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30 March 2010

Vatican's Perspective on GMO: Signaling Winds of Change?

Deniza Gertsberg
GMO Journal [USA], March 30 2010:

[Note see original page for hyperlinks not included here]

While the Vatican's semi-official newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, recently reported that the Church has no official position on the practice of modifying the genes of produce, it appears that change may be in the air for Pope's inner circle. The hope is that the appointment of Cardinal Peter Turkson in January as the head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace to replace the notably pro-GMO Cardinal Renato Martino would usher in a more cautionary perspective about GMOs from the Vatican.

The L'Osservatore Romano comments concerning the alleged neutrality of the Holy See's were made shortly after the European Commission approved for commercial cultivation Amflora, a genetically modified starchy potato. Amflora, produced by the largest chemical company in the world, BASF, is currently only approved for starch production, not human consumption, but the leftover skins will be fed to cattle. It will used for industrial purposes like paper and yarn production and making spray concrete.

The controversy surrounding Amflora is that the potato contains a gene that is resistant to antibiotics including kanamycin, neomycin, butirosin, and gentamicin. When antibiotic resistance is making frequent headlines, the European Commission's approval, and BASF's cultivation of such crop, is, in the eyes of many, irresponsible.

Despite the Vatican's alleged neutrality, GMO Journal, which has previously expressed an opinion that reverberations from the Pope's inner circle suggest a pro-GMO stance, hopes that the recent appointment of Cardinal Turkson signals that the Vatican is ready to confront the GMO debate with greater objectivity and less willingness to blindly repeat the industry jingles of needing GMOs to save the world from hunger.

In fact, unlike his predecessor Cardinal Martino, as the new head of Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Turkson would urge an attitude of caution and further study of the possible negative effects of genetically engineered organisms. Turkson was quoted as expressing a concern that genetically modified food crops could be used as "weapons of infliction of hunger and poverty" if they are managed unjustly. "[T]he issue becomes problematic when a company that controls the use of genetically modified seeds and crops is motivated more by profit than by the declared desire to want to help feed humanity." Turkson further explained,

"My basic stance, in fact, is pro-science: I believe technological advances have greatly advanced human health and affluence, and will continue to do so, if properly regulated. My concern re: GMOs has always stemmed from a profound skepticism that profit-seeking corporations can be trusted to responsibly serve the public good. One need look only at the constant stream of reports detailing unethical and criminal behavior by major pharmaceutical companies to realize that this is hardly a hypothetical concern."

Yet, despite this apparent policy shift the question is still out there: why is the Vatican officially maintaining an official policy of "no position." After all, the Vatican has never shied away from taking a stand on controversial issues. Everyone knows, for example, the Vatican's position with respect to a woman's right to chose, ordaining women and homosexuals as priests, and the use of condoms in Africa to prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS. And yet, when it comes to GMOs, its official position is that it has no position?!

For an organization that vociferously proclaims its support for life, the Vatican's official silence on GMOs is nothing but enigmatic. Food is the essence of our life and the GMO debate is at the heart of that. One big concern about GMOs in the corporate ownership of food. In the words of Cardinal Turkson,

"In the case of GMOs we are dealing with a remarkable concentration of intellectual property ownership in just a handful of corporations. Like all well-endowed corporate actors, these companies do not shy from vigorously lobbying governments in favor of putting into place legal frameworks that are designed to maximize profits and minimize caution."

GMOs also impact the health and environmental safety of our global human and animal community and are implicated in the loss of biodiversity. Furthermore, given that by definition GMOs mean manipulation of life, i.e., tinkering with what believers view as intrinsic value of God's creation, one would expect the Vatican to speak-up and oppose GMOs. Yet, enigmatically, the Vatican maintains an official position of no position.

Some Christian faith based organizations and members of the Church, in the United States and abroad, have not shied away and recognized that their faith commands them to speak out against GMOs.

For example, one of the tenets of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference is that "eating is a moral act," arguing that Catholics should care about what they eat:

"Most of the food available in regular grocery stores also comes from some sector of agribusiness that often places profit before human dignity. Corporate-owned 'factory farms,' in their quest for larger yields, resort to genetically modified crops, the negative effects of which are currently unknown, or increasing pesticide usage, the negative effects of which are clearly known."

Similarly, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines in February 2003 asked the then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to postpone use of a genetically modified corn, citing possible health risks. In 2002, the Catholic Bishops of South Africa declared, "[i]t is morally irresponsible to produce and market genetically modified food."

In 2003, 14 Brazilian bishops put out a "declaration on transgenic crops," in which they condemned the cultivation and consumption of GMOs. The bishops cited three risks: 1) health consequences, including increased allergies, resistance to antibiotics, and an increase in toxic substances; 2) environmental consequences, including erosion of bio-diversity; and 3) damage to the sovereignty of Brazil, "as a result of the loss of control of seeds and living things through patents that become the exclusive property of multinational groups interested only in commercial ends."

In addition, Christian Aid, a British ecumenical group, has also been sharply critical of genetic engineering.

Individually, Father Sean McDonagh has been one of the most vocal members of the Church to oppose the genetic manipulation of food.

While many Christian organizations oppose the genetic manipulation of food, and the list above is by far not exclusive, and given that the Vatican has previously been outspoken on many controversial issues, it is hard to accept Vatican's official "no position" as a position. It raises more questions and stokes fires of the debate concerning the Vatican's GMO perspective. Is someone or something keeping the Vatican from openly taking a stand?

Related posts:

1. GM Foods: The Christian Perspective

2. Pope's Inner Circle Supportive of GMOs


29 March 2010

Bulging Mutant Trout Created: More Muscle, More Meat
• The genetically engineered fish have 15 percent more flesh. Yum?

James Owen
National Geographic [USA], 29 March 2010:

[Original web page contains numerous hyperlinks not included here]

Scientists have created hundreds of mutant fish with "six-pack abs" and bulging "shoulders" by beefing them up with new genes.

While the fish aren't going to win any beauty contests, the genetically engineered rainbow trout could hold some appeal at market, because they each provide 15 to 20 percent more flesh than standard tout, researchers say.

(See pictures of the world's largest trout in the wild.

Developed with fish farming in mind, the genetically modified trout is the result of ten years of experimentation by a team led by Terry Bradley of the University of Rhode Island's Department of Fisheries, Animal, and Veterinary Sciences.

The team injected 20,000 rainbow trout eggs with different types of DNA from other species, making them transgenic. The added DNA was intended to suppress a protein called myostatin, and it apparently worked in about 300 of the eggs, turning them into the muscle-bound superfish.

The transgenic trout incorporate genes modeled on myostatin-inhibiting proteins found in powerfully built Belgian blue cattle, a beef breed noted for its "double muscled" appearance.

In mammals, including humans, mysostatin is known to keep muscle growth in check - controlling myostatin is touted as a potential way to reverse muscle-wasting diseases in humans.

(Related: "Forty Percent of North America's Freshwater Fish at Risk."

New Genes Showcase Six-Pack Abs

The muscle-bound trout is the first real proof that mysostatin inhibition has a similar effect in both fish and mammals.

Although fish lack abdominal muscles, the modified trout exhibited a "six pack" effect along the sides of the their midsections and developed prominent humps on their backs, Bradley recently reported.

"Our findings are quite stunning," Bradley said in a statement. "The results have significant implications for commercial aquaculture."

If met with regulatory approval, the fish-gene modifications could mean cheaper trout for consumers, as farmers would be able to grow larger fish without having to feed them more, he said.

(Video: Biggest Trout Fished in Asia.

Mutant-Trout Takeover?

Though some trout with altered genes have been approved for release, trout with added DNA from other species have yet to be approved for commercial use, according to zoologist Fredrik Sundström of the University of Gothenburg in Sweden.

Other genetically modified trout in the works have been engineered for faster growth, disease resistance, or frigid-water survival (via "antifreeze genes").

Sundström, who has investigated the potential risks of transgenic trout escaping into the wild, said studies suggest the fish can not only breed in rivers but also pass on their lab-altered genes to natural populations. (Read about threats to freshwater fish.)

"Under certain conditions the transgenic fish do better than the wild types, but under other conditions we see the opposite," he added.

"If they have a lot of food, transgenic fish can use that food to a greater extent, but if you have predators nearby they also seem to be more susceptible to predation," Sundström said.

He doubts, however, whether this latest transgenic trout would find enough food in the wild to support its body builder physique - or that the bulky fish would be able to maneuver swiftly enough to avoid being eaten.

But if the fish did survive in the wild - for instance, if juveniles are able to "grow too big for birds to feed on them" - they could overturn their ecosystems, Sundström said. For one thing, he said, the six-pack trout's greater size could allow them to outcompete their unmodified cousins, leaving them with little food and an imperiled future.


Judge Invalidates Human Gene Patent

John Schwartz and Andrew Pollack
The New York Times, 29 March 2010:

A federal judge on Monday struck down patents on two genes linked to breast and ovarian cancer. The decision, if upheld, could throw into doubt the patents covering thousands of human genes and reshape the law of intellectual property.

United States District Court Judge Robert W. Sweet issued the 152-page decision, which invalidated seven patents related to the genes BRCA1 and BRCA2, whose mutations have been associated with cancer.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Public Patent Foundation at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York joined with individual patients and medical organizations to challenge the patents last May: they argued that genes, products of nature, fall outside of the realm of things that can be patented. The patents, they argued, stifle research and innovation and limit testing options.

Myriad Genetics, the company that holds the patents with the University of Utah Research Foundation, asked the court to dismiss the case, claiming that the work of isolating the DNA from the body transforms it and makes it patentable. Such patents, it said, have been granted for decades; the Supreme Court upheld patents on living organisms in 1980. In fact, many in the patent field had predicted the courts would throw out the suit.

Judge Sweet, however, ruled that the patents were "improperly granted" because they involved a "law of nature." He said that many critics of gene patents considered the idea that isolating a gene made it patentable "a 'lawyer's trick' that circumvents the prohibition on the direct patenting of the DNA in our bodies but which, in practice, reaches the same result."

The case could have far-reaching implications. About 20 percent of human genes have been patented, and multibillion-dollar industries have been built atop the intellectual property rights that the patents grant.

"If a decision like this were upheld, it would have a pretty significant impact on the future of medicine," said Kenneth Chahine, a visiting law professor at the University of Utah who filed an amicus brief on the side of Myriad. He said that medicine was becoming more personalized, with genetic tests used not only to diagnose diseases but to determine which medicine was best for which patient.

Mr. Chahine, who once ran a biotechnology company, said the decision could also make it harder for young companies to raise money from investors. "The industry is going to have to get more creative about how to retain exclusivity and attract capital in the face of potentially weaker patent protection," he said.

Edward Reines, a patent lawyer who represents biotechnology firms but was not involved in the case, said loss of patent protection could diminish the incentives for genetic research.

"The genetic tools to solve the major health problems of our time have not been found yet," said Mr. Reines, who is with the Silicon Valley office of the firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges. "These are the discoveries we want to motivate by providing incentives to all the researchers out there."

The lawsuit also challenged the patents on First Amendment grounds, but Judge Sweet ruled that because the issues in the case could be decided within patent law, the constitutional question need not be decided.

The decision is likely to be appealed. Representatives of Myriad did not return calls seeking comment. But this month, the company's chief executive, Peter Meldrum, told investors that "regardless of the outcome of this particular lawsuit, it will not have a material adverse effect on the company," or its future revenues, according to the Pharmacogenomics Reporter, "or on the future revenues of our products."

Myriad sells a test costing more than $3,000 that looks for mutations in the two genes to determine if a woman is at a high risk of getting breast cancer and ovarian cancer. Plaintiffs in the case had said Myriad's monopoly on the test, conferred by the gene patents, kept prices high and prevented women from getting a confirmatory test from another laboratory.

Janice Oh, a spokeswoman for the United States attorney's office in Manhattan, which represented the Patent and Trademark Office in the case, had no comment.

One of the individual plaintiffs in the suit, Genae Girard, who has breast cancer and has been tested for ovarian cancer, applauded the decision as "a big turning point for all women in the country that may have breast cancer that runs in their family." Chris Hansen, an A.C.L.U. staff lawyer, said: "The human genome, like the structure of blood, air or water, was discovered, not created. There is an endless amount of information on genes that begs for further discovery, and gene patents put up unacceptable barriers to the free exchange of ideas."

Bryan Roberts, a prominent Silicon Valley venture capitalist, said the decision could push more work aimed at discovering genes and diagnostic tests to universities. "The government is going to become the funder for content discovery because it's going to be very hard to justify it outside of academia."

John Ball, executive vice president of the American Society for Clinical Pathology, one of the plaintiffs in the case, called the decision "a big deal."

"It's good for patients and patient care, it's good for science and scientists," he said. "It really opens up things."


US District Court Strikes Down Patent on Human Genes - Huge News for Genomics

Aaron Saenz
Singularity Hub, 29 March 2010:

[Image: Do not patent my genes - ACLU
Caption: US District Court ruled in favor of the ACLU against Myriad Genetics, striking down their patents on human genes.]

In what is sure to become a landmark case for genomics, a US District Court Judge in New York (Robert Sweet) has ruled that patents on human genes held by Myriad Genetics are invalid. These patents, on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, were issued more than a decade ago and gave Myriad exclusive rights to examine those sections of DNA. Mutations in BRCA 1 and 2 carry important links to breast and ovarian cancer, and Myriad's BRAC Analysis (Be Ready Against Cancer) genetic screening is used to provide patients with a better understanding of their risk for the diseases. The court decision effectively eliminates Myriad's rights to solely market tests on the BRCA genes, which may lower costs (previously up to $3000) for those interested in the tests . The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lead the attack against the Myriad patents which it shares equally with the University of Utah Research Foundation. This case has wide ranging implications for the entire genomics community. 20% of human genes are patented, often along with the process of identifying the genes, and these patents are now drawn into question. It is almost certain that this ruling will be appealed and eventually reach the US Supreme Court. It may take years before a final decision is made, but for now it seems like the human genome may no longer be up for grabs as intellectual property. Thank goodness.

Biotech intellectual property rights are big business. We've seen company stock prices surge with the grant of a new patent. Myriad's price (NASDAQ: MYGN) had a rough drop since the announcement of the court ruling. Investors, not just in Myriad but in all firms with genetic patents, must be asking themselves how far reaching this decision may be.

Judge Sweet's ruling is long (150+ pages), but you can find a copy of it here thanks to the Genomics Law Report. Likewise, the patents Myriad holds on the BRCA genes are numerous (1,2,3,4, ÷). Trying to sift through this legal material is difficult, but we can summarize the ruling down to two facts. Sweet found that:


The DNA patented by Myriad Genetics (isolated from the human body in a lab, along with mutations there of) are not markedly different from natural DNA (that found in your body, mutated or otherwise).


Comparing DNA sequences to identify BRCA genes and their mutations is an abstract mental process.

In other words, you can't patent nature and you can't patent a fundamental idea of science. There's little doubt that the breadth of these two findings are likely to apply to the vast majority of patents on genes in the United States.

Human genes, that is. Patents on plants and animals are unlikely to be called into question at this time. That's because many such patents are not held on 'natural' organisms, but on those that have been genetically modified. Whether it's pest-resistant rice or artificial meat, GM foods are generally thought to represent an engineered good.

Which begs the question, would Sweet's ruling cover human genes that have undergone engineering. Probably not, but the germline mutations of humans is still largely opposed so the cases involved are likely to be small. One day, however, we may all carry a few genetic modifications. Gene therapies could alter the DNA (or maybe just the protein production) in our bodies. Would such variations then mean we are carrying some corporation's intellectual property inside us? What if someone naturally developed such genes on their own÷would their bodies be committing copyright infringement?

That's the sort of terrifying prospect that could await us if we continue to allow patents on human genetic material. It's one thing to patent a process on making a chemical, or even that chemical itself, but when the chemical is your DNA÷your allowing ownership (at least in part) of a human.

Of course Myriad Genetics isn't trying to enslave humanity. No biopharmaceutical company, as far I can tell, is so stupidly nefarious. MG's products help patients identify their risks of cancer. That's certainly not a bad thing - in fact it should be applauded. Indeed, Myriad Genetics has made the claim that such patents on genes allow the holding company to develop techniques secure in the knowledge that they can turn a profit to compensate for their investment. Without such guarantees to their work, MG lawyers have argued, research will be stifled.

But certainly research has been stifled in the other direction as well. By holding exclusive rights to the BRCA genes, Myriad Genetics keeps other companies from freely working on the same gene without fear of legal reprisal. Apply that scenario to the 20% of human genes patented and you begin to wonder how much research has been stunted by this hording of genetic territory. If we applaud MG for developing cancer risk assessments and treatments, we must also reprimand them for preventing others from doing the same.

We may need to rethink patents. Intellectual property as a whole is undergoing a metamorphosis (much like privacy) and it's becoming increasingly clear that such restrictions may not be enforceable. China seems to violate patents whenever it feels like it. Brazil permitted the creation of generic versions of AIDS medications in spite of patents. Even within a single country (like the US) consumers are pirating copyrighted material. We are struggling with these legal issues (locally and globally) but it seems likely that the free exchange of information (via the internet) is counteracting the premise of intellectual property on a fundamental level.

Even if we somehow managed to find ways to rigidly enforce all patents, I don't think we would want to extend that enforcement into genetics. We are our genes. Even as we learn to alter and influence how those genes are expressed, humans still need the inalienable rights to their DNA. Anything else would be socially disruptive on a grand scale, not to mention terrifying. In the more limited cases of research and development (patenting just the identification process or a certain technique to refine genetic material for testing) things may become gray. How can we best allow companies to find a return on their investment (and thus encourage investment) without preventing other firms from also developing similar work (thus encouraging research)? It's a difficult question and one that is likely to be years in the answering. For now, it is enough to look at Judge Sweet's ruling and wonder how long it will be until the next court case. We've only just begun.

[Source: US District Court Ruling, Genomics Law Report, Myriad Genetics]


28 March 2010

The Poisoning of Our Country

Curtiss Lee Linderman Sr
Los Angeles Chronicle, 28 March 2010:

Frankenfood: the term now used by many to elucidate the inherent dangers of GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms). Since the 1980s American government officials have sold out to corporate interests without regard for the safety of its citizens. Republican and Democrat administrations alike have allowed dangerous and life-threatening products to grace the American dinner tables with no regard for the safety of its constituents. This trend remains apparent today with the naming of Michael Taylor as the Senior Advisor to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, M.D.

The Senior Advisor position, apparently created recently by the Obama administration specifically to place this scumbag into a position of policy making power within the FDA, will allow Mr. Taylor to address issues of food safety. While food safety should be, without a doubt a priority of the FDA, this recent move once again illustrates the corporate cronyism that has permeated Washington D.C. for decades. This is not Mr. Taylor's first stint with the FDA, he will actually be returning to the government's watch dog organization for the third time! Taylor first held the position of FDA staff lawyer and Executive assistant to the FDA commissioner from 1976-1981.

Upon leaving the FDA, Taylor spent the next decade as a lawyer for the firm King and Spaulding where he acted as Monsanto's lawyer and lobbyist. In this capacity, Taylor was instrumental in lobbying for the overturning of a law which protected the American people from dangerous carcinogens in our food supply (definitely someone you want in charge of food safety huh?).When Monsanto developed rBGH (Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone) which many scientists claim to be incredibly harmful for milk cows and humans alike, Taylor once again became an employee of the FDA with the primary goal of getting genetically modified seed and Posilac (rBGH) approved for use in the United States. Once this was accomplished, Taylor took the position of Monsanto's V.P. in charge of public policy.

The fact that our president has allowed this pathetic industry shill further access to policy making that will benefit the very company that he has shown time and time again to have his allegiance to, reveals to us that no matter who sits in the oval office, corporate greed and influence calls the shots. Keep in mind that this is the very same administration that has been forthright and public about their organic garden and strictly organic food being served in the White House. By this appointment, Obama has made it perfectly clear that his children deserves far better than yours.

Taylor, the man now in charge of "food safety" for us "lowly Americans", was instrumental in ensuring that dairy farmers that chose not to use the carcinogenic rBGH could not even label their product rBGH Free and made possible the FDA's decision to determine that GM foods are "substantially equivalent" to organic foods. This is despite the fact that the bulk of the FDA's own scientists clearly stated during the safety trials that they held serious concerns over the safety of GMOs regarding allergens, carcinogenicity and more.

Could it possibly be a simple coincidence that Taylor is back at the FDA at the exact time that Monsanto's Smartstax corn is coming to a farm field near you? This is a seed that is genetically modified to the extreme with eight modified genes! A recent study that looked into Monsanto's three most popular GMO corn seeds to date, Mon 863, Mon 810 and NK 603, linked these products to organ damage in mice. The researchers used Monsanto's own research after a European Court made the papers public in 2005. Monsanto apparently knew that their corn caused organ damage and Taylor still worked to get the FDA to approve its use in America. Now he's back at the FDA and I can only assume that his agenda this time is equally nefarious.

We must also consider the recent global law known as Codex that will essentially outlaw organic gardening and farming and bring to light what the FDA's agenda has been all along: pharmaceuticals are the only products that promote health and treats disease. Nutrients have no health benefits. The only thing standing in the way of this becoming the law of the land here in the states is the 1994 DSHE Act (the Dietary Supplement Health & Safety Act) and Taylor will now have direct access to the policy making decisions that could directly affect and overturn this law. Keep in mind that Senator John McCain just recently tried to do this within the legislature and withdrew his support of a Bill that he co-sponsored only after the American people rose up and complained in force. The FDA, with Taylor's help, will be able to set policy that will de-tooth this law and allow Codex to become law here. We must not allow this to happen.

At one time America was a noble nation with noble intentions. That unfortunately, is no longer the case. Most of us can remember from our history lessons, the Nuremburg Trials that took place directly after WWII. This following quote from the opening statements from this famous trial applies today. Grievously however, it now applies to yet another fascist regime, The United States of America:

"A nation which deliberately infects itself with poison will inevitably sicken and die." Brig. General Telford Taylor.


26 March 2010

Farmers Face Off With Chemical Maker Over Rice

New York Times, 26 March 2010:

LONOKE, Ark. (AP) -- Researchers at Ghent University in Belgium set out nearly 20 years ago to do what seemed like a good thing for farmers -- create a strain of rice that could withstand a popular herbicide that kills weeds in the fields.

The scientists were so successful that Bayer CropScience, part of the German chemical giant that makes and markets the Liberty herbicide, eventually bought the company that the university scientists formed.

Now lawyers for Bayer CropScience are in an Arkansas courtroom, fighting the latest of several lawsuits claiming the company hurt rice farmers rather than helping them. Bayer has already lost three suits over the past five months, with more trials to come.

Growers in Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Texas filed lawsuits against Bayer for hurting their sales after genetically altered rice escaped a Louisiana test plot. Bayer faces judgments of $4.5 million so far in the three cases it lost.

Two key things happened since the early 1990s. Concerns grew about foods marketed directly to consumers that were raised using genetically altered seeds. And the experimental, Liberty-resistant strain of rice -- called Liberty Link -- got loose and made its way into the stream of commercially marketed rice.

The announcement by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in August 2006 that traces of Liberty Link rice had been found in the nation's rice supply was not welcome news to rice farmers.

No nation has approved genetically modified rice for the marketplace. Rice futures plummeted by $150 million immediately afterward. European nations quit accepting shipments of rice from the U.S. that hadn't been extensively tested to show they weren't contaminated. Japan banned all American rice.

"In August, you're at the end of the line as far as your options -- you're basically 30 days from harvest," said Willie Oxner of Brinkley, Ark., recalling what happened that year. "There you are sitting with a crop, if the people who are taking it don't know what they're going to do, you're in a panic."

Oxner, a plaintiff in a separate lawsuit against Bayer over Liberty Link, said his 2006 rice crop brought in about half of what he had been expecting -- $3 to $4 a bushel rather than $6 to $7 a bushel. Beyond that, he said, was the turmoil of not knowing if he would be able to sell it at all.

"For quite a while, there was no indication that the rice would even be (marketable) -- the scare and the unknown, it was like a wildfire," he recalled. "It built up steam and went from bad to worse."

The effects were felt across the Southern rice belt and even in California, which grows little of the long-grain rice raised in the South, and where no Liberty Link contamination was found.

There was "a really significant amount of confusion" and demands from overseas customers for facilities to be cleaned and for costly testing of export shipments, said Kirk Messick, senior vice president of Farmers Rice Co-op in Sacramento, Calif. Those testing requirements are still in place.

"Our export customers didn't want (it)," he said. "Immediately we had requirements for ... testing for nearly all of our export market."

"We still today ... have to answer questions. There were a lot of hidden costs."

Those costs come off the top of prices that farmers get.

In addition to compensation for the lower price of their crops in 2006, some farmers are seeking punitive damages. Earlier this month, jurors in Augusta, Ark., awarded $500,000 in punitive damages. In the Lonoke County case, the dozen plaintiffs are also seeking unspecified punitive damages.

That suit claims Bayer was not only negligent in its handling of Liberty Link rice, but acted with malicious intent by not announcing the contamination as soon as it learned of it. The suit says Bayer knew of the contamination as early as January 2006, before that year's crops were sown.

Bayer attorney Dick Ellis said in court last week that the company acted responsibly in its handling of the experimental rice and if the farmers suffered any damages, they were minimal.

"It had some impact, but it was a small impact and didn't last very long," Ellis said.

He also disputed the effect of the European reaction, saying Europe was not a large market and that exporters quickly found new markets for the rice that would have gone there.

While some other major U.S. food crops, such as soybeans, corn and canola, are grown with genetically altered seeds, Liberty Link rice has never been approved outside of test plots in the U.S.

Why there was such an outcry over the rice, and the issue persists, may stem from rice's place on the dinner table, while people don't consume soybeans directly, said Steve Linscombe, director of the rice experimental station in Crowley, La. -- where the Liberty Link tests were carried out.

Another factor may be timing. The Liberty Link contamination came amidst global economic turmoil that began in 1997 and prompted many countries to be more protective of their agricultural sectors, according to Bobby Coats, an economist with the University of Arkansas Extension Service.

"Countries (were) uncertain about their economic future (and) focused on feeding their population," Coats said.


25 March 2010

Not just environmentalists against GM crops
• The European Commission's decision to allow the cultivation of GM potatoes has not gained union-wide approval

Frank McDonald
The Irish Times, 25 March 2010:

THE EUROPEAN Commission's decision earlier this month to approve a genetically modified (GM) potato called Amflora bears all the hallmarks of being the thin end of what could be a very large wedge. That's why it was greeted with such delight by German chemical company BASF, which patented the potato, and by the biotech lobby in general.

This was the first time in 12 years that a GM crop had been approved for cultivation in Europe; the last one - indeed, the only other one - is an insecticide-emitting maize produced by US multinational Monsanto, which was licensed in 1998. Monsanto also had cause to celebrate, as the commission authorised three more of its GM maize varieties.

The commission said it was authorising the cultivation of Amflora potatoes for industrial use - principally in the manufacture of starch - and the use of its starch byproducts for animal feed. It also decided that Monsanto could place its three GM maize varieties on the market "for food and feed uses but not for cultivation".

According to health and consumer policy commissioner John Dalli, this followed an "extensive and thorough review" of the applications from BASF and Monsanto and a series of "favourable safety assessments" by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

"All scientific issues, particularly those concerning safety, had been fully addressed," he said. However, it emerged that two of the 21 EFSA scientists did not share their colleagues' favourable view of Amflora, saying the possibility of its antibiotic-resistant genes being transferred to bacteria in human or animal gastro-intestinal tracts could not be ruled out; if this happened, it would become more difficult to treat infections such as tuberculosis.

The EFSA's scientific panel assessing GM products has been chaired since 2003 by Dr Harry Kuiper, a Dutch biochemist who previously co-ordinated a research programme involving three leading biotech firms - Bayer, Monsanto and Syngenta.

Greenpeace says the panel has too many biochemists and only "one or two experts on the environment". This lacuna in the EFSA was adverted to by a spokeswoman for the French government, who said: "We do not recognise their expertise because we consider that their opinions are incomplete. They are only interested in the sanitary consequences of GMOs [genetically modified organisms], without taking into account their long-term environmental impact" on soils and species.

So it is not only environmentalists who object to permitting GM crops. The governments of Austria, Bulgaria, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg and Poland are all opposed, making it clear in the wake of the commission's decision that they would not allow Amflora to be cultivated on their territories. (Our own Government has yet to express a view on it).

The Czech Republic, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden take a more tolerant approach. But it is precisely because there are such divided views that the EU council of agriculture ministers failed to reach agreement on Amflora - and this paved the way for the commission to use its residual powers to make the decision by default.

Dalli has been asked to make proposals "setting out how an EU authorisation system, based on science, can be combined with freedom for member states to decide whether or not they wish to cultivate GM crops on their territory". In other words, the common market may be abandoned in this area.

The public remains sceptical about the need to go down the GM route, promoted so vigorously by Monsanto. In the case of Amflora, there is arguably no need for it; as Friends of the Earth pointed out, two conventional potato varieties already on the market have similar high-starch qualities as the GM alternative produced by BASF.

Writing in The Irish Times last month, Dublin City University president Ferdinand von Prondzynski complained that opposition to GMOs "has often been influenced by various campaigns using scaremongering labels such as 'Frankenstein foods' " - before going on, in the next sentence, to indulge in scaremongering himself. "Indeed," he wrote, "if we are to take the Government's commitment to having Ireland as a GM-free zone seriously, one of the first steps we have to take would be to advise all diabetics to leave the country as we would have to ban insulin" - a patently ludicrous claim, given the way insulin is manufactured from GM bacteria in secure laboratories.

Concerns about growing GM crops include contamination of organic crops and the environment, potential destruction of biodiversity and local agriculture, excessive use of pesticides and the as-yet-unknown effects of GM food on public health, as well as the way in which a small number of patent-holding companies would control the food chain.

In 1999, Canadian environmental scientist and long-time campaigner David Suzuki - a professor in the University of British Columbia's genetics department for almost 40 years - said of GM crops: "Any politician or scientist who tells you these products are safe is either very stupid or lying. The experiments have simply not been done."

There have been more experiments carried out over the past decade, particularly in the US, but only 0.12 per cent of agricultural land throughout the EU (most of it in Spain) is currently used for GM crops. This may change if the European Commission was to extend its benign view of Amflora to 17 other GM crops currently awaiting approval.

Yet we still do not know enough to say for sure that such genetically engineered crops are safe. Until we do, the precautionary principle must surely intervene.


Genetically engineered corn causes new plant pest
• Testbiotech warns that fields will turn into battlefields

Press release
Testbiotech e. V. - Institute for Independent Impact Assessment in Biotechnology [Germany], 25 March 2010

Munich / Bremen - Large-scale cultivation of genetically engineered corn is causing the spread of a new pest in the US Corn Belt. The western bean cutworm infests the tips of the corncobs. Massive damage is being reported from those regions where the corn MON810 (sold as YieldGard by company of Monsanto) is grown on large scale.

The genetically engineered corn is clearly suppressing the competitor of the western bean cutworm and thus creating an ecological niche for this insect. At an international conference in Bremen, Germany this Friday, Testbiotech will present a report giving an overview of the current situation.

"Several reports show that the damage is increasing from year to year," explains Christoph Then, executive director of Testbiotech and author of the report. "But not much information is given to the farmers about the causes. The agrochemical companies are mainly interested in using this as an opportunity to sell other genetically engineered corn and insecticides that are highly toxic."

On behalf of Greenpeace, Testbiotech analysed many reports on the spread of the western bean cutworm and exchanged opinions with several experts. The cause of the spread of the new pest is hardly known to farmers in US, despite the fact that the western bean cutworm has spread through the whole Corn Belt since the year 2000. Farmers have only been told how to identify infestation and which insecticides they can use. No warnings were given on the dangers of large- scale MON810 cultivation. Instead, companies like Monsanto are trying to sell new varieties of genetically engineered corn such as 'SmartStax' that produces six different insecticides in its plant tissue.

Martin Hofstetter from Greenpeace, Germany, the organization that commissioned the report, has drawn the conclusion that: "There is a race going on in the fields which will lead to an increasing use of insecticides and the cultivation of more and more genetically engineered plants. There is a huge risk of causing ecological damage. Farmers are likely to lose the race by being forced to invest more and more in chemicals and high priced seed without being able to increase their yields. Industry's solution doesn't appear to be either sustainable or ecologically sound. It will just foster extremely industrialized agriculture."

The report will be available for downloading on Friday, 26 march on

International Conference "Second International Conference on Implications of GM Crop Cultivation at Large Spatial Scales" in Bremen: Contact:

For further information please call:

Christoph Then, executive director, Tel.: +49 (0)151 54 63 80 40 and

Martin Hofstetter, Greenpeace, 040 30 61 84 31

or Andrea Reiche, Testbiotech office: +49 (0)89 35 89 92 76

Testbiotech e. V.
Institute for Independent Impact Assessment in Biotechnology
Frohschammerstr. 14, 80807 München
Fon: +49 (0)89-358 99 92 76
Fax: +49 (0)89-359 66 22
Executive Director: Christoph Then


Bioeconomy a science fantasy: new GeneWatch report

Press release
GeneWatch [UK], 25 March 2010:[cid]=565806&als[itemid]=566067

A new GeneWatch UK report concludes that billions of pounds of taxpayers' money have been wasted in R&D investments intended to deliver a new biotech economy (1).

Responding to this week's report on science funding by the Science and Technology Committee of MPs (2), GeneWatch's Director Dr Helen Wallace said: "The big problem with the science budget is not its total size but that the wrong people are deciding how to spend it. A cycle of hype is driving research investment decisions, which have become disconnected from reality."

The MPs' Committee is also due to issue a report this week (midday Thursday) on bioengineering (including genetic modification, GM).

The new GeneWatch report questions whether current investments in the biosciences, including genetic modification (GM) of plants, and human genome sequencing, can actually deliver the claimed future benefits to quality of life and the economy. It finds that, after decades of investment, the net value of the bio-economy worldwide has been estimated to be zero or negative.

Only two types of GM crops have been commercialised on any scale - insect-resistance and herbicide-tolerance - and only the US company Monsanto has made significant profits from them. A new generation of nitrogen-fixing and salt-tolerant GM crops were promised nearly 30 years ago: many scientists are sceptical that such products can be delivered and even enthusiasts predict that several decades more investment would be needed before any prospect of delivery.

There is widespread recognition amongst geneticists that most diseases in most people, and many adverse drug reactions, are too complex and too dependent on environmental factors to be predictable by screening people's genes. Yet, significant investments of taxpayers' money continue to be made with a view to integrating scans of people's genomes into electronic medical records. Money wasted includes substantial sums in R&D investments, plus over 12 billion pounds allocated to implementing the UK centralised system of electronic medical records known as the 'Spine', with the aim of implementing a 'genetic revolution' in healthcare. Despite massive publicity, commercial companies have failed to sell more than a few tens of thousands of commercial human gene tests, because they are not useful to predict most diseases in most people (3).

"The Government and the European Union have wasted billions of taxpayers' money on a science fantasy", said Dr Wallace, "From the outset, the vision of a biotech economy failed to acknowledge the complexity of health, biology, society, the environment and agriculture".

The report documents how research investment decisions have been taken by a small circle of unaccountable advisors, including the New Labour donors known as the 'biotech barons'. Alternative 'on-the-ground' approaches to improving health and farming have been side-lined, starved of funding, or even axed altogether, leading to significant opportunity costs due to the failure to implement existing knowledge and best practice in areas such as public health and farmland management.

"The biotech barons and their friends deserve a prize for sleaze that goes way beyond the rest of politics", said Dr Wallace, "It is time to stop unaccountable advisors from pushing pseudo-scientific claims about the future of the biotech economy".

Diversion of potential food crops and land to industrial-scale production of biofuels (agrofuels) has long been proposed as part of the bio-economy: warnings about the effect on food prices and supplies made a decade ago have been ignored, and subsidised biofuel production - much of it using GM maize planted in North and South America - was one contributing factor in the 2008 food crisis. Developing new genetically modified micro-organisms (GMMs) to break down cellulose in woody plants to make ethanol, has been proposed as a potential future solution for the current problems caused by the diversion of food and land into growing agrofuels. However, this is unlikely to be technically feasible or cost-effective and will create new problems of its own if GMMs escape and survive in the environment.

The GeneWatch report concludes that science does have an important role to play in society and in the economy. However, there is an urgent need to re-assess what has been delivered by the major political and financial investments made in the bio-economy over the past three decades, and to reform the current decision-making systems for R&D investments. Scarce resources must be allocated more effectively.

For more information contact:

Dr Helen Wallace, Office: + 44 1298 24300; Mobile: + 44 7903 311584.

Notes for Editors:

(1) GeneWatch UK report: Bioscience for Life? Who decides what research is done in health and agriculture? March 2010. Available on: Appendix A: 'The history of UK Biobank, electronic medical records in the NHS, and the proposal for data-sharing without consent' was published online in February 2009. Available on:

(2) House of Commons Science and Technology Committee. Science cuts threaten economic recovery, warn MPs. 23rd March 2010. Available on:


Corn farmers to be provided relief

Kathmandu Post [Nepal], 25 March 2010:

KATHMANDU: The Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives is preparing a relief package for the farmers of five Tarai districts whose maize crops yielded no corns.

Farmers in Bara, Rautahat, Sarlahi, Parsa and Nawalparasi had been implementing a hybrid maize mission programme for the last three years under which genetically modified maize had been grown to produce higher yields. However, this year, the plants produced no kernels.

"We will be proposing the relief programme to the cabinet on Wednesday," said Hari Dahal, spokesperson at the Agriculture Ministry.

The sufferers will be provided cash through the District Disaster Rescue Committee. They will also get free spring vegetable seeds which cost Rs. 100 per packet. About 250,000 seed packets will be distributed under the relief programme.

"We will also propose that the land taxes of the farmers be waived for a year," added Dahal. Productivity had increased to 8.6 tons per hectare from 2.2 tons in the five districts following implementation of the hybrid maize mission programme. However, output plunged by 53 percent this year.

Production dropped by 80 percent in Bara, 55 percent in Rautahat, 40 percent in Sarlahi, 70 percent in Parsa and 20 percent in Nawalparasi.

After conducting soil and other tests, technicians concluded that the long cold wave witnessed in these districts was the major reason behind the plants bearing no seeds. The cold prevented formation of pollen grains rendering the plants sterile, they said.

Five Indian multinational companies had distributed the transgenic maize seeds to the farmers at government subsidized rates. Dahal said that similar problems had been seen in parts of India.

The ministry is coordinating with the Nepal Agricultural Research Council to look into the problem. Experts from the International Wheat and Maize Research Centre in Mexico are to be invited to conduct studies.


Lawsuit Over 2006 Rice Crop Contamination Begins

Evan Hoffmeyer
KATV [Kansas, USA], 25 March 2010:

Lonoke - Opening statements are underway in Lonoke County for hundreds of rice farmers.

The farmers claim Bayer CropScience knew it would be catastrophic if a strain of experimental genetically modified rice got into the commercial market. Bayer's attorney, Dick Ellis, says if the farmers suffered any damages, they were minimal and any effect on the rice market was small and did not last long.

The crops were damaged in 2006 when genetically modified food organisms (GMO) were mixed into and crossbred with farmers' commercial rice varieties.

Many nations in Europe will not accept any type of GMO food products, forcing the cost of rice down about $2 a bushel. After four years, officials believe they have weeded out 99.9% of the GMO from their crops.

(Ray Vester, Ark State Plant Board)

"Hopefully to open that market back up in Europe which we have had some sales, not like we used to have, but it's the beginning of better times in the export market."

Exports represent half of the U.S. rice market.


NFU Scotland call for more GM "train wrecks"

Press release
GM Freeze [UK], 25 March 2010:

On 25 March 2009 GM Freeze met with NFUS President Jim Mclaren and NFUS Chief Executive James Withers. At the meeting they expressed the view that the US experience of GM had been a "train wreck" and expressed the view that it should not be repeated in the UK.

GM herbicide resistant crops are causing US farmers increasing problems and costs due to increasing resistance to Roundup (glyphosate), the herbicide used with GM.

Yet today their statement calls for faster approvals of GM for both import and cultivation of GM in the EU.

Commenting Eve Mitchell, GM Freeze Coordinator, said:

"A year ago today NFUS President Jim Mclaren and NFUS Chief Executive James Withers told GM Freeze they thought GM agriculture in the US has been a 'train wreck' that should not be repeated in the UK. Today they are calling for more GM more quickly.

"The only thing that has changed in that year is that new evidence has come out questioning the safety of GM crops and that, with the addition of kochia (fireweed), there are now some 130 types of weeds resistant to herbicides used on GM crops infecting 11 million acres of farmland spreading in 40 US states. Meanwhile, Monsanto in India admit that a major cotton pest (bollworm) can now withstand their GM varieties designed to kill them.

"Maybe the NFUS aren't reading the right papers, because this policy is not only unwelcome, it's unfounded and unwise. Clearly the NFUS leadership need to start getting GM information from a wider range of sources than they are obviously doing at present.

"Scottish farmers are relying on the NFUS leadership to protect their interests and livelihoods. The evidence from the US and elsewhere suggests that many farmers deeply regret their dash into GM crops because they are increasingly causing serious problems on the farm."

Contact: Eve Mitchell + 44 1381 610 740


24 March 2010

Betrayal over GM food in Brussels

Klaus Vella Bardon
Times of Malta, 24 March 2010:

European Commissioner's John Dalli's decision to approve the cultivation of genetically-modified potatoes in Europe has provoked a widespread reaction of dismay, anger and disappointment.

Large trans-national corporations are money driven and owe their loyalty to their financial turnover. Any cursory knowledge of the way they operate betrays their crass disregard for social or environmental interests. To put it mildly, ethics is not their forte.

As to be expected, most of the time, too many members of the public are woefully ignorant of food production and how agribusinesses have taken control of the food industry worldwide. They influence the way agricultural produce is cultivated and processed and the manner in which animals are raised and maltreated.

For this reason, we expect our politicians, especially politicians at the highest levels, to defend the common good and take the trouble to be informed before making far-reaching and basically irreversible decisions.

It is also inconceivable how a person, no matter how gifted and intelligent, with no background knowledge of agriculture and biology has had the possibility to make an informed and unbiased decision at such short notice.

Highly-professional and informative books such as Eat Your Heart Out, by Felicity Lawrence, should be compulsory reading for politicians responsible for food policy.

Unfortunately, it is a well known fact that decisions in Brussels are influenced by powerful lobbies that are non-representative and patently undemocratic. No doubt, Mr Dalli was under immense pressure to give the green light to genetically-modified food.

The marketing of GM food has caused havoc in the food chain as we are no longer aware of what we are eating. Also, contrary to their claims, in the long term, GM foods are very dependent on herbicides and pesticides. Worse still, once introduced, they contaminate adjacent crops irreversibly and wipe out biodiversity.

Also, the spread of GM crops will give enormous and inordinate control of the staple foods of the world to a handful of northern agribusiness companies.

Farmers could sleepwalk into using GM crops and, by the time they realise the proposed benefits just aren't there, they will not be in a position to go back to a GM-free style of agriculture. That's the danger and that's been the experience of farmers in other parts of the world. The process is irreversible. The crops that we know would be lost forever.

An Irish missionary priest, Fr Sean McDonagh, has been working tirelessly alerting public opinion to the unethical and amoral modus operandi of transnational agribusinesses. He has campaigned assiduously against GM food and published the book Patenting Life, Stop!

Thankfully, the Europeans tend to be much more aware of what is at stake. As was reported in the press, the German Green MEP Martin Hausling claimed that 70 per cent of consumers are against GM foods. This also explains why producers of GM foods are against labelling their products as they know that informed consumers will boycott this food.

The EU is saddled with a Common Agricultural Policy that consumes 48 per cent of the EU Budget and is desperately in need of overdue reform. The wrong-headed method of subsidies has mainly benefited transnational food companies, heavily dependent on chemicals at the expense of wholesome food production and has also resulted in the ruining of the livelihood of countless numbers of farmers, particularly those of the Third World, saddling Europe in general and Malta in particular with desperate illegal immigrants.

I would have hoped that Mr Dalli, as a capable politician, would have given us an example of political leadership that has the vision and courage to influence the Common Agricultural Policy in the interest of both farmers and consumers. We need an alternative approach to agriculture, one which is environmentally, economically, culturally and socially sustainable that will help reduce poverty and help protect the environment.

Most of the European public want a policy that promotes biodiversity and supports and safeguards the regional and traditional farming methods that have so far spared us, to some extent, from mass produced junk that is a public health hazard of monumental proportions.

This implies small-scale, organic, labour-intensive farming that revives rural economies and upholds the crucial principle of subsidiarity.

One hopes that Mr Dalli will heed the public outcry and reconsider his decision that will have such far-reaching, negative and irreversible consequences.


A recipe for excellence

Gillian Westbrook
Organic Matters [Ireland], 24 March 2010:

Gillian Westbrook attended the European GMO-free Regions Network conference and came away inspired at the commitment of the regions to sustainable food production.

The European GMO-Free Regions Network held their third conference on Non-GM labels, Quality Productions and European Regional Agricultures in Brussels on 3rd to 4th February, 2010. Representation from Ireland consisted of a delegation from the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association (ICSA), the ever-committed Michael O'Callaghan from GM-free Ireland and Stiofán Nutty, special advisor to Minister Sargent [the Minister of State for Food and Horticulture].

The conference was of specific relevance to the Irish representation due to the inclusion in the Programme for Government of a voluntary GM-free label and the existing commitment to keep Ireland free from GM cultivation. The experiences from other regions and the feasibility of maintaining a constant supply of nonGM soy, including additional feed costs, if any, was particularly relevant. If attending the event was only to weed out (no pun intended) and separate the myriad propaganda surrounding this subject and establish some sound facts and realities, then my expectations were well exceeded.

Overall this was an excellent event, packed with informative presentations by representatives from all over Europe and outside of the EU. There were over 55 presentations over two days and this is just an overview of the nontechnical aspects. Further information is available on

Meeting Demand

The focal point, as the title suggests, was on the labelling aspect of GMO in animal feed, the supply of certified GM-free soy and the potential for protein independence for feed. The first day mainly focused on outlining the various regional development criteria and opportunities for non-GM agriculture. Speakers identified the economic value for rural regions to continue to concentrate on nonGM cultivation. This approach necessitates strategic planning in order to facilitate the production of high quality produce that will enhance both the composition of local food as well as complement the rural economy. Availability of certified non-GM soy to supply the EU dominated the latter part of day one. New and emerging suppliers of non-GM soy, such as India and Ukraine, clearly illustrated their capacity to meet EU demands, as did highly reputable companies in the business of certification.

The following day expanded on the land management of high nature value non-GM regions as well as hearing from producers, mainly red meat and dairy, involved in co-operative movements and specialists in native breeds. The commitment and engagement of the producer at every stage of the food process was inspiring to say the least.

It was a pleasure to listen to the producers' expertise, from the traceability of feeding stuffs, specialist grass varieties, soil management, rearing of livestock, the food process, up to the finished product sold direct to the consumer. This was an exceptional demonstration from producers of their comprehensive knowledge of each production stage to produce exquisite food resulting from excellent farming practices.

Consumers were subsequently informed as to the real value of the produce by making best use of marketing standards, geographical indications, organic and GMfree labels and superb branding.

Regional Quality

An over arching element was the need to define quality with associated provenance. Consumer perception of quality and what criteria they used to define it was considered to be of increasing importance. Taste, health and authenticity of local food clearly enhanced the image, but the need to have quality certified was essential to validation.

Guy Palluy, Vice-President of agricultural and rural development for the Rhone-Alpes region explained how this area is the second largest French region, consisting of 10% of the French population (6 million inhabitants) and 35% of the land utilised in agriculture. The entire region is free from GM cultivation. They hold 120 quality labels and 15 geographical indications, 1,300 organic farms and 30% of all farms covered by an official quality label - a label recognised for its integrity and quality. He explained the importance for producers to network. Using the example of 'Uni Ferme' he explained the means by which farm co-operation works, how they went against all the trends, and best of all, how successful it has been for all involved including the producer and consumer.

Daniele Govi, Director of Crop Production in the Emilia Romagna region, spoke about their agriculture and regional control of quality. This region of east Italy consists of just over 1 million hectares, 82,000 farms, 9 provinces, 30 food denominations (that's 20% of the entire Italian denominations) and 49,000 organic farms. The integrated criteria for the Emilia Romagna regional label covers human health and production, strictly prohibits GMOs or use of GMO products and includes the entire food chain, right up to sale. Many of the organic products were making use of the GM-free label as well as the organic certification logo. Obviously, a prerequisite for organic production, it is interesting to see how it adds value to an already premium product.

GMO-Free Labelling

Ferruccio Luciani, manager of food quality for the Marche region, continued the Italian theme with his presentation on Italy's quality brand. The brand is not restricted to just food, but includes and incorporates the agri-tourism business, linking into services within the local area and beyond. The quality mark makes use of a comprehensive software package, compulsory for traceability purposes. The standard format covers various products from livestock and crops to ingredients and processing aids, all with GMOs prohibited. What differentiates this from other quality marks is its flexibility to link into other systems and its quality control mechanisms.

For example, to ensure both the traceability and freshness of a fish, a 'block' occurs 36 hours after harvest which means the fish can no longer be sold. To many producers this might sound like a burdensome quality control, but this really works in reassuring the purchaser as to the freshness of local produce. For a region so heavily reliant on food-tourism, it's not hard to see how this model of quality control benefits an area and protects its reputation for fine food.

France doesn't have the same flexibility as Italy in its approach to GM-free requirements. Instead, as a rule, they have to follow major trends, explained Pascal Loget Vice-President of the Brittany region. France has only recently adopted the introduction of a GM-free label. To prepare for the change in national labelling legislation, Brittany is promoting GM-free labels such as 'Animaux d'OGM' to indicate animals are not fed on ingredients containing GMOs. The Loire valley is setting up a similar project. Clearly, they are responding to the overwhelming evidence that many millions of European consumers do not want and will never accept GM ingredients either directly or indirectly via animal products.

The market is apparent and it couldn't be more obvious. Any country not seeking to make best use of a GM-free voluntary label is missing out on the potential to explore a premium market. This point was communicated in the ICSA presentation, pointing out that Ireland must not limit its current or future market and should make available a voluntary GM-free label for those who wish to use it.

Feed Supply and Premiums

Presentations concerning the supply of GM-free feed and the need for nutrient-rich alternatives to soy to ensure protein independence all echoed a common theme - the need to have and maintain a network of certified GM-free cereal producers and distributors.

Some speakers referred to the difficulty in replacing protein rich soy in feed and having no alternative but to use GM-free soy. Others, such as French livestock producers from the Limousin area, have developed natural grasslands to reduce dependency on compound feed. Their mix of land, nutrient and nitrogen management is proving to be highly successful, providing production systems that are modified to suit resources, and they have achieved independence in feed.

The additional costs of ß15 per tonne for certified non-GM soy was generally considered to be easily offset by the additional premium for the product, as long as a label could be used to add value. The capacity of GM-free soy was not really an issue, as there are sufficient supplies. Soy independence, however, was much more difficult to achieve, depending on location, soil quality and production system used.

Achieving even more of a premium, above that of GM-free, was considered by some regions to be the desired route to take, integrated with strong branding. This would require labelling to have environmental criteria that depict sustainable agriculture and incorporates a quality approach to farming. This aspect was reiterated by the successful French certifying company, 'Label Rouge', (currently this label does not signify GM-free). They explained that even aspects of on-farm renewable energy should be included as environmental criteria, so as to relay to the consumer the level to which the farmer has gone to look after the countryside.

Encouraging a viable agriculture system that would see a future for young farmers keen to adopt a GM-free sustainable approach was also an intrinsic requirment. John Fagan from Cert ID continued with this approach in applying certification to verify quality, social and environmental sustainability, including GM-free.

Premium Market

The core message was possibly best highlighted by the additional cost to the consumer. The premium on chicken, if fed a GM-free diet, is between 6 cents and 10 cents per kilo. This includes the additional factory costs to prevent cross contamination, additional feed costs and relevant analysis. It was quite obvious from the experience of the speakers who have already gone down this route that there is a premium that consumers are willing to pay. High quality feed for better quality produce for the everyday consumer - this message was repeated with every new speaker, from Germany, Spain, Menorca, Austria and Italy, to name but a few. Many are key agricultural players in Europe, urging regional industry to seek GM-free suppliers, and to work together to make plans and strategies to make this happen.

A recipe for excellence: Certified GM-free food with associated provenance, farmed in a sustainable way (preferably organic but not compulsory); add a big bunch of enthusiasm and supply to a growth market.


Opening statements made in lawsuit against Bayer over experimental rice in commercial market

Washington Examiner [USA], 24 March 2010:

LONOKE, ARK. - Bayer CropScience knew that if an experimental strain of its genetically modified rice got into the commercial market it would be disastrous, a lawyer for a dozen Arkansas rice farmers said Wednesday as a civil trial on the issue got under way.

"Bayer knew that, if this stuff got out, it would be catastrophic" in its effect on prices paid to farmers, lawyer Scott Powell told the jury in Lonoke County Circuit Court.

The company's attorney, Dick Ellis, countered that if the farmers suffered any damages, they were minimal, and that Bayer acted responsibly in its handling of the experimental rice.

"It had some impact, but it was a small impact and didn't last very long," Ellis said.

The trial that began Wednesday is the fourth one on the matter. Bayer has lost in the three previous cases - two in federal court in Missouri and one in Woodruff County Circuit Court in Arkansas.

Bayer developed the rice in an effort to create a strain of the crop that would not be harmed by Liberty herbicide, a product made by the Germany-based company. As a result of testing in the U.S. of the rice known as Liberty Link, it got mixed with regular rice - something the farmers say significantly reduced the prices they got for their crops.

Rice futures plummeted by $150 million immediately after the contamination announcement in 2006. European nations quit accepting shipments of any rice from the U.S. that hadn't been extensively tested to show it wasn't contaminated, and Japan banned all American rice. Growers in Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Texas filed lawsuits against Bayer for hurting their sales.

The U.S. testing required Bayer to agree to stringent standards drawn up by the U.S. Department of Agriculture "to keep this material confined and contained," Powell said.

Beyond those standards, Powell said, Bayer should have used common sense. He said rice direct from a plant "is sticky stuff - it sticks to your boots, pants, cuffs and combines."

"But they used the same people" to raise the Liberty Link rice as were used to raise standard rice being grown in fields 165 feet away, Powell said. "They didn't use dedicated equipment - they used the same equipment in the experimental fields" and in the conventional fields, he said.

"Was that being careful?" he asked the jury.

Ellis countered that USDA required only a 10-foot separation between experimental and conventional rice plots.

The Arkansas farmers, in addition to seeking compensation for damages they say they suffered because of lowered prices for their crops, are seeking punitive damages. They argue that Bayer was not only negligent in its handling of Liberty Link rice, but acted with malicious intent by not announcing the contamination of the commercial rice-seed pool as soon as the company learned of it.

The suit claims Bayer knew of the contamination as early as January 2006, before that year's crops were sowed. But Powell said farmers didn't learn of the contamination until an announcement by the USDA in August 2006, when it was almost time to harvest crops they had just learned might be tainted.

Ellis, however, said that "when Bayer did determine that (Liberty Link had shown up in commercial rice), it was reported to the government."

He also disputed the effect of the European reaction, saying "Europe was not a big ... consumer of rice." He said exporters quickly found new markets for the rice that would have gone to Europe, which he estimated at "maybe 5 percent" of the U.S. crop that year.

He said the evidence would show that farmers still "were getting probably record prices for rice."


EFSA's revolving door to biotech industry unacceptable
• NGOs file complaints to EU Ombudsman and Commission

Press release
Testbiotech e. V. - Institute for Independent Impact Assessment in Biotechnology, 24 March 2010:

The Germany-based NGO Testbiotech has today filed an official complaint with the European Ombudsman against EFSA, the EU's food safety agency. The complaint targets EFSA's decision to allow Suzy Renckens, head of EFSA's GMO Unit, to become a lobbyist for biotech giant Syngenta, without any 'cooling off' period or other restrictions. Ms Renckens move to become a leading lobbyist for one of the major biotech companies in Europe implies an obvious conflict of interest.

"It is unacceptable that EFSA failed to act to prevent conflicts of interest in the case of Ms Renckens' move to Syngenta, considering the agency's powers over food safety decisions in Europe", says Christoph Then of Testbiotech. "As the two-year period within which officials need permission has still not passed, EFSA should immediately impose a ban on Ms Renckens lobbying to influence EFSA."

Testbiotech and Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) have today also written to Commission's president Barroso insisting that the Commission must intervene to make EFSA tighten its conflicts of interest checks. The NGOs had written to the Commission before to raise concerns about the Renckens case after it emerged that no "cooling off" period had been enforced. The Commission's consumer affairs department (DG SANCO) replied it is not responsible for EFSA, which is an independent EU agency.

"The Commission is denying all responsibility for the activities of the European Food Safety Agency", says Nina Holland of Corporate Europe Observatory. "The Renckens case however reveals a bigger problem of undue industry influence at EFSA, feeding to existing doubts concerning EU food safety decisions."

According to the informations available, Ms Renkens informed EFSA of her new appointment by Syngenta in 2008. Although EFSA then had the right to take appropriate action, the authority accepted Dr Renkens' move and did not impose any obligations. Only in November 2009, after Testbiotech had criticised the case, EFSA contacted Ms Renckens and reminded her of her obligations in relation to confidentiality.

Complaint to EU Ombudsman:

For further information please contact:

Christoph Then, Testbiotech Tel.: +49 (0)151 54 63 80 40 and

Nina Holland, Corporate Europe Observatory, +32 (0)28 93 09 30 or +32 497 38 96 32

Corporate Europe Observatory
Rue d'Edimbourg 26,1050 Brussels
+32 (0)2 893 0930

Testbiotech e. V.
Institute for Independent Impact Assessment in Biotechnology
Frohschammerstr. 14, 80807 München
Fon: +49 (0)89-358 99 92 76
Fax: +49 (0)89-359 66 22
Executive Director: Christoph Then


23 March 2010

One million signatures for banning GMOs in Europe

Institute of Science in Society [UK], 23 March 2010:

GM food: Facts not crops

The European Commission has just approved growing genetically modified crops for the first time in 12 years, putting the GM lobby's profits over public concerns - 60% of Europeans feel we need more information before growing foods that could threaten our health and environment.

A new initiative allows 1 million EU citizens a unique chance to make official requests of the European Commission. Let's build a million voices for a ban on GM foods until the research is done. Sign the petition below and spread the word.

Don't forget to include your address so that all of our signatures count for the citizens' initiative.

To the President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso:

We call on you to put a moratorium on the introduction of GM crops into Europe and set up an independent, ethical, scientific body to research the impact of GM crops and determine regulation.


Retailers demand GM labelling

Duncan Alfreds
News 24 [South Africa], 23 March 2010:

Cape Town - While the debate rages on the science of genetically modified foods, retailers insist that GM food or products with GM ingredients be labelled to allow consumers a choice.

"Scientific evidence has not proven one way or the other at this point whether GM foods are safe for human consumption.

"Given this situation, we are strongly of the view that all GM foods be adequately labelled in order to keep consumers fully informed and give them the opportunity for informed choice," Pick n Pay's Tamra Veley told News24.

Woolworths said that it has removed all food containing GM products from its shelves or labelled them appropriately.

"Woolworths is committed to responding to customer needs. As a result we have undertaken to eliminate genetically modified ingredients wherever possible.

"Where we are not able to remove these ingredients, we will label them so that customers can make informed choices when they shop at Woolworths," Julian Novak of Woolworths Food told News24.


The National Consumer Forum (NCF) says it supports the labelling of GM food, so that consumers can make an informed choice.

"As part of the world consumer movement, we've supported the proper labelling of GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms). According to the Consumer Protection Act, to be legislated in October 2010, food needs to be properly labelled," NCF chair Thami Bolani told News24.

He said that there was scientific division of whether GMOs were safe, and the new Act would ensure that companies complied with labelling.

"The world is divided on the safety of GMOs, we cannot say these foods are 100% safe, but these companies have been against labelling," he said.

Bolani warned that control of GM food production was risky.

"If GMOs continue unchecked, companies like Monsanto will control food production. These companies fund research into GMOs and that's why the research produced by these scientists is debateable," he said.


Bolani said that the NCF would conduct testing of food in order to establish whether it contained any GM ingredients and ensure proper labelling.

"We are joining an international research group and we'll be testing products that people consume to test for GMOs. Then we'll be able to take legal action against companies that don't comply," he said.

He added that, according to the Act, the government would fund the NCF and tribunal decisions would be binding.

He also said that there were already food in circulation that contained GMOs, but that was not labelled.

"We know that mielie meal is a staple diet and it's got GM elements, but the law at the moment does not forbid it. But even if we have the law and labelling, people need to be educated about GMOs," he added.

Dr Wynand van der Walt warned that labelling would increase the price of foods and that said that labelling posed logistical problems such as the informal market.

"How do you enforce labelling at spaza shop or street vendor level? How do you label loose potatoes? Table grapes or fresh maize cobs on the sidewalk? Are we going to label T shirts made from GM cotton?" he told News24 on behalf of the Agricultural Biotechnological Industry.

"GM crops and their products are not inherently dangerous to human or animal health, or the environment. Unlike foods from conventional origin, they are scrutinised extensively for safety before approval is granted for commercial release," he added.

Van der Walt also questioned whether the government had the capacity to accurately test for GMOs in food, saying that labelling "must be voluntary for those who want it".


Reasons to welcome gene-silencing pesticides

New Scientist [UK], 23 March 2010:

PESTICIDES and genetically modified organisms are two things that environmentalists love to hate.

There are certainly good reasons to hate conventional pesticides. Looming large among those are the harm they do to the humans exposed to them and the death of beneficial insects, fish and birds. Now, however, researchers are developing a new kind of insecticide, one that will only wipe out a target species (see "Bugs beware: we're gunning for your genes").

The key is a method of gene silencing called RNA interference. There is every reason to think this approach will be safe. In many cases, the best way to "apply" RNAi will be to genetically modify plants, and there's the rub: many green organisations, along with the organic food movement, oppose all GM crops.

They should reconsider. Plants modified to produce bacterial toxins appear to have cut conventional pesticide use. Plants containing RNAi-based pesticides should be even better and it may be hard for target pests to evolve resistance to them.

They will be safer for the environment, farmers and consumers than conventional pesticides, too. Indeed, they will even be safer than the pesticides sometimes used by organic farmers, such as rotenone, a plant extract that has been linked to Parkinson's disease.

For most farmers, after all, the choice is not between pesticides or no pesticides. It's between more or less harmful ones.


GM crop: Govt drops hot potato

Amitabh Sinha
Indian Express, 23 March 2010:

New Delhi - Misleading the public on safety of genetically modified crops or organisms without scientific evidence would not be made a punishable offence, the government has decided following concerns raised by some scientists and civil society groups.

A relevant clause to this effect in the proposed Bill to set up the National Biotechnology Regulatory Authority has been dropped, government sources have told The Indian Express.

The NBRA is being established to approve and regulate the use of biotechnology products in the country.

The proposed draft bill had a clause which made it a public offence to spread misinformation about the safety of a genetically modified product once scientific evidence had declared it to be safe. This was done to discourage interested groups and frivolous activists from spreading wrong information about biotech products.

The provision had come in for severe criticism by scientists and activist groups who saw a potential for misuse.

"In deference to the views expressed by a number of people, the government has decided to drop this provision for the time being," a senior government official said.

The NBRA Bill is being drafted by the Department of Biotechnology. The Bill is likely to be put before the Cabinet for approval in the next couple of weeks with the aim to introduce it in the current session of Parliament once it reconvenes after recess.

The proposal for setting up the NBRA has been pending for a long time but the issue has acquired urgency in the wake of the controversy surrounding the decision of the Environment Ministry to put the introduction of genetically modified Bt brinjal on indefinite hold despite a green signal from the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC).

As of now, the GEAC is the only authorised body to approve the use of a genetically engineered crop or organism. It will cease to exist once the proposed NBRA comes into being.

The latest draft of the Bill also seeks to put the NBRA under the administrative control of an inter-ministerial advisory committee and not under the Department of Biotechnology as was being envisioned earlier. This has been done to mollify the Environment Ministry which wanted the control of NBRA, arguing that there was a potential conflict of interest scenario placing the authority under the DBT, whose mandate is to promote biotechnology.

The inter-ministerial committee can comprise senior officials from all the relevant ministries including those from Environment, Science and Technology, Health, Agriculture and Commerce.


Engineered Oranges Needed to Resist Disease -- NAS

Paul Voosen of GreenWire
New York Times [USA], 23 March 2010:

If the Florida orange industry wants to resist a sweeping tide of disease that has ravaged its trees for the past five years, it will likely have no choice but to genetically engineer its crops, according to a report released today by the National Academy of Sciences.

Since its discovery in 2005, citrus greening disease -- also known from its Asian origins as huanglongbing -- has spread to nearly every orange-growing county in Florida, carried by an invasive relative of the aphid, the Asian citrus psyllid. The bacterial disease has already cut the state's orange juice production by several percentage points, leaving swaths of the $9.3 billion industry to sprout misshapen, sour fruit unsuitable even for juicing. Once a tree is infected, there is no cure.

Researchers and farmers have scrambled to halt the disease, culling the insects and infected trees, but they have so far fallen short in finding citrus varieties that resist the disease. This lack of a breeding option means that for a long-term solution, the industry has few options, the academy concluded.

"Conventional plant breeding is unlikely to deliver resistant varieties," given the little resistance currently found, the report says. "This situation renders genetic engineering ... as more viable for developing citrus with resistance."

Though there are non-citrus plants that demonstrate resistance to greening, due to expense or incompatibility, the genes required for creating the modified trees would likely stem from "animal, plant, microbial or bacteriophage origin" or from components of venom or bacterial spore proteins, the report says.

Introducing genetically modified citrus trees would face substantial hurdles. While engineered crops using bacteria genes have been widely accepted in corn, soy and other cash crops, few minor crops have been deregulated for commercial use, with Hawaii's papayas, engineered to resist the ringspot virus, being the notable example.

Groups opposed to modified food would certainly oppose the use of foreign genes in the country's oranges and, subsequently, orange juice. The United States, unlike Europe, requires no labeling of food carrying transgenic material.

"Several well-known activist organizations have taken a stance against genetically modified foods in general and would likely attempt to raise opposition in the general public to juice from transgenic oranges," the report says.

Field tests of trees engineered to resist greening are already under way, with a small grove planted by Southern Gardens, one of Florida's largest citrus producers. The company, a division of U.S. Sugar, developed the trees in collaboration with Texas A&M University. The trials are still too early to provide tangible results, the company said (Greenwire, July 28, 2009).

One of the largest challenges in introducing modified citrus varieties will be the hybrid planting system employed by farmers, which typically sees different varieties grafted onto common rootstocks. While scientists should target these rootstocks in developing resistance strategies, USDA has never tackled the complicated approval process such hybrids would entail, the report says.

Unless early test groves provide an unlikely breakthrough, it will take 10 to 15 years to develop resistant citrus, the report predicts. Until then, orange farmers must continue their vigilant efforts to control the psyllid population and destroy infected trees. Wariness should be employed in increasing insecticide use, the report adds, lest the psyllids develop resistance.

Click here to read the report


22 March 2010

Scientists need the guts to say: I don't know
• From climate change to swine flu, we must rebuild trust by being honest about risk

The Times [UK], 23 March 2010:

[Includes video: David Spiegelhalter defends uncertainty in science]

A popular view of scientists is that they deal with certainties, but they are (or should be) the first to admit the limitations in what they know. Yet can scientists admit uncertainty and still be trusted by politicians and the public? Or would the language of possibilities and probabilities merely shift attention to those with more strident, confident arguments?

Nobody is expected to predict the future exactly. So there is generally no problem in acknowledging the risk of everyday activities, and it is natural to use past experience to be open and precise about the uncertainties. Patients may, for example, be told that for every one million operations there are expected to be five deaths related to the anaesthetic - that's an anaesthetic risk of five micromorts (a one-in-a-million chance of dying) per operation. This is roughly equivalent to the risk of riding 30 miles on a motorbike, driving 1,000 miles in a car, going on one scuba-dive, living four hours as a heroin user or serving four hours in the UK Army in Afghanistan.

In more complicated situations, scientists build mathematical models that are supposed to mimic what we understand about the world. Models are used for guiding action on swine flu, predicting climate change and assessing whether medical treatments should be provided by the NHS.

Statisticians such as me try to use past data to express reasonable uncertainty about the quantities - parameters - used in models and, in some cases, doubts about their structure. Take a wonderfully trivial example: last month it was reported that a shopper had bought a box of six eggs, and all had double-yolks - a "one-in-a-trillion chance". This calculation was explained on Today by a man from the Egg Council who said that, as one in 1,000 eggs were double-yolkers, the chance of all six being double-yolkers was one in 1,000 x 1,000 x 1,000 x 1,000 x 1,000 x 1,000.

This aroused my suspicion. To begin with, this is not a trillion and, if this were the true chance, we would expect to wait 500 million years before this event occurred. So what has gone wrong with this model? It turns out that the egg-world may not be so simple. Double-yolkers are far more common in certain flocks, so there should be uncertainty about the "one in 1,000" parameter. Eggs in a box tend to come from the same source so once one double-yolker is found the chances increase that the rest will match. As a result there is uncertainty about the structure of the model too.

Acknowledgement of parameter and structural uncertainty has become common in climate and other models. But there is a further level of uncertainty: of unforeseen surprises, Black Swans and Rumsfeldian unknown unknowns. There should always be a suspicion that there's more going on than we can express in mathematics. Indeed, at Waitrose I bought a box marked "double-yolked eggs" for £2.49. Certainly not a one-in-a-trillion chance: double-yolked eggs can be common and can be detected, selected and packed at will.

The moral of "egg-gate" is, as the statistician George Box said: "All models are wrong, but some are useful." They are not the truth - but are more like guidebooks, helpful but possibly flawed because of what we don't know. Owning up to such ignorance is finally getting its due attention, although back in 1937 John Maynard Keynes, when talking about predictions for 1970, wrote "there is no scientific basis on which to form any calculable probability whatsoever. We simply do not know."

So what are scientists to do when they aren't certain and there is a lot they don't know? There are ways of showing a little doubt. The Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England makes projections for inflation and change in GDP, providing a nice visual spread of possibilities as a "fan chart" but reserving a 10 per cent chance for going outside that range, a huge white void on the chart where anything might happen. And it did: the projections made in 2007 were wildly wrong. Maybe this unmapped region should be labelled "here be dragons".

Another approach is to be "better safe than sorry". In July 2009 the Department of Health made a "worst-case scenario" planning assumption of 65,000 swine flu deaths by assuming every unknown quantity was at its worst possible value. There have been 457 deaths so far. Such a super-precautionary approach can be expensive, does little for scientific reputation and may damage the response to a really serious pandemic.

In 2007 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said it had "very high confidence" that man has caused global warming, which it interpreted as having at least a nine out of ten chance of being correct. It therefore must feel it has about a one in ten chance of being wrong. This seems a fair and open judgment, but has been generally ignored in the increasingly polarised arguments.

It would be nice to think that scientists could be upfront about uncertainty and not feel they have to put everything into precise numbers. It would still be possible for robust decisions to be made.

Acknowledgement of uncertainty may even increase public confidence in pronouncements. Recent events, whether the justification for the Iraq War or "Climategate", have reinforced the fact that trust is the crucial factor - although this may be even more difficult to achieve than certainty.

David Spiegelhalter is Winton Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk at the University of Cambridge. He is speaking today (March 22) at a Royal Society meeting on Handling Uncertainty in Science.


States Look to Join Agriculture Antitrust Fight

Matt Volz
Associated Press / Business Week [USA], 22 March 2010:

HELENA, MT - Montana is leading a 16-state effort to save small farmers and ranchers by urging the federal government to use antitrust weapons and enlist the states' help to fight increasing consolidation in agriculture.

The feds are listening. Attorney General Eric Holder and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack say a series of workshops on competition in the industry is an unprecedented act of cooperation between their agencies. But they also say it's not clear what actions will come from the hearings, which are examining competition in U.S. dairy, seed, meatpacking and crop production.

Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock, who is spearheading the agricultural states' effort, said too much consolidation has resulted in unfair trade practices that tip the balance against farmers and ranchers. With Justice Department and USDA cooperation, he said, "This will be a watershed moment to have actual enforcement capabilities."

Bullock and the other attorneys general are calling for a halt of any further consolidation or integration in the agricultural sector without a critical review coordinated with the states.

They submitted recommendations to federal officials on what needs to be done. Among them:

Study the seed industry's concentration and property rights claimed to see whether there is any way to change existing laws. Five companies own the most commercially successful trait technologies for crops, and those transgenic seeds account for 80 percent of corn planted in the United States, 92 percent of soybeans and 86 percent of cotton.

Repeal antitrust exemptions for railroads that have been in place since the 1980s and make transportation more accessible to small producers.

Explore how states can help enforce antitrust laws under the Packers and Stockyard Act, passed in 1921 to ensure fair competition and fair trade practices in the marketing of livestock, meat and poultry. States have not historically brought cases under that federal law, and the attorneys general say cooperation could better regulate an increasingly concentrated buyers market in the livestock industry.

Review the antitrust immunities given to certain dairy cooperatives and the laws governing how milk is marketed to make sure they still protect farmers and don't become a vehicle for large entities to exclude smaller farmers from the market.

Smaller farmers and ranchers generally agree that fewer suppliers, shippers and buyers resulting from consolidation can lead to antitrust practices. In Montana, agricultural consolidation has reduced the number of grain elevators in the state from nearly 200 in 1984 to fewer than 50 today, Bullock said. The four largest packers process 85 percent of the nation's beef, while the four largest pork packers process about 65 percent of the nation's pork, he said.

Jan French, a cattle rancher from Hobson, Mont., and head of the state's Livestock Board, welcomed the state's involvement.

"It's always good for agricultural producers to be listened to on a federal level," she said. "All expenses are passed down to us, and we can't pass it down to anybody."

Some farmers have taken matters into their own hands.

The Montana Grain Growers Association and the Montana Farm Bureau spent four years negotiating an agreement with the state's predominant railroad shipper, BNSF Railway Co., that establishes an abitration process between the railroad and the farmers.

Lola Raska, executive vice president of the grain growers, said the agreement gives producers a way to appeal high shipping rates. Before, challenging the rates was too expensive and wheat and barley farmers simply had to accept whatever BNSF charged, she said.

"We are in a captive situation, we have only one railroad that serves the state," Raska said. "We've tried to develop a working relationship with the railroad."

BNSF referred questions to the Assocation of American Railroads. Obie O'Bannon, the association's senior vice president of governmental affairs, said Thursday the group supports what BNSF has done with the Montana growers.

However, the association is not seeking any changes along the lines of what Bullock and the other attorneys general are recommending. Any change in law or repeal of the railroads' antitrust immunities would have to be done in a way that ensures the railroads make enough money so they can reinvest and expand their infrastructure, O'Bannon said.

"We are not opposed to the idea," O'Bannon said. "So long as it's done in a coordinated fashion."

Besides Montana, the attorneys general who signed the recommendations are from Delaware, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont and West Virginia.


Malta declaration: IFOAM EU Group calls for a moratorium on the cultivation of GMO
• Representatives of the organic food sector from 27 member states call on the European Commission to ensure the maintenance of GMO free farming

EU Group of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements, 22 March 2010:

The IFOAM EU Group (1) held its board meeting on 18 and 19 March in Malta, the home country of the European Commissioner for Health and Consumer affairs, John Dalli, who is in charge of ruling on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) in Europe. The board meeting was organised on the island of Gozo to coincide with the Malta Organic Agriculture Movement conference: Organic agriculture and Eco-Gozo (2) held in collaboration with the ministry of Gozo. Organic farming can play an important role in sustainable development, a key priority for the achieving of a sustainable island Eco-Gozo (3). The IFOAM EU Group calls on Commissioner Dalli to commit himself to a GMO moratorium. This will protect the natural and cultural heritage of Malta, the potential for Eco-Gozo and will serve the best interests of all EU member states. This will help to guarantee the freedom of choice for European consumers and farmers and protect biodiversity. This is also an economic necessity for the food sector (4): Organic farmers as well as conventional farmers need to be sure that their products are protected from GMO contamination in order to be able to sell their products on the market.

The IFOAM EU Group calls on Commissioner Dalli to initiate the following:

1. The implementation of a European wide moratorium on GMO approvals and cultivation of GMOs in the EU. This moratorium must not end before the Commission has met the demands of the Environmental Council of 4 December 2008 (5):

To appraise the socio-economic impacts of placing on the market and the cultivation of GMOs: The impacts of GMOs in the whole food production chain have to be considered, taking into account the different regional structures of the farming and food system throughout Europe. This must include the costs for the prevention of contamination and mitigation measures in case of contamination in: seed production, on the field; cleaning of commonly used machinery, transport and storage facilities; as well as in keeping feed and food free from GMOs during processing.

To assess long-term effects of GM plants on the environment, especially on non-target organisms.

To set a framework for the consideration of the characteristics of ecosystems/environments and of the specific geographical areas where GMO might be grown in approval procedures.

To study the potential consequences for the environment of changes in the use of herbicides caused by herbicide-tolerant GM plants.

To ensure coherence between risk assessments of GM plants that produce active substances (pesticides) covered by directive 91/414/EEC and those of the corresponding plant protection products.

2. The revision of the EU legislation related to GMO that is currently under way must result in an improved legislation, protecting the interest and economic existence of farmers and consumers that want to stay GMO free.

3. Being the authority in charge of risk management, the EU Commission must base its decisions on the precautionary principle that is a basic principle in EU environmental legislation (6).

4. The EFSA as the risk management authority must be reformed. Independence of EFSA scientists, transparency of risk assessment procedures as well as the acknowledgement of uncertainties and differing scientific opinions within these procedures must be guaranteed.

5. A European wide framework for co-existence must be established that ensures freedom of GMOs for all farmers as well as other food and feed operators that want to stay free of GMOs. Within this framework, the polluter-pays-principle must be implemented. Those companies who profit from GMOs have to be fully liable for any environmental and economic damage caused by the GMO crops. This includes costs for the prevention of GMO contamination as well as analysis costs for testing GMO free commodities.

6. A labelling threshold for the adventitious presence of genetically engineered organisms in conventional and organic seed has to be set at the limit of detection, as demanded by the European Parliament in its declaration from 18 December 2003 (7). As the seed is the beginning of the food chain, clean seed is essential for maintaining GMO free food and feed production.

7. Finally, the Commission should revise the approval of the GMO starch potato Amflora which includes an antibiotic resistance gene. EU legislation (8) requires by the end of 2004 the phasing out of all antibiotic resistance marker genes (ARMG), which may have adverse effects on human health and the environment.

The IFOAM EU Group is aware that the EU Commission is currently discussing the possibility of a legal framework that facilitates national solutions regarding the cultivation of certain GMOs. The IFOAM EU Group defends the right of regions and Member states to stay GMO free, but at the same time we must not forget that we have a common market in the EU. National solutions must not lead to a situation where extra costs for precautionary measures to maintain freedom of choice are induced.

The risk assessment and management must stay at European level, approval procedures must be made transparent and be underpinned by strict rules. Decisions must be based on the precautionary principle. Organic and conventional farmers that want to produce GMO free products must be protected in their right to stay GMO free if they are to remain financially viable throughout the EU and not only in those member states that decide to ban the cultivation of GMO at the national level.

More information:

phone + 32-2-280 12 23,
Fax: +32-2-735 73 81,,


(1) The IFOAM EU Group represents more than 300 member organisations of IFOAM (International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements) in the EU-27, the EU accession countries and EFTA. Member organisations include: consumer, farmer and processor associations; research, education and advisory organisations; certification bodies and commercial organic companies.

(2) International Conference: Organic Agriculture and Eco-Gozo, 17 March 2010

(3) Gozo is on the way to become an eco-island by 2020, supported by a committed sustainable community:

(4) Costs for food processors to keep their products free from GMOs are rising with each GMO that is on the market; costs to prevent GMO contamination arise for GMO free seed; isolation distances between fields to avoid pollination; cleaning of shared sowing, harvesting , transport, storage and milling facilities; segregation of processing and packaging; withdrawals cost millions. See also -

(5) Council Conclusions on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), 2912nd Environment Council meeting, Brussels, 4 December 2008 - 4509.pdf

(6) Treaty on the functioning of the European Union, Article 191 (2): Union policy on the environment shall aim at a high level of protection taking into account the diversity of situations in the various regions of the Union. It shall be based on the precautionary principle and on the principles that preventive action should be taken, that environmental damage should as a priority be rectified at source and that the polluter should pay.

(7) European Parliament resolution on coexistence between genetically modified crops and conventional and organic crops (2003/2098(INI)), 18 December 2003 - //EP//TEXT+TA+P5-TA-2003-0600+0+DOC+XML+V0//EN&language=EN

(8) Directive 2001/18/EC on the deliberate release into the environment of Genetically Modified Organisms, Article 4(2) - http://eurlex.


Scientists oppose deal with Monsanto

The Peninsula (Qatar), 22 March 2010:

KARACHI: Pakistan's top scientists have expressed concerns regarding government's plans to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with giant American multinational Monsanto for the introduction of "insect-resistant" Bt-cotton, saying that it could harm the interest of growers.

"There is a need to get sound, critical and scientific input from experts in the country before signing such a deal," Dr Anwer Naseem, chairman National Commission on Biotechnology, said yesterday.

"I have no idea whom the government has consulted."

The government plans to sign a deal with Monsanto next month aimed at introducing Bt-Cotton and other advanced seed technologies in Pakistan.

Naseem, who has been the chairman of Biotechnology Commission for the last 28 years, said that the deal raises many questions, including the levels of resistance in these cotton varieties.

"This has been reported from India as well one needs to look at agreements reached and the way in which the issue has been examined by our experts."

Dr Abid Azhar, deputy director general of AQ Khan Institute of Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering, University of Karachi, also expressed concerns about the Monsanto deal.

"It has to be ensured that the interests of growers and farmers are not compromised in any deal that is to be agreed upon between the government and the multinational companies."

He said that there have instances where growers have been forced to purchase seeds from multinationals for every crop after the introduction of such alien verities.

"In this way, the multinationals have attempted to monopolise the seed business," Azhar said.

A senior US scientist, Dr Michael Hansen, told a Pakistani newspaper in November 2009 that genetically modified crops are not the panacea for food security.

Rather, the answer to food security lies with small-scale, ecologically rational, sustainable agriculture that focuses on local food systems, he had said.


UN Warns Against Over-Dependence On GMOs

Maria Luisa Vargas
Global Perspectives, 22 March 2010:

Some nine billion people are expected to inhabit the planet earth by 2050. This growth forecast is giving rise to the question how the growing number of people will be fed. The biotech industry sees no problem at all. In its view, the way out of the current impasse and toward meeting future requirements is in the deployment of genetic engineering. But the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) does not share this view.

An over-dependence on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to boost agricultural production eclipses other biotechnologies and their potential to benefit poor farmers in developing countries, warns the FAO Assistant Director-General Modibo Traore.

"Modern and conventional biotechnologies provide potent tools for the agriculture sector, including fisheries and forestry," Traore told participants of the FAO-sponsored conference on Agricultural Biotechnologies in Developing Countries in Guadalajara, Mexico.

"But biotechnologies are not yet making a significant impact in the lives of people in most developing countries," he informed the four-day gathering, co-hosted by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

Most poor nations currently lack appropriate and useful technologies, policies, technical capacities, and the necessary infrastructure for the development, evaluation and deployment of biotechnologies.

Biotechnological innovations - such as rice hybrids for Africa that have doubled yields and the use of artificial insemination to raise dairy cattle milk production in Bangladesh - can contribute significantly in doubling food production by 2050 and in addressing the uncertainties of climate change, according to FAO.

However, the agency points out that there is often an emphasis on genetically modified organisms only, underscoring the need for a new approach to agricultural research and development which supports a wider use of biodiversity to promote development and improve food security.

"New technologies should make their contributions also through efficiency gains from better management of inputs and biodiversity," said Traore. "This will require greater involvement of farmers, institutions and communities.

"It will require other enabling factors such as policies, institutional support, and investment in human and physical capital and in-country capacity building," he added, urging the international community to play a key role in supporting developing countries.


In addition to taking stock of how agricultural biotechnologies can contribute to help developing countries, the conference from March 1 to 4, 2010 explored opportunities and partnerships to strengthen the capacity of developing countries to choose and use appropriate biotechnologies.

Agricultural biotechnologies in developing countries should address the specific needs of smallholders and, to do so, should encourage their participation and that of all stakeholders in the decision making process, the conference stated.

The conference - attended by 300 people from 68 countries, including experts, policy makers and representatives of civil society and international organizations - agreed on the key elements necessary to put agricultural biotechnologies at the service of the developing world: increased investments, international cooperation and effective and enabling national policies and regulatory frameworks.

"Agricultural biotechnologies are not being widely used in developing countries, and research and development in agricultural biotechnologies have not generally been targeted towards the needs and problems of smallholders", said Traore. "This is something that has to change," he added.

The conference recommended every country to define its clear national vision for the role of biotechnologies, and examine the options and opportunities within the context of national economic, social and sustainable rural development and environmental strategies and objectives.

This vision should be built in a process involving all stakeholders and be supported by effective communication and participation strategies to encourage and promote public involvement and empowerment in the decision-making.

The conference agreed on the need for effective and enabling national biotechnology policies and regulatory frameworks that facilitate the development and use of appropriate biotechnologies in developing countries.

It also concurred on increased national investments by developing countries in the development and use of biotechnologies to support in particular, smallholders and producers.


According to the conference participants, stronger partnerships among and within countries such as South-South and regional alliances, public-private and research partnerships for sharing experiences, information and technologies, will facilitate development and use of biotechnologies.

Making agricultural biotechnologies accessible to developing countries and ensuring that they respond to the particular needs of small-scale farmers and producers will require the support of FAO and other relevant international organizations and donors.

This is particularly needed to strengthen national capacities in the development and use of appropriate agricultural biotechnologies directed to the needs of smallholders and producers in developing countries.

Agricultural biotechnologies encompass a wide-range of tools and methodologies that are being applied to some extent in crops, livestock, forestry, fisheries and aquaculture, and agro-industries, to help alleviate hunger and poverty, assist in adaptation to climate change, and maintain the natural resource base, in developing countries.

The debate encompassing GMOs often hinders the development of other agriculture biotechnologies where there is no controversy about their environmental impacts and the benefits to small producers, as well as their important role in mitigating and adapting to climate change.

Many case studies illustrating how biotechnologies can help sustainable development were presented at the conference: from the use of DNA markers to improve the Deccani sheep in India, to molecular characterization to develop improved microbial cultures for fermented foods and drinks in the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Thailand.

"There are many biotechnologies being applied in some developing countries, such as fermentation and artificial insemination. We must focus our efforts in improving the access of developing countries to these biotechnologies", said Shivaji Pandey, Director of FAO's Plant Production and Protection Division.


Chairman of Armenian Poultry Farmers Union complains of unequal competition

Arka News Agency [Armenia], 22 March 2010:

YEREVAN - Sergey Stepanian, chairman of the Union of Armenian Poultry Farmers, complained last Friday of unequal conditions set for importers of chicken meat and local producers.

Speaking at a news conference he said he knows that imported chicken meat goes through customs clearing at a price of 350 Drams per one kg, which he said creates unequal conditions for local producers, 'because local producers expect a 5-6% profit from their sales while importers' profits reach 80% per each kg of chicken meat.'

According to him, importers are required only to present a document that the imported meat does not pose danger to human health, while all other mandatory standard requirements are ignored by customs officers.

He said the Union of Poultry Farmers is going to ask the government to remove this inequality.

'The government has developed a program for revising national standards this year and after these reforms are enforced we expect that we shall have equal rights,' he said.

Melisa Hakobian, chairwoman of the National Assembly of Consumers, expressed her concerns over the import of genetically modified products to Armenia, saying their negative impact will come to surface in several years.


21 March 2010

Genetically modified food 'unfit for consumption'

Financial Express [Bangladesh], 21 March 2010:

Genetically modified foods or crops should not be classified as food at all, as they are liable to cause various health problems affecting the liver and kidney, and hence unfit for human consumption, said a noted agriculturist, reports UNB.

Dr Mohammed Ataur Rahman of International University of Business Agriculture and Technology (IUBAT) made the sweeping assertion to the news agency at his office in the city.

The director of the Centre for Global Environmental Culture (CGEC), as well as the Programme on Education for Sustainability (PES), Dr Rahman said that the main problem with GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) was that it took hundreds and thousands years of adaptation in an environment for the development of a genetic character. The pneumatic bones that helped birds fly and the air bladders, fins and gills that allowed fish to live underwater were characters developed over many long years of adaptation to their specific environment.

"There are many examples of GMOs which are not suitable for natural adaptation," said Dr Rahman, adding that when something was modified (GMO) it could not be sustainable. Without proper adaptation or acclimatisation, something might succeed for the time being, but in the long run, it would perish.

"If we consider chickens, although the growth is rapid, it is abnormal, they cannot move, and are sexually disabled. Therefore, they become genetically and environmentally dependent."

Dr Rahman described the case of the Liger (Lion+Tiger), a giant animal developed by scientists that was a hybrid between a lion and a tiger. But although it was three times the size of a lion or tiger, it could not jump like either.


World's 'most unethical firm' is company of year

Richard D Barton Sunday Tribune [Ireland], 21 March 2010:

I am still amazed by the award of the Nobel peace prize to the latest warmongering president of the USA. However, strange awards seem to be getting more common. Monsanto (of Agent Orange and GM foods fame) just got two diametrically opposed awards.

Forbes magazine has declared Monsanto "Company of the Year", saying that it "has been working to make humanity better fed." Forbes claims that the frequent attacks on Monsanto come because the company has close to a monopoly in some seed markets only because they are making "seeds that are too good". Strange, but I would have been certain that God or nature did that thousands of years ago.

On almost the same day, after a global survey of 581 corporations, integrating data from 2002 to the end of 2009, carried out by the Swiss-based Covalence Ethical Quotation System, Monsanto was rated as the world's most unethical company. (The full table of results is published online.) Are awards nowadays for actually doing some good in the world or is there something else going on? I think we should be told.

Richard D Barton
Kevin Street,
Tinahely, Co Wicklow


20 March 2010

Colonialism lives in biotech seed proposal for Africa

Dennis Keeney and Sophia Murphy
Des Moines Register [USA], March 20 2010:

Bill Gates and the biotech juggernauts are doing their best to keep Africa dependent on imported technology, just like in the bad old days of colonialism. Gates, Monsanto and Pioneer have joined the long list of those believing they know best how the continent should grow its food. If the history of colonialism and subsequent development practice have taught us anything, it is that all interventions must strengthen resilience, encourage diversity and be locally appropriate. The biotech seed proposal for Africa fails on all three counts.

A Feb. 17 Des Moines Register article - "Pioneer, Gates to Give African Farmers Biotech Seed" - implies that the U.S. model of crop production will be exported to Africa nations by giving African farmers biotech seed. Exporting a model developed specifically for this country to the 47 countries of sub-Saharan Africa is bad enough; worse, this model carries the high economic, environmental and social costs of producing only one or two crops on the same land year after year. It has caused enormous problems in the United States. Why would we want to export it?

Biotech corn is designed for monoculture production on large acreages like we have in the United States. African agriculture is overwhelmingly small scale (on farms of less than one acre) and diverse, allowing for a more diverse diet as well as greater overall output given the dependence on rain-fed agriculture and the very limited access to external expensive inputs, such as fertilizer.

It's often claimed that biotech seeds will yield larger crops. In fact, there is no evidence that crops from biotechnology seeds produce higher yields than do crops from conventionally bred seeds. Both Pioneer and Monsanto claim they will make the seeds available royalty-free. But nothing is said about providing seeds at cost. Nor is anything said about the biotech industry's stringent rules prohibiting saved seed. Biotech becomes a vehicle to introduce a need for a slew of expensive inputs, many of them fossil fuel-based, which African farmers have historically provided for themselves on-farm.

If Gates is going to be responsible for spending hundreds of millions on agriculture in Africa, we need his foundation to do better.

So, what are the alternatives to high input agriculture in Africa?

The Nigerian National Variety Release Committee is set to release improved corn varieties that address drought, low soil fertility, pests, diseases and parasitic weeds. The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) developed these varieties in partnership with other African plant breeding programs in Nigeria. These include 13 open pollinated varieties with varying maturities and four hybrids with drought tolerance. They do not have the costs or legal hassles associated with genetic engineered varieties, and will be suited for small farmers.

Another example is the work of Pedro Sanchez, who spent his career developing low-cost and comprehensive soil rejuvenation programs for eastern and southern Africa and other food-deficit nations. Sanchez, the 2002 winner of the World Food Prize, has shown how biodiverse small farms are able to not only produce more local food but also build soil fertility and rural economies. The International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development - now endorsed by more than 50 countries - reached similar conclusions.

In the United States, the biotech industry has dictated the terms of the technology, trampling over the interests and concerns of farmers and the public alike. Biotech crops have resulted in fewer farmers growing more agricultural raw materials and less food, exactly the opposite of what is needed in Africa.

We suggest Gates support ongoing African research rather than import capital-intensive technology developed to address problems that are far from most Africans' concerns.

The privately patented and tightly controlled model epitomized by biotechnology is all wrong for the estimated 33 million small farms that make up 80 percent of sub-Saharan Africa's agriculture.

DENNIS KEENEY ( and SOPHIA MURPHY ( are with the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy in Minneapolis.


Central China province refutes GM rice accusation

Xinhua / China Daily, 20 March 2010:

CHANGSHA: Central China's Hunan province said on Saturday rice on sale at its supermarkets was not genetically modified and refuted environmental group Greenpeace's accusation.

The provincial agricultural department said in a statement that no pest-resistant genetically modified ingredients had been found in samples of all 32 brands of rice being sold on the local market.

"Samples were taken from the Wal-Mart outlet on South Huangxing Road in the provincial capital Changsha, and several other stores and mills in the province last Monday and Tuesday, but no GM ingredient was found after careful analysis by professional testing institutions," the document said.

Zuo Pingquan, an official in charge of science promotion at the provincial agricultural department, said the testing had been a complicated procedure, involving DNA extraction.

Greenpeace said in a report last Monday that GM rice was being sold at supermarkets in Hunan, including the Wal-Mart outlet.

Greenpeace said its study was conducted in October.

China's central government approved a program in 2008 to cultivate high-yield, pest-resistant genetically modified grains as it faced the challenge of feeding its 1.3 billion people and battles both shrinking arable land and climate change.

But Chen Xiwen, a senior rural affairs official, said GM foods still had a long way to go before they could reach the Chinese market as they were currently unable to get the necessary certificates from health and quality inspection authorities.

Last year, the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) issued safety certificates for GM rice that is resistant to certain insects, as well as corn that helps pigs absorb more nutrients, Vice Minister Wei Chaoan said at the annual parliament session last week.

But Wei said the certificates were "more a recognition of scientists' work and achievement than the approval for commercial production".

Opinions from Chinese scientists on the safety of GM food, however, vary.

Leading agricultural scientist Yuan Longping has warned that some GM crops, particularly the anti-pest strains, need human trials for at least one or two generations as their health implications remain unclear.

But Huang Dafang, a member of the bio-safety committee affiliated to the MOA, insists GM crops have proven safety in previous animal testing.

"We are technically advantageous in hybrid rice planting. The genetically-modified technology could ensure China's superiority in food production," said Huang.


19 March 2010

Crop Scientists Say Biotechnology Seed Companies Are Thwarting Research

Andrew Pollack
New York Times [USA], 19 March 2010:

Biotechnology companies are keeping university scientists from fully researching the effectiveness and environmental impact of the industry's genetically modified crops, according to an unusual complaint issued by a group of those scientists.

"No truly independent research can be legally conducted on many critical questions," the scientists wrote in a statement submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency. The E.P.A. is seeking public comments for scientific meetings it will hold next week on biotech crops.

The statement will probably give support to critics of biotech crops, like environmental groups, who have long complained that the crops have not been studied thoroughly enough and could have unintended health and environmental consequences.

The researchers, 26 corn-insect specialists, withheld their names because they feared being cut off from research by the companies. But several of them agreed in interviews to have their names used.

The problem, the scientists say, is that farmers and other buyers of genetically engineered seeds have to sign an agreement meant to ensure that growers honor company patent rights and environmental regulations. But the agreements also prohibit growing the crops for research purposes.

So while university scientists can freely buy pesticides or conventional seeds for their research, they cannot do that with genetically engineered seeds. Instead, they must seek permission from the seed companies. And sometimes that permission is denied or the company insists on reviewing any findings before they can be published, they say.

Such agreements have long been a problem, the scientists said, but they are going public now because frustration has been building.

"If a company can control the research that appears in the public domain, they can reduce the potential negatives that can come out of any research," said Ken Ostlie, an entomologist at the University of Minnesota, who was one of the scientists who had signed the statement.

What is striking is that the scientists issuing the protest, who are mainly from land-grant universities with big agricultural programs, say they are not opposed to the technology. Rather, they say, the industry's chokehold on research means that they cannot supply some information to farmers about how best to grow the crops. And, they say, the data being provided to government regulators is being "unduly limited."

The companies "have the potential to launder the data, the information that is submitted to E.P.A.," said Elson J. Shields, a professor of entomology at Cornell.

William S. Niebur, the vice president in charge of crop research for DuPont, which owns the big seed company Pioneer Hi-Bred, defended his company's policies. He said that because genetically engineered crops were regulated by the government, companies must carefully police how they are grown.

"We have to protect our relationship with governmental agencies by having very strict control measures on that technology," he said.

But he added that he would welcome a chance to talk to the scientists about their concerns.

Monsanto and Syngenta, two other biotech seed companies, said Thursday that they supported university research. But as did Pioneer, they said their contracts with seed buyers were meant to protect their intellectual property and meet their regulatory obligations.

But an E.P.A. spokesman, Dale Kemery, said Thursday that the government required only management of the crops' insect resistance and that any other contractual restrictions were put in place by the companies.

The growers' agreement from Syngenta not only prohibits research in general but specifically says a seed buyer cannot compare Syngenta's product with any rival crop.

Dr. Ostlie, at the University of Minnesota, said he had permission from three companies in 2007 to compare how well their insect-resistant corn varieties fared against the rootworms found in his state. But in 2008, Syngenta, one of the three companies, withdrew its permission and the study had to stop.

"The company just decided it was not in its best interest to let it continue," Dr. Ostlie said.

Mark A. Boetel, associate professor of entomology at North Dakota State University, said that before genetically engineered sugar beet seeds were sold to farmers for the first time last year, he wanted to test how the crop would react to an insecticide treatment. But the university could not come to an agreement with the companies responsible, Monsanto and Syngenta, over publishing and intellectual property rights.

Chris DiFonzo, an entomologist at Michigan State University, said that when she conducted surveys of insects, she avoided fields with transgenic crops because her presence would put the farmer in violation of the grower's agreement.

An E.P.A. scientific advisory panel plans to hold two meetings next week. One will consider a request from Pioneer Hi-Bred for a new method that would reduce how much of a farmer's field must be set aside as a refuge aimed at preventing insects from becoming resistant to its insect-resistant corn.

The other meeting will look more broadly at insect-resistant biotech crops.

Christian Krupke, an assistant professor at Purdue, said that because outside scientists could not study Pioneer's strategy, "I don't think the potential drawbacks have been critically evaluated by as many people as they should have been."

Dr. Krupke is chairman of the committee that drafted the statement, but he would not say whether he had signed it.

Dr. Niebur of Pioneer said the company had collaborated in preparing its data with universities in Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska, the states most affected by the particular pest.

Dr. Shields of Cornell said financing for agricultural research had gradually shifted from the public sector to the private sector. That makes many scientists at universities dependent on financing or technical cooperation from the big seed companies.

"People are afraid of being blacklisted," he said. "If your sole job is to work on corn insects and you need the latest corn varieties and the companies decide not to give it to you, you can't do your job."


GM-tech running agriculture to seed

China Daily, 19 March 2010:

To eat GM food, or not to eat: that is the question in China after the Ministry of Agriculture allowed field trials with genetically modified rice seeds. The experts' world is divided.

GM seed supporters argue the world's hungry cannot be fed if agriculture doesn't change its traditional ways (read: if farmers do not use GM seeds). They say if the opponents can accept Bt cotton and genetically engineered medicine, why cannot they accept GM rice.

Let's take China and India, where Bt cotton is grown widely, as examples. GM seeds were introduced in these countries as high-yielding varieties. Very few, if any, farmers were told at the outset that they would have no choice but to keep paying exponentially more to buy them season after season. The Western world, which claims to have gifted the magic seed to the poor, is obsessed with democracy. But after using GM seeds does a farmer have the democracy of choice to revert to conventional seeds? To be honest, he has - but the soil, contaminated by GM seeds, would at best yield a poor harvest.

Thousands of farmers have committed suicide in India because their GM crops failed. They could not repay the loans they had taken from banks and/or moneylenders to buy GM seeds. The lure of GM seeds is still pushing hundreds of thousands of others under insurmountable debts. But they are not part of the West's democracy program.

Earlier this month came a confession from Monsanto, the world's biggest GM seed-maker, that pink bollworms insects had developed resistance to its Bt cotton crop in India's western province of Gujarat.

So what do the farmers do? Monsanto advocates they graduate to using its second-generation product called "Bollgard II which has greater ability (and costs more) to delay resistance". In other words, it is admitting the failure of Bt technology. So democracy means continuing to buy "higher quality" products from the same company and paying more year after year.

Suppose the farmers do buy Bollgard II, is there any guarantee that it would not fail in another few years?

But still the champions of GM seeds want to introduce Bt eggplants in India because it will increase the yield of the vegetable. They have had to back off for now because of public protests, but given India's democratic record they could always return successfully, and one cannot say whether secret trials have already been held with Bt eggplant seeds.

That brings us back to the trial of GM rice seeds in China. It's true that China was the first to grow hybrid varieties of rice. It's also true that hybrid seeds raised output and helped feed millions of more people. India used it, too, with the same results. But hybrid seeds are not, as they are touted to be, the same as GM seeds that multinationals are trying to push down farmers' throats today.

It is surprising that the main targets of GM seed companies are developing countries. Is it because people in the Western world, which engendered GM seeds, are also its greatest opponents? Why do GM seed companies find few takers in the developed world? Why is the European Union still skeptical about GM food? Why do GM companies respect democracy of choice in the developed world and not in developing countries?

Why doesn't an independent study on the harmful effects of GM seeds in China or India carry the same weight as that done by America's Pesticide Action Network (PAN)? Recently, PAN joined hundreds of farmers in Ankeny, Iowa, to "testify to the devastating effects of corporate control over food and agriculture".

PAN presented evidence "from the most comprehensive analysis of global agriculture to date, the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science & Technology", which said GM seeds and industrial-scale farming are unlikely to feed the world; GM technologies have consistently benefited corporations, not the world's hungry; and sustainable agriculture that works for people and the planet requires breaking up corporate monopolies in agriculture.

Let's accept it. GM seeds, in the control of multinational companies, are not science but pure commerce. They are not being promoted to feed the world's hungry, but to make money. These companies have spent billions of dollars to genetically modify the seeds. Now, they are forcing poor farmers to pay them back with a very high rate of interest. Whither democracy?


Vatican council voices strong concern over safety of genetically modified foods [USA], 19 March 2010:

The Catholic News Service (CNS) reports that Cardinal Peter Turkson, the head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, has recommended "an attitude of caution and further study of the possible negative effects of genetically engineered organisms."

Cardinal Turkson has voiced serious concerns about relying on concentrating patent ownership of the world's crops into the hands of a few multinational corporations, as is presently the case.

"Genetically modified food crops could be used as "weapons of infliction of hunger and poverty" if they are managed unjustly...

Agribusinesses and biotech industries that produce genetically modified organisms are justified in wanting to recoup the expenses laid out for research and development, and they have a right to want to make a profit from their work, said Cardinal Turkson, who took over the reins of the council in January. But the issue becomes problematic when a company that controls the use of genetically modified seeds and crops is motivated more by profit than by "the declared desire to want to help feed humanity," he said. There are also doubts about the efficacy and long-term effects of genetically engineered crops, he said.


Agreement on Genetically Modified Organisms

EuroPolitics, 19 March 2010:

The EU and Argentina signed on 18 March in Buenos Aires a final settlement of the WTO dispute that Argentina brought against the EU in May 2003 regarding the application of its legislation on biotech products. The agreed solution provides for the establishment of a regular dialogue on issues of mutual interest on biotechnology applied to agriculture. The EU and Argentina will notify this settlement to the WTO Dispute Settlement Body as a mutually agreed solution. A settlement of the WTO dispute that Canada brought against the EU regarding the same issue was already reached on 15 July 2009.

The European Commission has held regular discussions on biotech-related issues with the three complainants in this case - Canada, Argentina and the United States - since the adoption of the WTO panel report in 2006.

Similar to the settlement reached last year with Canada, the settlement with Argentina provides for bi-annual meetings between the European Commission and the Argentinean authorities regarding the application of biotechnology to agriculture and related trade issues of mutual interest, including: the follow-up of the authorisation processes of genetically modified products both in the EU and Argentina; the measures related to biotechnology which may affect trade between Argentina and the EU, including measures adopted by the EU Member States; the exchange of information on the trade impact of asynchronous authorisations of genetically modified products; the evaluation of the economic and trade outlook of future authorisations of genetically modified products; the exchange of information regarding other relevant issues in the field of agriculture biotechnology, including new legislation.

This dialogue does not prejudice EU action on individual product authorizations for GM products which will continue to follow the normal procedure, the Commission said.


Following a complaint by the US, Canada and Argentina against the EU on the application of its legislation on biotech products, the WTO Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) adopted on 21 November 2006 three panel reports which found a violation of the WTO Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Agreement on three grounds: the application of a general de facto moratorium on approval of GM products from June 1999 to August 2003; the existence of undue delays with respect to 23 product-specific applications; national safeguard measures introduced by six Member States before the establishment of the panel. Subsequently, the EU and the three complainants agreed to engage in technical discussions.


Conflict of Interest: Ex Monsanto Lawyer Clarence Thomas to Hear Major Monsanto Case

Current [USA], 19 March 2010:

In Monsanto v. Geertson Seed Farms, No. 09-475, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case which could have an enormous effect on the future of the American food industry. This is Monsanto's third appeal of the case, and if they win a favorable ruling from the high court, a deregulated Monsanto may find itself in position to corner the markets of numerous U.S. crops, and to litigate conventional farmers into oblivion.

Here's where it gets a bit dicier. Two Supreme Court justices have what appear to be direct conflicts of interest.

Stephen Breyer
Charles Breyer, the judge who ruled in the original decision of 2007 which is being appealed, is Stephen Breyer's brother, who apparently views this as a conflict of interest and has recused himself.

Clarence Thomas
From the years 1976 - 1979, Thomas worked as an attorney for Monsanto. Thomas apparently does not see this as a conflict of interest and has not recused himself.

Fox, meet henhouse.

The lawsuit was filed by plantiffs which include the Center for Food Safety, the National Family Farm Coalition, Sierra Club, Dakota Resources Council and other farm, environmental and consumer groups and individual farmers. The original decision :

The federal district court in California issued its opinion on the deregulation of "Roundup Ready" alfalfa pursuant to the Plant Protection Act on February 13, 2007. Upon receiving Monsanto's petition for deregulation of the alfalfa seed, APHIS conducted an Environmental Assessment and received over 500 comments in opposition to the deregulation. The opposition's primary concern was the potential of contamination. APHIS, however, made a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) and approved the deregulation petition, thereby allowing the seed to be sold without USDA oversight. Geertson Seed Farms, joined by a number of growers and associations, filed claims under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) as well as the Endangered Species Act and Plant Protection Act. In regards to NEPA, they argued that the agency should have prepared an EIS for the deregulation.

Addressing only the NEPA claims, the court agreed that APHIS should have conducted an EIS because of the significant environmental impact posed by deregulation of the alfalfa seed. A realistic potential for contamination existed, said the court, but the agency had not fully inquired into the extent of this potential. The court also determined that APHIS did not adequately examine the potential effects of Roundup Ready alfalfa on organic farming and the development of glyphosate-resistant weeds and that there were "substantial questions" raised by the deregulation petition that the agency should have addressed in an EIS. Concluding that the question of whether the introduction of the genetically engineered alfalfa and its potential to affect non-genetic alfalfa posed a significant environmental impact necessitated further study, the court found that APHIS's decision was "arbitrary and capricious" and ordered the agency to prepare an EIS. The court later enjoined the planting of Roundup Ready alfalfa from March 30, 2007, until completion of the EIS and reconsideration of the deregulation petition, except for those farmers who had already purchased the seed. In May of 2007, the court enjoined any future planting of the alfalfa. An order by the court in June, 2007 required disclosure of all Roundup Ready planting sites.

Monsanto filed appeals in 2008 and 2009. In both instances, they were unsuccessful in having the original decision reversed, so they appealed to the Supreme Court, who agreed to hear the case.

Alfalfa is the fourth most widely grown crop in the United States, behind corn, soybeans, and wheat. South Dakota alfalfa farmer Pat Trask, one of the plaintiffs, said Monsanto's biotech alfalfa would ruin his conventional alfalfa seed business because it was certain his 9,000 acres would be contaminated by the biotech genes.

Alfalfa is very easily cross-pollinated by bees and by wind. The plant is also perennial, meaning GMO plants could live on for years.

"The way this spreads so far and wide, it will eliminate the conventional alfalfa industry," said Trask. "Monsanto will own the entire alfalfa industry."

Monsanto has a policy of filing lawsuits or taking other legal actions against farmers who harvest crops that show the presence of the company's patented gene technology. It has sued farmers even when they have tried to keep their own fields free from contamination by biotech plants on neighbouring farms.

The case has implications beyond alfalfa crops. About eight hundred reviewed genetically engineered food applications were submitted to the USDA, yet no environmental impact statements were prepared. Even as this diary is being written, a federal judge in San Francisco is reviewing a similar case involving genetically modified sugar beets. The decision is expected this week and could halt planting and use of the gm sugar beets, which account for half of America's sugar supply.


Private members' bill seeds regulation debate
• Base seed variety approvals on science, not politics, says federal ag minister; 'regardless of what we think here, if the markets are shut down farmers are going to lose money,' says NDP ag critic

Susan Mann
Better Farming [Ontario, Canada], 19 March 2010:

The NDP's agriculture critic is proposing assessing new genetically engineered seeds for potential damage to export markets before approving them for sale in Canada and at least two general farm organizations support the effort.

"Currently genetically engineered seeds are approved for commercial release in Canada without any assessment of the impacts on our export markets," British Columbia MP Alex Atamanenko wrote in a March 2 letter to supporters to explain why he has introduced a private members' bill to require the assessment.

The Conservative minority government isn't in favour of the bill. On Thursday, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said in written comments forwarded by his press secretary Meagan Murdoch that the government's approval system is based on sound science. To keep markets open to all commodities, "it's critical that our system remain based firmly in science not in politics."

The proposal adds an "extra level of red tape that will keep new innovative varieties in approvals indefinitely," he said.

The recent loss of Canada's flax export markets due to contamination by genetically engineered seed makes it clear technology using genetic engineering that isn't accepted by major export markets "has little economic value to Canadian farmers," Atamanenko said in his letter. He explained that in late 2009, the genetically engineered flax CDC Triffid was found in Canadian exports to 35 countries that have not approved it for human consumption or environmental release.

Atamanenko's bill came up for second reading in the House of Commons Wednesday night but there wasn't time to finish the two-hour debate and hold a vote on whether to send the bill for further study to the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food. It's important the bill goes to committee "so we can have a really good debate and put all the cards on the table," he said Thursday. (The committee would study the bill and hold hearings. It can amend the bill and send it back to the House with changes or recommend that it shouldn't proceed).

Atamanenko doesn't know when his bill will come up again. The House Leaders of the four parties determine the schedule.

Hansard, the official record of parliamentary debates, reveals MPs traded barbs during the debate. "This is not about farmers," said David Anderson, parliamentary secretary to the Canadian Wheat Board. "This about the NDP's opposition to GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and everybody needs to understand that right off the bat."

Bloc Quebecois MP Andr» Bellavance representing Richmond-Arthabaska said: "The Conservatives are closed-minded. They immediately rejected the bill and did not want to hear any arguments in committee."

Atamanenko said he has support from the Bloc, while the Liberals support sending the bill to committee "but they're concerned about some of the aspects of the bill."

With support from the Bloc and Liberals, Atamanenko said there are enough votes to send the bill to committee.

Atamanenko said he was disappointed that during Wednesday night's debate the Conservatives focused on the mantra everything has to be science-based. "They don't somehow understand that regardless of what we think here if the markets are shut down farmers are going to lose money."

New Democrat MP Jim Maloway representing Elmwood-Transcona said in Hansard the bill has garnered support from the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, the National Farmers Union, the organic farm and food community and the Biotechnology Action Network.

Canadian Federation president Laurent Pellerin said it's important the government discusses ways to ensure export markets aren't closed to farmers because of the technology they adopt. The proposed bill will give the government an opportunity to study the link between genetically engineered seed and market consequences.

David Sippell, president of the Canadian Seed Trade Association, said they're firm believers in a science-based regulatory system. If a system is developed that bases the approval of new technologies on market acceptance, individual companies involved in developing the new traits should be "the ones who are making sure that those are ferried through appropriately."

Sippell said he understands the bill has requirements for market acceptance of new technology before commercial release as opposed to basing the approval decision solely on scientific criteria. "On the market acceptance side that's where we feel the industry should be involved to get those things accepted in the market and individual companies should be involved."

The Canadian Seed Trade Association is a voluntary association of about 140 seed companies from across Canada.


Turkey's Parliament passes National Biosafety Law, which regulates production and import of all products of, containing, or derived from biotechnology

SeedQuest [USA], 19 March 2010:

On March 18, 2010 Turkey's Parliament voted to adopt a National Biosafety Law, which will regulate the production, sale and import of all products of, containing, or derived from biotechnology, except for pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. The law will become effective when signed by the President; this is expected within a few weeks.

The law is a framework governing production and imports of biotechnology. Many details will be determined by related regulations. The law calls for a six month implementation period and mandates that implementation regulations be issued within three months.

Currently the October 29, 2009, "Regulation on the Import, Processing, Export, Control and Inspection of Food and Feed Products Bearing GMOs and GMO Components" is in force. It is not clear, however, how passage of the new Biosafety Law will impact this regulation's enforcement or validity. Post will provide updates as more information becomes available. A chronology of events as well as the Turkish text of the law are included below. An English version of the law will be provided in a GAIN report shortly.

Full report:


18 March 2010

Alliance calls for IRRI's immediate closure

Abigail Kwok [The Philippines], 18 March 2010:

MANILA, Philippines - An alliance on Thursday called for the immediate shut down of the International Rice Research Institute for allegedly failing to help the country become self-sufficient in rice production even after 50 years of the institute's existence.

The group RESIST! Agrochemical TNCs, an alliance of farmers, scientists and NGOs, said that despite of 50 years of operation, IRRI has failed to provide the Philippines with enough rice.

"The Philippines, as the host country of IRRI, has had access to the technology that IRRI developed. But 50 years later, the country is now the world's largest rice importer. The Philippines must import 10 percent of its rice requirement because it does not have enough rice to feed its people," the group said in a statement.

"With drought, climate change and El Ni“o devastating crops, now is the time examine whether 50 years of hosting the IRRI has helped the Philippines achieve self-sufficiency in rice," it added.

Among the reasons cited by the group as to how IRRI failed include:

IRRI has "systematically deceived" farmers by introducing high yielding varieties (HYVs) of rice to boost crop yields. But HYVs are a threat to the environment and agriculture of the Philippines and all countries where HYVs are planted;

IRRI has declared its Green Revolution a success in increasing crop yields. But the Green Revolution has also led to the poverty of farmers and the people.

IRRI cannot deny its influence on government policies on agriculture. It has never been neutral. Governments have used the Green Revolution as an effective instrument to divert the clamor of farmers for genuine agricultural development to fake development focused on high crop yields.

From the establishment of IRRI, agrochemical transnational corporations (TNCs) have been the sole beneficiaries of IRRI's programs and technologies. IRRI is a stamp pad for technologies created by TNCs.

IRRI must be closed immediately! It must be replaced by a rice institution that will serve the genuine interests, capacity and needs of farmers and the people.

"With IRRI's 50th anniversary, we farmers continue to ask why we remain poor in spite of the supposed beneficial technology that IRRI is promoting? Why have we been forced to use costly pesticides and fertilizers that have led to the high cost of production? Why can farmers no longer exchange seeds?" said Wilfredo Marbella, the group's convener.


First GM bananas harvested

ABC News [Australia], 18 March 2010:

Researchers say the first genetically modified (GM) bananas to be harvested in Australia are showing positive early results.

The crop was planted last year in the South Johnstone area, south of Cairns in far north Queensland, and the first fruit has now been harvested.

It is part of a trial to try to increase the vitamin and mineral content of bananas for consumption in East Africa.

Professor James Dale from the Queensland University of Technology says the initial results are exciting.

"This first planting is demonstrating that at least one of the combinations of genes we're putting is working really well for pro vitamin A, and we're concentrating on that," he said.

"But we've still got a lot of fruit to assess. The next lot will be particularly around iron and the accumulation of iron in the fruit."


Bulgaria approves law to ban GMO crops
• Parliament passes law to keep Bulgaria GMO-free
• Tighter law aims to alleviate public fears

Reuters, 18 March 2010:

SOFIA - Bulgaria's parliament voted on Thursday to tighten a law that effectively banned cultivation of genetically modified (GM) crops for scientific and commercial reasons in response to public fears.

The ruling centre-right GERB party decided to drop a planned moratorium on GMO production because the new law would keep the European Union member GMO-free, deputies said.

"There will be no field on the country's territory where GMOs can be cultivated," Kostadin Yazov of GERB's parliamentary group, said.

Non-government organisations, farmers and citizens have rallied for over two months against the government's initial plans to replace a ban with a licensing regime, which they feared would flood the Balkan country with GMO crops.

The new law bans GMO cultivation in nature protected areas and large buffer zones around those areas and fields with organic crops which effectively means scientific experiments and commercial cultivation will be impossible in the Balkan country.

The amendments also forbid growing crops approved by the European Commission such as the genetically modified potato, Amflora, developed by German chemical maker BASF, and three genetically modified maize types, made by U.S. biotech firm Monsanto.

Under the law, fines for perpetrators were raised to up to one million levs ($698,300). Protesters said they were happy with the new law.

Giving in to growing public resistance, the ruling party was forced to drop its initial plans to ease the GMO crop cultivations and introduce a licensing regime which it had said was in line with the EU legislation.

Authorising GMOs for consumption, processing or cultivation in Europe is a politically charged subject with many openly hostile to what they call "Frankenstein foods." (Reporting by Irina Ivanova; editing by James Jukwey)


17 March 2010

Monsanto puts German ban court case on hold

Agrow, 17 March 2010:

Monsanto has put on hold its court case challenging the German ban on the cultivation of its EU-approved genetically modified insect-resistant MON810 maize. The company has done so to allow time for the German competent authority to re-assess the scientific validity of its arguments on the ban after... [Subscription required for rest of article].


Controversial GMO Act Stalls in Bulgarian Parliament

Sofia News Agency [Bulgaria], 17 March 2010:

The Members of the Bulgarian Parliament failed Wednesday to vote on all amendments in the much disputed GMO Act with the most important ones postponed for the next day.

The vote stirred heated debates between representatives of different parties, leading to the decision to vote on the most argued about text on Thursday - the so-called article 80 introducing the general ban to grow genetically modified organisms (GMO). The ban would not apply to GMO already on the market.

MPs from both sides of the spectrum - the left-wing Bulgarian Socialist Party and the right-wing Blue Coalition said the article leaves an open door for the growing of GMO in Bulgaria.

The only text that was passed Wednesday was the requirement for all foods containing GMO to have clear signs about the content with twice larger font than all other letters on the label and different color letters.

Meanwhile, the protest rally in downtown Sofia lasted over 6 hours with representatives of civic and environmental organizations and NGOs demanding a full ban on the growing and release of GMO.

The GMO legislation has been in disputed in Bulgaria over the last two months, and despite the many amendments designed to exclude the possibility that GMOs will be allowed on Bulgarian soil, NGOs and civil society coalitions believe that the law in question still does not provide sufficient guarantees.

Bulgaria's President, Georgi Parvanov, strongly criticizes the amendments of the GMO Act and threatens a veto if the Act is passed the way it has been proposed.


Argentina Court Blocks Agrochemical Spraying Near Rural Town

Shane Romig
Dow Jones Newswires, 17 March 2010:

BUENOS AIRES - In a ruling bearing potentially far-reaching implications, an appellate court in Argentina's Santa Fe province this week upheld a decision blocking farmers from spraying agrochemicals near populated areas.

The ruling blocks the use of chemicals such as the widely used herbicide glyphosate within 800 meters of the town of San Jorge, and aerial spraying within 1,500 meters of the town.

While the decision is limited to the area around San Jorge, other courts in the farming province are likely to follow suit if residents seek similar court action.

The court found that farmers "have been indiscriminately using agrochemicals such as glyphosate, applied in open violation of existing laws [causing] severe damage to the environment and to the health and quality of life of the residents."

A backlash is building in the country against the increasing reliance on transgenic soybeans and the herbicide widely used in their cultivation. Soybeans dominate the country's farm output, but growing concern over the environmental impact of soybean-cultivation practices has spurred a legal and legislative assault.

Last year, the Argentine Association of Environmental Lawyers filed a case at the Supreme Court to halt the use of glyphosate, which virtually all of the soybeans grown in Argentina have been genetically modified to resist. Up to 200 million liters of the herbicide are sprayed across the farm belt each season. The court has yet to decide on whether to hear the case.

Genetically modified soybeans resistant to glyphosate were introduced to Argentina in 1996 by St. Louis-based biotech giant Monsanto Co. (MON). Now, with over half of all cultivated land going to soy in the last season, virtually all of the soybeans grown in Argentina uses Monsanto's technology. Monsanto didn't return a call seeking comment.

The spread of the transgenic beans has led to an unprecedented boom in farm wealth but also brought a host of ills, including soil deterioration and wide- scale deforestation to open up new fields.

While environmentalists have long decried the shift to soy monoculture, opposition heated up last year when an unpublished study conducted by the University of Buenos Aires Institute of Cellular Biology and Neuroscience Molecular Embryology Lab found that very low doses of glyphosate caused mutations in amphibian embryos.

While glyphosate has been used for 30 years and is approved in more than 100 countries, the defense minister prohibited growing transgenic soybeans on army farms with residential compounds, in the wake of the report. In addition, a number of local districts have banned or limited the use of glyphosate around populated areas, and some provinces also are debating legislation to prohibit or limit its use.

Argentina is the world's leading exporter of soymeal and oil and the third- largest exporter of soybeans. The legume is the country's largest export product and a key source of export-tax revenue.

Despite criticism of the excessive reliance on soybeans from President Cristina Fernandez, the government has encouraged the continued shift toward soy by imposing export limits and price controls on other goods such as wheat, corn and beef to keep local food prices down. With virtually no domestic demand for soybeans, their pricing and exports have been left untouched, prompting farmers to plant more beans.

- By Shane Romig, Dow Jones Newswires; 54-11-4103-6738; shane.romig@


16 March 2010

Eli Lilly's Desperate, Deceptive Campaign to Boost Bovine Growth Hormone

Melanie Warner
Current [USA], 16 March 2010:

With sales and public perception of bovine growth hormone dropping fast in the U.S., it's not easy to find reputable scientific organizations willing to endorse such a controversial genetically modified additive. So, in a shameless and desperate maneuver, Eli Lilly (LLY) decided to make some up.

At a Montreal animal science meeting in July 2009, Eli Lilly's Elanco division sponsored a press release masquerading as a scientific paper that concluded - surprise, surprise - that bovine growth hormone is perfectly safe for cows and humans. Tucked into page two of the eleven-page Q&A document is a claim that "more than 20 leading health organizations in the United States" have endorsed the safety of the synthetic hormone, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Cancer Society and the American Medical Association.

The fact that none of these three groups have ever come close to singing the praises of bovine growth hormone - known variously as rBST or rBGH - went unnoticed until last month when a biotech watchdog called the Bioscience Resource Project got wind of the report and started making a few calls. A spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatricians told the group that the AAP "does not endorse the safety of rBGH." Ditto for the ACA and AMA.

It turns out that the eight so-called medical and dairy science experts who were paid to write the paper for Eli Lilly came up with a very creative interpretation of the word "endorsement." One of the authors admitted to the Bioscience Resource Project that the endorsements are "technically untrue."

"We counted endorsement as failure to oppose rBGH", said David Clemmons, a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and a paid consultant for Eli Lilly.

By this twisted standard, as Michael Hansen of Consumers Union points out, the Federal Reserve and the American Automobile Association are also big supporters of bovine growth hormone. Hell, BNET endorses it.

Eli Lilly certainly doesn't have any easy job trying to lift the fortunes of bovine growth hormone. More than half of the nation's 100 largest dairies have completely or partially discontinued the use of rBGH, including the largest, Dean Foods (DF). Starbucks (SBUX) and Chipotle (CMG) have gone completely rBGH-free and Walmart (WMT) and Kroger (KR) have banned it from their store brand milk.

That doesn't leave too many buyers. The most recent USDA statistics, which are as of January 2007, show that only 17 percent of dairy cows are being treated with bovine growth hormone, down from 22 percent in 2002. Oh, and the product is banned in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and most of Europe.

Eli Lilly's Elanco bought rBGH from a grateful Monsanto (MON) in 2008 for $300 million with the idea that dairy farmers in developing countries represent a huge market opportunity. And maybe other countries will embrace bovine growth hormone as "an efficient food practice that will help feed the world," as Eli Lilly puts it. But here in the U.S., that ship has already sailed, no matter how many phony endorsements the company cooks up.


Commnent from GM-free Ireland:

Elanco's rBGH growth hormone (which is made from GM bacteria] is illegal in the EU.

But the Irish Government's Chief Scientific Advisor, Prof. Paddy Cunningham, was - and still may be - a consultant for Elanco. He is also a member of the biotech lobby group European Action on Global Life Sciences (EAGLES), a task force of the European Federation of Biotechnology whose members comprise numerous biotech and pharmaceutical industry groups including Monsanto Europe, the Association of German Biotech Companies, the Biotechnology Industry Organisation (USA), etc. He is also a member of the Irish National Council on Bioethics, whose 2005 report "Genetically Modified Crops and Food: Threat or Opportunity for Ireland?" was a masterfully crafted work of biotech industry spin which concluded that "the genetic modification of crops is not morally objectionable in itself". Cunningham is also the former Chairman of the EU Advisory Committee on the Future of Biotechnology, and a former member of the European Group on Life Sciences.

For more info see Call for Chief Scientific Adviser to resign: Prof Prof Paddy Cunningham exposed as biotech industry lobbyist, GM-free Ireland press release, 18 July 2010:


Farmers to DOJ -- "Break up Big Ag"

Regina Weiss
Huffington Post [USA], March 16 2010:

[Note: Well worth going to the link to watch the video of American farmers talking about the terrible impact on their lives of Monsanto and the corporate concentration overtaking US farming.]

"Monsanto does not have the right to dictate the value of my life" -Joel Greeno

While farmers were the star of the show at last Friday's antitrust hearing in Ankeny, Iowa, the debate over the monopolization of farming is one where all of our interests are squarely at stake.

Anyone who eats and has a brain should be downright terrified that just a few giant businesses control the vast majority of food available to us as consumers. Perhaps that explains why more than 15,000 people submitted comments in anticipation of the hearings - four more of which are scheduled this year as a joint effort of the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

To his credit, Attorney General Eric Holder seemed to be trying not to mince words in Iowa - always tough for an attorney - and particularly so for one under the right's atomic microscope. Noting that farming "has been at the core of the American economy ever since there was an American economy," he went on to say, "[W]e've learned the hard way that . . . long periods of reckless deregulation can foster practices that are anti-competitive and even illegal. . . . We know that a growing number of American farmers find it increasingly difficult to survive by doing what they've done for decades. And we've learned that some of them believe the competitive environment may be, at least in part, to blame."

Farmers who attended a pre-hearing meeting Thursday evening made the case for themselves. Noting that farming goes back "forever in my family," Todd Leake, who grows wheat, soybeans, sunflowers and navy beans in North Dakota, said, "The crops we grow are the basis of civilization. If anything belongs to the public domain, if anything belongs to the people of the world, it's the crops we grow for food."

Iowa hog farmer Larry Ginter, a long-time opponent of factory farms, also made the connection between the plight of American farmers and the struggles of so many people outside our borders, saying," "Labor, family farms, democratic rights are in a pitched battle against the dictatorship of capital. We've got to understand that this is an international struggle. Those Mexican workers coming up here are family farmers. Those Sudanese workers in the packing plants are family farmers and workers being driven off by the big dictatorship of capital. We have to understand that we are not alone in America." Urging his fellow farmers to action, Ginter concluded, "Nothing can happen on the farms unless farmers turn the wheel and plant the seed."

Wisconsin dairy farmer Joel Greeno, said "My parents' 29th wedding anniversary was a farm foreclosure. Their 30th anniversary was a sheriff's auction on the courthouse steps. My neighbor's farm was stolen from him that was owned since 1942 by his family. He came to ask how to get food stamps because he'd always lived off his farm, no longer had that, and said that his social security of $9,000 a year couldn't feed him. This has got to end. Washington has got to step up. DOJ is our only lifeboat. They have to fix this. They have to correct it. Monsanto does not have the right to dictate the value of my life, my work, and the food I produce. Kraft Food does not have the right to set the price of my milk, which they do without question."

Patrick Woodall, a research director for Food and Water Watch, and a panelist at the hearings said, "At the end of the day, farmers and activists could speak truth to power and delivered a tough message to the regulators that action was long overdue, it was time to bust the agribusiness trusts and level the playing field for farmers and consumers. Many audience members, like Marcia Ishii-Eiteman from Pesticide Action Network North America, also challenged the reliance on agrochemical inputs and the false hope of genetically modified crops."

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said, "This is not just about farmers and ranchers. It's really about the survival of rural America."

He's right, of course, but that's not just some romantic Rockwellesque notion; almost anyone who eats depends on a shrinking number of farmers struggling at the other end of our fork. If they disappear, our freedom to eat what we choose will vanish as well.


Court Rules in GMO Sugar Beet Case

The Center for Food Safety [USA], March 16 2010:

Today, federal district Judge Jeffrey White of the Northern District of California denied a request by a coalition of organic seed growers, and conservation and food safety groups seeking a temporary ban on genetically engineered (GE) sugar beets and sugar beet seeds. While Judge White denied the preliminary injunction, he indicated that permanent relief is likely forthcoming: "The parties should not assume that the Court's decision to deny a preliminary injunction is indicative of its views on a permanent injunction pending the full environmental review that APHIS [Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service] is required to do." The court further explained: "While the environmental review is pending, the Court is inclined to order the Intervenor-Defendants to take all efforts ... to use conventional [non-GE] seed."

The coalition's motion for preliminary injunction, brought by Center for Food Safety and Earthjustice attorneys, called for a moratorium on all planting, production and use of the genetically modified seeds and beets until the court could consider a permanent remedy to the government's unlawful deregulation of the crop. The coalition will argue for a permanent injunction at a hearing in July.

"Based on today's ruling, we are encouraged that Judge White will order permanent injunction relief," said Paul Achitoff, attorney for Earthjustice. "We will ask the Court to halt the use of genetically engineered sugar beets and seeds until the federal government does its job to protect consumers and farmers alike."

In September 2009, the Northern California district court ruled that the U.S. Department of Agriculture had unlawfully approved Monsanto's sugar beets, which are genetically engineered to withstand Monsanto's herbicide Roundup, for commercial use. The court found that Roundup Ready sugar beets "may cross-pollinate with non-genetically engineered sugar beets and related Swiss chard and table beets," and ordered the federal government to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The court also ruled that the government's decision to deregulate Roundup Ready sugar beets "may significantly affect the environment."

"Roundup Ready" sugar beets were engineered by Monsanto to tolerate exposure to that corporation's weed killer. Commercial production of Roundup Ready sugar beets can result in genetic contamination of organic and conventional crops, increased use of Roundup and other herbicides, and loss of consumer choice to buy products with sugar not derived from GE beets.

"Monsanto's gene-altered sugar beets were illegally approved by the Bush Administration's USDA. The profound economic impacts on organic and conventional farmers, as well as the environment, were not assessed. As a result, the planting of these crops should be halted to avoid further harm," said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety.

The court ordered APHIS to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) before approving Monsanto's petition to deregulate Roundup-Ready sugar beets. As the court explained today, "In light of Plaintiff showing of irreparable harm to the environment, the Court is troubled by maintaining the status quo ... while APHIS conducts the environmental review that should have occurred before the sugar beets were deregulated."

Roundup Ready sugar beets grown for seed in Oregon's Willamette Valley will begin to flower as early as mid-May if planting occurs this spring. The pollen from these genetically engineered sugar beets will then begin to blow through the valley, where organic farmers grow sexually compatible organic seed crops, such as Swiss chard and table beets. At around the same time, the Roundup Ready sugar beet root crop will be planted throughout the western U.S.

"The Willamette Valley is the prime region for organic chard and beet seed production," stated Frank Morton, owner of Wild Garden Seed and grower of organic chard and table beet seed. "Without measures to protect farmers like me from GE contamination, organic chard and beets as we know them are at serious risk of being lost."

The planting of Roundup Ready beets across the United States will also have the potential to accelerate environmental impacts from increased toxic herbicides. Roundup Ready crops like corn, soy, alfalfa and sugar beets are designed to withstand repeated dousing with Roundup, which contains the active weed-killing ingredient glyphosate. This leads to overuse of the herbicide, which in turn has already caused Roundup-resistant weeds to develop on millions of acres of farmland. To battle this resistance, farmers often turn to older and more hazardous herbicides like 2,4-D, the active ingredient in Agent Orange.

Earthjustice and the Center for Food Safety are representing the Center for Food Safety, High Mowing Organic Seeds, Organic Seed Alliance and the Sierra Club.

In a similar case decided in 2007, a judge banned Roundup-Ready alfalfa. Monsanto is appealing that decision to the US Supreme Court.


Judge Won't Bar Modified-Beet Planting Immediately

Karen Gullo
Bloomberg [USA], March 16 2010:

A judge refused to immediately ban planting of sugar beets engineered to be resistant to Monsanto Co.'s herbicide Roundup, warning growers he may later block the planting pending an environmental review.

U.S. District Judge Jeffrey S. White in San Francisco ruled today in a lawsuit brought by organic farmers and a food safety group. He told growers he "is inclined to order" that they "take all efforts, going forward, to use conventional seed."

A hearing on whether planting should be barred while the U.S. Agriculture Department studies the environmental impact of the "Roundup Ready" sugar beet seeds is scheduled for July 9. The study could take a few years.

White said that banning spring planting of the genetically engineered sugar beet root crop, which begins in March and April, would lead 14 U.S. sugar beet plants to shut because there's a shortage of conventional seed. Sugar beets, grown on 1.3 million acres in 10 states, provide half the nation's sugar supply, according to the Sugar Industry Biotech Council.

The judge said the public's interest and potential economic harm of a 2010 ban outweighs harm to the farmers and environmental groups that waited until two years after filing their lawsuit to request that growers halt their use of the modified seeds.

'Detrimental Impact'

"An injunction that would ban the planting and processing of genetically engineered sugar beets in 2010 would have a large detrimental impact on the U.S. domestic sugar supply and price," White said in his ruling.

A bar on planting could also hurt processors such as American Crystal Sugar Co. and Monsanto, which derives millions of dollars in revenue from licensing the herbicide-resistant technology to seed companies, according to court filings and interviews.

The use of seeds engineered to resist Monsanto's weed killer was deregulated by the Bush administration's U.S. Agriculture Department five years ago, according to court filings. Today more than 90 percent of the U.S. sugar beet crop comes from the genetically engineered seeds.

Organic farmers say cross-pollination from modified sugar beet plants spoils their crops and their livelihood. Joined by the Center For Food Safety, a Washington-based public health group, they sued the USDA in 2008 challenging the deregulation.

Paul Achitoff, an attorney for the group, said he wasn't surprised that White didn't order an immediate planting ban.

'Fair Warning'

"Growers said their spring seed planting was already in the ground," Achitoff said in a telephone interview. "But with respect to the seed crop that doesn't get started until next fall, and the root crop that doesn't get started until a year from now, he has given them fair warning."

The Sugar Industry Biotech Council, a group comprised of U.S. and Canadian sugar beet growers and processors and seed companies, said the ruling allows growers to proceed with planting this year's crop.

"We look forward to the next phase of the court proceedings where we can present evidence about potential choices for our growers and processors," the group said in a statement posted on its Web site.

White ruled in September that the government must study the environmental and economic impact of the genetically modified plant. In January, the plaintiffs asked for a court order barring planting until the study is completed.

Monsanto made about $46 million in revenue last year in fees from its sugar beet seed technology, Garrett Kasper, a Monsanto spokesman, said in a March 5 e-mail.

'Ruling Provides Clarity'

"This ruling provides clarity that farmers can plant Roundup Ready sugar beets in 2010," Steve Welker, Monsanto's sugar beet business manager, said in an e-mailed statement.

A similar lawsuit blocked the planting of "Roundup Ready" alfalfa seeds in 2007, voided the deregulation of the seeds and blocked future sales until a U.S. environmental study was conducted. The case is now on appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Shares in St. Louis-based Monsanto, the world's largest seed company, rose 25 cents to $72.08 in New York Stock Exchange composite trading.

The case is Center for Food Safety v. Schafer, 3:08-cv- 00484, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco).

--Editors: Peter Blumberg, Charles Carter

To contact the reporter on this story: Karen Gullo in San Francisco at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: David E. Rovella at


15 March 2010

Relying on GM Crops to Battle Climate Change 'Suicidal,' Indian Activist Charges

Laurie Goering
Reuters, via Common Dreams, 15 March 2010:

LONDON - Faced with growing demand for food and increasingly unpredictable weather, many developing nations are debating whether to relax restrictions on the use of genetically modified crops.

Seed developers promise that a coming generation of genetically modified (GM) food crops will have climate-resilient features, from drought resistance to saltwater tolerance.

But widespread adoption of GM varieties by small farmers would be "suicidal in terms of climate change," said Vandana Shiva, an Indian social activist, environmentalist and proponent of small-scale farming.

"The (GM) system is more about companies making money from farmers than food security," she told AlertNet in an interview in London.

Adopting GM crops puts small farmers at greater financial risk because they often have to borrow money to buy more expensive GM seeds. If their crops fail, particularly repeatedly, they can find themselves unable to repay the loans, she said.

Worldwide, crop failures are increasingly harder to predict because the climate is becoming more erratic.

In recent years there has been an unprecedented spate of suicides by heavily indebted cotton farmers in Central India, Shiva said. More than three quarters of the suicides, her research shows, have been committed by farmers using GM cotton seed and struggling to repay loans.

GM suppliers sell their seeds on the condition that farmers buy fresh seed each year - something many growers can't afford if their crop fails. A decade ago, 80 percent of Indian farmers saved part of their harvest as seed to plant the following season's crops, Shiva said.

Existing solutions

Plenty of drought- and flood-resistant traditional crop varieties already exist and simply need to be brought back to market, supporters of traditional farming say.

Shiva said India has hundreds of varieties of rice, and many that show resistance to flooding, drought and saltwater are now being carefully bred at Indian research institutes to increase yields and are then re-released to farmers.

In India's northeast Assam province, where fields have been flooded for weeks after intense rains, demand has surged for two rice varieties that can survive weeks under water and also produce well even in dry conditions.

Planting a broader variety of crop strains - rather than a couple of GM varieties - should help protect the world food supply and insure it against emerging climate threats, including an expanding range of crop pests.

While a pest might decimate some varieties of crops, it is unlikely it could destroy a wide range of varieties, she said.

"Resilience is built through diversity," Shiva said.

Keeping small farmers on their land is also key, she said, because small farmers are more productive per acre than big-scale growers, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation's figures.

"The majority of people in the world are still farming on small farms," she said. "If we're addressing food security we'd better enhance the security of small farms."

India's government recently delayed releasing a GM aubergine, which would have been the country's first GM vegetable, calling for more testing in the face of protests by environmentalists and some farmers.


India up for sale to MNCs

Pushpa M Bhargava
Indian Express, 15 March 2010:

The recent historic moratorium on Bt brinjal [aubergine] by Jairam Ramesh, minister of environment and forests, has created a network of citizens' organisations around the country that have risen spontaneously from the ground, and have prevented the country's agriculture becoming devoid of its diversity and moving in the direction of control by multinational corporations (MNCs).

These corporations have strong links with the government of the United States of America US, and their sole objectives are (a) to make as much money as possible by any means, and (b) to eventually have total control over Indian agriculture, using every ruse known to the world of conmen. Unlike the government of India, they are fully aware that whosoever controls seed and agrochemical business in India, controls its agriculture. And whosoever controls our agriculture, controls India and its food security, for 62 per cent Indians derive their total sustenance from agriculture and, in our country, food security, food sovereignty, agriculture security, farmers security, and security of the rural sector, are synonymous and important components of national security and autonomy. If Bt brinjal had been approved, India would have, in course of time, ceased to be, de facto, an independent country and we, its citizens, would have had to start fighting the third war of independence which we would have eventually won, for truth always wins in the long run.

It is unfortunate that our government - our politicians and bureaucrats (exception granted) - and the rich and the powerful in the country, seem to be siding with the MNCs (read US), in their attempt to acquire control over our agriculture. This is reminiscent of India being ruled by the British through a class of Indians. Only the structure, colour and strategy of this class seem to have changed, while Britain has been replaced by the US plus the MNCs. Let us look at the evidence:

We signed the India-US Knowledge Initiative in Agriculture during the first UPA government. Following this - and, perhaps, in preparation of this - our research and extension work in agriculture seems to have totally discounted our strengths and needs. Let me give some examples: The Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR) has developed integrated pest management (IPM) and biopesticides for some 85 crops, including cotton and brinjal. Why have we not used these technologies instead of peddling Monsanto's Bt crops?

Organic agriculture has been India's forte. It brings better price for the produce. Andhra Pradesh already has two million acres under organic agriculture and has plans to take this area to 10 million in the next two or three years. Why are our Krishi Vigyan Kendras (I believe there is one in each district) not encouraging organic agriculture? Why does not ICAR have an institute devoted to organic agriculture?

Given today's knowledge of molecular biology, why are our agriculture research scientists not developing varieties which would have the advantages of hybrids? The farmers can then have their own seeds and would not have to depend on seed companies. At a meeting that the director general of ICAR and I had co-chaired when I was the vice-chairman of the National Knowledge Commission, nine energy saving steps for agriculture were identified. Why have they not been taken?

The ICAR has published in several volumes, details of over 4000 traditional agriculture practices, many of which have been validated and cross-validated. We have many more documented by the National Innovation Foundation. Why are we not using the validated ones and taking steps to examine the remaining? Why are we not using our horticulture potential? For example, all the technology exists in the State Forest Research Laboratory of Arunachal Pradesh to grow over 600 orchids through tissue culture. These orchids can capture the world orchid market, replacing Thailand (for our orchids are far more beautiful and the world is tired of Thai orchids) and bring to Arunachal Pradesh a revenue of over Rs 10,000 crore a year. Why are we not pursuing the possibility?

Why is our department of agriculture not using the outstanding capabilities that our National Remote Sensing Agency has to, for example, identify diseased plants in a field so that one can prevent the spread of the disease?

Ten of our leading CEOs signed the Indo-US CEO agreement (available on Planning Commission's website) in which the Indian CEOs (led by Ratan Tata) agreed to put the lid on the Bhopal Gas Tragedy, promised not to give any trouble to Coca Cola and Pepsi irrespective of the quality and quantity of their misdeeds, and open our retail market to the US. There is already a US demand that India cuts down its subsidies to agriculture which are a pittance in comparison to what the US provides to its agriculturists.

We recently signed secretly, an MoU on 'Agriculture Cooperation and Food Security' with the US, even though all the inputs we require - scientific, technological, managerial or social - to improve our agriculture to meet national demands (present or future) are available within the country. The MoU (The Hindu, February 24, 2010), for all practical purposes, appears to have handed over our food security and sovereignty, farmers security, agriculture security and security of the rural sector comprising 70 per cent of our population, to the US.

The government has been supporting introduction of GM food and other crops in the country, which will eventually give control of our agriculture to US-based MNCs. Jairam Ramesh, taking into account overwhelming public opinion and unbiased scientific opinion has, rightly and courageously, in a statesman-like manner, put an indefinite moratorium on the release of Bt brinjal; he has gone on record to say that he has only two supporters in the government and the ruling party: the prime minister and Sonia Gandhi.

Our surrender to the US seems to be total. If we buy nuclear reactors from the US (which we would be obliged to buy), we will pay most of the compensation in case of a nuclear accident, not the vendor of the reactor. And on the March 6, V K Saraswat, scientific adviser to our defence minister, said that the US is still denying us technology (Deccan Chronicle, March 7, 2010).

On November 10, 1698, Charles Eyre bought three fishing villages - Sutanuti, Govindpore and Dihi-Koikata - from a Bengali landlord for Rs1,300, and laid the foundation of today's Kolkata. We are now trying to sell our entire country for a pittance (if for anything at all) to MNCs and the US. Those who are involved in this effort must understand that the citizens of this country are well-equipped to fight the third war of independence if that happens.

About the author:

Pushpa M Bhargava is the former vice chairman of the National Knowledge Commission.

[Note: Pushpa M Bhargava is the father of molecular biology in India and is one of two international scientists who coined the term "genetic engineering".]


13 March 2010

Minister welcomes Centre's decision

Express News Service [India], 13 March 2010:

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Agriculture Minister Mullakkara Ratnakaran on Friday welcomed the statement made by Minister of State for Environment and Forests (Independent Charge) Jairam Ramesh that the states could decide whether to adopt GM seeds or not.

"It's a happy decision for us. Now the State Government can protect the State's interests," Ratnakaran said in reply to a question in the Assembly.

On Wednesday, Jairam Ramesh had told the Lok Sabha that agriculture was a state subject, and the state governments could decide whether to adopt GM seeds or not in their commercial production.

"The Government of Kerala has informed that they have taken a decision to prohibit environmental release of all genetically-modified seeds and keep the State GM-free," Jairam Ramesh had said in reply to a question by E T Mohammed Basheer.

"The Government of India is following a case by case policy of assessment of GM crops. A final view on the commercialisation of the GM plants is taken only when the scientific studies establish that it is safe from the point of view of its long-term impacts on human health and environment. However, as agriculture is a state subject, it is the prerogative of the State Governments to decide whether to adopt GM seeds or not in their commercial production," he had said. The Kerala Government's stand is that the State should be declared a GM-Free Zone, taking into consideration the existence of such biodiversity hotspots such as the Western Ghats.

"The Dr M S Swaminathan Commission had recommended against introducing GM crops here because they could contaminate the Western Ghats," the Minister said.

Ten states including Kerala and Orissa had opposed the introduction of Bt brinjal, after the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) approved the tweaked crop. The Centre had shelved the introduction of Bt brinjal following a nation-wide outcry by farmers, greens and the general public.

In another apparent setback to the proponents of GM crops, biotech-giant Monsanto had announced that its first-generation Bt cotton seeds were not insulated to pest attacks.


Farm Minister: I won't authorize GMO cultivation in Bulgaria

Standart [Bulgaria], 13 March 2010:

"Tasty Bulgarian tomatoes free of GMO are my priority as a Minister of Agriculture, "said Minister Miroslav Naidenov referring to the debate over GMO cultivation in Bulgaria. "Let the Bulgarians rest assured that no GMO will be cultivated in the country as an authorization of the Minister of Agriculture is required for that and I have never given such a permit and never will," he said flat. Currently Bulgarian farmers do not grow genetically modified corn or soybeans, although he added that years ago laboratory tests of GMO were authorized. GM corn and soybeans are now being used only as fodder because of a deficit of conventional products. He concluded that he would support the proposal to make supermarkets and other food stores create separate areas for products containing GMOs and for areas for organic products.

Yesterday, the MPs of the environmental issues parliamentary committee unanimously supported the prohibition of GMO cultivation in Bulgaria.


12 March 2010

The GM war in Europe starts here
• Brussels bureaucrats want to spread GM crops throughout Europe, against the will of most of its people, says Geoffrey Lean.

Geoffrey Lean
The Telegraph [UK], 12 March 2010:

Not just a spud, this is likely to prove a very hot political potato indeed. It is living, knobbly proof of the determination of Brussels bureaucrats to spread GM crops throughout Europe, against the will of most of its people.

In a little-noticed move last week, the European Commission defied most of the governments to which it is supposed to answer to give the green light to growing a modified potato across the continent. It was the first time a GM crop had been authorised for cultivation in 13 years. But, now the long moratorium has been broken, similar approvals for others are expected rapidly to follow.

The decision has its origins in a couple of secret, top-level meetings called by Jose Manuel Barroso, the Commission's strongly pro-GM president. He invited the prime ministers of each of the 27 EU member states to send a personal representative along to discuss how to "speed up" the spread of the technology and "deal with" public opposition.

You can see why he was frustrated. Only one GM crop - a maize produced by Monsanto - had ever been cleared for growing in Europe, and that was way back in 1998. Other applications, including the GM potato, had failed to get through the Council of Ministers, representing the EU governments. No surprise there: about three times as many Europeans oppose genetic modification as support it.

As a result, GM crops cover only about 0.12 per cent of Europe's agricultural land, mainly in Spain - and the continent accounts for just 0.08 per cent of the area growing them worldwide. And they have been losing ground. In the past two years, both France and Germany banned the Monsanto maize, joining Austria, Hungary, Greece and Luxembourg.

The meetings' confidential minutes show that Barroso was trying to get the prime ministers to over-rule their own agriculture and environment ministers, and "look at the wider picture". And the leaders' emissaries duly called for "the speeding up of the authorisation process, based on robust assessments so as to reassure the public".

But little changed: the Commission tried to force countries to lift their bans on growing the Monsanto maize, but again failed at the Council of Ministers. So it undemocratically took matters into its own hands to launch the GM potato. Called Amflora - developed by BASF to produce starch for paper, textiles and glue - the potato has twice been to the Council for approval, in December 2006 and August 2007. Each time, as in almost all GM applications, the ministers were split between pro and anti-GM countries, and the Commission could not get the qualified majority it needed. So, last week it cynically approved the spud for cultivation - using a provision that allows it, when ministers are deadlocked, to decide over their heads.

The provision - which the Commission has already used to approve the consumption of GM crops grown outside Europe, mainly for animal feed - is deeply controversial. Five years ago, it was condemned by Markos Kyprianou, the then health and consumer protection commissioner, and by the top EC official in charge of pesticides and biotechnology. But it was retained at the insistence of the then trade commissioner, our own Lord Mandelson.

Now, instead of scrapping it, the new Commission, which took office earlier this year, has decided to extend it. Three modified maizes are expected to be authorised over the next weeks, and 14 other crops are lining up behind them. GM advocates are hailing "a new dawn".

Oddly, it is happening as increasing problems are emerging elsewhere. One of the biotech industry's greatest successes, a modified cotton in India, is losing the pest resistance for which it was developed. The Indian government has unexpectedly blocked the cultivation of the country's first GM food, an aubergine. And superweeds, resistant to herbicides, are spreading almost everywhere modified crops are grown, often because they have acquired genes though cross-pollination. Amflora is unlikely to cause this problem since it mainly multiplies through tubers. It will not be eaten by people, though it will be fed to animals. The European Food Standards Agency has pronounced it safe, but it contains a gene that confers resistance to antibiotics and there is some concern, partially supported by the European Medicines Authority, that it could interfere with treatment for diseases like TB if it were to spread to people and animals.

Already, Italy and Austria have sworn to ban the crop, and a French environment minister has voiced alarm. But Germany and the Czech Republic expect to plant it this year, with Sweden and the Netherlands to follow. Stand by for spud wars.


Bulgaria President Reiterates GMO Referendum Warnings, 12 March 2010:

[Photo caption: Bulgaria's President, Georgi Parvanov, says he insists on a country free from GMO.]

Bulgaria's President, Georgi Parvanov, strongly criticized the amendments of the Bulgarian Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) Act.

During a special press conference Friday, dedicated to the economic crisis and the crisis between the Bulgarian institutions, Parvanov pointed out that he insists on a country free from GMO.

The President announced that if the Act is passed the way it has been proposed, he would veto it. In case the veto is not approved by the Parliament, Parvanov reiterated his earlier warnings that he would call a referendum on it.

On Monday, the President stated that the amendments to the GMO Act should include strict safeguards to protect Bulgaria from contamination, adding he may use his right to call on the Bulgarian Parliament to hold a national referendum on the issue for or against retention of the prohibitions on release into the environment of GMOs.

On Friday, the Parliament fell into an interesting predicament when the GMO Act was discussed almost simultaneously by the MPs from the Bulgaria Parliamentary Environment Committee and in plenary hall.

Deputy Environment Minister, Evdokia Maneva, reported that the Committee's MPs had unanimously endorsed the proposal made by the MP from the ruling Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) party, Kostadin Yazov, to prohibit the release of GMOs into the environment and also to add that all NATURA 2000 areas will be protected from GMOs.

In plenary hall, the second reading of the Act stalled over the failure to reach consensus and was postponed.

Petar Kurumbashev, MP from the left-wing Coalition for Bulgaria, which includes the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) as its main formation, said that there is an obvious Parliament lobby for GMO and the GERB majority approves it. He was backed by his fellow party member, Georgi Bozhinov, who pointed out that the GMO Act is the cause of big businesses that have invested billions in GMO.

Meanwhile, NGOs and civic organizations informed they are planning a large protest rally against GMO Saturday.


GMO protections needed
• Canadian farmers could suffer if markets refuse entry to genetically modified crops

Jean Crowder
The Citizen [Canada], 12 March 2010:

I was pleased to introduce Percy Schmeiser, the farmers' rights activist, at a presentation in Duncan on the issues of food security and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) hosted by Cowichan Green Community.

The New Democrats are very concerned about the limiting of farmers' rights to re-use their own seed and to be protected from contamination by GMOs.

That is why New Democrats introduced a private member's bill to amend the Seed Regulations Act to require that an analysis of potential harm to export markets be conducted before the sale of any genetically engineered (GE) seeds is permitted.

In September 2009 Canadian farmers and our European customers, who have a zero-tolerance policy for unapproved GE crops and products; found that an illegal GE flax seed, called the CDC Triffid had contaminated Canadian flax exports. Contamination reached 35 countries.

European countries began removing products from their shelves and quarantined all shipments of flax from Canada. As a result, the price of flax has plummeted and the market is still uncertain while farmers are forced to pay for testing and clean-up.

The recent loss of our flax export markets due to GE contamination makes it very clear that any GE technology that is not accepted by our major export markets has little economic value to Canadian farmers.

Zero tolerance for contamination by unapproved GE products is a firmly entrenched policy in Europe. And many other countries on other continents are following Europe's lead. This policy is not going to change and our farmers should not suffer economic harm because of it.

Why does this matter to our community? GE alfalfa has already been approved for release in Canada, with only variety registration needed before it can be legally sold. Alfalfa is grown throughout Vancouver Island and dehydrated forage for export is a growing market.

Monsanto is re-launching its GE wheat research. More than 80 per cent of the wheat grown in Canada is exported. Imagine the devastation of that industry if overseas markets shut down that export market.

The Canadian Federation of Agriculture has indicated support for the spirit of the bill and will be following the debate and any amendments that are put forward closely. The National Farmers Union, The Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN), and the organic food and farm community are in support. An action to support C-474 has been set up on the CBAN website

I will keep you up-to-date on what happens with this Bill. Please let me know if you have other ideas on how to protect our food security.

Jean Crowder is the Member of Parliament for Nanaimo-Cowichan. She can be reached at her local office at 250-746-4896.


US pledges to probe, bust agribusiness monopolies
• Special focus on patent law misuse
• Attorney General cites "historic era of enforcement"

Carey Gillam
Reuters [USA], 12 March 2010:

ANKENY, Iowa - Two U.S. cabinet members and other top officials on Friday pledged a thorough examination of allegations that monopolistic practices in agriculture are driving small farmers out of business, and said they would aggressively enforce antitrust laws.

A day after farmers, consumers and other critics of corporate agriculture held a rally calling for a government crackdown on agribusiness monopolies, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack addressed a standing-room-only crowd at a college auditorium in Iowa.

The cabinet members said they recognized several key components of agriculture were concentrated into a few corporate hands. They said they need to determine how that helps or hinders farmers overall.

Holder told the crowd of farmers, labor and consumer groups and corporate representatives that the Justice Department recognized some farmers were finding it more difficult to survive. He said erosion of competitive markets would be a significant threat to the U.S. economy, thus a national security matter.

"We want everybody to have a fair shot," said Holder. "Big is not necessarily bad but big can be bad if power that comes from being big is misused. That is simply not something that this Department of Justice is going to stand for."

Friday's meeting in Ankeny, Iowa, was the first of a series of five such gatherings the federal agencies are holding around the United States to examine complaints about concentration in the seed, livestock and dairy industries.

The day-long meeting is organized as a forum for farmers, academics, corporate officials and consumer groups to voice their concerns to federal officials.

"What farmers need is opportunity," Iowa farmer Ken Fawcett told federal officials at the forum. "That needs to be free of the corporations that control so much of the industry. Corporations decide too much."

The joint Justice Department/USDA meeting in Iowa, the top U.S. corn-growing state, was focused in part on complaints about leading seed company Monsanto (MON.N). Critics say the company has gained sweeping control of the corn and soybean seed markets, driving up prices and its profits by buying up independent seed companies, patenting seed traits and inducing dealers to promote Monsanto products over rivals.

Monsanto has denied engaging in unfair monopolistic practices and said its licensing arrangements foster broad competition.

But farmers and many seed industry players, as well as Monsanto rival DuPont Co (DD.N), are pushing for U.S. government action against Monsanto, particularly changes in Monsanto's patented control of seed germplasm.

Assistant Attorney General Christine Varney, who oversees antitrust issues for the Justice Department, did not speak directly about Monsanto, but drew applause when she said Justice would vigorously examine any misuse of patent protections to gain monopolies.

She said the antitrust division has appointed investigators with agricultural backgrounds as part of an "unrelenting quest" to ensure a balanced marketplace.

Holder also emphasized the Justice Department's interest in pursuing any misuse of patents as part of an aggressive probe into agriculture.

"You will see an historic era of enforcement that will grow," said Holder.

The officials would not comment about specific companies or actions that they may take.

"We are looking to enforce the law vigorously and fairly," Varney said. (Reporting by Carey Gillam; Editing by David Gregorio)


Call to "Bust Up Big Ag"

Ben Lilliston
Think Forward blog, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy [USA], 12 March 2010:

"It is a lie that we have a free market. It's a lie that we have an open market. It's a market controlled by corporations." This remark from an Iowa farmer last night captured the fiery sentiment at a townhall meeting of over 250 people, packed into a room at the Best Western in Ankeny, Iowa.

The townhall was held on the eve of the first ever U.S. government workshop on competition in agriculture, that will start in a few minutes. The joint USDA/Department of Justice workshop is the start of a series of similar events to be held around the country this year. The room last night was full of farmers from the region, local Iowans and the bright yellow shirts of United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) members from surrounding meatpacking areas.

Barb Kalbach, a fourth-generation farmer from Dexter, Iowa and part of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (ICCI), kicked off the meeting: "We're here today to make sure the voices of everyday people are heard loud and clear. And that message is: 'bust up big ag.' A handful of multinationals have run roughshod for too long. Antitrust laws have not been enforced. We want action now and we expect the government to represent the people and the common good."

The concentration of the seed industry and excessive use of patents took center stage with many of the comments - with Monsanto a common target. "The only thing they haven't done is put a patent on air and charge us for breathing it," said one farmer from Iowa.

"This monopolistic system is rigged against family farmers," George Naylor, a corn and soybean farmer from Churdan, Iowa and also part of ICCI, told the crowd. "This casino economy is rigged so farmers don't have much of a choice of the seeds that they buy. Monsanto has intentionally bought up seed companies to eliminate competition."

Todd Leake, a wheat and soybean farmer from North Dakota told the crowd, "If anything belongs in the public domain, it's the crops we grow for food."

Many also focused on the livestock and poultry industry. Rhonda Perry, a livestock farmer from Armstrong, Missouri and part of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, said, "A handful of meatpackers and poultry companies completely dominate the entire livestock industry. The big corporations say that they are more efficient. The reality is that they don't have to be more efficient - they just have to control the market. It's not good for farmers or consumers."

UFCW's Mark Lauritsen talked about growing up in a meatpacking family in Iowa during the farm crisis in the 1980s. " I saw the pain in the face of farmers - and I saw the meatpacking plants closed, and wages lowered for those that stayed open. Fewer and fewer corporations are controlling the food industry. The Justice Department needs to be pushed to include the impact of concentration on workers, family farmers and the communities we live in."

IATP's Alexandra Spieldoch talked about how farmers in the U.S., Mexico and Canada all were facing a simlar squeeze from a few big companies that now dominate the North American market. You can read our fact sheet we prepared for the meeting, as well as watch a short video of Alexandra summarizing IATP's comment to the USDA and DOJ.

Patty Lovera of Food and Water Watch, summarized the sense of people in the room as they await Friday's workshop: "Games have rules, they have referees. The government is our referee - it's time for the referee to get back in the game."


Monsanto's Seed Patents May Trump Antitrust Claims, Lawyers Say

Jack Kaskey and William McQuillen
Business Week / Bloomberg [USA], 12 March 2010:

Monsanto Co., facing antitrust probes into its genetically modified seeds, may benefit from previous court rulings in which intellectual property rights trumped competition concerns, antitrust lawyers say.

The Department of Justice and seven state attorneys general are investigating whether the world's largest seed company is using gene licenses to keep competing technologies off the market. At issue is how the St. Louis-based company sells and licenses its patented trait that allows farmers to kill weeds with Roundup herbicide while leaving crops unharmed. The company's Roundup Ready gene was in 93 percent of U.S. soybeans last year.

"Justice is clearly trying every way it can to see whether Monsanto is exceeding its rights under the patent," said James Weiss, a Washington-based attorney at K&L Gates LLP who helped defend Microsoft Corp. against a federal antitrust probe. "At the end of the day, they may not be able to do much with it because of the scope of those patents. In almost all the cases, the courts come out on the side of intellectual property."

Yet Monsanto's seeds are so ubiquitous that they have become like AT&T's telephone lines before the company's 1984 breakup or Microsoft Corp.'s Windows operating system in the 1990s, said James P. Denvir, an attorney who represents rival seedmaker DuPont Co. and led the government's AT&T case.

"Both cases involve what I think of as a classic platform monopoly," Denvir said. "It's a facility that competitors need access to, to compete against the monopolist."

Monsanto and DuPont, which are suing each other over a biotech seed license, both hired former Justice Department lawyers who have handled high-profile cases.

'Revolutionizing the Marketplace'

Monsanto's attorney, Dan Webb, defended Microsoft in 2002 against government antitrust claims. A former U.S. Attorney in Chicago, he also prosecuted Admiral John Poindexter in the Iran- Contra affair.

Webb credits Monsanto with "revolutionizing the agriculture marketplace" and said antitrust claims such as those in DuPont's suit aren't an uncommon response to patent infringement cases such as Monsanto's.

"The perception among farmers is that DuPont's complaints about exclusivity are without merit," said Webb, a Chicago- based Winston & Strawn LLP partner.

Denvir, who represents DuPont, said farmers are among the victims.

"Clearly, we are too," he said. "The bigger harm, the more important harm, is to farmers in denying them the best seeds they can get at the lowest possible prices."

Legal Monopoly

While patents provide some protection from antitrust claims, giving a company a legal monopoly for a specified time, patent rights can be abused, DuPont lawyers and others said.

"The question becomes whether or not somebody in that position has engaged in some bad acts that either got it in that position or are designed to maintain that position or to extend that position to other markets," said Charles "Rick" Rule, a lawyer at Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft LLP who ran the Justice Department's antitrust unit under President Ronald Reagan.

The Justice Department and Department of Agriculture will hold a workshop on competition in agricultural markets, including biotech seeds, today in Ankeny, Iowa. Christine Varney, who heads the antitrust division now, has signaled she'll be more aggressive than the Bush administration, Rule said.

The department probably is looking at whether Monsanto's licensing restrictions on seeds have a legitimate business justification, said Rule, who occasionally advises Monsanto and isn't working with Webb on the antitrust case.

Potential for Abuse

"When you have that sort of monopoly power, it can lead to abuse, which is what we've been experiencing over the past several years," said Thomas L. Sager, DuPont's general counsel.

Wilmington, Delaware-based DuPont claims Monsanto protects its lead in biotech seeds, including the Roundup Ready seeds sold since 1996, by controlling whether competitors can add their own genetics.

Monsanto also has begun switching seedmakers and growers from Roundup Ready soybeans to the newer Roundup Ready 2 Yield version in advance of the original's patent expiration in 2014. DuPont says Monsanto is using incentives and penalties to switch the industry to the new product in a way that unlawfully extends the Roundup Ready monopoly.

'Level Playing Field'

"This is about trying to obtain a level playing field so innovators can introduce combinations of choices to the farmer that increase yield and of course feed the world," Sager said.

At least seven states are investigating many of the same claims, as well as whether Monsanto illegally offered rebates to distributors who limit sales of competing seed, according to one person involved in the probe who asked not to be named because he isn't authorized to discuss it.

3M Co.'s use of rebates to induce retailers to buy more transparent tape and curtail purchases from a smaller supplier was ruled anticompetitive by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2003.

Monsanto has amended its practices to address some criticisms. The company will help the introduction of generic Roundup Ready soybeans by maintaining foreign import approvals during the transition, a process that will be followed for off- patent biotech seeds in the future, Chief Executive Officer Hugh Grant said in a January interview. Monsanto last year stopped giving rebates to dealers who limited competing seeds' sales, said Kelli Powers, a spokeswoman.

AT&T, Microsoft Parallels

DuPont filed its federal antitrust case last year after Monsanto sued to block its rival from adding the Roundup Ready trait to seeds already modified to tolerate Roundup weed killer.

"Trait development has been stunted by the inability to get access to the Roundup Ready platform," Denvir, an attorney with Boies Schiller & Flexner LLP, said in an interview in his Washington office. The firm was founded by David Boies, who led the government's successful antitrust suit against Microsoft. Roundup Ready is "licensed so broadly that if you want to offer any trait, it has to be somehow combined with that trait."

While Monsanto has promised to allow generic versions of its products to emerge, Denvir said he is unconvinced that will happen without government intervention.

Monsanto got its lead in seed biotechnology because it invested in research long before DuPont and other competitors, said Webb, Monsanto's counsel. The company spent $6 billion on seed research in the 10 years through 2008 and $1 billion a year since then, said Powers, the company spokeswoman.

Among the cases relevant to the claims against Monsanto is a 2004 Supreme Court decision that Verizon Communications Inc. and other phone companies didn't break laws by doing too little to encourage competition, said Rule, the former antitrust division head.

Xerox Ruling

A Federal Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in February 2000 that Xerox Corp. can't be sued for using patents to establish or entrench a monopoly also may apply to the Monsanto disputes, he said.

The cases reflect how U.S. courts have given intellectual property owners leeway to control licensing to make the property more valuable, encourage the owner to widely license the technology and support further investment, he said.

Greg Neppl, with Foley & Lardner, agreed that intellectual property rights often trump antitrust concerns.

"The patent concerns are well protected in the law," said Neppl. "Where the patent rights are clear, the antitrust issues are secondary. The antitrust concerns must respect the patent owner."

Monsanto persuaded U.S. District Judge Richard Webber in September to separate the licensing case from DuPont's antitrust counterclaim. The seedmaker won an additional incremental victory in January when Webber ruled that DuPont violated the companies' licensing agreement by combining Monsanto's Roundup- tolerance gene with a DuPont gene that does the same thing.

Counterclaim 'Clutter'

Patent infringement is "a fair and proper case," Webb said. "Monsanto will have its day in court and it will not be cluttered with the antitrust counterclaim."

Monsanto shares climbed 50 cents to $71.61 yesterday, paring the decrease since DuPont filed its antitrust case in mid-June to 15 percent. DuPont has climbed 42 percent in the same period.

Justice Department probes typically move in tandem with related civil litigation because plaintiffs share information with the government, Neppl said.

"The antitrust division today is more willing to look at assertions" of anticompetitive behavior, Rule said. "This is something they have a right to look at. Once they get into an investigation, they are pretty good at making up their own mind."

The case is Monsanto Co. v. E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co., 09cv686, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Missouri (St. Louis).

--With reporting by Alison Fitzgerald in Washington and Carlyn Kolker in New York. Editors: James Langford, Peter Blumberg, Jeffrey Taylor

To contact the reporters on this story: Jack Kaskey in New York at; William McQuillen in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Kevin Miller at


Bt cotton failure a profit ploy?

Nitin Sethi
The Times of India, March 12 2010:

NEW DELHI: Did declining profitability prompt Monsanto's announcement that its Bt cotton variety had failed to beat the pink bollworm pest in four districts in Gujarat and could this be part of a ploy to promote its second generation GM cotton variety? The Union government thinks so.

In an internal note, that TOI accessed, the ministry of environment and forests said, "It appears that this (announcing the failure of Bt cotton) could be a business strategy to phase out single gene events (the current variety) and promote double (stacked) genes which would fetch higher price."

Believing that the seed giant is attempting to hardsell its new Bollgard II variety, the internal note said Monsanto may not have any incentive to continue with single gene event (the current Bollgard 1 variety) as a court order restricted Monsanto to sell the Bt cotton variety at a much lower price.

The note stressed that the earlier variety was giving dwindling profits and the technology provider (Monsanto)'s financial returns on technology fee had greatly diminished in the last few years. "Switching to Bollgard II will not only fetch higher trait fee, but will also leave the competition, which as of now has only single gene products, far behind," the note said.

The note also questioned the veracity of tests conducted by Monsanto and questioned the way the company went about announcing the failure of Bt cotton against the pink bollworm in Gujarat. The ministry noted that it was puzzling that the company had gone public with the failure of its own product without consultation with CICR Nagpur, which is the government body vested with powers to monitor the crop.

The government also noted that even if the company's statement was to be taken at face value, the danger that the new variety could also fail against the pest remained. "The company has indicated that the resistance development would have been caused by planting of unauthorised Bt cotton seeds and the non-adoption of refugia planting by the farmers. These are plausible causes, however, why has it not happened earlier and not in other bollworms? If these are issues with the adoption of refugia strategy, as it is being recommended today, then Bollgard II may also not be a solution," the note said.

The company, responding to the note, told TOI, "Firstly, we are unaware of a note you refer to, hence prefer not to speculate." A spokesperson for Mahyco-Monsanto Biotech added, "In 2009, over 65% of Gujarat cotton farmers chose to plant Bollgard II cotton seeds, and pre-season bookings for the 2010 season indicate that over 90% of Gujarat cotton farmers are expected to plant Bollgard II in the coming season. Overall, approximately 80% of cotton farmers nationally are expected to plant Bollgard II in the 2010 season."

But the ministry, which has been batting for a cautious approach to GM technology, warned, "It is a natural phenomenon that when pest population is exposed to Bt crops continuously for several years, may develop resistance to Bt toxin through natural selection or mutation."


11 March 2010

Entire province must move to organic farming, NDP leader says

Editorial Staff
The Guardian [Prince Edward Island, Canada], 11 March 2010:

The ongoing crisis in Prince Edward Island's agricultural sector has prompted Island New Democrat Leader James Rodd to call for a wholescale conversion to organic farming.

But he doubts if either the current Liberal government or the opposition Conservatives will move in that direction. "The industrial model of farming has been on the rise in Prince Edward Island and elsewhere for at least 50 years and if it isn't soon reversed, the agricultural landscape of this province will soon be limited exclusively to large-scale farming operations owned or controlled by multinational agrifood businesses."

Rodd, an organic vegetable grower, cited figures showing the dramatic decline in the farming community under both Liberal and Conservative governments.

In 1921, there were 13,701 farms in Prince Edward Island, with an average size of 89 acres. The total area farmed was over 1.2 million acres, he said. In 2006, the census showed only 1,700 farms. Meanwhile, the average size of a P.E.I. farm had quadrupled to 369 acres and the total farming acreage had been cut in half to just over 600,000 acres.

Rodd also pointed to a continuing decline under the current Ghiz government and cited the crisis in both the potato and livestock sectors as examples of how things were getting worse.

"Our hog and beef industries are on life support and potato growers are suffering from a chronic inability to recover even the cost of production. Clearly, the current system isn't working and a significant change of direction is required."

Rodd said the only solution is to implement a long-term plan to convert the entire provincial agriculture sector to organic production. Such an approach would support the development of a comprehensive Garden of the Gulf branding and marketing campaign, along with an enhanced Buy Local initiative.

It would also involve co-ordination between producers and the provincial government and the investment of public monies to enable the conversion to organic farming on a provincewide scale, he said.

"The first step would be to ban genetically modified crops," Rodd said. "That's exactly what Ireland is doing, for example, and Japan and other countries have already implemented such a ban."

He admits it would cost to make the conversion, even if it was phased in over a decade or two. But he sees it as a case of pay now or pay more later.


Canadian Groups Urge U.S. to Stop New GE Alfalfa, 11 March 2010:

Monsanto's new GE lines could contaminate Canadian crops if approved for commercialization in the U.S., say critics Canadian farmers are worried that a ruling prohibiting the planting of genetically engineered alfalfa in the United States may soon be overturned.

Several farmer and consumer groups are urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) not to permit the introduction of GE alfalfa in the United States, saying the move could have an irreversible negative impact on the future of organic food and farming in Canada.

The USDA is currently inviting comments on its environmental impact statement concerning the environmental and socioeconomic impacts of allowing the deregulation of two lines of GE alfalfa produced by Monsanto Company and Forage Genetics International.

If the USDA decides in favor of the herbicide tolerant alfalfa, the current court injunction on plantings in the United States will be lifted. A hearing is scheduled for April 27.

In responding to the FDA, groups including the National Farmers Union, the Saskatchewan Organic Directorate, and Beyond Factory Farming argue that commercializing GE alfalfa in the United States would result in widespread contamination of Canadian alfalfa and loss of markets.

Arnold Taylor, national president of Canadian Organic Growers, says there are several ways in which GE alfalfa could make its way across the border, including being carried by honeybees.

"Bees don't recognize the border, they'll fly right across that border," he says, adding that since GE alfalfa is an "approved event" in Canada (though not approved for commercial use), there's nothing to stop people from importing alfalfa hay, seed, feed, or pellets into Canada from the United States.

"The biggest threat is importation of seed as well as the fact that if they do deregulate in the United States, Monsanto will most certainly try to introduce it in Canada. That's the biggest threat as far as I'm concerned."

An important rotational crop in organic and conventional agriculture, alfalfa's many attributions make it particularly important in organic farming.

The plant prevents erosion, is a soil builder that aids soil fertility, and its competitive nature gives it the ability to crowd out weeds-making it invaluable in organic agriculture where using herbicides and fertilizers is not an option.

GE crops are also not an option. In compliance with organic standards worldwide, Canada prohibits the use of GE organisms in organic production. Contamination, says Taylor, would almost certainly destroy organic agriculture in many areas.

"This alfalfa thing is directly aimed at the heart of organic farming because without alfalfa it's going to be a big disaster. The biggest threat to us is once that [genetically modified organism] gets into our alfalfa, we won't be able to seed alfalfa and there's no substitute for alfalfa for soil building," said Taylor.

In addition, animals that consume contaminated alfalfa could no longer be classified as organic, and organic dairy production would become extremely difficult, if not impossible, once feedstock became contaminated.

The USDA supports the "co-existence" of GE crops with conventional and organic crops. In its environmental impact statement, the agency suggests that contamination is unlikely to occur because alfalfa is typically harvested before 10 percent of the plants reach full flower. 'Here in Canada there is virtually no organic canola any more as everything is contaminated by genetic material." - Terry Pugh, Canadian National Farmers Union.

Terry Pugh, executive secretary with the Canadian National Farmers Union (NFU), says that while this may be true in theory, it won't work in practice.

"The reality is that when you're farming, you can't always harvest [alfalfa] at the appropriate time. Sometimes it rains, so that means you lose a few days or a week and you can't get at it. Then the flowering occurs and you've got the spread of that gene. So even the best of intentions often just can't overcome the vagaries of nature," said Pugh.

Pugh says the USDA is not looking at the market impact, has not provided any protections for non-GE alfalfa farmers and exporters in the EIS, and in fact puts the onus on non-GE farmers to prevent contamination by avoiding simultaneous flowering with GE alfalfa in neighboring fields.

Non-GE alfalfa farmers are also required to be responsible for removing commercial beekeepers's hives from the vicinity of GM alfalfa fields.

"Given the fact that honey bees forage at distances over 10 kilometers [6.2 miles], the task of controlling this method of contamination is nothing short of herculean," says the Farmer's Union in their submission to the USDA.

Monsanto Canada spokesperson Trish Jordan says alfalfa markets wouldn't be negatively impacted if Canadian non-GE alfalfa became contaminated because Roundup Ready alfalfa is fully approved in both Canada and Japan, which is a market for Canadian flax.

"There is zero-tolerance anywhere in the world, by any country, for unapproved events and rightly so. Once the events are approved then it's a different situation, because there are typically thresholds and tolerance levels in place," said Jordan.

Roundup Ready is Monsanto's line of GE crops designed to be resistant to Roundup, the agrochemical company's best-selling pesticide. When Roundup is sprayed on a field, it kills the weeds but not the crop.

Jordan maintains the reason the European Union blocked shipments of Canadian flax last September that were contaminated with a deregistered GE seed, was because the seed was unapproved. After the incident, flax prices fell from $12 a bushel down to about $6, dealing a devastating blow to Canada's flax industry. Shipments resumed in late 2009 under new restrictions.

As for introducing GE alfalfa in Canada, Jordan says Forage Genetics, which handles commercialization of the product, hasn't made a decision on that yet.

"They haven't even looked at Canada really and from everything that I understand they don't intend to do that until this situation in the U.S. gets resolved, because that's their priority market right now."

A number of American groups are also urging the USDA not to deregulate Monsanto's GE alfalfa lines.

The National Organic Coalition (NOC), an alliance of U.S. organizations that includes farmer, rancher, environmentalist, and consumer groups, said in a statement that the contamination of non-GE and organic alfalfa hay and seed would "devastate livelihoods and the organic industry."

"If Roundup Ready Alfalfa is permitted to be sold commercially, the ripple effect would wipe out many organic and non-GE businesses, from organic seed and forage growers to organic dairy farmers and retailers," said NOC Director Liana Hoodes. "Every American's right to cultivate, sell, and eat non-GE and organic food would no longer exist."

Pugh from the Canadian Farmer's Union fears that if alfalfa becomes contaminated in Canada, there will be a repeat of what happened with the organic canola market. GE canola was approved for commercial use in Canada 15 years ago.

"Here in Canada there is virtually no organic canola any more as everything is contaminated by genetic material," Pugh said.

He believes the only truly effective way to safeguard non-GE alfalfa is to prevent genetically engineered varieties from getting into the environment in the first place.

"That's the only way you can do it. Because what happens is it is a living organism, and all genetic material is driven to reproduce, you can't stop it. So once it's out there it's out there - you can't round it up and bring it back," he said.


US On International Trade Crusade With New Agenda

Intellectual Property Watch, 11 March 2010:

The recently released US annual trade agenda shows an intention to conquer new international markets, strengthen the global trade system and enforce obligations and US intellectual property rights. The US also means to address what they consider as trade barriers. [Update: President Obama spoke on the trade agenda today, more below.]

Enforcement of trade rules and rights, notably IP rights, and addressing market access barriers are described as very important to the objective of expanding trade opportunities, according to President Obama's agenda released by the US Trade Representative's Office on 1 March.

[Update: In remarks today to the Export-Import Bank, President Obama hailed the US trade agenda as a significant job-generator, and highlighted the importance of intellectual property rights. He said: "we're going to aggressively protect our intellectual property. Our single greatest asset is the innovation and the ingenuity and creativity of the American people. It is essential to our prosperity and it will only become more so in this century. But it's only a competitive advantage if our companies know that someone else can't just steal that idea and duplicate it with cheaper inputs and labor. There's nothing wrong with other people using our technologies, we welcome it - we just want to make sure that it's licensed, and that American businesses are getting paid appropriately. That's why USTR is using the full arsenal of tools available to crack down on practices that blatantly harm our businesses, and that includes negotiating proper protections and enforcing our existing agreements, and moving forward on new agreements, including the proposed Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement."]

[Mark Esper of the US Chamber of Commerce Global IP Center commented, "As the President stated in his address today before the Export-Import Bank, we cannot achieve job growth without aggressively protecting our intellectual property."]

The US trade agenda was warmly welcomed by the Chamber Global IP Center on 9 March, and by other US industry, although some items referred to in the agenda are being debated internationally, such as the World Trade Organization Doha Round of negotiations and bilateral trade agreements. Meanwhile, the overly strong enforcement of IP rights has been considered by human rights advocates as hindering access to technology, health and knowledge.

US WTO Objectives: TRIPS Implementation, GI Register

In 2010, the US plans to engage with "key advanced developing trading partners, both bilaterally and multilaterally" to penetrate new markets, in the framework of the WTO Negotiating Group on Non-Agricultural Market Access.

The 2010 US objectives in the TRIPS Council are, among others, to "continue efforts to ensure that developing country members fully implement the TRIPS agreement, engage in constructive dialogue regarding the technical assistance and capacity-related needs of developing countries in connection with TRIPS implementation," and "ensure that provisions of the TRIPS agreement are not weakened."

In many fora, the issue of TRIPS implementation is being discussed, notably in the context of bilateral and multilateral agreements, with complaints from civil society and some developing country governments that some agreements include some measures going beyond TRIPS rules, known as TRIPS-plus measures.

Another agenda item is the mandated establishment at the WTO of a multilateral system of notification and registration of geographical indications for wines and spirits, which are protected under the WTO agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). The US intends to "aggressively pursue additional support for the joint proposal" of predominately New World countries who seek a softer, voluntary approach to the register. They will "seek a more flexible and pragmatic approach on the part of the EU so that negotiations can be completed." Europe is a primary proponent of a mandatory register (IPW, WTO/TRIPS, 12 June 2009).

The US trade agenda does not appear to include intent to consider of proposals by a majority of WTO members to negotiate on an extension to other products of the high level of GI protection given to wines and spirits, and a proposal to amend the TRIPS agreement to improve protection of biodiversity. The US has been a staunch opponent of discussing those issues in the WTO round.

In the context of the Doha Round, given the US "significant duty-free and quota-free market access to least-developed countries," the trade agenda asks if "advanced developing economies will accept responsibility commensurate with their growing economic influence."

The agenda also compared the "value of what the US would give in market opening along with a reduction of US agriculture support," supposedly well known, and the "value of new opportunities" allegedly rendered vague by the "broad flexibilities available to key emerging markets like China, India, and Brazil."

In 2010 the WTO Committee on Regional Trade Agreements will review three US regional agreements: US-Bahrain, US-Peru and Dominican Republic-Central America-United States under the transparency mechanism. Under this mechanism, the WTO launched a database in January 2009 that includes information on regional trade agreements, available to the public.

"Vexing" Foreign Standards and Sanitary/Phytosanitary Barriers

The US is determined to identify and address "unnecessary or unjustified barriers stemming from sanitary and phytosanitary [plant-related] measures as well as technical regulations, standards and conformity assessment procedures" restricting US exports. The country will try to identify which of those measures and regulations may be inconsistent with international trade agreements.

"We will tackle one of the most vexing problems for American firms on world markets: the costly and time-consuming regulatory review of products across many national markets," according to the President's agenda. The US will use trade policy to ensure that US products can access markets "more simply and more efficiently."

Behind-the-borders barriers, such as trade restrictions brought by safety rules that might not be documented, should be addressed, the agenda said. "Too frequently scientific judgements and internationally accepted guidelines are ignored when making policies for agricultural products, including rules governing poultry, sanitation, restrictions on port and port products in response to the H1N1 virus," and "regulations governing some genetically modified food [GMO] products."

Even the European Union and Japan, "trading partners with sophisticated regulatory systems," are taking certain regulations that are "inconsistent with scientific evidence and internationally accepted guidelines," it said.

The European Commission recently approved the cultivation of five GMOs but announced shortly afterward that a proposal would follow allowing member states to choose if they wish to cultivate GMOs or not. The approvals were based on the evaluation of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

According to French newspaper Le Monde, interviewing a French Green Party representative, EFSA members have links with biotechnology industry, such as the former GMO specialist of the agency who became a Syngenta employee. Some other staff both belongs to EFSA and are consultants for companies linked to GMOs producers, the representative said.

Vigorous IP Rights Protection: A Must for Innovation

The US trade agenda means to use "all the tools of trade policy" to protect IP rights, it said. Insufficient protection of IP rights will be addressed "by negotiating and enforcing effective" IP.

USTR vowed to continue work on the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), a negotiation which has been criticised for lack of transparency and public interest concerns. The trade agenda accentuates that efforts will be made to address transparency, and "assure meaningful public input to the proposed ACTA. "We will address insufficient protection in a manner compatible with basic principles of the public welfare," it said.

According to the US Chamber of Commerce Global IP Center, "IP industries account for over half of all US exports," and "18 million workers are employed in IP-dependent industries."

They also applauded the Obama administration for their efforts to conclude ACTA, and called for the administration to continue its transparency efforts as "some anti-IP activists want to kill this agreement by claiming the talks are too opaque."

Catherine Saez may be reached at


Farm groups call on U.S. to 'bust up big ag'
• Farm groups call for halt to patenting of seed
• Monsanto target of farmer complaints

Carey Gillam
Reuters, 11 March 2010:

ANKENY, Iowa - A coalition of family farmers, consumers and other critics of corporate agriculture on Thursday called on the U.S. government to crack down on what they see as unfair consolidation of the nation's food system into the hands of a few multinationals.

Chanting "bust up big ag," a group of more than 250 packed a town hall meeting in the top corn-growing state of Iowa to rally support ahead of a Justice Department meeting on Friday aimed at scrutinizing concentration in the seed business.

The Justice Department and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are holding a meeting Friday in Ankeny to look at the "competitive dynamics in the seed industry." U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Christine Varney, the Justice Department's assistant attorney general for antitrust, are slated to attend.

The meeting in Ankeny is the first ever of its kind and is slated as the first in a series of five such gatherings planned by federal officials to gather input on concentration in the poultry, dairy and livestock industries.

While corporate giants like Wal-mart (WMT.N) and Cargill are among the companies facing attack from the farm and consumer groups, the events in Iowa this week are largely targeted at global biotech seed leader Monsanto Co. (MON.N). The Justice Department and several state attorneys general are probing allegations that Monsanto controls the U.S. commercial seed market via unfair, and in some cases illegal, practices.

"This monopolistic system is rigged against family farmers," said George Naylor, and Iowa corn and soybean farmer who said he struggles to find seed to plant that is not controlled by Monsanto.

Monsanto critics say the company, which develops, licenses and markets genetically altered corn, soybeans and other crops, manipulates the seed market by buying up independent seed companies, patenting seed products and then spiking prices.

Monsanto's Roundup Ready seed traits, which are genetically engineered to resist Monsanto's Roundup herbicide, are embedded in the majority of all soybeans and corn grown in the United States, a penetration level that helped Monsanto post net income of $2.1 billion for 2009.

The farm groups said they hope the attention by the Justice Department will spur policy moves in Washington, chiefly a change that would eliminate the ability of companies like Monsanto to patent seed germplasm, and re-establish farmer rights to save seed from their harvested crops and replant it.

"The crops that we grow are the basis of our civilization. If anything belongs in the public domain it is the crops we grow for food," said Dakota Resource Council member and farmer Todd Leake. "They claim that they own them. That is not right. We need to turn that back."

Monsanto has said its technology helps farmers and that their broad licensing of their technology to other companies helps ensure competition is "alive and flourishing."

On Wednesday, U.S. Senators Saxby Chambliss of Georgia and Pat Roberts of Kansas, both Republicans, weighed in on the issue, cautioning that a U.S. probe might lead to market intervention that could "stifle innovation."

"Any new activity proposed must avoid the unintended consequence of chilling innovation, investment or job creation in American agriculture," the senators said in letters sent Wednesday to Vilsack and Holder. (Reporting by Carey Gillam; Editing by Bernard Orr)


Chinese scholars up in arms over transgenic certificates

Zuo Likun
China Daily, 11 March 2010:

More than 120 Chinese scholars have filed a petition to the nation's top legislature, demanding, on the grounds of bio-safety, the revocation of the Agriculture Ministry's certificates on two transgenic rice breeds and more cautious licensing in the future, eastern Hangzhou's Youth Times reported Thursday.

The scholars are "seriously concerned" about the potential perils of transgenic foods, especially on domestic breeds' heredity and consumers' health, which they said would threaten to jeopardize "the national security and its people."

The juggernauts opposed by the petitioners are pest-resistant rice "Huahui No.1" and hybrid rice "Bt Shanyou 63", both granted safety certificates last August by the Agriculture Ministry, a national precedent that scholars feared would open the gates for the commercialization of genetically modified (GM) food.

The ministry all but denied the accusation, saying the certificates were merely a green light on breed safety, rather than a clear signal for GM food marketing, which would require further authorization of a production license and operation license.

However, the 120-strong petition team was not convinced.

Too much uncertainty remains for GM foods, they said. While acknowledging certain merits of biotechnology, they also cited a failed three-year trial on GM cotton as evidence of potential long-term hazards. Besides, they feared that GM food cultivation might irreversibly damage domestic breeds' heredity.

Meanwhile, Professor Tu Jumin, a veteran transgenic researcher with renowned Zhejiang University and maker of the two controversial rice breeds, has a different outlook.

"I spent 15 years on the two breeds. They are extremely resistant to rice borers," said Tu, referring to the destructive insects that eat up rice leaves with their elongated snout-like mouths.

"Such biotechnology greatly reduces pesticide usage and is a highly competitive know-how coveted by international researchers," he added. As for domestic bio-safety, the professor said the problem could be circumvented by limited cultivation at designated fields.

Still, the doomsaying scholars, dominated by humanities professionals, remained vocally opposed to technological novelty. Their petition letter was initiated by an unlikely trio -- a historian, a financial scholar and a former village Party secretary.

Among the signatories was Lv Xinyu, a journalism professor at Shanghai-based Fudan University.

"To be honest, I don't want to argue with transgenic specialists. We think, whether or not the GM food is dangerous, it could be judged by common sense alone," she said.

She added, "We are no longer credulous to so many so-called agricultural specialists."


Food & Water Europe Welcomes U.S. Court Ruling: Bayer "Intentionally" Contaminated U.S. Rice

Food & Water Europe, 11 March 2010:

Statement of Food & Water Europe Executive Director Wenonah Hauter

Brussels - "We welcome the Woodruff County, Arkansas court finding that German corporation Bayer CropScience 'intentionally' contaminated US rice supplies. We applaud the decision requiring the company to pay Lennie Joe Kyle, the farmer who suffered losses when his rice was contaminated with Bayer's genetically modified (GM) product, a total of US$1.3 million. This amount includes the first punitive damages for loss of future earnings ever awarded against Bayer."

"The case is one of a raft of hundreds of cases stemming from the 2006 contamination of US rice supplies with Bayer's experimental GM LL601 rice - an incident which continues to undermine US exports years later. The company has already been ordered by federal courts to pay four other farmers a total of US$3.5 million."

"While we are pleased to see the courts step in to protect farmers and consumers when regulatory bodies fail, it is a pity that farmers have to go to these lengths to get satisfaction for their losses. As Mr. Kyle said, "It's a lot to do with the way the big companies act. They think the farmer is just going to tuck his tail and take it, but we're not going to anymore.'"

"GM is clearly an unpredictable technology that has proved both difficult to contain and damaging when it escapes. It is simply not necessary to take these chances with the safety of our food supply or the viability of our farms. It is important to see Bayer being held accountable for the damage they have done. Hopefully the court decision will act as a warning to other GM companies."

Food & Water Europe is a program of Food & Water Watch, Inc., a non-profit consumer NGO based in Washington, DC, working to ensure clean water and safe food in Europe and around the world. We challenge the corporate control and abuse of our food and water resources by empowering people to take action and transforming the public consciousness about what we eat and drink.


Eve Mitchell, Food and Water Europe, The Black Isle, Scotland +44 (0)1381 610 740

Gabriella Zanzanaini, Food and Water Europe, Brussels, +3248840966


10 March 2010

China never approves GM seed imports for commercial plantation - official

Xinhua News Agency [China], 10 March 2010:

BEIJING - China's Vice Agriculture Minister Wei Chaoan said here Wednesday that his ministry had never approved the import of any genetically modified seeds for commercial plantation in the country.

"There are no GM grain plants being grown in China," Wei said at a press conference on the sidelines of the parliament annual session.


Vatican official cautions against genetically modified organisms

Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service (via The Criterion) [USA], 10 March 2010:

VATICAN CITY -- Genetically modified food crops could be used as "weapons of infliction of hunger and poverty" if they are managed unjustly, said the new head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

Cardinal Peter Turkson told Catholic News Service March 9 that he would urge an attitude of caution and further study of the possible negative effects of genetically engineered organisms.

Under Cardinal Turkson's predecessor, Cardinal Renato Martino, the justice and peace council sponsored several conferences on genetically modified food as a way to alleviate hunger in poor countries.

Agribusinesses and biotech industries that produce genetically modified organisms are justified in wanting to recoup the expenses laid out for research and development, and they have a right to want to make a profit from their work, said Cardinal Turkson, who took over the reins of the council in January.

But the issue becomes problematic when a company that controls the use of genetically modified seeds and crops is motivated more by profit than by "the declared desire to want to help feed humanity," he said.

There are also doubts about the efficacy and long-term effects of genetically engineered crops, he said.

"There are a lot of claims that are disputed (like) that GMOs never call for the use of pesticides or insecticides or anything because they are resistant," he said. Such claims have been challenged, he said, and some say "at a certain point (these crops) require insecticides whose chemicals break up later in the soil and render the soil less fertile."

Given the disputed claims and doubts, "I think that we should go easy and probably satisfy all of these objections to the full satisfaction of those who raise these objections," he said.

The biggest concern is how small farmers are affected, he said.

Some critics say genetically modified crops could breed further dependence by small farmers on corporations who supply the seeds.

Because of the companies' control over the patented seeds, "what is meant to alleviate hunger and poverty may actually in the hands of some people become really weapons of infliction of poverty and hunger," Cardinal Turkson said.

"Everybody is for the advancement of science and everybody is for the improvement of human conditions and livelihood through the products of scientific research," he said.

If further research and study on the effects and impact of GMOs could alleviate people's fears and concerns, he said, then maybe "everybody can come on board to fashion food security for the world."

Pope Benedict XVI has denounced the continued scandal of hunger in the world, saying its root causes have more to do with problems of distribution and sharing than with there not being enough food in the world.

The Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, said March 4 the Vatican has never pronounced an official position supporting or opposing genetically modified foods.

However, the paper said it was not a coincidence that in 2009 the use of genetically modified food crops grew by 13 percent in developing countries and that GM crops covered almost half of the world's total arable land and yet "the number of hungry people in the world has for the first time reached 1 billion people."


Resistant weeds threaten to cripple Iowa's agriculture economy
• Glyphosate-resistant weeds now established in 19 states

Lynda Waddington
The Iowa Independent, 10 March 2010:

Iowa crop farmers are battling an old problem with potentially new and devastating repercussions for the entire state's agricultural economy: Herbicide-resistant weeds.

The phenomenon is not all that new, said Mike Owen, a weed specialist at Iowa State University who has been discussing herbicide-resistant weeds since the 1980s. But widespread adoption of certain biotech advances have made matters much more complicated.

It has only been in the last few years that crops have been selectively engineered to tolerate topical application of active ingredients in a specific herbicide. The resistance that weeds have developed to that ingredient - called glyphosate - combined with its widespread adoption, has the potential of costing Iowa producers millions of bushels of produce, and severely crippling the state's ag-based economy.

An herbicide with glyphosate was introduced by the Monsanto Co. in 1974 under the commercial name Roundup. Roughly 18 years later, the company introduced its first biotech crop, Roundup Ready soybeans, which would tolerate direct application of the glysophate-based herbicide. Modified corn was introduced two years later.

When these glyphosate-resistant crops came onto the market, many hoped and some believed that another herbicide or genetically-modified crop wouldn't need to be developed. However, over time, crop farmers encountered more and more glyphosate-resistant weeds, and no new herbicide ingredients being developed to control them. Within a decade, some environmental and consumer groups were beginning to question the safety of the Roundup Ready crop line, specifically pointing to the emergence of "super weeds."

Despite the concerns voiced by some, and increasingly aggressive tactics by Monsanto to protect its seed patents, use of the Roundup Ready crop brands were widely adopted by farmers in Iowa and throughout the nation. While each individual grower had his or her own specific reasons for changing to the Roundup Ready system, Owen believes that larger scale operations' search for simplicity and convenience as well as corporate marketing played key roles.

"[P]art of this is definitely the issue of scale. Growers are looking at time management. They are looking for simplicity and convenience because of the scale that agriculture has achieved over the past 10 years," Owen said. "We also need to look at how the marketing has influenced the growers' decisions. Certainly marketing campaigns are very influential in the decisions that growers make. They are very persuasive, and they are very pervasive in the marketplace."

From television to radio to numerous ag-specific print publications, Iowa's rural community has been bombarded by a wealth of advertising by corporations that need growers to adopt their systems. As agriculture has grown, and larger growing plots have become more time-consuming for producers, the companies have successfully highlighted the aspects of their products they believe will most appeal to producers.

"These are very powerful and very desirable things in the marketplace. Convenience and simplicity are both very useful and very important; however, they are also something that have considerable risks associated," he explained.

Although it might seem logical to point an immediate accusatory finger at either the modified crops or the herbicides as being the key forces behind the problem, Owen warns that while both might play an indirect role, neither are fully or totally to blame.

"The predominant system that has emerged in Iowa is based on glyphosate-resistant crops, and the subsequent use of glyphosate," he said. "Now, as a result of that, we are beginning to see weeds that no longer respond to that herbicide. The question becomes if this resistance is because we are planting these crops. No, because the trait that dictates resistance to glyphosate is essentially benign in the environment. Is the herbicide causing the problem? The answer to that is directly no, but indirectly yes."

If the situation cannot be fully placed on the back of the crops or herbicide, what or who is to blame?

"The who or what is the manner by which the growers decide to use the technology," he said. "Their decisions are influenced by obviously their own interpretation and assessment of the technology, but also influenced by the marketing that the corporations use to move their proprietary traits and herbicides into the grower marketplace."

While Owen has no doubt that farmers and producers are some of the best stewards of our land, water and overall environment, he is also concerned that they are not seeing the big picture when it comes to management and control of weeds.

"In relation to some of the obvious issues that reflect land and environmental quality - tillage, waterways and things like that - I think [growers] can foresee long-term problems, and they do make stewardship efforts once those issues are identified," Owen said. "In relation to weed management and the potential evolution of resistant weeds, however, I don't think they fully understand the implications of the practices that they use or anticipate the severity of the problems that may result."

To some degree that is the industry's fault, Owen said, because "historically we have always been able to come back with a better tool, a new tool, that would take care of those problems. What we've found ourselves in now is a situation where those tools are not readily available and they are not, at least in the near future, observable."

There needs to be a renewed understanding on the part of growers that "what we've got is what we've got, and there's going to be nothing - that is, the Lone Ranger isn't going to come riding in on Silver to fix the problem."

There is no new silver bullet, he said, so growers need to take care of the tools that they have.

"I think we can do this and, as it turns out, based on what I've observed, we can actually make money by using some of the practices that provide better diversity of management practices for weed control," he said. "But growers, at least at this point, just don't seem to be accepting this message for a number of different reasons."

[Chart showing soybean farmers who believe higher rates or application frequency of glyphosate is required for weed control. (Source: Iowa State University/Iowa Soybean Association)]

Although glysophate-based herbicide had been on the market for a number of years, the 1996 Field Crops Summary conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture indicated that less than 1 million pounds of the herbicide were applied to roughly 15 percent of Iowa soybean fields - a figure well below what was being used at the same time by farmers in Illinois and Indiana.

In 2006, however, use by Iowa farmers had skyrocketed to more than 12 million pounds on nearly 90 percent of all soybean acreage - and had out-paced use by any other Midwestern state known for soybean production. Not only had the percent of Iowa's land use for soybean production increased during that time frame, but the statistics clearly show that producers were more than doubling the amount of glyphosate that was initially used for weed control.

Just as diseases can evolve resistance to antibiotics, weeds can evolve resistance to herbicides, prompting more frequent application to provide adequate control and maintain crop yield potential. Glyphosate-resistant weeds are now established in 19 states and deemed a serious economic concern - both for the increased cost to destroy the weed, and for the potential to drag crop yield.

Currently there are at least 15 different types of herbicide-resistant weeds in Iowa. The first, Kochia scoparia, was reported in 1985 with a resistance to atrazine. The most widespread glyphosate-resistant weed in the state is common waterhemp, which infests an estimated 1,000 to 10,000 acres. The most recently discovered glyphosate-resistant weed, identified just last year, is giant ragweed (Ambrosia trifida). It is estimated by state weed scientists that there are 1,210 sites and more than 12,400 acres invested with herbicide resistant weeds in Iowa, and that they infest corn, railways and soybeans.

Although those figures may seem striking to a person who is not familiar with the problem of resistant weeds, the truth is that Iowa has fared much better than Southeast states. For instance, producers in Macon, Georgia abandoned about 10,000 acres of cropland in 2007 following an infestation of glyphosate-resistant Palmer amaranth, a member of the pigweed family.

"My sense is that we are going to see more weed problems if growers continue to rely only on glyphosate," said Owen. "If the only thing they are planning to do this year is use glyphosate, then I would suggest that they may have greater problems with weeds this year than what they may have had last year.!

For now, there are other options available to farmers - options they should use wisely, Owen said. Despite the initial cost of using a soil residual pre-emergent herbicide, Owen believes there is a significant yield boost associated with the application. He and his colleagues at Iowa State University have developed a 2010 Herbicide Guide for Iowa Corn and Soybean Production that outlines and highlights some of the best practices they have used for maintaining crop profits.

"Just as an estimate, if growers are only using glyphosate, and if they are making application at only particular instances, they are likely losing five or so bushels of soybeans per acre. And there are similar, if not higher, numbers of bushels of corn being lost," he said. "If you project that over all the acres - five bushels of soybeans over 9 million acres of soybeans produced - then you are looking at 45 million bushels of soybeans that may be lost because of poor timing of weed management. Although that's just a 'back-of-the-envelope' projection, it seems reasonable based on some of the modeling routines that we've done.

"Suffice it to say that it is a butt-load of money."


Monsanto 7-State Probe Threatens Profit From 93% Soybean Share

Alison Fitzgerald
Bloomberg [USA], March 10 2010:

At least seven U.S. state attorneys general are investigating whether Monsanto Co., the world's largest seed producer, has abused its market power to lock out competitors and raise prices.

Iowa and Illinois, whose antitrust probes Monsanto disclosed previously, have joined with Ohio, Texas, Virginia and two other states in a working group coordinating the inquiries, according to investigators, farmers and seed dealers. They declined to identify the sixth and seventh states.

The state investigations add to pressure on Monsanto over allegations of abusive competitive tactics. The U.S. Justice Department is probing the company's marketing practices, and DuPont Co. has accused its rival in licensing litigation of anti-competitive actions. At stake are the costs to farmers who produce $80.3 billion a year in corn and soybeans, used in products ranging from Coca-Cola to cattle feed to ethanol.

"Monsanto has become such a dominant player in the seed business that producers have real concerns that the price they pay for seed is going to be anywhere near reasonable," said John Crabtree, a spokesman for the Center for Rural Affairs in Lyons, Nebraska, a nonprofit group that provides services to farm communities. "The fear is that the sky's the limit."

Monsanto rose to dominance via its genetically engineered Roundup Ready seed line, which was in 93 percent of the soybeans and 82 percent of the corn produced in the U.S. last year. The gene Monsanto adds to the seeds allows crops to withstand use of its Roundup weed killer.

Rebates, Incentives

The states are probing whether Monsanto violated any laws by offering rebates to distributors for excluding rival seeds, imposing limits on combining the product with other genetic enhancements, or offering cash incentives to switch farmers to a more-expensive generation of seeds, according to one person involved in the probe who asked not to be named because he isn't authorized to discuss it.

The five states known to be part of the inquiry accounted for almost 39%, or $31 billion, of U.S. corn and soybeans last year, based on U.S. Department of Agriculture data. A state- level investigation, on top of the federal one, "can lengthen the lawsuit and potential settlements, and it can increase uncertainty and costs for Monsanto," said Daniel Sokol, a law professor at the University of Florida in Gainesville who edits a blog on antitrust and competition policy.

Monsanto Vice President Jim Tobin will address the concerns at a hearing March 12 in Ankeny, Iowa, where the U.S. Justice and Agriculture departments are holding a workshop on seed- industry competition. It's the first of a series of sessions the agencies are sponsoring to examine whether consolidation in agriculture is harming competition.

'Unsubstantiated Allegations'

"There have been unsubstantiated allegations of a lack of competition in the seed market for several years now," said Kelli Powers, a spokeswoman for St. Louis-based Monsanto. "We're confident an objective review will reveal competition is alive and flourishing in the seed market." Monsanto has a "broad licensing approach that is "in fact pro-competitive," she said.

"We produced millions of pages of documents" for the state working group, said Scott Partridge, a Monsanto attorney, in an interview. "For about a year now they haven't had any more questions." Seed producers and dealers say the state group has spoken to them as recently as December about their Monsanto licensing agreements.

The rebates investigators are exploring in the Monsanto case are similar to incentives that have figured in past antitrust inquiries that led to settlements, said Herb Hovenkamp a professor at the University of Iowa Law School in Iowa City and the author of "Antitrust Law," a 23-volume text.

FTC Sues Intel

The Federal Trade Commission sued Intel Corp. in December alleging it used "threats and rewards," including rebates, to coerce companies not to buy rivals' computer chips. In a separate civil dispute, Intel agreed in November, without admitting any liability or fault, to pay $1.25 billion to Advanced Micro Devices Inc. to settle allegations Intel gave discounts to customers that avoided AMD products.

Courts disagree on whether such financial incentives are anti-competitive, Hovenkamp said.

"These things have been so controversial and so heavily litigated that some firms have taken preventative steps and just gotten rid of them," Hovenkamp said.

Monsanto phased out its market-share discounts as of last year, said Powers, the spokeswoman.

Of Monsanto's $11.7 billion in revenue in the fiscal year ended Aug. 31, 2009, $7.3 billion came from sales and licensing of seeds and seed genes. Revenue grew by an annual average of 17% from 2004 to 2009, as earnings expanded eight-fold to $2.11 billion, driven by genetically engineered products and acquisitions of other seed companies.

Generic Roundup

Revenue then declined as generic rivals to Roundup flooded into the U.S. from China. In the fiscal first quarter ended Nov. 30, Monsanto had a loss of $19 million as sales declined 36% to $1.70 billion.

Monsanto lost 74 cents, or 1 percent, to close at $71.28 yesterday in New York Stock Exchange composite trading.

Showing that Monsanto engaged in anti-competitive behavior that harmed residents of their states could enable the attorneys general to demand civil monetary damages in addition to any penalties that the Justice Department may seek, Hovenkamp said.

In one soybean licensing agreement reviewed by Bloomberg, Monsanto offered the licensee financial incentives to favor Roundup Ready seeds and Roundup brand chemicals over those of competitors. The dealer's agreement with Monsanto is confidential, and he asked that his name not be used.

'You Had To'

Under the agreement, the licensee would earn a rebate of 7.5 percent of the royalty it pays Monsanto if Roundup Ready accounts for 70 percent of the dealer's annual herbicide- resistant seed sales. The rebate is halved if the Roundup Ready share is between 50 percent and 75 percent, and isn't paid at all below 50 percent.

Similar terms were in Monsanto's licensing agreements with Stine Seed Co. until Monsanto phased them out in recent years, according to Harry Stine, president and founder of the largest closely held seed company in the U.S., based in Adel, Iowa.

"In order to get the large rebate they would give you, you had to minimize your sales of other companies' seeds," Stine said. "The rebates were so large that for all practical purposes you had to do it." At one time, the requirement for earning the full rebate was as high as 90 percent, he said. Stine has a collaborative agreement to develop seeds with Monsanto, he said.

Gene Restrictions

The agreement reviewed by Bloomberg prohibited the dealer from combining the Roundup Ready trait with herbicide-tolerant traits that the licensee or other companies developed. It specifically bars the dealer from using any non-Monsanto genetic modification that makes crops tolerant to glyphosate, the herbicide found in Roundup. Such terms could be anti-competitive because Monsanto controls such a large share of the corn and soybean markets with its Roundup Ready gene, Hovenkamp said.

Monsanto's Partridge said the company routinely negotiates agreements that allow seed companies to combine Roundup Ready with genetic modifications of its competitors.

"Monsanto has a demonstrated track record of both in- licensing and out-licensing trait technologies to support the development of stacked products," he said in an interview. "We've done this more than any other company in this industry."

Monsanto is also under scrutiny because the rising price of its seeds has been a sore point for farmers, said Peter Carstensen, a antitrust professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School in Madison.

Farmers' Costs Rise

"Buying seed used to be not terribly costly," said Charles Benbrook, chief scientist at the Organic Center in Boulder, Colorado, who in December completed a study of 35 years of seed pricing. "Now farmers are locked into these high seed costs on an annual basis."

The study showed that soybean farmers spent between 4 percent and 8 percent of their farm income on seeds from 1975 through 1997. Last year, farmers who planted genetically modified soybeans spent 16.4 percent of their income on seeds, it found.

Monsanto's licensing royalty on soybean seeds with the Roundup Ready trait climbed to $15.65 for each 140,000-seed bag last year from about $6.50 a decade ago, according to the owner of one seed company. A bag of Roundup Ready seed sells for about $35 and can plant three-quarters of an acre (0.3 hectare). He asked not to be named because the terms are confidential under his licensing agreement. Monsanto sells him seeds including the genetic trait, which he then reproduces and sells under his own brand, the person said.

'Triple Stack' Corn

Farmers who adopt Monsanto's Roundup Ready 2 Yield technology, being introduced this year as a replacement for Roundup Ready, will have to pay a royalty of as much as $39.75 a bag, according to documents reviewed by Bloomberg.

Cal Dalton, a farmer in Pardeeville, Wisconsin, said he switched to a competitor last year when Monsanto sought a $30 price increase, to $210 a bag, for its "triple stack" corn seed, a line that resists glyphosate, rootworm, and corn borers. Monsanto still earned a royalty on the purchase because the seeds he bought carried the Roundup Ready trait, he said.

The list price for Monsanto's "Yieldgard VT Triple" brand of triple-stack corn seed rose to about $277.50 a bag this year from $201.83 in 2008, based on seed prices per acre provided by Powers, the spokeswoman. She declined to discuss prices or royalties individual customers pay.

Roundup Ready 2

In the licensing agreement reviewed by Bloomberg, Monsanto agreed to rebate to the dealer as much as 4% of the dealer's royalty if he developed a plan to move his customers from Roundup Ready to Roundup Ready 2. Monsanto says Roundup Ready 2 soybean seeds boost crop yields by 4.7 bushels an acre compared with traditional Roundup Ready. Soybeans yielded on average 44 bushels an acre last year, according to the USDA.

Stine, who said he's been on conference calls with the state attorneys general group to discuss the Monsanto investigation, hasn't made up his mind whether Monsanto's dealings are anticompetitive.

"On the one hand," Monsanto is "hard to get along with and very restrictive," Stine said. "However, in general, their traits and products have been superior to other companies'."

--With assistance from Lorraine Woellert in Washington and Jack Kaskey in New York. Editors: Gary Putka, Robert L. Simison

To contact the reporter on this story: Alison Fitzgerald in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Robert Blau in Washington at


Bayer ordered to pay farmer
• $1 million is tab for modified rice

Arkansas Online [USA], 10 March 2010:

A jury in Woodruff County Circuit Court decided Monday evening that Bayer CropScience LP must pay more than $1 million in compensatory and punitive damages to Lenny Joe Kyle, a rice farmer, for losses he sustained when Bayer's experimental variety of genetically modified rice infiltrated the rice supply.

The jury awarded Kyle $532,643 in compensatory damages, and $500,000 in punitive damages. This is the third verdict against Bayer CropScience in rice lawsuits, but the first to award punitive damages.

"Obviously, we're satisfied that [the] jury paid careful attention and understood the facts and decided that exemplary, or punitive, damages were warranted over and above the compensation, and we think that's significant. Punitive damages in Arkansas... [log-in subscription required to read full story]


1 million signatures sought for GM moratorium in Europe, 10 March 2010:

The European Commission has just approved growing genetically modified crops for the first time in 12 years, putting the GM lobby's profits over public concerns -- 60% of Europeans feel we need more information before growing foods that could threaten our health and environment.

A new initiative allows 1 million EU citizens a unique chance to make official requests of the European Commission. Let's build a million voices for a ban on GM foods until the research is done. Sign the petition below and forward this email to friends and family. Don't forget to include your address so that all of our signatures count for the citizens' initiative.

To the President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso: We call on you to put a moratorium on the introduction of GM crops into Europe and set up an independent, ethical, scientific body to research the impact of GM crops and determine regulation.

Sign the petition here:


Agriculture Minister: No GM Crops Will Be Grown in Bulgaria

Sofia News Agency [Bulgaria], March 9 2010:

Bulgaria Agriculture Minister, Miroslav Naydenov, has stated that Geneticaaly Modified foods will not be allowed "to reach Bulgarians' tables".

v Naydenov stated Tuesday that all the European requirements will be introduced into the Bulgarian legislation, but added that the amendments to the GMO Act will also ban GM crops from being grown in the country.

"We will give sufficient guarantees to the Bulgarian society, that we will not allow the cultivation of genetically modified crops, as this is the great concern," Naydenov said.

He confirmed that if anyone in Bulgaria wants to apply to grow GM crops the Agriculture Ministry would have to give permission, something that he added has not and will not be done.


Switzerland stands strong against GE

Greenpeace International, 9 March 2010:

Zurich, Switzerland - The Swiss Parliament has just extended its ban on the cultivation of genetically engineered (GE) plants for three more years. Originally enacted in 2005, Switzerland will stay GE-free until at least 2013.

The original moratorium was backed by Swiss voters in a referendum 5 years ago. Supporters of the ban included farmers, who were concerned about the impacts of GE crops on organic produce. Our Swiss office has been supporting these farmers and Swiss consumers to ensure the country remains GE-free. This is a significant national victory, but more than that it is an example for the rest of the EU. It sends a strong message to EU Commission President Barroso, who is clearly trying to force GE crops into the EU and is trying to bypass standard authorisation procedures. The EU needs to follow the Swiss example by implementing a moratorium on all GE food in order to protect the environment, agriculture and people.

Ban Barroso

The recent backdoor approval of the GE potato, by President Barroso, has met a wave of strong opposition from EU member-states. The governments of Greece, Austria, Luxembourg, Italy, Hungary and France have all publicly announced that they will not allow the GE potato to be grown in their countries. While six EU member-states (Austria, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary and Luxembourg) have bans in place on GE maize cultivation.

Genetically engineered failure

GE-crops are part of an outdated intensive agriculture model that promote the use of environmentally harmful chemicals while failing to generate high yields or provide solutions for hunger and climate change. Their costly development as 'solutions' to world hunger or climate change masks the real socio-economic, environmental and political causes of these problems. GE crops also pose unpredictable risks to human and animal health.

In 2009, GE cultivation in the European Union decreased by 11 percent. Accross the world farmers are abandoning GE crops due to both high prices and lack of demand. Many farmers are instead turning to ecological farming. They do not want to be at the mercy of bullying multinationals which are threatening to take control of our food.

We are committed to ecological farming worldwide: farming that protects soil, water, the climate, promotes biological diversity and does not contaminate the environment with chemicals and GE-organisms.


Monsanto admits their technology doesn't work!

Greenpeace web log, 9 March 2010:

Reyes, one of our agriculture campaigners in India, shares her immediate thoughts on this 'first-of-its-kind' admission by Monsanto

This was my Saturday's lyrics to breakfast in sunny Bangalore: Monsanto has decided to tell the truth about something: its technology doesn't work!, reports The Hindu. I'm going to need a second cup of chai to digest this, Monsanto speaking honest!? Indian farmers and scientist have been seeing this in their Bt cotton fields for a few years: pests become resistant to Monsanto's genetically engineered toxins and thus farmers apply huge amounts of pesticides. Monsanto has always denied this, has the recent massive rejection of its Bt brinjal in India woken up its senses?

For years Monsanto has been shouting that the main - read only - benefit of Bt cotton in India (the only genetically engineered crop planted here) was the reduction in pesticide use. Well, it seems they have just admitted this is not true. Pink bollworm, a serious pest for cotton farmers in India, is now resistant to the toxin in Bt cotton. Meaning that this bug is now sort of a super-pest that farmers will have to work harder and harder to avoid.

What is Monsanto's solution to this? Maybe you have guessed it: use Monsanto's next weapon - same technology - Bt cotton 2.0. With double the amount of toxins (and almost double the price of non-Bt seeds). Hmmm? I need another cup of chai! This is looking too much like an arms-race, which due to rapid pest evolution of resistance could reach a battle of infinite proportions... followed closely by Monsanto's profits, of course. Indigestible! -my stomach shouts-, because along with Monsanto's profits from selling their special seeds I see also the struggle of debt and the threats to the livelihoods of the many farmers I've met.

Bt cotton troubles don't end here. A few weeks ago, a pro-GE scientist from the Central Institute of Cotton Research (CICR) in Nagpur, Dr. Kranthi, spoke about other 'wonders' of Bt cotton. According to Dr. Kranthi, Bt cotton has increased, yes increased, the use of dangerous pesticides and now other ferocious pests, like mealybug (never seen before by Indian farmers), are destroying the harvests. Wonderful! Monsanto makes money and the farmers risk huge debts and family health from the massive use of pesticides. My breakfast is tasting very bitter this morning.

But I have also spoken to many Indian farmers that are not so desperate. Last November I spent a few weeks travelling around the cotton fields of Andhra Pradesh. In the mist of a lot of very worried Bt cotton farmers (drought, debts, mealybugs, loans at 50% interest rates, etc), I also met many more cheerful farmers -- the organic ones!

Organic farmers work with several NGOs and farmers associations to develop ways to fight pests without health risks and without money! Yes, without or with very little money. Chetna, one of these farmer associations, support farmers in Karimnagar and Adilabad (very poor areas in Andhra Pradesh) and work with them in making the whole farm, not just the crop, resistant to pests. India is so lucky too, the Neem tree, a wonder of anti-insecticide and many other medicinal properties, grows naturally in almost every farm... its fruits are free and very effective in protecting against pests. Chetna and the rests of the organisations promoting ecological cotton farming, know that the answer is not in a single bullet. The answer is biodiversity - growing a variety of different natural strains and using methods that deal with pests ecologically and with very little investment (and thus less debt for farmers) - like using the Neem tree fruits.

There is hope out there in the dry cotton fields thanks to the hard work of these organic farmers' associations and thanks to Indian biodiversity. My Indian breakfast dosa was a bit hard to swallow, but ended with a very sweet organic chutney!


Barroso's question time

Honor Mahony
Behind the Scenes, EU Observer, 10 March 2010:

"I don't have any position in favour or against GMOs," said Barroso in response to a question about why he was "pushing" GMOs onto an unwilling public. The college makes decisions only on the basis of the opinion its scientific advisory board. A cluster of Greens holding placards saying "For a GMO-free Europe," hissed and booed as appropriate.

There were about 30 of them. They roughly tripled participation in Question Hour. Alas, they proved to be a one-issue lot and were soon gone.


9 March 2010

Monsanto May Lose Bid to Halt Argentinean Soy Imports

Stephanie Bodoni
Bloomberg, 9 March 2010:

Monsanto Co., the world's biggest seed company, can't rely on a European patent for its Roundup Ready soybeans to block imports of Argentinean soy meal, an adviser to the European Union's highest court said.

The European patent for the trait that makes soybeans resistant to some herbicides doesn't extend to soy meal made from the patented seeds, Advocate General Paolo Mengozzi of the European Court of Justice said in a non-binding opinion today.

v Argentina, the world's third-biggest soybean exporter after Brazil and the U.S., is one of the few countries where Monsanto doesn't hold a patent on the herbicide-resistant seeds. A ruling the European patent is enforceable may allow the company to block imports of Argentinean soy meal and related products.

"This is quite a blow to Monsanto," said Stijn Debaene, a partner at Field Fisher Waterhouse LLP in Brussels who isn't involved in the case. The advocate general "is quite severe."

Monsanto said it was "disappointed" by today's outcome and will wait for the court's final decision. Rulings tend to follow within six months of an opinion.

"The only reason we have this case is because of a very arbitrary and controversial decision 15 years ago to throw out all existing patent applications in Argentina," denying the company its local patent on Roundup Ready soybeans, Lee Quarles, a Monsanto spokesman, said in an e-mailed statement. "We have tried to find ways to be properly compensated for quite a while. This was one of those steps."

Amsterdam harbor

During 2005 and 2006, St. Louis-based Monsanto had shipments of soy meal from Argentina impounded in Amsterdam harbor. Tests showed the products contained some of the patented seed traits and Monsanto sued the importers for infringement. A Dutch court hearing the dispute in 2008 sought the EU tribunal's guidance.

While Monsanto argued the patented trait in the soybeans remains under its protection after the beans have been processed into soy meal, the importers argued the patent's scope isn't that wide under EU biotechnology rules.

"The protection for patents that cover genetic sequences is limited to situations where the genetic information is currently performing the functions described," Mengozzi wrote. The Luxembourg-based EU court typically follows the advice.

Patent Limits

"There is a limit to how far Monsanto can stretch its patent protection," said John J. Allen, a partner in the Amsterdam office of law firm NautaDutilh who represented the importers. The suit against the importers "is not the right way to settle Monsanto's dispute with Argentina."

Unlike in Argentina, Monsanto is compensated for the use of its patents in other countries, such as in Brazil, because of its patents or accords with farmers. In 2008, 68.5 percent of Argentine exports of soybeans and soy products went to the EU, according to data compiled by the Rosario Cereals Exchange.

"If the court decided that Monsanto can invoke its rights in the EU against soy meal originating from Argentina, nothing could stop it to then use its rights against soy meal coming from other countries," said Mengozzi.

Ian Karet, an intellectual property lawyer with Linklaters in London who isn't involved in the case said the opinion could be "quite important" for biotechnology patents because it "has the capacity to restrict significantly the scope of protection for genetic sequences."

The case is C-428/08 Monsanto Technology LLC v. Cefetra BV, Cefetra Feed Service BV, Cefetra Futures BV and State of Argentina and Monsanto Technology LLC v. Vopak Agencies Rotterdam BV and Alfred C. Toepfer International GmbH.

--With assistance from Jack Kaskey in New York, Erik Larson in London and Rodrigo Orihuela in Buenos Aires. Editors: Christopher Scinta, Peter Chapman.

To contact the reporter on this story: Stephanie Bodoni in Luxembourg at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Anthony Aarons at


Land grabbing in Latin America

GRAIN [USA], 9 March 2010:

Communities in Latin America and around the world are faced with a new kind of invasion of their territories. Today foreign investors, whether agribusiness companies from Asia and the Gulf or US and European fund managers, are rushing to take over farmland in Latin America. While media attention has focused on land deals in Africa, at least as much money and more projects are in operation in Latin America, where investors claim that their farmland investments are more secure and less controversial - ignoring the struggles over access to land being waged in practically every country on the continent. These land grabbers operate from a distance and wear a halo of neutrality. They are more difficult to identify and the legal mechanisms that communities can utilise to defend against dispossession, devastation or pollution are not clear. This latest wave of invasions creates new challenges for communities and social movements in Latin America.

Read this issue of Against the Grain here:


Greens criticise Barroso

EuroPolitics, 9 March 2010:

The Greens in the European Parliament denounced, on 9 March in Strasbourg, the European Commission president's "rush" to authorise the cultivation of a transgenic potato, by holding up signs stating 'For a GMO-free Europe' at the plenary session. For the first time in 12 years, the Commission has just authorised the cultivation of a genetically modified plant, a potato developed by the German firm BASF, eliciting an outcry among ecologists (see Europolitics3930).

"I salute your group's enthusiasm. You have a very strong position against GMOs, which is your right," said José Manuel Barroso. "Personally, I do not have a position either for or against [...]. The Commission goes by the opinions of the European Food Safety Authority," he explained. The EU countries are very divided over GMOs, recognised Barroso. If no majority emerges, the Commission has to take a decision on whether or not to authorise them. At the same time, the rules are going to be made more flexible. "The Commission plans to propose to give countries the possibility to cultivate such crops or not, as they wish," he added. "If we start putting a finger in nationalisation, we won't have a European policy," warned French Green MEP José Bové. The Greens denounce the Commission's 'fait accompli' approach.


Greens protest genetically modified potato go-ahead

Agence France Presse (via Google News), 9 March 2010:

STRASBOURG - Green members of the European parliament stood en masse and held up placards Tuesday in protest against the EU Commission approval of the cultivation of genetically modified potatoes.

The deputies help up placards that read "For a GMO free Europe" as one of their number, Rebecca Harms, berated European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso for last week's decision.

German MEP Harms called it a "risky strategy that will not find support" among EU citizens.

"There is no reason to authorise this GMO potato, we don't need it," she said in the protest during question-time in the parliament.

Barroso congratulated the Greens for their "enthusiasm".

"You have a position very strongly against GMOs, that is your right," he said, sometimes shouting over the howls of protest.

He said he had "no prejudice in favour or against GMOs" and merely took advice on their safety from the European Food Safety Agency.

The commission last week approved the cultivation of the Amflora potato, developed by German chemical giant BASF, for industrial use in paper making but not for human consumption.

Modified vegetables and cereals, so-called "Frankenfoods", have long been a matter of fierce debate in Europe.

Some genetically modified products have been approved for sale in Europe but before the BASF potato only MON 810, a strain of genetically modified maize made by Monsanto, had been authorised for cultivation.

The EU's food safety agency has said the Amflora potato, designed to produce industrial starch, is safe for all uses.

But the potato contains a marker gene which is resistant to antibiotics, fuelling fears over the risks of contamination for conventional varieties.

Greenpeace has said the decision to allow the potato to be grown in Europe was shocking and "puts the environment and public health at risk".

Barroso recognised that "there are deep differences among our member states" on the GMO issue.

Where there is no majority, his commission, the EU's executive arm, is authorised to take the decision itself and it had decided "unanimously" to approve its cultivation, he said.

"We believe all scientific issues have been fully addressed," he added.

At the same time he said the intention was to give individual EU nations a choice on whether to cultivate authorised GMOs on their soil.

At present governments must give a reason for blocking the growing of such crops.

Six nations -- Austria, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary and Luxembourg -- have banned the planting of the MON 810 maize.


GMO ban raises scientific, economic questions

World Radio Switzerland, 9 March 2010:

The House of Representatives has voted to extend the moratorium on the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in farming until 2013. The moratorium was originally introduced by popular vote in 2005 and was due to expire this year. Missed opportunity or sensible pause while we wait for the science to come in? Why even pursue research that's so unpopular? What about nations such as China who are going full-steam ahead with GMO research? WRS's Pete Forster invited Marianne Kunzle, head of anti-GMO and sustainable agriculture campaign for Greenpeace, and Professor Denis Monard, President of the Swiss Academy of Sciences to debate the issue:

[Follow link above for audio version of debate]


President Parvanov vetoes the amendments, calls for national referendum on GMOs

Focus News Agency [Bulgaria], 9 March 2010:

Sofia - Bulgaria's President Georgi Parvanov yesterday opposed the lenient regime for the use of GMOs in the country, pointing out he would resort to vetoing the proposed legislation, if amendments were not stringent enough. Officials from his administration said the head of state was ready to call on the Bulgarian Parliament to hold a national referendum on the issue and give a more democratic and justified solution to the problem.

"Our society sees the release of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) as a threat to human health, Bulgarian nature and the development of organic farming." President Parvanov said in a statement.

He added that "the public expressed concerns and a principled position on the legislative framework for the use of GMOs in Bulgaria - the policy should remain conservative and restrictive, based on the principles of prudence and precaution."


EU commission under fire over GM potato
• A row has flared in parliament following the commission's decision to allow a genetically modified potato to be grown in some EU countries.

The Parliament [EU], 9 March 2010:

This month's decision comes after a 13-year campaign by the German chemical company BASF.

But commission president Jose Manuel Barroso was jeered when he sought to defend the move during a lively parliamentary Q&A session in Strasbourg on Tuesday.

MEPs, some of whom held up posters which read "For a GMO-free Europe", said the commission had "failed to follow proper parliamentary procedure" by not consulting the assembly before reaching its decision.

SNP deputy Ian Hudghton, a member of the Greens/EFA group, told this website, "Public opinion is massively against genetically modified crops and we oppose this decision because there is insufficient evidence that this particular strain of potato is not harmful."

In his reply in the debate, Barroso said that while groups such as the Greens "take a strong position" on the GM issue, he was "neither for nor against" genetically modified food.

He said, "I am not prejudiced one way or the other. It depends on the independent, scientific evidence we are given. We will accept something if there is no scientific evidence for not doing so."

BASF says that while starch from the GM potato Amflora will not be used in human food, it may use the product in animal feed.

What particularly worries opponents of GM technology, however, is that Amflora carries an extra gene that makes the potato resistant to some antibiotics.


Industry warns of new EU feed import disruption

Charlie Dunmore
Reuters, 9 March 2010:

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union faces renewed disruption to animal feed supplies this year unless policymakers find a rapid solution to traces of genetically modified organisms in soy imports, industry groups have warned.

Last autumn, imports of soybeans from the United States came to a near standstill because of the EU's zero-tolerance rule on shipments containing tiny traces of GMOs not yet approved in the bloc. Soy is a key primary material in animal feed production.

"This spring new GM varieties will be commercially sown in north and south America which are unlikely to be approved in the EU by October," Klaus-Dieter Schumacher, head of markets at European grain trade association Coceral, told Reuters.

"This could lead to a similar situation as last autumn, and the need for a solution is still as urgent as it was then."

John Dalli, the EU health commissioner who oversees EU GMO policy, said last week he would propose a solution to the so-called "low-level presence" of unauthorized GMOs in imports "in the coming weeks".

The executive European Commission will most likely propose new technical guidance under existing EU rules on food and feed imports, telling member states how to interpret the zero-tolerance rule when testing shipments, Schumacher believes.

This could provide a small margin of tolerance for the backlog of GM crop varieties approved in other countries for which EU authorizations have been submitted but not yet granted.

But such a technical approach will only provide a stop-gap solution, and the EU will have to agree a lasting policy on the low-level presence of GMOs in imports, argues Alexander Doering, secretary-general of EU feed manufacturers' federation Fefac.

"The most obvious way would be by amending the EU's GM food and feed legislation," he told Reuters. "It won't be quick, but we have to start now as there's no proof that the EU will ever clear the backlog of applications."

Others fear that opening up the bloc's GMO legislation to lengthy and impassioned debate by governments and the European Parliament will do more harm than good.

"We're talking about a trade distortion that forces EU livestock producers to pay a premium for imported protein supplies," said Pekka Pesonen, secretary-general of the EU farmers union Copa-Cogeca.

"We need to keep this issue separate from the wider question of GM acceptance in Europe. We don't favor opening up the legislation just for this," he said.

EU importers face higher costs for sourcing animal feed free of unapproved GMOs from major suppliers such as the U.S. and Brazil, as traders are forced to keep shipments bound for Europe separate from other global supply routes to avoid contamination.

Copa-Cogeca estimated that this added between 3.5 billion euros and 5.5 billion euros to the cost of feed imports last year.

Unless a lasting solution is found, the impact on EU livestock production could be serious and irreversible, Fefac's Doering warned.

"Failure to solve the issue will seriously undermine our competitiveness and wipe out individual producers in the short-term," he said. "But ultimately it could result in the export of EU livestock production overseas." (Editing by Jon Boyle)


EU court adviser urges limits to bio-patent protection

Emma Barraclough, London
Managing Intellectual Property [UK], 9 March 2010:

A senior legal adviser to Europe's highest court says that protection for patents over a DNA sequence should be limited to situations where the genetic information is performing the functions described in the patent

In his opinion in a dispute between Monsanto and a group of Argentine soya growers, Advocate General Mengozzi advised the Court to rule that patented DNA can only be protected as a chemical substance where it performs the function for which it is patented.

This is the first case where the Court of justice has been asked to interpret the scope of EU legislation on the protection of biotechnological inventions.

Monsanto's RoundUp ready soya

The dispute began when agrichemical company Monsanto asked a Dutch court to bock imports of soy meal into the EU from Argentina. Monsanto's analysis of the soya revealed that it contained traces of the DNA characteristics of Roundup-ready soya - a herbicide-resistant genetically modified plant developed by Monsanto.

In 1996 the US company was granted a European patent over the DNA sequence, although its Round-up ready soya is not grown in the EU.

The Dutch Court has asked the Court of Justice to clarify the extent to which biotechnological inventions - and, in particular, patents relating to genetic information - are protected in the EU.

It asked: "Must Article 9 of Directive 98/44/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 6 July 1998 on the legal protection of biotechnological inventions be interpreted as meaning that the protection provided under that article can be invoked even in a situation such as that in the present proceedings, in which the product (the DNA sequence) forms part of a material imported into the European Union (soy meal) and does not perform its function at the time of the alleged infringement, but has indeed performed its function (in the soy plant) or would possibly again be able to perform its function after it has been isolated from that material and inserted into the cell of an organism?"

Now the Advocate General, who advises the Court but whose opinions are not binding on it, has said that patent protection should not be available in this situation.

He argues that to protect all the DNA sequence's possible functions, even those not identified at the time when the patent was applied for, would mean recognising patents as covering functions unknown at the time of the patent application. This, he says, would make mere discoveries patentable, in breach of the basic principles of patent protection.

In response to a second question from the Dutch court, the Advocate General says that member state legislation cannot offer wider protection to biotechnological inventions than that set out in Directive 98/44/EC, which he describes as an exhaustive body of rules.

He also says that the fact that Monsanto's European patent was awarded before the Directive came into force is irrelevant to the case.


Legal setback for Monsanto in Argentine soy dispute

Reuters, 9 March 2010:

LUXEMBOURG - U.S. biotech giant Monsanto's (MON.N) EU patent on its Roundup Ready soybean seeds should not extend to cover imports of processed soybean meal into the 27-nation bloc, an adviser to Europe's top court said.

The opinion from Advocate General Paolo Mengozzi must still be confirmed by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in a final ruling. But it is a setback for Monsanto in its legal battle to secure royalty payments on the use of its seeds.

At stake is more than 3 billion euros ($4.1 billion) of annual trade in Argentine soymeal to Europe. Argentina is the world's top soymeal supplier and the European Union is its No. 1 client.

Monsanto filed a lawsuit in the Netherlands against Dutch soymeal importer Cefetra after the biotech firm's patented Roundup Ready DNA sequence was discovered in three soymeal shipments from Argentina in 2005 and 2006.

In 2008 a court in The Hague asked the ECJ for an opinion on whether the presence of Monsanto's patented DNA sequence in the imported soymeal constituted a breach of its EU patent.

"The protection for a patent relating to a DNA sequence is limited to the situation in which the genetic information is currently performing the function described in the patent," the European Court of Justice said in a statement on Tuesday.

Protecting Monsanto's patented DNA sequence where it is "a kind of residue" in products would mean "an unspecified number of derivatives products would come under the control of whoever had patented the DNA sequence of a plant", the court adviser said.

Patenting mere discoveries -- such as the isolation of a DNA sequence without any indication of a function -- would breach the basic principles of EU patent law, the adviser said.

EU legislation on the patentability of genetically modified organisms "constitutes an exhaustive body of rules" that precludes individual member states from offering wider patent protection, the statement added.

Monsanto has no patent in Argentina but nearly all local farmers plant the seeds, genetically modified to resist the company's Roundup herbicide. Some farmers buy certified seed, but others buy contraband or legally extract and reuse the GM seeds without paying royalties.

(Reporting by Michele Sinner, writing by Charlie Dunmore, editing by Dale Hudson)


8 March 2010

Bulgaria: President May Call for National Referendum on GMOs

Sofia News Agency, 8 March 2010:

Bulgaria President Georgi Parvanov has stated that the amendments to the GMO Act should include strict safeguards to protect Bulgaria from contamination.

Parvanov outlined what he believes need to be included in the GMO Act. He confirmed with that he will veto the amendments if they are not stringent enough. He added that he may also use his right to call on the Bulgarian Parliament to hold a national referendum on the issue for or against retention of the prohibitions on release into the environment of GMOs.

"Our society perceives the release of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) as a threat to human health, Bulgarian nature and the development of organic farming." President Parvanov said in his statement.

He added that "the public expressed concerns and a principled position on the legislative framework for the use of GMOs in Bulgaria - the policy should remain conservative and restrictive, based on the principles of prudence and precaution."


Monsanto watch: Targeting American farmers with lawyers, fear and money

Bob Cesca
Wallet Pop [USA], 8 March 2010:

One of the most important components in the success or failure of a major corporation (or "person," according to the Supreme Court) is its ability to legally pursue anyone who dares to challenge its hugeness.

Several weeks ago, after writing about agricultural giant Monsanto, arguably the "big" in Big Agribusiness, I spoke with an Iowa farmer who recounted the story of how a protracted battle with Monsanto practically destroyed his life. Another notch on the corporation's billy club.

After confronting the wrath of Monsanto, Scott McAllister went from owning a prosperous farm in Mt. Pleasant with $3 million in gross annual sales to a divorced equipment salesman with health issues and a mountain of debt.

Like McAllister, farmers too often slip into the cross hairs of the $10 million Monsanto legal team, featuring a staff of at least 75 people, not including outsourced private investigators, all tasked with crushing everything in their path. The most often cited trespass against Monsanto is patent-infringement involving its seeds. It might sound innocuous enough -- not unlike the recording industry's pursuit of file sharing internet downloaders -- but this is actually very serious business, and too many farmers have been ruined in the process.

Monsanto has somehow managed to patent organic life forms: genetically modified organisms or GMOs. Seeds. They also control 90% of the GMO market, so for a farmer to successfully compete, he or she is usually corralled by a hyper-competitive marketplace into buying Monsanto seeds. It's a monopoly, basically, and the Obama Justice Department is rightfully investigating Monsanto for anti-trust violations.

Nevertheless, if a farmer wants to recycle seeds from a previous crop and plant the seeds in a new crop, a process known as "seed cleaning," he or she can be sued by Monsanto for patent infringement. The corporation insists that farmers purchase all new seeds for each crop, and, legally, Monsanto is allowed to get away with this.

Furthermore, if you're a neighboring farmer and Monsanto seeds are naturally blown or scattered onto your farm, Monsanto can sue you, too. After all, you could be stealing their property. In this case, seeds.

The other big no-no is what's called "brown bagging" -- storing Monsanto seeds and potentially re-selling them.

Monsanto admits to investigating around 500 farmers every year for these alleged violations and often employs nefarious tactics in the process such as undercover surveillance, trespassing and intimidation. The Seed Police, they're often called. Settlements, which are how these investigations are usually resolved, range anywhere from tens of thousands to millions of dollars, with the largest settlement amount topping $3 million.

"I was doing very well at it, farming 1,200 acres of ground and was enjoying being prosperous," McAllister told me. "Then Monsanto bought the industry's major corn genetic supplier, Holden's Foundation Seed in Williamsburg, Iowa for the sum of $980 million."

Monsanto gathered all of the farmers and urged them to sign a lengthy and binding contract if they wanted access to the GMO corn seed. They had 60 days to think it over. If not, they'd be left behind in a rapidly advancing marketplace for genetically enhanced corn (contract farms using the seed could and would crush non-Monsanto farms). There was no alternative. Sign with Monsanto or shut down.

So McAllister signed. A move he would quickly regret. Almost right away, the terms of contract began to look more and more constricting and suspicious, so he decided to gather some other farmers and attempt to back out of the agreement.

And that's when he became sandwiched in the middle of the corporate battle between Monsanto and DuPont's Pioneer Hi-Bred International. In order to prove that Monsanto was engaging in monopolistic practices, DuPont's law firm subpoenaed McAllister's contract, so, consequently, Monsanto began to investigate McAllister.

"January of 2000 rolls around and I was late on royalty payments," McAllister continued, "and then they sued me and pulled my license agreements."

That's when McAllister decided to back down and, with DuPont's help, McAllister made an attempt to settle the thing and move on, but it wasn't in the cards. "So after many futile attempts, they refused to settle and kept insisting I was 'brown bagging' beans, which never happened." He says that Monsanto was more interested in making an example of him.

From here, McAllister's story gets really creepy. He alleges that between September, 2000 and June, 2001, Monsanto essentially stalked him. "They started following me, my family, my employees, my customers, and were interrogating people the about my business, telling them I was going to jail and they would too if they didn't cooperate." McAllister claims that investigators broke into his house, tapped his phones and "tailed his vehicles."

"Any allegation of phone tapping, trespassing, or any other illegal activity is simply not true," Monsanto's Mica Veihman wrote to me in an e-mail. "We do not break the law."

Surveillance by Monsanto via a subcontracted private investigation firm, McDowell & Associates out of St. Louis, is business as usual. Court records show numerous other instances of this kind of behavior. In one case, Monsanto's private investigators in produced 17 surveillance videos in the process of tracking the activities of workers on a co-op farm.

According to Vanity Fair, a small mom and pop general store owner, Gary Rinehart, was accosted in his store by a Monsanto agent who warned him, "Monsanto is big. You can't win. We will get you. You will pay."

"We treat farmers with respect and integrity during an investigation," Veihman wrote. "Not only because it's the right thing to do, but because it's bad business not to."

The Monsanto posture in these investigations appears to be less about treating farmers with respect and integrity and more about treating farmers as "guilty until proven innocent -- or coerced to settle."

Vanity Fair reported:

As interviews and reams of court documents reveal, Monsanto relies on a shadowy army of private investigators and agents in the American heartland to strike fear into farm country. They fan out into fields and farm towns, where they secretly videotape and photograph farmers, store owners, and co-ops; infiltrate community meetings; and gather information from informants about farming activities.

When I mentioned these allegations to Veihman, she noted, "Our investigators are persistent in contacting and following up with farmers, and people view this diligence differently." Indeed.

However, Veihman and Monsanto don't dispute or deny the facts surrounding the verbal accosting of store owner Rinehart and the threat: "Monsanto is big. You can't win. We will get you. You will pay." Monsanto does suggest on its website that Rinehart became loud and angry, and that the confrontation ended in "less than two minutes." It turns out, by the way, that Monsanto's investigators were targeting the wrong man. To date, I'm not aware of any formal apology issued from Monsanto to Rinehart.

For a small town business owner like Scott McAllister, the process of corporate intimidation and legal wrangling versus a $10 million legal juggernaut exacted an enormous toll.

"I finally got tired of all the BS and negotiated a $1 million judgement to stay out of court in St. Louis. I wish I had went ahead now, but I lost everything, between legal bills and Monsanto. The farm, my house, all my vehicles -- everything."

McAllister said that he's suffering from stress-related heart problems, on top of Parkinson's Disease, and added that his wife has left him. "I live in my shop and sell farm equipment for $10 an hour."

The argument I hear most often in support of Monsanto is that its technology helps to mitigate starvation in poor and developing nations. Fair point, but genetically modified food could be a serious health risk, according to a recent study, say nothing of how the pest and weed resistant seeds are fostering mutations -- super weeds that could infest and destroy non-GMO crops. But let's concede for argument's sake that the science is still out on the negative health effects of GMO crops. How, then, does Monsanto's business of intimidating and crushing American farmers actually help to feed starving people elsewhere? It doesn't. It's reasonable, then, to suggest that Monsanto can (health aside) continue to feed starving people without destroying small farmers who dare to rub the corporate giant the wrong way.

"Monsanto will not be happy until they have complete control of the seed industry, and they are almost there," McAllister concluded. And unless something is done to blunt their most notorious business practices, they'll surely collect many more notches in the process.


A big week for GMOs

Sandy Bauers
Philadelphia Enquirer (via The Olympian] [USA], 8 March 2010:

News about genetically-engineered crops - also known as GMOs, for genetically-modified organisms - seemed to be growing like weeds last week.

On Monday, it was the corn and soybeans grown on national wildlife refuges. Three groups sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, seeking to stop the practice of allowing farmers to plant GMO crops at the Bombay Hook refuge in Delaware.

Wednesday, GMO alfalfa took center stage. It was the final day of a public comment period on a draft assessment by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to allow unrestricted use of that crop. If so, it would be the first perennial crop to be genetically engineered, which adds to the concern of critics. With crops like corn and soybeans, the plants die every year. But critics worry that perennial GMO alfalfa could take over. (Seattle Times reporter Melissa Anderson had an interesting story on the issue last week:

Friday, it was the turn of GMO sugar beets. Environmental groups were in U.S. District Court, arguing that planting, production and use of genetically engineered (GE) sugar beets and sugar beet seed should be halted until the federal government completes the environmental review process. They included the Center for Food Safety, High Mowing Organic Seeds, Organic Seed Alliance and the Sierra Club.

Again, the concern was unplanned spread of the GMO crops. The attorneys argued that the beets might cross-pollinate with close relatives, including Swiss chard and table beets. They said that in places like Oregon's Willamette Valley, that would threaten the crops of nearby organic farmers. Sugar beet pollen, evolved to disperse over as wide an area as possible on the wind, is extremely light, according to lawyers for EarthJustice. A recent USDA study found that the pollen may travel more than 12 miles, they said.

However, other court filings contended that a ban could hurt farmers, U.S. sugar supply, seed prices, processors such as American Crystal Sugar Co. and Monsanto, which derives millions of dollars in revenue from licensing the herbicide-resistant technology to seed companies, Bloomberg News reported. Sugar beets, grown on 1.3 million acres in 10 states, provide half the nation's sugar supply, according to the Sugar Industry Biotech Council.

Monsanto has touted the seeds' benefits, saying they help production. The seeds are "Roundup Ready," which means farmers can spray the weedkiller, Roundup, without hurting the plants.

Others argue that the widespread use of Roundup is creating "superweeds" that are resistant to it, leading to the use of more aggressive - and more hazardous - substances.

Visit Sandy Bauers' blog at


Political hot potato

Nick Jacobs
EU Observer, 8 March 2010:

[Photo caption: Is the EU at a turning point on GMO crops?]

Last week, the EU issued its first authorisation for cultivation of a genetically modified plant (GMO) in 12 years. BASF's Amflora potato variety quickly became the most famous spud since Toy Story's Mr Potato Head.

The potato, engineered for enhanced starch content and antibiotic resistance, now joins an insecticide-emitting maize variety (MON810) on the lonely list of genetically modified crops which EU farmers are licensed to grow.

Simultaneously, Health Commissioner John Dalli unveiled an interlinking development with much broader consequences. The Commission will come forward with plans for devolving decision-making on GMO cultivation back to member states by this summer.

While rubber-stamping the GMO potato with one hand, Brussels is using its other to hold out the promise to member states that they will soon be allowed a permanent derogation from growing it.

Walking the GMO tightrope

Dalli and Commission President Barroso (who is at the heart of the plan), are clearly engaged in a delicate balancing act.

Sitting on their desks are a list of GMO dossiers carrying a green light from the EU's food safety watchdog (EFSA), and awaiting action from the Commission.

Outside the Commission walls are a European public which is still uncertain and sceptical about the idea of genetically modifying a crop, a European Parliament split down the middle on the issue, and a host of member states who have previously been willing to override the EU rules and block passage of GMO approvals through Council.

Which goes some way to explaining why this week's approval of the Amflora potato was less than emphatic.

While it looks like a normal potato, the Commission stipulates that Amflora will be exclusively grown for the production of starch for industrial uses.

The rules accompanying the approval stipulate that the potatoes must be delivered exclusively to designated starch processing plants in a "closed system", while cultivation of conventional potatoes on the same field is prohibited for the following year.

Despite the stringent rules, and low risks of transgene flow due to the fact that potatoes propagate vegetatively (not through pollination) and have no cross-compatible wild relatives, the Commission has been forced to acknowledge that the possibility of Amflora mixing with potatoes in the food chain "can never be totally excluded".

The rules almost sound like an apology for the approval of a product which the Commission deems to be safe. Coupled with the promise of an EU-approved derogation for sceptical member states, it is as if Brussels is inviting farmers and national authorities to press ahead with GMO cultivation, but at their own risk.

Agreeing to disagree

The new approach may appear as a practical solution for clearing the backlog of stalled GMO dossiers, but the mixed message coming out of Brussels does not bode well for the long term.

By saying 'lets agree to disagree', the EU fails to tackle fundamental concerns about the safety and desirability of GMOs head-on.

Sending responsibility back to national level could set a dangerous precedent for how Brussels handles publicly sensitive issues around food and agriculture.

The cloning dossier is another one gathering dust on Dalli's desk. There are clear parallels with the GMO debate; ethical arguments and food safety concerns again coincide when it comes to the idea of meat being derived from cloned animals and their offspring.

It is a distinct possibility that there will again be insufficient grounds for banning meat from cloned animals on food safety grounds, while moral and ethical aversions are likely to remain. Could a national opt-out again be the pragmatist's solution?

Risks to common market

This is a slippery slope. A multi-tier food safety policy with opt-ins and opt-outs could raise serious questions about fragmentation of the common market. While the concrete effects may be limited (and mostly symbolic) in regard to GMO cultivation, there could be genuine damage to the unity of the internal market if the same principles were eventually applied to the numerous transgenic varieties which are imported into the EU (while not licensed for growing).

How can the EU be taken seriously as a single economic and social entity, if it cannot agree on what crops are safe to grow and consume, or whether cloned animal meat can be dished up?

In reality, the common market has already taken a battering from the de facto GMO bans currently in place in six member states (Germany, France, Greece, Hungary, Austria and Luxembourg). However, the message now being to Paris, Vienna and others is that if you obstruct the current rules successfully enough, your objections will override scientific views and will be translated into a new legal framework.

Their temporary derogation from the common market will be made into a permanent fixture, instead of being challenged through renewed efforts to forge consensus on EU rules and to stick to them.

The importance of a public knowledge base

Forging consensus on GMOs (let alone cloning) remains as difficult a prospect as ever; this is an issue where industry claims that increased yields, farmer satisfaction, environmental sustainability and safe consumption arise from their products, while NGOs simultaneously denounce biotech crops as the tool of a neo-imperialist food monopoly, fuelling farm debts, poverty, biodiversity loss, increased pesticide use, and a host of uncertain environmental outcomes.

But it is surely the EU's role and responsibility to separate fact from fiction, and to engage in rigorous publicly-funded research which could carry broad authority in a way that industry-funded studies and NGO reporting cannot.

This would mean acting on the unanimous conclusions of EU environment ministers from December 2008, which called for environmental risk assessment procedures to be expanded in scope.

Major doubts remain over how GMO plants affect resistance trends in target organisms and non-target species, over the possibility of unpredictable genetic mutations when GMOs contact other organisms, and over how feasible it is for GMO and other farming systems to maintain genetic isolation while being cultivated in close proximity.

These very coexistence concerns are what undermines the idea of any member state remaining genuinely GMO-free in the long run, should neighbouring countries pursue GMO cultivation under a devolved system.

Breaking the monopoly

The majority of scientific evidence on these areas is currently provided by the GMO seed manufacturers themselves (to be analysed by EFSA), a trend which has inevitably undermined legitimacy, and has prompted ample counter-studies.

Taking on the necessary public research could be hugely costly, and could mean delaying approvals for the near future, particularly if the number of new GMO varieties proliferates as quickly as many are predicting. However, the assurance of a publicly-funded, publicly-owned knowledge base on GMOs could help to underpin a common and consistent EU approach to the technology in the future.

Public perception of GMOs as 'unsafe' is not always based on nutritional concerns related to the specific genes inserted into a crop variety; it can often be an expression of broader uncertainties about the environmental impacts, and can also revolve around power imbalances between vulnerable farmers and dominant patent-wielding seed companies.

Ensuring adequate independent public resources for GMO assessments could at least help to assuage concerns that companies such as Monsanto are powerful enough to sway the biotech policy of governments.

The necessary studies could be hugely expensive, unpopularly so at a time of recession, but may be a way of depolarising the issue in the longer term.


GMO-Free is Fastest Growing Retail Brand

Aaron Turpen, citizen journalist
Natural News [USA], 8 March 2010:

In a blog post on [1] earlier this month, Nielsen's Tom Pirovano says that U.S. retailers are expanding their store brands and the latest, fastest-growing branding health claim is to label products "GMO-free." This labeling, according to Nielsen's numbers, is up by 67% in 2009 with a sales growth of $60.2 million in that sector.

In fact, healthy claims are tops in many categories of sales growth for store brands, including "Gluten free" and claims of adding or bolstering Omega acids.

Most of these store brands are large and are well-known chains, some known for healthy and whole foods and others more as being cookie-cutter boxes. Supermarkets have been certifying products as organic for in-store brands for some time, so the trend towards healthy claims and marketing is not new.

The rise of sentiment against genetically modified foods (GM or GMO) is growing, however, and market brands reflect that. Readers of NaturalNews are no simpletons when it comes to the dangers of GM foods. [2]

With genetically modified organisms and foods being linked to organ damage, crop failures, increased water usage, and worse, consumers are finally waking up to the dangers of these products.

Another hot growing trend amongst retail store brands is the claim of being high fructose corn syrup free, which gained 28% or $13 million in market share, according to the Nielsen numbers. This one may become a growing trend, and as Pirovano points out, many retailers are adopting a "wait-and-see attutide to determine if a claim has 'legs' or is merely the latest blip on the consumer trend screen."

Further, thousands of organic and natural food products are now enrolled in the Non-GMO Project's Product Verification Program (known as PVP). This is the nation's first and largest system for scientific testing of product standards against genetic modification. [3] This project includes some of the biggest retail names in the food industry and labels from the PVP will be appearing on retail packages this year.

As sentiment against the GMO seeds and products made from their crops grows, so too will the retail market backlash. Although government agencies like the Food and Drug Administration have refused to rule against GM foods, despite the evidence, the free market and consumer demand is turning the tide against them on its own.

As Shelly Roche of says, "The great thing about this new report is that it shows how quickly the market responds when it sees a shift in consumer demand." [4]

It's becoming obvious that many health-conscious consumers in America are indeed voting with their forks.


1 - U.S. Healthy Eating Trends Part 4: Store Brands Expand Healthy Offerings by Tom Pirovano, Director of Industry Insights, Nielsen Co.

2 - Feature NaturalNews Articles on GMOs and

3 - Non-GMO Project

4 - 'GMO-free' is fastest-growing retailer brand claim by Shelly Roche,


Seed's failure raises red flag at Monsanto

Georgina Gustin
St. Louis Post-Dispatch [USA], 8 March 2010:

A genetically modified cotton produced by Monsanto is failing to control pests in four Indian states, the company said last week.

The survival of the pink bollworm in Monsanto's Bollgard brand cotton was detected in four of the nine Indian states where the cotton is grown.

A spokesman for the Creve Coeur-based company said it is taking the matter "very seriously" and will continue to monitor the situation with the help of a team of Indian-based experts. The detection has been reported to the Indian Genetic Engineering Committee, the company said.

The cotton is engineered to resist the pink bollworm, a pest that can ruin crops. However, testing was conducted to assess resistance to Cry1Ac, the Bt protein in the crop, and insects were found to be surviving it.

The company said Friday that the resistance could be occurring because the required refuge areas were not planted by farmers and some may have used unapproved Bt cotton seed.

Recently, India's environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, said the country should be more cautious in adopting genetically modified crops.

Ramesh imposed a freeze on commercial cultivation of Monsanto's Bt brinjal, or eggplant, until further health and environmental safety tests can be conducted. The Bt brinjal is the first genetically modified food crop grown in the country.

Both the Bollgard cotton and brinjal were developed in conjunction with Mahyco, an India-based seed company that helped Monsanto introduced Bollgard cotton to the country in 2002.


6 March 2010

GMO Has No Chance in Bulgaria
• The owners of cornfields polluted with GMO to be paid compensations

Tanya Kirkova
Standart [Bulgaria], 6 March 2010:

GMO cannot be cultivated in Bulgaria for experimental or commercial purposes - this will be the real-term effect of the GMO Act that will be passed on a second reading by the Parliamentary Committee for Environment next week.

The draft bill provides a distance of at least 30 km between the GMO fields and those protected under Natura 2000 project or other natural parks. The amendment was included in the GMO draft bill under pressure from the environmental organizations in Bulgaria.

Because Bulgaria is a relatively small country, the thirty-kilometer margin between the GMO fields and the natural cornfields is virtually impossible to be kept, which means that it is practically impossible to grow GMO in Bulgaria.


Bt cotton has failed admits Monsanto

Dinesh C. Sharma
India Today, March 6 2010:

New Delhi - The ongoing debate on biotechnology crops in India took a new turn on Friday when American seed firm Monsanto disclosed that cotton pest--pink bollworm--has developed resistance to its much-touted Bt cotton variety in Gujarat.

The company has reported to the regulator, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), that pink bollworm has developed resistance to its genetically modified (GM) cotton variety, Bollgard I, in Amreli, Bhavnagar, Junagarh and Rajkot districts in Gujarat.

This was detected by the company during field monitoring in the 2009 cotton season.

The Bt cotton variety in question was developed using a gene--Cry1AC--derived from soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis. It was supposed to be resistant to pest attacks. But, of late, the pest has developed resistance to the gene.

The same gene has been used in Bt brinjal to make it resistant to pests. Bollgard cotton was cited as a great success of GM technology by Union science minister Prithviraj Chavan in his July 2009 letter to former health minister A. Ramadoss.

"Resistance is natural and expected," Monsanto said in a statement. The company blamed pink bollworm resistance to Cry1Ac protein in Gujarat to "early use of unapproved Bt cotton seeds" by farmers and "limited refuge planting". Farmers are supposed to maintain a distance between Bt cotton farms and other farms as a "refuge". It also advised farmers to take up "need-based application of insecticide sprays" and "properly manage crop residue and unopened bolls after harvest". A second generation variety, Bollgard II, introduced by Monsanto in 2006, contains two proteins, Cry1Ac and Cry2Ab.

The company says no resistance has been observed in the variety anywhere in the country, including Gujarat.

The revelation has not surprised environment action groups. "This is the pattern Monsanto has been following everywhere. Once Bollgard 1 fails, they start pushing Bollgard 2 and tell farmers to apply more pesticides. This is a vicious circle that Indian cotton farmers have got into," Devinder Sharma of Forum for Biotechnology and Food Safety said.

"There is a lesson here for Bt brinjal because the arguments in favour of the crop are same as those given for Bollgard cotton," Kavita Kuruganti of Kheti Virasat said.

In a report submitted to environment minister Jairam Ramesh, K.R. Kranthi of the Central Institute for Cotton Research had cautioned about the likely failure of Bt cotton. "Farmers are not following the recommended 'refugia'. With about 90 per cent area under Bt cotton, bollworms can develop resistance soon. The concern needs to be addressed on priority before it is too late," the report says.

Not only has Bt cotton been rendered ineffective, it has also led to detection of some new pests never before reported from India. It is toxic only to bollworm and does not control any other pests of cotton. "New sucking pests have emerged as major pests causing significant economic losses", the report says.

At the same time, productivity of cotton has fallen from 560 kg lint per hectare in 2007 to 512 kg lint per hectare in 2009.

And pesticide expenditure has gone up from from Rs 597 crore in 2002 to Rs 791 crore in 2009.


Bt cotton ineffective against pest in parts of Gujarat, admits Monsanto

Priscilla Jebaraj
The Hindu [India], 6 March 2010:

NEW DELHI - For the first time anywhere in the world, biotech agriculture giant Monsanto has admitted that insects have developed resistance to its Bt cotton crop. Field monitoring in parts of Gujarat has discovered that the Bt crop is no longer effective against the pink bollworm pest there.

The company is advocating that Indian farmers switch to its second-generation product to delay resistance further. Monsanto's critics say that this just proves the ineffectiveness of the Bt technology, which was recently sought to be introduced in India in Bt brinjal as well.

In November 2009, Monsanto's scientists detected unusual survival of the pink bollworm pest while monitoring the Bt cotton crop in Gujarat. In January and February, samples taken from the field were tested in Monsanto's laboratories. It has been confirmed that pink bollworm is now resistant to the pest-killing protein of Bt cotton in four districts - Amreli, Bhavnagar, Junagarh and Rajkot.

Until now, Monsanto has held that "there have been no confirmed cases of poor field performance of Bt cotton or Bt corn attributable to insect resistance." Although there have been cases of insects resisting the technology in the laboratory, Monsanto held that "field resistance is the criterion of relevance to agricultural producers."

Now that the company itself has admitted that its product has been proved ineffective against some insects on the fields of Gujarat, its advice to farmers is to start using its second generation product instead. "Farmers have another choice. We have a two-gene product called Bollgard II which has greater ability to delay resistance," says Monsanto India's director of scientific affairs Rashmi Nair. She also recommends that farmers conduct better monitoring and plant "refuges," or areas of non-Bt crop which would attract insects.

Agricultural scientists and activists say Monsanto's advice is "ridiculous". The Bollgard II product has no additional toxin to combat pink bollworm, says G.V. Ramanjaneyulu of the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture. It is simply that as a newer product, Bollgard II will take longer for the pest to develop resistance. Anyway, the Bt toxin is only active for 90 days, while pink bollworm is a late season pest, he adds.

"All the hype about the effectiveness of Bt against pests is bogus ...This proves that you can't stay ahead of the pest with ... this shortsighted approach," says Kavitha Kuruganti of the Kheti Virasat Mission. Indian farmers with small holdings cannot be expected to give up large parts of their land for non- productive "refuges," added Dr. Ramanjaneyulu.

Monsanto's Dr. Nair says the Central Institute of Cotton Research (CICR) was informed about the resistance "about eight to ten days ago." The CICR, which has been collaborating in the field monitoring of Bt cotton since 2003, has reported this to the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), she said. However, the Ministry of Environment and Forests seems to have been unaware of the test results until Monsanto issued a statement on Friday.

Over the last month, the GEAC and the Ministry have been at the centre of a storm regarding the government's moratorium on Bt brinjal's commercial release. Critics are now pointing to the ineffectiveness of Bt cotton in Gujarat to strengthen their case against Bt brinjal as well.


Setback for Bt cotton; main pest develops resistance

Business Standard [India], March 6 2010:


5 March 2010

Bulgaria's GMO bill envisages hefty fine for environment minister

The Sofia Echo, Mar 05 2010:

Bulgaria's minister of environment could be fined from 300 000 to one million leva for allowing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to be grown within the 30km restricted belt around Natura 2000 areas, according to an amendment to the GMO bill by passed by Parliament's environment committee.

The sanction, proposed by Deputy Environment minister Evdokia Maneva, had no precedent in the country's legislation, but that in itself was not an obstacle preventing such a provision, the legal affairs committee said.

Under the provision, whenever there are suspicions that the minister broke the law, the prime minister would appoint an expert committee to investigate the case and submit a report to the Supreme Administrative Court, which could then choose to impose the fine, the lawmakers decided.

The same sanction would be imposed on companies that grow GMOs in the specified areas without permission from the environment minister.

According to experts, the introduction of buffer zones practically left no free land for planting GMO crops.

After heated discussions on the ban of the cultivation and sale of genetically modified fruits, vegetables, vines, tobacco and roses, MPs decided to support it with a safeguard clause, implementing a European Commission derogation that allows EU member states to prohibit GMO crops cleared by the EC. Such was the recent case of the Amflora potatoes of Germany's BASF, approved by the EC.

Opposition MPs countered that this opens the door for cultivating gene-modified crops that have not been studied by the EC and field trials with GMOs. Parliament debates were expected to continue in the second week of March, when the bill was to be put for vote.


Health: Potato Drags GM Food Into Europe

David Cronin
Inter Press Service, 5 March 2010:

BRUSSELS - Genetically modified (GM) foods appear to be back on the European Union's political menu - thanks to a potato.

Manufactured by the German chemical firm BASF, a potato named Amflora became the first GM crop to be authorised for cultivation by the EU's executive arm, the European Commission, in 12 years Mar. 2.

It is unlikely that the same length of time will elapse before the next such approval is granted by Brussels officials. Files relating to 17 other GM crops - including varieties of maize, oilseed rape and more potatoes - are on those officials' desk and awaiting a formal rubber-stamp.

Although many of the EU's governments are opposed to the introduction of GM foods, the Commission's most powerful representatives have long been eager to resume the approval of new varieties. Last year, it sought unsuccessfully to force France and Greece to ditch moratoria they had placed on the planting of Mon-810, a corn variety developed by the American multinational Monsanto.

EuropaBio, a group representing the biotechnology industry, notes that some of the crops under consideration in Brussels have been grown in North America for nearly two decades. Willy de Greef, the group's secretary- general, said that food safety authorities have "thoroughly assessed" GM crops and found them to pose no threat. "But this has never stopped some of the anti-GM activists from selling the same old story," he told IPS.

BASF, for its part, has wasted no time in announcing that it has developed other types of potatoes, including one resistant to the type of blight widely assumed to have caused a famine that killed one million Irish people - one eighth of the country's inhabitants - in the 19th century.

Claims that GM foods have been scientifically verified as safe and could cure global hunger will be familiar to anyone who has followed the often-heated debate about their effects. The cosy relationship between the scientists happy to give their blessing to these foods and the corporations that have invested heavily in them is not as well known.

Amflora's approval followed a positive opinion from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in Parma, Italy. Since its inception in 2002, the authority has delivered more than 40 assessments on genetically modified organisms (GMOs), all of them favourable. Its panel on GMOs is chaired by Harry Kuiper, a Dutchman who previously coordinated a scientific research programme involving three leading biotech firms Bayer, Monsanto and Syngenta.

Greenpeace agriculture campaigner Marco Contiero complains that 18 of the 21 scientists tasked by EFSA with analysing applications to plant GM foods are biochemists "with only one or two experts on the environment."

"If we talk about releasing living organisms into the environment, we must have the advice of scientists who know about this," he added. "The problem we have with EFSA is that it doesn't have the means to carry out risk assessments or independent analysis of data submitted by companies."

In relying on EFSA's counsel, the European Commission has glossed over contradictory information provided by other authorities. The World Health Organisation and the European Medicines Evaluation Agency have both expressed concerns about issues related to Amflora, which contains a gene resistant to some antibiotics.

While the potato's starch is intended for industrial use - such as in glue manufacturing - biotech firms admit that its by-products are likely to be used for animal feed and could therefore enter the human food chain. Policy- makers on public health have warned that planting antibiotic resistant crops could undermine the effectiveness of several medicines deemed vital in treating diseases that affect humans.

The stakes could be particularly high in the case of Amflora, as it is designed to be resistant to neomycine and kanamycine, two drugs used to treat tuberculosis. Across the world 2 billion people are infected with TB, which takes 2 million lives per year. Yet John Dalli, the EU's new commissioner for public health has defended his authorisation of Amflora. He told the TV channel Euronews that that the likelihood of the potato harming efforts to cut TB deaths is "so remote that the assessment is there is no danger at all to human life."

Contiero, however, dismissed claims that GM foods will ultimately benefit humanity, as "propaganda". Far from offering the possibility of wonder foods that will make hunger history, biotech firms are intricately linked to an industrialised system of agriculture that helps exacerbate hardship.

"Monsanto owns 90 percent of GMOs in the world," he said. "And together with Bayer and Syngenta, it owns almost 50 percent of all seeds. The fact is that three companies - Bayer, BASF and Pioneer - also own 65 percent of the pesticide market. Biotech companies buy seed companies because this gives them a direct control of food production and food prices. Decision-makers should look very seriously at how they control food prices. This is an issue that people tend to forget."


EFSA launches public consultation on guidance for environmental risk assessment of GM plants

European Food Safety Authority [EFSA], 5 March 2010:

EFSA has launched a public consultation on the revised guidance of its GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) Panel for the environmental risk assessment of GM plants. EFSA provided updated guidance for assessing the impact of GM plants on the environment and held discussions with stakeholders and Member States as part of this work. Together with new, strengthened requirements in terms of data generation, collection and analysis, this guidance also contains a revised section on the evaluation of possible effects on non-target organisms. The document is the result of two years' work and demonstrates EFSA's commitment to staying at the forefront of recent developments in the field of GM plant environmental risk assessment. The public consultation will last until 30 April for a total of eight weeks.

EFSA reviewed and updated the specific areas that need to be addressed when assessing the environmental impact of a GM plant. These cover in particular the persistence and invasiveness of the GM plant, taking into account plant-to-plant gene transfer; the likelihood and consequences of gene transfer from the plant to micro-organisms; the potential evolution of resistance in target pests; the impact of the GM plant on non-target organisms; and the impact that the cultivation, management and harvesting techniques associated with the GM plant may have. Specific attention was also given to other environmental processes that may be affected by the GM plant, as well as to the impact that these may have on human and animal health.

EFSA also supplemented its guidance document with specific aspects which will need to be taken into consideration for the assessment. Detailed requirements are given for the choice of appropriate non-GM comparators (which are the non-GM plants with which the GM plant is compared during the safety evaluation) and types of receiving environments to be considered; the experimental design of laboratory and field studies, and their statistical analysis; and the consideration of possible long-term effects.

Some GM plants can produce an insecticide which wards off attacks from certain insects and it is important to ensure that they do not adversely affect other insects (the so called non-target organisms or NTOs). In the context of its work on the new guidance, the GMO Panel produced a scientific opinion on how to evaluate the impact of a GM plant on non-target organisms. The opinion defines criteria for the selection of relevant non-target species; for the identification of those aspects of the environment that need to be protected from harm; and for the experimental design of laboratory and field studies and their statistical analysis.

The revision of the guidance document was undertaken in response to a request from the European Commission. To complement this, EFSA undertook work on non-target organisms on its own initiative. Also, a series of technical discussions was organised to bring together GMO Panel experts, stakeholders and technical experts from the EU Member States to exchange views on the scientific issues and various aspects of the documents[1]. At the end of the public consultation launched on 5 March, EFSA will publish a report with an overview of the comments received and will address the relevant comments in the final EFSA GMO Panel guidance document and related opinion on non-target organisms.

Public consultation on the draft scientific opinion on the assessment of potential impacts of genetically modified (GM) plants on non-target organisms (NTOs)

For media enquiries, please contact:

Ian Palombi, Press Officer or
Steve Pagani, Head of Press Office
Tel: +39 0521 036149

[1] For more information and for the minutes of the meetings held with stakeholders and the Member States


Bt cotton flunks pest resistance test in Gujarat

Zia Haq
Hindustan Times [India], 5 March 2010:


Risky agribusiness: Are GMOs the 'financial innovations' of agriculture?

Tom Lashkawy
Grist [USA], 5 March 2010:

[Note: the orginal online version of this article contains numerous hyperlinks not included here.]

Financial blogger Felix Salmon has an essay in Foreign Policy called "How Locavores Can Save the World" -- expanded, by the way, from a wonderful blog post he wrote after attending a panel discussion on world hunger at the Davos World Economic Forum in the company of Blue Hill Farm's Dan Barber. Salmon usually focuses on issues involving economic crises, monetary policy, complex derivatives, macro-economics and governmental oversight of the financial markets, but here he's talking monocultures, sustainable agriculture, and transgenic seeds. Tom Philpott has in the past opined on the similarities between financial and food crises, so I suppose this turn of events is not too surprising.

But the bit I found most striking was how Salmon characterized Big Ag's claim that genetically modified organisms are an "answer" to the problem of world hunger:

[It] is the agricultural equivalent of creating triple-A-rated mortgage bonds, fabricated precisely to prevent the problem of credit risk. It doesn't make the problem go away: It just makes the problem rarer and much more dangerous when it does occur because no one is -- or even can be -- prepared for such a high-impact, low-probability event.

Well, hey. That's a new one. GMOs as CDOs (i.e. Collateralized Debt Obligations), the mortgage-backed securities that helped destroy the economy as we knew it. But I wanted to hear more details. So I asked Salmon if he might expand on the analogy. And this post was his response:

The point here is that a disease-resistant crop is a lot like a triple-A-rated structured bond: they're both artificially engineered to be as safe as possible. That would be a wonderfully good thing if no one knew that they were so safe. But if you're aware of a safety improvement, that often just has the effect of increasing the amount of risk you take: people drive faster when they're wearing seatbelts, and they take on a lot more leverage when they're buying AAA-rated bonds.

The agricultural equivalent is the move to industrial-scale monoculture, "safe" in the knowledge that lots of clever engineers in the US have made the crop into the agribusiness version of a bankruptcy-remote special-purpose entity.

But the problem is that bankruptcy-remote doesn't mean that bankruptcy is impossible: just ask the people running Citigroup's AAA-rated SIVs [Structured Investment Vehicles -- another risk management financial "innovation" that failed spectacularly]. If and when the unlikely event eventually happens, the amount of devastation caused is directly proportional to the degree to which people thought they were protected. When something like that goes wrong, it goes very wrong indeed: artificial safety improvements have the effect of turning outcomes binary.

Essentially, you're trading a large number of small problems for a small probability that at some point you're going to have an absolutely enormous problem.

In a sense, Big Ag -- along with the Obama administration -- is doubling down on the industrial system we have now: one that is already starting to show signs of stress, from the rise of superweeds along with the price of oil. Monsanto and Syngenta are claiming the ability to genetically engineer all the risk out of agriculture. But in narrowing farmers' choices to a small set of patented seeds, seeds that must be bought by and distributed to every far-flung farm in the world every year (most of which lack basic infrastructure like, say, roads, and which must grow them according to strict protocols), these companies presume to have managed all the risks, just like the banks did a few years back. They are also presuming that the "Business as Usual" scenario, the world as it exists today, will continue indefinitely; that, in other words, there are no Black Swans hiding in the reeds.

As Salmon describes it for us so clearly, it's a huge gamble. Only this time we're not gambling with money -- we're being asked to gamble with our breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and farmers with their livelihoods. That is a bet that none of us should have to take.

The good news is we don't. Between Dan Barber-style "regionalized breeding" as a bulwark against disease and the kind of sustainable agriculture sketched out in the UN's landmark IASTAAD report, a practical alternative to Big Ag's vision exists. The question is, Must we wait for the Black Swan to take flight before we enact it?


Humana goes GM-free in schools

Dairy Industries International [UK], 5 March 2010:

The third largest milk processor in Germany, Humana Milchunion, is aiming to ensure that all milk delivered to German schools will be guaranteed GM-free by the end of this year.

The company, which has a €2.2 billion annual turnover, will also guarantee that milk powders for baby food are GM-free.

In doing so, Humana is joining market leaders in the Austrian, Swiss and Greek dairy sector.

The dairy that pioneered high-quality mothers' milk substitute in Germany 60 years ago is not planning a full-range change to GM-free milk. Industry sources say the company undertook the limited change in response to a Greenpeace initiative which aims to list those processors offering GM-free foods in a reprint of its multinational "consumers' guide for genetechnology free foods".


France blasts GM crop approvals by EU agency

Reuters, 5 March 2010:

PARIS (Reuters) - Europe's food safety agency has used partial evidence to approve genetically modified crops, including a GM potato developed by BASF, and should overhaul its methods, a French environment minister said.

France has previously invoked environmental risks to suspend cultivation of Monsanto's MON 810 maize, which was the only GM crop approved for growing in the European Union prior to this week's approval of BASF's Amflora potato.

Chantal Jouanno, a junior minister in the French government, said the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA), whose opinions are used by the EU's executive, had ignored the environmental effects of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

"We do not recognize their expertise because we consider that their opinions are incomplete," she told French daily Le Parisien in an interview published on Friday.

"They are only interested in the sanitary consequences of GMOs, without taking into account their long-term environmental impact," she said, citing potential contamination of soil and adverse effects on other species.

France has asked a national biotechnology committee, the HCB, to give its opinion on the Amflora potato, after already consulting the body last year on MON 810 maize after taking issue with a favorable opinion from EFSA on renewing the European license for growing the crop.

To resolve longstanding divisions between member countries over GM crop approvals, the European Commission also said this week it may propose letting each country decide whether to authorize the cultivation of GM crops on its soil.

France's farm minister told Reuters last month he was opposed to any national decision-making on GM crops, calling for harmonized EU rules.

(Reporting by Gus Trompiz; editing by James Jukwey)


Commission allows German GM potato to be grown in EU

Seán Mac Connell, Agriculture Correspondent Irish Times, 5 March 2010:

A GENETICALLY modified (GM) potato developed by German company BASF, which was prevented from growing it experimentally in Co Meath in 2006, can now be grown in the EU following a decision this week in Brussels.

The European Commission decided the GM potato "Amflora" can be grown for extracting starch but cannot be grown for human consumption. The decision has been severely criticised by organic groups across the EU.

It is unlikely to be grown here because Government policy is to have no GM-produced crops grown despite the fact the farming lobby, including Teagasc, is in favour of using GM systems if proven to be scientifically safe.

The Irish Organic Farmers and Growers Association chairwoman, Dr Sinéad Neiland, said the decision to give the green light to the commercial cultivation of the GM potato was moving the EU in the wrong direction.

When BASF tried to test its growth here, she said public opposition was strong with regard to the trial and this, coupled with a demand that BASF pay the cost of independent monitoring of health and environment impacts, ensured BASF pulled out.

"This decision puts profit before people or the environment and will do little to increase public confidence in how EU representatives approach GM cultivation."

Amflora potato is designed to be rich in starch as an alternative thickening agent for paper, adhesives and textiles and an alternative to maize.

"The existence of non-GM alternatives means that there is no reason for farmers to have to cultivate Amflora for the European starch industry and no need to introduce the risk of spreading antibiotic resistance," Dr Neiland added.

The Irish Farmers Association said the GM debate in Europe had been very political and emotional, rather than based on facts. This meant Irish farmers did not have access to GM technology, but had to compete with farmers who did.

"The move by the commission is very much a preliminary one for a particular variety and should be welcomed as an opportunity to open up the debate on the use of GM," it added.

"Either farmers in Europe are allowed to use the technology to remain competitive, or those products that use the technology are restricted."

The International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements in the EU-27, representing more than 300 organic groups, said the decision further raised the cost to the organic sector of remaining GM free.

"Although the starch potato is not intended for use as feed and food purposes, it cannot be certain that the tubers, which look like conventional potatoes, will not enter the food chain," Bavo van den Idsert, the federation's vice president, said.

"Even the European Food Safety Authority had to recognise this in its opinion."


Comment from GM-free Ireland:

Typical disinformation from the Irish Times!

BASF's GM "Amflora potato" is NOT the same as the experimental GM potato they tried to release in Co. Meath in 2006. Amflora is a non-food crop that produces starch for glue, paper and other industrial purposes. The experiment which BASF tried to conduct in 2006 would have involved the release of 250,000 supposedly "blight-resistant" potatoes. For details see

Organic farmers are NOT the only ones who are outraged by the Commissions's latest move. The vast majority of consumers and conventional farmers in most EU Member States are also furious. Within days of the announcement, the Governments of Austria, France, Greece, Hungary and Luxembourg will not allow the GM potato to be grown in their territories.

Irish farmers and food brands do NOT compete against EU farmers who grow GM crops, as virtually none are cultilvated in the EU. Nor do Irish farmers compete against EU farmers who use GM animal feed: most EU retailers and food brands have ended the use of GM animal feed or are phasing it out. And the claim that Irish farmers can win the race to the bottom against farmers in South America who use GM feeds that are not allowed in Europe is plain stupid: South American land and labour costs are so low that they can outcompete us on price, with or without the use of GM animal feedstuffs, regardless of whether they are legal or illegal in the EU.

The Irish Times fails to mention that implementation of our Government policy to ban GM crops and provide a voluntary GM-free quality food label certification for farmers who choose to phase out the use of imported GM animal feed (which we can do more cost-effectively than most of our EU competitors), will enable Ireland – the food island to leverage our clean green image and secure a unique selling point: the most credible safe GM-free food brand in Europe.

The paper also fails to explain the major scientific concerns of this GM potato:

BASF's "Amflora" potatoes contain inserted anti-biotic resistant genes from a bacterium which, if they escape, could confer animal and human resistance to several antibiotics including kanamycin, neomycin, butirosin, and gentamicin – which are among the only remaining weapons we have against certain diseases including infectious multiple-drug-resistant Tuberculosis;

the GM potatoes will inevitably contaminate ordinary potatoes.

And no mention of the negative legal, economic and social impacts:

Contaminated farmers and food chain operators will have to pay for GM testing, GM labelling, GM segregation and decontamination costs.

The GM potatoes are patented. Under the World Trade Organisation's Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement, farmers contaminated by patented seeds and crops no longer own their produce, which become the intellectual property of the patent holder (BASF in this case). Contaminated farmers are not allowed to save their own potatoes or potato seeds for replanting. They will have to buy new stock every year from BASF, and will have to pay higher costs and annual patent royalties, and expose themselves to patent infringement and contamination lawsuits without any insurance company willing to cover the risk.

Contaminated farmers will be obliged to sue their neighbours, thus destroying traditional community relations.

Contaminated farmers will not be allowed to sell these GM potatoes for human consumption.

As for Teagasc, the IFA, and the animal feed cartels, their blind faith in GMOs, ignorance of science and disregard for animal and human health will no doubt lead them to feed (locally grown or imported) residues from these GM potatoes to their livestock, thus further damaging the brand value of Ireland - the food island.

Given the rejection of the GMO potatoes by Austria, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy and Luxembourg, the Irish Government should take immediate action to protect farmers, food producers and consumers by banning the cultivation of these GM potatoes as well as their use for animal feed.


4 March 2010

Vatican: No Official OK for Genetically Modified Potato, 4 March 2010:

ROME - After the European Commission approved Tuesday the commercial cultivation of a genetically modified potato, the Vatican's semi-official newspaper clarified that the Church has no official position on the practice of modifying the genes of produce.

The commission's approval of the Amflora potato is only the second OK it's given to genetically modified crops; in 1998 it approved a modified maize strain.

The Amflora potato was developed by the German chemical company BASF, and it is high in starch content. The potato is not designed for human consumption, but rather for manufacturing products such as paper and glue.

The European Commission's approval of the potato has fanned the debate about the eventual effects of genetically modified organisms on human health. The Amflora potato in particular has a gene that is resistant to antibiotics.

L'Osservatore Romano clarified in an article for today's edition that some reports have suggested a hypothetical Vatican approval of the GM potato.

"There has been talk of an explicit 'yes' to the use of genetically modified organisms in agriculture, confusing once again personal commentaries of ecclesiastics with 'official' statements attributed to the Holy See or the Church," L'Osservatore Romano explained.

The Vatican daily instead cited Benedict XVI's "Caritas in Veritate," where the Pope says that the "Church does not have technical solutions to offer" but does "have a mission of truth to accomplish, in every time and circumstance, for a society that is attuned to man, to his dignity, to his vocation."

This mission includes the condemnation of world hunger, which the Holy Father asserts is "not so much dependent on lack of material things as on shortage of social resources, the most important of which are institutional."

Proponents of GM organisms propose them as a solution for hunger (though not in the particular case of the Amflora potato).

However, the L'Osservatore Romano article observed that "it is no accident that precisely in 2009 -- a year in which in the developing countries GMOs have grown by 13%, as opposed to a world average of 7%, covering almost half of the cultivated surface of the planet with transgenic plants -- the number of hungry in the world for the first time exceeds one billion."


Fury as EU approves GM potato
• Critics claim plant could spread antibiotic-resistant diseases to humans

Martin Hickman and Genevieve Roberts
The Independent [UK], 4 March 2010:

The introduction of a genetically modified potato in Europe risks the development of human diseases that fail to respond to antibiotics, it was claimed last night.

German chemical giant BASF this week won approval from the European Commission for commercial growing of a starchy potato with a gene that could resist antibiotics - useful in the fight against illnesses such as tuberculosis.

Farms in Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic may plant the potato for industrial use, with part of the tuber fed to cattle, according to BASF, which fought a 13-year battle to win approval for Amflora. But other EU member states, including Italy and Austria and anti-GM campaigners angrily attacked the move, claiming it could result in a health disaster.

v During the regulatory tussle over the potato, the EU's pharmaceutical regulator had expressed concern about its potential to interfere with the efficacy of antibiotics on infections that develop multiple resistance to other antibiotics, a growing problem in human and veterinary medicine. Amflora contains a gene that produces an enzyme which generally confers resistance to several antibiotics, including kanamycin, neomycin, butirosin, and gentamicin.

The antibiotics could become "extremely important" to treat otherwise multi-resistant infections and tuberculosis, the European Medicines Authority (EMA) warned. Drug resistance is part of the explanation for the resurgence of TB, which infects eight million people worldwide every year.

"In the absence of an effective therapy, infectious Multiple Drug Resistant TB patients will continue to spread the disease, producing new infections with MDR-TB strains," an EMA spokesman said. "Until we introduce a new drug with demonstrated activity against MDR strains, this aspect of the TB epidemic could explode at an exponential level."

After member states become deadlocked on the potato's approval, the European Commission approved it for use in industries such as paper production, saying it would save energy, water and chemicals. Once the starch has been removed, the skins can be fed to animals, whose meat would not have to be labelled as GM.

The EC, whose decision was backed by the European Food Safety Authority (Efsa), said there was no good reason for withholding approval. Health and consumer policy commissioner John Dalli said: "Responsible innovation will be my guiding principle when dealing with innovative technologies."

"Stringent" controls would ensure none of the tubers were left in the ground, ensuring altered genes did not escape into the environment. Opponents fear bacteria inside the guts of animals fed the GM potato - which can cause human diseases - may develop resistance to antibiotics.

Some member states were furious. "Not only are we against this decision, but we want to underscore that we will not allow the questioning of member states' sovereignty on this matter," said Italy's Agriculture Minister, Luca Zaia. Austria said it would ban cultivation of the potato within its borders, while France said it would ask an expert panel for further research.

Campaigners accused Brussels of failing to follow the precautionary principle. Friends of the Earth's Heike Moldenhauer said: "The commissioner whose job is to protect consumers has, in one of his first decisions, ignored public opinion and safety concerns to please the world's biggest chemical company."

Campaigners suspect Brussels is in favour of the widespread planting of GM crops despite opposition by some member states. Yesterday it also announced its intention to allow states more leeway in backing GM organisms.


Update on EU backlash against the Commission's GMO potatoes

Greenpeace International, 4 March 2010:

The shocking approval of the GE potato by Barroso's Commission has been met with a wave of strong reactions among the EU member-states. The governments of Greece, Austria, Luxembourg, Italy, Hungary and France have publicly announced that they will not allow the cultivation of the GE potato in their countries. And various ministers have expressed their frustration with the decision of Barroso -- who is neglecting the unanimous call from the EU Environment Ministers Council to repair the system of authorisations of GE crops. Germany company Emsland, the second biggest starch producer worldwide, has also announced that they will not use the GE potato because of the strong opposition against it.


Comment from GM-free Ireland

WIll our Environment Minister John Gormley implement the Government's policy to prohibit GM crops and confirm that cultivation of these GMO potatoes will not be allowed in Ireland? Or will he give in to BASF and the powerful agri-biotech lobby? Place your bets now!


A Letter from the Little People of Europe

For the personal attention of
Professor Jerzy Buzek
President, European Parliament

4th March 2010

A Letter from the Little People of Europe

Dear Professor Buzek

I am writing to you on behalf of the little people of Europe. We are not listened to very often despite the fact that we are supposed to live in democracies where what we think and want is taken into account when decisions are made by those who we put into positions of power to represent us and to act on our behalf and in our interests and who we thought would always want the best for us in terms of health, education, food, shelter and economic wellbeing. Not to mention providing us with a good working infrastructure and transport system so that, without too many hurdles being put in our paths, we could, through our various skills, talents and desires, contribute to the successes of a Europe that provides first and foremost for the needs of its citizens but also for the little people of this world.

We hoped and believed that you, as President of the European Parliament and as someone from a nation whose little people have suffered endlessly at the hands of the big people over many years, would listen more than most to the voices of the little people who you represent, and that you would shut out the voices of the bullies.

We were therefore shocked to read what you said following your lecture at Sofia University on March 3rd, in response to the questions about GM crops being grown in Europe and the desire of the people of Bulgaria to decide what they grow on their soil. Here once more we heard the interests of the big people, the multinational companies, being voiced by you, dressed up as the interests of the poor and needy of the world. You said "We cannot win this battle, so I am not fighting". You said that if Europe decided to keep itself free from genetically-modified products it risked losing out in terms of competitivity. You are President of the European Parliament and as such you are required to fight for the people of Europe and fulfil their wishes not those of the big multinational companies who seek profit at all costs. The EU policy on GMOs is to keep them out of Europe unless they can be proved safe, and until each one is assessed in a very strict regulatory environment prior to approval. As for competitivity there is plenty of science and technology out there for Europe to promote and compete with without embracing a dubiously tested, unpopular and risky technology that a large number of those that you represent do not want and will not benefit from.

Yes, as you said, we do need to boost economic performance through investment in science and technology. But we do not need the kind of science and technology that is marketed by huge multinational companies, that do not allow independent scientists access to material (1) allowing them to study the validity of their claims relating to production methods and safety. These corporations only took an interest in seed production in the 1980s when they were allowed to patent seeds for the first time. They then seized upon the chance to make vast amounts of money by taking over as much of the world's seed production as possible. Then they promised that their GM technology would solve all sorts of problems, not least of which was that it would feed the world. Over the next twenty years they did nothing to help the poor and hungry, while at the same time appropriating vast amounts of money for their research that was then denied to other potentially much more successful agricultural technology research. When top scientists, agronomists, environmentalists and medical bodies questioned the validity, usefulness and safety of these crops millions of dollars were spent by the PR companies and scientists representing these companies in trying to convince politicians, farmers and anyone who would listen of the excellence of these GM crops and in discrediting and indeed threatening anyone of the well informed and learned people who got in their way.

When on the ground, after a few years, yield went down, pesticide use went up and problems such as weed resistance and crop failure emerged, the companies fell back on their last resort argument - that these crops were needed to feed the world. This argument was debunked in 2008 (3) when the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) Report concluded that the best way to feed the world was through the use of traditional agriculture. They did say that GM technology might have only a small part to play at which point the multinational seed companies, who had been involved in the process walked out (2). This Report was funded by, amongst others, UNESCO, WHO and the World Bank. It was worked on by 400 top scientists and took four years to compile. The Report answered the question that had been asked by the little people concerned about GM crops. Were the seed companies intent on "Feeding or Fooling the World"? (4)

The flood resistant rice, grown in Bangladesh, that you used as your example of successful and essential GM crops, was in fact developed by using a technique known as precision breeding and so was genetically improved not genetically modified (5). It is a favourite trick of GM proponents to say that a successful crop using another technology is a GM crop. This PR trickery ensures that the huge GM seed companies get the lion's share of research funding and starve other very successful methods of plant breeding of funding.

Yes -- let Europe help itself through investment in science and technology. But please Mr Buzek listen to the independent scientists and not the industry backed scientists sitting on decision making committees and please listen to the little people and the learned amongst us and don't be swayed by the gold backed arguments of the big people. Please fight this battle on our behalf. And a final please Mr Buzek, now that Commissioner Dalli has kindly allowed us to grow Amflora potatoes in the EU (6), please will you ensure that food that is produced using GM feed such as meat, eggs and milk be labelled as such. We would really like to know about and be allowed to choose what we eat. Surely that is not too much to ask.

Gill Rowlands
Farmer, GM free Cymru, Wales, UK








3 March 2010

Objection to approval of Amflora potato for cultivation

Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development [Poland], 3 March 2010:

Minister Marek Sawicki sent a letter today to EC Commissioner for Agriculture Dacian Ciolos in which he expressed his objection to the applied procedure, following yesterday's information (i.e. of 2 March 2010) that the European Commission approved subsequent genetically modified products, including the decision issued based on Directive 2001/18/EC on approval of genetically modified Amflora potato for commercial cultivation and industrial starch production.

The procedure on approving Amflora potato within the Community began in 2005 with a request filed by BASF to an appropriate GMO authority in Great Britain. During the meeting of the Agriculture Council on 16 July 2007, a qualified majority of votes was not reached and the Commission was obliged to reconsider the case. Since then, for almost three years, no information on this issue has been made public officially.

Member States have not been informed about the plans of the European Union.

Minister Marek Sawicki objected to the fact that after such a long period of time, during which new decision-making procedures were introduced and the composition of the European Commission was changed, the Commission, without consulting with the European Parliament, announced its decision on approval of genetically modified Amflora potato for cultivation.

Furthermore, Minister Sawicki protested against making information about the approval of new products public without prior notification to Member States.

Minister Marek Sawicki concluded that the lack of the European Parliament position on this issue, the fact that Member States were deprived of the possibility to express their final opinion and the position of the Polish government, in which Poland opposed the marketing of genetically modified, are the decisive factors in view of which the decision-making process in this particular case should not be considered as completed.


'Battle' on GM foods can't be won: EU official

Agence France-Presse, 3 March 2010:

European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek said on Wednesday he was against genetically-modified foods but said they were an unavoidable part of the future.

Asked by students in Sofia whether he was against GM foods, after the EU approved their cultivation, he said: "I am, generally speaking, against because we don't know what will be the long-term effect of it."

"But we cannot win that battle," added the Polish European lawmaker.

If Europe decided to keep itself free from genetically-modified products it risked losing out in terms of competitivity, he warned.

"We cannot win this battle, so I am not fighting," the European Parliament president said.

GM foods were also necessary in countries like Bangladesh, where salty-drop hurricanes were devastating rice paddies, he argued.

"No rice can grow there except for GM rice. Without GMO (genetically-modified organisms), half their population should die. Can you take such a decision?" Buzek asked.

A European Commission decision on Tuesday to approve the cultivation of genetically-modified potatoes prompted an angry response from environmental campaign groups across Europe.

Asked whether he supported individual EU member states declaring themselves free from GM food despite the EU ruling, Buzek said no country could run checks on every single imported product in a global economy.

"We are having a lot of GMO around even if we are against. It is very difficult for us to stop it. But it is always possible to try," he said.

Bulgarian organic food supporters recently staged a string of protests following a parliament debate on easing restrictions for growing GM products outside research laboratories and close to protected areas.

On Wednesday, Buzaek was handed 3,000 postcards hand-made by Bulgarian children calling for Bulgaria to remain GM free.


European Commission exceeding its powers to approve more GM crops:
• scientists denounce sinister move to weaken risk assessments

GM-free Ireland press release, 3 March 2010:

GENEVA – European MEPs, scientists, and NGOs have accused the European Commission of exceeding its powers in a sinister move to fast-track the approval of more GM crops for cultivation in the EU [1].

European scientists with long-standing expertise in GM issues took action after discovering by chance that the Commission has notified the World Trade Organisation of a new European Draft Regulation [2] to drastically weaken the implementing rules for GMO applications and assessments. [3]

The 66-page Draft Regulation was put together by the Commission and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) with backing from an "expert panel" including national representatives from the EU member states – without participation or the Environment Council or the European Parliament, and apparently without any scrutiny or input from the national "competent authorities" [4] which are responsible for receiving GM applications and implementing GM policy on the ground (and which are also legally and economically liable for contamination caused by GM seeds and crops) [5].

The EC notified this draft regulation directly to the WTO for a period of consultation lasting from 12 January 2010 to 13 March 2010, and declared its intention to adopt it in May 2010 and bring it into force in June 2010. There was no "notification" anywhere in Europe, no publication on any relevant EU website, and no consultation process for comments to be received and considered. EFSA controlled the drafting process and then "sold" it to the "expert panel" national representatives on the pretence that the new rules would increase consumer safety and ensure stricter control of GMOs. Their impact, if adopted, would be quite the opposite.

On 22 February 2010, the scientists sent a formal letter of complaint [6] to the President of the European Parliament Jerzy Buzek. The scientists sent similar letters [7] to the President of the European Council Herman Van Rompoy, to the President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso, and to the European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy John Dalli.

The scientific experts describe the Commission's back-door move as a "sinister trend" and request that the EC hold back the Draft Regulations, subject them to careful scrutiny, and amend them to protect the safety and health of the people of Europe. In a related press release [8] the scientists said they only became aware of the Draft Regulation by chance, and describe the Commission's secretive move as an "illegal policy change":

"We think this is the most secretive, opportunistic and cynical attempt which the Commission has ever made to force GM crops into our fields and to thrust GM foods down our throats, even though the people of Europe have said over and again that they have no taste for them... It is clear to us that the Commission has far exceeded its powers by seeking to introduce – quite illegally – a raft of new GM policies when its powers are in fact limited in the GMO field to the introduction of implementation rules. On this basis, European scientists have made a formal protest to the Parliament and the Council of Ministers on the grounds that the Commission has broken the law. They demand that these Draft Regulations be stopped in their tracks and – in view of their great importance– be brought under proper scrutiny by the Parliament with a period of open and democratic consultation." [9]

The GM-free Ireland Network has written to all the Irish MEPs (apart from Mairéad McGuinness [10]) requesting the European Parliament to take urgent action to stop the Commission from implementing this undemocratic move before the Commission President José Manuel Barroso signs the new regulations into law. GM-free Ireland co-ordinator Michael O'Callaghan said "Cultivation of any GM crops on the island of Ireland (such as the antibiotic-resistant industrial-starch-producing GM potato approved yesterday by the Commission [11]) would destroy Ireland's untapped economic potential to secure the safest, most credible GM-free food brand in the EU" [12]. We can't allow the Commission to take this from us."



For enquiries please contact

Michael O'Callaghan, Co-ordinator, GM-free Ireland Network
In Geneva, Switzerland: + 41 22 732 8685
Irish mobile +353 (0)87 799 4761 •

Notes for editors:

The endnote references are available in the PDF version of this press release which you can download here:


Italy, Austria, Greens angered by GM potato

Radio France International, 3 March 2010:

Italy, Austria and Green campaigners have slammed the European Commission after it approved the cultivation of genetically-modified potatoes on Tuesday. Austria said it would immediately ban the potatoes, while Italian Health Minister Luca Zaia said Italy will resist the decision.

"We want to underscore that we will not allow the questioning of member states' sovereignty on this matter," said Zaia after the announcement. "For our part, we will continue to defend and safeguard traditional agriculture and citizens' health."

The Amflora potatoes that were developed by German chemical company BASF will not be for human consumption. But environmental groups Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth decried the potatoes as a threat to human health. They are earmarked for industrial use, including making starch for use in paper production, and for animal feed.

This is the first approval of genetically-motified food by the EU in 12 years. Monsanto, a US-based chemical company, was approved in 1998 to cultivate MON 810, a modified maize.

Three other maize products were approved along with the potato to be added to the European market, but these would not be grown within the EU.

The EU Commission defended its decision, saying that the crops wold be cultivated a safe distance away from crops grown for human consumption.

"After an extensive and thorough review of the five pending GM files, it became clear to me that there were no new scientific issues that merited further assessment," sais EU Health and Consumer Policy Commissioner John Dalli.

But environmental groups are worried that the potato, which contains a marker gene that is resistant to antibiotics, could contaminate food.

"The new commissioner whose job is to protect consumers has in one of his first decisions ignored public opinion and safety concerns to please the world's biggest chemical company," said Friends of the Earth spokesperson Heike Moldenhauer.

BASF has expressed its "delight" in the EU approval.


Amflora approval is a hot potato in GM debate

Jess Halliday
Food Navigator, 3 March 2010:

The European Commission's approval of BASF's GM Amflora potato for cultivation in the EU could mark the end of European deadlock over genetic modification, and has been celebrated and decried with equal measure by commentators on both sides of the debate.

Although the potato's main use is non-food (the pure amylopectin starch can be used to make paper, concrete and glue), the by-products may find uses in feed. The cultivation approval, announced yesterday, is significant because it is the first granted by the Commission since 1998.

In the last 12 years GM technology has been politically divisive, and applications have bounced back and forth between the law-making institutions. BASF has been waiting 13 years for Amflora to be approved. It now looks set for cultivation in Sweden, Germany and the Czech Republic this year.

A clutch of requests for permission to import GM crops for food and feed uses in the EU have gone through, but not via the standard approvals channel. At the same time as the Amflora approval, the Commission has also granted approval for importation and processing of three other GM maize, from Monsanto - MON863xMON810, MON863xNK603, MON863xMON810xNK603.

As in previous incidences, these GM products were passed by the Commission after the dossiers were sent back by the Council, as member states had failed to return a qualified majority. All three have received a positive opinion from EFSA - as has Amflora.


Stefan Marcinowski, member of the board of executive directors of BASF Sweden, said of the Amflora approval: "We hope that this decision is a milestone for further innovative products that will promote a competitive and sustainable agriculture in Europe."

The approval has been welcomed by EuropaBio, the bioindustry trade association.

"We feel encouraged by this decisive regulatory approach" said Willy De Greef, EuropaBio's Secretary General. "It offers the necessary predictability to industry and also to the general public regarding the development of a technology that has much to offer to Europeans as a whole".

De Greef pointed out that another 17 products are going through the approval process for cultivation and 44 products awaiting authorization for food and feed as well as for import and processing in the EU. "However, today's approvals represent a step in the right direction and a return to science-based decision making," he said.

Anti-GMO stakeholders have expressed their dismay. Their concerns stem partly from worries over an Amflora gene that is resistant to antibiotics. If this gene were to leak into the food chain, they predict serious implications for human and animal health care.

They are also angry that the move has been made when Health and Consumer Policy Commissioner John Dalli has only been in his job a matter of weeks.

German Green MEP Martin H¨usling, a member of the European Parliament's agriculture committee, reportedly said the decision shows "flagrant support for industry interests ahead of his own portfolio".

His decision to authorise the Amflora potato variety flies in the face of the 70 per cent of consumers who are against GM food, as well as the anti-GM position of the European Parliament.

Greenpeace EU's agriculture policy director Marco Contiero also said: "It is shocking that one of the Commission's first official acts is to authorise a GM crop that puts the environment and public health at risk."

According to Bavo van den Idsert, vice-president of organic farmers group IFOAM, if Amflora is widely grown in the EU, "organic and conventional farmers and food processors will have to face even higher costs keeping food production chains free from GMOs".


Comment by TraceConsult™

We have heard a lot of potato stories since the beginning of last week. In fact, some of our readers may be fed up and have moved on to other areas of interest. But it seems that since the EU Commission gave its green light for the cultivation of Amflora, German biotech wannabe BASF's long-launched starch potato dream, all types of different media activity have broken loose.

So what does this approval really mean for the various sectors of the food supply chain? Amflora itself is not intended for human consumption, so does all the hype carry any relevance? Do food and retail industry decision makers have to devote any attention to these industry potato developments at all?

It may have felt like a breakthrough for BASF managers to learn, 14 years after their initial application, that their biotechnological creation named Amflora had at long last been approved for cultivation in the EU. As usual, the Council of (Member State) Ministers had been unable to muster up a qualified majority so the Commission itself had to decide.

The festive mood in the BASF boardroom echoed by an exceptional number of publications way beyond EU borders seemed just a little too loud in light of the fact that, for quite a while, two conventionally bred potato varieties produce exactly the same results as their hotly debated GM step-sibling. Whether it is attributable to lousy researching or - worse - to biased reporting: The fact that hardly any media have pointed out the existence of such a conventionally bred potato with the exact same desired effects1) as GM Amflora should shame a few journalists.

It seems BASF complies with all the big-industry clichés that are so well known: Multinational corporation ignores expressed preferences of vast majority of Europeans as well as warnings by scientists ... - Yet - apparently not quite so.

The German biotech player proclaimed last week that they do not intend to promote planting of their newly approved product. Apparently, they realized that consumer preference is positioned strongly against planting the newly approved GM potato for fear of contamination sooner or later causing Amflora ending up on dinner plates. What may have helped BASF arrive at this decision is EMSLAND Group's press release of 3 March. The world's second largest starch producer, Germany's largest, "decided not to grow Amflora in 2010." A company spokesman was more specific later: "The consequences [of planting] would be too serious." Apparently, he is a man aware of consumer preference!

Then why does BASF announce one day after the Amflora approval that they will apply for approval of yet another GM potato variety yielding the same starch? Perhaps because they want to test the water around the EU Commission for that new variety will be categorized as food, while Amflora is categorized for industrial use only?

This distinction shows that the Commission approval for Amflora is not the big break-through as it has been portrayed in many editorials. The day of truth comes when new varieties earmarked for food are up for an approval decision.

All this shows how important it is for food and retail industry strategists to run a profound analysis when "consuming" biotech industry press releases. There is a huge desire on the part of proponents of genetic engineering to make biotech progress look great and convincing. The annual ISAAA ritual of numeric "big washing" we commented on only recently is perhaps the most institutionalized example. Another one happens on occasions like the approval of Amflora.


EU commission approves cultivation of first GM crop in 12 years

Leigh Phillips EU Observer, 3 March 2010:

EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - The European Commission on Tuesday (2 March) approved the first genetically modified crop for cultivation in Europe in 12 years, provoking the ire of environmental groups and some member states and cheers from the biotech industry.

The EU executive gave the green light to the growing of the Amflora potato, produced by Germany's BASF, the largest chemical company in the world, alongside the entry onto the European market of three GM maize products.

Austria denounced the decision, declaring that Vienna would immediately ban the potato, while Italy's agriculture minister warned that the commission had overstepped its authority.

"We will not allow the questioning of member states' sovereignty on this matter," he said.

In the past, a majority of EU member states has opposed the authorisation of the potato, which is not intended for human consumption. Rather, its starch would be used in industrial processes. Critics say however that the crop could cross with potatoes that humans do eat.

EU health commissioner John Dalli announced the decision saying the EU executive was committed to a "science-based union authorisation system."

"It is clear to me that there were no new scientific issues that merited further assessments ... All scientific issues, particularly those concerning safety for human and animal health and the environment have been fully addressed."

He added that the delays to approval were inhibiting innovation: "My guiding principle in the context of innovative technologies will be that of responsible innovation. It is innovation that will give our citizens the best guarantee of safety and the strongest impetus for economic growth."

Green groups however are worried that the BASF potato contains a gene that confers resistance to some antibiotics.

While the European Food Safety Authority has given the potato a passing grade on a number of occasions, the World Health Organisation and the European Medicines Agency have warned of the "critical importance" of the antibiotics affected by the Amflora potato, Greenpeace said in reaction to the commission green light.

"Releasing BASF's GM potato into the environment could raise bacterial resistance to life-saving medicines, including drugs used for the treatment of tuberculosis," said the group's agriculture campaigner, Marco Contiero.

"In six years, [EU Commission President] Barroso has been unable to bury scientific evidence questioning the safety of this GM potato," he continued, but now "health commissioner Dalli has agreed to this cold-blooded approval that flies in the face of science, public opinion and EU law."

In 2001, the EU adopted legislation phasing out products containing antibiotic resistance genes.

BASF for its part was happy with the decision. "After waiting for more than 13 years, we are delighted that the European Commission has approved Amflora," said Stefan Marcinowski, a member of the BASF board.

The company said commercial cultivation of the potato could begin as soon as this year. The potato is intended for industrial processes rather than human consumption. Its starch gives paper a higher gloss, and makes concrete and adhesives stay wet for a longer period of time, reducing the consumption of energy and raw materials.

Europabio, the European biotech industry trade association, said: "Today's approvals represent a step in the right direction and a return to science-based decision making. This is essential if European farmers are to be given the freedom to choose whether or not to cultivate innovative GM crops."


2 March 2010

European Commission gives green light to genetically modified potatoes
• Public let down by EU's new consumer chief, says Friends of the Earth Europe

Friends of the Earth Europe media statement, 2 March 2010:

Brussels, March 2 - A decision announced today by Europe's new health and consumer commissioner, John Dalli, to give the go ahead for genetically modified potatoes to be grown in Europe, has been condemned by Friends of the Earth Europe.

The 'Amflora' potato, designed to produce starch for industrial purposes by Germany's chemical giant BASF, carries a controversial antibiotic resistant gene which it cannot be guaranteed will not enter the food chain.

Heike Moldenhauer, GMO spokesperson for Friends of the Earth Europe said: "This is a bad day for European citizens and the environment. The new Commissioner whose job is to protect consumers has in one of his first decisions ignored public opinion and safety concerns to please the world's biggest chemical company. This decision puts profit before people or the environment and will do little to increase public confidence in the Brussels bureaucracy.

"There are clear health concerns surrounding this GM potato. The antibiotics affected by Amflora are vital tools against illness and despite growing resistance to these life saving drugs, industry has added them to potatoes with no guarantees that they will not get into the food chain. This is nothing less then a crass decision that puts the public at risk."

Heike Moldenhauer continued: "With this decision Commissioner Dalli has not only snubbed European citizens, the vast majority of who reject GMOs, he has snubbed member states as well. The new Commission promised to let national governments decide on whether to grow GM crops on their own territory but at the first possible opportunity they have broken this promise. Dalli has introduced himself as a Commissioner who can't be trusted."

Amflora is highly controversial mainly due to its antibiotic resistant gene. The potato was given official approval by the European Food Safety Authority but for the first time the judgment of the scientific body wasn't unanimous. Two EFSA scientists stated that the possibility of a transfer of antibiotic resistant genes to bacteria within the gastro-intestinal-tract cannot be predicted.

Two other conventional potato varieties already on the market have the same characteristics as Amflora - one developed by German plant breeder Europlant, the other by Dutch company Avebe. The existence of these non-GM alternatives means that there is no reason for farmers to have to cultivate Amflora for the European starch industry and no need to introduce the risk of spreading antibiotic resistance.

For more information please contact:

Heike Moldenhauer, Friends of the Earth Germany/BUND, 0049 (0) 30 275 86 - 456, mobile: 0049 30 275 86 456,

Francesca Gater, communications officer for Friends of the Earth Europe, +32 2893 1010, +32 485 930515,


EC forces through "bad decision" on GM industrial potato and ignores health risks

GM Freeze [UK], 2 March 2010:

The announcement by the EC [1] that they have approved BASF's GM starch altered potato for cultivation to produce starch to be used by industry has been described as a "bad and ill informed decision" by GM Freeze.

The pulp remaining after the starch has been extracted will be allowed fed to animals following a parallel decision also announced by the Commission today. Products produced from livestock fed the GM potato pulp will not be required to be labelled under EU traceability and labelling laws. There is already widespread support for labelling [2] and this is another example of how EC is ignoring public opinion and denying choice.

Several non-GM starch altered potatoes are already on the market demonstrating that there is no need for GM varieties. The most recent being the Emsland Group's announcement in September 2009 that it planned to start processing high amylopectin potatoes (starch altered) developed using classical breeding in their production plants in Kyritz and Cloppenburg last autumn [3].

The EC decision in controversial because it is based on advice from the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) regarding the use of antibiotic resistant marker (ARM) genes [4] which has been challenged by the European Medicines Agency (EMA). GM Freeze is also concerned about the overall testing of feed safety for instance the lack of attention to the presence of novel chemicals arising from genetic engineering events.

The EU policy is to avoid using ARMs for antibiotics which are used in human or veterinary medicine.

The ARM gene in these potatoes confers resistance to kanamycin. Although this is from a group of antibiotic resistant genes approved by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) for use as markers in GM crops, the EMA has challenged EFSA's opinion based on the potential importance of this group of antibiotics in medicine [5]. The concern is that the ARMs genes could horizontally transfer to pathogenic bacterium in the guts of humans or animals this worsening the problem of antibiotic resistance in treating a range of infections.

Previously the application to grow the starch altered GM potatoes failed to reach the required qualified majority vote in the EU's Council of Ministers because of the concerns about the ARMs. This led the EC to seek further advice from EFSA and the EMA. EMA told the EC [5]:

"Not withstanding the EFSA opinion, aminoglycosides is a class of antibiotics that has become increasingly important in the prevention and treatment of serious invasive bacterial infections in humans. This is because gram-negative bacteria (and tuberculosis bacteria) are becoming resistant to other classes of antibiotics."


"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."

Potatoes for the production of industrial starch are grown on a quota system in the EU and the UK does not have any quota at the present time.

Controversially, the EC also forced through three consents to import GM maize for use in food and feed which had also failed to reach a qualified majority in the Council of Ministers. These GM maize varieties involved stacked genes (combining genes from two different GMOs in the same plant) and there is disagreement on how the safety of these should be assessed [6].

Commenting Pete Riley of GM freeze said:

"The approval of the GM potatoes is a bad and ill informed decision by the EC and shows that their interpretation of the precautionary principle is very far from what it should be. It flies in the face of sound advice on the risks of the particular anti-biotic resistant marker genes used by BASF. This gene could have been removed long ago but BASF decided not to do so. As a consequence, the gene will be entering the animal feed chain in Europe. If the gene transfers to harmful bacteria take place we will know who to blame. Gaps in the GM labelling regulations mean that EU consumers will not be able to tell if their meat or milk comes from stock fed on GM potato pulp when they make their purchases."

Calls to Pete Riley + 44 (0)845 217 8992 or + 44 (0)7903 341065


1. See

2. A Gkf/NOP poll in 1986 for GM Freeze and Friends of the Earth found 86% of people in the Uk wanted animal products from GM feed animals labelled

3. See Emsland Group Press Release

4. ARMs are not required in the commercial crop and are used by genetic engineers to make it easy to identify which plants have been successfully genetically modified during the very early development stages of the GM potatoes.

5. See

6. Bundesminiterium Fur Gesundheit Familie und Jugend, 2007. Risk Assessment of "stacked events". See


GE food: Coming soon!?!?! - to a supermarket new you?

Greenpeace International, 2 March 2010:

[Note: the original text on the Greenpeace website features numerous informative hyperlinks not included here]

International - Just when we thought the threat to our environment couldn't get any worse after world leaders failed to secure a deal to save the climate in Copenhagen - we're now stunned to discover that the EU Commission is exploiting a 'backdoor' loophole to get genetically manipulated crops onto the supermarket shelves in the EU - and into our mouths.

The European Commission has just authorised the cultivation of a genetically engineered crop for the first time since 1998. Health Commissioner John Dalli, in agreement with EU President Barroso, used a procedural move -- the so-called 'written procedure' -- to authorise a genetically engineered potato and thereby avoided a debate in the College of Commissioners. The genetically engineered potato (known as Amflora) has been developed by German agro-chemical company BASF.

It is widely accepted that GE crops pose an unacceptable risk to the environment, as well as to human and animal health. However, the Health Commissioner has literally forced the authorisation of this crop without even holding a debate with his fellow Commissioners. By hiding behind bureaucratic formalities the EU Commission is essentially force-feeding Europeans with products that they don't want. Such a decision is shocking and sets a dangerous precedent that the profit-driven agro-chemical companies will undoubtedly take advantage of.

UPDATE: March 4th, The shocking approval of the GE potato by Barroso's Commission has been met with a wave of strong reactions among the EU member-states. The governments of Greece, Austria, Luxembourg, Italy, Hungary and France have publicly announced that they will not allow the cultivation of the GE potato in their countries. And various ministers have expressed their frustration with the decision of Barroso -- who is neglecting the unanimous call from the EU Environment Ministers Council to repair the system of authorisations of GE crops. Germany company Emsland, the second biggest starch producer worldwide, has also announced that they will not use the GE potato because of the strong opposition against it.

What's the big deal?

The BASF GE potato contains a gene resistant to certain antibiotics. Releasing it into the environment could raise bacterial resistance to life-saving medicines, including drugs used for the treatment of tuberculosis. The World Health Organization and the European Medicines Agency have warned about the critical importance of the antibiotics affected by the gene inserted into the Amflora potato. In this respect, the authorisation of BASF's GE potato breaches EU law. Since December 2004, it is forbidden to market crops with antibiotic resistant genes that could pose a threat to human health or the environment.

Barroso has been trying to force GE food onto the European market against the wishes of many member states and public opinion. He has allowed thousands of agro-chemicals to the markets without health or environmental safety tests.

It's not just about potatoes...

We have urgent concerns about the intention of President Barroso and Health Commissioner Dalli to authorise the cultivation of genetically engineered crops in Europe. Hot on the trails of the GE potato are three pesticide-producing maize varieties produced by Monsanto (MON810), Pioneer (Bt11) and Syngenta (1507) all awaiting authorisation. All of these crops have proven adverse environmental impacts.

GE crops cause many environmental problems. Most of them are created to resist high does of herbicides (developed and sold by the same companies that market the GE crop). As a consequence weed populations become resistant to herbicides and farmers need to increase the amount of chemicals spread on fields. Apart from hitting farmers economically the chemicals could affect their health. And the increased usage of agro-chemicals has serious effect on insects that are naturally part of the eco system and are an essential part of it. Throwing the insect population out of balance could result in need of heavy use of insecticides to control them, adding to the chemical cocktail on our food, soils and water. On top of that GE crops could sporadically spread and interbreed with non GE environments, contaminating and taking over farmer's crops. This sometimes creates 'monster plants' and gives farmers no other choice but to purchase GE seeds and the chemicals to grow them, from agro-chemical giants like Monsanto or BASF.

A-maize-ing in Mexico

In Mexico - our activists scaled a national monument and unfolded a massive banner in Guadalajara (see image above) - where an international conference started this week on agricultural biotechnologies in developing countries. The banner called on the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) to stop GE crops and protect maize.

We expect this conference to heavily promote the propaganda that GE is one of the tools needed to help developing countries out of hunger and poverty. This conference is taking place just as Mexico is about to unleash GE maize in experimental field trials. Mexico is the centre of origin and diversity for this staple crop. Cultivating GE maize here will irreversibly contaminate a centre of biodiversity.

Our office in Mexico is also contributing to the organisation of a parallel forum that is going to run during the FAO conference, with round tables on risks and alternatives to GE, movie showings, a demonstration and meetings with media and local celebrities who support ecological farming.

GE-free Germany

On Monday, over 500 of our activists from all over Germany ate a GE-free lunch at the Brandenburg Gate to protest the GE-friendly policies of the government. Even though most Germans object to genetically manipulated food, the government wants to promote GE agriculture, especially -- yes you've guessed it! -- the GE 'Amflora potato' from BASF. The banquet was set up so that the tables spelled out 'NEIN' (NO) when seen from above. According to a public poll in January, 79 percent of Germans oppose GE crops for cultivation because of the ecological risks. And they don't want to be 'guinea-pigs' for the GE industry.

Flogging a dead horse

In April 2008, the World Bank and several UN bodies concluded the Global Agricultural Assessment Report, the first-ever scientific assessment of global agriculture. It was compiled over four years by more than 400 scientists from around the world and signed by 58 governments. Contrary to the GE industry propaganda, this assessment sees no role for GE crops in eradicating hunger and ensuring food security. The future of agriculture lies in agroecological systems that create jobs and stimulate rural development, defend nature and people by protecting soil, water and climate, and promote biodiversity. Such farming systems ensure healthy farming and healthy food for today and tomorrow, and do not contaminate the environment with chemicals or genetic engineering.

European citizens mostly reject GE food and have done so consistently for almost 15 years. About 60 percent of the EU population oppose the use of GE crops in agriculture. In 2009 European farmers planted 11 percent fewer GE crops compared to the previous year, due to higher prices and the low appeal of GE crops. Given the overwhelming and diverse outcries against GE crops from countries around the world we find it especially disturbing that the EU Comission is now by-passing proper procedures for GE authorisation.

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