Wednesday, August 30, 2006

GMO News Roundup

The saying used to be what's Good For GM is Good for America. Today it's what's good for GMO is good for American corporate agribusiness, and bad for the rest of us.

And GMO crops are being expaned in use beyond just food production, into the new arena of State sponsored corporate welfare; alternative fuels. Same gang of corporate monopolies who get agriculture subsidies will now get energy subsidies.

Canada, the U.S. and Argentina are heavily promoting GMO at the behest of the agribusiness corporations. A recent WTO ruling in favour of GMO's will encourage expansion of biotech by these countries at the expense of their own farmers and farmers in the developing world.

With increased resistance to commercial herbicides, weeds are ruining crops world wide pushing farmers to seriously consider GMO crops. It's a catch 22 for small farmers who are pushed to bankruptcy by increasing production costs.

Here is a Roundup(tm) of news stories on Genetically Modified foods and biotech.

Monsanto Whistleblower Says Genetically Engineered Crops May Cause Disease
It turns out that the damage done to DNA due to the process of creating a genetically modified organism is far more extensive than previously thought. GM crops routinely create unintended proteins, alter existing protein levels or even change the components and shape of the protein that is created by the inserted gene. Kirk's concerns about a GM crop producing a harmful misfolded protein remain well-founded, and have been echoed by scientists as one of the many possible dangers that are not being evaluated by the biotech industry's superficial safety assessments.

Diving into the gene pool
A new generation of genetically engineered plants and animals is moving from laboratories to fields and farms. Scientists are enhancing the nutrition and heartiness of some crops. Pharmaceutical companies are increasingly looking to mass-produce drugs in plants and animals. And scientific advances may soon allow herds across the U.S. to grow faster and feature novel traits. Already, biotechnology has dramatically changed agriculture across the land. No genetically modified crops were grown commercially in the U.S. before 1996.

Understanding food intolerance

As well, current plans for genetically modified crops with higher salicylate levels will create huge problems for food intolerant consumers, in the same way that the widespread use of vacuum packed meat with higher levels of biogenic amines is leading us to seek independent butchers who sell fresher meat.

Scientific references concerning food intolerance at show that there is plenty of science but not enough knowledge of this growing problem. Correctly understanding the three concepts above will allow regulators and industry to better grapple with the issues.

Modified yeast may take headache out of red wine

The U.S. wine industry has entered the world of genetic engineering as some vintners experiment with a strain of yeast designed to eliminate chemicals in red wine that are believed to trigger headaches, including migraines, in some people.

Scientific research, much of it conducted at the University of California at Davis, has long played an important role in improving the quality of grapes and wines produced in California and around the world. But genetic modification -- in this case inserting two genes into the DNA of a yeast species -- marks a new threshold for the industry.

As a result, the new biotech yeast is getting a wary reception in a wine industry that sells itself on its artisan reputation and is anxious not to ruffle export markets touchy about genetically modified foods. Experts also say the new yeast alters the flavor of wine.

Genetically altered cattle - what's at stake?

At the conference, CSIRO, which has been at the forefront of cattle-gene research for more than 10 years, announced it had taken an equity stake in Genetic Solutions, a global leader in the commercialisation for gene technology for the beef industry. The company has pioneered live DNA tests for beef eating qualities and a DNA test which provides paddock to plate traceability for the beef industry.CSIRO Commercialisation GM Jan Bingley said, within the next five years, groups of 50 or more DNA markers will be available for the cattle industry.

One way to get rid of insect pests may be to build a better bug

But the idea of rendering mosquitoes incapable of transmitting harmful diseases to humans is quite real and is, in fact, at the forefront of a young and still-metamorphosing effort to create a whole menagerie of genetically modified, or GM, insects.

"It's early days," said Fred Gould, a professor of entomology at North Carolina State University. "The labs working on this are scattered and mostly academic. There isn't a lot of big money involved, not like in genetically modified food crops where companies like Monsanto are funding a lot of research. GM insects don't draw the same attention, but some of them may prove to be a great solution in certain situations. A few GM insects could do a lot."

Soybeans sprout new alliance

Bunge North America Inc., based in Maryland Heights, and DuPont's Agriculture and Nutrition group are teaming up to see just how much can be squeezed from a soybean.

The companies, which three years ago formed St. Louis-based Solae Co. to improve soy foods and created the Bunge DuPont Biotech Alliance, said Tuesday their focus is moving beyond human food.

The biotech alliance will find ways soybeans can yield oils for industrial use, greater quantities of biodiesel fuel and more nutritious animal feed, said Erik Fyrwald, group vice president of DuPont Agriculture and Nutrition. Resulting products will carry a new brand name, Treus -- pronounced TREE-us.

Bunge and DuPont are not alone in seeing green in soybeans.

Monsanto Co. of Creve Coeur, the world's leading developer of biotech crops, is pursuing many of the same targets. Other competitors are Syngenta AG, a Swiss agribusiness, and Bayer CropScience of Raleigh, N.C., a unit of German conglomerate Bayer AG.

Soybean growers, too, are promoting novel and increased uses of their crop. The United Soybean Board funds research and marketing efforts. Grower cooperatives are among producers and innovators in biofuels.

Genetically modified tree could be used for cellulosic ethanol
A tree that can reach 90 feet in six years and be grown as a row crop on fallow farmland could represent a major replacement for fossil fuels. Purdue University researchers are using genetic tools in an effort to design trees that readily and inexpensively can yield the substances needed to produce alternative transportation fuel.

BASF requests trial of GM potatoes

BASF is proposing to grow potatoes that have been genetically modified to give them resistance to late blight, a fungal disease. The potatoes will contain a natural trait, resistant to the blight, found in wild potatoes. Late blight was responsible for the devastating potato famine in Ireland that was thought to have caused the death of up to 1m people and sparked the mass migration of Irish citizens across the globe.

American farmers sue Bayer over GM rice
Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that U.S. commercial long-grain rice supplies are contaminated with "trace amounts" of genetically engineered rice unapproved for human consumption.

USDA Hides Another Biotech Disaster

Bumpy road ahead as Asia pushes transgenic rice

Environmentalists hail Hawaii biopharming ruling

A federal judge has ruled that a federal agency should not have allowed genetically modified crops to be planted in Hawaii without first determining their potential impact on endangered species or the environment — a ruling that, some say, sets a major precedent in the national battle over genetically-modified organisms, or GMOs. Local and national environmental groups had sued the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) after it gave permits to several companies hoping to investigate the medicinal applications of genetically-modified crops, known as biopharming, on Kauai, Maui, Molokai, and Oahu. The crops have already been harvested and the permits have expired, and in its response to the lawsuit, APHIS had asserted that the case had no merit because no protected species or habitat was actually harmed. In his ruling, however, U.S. District Judge J. Michael Seabright minced no words in blasting the government agency for shirking its duties. "APHIS’s utter disregard for this simple investigation requirement, especially given the extraordinary number of endangered and threatened plants and animals in Hawaii, constitutes an unequivocal violation of a clear congressional mandate." Seabright also said the "no harm, no foul" defense was "absurd."

From 2001 to 2003, four companies — ProdiGene, Monsanto, Garst Seed, and the Hawaii Agriculture Research Center (HARC) — planted corn and sugarcane that had been genetically modified to produce experimental drugs. The hope was to find new ways to fight AIDS, Hepatitis B, and cancer. They did so after receiving permits from APHIS.

Genetically Modified Grass Escapes Golf Courses, Grows in Wild
Grass that was genetically engineered for golf courses is growing in the wild, posing one of the first threats of agricultural biotechnology escaping from the farm in the United States, a new study says

Mother Nature Is No Lab

Genetically modified crops may not fall into the category of "misfortunes." But the USDA's oversight of these crops leaves a lot to be desired. Once these crops are released into the world, there is no going back.

On Aug. 10, a U.S. District Court judge in Hawaii had harsh words for the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, which grants permits for genetically engineered crops. The judge concluded that the agency allowed such crops to be planted on four islands without first determining whether they posed a threat to the 329 endangered or threatened species that call Hawaii home. The modified crops consisted of corn and sugar cane that were genetically tweaked to produce human hormones, drugs and ingredients for vaccines against AIDS and hepatitis B.

The judge called USDA's regulatory heedlessness "arbitrary and capricious" and "an unequivocal violation of a clear congressional mandate."

Indian Farm Suicides Surge as Costs Push Poor to Debt Despair

The number of suicides among India's 235 million farmers is rising as seed and pesticide costs increase and the rural economy provides few other job opportunities. More than 18,000 farmers may kill themselves this year, the most ever recorded by the government, said Devinder Sharma, chairman of the farm lobby group Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security.

New laws that have opened agriculture to market forces are locking farmers into a cycle of debt, Vandana Shiva, a physicist and social activist, wrote in a report.

`Corporate Feudalism'

Private companies are replacing state-regulated wholesale markets. The companies sell seeds and fertilizer through ``landlords and moneylenders,'' who extend credit to illiterate farmers, exacerbating debts, she said.

``Corporate feudalism is leading to an epidemic of suicides,'' said Shiva, who runs the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology in Uttaranchal state.

Cotton fields forever

Are GM (genetically modified) crops going to be a boon or bane for the country? The confusion arises from the mixed signals one gets about BT cotton, the first GM crop introduced in the country.

On the one hand, there are statements from "official" agri-scientists like CD Mayee, chairman of the Agricultural Scientists' Recruitment Board, who has pointed out that a nationwide survey of more than 3,000 farmers by AC Nielsen found that among the farmers who planted BT cotton in India, the crop yield increased by 29 per cent, the use of pesticides was reduced by 60 per cent and incomes increased by about 78 per cent, compared to those farmers who stuck to traditional varieties.

Then, in a speech, Union minister for commerce, Jairam Ramesh, was at pains to point out that in the past five yeas the country had witnessed a quantum jump in cotton production from 167 lakh bales in 2000 to 243 lakh bales in 2005. He attributed the increased growth to factors such as better supply of water and use of biotechnology, which implies BT cotton.

On the other hand, there have been a plethora of articles denouncing BT Cotton, usually written by activists who, to bolster their case, have connected its alleged ills to the wave of suicides by cotton farmers in Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh. This is debatable, because there is sufficient evidence that many such suicides were also due to overwhelming debts incurred because of poor yields owing to successive years of drought and the government’s poorly managed monopoly procurement scheme, which kept prices of cotton low.

Expert group to go into farmers' indebtedness

In his one-and-a-half-hour long reply, Mr. Pawar said the crisis in the farm sector was due to low investment, low productivity, the shrinking size of the landholdings, drought, crop failure, inadequate irrigation, burden of loan on farmers, defaulting farmers turning to private money-lenders with high interest rates, unremunerative prices for produce, lack of market access and lack of supplementary incomes for farmers.

He said suicides by farmers was not a recent phenomenon but before 1995 there was no separate record on them. After 1995, the Home Ministry records showed that of the one lakh suicides every year, 12 to 16 per cent were from the farming community. Suicides were happening in every State but in the last two years the suicides in six districts of Vidarbha in Maharashtra, six in Karnataka, three in Kerala and 16 in Andhra Pradesh had been highlighted. "Often the money taken for crop loan is diverted for social needs like education, health and weddings. However, since complaints had been received from several parts of the country, the Radhakrishnan Expert Group has been set up."

The Minister defended genetically modified crops and seeds. He favoured a policy of need-based imports and exports in the agriculture sector and defended the use of genetically modified crops and seeds. "We must conserve the traditional seeds but should modify and adapt to the changes in the world to raise productivity. That is why we are amending the Seeds Bill."

The Assault on Iraqi Agriculture ---
U.S. Agribusiness Targets the Fertile Crescent

By Daniel Stone

Blessed with abundant fertile land and water, Iraq, the cradle of civilization, the center of the Fertile Crescent of ancient Mesopotamia, the birthplace of agriculture 13 centuries ago, has, in the past, not only been able to feed itself, but to supply other areas of the world with its bountiful harvest of grains, pulses, dates and vegetables.
How unfortunate that now these proud people are receiving most of their food as "aid." Over the past 20 years, due to the Iraq-Iran war, the two U.S. Gulf "wars," and the brutal, illegal, U.S.-driven sanctions over 13 years, during both Republican and Democratic administrations, Iraq's agricultural sector has been devastated.

U.S. Policies --- GMOs and the Detrimental Effects of Order 81

After the so-called "transfer of sovereignty" in June 2004, when former Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) administrator L. Paul Bremer III left Baghdad, he left behind the 100 orders he enacted as head of the occupation authority in Iraq. Of Bremer's 100 Orders, Order 81 contains the edicts (paragraphs 51 - 79) pertinent to agriculture. Order 81, while claiming otherwise, will actually reduce biodiversity and thus lead to a monoculture susceptible to disease, increase chemical use, and pave the way for Genetically Modified Organisms ("GMOs") to dominate food production in Iraq.

In fact, Order 81 was written to promote the patenting of seeds and the sale of GMOs. Before the U.S. illegally invaded and occupied Iraq, it was not legal to patent seeds. Now, under U.S. decree, to patent varieties of seed, all that is necessary is to be the first to "describe" or "characterize" them. Even though technically, the Iraqi farmer is not being stopped from saving and sharing seed from traditional crops at this time, nevertheless there is now also nothing stopping Monsanto, Cargill, Dow, Syngenta, Bayer and other multinationals from "describing" or "characterizing" those traditional seeds, and thereby patenting those seeds in the future. And, when they do, the Iraqi farmer then will be prohibited from saving and sharing those seeds that have been passed down from generations, and will have to buy them from "the company store," "trapped into a high-cost cash crop economy from which he will find it impossible to escape."9

Iraqi farmers can be sued now by Monsanto "if their non-GMO crops are polluted by GMO crops planted in their vicinity."

Monsanto Buys ‘Terminator’ Seeds Company

The United States Government has been financing research on a genetic engineering technology which, when commercialized, will give its owners the power to control the food seed of entire nations or regions. The Government has been working quietly on this technology since 1983. Now, the little-known company that has been working in this genetic research with the Government’s US Department of Agriculture-- Delta & Pine Land-- is about to become part of the world’s largest supplier of patented genetically-modified seeds (GMO), Monsanto Corporation of St. Louis, Missouri.

Relations between Monsanto, Delta & Pine Land and the USDA, on closer scrutiny, show the deep and dark side of the much-heralded genetic revolution in agriculture. It proves deep-held suspicions that the Gene Revolution is not about ‘solving the world hunger problem’ as its advocates claim. It’s about handing over control of the seeds for mankind’s basic food supply—rice, corn, soybeans, wheat, even fruit, vegetables and cotton—to privately owned corporations. Once the seeds and their use are patented and controlled by one or several private agribusiness multinationals, it will be they who can decide whether or not a particular customer—let’s say for argument, China or Brazil or India or Japan—whether they will or won’t get the patented seeds from Monsanto, or from one of its licensee GMO partners like Bayer Crop Sciences, Syngenta or DuPont’s Pioneer Hi-Bred International.

The WTO Rules on Genetically Modified Organisms

There are two potentially significant implications that arise from this decision. First, the decision may be used as precedent for the proposition that the precautionary principle is not a valid basis for measures relating to human and environmental health. Second, it may now be in doubt whether future WTO Panels have to balance WTO rules with obligations created by other international treaties.

The Panel dismissed the EC’s argument that its regulatory procedures were consistent with the precautionary principle. The EC had argued that there was still scientific uncertainty as to the effects of GMOs on human health and environmental well-being and that, under Article 5.7 of the SPS, this permitted precautionary measures such as import restrictions until better evidence is available. The Panel had a different technical interpretation of Article 5.7 but, more importantly, it ruled that the precautionary principle was too controversial and unsettled a concept to be deemed a general principle of law. In this, the Panel relied on the earlier EC – Hormones Appellate Body decision, which also noted that it was unclear whether the precautionary principle had been widely accepted by WTO members as a principle of general or customary international law.

By so ruling, the Panel interpreted the obligations of the SPS agreement without reference to any precautionary principle and reaffirmed that a restrictive measure said to be based on health or environmental concerns will have to be justified by science, and not by mere concerns or desires to be prudent.

If taken as precedent, this position could affect the regulation of many other industries. For example, the EC has proposed draft rules for testing the effects of certain industrial chemicals for their public health consequences. If those rules incorporate the precautionary principle, any resulting restrictions could be challenged for not being based on hard scientific evidence.

The Panel took a firm and arguably inconsistent approach to the effect of other international treaties on its interpretation of WTO rules. The Panel ruled that it only had to rely on other treaties if it found them useful, and that it was under no circumstances obliged to do so. Despite the fact that the Cartagena Protocol, ratified by 132 countries (although, as noted above, not by the Complaining Parties), is a comprehensive agreement specifically addressing genetically modified organisms, the Panel found that it did not need to consider it in interpreting the SPS Agreement. As part of its reasoning, the Panel found that, because the Complaining Parties were not parties to the Cartagena Protocol, the treaty was not applicable in their relations as WTO members.

A significant international legal debate exists regarding the relationship between the WTO and multilateral environmental agreements, such as the Cartagena Protocol. In previous WTO case law, such international agreements have been considered as part of the WTO-compliance analysis. The EC – Biotech ruling may signal that other treaties are only relevant when all parties to the dispute, or even possibly all WTO members, are parties to the other treaties. One strategy to minimize exposure to other countries’ trade restrictions would therefore be to withdraw from, or not sign on to, treaties which contemplate trade-limiting obligations or powers.

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citizendefender said...

Wow you sure are good at repeating the news of paranormal phenomena circulated by the cosmic-natural-vibrations Organic Consumers Association. Congrats on your 'independent' blog repeating their stuff word for word. You are like so utterly fantastic. How much do they pay you? I want to have a blog like yours and get that money too.

eugene plawiuk said...

Gee I never thought that a WTO press release was a cosmic Organic event, whatever that is, oh I get it you like GMO....