GMWatch News Review archive
MONTHLY REVIEW No. 95
GMWATCH MONTHLY REVIEW No. 95
From Claire Robinson, Monthly Review editor
OTHER LOBBYWATCH STORIES
GM APPLICATIONS / EXPANSIONS
REST OF THE MONTH'S NEW IN BRIEF
POTATO LOBBYWATCH (UK)
+ ANTI-GM PROTESTORS DESCEND ON JOHN INNES CENTRE, NORWICH
A group of more than 60 protesters descended on the gates of the John Innes Centre (JIC) in Norwich as part of a campaign against the JIC's GM potatoes, which are engineered to resist blight. At the heart of the protest was a tractor pulling 20kg of organic blight-resistant potatoes that were left at the centre. The protestors said that researchers at the laboratory have spent GBP1.7m trying to develop a potato resistant to the fungal disease, though the JIC said this money has been spent across five projects. The protestors added that there are six non-GM varieties that are already blight-resistant, making this publicly-funded work "absurd".
TV news report on the protest on YouTube:
Images from the protest:
+ PLENTY OF NON-GM BLIGHT-RESISTANT SPUDS AVAILABLE
A GM blight-resistant potato is not needed, points out a 2006 briefing by GM Freeze. The briefing says that of 120 trialed non-GM potatoes from the UK official list, 20% have good resistance to blight. Ten are classed as having high resistance.
+ NON-GM BLIGHT RESISTANT POTATOES DO NOT NEED TO BE SPRAYED
The internet has been swarming with GM pushers claiming that the alternative to the GM spud is non-GM spuds heavily sprayed with fungicides to control blight. But a researcher at the Sarvari Trust, the UK leader in developing non-GM blight-resistant potatoes, said the Trust's potatoes can be grown sustainably without any need to spray 15-20 times a year to control blight.
+ MONSANTO-LINKED SCIENTIST PUNTS GM FOODS AGAIN
Jonathan Jones, the John Innes Centre scientist with links to Monsanto via his company Mendel Biotechnology, promotes the JIC's GM potatoes in an article in The Guardian. Jones correctly says that it's hard to get private investment for GM foods because of the commercial risks – and comes up with the solution of raiding public funds to put GM traits into our food supply! He also seems to suggest using public sector status to push GM crops through the regulatory process. Jones's article is entitled, "The cost of spurning GM crops is too high". Does he mean the cost to himself, we wonder? Incidentally, Jones is now on the board of directors of the notorious GM industry backed lobby group, ISAAA.
+ JONES CLAIMS CONSUMERS DON'T LIKE NON-GM BLIGHT RESISTANT SPUDS
While a farmer at the JIC protest described the non-GM blight resistant potatoes as "Really wonderful", genetic engineer Jonathan Jones claimed that consumers won't accept them. But at a public tasting, the non-GM potatoes proved very popular. Who to believe? A GM Freeze briefing says that the GM industry has been denigrating the non-GM potatoes to large growers and supermarkets, claiming they don't taste good or boil well.
The "conservative consumers" argument is a perennial one used by GM promoters. It was also used to justify the need for the JIC's GM purple tomato, engineered to contain high levels of supposedly cancer-fighting anthocyanins. Many foods naturally contain high amounts of anthocyanins, including, for example, blackcurrants, raspberries, blueberries, red cabbage and aubergines. But the JIC claim that consumers wanting to consume more anthocyanins are too conservative to include any of these foods in their diet. But the JIC appear to believe that through some magical reversal, these same consumers would suddenly drop their conservative attitudes when faced with a GM purple tomato! In their topsy turvy world, it is unimagineable that raspberries could ever be "popular with consumers", unlike GM foods – the only product ever to be universally banned by European supermarkets from their own lines in response to mass consumer opposition!
OTHER LOBBYWATCH STORIES
+ SHOCK DOCUMENTARY EXPOSES WWF'S CLOSE TIES WITH INDUSTRY
A German documentary, 'The silence of the Pandas', exposed WWF's close ties with corporations, including Monsanto. The film showed how WWF has partnered with Monsanto in the Round Table on Responsible Soy (RTRS), an industry greenwash forum which certifies GM soy sprayed with glyphosate herbicide as "responsible". The film, which examines the terrible health effects of GM soy production in South America, caused shockwaves in Germany and many donors have reportedly withdrawn their support for WWF.
English subtitled interview with Wilfried Huismann, the maker of the documentary:
+ EUROPE: WWF AND GM SOY – DUBIOUS DEALINGS WITH THE PANDA
A huge row has broken out in Germany after the arrival in Europe of the first RTRS soy. One German press article says that in Europe, GM soy "is not considered sustainable at all, especially since there are more and more reports about the health risks involved in the growing of genetically modified soybeans... genetically modified oil and meal will end up in milk, in feed for pigs and chickens, or even in margarine and dressings – and the companies pretend to be green." Another article on RTRS soy called "Glyphosate: The all-round killer" cites the recent Earth Open Source report, which revealed that industry knew from its own studies as long ago as the 1890s that glyphosate causes birth defects in lab animals.
+ U.S.: NINA FEDOROFF DECLARES WAR ON EPA OVER GM
More than 60 members of the National Academy of Sciences, led by GM advocate Nina Fedoroff, have written to EPA administrator Lisa Jackson to protest against what they describe as a proposal "to further expand [EPA's] regulatory coverage over transgenic crops in a way that cannot be justified on the basis of either scientific evidence or evidence gained over the past several decades." The letter, which also was signed by Nobel laureates James Watson and Gunter Blobel, among others, criticizes an EPA proposal to set testing requirements for pesticidal substances engineered into plants.
+ WHITE HOUSE PACT WITH INDUSTRY TO PUSH GM CROPS
In an effort to boost exports, the Obama White House has entered into a joint venture with industry to remove barriers to the spread of GM crops, even on national wildlife refuges, according to documents obtained by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). PEER has sued the White House Trade Representative, Office of Management & Budget (OMB) and the State Department to force release of documents detailing their partnership with industry. PEER said that in late 2010, the White House formed an interagency "Agriculture Biotech Working Group" consisting of more than 35 officials from ten agencies to promote GM agriculture. Working with GM industry lobby group BIO, these officials helped prepare environmental assessments to start paving a legal path for GM plantings on 75 refuges in 30 states. "With all the environmental challenges facing this country, why is the White House priority putting wildlife refuges under the thumb of Monsanto?" asked PEER Staff Counsel Kathryn Douglass. "It is frankly depressing that the top White House official for ecosystem recovery is hustling genetically altered soybeans on slivers of land set aside for wildlife."
+ GM MAIZE PLOUGHED UNDER THROUGHOUT HUNGARY
Some 400 hectares of maize have been destroyed throughout Hungary after the crops were found to be GM-contaminated. The damage to Hungary's agriculture caused by the contamination will total millions of euros, said ecologist and forensic expert Imre Lanszki.
+ ROUNDUP READY CROPS KILLING HABITAT OF MONARCH BUTTERFLIES
GM Roundup Ready soy and corn monocultures in the Midwestern US are killing off the habitat of monarch butterflies, says a new study. The study shows a drop over the last 17 years of the area occupied by monarchs in central Mexico, where many of them spend the winter. The study attributes the decrease partly to the loss of milkweed, on which monarchs lay their eggs, from use of Roundup Ready crops. Other causes, it says, are the loss of milkweed to land development, illegal logging in Mexico, and severe weather. "It [glyphosate] kills everything," said Lincoln P. Brower, an entomologist at Sweet Briar College who is also an author of the paper. "It's like absolute Armageddon for biodiversity over a huge area."
+ GM SALMON STUDY REVEALS DANGER OF ESCAPE
If GM salmon were to escape from captivity they could succeed in breeding and passing their genes into the wild, Canadian researchers have found. To measure the ability of GM males to complete with wild males during the reproductive season, the team monitored breeding behaviour in a naturalised laboratory setting. "While the transgenic males displayed reduced breeding performance relative to their non-transgenic rivals they still demonstrated the ability to successfully participate in natural spawning events and thus have the potential to contribute modified genes to wild populations," said lead author Darek Moreau from the Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada.
+ ROTHAMSTED CUTS TO AGROECOLOGY "SWIMMING AGAINST THE TIDE"
Rothamsted Research is to close three major departments central to its agroecological research base. The move is described by GM Freeze as, "Swimming against the tide of scientific opinion across the world." Director of Rothamsted Research Prof Maurice Maloney made the decision to cut the Departments. Maloney was appointed in 2010 after a career working on the genetic modification of crops.
GM APPLICATIONS / EXPANSIONS
+ COMING TO A LAWN NEAR YOU: GM GRASS, ROUNDUP, AND SUPERWEEDS
A GM grass expected to hit US markets without government review could speed the evolution of hard-to-control weeds, and perhaps require a return to toxic herbicides scrapped decades ago. On July 1 – a Friday afternoon, a time usually reserved for controversial news – the US Dept of Agriculture announced that Scotts Miracle-Gro's Roundup Ready Kentucky bluegrass would be exempt from regulation. The modified grass could be used in residential lawns. The new grass is exempt from USDA regulation because no pest material (bacteria) was used in the genetic modification process that created it. Instead, a gene gun was used. This means that it does not trigger a USDA regulation designed to control plant pests.
+ WELCOME TO THE AGE OF GM INDUSTRY SELF-REGULATION
The USDA's surprise decision not to regulate GM bluegrass poked yet more holes in an already-porous regime for overseeing GM crops essentially to the point of regulatory collapse, writes Tom Philpott in Mother Jones. The USDA has two "regulatory hooks" under which it can regulate GM crops: "plant pest" status and "noxious weed" status. In the bluegrass decision, the USDA signaled that it won't be applying those hooks to a broad variety of novel crops that are not created with pest material (bacteria). In response to Scotts' application to market the GM bluegrass, agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack wrote an odd letter to Scotts in which he acknowledged concerns that GM bluegrass will contaminate non-GM bluegrass, destroying markets in the process. Vilsack's suggestion? Scotts should talk to "stakeholders" and work out ways of minimizing cross-contamination. In other words, go forth and regulate yourself... please?
+ BAYER DOESN'T WANT US TO KNOW WHAT IT'S DOING TO OUR FOOD SUPPLY
Bayer says its latest GMO application is "copyright" protected, according to an article in EU Food Policy. Bayer and MS Technologies have applied for approval for the import and processing of FG72 soybean for food and feed uses (excluding cultivation). The dossier has gone to EFSA for the risk assessment. EU Food Policy says Bayer CropScience is claiming confidentiality for two studies and other documents relating to testing. It is also saying that even the non-confidential part of the dossier is "copyright protected and must not be reproduced in whole or in part without the written consent of the authors". EU Food Policy says NGOs have been campaigning for more information to be made public in GMO dossiers and their call is supported by many politicians who want to see wider access to the information on which approvals are based. It's clear that the public is demanding more transparency about the scientific justifications behind regulators' approvals of risky products. Bayer 's desperate attempt to hide this important information speaks volumes about its practices and motives.
+ AUSTRALIA: GREENPEACE DESTROYS GM WHEAT TRIAL
Greenpeace protesters broke into a CSIRO experimental farm in Canberra and destroyed a crop of GM wheat. After the action, Australian police shut down Greenpeace's Sydney offices and seized property as evidence. No arrests were made.
+ GM WHEAT A THREAT TO FARMERS
Australian wheat farmers stood to lose billions of dollars if the CSIRO's trials of GM wheat were allowed to continue, Greenpeace said, as every one of Australia's global wheat market competitors, including Canada and Europe, had rejected the crop.
+ GREENPEACE Q & A ON GM WHEAT ACTION
Greenpeace said in a statement that the activists took non-violent direct action to stop Australia's environment and food supply from being contaminated by GM wheat, which has not been proven safe to eat. Greenpeace explained CSIRO's conflicts of interest: "The CSIRO is working with foreign GM companies to release unsafe GM wheat into our food supply. These foreign GM companies include Limagrain, one of the biggest investors in GM in the world, and Arcadia Biosciences... The GM wheat field trial which Greenpeace has removed from the environment was proposed and approved while two directors of Nufarm were serving on the board of the CSIRO. Nufarm is the exclusive distributor of Monsanto's Roundup Ready products in Australia and Monsanto owns 90 per cent of GM products worldwide. Monsanto and its GM partners stand to make billions from the genetic modification of Australia's wheat. "CSIRO's closeness to these GM corporations compromises their ability to make decisions in Austra
public interest and has resulted in the release of unsafe genetically modified wheat into the Australian environment."
CSIRO in bed with multinationals:
+ SCIENTISTS REJECT HUMAN TRIALS OF GM WHEAT
A group of prominent scientists has urged Australia not to go ahead with human trials of GM wheat. CSIRO is carrying out a study of feeding GM wheat on rats and pigs and could extend the trial to humans. The eight scientists and academics believe not enough studies have been done on the effects of GM wheat on animals to warrant human trials.
+ PETITION AGAINST GM WHEAT
Tell the Australian Government that you won't swallow GM bread. PEOPLE IN ANY COUNTRY CAN SUPPORT THIS PETITION.
+ MONSANTO, QUIT INDIA!
In India, civil society and farmer groups are calling for a "Monsanto Quit India!" day of action on August 9, 2011 across the country, and for other actions in the week of Aug 9-15, which is known as Kisan Swaraj Week. The groups intend to send a strong signal nationwide that citizens will not tolerate corporate domination of their food systems and agriculture. They point out that Monsanto is the world's largest seed company, already controlling 23% of the proprietary seed market.
+ NO GM TRIALS IN KARNATAKA
Karnataka agriculture minister Umesh Katti has declared that the government will not allow trials of GM crops in the state. The minister said action would be taken against those who had undertaken trials on GM crops in Bijapur and other districts without the permission of the government.
+ BUSTING BT COTTON MYTHS
A recently published study showed that Bt cotton could be problematic for India's small and marginal farmers, with expensive Bt cotton seeds not only requiring higher expenditure on pesticides but producing more variable results. But GM supporters continue to make incredible claims for the supposedly beneficial impact of Bt cotton on the country. So it's important to note that concerns about Bt cotton are now being raised by Keshav Kranthi, the director of India's Central Institute for Cotton Research, who is pro-GM and a longstanding supporter of Bt cotton.
Kranthi said productivity from Bt cotton has been stagnant for the past five years. More worrying, said Kranthi, is the increasing problems of sap-sucking insects, such as leaf hoppers, aphids, whiteflies and thrips, on the vast majority of Bt hybrids. New pathogens, such as leaf streak virus, have started affecting the new Bt hybrids. Insect populations of mealybugs, gall midges, mosquito bugs and safflower caterpillars, which were hitherto unknown, have also emerged as concerns.
Interestingly, while Kranthi said that cotton productivity had initially gone up after the introduction of Bt cotton, he added that this was not due solely to the new seed. He said there had been an increase in cotton planting area, which is not the same as an increase in yield. Also he credited the use of imidacloprid insecticide as a coating on the Bt cotton seeds, which had helped keep pests at bay. But now, pests are developing resistance to imidacloprid and are ravaging the plants.
+ RESISTANT WEEDS LEAVE FARMERS DESPERATE
Farmers across the US Midwest and South are, increasingly, using herbicide cocktails to combat Roundup-resistant weeds in cotton, corn and soybean fields, says an article for St Louis Today. As the effectiveness of herbicides wanes, some farmers are trying mixtures of older, more toxic chemicals, while others are paying itinerant workers to weed by hand.
+ U.S.: GM FOOD LABELING BATTLE HOTS UP
While consumer groups around the world celebrated the July 5 United Nations Codex agreement on labelling GM foods, the biotechnology industry argued that the final document achieved nothing new. In fact, industry came close to denying there was an agreement at all. After 16 years of negotiations, these two radically different responses to the final document can be explained by the high stakes involved, arguably the future of global markets for GM foods.
Now, a bold mobilization plans to raise awareness and pressure the government to label GM foods in the US. The 2-week GMO Right2Know March will feature daily events between New York and Washington, DC, October 1-16 as thousands of marchers are expected to walk part or all of the 313 miles from the United Nations' Headquarters to the White House. The marchers are looking for support from communities along the route, which can be viewed at Right2KnowMarch.org.
+ SO SHALL YOU REAP
This documentary on Bt cotton in India covers losses suffered by farmers, allergies, animal deaths, field trial violations, state governments asserting their rights to reject GM, regulatory failures, and successful alternatives to GM.
REST OF THE MONTH'S NEWS IN BRIEF
For those who do not receive GMWatch Reviews
+ NO ONE IS BUYING WESTERN AUSTRALIA'S GM CANOLA
Western Australia's agriculture minister has admitted in Parliament that none of the GM canola grown in Western Australia last year has been sold, sparking renewed calls for an inquiry into the lifting of the moratorium on GM canola.
+ NEW SOUTH WALES EXTENDS GM MORATORIUM UNTIL 2021
+ THE HUMAN COST OF THE WAR ON SUPERWEEDS
A new report from GM Freeze and Greenpeace links Roundup herbicide to cancer, birth defects and water pollution – and says its use in public parks and on agricultural crops is a danger to public health. The report analyses almost 200 independent and peer-reviewed scientific studies to show that Roundup is far from benign. The chemical has a damaging impact on rivers and the animals that live in them. It disrupts nutrients in soil, exposing plants to disease, and could end up contaminating drinking water. With the spread of GM Roundup Ready crops, the amount of Roundup applied worldwide is escalating, increasing the toxic burden on humans and the environment.
Industry tests showed back in the 1980s that Roundup causes birth defects (Earth Open Source report):
Article in The Ecologist on both reports:
+ TAKE ACTION TO ROUND UP GLYPHOSATE
In late 2010 the European Commission postponed for three years a badly needed safety review of Roundup's active ingredient glyphosate and 38 other chemicals. GM Freeze believes the scientific evidence is so strong that a fully independent review should be conducted immediately. Please write to your MP and/or MEPs and ask them to press for this safety assessment to be retabled urgently.
+ EU PARLIAMENT STRENGTHENS DRAFT LAWS TO BAN GM CROPS
The European Parliament has voted to strengthen a draft EU law, giving member states a new right to ban GM crops from being grown in their territories.
+ BASF PULLS THE PLUG ON NEW GM CROP DEVELOPMENT IN THE EU
BASF Plant Sciences has decided not to develop GM crops for the European market. In an email to a member of the public, Britta Stellbrink, BASF communications manager, wrote that due to "the difficult political situation GMO crops face in Europe," the company "decided some time ago to not initiate any new projects that are focused exclusively on the European market." BASF's Amflora potato has faced stiff opposition in Europe.
+ UK: DEFRA SHOULD REJECT GM WHEAT
An application to field test a GM wheat in the UK should be rejected by Defra, say GM Freeze, because there is no scientific or agricultural justification for it and no market willing to buy it.
+ FRENCH COURT ACQUITS 8 VOLUNTEER REAPERS
A French court has acquitted eight defendant Volunteer Reapers of GM crops (including Jose Bove, a "repeat offender") and dismissed Monsanto's financial demands. The trial marked the third court victory for Volunteer Reapers (les Faucheurs Volontaires).
+ U.S.: BAYER TO PAY $750M IN GM RICE SETTLEMENT
Bayer CropScience has agreed to pay up to $750 million to settle several lawsuits with US farmers whose rice crops were contaminated by the company's unapproved GM rice.
+ U.S.: SUCKERPUNCHED ON ANTITRUST
The Obama administration's top antitrust officer, Christine Varney, is stepping down after two and a half years. Last year, Varney and secretary of agriculture Tom Vilsack hosted workshops around the country to talk about antitrust problems in the food business. Nothing has come of those hearings. Fred Stokes of the Organization for Competitive Markets said Vilsack and Varney were "totally sincere" in their intention, but "The people they promised to go after and hang high are being shaken down to provide the billion dollar Obama campaign fund. Varney was shut down by Obama's political machine."
+ SOUTH AFRICA GM PROJECT ENDS IN RUIN
A GM soy and maize farming project in South Africa has ended in disaster for poor farmers. A report on the project says the GM maize and soya failed to address food security needs of the local population. The production methods undermined traditional agricultural production, making the farmers depend on expensive agrochemical inputs.
More GM failures in South Africa:
+ SIGN PETITION AGAINST ENVIRONMENTAL RELEASE OF GM VACCINE TESTED ON CALVES
+ SIGN PETITION AGAINST ENVIRONMENTAL RELEASE OF GM VACCINE TESTED ON FOALS