GMWatch News Review archive
MONTHLY REVIEW No. 103
MONTHLY REVIEW No. 103
From Claire Robinson, Monthly Review editor
REST OF THE MONTH'S NEW IN BRIEF
+ GLYPHOSATE TOXIC AND DAMAGES DNA IN HUMAN MOUTH CELLS – INHALATION DANGEROUS
Both glyphosate and Roundup cause DNA damage in human mouth cells, according to a new study by Austrian researchers. Importantly, DNA damage occurred at concentrations below those required to induce cell damage, suggesting that the DNA damage was caused directly by the herbicide instead of being an indirect result of cell toxicity. The study raises concerns over the safety of inhaling glyphosate, one of the most common ways in which people are exposed to the herbicide in the soy-producing countries of South America.
+ ROUNDUP CAUSES AMPHIBIANS TO CHANGE SHAPE
When exposed to the herbicide Roundup, tadpoles change shape in ways that are normally induced by predators, according to a new study by Dr Rick Relyea, University of Pittsburgh professor of biological sciences. The exposed tadpoles developed abnormally large tails. Predators cause tadpoles to change shape by altering the stress hormones of tadpoles. The similar shape changes when exposed to Roundup suggest that Roundup may interfere with the hormones of tadpoles and potentially other animals. Moreover, the combination of predators and Roundup caused the tail changes to be twice as large. Relyea said, "This is important because amphibians not only serve as a barometer of the ecosystem's health, but also as an indicator of potential dangers to other species in the food chain, including humans."
+ INDIA GOVT FOR FIRST TIME BLAMES BT COTTON FOR FARMER SUICIDES
For the first time, the Indian government has directly linked farmer suicides, including those in 2011-12, to the declining performance of the much hyped GM Bt cotton adopted by 90% of the country's cotton-growers since being approved a decade ago.
Policymakers have hailed Bt cotton as a success story but a January 9 internal advisory, sent out to cotton-growing states by the agriculture ministry, presents a grim scenario. "Cotton farmers are in a deep crisis since shifting to Bt cotton. The spate of farmer suicides in 2011-12 has been particularly severe among Bt cotton farmers," says the advisory. Bt cotton's apparent success lasted merely five years. Since then, yields have been falling and pest attacks going up.
+ NEW REPORT SLAMS BT COTTON FAILURES
The false hype and failed promises of Bt cotton in India have been exposed by the Coalition for GM-Free India in a new report. The Coalition, using data from government institutions covering the past 10 years, negates the two important claims of dramatic yield increase and significant fall in pesticide usage. The report clearly exposes the dark side of the Bt cotton story stagnant yields, pest resistance, new pest and disease attacks, the need for high levels of expensive farm inputs and the spate of tragic farmer suicides in the cotton belt.
The new report is here:
+ FARMERS, WIDOWS MOURN DECADE OF BT COTTON IN INDIA
Thousands of farmers and farm widows across Vidarbha mourned the tenth anniversary of the introduction of Bt cotton in India. Groups of farmers and widows gathered in village squares and burnt cotton bales to register their protest. They demanded a ban on Bt cotton.
+ FIVE INDIAN STATES PROHIBIT GM RELEASES
The Indian states of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, Uttarakhand and Karnataka have taken a decision to prohibit environmental release of all GM seeds.
+ PRICE HIT ON GM CANOLA GROWERS IN AUSTRALIA
Australia's growers of GM canola crops are taking a price hit in the marketplace. With prices largely dictated by Canada, GM canola is trading at $25-$50 a tonne less than non-GM varieties. Grain Assist principal Alastair Beaumont said, "GM canola has not the value of non-GM canola. From a marketing side, non-GM and organics is still bringing the highest price."
+ ENVIROPIG SHELVED
The University of Guelph, the Canadian university that developed the controversial GM "Enviropig", is closing down its active research on what could have become the first GM food animal approved in the world. "There's no demand or need for genetically modifying food animals. The federal government should stop accepting requests to approve GM food animals," said Lucy Sharratt of CBAN, a coalition of 18 groups that campaigned to prevent the GM food pigs from being approved for consumers.
"It's clear that consumers oppose GM animals so we're relieved the project is being shelved. The GM pig was going to drive consumers away from eating pork if it was ever approved for market," said Paul Slomp, Youth Vice-President of the National Farmers Union. "This GM pig fiasco could have permanently damaged our domestic and international pork markets."
+ MILLION SIGNATURES ON U.S. PETITION DEMANDING LABELLING
About 91% of Americans want labels on GM foods, according to a survey carried out by the Mellman Group. Support was nearly equal among Democrats, Republicans and Independents. The survey was commissioned by a group called Just Label It that includes organic farming groups, along with representatives from the medical and retail industries and some faith-based groups. Similar surveys issued recently have also shown widespread support for labelling as consumers express increasing concern about overall food safety. Sounds like a democratic mandate to us.
+ END OF SECRECY ON GMO CULTIVATION IN CHILE
Chile's citizens have won the right to know where GM crops are being grown. They are only allowed for seed production in Chile
+ 1500 BEEKEEPERS PROTEST GM CROPS IN POLAND
Around 1,500 beekeepers in Warsaw made a strong point by dumping thousands of dead bees on the steps of the Ministry of Agriculture on 15 March 2012. The protest was against GM foods and pesticides, which protesters said were responsible for killing bees, butterflies and moths in huge numbers, endangering food crop pollination and ecosystems. Poland's minister of agriculture agreed to set in motion a ban on Monsanto GM maize MON810 – but then added the fatal text that he would only do so with the EU Commission's permission.
TAKE ACTION: Contact Poland's minister of agriculture, Mr Marek Sawicki, calling for an immediate ban on the Monsanto GM maize MON810 without reference to the EU – like the 9 other EU Countries that have banned it.
+ UK: MORRISONS DROPS GM-FREE FEED FOR POULTRY POLICY
There's bad news on the UK supermarket front. Morrisons is breaking ranks with other supermarkets and is dropping its GM-free-fed poultry policy: "We are moving to permit the use of GM feed in the poultry supply chain." ASDA, owned by Walmart, broke ranks some time ago, according to a Farmers Weekly report. Let's hope shoppers boycott both these supermarkets. The figleaf Morrisons is using for this move is that it will use more "certified sustainable soy". But this certification scheme is the RTRS greenwashing scheme for GM soy dreamed up by Monsanto, Cargill, ADM etc with the help of WWF, and is worse than useless.
Morrisons' decision is a huge step in the wrong direction, says the Soil Association.
GM Freeze says the move could lead to a drop in prices farmers receive from the supermarket and loss of market share to non-GM producers.
Dr Brian John says he won't be shopping at Morrisons any more:
TAKE ACTION: Let Morrisons know what you think:
via the contact page on their website
FACEBOOK ACTION: It would be great if those of you using FaceBook could leave a comment on the Morrions FaceBook page (www.facebook.com/MorrisonsWeLoveFood) telling the company and anyone visiting the page it is unacceptable to drop their non-GM poultry feed policy and demanding it be reinstated. This should get their attention – it's very public and over 50,000 customers "like" the page, so it's a great place to apply pressure.
+ MONSANTO AND FRIENDS TARGET SCHOOLCHILDREN
In a blatant attempt at brainwashing, the Council for Biotechnology Information (CBI) has widely circulated what it calls a Biotechnology Basics Activity Book for kids, to be used by "Agriculture and Science Teachers". The book – called Look Closer at Biotechnology – looks like a science workbook, but reads more like a fairy tale. Available on the council's Web site, its coloUrful pages are full of friendly cartoon faces, puzzles, helpful hints for teachers – and a heavy dose of outright lies about the likely effects of genetic engineering on health, the environment, world hunger and the future of farming.
Here's the biotech book for kids, http://www.greenchipstocks.com/reports/Kids-Biotech-Basics-Activity-Book-1.pdf
And here's a clever riposte,
+ EU PARLIAMENT CRACKS DOWN ON EFSA
Debates on the European Food Safety Authority's (EFSA) budget and management board in the Environment and Budget committees of the European Parliament have demonstrated that MEPs remain critical of how conflicts of interest are dealt with by EFSA and by the European Commission. On 27 March, the Budget committee voted on an excellent report by MEP Monica Luisa Macovei, proposing to postpone the approval of the 2010 budget of the European Food Safety Authority. Macovei stated that "conflicts of interest could ... have a negative impact on the impartiality of the decision-making process and also on the citizens' trust in the institutions". The vote in Plenary is scheduled for 10 May 2012.
Corinne Lepage MEP, a vocal critic of EFSA, said: "European agencies must immediately put an end to conflicts of interest that undermine democracy, their work and credibility of European decisions. They must define measures much stringency with controls and sanctions, to prevent private interests influence their work to serve the public interest."
Lepage and other MEPs said EFSA experts' links with the industry lobby group ILSI should be considered conflicts of interest. In addition the MEPs criticised EFSA for failing to take independent scientific literature into account in risk assessments of products, rather than just data from the manufacturers.
+ INDEPENDENCE OF EFSA'S GMO RISK ASSESSMENT QUESTIONED
Testbiotech, supported by Corporate Observatory Europe (CEO), has filed a complaint with the EU Ombudsman questioning the independence of the chair of the panel of experts tasked with assessing the risk of new GM plants entering the EU.
Harry Kuiper has chaired the GMO Panel at the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) since 2003 but has also maintained strong ties with International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI), including taking part in a task force led by a Monsanto employee. ILSI is funded by the food and agrochemical industry and Kuiper's work on the task force was alongside staff from Bayer, Dow AgroSciences, Dupont and Syngenta, all of which produce GM plants.
Testbiotech research has shown that the work of this ILSI task force has directly influenced Kuiper's work at EFSA. Kuiper is expected to leave the GMO Panel within the next few months as he comes to the end of his term.
Christoph Then of Testbiotech said: "Harry Kuiper has been involved in each and every case of risk assessment of genetically engineered plants since the start of EFSA. The public has a right to know if consumers and the environment were really protected in the best possible way."
+ EU COMMISSION: OK FOR EX MONSANTO LOBBYIST TO RUN FOOD REGULATOR EFSA
The European Commission has defended its choice of a food industry lobbyist to help run its food regulator, EFSA, in Parma, Italy. The commission on 10 February chose Mella Frewen – the president of Brussels-based lobby group FoodDrinkEurope, who previously worked for Monsanto – as one of 14 candidates to join the EFSA management board. If selected by a European Parliament jury in the next few weeks, she will keep her FoodDrinkEurope post while doing the unpaid EFSA job.
Commission spokesman Frederic Vincent said Frewen went forward "based on capability" and under an EFSA rubric which says the board should have people with a "background in organisations representing consumers and other interests in the food chain."
Nina Holland of Corporate Europe Observatory commented, "It's a bit more than having 'a background in the food industry' – that's a being a food lobbyist. It's a very strange set-up. The board decides on EFSA's work programme and on internal rules, like conflict of interest, and also who is on the scientific panels. It has a lot of power."
+ ROTHAMSTED'S GM WHEAT – A STEP BACKWARDS FOR FARMING
Rothamsted Research has sowed its experimental crop of GM wheat. GM Freeze calls the move "a step backwards for farming". The wheat is genetically modified to produce a pheromone that repels aphids. GM Freeze opposes the GM wheat trial and objected to Rothamsted's application to run it for reasons including:
*The lack of a market for GM wheat anywhere means it is a waste of time and money (some £1.28 million).
*Serious doubts about whether the GM wheat will work as stated.
*Lack of any data on potential health effects.
*Presence of an antibiotic resistant marker gene, against European Medicines Agency advice.
*Risk of cross-contamination with other wheat crops and some grasses already problematic as arable weeds.
*Unknown impacts on predator and parasites populations, which already provide some control for aphid infestations.
*Unknown impacts on bird species, which feed on aphids as part of their diet.
*The potential for development of aphids desensitised to the alarm chemical after being continually subjected to the GM deterrent over time.
*The use of synthetic animal genes (copied from cow genes) in a food crop without a full public consultation.
Commenting, Pete Riley of GM Freeze said: "This GM wheat trial is a step backwards for farming. Why are Rothamsted pushing ahead when there is no market for it and when there are viable, non-GM, non-chemical, publicly acceptable agronomic approaches to dealing with cereal aphids?"
+ GM CANOLA CONTAMINATION COURT BATTLE
Slater & Gordon Solicitors have lodged a claim in the WA Supreme Court on behalf of an organic farmer seeking to recover loss and damage allegedly caused by a GM canola farmer neighbour. Steve Marsh, an organic farmer from Kojonup, Western Australia, suffered contamination by GM material on his farm in late 2010 leading to the loss of his organic certification and loss of income.
+ CHALLENGING GM – ATTORNEY ANDREW KIMBRELL
Andrew Kimbrell, attorney, activist and author and founder of the International Center for Technology Assessment, speaks on the dangers of GM, nuclear proliferation and globalization.
REST OF THE MONTH'S NEWS IN BRIEF
For those who do not receive our GMWatch Review
+ GM ROUNDUP READY CROPS DESTROYING MONARCH BUTTERFLIES? STUDY
The rapid spread of herbicide-resistant crops has coincided with – and may explain – the dramatic decline in monarch butterfly numbers over the past decade, according to a new study carried out in the US. Between 1999 and 2010, the same period in which GM crops became the norm for farmers, the number of monarch eggs declined by 81% across the Midwest, the researchers say. That's because milkweed – the host plant for monarch eggs and caterpillars – has nearly disappeared from farm fields. Commenting, John Pleasants from Iowa State University said it is one of the clearest examples yet of unintended consequences from the widespread use of GM seeds.
New study here:
The latest study follows on from an earlier one:
+ INSECT EXPERTS ISSUE "URGENT" WARNING ON GM INSECTICIDAL SEEDS
A group of scientists has sent a letter to the US Environmental Protection Agency urging farmers to stop planting GM Bt rootworm-resistant corn because it will no longer protect them from the rootworm.
+ RAMPANT GMO CONTAMINATION UNCHECKED BY JUDGE
Organic farmers sought a judgment against Monsanto to protect themselves from being sued for patent infringement when their crops are unintentionally contaminated with the company's GM seed. But the case was dismissed in federal district court in New York by Judge Naomi Buchwald, who called the plaintiffs' concern an "intangible worry, unanchored in time."
In fact, Monsanto has already filed "over a hundred lawsuits involving hundreds of farmers for illegally using GMO patented seeds, and there have been judgments as high as a million dollars, with the average judgment being about $170,000," according to Paige Tomaselli, staff attorney for the Center for Food Safety (CFS), a plaintiff in the case.
An article for PR Watch said, "That's a pretty tangible worry for farmers that don't intend to grow genetically engineered crops. The plaintiffs collectively represent over 300,000 farmers and eaters."
+ 55 CONGRESS MEMBERS ASK FDA TO LABEL GM FOODS
A letter signed by 55 Members of Congress was sent to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) calling on the agency to require the labelling of GM foods. "Consumers are being misled about the foods they are purchasing," said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety. "FDA's two-decade old decision is bad policy based on outdated science and must be revoked. The American consumer deserves the same fundamental freedoms and choices of other nations' citizens."
+ PLANS TO REPLICATE SCIENCE MEDIA CENTRE IN U.S. FRAUGHT WITH DANGERS – NATURE JOURNAL
Plans are afoot to set up a US version of the Science Media Centre, a lobby group funded by the likes of Monsanto, AstraZeneca, BP, Coca-Cola, and Syngenta which masquerades as an independent source of scientific information for journalists.
+ PARAGUAY GOVT PROBES LANDGRABBING FOR SOY EXPANSION
Paraguay president Fernando Lugo intends to investigate the possibility that 8 million hectares of land were illegally grabbed for GM soy expansion. The landowners who have inundated Paraguay with GM soy, many of them Brazilian, are resisting the review.
+ WWF BEDS WITH MONSANTO TO STEAL PUBLIC LANDS, PROMOTE GM CROPS
Good article about how WWF joined forces with GM agribusiness to reapportion the planet for energy production and GM food:
+ SOUTH AFRICA: UNLABELLED FOOD TESTS POSITIVE FOR GM
The African Centre for Biosafety (ACB) has found that several food products, including baby cereal, maize meal consumed as a staple, a renown and heavily promoted dietary supplement for active sports people and wheat free cereal, have tested positive for GM – yet are all, illegally, unlabelled.
+ MASSIVE CUTS IN PESTICIDES WITHOUT GMOs
While GMOs have largely – and sometimes spectacularly – failed to cut agrochemical use or improve yields, a new study has found that France can achieve a 30% reduction in pesticide use on arable crops without impacting on either yields or farm income.
+ JIC SPINS ANOTHER VACUOUS GM "SUPERFOOD"
In 2008 media outlets around the world ran with the story of the GM purple tomato that could "beat cancer", as well as keep you slim, ward off diabetes and help safeguard your eyesight! All this because a team of researchers at the John Innes Centre, under Prof Cathie Martin, had genetically engineered anthocyanins into tomatoes.
Now, four years later, Martin and her team at the JIC are at it again. This time they have worked out how to genetically engineer the gene for anthocyanins in blood oranges into ordinary oranges, and called a press conference. Once again this is generating headlines about beating heart disease, controlling diabetes and reducing obesity, although they seem to have skipped the curing cancer claims this time – presumably because it might just remind even the laziest of journalists that we have been here before!
+ BIASED SURVEY CLAIMS UK PUBLIC ATTITUDE TO GM "SOFTENING"
An article in The Guardian headed, "Should the UK now embrace GM food?" claims, "A survey shows attitudes in the UK towards genetically modified food has softened slightly." But as Dr Tom MacMillan, director of innovation at the Soil Association pointed out, the survey doesn't show that public concern over GM food has lessened. The proportion of people saying they agree that GM food "should be encouraged" actually dropped from 46% in 2002 to 27% in 2012.
+ INDIA: NEW REPORT DAMNS INDIA'S GM CROP REGULATION
An explosive new report by Prof Jack Heinemann on the safety assessment of Bt brinjal (eggplant/aubergine) suggest the regulation and official expertise brought to bear on GM crops are either grossly incompetent... or worse. Heinemann said: "Every [industry] experiment I personally reviewed seemed to have some significant flaw, or was only half finished, effectively leaving nothing to support the conclusions of safety. It had the semblance of authority, but lacked the substance."
+ INDIA: FARM LEADER DEMANDS BAN ON BT COTTON
President of farmer group VJAS Kishor Tiwari has demanded a total ban on Bt cotton to save lives of poor farmers in Vidarbha.
+ INDIA: UNEXPECTED NEW EPICENTRES FOR FARMER SUICIDES
In 2011 the highest number of farmer suicides in the state of Maharashtra was not in Vidarbha but, unexpectedly, in Marathwada. This region and Khandesh, where farmers suffered Bt cotton crop failure and massive debt, have emerged as the new epicentres for suicides in the state.
+ SHUTTING DOWN DISSENT IN INDIA
India's prime minister has claimed that there is a "foreign hand" behind protests against nuclear energy and GM food. But critics says the foreign hand lies in the agrotech and nuclear firms, not the NGOs, and it is they that are undermining the public interest.
+ OPPOSITION MOUNTS TO INDIA'S BRAI BILL
In India, opposition to the BRAI bill, which would fast-track GM approvals, is mounting.
+ HELP STOP GM TREES
In the wake of the Round Table on Sustainable Soy greenwash program, which certifies GM pesticide-soaked soy as "responsible", now the timber industry is moving to certify GM trees as "sustainable". STOP GE Trees Campaign says, "GE trees are not now and never will be 'sustainable'. They deplete soils and water, require huge inputs of toxic chemicals, replace native forests, displace biodiversity and forest dependent communities, kill beneficial insects, and worsen climate change." Help stop GM trees and support the STOP GE Trees Campaign: