Wednesday, February 27, 2008
LE MONDE SELON MONSANTO (THE WORLD ACCORDING TO MONSANTO) is due to be broadcast on the Franco-German TV channel ARTE on 11th March (we think at 2100 hrs, French time).
Filmed in North America, Europe and Asia, it looks at Monsanto's record since its inception in 1901, taking in PCBs, Agent Orange, rBGH, GMOs and the rest of the company's extraordinary toxic legacy.
There's lots of information about the film in French - plus some images and an extract - on the ARTE website:
The film's in-depth investigation into Monsanto apparently took over three years. And we know just how carefully the film and book have been researched because the director, Marie-Monique Robin, came and spent a good part of a day with GM Watch checking through the minutiae of the evidence for Monsanto's online PR attacks on scientific critics like Dr. Ignacio Chapela.
Incidentally, those interviewed in the film include Kirk J. Azevedo - a former Monsanto employee whose career came to a grinding halt because of his concern at the practices of his employer who was allowing test plot material from genetically engineered cotton seed to enter the food supply without proper testing.
Director: Marie-Monique Robin
Author: Marie-Monique Robin
Producer: IMAGE AND COMPANY
Following an intensive investigation conducted over three years in North America and southern Europe and Asia, this film reveals Monsanto's project for world-domination, which threatens the food security of the world and the ecological balance of the planet.
'THE WORLD ACCORDING TO MONSANTO' investigates the American multinational Monsanto, the world leader in biotechnology and one of the most controversial companies of the industrial age.
Ninety percent of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) grown today on the planet, such as soybeans, canola, corn, and cotton, belong to it and in future it aims to control the entire food supply.
Monsanto's GMOs have invaded the world and never has any agro-industrial application aroused as much passion and controversy. Why? What are the issues around GMOs? The risks and benefits for mankind?
Drawing on unpublished documents and the testimony of scientists, representatives of civil society, victims, lawyers, politicians, representatives of the US Food and Drug Administration, and conducting investigations on the ground among farmers in India, Mexico, Paraguay, the director Marie-Monique Robin - winner of the prestigious Albert Londres prize - has patiently assembled the pieces of a large economic puzzle.
Following an intensive investigation conducted over three years in North America and southern Europe and Asia, the film depicts the genesis of an industrial empire and shows how [Monsanto] became one of the foremost seed-suppliers in the world. It shows how, behind the clean green image portrayed in its advertising campaigns, is hidden a project for world-domination that threatens both global food security and also the ecological balance of the planet.
- Green thumbs are proliferating from an unexpected source
By Juan Martinez
Publishers Weekly, February 25, 2008
Straight to the Source
The answer, according to many publishers, authors and educators, is young people. In a world going green, the under-35s have taken it upon themselves to make positive use of their natural surroundings. College courses and easily accessible online resources have turned what was once referred to as a middle-aged pastime into a multibillion-dollar-a-year industry. Before the rise of the Internet, those who may have desired to grow their own tomatoes might have been baffled by the prospect, struggling to find information in their local library. Today, however, prospective gardeners are but a few clicks away from a plethora of knowledge. And gardening is so popular with the younger set that a Google search combining young + people + gardening yields 42.7 million results.
Pam Art, president of Storey Publishing, believes that two factors are responsible for the surge of young gardeners: a heightened awareness of green issues and an interest in preserving natural resources-and the ability to do it in one's own backyard. "Perhaps not since the 1970s and the homesteading era has the interest been so great in gardening using ecologically sound methods, including having organic lawns and flower and vegetable gardens," says Art. Storey's The Complete Compost Gardening Guide by Barbara Pleasant and Deborah L. Martin, out this month, follows the green theme by urging readers to "take the compost bin from behind the garage and place it right in the garden, where it becomes part of a nourishing, organic environment."
With an ecological crisis looming, Cool Springs publisher Roger Waynick sees young people turning to gardening as a means of "nurturing the planet back to health." Each individual gardener, he says, believes he or she is "taking care of their little piece of earth." Waynick notes that the just released Green Gardener's Guide: Simple, Significant Actions to Protect & Preserve Our Planet by Joe Lamp'l plays directly into this goal.
The ecologically conscious gardener is also likely to be more selective when it comes to what he or she eats. Community supported agriculture and organizations such as the Northeast Organic Farmers Association, as well as farmer's markets found in virtually every community are also part of this trend, says Pam Art.
Karen Bolesta, senior editor for Rodale Lifestyle Books, believes that young gardeners are not only interested in sprucing up their first landscape; they also want to "grow their own salad greens. There's such enthusiasm for a green lifestyle and a living-more-lightly attitude, and we find that goes hand-in-hand with organic gardening." Chelsea Green publicist Jessica Saturley, too, views organic gardening and local eating as "increasingly popular topics." Coming in June from Chelsea Green distribution client Green Publishing is Charles Dowding's Salad Leaves for All Seasons: Organic Growing from Pot to Plot. And published last month, Rodale's Newspapers, Pennies, Cardboard, & Eggs-For Growing a Better Garden: More than 400 New, Fun, and Ingenious Ideas to Keep Your Garden Growing Great All Season Long by Roger Yepsen and the editors of Organic Gardening is an example, says Bolesta, of the "great no-nonsense tips book... used by successful backyard gardeners today."
Firefly publisher Lionel Koffler offers an additional reason for this spurt of gardening newcomers: first-time home ownership. "Starter homes' front and back gardens have almost nothing in them," he says. "There are millions of these houses whose owners don't have a clue as to what it takes to make a mature shrub and perennial garden five and seven years hence." A March Firefly title, Time-Saving Gardener: Tips and Essential Tasks, Season by Season by Carolyn Hutchinson, addresses the many concerns of gardeners in this category.
Sandy Siegle, media and sales director at Timber Press, concurs with Koffler's assertion about first-time home ownership, but adds that this new generation of gardener considers things its parents never would have. "They are interested in a beautiful outdoor space, yet many aren't sure how to get there. Some will want to figure it out and in the process they will consider things like the environment and sustainability."
In some cases, sustainability is getting a makeover. Author Barbara Damrosch's The Garden Primer, which has been a gardening must-read for 20 years, is being published next month by Workman in a "completely updated, 100% organic edition." Damrosch herself has noticed a change in today's young gardeners versus their '70s counterparts: "[Today's young gardeners] aren't dropping out, but they feel they are making somewhat radical personal choices." Though the young people who come to her farm have Blackberries and iPods, "they are very, very tuned in to what is fake and what is real when it comes to food.... They see food and food growing as a political issue."
Gardening in Academe and Online
To say that the new green thumb isn't dropping out is an understatement. Gardening has become a recognized field of study in most universities. Author William Cullina-whose Native Ferns, Moss, and Grasses: From Emerald Carpet to Amber Wave, Serene and Sensuous Plants for the Garden (Houghton Mifflin, Feb.)-was always interested in nature and gardening, though it wasn't until college that he decided to pursue horticulture as a career. Cullina says that as a child, while his brothers read the Hardy Boys or comic books, he "used to pore over nature books, field guides and back issues of Natural History and National Geographic." Though he chose to study statistics in college, he "started thinking seriously of horticulture as a career" and later went on to earn degrees in plant science and psychology. For Cullina-like so many younger gardeners-gardening morphed from a childhood passion into both a profession and a lifelong hobby.
Jeff Gillman, a University of Minnesota associate professor of horticultural studies and author of The Truth About Organic Gardening: Benefits, Drawbacks and the Bottom Line (Timber Press, Feb.), has witnessed an influx of students with backgrounds similar to Cullina's. "Recently, we have had an increase in the number of students enrolling who already have degrees," Gillman says. These students, he adds, bring with them a networking ability unfamiliar to previous generations: "Blogs such as GardenRant and ColdClimateGardening are making it easier for young gardeners to share information and experiences. As new gardeners appear, they have an easier time finding how-to information through these routes." Siegle at Timber Press is a firm believer in the Internet's influence on this new gardening generation: "For the young, the Web lends credibility. If you as a professional want to reach an audience younger than 30-the age may actually be higher now-you must have a Web site."
These sites haven't only connected adults to adults. Children have also benefited from the enthusiasm of online gardeners. Web sites such as jmgkids.us, which aims "to grow good kids by igniting a passion for learning, success and service through a unique gardening education," and kidsgardening.org are helping parents and educators teach through gardening. Over 37,000 children and 4,500 adults participated in kidsgardening.com's 2007 grant programs. Educators used the grants to teach subjects ranging from health and nutrition to history.
According to Clair Frost, a teacher at Camino Union Elementary in Camino, Calif., and winner of a 2006 Youth Garden Grant from the NGA, "When we started our garden program, garden time quickly became the most anticipated 45 minutes of the week. Students experienced hands-on learning in science, math, language arts, health and nutrition. Those on the fringe academically and socially became leaders of their peers in the garden."
Show Them the Books!
Given the money that's being spent by a generation of younger gardeners, one would think publishers would be eager to produce books on managing their new hobby. Instead, there's been a glut of insider guides, relatively unusable for those with little or no knowledge of gardening. Koffler says that Firefly Books grew on the first wave of gardening bestsellers in the '70s and '80s. He claims that the customers who helped create the boom have already had their share of gardening books: "That group of customers knows everything they really need to know. Publishers need to turn to young people to start a market again."
Another reason the market might have taken a downturn is the publication of books lacking practical information-or, as Barbara Damrosch refers to them, "Gardening books with a coffee-table feel. We all bought too many of them, because they were gorgeous."
So what can publishers do to create a new market for young gardeners? Damrosch believes what consumers are looking for now are books loaded with solid tips and information.
Sterling associate publisher Jason Prince agrees. Last year's Gardening with Children from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden (distributed by Sterling), he notes, "simply and visually explains the basics." Sterling's texts for younger audiences, he says, keep things basic and simple. When dealing with inexperienced gardeners of all ages, the key for Prince is to make it fun, interactive and doable.
Simplicity is also a key to DK's success in this area, says executive managing editor Sharon Lucas. The publisher's method of attracting inexperienced gardeners is similar to its overall approach: "pictures integrated with easy-to-understand text-making [the books] accessible and relevant to the more visually attracted, sound-bite-preferring younger reader." This month the publisher adds two new titles to its Simple Steps gardening series: Low Maintenance Gardening and Shrubs and Small Trees.
Houghton Mifflin editor Frances Tenenbaum believes that gardening books that "combine brilliant, encyclopedic information with wit, humor and personality make gardening feel accessible and fun to young people, who are just now turning to gardening." Despite the statistics, Tenenbaum doesn't believe that gardening has become any more popular in the past five years, or that book sales have slumped, but she does admit that she would welcome any upswing in the genre's popularity.
Koffler, who unlike Tenenbaum recognizes the increasing interest in gardening, believes that gardening books for beginners need to assume that readers are "downtowners" rather than people in rural areas: "A lot of young people who are getting into gardening have no real experience with what a landscape is. It's a different kind of introduction for them."
A Different Approach
Young gardeners consider their hobby differently than their predecessors, says Storey's Pam Art-"they approach it almost as a craft." Magazines like Domino and ReadyMade, she says, feature gardening as "a way to create something eye-catching, unique, artistic and self-expressive." A May release, Deborah Peterson's Don't Throw It, Grow It!, says Art, instructs readers on turning kitchen scraps into windowsill plants that "will appeal to crafter-gardeners with an eye for the unusual."
Perhaps the digital age in general is also to blame for the lack of interest in printed information. Sterling's Prince credits the proliferation of targeted TV channels like HGTV and the DIY network. Others, such as Timber Press publisher Neal Maillet, think that young people just don't have the time to dedicate to gardening that older generations have. Which is why he poses the genre's most important question: "What can you get from a garden book that you can't get from the Internet or magazines?"
After all, why would an inexperienced gardener spend money on a book catering to an experienced gardener's needs when there is an abundance of information online about how to get started? Discussing blogs and online magazines, Gillman at the University of Minnesota says, "As new gardeners appear, they have an easier time finding how-to information through these routes."
Rodale's Bolesta thinks publishers need to rely on "notable authors with voices of experience, wonderful visuals and great packaging" to compete with the Internet. The combination of these three things, she says, can "convince a reader that a garden book is as worthwhile as a keyboard."
Maillet agrees. He believes that there is a certain kind of learning that balances the visual, technical and inspirational that only a book can provide. The industry is adapting to provide a better reading experience for the generation coming up, he claims. "We still put our focus on finding the credible author who can give the reader the reassurance that their money is well spent by buying a book rather than just Googling for free."
Perhaps there is more at play here than just supply and demand. According to DK's Lucas, "Publishers are fighting to get gardening books into the stores, period, and an interesting niche title aimed at the younger market is going to be difficult to place at the garden centers. This is a price point issue, but also a customer issue-young people aren't going to a garden center to buy books."
With the sudden wave of enthusiasm surrounding green-focused gardening, most industry insiders aren't too worried about the slump in sales. "I also think that these kinds of categories tend to be cyclical," says Sterling's Prince, "and my hope is that we will see the trend reverse itself at some point in the near future."
Sunday, February 24, 2008
Unapproved biotech corn grown in Iowa
By PHILIP BRASHER, Register Washington Bureau Desmoines Register, February 22 2008
Washington, D.C. - Some corn seed produced by Dow AgroSciences and grown in Iowa has been contaminated with small amounts of an unapproved biotech variety since 2006, the company and government officials disclosed Friday.
Federal officials said that there was no risk to humans or livestock from the grain and that it won't be recalled. However, Dow has recalled the contaminated seed that was sold for the 2008 crop.
Most of the contaminated corn was planted in Iowa and most of the recalled seed had been distributed in the state, according to the company.
It is the latest in a series of incidents in which unapproved biotech varieties of corn and rice have made their way into seed or grain supplies. The first incident occurred in 2000 when a genetically modified corn variety known as StarLink was found in food products despite not having been approved for human consumption.
Greg Jaffe of the Center for Science in the Public Interest said the Dow mixup shows that the biotech industry isn't policing itself adequately.
The contamination occurred when pollen from the unapproved biotech corn stalks landed on a patch of approved stalks, said Garry Hamlin, a spokesman for Dow. Both types of plants were growing in the same research plot.
Dow discovered the contaminated seed while doing some testing last month and notified the government Jan. 25, Hamlin said.
The contaminated seed was sold by Dow affiliate Mycogen Seeds under the labels Herculex RW and Herculex XTRA. The seed is genetically engineered to make the plants toxic to insect pests.
The Environmental Protection Agency said the contaminated grain posed no safety risk because the proteins produced by the unapproved Dow variety, known as Event 32, were identical to the proteins in an approved variety, known as Event 22.
NOTE: According to the USDA, FDA, EPA press statement released late Friday, 'Dow reported that in 2007 approximately 53,000 acres of the affected products were planted in the United States.'
Although the contaminated corn seed has been grown since 2006 it was apparently never detected till January this year. The US Government was told about the problem on January 25th, and has taken nearly a month to come up with a response to tell the rest of us.
According to Dow, those tens of thousands of acres of contaminated corn all originated because pollen from some unapproved GM corn stalks growing in a research plot 'landed on a patch of approved stalks'. GM crop trials anyone?
For the official US Government press release: http://yosemite.epa.gov/opa/admpress.nsf/0/d6e59239f16a8fa1852573f7006c1fc3?OpenDocument
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
By Claire Robinson
[a slightly edited version of this article was originally published in The Ecologist - www.theecologist.org]
The United States government has given the go-ahead for a test plot of genetically modified (GM) eucalyptus trees in Alabama. For the first time, these trees will be allowed to flower and set seed, opening the door to potential widespread contamination of the American South. Some of the trees are genetically engineered by biotech firm ArborGen for cold tolerance, while others are engineered with 'confidential' traits. Published articles and industry reports indicate that these traits may include the ability to kill insects and reduced lignin. Lignin gives strength to trees and enables them to take up water.
The permit for the flowering GM eucalyptus was approved by APHIS (the Animal Plant Health Inspection Service, a sub-department of the US Department of Agriculture). The approval follows APHIS's grant of non-regulated status for the GM pox-resistant 'Honeysweet' plum, which the USDA itself helped develop. Non-regulated status is given on the basis that APHIS has decided that the plant does not present a risk of introduction or dissemination of a plant pest. Deregulation of the GM plum marked the first commercial release of a GM temperate tree in the US. It occurred in spite of the fact that public comments against the proposal to deregulate the plum outnumbered those in favour by 100 to 1.
APHIS has also approved the largest-ever release in the US of GM poplars. Some are modified for reduced stature and light response, others for altered lignin content, and others to result in a male-sterile plant.
This raft of GM tree approvals confirms that the trend in the US regulatory system is to rubber-stamp applications for release with disregard for the risks. Anne Petermann, co-director of the Global Justice Ecology Project, says, 'There is no independent risk assessment going on in the US or anywhere else with regard to GM trees.'
As far as eucalyptus is concerned, even to introduce it in its non-GM form could be foolhardy. Eucalyptus is a species of the tropics and subtropics, and is not native to the US. In countries where it has been introduced, it has become invasive. The fact that some of ArborGen's GM eucalyptus trees are modified to be cold tolerant will extend their ability to colonize. There is no way of knowing how this and the eucalyptus’s other GM traits (which ArborGen will not reveal) may impact forests and wildlife.
Another problem with GM eucalyptus trees that APHIS ignores is the risk to people and animals. The Global Justice Ecology Project has uncovered evidence that one of the eucalyptus species engineered into the GM version is host to a deadly pathogenic fungus called Cryptococcus gattii, which causes fatal fungus meningitis in people and animals that inhale its spores. Cases are increasing worldwide, possibly coinciding with the spread of introduced eucalyptus. Two recent studies show that the fungal human pathogen is common in eucalyptus and that it is endemic in the Northwest US and British Columbia, Canada. APHIS ignored the fact that eucalyptus poses a threat as a plant pest spreading a human pathogen. It has dismissed the warnings of scientists such as Dr Joseph Heitman, director of the Center for Microbial Pathogenesis at Duke University Medical Center and an expert on Cryptococcus, who said, 'Introducing large numbers of eucalyptus trees in the United States has the potential to provide a suitable habitat for Cryptococcus gattii.'
A major reason why regulators are bowing to industry pressure to commercialize GM trees is that they are claimed to offset carbon emissions, and thus qualify for subsidies under the Kyoto Protocol's Clean Development Mechanism. In addition, the rising demand for biofuels has opened up an opportunity for proponents to rescue GM crops from chronic market failure by promoting them as energy crops.
Unfortunately, energy crops, including GM trees, are far from sustainable. The United Nations is one of several bodies that have pointed out that the rush to energy crops threatens food shortages and increased poverty. Worldwide grain shortages have already been blamed on agricultural land being given over to biofuel crops. The UN report also says biofuel crops are not guaranteed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Biofuels result in some reductions in emissions compared to petroleum fuels, it says, but this is provided there is no clearing of forest or peat that store centuries of carbon. In reality, deforestation is already speeding up in Brazil, Malaysia, and Indonesia to make way for palm oil and other plantations to feed the new biodiesel market.
The traits engineered into GM trees bring their own environmental problems. Sterility technology as used in GM poplars is designed to make the trees male-sterile by making the pollen non-viable. It is increasingly used as a selling point by the GM industry on the grounds that it will prevent GM contamination of conventional plants. However, it is a 'leaky' technology, in that some viable pollen is produced. Thus the male sterility trait could spread to contaminate non-GM trees, and could lead to sterile forests.
Bt trees, in which a pesticide is engineered into every cell, are toxic to insects. Evidence is growing that Bt crops are also toxic to other non-target organisms, such as animals that graze on them or feed on the insects that have ingested the Bt. Bt crops also infect soil, leaving it toxic to other plants. Trees have life-cycles of 100 years or more, so Bt tree plantations will be sources of toxicity for many years to come.
Low-lignin trees are of particular value to the biofuels industry. Anne Petermann explains, 'Since cellulose is the material of interest in trees in the manufacture of cellulosic ethanol, and lignin gets in the way of accessing this cellulose, genetically engineering trees for higher cellulose and reduced lignin content is of great economic interest. I would venture it unlikely that industry would pursue trees for cellulosic ethanol without them being genetically engineered.' The problem with low-lignin trees is that half their strength has been removed, making them vulnerable to environmental stresses such as high winds and pest attack. The tendency of GM traits to leak into ecosystems raises the prospect of disastrously weakened forests unable to cope with increasingly extreme weather. And once fallen, low-lignin trees decompose more rapidly, returning carbon dioxide to the atmosphere at an accelerated timescale and thereby negating any supposed greenhouse gas benefits.
In spite of the hype surrounding the use of wood for biofuels, the technology does not yet exist to do it efficiently. Probably, it cannot be done without using GM enzymes. For this reason, the US Department of Energy's Joint Genome Institute is involved in a project to genetically engineer the enzyme from the gut of a termite to aid the cellulose digestion process. As Anne Petermann says, 'Imagine the impact on forests if that got loose smoehow.' But it seems that when it comes to GM trees, our regulators would prefer not to imagine, or even to exercise common sense.
1.USDA Approves 1st Flowering GE Tree (Eucalyptus), APHIS (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) notification, http://www.stopgetrees.org/article.php?story=20070716121113880
2.National Effort Launched to Stop Genetically Engineered Eucalyptus Plantations in US Southeast, http://aeconline.wagdc.com/?sn=367
3.Transgenic Plum Gets USDA Non-regulated Status Based on False Claims of Safety, http://www.i-sis.org.uk/TransgenicPlumUSDA.php
4.Unregulated Release of GM Poplars and Hybrids, http://www.i-sis.org.uk/GMpoplarsandhybrids.php
5.Anne Petermann, personal communication 6.U.S. Health & Enviro Agencies Asked to Investigate Potential Link Between Pathogenic Fungus & Introduced GE Eucalyptus, http://www.stopgetrees.org/article.php?story=20070614090301897
Personal communication with Prof. Joe Cummins. Joe Cummins cites 2 studies to support his statement that 'the fungal human pathogen is common in eucalyptus' and 'endemic' in the Northwest US and British Columbia, Canada, respectively: (i) Gugnani HC et al, Isolation of Cryptococcus gattii and Cryptococcus neoformans var. grubii from the flowers and bark of Eucalyptus trees in India, Med Mycol. 2005 Sep;43(6):565-9; (ii) MacDougall L et al, Spread of Cryptococcus gattii in British Columbia, Canada, and detection in the Pacific Northwest, USA, Emerg Infect Dis. 2007 Jan;13(1):42-50.
7.U.S. Health & Enviro Agencies Asked to Investigate Potential Link Between Pathogenic Fungus & Introduced GE Eucalyptus, http://www.stopgetrees.org/article.php?story=20070614090301897
8.Moratorium on all GM Trees and Ban on GM Forest Trees, http://www.i-sis.org.uk/Moratorium_on_all_GM_Trees.php
9.Global rush to energy crops threatens to bring food shortages and increase poverty, says UN, http://www.gmwatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=7849
10.ENERGY-CHINA: Biofuels Eating Into Food Grain Stocks, http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=35905
11.Biofuels: Biodevastation, Hunger & False Carbon Credits, http://www.i-sis.org.uk/BiofuelsBiodevastationHunger.php
12.Moratorium on all GM Trees and Ban on GM Forest Trees, http://www.i-sis.org.uk/Moratorium_on_all_GM_Trees.php
13.Bt Cotton & Livestock effects: CSA meets farmers & officials in Adilabad district', http://www.gmwatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=7614
14.Genetically-modified Bt cotton a cropper: Study, http://www.gmwatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=5103
15.Anne Petermann, personal communication 16.Moratorium on all GM Trees and Ban on GM Forest Trees, http://www.i-sis.org.uk/Moratorium_on_all_GM_Trees.php
17.Termite Gut Bacteria as Allies in Biofuel Production, http://www.cedab.it/newsletter_ISAAA.asp?IDnews=103#ancora9
The Guardian, February 18 2008
The consequences of contamination between GM crops and non-GM varieties will be much more serious with the next generation of GM crops, an influential group of US scientists has warned.
Mixing between GM and non-GM varieties has already caused serious economic losses for producers in lost sales and exports. But the consequences of mixing will be much more serious with new crops that are altered to produce pharmaceuticals and industrial chemicals, the scientists argue. The crops could harm human health and be toxic to wild animals.
'What would be the impact societally, economically if for example, cornflakes were contaminated by some sort of drug or chemical? I think it would be a vast impact economically,' said Karen Perry Stillerman, senior food and environment programme analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists.
'I think it's really hard to say [what impact contamination would have] because there is a variety of different drugs and chemicals that might be manufactured in plants this way,' she added. 'Our perception is that some of them might be toxic, but all of them would certainly cause tremendous economic upheaval.'
The group presented its findings at the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Boston.
Huge research effort
Up to now, commercial GM varieties have been restricted mainly to modifications for herbicide tolerance or resistance to pests. But a huge research effort is going into a new generation of crops that are genetically modified to produce drugs, hormones, vaccines and industrial chemicals such as the precursors of plastics.
Although public opinion in Britain and the rest of Europe remains firmly against GM crops in general, it is more favourable to crops with medical benefits. But the Union of Concerned Scientists said that these are precisely the crops that pose the greatest risks if they exchange genes with wild relatives or conventional versions of the same crop.
So-called 'pharma crops' can offer advantages over current methods of drug manufacture. Vaccines produced this way could be grown cheaply in developing countries and simply given to patients in the food. That would remove the need for sterile needles and refrigerators to keep vaccine doses cold - a major obstacle for delivering therapies in poor countries.
Prof Paul Gepts, a plant geneticist at the University of California, Davis, said past experience suggests that 'contamination' events cannot be avoided. 'Gene flow is really a regular occurrence among plants. So if you put a gene out there it's going to escape. It's going to go to other varieties of the same crop or to its wild relatives,' he said. 'It's clear that zero contamination is impossible at present.'
Major economic losses
There have been a handful of examples in the US and elsewhere of genes from GM varieties not cleared for human consumption getting into nearby food crops and hence the human food chain. This has led to major economic losses for producers in lost sales, exports and clean-up costs, but there have been no proven cases of damage to human health.
'With the products we are talking about, there's the potential for that to be much more serious than what we have seen so far,' said Prof Robert Wisner at Iowa State University.
According to Gepts, most of the ideas for keeping crops apart are inadequate, because pollen and seed are carried on the wind, by animals and birds and on farm machinery. He said the only way to be sure that food crops would not be contaminated by drug genes or genes for industrial chemicals would be to use non-food crops such as tobacco.
Alternatively, GM food plants could be grown in greenhouses or underground to prevent pollen escaping, he said.
The Union of Concerned Scientists is calling on the US Department of Agriculture to ban the growth of GM pharma crops outdoors unless they are species that are not eaten by people or livestock.
The USDA is currently putting together new guidelines on GM that are expected to be completed by the end of the year. Currently, no GM crops that produce industrial chemicals or pharma crops are grown commercially, although there are some field trials under way in the US.
Similar issues will apply in the UK and Europe if pharma crops are approved. So far, though, only a handful of GM crop varieties are grown in Europe.
Friday, February 15, 2008
An international consortium funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development has been working for the last five years on a genetically engineered eggplant. This controversial biotech eggplant contains the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) -- the same bacteria used in the genetically engineered corn grown on a widespread basis in the United States.
The target market to grow the genetically engineered eggplant is South Asia. The first commercial crops are expected to be planted in 2009. Plans are to grow 110,000 acres of the biotech eggplant in India and Bangladesh in 2010. And by 2015, the projection is to grow 650,000 acres in these two countries.
Some anti-biotech food activists feel that this U.S. government funded project is an aggressive move to finally get a genetically engineered food crop grown in other parts of the world. Currently there are only four countries in the world growing a significant amount of genetically engineered food crops. Those four countries are the United States, Canada, Argentina and China. And the crops grown in those countries are primarily limited to soybeans, corn, canola, papayas and cotton.
If the introduction of the genetically engineered eggplant to India, Bangladesh, the Philippines, and other areas of South and Southeast Asia is successful, then the global resistance to biotech crops could start to diminish -- at least that is apparently the hope of some in the biotech industry. In other words, the genetically engineered eggplant is considered to be a "gateway" crop designed to open up the Asian marketplace and rest of the world to other biotech crops.
The other players in the international consortium include Cornell researchers, Sathguru Management Consultants of India, and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research.
Greenpeace activists in India are opposing the introduction of the genetically engineered eggplant, also known as brinjal. They recently held a protest in front of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research where they “force fed” volunteers with genetically engineered eggplants.A spokesman for Greenpeace was quoted in India's National Newspaper, The Hindu, stating: "We are here to demand an immediate halt to all field trials till the bio-safety data generated so far is made public to enable [an] independent assessment. So far, safety studies on all GE crops are shrouded in secrecy that has really hindered the public from analyzing the data and raising a debate on the issue. With emerging evidences of companies hiding critical bio-safety data that could prove the negative side-effects of GE crops on health, an independent assessment is indispensable."
Thursday, February 14, 2008
- GE Sugar? Not So Sweet
Tell Hershey’s, Mars, and American Crystal to show us the love, and keep our sweets GE-Free!
The Center for Food Safety and The True Food Network, 2/14/08
Straight to the Source
Sadly, biotech companies want to take the sweets we know and love away from us.
Sugar in our Valentine’s candy (and our cereal, granola bars, crackers, bread – anything that contains sugar) comes from several sources, including sugar beets. In fact, about half of the sugar used in the U.S. is beet sugar (the other half is cane sugar). In the next few weeks, sugar beet seed farmers throughout the U.S. will be considering what type of sugar beets to plant, and food companies will have to decide what types of sugar they will accept.
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Monday, February 11, 2008
Over the past few months, The Organic & Non-GMO Report has been reporting on a disturbing incident involving a shipment of organic soybeans sent to an organic processor that found high levels of GMO contamination.
The samples tested showed GMO contamination levels as high as 20%.
According to the articles, none of the parties involved is accepting blame for the incident and it has not been determined where in the delivery process the contamination occurred.
The processor of organic soybean oil and meal, Nevada Soy Products, reported that they lost $100,000 due to the contamination and their business was closed down for a month. After the first railcar of soybeans tested positive at such high levels, Nevada Soy Products canceled delivery of three more railcars of organic soybeans.
Nevada Soy Products apparently ended up selling their products to the conventional food marketplace at half the price they would have received if the products were certified organic.
The broker who sold the soybeans to Nevada Soy Products, Jericho Solutions, claims, "There was no problem on our end. We had the paper trail. Someone is trying to nail us for something we did not do."
The organic certifier for Nevada Soy Products is the Nevada Department of Agriculture who has now filed a complain on behalf of the company with the National Organic Program (NOP). The NOP is run by the Agriculture Marketing Service, a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The NOP is determining whether or not an investigation will take place.
Regardless of who is to blame, contamination of organic crops from GMOs is a problem that is only going to get worse as more acreage of GMO crops gets planted in the United States and around the world.
- Growers release brakes on biotech wheat
By Scott Yates
AgBios.com / Capital Press, February 7, 2008
Straight to the Source
In the past, a unilateral release was viewed as a major hurdle because of the perceived marketing advantage a non-genetically modified wheat supplier might have in a market like Japan, where the technology is viewed with suspicion.
Although the biotech committee would prefer a "simultaneous release," it is no longer a condition. Al Slogen, a North Dakota wheat grower who serves on the biotech panel, was cited as saying the condition has been a burden weighing down tech providers' ability to move forward, adding, "We can't have anchors that tell the tech industry 'here we go again.'" Sherman Reese, former president of NAWG and an Oregon wheat commissioner, was cited as saying from the audience it's time to see what's possible, rather than being hamstrung out of fear of consequences, stating, "My take is there is not a lot of concern about biotech wheat. The concern is that there is wheat at all." The story explains that the current mood is a far cry from the conflicted attitude that existed when Monsanto was trying to get the industry behind the release of Roundup Ready wheat at the turn of the century. Back then, U.S. Wheat Associates warned of markets being lost and backed up its claim with surveys of buyers who said they would cease buying all U.S. wheat if a genetically modified wheat trait were commercialized.
Monsanto ultimately shelved its Roundup Ready wheat technology and shut down its wheat research four years ago. Since then, wheat acreage has continued to lose ground against soybeans and corn, crops that saw single-gene genetically modified traits introduced in 1996. Stacked traits involving multiple genes are now being planted. Syngenta has put a fusarium-resistant biotech trait through field trials, but it has not started the commercialization process.
Saturday, February 9, 2008
The Independent, 8 February 2008
An insect pest that is supposed to be killed by a type of genetically modified cotton crop with an in-built toxin gene has developed resistance and is beginning to spread in parts of the United States, a scientific study has found.
It is believed to be the first documented example in the wild of an insect pest becoming resistant to this particular type of GM crop, which was thought to be immune from the problems that have plagued conventional pesticides. The bollworm moth is one of the most destructive pests of cotton crops. The resistant form of the moth's caterpillar was found in a dozen fields in the southern states of Mississippi and Arkansas between 2003 and 2006, when the surveys were conducted.
The GM cotton was developed by inserting a gene into the plant that is normally found in a bacterium called Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). The bacterial gene produces a protein toxin that is poisonous to certain insects, but normally harmless in other animals.
Bruce Tabashnik of the University of Arizona, who led the research team, said: 'What we are seeing is evolution in action. This is the first documented case of field-evolved resistance to a Bt crop.'
In the case of the GM cotton crop, the bollworm insect developed resistance because of the huge area of land in America and elsewhere where GM crops modified with Bt genes are now grown.This has generated one of the largest forces of natural selection for insect resistance that the world has ever known, according to the researchers, whose study will be published in the journal Nature Biotechnology.
Wednesday, February 6, 2008
- By Craig and Marc Kielburger
Toronto Star, February 4, 2008
Straight to the Source
Projected to be a bigger threat to life than AIDS and malaria combined, obesity is quickly becoming the world's most severe health-care crisis. As waistlines grow alarmingly, so do concerns over the impact an unhealthy population could have on everything from medicine to the economy.
The numbers paint a disturbing picture. The United Nations says there are now more overweight people in the world than starving people. Cardiovascular disease - commonly caused by obesity - kills 17 million people every year. Type II diabetes fatalities are expected to grow by 50 per cent in the next decade.
Obesity is not new, but what's surprising is that it now plagues the developing world, too. Obesity is on a dramatic rise in poor states, as impoverished locals are increasingly introduced to mass-produced imported food that's often cheaper than their local fare.
"It's a huge problem," says Erin Blanding, a development expert and head of Life in Action, a Toronto-based health and lifestyle program. "Eating unhealthy food is what you do when you are poor."
Processed food is becoming a staple in the diets of many developing countries, much of it coming from Western factories. Visit a local market in places like Ecuador or Malawi and you're just as likely to see imported sugary cereals and juices as local produce. Outside, Big Macs are taking the place of traditionally prepared plantains and sweet potato biscuits.
Full Story: http://www.thestar.com/columnists/article/300138
Tuesday, February 5, 2008
USW is working in cooperation with the National Association of Wheat Growers through a Joint Biotechnology Committee to develop the potential for transgenic wheat production in the U.S. As part of that cooperative endeavor, USW is ramping up efforts to help our international customers understand that transgenic wheat is on its way to market – and why. In the last six months, USW has made a presentation called “Transgenic Wheat – Outlook for the Future” to hundreds of private and public wheat buyers, millers, processors and government officials at public meetings in more than 20 countries, including Asian and European nations where public resistance to genetically modified food remains strong.
“The presentation helps customers understand that transgenic crop production is expanding rapidly around the world,” says USW’s John Oades, Vice President and Director West Coast Office, who prepared the message and has delivered it several times. “More than 250 million acres of transgenic crops are being grown in 22 countries on six continents.
“At the same time, world wheat harvested area continues to decline,” he notes. “Yes, traditional breeding has increased yields and the world produces more wheat every year, but wheat consumption has exceeded production in eight of the last ten years. The simple fact is that wheat acres are being replaced by crops that offer more profit to producers, often because of their transgenic traits.”
USW is making the point that something has to change to make wheat more competitive – and one of the leading options is transgenic technology.
“Ultimately, transgenic wheat must deliver benefits to everyone in the supply chain and customers must be able to choose between transgenic and non-transgenic wheat,” Oades says. “Everyone involved in its development must be able to clearly demonstrate those benefits to buyers, processors and consumers at home and around the world. Before that happens, we all have to work toward science-based standards for acceptable tolerances for incidental or trace amounts of biotechnology-enhanced events in raw and processed grains and oilseeds, as well as food and feed.”
To learn more about industry positions on transgenic wheat, visit the Web at http://www.uswheat.org, http://www.wheatworld.org or http://www.growersforbiotechnology.org.
Sunday, February 3, 2008
- By James C. McKinley Jr.
The New York Times, February 1, 2008
Straight to the Source
The farmers brought a herd of cattle and more than 50 tractors to make their point, jamming the historic center and blocking the central artery, Paseo de la Reforma. One rowdy group burned a tractor.
Stretching for more than four miles, the march was a sea of tanned faces, cowboy hats, flags and calloused hands gripping banners with slogans like "Without farms there is no country." The police said at least 50,000 people joined the protest; organizers put the number at 100,000.
"We cannot compete against this monster, the United States," said one farmer, Enrique Barrera Pérez, who is 44 and works about five acres in Yucatán. "It's not worth the trouble to plant. We don't have the subsidies. We don't have the machinery."
One the nation's largest labor coalitions, the National Union of Workers, joined dozens of farmers' organizations like the National Campesino Confederation to finance the march. The organizers bused people in from as far away as Chihuahua in the north and Yucatán on the Gulf Coast.
On Jan. 1, the last tariffs on corn, beans, sugar and milk were lifted under the North American Free Trade Agreement, completing a 14-year transition to an open market between Mexico, the United States and Canada.
Since then, Mexican leaders of farm coalitions and other unionists have been calling for the government to renegotiate the treaty, putting them at odds with President Felipe Calderón, a staunch free-trade advocate.
The farmers worry that a surge of inexpensive corn could doom millions of peasants who farm plots of less than 12 acres. They also complain that the government has done almost nothing to prepare farmers for the open competition.
Much of the $1.4 billion in annual aid for farmers, they say, has gone to large agricultural businesses in the northern states rather than to small farms.
"We are mostly angry with the Mexican government," said Victor Suárez, the leader of ANEC, a farmers' coalition. "They have left the small producers to fend for themselves."
Opposition politicians have also seized on corn- along with an unpopular proposal to allow foreign investment in the state oil monopoly - to whip up sentiment against the administration.
Mr. Calderón has fought back. In a speech on Jan. 7, he declared that the free-trade agreement had brought Mexicans lower prices for goods while increasing exports fourfold, even when oil is excluded.
"As with all agreements of this nature, the treaty presents challenges and opportunities, but in general it has been beneficial to Mexicans," he said.
Yet the renewed debate seems to have touched a nerve in Mexico, where corn was first domesticated 5,000 years ago and the culture revolves around its consumption. Underlying the political discourse is a widespread sentiment that poor Mexicans have benefited little from free-trade policies, while giant businesses have reaped profits.
In practice, however, nothing changed on Jan. 1. Mexico had been gradually dropping its tariffs on corn since 1994, when they stood at more than 200 percent, and most of the corn imports in recent years had entered without tariffs under import quotas. What is more, the corn from the United States is yellow corn, used to feed livestock, rather than the white corn Mexican farmers produce for tortillas.
Full Story: http://www.commondreams.org/archive/2008/02/01/6790/