GMWATCH MONTHLY REVIEW No. 97
From Claire Robinson, Monthly Review editor
FOOD, CLIMATE, AGRICULTURE
GM APPLICATIONS / EXPANSIONS
NEW REPORT ON GMOs
REST OF THE MONTH'S NEW IN BRIEF
+ MASSIVE MOBILISATION FOR GMO LABELING IN U.S.
Between October 1 16, marchers from all across the US will be walking from New York City to the White House, in Washington DC, demanding labeling of all GM foods, in the GMO Right2Know March. The march is the first of its kind in America.
Consumer surveys show that overwhelming majorities (over 90%) of U.S. citizens consistently say that GM content should be disclosed – as documented by a new campaign to require the labeling of GM foods, called Just Label It!
Obama promised to label GMOs
Excellent discussion of the labelling issue by Doug Gurian-Sherman http://blog.ucsusa.org/just-label-it
+ CHINA SAYS "NO" TO COMMERCIALISATION OF GM RICE
After several years of scientific and public debates, it has been reported that China will not commercialise GM staple food crops such as rice and wheat for the next 5 to 10 years. Greenpeace said that the move shows that relevant government departments have heard and respected public opinion. China's decision debunks the longstanding claim of the GM lobby that China is forging ahead with GMOs and the rest of the world will be left behind if it doesn't jump on the biotech train.
+ INDIA'S BIOTECH BILL AGAINST THE SPIRIT OF GANDHI – SWAMINATHAN
On the 142nd birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, noted agricultural scientist M.S. Swaminathan told the Times of India that the proposed Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) bill is against the spirit of Gandhi. "The bill has a single-window clearance for the release of genetically modified crops. Unlike the National Biodiversity Act, the BRAI bill does not consult with people at the panchayat level [the level of local self-government]," said Swaminathan. Swaminathan is widely known as the "Father of the Green Revolution in India". He is pro-GM and led the Agri Biotech Task Force set up by India's Ministry of Agriculture to make recommendations on the regulation of GM crops. This makes his condemnation of the BRAI bill all the more powerful.
Record-breaking protest against the BRAI bill:
Former minister slams BRAI bill as anti-farmer and anti-people
+ WE REALLY ARE WHAT WE EAT – STUDY
We incorporate genetic information from the food we eat and ingested nucleic acids, such as DNA and RNA, can have physiological influences, shows a new study. The study has implications for any animal or human that eats a GM food. In fact, it brings new light to the old truism, "You are what you eat". The study is also another nail in the coffin of the already discredited safety assessment process for GM foods in the EU and elsewhere, which do not consider the effects described. GM foods are not generally tested for longer than 90 days and even these tests are not compulsory.
- Zhang L, Hou D, Chen X, et al. Exogenous plant MIR168a specifically targets mammalian LDLRAP1: evidence of cross-kingdom regulation by microRNA. Cell Res. Sep 20 2011.
+ FERAL GM CANOLA ESTABLISHED AND PERSISTENT
Feral populations of GM canola are large and widespread, according to a new study based in in North Dakota, USA. The study also found novel combinations of GM traits in the wild. Moreover, flowering times of escaped populations, as well as the fertile condition of the majority of collections suggest that these populations are established and persistent outside of cultivation.
Dr Brian John of GM Free Cymru commented: "This article – surprisingly the first one to test the impact of GM canola escapes into the wild in the USA – knocks on the head one of the GM industry's main arguments about 'feral GM plant populations', namely that these populations have no competitive advantage, and that they do not have sufficient 'fitness' to compete with wild populations of related plant species. The authors show that outcrossing does occur, and that complex GM hybridisation is going on in the wild, in a totally uncontrollable way."
+ SOIL MOISTURE AND DEPTH IMPACT GM COTTON
A new study from India shows that the soil that Bt cotton plants are grown in affects its performance. The study is published in the peer-reviewed journal Current Science says that the quantity of toxin exuded within a Bt cotton plant sowed in deep soil was nearly three times as much as that of shallow soil and there was marked reduction in the amount of toxin (which combats pests) that was present in the plant during the months of October and November, when most of the cotton is matured and most vulnerable to pest attacks.
The paper, "Cry1Ac expression in transgenic Bt cotton hybrids is influenced by soil moisture and depth", is available here: http://www.ias.ac.in/currsci/forthcoming/RC69.pdf
+ BT COTTON CROP WASHED AWAY IN INDIA
Heavy rain has destroyed Bt cotton crops in Vidarbha, India's farmer suicide belt. Farmers say that with native species, even if flowering failed due to excessive rain early in the season, they would still have some yield since the plants would flower again. But Bt cotton flowers only once and failure means re-sowing the expensive seeds.
+ U.S.: PEST RESURGENCE CASTS DOUBT ON GM CORN
Rootworms have damaged GM corn plants in Minnesota and other states, and research suggests the rootworms have developed immunity to the insecticide in Monsanto's GM corn. Officials at Monsanto deny that the pest is developing a resistance to the protein. Instead, they contend that overwhelming numbers of rootworms are to blame for the damage.
Critics say Monsanto is underplaying the threat. They point out that Monsanto used similar tactics eight years ago when weeds resistant to Monsanto herbicides appeared. Monsanto officials now acknowledge there are resistant weeds. It's estimated they've spread to more than 10 million acres of US farmland.
+ GM CANOLA: IS ANYONE BUYING IT?
Grain traders and the Western Australia government are refusing to divulge how much of the GM canola grown in WA last year has been sold, amid reports that sales have been sluggish. While AWB, an Australian grain corporation, claims the lack of market interest is due to low oil content and the poor finish to the growing season”‰-”‰and not the GM factor”‰ non-GM canola varieties are fetching up to $50 per tonne more than GM canola.
While Hansard reveals that WA Minister for Agriculture Terry Redman told parliament that grain traders advised the Department of Agriculture and Food that a significant proportion of the 49,000 tonnes of GM canola grown last year had sold, exactly how much remains unsold, sitting in silos, has proved difficult to uncover.
GE Free NZ commented, "Farmers are learning a hard lesson in Western Australia and are switching back to GM-free canola after GM canola sales have floundered. Western Australian Minister for Agriculture Terry Redman has announced that canola yields and quality suffered severely because of weather conditions and he was advised that 'none of this GM canola has been sold at this point'."
+ FEDERAL FUNDING OF FRANKENFISH EXPOSED
A corporation that has launched a for-profit venture to raise GM salmon has received $1.95 million in federal research grants at taxpayer expense, according to Food and Water Watch.
The revelation followed on the heels of an article in Grist that exposed how AquaBounty Technology recently received $494,000 to study technologies that would render the GM salmon sterile. "After digging up federal records, we discovered that in addition to the USDA grant, AquaBounty Technologies has received almost $2 million dollars in federal research grants since 2003," said Lauren Wright of Food and Water Watch.
+ TOLERANCE FOR FRANKENFISH FALLING IN CANADA
Support for GM fish and animals is on the decline in Canada as more consumers grow sceptical of the federal government's ability to regulate GMOs, a government-commissioned poll has found.
Thirteen per cent of Canadians said they approve of GM fish as long as the usual level of government oversight and control is in place – an 11-point drop from five years ago. And more Canadians this year do not approve of GM fish, except under very special circumstances – 37 per cent compared with 24 per cent in 2006. Only nine per cent approve of GM animals as long as the usual government oversight is in place, down from 14 per cent in 2006. Twenty-nine per cent do not approve of GM animals under any circumstance, a jump of eight points in five years.
The survey, carried out in February and considered accurate to within 3.4 per cent, 19 times out of 20, cites "some erosion" in confidence in the government's safety and regulatory systems for biotechnology and a widening "regulatory gap" in dealing with new technologies for the growing scepticism.
+ "EXTENDED LIFE" RICE COULD QUADRUPLE YIELDS, CUT COSTS
A Bangladeshi scientist has developed new rice varieties with an extended life cycle that can produce up to three crops from one plant. Their yield could be four times higher than traditional varieties, helping boost food security in South Asia and beyond. The cultivation method for the multi-crop rice also produces less greenhouse gas emissions than traditional paddy farming, in which plants produce only one harvest, and makes them more resilient to excessive rainfall. The new rice types are neither hybrid nor GM, and are similar to traditional varieties developed by the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute.
NOTE: For more on how non-GM plant breeding is streets ahead of GM, despite all the industry's hype to the contrary, see: http://www.gmwatch.org/component/content/article/31-need-gm/12348-introduction
+ BT COTTON FOSTERING ILLEGAL CHILD LABOUR?
Bt cotton is fostering illegal child labour in India, according to an article in the Times of India. The article says that plants producing Bt cotton seeds require children of low height for artificial pollination, leading to child labour.
+ ROUNDUP, THE ALL-ROUND DESTROYER – GERMAN PRESS ARTICLE
The popular herbicide Roundup was once regarded as a harmless miracle product – now it is suspected of causing malformations in human beings, says an in-depth German press article about the recent Earth Open Source report, "Roundup and birth defects: Is the public being kept in the dark?"
FOOD, CLIMATE, AGRICULTURE
+ NEW REPORT LINKS FOOD, CLIMATE, AGRICULTURAL POLICIES
A new report, "The Wheel of Life: Food, Climate, Human Rights and the Economy", draws attention to common myths on which support for conventional production-oriented solutions for agriculture are based. Among these myths are that hugely enhanced food production will be required in the future, that GM seeds are needed to solve hunger and mitigate climate change, and that traditional agriculture is wasteful and inefficient.
To remedy social injustices, climate change, and agriculture, The Wheel of Life argues that political action is needed that incorporates social and ecological needs. And it notes that while governments dither on climate change and agricultural reform, agribusiness is already positioning its products as the preferred solutions.
The strategy proposed by The Wheel of Life is to incorporate civil society input into political and economic discussions. Some countries, such as Germany, already have productive dialogues with civil society, but in the US and Britain, for example, interactions are negligible.
GM APPLICATIONS / EXPANSIONS
+ AMID CONTROVERSY, BRAZIL APPROVES FIRST VIRUS-RESISTANT GM BEAN
In a ludicrously unscientific process, Brazil's biosafety committee has approved a virus-resistant GM bean for commercialisation. The decision to release the bean was taken by just 15 people. And the health studies in support of the approval consisted of tests on just 3 lab rats, far too small a sample to draw any statistically valid conclusions. Even so, ill effects were found in the GM-fed rats (notably the liver and kidney toxicity also seen in other independent studies on GM foods).
NEW REPORT ON GMOs
+ GM CROPS: FAILED TECHNOLOGY WITH WEAK OVERSIGHT
A new report by Food and Water Watch (FWW) on the destructive impacts of GMOs added fuel to a two-decades-long fight by farmers, economists and experts against the US FDA's conclusions. "Genetically Engineered Food: An Overview" finds that GM crops do not outperform their natural counterparts, that their proliferation has caused a slew of environmental and health crises, and that they have actually increased poverty by forcing millions of farmers to "buy" patented seeds at exorbitant prices.
The report also says that three US federal agencies the FDA, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are complicit in these crises due to shoddy oversight, weak enforcement of regulations and a complete absence of coordination.
It found that the agribusiness lobby spent half a billion dollars between 1999 and 2009 on lobbying to ease GM regulatory oversight, push GM approvals and prevent GM labeling. This, after attorney Steven Druker in 1999 obtained 40,000 pages of FDA files containing "memorandum after memorandum warning about the hazards of (GM) food," including the likelihood that they contained "toxins, carcinogens or allergens" and testified that GM foods violated "sound science and US law".
+ WANGARI MAATHAI
With many others, we mourn the loss of Wangari Maathai, the environmental heroine who was beaten, tear-gassed and whipped as she took to the streets in protests against environmental damage in Kenya in the '80s and '90s, and who then went on to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her work. She spoke out against Monsanto and its patented seeds, and in support of placing the food supply firmly in the control of farmers and the people rather than corporations. There's a good article about her life and work here:
Dining In The Dark – great video via Environmental Working Group and the Just Label It campaign http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uz-Lve6xJsE&feature=youtu.be
Obama, keep your promise! – to label GMOs
REST OF THE MONTH'S NEWS IN BRIEF
For those who do not receive GMWatch Reviews
+ GM PAPAYAS DID NOT SAVE HAWAII'S PAPAYA INDUSTRY
For years, the GM lobby has claimed that GM ringspot virus-resistant papayas saved the papaya industry in Hawaii. But an article in the Chinese press casts doubt on this. The article quotes Hawaii's Dept of Agriculture as saying that the annual yield of papayas in 2009 remained lower than when the ringspot virus was at its peak. The article also says that Hawaii's non-GM and organic papaya farmers have been driven out of existence by contamination from GM papayas and that now contamination is occurring in Hong Kong. An article from 2006 confirms that the Hawaiian papaya industry has been in decline since 2002, just four years after GM papaya were introduced. Several possible causes are named, among them consumer rejection of GM papayas.
+ MONSANTO DENIES SUPERINSECT SCIENCE
Monsanto has responded to the news that pests have developed resistance to its GM (ostensibly) bug-killing corn with a flat denial of the science. "Our [Bt corn] is effective," Monsanto scientist Dusty Post insisted in an interview with the St Louis Post-Dispatch. "We don't have any demonstrated field resistance," he added, pretending away a entire study conducted in Iowa, to speak nothing the cornfields that are "toppling over" in Illinois and and Minnesota. Marcia Ishii-Eiteman has explained in a separate article how such failures of GM crops simply generate more business for GM firms, which get to sell stronger chemicals to control the resistant pests.
+ HUNDREDS RALLY AGAINST GMOs IN BOULDER COUNTY, COLORADO
Hundreds of people holding signs and wearing pins and stickers – some saying, "Hey GMOs, stop trying to get in my plants" – gathered in front of the Boulder County Courthouse in Colorado to support banning GM crops on open space land.
+ SUIT OVER GM FOODS LABELLED "NATURAL" COULD OPEN LITIGATION FLOODGATES
A class action lawsuit which has been filed against food giant ConAgra for labeling its cooking oils as "All-Natural", even though some allegedly come from GMOs, could open the floodgates to litigation against many companies which make "Natural" claims for their food products.
+ MONSANTO'S DISHONEST MEDIA CAMPAIGN OVER BT COTTON EXPOSED
In August, the Times of India re-ran a three-year-old story hyping Bt cotton, without any updates, as paid news. The Mahyco Monsanto article claimed there had been no farmer suicides in two Bt-cotton growing villages, but this was not true.
+ DOES KENYA NEED GM CROPS?
Kenya's newly passed Biosafety Act, which allows for the importation of GM crops, has been met with opposition by environmental groups, high-ranking Kenyan parliamentarians, and small-scale subsistence farmers, who fear that the importation of GM seeds could contaminate existing seed stocks and decrease food security.
+ DEFRA APPROVES GM WHEAT TRIAL FOR UK
UK farm ministry Defra has approved a GM wheat trial at Rothamsted Research, Hertfordshire. The wheat has been genetically modified to produce hormonal chemicals called pheromones, which act as "alarm signals" to decoy aphids away from the crop.
+ FRENCH GM CROP BAN CHALLENGED ON A TECHNICALITY – BUT FRANCE WILL KEEP BAN
The Court of Justice of the European Union has challenged a French national ban on the cultivation of Monsanto's GM maize MON810 on a technicality. Greenpeace has urged France to improve the legal details of its ban as soon as possible. France has announced that it will keep its ban.
+ ORGANIC FARMING SUPERIOR TO CHEMICAL – 30-YEAR STUDY
Organic agriculture has been found to outperform chemical ("conventional") farming on just about every parameter that matters in a 30-year trial run by the Rodale Institute in the US. Key findings showed:
*Organic yields match or surpass conventional yields.
*Organic yields outperform conventional yields in years of drought.
*Organic farming systems build rather than deplete soil organic matter, making it a more sustainable system.
*Organic farming uses 45 percent less energy and is more efficient.
*Conventional agricultural systems produce 40 percent more greenhouse gases.
*Organic farming systems are more profitable than conventional farming systems.
Rodale concluded, "organic methods are improving the quality of our food, the health of our soils and water, and the conditions of our nation's rural areas. Organic agriculture creates more jobs, provides a livable income for farmers, and can restore America's confidence in our farming community and food system." The study raises questions about why we are even bothering with trying to extend the life of the defunct chemical model of farming with GM crops.