM trait has been found. It is currently assumed that Canadian imports are responsible, but Canadian authorities are unable to locate the source of the contamination.

In early September traders signalled their fears that Canadian flax exports were contaminated with an unknown GM event.[3] By mid September a German food company discovered the GM contamination, and the flax was distributed via internal EU trans-shipments to several other EU countries.[4] Within weeks the contamination had been discovered in over 30 countries worldwide.

It has been also assumed that the GM trait involved is called CDC Triffid, a product deregistered in Canada in 2001 (ie, not approved for commercial cultivation) in order prevent flax exports from being contaminated. Stocks of the GM flax should have been destroyed at that time, so at present it is illegal to market the GM flax in Canada and in the EU.

However at the time of writing test results have not confirmed which GM crop is actually contaminating flax.

One report states:

"Extensive sampling of deliveries from Western Canada has so far failed to find where the contaminated flax is getting into the system. As well, it is not yet clear whether some farmers have purposely grown the variety or whether some of the original seed was somehow mixed in with seed that has been carried over from year to year."[5]

Thus the true nature of the problem is still unknown.

Are there any health risks?

No one knows, as the nature of the contamination has not been identified.

Possible health impacts include allergic reactions to the GM proteins or other altered proteins. Non GM-flax can cause allergenic reactions in rare cases6. Other health impacts could arise from the presence of novel chemicals arising from the disruption caused to the flax genome by the genetic engineering process and the presence of antibiotic resistance genes which could be transferred to harmful bacterium, adding to resistance problems in medicine and veterinary medicine.

Previous widespread GM contamination incidents have raised concerns about possible allergenic reactions. For instance, a GM insect resistant maize known as Starlink developed by Aventis, approved for animal feed but not human consumption in the US, caused widespread recalls of contaminated food products in 2001 in the USA amid much controversy that US Food and Drug Administration's safety assessment failed to account for increased allergenicity in children and only tested 18-20 people, among other potential dangers.7

What is the origin of the contamination and who is responsible? No one knows. It is important that the origins are discovered as quickly as possible so that the contamination can be stopped at source.

At present the most likely source is that the GM variety called Triffid contaminated seed during a short period of commercial cultivation between its authorisation and deregistration8 in the late 1990s and early 2000s in Canada.

Have any contaminated products been detected in the UK?

Yes. One of the RASFF alerts, initiated by the FSA, names the UK as an origin of the GM flax. Furthermore GM Freeze tested a loaf of Marks and Spencer bread, and those tests came back positive for an unauthorised GM event. UK food supplies are contaminated.

However, despite alerting EU authorities of the problem, the FSA has not issued a domestic food alert, so businesses have not been notified by the normal alert system that there is a problem, and the extent of the spread of the contamination is unknown.

The UK imported over 900 tons of linseed directly from Canada in 2008, and also imports linseed from other EU states (eg, The Netherlands, Belgium and Eire). The origins of these imports are not clear, as crops imported from outside the EU are often trans-shipped within the EU but recorded as imports from the EU country. The UK's total import of flax/linseed was 10,308 tonnes in 2008[9]. Flax is grown in the UK on a small area (approximately 4,000 ha[10]) to produce linseed. Very little flax is grown to produce fibre in the UK at present.[11] Seed imports in 2008 came from The Netherlands (14 tonnes12). At present the origin of the imported seed is not known, but until UK seed is tested contamination cannot be ruled out.

On 14 September GM Freeze asked Defra for assurances that seed stocks were being checked to ensure that any contamination was identified, isolated and destroyed. While waiting for five weeks for an answer, the Scottish Government provided the useful information that EU seed imports are neither monitored nor tested for GM presence.[13]

On 20 October 2009 Defra told GM Freeze that in the UK a program of "voluntary audits" of seed is conducted "to ensure that seed producers and importers are aware of the risks of adventitious GM presence in seeds and that they are managing those risks". The letter continued that the UK authorities "do not at this time consider there to be a generic problem with adventitious GM presence in linseed/flax seed". Defra says the GM Inspectorate has "issued notices" and will "follow up with phone calls" to "all known producers and importers of linseed/flax seed to make them aware of the potential risk and to advise them to discuss this with their suppliers and growers". Thus at present there is no monitoring of flax seed imported into the UK and no information on its origins. This is significant - contaminated seed guarantees a contaminated crop.

What is the legal position of companies importing, manufacturing or selling flax or flax products?

Retail or food manufacturers

It is illegal to sell foods contaminated with unauthorised GMOs in the EU regardless of what level of contamination is present in the food on sale. Under the EC Food and Feed Regulation (1829/2003), genetically modified foods have to pass through a strict risk assessment for food safety and environmental impact before they can be granted a consent to be marketed. In the UK, the maximum penalties for marketing unauthorized GMOs is a £5,000 fine or 6 months in prison (if convicted in a magistrates court), or 2 years in prison and an unspecified fine (if convicted in a crown court).[14]

What's happening to imports?

Imports of Canadian flax have been suspended pending the adoption of a testing protocol to determine the nature and extent of the contamination.

On 19 October representatives of the Canadian Government and DG Sanco presented a proposed flax testing protocol to the GM Food and Feed and Environmental Risk section of the EU's Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health. The protocol outlines a system of sampling, testing, and documenting to the presence of FP967 (CDC Triffid) in shipments of Canadian flaxseed to the European Union (EU).[15]

However, at the time of writing the actual test the Canadians are waiting to be developed had yet to be validated.

Furthermore, if Triffid is not the origin of the contamination, or not the only origin, this protocol will not be sufficient to prevent further contamination reaching EU markets.

What should we do as a company?

Companies such as retailers, wholesalers and restaurants/hotels have a duty under General Food Law and GMO legislation to sell only products that have been approved for marketing in the EU. In order to ensure they are not illegally handling contaminated products, companies should commission testing by an accredited laboratory. Any foods found to be contaminated, at any level, should be withdrawn, along with all products in that batch. By demonstrating that such action is being taken to prevent the illegal sale of contaminated flax, your company would be able to avoid enforcement or legal action.

What should be done with any contaminated products?

Any contaminated products would have to be withdrawn from sales and disposed of in an approved manner.

Who will pay if my products are contaminated?

Who will be liable for cleaning up flax supply chain is not clear. Logically those responsible for the contamination should be liable, but there is no legislation to require this. It would therefore appear complicated and costly to pursue and may not bring about a satisfactory conclusion. In previous contamination cases the exact cause was not clear, and this can further muddy legal waters.

In the case of the 2006 contamination of US long grain rice with LL601, Bayer CropScience is still being pursued in the courts by US rice farmers. In August 2009, some 1,500 US farmers filed a lawsuit against Bayer CropScience, claiming damages for the contamination of their crops with the unapproved experimental variety.

In the case of flax contamination it would be logical for businesses to lobby the Government to pursue compensation with the relevant authorities directly, and in the meantime request that the Government pays compensation to those affected. The argument for this is strengthened by the fact that the FSA has thus far failed to respond through official alert systems to the incident unnecessarily prolonging the exposure of the food industry to risk.

What can we do to prevent similar contamination in the future?

GM contamination is always a risk. This is one of the clearest arguments against the technology.

GM Freeze believes that in order to protect the businesses importing and selling food from countries growing GM crops that are not authorised in the EU, the UK Government and European Commission should start an ongoing programme of proactive monitoring of incoming cargoes from at risk crops and countries before they are unloaded. This will require the EU to obtain information and the necessary reference materials for GMOs being trialled or grown commercially around the world to enable testing to be accurate and reliable.

Unapproved GM products should not be re-exported for sale elsewhere but destroyed at the importer's expense.

GM Freeze has asked a series of questions of UK authorities about the current flax incident that would help clear it up and protect UK businesses, farmers and consumers in the future.

With regard to food, we have asked the FSA to issue a full Food Alert and to initiate all appropriate steps to find, contain and remove unauthorised GMOs from the market in the UK and to ensure they are properly destroyed.

What lessons can we learn from the contamination?

The EU authorities have again failed to spot contamination in imports before they were distributed. It apparently took a Germany[-based] food company conducting its own tests to find the problem, and it has been growing in magnitude ever since. If the GM involved in this episode is Triffid, then it is possible that global flax supplies have been contaminated for many years without any of the regulatory systems revealing it, further undermining public confidence in the agencies charged with keeping food safe.

If the FSA had prepared in advance and fully understood the market for flax products and seed, it would not have taken so very long to decide if testing is required, and action could have been taken by now to recall products potentially contaminated with this illegal GMO.

This episode also undermines that the assurances of UK, EU, US and other authorities that GM is a safe, contained and predictable technology, and that "coexistence" with non-GM crops is impossible.

GM Freeze are renewing our call for a Parliamentary committee to be set up to exercise oversight of the FSA to ensure it properly carries out its responsibilities to "provides advice and information to the public and Government on food safety from farm to fork, nutrition and diet. It also protects consumers through effective food enforcement and monitoring".[16] GM Freeze first made this call after the FSA's poor handling of the 2006 contamination of US rice imports prompted a Judicial Review, and a High Court Judge found the FSA's mistakes included:

failure to issue any Food Alerts to local authorities.

failure to notify the public of which batches of rice were contaminated.

failure to provide legal guidance to local authorities at the start of the incident.[17]

All of these mistakes are being repeated now, showing that the FSA's internal review of the rice incident has not improved either practice or procedures.

Notes

1 Canada: Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Czech Republic, Cyprus, Denmark, Egypt, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Mauritius. Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Romania, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, UK, USA. See https://webgate.ec.europa.eu/rasff-window/portal/index.cfm?event=notificationsList

2 Letters to GM Freeze and others from FSA and letter to GM Freeze from Defra dated 20 October.

3 Alberta Farmer, "Prairie flax bids fall over Europe's GMO concerns", 4 September 2009. See http://www.albertafarmexpress.ca/issues/ISArticle.asp?aid=1000340063&PC=FBC&issue=09042009

4 See GM Freeze press release, "Illegal GM contaminates flax - UK fails to respond", 14 September 2009.

5 Winnipeg Free Press, "Zero Tolerance Leaves Farmers in the Dust", 24 October 2009. See http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/business/zero-tolerance-leaves-farmers-in-the-dust-65891617.html.

6 Canadian Flax Council, undated. See http://www.flaxcouncil.ca/english/pdf/FlxPrmr_4ed_Chpt8.pdf

7 See http://www.consumersunion.org/pub/core_food_safety/002294.html and http://www.cropchoice.com/leadstryae5a.html?recid=350.

8 "Transgenic flax grown for several years in Canada has nevertheless contaminated probably the country's entire flax seed stock; that's why flax should never be used to produce transgenic industrial and pharmaceutical chemicals." Professor Joe Cummins. See http://www.i-sis.org.uk/theDayOfTheTriffids.php.

9 Source UK Trade Info see http://www.uktradeinfo.com/index.cfm?&hasFlashPlayer=true.

10 The John Nix Farm Management Pocket Book 40th Edition (2010), p12.

11 Ibid, p24.

12 Source UK Trade Info see http://www.uktradeinfo.com/index.cfm?&hasFlashPlayer=true.

13 Scottish Parliament written answers, 6 October: "EU seeds legislation requires that Member States should ensure that they are notified of the particulars of any seed (to be used for multiplication purposes as opposed to grain) weighing over 2kgs which is directly imported from Canada or any other third country. No such notifications have ever been received by Scottish Ministers regarding seed from Canada. This information is not, however, routinely compiled at EU level and the Scottish Government has no information on such notifications elsewhere in Europe." (Scottish Parliament written answer S3W-27785) (emphasis ours), and, "EU seeds legislation does not require the monitoring of seed imports for adventitious GM presence (AGMP)." (Scottish Parliament written answer S3W-27787)

14 http://www.food.gov.uk/multimedia/pdfs/gmguidance.pdf

15 Personal communication with Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN). See also http://www.portageonline.com/index.php?option=com_ezine&task=read&page=9&category=22&article=14268&Itemid=87.

16 See http://www.food.gov.uk/aboutus/how_we_work/

17 See http://www.gmfreeze.org/page.asp?ID=311&iType=1079

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First Genetically Modified Human Embryo Created

OneIndia.in, 6 November 2009:
http://living.oneindia.in/health/science-study/2008/genetically-modified-human-embryo-130508.html

London : Researchers at Cornell University in New York have made a breakthrough in genetics by creating the first genetically modified (GM) human embryo.

The GM embryo was produced to study how early cells and diseases develop, but the scientists destroyed it just after five days.

However, the breakthrough has brought with it major concerns. The British regulator, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), has even cautioned that such controversial experiments may lead to "large ethical and public interest issues".

The news has come days before MPs are scheduled to debate legislation enabling scientists to use similar techniques in the country.

Usually the genes added to embryos or reproductive cells, such as sperm, will affect all cells in the body and will be passed on to future generations.

This method has implications to be used for correcting genes, which cause diseases such as cystic fibrosis, haemophilia and even cancer. This means that any gene that has been identified could be added to embryos.

However, ethicists have cautioned against genetically modifying embryos as it may lead to the addition of genes for desirable traits such as height, intelligence and hair colour.

But, The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, scheduled to have its second reading this week, will possibly make it legal to create GM embryos in Britain. However, GM embryos are allowed to be created only for research and the bill will ban implantation in the womb. But the ethicists have claimed that the legislation could be relaxed in the future.

The HFEA has claimed that it is trying to prepare scientists to apply for licences to create GM embryos.

"The bill has taken away all inhibitions on genetically altering human embryos for research. The Science and Clinical Advances Group [of the HFEA] thought there were large ethical and public interest issues and that these should be referred for debate," Times Online quoted the paper, published by the authority, as stating.

Led by Nikica Zaninovic, the Cornell team, used a virus to add a gene, a green fluorescent protein, to an embryo left over from in vitro fertilisation.

However, Dr David King, director of Human Genetics Alert, warned: "This is the first step on the road that will lead to the nightmare of designer babies and a new eugenics. The HFEA is right to say that the creation and legalisation of GM embryos raises 'large ethical and public interest issues" but neglects to mention that these have not been debated at all."

He added: "I have been speaking to MPs all week and no one knows that the government is legalising GM embryos. The public has had enough of scientists sneaking these things through and then presenting us with a fait accompli."

The research was presented at a meeting of the American Society of Reproductive Medicine last year but details have emerged only after the HFEA highlighted the work in a review of the technology.

_______________________

AgResearch makes Application to Permit GM Animals

AgResearch press release
Business Scoop [New Zealand], 6 November 2009:
http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/BU0911/S00227.htm

AgResearch has submitted a limited application to ERMA for specific research using genetically modified goats, sheep and cattle in containment. This is necessary so that AgResearch can meet contractual requirements.

In 2008 AgResearch applied to ERMA for four new approvals to continue the transgenic livestock programme for a number of species and a range of activities, from pure scientific research, to maintaining transgenic animals in containment for the production of speciality milks or milk products (e.g. lactoferrin), and the production of biopharmaceutical proteins. These four applications are currently held up by legal action.

This new application is restricted to existing facilities at AgResearch Ltd's Ruakura campus in Hamilton and does not seek approval for commercial production.

_______________________

GM grass trial aims to cut cows' gas

Eloise Gibson / Brett Phibbs
The New Zealand Herald, 6 November 2009:
http://www.nzherald.co.nz/eloise-gibson/news/article.cfm?a_id=366&objectid=10607618&ref=rss

A plan to grow paddocks of genetically modified grass created to cut the greenhouse gases produced by cows is in the pipeline at Crown-owned company AgResearch.

The proposal has already provoked criticism from anti-GM groups, who say outdoor trials could jeopardise New Zealand's reputation as a GM-free dairy exporter.

If successful, the grass could take a slice off New Zealand's methane and nitrous oxide emissions, which make up about half the country's emissions under internationally agreed standards.

AgResearch's applied biotechnologies manager, Jim Suttie, said an application would not be made to the Environmental Risk Management Authority until next year.

Enough grass would be needed in the test paddocks to feed "tens" of animals, but the location and size of the trial had not been decided.

When it was, iwi and others in the community would be consulted before the application was made.

Suttie said it was too early to say how much of a difference the grass could make to greenhouse gas emissions.

A trial mixing ordinary cut grass with lipids, or fat, found animals fed the mixture gained more weight from eating the same amount of food - reducing the number of animals needed to produce the same amount of milk or meat and potentially cutting emissions from each beast.

The goal of the trial would be to grow grass with double the lipid content of the best previously created.

GM-free campaigner Claire Bleakley said the trials would divert money from work being done using non-GM legumes and grasses to cut greenhouse gases and increase productivity in animals.

She said the Government should keep funding that research to give farmers the option of staying GM-free.

In May, Federated Farmers used the verbal image of New Zealand cows "grazing outdoors on GM-free grass" to rebut criticism by a British dairy company trying to persuade shoppers to boycott Fonterra's Anchor butter.

But exporters believe animal emissions from making milk and meat will also become an issue for shoppers.

Suttie said that although high-lipid grass had not been tested, it should cut emissions by growing each beast to productive size more quickly, and helping it digest food more efficiently.

Methane and nitrous oxide are both waste products produced by grazing animals.

If Erma approval was granted, Suttie said, the first test would be to graze animals on the GM grass and see if they would eat it. Researchers would then measure the emissions and growth of the animals.

This year, a GM vegetable trial by Crown company Plant and Food Research was axed after campaigners discovered plants supposed to have been destroyed had been left to flower.

Asked about concerns that the grass would escape, Dr Suttie said "quite a bit of thought" was needed to design proper controls.

"Of course it is going to be an issue and it is something that AgResearch takes very, very seriously."

_______________________

Science and the corporate agenda
• The detrimental effects of commercial influence on science and technology


Scientists for Global Responsibility, September 2009:
http://sgr.org.uk/SciencePolicy/CorporateInfluence.html

Executive Summary
Further summarized by GMWatch


Links between science, technology and business are numerous... Both governments and business assert that this close relationship is generally positive for science and technology on the one hand and society on the other. However, there is growing evidence that this relationship brings with it a range of detrimental effects.

We investigate these effects in five industrial sectors: pharmaceuticals; tobacco; military/defence; oil and gas; and biotechnology.

Biotechnology is a complex area which raises numerous ethical issues. The biotechnology industry has expanded rapidly in recent years, with the support of major pharmaceutical, chemical and agricultural companies. This has led to a strong focus within agricultural and health R&D on gene-based technologies, including most controversially genetically modified (GM) crops. A close relationship has developed between the industry and academics in the sector, leading to much criticism. Although there is dispute over the scale of the problems in this sector related to commercial involvement, there remains significant evidence of detrimental effects.

There is clear evidence that large-scale, commercial involvement in university-based science, engineering and technology has impacts that can be very detrimental, such as the introduction of significant bias and the marginalisation of work with clear social and environmental benefits. These impacts occur at different levels, including during individual research studies, the agenda-setting process for R&D, and communication of findings to fellow professionals, policy-makers and the public. While academic examination of these impacts has so far been limited, there is nevertheless credible evidence of serious problems across all the five sectors examined in this study.

At the level of the individual research study, we found the following problems:

Direct commercial funding of a research study increases the likelihood that the results will be favourable to the funders. Evidence of this mainly came from academic research in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology sectors. One way in which this bias - known as sponsorship bias - happened in the cases under examination was that funders tended to choose scientists who were already sympathetic to their viewpoint.

Openness in research can be compromised through the use of commercial confidentiality agreements (including patents) and other intellectual property rights considerations. We found evidence for this in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology areas, but such problems may well be evident at the individual level across other areas in science and technology, which have not been scrutinised as yet.

Conflicts of interest of scientific researchers (for example, financial interests) have the potential to compromise the research process. There is limited monitoring or policing of the problem, so its true extent is unknown. We found evidence of this problem in the pharmaceutical, tobacco and biotechnology sectors.

At the level of setting the priorities and direction of R&D, we found the following problems:

Economic criteria are increasingly used by government to decide the overarching priorities for public funding of science and technology, in close consultation with business.

Universities are being internally reorganised so that they behave more like businesses, while key attributes of the academic ethos such as openness, objectivity and independence are being seriously eroded.

Companies have expanded the number and range of partnerships with universities, focusing on business research priorities and goals. The power and influence of some corporations, and the increased pressure on researchers to bring in funding from business, means that academic departments are increasingly orientating themselves to commercial needs rather than to broader public interest or curiosity-driven goals. This is a trend especially evident in biotechnology, pharmaceutical, oil and gas, and military partnerships.

The growing business influence on universities is resulting in a greater focus on intellectual property rights (including patents) in academic work. Hence knowledge is increasingly being 'commodified' for short-term economic benefit. This can undermine its application for wider public benefit, and produces a narrow approach to scientific curiosity.

A high degree of business interest in emerging technologies, such as synthetic biology and nanotechnology, leads to decisions about these powerful technologies being taken with little public consultation. This is of particular concern because of the major uncertainties regarding these technologies, including the possibility of detrimental health and environmental impacts which they may produce.

In terms of the scientific response to food security, the influence of the biotechnology industry can lead to unjustified focus on high technology approaches to increasing crop yields rather than investigating lower-cost agricultural options or addressing wider problems of food distribution or poverty.

At the level of communication with policy-makers and the public, we found the following problems:

If threatened by emerging scientific evidence about the health or environmental problems related to their industry, some of the larger companies are willing to fund major public relations campaigns aimed at strongly encouraging policy-makers and the public to support their interpretation of the scientific evidence (even if it is far from that endorsed by most scientists). Tactics uncovered here include funding lobby groups (sometimes covertly) to act on their behalf and presenting industry as being for 'sound science' and opponents as 'antiscience'. Evidence of these practices is especially strong in the tobacco and oil and gas sectors, with some evidence from the biotechnology sector too. Companies more willing/able to diversify from problematic product lines were found to be less likely to take this course of action.

Some companies can be selective in their reporting of academic findings of efficacy or safety of a newly launched product. This 'marketing bias' was found especially in data from the pharmaceutical and biotechnology sectors.

Main recommendations

Our recommendations specifically focus on reforms that are relevant across the science and technology sector in the UK. They are:

1.

Universities should adopt minimum ethical standards for the companies with which they have partnerships. These standards should include social and environmental criteria, as well as academic criteria and should be overseen by a special committee.

2.

Universities should openly publish comprehensive data on the nature of their business partnerships.

3.

A new independent organisation should be set up to disburse a significant fraction of business funding for scientific research. The aim would be to fund research which has particular public interest (and includes those areas being neglected by mainstream funding sources). The steering committee of the organisation would include representatives from a range of stakeholders.

4.

Business and civil society organisations should undertake more joint work on public interest scientific projects. This could be facilitated by the Research Councils.

5.

All academic journals should develop and implement rigorous processes for dealing with potential conflicts of interest, including suitable sanctions for non-compliance.

6.

An open register of interests should be set up for academics, particularly those working in controversial areas of science and technology.

7.

Advocacy groups on all sides of debates in science and technology (including professional institutions) should publicly disclose funding sources, to allow the public to decide potential sources of bias.

8.

University ethical policies on partnerships with business should cover openness and accuracy related to any involvement in science communication activities.

9.

More academic research needs to be conducted into the potentially detrimental effects of the commercialisation of science and technology, especially within universities.

10.

The newly formed Department of Business, Innovation and Skills - which has responsibility for both universities and science - should be broken up. Public interest science and the universities should be given greater prominence in the government hierarchy.

11.

The House of Commons Committee on Science and Technology should investigate the current emphasis on commercialization within science policy, and whether a balance is being achieved between business and the wider public interest.

12.

Public involvement in the governance of science and technology should be expanded in a number of ways, drawing on recent experience of policies and activities in this area.

13.

Research Councils and other major public funders of scientific research and teaching should have more balanced representations on their boards and committees between business on the one hand and civil society on the other.

14.

Steps should be taken to ensure that a balance is struck between the commercialisation of emerging technologies and wider social and environmental impacts. This could include: the setting up of a Commission on Emerging Technologies and Society; the allocation of adequate levels of funding to examine the broad impact of such emerging technologies and make recommendations on their management; and the wider implementation of ethical codes of conduct for researchers.

15.

The Sustainable Development Commission should have its remit broadened specifically to cover the role of science and technology in contributing to sustainable development.

16.

There needs to be a thorough review of the role of the university in society and the economy - perhaps in the form of a Royal Commission. This needs to include issues ranging from the degree of involvement of business and civil society to patenting policy.

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Farming 'must get back to small-scale family production'

Andrew Arbuckle
The Scotsman, 6 November 2009:
http://thescotsman.scotsman.com/business/Farming-39must-get-back-to.5800909.jp

THE SAOS conference, which brings together representatives from all the Scottish farm co-operatives, usually focuses on the latest technology and progress.

However, yesterday a professor from the USA set the delegates back on their heels by suggesting their style of farming was finished and what was needed was a return to "pre- industrial production".

By this, John Ikerd, from the University of Missouri, wanted a fundamental change going back to small-scale organic farming where the main driver was solar power, which he described as "the original power source" for agriculture. He wanted to see a return to small-scale family farming which he said had been squeezed out of existence by big businesses in recent times.

He described the present position in the United States where food was produced on the backs of cheap labour living in poor accommodation as being unsustainable in the long term. "We are not meeting the full costs of food production. We are exploiting and extracting food and using up valuable resources," he told one hundred delegates at the meeting in Peebles.

He based his views on the pure economic theory where inputs were greater than outputs, thus by the burning of non-renewable sources of power we were on a road to nowhere. He wanted future systems of farming to look beyond the immediate profitability of their farm and consider the wider social and economic implications.

Among those listening to this radical point of view was James Withers, chief executive of NFU Scotland, who said that he believed that Scotland was moving towards sustainability but this would not happen from extreme statements but rather in a series of small steps. This was how he saw this country working towards, climate change targets; gradual progression rather than massive revolution.

Ikerd was also pinned back by another speaker, Steve Ellwood, the head of agriculture at Smith & Wiliamson, who queried where the widespread production of genetically modified food lay in this rural utopia.

The response was not that genetically modified crops were bad, although their introduction had led to uncertainties, but that their control by multi-national companies who held the patent rights was wrong.

In his own address, Ellwood predicted the price of food would continue to remain at a high level for the next five years. The affordability of food has been a reducing percentage in consumers' expenditure for the past 50 years but rising food costs in the past two years has seen an upward swing.

Ellwood believed the steady increase in demand for wheat on the world market meant only two things - that there would be greater volatility in the market and that the price of food would remain strong.

_______________________

5 November 2009

Europe balks at GE corn in NZ

Paul Gorman, The Press
Stuff.co.nz [New Zealand], 5 November 2009:
http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/3020246/Europe-balks-at-GE-corn-in-NZ

A genetically engineered (GE) corn authorised as safe for New Zealanders to eat has been withdrawn from commercial development in Europe because of safety concerns there.

Monsanto's high-lysine LY038 corn - intended as feed for animals - was approved as safe for human consumption in New Zealand in December 2007 after a six-month government delay.

The application to have the high-lysine corn approved for use in Europe has now been withdrawn after the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) asked for further evidence of its safety.

In a letter to the EFSA, Monsanto subsidiary Renessen Europe says "conducting further studies ... can no longer be justified, view of the additional costs involved and the reduced commercial interest in this product".

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) maintains there is no safety issue with the corn and that it was withdrawn from Europe purely for commercial reasons.

Monsanto spokesman Jonathan Ramsay said "changes in the overall corn market" were among factors resulting "in a shift of the overall value to customers of this product at this time".

Leading Christchurch gene scientist Professor Jack Heinemann believes it was a tactical, rather than purely commercial, withdrawal and wants to know why FSANZ still considers it would be safe for Kiwis to eat.

Heinemann, the director of INBI, said when the corn was cooked, the high level of lysine could combine with sugars to form chemicals strongly implicated in a number of diseases.

"Personally, I don't believe the withdrawal of LY038 was for economic reasons," he said.

"Monsanto estimated the street value of LY038 was going to be US$1 billion a year.

"Do we really believe that a market of US$1b a year is too small for Monsanto? I don't.

"The European Food Safety Authority requested more safety data from Monsanto.

"From comments released to me, it appears that Finland, for example, was not satisfied with either the number or the quality animal-feeding studies."

Heinemann said Malta voted to reject the corn on the basis of the INBI submission - "the same science that FSANZ attempte to bury down here".

Heinemann, who is also a biosafety specialist on the United Nations' ad hoc technical experts group, believed the GE corn would be withdrawn globally because of the high likelihood it would become mixed with other corn and end up in the human fo chain in Europe.

"I believe the European member states were dissatified with the same level of scientific assurance that FSANZ was complete satisfied with," he said.

"To me, that means the European regulators are far more concerned about the health of their people than the Australian-New Zealand regulator."

FSANZ spokeswoman Lydia Buchtmann said Monsanto's decision on the corn was made for commercial reasons.

"It has been approved as safe by food regulators around the world, including FSANZ," she said.

Asked if that meant European standards were higher than ours, she said: "Our standards have been independently assessed recently and are said to be some of the best in the world."

---

Comment from GM-free Ireland:

Prof. Heinemann points out that is the first case where Monsanto (or any other agri-biotech giant) has withdrawn a GMO application for food safety reasons (even though they claim its a commercial issue), with an estimated loss of US$1 billion a year + its R&D investment.

A large (perhaps unprecedented) number of EU Member States objected to this application because of Monsanto's indadequate risk assessment. After EFSA requested the company to provide more health safety data, Monsanto pulled out - and also withdrew its application for its related MON810 x LY038 hybrid GM maize. A significant precedent!

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Greens fear NZ 'a soft touch' on GM

Paul Gorman
The Press [New Zealand], 5 November 2009:
http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/news/3024119/Greens-fear-NZ-a-soft-to...

The Green Party fears New Zealand is a "soft touch" for developers of genetically modified (GM) foods after European concerns about GM corn safety.

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) yesterday refused to withdraw approval for Monsanto's high-lysine LY038 corn. The corn, which has been in development as feed for animals, was approved for human consumption in New Zealand in December 200 Monsanto has withdrawn an application for its approval in Europe after several nations questioned its safety and testing.

However, the international seed company says the retraction is purely commercial.

Green Party food safety spokeswoman Sue Kedgley demanded FSANZ immediately withdraw approval for the corn as being safe for New Zealanders to eat if it got into the food supply.

"While our regulators put corporate interests ahead of food safety, Europe put the health and safety of consumers ahead of Monsanto's lobbying.

"It's time our regulators took a safety-first, precautionary approach to assessing new foods, especially when assessing new, genetically engineered foods."

FSANZ spokeswoman Lydia Buchtmann said there would be no change. "We won't withdraw approval, as there are no safety concerns. "We understand that Monsanto withdrew its European application because of commercial concerns that this product wasn't going to be grown commercially."

Kedgley told The Press the denial was "astonishing".

"Recognised scientists and experts in both New Zealand and Europe have pointed out that there are serious food safety concerns.

"Serious food safety regulators in Europe have refused to approve the corn and called for more safety testing as a result. "Yet still FSANZ says there are none."

The issue raised "huge questions about why we approve things way before they are on the market".

"I'm wondering whether New Zealand and Australia have become a rubber-stamping process for companies like Monsanto to get easy approval.

"Do we constitute a soft touch?"

Once they had approval here, it gave the company a track record in its efforts to get approval elsewhere, she said.

"It is deplorable that our food safety regulators approved a food as safe when they hadn't conducted a full set of tests or tested the corn when it was cooked and processed. Instead of ignoring the food safety risks, the European Union has acknowledged them, and is demanding further safety testing."

Maltese authorities said the corn could not be assumed to be safe, while the Directorate for Nature Management in Norway said there was not enough evidence to say it would be of any benefit.

The Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety in Germany said Monsanto's information was insufficient to "establish foo and feed safety of the genetically modified plant and derived products".

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NGOs Review Gate's Initiative for Africa

Stan Okenwa
Daily Champion / All Africa Global Media via COMTEX:
http://www.individual.com/story.php?story=109668057

A coalition of leading environmental pressure groups in Nigeria who met recently in Abuja to study the development initiative of US billionaire Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), land grabs and non-ecological agriculture have recommended that Africa should not be a dumping ground for unverified technologies such as genetically modified crops.

Participants drawn from around the continent rose in unison to declare the need to build knowledge and resistance to land grabs on the continent and other non-ecological agriculture that threaten African agriculture and food sovereignty.

In his presentation, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) Executive Director, Mr. Nnimmo Bassey argued that AGRA, GMO and the agrofuels initiatives promoted by big agribusinesses only aim to erode Africa's traditional systems of farming and contamination of indigenous seeds in favour of engineered varieties.

In a communique the group noted that the convergence of all the agricultural initiatives of the biotechnology industry and their allies in the donor-driven research institutions towards Africa is targeted at re-colonizing the continent and entrenching hunger by undermining its food sovereignty.

Participants observed that enormous tracts of land on the African continent have been taken over by trans-nationals for agribusinesses, governments and individuals interested only in profits and not in the interest of smallholders' livelihoods.

Other key issues raised during the four-day summit include the fact that agricultural systems proposed by most donor/transnational agencies and implemented by African governments have so far proven to be unsustainable and not pro-farmers. In the same way, discretionary powers on land vested on national governments in Africa have facilitated expropriation of community lands and retarded the growth of agriculture

The communique in parts noted that "a new form of colonialism driven by agribusinesses has been unleashed on the African continent that threatens livelihoods, ecological balance and portends new forms of resource conflicts on the continent.

"There is low public awareness on AGRA/GMO/Agrofuels and other initiatives promoted by the global North. Although AGRA claims they seek to support smallholder farmers, their supporters are incessantly pushing for the deployment of genetically modified crops into Africa.

"GMOs have failed to produce promised results such as higher yields, producing more nutritious crops and reduction of chemical inputs, including herbicides

"Up to 80 per cent of GMOs currently produced in the world are destined for animal feeds, not to fight hunger and malnutrition. Also the use of GMOs implies the use of a lot of agrochemicals which contaminate our food, lands, water and peoples.

Also observed by the environmental groups was that African governments have failed to sufficiently fund farmers and indigenous solutions to boost farm yields. Instead, they hobnob with neo-liberal research institutions that promote alien solutions to traditional African problems

"Agrofuel are false solution to climate change and are neither climate- friendly nor are they replacement for fossil fuels.

"Women are marginalized on issues of land rights in virtually all parts of Africa and have been left out in key policy formulation and decision- making

Ahead efforts to redress the some of the identified anomalies, the environmental groups recommended among other things that there is urgent need for public debate/awareness on GMO/Agrofuels and AGRA; Governments in Africa must initiate, implement and sustain policies that guarantee the protection of small scale farmers and provide them subsidies and needed inputs to ensure increased food production and general food sovereignty; African governments must adequately fund local research to boost agricultural yields.

They must also shun all donor-driven funds that will not support indigenous solutions to hunger in Africa; The capacity of local scientists must be built to strengthen home-grown approaches to agriculture that is suitable for the environment and economy; and that the capacity of communities, journalists and food advocacy groups must be strengthened to enable them adequately play their roles as watchdog in the society. The media must be allowed unfettered access to information through initiation of laws that will guarantee freedom of information.

Other recommendation include that there must be transparency in government dealings on biotechnology industry with citizens; Laws on land policy on the continent must be reviewed to eliminate all forms of diplomatic immunity or unnecessary privilege conferred on investors in community lands; Adoption of eco-friendly solutions that have proven far cheaper than so-called GM solutions that have only impoverished farmers and robbed them of livelihoods as verified cases in parts of Africa have shown

The groups also demanded that African governments take adequate steps to protect local farmers and the entirety of Africans from unhelpful schemes that have created hunger and food shortages on the continent. Over 27 environmental pressure groups singed the communique at the end of the summit.

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Genetic Engineering For Sure Leads To Unpredictable Results

Devinder Sharma blog
Counter Currents, 5 November 2009:
http://www.countercurrents.org/sharma051109.htm

The Nature Institute in New York has put together a shocking list of the nontarget effects of genetic manipulation. And as Craig Holdrege, the project director, says in his introductory remarks: Much of the public debate concerning genetically modified organisms, their widespread use in animal and human food, and their impact upon the environment could be raised to an entirely new and more productive level if certain undisputed facts were more widely known.

Putting the matter plainly: when foreign genes are introduced into an organism, creating a transgenic organism (commonly called a genetically modified or genetically engineered organism), the results for the organism and its environment are almost always unpredictable. The intended result may or may not be achieved in any given case, but the one almost sure thing is that unintended results - nontarget effects - will also be achieved.

In simple words, genetic engineering leads to unpredictable results. The upheavels that are caused, in plant genome or the plant's morphology or physiology or the impact on environment, are all well documented but kept hidden from the public glare. I think the time has come when people should sit back and ascertain whether they are willing to take the risk for the sake of the resulting profits accruing to the GM company. They need to know what has gone wrong and where, and how will it impact their food supply, their health, and the environment they live in.

Take a look at the list below, try to grasp what it means, and then take a deep breath, and think: Is Bt brinjal that is being pushed onto your plate the right kind of food that you should be consuming? Is it really safe? Safe for your health, your environment and your children's future??

(See list at: http://www.countercurrents.org/sharma051109.htm)

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Organic farmers urge Govt action

RTE News [Ireland], 5 November 2009:
http://www.rte.ie/news/2009/1105/agriculture.html

Organic farmers have said agriculture is in crisis and now is the time for the Government to boldly embrace a vision of rural Ireland around the areas of greatest opportunity.

The Irish Organic Farmers and Growers Association say Ireland needs to focus on the production of organic food, minimise agriculture's carbon footprint, completely ban the use of Genetically Modified Organisms, focus support on artisan and small scale producers rather than giant food companies and develop rural eco-tourism.

IOFGA chairperson Kate Carmody said if Ireland's green image was backed up with some real policies we can create an unequalled demand for our produce abroad.

Ms Carmody said the current regulatory system in agriculture illustrates perfectly the incoherence of current policy.

Under it organic farmers who do not use chemicals and pesticides are strictly regulated and routinely inspected.

Ironically, Ms Carmody said, the majority of farmers who are non-organic, and who routinely use chemicals and pesticides are not inspected or required by law to state what products they have used in their production.

Thus, she said, the strictest regulation is of the organic sector which forbids the use of chemicals while the non-organic sector where chemicals are used routinely does not have similar regulation.

The Irish Farmers and Growers Association is the largest organic certification organisation in Ireland representing around 1,150 farmers, growers and processors.

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GM flax protocol no quick fix
• Sensitivity levels are so stringent that they may prove difficult to implement, warns the flax council president.


Western Producer [Canada], 5 November 2009:
http://new.producer.com

Europe's endorsement of a protocol designed to restore flax trade with Canada's largest customer hasn't exactly left the flax industry bubbling with optimism.

"No one should think that just because this protocol has been achieved, that any kind of normal trade will resume quickly," said Barry Hall, president of the Flax Council of Canada.

The protocol approved Oct. 29 sets out a system of sampling, testing and documentation to assure European buyers that future Canadian flax shipments will be free of CDC Triffid, a GM flax variety that was first detected by European labs in a Canadian flax shipment in July 2009.

However, Hall said the testing procedure and sensitivity levels are so stringent that they may prove difficult to implement.

Compounding the problem is a lack of labs capable of doing the type and quantity of work for a protocol that requires testing of on-farm, commercial storage and rail car samples.

The Canadian Grain Commission is in the process of validating labs to conduct this type of work, a process that could last until the end of November.

That would leave little time for exporters to get product to Thunder Bay and through the St. Lawrence Seaway before freeze up, which is typically around Dec. 15. The vast majority of flax heading to Europe goes through Thunder Bay.

Even if grain companies managed to achieve export certification in time, their shipments would be subject to additional import testing by EU countries.

That is a risk many may not wish to take now that the Flax Council of Canada is acknowledging the Canadian system contains Triffid.

In the weeks following news that European labs had found the GM variety in flax shipments and food products, the industry steadfastly insisted the European tests were not as reliable as one being developed by the National Research Council's Plant Biotechnology Institute and DNA Landmarks.

But in an Oct. 30 message to growers urging them to keep representative samples of their flax crop as it goes into each storage bin, the council said every conceivable effort must be made to "locate and eradicate all sources of this contamination."

Hall said the industry is "long past" the denial phase. There is no question Triffid is in the system, he added.

"We can't blame it on canola contamination," he said.

Traceback under way

The Canadian Grain Commission has confirmed trace amounts of the deregistered GM flax variety in samples from three cargoes of flax shipped to Europe and is attempting to trace it back through the system to the farm or farms involved.

Agriculture Canada has revised its flax supply and disposition outlook in light of the fact that not much of the oilseed is expected to move during the remainder of this year.

In its Oct. 8 report, the department forecast 450,000 tonnes of flax exports, down 25 percent from last year despite what is expected to be a 12 percent increase in production.

"Carry-out stocks on July 31, 2010, are projected to rise sharply as a result," Agriculture Canada said.

"Prices are forecast to average sharply lower than last year as a result of the burdensome stock levels with no significant recovery from current low levels expected until the spring of 2010."

Grant Fehr, flax marketing manager with Keystone Grain Ltd., said even if the protocol works, exporters will have a lot of ground to make up.

The St. Lawrence Seaway usually reopens in mid-to-late March. What happens to the flax market may largely depend on how much of the normal annual export volume can be crammed into the spring shipping season.

There are shipping alternatives to Thunder Bay. Canadian processors can move flax in containers or by bulk through the Port of Montreal during winter.

However, both alternatives have their disadvantages. The first relies on containers, which have traditionally been hard to find on the Prairies, and the second is a costlier route to Europe, which means buyers would have to be willing to pay more for the product.

Glenn Lennox, Agriculture Canada's oilseed analyst, said another constraint is the late harvest. Saskatchewan Agriculture's crop report shows 33 percent of the province's flax crop had been combined as of Oct. 26.

"Most of the flax is still standing out there and if we were to get a heavy snowfall this week, it would be standing there until May," he said.

However, the bright side is European demand for flax hasn't evaporated.

If the industry can work out the kinks in the protocol before spring, the flax market outlook won't be nearly as dire as people were first thinking.

"The end of the crop year is going to be Sept. 30 instead of July 31," Lennox said.

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Too Many Farmers Growing Genetically Engineered Corn Not Complying with Key Environmental Requirements
• CSPI Urges EPA Not to Re-Register Products Unless Compliance Improves


Press release
Center for Science in the Public Interest [USA], 5 November 2009:
http://cspinet.org/new/200911051.html

WASHINGTON - One out of every four farmers who plants genetically engineered (GE) corn is failing to comply with at least one important insect-resistance management requirement. That increases the likelihood that pesticide-resistant bugs will threaten the future of biotech crops and some of their non-biotech neighbors. That finding comes in a report (http://cspinet.org/new/pdf/complacencyonthefarm.pdf) released today by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (http://www.cspinet.org), which is calling on the Environmental Protection Agency to not renew registrations of the GE corn varieties unless compliance rates improve.

In 2008, 57 percent of the corn acreage in the United States was planted with corn spliced with genes from the Bacillus thuringiensis bacterium, or Bt. Those crops produce natural toxins that are harmless to humans but will kill corn rootworms and corn borers, which otherwise reduce crop yields. Farmers who plant such crops are supposed to plant a refuge of conventional corn in, adjacent to, or near the GE crop. That refuge is designed to reduce the risk that pests that survive the toxin will breed with each other and produce resistant offspring. Resistant offspring would not only reduce yields of the Bt crops, but could also threaten organic or conventional farmers who use natural Bt-based pesticides on non-GE crops.

Depending on the location of the crop and the pests targeted by the strain of corn, farmers have varying requirements specifying the size of the refuge and its distance from the GE crop. According to industry surveys submitted to EPA in 2008:

Only 78 percent of growers planting corn-borer-protected crops met the size requirement, and only 88 percent met the distance requirement.

Only 74 percent of growers planting rootworm-protected crops met the size requirement, and 63 percent met the distance requirement.

Only 72 percent of farmers growing stacked varieties of GE corn-corn protected against both corn borer and rootworm-met the size requirement and 66 percent met the distance requirement.

Those compliance rates are down, in some cases sharply, from 2003 to 2005, when compliance rates were often above 90 percent. Though compliance assessments made on the farm tend to show higher compliance rates than the surveys, those rates also decreased in the last three years, according to CSPI.

"Given the tremendous growth in the acreage given over to genetically engineered corn since its introduction, it is intolerable for farmers not to be meeting their refuge requirements," said CSPI biotechnology (http://www.cspinet.org/biotech) director Greg Jaffe. "Given the stakes, regulators should insist on compliance rates much closer to 100 percent to prevent insect problems that threaten all farmers, not just those planting biotech crops."

In a letter sent today (http://cspinet.org/new/pdf/epaletter.pdf) to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, CSPI said that the agency should not re-register the existing varieties of Bt corn until the companies demonstrate higher levels of compliance. But, if the EPA does re-register the products, registrants such as Monsanto, Pioneer Hi-Bred, Syngenta, and Dow AgroSciences should be subject to severe fines or seed sales restrictions if noncompliance rates remain high, according to the letter. Those biotech companies should also provide farmers with incentives to meet their obligations. CSPI also wants the EPA to obtain more reliable data by requiring biotech companies to pay for independent, third-party assessments of farmer compliance with refuge requirements, and to require labeling on bags of biotech seed corn to specify refuge requirements.

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Illegal GM flax found in UK bread - FSA fails to protect consumers

Press release GM Freeze [UK], 5 November 2009:
http://www.gmfreeze.org/page.asp?id=406&iType=

A loaf of bread purchased from Marks and Spencer has been found to contain an unauthorised and illegal GM flax. [1]

Presence of the GM flax in the European Union was first confirmed in early September. It has now been detected in products containing flax seeds in at least 36 countries around the world. The UK is included in the reports sent by the EU authorities, indicating that the FSA initiated at least one of these EU alerts, although the FSA has not issued any information about the nature or extent of the contamination.

The contaminated bread was purchased by GM Freeze in October and analysed by the Genetic ID (Europe) laboratory in Augsburg, Germany. Analysis was for a GM construct known to have been used in CDC Triffid Flax (FP967), which was grown on a commercial scale in small areas in Canada and the USA between 1998 and 2001, after which it was deregulated, and now cannot legally be grown commercially or sold. There is no approval for GM flax of any type to be imported into the EU, and no applications for import have ever been made.

While the Canadian authorities have been unable to identify the source of the contamination [2], it is widely assumed to be Triffid, which was genetically engineered to be tolerant to sulphonylurea herbicides. The GM construct includes an antibiotic-resistance gene for kanomycin, which is subject to a long debate on safety amongst EU advisers because of the risk that the gene will jump into harmful bacteria in human and animal guts and increase the risk from antibiotic-resistant pathogens. [3]

The Food Standards Agency has so far failed to issue a Food Alert to UK food businesses and institutions to inform them of the potential presence of the GM flax in ingredients and products, telling GM Freeze there is "no grounds" to do so. In the absence of an EU approval based on a full safety assessment it is illegal to market the flax anywhere in the EU. US and Canadian GM safety assessments are far less rigorous than EU processes, which require more testing data to be provided by applicants. In 2006 GM Freeze published an analysis of crops at risk from contamination and made a series of recommendations, including that all incoming cargoes comprising of crops which have been genetically modified in the country of origin should be monitored for GM presence before unloading. [4]

GM Freeze purchased two food samples in October to check for the presence of the GM flax. One sample Super Seed Bread from Marks and Spencer was found to be contaminated with the GM flax seed.

Following previous GM contamination incidents involving long grain rice from the USA, the FSA was criticised by a High Court Judge [5] for:

failure to issue any Food Alerts to local authorities;

failure to notify the public of which batches of rice were contaminated;

failure to provide legal guidance to local authorities at the start of the incident.

Commenting Eve Mitchell of GM Freeze said:

"We tested one loaf of bread and found this illegal GM when the FSA says there are "no grounds" to issue a Food Alert. We were very surprised that it was from a company that has prided itself on its high level of traceability, but this illustrates the need for imports to be cleared before they leave ports.

"Most consumers will be shocked to learn that the FSA has let the contamination by GM flax continue for so long without issuing an official Food Alert to food companies warning them of the GM contamination and their legal responsibilities. It is astonishing that the FSA has not published the results of sampling if, indeed, any has been carried out by them.

"Once again the body which is supposed to be the consumer's watchdog has failed when it comes to a GM contamination incident. The UK's politicians need to start questioning why this is and take steps to ensure that the complacent attitudes are brought to an end. It's time Parliament stepped in to ensure UK food is safe. There is just no knowing if this contamination is unique to M&S or has found its way to all supermarkets. For all we know this GM contamination has been in our food for years without any safety testing."

Contacts:

Eve Mitchell› + 44 1381 610 740 (or + 44 7962 437 128)
Pete Riley + 44 845 217 8992

Notes:

[1] Copy of analysis report available on request.

[2] See http://www.gmfreeze.org/uploads/FINAL_flax_Q&A.pdf

[3] The European Medicines Authority has expressed concerns about the use of kanomycon-resistance genes because it may compromise future use of the antibiotic and current treatments for TB. The European Food safety Agency has said that the presence of the genes "pose no risk".

The European medicines Authority says:

Although it is recognised that this marker gene only codes for resistance to kanamycin and neomycin, the clinical/public health implications of this may not always remain the same. It is true that aminoglycosides and especially kanamycin and neomycin are used relatively infrequently and that the potential impact of this resistance gene therefore appears less relevant, at least in a short-term perspective. However, that situation may change as new chemical entities similar to kanamycin and neomycin could be developed. New chemical entities similar to kanamycin and neomycin could have other properties in relation to, for example, absorption from the gastrointestinal tract and with regard to side-effects. They thus have the potential to become extremely important to treat otherwise multi-resistant gram-negative infections and Tuberculosis...

Aminoglycosides such as kanamycin are currently recommended for treatment in multidrug resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB). Drug resistance in TB is part of the explanation for the resurgence of TB. WHO estimates that eight million people get TB every year. In the absence of an effective therapy, infectious MDR-TB patients will continue to spread the disease, producing new infections with MDR-TB strains. Until we introduce a new drug with demonstrated activity against MDR strains, this aspect of the TB epidemic could begin to explode at an exponential level (from the Global Alliance for TB Drug development (http://www.tballiance.org)...

In Estonia, Kanamycin was very recently introduced in the TB program (personal communication).

[4] See http://www.gmfreeze.org/uploads/GM_contamination_final.pdf

[5] See http://www.gmfreeze.org/page.asp?ID=311&iType=1079

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GMOs causing 'genetic pollution', parliament conference told

TheParliament.com [European Union], 5 November 2009:
http://www.theparliament.com/no_cache/latestnews/news-article/newsarticle/gmos-causing-genetic-pollution-parliament-conference-told/

A conference in parliament has heard that "genetic pollution" is being "imposed" on the public via GMO products.

French ALDE deputy Corinne Lepage told the hearing on Thursday that any supposed advantages of GMO products were "hugely outweighed" by the disadvantages.

Lepage, vice-chair of the environment committee, said, "We in Europe are very fortunate that we have very few GMO products, particularly compared with the United States.

"However, we must continue to make every effort to press for GMO-free agriculture."

She said that while the environmental impact of GMO products "was well known", what is not "so clear" are the consequences on health.

"That is why we should demand more studies and data on this," she said.

"We need to do what the public want here, that is, establish GMO-free farming.

"I find it unacceptable and intolerable and cannot understand that despite the public being very clearly against GMOs the technology, which is a form of genetic pollution, is still being imposed on them.

Lepage's comments come 48 hours after the EU was accused of allowing politics rather than science to dominate decision making on genetically modified crops.

Mike Mack, the chief executive of Syngenta AG, said the EU "is moving further and further away from the principles of science-based decision making".

Mack, whose Swiss-based company makes products to kill weeds and bugs as well as GMO seeds, added, "It is perfectly reasonable to ask about the health and safety of humans and the health and safety of the environment in relation to GM crops.

"But subject to appropriate testing and scientific investigation it seems to be a tool that is absolutely essential to be thinking about using," he told a food security conference.

"There are quite clearly political views that are fundamentally against GM irrespective of the scientific advice and that is really unfortunate."

GMO crops have struggled to gain approval in Europe, with biotech-sceptic states often managing to prevent a majority consensus under the EU's complex weighted voting system, creating a deadlock.

Opponents have cited both public health and environmental concerns.

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Farming - investments not handouts

Matt Depsey

Irish Farmers Journal (Editorial), 5 November [dated 7 November] 2009:
http://www.farmersjournal.ie

[Excerpt:]

On Tuesday, almost 700 farmers, agri-business leaders, scientists and administrators gathered in the RDS [Royal Dublin Society] to make a statement about their industry and their sector...

There was a palpable view that there was little realisation that this [agriculture] was a sector that had become the third largest beef exporter in the world, and that it supplied 15% of the global output of infant formula baby food...

It was also instructive to hear the depth of feeling on how Ireland and Europe is [sic] being left behind as the rest of the world gains from GM technology. The pernicious influence of the Green Party in Government on this GM issue, and the abandonment of any biofuel policy, was articulated clearly and justifiably.

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'GM delays cost €50/tonne' - Walshe

Irish Farmers Journal, 5 November [dated 7 November] 2009:
http://www.farmersjournal.ie

IFA Industry Forum:

Europe's slow approval of GM feed crops was raised as an issue of concern by numerous speakers at Tuesday's forum. "Europe's slow approval of GM events is adding €50/t to the cost of feed for Irish farmers," IFA President Padraig Walshe said.

Costing

"It is very disappointing that Ireland does not vote in favour of new GM varieties. It is costing the industry a lot of money," Padraig Walshe told Minister Smith.

Origin's Tom O'Mahony described the slow approval of GM varieties as 'enormously frustrating' for his business. "Global suppliers will go elsewhere," he said. He called for science rather than emotion to dictate the agenda.

---

Comment from GM-free Ireland:

Origin Entreprises plc owns Ireland's biggest animal feed importer, R&H Hall, which appears to have a vested interest in importing GM feed into Ireland, by avoiding the cost of segregating GM-free and GM feedstuffs.

Origin also owns the country's largest chemical fertiliser company, Gouldings Fertilisers.

Origin Enterprises is part-owned by IAWS Group Plc, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Aryzta AG (sometimes spelled as Arzyta).

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Fianna Fáil have joined the Greens in cloud cuckoo land

Irish Farmers Journal (Letters), 5 November [dated 7 November] 2009:
http://www.farmersjournal.ie

Dear Sir,

I read your piece in the Irish Farmers Journal on 17 October about the Green Party being in cloud cuckoo land, but you have to add Fianna Fáil [Ireland's dominant centre-right party in the coalition government] to that.. The Greens and Fianna Fáil were never anywhere else but in cuckoo land when it comes to the idiotic plans and ideas they come up with. For example:

[Excerpt]

Declaring Ireland GM-free - does this mean that blight resistant potatoes are to be banned, forcing the continuation of environmental destruction through the mining of thousands of tonnes of copper sulphate and the spraying of fungicides?

Blight-resistant potatoes, developed by Teagasc [the Irish Government Agriculture and Food Authority] research, can help the environment and save consumers money. Similar successes can help prevent redundancies in Teagasc...

Eamonn Fox
Lydican
Oranmore
Co. Kildare [Ireland]

---

Comment from GM-free Ireland:

At least three varieties of Non-GMO blight-resistant potatoes are already grown in Ireland! Teagasc has abused tens of million of Euro of taxpayer's money to research and promote GM crops, and obviously wants more funding to prevent redundancies. But if GM potatoes are ever grown in Ireland, the farmers would lose out as there is no virtually NO market for GM food in Europe.

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Irish are 'hiding true colours'

Stephen Cadogan
Irish Examiner (Farming), 5 November 2009:
http://www.irishexaminer.com

[Note inset comments from GM-free Ireland between square brackets]

Ireland is one of the countries making a comedy out of running agriculture in the EU, according to outgoing commissioner for agriculture and rural development Mariann Fischer Boel.

[Fischer Boel did not mention Ireland in her speech. The majority of 19 EU member states usually abstains or votes against new GM approvals. A small minority of 8 governments still votes in favour (Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Netherlands, Spain,Sweden, and the UK.]

She said she sometimes feels as if she were part of a television comedy, except that there is absolutely nothing to laugh about.

She was referring to agriculture ministers "hiding their true colours and abstaining from voting" - thus delaying decisions on approval of genetically modified (GM) crops for import to the EU.

Ireland has abstained in a number of votes on GM imports, since the present Government took office in 2007.

As a result of abstentions, the EU council of agriculture ministers has been unable to reach either a positive or a negative verdict on the imports.

One of the consequencesw has been an effective shut down of crucial soy bean imports from the US, leading to higher feed prices for EU livestock farmers, said Fischer Boel.

[Most of Europe's imported soy feed does not come from the USA, but from Brazil, where at least 45% of this year's soy harvest is Non-GM and where the previous years' trend of increased GM plantings has come to a virtual standstill.

GM-free feed is widely used in Europe. For example, Switzerland uses no GM feed whatsoever; Sweden's feed is 90% GM-free, and France imports around 500,000 to 600,000 tonnes of Non-GM soya annually, equivalent to Ireland's total soy feed imports for 2007! The premium varies from €25 to €32 depending on the season. Farmers recoup the premium with GM-fee labels and higher prices for Non-GM food now on offer from dozens of leading retailers and hundreds of leading food brands in Europe - and from thousands of them in the USA.] ]

"We are currently using one hand to shoot ourselves in the foot by uncessessarily increasing production costs whilst the other hand is trying to stop the bleeding with cool cash," she added.

Her cash reference was to the €280 million injected by the commission to help dairy farmers having trouble covering production costs when selling their milk.

The aid was requested by the European Parliament, and by 21 of the EU's 27 agriculture ministers - including Ireland's Brendan Smith.

But when it comes to GM imports, these ministers simply choose to have no opinion, this [sic] delaying decisions, said Fischer Boel, who asked how much money and competitiveness EU farmers will lose while "we are playing slow-motion political ping-pong." With her retirement only weeks away, and Ireland having said Yes to Lisbon, Fischer Boel has been refreshingly honest about how stupid and slow EU decision making can be.

She said: "It's bad enough to abstain in the vote on a product authorisation which could make it so much easier to keep feed costs down, when the scientific evidence is clear. But does it make sense to do this and then ask later for export refunds for meat products, because your farmers can't cope with high feed prices?"

[Fischer Boel is referring to the scientific opinon of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which has been widely condemned, and also castigated by the Council of Ministers, for its farcical approval of GM products based on secret risk assessment dossiers provided by the applicant companies, without any possibility of independent scientific peer review, and without consideration of the environmental and social impacts of GMOs, nor the views of independent scientists and member states.

If any scientific clarity on the subject of GMOs exists, it points to their dangers. Numerous peer-reviewed papers have warned of the health and environmental risks of GM food and farming, backed by prestigious organisations including the American Academy of Environmental Medicine, Consumers International, the Center for Food Safety (USA), the Union of Concerned Scientists (USA), CRIIGEN - Committee for Independent information and Research on Genetic Engineering (France), EcoNexus (UK), GeneWatch (UK), the Independent Science Panel (UK), the Norwegian Institute of Gene Ecology, the Centre for Integrated Research in Biosafety (New Zealand) etc. For details see http://www.gmfreeireland.org/health/studies.php]

In 2002, the EU Joint Research Centre tried to suppress the publication of its own report which found that GM contamination is almost impossible to avoid and would cause higher production costs (up to 40% for oilseed rape) for EU farmers. The Irishman Barry McSweeny, who was responsible for the attempted cover-up as head of the organisation at the time, was subsequently ousted after it emerged he had a fake PhD!

"Let's end this ludicrous situation."

The blocked soy bean imports which frustrated her come from the US, where they are tested for the presence of the GMOs not yet authorised by EU agriculture ministers.

[The USA approves GMOs based on unsubstantiated safety claims made by the applicant companies - with no due diligence or oversight.]

But when the cargo arrives in Europe, local testing methods sometimes found tiny traces of unauthorised GM maize (usually dust from a previous cargo in the ship). The traces are often smaller than what is commonly agreed to be the minimum level that can be reliably measured, namely, 0.1% of the cargo.

[The generally agreed minimum detection threshold is actually ten time lower, at 0.01 per cent.

Shipments of GM feed from the USA are often contaminated by much more than tiny traces of illegal GMOs. In 2005, 2,546 tonnes of illegal US GM maize entered the EU food chain through Greenore port in Ireland. In an attempt to cover-up the scandal, the Irish Department of Agriculture and Food issued a press release which referred to the illegal Bt10 shipment as a "sample", failing to disclose the fact that it was big enough to fill over 85 lorries and feed over six million cattle and sheep: http://www.gmfreeireland.org/scandal/index.php.

In 2007, 5,131 tonnes of US animal feed contaminated by illegal varieties entered the entered the EU food chain through Dublin port. Although the importer R&H Hall claimed the cargo was GM-free, certified laboratory analysis showed 2.4% contamination for the then illegal GM Herculex maize, 20% contamination with Monsanto's GM maize MON863, as well as contamination by GM maize gluten: http://www.gmfreeireland.org/pakrac/index.php]

But traders can't afford to risk their shipments being blocked, and they're talking of halting imports from the US altogether, which would be very bad news for the EU livestock sector.

Fischer Boel simply wants ministers to push ahead with how to deal with very small unwanted traces of GMOs found in shipments - without ending the EU policy of zero tolerance.

[Allowing such contamination would, by definition, end the zero tolerance food safety policy!]

Surely that is not too much to ask of the agriculture minister, when they are faced with the ultimate threat, voiced by the commissioner, of letting the EU livestock sector go to the wall.

[The US Government and the animal feed cartels have been making the same scaremongering claims for years! But on 29 October, Monsanto admited that this much-hyped catastrophic "shortage" of legal GM feed continues to remain on the far side of an ever-receding 12 to 18 month horizon! (See article at http://www.fwi.co.uk/Articles/2009/10/29/118496/39Feed-crisis-looming-without-faster-GM-approvals39.htm)]

If that happens, she said, the EU would end up importing meat from animals fed on GMOs over which the EU would have no control. "That would be the ultimate irony," she said.

[The ultimate irony is that the EU has been importing such meat for years!]

Refreshingly honest though her outburst has been, Fischer Boel has revealed her own agenda for getting more GM materials into the EU - which is a step too far for people like the Green Party. For them, Fischer Boel's request to ministers to vote on the basis of science, not prejudice, on authorising new GM products, is too much.

[It's not only the Greens, but the vast majority of citizens of EU member states and their Governments who oppose GM food and farming.]

The commissioner also wants to allow member states decide whether or not they wish to cultivate GM crops on their territory.

Such questions are of little consequence to struggling Irish farmers.

[Banning the cultivation of GM crops is very important for Irish farmers, since the ensuing contamination of conventional and organic crops would enable Monsanto and other GM patent holders to appropriate their ownership, demand patent royalties, and sue the contaminated farmers for patent infringement. Irish farm produce would then have to carry a GM label and would be unsellable in the EU market.]

All they ask is that the 27 ministers can work out how to deal with the dust from GM cargoes which is keeping soya bean meal out of the EU.

[Nonsense! European countries continue to import millions of tonnes of GM and Non-GM soya feed from countries Brazil and Argentina, which dont' grow or export any GM crops that are not approved for food or feed in Europe.]

_______________________

Greenpeace releases anti-GM guide

Farm Weekly [Australia], 5 November 2009:
http://fw.farmonline.com.au/news/state/grains-and-cropping/general/greenpeace-releases-antigm-guide/1668292.aspx

THE 2010 Greenpeace Truefood Guide was launched last week before a small gathering at Fraser's restaurant in Perth, including Greens North West Metropolitan MLC Giz Watson.

The guide was launched by celebrated chef Ian Parmenter, local restaurateur and businessman George Kailis, and Network of Concerned Farmers national spokesperson Julie Newman.

The guide rates over one thousand of Australia's top food and beverage brands for the presence of genetically modified (GM) ingredients and was first released in 2003.

Since then, more than half of Australia's top food brands have committed to non-GM policies.

Greenpeace says that Foster's, Nestle, Schweppes and Lindt have now shifted to non-GM policies for their Australian brands, recognising that their customers don't want to eat food that is potentially unsafe.

Ms Newman, a graingrower from Newdegate, said she had dedicated at least a decade of her life and $100,000 towards the GM debate.

However, she started off as pro-GM.

"It's one of those issues," she said.

"The more you know, the more you know you don't know.

"I was just disgusted as I realised that everything we have been told about GM, was a lie and I mean that.

"It was genuine lies.

"Very few people know what the heck it is."

Mr Kailis said his company listened to the consumer.

"It is suicide for the WA Government, Colin Barnett (WA Premier), Terry Redman (Agriculture and Food Minister) and the WA Department of Agriculture and Food to ignore the consumer," he said. Text

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NGOs take controversial GMO regulation to court

Ali Aslan Kiliç
Today's Zaman [Turkey], 5 November 2009:
http://www.todayszaman.com/tz-web/detaylar.do?load=detay&link=192053

ANKARA - Amid mounting reactions to a recently adopted regulation allowing the import of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to Turkey, some nongovernmental organizations applied to the Council of State yesterday for a stay of execution.

When the regulation allowing the trade of GMOs was adopted in late October, agricultural organizations, consumer associations and the opposition parties criticized the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government for putting the public's health in danger by allowing the import of these foods.

Turkish Health Care Workers' Union (Türk Sagl∂k-Sen) applied to the Council of State yesterday for a postponement of the regulation, claiming that the regulation protects GMO producers and runs contrary to both the Constitution and the UN's Universal Declaration on Consumer Rights.

The head of the Food Safety Movement, Kemal Özer, said that with the regulation, companies which do not declare that they are importing GMOs will be able to bring these products into Turkey easily. He also said that this regulation eliminated the responsibilities of companies who import these products. The GMO regulation also drew the ire of Türk Sagl∂k-Sen, whose members held a demonstration in front of the Council of State in Ankara yesterday. Türk Sagl∂k-Sen President Önder Kahveci demanded the annulment of the regulation, which he said poses a great risk to public health.

"This issue is important, and we need to hurry. We will not let anyone put public health in danger. I hope that the Council of State will give a verdict which will please the nation," said Kahveci.

Agriculture Minister Mehdi Eker, on the other hand, said that ongoing debates about the GMO regulation were aimed at creating "information pollution" on the subject.

Eker said with the adoption of the regulation, the trade of GMOs will be supervised and GMOs will not escape supervision as they used to in the past due to a lack of regulation.

"To say it in the most innocent way, some circles criticize this regulation because of their ignorance. If it is not because of their ignorance, they do it consciously and aim to create information pollution by telling lies so that they can pave the way before those who want to trade GMOs," Eker told Today's Zaman.

Speaking at the parliamentary group meeting of his party on Tuesday, Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Deniz Baykal said Turkey's bio-richness will disappear if the regulation comes into force, and he vowed that his party will do its best to annul the regulation.

CHP Mersin deputy Vahap Seçer, who spoke to Today's Zaman, emphasized the need for a bio-security law, which will set rules and regulations for GMOs, in Turkey, saying that his party was opposed to the enactment of a regulation instead of a law regarding the issue.

"Over the past days, I have received calls from officials working at animal breeding facilities. They said their animal feed has been stopped at Customs after this regulation of GMOs. They said there were problems regarding the entrance of these products to Turkey. What does this mean? This means that we are dependent on foreign countries for these products. This means this sector has been depending for years on GMOs," said Seçer.

Comment from GM-free Ireland:

Turkey's new GMO regulation must have been written by Monsanto. It allows contamination with unapproved GMOs like GM pharma crops up to 0.5%. Abd it prohibits GM-free labels. EU tourists will think twice about visiting Turkey!

Official text of the regulation (in Turkish): http://rega.basbakanlik.gov.tr

Unofficial English translation of the regulation:
http://www.gmfreeireland.org/downloads/turkey/AM2009203-Unofficial-Translation.pdf

Related email from GAFTA, the UK Grain and Feed Trade Association:

4th November 2009
To: All Members No. AM/2009/203

New Turkish GM Regulations in force

Dear Members,

Turkey has for the first time introduced GMO legislation on 26th October which entered into force on the same day. The purpose of the legislation is to protect biodiversity and sustainability of crops in Turkey: wheat, barley, chickpeas, lentils and olive.

GAFTA has contacted the Ministry of Agriculture to seek further clarification on importing provisions and will keep Members informed if we receive any further information. Currently it has been reported that all vessels have been customs cleared up to last week.

The Regulation concerns imports, exports, processing, and transportation of food and feed products. The Ministry intends to increase monitoring, market inspection and control during export and import, processing and transportation of products in line with committee's report.

Based on an unofficial translation the key provisions are:

It is prohibited to import, market, register, export and transit for the purpose of processing and consumption of GMO feed and food not complying with regulation;

Customs will not request an additional document regarding GMO for products within the scope of this regulation;

Article 5 (6): labelling of GM food is necessary if GMO content is above 0.9% and similarly for feed; see also articles 14 and 15;

Article 5 (7): food or feed cannot contain unapproved GMOs above 0.5%, and shall not be permitted to be imported, processed, transported, distributed or sold;

Imports of GMOs, GM food and feed are banned if there is an adverse affect for human and animal welfare, consumer or environment or indeed contain antibiotic genes.

The use of GMO products in baby formula is banned.

Risk assessment on scientific and technical level will be carried out by an independent committee.

Labels of GMO-free products shall not contain information that the product is GMO-free.

The official text is at: http://rega.basbakanlik.gov.tr

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Africa: Profits Before People - the Great African Liquidation Sale

Joan Baxter
Pambazuka News / AllAfrica.com, 5 November 2009:
http://allafrica.com/stories/200911051028.html

Back in the early 1990s when I was reporting from northern Ghana, an elderly woman farmer decided I would benefit from a bit of enlightenment. In a rather long lecture, she detailed for me the devastating effects that the Green Revolution - the first one that outside experts and donors launched in Africa in the 1960s and 1970s - had had on farmers' crops, soils, trees and their lives.

She said that the imported seeds, fertilizers, pesticides and tractors, the instructions to plant row after row of imported hybrid maize and cut down precious trees that protected the soils and nourished the people - even the invaluable sheanut trees - had ruined the diverse and productive farming systems that had always sustained her people. When she finished, she cocked an eye at me and asked, with a cagey grin, 'Why do you bring your mistakes here?' By 'you' she meant all the people, foreigners and Africans in their employ, who tramp all over the continent implementing their big plans to develop it. These great schemes are generally concocted even higher up the decision-making chain in distant world financial capitals, often by free-market ideologues and international bankers who wouldn't know a sheanut from a peanut.

At the time, I had no answer to her question. But now, two decades later, I think I do. It's taken a lot of years of schooling at the knees of African farmers and intellectuals from Zambia to The Gambia. And most recently, it was all summed up clearly for me by members of COPAGEN, a coalition of African farmer associations, scientists, civil society groups and activists who work to protect Africa's genetic heritage, farmer rights, and their sovereignty over their land, seeds and food. All these knowledgeable people have shown me that the answer is quite straightforward: many of those imported mistakes, disguised as solutions for Africa, are very, very profitable. At least for those who design and make them.

Not, however, for the average African farming family or even the average African whose interests, we are led to believe, are being served by the big plans made by big planners for progress and development. There have been many of these master plans over the years, spearheaded by the Bretton Woods institutions and the world's major economic powers, nearly all of them promoting the unfettered free market and re-regulated private sector; that is, regulations that curtail cowboy capitalism have to be lassoed and put down, replaced by new ones to promote and sanction the profitable stampede over the public sector.

Hence all those years of structural adjustment programmes in Africa, poverty reduction schemes, the first Green Revolution, the liberalised trade that cranked open Africa's doors to cheap imports and subsidised foodstuffs dumped on the continent, which snuffed out African industries and undermined African farmers who, ironically, the same free-market gurus said should not be subsidised.

These monetarist schemes have helped to make Africa poorer and even more dependent on foreign donors and capital, and thus more vulnerable to still more of the big plans, so that now, even as Africans struggle to confront the perfect storm of the global food crisis, financial crisis and climate change - all of which are the offspring of the unfettered free-market financial system - the same big planners are at it again with more sweeping solutions (profitable ones) for the problems they themselves caused. The difference today is that there are many new planners and players scrambling for a bit of the action in Africa, not just Western powers and the financial institutions they largely control, as in the past, but also China and other Asian countries, as well as the Gulf states awash in cash.

Breaking over Africa is a tsunami of predatory capital, otherwise known as 'foreign direct investment' (FDI) in Africa. The spin on the FDI has it offering Africa wondrous opportunities, the only way to eradicate hunger and poverty. This is not the kind of well-targeted and well-controlled investment that could promote local resources and put them to good use through local processing and value-adding to sustainably grow African economies from the farm up. The investment is extractive and exploitive, heading right for the vulnerable heart of the continent - its farms and the families and communities that work them, who account for 70 per cent of Africa's population. The wealth generated will mostly flow out of Africa, leaving social and environmental upheaval in its wake.

And just to make sure there's absolutely nothing impeding or taming the tidal wave of investment, the World Bank and the US are busy helping African governments 'harmonise' laws to privatise land and open the doors for the patenting of crop and tree varieties and for genetically modified (GM) organisms crops.[i]

So what do the world's great investors have their eyes on in Africa, in addition to the usual natural resources - minerals, petroleum and timber - that they've always coveted? In a word, land. Lots of it. The land-grabbing 'investors' are purchasing or leasing large chunks of African land to produce food crops or agrofuels or both, or just scooping up farmland as an investment, the new favourite hedge fund. More than US$100 billion have been mobilised in the past two years for investing in land, and according to one analyst, the idea behind the new land craze is 'not to harvest food but to harvest money'.[ii]

If the storm of foreign investment and interference is left to blow itself out, one day in the not-so-distant future African farmers may awake to find themselves without land to cultivate, their communities and lives in indentured tatters, no seeds to call their own. The crop varieties their own forbearers developed will have been 'improved' and then privatised by foreigners who own exclusive rights for their use. Crucial watersheds and vast tracts of woodlands needed to combat climate change will have been converted to vast water- and fossil-fuel-guzzling industrial plantations producing food and agrofuels, run by giant agribusinesses and foreign investors, absent landlords and bosses who may never in their lives have soiled their hands in, well, real soil. Africa will become the whole world's vassal state. Alarmist? Yes, because so are the facts.

There are estimates that in the past couple of years, 30 million hectares (that's an area the size of Senegal and Benin together) have been grabbed in at least 28 countries in Africa.[iii] In Ethiopia alone, more than 600,000 hectares have already been acquired, with another 1.6 million literally up for grabs, at the same time as the country is asking for urgent food aid.[iv] It was just such a land investment deal between the South Korean company, Daewoo, and the former president of Madagascar, which would have accorded Daewoo 1.3 million hectares for industrial monoculture - the production of food and agrofuels for export to Korea - that contributed to the downfall of President Marc Ravalomanana.[v]

At the moment, the grabbing of Africa's land is shrouded in secrecy and proceeding at an unprecedented rate, spurred on by the global food and financial crises. GRAIN, a non-profit organisation that supports farm families in their struggles for community-controlled and biodiversity-based food systems, works daily to try to keep up with the deals on its farmlandgrab.org website.[vi]

GRAIN reports that some of the grabbers are countries anxious to secure their own future food supplies - China, India, Japan and other Asian countries, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, Libya and Brazil.[vii] Other land-grabbers are buying up and leasing vast tracts of land in Africa as a lucrative investment, or as one analyst describes farm land, 'an asset like gold, only better'.[viii] Among them are multinational agribusinesses, investors from the Middle East and investment houses. Others getting in on the new land rush are energy and mining companies, who cloak their land-grabbing in green-washing terms to cash in on public goodwill to try to tackle climate change with large-scale production of agrofuels from food crops such as palm oil, sugarcane and maize, or non-food crops such as jatropha, all of which require enormous amounts of land, water, and yes, fossil fuels that cause climate change, to produce.

Apart from the African governments and chiefs who are happily and quietly selling or leasing the land right out from under their own citizens, those who are promoting the new wave of rapacious investment include the World Bank, its International Finance Corporation (IFC), the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and many other powerful nations and institutions. The US Millennium Challenge Corporation is helping to reform new land ownership laws - privatising land - in some of its member countries. The imported idea that user rights are not sufficient, that land must be privately owned, will efface traditional approaches to land use in Africa, and make the selling off of Africa even easier. GRAIN notes the complicity of African elites and says some African 'barons' are also snapping up land.

Jacques Diouf, director general of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), originally called the land-grabbing a system of 'neocolonialism'.[ix] Since then, however, the FAO appears to have joined the ranks of the World Bank et al who support the land-grabbing and are working towards a 'framework' that will promote 'responsible investment in agriculture' to make it a 'win-win' situation.[x] Which means, in the English that the rest of us speak, that there will be lots of lofty promises, fancy rhetoric emanating from high-level meetings, while business continues as usual. Africa loses. Foreign investors win-win.

Foreign investors have never been, are not and never will be in the business of helping hungry Africans feed themselves and solve food insecurity on the continent, no matter what the land-grabbers would have local people believe.[xi] It's big business, for big profit.

Ndiogou Fall, head of the Network of Peasant Organizations and Producers in West Africa (ROPPA), says that entire communities have been dispossessed of their land and that some states have undertaken massive deforestation projects to satisfy the investors. He declares the members of ROPPA totally opposed to the sale of Africa's arable land.[xii]

And at the same time, another big plan is buffeting Africa's farmers. It's the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), which claims it is working in smallholder farmers' interests by 'catalysing' a Green Revolution in Africa. Green Revolution Number Two. AGRA is being bankrolled primarily by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, along with the Rockefeller Foundation that bankrolled Green Revolution Number One, and it has roped in many major development banks, UN agencies and the CGIAR (Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research) - among others - to help revolutionise African agriculture. AGRA is run by several people with close ties to the biotech monster, Monsanto, and just like Green Revolution Number One, it recommends 'modern' technological solutions such as imported fertilizers and purchased seeds. While it denies that GM crops are necessarily involved, the Gates Foundation has offered US$5.4 million to the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, an American institute funded heavily by Monsanto, to expedite the acceptance by African governments of GM crops for field testing.[xiii] One does want to ask the worshippers of modern technology and industrial agribusiness models who insist on exporting these to Africa, why, when these are supposedly so productive, they have to be so heavily subsidised in Europe and the US.

To render African agriculture commercially profitable, as AGRA aims to do, the Gates Foundation admits (not publicly, but in a leaked document) that it may eventually involve 'land mobility'. That's doublespeak for smallholder farmers being removed from their land.[xiv]

Before it set out to re-invent the African farm, did AGRA revisit - and perhaps criticise - liberalised and imbalanced trade policies that have suppressed prices for African produce and hurt Africa's farmers? Did it examine the economic dogma imposed on Africa that destroyed agricultural extension programmes and reduced government spending on agricultural investment, research and infrastructure? Did it do its homework and take stock of the countless studies of the countless advantages of holistic, small-scale farms that rely on the sharing of local seed varieties and traditional knowledge, of agroforestry and integrated diverse systems of trees, livestock and crops, which reduce risks and are resilient in the face of climate change? Did it examine ways to promote and improve these environmentally sustainable systems? Did it pay more than lip service to the landmark International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) study carried out by dozens of scientists over many years and initiated partly by the World Bank itself, which in April 2009 concluded that agro-ecological agriculture by smallholder farmers was the best solution of all? Did it look at giving African farmers more control over their own resources rather than putting them still more at the mercy of giant seed and agrochemical companies? The answer to all of the above: no.

And perhaps most importantly, did it even engage with Africa's farmers when it drew up its big plans? Not according to Simon Mwamba of the Eastern and Southern Africa Small-Scale Farmers' Forum, who had this to say about AGRA:' You come. You buy the land. You make a plan. You build a house. Now you ask me, what colour do I want to paint the kitchen? This is not participation!'[xv]

So the liquidation sale of African land, traditional knowledge, biodiversity, seeds and crop varieties - of Africa's sovereignty - proceeds unchecked. If it continues, the losses to the continent - to its people, its resources, its environment and its future - are incalculable, just like the profits that will be accrued - elsewhere of course.

Joan Baxter is a Canadian journalist who has lived and worked in Africa for 25 years, reporting for the BBC and other international media and doing research on sustainable natural resource management, agriculture, mining and extractive industries. She is an award-winning author and her latest book, 'Dust From Our Eyes - An Unblinkered Look at Africa' was shortlisted for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize.

NOTES

[i] http://farmlandgrab.org/7803

[ii] http://www.grain.org/briefings/?id=212

[iii] Piro, Patrick. 17 Sept 2009. La course aux terres ne faiblit pas Politis 1029

[iv] http://spore.cta.int/index.php?option=com_content&task=viewČq=en&id=932&catid=10

[v] http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/7952628.stm

[vi] http://www.farmlandgrab.org

[vii] http://www.grain.org/briefings/?id=212

[viii] Mayer, Chris. 4 Oct 2009. This asset is like gold, only better. DailyWealth.

http://www.stockhouse.com/Columnists/2009/Oct/4/This-asset-is-like-gold,-only-better

[ix] Blas, Javier. 18 Aug 2008. Financial Times.

[x] Japan Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 29 Sept 2009. Promoting responsible international investment in agriculture. http://www.mofa.go.jp/policy/economy/fishery/agriculture/investment.html

[xi] Poindexter, Sama. Sept 2009. Awoko Newspaper.

[xii] [http://www.afriquejet.com/actualites/agriculture/le-roppa-opposee-a-la-vente-massive-des-terres-agricoles-en-afrique-2009060128788.html]

[xiii] Friends of the Earth (FOE) Ghana; Togo; Nigeria; Cameroon; Sierra Leone; Tunisia; Swaziland; South Africa; Mauritius. 6 April 2009. AGRA & Monsanto & Gates, Green Washing and Poor Washing.

[http://crossedcrocodiles.wordpress.com/2009/04/06/agra-monsanto-gates-green-washing-poor-washing/]

[xiv] Raj Patel, Eric Holt-Gimenez & Annie Shattuck. 21 September 2009. Ending Africa's Hunger. The Nation. [xv] Ibid

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USAID Provides $400 Million in Humanitarian Assistance
American People Respond to Needs of Ethiopians


Embassy of the United States, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia:
http://ethiopia.usembassy.gov/pr43010.html

Addis Ababa - The American people, through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), have provided US$340 million in emergency and humanitarian food aid -- more than 464,000 metric tons - and more than $60 million in emergency nutrition, water, sanitation, hygiene, and similar non-food assistance over the last year to support vulnerable families and communities in Ethiopia.

The Government of Ethiopia recently announced that 6.2 million Ethiopians are in need of emergency food aid relief as a result of the unexpectedly low rainfall in recent months. USAID is providing an initial contribution of US$50 million to the U.N. World Food Program (WFP) and US$25 million to a consortium of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to respond to these relief needs.

This most recent US$75 million donation, representing 117,810 metric tons of food, has been ordered and should arrive in mid- to late-January 2010. This donation will support WFP contributions to the general relief program, and support emergency relief efforts undertaken by the NGO consortium. Lead organizations within the NGO consortium include Catholic Relief Services, CARE, Food for the Hungry International, the Relief Society of Tigray, Save the Children/US, Save the Children/UK, and World Vision. The bulk of USAID's contributions this year have already arrived and been distributed to beneficiaries. An August 2009 contribution of US$90 million in food relief commodities is scheduled to arrive in mid-November, allowing continued USAID support of relief needs.

"The U.S. Government remains committed to working in collaboration with other donors and the Government of Ethiopia to assist Ethiopians in need of food," said USAID Mission Director Thomas H. Staal. "These important, life-saving efforts are necessary to confront food insecurity in Ethiopia."

All American food aid meets U.S. food safety standards. The United States does not give food aid consisting of viable [GENETICALLY] modified organisms, such as corn or soy grain which could be planted if distributed as aid. The United States does contribute Corn Soy Blend and vegetable oil (which currently contains soy oil) which are essential components of the relief ration. These processed foods may be produced from genetically modified corn or soy, however do not contain viable modified organisms.

In addition to ongoing relief efforts, USAID is also continuing to support the Ethiopian Government's Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP), a public works program which helps more than 7.5 million chronically food insecure Ethiopians every year. The PSNP begins phase two in January 2010. The U.S. donation of nearly 158,500 tons of food aid will support the PSNP program by targeting chronically food insecure populations. The food will be distributed by USAID partners to more than two million beneficiaries of the safety net program in 58 woredas in Afar, Amhara, Oromiya, Tigray, and Somali regions. The United States remains the largest donor of humanitarian assistance to Ethiopia.

In addition to food assistance, the U.S. promotes growth in agricultural production consistent with market principles, increased access to markets and advancement of global policy solutions that foster trade and investment in agriculture. USAID also supports the Ethiopian people through health, education, agriculture, livelihoods, and water and sanitation programs.

_______________________

4 November 2009

Stop selling out science to commerce

Stuart Parkinson and Chris Langley
New Scientist [UK], 4 November 2009:
http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20427335.400-stop-selling-out-science-to-commerce.html?DCMP=OTC-rss&nsref=comment-analysis

DO COMMERCIAL pressures have a negative impact on science? This debate has been raging for so long that it usually raises little more than a shrug of indifference.

That is no longer a defensible response. A new report from our organisation, Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR), exposes problems so serious that we can no longer afford to be indifferent to them.

The report looks at the impact of five commercial sectors on science and technology over the past 20 years. The damaging influence of two of these, pharmaceuticals and tobacco, has been noted before. But we also looked at the oil and gas, defence and biotech sectors, which have been subjected to less scrutiny.

We found a wide range of disturbing commercial influences on science, and evidence that similar problems are occurring across academic disciplines.

Over the past two decades, government policy in the US, UK and elsewhere has fundamentally altered the academic landscape in a drive for profit. Universities have been pushed to adopt a much more commercial mindset, from taking out patents to prioritising research that promises short-term economic gains. The rapid spread of partnerships between businesses and universities has led to some disciplines becoming so intertwined with industry that few academics are able to retain their independence.

Chemical engineering and geology are strongly linked to oil companies, for example, and it is hard to find an engineering department in the UK which does not receive funding from the arms industry. And many life sciences departments have extensive links with the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries.

This creates enormous potential for conflicts of interest. The problem has long been recognised in medical research, and journals are starting to crack down on it, but in other disciplines the problems are rarely even discussed, let alone acted upon.

Such problems are a major concern because they can undermine the quality and reliability of research. This is perhaps best illustrated by "sponsorship bias", where research generates results that suit the funder (The Journal of the American Medical Association, vol 290, p 921). Another well-documented problem is the failure to report results unfavourable to the funder.

Research is also undermined by misleading messages put out by industry-funded lobby groups. Again, these tactics are well known from the tobacco and oil industries, with their deliberate questioning of health research and sponsorship of climate sceptics. Less attention has been given to the funding of some patient groups by pharmaceutical companies and the (sometimes covert) use of PR companies by the biotechnology industry in the debate over genetically modified crops. This does not bode well for public discussions on the risks of synthetic biology.

Another cornerstone of science that is being eroded is the freedom to set the public research agenda so that it serves the public interest. Governments are increasingly focused on delivering competitiveness, and business interests are able to exert pressure on funding bodies through representatives on their boards. As a result, environmental and social problems and "blue-sky" research commonly lose out to short-term commercial gain.

For example, genetics now dominates agricultural science, not least because genetic technologies are highly patentable. This not only dominates privately funded research, but also steers publicly funded research away from work that takes a different approach or explores low-tech solutions.

As a result, "low-input" agriculture, which requires minimal use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides and is cheaper and more useful to poorer farmers, is largely overlooked. Similarly, research on how to improve food distribution receives inadequate support.

Another example is research on security issues, which is overwhelmingly focused on new military technology. Research into understanding the roots of conflict, or to support negotiation and reconciliation programmes, receives a tiny fraction of the tens of billions of dollars spent globally on developing military hardware. And most of that is public money.

Put bluntly, much publicly funded science is no longer being done in the public interest. Despite this, policy-makers are complacent and argue that any damaging effects of commercial influence are minor.

In contrast, many scientists are noticing the effects and becoming discomfited by them. Some are starting to speak out. For example, staff at the Open University in the UK are pushing for new ethical standards for business partnerships following the university's involvement in a major military contract.

However, these campaigns are few and far between. There is a strong incentive for scientists not to make a fuss if their department receives industry funds. This is strengthened by contractual requirements for secrecy that often come with industry partnerships.

To defend independent science, reform is needed, from the level of government policy down to that of the research study. To this end, SGR is making recommendations. These include: the open publication of all funding arrangements between academia and business; ethical standards for business-university partnerships; proper handling of conflicts of interests by journals; more involvement of the public in setting research priorities; and a change in government policies which prioritise research with short-term commercial priorities above all else.

Scientists must now voice their concerns publicly in order that policy-makers hear them. They could do worse than follow the example set by campaigners at the Open University.

Stuart Parkinson and Chris Langley are authors of the SGR report Science and the Corporate Agenda, http://sgr.org.uk/SciencePolicy/CorporateInfluence.htmlwhich can be downloaded from http://sgr.org.uk

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Bayer Modified Rice Trial Jury Told of Crop Mystery

Andrew M. Harris
Bloomberg, 4 November 2009:
http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601127&sid=af1UZypqCCBk

A Bayer CropScience executive who oversaw tests of genetically modified rice told jurors about the discovery of one variety of the grain where another was thought to have been planted five years before it was learned that U.S. crops had been tainted.

Dr. Kirk Johnson described the surprise appearance of the rice strain in a videotaped deposition played today for the federal court jury on the second day of a trial in which two Missouri farmers seek compensation for the company's alleged negligence.

The farmers, and more than 1,000 others, sued the company and its corporate parent, Leverkusen, Germany-based Bayer AG, alleging that mismanagement of the testing program allowed the rice to contaminate crops in Missouri, Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.

The trial before U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry in St. Louis is the first of a series of bellwether cases intended to allow each side to assess the strength of their positions for possible settlement negotiations.

Asked if the detection of one strain of rice approved for human consumption by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration meant that a then-unapproved strain was planted elsewhere, Bayer's Johnson said, "No."

"If there was a flip-flop, we would have saw that flip- flop in the other location," Johnson said. He said he wasn't certain why a small quantity of the unexpected strain was found growing among other Bayer test plantings.

Appropriately Cautious

Bayer's lead defense lawyer, Mark Ferguson, told jurors in his opening statement yesterday that the company had been appropriately cautious in its handling of the modified seeds.

The U.S. Agriculture Department, in August 2006, said the rice, engineered to survive being sprayed with Bayer's Liberty- brand herbicide, was found in commercial rice stores.

Bayer and Louisiana State University had been testing the long-grain variety of the rice. Within four days of the USDA announcement, a decline in rice futures cost U.S. growers about $150 million, according to a consolidated complaint filed by the farmers.

Exports also fell, the growers said, as the European Union, Japan, Russia and other overseas markets slowed for testing or stopped their imports of the U.S.-grown long-grain rice.

'Regrets This Happened'

"Everyone at Bayer regrets that this happened. Farmers are Bayer's customers," Ferguson told jurors during his opening remarks. "The one thing that they were trying to avoid, happened."

The Bayer unit said biotech rice, called LibertyLink, posed no food safety issues.

During his two days of deposition testimony, which was edited for presentation to the jury, Johnson also told about his prior experience working as a rice breeder for the St. Louis beer brewer now known as Anheuser Busch InBev NV.

Johnson told attorneys questioning him that he was at times frustrated with the administration of the Bayer genetically modified rice testing program by Louisiana State University agronomist Dr. Steven Linscombe.

Linscombe, who was in charge of the on-site testing at LSU's Crowley, Louisiana, testing site, "did not fully follow" protocols for breeding of the rice and once allowed genetically engineered samples to be shipped without papers required by the USDA, Johnson said.

Work Continued

Still, Johnson said, Bayer CropScience continued to work with Linscombe and relied on his expertise.

In a telephone interview today, the LSU scientist rejected the assertion he had been incautious with the Bayer test materials.

"We did everything that was called for" in standards set by the Agriculture Department's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, he said. "Our whole business is to be careful in handling seeds.

Linscombe also said Bayer asked him to send one shipment to a private research facility about 40 minutes away, which sent the rice out of state. "I was not aware that rice was being shipped out of state. I did not ship it out of state," he said.

The rice strain's later appearance at private farms "had nothing to do with paperwork or rice shipped out of state without a label," he said.

Bayer spokesman Greg Coffey today declined to comment on the LSU scientist's role, if any, in the spread of its genetically modified rice.

Linscombe has also given videotaped deposition testimony which may be shown to the jury later in the trial, Ferguson said outside court.

The trial may last until early December, Perry has said.

The case is In Re Genetically Modified Rice Litigation, 06- md-01811, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Missouri (St. Louis).

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Harris in St. Louis federal court in at aharris16@bloomberg.net.

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US farm trade nominee Siddiqui defends record

Roberta Rampton
Reuters, 4 November 2009:
http://www.reuters.com/article/Honda/idUSN0454770820091104

WASHINGTON - The Obama administration's pick for chief agricultural trade negotiator defended himself on Wednesday against charges from environmental groups and others who said he would favor big agribusiness over small farms and organic farmers if confirmed.

Islam "Isi" Siddiqui, a senior farm trade official during the Clinton era, has been a vice president since 2001 at the chemical trade lobby CropLife America. Environmental groups say that job should disqualify him from consideration for the new position. [ID:nN28303971]

"All the allegations ... and attacks which I have seen are directed at the trade association that I worked for for eight years," Siddiqui said at a confirmation hearing before the Senate Finance Committee.

"There is no evidence in my public service of 32 years where I made any disparaging remarks against organic or sustainable development," he said.

The chief agricultural trade negotiator works in the U.S. Trade Representative's office on issues affecting U.S. farm exports, which were worth more than $115 billion in 2008.

More than 80 groups -- including small-farm, organic, and environmental organizations -- have asked the Senate committee to reject Siddiqui's appointment because he is too close to businesses that make chemicals and genetically modified crops.

"Siddiqui's record and statements ... show his clear bias in favor of chemical-intensive and unproven biotechnology practices that imperil both our planet and human health while undermining food security and exacerbating climate change," the groups said in a letter to the committee.

Siddiqui worked for the California agriculture department and the U.S. Agriculture Department before joining CropLife, which represents BASF (BASF.DE), Bayer CropScience (BAYE.BO), Dow AgroSciences (DOW.N), du Pont Co (DD.N), Monsanto Co (MON.N) and Syngenta (SYNN.VX).

He was a registered lobbyist for the group from 2001 until 2003.

Siddiqui has strong support from mainstream agricultural groups, 46 of which signed a letter backing him for the job.

Senator Blanche Lincoln, head of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said she would vote for Siddiqui's nomination, and urged other senators to do the same.

Senator Pat Roberts, a Republican from Kansas, also praised Siddiqui's qualifications for the job.

If confirmed, Siddiqui said he would work on technical issues that have prevented U.S. beef from entering certain markets since late 2003, when the United States found its first case of mad cow disease.

"I have found that scientific evidence can be a powerful tool in breaking down trade barriers," he told senators.

He also said we would try to engage the European Union to accept more genetically modified crops, and would pursue more access for U.S. farm products through World Trade Organization talks. [ID:nN044397] (Additional reporting by Doug Palmer; Editing by David Gregorio)

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Argentina: Disappearing Farmers, Disappearing Food

Marie Trigona
LewRockwell.com [USA], 4 November 2009:
http://www.lewrockwell.com/orig10/trigona1.1.1.html

Worldwide, industrial mono-culture farming has displaced traditional food production and farmers, wreaking havoc on food prices and food sovereignty. This is particularly true for the global south, where land has been concentrated for crops destined for biodiesel and animal feed. In response, peasants and small farmers organized actions in more than 53 countries on October 15 for International Food Day as an initiative of Via Campesina, one of the largest independent social movement organizations, representing nearly 150 million people globally.

The National Indigenous Campesino Movement of Argentina joined the protests taking place around the world by organizing a march in Buenos Aires for International Food Day. Argentina has often been described as South America's bread basket because it once produced grain and beef for much of the region. But with the transgenetic soy boom the nation has shifted to a mono-culture production for export, displacing traditional food production and farmers.

Hundreds of campesinos marked the day with protests against this agricultural model outside of Argentina's Department of Agriculture. "For the government, the countryside [is made up of] the landholding organizations and the agro-businesses, we practically don't exist," says Javier from the campesino movement in Cordoba, an organization that includes more than 1,500 families who have depended on traditional agriculture for generations. "We are also part of the countryside. We are the ones who live on the land and protect the land. We want to continue to live on our land, for future generations."

Evicted Farmers

According to Argentina's 2008 agricultural census, more than 60,000 farms shut down between 2002 and 2008, while the average size of farms increased from 421 to 538 hectares. The shift to soy has replaced cultivation of many grains and vegetables and even the country's beef production. Researcher at the nation's social research institute CONICET, Tamara Peremulter outlines the affects of mono-culture soy on food production. "Soy historically hasn't been grown in Argentina. Soy was brought in during the 1960's during the Green Revolution. Transgenetic soy has been brought to lands where before cultivation wouldn't have been possible. The low production cost of soy helped this process. Soy has replaced other crops, invading areas that were historically for cattle grazing and dairy production. Soy has also invaded indigenous and traditional farming communities. This model also implies deforestation and loss of biodiversity"

Land access and disputes over land titles has become one of the central issues for traditional farmers being replaced by machinery and high-tech mono-culture farms. The National Indigenous Campesino Movement of Argentina (MNCI) reports that 82 percent of farmers live off of 13 percent of the nation's land used for agriculture, while 4 percent of large land holders or "growing pools" financial investors in the agro industry own more than 65 percent. The disparities in land titles have lead to violent evictions.

On October 12, 2009 a day on which indigenous communities commemorate the genocide of their people following Christopher Columbus's arrival in 1492, an indigenous farmer, Javier Chacoba was murdered during a protest against the forced eviction of indigenous people off of lands. The 68-old farmer died of a gunshot wound to the abdomen by Dario Amín, a landowner. Members of the Chuschagasta community had been camping along a provincial highway bordering the lands to demand land recognition for the Chuschagasta when Amín and two ex-police officers showed up at the protest. "On the day commemorating 519 years of genocide in Latin America, we suffered the loss of our brother (Javeri Chacobar) for simply standing up for his rights, defending his dignity and land that belongs to him," said Margarita Mamaní, member of the Chuschagasta community.

"They have been evicting farmers and members of the indigenous community from lands. People have been killed in the evictions," says Ricardo Ortiz, an indigenous representative from The Campesino Movement of Santiago del Estero (MOCASE). More than 9,000 families make up MOCASE, a grassroots movement of traditional farmers and indigenous groups. "Now they killed a farmer in Tucuman, a brother. He was in a march to demand their rights and the man who bought the lands took out a gun and shot the man and injured four more. The government has been blind, deaf and mute; this is why we are worried."

Police Repression

In 2008 alone more than 35 campesinos were arrested and arrest warrants issued for 95 more, in Mendoza, Formosa and Santiago del Estero, in communities rejecting the agro-industrial model. Santiago del Estero is a province once rich in forest land and untouched by soy. This changed as the boom in soy prices has made these remote areas now profitable for soy growers.

This is a "witch hunt," as the MNCI has described the situation for campesinos resisting land evictions, and defending traditional cultures. Local police enforce eviction orders and meet any resistance with police force, clubs and many times bullets. "Campesinos resisting are suffering a violent political persecution. We demand that detained farmers are released, that officials, judges and police that violate human rights be investigated and that evictions are stopped," declared the MNCI.

Agro Industry Creates Joblessness

The shift to mono-culture crops and land concentration has stretched into cultivations traditionally employing small farmers such as vineyards. Argentina's wine industry has boomed in recent years, with the total value of Argentine wine in the US increasing from 75 million to 146 million dollars between 2006 and 2008. Mendoza is Argentina's largest wine-producing region, with a micro-climate perfect for the Malbec grape. Access to water is a major issue for rural and indigenous communities there.

Marcelo Quieroga from the Union of Rural Workers (UST) says that much of the vineyards in Mendoza have been monopolized by French and Swiss investors, who buy land and mechanize wine production. "They are using machinery to replace workers. By producing high-quality wines for export the wineries have essentially monopolized the production. Who suffers is the rural worker who can't find work, and ends up living in a shanty town due to rural unemployment."

Rural displacement results in poverty and joblessness; the poorest provinces in Argentina have ironically hosted a boom in soy industry, with soy fields replacing forests and even cattle-grazing land. The MNCI has reported that the soy model creates only one job post for every 500 hectares cultivated. Meanwhile, traditional agriculture provides 35 job posts for every 100 hectares cultivated, while also guaranteeing food diversity, production for local markets and sustainable use of resources such as land and water.

Food Sovereignty

Industrialization and the globalization of Argentina's food system has led to spikes in food prices, and increasing rural poverty. This has become a global trend. "A billion people are without food because industrial monocultures robbed them of their livelihoods in agriculture and their food entitlements," writes Vandana Shiva in the Nation Magazine.

Via Campesina does have an alternative to the agro industry, pushing for governments to promote local, traditional farming which provides communities with real food. "It's time for all civil society to recognize the gravity of this situation, global capital should not control our food, nor make decisions behind closed doors. The future of our food, the protection of our resources and especially our seeds, are the right of the people," said Dena Hoff, coordinator of Via Campesina North America.

Food sovereignty as defined by Via Campesina is the peoples' right to define their agricultural and food policy, and the right of farmers and peasants to produce food. Worldwide communities are seeking an alternative to a model controlled by Cargill, Monsanto, General Foods, Nestle and Kraft foods. Starved by industrialization and concentration, citizens are now hungry for traditional production methods and diversity in the food system.

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3 November 2009

Questions for a Trade Official

New York Times (Editorial), 3 November 2009:
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/04/opinion/04wed4.html?_r=1

When Islam Siddiqui appears for his Senate confirmation, possibly as early as next week, it will be time for some tough questions.

The White House has nominated Mr. Siddiqui for the position of chief agricultural negotiator in the office of the United States trade representative. He is presently a vice president at CropLife America, a coalition of the major industrial players in the pesticide industry, including Syngenta, Monsanto, Dow Chemical and DuPont. That job doesn't seem to square with the Obama administration's professed interest in more sustainable, less chemically dependent approaches to agriculture.

Nor does much of the rest of Mr. Siddiqui's r»sum». The White House has touted his role in the first phase of developing national organic standards. But those standards, as they first emerged in draft form in the Clinton years, were notoriously loose about allowing genetically engineered crops and the use of sewage-sludge fertilizers to be labeled as "organic."

There's no disputing Mr. Siddiqui's experience in government - in California and at the national level. But the business of CropLife - an arm of which openly scoffed at Michelle Obama's plans for an organic garden - is to increase exports of agricultural chemicals.

This seems too narrow a perspective given the administration's interest in the more organic approach favored by many consumers and farmers - an interest reflected not only by Mrs. Obama but by the appointment of Kathleen Merrigan, an advocate of sustainable agriculture, as deputy agriculture secretary.

Everyone wants a pesticide backup, much like an antibiotic when diseases get out of control. But there are other ways to control pests - more diversity in crop production and rotation, for instance - besides chemicals. The negotiator we need is someone who can represent a broad view of American agriculture.

---

See also:

The online petition that's drawn 38,000 signatures
http://action.panna.org/t/5185/petition.jsp?petition_KEY=2150

The letter from 85 groups opposing the nomination ahead of a scheduled confirmation hearing for Islam Siddiqui:
http://www.panna.org/files/FINAL-Finance%20Letter-Siddiqui.pdf

Related press release:
http://www.panna.org/newsroom/20091102

And NYT article:
http://www.nytimes.com/gwire/2009/11/03/03greenwire-pesticide-industry-rep-picked-for-trade-post-dr-4316.html

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GMOs and organic. Spain acknowledges the problem

Green Planet, 3 November 2009:
http://en.greenplanet.net/food/organic/1084-gmos-and-organic-spain-acknowledges-the-problem-.html

The Spanish Ministry for Environment, Rural Activities and Marine Environment has acknowledged the existence of a problem concerning farmers affected by the presence of genetically modified crops nearby conventional or organic ones.

Greenpeace Spain reported that at a meeting organized by the Ministry the following topic was discussed: "Coexistence of genetically modified maize with conventional and organic corn. The experiences of affected farmers."

Spanish public institutions hence recognized for the first time the damage that farmers are suffering from GM farming.

The ministry has not always been aware of these issues, so much that the general manager of the sustainable agricultural development program, Gesù Casas, acknowledged that companies like Monsanto are conducting "an ongoing lobbying work within the Ministry's offices." The general manager also added that "GMO contamination cases deserve outrage," but admitted that he had always voted in favor of genetically modified crops within the Interministerial Council on GMOs (Consejo Interministerial de OMG) although, he acknowledged, he does not master the topic.

During the meeting, officials from the Ministry defended their choices arguing that GMOs remain a viable option and that the government will not back down, Greenpeace reported.

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EU allows politics to dominate GMO policy-Syngenta

Nigel Hunt
Reuters, 3 November 2009:
http://www.reuters.com/article/swissMktRpt/idUSL366818020091103

LONDON - The European Union has allowed politics rather than science to dominate decision making on genetically modified crops, the chief executive of Syngenta AG (SYNN.VX) said on Tuesday.

"The EU is moving further and further away from the principles of science-based decision making," Mike Mack, whose Swiss-based company makes products to kill weeds and bugs as well as GMO seeds, told a conference on food security.

GMO crops have struggled to gain approval in the EU with biotech-sceptic states often managing to prevent a majority consensus under the EU's complex weighted voting system, creating a deadlock.

Opponents have cited both public health and environmental concerns.

Britain's chief scientific advisor John Beddington also expressed frustration at the EU approval process.

"It is perfect reasonably of ask about health and safety of humans and health and safety of the environment with GM crops but subject to appropriate testing and scientific investigation it seems to be a tool that is absolutely essential to be thinking about using," he told Reuters.

"There are quite clearly political views that are fundamentally against GM irrespective of the scientific advice and that is really unfortunate," he said on the sidelines of a Chatham House food security conference.

Syngenta's Mack said EU opposition "sends completely the wrong signal to the world at large."

"It is one of the factors keeping technology out of the hands of Africa. I think we need every tool in the toolbox," he said.

EU rules have blocked imports from countries which use GMO seeds.

This summer, over 200,000 tonnes of soybean and soymeal were refused entry to EU ports, largely in Spain, because they contained small amounts of GMO corn (maize) varieties not approved in Europe. [ID:nL6524536]

"What is required is science-based regulation that does not take a back seat to politics at every turn," Mack said.

Food security has moved up the political agenda with demand expected to rise by 50 percent by 2030 driven by a rising global population and increasing consumption of meat.

Beddington said growing demand would have to be met while at the same time that agriculture must both mitigate its impact on and adapt to climate change. (Editing by William Hardy)

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Feeding the world without harming it

IRIN humanitarian news and analysis, 3 November 2009
(a project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs):
http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=86857

CAPE TOWN - Countries with growing populations can boost food production without punishing the environment if they are willing to experiment with less harmful farming practices, experts at a recent conference on biodiversity suggested.

Agriculture uses more than one-third of land in most countries, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and is one of the chief drivers of environmental degradation and biodiversity loss.

"We need better research on agricultural production systems and biodiversity, both as an input and output," said Leslie Lipper, an FAO environmental economist.

The experts at the conference organized by Diversitas, an international programme on biodiversity science, said that with the right balance between science and good policy, a sustainable path could be found.

Lipper said this would help understand the linkages between biodiversity and agricultural production. Loss of biodiversity reduced the options for ensuring more diverse nutrition, enhancing food production, raising incomes, being able to cope with environmental constraints, and managing ecosystems.

Farmers, the largest group of ecosystem managers, could turn this situation around by changing the way they farmed and tilled the land.

Most farming practices are "extractive", which forced "the farmer to mine the very resource that underpins our ability to feed ourselves", said Achim Steiner, director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), who expressed concern over the heavy use of fertilizer and pesticides.

FAO estimates that about three-quarters of the genetic diversity in agricultural crops have been lost over the last century. Experts at the conference called for minimizing the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and changing the mix of crops, varieties and animal breeds.

Greater collaboration between the environmental and agricultural sectors, the sharing of know-how between countries, better access to markets for smallholder farmers, and increasing the incentives for greater genetic variety in crops were also cited as crucial steps in balancing food production with environmental sustainability.

Power of science

Lawrence Kent, interim deputy director of the Gates Foundation's Agricultural Development Program, was optimistic about the power of science to ameliorate poverty and hunger, and noted a number of areas where improvements can be made in the value chain of food production, including the use of biotechnology and genetic engineering (GE).

GE crops have been presented by some as an answer to the problem of future food production, especially in the development of drought- and flood-tolerant crops that can also grow with smaller inputs of fertilizers and pesticides.

However, questions about the environmental and human health risks of GE crops have resulted in bans in the European Union and Australia, and a moratorium by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

"Biotechnology is simply a tool, certainly not an end in itself," said Kent. "What's most important is to look at things on a case-by-case basis, and not to generalize about biotechnology or conventional breeding, or any of the other methods people use to improve crops."

Lipper agreed: "I think too often people get hung up on the GMO debate and it distracts from the potential benefits of biotechnology in general."

Whatever combination of methods is employed, it is likely that the area of land used for agricultural production will increase, affecting natural biodiversity as more forest and grassland are cleared for planting.

"We need to think about where that will happen and have land-use planning systems in place so that when agriculture does expand, it will do so in the places that we want it to. And the quicker we can move toward improvement in technologies, which may include GMOs [genetically modified organisms], the more chance we have of reducing area expansion," Joshua Bishop, Chief Economist at the IUCN, told IRIN.

"There are so many factors at work here - it's not just a technological issue, it is also about trade policy and agricultural extension, and even internal market reforms," he said.

"So there are lots of factors that would allow farmers to invest in and improve productivity, and if that's combined with good land-use planning, you can get the best of both worlds, increasing returns to farmers without necessary expansion of the land base."

---

Comment from GM-free Ireland:

As the Native Americans observed "White man speaks with forked tongue".

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EU GMO-labelling laws judged insufficient

Press release
Friends of the Earth Europe, 3 November 2009:
http://www.foeeurope.org/GMOs/Index.htm

Brussels - France is poised to become the latest in a growing trend of European countries to introduce GMO-free labels for food in a bid to counter weaker EU standards and to compensate for a loophole in European labelling laws [1]. Currently, EU labelling laws mean meat, dairy and eggs from animals fed with genetically modified animal feed do not have to be labelled.

Helen Holder, European GMO campaign coordinator at Friends of the Earth Europe, said: "The current loophole in EU labelling laws is very handy for the biotech industry, but not good for consumers who have no idea that the meat, dairy or eggs they are eating come from factory farms using genetically modified animal feed."

The official French advisory body on GMOs, the Haut Conseil des Biotechnologies (HBC), today advised the French government that a GMO-free label should be based on a lower threshold than in EU legislation [2]. The government is now expected to follow the Council's advice and to issue a proposal.

Helen Holder continued: "The French High Council's advice is very welcome. A growing number of member states are taking the initiative to make sure that when consumers want GMO-free products, this is what they really get. But this is not enough: an urgent change is needed at EU level. GMO laws must include the mandatory labelling of meat, dairy and eggs throughout the European Union.

"The adoption of GMO-free labelling laws indicates the serious commitment around Europe to ensure that food and crops remain uncontaminated. It is also a strong message to farmers around the world that Europe - one of the biggest global markets - wants GMO-free products. They should listen to this rather than to the biotech industry's marketing spin."

The European Commission is currently overseeing a major review of GMO laws, to be completed in 2010. Friends of the Earth Europe is calling for the labelling of all meat, eggs and dairy from animals fed with genetically modified animal feed.

***

For more information please contact:

Helen Holder, Coordinator of the Friends of the Earth Europe GMOs campaign, +32 2 893 1029 or +32 4 74 857 638 (Belgian mobile), helen.holder@foeeurope.org

Francesca Gater, Francesca Gater, communications officer for Friends of the Earth Europe, +32 2 893 1010 or + 32 4 85 930 515, francesca.gater@foeeurope.org

***

Notes:

[1] EU legislation is based on a threshold of 0.9%. This means that any product with GMO contamination under 0.9% does not have to be labelled as containing GMOs, as long as this contamination can be proven to be technically unavoidable or adventitious. The French advice today is for a GMO free label based on 0.1%

[2] Germany, Austria and Italy also have labelling schemes on place and the Irish government recently announced that they will adopt one.

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Bayer Jury Picked for Genetically Modified Rice Trial

Andrew M. Harris
Bloomberg (via CheckBiotech.org), 3 November 2009:
http://greenbio.checkbiotech.org/news/bayer_jury_picked_genetically_modified_rice_trial

Bayer CropScience AG's first trial defending claims by farmers that genetically modified rice seeds created by the company to resist herbicide damaged their crops is set to start in a federal courtroom in St. Louis.

A lawyer for the company and attorneys representing two of the Missouri farmers who sued it are to make opening statements tomorrow to a nine-person jury selected today.

Bayer AG, based in Leverkusen, Germany, and its CropScience unit face suits from more than 1,000 farmers based in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas and Missouri, which were consolidated before U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry for pretrial proceedings.

"You have to follow the law whether you agree with it or not," Perry told prospective jurors at the outset of about four hours of lawyers' questions and challenges. The verdict must be unanimous.

Perry is presiding over so-called bellwether trials that may guide both sides in talks over out-of-court settlements. A second such trial is to start in January, involving farmers from Arkansas and Mississippi.

Growers Ken Bell and Johnny Hunter, who operate separate southeastern Missouri farming businesses, claim the export market for their crops was curtailed when the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2006 announced that trace amounts of Bayer's genetically modified rice had been found in U.S. long-grain stocks.

Tests by University

Bayer and Louisiana State University had been testing the rice strain for resistance to the company's Liberty herbicide.

Bayer says its CropScience unit acted responsibly and that the LibertyLink strain was safe. The USDA deregulated one of the two grains implicated in the lawsuits in November 2006, approving it for human consumption, the company has said. The strain has never been commercially marketed.

Within four days of the USDA announcement, a decline in rice futures cost U.S. growers about $150 million, according to a consolidated complaint filed by the farmers. News of that contamination had caused futures prices to fall approximately 14 percent.

Exports also fell, the growers said, as the European Union, Japan, Russia and other overseas markets slowed for testing or stopped their imports of the U.S.-grown long grain rice.

Perry in August 2008 rejected the farmers' bid to proceed as a single injured class, subdivided by state, finding there were too many ways for them to market their crops, meaning they weren't all injured in the same manner.

Plaintiffs' lawyer Grant Davis today asked the 32 prospective jurors if they would feel comfortable awarding millions of dollars in damages to Bell and Hunter, if they simply found it was more likely than not that Bayer was responsible for the damage to their crops.

One would-be juror, a woman, said she believed proof would have to be "without a shadow of a doubt for that much money."

Another prospective juror, a U.S. Navy veteran also said he'd "have to really know" the company was responsible before returning a large damage award, prompting plaintiffs' lawyer Grant Davis to try to illustrate his point using the city's National Football League franchise.

"If the Rams win the Super Bowl 7-6, do they still win the world championship?" Davis asked about the team, which has won just one of eight games in 2009.

"Not this year," the juror replied.

Neither the man nor the woman were selected for the panel that will hear the case.

Lead defense lawyer Mark Ferguson also canvassed the jurors, seeking those who had ties to the biology, bio-sciences and commodities industries. He found nobody.

Several jurors told the court they'd studied economics and accounting. One of those who did was chosen for the final group of nine, comprised of four men and five women.

Ferguson, a partner in the Chicago-based law firm Bartlit Beck Herman Palenchar & Scott LLP, will deliver Bayer's opening statement. Davis and co-counsel Don Downing will speak first for their farmer clients, Bell and Hunter.

The case is In Re Genetically Modified Rice Litigation, 06- md-1811, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Missouri (St. Louis).

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew M. Harris in federal court in St. Louis at aharris16@bloomberg.net.

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Canada, EU endorse GM flaxseed protocol

Dwayne Klassen
Manitoba Cooperator [Canada], via CheckBiotech, 3 November 2009:
http://greenbio.checkbiotech.org/news/canada_eu_endorse_gm_flaxseed_protocol

Canada and the European Union have endorsed a flax protocol that was developed by the Canadian government in consultation with the Flax Council of Canada, Canadian flax exporters and DG Sanco of the European Commission, according to an official with Flax Council of Canada.

The protocol describes the system of sampling, testing and documentation pertaining to the presence of CDC Triffid in shipments of Canadian flaxseed to the European Union, said Barry Hall, president of the Flax Council of Canada.

The need to develop the protocol came in response to the suspension of all Canadian flaxseed imports to Europe after the discovery by European labs of a genetic marker in the commodity in July.

In early September, the Canadian Grain Commission confirmed a trace amount of GM material in some Canadian flaxseed shipments. Subsequent discoveries in additional Canadian flaxseed shipments have also occurred.

Europe has a zero tolerance policy for certain genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

The European laboratories claim the GMO material in the Canadian flaxseed is FP967, commonly known as CDC Triffid.

Europe represents about 70 per cent of Canada's flax exports. On average between 500,000 to 700,000 tonnes of Canadian flaxseed, or roughly two thirds of Canada's production, is shipped to European destinations on a crop year basis, private sources estimated.

There are currently no varieties of GM flaxseed registered in Canada. Triffid got regulatory feed and environmental safety authorizations in 1996, and food safety authorizations in 1998, but was never released for commercial production.

The Crop Development Centre of the University of Saskatchewan (CDC) had developed Triffid, which is tolerant to soil residues of certain herbicides. It was never marketed as seed for commercial crop production in Canada and was voluntarily deregistered in 2001 on the basis of market access concerns with the EU. It was believed that all Triffid seed had been removed from the marketplace.

Who will test?

"This was an important first step in resuming Canadian flaxseed exports to European destinations," Mike Jubinville, an analyst with ProFarmer Canada, said of the new protocol. "However, now the next step will be to determine who will be doing the protocol testing."

If approval is given that the Canadian Grain Commission does the testing before the flax is exported, shippers of the flaxseed will have more confidence in moving the product to its destination, Jubinville said.

However, if members of the European Union want to conduct their own testing, there will be less confidence among the shippers to move flaxseed from Canada to those locales.

"Each member state may or may not adopt the same protocols, and if there is a chance of the Canadian flaxseed shipments being cancelled by the EU member, that could become a very costly adventure for the Canadian exporter," Jubinville said. "It's at that point, those shippers will be reluctant to make any sales to the EU."

Once laboratories have been validated, testing of samples will begin, with priority being given to selection of Triffid-free material for shipment of flax to Europe, Hall said.

The government and the Winnipeg-based flax council "will be working in a collaborative manner with our producers to identify stocks of Triffid and take steps to ensure that these stocks are removed from the system," Hall said.

The Flax Council of Canada was hopeful that laboratories will be validated and that sufficient testing can be conducted to minimize the risk of positive tests in time for shipments of flax to resume to Europe before the close of navigation this year.

"Canada's objective through the implementation of the flax protocol is to meet strict EU import requirements and to allow for a secure and predictable supply of flaxseed to Europe," Hall said.

He acknowledged that further import testing by EU member states may impose additional risk to Canadian and European industry, causing exporters to possibly reconsider shipping to those respective export markets.

However, in order to ensure quick resolution and to avoid further trade disruptions, it's essential for member states to support this approach "expeditiously," Hall said.

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Comment from the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network:

It sounds like the Flax Council is urging EU member States to trust Canadian testing and not re-test. Canadian Government officials say that re-testing of shipments is a big concern.

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Three speedy GM maize approvals ease soy imports

Jess Halliday
Food Navigator, 3 November 2009:
http://www.foodnavigator.com/Legislation/Three-speedy-GM-maize-approvals-ease-soy-imports

The European Commission last week approved three varieties of genetically modified maize for import and processing for food and feed uses, as soy imports into the EU were held up by the bloc's zero tolerance policy.

Just 10 days before the Commission adopted decisions on Monsanto's MON 88017 and MON 89034 and Pioneer's 59122x a council vote on the approval application came to no conclusion. This meant that the matter was passed back to the Commission to make a default decision.

The Commission's decision, exercised whenever agreement cannot be reached by member states, is made on the basis of safety evidence. EFSA has given positive safety opinions for MON 88017 and MON 89034 and 59122x, but the matter became pressing as these are three of the four maize varieties that have been impeding soy imports since the summer.

Traces of unapproved GM maize have been found in shipments of US soy in June, and since the EU accepts no amount of unapproved GM material, no matter how tiny, some 200,000 tonnes of soy have been refused entry. This has caused particular concern for the animal feed sectors and meat sectors, as Europe is reliant on soy from the US, Argentina and Brazil.

An analysis from Wageningen University projected that the economic impact of the lost US soybean imports would be between €3.5 to €5 billion by March 2010, comprised of lost revenues for the crushing industry as well as higher raw material costs for food and feed.

The contamination is thought to have occurred as containers are often shared for soy and for maize.

Agriculture commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel is said to be keen on finding a way for GM crops to be approved more quickly and efficiently, as getting to the Commission's default 'rubber stamping' after rounds of disapproval between member states is a long and round-about process.

Some member states are staunchly opposed to GM, and anti-GM groups argue that the long-term impact of genetic modification for human and environmental health is unknown, and will not be known for many years yet.

Zero tolerance?

A proposal that would set minimum levels for GM material, removing the zero tolerance rule, is also being prepared, and may be ready by the end of the year, Fischer Boel has said.

In a recent statement on competitiveness of the EU food and beverage sector, the Confederation of the Food and Drink Industries of the EU drew attention to the impact of the "asynchronous nature of GMO approval procedures, coupled with the application of a zero tolerance threshold for the low level presence (LLP) of GMOs not yet approved in the EU."

Given that GM approvals around the world are expected to increase by 2015, Europe [sic] it expects the EU to continue experiencing problems of this kind of the policy does not change.

One to go...

While shipments from sources containing the now-approved maize varieties may now restart, the forth [sic] maize identified, MIR 604 from Syngenta, has yet to be passed by the Commission.

Insect-repellent MIR604 was the subject of a positive opinion from the European Food Safety Authority in July. The risk assessor's GMO panel concluded that the intended uses in food and feed, import and processing (and not cultivation) would be unlikely to have any adverse effect on human or animal health or on the environment.

However last month the Commission [failed] to reach agreement on the proposal for its authorisation during the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health. This means it must now be passed to the Council.

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Comment from TraceConsult™

While those responsible in the European Commission for GMO approvals continue to play cat-and-mouse with the Council of Ministers by pulling another "fast one" in the area of approving GM corn varieties, the official French advisory body on GMOs, the Haut Conseil des Biotechnologies (HBC), has today advised the French Government that a GMO-free label should be based on a lower threshold than in EU legislation. The government is now expected to follow the Council's advice of a maximum threshold at the generally accepted detection limit of 0.1 percent and to issue a proposal for a regulation.

This will soon bring to four the number of significant agricultural producers among EU Member States who have regulation in place allowing private consumers what they have said the prefer for more than a decade: Having an educated choice at the local grocer's when it comes to animal products raised on a GMO-free diet. Austria and Germany have led the way, Ireland has recently announced it will create a GMO-free labeling scheme - and now France, the EU's number one in the production of animal feed, ›joins the ranks.

And this will sharpen the contrast between political decision makers who demonstrate they care about consumer and voter preferences by implementing regulations accordingly - and those politicians who simply don't.

The courageous French producers who, in anticipation of the imminent new regulation, have already begun to market products labeled "nourri sans OGM" will now be completely vindicated of something no Frenchman with any common sense would have accused them of. The fact that they will soon receive clear instructions on the legal details regarding their feedstuffs should be embraced as a welcome side benefit.

Can food manufacturers and marketers be the better politicians? Perhaps more courageous entrepreneurs would be a central benefit for the European food and retail industry!

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2 November 2009

Zero tolerance for GM foods in Europe

Mohan Murti
The Hindu Business Line [India]:
http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/2009/11/02/stories/2009110250300900.htm
The author is former Europe Director, CII, and lives in Cologne, Germany.


Food is to European culture what free speech is to American culture. There may not always be a good scientific reason for concern, but to consider eating something that has resulted from some laboratory manoeuvring is felt by many Europeans as a kind of refutation of the true self.

Whether judiciously or not, most Europeans are frightened to death of genetically modified food. And, this is not entirely a matter of Europeans' falling victim to protectionist propaganda or frenzy. Trying to force genetically modified food down European throats is the surest way to guarantee that they swallow neither the potatoes nor a lot of the tactics to dump GM foods.

More than ever today, Europeans are talking about where their food comes from. Food scares push people towards farmers' markets and more home-cooked fare made with fresh ingredients.

The Atharva Veda 12:1:62, says - O Mother Earth, - Let thy bosom be free - From sickness and decay - May we through long life - Be active and vigilant - And serve thee with devotion.

In most of Europe, this Atharva Veda concept of manipulation-free, local-food movement has been gaining momentum in recent years.

Right Decision

Europeans applaud the recent Indian Government's pronouncement to postpone its decision on the approval of genetically modified Bt aubergines. There are compelling reasons, Europeans feel, why India cannot afford to ignore the environmental and health risks of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

In Europe, regulations are being imposed in the Parliament, individual European nations, and some stores themselves have all imposed restrictions on GM foods.

There is virtually no market for GM foods in Europe as consumers and farmers have overwhelmingly rejected them. EU labelling and traceability regulations also give consumers better information to decide.

Several European retailers have a policy of not selling, under their own brand name, any product requiring a GM label in their markets. Most have put this policy in place years ago, and all have quality-control tests and audit systems to exclude GM ingredients. Countries that have planted GM crops on a large scale have seen their exports to Europe crash.

European Scenario

European farmers are rejecting GM crops and turning to ecological farming. They do not want to be at the mercy of bullying multinationals which are threatening to take control of food.

Most of the 27 EU nations are opposed to GMOs because of risks to the environment and the kind of cross-pollination, of which the Spanish farmers and others have complained. They have been calling for the EU's agreement on authorising such crops, and the evaluation methods used by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to be beefed up, notably to put more emphasis on the risks of cross-pollination.

Only a handful of GMOs have been approved for cultivation in the EU; of them, only Monsanto's MON810 maize, approved in 1998, is so far being grown.

The MON810 case has become a source of transatlantic friction. The US has warned Europe against using environmental issues as an excuse for protectionism.

In Germany, the federal states are responsible for official food surveillance. Each of the 16 states has established at least one laboratory for analysing foods for their content of GMOs and, thereby, for their compliance with labelling regulations. Each year, thousands of foods are tested.

The individual results vary from state to state and year to year, but there is a clear trend.

Foods derived from unauthorised GM crops are usually picked up by the European Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) and turned back at the borders. This system prevents unauthorised products from reaching the European market.

GMO-free label

Since May 2008, it has been possible in Germany to apply the label "without gene technology" to food products. Its primary application is in the identification of foods such as milk or meat, derived from animals for which no genetically modified plants such as maize or soy were used in feed.

The criteria are stricter for other foodstuffs: Neither the application of additives obtained through genetic modification nor the accidental admixture of genetically modified plants is allowed.

The standardised logo is making it easier for consumers to choose food products without gene technology in an informed manner.

No more soy shipments are reaching European shores from the US. After several ships were turned away due to traces of Bt maize MON88017 and MIR604 being found in the cargo, all importers are shying away from the risk of such imports.

Europeans are convinced that contamination of the food-chain with GM ingredients and GMOs would create serious and possibly irreversible economic impacts on farmers.

The resulting economic losses - together with patent infringement lawsuits by the biotechnology companies - are likely to lead to a veritable Pandora's box of legal actions.

Genie in the Bottle

For Europeans, genetic engineering of plant life is 'sinful'

Europeans believe that the science of genetic engineering is unpredictable and that this 'Golden Goose' of industry is laying some stale, mouldy, rotten eggs.

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Ethiopia Biodiversity Law Threatens Food Aid Shipments

Peter Heinlein
Voice of America, 2 November 2009:
http://www.voanews.com/english/2009-11-02-voa47.cfm

Addis Ababa - Ethiopia is reviewing a newly-passed law that could restrict imports of food aid at a time when millions of its people are suffering from severe malnutrition. VOA's Peter Heinlein in Addis Ababa reports on the unintended consequences of a regulation designed to protect Ethiopia's biodiversity.

Ethiopia's parliament passed the Proclamation on Bio Safety with little notice on the final day before its summer recess in July. There was no debate, and no dissenting votes.

The proclamation gives the Ethiopian Environmental Protection Authority power to block the import of GMOs, or genetically modified organisms. The idea was to protect the country's diverse life forms against genetically engineered seeds and grains that some scientists believe may pose health hazards.

But EPA regulators soon realized the proclamation also covers the vast majority of the food aid Ethiopia receives.

With the country in the third year of a drought, authorities have just issued an appeal for more aid to feed 6.2 million severely malnourished people.

Member of Parliament Bulcha Demeksa says lawmakers approved the Bio Safety Proclamation without realizing its consequences.

"I do not think the parliament understood it. Because everybody knows that food from Australia and Canada, all of them are produced with genetic engineering, and to say we do not want food from these countries is not tenable, it is not intelligent," Demeksa said.

The United States is by far the largest food-aid donor to Ethiopia. At the moment, the U.S. Agency for International Development has 300,000 metric tons of commodities such as wheat, corn-soy blend and vegetable oil on the way to meet the country's urgent needs.

USAID Country Director Thomas Staal says he has received assurances from Agriculture Ministry officials that the law will not be an obstacle to getting aid to needy Ethiopians.

"We've gotten assurances from them that it's not going to stop our food aid, it's already en route, some of it, and we're working with them trying to provide them input into what we're bringing in, and they're looking at their rules, and there's going to be a number of directives that will sort of roll out this law and those directives are still under discussion," Staal said.

In a telephone interview, Ababu Anage, head of the Ecosystems Department of the Environmental Protection Authority defended the law as necessary to protect human and animal health. But he said enforcement of the new law is still a subject of negotiation.

"We are not saying we will not [permit] any GMOs to this country. We need the GMOs, but we should give emphasis on the bio safety aspect of it," Anage said.

USAID's Thomas Staal says he has emphasized to Ethiopian officials that all American food aid meets U.S. health standards.

"So we do not think it causes any problem with the environment here, and not to people's health or safety. We do not bring in food that we do not eat ourselves in America. And second, we would not bring in any food here that would be unhealthful to the Ethiopian people," said Staal.

Last year, the United States donated close to $700 million worth of food aid to Ethiopia, or 80 percent of the total the Horn of Africa country received.

But many see the aid as inefficient. A U. S. Government Accountability Office report suggested more than 40 percent of the cost of the aid goes for transportation and other overhead costs.

In a speech to parliament last month, Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi criticized what he called the 'food aid industry'. He accused 'industry actors' of deliberately inflating the number of Ethiopians in need of aid, and suggested their motive is more about profit than about saving lives.

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Comment from GM Watch:

This shows that the days of the Reuters headline "Eat GM or starve, America tells Africa" are not over yet. Leverage is clearly being sought to undermine national laws and regulations that don't suit the US and the GM/grain trade lobby in both Ethiopia and Turkey (see "Turkey Bans Imports of Biotech Products" under 30 October below). Just as in Europe...

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GMO approval may not help US soy shipments to EU
• US soy trade still stalled due to traces of GMO corn
• EU approves 3 out of 4 types of GMO corn
• Decision on fourth variety could come in November


Reuters, 2 November 2009:
http://www.reuters.com/article/CHMMFG/idUSN0245548220091102

KANSAS CITY / HAMBURG - U.S. shipments of soybeans and soymeal to the European Union are unlikely to return to normal anytime soon, despite the EU expanding which varieties of biotech grain may enter the bloc, industry experts said on Monday.

This summer, over 200,000 tonnes of soybean and soymeal were refused entry to EU ports, largely in Spain, because they contained small amounts of GMO corn (maize) varieties not approved in Europe. [ID:nL6524536]

Corn and soybean are often shipped in the same containers and using the same ships.

The EU authorized three types of GMO corn on Friday but at least four types of GMO corn have contaminated the soy shipments.

"This is a positive step forward, but is by no means, an open door for biotech-derived commodities," said Rebecca Fecitt, director of biotech programs for the U.S. Grains Council.

Approval was still needed of the GMO maize type MIR604 from Swiss group Syngenta (SYNN.VX) before normal imports could resume, a spokeswoman for European grain trade association Coceral said.

"However, it is highly unlikely that imports of soybeans and meal from North America will be restarted before the other GMO event, MIR604 is authorised," the spokeswoman said.

However, some soy shipments to the EU that had been blocked as they contained small traces of the three maize types may now be freed, the Coceral spokeswoman said.

EU approval for GMO imports has been slow because of public concern about their safety. But the EU Commission, the bloc's executive arm, said in September it would seek to find a solution on quicker approvals to stop disruption of other imports. [ID:nLE636474]

An EU decision on MIR604 maize could be made in November, said Alexander Doering, secretary general of the European feed manufacturers' association Fefac.

"Normal trade cannot be resumed quite yet," Doering said.

Seed companies optimistic

Still, U.S. manufacturers of GMO corn said they were heartened by the approvals and had high hopes the moves would further erode EU barricades to other biotech crops.

The EU approved import and processing of MON88017 and MON89034, from U.S. biotech company Monsanto (MON.N), and 59122xNK603 from Pioneer Hi-Bred, a unit of Dupont (DD.N).

"We are encouraged by this approval and look forward to continued progress of biotech approvals in the EU," said Paul Schickler, president of Pioneer Hi-Bred.

DuPont developed the maize to be herbicide and insect resistant in conjunction with Dow AgroSciences, part of the Dow Chemical Co. (DOW.N)

"We urge the commission and EU member states to similarly approve biotech crops for cultivation so Europe's farmers have access to the same technologies as other farmers around the world," said Schickler.

The approvals are a boost to North American and South American farmers growing the products, and would offer European livestock producers greater market access to feed supplies, said Jerry Hjelle, Monsanto's vice president of global regulatory matters.

"We hope for timely EU approvals for other existing and pipeline products," said Hjelle.

The approvals still fall short of opening the door to cultivation, which the biotech seed makers are pushing for. (Reporting by Michael Hogan in Hamburg and Carey Gillam in Kansas City, additional reporting by Sam Nelson in Chicago; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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Trade Chaos Looms as GM Crops Proliferate

Paul Voosen of Greenwire
New York Times, 2 November 2009:
http://www.nytimes.com/gwire/2009/11/02/02greenwire-trade-chaos-looms-as-gm-crops-proliferate-98320.html

Third in a five-part series about genetically modified crops. Click here for the first part and here for the second. Europe can't feed its pigs -- at least, not by itself.

Meat-hungry and short on animal feed, European nations have relied for years on protein imports, such as the ground meal of soybeans from the United States, to sustain their cattle and pig farms. While this complex chain of trade has worked reasonably well, it has started to be threatened by a microscopic foe: the dust of genetically modified (GM) crops.

Since July, European regulators have stopped at least a dozen shipments of soybeans or soy meal from the United States, according to the European Union. Border agents blocked the shipments -- totaling more than 200,000 tons -- after finding minute traces of GM corn that, while approved in the United States, had not been cleared for import in Europe.

This crop gap between the United States and Europe has been growing starker each year, and an emergency could be imminent, according to Hilde Willekens, a governmental affairs director for the seed firm Syngenta AG.

"When is the crisis big enough to become a problem? This summer, large cargos have been held in Germany and Spain," Willekens said. Without U.S. soybeans, the whole feed market could collapse, and yet Europe "doesn't respond as if it is important," she said.

Soy shipments have been stopped in Spain, Germany and Denmark, all of which found traces of a new breed of GM corn developed by Monsanto Co. While the company long ago sought approval for the corn in Europe, it languished in the bloc's convoluted approval process and was finally approved Friday.

Almost invariably, traces of this dust have mingled in the long progression soy makes from U.S. fields through grain elevators, freight trains and ocean vessels across the Atlantic. Since Europe has zero tolerance for importing any unapproved GM crop, the dust was enough to bring the soy trade to a screeching halt.

"This summer was the first time we realized that you can find one crop in another as a low-level presence," said Emilio Rodriguez Cerezo, an E.U. researcher. "The boats are not fully cleaned."

Added Bryan Endres, an agriculture law professor at the University of Illinois: "It's a real concern to the industry because once the cat's out of the bag, it's hard to put it back in. Once these [crops] are in the commodity system, it's hard to resegregate them out."

The European Union -- which, given its hodgepodge federalism, may work best in a crisis -- did finally hear the multitude of complaints from its feed importers. For the past two months, the European agriculture minister, Mariann Fischer Boel, berated and spoke darkly of what could occur if Monsanto's corn is not approved quickly.

Month after month, genetically modified organisms receive a clean bill of health from Europe's food safety agency, and yet the member states lack the political will to rule for or against them, Boel said at a policy dialogue this month in Brussels.

The problem will only get worse, Boel warned.

"For the farm sector, the imbalance between the European Union and the rest of the world is a clear and present financial threat," she said.

'A never-ending story'

The problems that Europe has had with corn dust are only a foreshadowing of the trade chaos that is due to follow a rapid increase in the number of GM crops, experts say. Across the globe, countries are unprepared for the stress new crops will put on their trade and their time.

A rich pipeline of GM crops is emerging from countries that have previously produced little in the way of new research. China, Brazil and Argentina are investing heavily in the field, inserting new traits in rice, tobacco, sugar cane and cassava, for example.

Currently, there are some 30 GM crop traits that are used worldwide. Within five years, there will be more than 120 such traits, according to a report issued by the Joint Research Centre, the European Union's scientific research service.

"The result is that a growing number of GM products are widely used in other parts of the world but are not yet authorized in the European Union," Boel said, "not because we've found evidence of risk but because the political decision is being knocked around like a ball in a slow-motion tennis match."

Cerezo, one of the JRC report's lead authors, added, "It's become clear that everything affects everything. You need to see it globally."

While the problem with Monsanto's corn may be resolved, another imbalance is sure to pop up, he said.

"Then will come another one," Cerezo said. "It's a never-ending story."

The problem will not be limited to the European Union. The United States' policy for unapproved imports is identical to Europe's -- zero tolerance. This has not been an issue, since the United States has been the home base for the world's GM crops. But that will change, said Endres, the University of Illinois law professor.

"When we start importing crops from other countries that have advanced their biotech programs ... we're going to be at the other end of the equation," Endres said. "We're not always going to be the GM exporter."

Currently, most GM crops are developed by multinational chemical or seed companies like Monsanto or Syngenta, which seek broad approval for their products worldwide. But by 2015, half of all GM crops will stem from Asia and Latin America, designed for local markets, the JRC report found.

"It seems very improbable that all these new GM crops will be submitted for approval," the report says, warning that would make future trade disruptions far more likely.

There are no easy answers for the problem.

For example, it has become more common to "stack" genetic traits, such as herbicide resistance, in single plants. In Europe, each new stacked GM plant requires a separate review, which will cause an even heavier workload for regulators. The United States, meanwhile, allows stacked GM plants with previously analyzed genes to pass with low levels of review, causing outrage from environmental groups.

One seemingly simple way to prevent future trade flare-ups would be for both the United States and European Union to adopt thresholds for the presence of unapproved GM crops. Most of the percentages detected during the soy-meal fears were below 0.1 percent -- lower than what can be measured without scientific doubt.

Regulators and consumers need to understand that no such thing as "absolute purity" exists in agriculture, said Kimball Nill, the technical issues director of the U.S. Soybean Export Council.

Farming is a dirty, mixed-up process. There are thresholds for all sorts of other products, like stones or rat feces, for example.

"In theory, 2 percent [of the soy meal] could be topsoil," Nill said.

Mix-and-match results

The largest frustration faced by importers and exporters on both sides of the Atlantic is the sheer uncertainty that can come when unapproved GM crops are floating through the system. It is not uncommon for a shipment to test GM-negative at a U.S. port and GM-positive once it has reached Germany.

With such mix-and-match results, economic liability becomes a major concern, said Endres, the agriculture lawyer.

"Who's responsible at that stage? Who's responsible for the loss?" Endres said. If the crop is refused by regulators, "the liability is tremendous."

False positives are a real concern, since regulators "are working at the lowest level of the detection method," Cerezo said. Different laboratories have different definitions of what is the presence of GM genes and what is not. There is no harmonization of standards, he said.

Animal-feed markets are particularly sensitive because increasingly, there is not enough protein to go around. China has discovered a taste for meat, in a big way, and has begun sucking in imports from North and South America that might have previously gone to Europe.

During the soy troubles, pork producers, which have to make contracts for months in advance, were stressed and threatened swearing off U.S. imports entirely. There were projections that feed could triple in price.

"The operators that import feed from the United States or Argentina are suffering from instability," said Cindy Boonen, a policy adviser at Belgium's Flemish Agriculture Department. "They're running a large risk buying a product they may have to send back."

But given the few European sources, feed companies have little choice but to gamble -- successfully, this time -- that the crisis would be solved.

Few doubt that similar problems will arise in the future, and yet there has been little movement, on either side of the Atlantic, toward establishing a threshold for the low-level presence of unapproved GM crops. In Europe, where GM products remain hugely unpopular, don't expect progress anytime soon, the industry says (Greenwire, Oct. 21).

"The backlog is simply enormous," Syngenta's Willekens said. "If there is no administrative action to move the process quicker, we will continue to have problems."

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Comment from GM-free Ireland:

The giant US agri-biotech and commodity trade corporations use their monopoly on seeds and a "contaminate first & legislate later" policy to push their unwanted GM animal feed into the European market. First, they convince (or force) US farmers to grow GM varieties that are illegal in the EU, instead of the GM-free crops which the EU market prefers. They then refuse to segregate their supply chains, and connive with the animal feed cartels to convince European politicians that the resulting GM contamination will lead to feed and food shortages unless the EU abandons its zero tolerance food safety policy. The European Commission responds by legalising new GM varieties against the wishes of the Member States, thus perpetuating the cycle.

All this scaremongering diverts attention from the choice of a certified GM-free supply chain. Brazil continues to be the leading country in Non-GM soy production with 45 per cent (26 million tonnes) of its 2009 crop being Non-GM - enough to satisfy any demand for Non-GM soy products from Europe for many years to come. For details download:

Cert-ID certified 'Non-GMO' soy meal and other soy products
Volumes available from South America
Cert ID, Brazil, 28 August 2009:
http://www.gmfreeireland.org/feed/documents/CERT-ID/Brazil-Non-GM-Cert-Volume-2009-ENG-V3-0.pdf

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Why a freeze on GM crops

Pushpa M Bhargava
Express Buzz [India], 2 November 2009:
http://www.expressbuzz.com/edition/story.aspx?Title=Why+a+freeze+on+GM+crops&artid=3Q3a3wHQmpU=&SectionID=XVSZ2Fy6Gzo=&MainSectionID=wIcBMLGbUJI=&SectionName=m3GntEw72ik=&SEO=GM%20food,GM%20crops,Bt%20brinjal

I had the privilege of being one of the two persons who coined the term 'genetic engineering' (GE) independently in 1973 in articles in the public press.

We predicted that this technology would revolutionise our lives. Later, in the 1980's, I had the privilege of chairing the first national committee on genetic engineering and molecular biology set up by the Science and Engineering Research Council, the largest scientific grant-giving body of the government of India. We set up all the facilities required for doing GE so that this technique may be widely used in our country both in the private and the public sector.

In many ways, the promise of GE has been fulfilled in the last 25 years. We wouldn't have, for example, such cheap hepatitis vaccine and human insulin as we have today, were it not for genetic modification (GM) technology. But like all highimpact technologies, its indiscriminate use by unethical vested interests has raised many problems. The area where these problems are having the highest impact is the production of GM crops - both edible (like Bt brinjal) and non-edible (like Bt cotton) which is the only GM crop so far permitted to be commercialised in India.

There are at least 10 reasons as to why commercialisation of GM crops (largely in the US, Canada, Argentina, and Brazil, with some 90 per cent of member-countries of the UN being opposed to GM crops and GM food) has been unethical and why we in India should put a moratorium on their open field trials and environmental release for 10 years, which is the period we would need to prepare ourselves for dealing with them objectively and in national interest: n All marketed GM crops in all countries excepting China, have been produced by the private sector (often multinational corporations) which has only profit as its motive.

Some of these MNCs have a long and a continuing record of engaging in illegal and unethical practices for which they have been fined in spite of their close liaison with the government of their country (mostly USA).

These MNCs have prevented local development of GM crops and attempted to establish a monopoly with the help of local bureaucracy, political set up and even scientists.

Propagation of GM technology has been a ploy to control seed production in India, for anyone who controls seed and agro-chemicals production, controls food security in our country and thus the country itself.

A much larger number of mutations (genetic changes) occur on genetic manipulation than in normal plant-breeding. Such mutations can change the chemistry and biochemistry of the organism at the molecular level, which could have a dramatic impact on the functioning of the plant.

There are techniques such as DNA fingerprinting, chromosomal analysis, proteomics, transcriptomonics and metabolonomics which can identify these changes. These techniques have not been used in the case of any GM crop, including Bt brinjal.

Around 30 tests have been identified by responsible and credible scientists around the world which need to be done to establish bio-safety and functional viability of a GM crop. I brought these tests to the notice of the GEAC immediately after I was nominated on it by the Supreme Court.

Nowhere in the world including India, all these tests have been done. More than twothirds of these tests, such as long-term toxicity experiment or tests for carcinogenicity, have not been conducted.

The tests that have been done, have been done largely by the company itself and that too, at times, in a shoddy way. A few tests that have been done by other accredited organisations have been done on samples provided by the company. None of these tests have ever been validated by an independent organisation with high public credibility and, therefore, are as good as not having been done. The GEAC has put an implicit faith in Monsanto, and has accepted what Monsanto has said as the gospel truth, in spite of Monsanto's well-documented extremely poor record of honesty, integrity and ethics, spanning over several decades. Details of this record can be provided.

It is an anachronism that in spite of India being so scientifically and technologically advanced, we do not have an independent laboratory with high public credibility which can do all the required bio-safety and related tests and thus keep an eye on the validity of the tests done by a company such as Monsanto. This has been a deliberate omission to help MNCs.

We have no labelling laws, unlike many other countries including most of Europe and the UK, where, if a food product contains more than 0.9 per cent of GM material, it must be labelled as GM so that the buyer has an informed choice when he is buying food. We have deliberately ensured that we do not have such labelling laws so that if Bt brinjal is approved by the government for environmental release and commercialised, we will not know that we are eating it.

There has been an enormous amount of highly responsible and credible scientific literature by scientists, published in some of the world's best-known journals in the last few years, which talks about the many toxic and other undesirable effects of GM food and GM crops. The GEAC has, in any of the meetings that I have attended, never discussed even one of these findings, and assumed that there is no case against GM crops.

The reports and statements put out by GEAC have been, many a times, factually incorrect and full of inconsistencies. An example would be the 102-page report of the committee called EC-II which was appointed to look at the criticisms by many distinguished foreign scientists and me on the bio-safety data of Monsanto on Bt brinjal; it will not stand independent scientific scrutiny anywhere. Virtually no time was given to the members of the GEAC to go through this report which was passed at the meeting of the GEAC on the October 14 this year, in just about one hour which included its presentation item-by-item and discussion.

There is a great deal of other evidence which strongly indicates a nexus between MNCs (read USA), our bureaucracy and political set-up and a small number of our privileged people, who wish to use GM crops such as Bt brinjal to further their personal agenda that have nothing to do with the interests of over 90 per cent of the people of the country.

In the light of this, the decision of Jairam Ramesh, minister for environment and forests, to postpone decision on environmental release of Bt brinjal until enough time has been given to people to review what has been done on Bt brinjal critically and according to stringent scientific norms, and then to have a scientific discussion on the merit or demerit of such a release, is fair and wise. We must commend the minister for his courageous stand.


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