Sunday, March 23, 2008

GM bananas developed with enhanced nutrients

Scientists at the Queensland University of Technology (Australia) have applied for the limited release of genetically modified Cavendish bananas that possess more provitamin A, vitamin E and iron than conventional varieties.

In the bananas, the expression of iron has been enhanced by the inclusion of an iron-storage gene from wild soybeans and vitamin E has been enhanced by the use of genes from rice and rock cress. For the augmented expression of provitamin A, genes from maize, rock cress and the Erwinia bacterium have been employed.

If approved by the national Office of the Gene Technology Regulator, the release of as many as 1,290 banana lines would take place in North Australia. Goal of the research is the nutritional improvement of banana varieties in Uganda and other regions of Africa


US attempt for hegemony: Doomsday Seed Vault

Devinder Sharma

Developing countries should not deposit their seed collections in the seed bank Global Seed Vault.

Tucked away deep inside the Arctic Circle, about 1120 kms from the North Pole, on an island in Svalbard, Norway, lies the world’s latest and most sophisticated seed bank. The 'Global Seed Vault' as the seed bank is called, is seen as a safest depository against any disaster, be it nuclear or natural.

With a capacity to store 4.5 million seed samples, the 'Global Seed Vault' was formally opened on February 26, 2008. Supporting a robust security system, the seed bank is designed more or less like a giant icebox that can store seeds for hundreds of years. The seed collections will be stored in a 'black box' kind of arrangement with the host countries/organisations having the right to draw back.

This is probably where the benign mission objectives end. We all know that the path to hell is paved with good intentions. Moreover, considering the scramble the world is witnessing to seek control over seeds and through it the entire food chain questions will continue to be posed about the real motive. Although the seed vault is being managed in a tripartite agreement between the Norwegian government, the Nordic Genetic Resource Center and the Global Crop Diversity Trust, it is being funded by some of the biggest seed corporations.

Among the donors for the Global Crop Diversity Trust are: the Swiss seed multinational Syngenta AG, Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture, the US agribusiness giant DuPont/Pioneer Hybred, International Seed Federation, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the World Bank.

This is not the first time that security and safety alarms have been raised to collect seed resources from across the world. Some 40 years back, the United States had used the same arguments to befool the world to believe that it was housing the world’s biggest collection of plant biodiversity for reasons of safety. Developing countries were made to believe that its national interests were perfectly safe in depositing the massive plant germplasm collections in safe custody at Fort Knox.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) had applied the same trick. It had said that although most of the 16 international agricultural research centres (like the International Rice Research Institute at Manila, Philippines) were keeping the seed collections, there remained a possibility that someday some terrorist group will blow it up. These valuable seed collections would then be lost for posterity. Therefore there was an urgent need to keep one copy of these seed samples in safe custody. And this safe custody was obviously in the US, at Fort Knox.

To convince the world of its pious intentions, it vacated a small air base under a hilly terrain in Fort Knox and put up a gene bank. The world became reassured that its most important seed collections, some think it is more valuable than the gold reserves, were now in safe custody. No terrorist could blow it up. But it didn’t take much time for the custodian (the USDA) to claim ownership over these huge collections.

Remember the signing of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) treaty at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio. It was this treaty, which for the first time recognised plant genetic resources are a national sovereign resource. Prior to this plants and seeds were treated as a mankind’s heritage. But what is relevant to know here is that the world’s largest collection of plant germplasm, some 6,00,000 plant accessions, lying in control of the USDA are outside the purview of this treaty.

In other words, the US has wrested control over these massive plant collections. The countries from where these were collected have no control or say over these resources, nor do they get any benefit from providing these valuable resources.

The Global Seed Vault goes a step ahead. It has not only used the remoteness of the arctic polar cap to reassure the world of the genuineness of its safety claims, it has also invited some of the biggest global seed multinationals to have a direct stake. In the days to come, we will probably see some more private seed and agribusiness companies joining the initiative.

Any global initiative on biodiversity and seeds remains incomplete without the participation of India and Brazil. Both these developing countries are rich in biodiversity. But ironically, while India had no resources to build its own national gene bank in New Delhi (the National Gene Bank was built with USAID help), it is one of the donors for the Global Seed Vault. So far India has not deposited its seed collections in the doomsday vault. It has also directed the Hyderabad-based International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-arid Tropics (ICRISAT) to refrain from sending the Indian collections of the dryland seeds to the seed vault.

The 16 international agricultural research centres are at present sending copies of its collections to the seed vault. Most of the other biodiversity rich countries are adopting a more cautious and sensible wait-and-watch approach. In my understanding, developing countries need to refrain from falling once again into a visible trap. Let us not be carried away by the doomsday bug. Remember, you can be fooled once, but not always.

GMO, Oh, Mexico ... Mexico to allow planting of genetically modified crops

GRIST, 20 March 2008

Mexico has taken the last step toward finalizing rules that will allow genetically modified crops to be planted in the country. That has many farmers in the so-called birthplace of corn worried that GM varieties could contaminate their fields. Under the rules, GM corn wouldn't technically be allowed in certain areas of Mexico considered 'centers of origin' for unique corn plants, but critics nevertheless remain concerned for crop biodiversity. 'This is a step in the government's intention to bow to pressure from Monsanto to allow the contamination of Mexico's native corn,' said farmer Victor Suarez.

source: Reuters

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Transgenic Lines Unstable hence Illegal and Ineligible for Protection

New evidence may pull the plug on GMOs. Dr. Mae-Wan Ho

Transgenes unstable in more ways than one

Transgene instability has been known at least since 1994 [1] (reviewed in Genetic Engineering Dream or Nightmare, p.140), though it is seldom, if ever, reported in the popular media. Transgenes (the synthetic foreign genes transferred into the genetically modified organism (GMO)) can become silent or inactive during growth and development of the GMO, or in its progeny. This has been attributed to defence mechanisms that silence genome invaders such as viruses. But transgenes can also stop working on account of structural factors intrinsic to the transgenic DNA inserted into the genome of the GMO [2] (reviewed in Living with the Fluid Genome, pp. 128-135). Transgenic DNA has been artificially constructed by stitching together synthetic copies of DNA from different sources, and often contain additional weak points that tend to break and rejoin (recombination hotspots). The most widely used cauliflower mosaic virus (CaMV) 35S promoter is associated with such a recombination hotspot [3], as we have warned [4-6]. Transgenic constructs are also designed with ends that can break into genomes such as the repeated sequences of viral vectors, and the left and right borders of the T-DNA of Agrobacterium, widely used as a vector. These ends too, are recombination sequences, and facilitate movement of the transgenic DNA within as well as between genomes. For more details see [7] (Horizontal Gene Transfer from GMOs Does Happen, SiS 38)

Transgene instability makes transgenic varieties illegal and ineligible for patent protection

During the transformation process that creates the GMO, the transgenic construct tends to undergo deletions, duplications, and rearrangements, integrating at unpredictable sites in the host cell genome, causing widespread damage both at and away from the site(s) of integration. The precise configuration of the DNA integrated, the site(s) of insertion, and the particular collateral damages done to the host genome are therefore specific for each transgenic ‘event’. Each ‘event’ is a single cell that has integrated transgenic DNA and from which a transgenic plant is generated, which is then bred through a number of generations to give a transgenic line.

However, the particular cell may have integrated one to hundreds of copies of the transgenic construct in a variety of different rearranged, deleted, and duplicated configurations, and at more than one site (locus) in its genome. Complex transgenic loci (containing multiple rearranged or partial copies of the transgenic construct) are very unstable and tend to rearrange further or become lost in subsequent generations. Proponents claim that unstable events will be eliminated through stringent selection, and only those lines that have single stable inserts will reach the market.

Unfortunately, that does not seem to be the case, evidence of transgene instability has emerged in transgenic varieties that has been commercialised and grown in more than one countries for years [8] (MON810 Genome Rearranged Again, SiS 38)

To qualify for commercial release in Europe, for patent protection in Europe and the United States, and other protection under the UPOV (International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants) Convention [9], a transgenic line must be distinct, uniform and stable (the DUS test). It is likely that none of the transgenic varieties that have been commercially released passes the DUS test, which makes them both illegal and ineligible for patent protection. But our regulators have been bending, if not breaking the law so far in failing to withdraw commercial approval [8].

Transgene instability is a serious safety issue

Transgene instability is a serious safety issue, as it not only changes the very nature of the transgenic plant, but also increases the likelihood that the transgenic DNA could spread horizontally to the genomes of cells of unrelated species by direct uptake of the DNA [7].

According to a review published in 2004 [10], the loss of transgenes during reproduction occurs at a frequency of 10 to 50 percent of transgenic plants, regardless of whether they are produced by Agrobacterium-mediated or particle bombardment transformation. The transgene may be lost or deleted in part, or else rearranged or moved to another location in the genome. Transgene instability appears to depend on the nature of the transgene, the host genome, and the site of integration, and not on the transformation method. There may be integration hotspots in the genome that are inevitably also disintegration hotspots, as revealed by experiments in ‘gene therapy’ [11] (Gene Therapy Risks Exposed, SiS 19), which creates transgenic human cells, and confirmed in large scale analysis of transgenic loci in plants [12] and in the common carp [13].

In plants, transgene loci resulting from all transformation systems (except for homologous recombination) exhibit short sequence homologies between the integrated transgenic DNA and flanking genomic sequences of 1 to 8 bp, and between the rearranged transgene fragments [12]. Transgenes tend to be integrated into gene-rich regions, and reduced in the centromeric regions of chromosomes. They also show propensity for AT-rich regions and at transitions between normal base composition to a poly-T or A-rich region. These ‘ hotspots’ for integration may be sites that tend to be exposed and break more often, and hence also hotspots for disintegration. Another reason for transgenic instability is the transgenic process itself, which may destabilise the genome by causing genome scrambling and chromosomal abnormalities.

Transgene instability is now widely reported in the scientific literature, and some examples are given below.

Transgene complexity and instability in the common carp

Researchers analysed two individuals of a carp transgenic line with a human growth hormone gene. The line had been selected and bred to the fourth generation after transformation, when all the fish showed the transgenic trait [13]. Each individual fish was found to contain about 200 copies of the transgene integrated at 4-5 sites, generally with repeats in a head-to-tail arrangement. A total of 400 copies of transgenes recovered from the two individuals fall into 6 classes, which differed somewhat between the two fish, indicating that the transgenic line was by no means uniform. The copies were either complete or partial transgene sequences. The major class 1, which comprised about 73 percent of clones from the two fish showed the original configuration. The other five classes were different from the original configuration in both molecular weight and restriction map, indicating that a proportion of the transgenes had undergone mutation, rearrangement or deletion during integration and reproduction. In three of the five types of aberrant transgenes in fish A, the flanking sequence of the host genome were identified as the carp b-actin gene, and carp DNA sequences homologous to mouse phosphoglycerate kinase-1 and human epidermal keratin 14 respectively.

Due to the limitation of the analytical method, those transgenes that had lost the plasmid replicon (replicating signal) or ampicilin resistance region could not be recovered, and this resulted in the underestimation of transgene classes.

Transgene instability in apple trees during vegetative propagation

Apple cultivars were transformed using Agrobacterium as vector to increase resistance to diseases like powdery mildew, apple scab and fire blight [14]. A total of 64 plants of 15 different transgenic apple lines were transferred to the greenhouse, half of them grown as own rooted trees, and half grafted in different non-transgenic scion-rootstock. When tested after an unspecified time, 22 of the plants (34 percent) lost one or both genes. In the rest, four plants did not express the antibiotic marker gene, one had lost its promoter and in other three, the promoter was silenced by methylation.

However, plants that appear to have retained the transgene(s) may have only done so in part, as demonstrated in another experiment. Twenty-six lines carrying the attacin E gene from Hyalophora cecropia, the b-glucuronidase (gus) gene and the nptII gene were propagated vegetatively in vitro without selective agents for 4 years (50 generations) and then analysed [15]. Neither expression nor integration remained stable in some lines, differences were found between plants of a single line and several plants were chimaeras of expressing and non-expressing cell clones. For example, twenty-three lines kept all three genes (at least in some of the plants). One line lost gusA and two lines lost all genes. Low levels of nptII expression were found in 12 lines, increased expression in 10 lines and only two had the same level of protein expression. Stable expression of gus was found in eight lines, though some plants were mosaics of cells that expressed the gene and cells that did not, Two lines had no activity at all, even though one had the gene. In three further lines, isolated blue spots of cells with gene expression were found against an overall white background of non-expressing cells.

Systematic and repeatable transgene elimination

Researchers in Brazil identified a remarkable systematic elimination of transgenes in a transgenic dry bean and a transgenic soybean at reproduction [16]. The dry bean (Phaseolus vulgaris L.) line was obtained by particle bombardment with plasmid pMD4 containing the gus gene and the rep-trap-ren genes from bean golden mosaic geminiviru, both under the control of the CaMV 35S promoter, to make it immune to the virus. The soybean line was transformed with another plasmid pAG1 that contains a different combination of genes: the gus gene under the control of the act2 promoter and the ahas (acetohydroxyacid synthase) gene under the control of its promoter from Arabidopsis thaliana. In both, the transgenes were stable during the vegetative phase, but were eliminated during meiosis, the cell division that makes germ cells.

The transgenic bean line contains at least 3 copies of the transgenes integrated at three separate loci (sites). None of the copies were transferred to the progeny by self-crossing or reciprocal crosses to untransformed plants. Not a single progeny plant inherited any transgene locus. This phenomenon was systematically repeated for over two years in plants propagated by grafting (20 progenies of more than 300 plants from self-pollination, and 10 progenies of more than 100 plants from reciprocal crosses to untransformed plants).

Analysis of the host genome flanking the transgene inserts revealed that one integrated plasmid disrupted a ribosomal RNA gene while another was integrated into a sequence with no significant homology to known sequences. The third integrated sequence could not be isolated because it lacked the necessary plasmid sequence.

The same phenomenon occurred in the soybean transgenic line.

Several mechanisms have been suggested for the systematic elimination of transgenes, including intrachromosomal recombination, genetic instability resulting from tissue culture, and elimination of transgenes triggered by a process of genome defence against invading viruses.

The outstanding question is what became of the eliminated transgenes? Is it possible that the transgenic DNA could be transferred horizontally to bacteria in and on the plant, or to insects, or via insects to other plants?

While attention has focussed on horizontal transfer of transgenic DNA to bacteria, it may be that eukaryotic genomes are more promiscuous in accepting foreign DNA [7, 12] and hence better recipients for horizontal gene transfer, particular for transgenic DNA designed to invade genomes.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Contamination register third report published

A review of the incidents of 2006 and an overview of 10 years of maize contamination.

GM Contamination Register Report 2007, by GeneWatch UK and Greenpeace International and, exposes 39 new instances of crop contamination in 23 countries over the past year. Most of the contamination involved such staple crops as rice and maize, but also included soy, cotton, canola, papaya and fish. Over the past 10 years, the annual Register Report has recorded 216 contamination events in 57 countries..

The 2007 incidents of contamination and illegal release involved cotton (one), fish (four), maize (nine), oilseed rape (two), papaya (one), rice (twenty) and soybean (two). A big change in the data for 2007 shows that 25% of incidents over the past ten years have been in rice, despite the fact there is no commercial cultivation of GM rice anywhere in the world. These cases have been caused by three varieties of herbicide tolerant rice developed by Bayer Crop Science – LLRICE62, LLRICE601 and LLRICE604 – and Bt63 rice from China. None of these illegal releases initially came to light in 2007; Bt63 was first discovered in 2005 and Bayer’s LLRICE varieties in 2006. Yet they continue to cause major problems for a rice industry which has rejected genetic modification.

GeneWatch UK and Greenpeace again consider that these findings require that governments:
  • require event-specific detection methods for GMOs as a prerequisite for field trials in addition to commercialisation. The detection methods and associated reference materials should be made publicly available to facilitate identification in case of GMO escape.
  • urgently enforce international standards for the identification and documentation of transboundary shipments of GMOs.
  • ensure that the public interest outweighs commercial confidentiality issues.
  • target imports of food, feed and seed from high-risk, GM-growing countries for routine tests for GM contamination and subsequent investigation.
  • deny to companies their right to commercialise GM products if the companies are involved in intentional illegal releases of GMOs or fail to cooperate in their prevention and management.
  • act firmly against violators when an illegal act takes place. Without substantial and predictable sanctions, sloppy practice and complacency are likely to be encouraged.
  • oblige companies to keep records of the global dissemination of their products and GMO events, and make these publicly available, as a matter of product stewardship. stop all approvals and releases of GM organisms under present conditions.

To read the report and its recommendations click on the report title below:
GM Contamination Register Report 2007 Annual review of cases of contamination, illegal planting and negative side effects of genetically modified organisms

Below is a map which shows the incidents on the register to the end of 2007. Click on the image to view the map at full size.

world incidents map

Source © 2007 GeneWatch UK / Greenpeace International Original base map © mapsinminutes™ 2006.

For a high resolution copy of the map please contact

Sunday, March 16, 2008

FDA Takes Next Step in Establishing Overseas Presence

Agency on path to establish offices in China

In an important development, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has received approval from the U.S. State Department to establish eight full time permanent FDA positions at U.S. diplomatic posts in the People's Republic of China, pending authorization from the Chinese government.

This is an important step forward in the FDA's plans to hire and place FDA staff in China over the next 18 months. In addition, the FDA will be hiring a total of five local Chinese nationals to work with the new FDA staff at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing and the U.S. Consulates General in Shanghai and Guangzhou.

"In an age when a border is not a barrier, the globalized economy demands nothing less than heightened regulatory interoperability, information exchange, and cooperation, especially on product quality and enforcement matters," said Murray M. Lumpkin, M.D., deputy commissioner for International and Special Programs, FDA. "Along with the important Memoranda of Agreement signed with two FDA counterpart Chinese agencies, our efforts to fill permanent FDA positions in China are a significant step toward ensuring access to safe food, drugs, and medical devices in the global market."

Building the FDA's capacity outside of the United States supports the agency's "Beyond our Borders" initiative. The initiative facilitates the building of stronger cooperative relationships with the FDA's counterpart agencies around the world and enhanced technical cooperation with foreign regulators. The permanent overseas offices in China will also allow greater access for inspections and greater interactions with manufacturers to help assure that products that are shipped to the United States meet U.S. standards for safety and manufacturing quality.

For additional information on the FDA's international programs, please visit: For more information on the historic Memoranda of Agreement signed in December 2007, between the United States and The People's Republic of China, please visit:

Friday, March 14, 2008

House Hearing on USDA Failure on GE Contamination: Farmer to Farmer Campaign on Genetic Engineering



What: Rep. Dennis Kucinich, Chair of the House Oversight Subcommittee on Domestic Policy, will conduct a hearing focused on the USDA's failure to comply with NEPA requirements regarding the assessment of economic impacts in regulating genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Where: 2247 Rayburn Office Building
When: Thursday - March 13, 2008 @ 2:00 pm EDT
Who: Those giving testimony include a panel of farmers, consisting of:

Harvey Howington - a rice farmer, US Rice Producers Association board member, and Vice President of the Arkansas Rice Growers Association, who will comment on USDA mismanagement of Bayer LL601 field trials, which resulted in a major contamination event costing rice producers $1.2 billion.

Todd Leake - a wheat farmer and member of Dakota Resource Council, he will focus on the USDA's failure to consider significant potential for market loss posed by deregulation of Monsanto's Roundup Ready Wheat, which is opposed by 82% of wheat buyers and would have resulted in a 32 to 35% decrease in the price paid to wheat growers.

Fred Kirschenmann - an organic farmer and manager of a 3,500 acre family farm in North Dakota and a distinguished Fellow at the Leopold Center (IA State University), he will focus on USDA failure to conduct an Environmental Impact Statement prior to deregulation of Roundup Ready canola despite the high potential for widespread contamination in the US and Canada, which ultimately resulted. He will also discuss the economic impacts on organic producers caused by GE crops.

Also speaking:
Ray Clark, for NEPA Director and Council on Environmental Quality member Colin Carter, UC Davis Agricultural Economist # # #

For more information, please contact:
Bill Wenzel, Farmer to Farmer Campaign on Genetic Engineering, cell (608) 444-0292.
John Bianchi, Goodman Media - (212) 576-2700 Harvey Howington - cell (870) 375-4278 Fred Kirschenmann - cell (515) 450-2330 Todd Leake - cell (218) 289-3947
Farmer to Farmer Campaign on Genetic Engineering A project of the National Family Farm Coalition PO Box 272: Stoughton, WI 53589 877-968-3276;

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Facts and Data on Antibiotics and Factory Farming

Waste Pollution and the Environment

The USDA reports that animals in the US meat industry produce 61 million tons of waste each year, which is 130 times the volume of human waste - or five tons for every US citizen.
Horrigan, Leo, Lawrence, Robert S., Walker, Polly, "How Sustainable Agriculture Can Address the Environmental and Human Health Harms of Industrial Agriculture," Johns Hopkins University's Center for a Livable Future, July 9, 1999

North Carolina's 7,000,000 factory-raised hogs create four times as much waste - stored in reeking, open cesspools - as the state's 6.5 million people. The Delmarva Peninsula's 600 million chickens produce 400,000 tons of manure a year.
Chris Bedford, "How Our food is Produced Matters!", AWI Quarterly, Summer 1999

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, hog, chicken and cattle waste has polluted 35,000 miles of rivers in 22 states and contaminated groundwater in 17 states.

Pfiesteria, a microscopic organism that feeds off the phosphorus and nitrogen found in manure, is a lethal toxin harmful to both humans and fish. In 1991 alone, 1,000,000,000,000 (one billion) fish were killed by pfiesteria in the Neuse River in North Carolina.
Zakin, Susan. "Nonpoint Pollution: The Quiet Killer," Field & Stream, August 1999, p.86

Since 1995, an additional one billion fish have been killed from manure runoff in estuaries and coastal areas in North Carolina, and the Maryland and Virginia tributaries leading into the Chesapeake Bay. These deaths can be directly related to the 10 million hogs currently being raised in North Carolina and the 620 million chickens on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay.
Environmental Protection Agency, 1998

The pollution from animal waste causes respiratory problems, skin infections, nausea, depression and even death for people who live near factory farms. Livestock waste has been linked to six miscarriages in women living near a hog factory in Indiana.
Centers for Disease Control, Mortality Weekly Report, July 5, 1996 (7) Washington Post, June 1, 1997

In Virginia, state guidelines indicate that a safe level of fecal coliform bacteria is 200 colonies per 100 milliliters of water. In 1997, some streams had levels as high as 424,000 per 100 milliliters.

Animal Welfare

Each full-grown chicken in a factory farm has as little as six-tenths of a square foot of space. Because of the crowding, they often become aggressive and sometimes eat each other. This has lead to the painful practice of debeaking the birds.
Horrigan, Leo, Lawrence, Robert S., Walker, Polly, "How Sustainable Agriculture Can Address the Environmental and Human Health Harms of Industrial Agriculture," Johns Hopkins University's Center for a Livable Future, July 9, 1999

Hogs become aggressive in tight spaces and often bite each other's tails, which has caused many farmers to cut the tails off.

Concrete or slatted floors allow for easy removal of manure, but because they are unnatural surfaces for pigs, the animals often suffer skeletal deformities.

Ammonia and other gases from manure irritate animals' lungs, to the point where over 80% of US pigs have pneumonia upon slaughter.

Due to genetic manipulation, 90% of broiler chickens have trouble walking.
Erik Marcus, Vegan, Mcbooks, 1998


Almost 30% of agricultural subsidies go to the top two percent of farms and over four-fifths to the top 30%.
Horrigan, Leo, Lawrence, Robert S., Walker, Polly, "How Sustainable Agriculture Can Address the Environmental and Human Health Harms of Industrial Agriculture," Johns Hopkins University's Center for a Livable Future, July 9, 1999

In 1970, there were approximately 900,000 farms in the United States; by 1997, there were only 139,000.
Drabenscott, Mark. "This Little Piggy Went to Market", Economic Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, Vol. 83, No. 3, Third Quarter, 1998, pp. 79-97

Between 1969 and 1992, the number of producers selling 1000 hogs annually or less declined 73%. Producers selling more than 1000 annually increased 320%, according to the US Census of Agriculture.
Swine Strategies, State of Utah Governor's Office of Planning and Budget, Summer 1995

Estimated inputs to produce a pound of: Pork: 6.9 pounds of grain, .44 gallons of gasoline, 430 gallons of water Beef: 4.8 pounds of grain, .25 gallons of gasoline, 390 gallons of water
Alan Durning, "Fat of the Land", World Watch Institute, 1991

Meat production has grown worldwide from 44 million tons in 1950 to 211 million tons in 1997.
Earth Times, July 1, 1998

The price of meat would double or triple if full ecological costs - including fossil fuel use, groundwater depletion and agricultural-chemical pollution - were factored in.
EarthSave, November 1997

90% of the nation's poultry production is controlled by 10 companies.
Zakin, Susan. "Nonpoint Pollution: The Quiet Killer," Field and Stream, August 1999, pp. 84-88

In Maryland, chickens outnumber people 59 to 1.

Antibiotics and Public Health

Overuse of antibiotics in animals is causing more strains of drug-resistant bacteria, which is affecting the treatment of various life-threatening diseases in humans. The Institute of Medicine at the National Academy of Sciences has estimated the annual cost of treating antibiotic-resistant infections in the U.S. at $30 billion.
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, "Antimicrobial Fact Sheet", May 4, 1999

Fifty million pounds of antibiotics are produced in the U.S. each year. Twenty million pounds are given to animals, of which 80% (16 million pounds) is used on livestock merely to promote more rapid growth. The remaining 20% is used to help control the multitude of diseases that occur under such tightly confined conditions, including anemia, influenza, intestinal diseases, mastitis, metritis, orthostasis, and pneumonia.
American Medical News, "FDA Pledges to Fight Overuse of Antibiotics in Animals", February 15, 1999

Chickens are reservoirs for many food borne pathogens including Campylobacter and Salmonella. 20% of broiler chickens in the US are contaminated with Salmonella and 80% are contaminated with Campylobacter in the processing plant. Campylobacter is the most common known cause of bacterial food borne illness in the US.
Risk Assessment of Fluoroquinolone Use in Poultry, Food & Drug Administration, February 2000

5000 deaths and 76 million cases of food-borne illness occur annually.

Antibiotics in farm animals leave behind drug-resistant microbes in meat and milk. With every burger and shake consumed, super-microbes settle in the stomach where they transfer drug resistance to bacteria in the body, making one more vulnerable to previously-treatable conditions.
Newsweek, March 7, 1994


The average American consumes nearly twice his or her weight in meat annually.
Earth Times, July 1, 1998

Poultry processing has almost double the injury and illness rate than trades like coal mining and construction.
EarthSave, March 1998

The United Nations reports that all 17 of the world's major fishing areas are at or beyond their natural limits. One third of all the world's fish catch is fed directly to livestock.
EarthSave, November 1997

"Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances for survival on earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet."
Albert Einstein

"The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated. I hold that, the more helpless a creature, the more entitled it is to protection by man from the cruelty of man."
Mohandas Ghandi

Sustainability (The Good News!)

Sustainable farming, once dismissed as the pastime of crackpots and idealists, has grown into a business worth some $7.3 billion a year in the European Union and around $15.6 billion worldwide.
Quote by Dr. Nicolas Lampkin, Agriculture Specialist, University of Wales in Aberystwyth. Paul Ames, Associated Press, December 27, 1999

Organic farming became one of the fastest growing segments of U.S. agriculture during the 1990's. Certified organic cropland more than doubled from 1992 to 1997, and two organic livestock sectors-eggs and dairy-grew even faster.
Economic Research Service, USDA

The number of certified organic milk cows in the U.S. nearly tripled between 1992 and 1994.

The United States had 537,826 certified organic layer hens in 1997, up sharply from 47,700 in 1994.

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) connects local farmers with consumers; local farms grow food specifically for CSA members. As of January 1999, there were over 1000 Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms across the US and Canada.
University of Massachusetts Extension

Responsible management of the natural resources of soil, water, and wildlife on the 60 percent of all U.S. farms less than 180 acres in size, produces significant environmental benefits for society.
A Time To Act report, USDA National Commission on Small Farms, 1998

The smallest U.S. farms, those of 27 acres or less, have more than ten times greater dollar output per acre than larger farms.
Dr. Peter Rosset, "The Multiple Functions and Benefits of Small Farm Agriculture", Institute for Food and Development Policy, September 1999

In farming communities dominated by large corporate farms, nearby towns died off. Where family farms predominated, there were more local businesses, paved streets and sidewalks, schools, parks, churches, clubs, and newspapers, better services, higher employment, and more civic participation.

In the United States, small farmers devote 17% of their area to woodlands, compared to only 5% on large farms. Small farms maintain nearly twice as much of their land in "soil improving uses," including cover crops and green manures.

U.S. Organic Food Industry Developing Plans to Deal with Increasing GMO Contamination

KANSAS CITY, Missouri (Reuters) - Widespread contamination of U.S. corn, soybeans and other crops by genetically engineered varieties is threatening the purity of organic and natural food products and driving purveyors of such specialty products to new efforts to protect their markets, industry leaders said this week.

A range of players, from dairy farmers to natural food retailers, are behind an effort to introduce testing requirements and standards for certification aimed at keeping contamination at bay. That goal is rapidly becoming harder, however, as planting of biotech corn, soybeans, and other crops expands across the United States.

"Now there is a real shortage of organic grain for animal husbandry and dairy operations," said Organic Consumers Association national director Ronnie Cummins. "People are having to be real careful."

Proponents of the plan are rolling it out this week at an industry meeting in Anaheim, California, seeking to get the entire organic and natural foods industry to agree on testing and standard certifications. Companies that get certified will be allowed to use a seal designating as much on their products.

"We think we can keep the contamination from getting worse by putting safeguards in place so people who want to choose to eat organic products free of genetic contamination can do so," said Michael Funk, CEO of United Natural Foods, which is backing the initiative. "The longer we delay ... the more challenging it is going to be."

Biotech crops, primarily corn, soybeans, cotton and canola, have genes that have been manipulated to express specific traits, most commonly a resistance to herbicide, which helps farmers. Biotech developers such as Monsanto Co patent the crop technology and tightly control use of the seed.

But mixing of biotech crops and conventional crops can occur during many phases of harvest, storage and shipment of grain, and drifting pollen and other natural forces can also contaminate crops while they are still in the fields.

Indeed, contamination of conventional crops by biotech crops has been reported around the world. There were 39 cases of crop contamination in 23 countries in 2007, and more than 200 in 57 countries over the last 10 years, according to biotech critic Greenpeace International.

Contamination of corn is the biggest concern for those trying to sell biotech-free food. Corn is not only used in human food but is also used to feed livestock, meaning organic beef and dairy farmers must ensure their animals are fed corn that is free of contamination.

That has become more difficult as biotech corn acres have expanded in the United States. In 2007, an estimated 73 percent of the 92.9 million acres of U.S. corn planted were biotech, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The USDA has a set of national standards for foods labeled "organic" as part of its marketing service, but the industry players seeking independent testing said the USDA has not gone far enough to require organic and natural foods are free from biotech contamination.

Organic dairy farmer Albert Straus, who started testing corn fed to his 300-head dairy herd more than a year ago, and found about one-third had been contaminated, now tests every lot of grain he buys.

"I started to test our products to see if there was an issue or not. It turned out there was an issue," said Straus. He is now adding a label to his dairy products to alert consumers to the extra level of caution. "There is so much contamination," he said.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

U.S. activist circles globe to fight biotech crops

By Carey Gillam

KANSAS CITY, Missouri (Reuters) - Jeffrey Smith is a man on a mission.

Each day, ever day for the last 12 years, the 49-year-old Smith has made it his personal calling to travel the world preaching against genetically modified crops.

From Poland to Brazil and California to Vermont, Smith has crisscrossed more than two dozen countries to preach to physician groups, regulators, political leaders, and consumer groups that gene-altered corn, soybeans, canola and other crops, when included in human food, can cause a range of serious health problems.

"GMOs have been linked to thousands of toxic and allergic-type reactions, thousands of sick, sterile and dead livestock and damage to virtually every organ and system studied in lab animals," said Smith, who has authored two books on the topic.

The New York native, who worked as a marketing consultant before turning activist, sees what he calls small victories all around him, including recent moves by major dairy companies and retailers to shun products derived from cows given biotech supplements, efforts by various U.S. states and local governments to restrict biotech crops, and wholesale bans on biotech crops in several foreign countries.

This summer, Smith and a consortium of U.S. organic food company players who see him as a champion for their interests are rolling out a U.S. marketing strategy aimed at convincing consumers in this generally GMO-friendly country to shun foods containing genetically altered ingredients.

"Jeffrey is respected as a public educator on GMOs and a person who is interested in aggressively spreading the word," said Organic Consumers Association national director Ronnie Cummins.

Smith, who has replanted himself in Iowa, the largest U.S. corn-growing state, is discounted as misinformed and misleading by supporters of biotechnology who say the safety of genetically engineered crops and food is well established. Even some fellow biotech crop opponents question his strategies.

"The whole message that Jeffrey Smith has - that these crops are unsafe - there is no validity to that at all," said Mary Boote, executive director for pro-biotech Truth About Trade and Technology. "Jeffrey Smith is articulate and strong in his personal beliefs. But he has no science background at all."

But funded by speaking fees, book sales and donations to his institute, Smith plans to keep circling the globe. Data that shows increased plantings of biotech crops around the world won't deter him, he says.

"If we can get millions of people choosing non-GMO products then the food companies will see GM as a liability and remove them from their products," said Smith. "We're going for an industry-wide clean out of GMOs."

(Reporting by Carey Gillam; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Religious Investors Urge 63 Top U.S. Restaurant, Food, Beverage, Candy Companies to Oppose Spring Planting of Genetically Modified Sugar Beets

Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, New York City PressRelease, 4 Mar 2008,302298.shtml

NEW YORK, March 4 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- A total of 63 leading U.S. restaurant, food, beverage and candy companies - including such household names as McDonald's, Campbell Soup, Kellogg, Kraft Foods, Sara Lee, PepsiCo, Wendy's and Hershey's - are the focus of a major Web-based campaign at seeking to block the April 2008 planting of genetically modified sugar beets. The genetically modified sugar beet crop would be used to make the sugar contained in thousands of the most widely consumed food products in the U.S., according to the Web site created by the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) - a broad-based coalition of nearly 300 faith-based investors with over $100 billion in invested capital.

ICCR is concerned about sugar beets and other genetically modified crops because of weak governmental review and oversight, and the lack of long-term, independent and peer-reviewed safety studies.

The sample letter text provided for consumers visiting reads in part: 'As a consumer, I am writing to urge your company to publicly oppose the spring 2008 planting of genetically modified sugar beets in the United States. You have the power to tell agribusiness firms that you won't buy sugar made from genetically modified sugar beets. You should know that I am among the more than 50 percent of Americans who avoid genetically modified foods if given a choice. That means that if you publicly announce that your company will NOT use sugar from genetically modified sugar beets, I will be more likely to spend my hard-earned money with you. If you decide to use genetically modified sugar, I will avoid your products. And I would take that one step farther: If you fail to label your food or beverage as containing genetically modified sugar, I will have to operate on the assumption that it does contain the product ... and I will avoid it just to be safe. I am a big believer in consumers getting good information and having real choices. I do not want to be 'forced' to eat genetically modified sugar either because it is sneaked into my food on an undisclosed basis or because it is added into virtually all food and beverages.'

Leslie Lowe, director, Energy & Environment Program, Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility, said: 'This is a front-burner brand, reputation and consumer confidence issue for the biggest U.S. companies that sell food, drink, candy and other products containing sugar. These companies face major potential backlashes if they do not act now to stop the use of genetically modified sugar from sugar beets. Not only can these companies send a clear signal that they will not buy, but they have done this sort of thing before. McDonald's does not use genetically engineered potatoes. General Mills will not use genetically engineered wheat. Anheuser Busch does not use genetically engineered rice. Heinz has a policy of 'seeking to avoid' genetically modified organisms. Campbell's Soup Co. does not use genetically engineered tomatoes even though the company helped to develop such a tomato. Now, it is time for these companies and others to make it clear again that they are not going to try to sneak genetically modified sugar into the diets of Americans.'

Margaret Weber, coordinator of corporate responsibility, Adrian Dominican Sisters, said: 'These companies have active relationships with suppliers. They do not just 'take what comes.' Now is the time to signal that GE-sugar is off the table.'

Jeffrey Smith, author of 'Seeds of Deception' and 'Genetic Roulette,' said: 'Consumer concern about the mounting evidence of health problems linked with genetically modified foods will likely reach a tipping point in the near future, forcing GMOs out of the U.S. food supply. When Europe hit its GMO tipping point in April 1999, within a single week nearly all major food companies committed to remove genetically modified ingredients. While this took companies by surprise then, market indicators now suggest that the U.S. tipping point will take place before the end of 2009. In fact, consumer backlash against the genetically engineered bovine growth hormone rbGH has driven it out of products in about 40 of the top 100 dairies, as well as Starbucks, Kroger's, Publix, and others.'

The full 63 companies targeted in the ICCR campaign at reads as follows: Alpine Confections Inc.; American Crystal Sugar Co.; American Foods Group LLC; American Licorice Co.; Anheuser-Busch, Cos. Inc.; Brown & Haley; Brown-Forman Corp.; Campbell Soup Co.; Canada Bread Co.; Coca-Cola Inc.; ConAgra Foods, Inc.; Cott Corp.; Dairy Farmers of America; Dannon Co. Inc.; Dean Foods, Co.; Del Monte Foods; Dole Food Co. Inc.; Farley's & Sathers Candy Co.; Ferrara Pan Candy Co.; Flowers Foods Inc.; Foremost Farms USA; Fortune Brands Inc.; General Mills, Inc.; Gilster-Mary Lee Corp.; Godiva Chocolatier Inc.; Golden State Foods; Gorton's; H.J. Heinz Co.; Hain Celestial Group; Hershey Co.; Imperial Sugar Co.; Interstate Bakeries Corp.; J&J Snack Foods; J.M. Smucker Co.; Just Born Inc.; Kellogg Co.; Kraft Foods; McDonald's; McKee Foods Corp.; Molson Coors Co.; Nestle (US and Canada); New England Confectionery, Co.; OSI Group; Pepsico Inc.; Procter & Gamble Co.; Reser's Fine Foods; Ruiz Foods; Russell Stover Candies Inc.; Sara Lee Corp.; Schwan Food Co.; Seneca Foods Inc.; Sherwood Brands, Inc.; Tootsie Roll Industries Inc.; TreeHouse Foods Inc.; Unilever North America; Warrell Corp.; Wells' Dairy; Wendy's; Weston Foods; Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co.; World's Finest Chocolate Inc.; Zachary Confections, Inc.

Sugar beets have been modified to insert a gene that makes the plant resistant to glyphosate, a toxic herbicide, sold under the trade name Roundup. At the request of Roundup pesticide maker Monsanto, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently increased the allowable amount of glyphosate residues on sugar beet roots by a whopping 5,000 percent. (Sugar is extracted from the beet's root.) More than 50 percent of Americans have said they would reject genetically modified foods if given a choice. If the sugar beets in question are planted, genetically modified sugar will enter the food supply in early 2009. If the U.S. companies at the focus of the new ICCR campaign use genetically modified sugar, their exports to the European Union will require documentation and testing, an additional cost and inconvenience.


The Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility is a coalition of nearly 300 faith-based institutional investors, representing over $100 billion in invested capital. ICCR members bridge the divide between morality and markets by envisioning a civic economy that integrates ethical, environmental and social values. Inspired by faith, committed to action, ICCR members work to build a just and sustainable global community. For more information on ICCR, visit

Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, New York City

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

An Interview with Jeffrey Smith on GM Food Safety

This month's Spilling the Beans is an audio version, with transcript available, of an interview of Jeffrey Smith conducted by Dr. Jeffrey Bland, an internationally recognized leader in the nutritional medicine field for over 25 years.

Dr. Bland is a nutritional biochemist and registered clinical laboratory director, a former professor of biochemistry at the University of Puget Sound, and a previous Director of Nutritional Research at the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine. The interview was recorded as part of Dr. Bland's Functional Medicine Update (FMU), a well-respected audio journal now in its 26th year of publication.

Jeffrey Smith, the executive director of the Institute for Responsible Technology, is a leading spokesperson on the health dangers of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and an international best-selling author of Seeds of Deception and Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Modified Foods. Dr. Bland and Mr. Smith have a detailed discussion about current practices related to genetically engineered crops and worldwide instances of immune-system response and concern. --- ---

Click here to download the transcript (PDF)

Click here to listen to or download the audio (mp3)

For a more in-depth look at 65 health risks of GM foods, excerpted from Jeffrey Smith's comprehensive new book Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods, 097

The following is an interview with Jeffrey Smith conducted by Dr. Jeffrey Bland, an internationally recognized leader in the nutritional medicine field for over 25 years.

Dr. Bland is a nutritional biochemist and registered clinical laboratory director, a former professor of biochemistry at the University of Puget Sound, and a previous Director of Nutritional Research at the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine. The interview was recorded as part of Dr. Bland's Functional Medicine Update (FMU), a well-respected audio journal now in its 26th year of publication.

Jeffrey Smith, the executive director of the Institute for Responsible Technology, is a leading spokesperson on the health dangers of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and an international best-selling author of Seeds of Deception and Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Modified Foods. Dr. Bland and Mr. Smith have a detailed discussion about current practices related to genetically engineered crops and worldwide instances of immune-system response and concern. --- --- Clinician/Researcher of the Month

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Soaring Food Prices Putting U.S. Emergency Aid in Peril

Supplies and Recipients Likely to Be Reduced

By Anthony Faiola
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 1, 2008; A01

The U.S. government's humanitarian relief agency will significantly scale back emergency food aid to some of the world's poorest countries this year because of soaring global food prices, and the U.S. Agency for International Development is drafting plans to reduce the number of recipient nations, the amount of food provided to them, or both, officials at the agency said.

USAID officials said that a 41 percent surge in prices for wheat, corn, rice and other cereals over the past six months has generated a $120 million budget shortfall that will force the agency to reduce emergency operations. That deficit is projected to rise to $200 million by year's end. Prices have skyrocketed as more grains go to biofuel production or are consumed by such fast-emerging markets as China and India.

Officials said they were reviewing all of the agency's emergency programs -- which target almost 40 countries and zones including Ethiopia, Iraq, Somalia, Honduras and Sudan's Darfur region -- to decide how and where the cuts will be made.

"We're in the process now of going country by country and analyzing the commodity price increase on each country," said Jeff Borns, director of USAID's Food for Peace, the organization's food aid arm. "Then we're going to have to prioritize."

The reductions, international relief agencies say, will seriously complicate already strained efforts to combat global hunger, particularly in Africa, Central Asia and Latin America. Poor countries in those regions are struggling to cope with record food price surges, which have made it difficult for aid groups to sustain their operations in some countries.

The cuts will likely have a direct impact on major USAID partners, including aid groups and the United Nations World Food Program, the largest international provider, which counts on U.S food aid for 40 percent of its distribution.

The U.N. program is confronting similar price pressures. It announced this month that it was facing a $505 million shortfall due to soaring food and fuel costs, and would cut distribution if it did not receive new funds. Meanwhile, need is increasing. Afghanistan, for instance, recently put in an emergency request for $77 million to cope with skyrocketing prices that have put key staples out of reach for more and more Afghans.

"Look at what's happened to wheat prices alone -- they shot up 25 percent in one day last week," said Josette Sheeran, executive director of the World Food Program. "This is really the first emergency we've faced without a drought, war, natural disaster. We will have to cut the amount of people being served or the amount of food being served if we do not get more funds."

Groups that work with USAID, several of which have been informed of the shortfall over the past two weeks, are alarmed. Emergency aid is earmarked only for countries in desperate need as a result of natural disasters, civil strife or other humanitarian crises. Although the United States has proportionally provided less of the world's food aid in recent years, it still provides about half the global total in efforts to relieve hunger among more than 800 million people. In 2007, USAID gave about 2.5 million tons of food, accounting for more than 50 percent of the emergency aid in a number of nations, including Ethiopia.

USAID officials would not speculate on which countries might be picked for cuts, though aid workers said it was unlikely that those with the greatest need -- such as Sudan -- would be hit hard. Most at risk appeared to be long-term emergency programs in such countries as Nepal, where unrest has quieted, as well as a number of African countries, such as Tanzania, that had relatively good harvests last year.

The Bush administration's 2008 USAID budget request calls for $1.2 billion in food aid with a supplemental $350 million to cover assistance in Darfur and critical situations in southern Africa, Kenya and other hot spots.

USAID officials said the administration, facing a tight budget year, was not planning to request funds to cover the projected $200 million shortfall from the price increases. USAID purchases grains in the same domestic commodities market as the U.S. companies that serve up Wonder bread or Big Macs, meaning they pay the same high market rates. As a result, officials said, the program cuts are necessary. "At this point, this is the administration's request," Borns said yesterday.

Aid groups said they would press USAID and the Bush administration to pursue more funds from Congress to cover the shortfall. Several are concerned that the cuts come at a time when the Senate is considering a farm bill that would make it much harder for USAID to tap into non-emergency food in the event of a catastrophic event such as the 2004 Asian tsunami.

Frank Orzechowski, an adviser for Catholic Relief Services, said his organization has calculated that U.S. food aid would drop from 2.6 million tons last year to about 2.2 million this year. "That is going to be a pretty big hit for the people who can afford it the least," he said.

"The biggest concern is that there are going to be more people being pushed into food insecurity in poor countries because they don't have the purchasing power to cover higher costs, and we will be less rather than more prepared to cope with that. Higher commodity prices is not a situation that the U.S. is to blame for, but we are going to need to see it step up now and decide to make a greater contribution anyway."

Although it may take several months before the cuts are felt, higher food prices already have begun to erode the non-emergency aid and development programs sponsored by USAID in partnership with CARE, Catholic Relief Services, World Vision and others. In the case of one Asian nation, CARE said USAID had provided 10 percent less non-emergency food aid than expected, citing higher prices.

In Liberia, Catholic Relief Services funds its developmental programs -- including health worker training and technical assistance to farmers -- by selling wheat or rice provided by USAID at market prices. But, Catholic Relief was unable to find buyers for those grains in January because market prices have jumped so high that local buyers have switched to cheaper foods. The aid group is scrambling to find alternate sources before its funding runs out in April.