Saturday, February 21, 2009

Crop Scientists Say Biotechnology Seed Companies Are Thwarting Research

Published: February 19, 2009
New York Times

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, February 19, 2009

New Small Farms Spreading Across U.S.

  • Census-Farm Payment Issues; the Stimulus Bill; Food Safety; and Global Ag Issues, February 9, 2009
    Straight to the Source

Census-Farm Payment Issues

Andrew Martin reported in yesterday's New York Times that, "Ever thought of chucking it all and moving to the country? According to the Agriculture Department, an increasing number of Americans are doing just that, by embracing a 'Green Acres' lifestyle. But few of them are making a living at it:more often than not, their work in the fields is subsidized by an off-the-farm job." (See this related graph for all farms, and this related graph by farm typology).

"The Agriculture Department came out with its Census of Agriculturelast week, and the headline was that the number of farms increased by 4 percent from 2002 to 2007, with most of the new farms being small, part-time operations."

Mr. Martin added that, "A closer look at the numbers shows that American farming is becoming a story of extremes: of really big farms and really small ones. Consider that about 900,000 of the nation's 2.2 million farms generated $2,500 or less in sales in 2007.

"By contrast, 5 percent of total farms, about 125,000 operations, accounted for 75 percent of agricultural production."

"The new agriculture secretary, Tom Vilsack, has acknowledged the problem and vowed to do something about it. As a former governor of Iowa, he knows firsthand that farmers with a few hundred acres are being outbid for land by farmers with a few thousand. That consolidation is fueled by farm payments that tend to benefit the largest farms."

(Note: "Federal farm programs do not explicitly target payments to farms of a certain size or net income level, although caps may apply to the size of the program payment a farm or an individual farmer can receive. Nevertheless, large farms are more likely to receive farm program payments and, as a group, they receive the bulk of payments simply because most payments are paid per acre." (Robert Hoppe. "The Importance of Farm Program Payments to Farm Households."Amber Waves. June 2007)).

The Times article indicated that, "The question is: What, if anything, can he do about it?

"In an interview on Friday, Mr. Vilsack saidthe agency would encourage income opportunities— like energy production, carbon sequestration, conservation and ecotourism — that go beyond just crops and livestock. 'You have to take a holistic approach and create the understanding that the whole thing is diversification,' he said."

With respect to federal farm payments, an update posted on Fridayat the National Association of Wheat Growers homepage indicated that, "USDA released a more than 300-page guidance booklet to county Farm Service Agencies [FSA] late this week.

"The booklet is meant to clarify how new farm bill payment eligibility, payment limit and adjusted gross income rules will be implemented." The FSA guidance handbook is available by clicking here.

Keith Good
President, Inc.
Champaign, IL

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Scientists Protest Unethical Clinical Trials of GM Golden Rice

View the article here:

Doomsday seed vault's stores are growing

Filed by Agence France-Presse

(AFP) – The stores of seeds in a "doomsday" vault in the Norwegian Arctic are growing as researchers rush to preserve 100,000 crop varieties from potential extinction.

The imperiled seeds are going to be critical for protecting the global food supply against devastating crop losses as a result of climate change, said Cary Fowler, executive director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust.

"These resources stand between us and catastrophic starvation," Fowler said. "You can't imagine a solution to climate change without crop diversity."

That's because the crops currently being used by farmers will not be able to evolve quickly enough on their own to adjust to predicted drought, rising temperatures and new pests and diseases, he said.

One recent study found that corn yields in Africa will fall by 30 percent by 2030 unless heat-resistant varieties are developed, Fowler noted.

"Evolution is in our control," he said in an interview. "It's in our seed bank. You take traits form different varieties and make new ones."

That process currently takes about 10 years. But Fowler said his organization is hoping to speed up the development of new varieties by cataloguing the genetic traits of the seeds that it stores.

Their gene bank -- dug into a mountainside near Longyearbyen, in the Svalbard islands in the far north of Norway -- will be made public to help spur research, which Fowler says is woefully inadequate.

"Six people in the world are breeding bananas. Ditto for yams, a major crop in Africa," Fowler said ahead of a presentation Sunday to the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Fowler said the Global Crop Diversity Trust has agreements with 49 institutes in 46 countries to rescue some 53,000 of the 100,000 crop samples identified as endangered.

Agreements for preserving the remaining varieties are expected to be completed soon.

They include rare varieties of barley, wheat, rice, banana, plantain, potato, cassava, chickpea, maize, lentil, bean, sorghum, millet, coconut, breadfruit, cowpea and yam.

The varieties most at risk are being stored in poorly funded seed banks in Africa and Asia where varieties are being lost due to inadequate refrigeration and the destruction of the facilities as a result of civil strife and natural disasters.

Researchers do not know how many varieties of crops have already been lost. But the industrialization of farming has had a major impact on crop diversity.

In 1903, US farmers planted 578 varieties of beans. By 1983 just 32 varieties remained in seedbanks.

"When you lose one of these samples you're losing something you can't find in a farmer's field," Fowler said.

"We can't afford to lose this diversity when it's so easy and cheap to conserve it."

Sunday, February 15, 2009

America's Cities: The Coming Crisis

A new movie called “America’s Cities: The Coming Crisis” reminds us why self sufficient living is a better way of life. The film is a documentary featuring interviews with top experts from leading universities, Washington, D.C., and the military which point to a looming crisis headed for America’s metropolitan centers.

While the potential of disaster is certainly a good argument for moving to the country, learning to grow your own food and setting up an alternative energy system, there’s an even better reason for self sufficient living - it’s just a healthier, more sane way to live.

See for more information

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Death by Multiple Poisoning, Glyphosate and Roundup

Scientists pinpoint how very low concentrations of the herbicide and other chemicals in Roundup formulations kill human cells, strengthening the case for phasing them out, and banning all further releases of Roundup-tolerant GM crops
Dr. Mae-Wan Ho and Brett Cherry

This article was submitted to the USDA on behalf of ISIS

Four different Roundup formulations of the herbicide glyphyosate manufactured by Monsanto are highly toxic to human cells, and at concentrations far below the recommended agricultural use levels. Researchers at the Institute of Biology in Caen , France published their latest results in the current issue of Chemical Research in Toxicology [1] .

Roundup formulations are lethal cocktails

The four Roundup formulations are mixtures of glyphosate with various adjuvants. (An adjuvant is ‘helper' substance added to aid the effect of the active ingredient.) The Roundup formulations are currently the top non-selective herbicides worldwide and increasing, as more than 75 percent of genetically modified (GM) crops are Roundup tolerant. Glyphosate and its major metabolite, aminomethylphosphonic acid (AMPA) are main contaminants in rivers. The adjuvants, not often measured in the environment, are usually considered ‘inert' and protected as trade secret in manufacturing. Among them, the predominant one is polyethoxylated tallow amine (POEA) . POEA is used as a surfactant in Roundup formulations to improve solubility and penetration into plants.

Three human cell lines were tested: primary cell line HUVEC from umbilical cord vein epithelium, embryonic cell line 293 derived from kidney, and placenta cell line JEG3. All cells died within 24 hours of exposure to the Roundup formulations.

The Roundup formulations (Rs) contain different amounts of the active ingredient glyphosate: Roundup Express, 7.2 g/L (R7.2) ; Roundup Bioforce, 360 g/L (R360) ; Roundup Grand Travaux, 400 g/L (R400); and Roundup Grand Travaux Plus, 450 g/L (R450). They were compared with glyphosate (G), AMPA, and POEA . All Roundup formulations in the study, along with individual chemical ingredients, were tested at concentrations from10 ppm (parts per million) to 2 percent (the recommended agricultural usage level), which means that the Roundup formulations were diluted up to 100 000 times or more.

The researchers found that the presence of the other chemical ingredients in Roundup formulations, such as POEA, actually amplified glyphosate's toxic effects. The toxicities of the Roundup formulations were not proportional to the amount of glyphosate they contained, and are most likely due to POEA and other as yet undisclosed ingredient(s) present in all the formulations. POEA by itself is much more toxic than the Roundup formulations, while AMPA is more toxic than glyphosate.

Multiple targets in toxicity

The researchers tested Rs, G, AMPA, and POEA for effects on three targets that could kill the cell: damage to the cell membrane, poisoning of the mitochrondria (site of energy metabolism), and programmed cell death that results in fragmentation of the DNA in the cell nucleus. They measured specific enzyme markers at different concentrations for each damage at 24 h of exposure, and also obtained images of the cell cultures under the microscope.

All Rs, as well as G, caused cells to die; the results are the same for all human cell types, but at different concentrations. Thus, R400, the most toxic formulation, killed all cells at 20 ppm, which is equivalent to 8ppm in G. However, 4-10 ppm G alone is non-toxic, its toxicity begins around 1 percent (10 000 ppm), and is not connected with the cell membrane. The R formulations damage the cell membrane, and also poison the mitochondria. In contrast, G poisons the mitochondria without damaging the cell membrane

Unexpectedly, R400 is more toxic than R450, the latter in turn more harmful than R360, R7.2 and G. However, the toxicities are not proportional to the concentration of G present. The cell killing power of R7.2 was almost the same as that of R360, and these results are consistent across all cell lines. This suggests other unknown substances are involved in the toxic effects.

Thus AMPA and POEA also kill cells by poisoning the mitochrondia and damaging the cell membrane. POEA is so potent that it begins to damage the cell membrane in HUVEC and poison the mitochondria in 2 93 and JEG3 at 1 ppm. Roundup formulations are more toxic than either G or AMPA. AMPA itself destroys the cell membrane, however, which G does not do, though it is 3-8 times more toxic for the mitochondria than AMPA. But as cell membrane damage is more serious for the cell, AMPA is more toxic than G, while POEA is the most toxic of all.

What happens when these ingredients are combined? The researchers found that for HUVEC and 293 cells, combinations of G and POEA, G and AMPA, AMPA and POEA were all more toxic than the same concentration of the single ingredients

For programmed cell death, the action is quicker. The marker enzymes are activated from 6 h of exposure, with a maximum at 12 h in all cases. HUVEC was 60-160 times more sensitive than the other cell lines; G and R360 were effective at exactly the same concentration, from 50 ppm. The adjuvants do not seem necessary. G alone is 30 percent more potent here than Rs; it acted rapidly at concentrations 500 –1 000 times lower than agricultural use

Ban Roundup tolerant GM crops

These latest studies confirm a wealth of evidence on the toxicities of glyphosate and Roundup formulations [2] ( Glyphosate Toxic & Roundup Worse , SiS 26), and pinpoint the different sites of action, all of which result in cell death. Epidemiological studies have previously linked glyphosate to spontaneous abortions, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and multiple myeloma. Laboratory studies showed that glyphosate inhibits transcription in sea urchin eggs and delays development. Brief exposures to glyphosate in rats caused liver damage, and adding the surfactant in Roundup had a synergistic effect, causing greater liver damage. Roundup was also found to be much more lethal to frogs than to weeds, and could have contributed to the global demise of amphibians within the past decades [3] ( Roundup Kills Frogs , SiS 26).

We have called for a new regulatory review on glyphosate and Roundup in 2005 [2]. There is a now a strong case for restricting, if not phasing out glyphosate and Roundup; in the first instance, by banning the release of Roundup tolerant GM crops worldwide. For the same reason, no further Roundup tolerant GM crops should be approved for commercial release.


  1. Benachour N and Séralini G-E.. Glyphosate formulations Induce Apoptosis and Necrosis in Human Umbilical, Embryonic, and Placental Cells Chem. Res. Toxicol. , 2009, 22 (1), pp 97–105
  2. Ho MW and Cummins J. Glyphosate toxic and Roundup worse Science in Society 26, 12, 2005.
  3. Ho MW. Roundup kills grogs Science in Society 26. 13, 2005.

New Study of Splenda Reveals Shocking Information About Potential Harmful Effects

James Turner, the chairman of the national consumer education group Citizens for Health, has expressed shock and outrage after reading a new report from scientists outlining the dangers of the artificial sweetener Splenda (sucralose).

In animals examined for the study, Splenda reduced the amount of good bacteria in the intestines by 50 percent, increased the pH level in the intestines, contributed to increases in body weight and affected P-glycoprotein (P-gp) levels in such a way that crucial health-related drugs could be rejected.

The P-gp effect could result in medications used in chemotherapy, AIDS treatment and treatments for heart conditions being shunted back into the intestines, rather than being absorbed by the body.

According to Turner, "The report makes it clear that the artificial sweetener Splenda and its key component sucralose pose a threat to the people who consume the product. Hundreds of consumers have complained to us about side effects from using Splenda and this study ... confirms that the chemicals in the little yellow package should carry a big red warning label."


Globe Newswire September 28, 2008

Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health Part A 200...

Thailand Declares 13 Herbs as "Hazardous" Substances

  • Farmers up in arms at herb listing
    Chilli, turmeric, ginger branded 'hazardous'
    The Bangkok Post, February 11, 2009
    Straight to the Source

Farmers and traditional medicine experts have reacted angrily to the listing of 13 widely used herbal plants as hazardous substances, suggesting there is a hidden agenda that favours chemical companies.

The Industry Ministry listed the 13 plants as hazardous substances to control production and commercialisation.

The plants are widely used among farmers as alternatives for expensive and toxic farm chemicals, pesticides and herbicides.

The announcement on listing the plants as "hazardous substances type 1" under the 1992 Hazardous Substances Act was approved by Industry Minister Charnchai Chairungruang last month. It took effect on Feb 3.

Proposed by the Department of Agriculture, which is a member of the hazardous substances committee, the announcement requires growers, manufacturers, importers and exporters of pesticides, herbicides and plant disease control substances made from the 13 herbal plants to follow safety and quality control regulations issued by the committee. Otherwise they will face six months in jail and/or a fine of 50,000 baht.

Farmer advocates yesterday said putting the herbal plants on the controlled list would hurt growers as they could no longer produce, trade and use botanical pesticides and herbicides freely.

Farmers and producers of the organic substances might have to pay more for registration, packaging and testing as required by the law, said Witoon Lianchamroon, of Biothai, a non-government organisation working on organic farming.

He suspected the motive behind the listing.

Multinational chemical companies are expected to benefit once production and commercialisation of the alternative substances is curbed, he said.

Large numbers of farmers have switched recently from imported chemicals to botanical substances as they are much cheaper and safer, he said.

"Instead of tightening controls on these farmer-friendly herbal plants, the committee should crack down on multinational companies who exploit Thai farmers by luring them into buying their highly toxic and costly products," Mr Witoon said.

Tussanee Verakan, coordinator of the Alternative Agriculture Network, said the committee produced the list in secret without consulting farmers who would be the hardest-hit.

"The government keeps promoting organic farming and reduction of chemical use," she said.

"Why did they put such heavy restrictions on organic substances which are the heart of organic farming?"

Department deputy chief Jirakorn Kosaisevi insisted the listing was aimed at protecting benefits for farmers.

"The announcement is not intended to protect chemical producers," Mr Jirakorn said.

"These botanical pesticides are widely used and traded. They should be controlled to ensure they are up to standard."

The new regulation would help promote herbal products, he said.

Department for Development of Thai Traditional and Alternative Medicine deputy director-general Prapot Paetrakas said the 13 plants were core materials in herbal medicines. Controlling their manufacture and trade could affect the herbal medicine industry, he said.

The department will discuss the issue with legal experts and others on Friday.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Union of Concerned Scientists Raises Questions About Genetically Modified Corn for Biofuel

Corn-based ethanol, once a star on the alternative energy scene, has fallen from favor in the past year, battered by reports that raising corn for fuel raids the world’s pantry and that corn ethanol has a heavier carbon footprint than originally thought.

Many now argue over whether the US should continue to grow corn for fuel or make the switch to grasses that can be grown on less desirable land, with fewer pesticides and fertilizers, or use plant waste to make fuel.

Now a new debate looms: Should the US allow genetically altered corn to be grown for use as biofuel?

The Union of Concerned Scientists wants to stop that genie before it leaves the bottle, because it believes that genetically modified corn will inevitably mix with and contaminate corn grown for food products.

Syngenta, a multi-national agriculture company that has readied a new genetically modified corn intended for ethanol production, disagrees. The company has applied for permission to sell its corn seed in the US, telling officials that it would control where the crops are grown so that the GMO corn would not mix with the food supply.

“Corn Amylase will be produced and managed in such a way as to avoid the product entering the broad commodity grain streams,” the company says in a position paper. It proposes that the corn be handled in a “closed look type system” that would contain the grain and further promises that it will complete “full-scale trials” and discussions with industry stakeholders before putting the corn on the commercial market. The company is targeting the US market, but would apply for import clearances into other markets.

The newly developed “Corn Amylase” contains a new protein that breaks down corn starch under high temperatures and could reduce the cost of ethanol production, according to Syngenta. The company suggests in the position paper that the product also could boost crop yields (though it doesn’t offer a figure). In addition, it reports that a “detailed economic study” shows that Corn Amylase could reduce the energy, chemicals and water currently required to grow corn for ethanol.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Island firm hopes to hit market 1st with GMO salmon

From CBCnews.CA

A P.E.I. aquaculture company is a step closer to getting its genetically modified salmon on the market.

Both these fish are a year old, but the genetically modified salmon grows much faster.Both these fish are a year old, but the genetically modified salmon grows much faster. (CBC)

Aqua Bounty Farms in Fortune, in eastern P.E.I., has been waiting more than a decade for federal approval in the United States. If the company gets the nod from the Food and Drug Administration, its salmon will be the world's first on the market.

FDA officials visited P.E.I. last fall to get a first-hand look at the facility in Fortune. A spokesperson from FDA wouldn't tell CBC News much about the application, but when asked how long before the salmon might be approved, the answer was "soon."

The advantage Aqua Bounty's fish offers fish farmers is the speed with which it grows. It normally takes about three years to raise Atlantic salmon on a fish farm, but with the addition of a couple of genes from the cold-water Chinook salmon, Aqua Bounty's fish grow twice as fast. The breeder is hoping to sell its eggs and smolts to other fish farms in North America.

But before any genetically modified salmon reaches the dinner table in the U.S. market, it needs the stamp of approval from the FDA, something the company has been waiting for a long time. It first applied for approval 12 years ago, and began submitting documentation seven years ago.

Aqua Bounty CEO Ron Stotish told CBC News last week it is understandable the FDA wants to take its time.

"For an animal like ours, the environmental aspects are a concern to many people and that's a fair concern," said Stotish.

"We've done everything to mitigate those concerns, and we believe we're producing an animal that's safe to eat, safe for the environment."

The main concern with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is that they could escape into the wild and breed with wild populations. Stotish said that's why Aqua Bounty will only sell sterile salmon, and only females.

Stotish said he's eaten the GMO salmon.

"It's a very good fish. What most people realize when they actually see the fish, and have the opportunity to taste the fish, is it looks like a salmon, it behaves like a salmon, it is a salmon in every respect," he said.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

One man’s battle against GM sugar beets

A lawsuit filed last year to stop sales of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready genetically modified sugar beet seed will be argued in a US District Court of Northern California on April 3. One man’s livelihood may hang in the balance.

The plaintiffs, which include Organic Seed Alliance, Sierra Club, High Mowing Organic Seeds, and the Center for Food Safety, want the court to stop sales of Roundup Ready GM sugar beet seed and require the US Department of Agriculture to thoroughly assess the environmental, health, and economic impacts of the GM beets.

“GMO contamination is inevitable”
Frank Morton, owner of Wild Garden Seeds and a plaintiff in the lawsuit, says the GM beets threaten his livelihood. Morton produces seed for organic chard, table beets, and other vegetables in Oregon’s Willamette Valley where seed for the GM beets is also grown. Pollen from the GM beets grown here could easily contaminate his seed, destroying the organic status of the seed and ruining his business.

According to Morton, 5,000 acres of GM sugar beet seed are grown in the valley. He is angry that GM seed production was introduced into the valley secretly. “The initial stages of GM beet seed production were carried out in secrecy for at least two years without other sugar beet seed growers having any knowledge or notification that GMOs were in the air, literally,” he says.

The Willamette Valley Specialty Seed Association established a three-mile isolation distance between the GM sugar beets and conventional and organic plants. Morton says the isolation distance is inadequate. “GMO contamination is inevitable under the current situation.”

60% in 2008, 90% in 2009
GM sugar beets were grown and harvested for the first time in the US in 2008. According to industry estimates, about 60% of the 1.2 million acres of sugar beets grown last year were Roundup Ready GM varieties. The beets were grown in Colorado, Idaho, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming. California grew only non-GMO, conventional varieties. Tom Schwartz, executive vice president of the Beet Sugar Development Foundation, told the San Francisco Chronicle that 90 to 95% of this year’s US sugar beet crop will be GM.

“Roundup Ready salad greens”
Cross pollination between GM sugar beets and related plants, such as chard and table beets, is a major threat in the Willamette Valley where sugar beets are the predominant crop. Morton says there are many areas where chard and sugar beet fields are “rubbing up against one another.” The two plants cross pollinate because they are the same species.

Morton now sends his seed to a laboratory that tests for GMO contamination. “I’m watching for contamination, and if it happens, people will hear about it,” he says. “I have to pay an expense on account of a technology that will destroy the value of our crop if we get positive results. Nobody considered that Roundup Ready sugar beets in one generation might turn up as Roundup Ready salad greens in the next.”

Lawsuit to stop GM beets
As a result of the threat to his business, Morton joined a lawsuit organized by the Center for Food Safety to sue the US Department of Agriculture for failing to conduct an environmental impact statement (EIS). “USDA didn’t consider the impact on all these farms and markets to where we sell seeds. My markets have zero tolerance to GMOs,” he says. “If there is any GMO contamination, my customers won’t buy the seed. Who is going to pay for that?”

The case goes to court on April 3. Last August, Monsanto petitioned the court to become party to the suit along with sugar beet processors and seed growers cooperative. The judge denied the petition, which Morton says was a victory.

Kevin Golden, an attorney with the Center for Food Safety, says he is confident the court will rule in the plaintiffs’ favor based on a precedent set in 2007 in a similar lawsuit involving GM alfalfa. In that case, the court required USDA to conduct an environmental impact study (EIS) on GM alfalfa and issued an injunction to stop sale of the seed. “The alfalfa case has established a very strong legal precedent. We are confident the judge will find that the USDA failed to do its legal duty under the National Environmental Policy Act (which requires that the agency conduct an environmental impact study).”

Golden understands the personal significance of the case. “Frank Morton is directly threatened. This is about protecting him directly.”

Copyright The Organic & Non-GMO Report February 2009

Sunday, February 1, 2009

The World's Top 10 Pesticide Firms - Who Owns Nature?

NOTE: Further extracts from ETC Group's recently released report, "Who Owns Nature?" These are from the section about the pesticde industry. For the full report:

According to the report, the world's six largest agrochemical manufacturers, who control nearly 75% of the global pesticide market, are also seed industry giants.

It's worth breaking this down by company.

Bayer: the world's biggest agrochemical company is also the world's seventh biggest seed company.

Syngenta: the world's second largest agrochemical company is also the world's third largest seed company.

Monsanto: the world's biggest seed company is the world's fifth largest agrochemical company.

And DuPont: the world's second biggest seed company is also the world's sixth largest agrochemical company.

All these companies are gene giants.

Weed killers (herbicides) account for about one-third of the global pesticide market, and around 80% of GM seeds involve herbicide-resistance.

The worldwide market for agrochemicals grew last year by nearly 10%.
Who Owns Nature?
Report from ETC Group

[Extracts only]

Agrochemical Industry

World's Top 10 Pesticide Firms

Company - Agrochemical Sales 2007 (US$ millions) - % Market Share

1.Bayer (Germany) - $7,458m - 19%
2.Syngenta (Switzerland) - $7,285m - 19%
3.BASF (Germany) - $4,297m - 11%
4.Dow AgroSciences (USA) - $3,779m - 10%
5.Monsanto (USA) - $3,599m - 9%
6.DuPont (USA) - $2,369m - 6%
7.Makhteshim Agan (Israel) - $1,895m - 5%
8.Nufarm (Australia) - $1,470m - 4%
9.Sumitomo Chemical (Japan) - $1,209m - 3%
10.Arysta Lifescience (Japan) - $1,035m - 3%
Total $34,396m - 89%
Source: Agrow World Crop Protection News, August 2008

The top 10 companies control 89% of the global agrochemical market.

The worldwide market for agrochemicals was US$38.6 billion in 2007 - up 8.4% over the previous year. The top 6 companies accounted for $28.8 billion, or 75% of the total market.

Symbiotic Sales: The world's six largest agrochemical manufacturers are also seed industry giants. Despite sky-rocketing fuel and fertilizer costs, high grain prices created soaring demand for commercial seeds and pesticides in 2007. After two decades of sagging sales, the world's largest pesticide companies rebounded last year - in large part due to the subsidy-driven boom in agrofuel crops.

In 2007 the four largest pesticide companies (Bayer, Syngenta, BASF, Dow) reported double-digit sales jumps.

Pesticide revenues are up in nearly all regions [particularly South America].

Mind the Gap: Weed killers account for about one-third of the global pesticide market, and agrochemical giants are ratcheting up R&D on new herbicides and herbicide-tolerant genes. Monsanto's glyphosate-resistant (Roundup Ready) crops have reigned supreme on the biotech scene for over a decade - creating a near-monopoly for the company's Roundup Ready herbicide - which is now off patent.

According to Chemical & Engineering News, BASF, Syngenta, Bayer, Dow and DuPont are competing to fill "the glyphosate gap" -
- a gap that's growing fast because at least 14 weed species on five continents have developed resistance due to massive applications of glyphosate. As a result, farmers must employ more toxic chemicals to kill the resistant weeds. Commonly known as the "pesticide treadmill," it's a classic case of chasing a new techno-fix to mop up the mess of an older, failed technology. Agrochemical giants prefer to describe the resistance problem as a business opportunity: In the words of Syngenta's Crop Science CEO, John Atkin: "Resistance is actually quite healthy for our market, because we have to innovate."