Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Genetically-Modified Maize Threatens Crunchy Snack Chips

Voice of America
Steve Baragona | Washington, D.C

Variety intended for ethanol could make cereal soggy and chips crumbly 

A new type of genetically-modified maize intended for ethanol biofuel production has won approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The biofuels industry welcomes this new GM maize, created by the agriculture giant Syngenta. But opposition is coming from an unusual source - snack food makers.

Maize-based snacks are a $6 billion business in the U.S. And the snack industry says the crunch of their chips is threatened by an enzyme genetically engineered into Syngenta's new maize.

Easier ethanol
The enzyme, known as alpha amylase, breaks down starch into sugar, which is then fermented into ethanol.

According to Syngenta, having the enzyme built into the maize will help produce more ethanol while consuming less water and energy, which in turn will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

A 2007 U.S. law requiring gasoline to be blended with renewable fuels has driven up demand for ethanol. This year, 40 percent of the U.S. maize crop went to ethanol production.

Soggy cereal, crumbly chips
But what is good for producing ethanol is not good for everyone.

"We don't produce ethanol. We produce food products," says Mary Waters, president of the North American Millers Association, one of five major food industry groups that are, in their words, "deeply disappointed" with USDA's decision to approve the crop without restrictions.
They are not worried about food safety. In a joint statement, they noted they have supported other genetically-engineered crops.

The worry, Waters says, is that Syngenta's starch-busting maize could turn cereal soggy, snack chips crumbly or hurt other processed foods if even a tiny amount ends up in the human food chain.

"It would only take one kernel in 10,000 to affect food processing," she says.

History of contamination
And it would not be the first time a genetically-modified product wound up where it did not belong. Unapproved GM maize turned up in the food supply in 2001, as did unapproved rice in 2006. Estimates vary widely, but the financial losses from these contamination cases ran into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

The contaminated maize did not cause health problems. "But it did cause major disruptions in the availability of food grade [maize]," says Jim McCarthy, president of the Snack Food Association. "So, we do think this will have a major impact and we're urging Syngenta to rethink this."

Not a 'major issue'
"I don't really believe that there's much probability that there's going to be any kind of major issue with misdirection of the grain," Syngenta's Jack Bernens says.

Bernens says the company will only sell the seeds to farmers who will deliver the crop to nearby ethanol plants. And they will not sell seed near where food facilities get their maize.
Besides, Bernens says, the chance that a few stray kernels would create big problems is overblown. He says the enzyme is most active at specific conditions of temperature, moisture and alkalinity that are different from most food processing.

"We've done a lot of work in that area," he says, "and for the most part, the processes don't come together under those conditions that would equal the most activity."

'Restrictive' access to information
The Snack Food Association's Jim McCarthy would like to see that research, but he says Syngenta won't share the data without strict conditions.

"There have been some very restrictive allocations of data to this point," he says. "And that's one of the major concerns we have."

Syngenta originally offered the trade groups access to their evidence, but only if they backed the company's application to the USDA for approval. The trade groups rejected that offer. Then Syngenta said they could have the data and samples to test, but only if they signed a confidentiality agreement.

The company says that's standard business practice to protect trade secrets. But it didn't sit well the North American Millers Association's Mary Waters.

"We can't have access to information predicated on support no matter what, and an inability to share it with our scientists," she says. "All we care about is the science."

Syngenta notes that it has provided access to information to some in the industry who did sign confidentiality agreements. And the company is setting up an advisory council with members across the industry to resolve any contentious issues.

But the food groups are not satisfied. They say they are now considering a lawsuit to protect the crunch of their chips.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Researcher: Glyphosate (Roundup) or Roundup Ready Crops May Cause Animal Miscarriages

Jill Richardson
La Vida Locavore, February 18 2011
http://www.lavidalocavore.org/diary/4523

A bombshell has been quietly dropped on the website of the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance. I should disclose, upfront, that the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance (FARFA) is founded and run by my close friend Judith McGeary. Said bombshell is an open letter written by Dr. Don Huber, professor emeritus at Purdue University, to Tom Vilsack, presenting a finding of a correlation between either glyphosate or Roundup Ready crops and a new, previously unknown organism that may be the cause of animal miscarriages and infertility.

As the letter, printed below, notes, this research is still preliminary. However, Huber, who has 40 years experience working as a scientist for "professional and military agencies that evaluate and prepare for natural and manmade biological threats, including germ warfare and disease outbreaks," believes this should be treated as an emergency until more research can confirm or disprove these initial findings.

Needless to say, the recent deregulation of GE alfalfa is something to think about, because that will dramatically increase the use of Roundup on animal feed and the feeding of Roundup Ready crops to our livestock. There is more to be said on this, but I want to tread carefully and stick to facts that I can confirm, so stay tuned.


Dear Secretary Vilsack:

A team of senior plant and animal scientists have recently brought to my attention the discovery of an electron microscopic pathogen that appears to significantly impact the health of plants, animals, and probably human beings. Based on a review of the data, it is widespread, very serious, and is in much higher concentrations in Roundup Ready (RR) soybeans and corn-suggesting a link with the RR gene or more likely the presence of Roundup.    This organism appears NEW to science!

This is highly sensitive information that could result in a collapse of US soy and corn export markets and significant disruption of domestic food and feed supplies. On the other hand, this new organism may already be responsible for significant harm (see below). My colleagues and I are therefore moving our investigation forward with speed and discretion, and seek assistance from the USDA and other entities to identify the pathogen's source, prevalence, implications, and remedies.

We are informing the USDA of our findings at this early stage, specifically due to your pending decision regarding approval of RR alfalfa. Naturally, if either the RR gene or Roundup itself is a promoter or co-factor of this pathogen, then such approval could be a calamity. Based on the current evidence, the only reasonable action at this time would be to delay deregulation at least until sufficient data has exonerated the RR system, if it does.

For the past 40 years, I have been a scientist in the professional and military agencies that evaluate and prepare for natural and manmade biological threats, including germ warfare and disease outbreaks. Based on this experience, I believe the threat we are facing from this pathogen is unique and of a high risk status. In layman's terms, it should be treated as an emergency.

A diverse set of researchers working on this problem have contributed various pieces of the puzzle, which together presents the following disturbing scenario:

Unique Physical Properties

This previously unknown organism is only visible under an electron microscope (36,000X), with an approximate size range equal to a medium size virus. It is able to reproduce and appears to be a micro-fungal-like organism. If so, it would be the first such micro-fungus ever identified. There is strong evidence that this infectious agent promotes diseases of both plants and mammals, which is very rare.

Pathogen Location and Concentration

It is found in high concentrations in Roundup Ready soybean meal and corn, distillers meal, fermentation feed products, pig stomach contents, and pig and cattle placentas.

Linked with Outbreaks of Plant Disease

The organism is prolific in plants infected with two pervasive diseases that are driving down yields and farmer income-sudden death syndrome (SDS) in soy, and Goss' wilt in corn. The pathogen is also found in the fungal causative agent of SDS (Fusarium solani fsp glycines).

Implicated in Animal Reproductive Failure

Laboratory tests have confirmed the presence of this organism in a wide variety of livestock that have experienced spontaneous abortions and infertility. Preliminary results from ongoing research have also been able to reproduce abortions in a clinical setting.

The pathogen may explain the escalating frequency of infertility and spontaneous abortions over the past few years in US cattle, dairy, swine, and horse operations. These include recent reports of infertility rates in dairy heifers of over 20%, and spontaneous abortions in cattle as high as 45%.

For example, 450 of 1,000 pregnant heifers fed wheatlege experienced spontaneous abortions. Over the same period, another 1,000 heifers from the same herd that were raised on hay had no abortions. High concentrations of the pathogen were confirmed on the wheatlege, which likely had been under weed management using glyphosate.

Recommendations

    In summary, because of the high titer of this new animal pathogen in Roundup Ready crops, and its association with plant and animal diseases that are reaching epidemic proportions, we request USDA's participation in a multi-agency investigation, and an immediate moratorium on the deregulation of RR crops until the causal/predisposing relationship with glyphosate and/or RR plants can be ruled out as a threat to crop and animal production and human health.

    It is urgent to examine whether the side-effects of glyphosate use may have facilitated the growth of this pathogen, or allowed it to cause greater harm to weakened plant and animal hosts. It is well-documented that glyphosate promotes soil pathogens and is already implicated with the increase of more than 40 plant diseases; it dismantles plant defenses by chelating vital nutrients; and it reduces the bioavailability of nutrients in feed, which in turn can cause animal disorders. To properly evaluate these factors, we request access to the relevant USDA data.

    I have studied plant pathogens for more than 50 years. We are now seeing an unprecedented trend of increasing plant and animal diseases and disorders. This pathogen may be instrumental to understanding and solving this problem. It deserves immediate attention with significant resources to avoid a general collapse of our critical agricultural infrastructure.

    Sincerely,

    COL (Ret.) Don M. Huber
    Emeritus Professor, Purdue University
    APS Coordinator, USDA National Plant Disease Recovery System (NPDRS)

Genetic Engineering: Scientists warn of link between dangerous new pathogen and Monsanto’s Roundup

Global Research, February 21, 2011
 
 Urges USDA to rescind approval of genetically engineered alfalfa: “In layman’s terms, it should be treated as an emergency.”


A plant pathologist experienced in protecting against biological warfare recently warned the USDA of a new, self-replicating, micro-fungal virus-sized organism which may be causing spontaneous abortions in livestock, sudden death syndrome in Monsanto’s Roundup Ready soy, and wilt in Monsanto’s RR corn.

Dr. Don M. Huber, who coordinates the Emergent Diseases and Pathogens committee of the American Phytopathological Society, as part of the USDA National Plant Disease Recovery System, warned Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack that this pathogen threatens the US food and feed supply and can lead to the collapse of the US corn and soy export markets. Likewise, deregulation of GE alfalfa “could be a calamity,” he noted in his letter (reproduced in full below). 

On January 27, Vilsack gave blanket approval to all genetically modified alfalfa. Following orders from President Obama, he also removed buffer zone requirements. This is seen as a deliberate move to contaminate natural crops and destroy the organic meat and dairy industry which relies on GM-free alfalfa. Such genetic contamination will give the biotech industry complete control over the nation's fourth largest crop. It will also ease the transition to using GE-alfalfa as a biofuel.

"My letter to Secretary Vilsack was a request to allocate necessary resources to understand potential nutrient-disease interactions before making (in my opinion) an essentially irreversible decision on deregulation of RR alfalfa," Huber told Food Freedom in an email.

But, he cautions: 
"Although the organism has been associated with infertility and spontaneous abortions in animals, associations are not always evidence of cause in all cases and do not indicate what the predisposing conditions might be. These need to be established through thorough investigation which requires a commitment of resources. "I hope that the Secretary will make such a commitment because many growers/producers are experiencing severe increases in disease of both crops and animals that are threatening their economic viability." 

On Feb. 16, Paul Tukey of SafeLawn telephoned Dr. Huber who told him, “I believe we’ve reached the tipping point toward a potential disaster with the safety of our food supply. The abuse, or call it over use if you will, of Roundup, is having profoundly bad consequences in the soil. We’ve seen that for years. The appearance of this new pathogen may be a signal that we’ve gone too far.”

Tukey also conveyed that while Huber admits that much further study is needed to definitively confirm the link between Round-Up and the pathogen, “In the meantime, he said, it’s grossly irresponsible of the government to allow Roundup Ready alfalfa, which would bring the widespread spraying of Roundup to millions of more acres and introduce far more Roundup into the food supply.” 

Huber, who has been studying plant pathogens for over 50 years and glyphosate for over 20 years, has noticed an increase in pathogens associated with the herbicide. In an interview with the Organic and Non-GMO Report last May, he discussed his team's conclusions that glyphosate can, “significantly increase the severity of various plant diseases, impair plant defense to pathogens and diseases, and immobilize soil and plant nutrients rendering them unavailable for plant use.”

 (Image: Sudden Death Syndrome in soy where the right field was sprayed the previous year with glyphosate. Iowa, 2010. Photo by Don Huber)

This is because “glyphosate stimulates the growth of fungi and enhances the virulence of pathogens.” In the last 15-18 years, the number of plant pathogens has increased, he told the Non-GMO Report. “There are more than 40 diseases reported with use of glyphosate, and that number keeps growing as people recognize the association (between glyphosate and disease).”

In his undated letter to the USDA, Huber highlighted "the escalating frequency of infertility and spontaneous abortions over the past few years in US cattle, dairy, swine, and horse operations." He reported that spontaneous abortions occurred in nearly half the cattle where high concentrations of the pathogen were found in their feed. Huber notes that the wheat "likely had been under weed management using glyphosate." 

Other Research Supports Huber's Warning 
Last year, Argentine scientists found that Roundup causes birth defects in frogs and chickens. Publishing their paper, "Glyphosate-Based Herbicides Produce Teratogenic Effects on Vertebrates by Impairing Retinoic Acid Signaling," in Chemical Research in Toxicology, Alejandra Paganelli, et al. also produced a large set of reports for the public at GMWatch:

"In Argentina and Paraguay, doctors and residents living in GM soy producing areas have reported serious health effects from glyphosate spraying, including high rates of birth defects as well as infertility, stillbirths, miscarriages, and cancers. Scientific studies collected in the new report confirm links between exposure to glyphosate and premature births, miscarriages, cancer, and damage to DNA and reproductive organ cells."

One of the researchers, Andrés Carrasco, told GM Watch, “The findings in the lab are compatible with malformations observed in humans exposed to glyphosate during pregnancy.”

When trying to present these findings to the public in August of last year, Dr. Carrasco and the audience were attacked by 100 thugs who beat them and their cars with clubs, leaving one person paralyzed, Amnesty International reported. Local police and a wealthy GM rice grower were implicated in that attack.

In a 2009 study, researchers linked organ damage with consumption of Monsanto’s GM maize, based on Monsanto's trial data. As we reported last year, Gilles-Eric Séralini, et al., concluded that the raw data from all three GMO studies reveal that novel pesticide residues will be present in food and feed and may pose grave health risks to those consuming them. 
In a 2005 paper published in Environmental Health Perspectives, Sophie Richard, et al. compared the toxicity of Roundup with that of just glyphosate, its active ingredient. They found Roundup to be more toxic, owing to its adjuvants. They also found that endocrine disruption increased over time so that one-tenth the amount prescribed for agriculture caused cell deformation. Citing other research, they also reported that Roundup adjuvants bond with DNA.

Such negative findings probably explain why Monsanto and other biotech firms so vociferously block independent research.

Tom Laskawy at Grist estimated that in 2008, nearly 200 million pounds of glyphosate were poured onto US soils. But, he notes that “exact figures are a closely guarded secret thanks to the USDA’s refusal to update its pesticide use database after 2007." This figure more than doubles what the EPA estimates was used in 2000.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

USDA Approves Corn Amylase Trait

The US Department of Agriculture had announced the full deregulation of Syngenta's corn amylase trait. The corn labeled as Enogen corn seed is the first genetically modified (GM) corn for the ethanol industry. It contains a gene that optimizes the action of the alpha-amylase enzyme on corn for efficient ethanol production.

Davor Pisk, Chief Operating Officer of Syngenta said that. "Enogen corn also reduces the energy and water consumed in the production process while substantially reducing carbon emissions."

The news release said that "the corn amylase trait in Enogen has already been approved for import into Australia, Canada, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Philippines, Russia, and Taiwan, and for cultivation in Canada."

See the original news at http://www2.syngenta.com/en/media/mediareleases/en_110211.html and http://www2.syngenta.com/en/media/pdf/mediareleases/en/20110211-EN-USDA-approves-Enogen-Corn-Amylase-Trait-for-Enogen.pdf.

Plants Cloned as Seeds

Scientists at the University of California, Davis, have cloned plants as seeds for the first time. According to one of the scientists, Simon Chan, they were trying to make a hybrid that breeds true, that even if it undergoes sexual reproduction, the offspring would be genetically identical to one parent.

In a previous study conducted last year, Chan and his team were able to breed haploid Arabidopsis plants carrying chromosomes from only one parent. After fertilization, the chromosomes from one of the parents are discarded. In the new study they crossed these plants with two mutants that can produce diploid eggs. The results of the experiment showed that "in about one-third of the seeds produced, the diploid eggs were successfully fertilized, and the chromosomes from one parent were eliminated, leaving a diploid seed that was a clone of one of its parents."

The researchers hopes to produce crop plants that can fertilize themselves and yield clonal seeds.

Read the media release at http://www.news.ucdavis.edu/search/news_detail.lasso?id=9766.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Mexico freeze kills 80-100 pct of crops; US food prices to soar

Devastating freeze in Mexico is worst freeze in over 50 years

            By Sysco Corporation

All of our growers have invoked the act of god clause on our contracts (force majuere) due to the following release:

The extreme freezing temperatures hit a very broad section of major growing regions in Mexico, from Hermosillo in the north all the way south to Los Mochis and even south of Culiacan. The early reports are still coming in but most are showing losses of crops in the range of 80 to 100%.

Even shade house product was hit by the extremely cold temps. It will take 7-10 days to have a clearer picture from growers and field supervisors, but these growing regions haven’t had cold like this in over a half century.

This time of year, Mexico supplies a significant percent of North America’s row crop vegetables such as green beans, eggplant, cucumbers, squash, peppers, asparagus, and round and roma tomatoes.

Florida normally is a major supplier for these items as well but they have already been struck with severe freeze damage in December and January and up until now have had to purchase product out of Mexico to fill their commitments; that is no longer an option.

With the series of weather disasters that have occurred in both of these major growing areas, we will experience immediate volatile prices, expected limited availability, and mediocre quality at best.

This will not only have an immediate impact on supplies, but because of very strong blossom drops, this will also impact supplies 30 – 60 days from now. Some growers are meeting with their boards right now to determine whether they should immediately re-plant, hoping for a harvest by late-march-to-early-april, or whether they should disc the fields under and wait for another season.

We are doing everything we can with our growers to minimize the effect of this disaster on you. With the unprecedented magnitude of this event we wanted to immediately make you aware of the conditions. We will continue to send out communications as our people on the ground report back to us. We thank you and we appreciate your understanding during this time.