Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Citing cost, USDA kills pesticide-testing program

Data used to help gauge food safety
By Stephen J. Hedges
Chicago Tribune, September 29, 2008
Straight to the Source

WASHINGTON—The Bush administration has abruptly halted a government program that tests the levels of pesticides in fruits, vegetables and field crops, arguing that the $8 million-a-year program is too expensive—a decision critics say could make it harder to protect consumers from toxins in their food.

Data from the 18-year-old Agricultural Chemical Usage Program administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture were collected until this year, and the Environmental Protection Agency used the data to set safe levels of pesticides in food.

The information was also widely used by university and food industry researchers, including a University of Illinois program to help farmers reduce the amount of pesticides they use.

The program was launched in 1990 to answer congressional concerns over the use of the chemical daminozide, or Alar, on apples. But now USDA contends the program is too expensive.

"We looked at the budget and said, 'We can't do everything we have been doing, and what are we going to get rid of?' " said Mark Miller of USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service, which administered the program.

The decision came as a shock to researchers at the EPA and elsewhere who have come to rely on the data, which measure how much pesticide farmers apply to certain crops each year.

"Elimination of this program will severely hamper the efforts of the USDA, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), land grant scientists, and state officials to perform pesticide risk assessments and make informed policy decisions on pesticide use," the Union of Concerned Scientists wrote in a letter to Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer.

Since 1990, the program has included tests on about 120 different kinds of fruits, vegetables and field crops, such as almonds, olives, spinach, wheat, corn and apples.

The Agriculture Department had been scaling back the program over the last several years, alternating which fruits and vegetables are tested. In 2007, Miller said, USDA tested only cotton and apples.

Some critics see the move as part of a broad but quiet deregulation effort the Bush administration has undertaken in its final months in office.

Among those most affected is the EPA. Bill Jordan, a senior adviser in the agency's pesticides office, said it's now buying expensive privately collected data and relying on older information.

EPA had used data from the canceled program, along with other input, to help set acceptable levels of pesticides in food.

Susan Ratcliffe, who runs the Integrated Pest Management Center at the University of Illinois, said her research also relied on the canceled USDA data. Her program works with farmers to limit pesticide use to problem areas in their fields, rather than using chemicals as a "prophylactic" to control pests everywhere.

Institutions that used the USDA data must now buy similar information from a private company, Dmrkynetec. A company representative did not return a phone call for comment. Those who have purchased the data packages said they cost about $500,000 to $700,000 a year.

The Union of Concerned Scientists, in its letter to Schafer, said the private data sets are "extremely expensive and unreliable, and thus are no substitute."

The danger posed by pesticides has been the focus of a long-running debate in the food world. Over time, some pesticides have been banned as suspected carcinogens. Others, EPA contends, are safe if applied at recommended levels.

The termination of the USDA tests is certain to spur more disagreement over how much consumers should worry about the chemicals used to produce their food.

Some have lobbied to eliminate the use of bug- and weed-controlling chemicals. Others argue that the human body can tolerate small amounts of pesticides, and that their presence should not discourage the consumption of healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables.

Concern over pesticides helped launch the organic food market, which has evolved from a grass-roots farming movement 20 years ago to a multibillion-dollar international food industry today.

Most pesticides are banned in the production of organic food under USDA regulations. But that doesn't mean all organic food is pesticide-free. Charles Benbrook, a scientist with The Organic Center in Boulder, Colo., found in a recent study that about 20 percent of organic foods tested by USDA contained low levels of pesticides.

That's because pesticide use has been so prevalent in the past that it's nearly impossible to eliminate all traces of it. USDA's National Organic Program has set the acceptable level of pesticides in organic food at 5 percent of its allowable limits in conventional foods.

"You're talking about extremely low levels of pesticides," said Barbara Robinson, USDA's deputy administrator for the National Organic Program. "They could appear for any number of reasons, but not for deliberate reasons. They're things that can exist in the ground for years."

Sunday, September 21, 2008

FDA Issues Draft Guidance on Regulating Genetically Engineered Animals

FDA News

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 18, 2008

Media Inquiries:
Siobhan DeLancey, 301-827-0857
Michael Herndon, 301-827-9182
Consumer Inquiries:
888-INFO-FDA


Public comment invited on application of new animal drug provisions of the Federal Food Drug and Cosmetic Act

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, part of the Department of Health and Human Services, today released for public comment draft guidance on the regulation of genetically engineered (GE) animals. The guidance document is intended to clarify the FDA's regulatory authority in this field, as well as the requirements and recommendations for producers of GE animals and products derived from GE animals.

The comment period for the draft guidance, titled "The Regulation of Genetically Engineered Animals Containing Heritable rDNA Constructs," runs for 60 days and closes Nov. 18, 2008. The 25-page document is available online at http://www.fda.gov/cvm/GEAnimals.htm.

"Genetically engineered animals hold great promise for improving human medicine, agriculture, the environment, and the production of new materials, and the FDA has long been involved in their scientific evaluation," said Randall Lutter, Ph.D., deputy commissioner for policy. "Our guidance provides a framework for both GE animals and products made from them to reach the market."

Genetic engineering generally refers to the use of recombinant DNA (rDNA) techniques to introduce new characteristics or traits into an organism. When scientists splice together pieces of DNA and introduce a spliced DNA segment into an organism to give the organism new properties, it's called rDNA technology. The spliced piece of DNA is called the rDNA construct. A GE animal is one that contains an rDNA construct intended to give the animal new characteristics or traits.

GE animals can be divided into several classes, based on their intended use. They include animals that produce human or animal pharmaceuticals (biopharm animals); animals that serve as models for human diseases; animals that produce high-value industrial or consumer products, such as fibers; and food-use animals with new traits such as improved nutrition, faster growth or lower emission levels of environmentally harmful substances (such as phosphate in their manure).

Genetic engineering already is widely used in agriculture to make crops resistant to pests or herbicides. In medicine, genetic engineering is used to develop microbes that produce drugs and other therapeutic products for use in humans. In food, genetic engineering is used to produce microorganisms that aid in baking, brewing, and cheese-making.

Using the animal drug provisions of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act), the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) has been working with developers of GE animals to make them aware of their responsibilities to ensure that food from these animals does not enter the U.S. food supply unless the FDA has authorized such use.

The FD&C Act classifies "articles (other than food) intended to affect the structure or any function of the body of man or other animals" as drugs. An rDNA construct that is in a GE animal and intended to affect the animal's structure or function meets the definition of a new animal drug, whether the animal is intended for food, or used to produce another substance. Developers of these animals must demonstrate that the construct and/or any new products expressed from the inserted construct are safe for the health of the GE animal.

Under the draft guidance, in those cases in which the GE animal is intended for food use, producers will have to demonstrate that food from the GE animal is safe to eat. The FDA will review this information as part of its food safety assessment, consistent with that recommended in the recently adopted Codex Alimentarius Guideline for the Conduct of Food Safety Assessment of Foods Derived from Recombinant-DNA Animals. Codex is a worldwide food safety organization sponsored by the United Nations.

The draft guidance also describes a sponsor's responsibility in meeting the requirements for environmental assessment under the National Environmental Policy Act.

Depending on the species of animal and its intended use, the FDA will coordinate with agencies in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and with other federal departments and agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, in regulating GE animals. The draft guidance indicates the areas in which the FDA will be working with those agencies to develop a coherent policy under the Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology. USDA has published in the same issue of the Federal Register a "Request for Information" that seeks input on what types of actions and approaches it should consider under the Animal Health Protection Act (AHPA) that would complement FDA's guidance. The AHPA gives the Secretary of Agriculture authority to take specific actions to prevent the spread of diseases and pests of livestock.

"This is a cutting-edge technology that has significant implications, including real benefits, not just for human health, but also for animal health, such as developing disease-resistant animals," said CVM Director Bernadette Dunham, D.V.M., Ph.D. "We look forward to the public comments to help refine our thinking and approach."

The draft guidance describes how the FDA may exercise enforcement discretion, that is, not require premarket approval, for some GE animals depending on potential risk, as we did after reviewing information about Zebra danio, aquarium fish genetically engineered to glow in the dark. For example, the draft guidance states the FDA's intent to exercise enforcement discretion for laboratory animals used for research and kept in confined conditions. The agency does not expect to exercise enforcement discretion for animal species traditionally consumed as food and expects to require approval of all GE animals intended to go into the human food supply.

The draft guidance describes how the FDA regulates heritable rDNA constructs, that is, constructs inherited from one generation to the next. Non-heritable constructs, such as those used for gene therapy to treat individual animals, may be the subject of a subsequent guidance.

For more information, see http://www.fda.gov/cvm/GEAnimals.htm.

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Saturday, September 20, 2008

FDA Will Not Require Labeling of Genetically Engineered Animals That are Sold as Food

Statement of Consumers Union
WASHINGTON - September 18 - Consumers Union finds it "incomprehensible" that the FDA will not require labeling of genetically engineered animals that are sold as food. Genetically engineered animals may contain genetic material from entirely different species. For example mouse genes have been put into pigs to help them metabolize phosphorous more efficiently, and spider genes have been put into goats so that they produce spider silk in their milk.

FDA proposed today that they will only review genetically engineered animals for their safety as food, and will not require any labeling. "It is incomprehensible to us that FDA does not view these animals as different from their conventional counterparts, and therefore something that under law is required to be labeled," stated Jean Halloran, Director of Food Policy Initiatives at Consumers Union, nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports. "In our view, consumers have a right to know if the ham, bacon or pork chops they are buying come from pigs that have been engineered with mouse genes."

Consumers Union is also concerned that cows engineered to produce antibiotics in their milk, which can help the cow avoid udder infections, also will not be labeled. "Unlike conventional antibiotics, which must be cleared from the cow before it can be used to produce milk or meat, the antibiotic that is genetically engineered into the animal will always be present. We are concerned both about the potential safety and lack of labeling on such food products," stated Michael Hansen, Ph.D., Senior Scientist at Consumers Union.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Rules on Bioengineered Animals

FDA to Release Guidelines for Stages of Genetic Modification

By David Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 18, 2008; A02

The Food and Drug Administration will release today long-awaited regulatory guidelines governing genetic engineering of animals for food, drugs or medical devices.

Although none of the provisions is likely to surprise the biotech industry, their formal appearance after years of discussion is expected to energize a field whose commercial potential is huge but so far unrealized.

The agency's regulatory control of animals will be considerably stronger than its oversight of genetically engineered plants and microorganisms. The latter -- or substances derived from them -- are on the market and, in some cases, have proved controversial.

The guidelines tell companies what the FDA wants to know about their work at virtually every stage of creating an engineered animal.

For example, biotech firms will be asked to provide the molecular identity of snippets of DNA inserted in an animal's genome, as well as where the genetic message lands and whether it descends unaltered through subsequent generations. The FDA also wants to be told how the genetic alterations might change an animal's health, behavior and nutritional value.

The companies also should inform the agency how they will keep track of animals, prevent them from mingling with their non-engineered cousins and dispose of them when they die.

Genetically engineered animals -- salmon, pigs, cows and goats are in development -- are expected to have two main uses. Some will be food animals whose new genetic endowment makes them disease-resistant, faster-growing or more nutritious. Others will be genetically engineered to produce medically useful substances, such as hormones or antibodies, in their organs or body fluids.

Pigs that are able to more easily absorb phosphorus, and therefore need less feed supplementation, are being developed in Ontario. Goats that produce spider silk in their milk are being made in Wyoming.

Food that is produced from genetically engineered animals will not have to be labeled as such. However, if the genetic manipulation changes the nutritional content -- for example, by increasing a beneficial form of fat -- that must be declared on the label.

The specific requests in the guidelines are not mandatory. However, biotech companies seeking FDA approval to commercialize genetically engineered animals must follow federal drug laws. The guidelines are meant to show how they can do that.

The FDA has been providing the advice on an informal basis for about 10 years, said Eric Flamm, a policy adviser at the agency. The guidelines will be open for public comment for 60 days.

"We are simply clarifying what we've always done, and will continue to do," he said.

There was general agreement that something in writing on the subject has been needed for a while.

"It is past due for the federal government to finally recognize that genetically engineered animals are on the horizon and need regulation and oversight," said Gregory Jaffe of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a lobbying organization in Washington.

The action "will drive investor confidence," said Barbara Glenn of the Biotechnology Industry Organization. "They know that we will reach commercialization of a product." At the moment, about a dozen of the organization's 1,200 member companies are developing genetically engineered animals, she said.

But the new guidelines drew criticism from groups worried about possible environmental, ecological and physiological hazards of bioengineered animals. The experience of genetically modified plants is rife with examples of unintentional dissemination of the organisms, and their interbreeding with unmodified members of their species.

"The first time that the public will learn about a genetically engineered animal will be the day it is approved," said Margaret Mellon of the Union of Concerned Scientists. "This requires that you completely trust the FDA to do this right, and I don't think folks trust FDA that much."

Michael Hansen, a scientist with Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports magazine, said that "there is very little transparency without [the FDA] laying out all the data" for the public to see. He does not think that transparency is assured.

The FDA is laying claim to regulatory authority over what it calls "GE animals" through an unusual legal argument.

The Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act defines a drug as anything that alters the "structure or function" of a person or animal. Adding a gene to an animal through recombinant technology changes at least the animal's structure and probably its function, as well.

In the new guidelines, the FDA argues that "recombinant DNA constructs" inserted into animals are by definition drugs. However, because the DNA constructs are physically inseparable from the whole animals, the latter also fall under the agency's regulatory control.

"You can't regulate the drug without regulating the animal," said Flamm, the FDA policy adviser. "So, effectively, we are putting controls on the animal rather than on the little piece of DNA."

With this strategy, virtually no genetically engineered animal will escape FDA scrutiny during its development and testing. This is not true with plants.

The FDA regulates genetically modified plants whose nutritional content is altered, in which case they become "food additives." The Environmental Protection Agency regulates them when the new genetic endowments provide pesticide-like actions.

Although the animal-is-drug strategy will allow the FDA to regulate genetically engineered animals without getting further authority from Congress, the unintended effects of that strategy worry some consumer groups.

Although companies will have to provide detailed information about their work starting from the earliest stage, the FDA is prohibited by law from revealing that information to the media or the public. That is because much of the information is proprietary, competitive and extremely valuable. The agency cannot even acknowledge that a company has a "new drug application" on file.

Consequently, discussions that occur during the development of a genetically engineered animal about its safety and effectiveness will not include consumer or watchdog groups.

Although the guidelines say that the FDA may ask a company to submit an environmental impact statement with its application for approval of a genetically engineered animal, the agency cannot reject a drug strictly on environmental grounds.

Some groups are worried about the effects of unanticipated mixing of genetically engineered animals with others -- for example, the escape of fast-growing salmon into the open ocean, where they could breed with wild species.

"I don't think what's being announced will protect humans and the environment from all the potential risks that a genetically engineered animal may pose," said Jaffe of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Almond Growers and Handlers File Federal Lawsuit Seeking to End "Adulteration" of Raw Nuts

The Cornucopia Institute, September 10, 2008
Straight to the Source

WASHINGTON, D.C. A group of fifteen American almond growers and wholesale nut handlers filed a lawsuit in the Washington, D.C. federal court on Tuesday, September 9 seeking to repeal a controversial USDA-mandated treatment program for California-grown raw almonds.

The almond farmers and handlers contend that their businesses have been seriously damaged and their futures jeopardized by a requirement that raw almonds be treated with propylene oxide (a toxic fumigant recognized as a carcinogen by the EPA) or steam-heated before they can be sold to American consumers. Foreign-grown almonds are exempt from the treatment scheme and are rapidly displacing raw domestic nuts in the marketplace.

Tens of thousands of angry consumers have contacted the USDA to protest the compulsory almond treatment since the agency’s new regulation went into effect one year ago. Some have expressed outrage that even though the nuts have been processed with a fumigant, or heat, they will still be labeled as ‘raw.’

“The USDA’s raw almond treatment mandate has been economically devastating to many family-scale and organic almond farmers in California,” said Will Fantle, the research director for the Wisconsin-based Cornucopia Institute. Cornucopia has been working with almond farmers and handlers to address the negative impacts of the USDA rule, including the loss of markets to foreign nuts.

The USDA, in consultation with the Almond Board of California, invoked its treatment plan on September 1, 2007 alleging that it was a necessary food safety requirement. Salmonella-tainted almonds twice this decade caused outbreaks of food related illnesses. USDA investigators were never able to determine how salmonella bacteria somehow contaminated the raw almonds that caused the food illnesses but they were able to trace back one of the contaminations, in part, to the country’s largest "factory farm," growing almonds and pistachios on over 9000 acres.

Instead of insisting that giant growers reduce risky practices, the USDA invoked a rule that requires the gassing or steam-heating of California raw almonds in a way that many consumers have found unacceptable.

“For those of us who are interested in eating fresh and wholesome food the USDA’s plan, to protect the largest corporate agribusinesses against liability, amounts to the adulteration of our food supply,” said Jill Richardson, a consumer activist and blogger.

“This ruling is a financial disaster and has closed a major customer group that we have built up over the years,” said Dan Hyman, an almond grower and owner of D&S Ranches in Selma, CA. His almond business relies on direct sales to consumers over the internet. Hyman notes that his customers were never consulted by the USDA or the Almond Board before they were denied “a healthy whole natural raw food that they have eaten with confidence, enjoyment and benefit for decades.”

The lawsuit contends that the USDA exceeded its authority, which is narrowly limited to regulating quality concerns in almonds such as dirt, appearance and mold. And even if the USDA sought to regulate bacterial contamination, the questionable expansion of its authority demanded a full evidentiary hearing and a producer referendum, to garner public input ” neither of which were undertaken by the USDA.

“The fact that almond growers were not permitted to fully participate in developing and approving this rule undermines its legitimacy,” said Ryan Miltner, the attorney representing the almond growers. “Rather than raising the level of income for farmers and providing handlers with orderly marketing conditions,” added Miltner, “this particular regulation creates classes of economic winners and losers. That type of discriminatory economic segregation is anathema to the intended purpose of the federal marketing order system.”

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    Please support the right to truly raw almonds by making a donation for this lawsuit. The Cornucopia Institute is helping underwrite the cost of the almond legal challenge.

    By using this link to our secure server, you can make an online, tax-deductible gift. Make sure to indicate in the message box that your donation is for the Almond Lawsuit. (If you prefer, you may also mail your donation to The Cornucopia Institute, PO Box 126, Cornucopia, WI 54827).

    Your support helps protect the livelihood of small and medium-size family and organic almond growers and the right of consumers to choose authentic and truly fresh food in the marketplace.

____________________

Retailers of raw almonds have also been expressing their unhappiness, based on feedback from their customers, with the raw almond treatment rule. “We’ve been distributing almonds grown by family farmers in California for over 30 years and we regard them as the common heritage of the American people,” said Dr. Jesse Schwartz, President of Living Tree Community Foods in Berkeley, CA. “We can think of no reply more fitting than to affirm our faith that ultimately the wisdom and good sense of the American people will prevail in this lawsuit.”

Barth Anderson, Research & Development Coordinator for The Wedge, a Minneapolis-based grocery cooperative, noted that their mission has always been to support family farmers. “We weren’t surprised when Wedge shoppers and members wrote nearly 500 individual letters expressing disapproval of the USDA’s mandatory fumigation law for domestic almonds,” Anderson said. “Our members especially did not like the idea that fumigated almonds could be called ‘raw.’ ”

According to the USDA, there is no requirement for retailers to alert consumers to the toxic, propylene oxide fumigation or steam treatment applied to raw almonds from California.

“This rule is killing the California Organic Almond business,” said Steve Koretoff, a plaintiff in the lawsuit and owner of Purity Organics located in Kerman, CA. “Because foreign almonds do not have to be pasteurized their price is going up while our price is going down because of the rule. It makes no sense.” Koretoff added.

Two groups of consumers that have been particularly vocal in their opposition to the almond treatment rule are raw food enthusiasts and vegans. These consumers may obtain as much as 30% of their daily protein intake from raw almonds, after grinding them for flour and other uses. Studies exploring nutritional impacts following fumigant and steam treatment have yet to be publicly released. A Cornucopia Institute freedom of information request for the documents is awaiting a response from the USDA.

“We raw vegans believe raw foods, from non-animal sources, contains valuable nutrients ” some not yet well-understood by scientists,” stated Joan Levin, a retired attorney living in Chicago. “These nutrients can be destroyed by heat, radiation and toxic chemicals. We support the continued availability of fresh produce free of industrial age tampering,” explained Levin.

Cornucopia’s Fantle noted that the Washington, D.C. federal district court has already assigned the almond lawsuit a case number, beginning its move through the judicial system. “We believe this is a strong legal case and hope for a favorable decision in time to protect this year’s almond harvest,” Fantle said.

Additional background information on the almond treatment issue can be found on The Cornucopia Institute’s web page, under the Authentic Almond Project

PCC Natural Markets, in Seattle, WA is the nation’s oldest and largest cooperative grocer. Goldie Caughlan, is the co-op’s Nutrition Education Manager as well as a board member of The Cornucopia Institute. According to Caughlan: “After the USDA’s treatment mandate became effective, we added imported organically grown and conventional almonds. The labels and signage we created accurately informs customers these are truly ‘raw,’ and explain the changed requirements for U.S. producers. We continue to sell some U.S. produced almonds, but this has necessitated investigating growers to ascertain that we sell only steam-pasteurized almonds, not those fumigated by chemicals. These added efforts are time consuming and create added expense for our company.”

“This is yet another example of how government, under the guise of ‘public health,’ is interfering with an individual’s fundamental right to consume the foods of their choice,” noted attorney David G. Cox of Lane, Alton & Horst LLC in Columbus, OH and a legal advisor to The Cornucopia Institute. “The government’s police power does not authorize the USDA to choose for the individual what foods should be in the marketplace.”

Mitch Wallis, a San Diego attorney and another member of the Cornucopia legal team, added that “in one fell swoop, the USDA and its agribusiness-dominated California Almond Board, have taken away all consumer access to a truly ‘raw’ almond. Almonds are, especially in California, perhaps the “king of nuts.” If they can get away with destroying the almond, what does this portend for the future of all nuts and ultimately for all raw and natural foods?”

“It goes against all reason for the USDA to require domestic almonds to be pasteurized while allowing unpasteurized almonds to be imported from abroad,” observed Eli Penberthy, a Seattle, WA-based food and farming analyst with The Cornucopia Institute. “Small-scale and organic farmers in California have lost sales to retailers and consumers who are instead choosing to buy truly raw almonds from Italy and Spain.”

The Cornucopia Institute has been articulating the concerns of family-scale farmers, producing organic, conventional and local food, about the potential fallout from the industrialization of our food supply. Foodborne illnesses, and the contamination of food from large industrial farming operations, are now motivating regulators to look at “technological fixes” rather than addressing the root cause of the problems & the widespread fecal contamination of the nation’s food supply.

“It is ironic that consumers, in increasing numbers, are voting in the marketplace for a higher quality of food from organic and local farmers & producers they trust,” stated The Cornucopia Institute ’s Fantle. “The very growers that stand to lose are the safest and highest quality producers of food in the United States. We will not allow them to be placed at a competitive disadvantage.”

The text of the legal challenge can be viewed by clicking here

Thursday, September 4, 2008

FEDERAL COURT UPHOLDS BAN ON GENETICALLY-ENGINEERED ALFALFA

Contacts: Kevin Golden, 415-826-2770; Joseph Mendelson, (202) 547-9359

FEDERAL COURT UPHOLDS BAN ON GENETICALLY-ENGINEERED ALFALFA

Washington, D.C. (September 2, 2008) - In a decision handed down today, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has upheld a nationwide ban on the planting of genetically-engineered (GE) Roundup Ready alfalfa pending a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The Court determined that the planting of genetically modified alfalfa can result in potentially irreversible harm to organic and conventional varieties of crops, damage to the environment, and economic harm to farmers.

Although the suit was brought against United States Department of Agriculture (USDA); Forage Genetics and Monsanto Company entered into the suit as Defendant-Intervenors. In her opinion, Circuit Judge Mary M. Schroeder held that Monsanto and Forage Genetics contend that the District Court disregarded their financial losses, but the district court considered those economic losses and simply concluded that the harm to growers and consumers who wanted non-genetically engineered alfalfa outweighed the financial hardships to Monsanto and Forage Genetics and their growers.

This ruling affirms a major victory for consumers, ranchers, organic farmers, and most conventional farmers across the country, said Andrew Kimbrell, Executive Director of the Center for Food Safety. Roundup Ready Alfalfa represents a very real threat to farmers' livelihoods and the environment; the judge rightly dismissed Monsanto's claims that their bottom line should come before the rights of the public and America's farmers. This ruling is a turning point in the regulation of biotech crops in this country.

Today's decision upholds District Court Judge Charles Breyer's earlier ruling of May 2007, in which he found that the USDA failed to address concerns that Roundup Ready alfalfa will contaminate conventional and organic alfalfa. Judge Schroeder's decision affirms that USDA violated national environmental laws by approving GE alfalfa without a full Environmental Impact Statement. It also affirms that USDA failed to address the problem of Roundup-resistant 'superweeds' that could follow commercial planting of GE alfalfa.

The Center for Food Safety represented itself and the following co-plaintiffs in the suit: Western Organization of Resource Councils, National Family Farm Coalition, Sierra Club, Beyond Pesticides, Cornucopia Institute, Dakota Resource Council, Trask Family Seeds, and Geertson Seed Farms. For more information, please visit www.centerforfoodsafety.org .

California Legislature Passes Bill Protecting Farmers Against Monsanto Lawsuits

Genetic Engineering Policy Project, Aug. 31, 2008

NOTE: More good news from the US. This is a major step forward. California's is the 8th largest economy in the world.

EXTRACT: Currently, farmers with crops that become contaminated by patented seeds or pollen have been the target of harassing lawsuits brought by biotech patent holders, particularly Monsanto. --- --- California Legislature Passes Bill Protecting Farmers Against Monsanto Lawsuits

First State Bill Regarding Genetically Engineered Crops Awaits Governor's Signature

PRESS RELEASE, The Genetic Engineering Policy Project

August 31 2008 - A landmark piece of legislation protecting California's farmers from crippling lawsuits was passed through both legislative houses this week in an end-of-session flurry. The Senate voted 23 - 14 to support it, and the Assembly was unanimous in their support. The bill, AB 541 (Huffman, D-Marin/Sonoma), is now headed to the Governor's desk for his signature. Sponsored by diverse organizations, some of whom are traditionally opposed on farm issues, AB 541 is the first bill passed by the California legislature that brings much-needed regulation to genetically engineered (GE) crops.

"I am very pleased that my office, working with the stakeholders on both sides of this historically divisive issue, was able to find common ground and pass California's first legislation on genetic engineered crops," stated Assemblymember Huffman. "While there is still work to be done on other aspects of genetic engineering, AB 541 is an important step in establishing basic protections for California's farmers."

AB 541 enacts protections against lawsuits brought against California farmers who have not been able to prevent the inevitable - the drift of GE pollen or seed onto their land and the subsequent contamination of their non-GE crops. Currently, farmers with crops that become contaminated by patented seeds or pollen have been the target of harassing lawsuits brought by biotech patent holders, particularly Monsanto. The bill also establishes a mandatory crop sampling protocol to prevent biotech companies that are investigating alleged violations from sampling crops without the explicit permission of farmers.

AB 541 has the support of organizations traditionally on opposite sides of the GE issue, and its sponsors are confident that the Governor will sign it. The bill was sponsored by a thirteen-member coalition including Community Alliance with Family Farmers, Earthbound Farm, California Certified Organic Farmers, United Natural Foods Inc., as well as California Farmers Union and the California Farm Bureau, and several others.

"AB 541 is a move in the right direction," stated Renata Brillinger, director of the Genetic Engineering Policy Project, the coalition of organic and conventional farmers, food industry, environmental, and faith organizations sponsoring AB 541. "It provides much needed protection for farmers who typically lack the resources to fight lawsuits brought by biotech conglomerates."

A copy of the bill can be downloaded at: http://www.leginfo.ca.gov