from Claire Robinson, WEEKLY WATCH editor
As if the Syngenta illegal GM maize contamination weren't enough, now news has broken of another illegal contamination of the food supply - this time with GM rice from China. No GM rice has yet been approved anywhere in the world, yet this matters little to a GM industry out of control.
The global implications of the rice scandal coming on top of the illegal GM maize scandal in the US are clear. A global GM ban is the only way to protect the public and the environment. In the meantime, a ban on all affected imports is vital. (CONTAMINATION SCANDALS)
Positive news this week from India: the government has deferred a decision on renewing marketing licenses for three Monsanto seeds and fresh approval for nine others, following the widespread failure of Bt cotton (ASIA).
Finally, University of California scientist, Dr Ignacio Chapela, who has faced repeated victimisation because of the couragous way in which he has sought to expose the dire influence of the biotech industry on his university, on scientific enquiry, on public life and on the environment, is about to launch his long-awaited legal action against the administrators of the University of California. We salute Ignacio's tireless fight for justice. (CORPORATE TAKE-OVER OF SCIENCE)
www.gmwatch.org / www.lobbywatch.org
CONTAMINATION SCANDAL: GM RICE FROM CHINA
CONTAMINATION SCANDAL: SYNGENTA MAIZE
CORPORATE TAKE-OVER OF SCIENCE
CAMPAIGN OF THE WEEK: HELP VERMONT!
GM RICE FROM CHINA
+ ILLEGAL GM RICE CONTAMINATES FOOD CHAIN
Greenpeace is calling for an urgent, international product recall after uncovering the illegal release of a variety of GM rice in China. The GM rice has not been approved for human consumption and may have contaminated Chinese rice exports.
"The GE industry is out of control," said Greenpeace's Sze Pang Cheung. "A small group of rogue scientists have taken the world's most important staple food crop into their own hands and are subjecting the Chinese public to a totally unacceptable experiment. We're calling on the Chinese government to take urgent action to recall the unapproved GE rice from the fields and from the food chain, and to conduct an immediate inquiry into the source of the contamination."
Greenpeace discovered unapproved GM rice being sold and grown illegally in the Chinese province of Hubei. Interviews with seed providers and farmers indicate that GM rice seeds have been sold over the past two years. Testing by the international laboratory Genescan has confirmed the presence of GM DNA in 19 samples.
The evidence from the lab, combined with field reports, confirms that some of the illegal GM varieties are Bt Rice. Greenpeace estimates that at least 950 to 1200 tons of GM rice entered the food chain after last year's harvest, and that up to 13,500 tons may enter the food chain after this year unless urgent action is taken.
According to Greenpeace International Scientist, Dr Janet Cotter, this is a serious problem requiring urgent government action: "There are strong warning signs that this GE Bt rice could cause allergenic reactions in humans. It has been shown that the protein produced in Bt rice (called Cry1Ac) may have induced allergenic-type responses in mice. To date, there has been no human food safety testing of Bt rice."
For years, large-scale field trials with Bt rice have been conducted by scientists of the Huazhong Agriculture University in Wuhan, the provincial capital of Hubei.
+ WHERE THE ILLEGAL RICE MAY HAVE GONE WORLDWIDE
Campaigners in the following countries, all of which import rice from China, will want to alert the media, the public and officials to the contamination of rice imports by illegal GM rice that has never undergone any safety assessment: Russia, S Korea, N Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Bangladesh, Macau.
The following European countries import rice from China: France, Netherlands, Germany, Italy, UK, Ireland, Denmark, Greece, Portugal, Spain, Belgium, Sweden, Finland, Austria, Malta, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czech Rep, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Cyprus. Total rice imports from China into the EU in 2003 were 18,317 metric tons.
Detailed figures at http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=5101
+ CHINA INVESTIGATES GREENPEACE FINDING
China has ordered an investigation into Greenpeace's claims that GM rice not approved for human consumption has been sold in central China for two years.
+ UNLICENSED GM RICE MAY BE IN UK FOOD CHAIN
The Guardian reports that unlicensed GM rice sold illegally on the internet to Chinese farmers has been sold for human consumption and may have been imported undetected into the UK.
David Cuming, of Consumers International, said: "The release of untested GMOs into the environment and the food chain is unacceptable, undermining consumer rights to safety, to a healthy and sustainable environment and to information. People need to know that their food is safe."
SYNGENTA'S ILLEGAL MAIZE
+ EU MULLS US TRADE BAN IN ILLEGAL GM MAIZE IMPORT ROW
The EU executive Commission was cited as considering halting imports of GM animal feed from the US in a row with Syngenta over illegal shipments to Europe. Syngenta disclosed in March that some of its maize seeds were mistakenly contaminated between 2001 and 2004 with Bt10, an insect-resistant strain that was not approved by the EU.
Up until now, the Commission has sought to calm fears and leave Washington to carry out the investigation into how the Syngenta biotech maize was contaminated. But repeated refusals by the Swiss firm to hand over information have raised tensions in Brussels.
"We have again emphasised to Syngenta we must have it (detection method) as soon as possible," EU Health and Consumer Protection Commission spokesman Philip Tod told a news conference.
+ EU SET TO BAN US MAIZE FEED
The EU has moved closer to a ban on US maize-based animal feeds after Europe's governments demanded that imports be certified free of unauthorised GM crops. EU member states on 12 April agreed unanimously to proposals requiring that all corn feed shipments from the US are guaranteed not to contain the unauthorised GM maize BT10. The measure would effectively halt all imports for weeks.
+ DON'T RELY ON UNCLE SAM - NATURE EDITORIAL
A perceptive editorial in the journal Nature says European regulators should pursue their own investigation into how the 'wrong' GM corn was allowed on the market for years, since unfortunately, their US equivalents show little sign of rising to the challenge.
Some scientists are shocked that this oversight (illegal Bt10 in the food chain) could have been allowed to persist for so long without detection. One might think that the US federal government, a long-standing champion of agricultural biotechnology, would be hopping mad about the mistake, and keen to get the facts out to satisfy sceptics around the world that it now has the situation firmly under control. Think again.
The USDA, meanwhile, sees itself primarily as a promoter of US agriculture... Its press office could be taking its line straight from Syngenta: 'The system is working,' a departmental spokesman said late last month of a process that has taken four years to unearth the cultivation of an unapproved crop.
The company should be forced to reveal how Bt10 got on to the market in the first place, and why it then took four years to discover the mistake. So far, we've heard nothing on the former, and Syngenta has attributed the belated discovery of its inadvertent release of Bt10 to progress in the technology that it uses to monitor seeds. If true, this explanation will come as news to anyone who had assumed that the agricultural-biotechnology industry had known from the start what transgenes it was putting into its seeds. If the discovery was simply a matter of happenstance, we can have little confidence that similar problems won't occur again.
+ EU SHOULD NOT PUNISH U.S., SAYS USDA
The USDA does not believe the EU would be justified in imposing sanctions over US exports of the unapproved variety of biotech corn (maize) seeds Bt10.
NB: Members of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) used to be given badges to wear proclaiming "BIOTECHNOLOGY IS THE FUTURE OF AGRICULTURE". USDA and successive US administrations are responsible for the permissive regulation and the culture of laxity that this incident reflects. Even when they found out from Syngenta that their rogue corn had been going into the global food supply for four years they kept silent about it. Other countries only found about it via an article on the Nature website. And they don't think there's a problem?
+ EPA, USDA COLLUDE WITH SYNGENTA
The coordinated investigation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and US Dept of Agriculture (USDA) concluded: "EPA and USDA have reviewed scientific information and have concluded that there are no human or animal health or environmental concerns with Bt10 corn."
+ SYNGENTA FINED FOR INTRODUCING UNAUTHORIZED GM CORN INTO US
Syngenta was cited as saying that it had been fined 375,000 dollars (292,000 euros) by US authorities over the unauthorised release of GM corn in the US.
+ EUROPEAN GOVTS CAN FINE SYNGENTA
EU spokesman Philip Tod said the EU's head office had no powers to fine Syngenta, but said national governments in Europe could do so.
CORPORATE TAKE-OVER OF SCIENCE
+ CHAPELA TO LAUNCH LEGAL ACTION
Dr Ignacio Chapela will hold a Press Conference to announce the filing of legal action against the Regents of the University of California on Monday, 18 April, 2005 at 2 pm on the West slope of Hilgard Hall, University of California campus, Berkeley.
Dr Chapela, a microbial ecologist, was denied tenure after years of review by the University of California, under extremely unusual conditions. His situation has received world-wide attention within and outside academia as a path-defining case study of the situation of public universities, the influence of private interests on public research and education, the limits on dissent in scientific research, and the suppression of academic freedom. This case also highlights the role of the biotech industry in our society.
After eight years of internal development of the case within the confines of academia, Prof. Chapela will announce long-awaited legal action against the administrators of the University of California.
For updates and statements see:
http://www.pulseofscience.org (edited by Ignacio Chapela)
http://www.tenurejustice.org (background, updates and actions)
http://www.chapelatenure.org (background, updates and actions)
+ UK: GBP3m SHORTFALL AT JOHN INNES CENTRE
Dozens of scientists at one of Britain's most prestigious laboratories face redundancy after a GBP3m hole was uncovered in its accounts. The John Innes centre in Norwich, a world leading research facility for plant and microbial science, blamed changes in European funding and increased costs.
The centre has been heavily involved in GM research and suffered when the biotech company Syngenta pulled out of a joint initiative in 2002.
Last month, results from the government's field scale trials showed that growing GM oilseed rape in the UK would harm wildlife and the environment, in effect ending the biotech industry's hopes of introducing GM varieties in the foreseeable future.
A JIC spokesperson said the funding crisis was not related to the fading prospects for GM crops in Britain but, interestingly, the local Member of Parliament, Dr Ian Gibson, who is close to the JIC, has blamed its difficulties in obtaining funding on "the current public ill feeling over genetically modified crops" and the collapse of a multi million pound deal with GM giant Syngenta.
The JIC's director, Chris Lamb, was warned time and again that putting so many of the institute's eggs in the GM basket was both dangerous and futile, given the lack of not just a public mandate but even of a market for GM foods.
His overcommitment to GM has been the more unfortunate given that attractive alternative applications of science in agriculture (such as the use of gene mapping and molecular markers to speed up conventional plant breeding) have been crying out for more support.
Doubtless, those who now have to pay the price for this strategic blunder will not be those who forced the JIC up its GM cul de sac!
+ PRAKASH HAS A MAKE-OVER: AGBIOWORLD PAINTS IT BLACK
CS Prakash has announced a "Redesigned AgBioWorld Website". As part of the make-over the site is now adorned with pensive-looking African children - their staring eyes doubtless hungry for the fruits of biotech.
Who undertook the latest make-over is unclear but we know who undertook the last one - Monsanto's Internet PR company Bivings. Funnily enough, Monsanto's Internet homepage also used to be adorned with the faces of Third World children. It was part of an Internet campaign that proved unpersuasive and led to the use of independent-seeming third parties to imprint the same message.
Extracts from 3 articles about CS Prakash, his website and Monsanto's use of the Internet as part of what George Monbiot has called its covert biotech war are at
+ UN ENVIRONMENT PROGRAM PEDDLING CRUDE PROPAGANDA FOR GM
New Zealand scientist Dr Robert Mann takes the UN Environment Program to task for peddling crude pro-GM propaganda in its report, "An introduction to the Cartegena Biosafety Protocol". It tries to equate GM with selective breeding ("Genetic manipulation is not new. For millennia, farmers have relied on selective breeding and cross-fertilization...") and ignores worrying research results on GM foods and crops.
+ FORMER GM SCIENTIST TELLS WHY GM CROPS ARE SCIENTIFICALLY UNSOUND
Former GM crop scientist Dr James MacGregor has told CS Prakash on his AgBioView listserv why he retired from the field on scientific grounds. Here is part of what he had to say:
... All bio-engineered organisms created in a laboratory environment are done so under strict containment conditions, thus, preventing the escape and proliferation of untested experimental bio-engineered organisms with unknown consequences...
However, it is proposed by scientists to release GM crops into the environment without biological controls on artificial transgene dispersal. Further to this artificial bio-engineered gene constructs will also undergo mutation and evolution to an end we are not aware of, making safety assessment of GM crops a snapshot theoretical exercise lacking in longevity. One cannot safety assess what has not yet evolved.
It appears that the safety guidelines so rigourously practised by scientists under laboratory conditions are not proposed to be expanded and practised in the wider environment in relation to releases of bio-engineered GM crops.
Could you explain this apparent double standard in scientific safety conduct? One might consider that even more stringent safety controls would be enforced in the natural environment than in the laboratory environment, after all we do not have a backup.
+ CHINA: 57 PERCENT WOULD NOT BUY GM FOODS
In a survey carried out in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou in 2004, 62 per cent of the 600 respondents know about GM foods and 57 per cent said they would not buy it - a big leap from 52 per cent and 40 per cent in 2003, respectively.
A poll on the sina.com, one of China's portal websites, shows that nearly 82 per cent of the 6,937 respondents are against the promotion of transgenic rice, which might be planted in large areas for commercial purposes this year.
+ INDIA'S DRAFT SEED BILL MAY BE DELAYED
The Indian agriculture ministry's attempt to rush through the draft National Seed Bill may be delayed. Acting on a representation made by a farmers' organisation, the chairperson of the National Advisory Council, Sonia Gandhi, directed the ministry to reconsider certain clauses in the proposed draft that are likely to hamper the interests of farmers.
Opposition comes from the All India Farmers' Council, the farmers' outfit of the ruling Congress party, Bharat Krishak Samaj (BKS). The BKS leader, Dr Krishna Bir Chaudhary, in a letter to Ms Gandhi, had said: "The bill is a clear trap to curb the traditional and indigenous rights of our peasantry to grow, breed, multiply, preserve and exchange seeds. The seed bill is wholly incongruous. Sinister as it is, it will demolish the time tested agrarian culture and the socio-economic fabric of the rural India that has for centuries worked faultlessly and sustained our small and marginal farmers, having even less than two acres of land. 83% farmers use their own farm-saved seeds. In one stroke, the National Seed Bill on enactment will reduce 36 crore farming families into pathetic non-entity and make them captive at the mercy of seed multinationals, aided and abetted by the unabashed and insensitive state machinery."
The bill's delay is a huge embarrassment for India's ruling party. While its agriculture minister hypes GM to the skies, its own All India Farmers' Council has called for a ban on GMOs "for all times to come".
+ MORE MONSANTO GM COTTON HYPE IN INDIA
Monsanto is hyping another survey claiming big benefits for farmers from its GM cotton in India, with Andhra Pradesh being showcased as a particularly successful state. Yet nowhere in India is Bt cotton talked of as more of a disaster than in Andhra Pradesh!
The latest Monsanto survey claims a 163% greater net profit for farmers who grew GM cotton, compared to those with non-GMO varieties.
But as a press release from scientists at the the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture in Andhra Pradesh points out, "most reports pouring in from independent sources" and from the media, and even in some cases from government sources, seem to point to the failure of Bt Cotton to provide any benefits to farmers.
The surveys that claim big Bt benefits have consistently been commissioned or assisted by Monsanto's Indian joint venture - Monsanto-Mahyco Biotech India Ltd (MMB).
+ BT COTTON RUINED ANDHRA PRADESH FARMERS, SAY NGOs
A group of NGOs have asked the Indian government not to extend the licence of Mahyco Monsanto, alleging GM cotton seeds introduced by the company had produced poor crops in Andhra Pradesh.
A report based on the group's three-year study claimed Bt cottonseeds had harmed farmers, and Mahyco Monsanto failed to keep promises made while bringing the seeds into India. The group also demanded compensation for the farmers. The report, "Bt Cotton in Andhra Pradesh - a three-year assessment", was prepared by Hyderabad-based Deccan Development Society (DDS) after meetings with farmers using Bt cotton seeds.
+ INDIA DELAYS LICENSES FOR MONSANTO'S SEEDS
The Indian government on 13 April deferred a decision on renewing marketing licenses for three Monsanto seeds and fresh approval for nine others, jeopardizing sales of the transgenic seeds for the sowing season beginning June, a Monsanto official said. The decision was deferred on account of adverse reports from Andhra Pradesh government.
+ BT COTTON DISASTER HIGHLIGHTS NEED FOR STRONG LEGISLATION
Indian and European Biosafety experts agree that urgent action is needed to improve India's biosafety laws in order to protect farmers, consumers and the environment from the risks of GMOs. Following a two-day dialogue hosted by Navdanya Trust and funded by the EU-India Small Projects Facility, Biosafety experts identified several areas where Indian legislation was clearly failing farmers, and could be improved by looking at laws established in Europe.
"The regulatory system failed to protect farmers from the widespread disaster of Monsanto's Bt cotton in Andhra Pradesh," says Dr G.V. Ramanjanevulu of the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture in Andhra Pradesh. "The systems are not transparent and data is not shared with the public. Reports from independent surveys show failure and that the government accepted this in two of the three years. Cases of tampering of data have also been observed. There is no accountability on the company for the failure. During approval the GEAC is not giving an ear to farmer and public concerns."
+ BT COTTON INFECTS SOIL, FAILS ON ALL FRONTS, SAYS STUDY
Despite claims that Bt cotton provides socio-economic benefits, a new study reveals that it infected soil and no other crop could grow after the Bt cotton crop was harvested. The study, which tracked GM Bt cotton for three years in Andhra Pradesh, shows that it has failed on all fronts including yield, cost of cultivation, returns to farmers and resistance to pests. The non-Bt cotton performed better on all counts.
"There are negative returns on every count other than pesticide use in Bt cotton crop," said Mr P V Satheesh, convener of AP Coalition on Defence of Diversity and Director of Deccan Development Society, which sponsored the study.
The study shows that Bt cotton infected the soil and no other crop could grow after the Bt cotton crop was harvested. In contrast, the soil of the non-Bt cotton was friendly to other crops like chilli. "This is an early warning and needs to be researched by soil scientists and plant pathologists," said Satheesh.
+ INDIANS TO PROTEST "ANTI-POOR" GLOBAL TRADE SYSTEM
Indians will join the Global Week of Action on Trade beginning 10 April to protest an ''unjust'' world trade system that is leading to increasing inequalities. Industrial and agricultural workers, farmers, child rights activists and health rights activists of 20 states will organise protest rallies in rural and urban centres, says organisers of the event in India.
An alternative food festival in Kerala to highlight the impact of GM food on people's health, a cycle rally in Tamil Nadu and burning of effigies representing WTO in Rajasthan are being planned during the protest week.
+ US AWASH WITH EXPERIMENTAL GM CROPS - NEW REPORT
The US is awash with poorly regulated experimental GM crops, a new report from the Texas Public Interest Research Group (TexPIRG) makes clear. More than 47,000 field tests were authorized between 1987 and 2004 by the US Department of Agriculture - a government agency many consider little more than the marketing branch of the industry it's supposed to be regulating. Crops tested include corn, cotton, rice and potato.
This casts new light on US plans to routinely allow unapproved GM proteins that contaminate US food crops and hence exports.
The report, "Raising Risk: Field Testing of Genetically Engineered Crops in the US", also reveals that nearly 70% of all field tests conducted in the last year now contain secret genes classified as "Confidential Business Information," which means that the public has no access to information about the experiments being conducted in their communities.
+ US's BIGGEST RICE BUYER TO BOYCOTT MISSOURI's RICE CROP IF PHARMA RICE PLANTED
Commodity-buying behemoth Anheuser-Busch Cos. has vowed to boycott Missouri's 30 million-bushel rice crop if Ventria BioScience's genetically altered, drug-making plants are grown in the state. The beer maker, the country's single largest rice buyer, told Missouri growers it would not buy their rice if the firm wins permission to plant about 150 acres of pharmaceutical grain in the rice-rich Bootheel region.
"Anheuser-Busch holds the trump card. If they say they're not going to buy any rice if this (pharmaceutical) rice is planted, then don't plant," said Dan Jennings, a grower from Sikeston, Mo., who had previously supported the experimental crop.
+ CLONED COWS YUMMY AND SAFE, SAY CLONING SCIENTISTS
Cattle-cloning scientists at the University of Connecticut say milk and meat from cloned animals are safe for human consumption.
A National Academy of Sciences report said last year that while the food would not likely make anyone sick, more research should be performed. The Connecticut researchers published their results in the April 11 online issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Watchdog groups like Consumers Union worry the FDA's animal-cloning regulations will mimic the agency's GM crops protocol, which is voluntary. Biotech companies such as Monsanto typically summarize information about their GM crops for the FDA, but are not required to do so by law. The FDA does not provide its own independent review.
+ OREGON SENATE CONSIDERS PHARM CROP BAN
Lawmakers are considering a temporary ban on growing food crops in Oregon that are biologically engineered to produce drugs or chemicals, such as vaccines. Supporters of the bill say it would protect Oregon farmers from potentially harmful crop contamination. Oregon would become the first state to ban the crops.
+ EPA GRUDGINGLY PULLS PLUG ON "CHEERS" STUDY
In a defensively worded statement, Stephen Johnson, Acting Administrator for the US Environmental Protection Agency announced the end of the CHEERS study, in which parents were paid to spray pesticides in the rooms occupied by their infant children under age 3. Johnson did not admit any ethical problems with the study but concluded without explanation that the study could not "go forward in an atmosphere absent of gross misrepresentation and controversy." US Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Bill Nelson (D-FL) had previously announced that they would hold Johnson's confirmation as EPA Administrator unless he cancelled CHEERS.
For taking part in these studies, each family would have received $970, a free video camera, a T-shirt, and a framed certificate of appreciation. (Of course, low income American families are getting no rewards for feeding their kids unlabelled GMOs, nor is anyone bothering to monitor either the short or the long-term effects of ingesting them.)
Behind the study were the American Chemistry Council whose members include Bayer, Dow, DuPont and Monsanto. GM Watch subscribers petitioned against the study.
CAMPAIGN OF THE WEEK
+ US: HELP PASS VERMONT FARMER PROTECTION ACT
Vermont campaigners need your help. They write:
Vermont (USA) is nearing the end of its 2004 legislative session. We have successfully passed the Right to Know bill, which will require clear labeling of GE seeds and will require manufacturers to report to the state about how much GE seed is sold here each year.
However, we are still fighting the battle in Vermont! We want to get the Farmer Protection Act passed before the year is out. This bill has already passed in the Vermont Senate, but we need it to pass also in the Vermont House before it can go to the Governor for enactment. This bill would protect ALL farmers from gene contamination lawsuits! It is landmark legislation, and would help us all in our global struggle.
The problem is that the Vermont legislators don't understand how important this bill is to YOU. It is NOT common for our legislators to read national or international news. Because of this, they are getting worn down. The administration here is opposed to this bill, and the biotech lobbyists are working hard to threaten and coerce our legislators.
PLEASE SEND a message of hope and encouragement to our key allies in the Vermont Statehouse. You can send the same message to the legislators listed below. These are only a few of our strong champions, and they need all the encouragement they can get.
Our legislative session will likely end by May 15, so your email TODAY is urgently needed! Speak from your heart and tell them why their courage and action is important to you. If you are working on a campaign, tell them about it! Thank them for all they have done so far, and encourage them to stand up for all family farmers across the world!
In your subject line, please write: From _(your state/country)_ - Please pass the Farmer Protection Act!
Here is the list of key lawmakers:
THANK YOU for taking the time to send this email. Please spread the word and let these lawmakers know they are on the front lines of the battle against big biotech!
WEEKLY WATCH number 119
from Claire Robinson, WEEKLY WATCH editor