from Claire Robinson, WEEKLY WATCH editor


Dear all:

This week we have reports on the outcome of the latest Biosafety Protocol (MOP3) meeting in Brazil (BIOSAFETY PROTOCOL).

The villains of the occasion were Mexico and Paraguay, which blocked and then watered down an important consensus on labeling of GMOs. Paraguay should be particularly ashamed, since some of its citizens came to MOP3 to give first-hand reports of the horrific effects of pesticide poisoning from the spraying of the country's vast GM soy monocultures (THE AMERICAS).

The "Celtic Lad" - "Canadian public servant" and pro-GM blogger Shane Morris, whose agenda is to get GM spuds planted in Ireland, has been up to more tricks (LOBBYWATCH).

And there have been renewed calls for GM food safety testing in the wake of the GM drug disaster in the UK (GM MEDICINES, FOOD SAFETY).

Also in the UK, the latest "peerages for cash" sleaze scandal enveloping Tony Blair places two biotech peers and a biotech knight in the very centre of the row (EUROPE).

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Until 2012, the identification of imported and exported genetically modified grains will not be mandatory among signatory countries of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. Identification will be made according to each country's technical capacity.

The agreement was signed 17 March at the end of the third meeting of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (MOP3) in Curitiba, Brazil. "The final decision reflects a scenario where this type of international forum for decisions is growingly dominated by transnational companies that hold power over the countries", according to Maria Rita Reis of the NGO Terra de Direitos, who participated in the meetings.

Delegates from Mexico and Paraguay were the only ones among the 96 countries who are signatories of the protocol who were against the decision to label transgenic products with the expression "contains" or "may contain". Mexico buys 3 million tons of GM maize a year from the United States.

According to Maria Rita Reis, among the signatory countries of the Protocol, countries that already separate transgenic from non-genetically modified products will adopt as of now the expression "contains" to label international shipping. In dealings between a signatory and a non-signatory country, the expression "may contain" will be used.

Mexico and Paraguay waited until Friday, the last day of the Third Meeting of the Parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (MOP3), to present new proposals to modify the text that had been under negotiation since Monday, thus prolonging the five-day gathering.

Adrian Bebb of FoE comments: "Paraguay were acting on orders from Argentina, and Mexico were worried about their trade agreements with the US and Canada. The Agreement that was made is not brilliant. However it does represent a step forward after the collapse we saw last year. The Protocol can now be implemented, albeit weakly, but that should be taken as a positive step for developing countries."

Hunger-stricken countries in East Africa say they will continue to reject GM food aid until effective labelling is in place.


In the latest sleaze row involving Tony Blair proposing peerages for undisclosed financial supporters of his Labour Party, some journalists have noted that financially supporting Blair may not only buy you a peerage but even access to government!

And how's this for a coincidence? Of the top three personal donors to Blair's Party, two - Paul Drayson and David Sainsbury - are biotech entrepreneurs. Both have been made peers by Blair in controversial circumstances and both have been given jobs in government.

When Drayson was made a peer, a Guardian editorial commented, 'It may be unkind to Lord Drayson to suggest that he effectively purchased a seat in parliament, but if the same thing happened in an African kleptocracy we might find it altogether less amusing.'

Drayson is the former head of the BioIndustry Association. He first made a substantial donation to Labour while the Ministry of Defence was deciding who should be awarded a smallpox vaccine contract. Drayson gave a further donation of half a million pounds to Labour just six weeks after the PM made him Lord Drayson.

Still more controversially, the Blair government awarded Drayson's then biotech company, PowderJect, the GBP32million smallpox vaccine contract without any competition. Drayson was then made a minister by Blair in the Ministry of Defence!

Lord Sainbury, as The Sunday Times has commented, has been "a never-to-be-reshuffled minister" - in the same post as Science Minister since 1998. Not that he's purchased a job for life, you understand. Drayson - aka 'Lord Smallpox' - is widely tipped as his successor.

Also - lo and behold - there's yet another biotech entrepreneur amongst the businessmen caught up in the latest scandal about concealed loans. Chris Evans was previously knighted for his services to the bioscience sector. His firm is currently under investigation by the Serious Fraud Office.

For a largely loss-making niche industry, biotech certainly gets major representation among Blair's financial backers. But then, like George Bush, they've a lot to be grateful for!

"The much anticipated biotech revival fizzled - worst performing IPOs [Initial Public Offerings of shares]: Hands down the worst performing deals in 2003 were biotech and specialty pharmaceutical issues. Despite the initial hype, the so-called 'biotech boomlet' could probably be more accurately described as a 'biotech bust'". - Renaissance Capital's 2003 Annual IPO Review

At a 22 March webcast conference, "When Corporations Come to Campus", University of Lancaster students talked about their appeal against convictions for protesting against the commercialisation of research. Among the speakers was Dr Ignacio Chapela of Berkeley, whose story is seen as one of the most shocking examples of the corporate attempt to censor science.

"When Corporations Come to Campus" aimed to promote debate about the consequences of corporate ties to academia upon the independence and integrity of university research - something that the George Fox Six were hoping to do when they protested at the Corporate Venturing conference at Lancaster University in September 2004.

In 2005, Lancaster University succeeded in having the six protestors (four of them its own students) convicted for taking part in this short non-violent protest.

The Corporate Venturing conference aimed to encourage closer links between business and the university. Lord Sainsbury, the UK science minister, was the keynote speaker. Delegates included representatives from arms firm BAE Systems, as well as oil giant Shell and biotech firm Du Pont.

*The George Fox Six need financial support in the wake of the court case. Find out more at


The pain and suffering of victims of toxic agrochemicals invaded the international negotiations on biosafety in Curitiba, Brazil with the accounts of a Paraguayan mother whose son died from herbicide poisoning and local residents of a neighbourhood in Cordoba, Argentina facing a severe health crisis caused by the fumigation of surrounding fields.

Ninety minutes before the start of a panel on "Victims of Agribusiness at the Biodiversity Summit", Paraguayan activist Petrona Villasboa was describing to IPS News the circumstances of the death of her 11-year-old son Silvino Talavera when Brazil's federal police interrupted her.

The police were trying to detain two foreign activists from the groups that organised the panel - the Rural Reflection Group from Argentina and the Network for a Transgenic-Free Latin America - on charges that they had entered the country illegally. The police alleged that irregularities had been committed by people entering the venue where MOP3 was being held, and that they were thus checking the documents of those taking part in the "Victims of Agribusiness" panel.

The police action was called off after Brazilian diplomats and officials from the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity intervened.

Villasboa's son was sprayed when one arm of a machine fumigating a nearby field jutted into the road along which he was riding his bike. Silvino was carrying a package of meat that he had just bought. The contaminated meat was eaten by the family, and after the meal, Silvino said he had a stomach ache and felt nauseous.

Four days later, toxic agrochemicals were sprayed by another local farmer, 15 metres from the house, and the entire family was intoxicated.

The cumulative effect was too much for Silvino. "He told me that night that he no longer had pain in his stomach, but in his bones," said Villasboa. Spots of blood appeared on his body, and his mother asked a neighbour to drive him to the nearest health clinic. Several hours later, the boy's body was completely paralysed, and he was taken to a hospital. His stomach was pumped, but in vain. His mother was beside him when he died.

Syngenta Seeds said it has appealed a fine of 1 million reais (US$462,000) set by Brazil's environmental agency for planting GM crops too close to a national park. A spokesman for Syngenta also said the company expected hundreds of farmers occupying its farm next to the Iguacu park to leave as a court order demands.

The government's Ibama environmental agency fined Syngenta for having about 30 acres (12 hectares) of GM soy plantings in the parks' buffer zone. The plantings were about 4 miles (6 km) from the park, while the allowed distance is 6 miles (10 km).

Some 600 activists from La Via Campesina (Peasant Way), an international group allied with Brazil's militant Landless Workers' Movement (MST), occupied Syngenta's Santa Teresa do Oeste farm in the southern Parana state to "denounce the illegal activity of experimenting with transgenic seeds in the area." MST says the activists will not leave the farm as they want the authorities to confiscate it from Syngenta.

The governor of Parana in southern Brazil, Roberto Requiao, has vowed to keep his state GM-free, in defiance of the federal government's positive stance towards GM farming. "We have not declared this state GM-free but we are going to introduce legislation making labelling [of GM food] compulsory," he said.

In a bid to discourage people from practising GM farming, the state government has banned the export of GM grain through the busy port of Paranagua in Parana, the largest public grain port in the world.

The state government has set up inspection centres along its borders with other Brazilian provinces to test soybeans for GM traces. According to Requiao there is also a growing rift within the federal government over GM products, with the environment minister Marina Silva taking a stand similar to his.

Indigenous farmers in Peru, the birthplace of the potato, have pleaded with agribusiness Syngenta International to publicly abandon its patent on "terminator" technology to control sprouting potatoes which could put at risk more than 3,000 potato varieties in the region and undermine efforts to reduce poverty.

More than 40 indigenous leaders from potato producing communities in the Andean region of Peru came together in the Sacred Valley in Cusco to sign a strongly-worded letter to the company's chief executive demanding immediate action.

Syngenta's patent is of particular concern because it describes a technology that could be used to prevent the sprouting of potatoes, unless they are treated with chemicals supplied by the patent owner.

Alejandro Argumedo, Associate Director of the Quechua-Aymara Association for Nature and Sustainable Development, said: "We want the big companies like Syngenta to show corporate social and environmental responsibility. The irresponsible attempt by some governments to bust the moratorium is motivated by power and greed at the expense of people, the environment and poverty reduction."


Thousands of farmers from across North India gathered in Delhi to protest against the proposal to import wheat and against the government's new pact with USA on agriculture. The protest rally, where thousands of farmers voiced their protest at the government's policies and actions, was addressed by former Prime minister Sri VP Singh and farm group leaders.

Dr Suman Sahai of Gene Campaign spoke against the new Agriculture Pact between India and the US, and accused the government of sacrificing agriculture to gain concessions in the nuclear sector. To add insult to injury, the Indian government is footing the bill for this agreement; the Americans have said they will not pay anything. Since the US corporations Wal-Mart and Monsanto are members of the official US team, it is feared that they will bend rules and regulations to suit their interest. The Agriculture Pact will provide the US corporations unhindered access to India's rich genetic wealth through their collaboration with Indian universities without their paying anything for it. Most importantly, the Indo-US deal throws open the doors to the import of GM seeds owned by the corporations.

Over half a million farmers and concerned citizens across Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra have signed a petition urging the Prime Minister of India to firmly act against the new threat of Terminator seeds which poses a serious threat to farming and farmers of this country. Terminator contamination could render plants and crops around them sterile.


Much hyped claims by pro-GM lobbyists that GM rice has already been given the commercial go-ahead in Iran seem to have been overstated.

The new Minister of Jihad for Agriculture will only pursue large-scale cultivation, which the Dept of the Environment has always opposed, if relevant international organisations and Iran's National Biosafety Committee give their approval.


An Irish scientist who has set himself up as a scourge of spin and misinformation in the row over GM potato trials in Ireland stands accused of bias so extreme that some might consider it fraud.

Shane Morris, who describes himself as "a Canadian public servant", recently set up a blog in which he attacks critics of GM for disseminating "lies" and "disinformation".

Morris presents himself as a non-partisan expert on GM, saying he has "published internationally recognized and award winning papers on the issue of GM food and public perceptions".

This claim appears to refer to an article in the British Food Journal that Morris co-authored. The authors all had connections to the Food Safety Network at the University of Guelph, where Morris was once a research assistant. The FSN's activities are supported by an extensive list of biotech and agribiz corporations.

Morris and his co-authors claimed in the article that their research at a farm store north-west of Toronto showed that when customers were given a choice between sweetcorn clearly labelled either GM or non-GM, a sizeable majority opted to purchase the GM sweetcorn.

But a leading Canadian journalist, who visited the farm store several times while the research was in progress, has provided testimony and photographic evidence that directly contradicts how the research is presented in the British Food Journal by Morris and his co-authors.

In the British Food Journal, Morris and Co. claim, "The two types of corn were presented in separate wooden bins labeled with either 'genetically engineered Bt sweet corn' or 'Regular sweet-corn'". The only other written information referred to in the article that might have influenced the preference of customers at the store is lists of the chemicals used on each type of corn, and pamphlets "with background information on the project."

But the journalist, Stuart Laidlaw, tells a different story. Indeed, evidence from his visits to the farm store suggests the research was marked by experimenter bias so extreme that it renders the research worthless.

Laidlaw has published a photograph taken at the farm store that shows above the non-GM sweet corn bin a sign headed: "Would You Eat Wormy Sweet Corn?" By contrast, Laidlaw reports, the Bt sweetcorn bin was labelled: "Here's What Went into Producing Quality Sweet Corn".

Laidlaw comments, "It is the only time I have seen a store label its own corn 'wormy'"! He also notes that the descriptions of the corn as either "wormy" or "quality" were not mentioned in presentations or writings about the experiment. This is certainly the case with the piece co-authored by Morris in the British Food Journal. If it had been mentioned, it is hard to imagine that the paper would have been published in any self-respecting scientific journal.

As well as the biased wording of the signs, Laidlaw also reports that pro-GM fact sheets from industry lobby groups were made available to customers without any balancing literature being made available. He also witnessed the lead researcher demonstrating his ability to influence a customer's views and purchasing decisions.

Shane Morris responded badly when GM Watch circulated information from the book, Secret Ingredients, by Canadian journalist, Stuart Laidlaw. As usual when elements of Morris's past are exposed that he'd rather see suppressed, he's claiming it's all down to "Spin, FAKE information and Lies!!!"

But what part of Laidlaw's testimony and photographic evidence is he saying is untrue? Morris, who has responded on his blog, hasn't identified a single item in the catalogue of experimenter bias that Laidlaw revealed that is open to question. His only defence is that, like one of the three wise monkeys, he saw no evil!

Specifically, Morris has claimed that he wasn't even in the country when the "wormy" (non-GM) and "quality" (GM) signs were on display, so he couldn't have known about them. Unfortunately, for Morris his own paper gives this claim the lie!

Read on at:


New Zealand Green MP Sue Kedgley is calling for assurances that no drug trials involving GE medicines are being carried out in New Zealand without participants being informed that the drug is genetically engineered.

Her call follows confirmation that the medicine (TGN1412) that left six men in London seriously ill, including a New Zealander, was genetically engineered and is derived from a human/mouse hybrid gene. Prof Peter Wills of Auckland University has confirmed this after searching the original patents that were granted for this medicine.

Ms Kedgley says trials involving GM medicines are inherently more risky than other drug trials because of the possibility that unintended side effects could occur. "It is possible that the severe symptoms the six men are experiencing are unanticipated side effects of the genetic engineering process, and this needs to be fully explored," she says.

A leading drug safety expert has warned that scientists should not take lightly the potential hazards of modern biotech drugs, such as the one that has endangered the lives of six volunteers (TGN1412, manufactured by TeGenero).

Conventional drugs are simple chemicals, said Saad Shakir, head of the Drug Safety Research Unit at Southampton University. But modern biotech drugs, produced through genetic engineering, are effectively large proteins. Contamination during the manufacturing process, for instance by a virus, would be far easier - and the drugs also have more potential to cause a harmful reaction in the body.

"The message is that biological products are more complex products. They are a protein, so they can induce reactions in the body which could be of an allergic or hypersensitive nature," said Dr Shakir.

Phase-one studies carried out on healthy people to check the safety of new drugs had been very safe in the past, he said. "You could count the number of fatalities on the fingers of one or two hands." But now that a new generation of biological products had arrived, we could be into "a new paradigm".


A prominent scientist has called for an urgent, independent review of the safety of all GM drugs and food approved for sale in Australia, following the disastrous results of a clinical drug trial in Britain.

Dr Judy Carman, a senior lecturer in public health at Adelaide University, said the approval process used by regulatory body Food Standards Australia and New Zealand was inadequate and lacked scientific rigour. "It is based on animal testing data and summary documents provided by the companies seeking approval. There is no way it could be called an independent process," she said.

Dr Carman said no health surveillance systems had been established in Australia to track the impacts of GM foods. "The system is woefully inadequate. If something was going wrong, how would we know? No one is looking at hospital databases to pick up any signs. We need multi-generational testings, we need to look for allergies and we need a minimum six-month period of animal testing on these products before they reach the supermarket shelves."

But a food standards spokeswoman said all GM products were subjected to strict safety assessments and no ill effects had been recorded from any of the 27 GM products approved for use in Australia.

GM Watch comment: Such assurances are a complete nonsense, as even the more honest GM proponents admit. Biotech supporter and former director of the Institute of Arable Crops at Rothamsted, Ben Miflin, admitted in the journal Nature that under current monitoring conditions, any unanticipated health impact of GM foods would need to be a "monumental disaster" to be detectable.