Friday, December 26, 2008

Bee Learning Behavior Affected by Eating Toxin from GE Corn

* By Ken Roseboro, ed.
The Organic and Non-GMO Report, December 2008
Straight to the Source

To Subscribe to the Organic and Non-GMO Report call 1-800-854-0586 or visit http://www.non-gmoreport.com/

A recent study found that honey bees fed on the active form of purified Cry1Ab protein, the genetically modified protein found in GM Bt corn, can be affected in the learning responses necessary to associate nectar sources with odorants.

The scientists wanted to determine if GM Bt is one of the causes for colony collapse disorder, a mysterious affliction that is killing honeybees worldwide.

In this study bees consuming artificial nectar containing 5000ppb of Cry1Ab continued to respond positively to a learned odor even in the absence of a food reward, while normal bee behavior is to become discouraged and seek more abundant food sources.

This learning response is important in bee foraging behavior and it has attracted the attention of CCD researchers since it is known to be inhibited by the insecticide imidacloprid.

The new finding is particularly interesting since it lends weight to a previous suggestion that Bt toxins may have other, non-lethal effects which become apparent only when the normal (i.e. lethal) effect is absent. If there were to be multiple modes of Bt action then many more non-target organisms would likely be at risk from GM Bt corn. Bt Researcher Angelika Hilbeck says that more research is needed that looks at the impacts of both the Bt toxin and imidaclopid on bee behavior.

Friday, December 19, 2008

First Ever Organic and Non-GMO Project Joint Inspections Judged a Success

Organic inspectors with Quality Assurance International (QAI) recently completed the first three on-site inspections for the Non-GMO Project’s Product Verification Program, with more inspections scheduled soon. The inspections occurred in conjunction with the participating companies’ annual organic inspections, reducing costs and labor. R.W. Garcia, SK Food, and WholeSoy & Co. are the first companies to go through these joint inspections.

According to Allan Perkins of R.W. Garcia, the joint inspections offer “a big time and cost savings way to participate. You can achieve both certifications with one auditor and one audit. The organic and Non-GMO Project audits fit well together.” Aaron Skyberg of SK Foods agrees, saying, “We were very pleased to be able to combine our organic and non-GMO verification inspections.” And Ted Nordquist, founder and CEO of WholeSoy & Co. adds that he thinks combining the inspections is “an excellent idea, and our suppliers feel the same way.”

The onsite audit is second in the Non-GMO Project’s two-step verification process. Prior to inspection, all companies undergo a document-based review of GMO avoidance practices like traceability, segregation, and testing at critical control points. This information is compared with the consensus-based Non-GMO Project Standard in order to assess compliance.

A “Non-GMO Project Verified Seal” will begin appearing on retail packages beginning in October 2009. In the meantime, a list of participating companies and the 350+ enrolled products can be found on the Project’s website: www.nongmoproject.org.

The Non-GMO Project is a non-profit organization dedicated to informed choice for consumers, and committed to ensuring sustained availability of non-GMO options.

The Project emerged as an industry-wide initiative nearly two years ago, when its Board of Directors expanded beyond the original founding retailers to include stakeholders from every sector. Led by CEOs and top executives from industry leaders such as Eden Foods, Lundberg Family Farms, Nature’s Path Foods, Organic Valley, UNFI, and Whole Foods Market, the Project has successfully implemented North America’s first independent, third party standard and verification program for production systems designed to avoid GMOs.

The program fills a gap left by lack of government oversight in the labeling of GMO foods. As Project Executive Director Megan Thompson explains, “Poll after poll shows that the public wants to know whether or not the food they’re eating contains GMOs. In fact, according to a CBS/New York Times poll from last summer, 53% of Americans said they would not buy food that has been genetically modified. The government has chosen not to require labels on food that contains GMOs, but fortunately our organic and natural products industry has stepped up and created this system for providing consumers with an informed choice.”

The program is open to all products (organic, natural, and conventional), but many of the first participants are certified organic companies. Though GMOs are an excluded method under the National Organic Program, their increasing prevalence in the conventional sector has raised concern among organic companies who want to make sure that their products stay non-GMO. As Project Board member and UNFI Board Chair and Founder Michael Funk puts it, “There is no greater threat to the (organic) industry than GMOs.” The Project’s Product Verification Program is helping to keep organic products non-GMO, and the joint organic/Non-GMO Project inspections are evidence of an important alliance.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

OCA: Vilsack Not "Change We Can Believe In"

* By Ronnie Cummins
Organic Consumers Association, December 17, 2008
Straight to the Source

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 17, 2008

Organic Consumers Association: Vilsack Not "Change We Can Believe In"

WASHINGTON, DC – Today's announcement that former Iowa Governor, Tom Vilsack, has been selected as the new Secretary of Agriculture sent a chill through the sustainable food and farming community who have been lobbying for a champion in the new administration.

"Vilsack's nomination sends the message that dangerous, untested, unlabeled genetically engineered crops will be the norm in the Obama Administration," said Ronnie Cummins, Executive Director of Organic Consumers Association. "Our nation's future depends on crafting a forward-thinking strategy to promote organic and sustainable food and farming, and address the related crises of climate change, diminishing energy supplies, deteriorating public health, and economic depression.”

The Department of Agriculture during the Bush Administration failed to promote a sustainable vision for food and farming and did not protect consumers from the chemical-intensive toxic practices inherent to industrial agriculture. While factory farms and junk food have been subsidized with billions of tax dollars, the US industrial farm system has released massive amounts of climate-destabilizing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and increased our dependence on foreign oil.

The Secretary of Agriculture is responsible for directing the U.S. Department of Agriculture and its $97 billion annual budget, including the National Organic Program, food stamp and nutrition programs, agriculture subsidies, and the Forest Service.

While Vilsack has worked to restrain livestock monopolies, his overall record is one of aiding and abetting Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs, also known as factory farms). Vilsack’s support for unsustainable industrial ethanol production has already caused global corn and grain prices to skyrocket, literally taking food off the table for a billion people in the developing world.

Over the past month, Organic Consumers Association members have sent over 20,000 emails to President-Elect Obama’s Transition Team, calling for the appointment of a Secretary of Agriculture who would develop and implement a plan that promotes family-scale farming, a safe and nutritious food system, and a sustainable and organic vision for the future.

"Obama's choice for Secretary of Agriculture points to the continuation of agribusiness as usual, the failed policies of chemical- and energy-intensive, genetically engineered industrial agriculture," said Cummins. "Americans were promised ‘change,’ not just another shill for Monsanto and corporate agribusiness. Considering the challenges we collectively face as a nation, from climate change and rising energy costs to food insecurity, we need an administration that moves beyond ‘business as usual’ to fundamental change—before it’s too late,” concluded Cummins.

Vilsack’s business as usual positions have included the following:

• Vilsack has been a strong supporter of genetically engineered pharmaceutical crops, especially pharmaceutical corn.
• The biggest biotechnology industry group, the Biotechnology Industry Organization, named Vilsack Governor of the Year. He is also the founder and former chair of the Governor's Biotechnology Partnership.
• When Vilsack created the Iowa Values Fund, his first poster child for economic development was Trans Ova and their pursuit of cloning dairy cows.
• The undemocratic 2005 seed preemption bill was the Vilsack's brainchild. The law strips local government’s right to regulate genetically engineered seed.
• Vilsack is an ardent supporter of corn and soy based biofuels, which use as much or more energy to produce as they generate and drive up world food prices, literally starving the poor.

The OCA will soon launch http://www.stopvilsack.org to mobilize hundreds of thousands of people to oppose Vilsack's Senate confirmation through an online petition.

More information is available at:
http://salsa.democracyinaction.org/o/642/petition.jsp?pet...

Monday, December 15, 2008

DOE Joint Genome Institute Completes Soybean Genome— Data Released to Advance Biofuel, Food, & Feed Research

WALNUT CREEK, CA— The U.S. Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute (DOE JGI) has released a complete draft assembly of the soybean (Glycine max) genetic code, making it widely available to the research community to advance new breeding strategies for one of the world’s most valuable plant commodities. Soybean not only accounts for 70 percent of the world’s edible protein, but also is an emerging feedstock for biodiesel production. Soybean is second only to corn as an agricultural commodity and is the leading U.S. agricultural export.

DOE JGI’s interest in sequencing the soybean centers on its use for biodiesel, a renewable, alternative fuel with the highest energy content of any alternative fuel. According to 2007 U.S. Census data, soybean is estimated to be responsible for more than 80 percent of biodiesel production.

dried soybean

Dried soybean, courtesy of USDA-ARS

“The genome sequence is the direct result of a memorandum of understanding between DOE and USDA to increase interagency collaboration in plant genomics,” said DOE Under Secretary for Science Dr. Raymond L. Orbach. “We are proud to support this major scientific breakthrough that will not only advance our knowledge of a key agricultural commodity but also lead to new insights into biodiesel production.”

“Soybeans have been an important food plant providing essential protein to people for hundreds of years,” said USDA Chief Scientist and Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics Dr. Gale A. Buchanan. “Now, with the new knowledge available through this joint DOE/USDA genome sequencing project, researchers everywhere will be able to further enhance important traits that make the soybean such a valuable plant. It’s a great day for agriculture and people everywhere.”

This effort was led by Dan Rokhsar and Jeremy Schmutz of the DOE JGI, Gary Stacey of the University of Missouri-Columbia, Randy Shoemaker of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)-Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS), Scott Jackson of Purdue University, with support from the DOE, the USDA, and the National Science Foundation (NSF). In addition, the United Soybean Board, the North Central Soybean Research Program, and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, have supported the soybean genome effort.

“Soybean is the one of the largest and most complex plant genomes sequenced by the whole genome shotgun strategy,” noted Rokhsar. The process entails shearing the DNA into small fragments enabling the order of the nucleotides to be read and interpreted. Steven Cannon of the USDA-ARS collaborated with the DOE team to ensure the accuracy of the assembly.

Preliminary scientific details emerging from the sequence analysis will be presented by Schmutz at the International Conference on Legume Genomics and Genetics in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, December 8, 2008. The soybean genome sequence information can be browsed at http://www.phytozome.net/soybean.

Schmutz and colleagues have begun to analyze the soybean genome, which at one billion nucleotides is roughly one-third the size of the human genome. Preliminary studies suggest as many as 66,000 genes—more than twice the number identified in the human genome sequence, and nearly half-again as many as the poplar genome, sequenced by DOE JGI and published in the journal Science in 2006.

“We have ordered and localized about 5,500 genetic markers on the sequence, which promise to be of particular importance to those researchers seeking to optimize certain qualities in soybean,” said Schmutz. Thousands of these markers were developed by Perry Cregan and colleagues of the USDA-ARS with support of the United Soybean Board. A genetic marker represents a known location on a chromosome that can be associated with a particular gene or trait. Prospective genome pathways of interest are those that directly influence yield, oil and protein content, as well as drought tolerance and resistance to nematodes and diseases such as the water mold Phytophthora sojae, previously sequenced by DOE JGI, which causes stem and root rot of soybean.

In 2007, soybean accounted for 56 percent of the world’s oilseed production. James Specht, Professor at the University of Nebraska, said that this nitrogen-fixing legume crop offers the dual benefit of a seed high in protein and oil—with room for improvement. “With the advent of low-cost re-sequencing technologies, soybean scientists now have the means to identify sequence differences responsible for yield potential–the most desired of all crop traits, but to date the most intractable.”

“The soybean genome sequence will be a valuable resource for the basic researcher and soybean breeder alike,” said Jim Collins, Assistant Director for the Biology Directorate at the NSF. Collins and Judith St. John of USDA Agricultural Research Service co-chair the Interagency Working Group on Plant Genomes, which oversees the National Plant Genome Initiative. “The close coordination between the DOE sequencing project and the NSF SoyMap project facilitated through the National Plant Genome Initiative has added value to the sequence and physical map resources for this important crop,” Collins said.

The soybean genome project is already making its mark out in the field.

“It’s tremendous that the soybean genome is out in the public’s hands.” Said Rick Stern, a New Jersey soybean farmer and chair of the Production Research program for the United Soybean Board (USB). “Now every breeder can go into this valuable library for the information that will help speed up the breeding process. It should cut traditional breeding time by half from the typical 15 years.”

The U.S. Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute, supported by the DOE Office of Science, unites the expertise of five national laboratories -- Lawrence Berkeley, Lawrence Livermore, Los Alamos, Oak Ridge, and Pacific Northwest -- along with the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology -- to advance genomics in support of the DOE missions related to clean energy generation and environmental characterization and cleanup. DOE JGI’s Walnut Creek, CA, Production Genomics Facility provides integrated high-throughput sequencing and computational analysis that enable systems-based scientific approaches to these challenges.

For more information, contact
David Gilbert
DOE JGI Public Affairs Manager
(925) 296-5643
degilbert@lbl.gov

Sunday, December 14, 2008

GMO Contamination in Mexico's Cradle of Corn

»

by: Joëlle Stolz, Le Monde

photo
Researchers who conducted a study confirming the presence of transgenes in Mexico's traditional corn varieties worry about the possible loss of corn as a food. (Photo: STRINGER Mexico / Reuters)

Raise the alarm for Mexican corn's biosecurity: a molecular study conducted by Mexican, American and Dutch researchers demonstrates the presence of genes from genetically modified organisms (GMO) among the varieties of traditional corn cultivated in the remote regions of Oaxaca State in the southern part of the country, even though the Mexican government has always maintained a moratorium on the use of transgenic seed.

The results of this study incite the experts to demand much more restrictive protective measures. "Old time" agriculture as practiced in Mexico - where wind-blown pollination of corn is the norm and where peasants are in the habit of exchanging their seed - seems to aggravate the risk of rapid GMO contamination.

An article that details their conclusions should be published in the next edition of the review, "Molecular Ecology." It was written by Elena Alvarez-Buylla of the Institute for Ecology of the Autonomous National University of Mexico (UNAM), with the collaboration of a dozen other scientists.

Their work could relaunch the controversy that was unleashed in 2001 by a highly controversial article in the magazine, "Nature," the authors of which, biologists David Quist and Ignacio Chapela from the University of California at Berkeley, revealed that criollos (traditional) corn from the Oaxaca region - one of the cradles of that cereal - were contaminated by Roundup Ready (RR) and Bt genes, property of the American company Monsanto.

In her book, "The World According to Monsanto," (due for release in March 2009 and already available for pre-order at Amazon.com), Marie-Monique Robin related how Mr. Chapela became a victim of "media lynching" at that time at the instigation of the dominant company in the GMO market. "Nature" ended up publishing a disclaimer, deeming that the two biologists' article was insufficiently backed up.

However, seven years later, the work Mrs. Alvarez-Buylla directed broadly confirms their conclusions, as a report published in the November 13 "Nature" emphasizes. The researchers have discovered transgenes in three of the twenty-three fields of Oaxaca's northern sierra where samples were taken in 2001, then in two places sampled in 2004.

American Allison Snow, of the University of California and author in 2005 of a preliminary study that seemed to undermine Ignacio Chapela and David Quist's discoveries (and which were then immediately exploited by GMO partisans), is publishing an additional complimentary note in the same issue of "Molecular Ecology," in which she judges the molecular analysis conducted by the UNAM team to be "very good," bringing to light "the positive evidence of transgenes."

This acknowledgement did not come without difficulty. "We battled for two years to get the results of our study published," declares Mrs. Alvarez-Buylla. "In the course of my entire career, I have never encountered so many difficulties! There were efforts to stop the publication of this scientific data!" Biologist José Sarukhan, a UNAM researcher and member of the United States National Academy of Science, had recommended the article for publication by that organization's review. The latter rejected the article in March, with the justification that it risked provoking "excessive media attention for political or environmentally-related reasons ..."

How - in spite of the moratorium - have GMO transgenes migrated to the far depths of Oaxaca's mountains, and also to Sinaloa State in the north, the biggest producer of corn for human consumption, and to Milpa Alta, a district on the periphery of Mexico? They are found in one percent of the plots analyzed, which is a lot in the Mexican context, where 75 percent of the corn planted comes from seeds selected by peasants from their own harvest.

The first hypothesis is that some farmers are illegally importing transgenic seeds. Strong suspicions surround the company Pioneer, a big supplier of hybrid corn seeds purchased by Mexico from the United States and distributed to small farmers through government aid programs.

Preliminary data indicate that a third of Pioneer's seeds are contaminated by GMO, any distinctive labeling of which Monsanto has succeeded in preventing.

The study's authors call for a strengthening of "biosecurity measures" to preserve native corn varieties, especially in Mexico, corn's "center of origin." They say Mexico must set up truly independent laboratories and adapt criteria of molecular analysis to the Mexican reality, rather than trusting "methods used in countries such as the United States which have an agricultural system entirely different from our own."

But their greatest concern at present involves planned pharmaceutical trusts which want to make a profit on corn biomass and use it as a bioreactor in order, for example, to express vaccines and anti-coagulants. "Given the incidents that have already occurred in the United States where they have trouble separating bioreactors from GMO, we may fear that corn could turn into the garbage bin of the pharmaceutical industry, at the expense of its purpose as food," fears Mrs. Alvarez-Buylla. "What shall we do when anti-coagulants arrive in Mexicans' tortilla?"

--------

Translation: Truthout French language editor Leslie Thatcher.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

APHIS Asked to Remove Regulations for GMO Corn

USDA seeks public comments on petition to deregulate corn.
(12/3/2008)
Farm Futures Staff

Public comments are being sought by the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service on a petition to deregulate corn genetically engineered to produce a microbial enzyme that facilitates ethanol production.

Following the comment period, APHIS will make a determination of nonregulated status if it can conclude that the organism does not pose a plant pest risk. If granted, the product could then be freely moved and planted without the requirement of permits or other regulatory oversight by APHIS.

According to APHIS scientific evidence indicates that there are unlikely to be any environmental, human health or food safety concerns associated with the genetically engineered corn.

Consideration will be given to comments received on or before Jan. 20, 2009. To submit comments visit the Federal eRulemaking portal by clicking HERE.

GMO Job

Will the Obama administration be the first to seriously regulate genetically modified food?

By Tom Philpott
12 Dec 2008
Barack Obama. Photo: Charlie Neibergall / AP
Will Obama buck the trend and regulate GMOs?

On Nov. 11, Austria's Ministries for Agriculture and Health released the results of a long-term study [PDF] of genetically modified organisms. A widely used strain of GM corn, they found, appears to decrease both birthrates and the size of offspring in mice -- and the problems seem to grow with each generation.

This is a troubling conclusion. U.S. farmers planted the first commercial GMO crops in 1996. Today, upwards of 90 percent of U.S. soy, and 60 percent of U.S. corn, come from GMO seeds. Those crops suffuse our food supply -- they provide the bulk of our cooking oil and sweetener, and feed the animals that feed us. By 2003, as much as 75 percent of processed food available in the United States contained GMO ingredients, according to an estimate cited by the USDA. GM corn and soy acreage have only expanded since then.

Of course, the reproductive function is complex and intimately linked to the body's other systems. If GMOs are affecting our ability to reproduce, then it seems likely they're affecting our health in other ways, too.

Yet the Austrian study dropped with a thud in the U.S. media. The New York Times didn't mention it; on The Washington Post website, it rated a few paragraphs in the midst of a daily health round up.

Nor did it seem to penetrate the world of our president-elect. Less than two weeks after the Austrian study emerged, Obama named the members of his transition team for issues related to the USDA. Among them was Michael R. Taylor, a consultant who has spent the past 30 years bouncing among high-level positions at the USDA, the FDA, and Monsanto, the company that dominates the lucrative market for GMO seeds. Taylor served as director of policy at the FDA during the 1990s, when GMOs began to infiltrate the food supply.

A few days before that, Des Moines Register agriculture correspondent Philip Brasher speculated that Obama will be as friendly to the ag-biotech industry as his predecessor, based on "both [Obama's] statements of policy and the type of people from whom he's taking advice."

Given the startling conclusions of the Austrian researchers and Obama's evident embrace of GMOs, it's time to revisit how the U.S. government regulates the technology.

Quayle's Brainwave


When he takes office in January, Obama will inherit perhaps the most GMO-friendly regulatory framework of any nation in the world. In a 2003 paper for New York University's Center on Environmental and Land Use Law, Emily Marden describes the fragmented, porous process through which genetically altered traits move from lab to supermarket.

Since the 1990s, Marden reports, two key assumptions have shaped the official response to GMOs: 1) that the technology poses at most low-level public-health and ecological risks, and 2) that preexisting regulatory measures are sufficient for reviewing GMOs. As a result, gene-altered organisms have been allowed to suffuse our food supply without any special effort to measure their risk.

The intellectual author of our system for judging the safety GMOs turns out to be none other than Dan Quayle, vice president under George H.W. Bush. Quayle headed up Bush I's Council on Competitiveness, a group charged with promoting U.S. business interests by "reducing the regulatory burden on the economy." The Council operated under the vice president's office; members included the attorney general, secretary of commerce, and chair of the Council of Economic Advisors -- but no one from FDA or USDA. To act as executive director, Quayle tapped Indiana chemical-industry executive Allan Hubbard.

By the early 1990s, agrichemical companies like Monsanto had invested billions on GMO technology and were eager to bring their seeds to market. President Bush faced the task of deciding how to regulate them. He handed the task to Quayle's Council. Fittingly for a group charged with "reducing the regulatory burden," the Council settled on a laissez-faire approach.

According to Marden, the Council emphasized the need "to eliminate unneeded regulatory burdens on all phases of the development of new biotechnology products -- laboratory and field experiments, products development, and eventual sales and use."

And it took a broad view of what constituted "unneeded" regulations: The federal government should only implement new regulations on biotechnology for "those limited instances where private markets fail to provide adequate incentives to avoid unreasonable risks to health and the environment." In the more than 15 years that have passed since the Council passed judgment, no new regulations regarding GMOs have been drawn up.

Having established their principles, Quayle and his council set about creating what became known as the "coordinated framework" for regulating GMOs, which actually amounts to a fragmented patchwork involving three agencies: the FDA, the EPA, and the USDA (under its Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, or APHIS.)

In her Uncertain Peril: Genetic Engineering and the Future of Seeds, Claire Hope Cummings deftly lays out how the three agencies go about their task. The USDA applies the Plant Pest Act to new GMO crops, which "excludes the process of genetic engineering from consideration," Cummings writes. Moreover, the agency relies completely on the seed companies themselves for information on ecological risk. Thus far, the industry has given itself a clean bill of health.

As for the EPA, it looks at only one kind of GMO: those engineered to contain a pesticide. That excludes oversight of widely used herbicide-tolerant (so-called Roundup Ready) corn and soy. Instead, it draws attention to GM crops like Monsanto's ubiquitous Bt corn, engineered to contain the pesticide properties of the naturally occurring Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) bacteria.

But here, too, the technology gets a pass. Operating under the principles laid down by Quayle, the EPA assumes that since Bt is safe for humans, Bt corn must be, too, Cummings reports. But there are key differences. "While natural Bt is activated only in the guts of susceptible insects, GMO Bt is always active and constantly exuded from all parts of the plant," Cummings writes.

The FDA, finally, regulates under the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. When the agency decides an item is "generally regarded as safe," it passes into the food supply without the need for testing. Astonishingly, before ever testing a GMO product, the FDA declared the entire category "generally regarded as safe."

Hope for Change?


Reviewing this material, a conclusion emerges: Our government essentially doesn't regulate GMO food.

Yet as the Austrian study shows, GMOs may well carry significant health risks. (Ecological impacts, such as the rise of herbicide-tolerant "superweeds," have also been linked to GMOs.) The study contains a statement I find nearly as startling as the drop in fertility it reports: Twelve years since the introduction of GMO crops, "Only [a] few studies have been conducted to assess 'toxicity' and 'long term effects' of transgenic crops in warm-blooded animals." In other words, it's not just that the U.S. government is failing to test the health effects of GMOs; no one else is really testing, either.

The question becomes, will Obama update a broken regulatory framework that hasn't been changed since its birth in the, gulp, Quayle era? Obama's association with figures like former Monsanto vice president and FDA policy director Michael Taylor augur poorly.

Yet a comment the president-elect made during the campaign offers some hope. "I believe that we can continue to modify plants safely with new genetic methods," he declared. But he added a caveat: GMO expansion should be "abetted by stringent tests for environmental and health effects and by stronger regulatory oversight guided by the best available scientific advice."

That would certainly be a novel approach.



Got a question about where your last supper came from? Fork it over.

North Carolina-based Tom Philpott is Grist's food editor.

Printer friendly version for: http://www.grist.org/comments/food/2008/12/12/index.html

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Brazil allows planting of Dupont, Dow GMO corn

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Brazil's biosafety regulator CTNBio approved on Thursday the commercial planting of a genetically modified corn jointly developed by Dupont Inc. and Dow Chemical Co..

The Herculex corn variety is insect resistant and tolerant to glufosinate ammonium.

It must still be approved by Brazil's Agriculture Ministry before it can be planted.

This is the sixth genetically modified variety of corn approved for commercial planting in Brazil.

The first ones, developed by Bayer and Monsanto, were cleared in late 2007. So the next corn season will be the first one to produce genetically modified types.

They are expected to account for 6.7 percent of the total planted area, according to independent grain analyst Celeres in their first season.

(Reporting by Roberto Samora, Writing by Inae Riveras; Editing by David Gregorio)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

France fined over GM crop delay - from BBC

The EU's top court has ordered France to pay a 10m-euro (£8.7m; $12.9m) fine for delaying implementing EU rules on genetically modified (GM) crops.

The European Court of Justice said France's conduct was "unlawful".

France has refused to apply a 2002 law which set out how biotech crops could be planted in areas where other conventional crops were being grown.

Paris has said internal opposition by environmentalists is too strong for it to press ahead with the new measures.

On Tuesday, the Luxembourg-based court said its ruling would act as a warning to others that ignoring EU rules had a price.

In 2004, the European Commission won a court order against France, but Paris only began implementing the rules in July this year.

US Government Admits Increased Oversight of GMO Crops Needed

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - More oversight and coordination is needed among federal agencies to prevent unapproved releases of genetically modified crops into the environment and food and feed supply, the investigative arm of the U.S. Congress said on Friday.

Since 2000, there have been six known unauthorized releases of GMO crops into the food supply involving GMO corn and rice.

Earlier this week, Monsanto Co, the leading developer of biotech crops, said some unapproved GMO cotton was harvested. The resulting cottonseed meal may have entered the livestock feed supply.

The Government Accountability Office said in a report that more incidents of unauthorized releases could have occurred in the United States and simply gone unnoticed.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulate GMO crops.

"As pointed out by GAO, the three regulatory agencies still do not adequately coordinate their regulation of the food safety or environmental consequences of these crops," the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nonprofit health advocacy group, said.

Each agency contends that the unapproved GMO crops that were released have not caused any harmful effects to people, animals or the environment.

But, the releases have led to food recalls and lost trade opportunities that economists estimate cost producers millions of dollars, the GAO said.

"When unapproved genetically engineered crops are detected in the food and feed supply, food safety concerns rise, markets are disrupted and consumer confidence falls," said Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa in a statement.

Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia agreed that unapproved GMO crops in the market is a problem requiring swift action.

"We must do all we can do to enhance the effectiveness of oversight functions so the technology continues to be available as new products are introduced," he said in a statement.

Crop developers are subject to periodic inspections, but the GAO says the Agriculture Department lacks the resources to inspect every site and the EPA has not made inspections a priority. Most of the known unauthorized releases were self-reported by the crop developers, the report said.

To boost oversight, the GAO recommended that the FDA make the results of its early food safety evaluations of GMO crops public. The FDA agreed and said it intends to post the results on its Web site.

Also, the GAO recommends that the FDA and Agriculture Department improve their coordination. The GAO suggested developing a formal agreement to share information on GMO crops that could have adverse health implications.

The last recommendation involved all three agencies collaborating to monitor GMO crops on the market.

More than 70 percent of processed foods sold in the United States have ingredients from GMO crops, according to the report. GMO seeds sold in 2007 amassed a global value of $6.9 billion.

Yet, oversight focuses mostly on crops in the testing phase with little monitoring after crops are marketed. The GAO believes this leaves room for problems with GMO crops approved for the food supply to fly under the radar.

"The incoming Obama administration should implement all of the GAO recommendations, especially one requiring post-approval monitoring for unintended environmental and food safety consequences," the Center for Science in the Public Interest said. "Resources spent on post-market monitoring would protect consumers, the environment and our trading partners."

(Editing by Christian Wiessner)

SWAT Team Raids Ohio Co-op

On Monday, December 1, a SWAT team with semi-automatic rifles entered the private home of the Stowers family in LaGrange, Ohio, herded the family onto the couches in the living room, and kept guns trained on parents, children, infants and toddlers, from approximately 11 AM to 8 PM. The team was aggressive and belligerent. The children were quite traumatized. At some point, the “bad cop” SWAT team was relieved by another team, a “good cop” team that tried to befriend the family. The Stowers family has run a very large, well-known food cooperative called Manna Storehouse on the western side of the greater Cleveland area for many years. [Update]

There were agents from the Department of Agriculture present, one of them identified as Bill Lesho. The search warrant is reportedly suspicious-looking. Agents began rifling through all of the family’s possessions, a task that lasted hours and resulted in a complete upheaval of every private area in the home. Many items were taken that were not listed on the search warrant. The family was not permitted a phone call, and they were not told what crime they were being charged with. They were not read their rights. Over ten thousand dollars worth of food was taken, including the family’s personal stock of food for the coming year. All of their computers, and all of their cell phones were taken, as well as phone and contact records. The food cooperative was virtually shut down. There was no rational explanation, nor justification, for this extreme violation of Constitutional rights.

Presumably Manna Storehouse might eventually be charged with running a retail establishment without a license. Why then the Gestapo-type interrogation for a 3rd degree misdemeanor charge? This incident has raised the ominous specter of a restrictive new era in State regulation and enforcement over the nation’s private food supply.

This same type of abusive search and seizure was reported by those innocents who fell victim to oppressive federal drug laws passed in the 1990s. The present circumstance raises the obvious question: is there some rabid new interpretation of an existing drug law that considers food a controlled substance worthy of a nasty SWAT operation? Or worse, is there a previously unrecognized provision(s) pertaining to food in the Homeland Security measures? Some have suggested that it was merely an out-of-control, hot-to-trot ODA agent, and, if so, this would be a best-case scenario. Anything else might spell the beginning of the end for the freedom to eat unregulated and unmonitored food.

One blogger familiar with the Ohio situation has reported that:

“Interestingly, I believe they [Manna Storehouse] said a month or so ago, an undercover ODA official came to their little store and claimed to have a sick father wanting to join the co-op. Both the owner and her daughter-in-law had a horrible feeling about the man, and decided not to allow him into the co-op and notified him by certified mail. He came back to the co-op demanding to be part of it. They refused and gave him names of other businesses and health food stores closer to his home. Not coincidentally, this man was there yesterday as part of the raid.”

The same blog also noted that the Ohio Department of Agriculture has been chastised by the courts in several previous instances for its aggression, including trying to entrap an Amish man in a raw milk “sale,” which backfired when it became known that the Amish believe in a literal interpretation of “give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away” (Matthew 5:42)

The issue appears to be the discovery of a bit of non-institutional beef in an Oberlin College food service freezer a year ago that was tracked down by a county sanitation official to Manna Storehouse. Oberlin College’s student food coop is widely known for its strident ideological stance about eating organic foods. It seems that the Oberlin student food cooperative had joined the Manna Storehouse food cooperative in order to buy organic foods in bulk from the national organic food distributor United, which services buying clubs across the nation. The sanitation official, James Boddy, evidently contacted the Ohio Department of Agriculture. After the first contact by state ODA officials, Manna Storehouse reportedly wrote them a letter requesting assistance and guidelines for complying with the law. This letter was never answered. Rather, the ODA agent tried several times to infiltrate the coop, as described above. When his attempts failed, the SWAT team showed up!

Food cooperatives and buying clubs have been an active part of the American landscape for over a generation. In the 1970s, with the rise of the organic food industry (a direct outgrowth of the hippie back-to-nature movement) food coops started up all over the country. These were groups of people who freely associated for the purpose of combining their buying power so that they could order organic food items in bulk and case lots. Anyone who was part of these coops in the early era will remember the messy breakdown of 35 pounds of peanut butter and 5 gallon drums of honey!

These buying clubs have persisted and flourished over the years due to their ability to purchase high quality organic foods at reduced prices in bulk quantities. Most cooperatives have participated greatly in the local agrarian economies, supporting neighborhood organic farmers with purchases of produce, eggs, chickens, etc. The groups also purchase food from a number of different local, regional and national distributors, many of them family-based businesses who truck the food themselves. Some of these food cooperatives have become large enough to set up mini-storefront operations where members can drop in and purchase items leftover from case lot sales. Manna Storehouse had established itself in such a manner, using a small enclosed breezeway attached to their home. It was a folksy place with old wooden floors where coop members stopped by to chat and snack on bags of organic corn chips.

The state of Ohio boasts the second largest Amish population in the country. Many of the Amish live on acreages where they raise their own food, not unlike Manna Storehouse, and sell off the extras to neighbors and church members. There is a sense of foreboding that this state crackdown on a longstanding, reputable food cooperative operation could adversely impact the peaceful agrarian way of life not only for the Amish, but homeschoolers and those families living off the land on rural acreages. It raises the disturbing possibility that it could become a crime to raise your own food, buy eggs from the farmer down the road, or butcher your own chickens for family and friends – bustling activities that routinely take place in backwater America.

The freedom to purchase food directly form the source is increasingly under attack. For those who have food allergies and chemical intolerances, or who are on special medical diets, this is becoming a serious health issue. Will Americans retain the right to purchase food that is uncontaminated by pesticides, herbicides, allergens, additives, dyes, preservatives, MSG, GMOs, radiation, etc.? The melamine scare from China underscores the increasingly inferior and suspect quality of modern processed institutional foods. One blog, commenting on the bizarre and troubling Manna Storehouse situation, observed that:

“No one is saying exactly why. At the same time the FDA says it is safe to eat the 40% of tainted beef found in Costco's and Sam's all over the nation. These farm raids are very common now. Every farmer needs to fully equipped [sic] for the possibility of it happening to them. The Farmer To Consumer Legal Defense Fund was created just for this purpose. The USDA just released their plans to put a law into action that will put all small farmers out of business. Animals for the sale of meat or milk will only be allowed in commercial farms, even the organic ones.” December 3, 2008 7:09 PM

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Experimental cotton unlikely to pose feed hazard

By SAM HANANEL
The Associated Press
Wednesday, December 3, 2008; 7:20 PM

WASHINGTON -- An unauthorized strain of genetically modified cotton was accidentally mixed in with other harvested cotton in Texas last month, but government officials on Wednesday played down any safety concerns.

About a quarter ton of the experimental cotton seed engineered to contain a protein that produces a pesticide was combined with about 60 tons of commercial cotton growing nearby, said Eric Flamm, a senior adviser at the Food and Drug Administration.

The mixture, grown near Lamesa in West Texas, about 300 miles west of Fort Worth, was then stored along with 20,000 tons of commercial cotton seed in a warehouse. Nearly half the crop was processed into cottonseed oil and cotton meal to use as animal feed before officials at Monsanto Co., which grows the experimental cotton on a test plot, realized the mistake.

Monsanto officials notified the government of the error on Nov. 10.

"We're talking about a very small amount, but nevertheless, a material that contains a pesticidal substance and has not been authorized for food or feed use," Flamm said on a conference call with reporters.

Flamm said most of the contaminated crop that was processed into animal feed had already been consumed at cattle feed lots. Two truckloads of the crop were delivered to Mexico, and U.S. officials have notified that country.

The FDA, Environmental Protection Agency and Agriculture Department are investigating to determine what enforcement action is warranted against Monsanto.

Monsanto spokesman Lee Quarles said the crop was mistakenly harvested on Oct. 31, and the company learned about it eight days later when field researchers went to check on it and discovered it was not there. It is grown in a research plot adjacent to other cotton and separated by border rows.

"We've taken responsibility for this release and we're actively working to resolve it in a manner that's satisfactory with the USDA and other agencies," Quarles said.

Quarles said the protein has been determined to pose no threat to humans and approved for use in corn, but not yet in cotton.

But one food safety group said the case shows the need for stricter government regulation over experimental crops.

"This incident and a string of others that have come to light over the past two years show that the USDA is fundamentally incapable of protecting our food," said Karen Perry Stillerman, a food analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

FDA, EPA and USDA Conclude That Accidental Release of Genetically Engineered Cotton Poses No Safety Risk to Humans or Animals

The U.S. government announced today that there is no food or feed safety concern from an incident in which a small portion of an unauthorized genetically engineered (GE) cotton variety was harvested along with commercially available GE cotton.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) are working together following notification by the Monsanto Company that a small amount--less than an acre--of an unauthorized GE cotton variety was harvested along with 54 acres of a commercially available GE cotton variety. This unauthorized GE cotton variety produces a pesticide that is a plant-incorporated protectant (PIP) nearly identical to a registered product already in a marketed corn variety. EPA and FDA have concluded that there are no food or feed safety concerns related to this incident. Also, if animals had consumed meal made from the unauthorized GE cotton variety, there would be no residues in the meat, milk or eggs. Additionally, USDA has determined that the unauthorized GE cotton poses no plant pest concerns.

According to Monsanto, an estimated 60 tons of cottonseed was harvested, of which less than 0.5 percent was from the unauthorized GE cotton variety. Government policies for handling low-level presence (LLP) of unauthorized materials are applicable to incidents in which unauthorized materials become inadvertently mixed with commercial grain or seed. FDA, EPA and USDA are working together to investigate the matter.

The U.S. government is investigating whether a small amount of meal from the unauthorized GE cotton variety may have been inadvertently released into the animal feed supply. It is important to note that it has not been determined whether unauthorized cottonseed meal actually entered the feed supply. The processor is holding potentially affected material (both processed and unprocessed) pending further investigation.

Based on additional data provided by Monsanto on the protein produced in the GE cotton--a variant of Cry 1A 105 that acts as a pesticide against cotton insect pests--EPA has concluded that there would be no risk to animals consuming small amounts of feed from the unauthorized cotton, nor to humans from consuming meat or milk from these animals. While EPA has concluded that consuming small amounts of the cottonseed poses no food or animal feed safety risks, under that Agency’s LLP policy, the presence of this material in food or feed would be illegal.

FDA, USDA and EPA are the three government entities primarily responsible for regulatory oversight of GE crop plants and their products. Their responsibilities are complementary. FDA has jurisdiction over food and feed uses of all foods from plants. USDA has jurisdiction over the introduction into the environment of GE plants which may be plant pests. EPA regulates pesticides produced by GE plants such as the pesticidal protein produced by the cotton in this case. These pesticides are called PIPs.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Action Alert - Petition to Obama for MEANINGFUL GMO labeling

From our friend Jeffrey Smith and the Institute for Responsible Technology:

President Obama promised that genetically modified foods will require labels. Please sign the petition demanding comprehensive and meaningful GMO labeling; and thank him for giving us what we want, and deserve.

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President Obama is finally going to get genetically modified (GM) foods labeled—something 270 million Americans have wanted for a long time. The Bush, Clinton, and Bush I administrations denied it to us, ignoring 9 out of 10 citizens in order to support the economic interests of the 5 Ag biotech companies that make GMOs.

Former FDA man Henry Miller admitted, “In this area, the US government agencies have done exactly what big agribusiness has asked them to do and told them to do.”

Why don’t the biotech companies want us to know that their products are in our food? Because we wouldn’t eat them. According to a CBS/New York Times poll, most of us (53%) would avoid brands with genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Close labeling loopholes

Outside the US and Canada, nearly all industrialized countries require GMOs to be labeled. But clear, comprehensive, and consumer-friendly criteria remain elusive.

Japan’s laws allow food with a whopping 5% GMO contamination to go unlabeled. In Australia and New Zealand, loopholes exempt about 90% of their GM foods from labeling. Their law says that GM ingredients must be detectable in the final processed food in order to require labels. Thus, oil made from 100% GM soybeans, corn, cottonseed or canola (the four major GM crops) is unlabeled.

These loose labeling regimes have consistently angered citizens and there is momentum for tightening standards. In the EU, for example, they used to exempt undetectable GMOs but now insist on labels if any ingredient is DERIVED BY GMOs. Thus, they require traceability of ingredients to their GMO or Non-GMO origins.

The EU has another loophole that upsets citizens there (which we must avoid here in the US). Milk, meat, and eggs from animals fed GMOs don’t have to be labeled. Many groups are working hard to change this EU law. In the meantime several European food companies publicly committed not to use GMO animal feed.

In the US, corporations have traditionally had the upper hand when it comes to negotiating details of regulations. We don’t want that to happen with labeling.

President Obama is going to give us labeling—he promised us that. But will it be the citizens’ labeling plan or Monsanto’s?

Sign the petition today demanding comprehensive and meaningful GMO labeling, and thank President Obama for giving us what we want, and deserve.

But don’t wait for labeling to avoid GMOs. Download our Non-GMO Shopping Guide, which gives tips and brands to help you choose healthier non-GMO food.

Healthy Eating!

Jeffrey M.Smith
Executive Director
www.responsibletechnology.org
Author, Genetic Roulette and Seeds of Deception