GMWatch News Review archive
MONTHLY REVIEW No. 99
From Claire Robinson, Monthly Review Editor
+ FARMER SUICIDES RISING IN INDIA AS BT COTTON CROPS FAIL
The record suicide rate among farmers in India continues to rise, with one farmer now committing suicide every 30 minutes. Many media reports blame failed GM Bt cotton crops in dryland areas for the crisis. An article for Sky News reports on a farmer who committed suicide after being "persuaded to use genetically modified seeds by the possibility of a better harvest. What he wasn't told was that they needed more rain than the region provided."
Farmers who grow GM crops also have to borrow money for expensive pesticides and fertilizers. When the crop fails, they cannot repay their debts. The article comments, "Across rural India there is now widespread despair. The fields are also filling up with widows."
Bt cotton was first released for commercial growing in India in 2002, and the data on farm suicides show clearly that the last eight years were much worse than the preceding eight which is alarming since the total number of farmers is declining.
India's Bt cotton "revolution" has lost its sheen over the past five years, with government data showing a consistent decline in cotton yield. Even as the area under Bt has grown to 93 per cent of the total area under the cash crop, the overall yield is expected to decline to a five-year low this year.
Farmers and activists who oppose GM crops argue that none of the promises made during the introduction of GM seeds have come true. Some farmers report that crops failed to flower, producing no yield at all. Others report the high cost of GM seed and chemical insecticides, which farmers still have to spray in spite of marketing claims that Bt cotton reduces or eliminates the need for them.
As for GM proponents' claims that if GM seeds were so bad, farmers wouldn't buy them, consolidation in the seed market means that GM seeds are often all that's available.
+ INSECTS DEVELOPING RESISTANCE TO GM BT CROPS
A review of insect resistance to Bt toxins in GM maize and Bt cotton crops around the world shows how, contrary to promises from GM companies, pesticide use is increasing to keep up with insects in GM crops. The review by GM Freeze says scientists have confirmed five incidents of insects evolving resistance to Bt toxins in the field to date: Bt cotton in India (2010) and US (2008), moth pests in maize in Puerto Rico (2007) and South Africa (2007) and a beetle pest in maize in the US (2011).
Reasons for resistance developing are:
*Failure to provide adequate non-GM refuges in GM crops to ensure non-resistant adult insects can survive to breed with resistant ones so that the resistance gene does not become dominant.
*Levels of Bt toxin in the crops too low to deliver lethal doses to pests. Sub-lethal doses mean resistance can develop as pests survive, mate and pass on the resistance gene.
+ HOW MUCH INSECTICIDE DO BT PLANTS PRODUCE?
No one knows the answer to this question, as there is no reliable data, report the German-based NGO TestBiotech.
+ HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS IN ARGENTINA FROM GM SOY
The Argentine NGO Grupo de Reflexion Rural (GRR) and the founder of the international network Aktion GEN-Klage, Christiane Lust, have submitted a report to the UN committee for human rights on the Argentine government's role in supporting the production of GM Roundup Ready soy. The Argentine government's support for the GM soy model of agriculture seriously violates the economic, social and cultural rights of the Argentinean people, farmers, and beekeepers, says the report.
The report says that malnourishment – previously unknown in Argentina – increased with the introduction of GM soy to 17%. In 1970 the proportion of people living below the poverty line was 5%. In 2004 it was up to 51%. The aerial spraying of agrochemicals on soy plantations has destroyed peasants' crops and killed their chickens and other animals. Rates of birth defects have escalated.
+ DEATH IN GM SOY WAR IN ARGENTINA
The death in November of Cristian Ferreyra, a member of a peasant farmer organization in northern Argentina, has focused attention on a struggle between small farmers and their families and large landowners anxious to clear their land to plant soy crops for export. Ferreyra was shot and killed at his home in the province of Santiago del Estero. Another man was seriously wounded in the incident.
Two men alleged to have been hired by a local landowner have been arrested for the shooting, which came after repeated threats against the Santiago del Estero Peasant Movement (MOCASE). His death led to large protest marches in the capital of the province and Buenos Aires.
"They come in a car with papers for us to sign," said Gloria, a MOCASE member. "They say they're the legal owners of the land. But we own it, we live on it, and we farm it. If we don't sign, the paramilitaries and the police come. They threaten to kill us."
The National Indigenous Peasant Movement (MNCI) said: "This violence comes from the agro-business model. The dead, the wounded, the evictions are all from the peasant communities. The State creates the conditions enabling the power of money to impose its logic of destruction and death."
GMWatch comment: One reason why GMWatch and other civil society groups oppose the Monsanto and WWF-backed 'Round Table on Responsible Soy' (RTRS) is because it is toothless in preventing such violent land grabs. All RTRS requires is that the person who wants to expand soy production shows legal ownership of the land to be developed. Whether the papers conferring legal ownership were obtained under threat of death is not addressed. (See also VIDEOS)
+ PHILIPPINES COMMUNITIES STAND FIRM AGAINST GM EGGPLANT
Communities around the University of Philippines campus have stood firm against the new round of field testing for a GM eggplant/aubergine/brinjal after the ban was lifted by the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI).
For an insight into the junk science behind the Indian GM regulator GEAC's risk assessment of GM Bt brinjal, see Dr Lou Gallagher's report, downloadable from
+ RESISTANCE TO GM BILL INCREASING IN INDIA
Terming the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) Bill a "threat to the food sovereignty and security of the country", a committee of activists, farmers' groups and traders has demanded that the Bill be scrapped with immediate effect. They requested the Tamil Nadu State government to take a stand against the infringement on its powers by the central government through the Bill, expected to the tabled in Parliament in the winter session.
In response to the looming threat of the BRAI Bill, the Kerala Roller Flour Millers Association and the All Kerala Bread Manufacturers Association has called for the immediate ban on open air releases of GM food crops.
+ FORMER SUPREME COURT JUDGES QUESTION BRAI BILL
Three former judges of Supreme Court have questioned the BRAI Bill, saying that the ministry mandated to promote biotechnology was introducing the bill. They also said that the regulatory framework should have experts from other related ministries such as environment, agriculture, health and rural development. "The primary mandate of any biotechnology bill must be to ensure safety to consumers, farmers and the environment and not to facilitate quick clearances," the judges said.
+ CALL FOR GMO MORATORIUM IN TANZANIA
An international conference on food sovereignty has called upon Tanzania's government to suspend plans to spread GM crops. The conference, hosted by international NGO SWISSAID, explored why communities around the world are rejecting GM foods and standing up for the rights of farmers and consumers to choose what they grow and eat. SWISSAID's food sovereignty expert Tina Goethe set out the global facts: that despite 20 years of industry investment in GM biotechnology, adoption by small farmers all over the world and in Africa has been poor, and the technologies have largely failed to live up to the empty promises of increased yields and incomes.
+ ANIMAL FEED FACTORY BLOCKED BY ANTI-GM PROTEST
An animal feed plant in Morbihan, France was blocked for a day and a half by protestors who oppose the import of GM soy and want products from animals fed with GMOs labelled.
+ VESTED INTERESTS AND FLAWED SCIENCE BEHIND AMFLORA GM POTATO
More than half of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) panel responsible for giving the go-ahead for the approval of BASF's GM Amflora potato in 2010 had conflicts of interest as defined by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), according to new research published by Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO). The panel's scientific opinion, which led to political approval by the EU Commission, ignored key medical advice about the possible risks of using antibiotic-resistant marker genes. This advice is likely to be used in the coming months by EFSA and the Commission to justify the approval for cultivation in the EU of two other GM plants created by Monsanto.
Even though none of the panel members had medical expertise in the use of antibiotics, they ruled that the antibiotics targeted by Amflora's resistant gene were of "no or only minor therapeutic relevance". The World Health Organisation (WHO) classified the same antibiotics as being "critically important" and "highly important". But EFSA ignored this advice, preferring to take their definition of the antibiotics' importance from a paper with biotech industry involvement. CEO's Nina Holland said, "Many EFSA experts on the panel had close links to the biotech industry. Their advice downplaying the relevance of two antibiotics was taken straight from industry and ignored global expert medical advice."
+ GM LAW PROBE IN NZ A BIG SURPRISE
In New Zealand, a highly sensitive government study into how much money can be made by changing genetic engineering laws will be underway immediately after the election. But environment minister Nick Smith is facing embarrassment after admitting he knew nothing about the study.
The proposal from his ministry for the environment is in sharp contrast to his assurance GM laws will not change. The study aims to find out how much money can be made by relaxing laws governing GM. The document shows the Treasury, scientists and the industry believe the country's "economic performance" is suffering because of strict laws around release of new organisms into the environment. It says there is concern other countries with more relaxed rules will get a competitive advantage.
GMW comment: Any objective study on this question would conclude that:
* GM-growing countries have lost markets due to GM contamination
* industry has had to pay millions in damages to farmers whose crops have been contaminated
* the cost to farmers of growing GM crops has risen with the increasing cost of seed and chemical inputs.
+ WESTERN AUSTRALIA'S NON-GM SECTOR COULD VANIH WITHIN 10 YEARS
Very few farmers are choosing to grow GM canola in Western Australia but some farmers and conservation groups fear that the state's non-GM grain sector could vanish within the next 10 years due to contamination. Nic Dunlop, environmental science and policy co-ordinator for the Conservation Council of WA, says feral GM canola plants have been found on road verges in the state's Esperance district some 20 kilometres away from the nearest GM crop.
+ CONTAMINATION WORSENS IN WESTERN AUSTRALIA
The Hon Lynn MacLaren MLC, the Greens spokesperson on GMOs, called for legislation to protect farmers from unwanted GM contamination, following a hailstorm that resulted in around 100 tonnes of GM canola being knocked to the ground and washed downhill – contaminating the roadside verge and a neighbouring non-GM property.
Ian James, whose non-GM farm has been contaminated, said "GM canola is already starting to germinate in my paddock and along the roadside and drains. What I want to know is who is going to pay to clean up this mess, and stop the GM canola spreading over my whole farm?" James said in order to sell his canola he has to sign declarations saying it is GM-free and he cannot now do that with confidence.
+ AUSTRALIA'S STRINGENTLY CONTROLLED GM TRIALS?
Although there have been major contamination problems elsewhere with GM crop trials, Australian GM proponents like to claim that Australia's GM trials have been problem-free over the past 15 years because "in Australia there are stringent guidelines." But here's a reminder of the reality – a series of contamination events and biosecurity breaches:
+ GM-FREE CANOLA MORE LUCRATIVE FOR FARMERS
West Australia farmers would be doing themselves a disservice by choosing to plant more GM canola crops, according to an article for ABC Rural. The two biggest acquirers of WA grown canola are saying the strongest message coming from Europe, their biggest customer, is "We are prepared to pay more for non-genetically modified canola with a 'sustainable' accreditation".
So if WA farmers gradually increase the amount of GM canola (compared to non-GM canola) they could end up sacrificing a key market advantage currently held over countries such as Canada. The article cites a $40 dollar premium for WA's non-GM canola.
Sally Porter, Cooperative Bulk Handling's quality and technical manager for their protein and oil seeds team, says Europe's Renewable Energy Directive and their new sustainability requirements are driving the price difference. "Our customers in Europe want sustainable canola and they also want non-GM canola."
+ EU TIGHTENS CONTROL OF CHINESE RICE IMPORTS OVER GM FEARS
The European Union has tightened controls on imports of Chinese rice products after a growing number of shipments were contaminated by unauthorised GM rice. The EU has decided to require Chinese authorities to provide a report on all rice consignments before export, instead of the current random checks.
+ HOW GM COMPANIES CONTROL U.S. FOOD AID
Thanks to the US's 2009 Global Food Security Act, food aid policy for the first time mandates the use of genetic modification technologies. This legislation helps biotechnology companies monopolise the seed industry at the expense of farmers and has spawned dubious links between these corporations, the Gates Foundation and the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa.
+ GM TREE TRIALS IN SWEDEN, POLAND, AND BELGIUM
Several GM tree trials are going on in different parts of Europe. These include trials of trees engineered for biofuels in Belgium and Poland and of fruit trees in Sweden.
+ UK: ROTHAMSTED'S GM WHEAT "REMODEL" IS HIGH RISK OPTION
GM Freeze has described Rothamsted Research's proposal to attempt to increase wheat yields using GM as a "high risk and potentially costly mistake". Rothamsted's new five year science strategy includes an aim to increase wheat yields to an astonishing 20 tonnes/hectare (from the current average 8.4 tonnes/hectare) in 20 years by "remodelling" the wheat genome. Rothamsted hopes to use theoretical genetic modifications to change the the way plants turn sunlight into energy by radically altering their photosynthetic biochemistry, something that has never succeeded before. Indeed many believe it may prove impossible, and in 2009 the Royal Society described the idea of using GM to change photosynthetic metabolism in crops as "high risk".
The strategy comes just after an announcement that staff at Rothamsted's three research sites that are key to sustainable agriculture will be cut.
More about Rothamsted here:
* USA: What's in your food? Join the Union of Concerned Scientists in telling the FDA to label GM foods, http://t.co/7hxp4kWg
* USA: Get active on GM labeling in California, http://www.labelgmos.org/
* USA: Comment on APHIS's environmental impact assessment of deregulating GM sugar beets, http://www.aphis.usda.gov/biotechnology/sugarbeet.shtml
* Europe: Keep Frankenfish out of the food supply, http://t.co/IjqDFsrM
* Australia: Last chance to get GM fully labelled, http://www.madge.org.au/node/2699
*Turkey: Sign the petition to stop 10 GM corn varieties being imported (in Turkish, but just name & email needed), http://t.co/TfLiDVS5
*India: Contact your MP and stop the BRAI bill now! http://www.greenpeace.in/take-action/save-your-food/contact-your-mp-now.php
GM soy destroying forests and people in South America with the help of WWF: