GMWatch News Review archive
Monthly Review No. 106
Monthly Review No. 106
From Claire Robinson, Monthly Review editor
NEW REPORT ON RISKS OF GMOs
+ SYNGENTA CHARGED WITH COVERING UP LIVESTOCK DEATHS FROM GM CORN
Syngenta has been criminally charged with denying knowledge that its GM Bt corn kills livestock during a civil court case that ended in 2007. EU cultivation of Bt176 was discontinued in 2007. Similar varieties, however, including Bt11 corn, are currently cultivated for human and animal consumption in the EU.
The charges follow a long struggle for justice by a German farmer whose cattle suffered mysterious illnesses and deaths after eating Bt176. During a civil lawsuit brought against the company by the farmer, Syngenta refused to admit that its GM corn was the cause, claiming no knowledge of harm. The case was dismissed and the farmer remained thousands of euros in debt.
But in 2009, the farmer learned of a feeding trial allegedly commissioned by Syngenta in 1996 that resulted in four cows dying in two days. The feeding trial was abruptly terminated. Now the farmer and others have brought Syngenta to the criminal court to face charges of withholding knowledge of the US trial.
+ GM FREE CYMRU WARNED OF PROBLEMS WITH GM CORN BACK IN 2008
GM Free Cymru reported back in 2008 that an Italian feeding trial in which sheep were fed Bt176 over 3 years appeared to have been designed NOT to find harm. In 2002-2005 scientists at the University of Perugia conducted a study on 106 breeding ewes, of which one group was fed on a diet containing Bt176 maize. The trial was prematurely terminated and the published version of the study has crucial information missing. The quantity of GM feed fed to the test group of ewes was very small, at 5.6% of the diet, except during lactation, when the proportion increased to 19.4% – which would mask any effects from the GM feed. Nevertheless, the researchers found differences in 4 out of 30 investigated blood parameters in the GM-fed group, some of which were close to statistical significance, yet these results were disregarded.
+ GM SOY MAY HARM ANIMALS' REPRODUCTION
Russian scientists are reported to have found that GM Roundup Ready soy causes developmental and reproductive toxicity in experimental animals. A delay in development and growth was detected, plus a distortion of the sex ratio in breeds with an increase in the proportion of females, and a reduction in the number of pups per litter, leading to absence of pups in the second and third generation, was reported at a press conference of the National Association for Genetic Security (NAGS).
According to the President of NAGS, Alexander Baranov, the main negative impact of GM soy, of the line 40-3-2, was infertility, making it almost impossible to obtain third-generation animals. 40-3-2 is approved for use in animal feed and human food in Europe – and EFSA says it's safe for consumption (http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/efsajournal/pub/1908.htm). What's more, EFSA has just given an opinion that it's safe to cultivate in the EU (http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/efsajournal/pub/2753.htm) – see item below.
"The results of our study confirmed the findings of European scientists who pointed out the negative impact on the health of animals from the GM ingredients in feed of animals," Baranov, said.
+ EFSA FAVOURS CULTIVATION OF DANGEROUS GM SOY IN THE EU
The European Food Safety Authority EFSA has for the first time given a positive opinion on the cultivation of GM soy in the EU. Now the EU Commission and Member States have to make a decision on final market authorisation. The applicant, Monsanto, wants to sell its seeds for herbicide tolerant Roundup Ready soy 40-3-2 to European farmers. Currently, the GM soy can be imported but not grown. But as a new legal dossier prepared on behalf of Testbiotech shows, the authorisation as planned would violate existing EU law because residues remaining in the plants from spraying with the herbicide were not taken into account during risk assessment. Furthermore, EFSA does not foresee monitoring possible health effects from these residues although it is required to do so by EU law.
Other authorisations already issued for the usage of GM plants in food and feed suffer from the same deficiencies. According to the legal dossier, written by EU legal expert Ludwig Kraemer, these authorisations now need to be reevaluated.
"Residues from herbicides regularly sprayed on genetically engineered plants are left out of the risk assessment of these crops. So far, this practice has been fiercely defended by EU Commissioner John Dalli. He is now not only under fire for being too close to industry, but he is also becoming a major legal problem," Christoph Then of Testbiotech says. "If the genetically engineered soy is authorised on the basis of the risk assessment as elaborated by EFSA, this should be considered a violation of existing EU law."
NEW REPORT ON RISKS OF GMOs
+ WHY GM FOOD IS DANGEROUS: NEW REPORT BY GENETIC ENGINEERS
Aren't critics of GM food anti-science? Isn't the debate over GMOs a spat between emotional but ignorant activists on the one hand and rational GM-supporting scientists on the other? A new report, GMO Myths and Truths, challenges these claims. The report presents a large body of peer-reviewed scientific and other authoritative evidence of the hazards to health and the environment posed by GMOs.
Unusually, the initiative for the report came not from campaigners but from genetic engineers who believe there are good scientific reasons to be wary of GM foods and crops. One of the report's authors, Dr Michael Antoniou of King's College London School of Medicine in the UK, uses genetic engineering for medical applications but warns against its use in developing crops for human food and animal feed.
Dr Antoniou said: "GM crops are promoted on the basis of ambitious claims – that they are safe to eat, environmentally beneficial, increase yields, reduce reliance on pesticides, and can help solve world hunger. I felt what was needed was a collation of the evidence that addresses the technology from a scientific point of view.
"Research studies show that genetically modified crops have harmful effects on laboratory animals in feeding trials and on the environment during cultivation. They have increased the use of pesticides and have failed to increase yields. Our report concludes that there are safer and more effective alternatives to meeting the world's food needs."
The report is co-authored by Claire Robinson, who, as well as being an editor at GMWatch, is research director at Earth Open Source, the group that published the report.
Download the report, GMO Myths and Truths, here:
+ PRAISE FOR NEW REPORT FROM MARION NESTLE
Professor of nutrition, molecular biologist and author Marion Nestle has praised the new report, GMO Myths and Truths (see above), in her blog, saying, "This is the best-researched and most comprehensive review I've seen of the criticisms of GM foods. Can the pro-GM advocates produce something equally well researched, comprehensive, and compelling? I doubt it but I'd like to see them try. In the meantime, this report provides plenty of justification for the need to label GM foods. Consumers have the right to choose. To do that, we need to know."
+ EFSA GMO PANEL STILL BIASED
The new GMO expert panel at the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) still has a majority of experts in favour of using GM plants in agriculture. The NGO Testbiotech estimates that eleven of the twenty panel members have links to industry or are known as proponents of GM.
Amongst its members are some well-known experts like Gijs Kleter who worked with the International Life Science Institute (ILSI) for many years. ILSI is funded by industry and has influenced EFSA standards for the risk assessment of GM plants. Huw Jones is involved in the development of GM wheat, and has cooperated with companies such as Bayer and Dow AgroSciences.
"We still cannot trust the GMO panel. It seems that the authority still has a long way to go in establishing its independence from the interests of industry. We are not currently expecting a change of policy in their approach to risk assessment and authorisation of genetically engineered plants," says Christoph Then of Testbiotech.
+ UK: IN HOT WATER, MP FAN OF GM FOOD
A leading supporter of GM food has caused outrage with bogus claims that a healthy broccoli sold by Marks & Spencer is GM. On the BBC's Today programme, Tory MP George Freeman suggested the broccoli, said to protect against cancer and heart disease, was an example of how GM food could improve health.
But the variety, called Beneforte and available at M&S, is in fact the product of natural plant breeding methods. His claims were all the more startling as M&S has had a ban on GM foods in place for more than ten years, and was one of the first UK retailers to take such a stand. It accused Freeman, who has in the past received fees from companies which promote biotech, of misleading the public about the origins of its broccoli.
Thanks to the lack of success of GM's silver bullets, non-GM success stories keep being claimed as GM breakthroughs in order to try and sell GM.
+ NEW GM INDUSTRY PUSH IN UK
BBC Radio 4 reported that the Agriculture Biotechnology Council had published a new report "Going for Growth", which calls for GM to be put at the heart of agricultural development in the UK. The BBC failed to point out that the misleadingly named ABC is actually a GM industry lobby group that represents BASF, Bayer, Dow, DuPont (Pioneer), Monsanto and Syngenta.
The ABC's Chair is Julian Little of Bayer, its Deputy Chair is Mark Buckingham of Monsanto, and it's a member of EuropaBio – "the voice of the biotechnology industry in Europe." Bayer's Julian Little is the author of the ABC's "Going for Growth" report. Little is one of the scientists pushing GM in the online debate, imascientist.org.uk
+ UK: 250M NEW FUNDING FOR NEW UK BIO-ECONOMY
David Willetts, minister for universities and science, has announced GBP250m of new funding for the UK bio-economy. This announcement follows the New Labour precedent of trying to gain financial advantage for UK bioscience by targeting GM crop research to the developing world, where they hope such projects will meet less resistance than in the UK and Europe. The US, as GM increasingly fails there with galloping weed and pest resistance and consumers increasingly demanding GM labelling, also seems to be intensifying its push to get GM into developing countries. As usual, the goal seems to be to keep developing countries reliant on "western innovation" and make sure that they don't find their way into technologies that will work in their interest, such as non-GM biotechnologies (like MAS), agroecology, etc.
+ GM BLOOD ORANGES
The John Innes Centre in the UK has genetically engineered oranges to try to make them into blood oranges that can grow in other climates than the ones that natural blood oranges like best. The idea is that the GM blood orange will combat obesity. However, no fruit have yet been harvested, let alone tested to see if they are safe to eat. Bizarrely, this aspirational piece of fluff has led to yet another slew of GM promotionals in the media originating from the JIC, which quote the JIC's Cathie Martin.
Martin promoted her previous wonder-product, a GM anthocyanin-rich purple tomato (non-GM tomatoes containing high levels of the same substance were largely ignored by the media), in articles with titles like "How my purple tomato could save your life". We wonder if the European Food Safety Authority, which devotes a large proportion of its time to investigating the scientific veracity of health claims made by food and food supplement companies, is investigating that one. Maybe Martin escapes the long arm of the EU law through the fact that the GM blood orange, like other GM wondercrops, doesn't yet exist. GM-Free Scotland has produced a good comment article on the JIC's latest GM "breakthrough".
More on JIC purple tomato:
+ INDIA: GM REGULATORS PROVOKE MASSIVE PROTESTS
India's Genetic Engineering Approval Committee ‚ÄÃ® meant to regulate GM crops ‚ÄÃ® has been hit with a storm of protest from the state governments and activists for stepping out of its domain to promote GM crops instead of merely assessing their scientific safety. One reason why GEAC may have been willing to promote the interests of the GM crop developers to state governments and others may be that the GM crop developers have been well represented among India's GM regulators!
+ GMO LABELLING BATTLE HOTTING UP IN U.S.
The GMO labelling battle is hotting up in the US. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has told the US Senate why they must support the 'Consumers Right to Know' amendment he is co-sponsoring with Senator Barbara Boxer to the US Farm Bill, calling for the labelling of GM foods. In a powerful speech, Sanders said, "Americans deserve the right to know what they and their children are eating." Ziggy Marley, Bob Marley's oldest son, has also spoken out in favour of labelling.
+ CALIFORNIA MIGHT LEAD THE WAY ON GMO LABELLING
The first Americans to get GMO labelling might be Californians, who vote in a referendum on the issue in November. But the referendum organizing group California Right to Know estimates food companies and their allies will spend upwards of $100 million trying to defeat the ballot initiative. The battle has also already been joined by two carefully named, industry-backed front groups, the Coalition Opposed to the Costly Food Labeling Proposition and California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse.
In our view, it's vital that Americans challenge the Coalition Opposed to the Costly Food Labeling Proposition and its allies to produce evidence for their claims that food costs have increased anywhere as a result of GMO labelling requirements. This has not happened in Europe. What has happened is that companies have simply removed GM ingredients from their products in order to avoid labelling them as GM.
It's also important to remember that the big food and feed commodity traders, like Cargill, have had full GM/non-GM segregation systems in place for years, to supply the European market. So no radical changes to supply systems are required for Americans to get labelling – and even a GM-free food and feed supply, if they want it.
+ EXPERT WARNS OF ILLEGAL GM PAPAYA ON EU MARKET
Illegal GM papayas are coming into the EU, reports Richard Werran of the GM testing firm Cert ID. Werran told GMWatch that he thought fresh papaya, juices, and derivatives could all be affected: "It's a big problem." The problem seems to have originated with the Thai papaya crop. Although GM crops are not allowed in Thailand, large-scale contamination of papaya farms, apparently as a result of earlier field trials, has been a continuing problem and has caused problems for Thai exports before
+ GM OBSESSION STARVES THE RESEARCH BASE FOR SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE
Two experts on sustainable agriculture – the first based in Malawi, Africa, the second in the UK, have highlighted the dangerous narrowing of the research agenda onto GM and single commodity crops at the expense of more productive and sustainable ways of feeding the world. One of the experts is Peter Melchett of the UK Soil Association, who commented that the successful agroecological method of intercropping was being researched by countries outside the UK but was being ignored in the UK due to its narrow obsession with GM. Peter Melchett made this comment on the new GM debate forum Imascientist.org.uk (please visit it, register, and add your comments – especially as they have selected an unbalanced panel of 3 pro-GM scientists to only 2 GM-sceptical scientists).
+ MONSANTO FACES USD7.5 MILLION PAYOUT TO BRAZILIAN FARMERS
Monsanto may have to pay as much as $7.5 billion to five million Brazilian soy farmers. The company has long dealt out severe legal sanctions against farmers it suspects of "pirating" its seed. But now the farmers have turned the tables on Monsanto, by suing the company and winning.
Up to now, Monsanto has penalized farmers who did not keep GM soy strictly separated from non GM soy. If tests of non-GM soy crops uncovered Roundup Ready soy, Monsanto required farmers to pay a three percent fee.
The biotech industry claims that the farmers either knowingly or unknowingly mix the two strains together. It has long downplayed the allegation that GM seeds spread through pollination or inventory errors, a process known as "genetic contamination. In 2009 a group of rural syndicates from Rio Grande Do Sul, Brazil's southernmost state, took Monsanto to court, charging that separating GM and non-GM soy was virtually impossible and that therefore the "Monsanto tax" was unjust.
In April 2012 a Rio Grande Do Sul judge ruled that Monsanto's fees were illegal and noted that the Roundup Ready seed patent had already expired in the country. The company was not only ordered to stop collecting the royalty fees but to also return all such fees collected since 2004. Such collected royalties amount to $2 billion.
Monsanto appealed the ruling but was dealt another blow on June 12 when the Brazil Supreme Court decided unanimously that whatever the Rio Grande Do Sul courts rule on this matter should apply to the whole of Brazil. This caused the number of plaintiffs to balloon to five million and the total royalty owed to rise to $7.5 billion.
+ WWF FAILS TO BAN BOOK ON WWF'S DEALINGS WITH MONSANTO
WWF has failed in its attempt to ban German award-winning German film maker Wilfried Huismann's "Black Book" on WWF with an interim injunction. The remaining copies from the first edition may be sold unchanged. The book covers the same material as is in Huismann's documentary film, The Silence of the Panda. The film is an expose of WWF's collaboration with Monsanto in corporate greenwash programs such as the Round Table on Responsible Soy, which certifies GM soy sprayed with glyphosate as responsible.
+ "RESPONSIBLE" SOY NOMINATED FOR GREENWASH AWARD
As part of the Big Greenwash Circus organised by Belgian climate campaign group Climaxi, the Round Table on Responsible Soy was nominated for a Greenwash award. At the event, Wilfried Huismann's film, The Silence of the Panda, was screened for the first time in Belgium. The film is currently banned in Germany.
+ UK: OPPOSE PLAN FOR UNTESTED GMOs IN FOOD
GM Freeze and Friends of the Earth have urged the UK's secretary of state for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Caroline Spelman to reject proposals from the European Commission to drop the policy of zero tolerance for unapproved and untested GMOs in food. Proposals from Health and Consumer Commissioner Dalli are expected to set a threshold below which contaminated imports could enter Europe's food chain regardless of the untested nature of the GMOs they contain, mimicking the Commission's abandonment of the zero tolerance policy for unapproved GMOs in animal feed last year.
+ GERMANY TO OPPOSE EASING OF GM TRACE RULE
Germany will oppose any European Union move to allow traces of unapproved GMOs in food, a step the EU has already taken in animal feed. In 2011, the EU adopted new rules allowing traces of unapproved GM material in animal feed imports, to prevent disruption to feed grain imports as GM crops are introduced more quickly in other regions than the EU approves new types.
But German farming and consumer protection Minister Ilse Aigner will oppose any move to end the zero-tolerance rule for unapproved GM content in imports of human food. Aigner believes changing the zero-tolerance rule for food imports would damage the rights of consumers to buy GM-free food if they wish and would also reduce transparency of food labelling.
+ HUNGARY PASSES LAW LIMITING GM CROPS
Hungary's parliament has approved a new regulation that will restrict the GM crops allowed in Hungary, which are currently authorised by the European Union. The law will enable farmers, local communities, local councils and regions to practice their autonomous rights more effectively while backing grassroots initiatives to establish GMO-free regions.
+ PROTESTERS HIT BIO AND THE WORLD FOOD PRIZE
Dressed in contamination suits and waving boxes of children's cereal they say are pumped with GM ingredients, protesters planted themselves outside of the International BIO Convention to fight against a week-long meeting of mega-companies and biotech firms. "We are here to tell them to stop using GMOs. Stop contaminating our food‚ÄÃ®we want organic farms, not giant industrial farms poisoning our people," said Rica Madrid, a member of Occupy Monsanto.
+ U.S.: PESTS DAMAGING GM BT CORN
In Illinois, Bt corn that has been genetically engineered by Monsanto to kill pests is being damaged by those pests instead – and it's weeks earlier than they typically show up. "We're still early in the growing season, and the adults are about a month ahead of schedule," explained Mike Gray, a professor of entomology with the University of Illinois. "I was surprised to see them – and there were a lot."
Last year, farmers in several states found that the western corn rootworm – a major crop pest that has the potential to seriously reduce yields – was surviving after feeding off of Bt corn.
+ INDIA: IS BT COTTON A SUCCESS OR FAILURE?
A conference held in Delhi to review whether Bt cotton has benefited India ended inconclusively. Non-profits, farmers' groups, industry representatives and regulators agreed that the area under cotton cultivation and cotton production has increased in India in the past decade, but how much of this could be attributed to Bt technology was a question no one could answer.
G.V. Ramajaneyulu of the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture (CSA) said that data relating to consumption of pesticide and some micro-studies seem to indicate initial reduction in pesticide use in Bt cotton crops, which are resistant to bollworms. But with increase in attacks from sucking pests and other pests, per acre (0.4 ha) pesticide usage has increased and a dangerous cocktail of pesticides is being used, he added. Official data on pesticide consumption in India, too, does not reflect any decline, except in Andhra Pradesh, where large-scale adoption of non-pesticide management of crops is being followed, he said.
+ IS ADOPTION OF BT COTTON AN INDICATOR OF ITS SUCCESS?
GM proponents argue that the adoption of Bt cotton in India is an indicator of its success. But Kavitha Kuruganti says, "Adoption cannot be an indicator of success or desirability of a technology – pesticides have also been adopted in large quantities by Indian farmers but that by no means makes it a desirable or successful technology. Adoption of Bt cotton is actually an indicator of the failure of a similar technology – chemical pesticides."
Kuruganti reminds us of Glenn Davis Stone's multi-year study of Bt cotton uptake among Indian farmers, which showed that rapid adoption was actually driven by "seed fads" whipped up by suspect marketing on the part of the seed industry and its supporters.
+ STUDY QUESTIONS SUSTAINABILITY OF BT COTTON
Lack of irrigation is one of the major causes leading to cotton farmer suicides in Maharashtra, a new study by the Council of Social Development (CSD) has stated. Commissioned by the Bharat Krishak Samaj, the study has drawn a lot of criticism for being overly optimistic about the impact of Bt cotton in India. Nevertheless, even this study points the finger at the lack of irrigation as the major problem with thirsty Bt cotton. And the overwhelming majority of cotton grown in Maharashtra – over 95% – is unirrigated.
The study, in which farmers and farm labourers were interviewed, says, "70 per cent of the farmers stated that irrigation expenditure was more on Bt cotton than on non-Bt cotton." Though it claims that productivity increased by 4.49 per cent from the pre-Bt to post-Bt period, costs too increased: especially fertilizer costs, which increased from 29 per cent in the pre-Bt period to 71 per cent in the post-Bt period.
What is most disturbing is that the study's findings are even considered news. As long ago as 2005, the dire failure of Bt cotton in Maharashtra triggered a wave of farmer suicides so terrible that it was reported around the world. But that still did not prevent the hyping of Bt cotton to farmers in Vidarbha the following growing season.
In November 2006 the renowned Indian development journalist, P. Sainath, reported on the failure of Bt cotton yet again. And Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti (VJAS), a courageous local grassroots pressure group representing hard pressed farmers in Vidarbha, reported that the majority of farmer suicides there involved Bt cotton.
In 2007 the failure of Bt cotton in Vidarbha was even confirmed by the (pro-GM) Maharashtra agriculture minister. Yet despite this there have been years of ruthless promotion of Bt cotton to the poor debt burdened farmers of Maharashtra, while the industry has orchestrated seed availability so that non-Bt cotton seeds have been difficult, if not impossible, to access.
+ GM PIGS KILLED AFTER FUNDING ENDS
In a sad but necessary end to an unnecessary experiment, Canada's only herd of GM pigs has been killed. The University of Guelph, which holds the patent for the so-called Enviropigs, quietly killed the remaining animals last month after failing to find an industry partner to continue to fund the project that began in 1999 with an ambitious commercialization plan.