from Claire Robinson, WEEKLY WATCH editor
GM mozzies were everywhere this week, being touted as the killer-blow against malaria. Yet they're no such thing. Who says so? The guy leading the research (GM MOZZIES).
We have more interesting MEDIA-WATCH stories this week, involving in part Martin Durkin, whose misleading TV documentaries on the UK's Channel 4 just might be the Last Hurrah of the GM-loving, global warming-denying LM cult.
Reports continue to flood in regarding the alarming die-off of honey-bees, and serious commentators are starting to ask whether GM crops could be to blame (COLLAPSING COLONIES).
Watch out for 2 important CAMPAIGNS OF THE WEEK.
CAMPAIGNS OF THE WEEK
+ RICE FUTURES NOSE-DIVE AS MEXICO HALTS U.S. RICE
Rice futures took a nose-dive, falling nearly the 50-cent trading limit in just one day, as three exporters of US milled rice had their shipments to Mexico stopped. US export sales were already lagging about 20% from a year ago since GM rice was found in the US rice supply last summer. Mexico is requiring certification from an approved laboratory that the grain is GM-free.
+ CANADA: COST TO LABEL GM FOOD OVERBLOWN
Mandatory labelling of GM foods would cost far less than the food industry has claimed, a new study commissioned by Quebec's Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food reveals. Experience also shows that labelling imposes no costs on the consumer.
+ BRAZIL: VOTE DELAYED AMID GM PROTEST
The government's biotechnology council postponed a vote on whether to approve Bayer's GM corn seeds after protesters stormed the meeting and demanded the right to participate.
+ BRAZIL: GM SOY BARON BRAZIL'S NEW AG MINISTER?
The president of Brazil's largest soybean seed company, Odilio Balbinotti, will likely become Brazil's new agriculture minister. Balbinotti owns Sementes Adriana, the largest individual seed company in Brazil and a licensed producer of Monsanto's Roundup Ready soybeans. Balbinotti is being investigated for fraud in Mato Grosso.
+ BP-BERKELEY PLAYERS CONFLICTED OUT
University of California Berkeley scientist Jay Keasling is one of the key researchers involved in crafting the Energy Biosciences Institute proposal arising out of Berkeley's $500 million biotech-biofuel deal with oil giant BP. Keasling is also due to be one of the principal researchers in the EBI. He's also the cofounder of Amyris Biotechnologies, a company that late last year ,while the BP-Berkeley deal was in the offing, hired as its CEO one John Melo – the former president of US fuels operations for BP. Another key UC Berkeley player with conflicts of interest is Chris Somerville – chairman of the board of Mendel Biotechnology, which is developing GM crops for Monsanto and which has Monsanto vice president, Steve Padgette, on its board of directors.
+ BEE DEMISE – ARE GMOs THE MISSING LINK?
In the US, the Sierra Club has been among those asking whether GM crops are responsible for the massive instantaneous die-offs of millions of honey-bees, which some say are slowly assuming catastrophic proportions.
+ ARE GM CROPS KILLING BEES – DER SPIEGEL
An article in Der Spiegel, Germany's most influential news magazine, also asks if the decimation of bee populations in the US and Germany is a result of GM crops. Walter Haefeker, vice president of the European Professional Beekeepers Association, points to research conducted at the University of Jena from 2001 to 2004, which examined the effects of pollen from Bt maize (corn) on bees.
When during the research, by sheer chance, the bees in the experiments were infested with a parasite, a "significantly stronger decline in the number of bees" occurred among the insects that had been fed on a concentrated Bt feed.
According to the director of the study, Professor Hans-Heinrich Kaatz, the Bt toxin may have "altered the surface of the bee's intestines, sufficiently weakening the bees to allow the parasites to gain entry – or perhaps it was the other way around. We don't know."
+ EINSTEIN ON BEES
"If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man." – Albert Einstein
+ GM MOSQUITOES NO SILVER BULLET
The media's been full of reports this week hailing a GM mosquito as the means of eliminating malaria. Headlines include:
*Genetically engineered mosquitoes to prevent Malaria
*Malaria: GM mosquitoes offer new hope for millions
But Marcelo Jacobs-Lorena, who leads the research at Johns Hopkins, has been far more guarded, as has Hillary Hurd, a parasitologist at Keele University in the UK, whose research findings the John Hopkins team draw on.
Here's an extract from an article in MIT's Technology Review: Hurd cautions that the malaria-causing parasites used by the Johns Hopkins team infect mice, not humans. 'Anyone taking this strategy needs to be certain that the molecule stops transmission of the human parasite,' she says. 'Many of them don't.' More work needs to be done before transgenic mosquitoes can be used in the field as a malaria-control method. 'Transgenic mosquitoes by themselves will never be able to solve the problem,' Jacobs-Lorena says. 'The only way is to use a combination of approaches... No one should think of this as a silver bullet.'
+ SERIOUS ECOLOGICAL QUESTIONS
GM mosquitoes could be released in an African trial within five years. The released mosquitoes are expected to eventually become dominant over their wild cousins. But Jonathan Matthews of GM Watch told The Ecologist that the evolutionary sustainability of GM mozzies in the longer term "is simply an unknown, and this could have a devastating impact on the food chain... Mosquito larvae can be at the base of the food chain for fish... Mosquitoes are also important pollinators, as plant nectar forms a large part of their diet. So such a major human intervention could have worryingly unpredictable consequences."
+ REDUCTIONIST VISION
Teresa Anderson of the Gaia Foundation wonders how it can be a good idea to genetically modify something with the deliberate intention of its interbreeding with a natural population that's an integral part of the most biodiverse and complex ecosystems in the world; and which will also be biting and exchanging blood with humans.
+ BASF AND MONSANTO ANNOUNCE COLLABORATION
BASF and Monsanto said they will enter a long-term agreement to develop GM crops. The companies will have a potential joint budget of up to $1.5 billion to fund "a dedicated development pipeline" of yield and stress tolerance traits for corn, soybeans, cotton and canola.
GM WATCH comment: It's interesting to see these two corporations not only hedging their bets by bringing together their future GM crop development, but also sticking rigidly within the boundaries of the GM crops for which there are already GM approvals and which can be disposed of for non-food uses or as animal feed.
+ MONSANTO A RISKY INVESTMENT
An investment analyst for "the world's premier multimedia financial education company" has warned that Monsanto is a lot riskier than some investors might want to believe. Several recent headlines on the GM front, she says, should give investors reasons for concern. And her own preference is for "investments with less bad mojo than Monsanto".
+ EYEWITNESS TO CORPORATE CRIME GAGGED
The Ecologist has published online a special investigation into how Monsanto may escape its liability for knowingly dumping thousands of tonnes of cancer-causing chemicals in the UK.
+ BLOW FOR FIRST AFRICAN TRIALS OF GM CASSAVA
The South African GMO regulatory authority, the Executive Council (EC), has refused to allow the experimentation in open field trials of GM cassava.Late last year, the EC also rejected an application to conduct experiments involving GM Sorghum. Currently, South Africa also has a de facto moratorium on the approval of all new GM varieties for the purposes of import into South Africa.
+ GM RICE CAN'T CURE DIARRHOEA
Attempts at introducing GM rice as a pharmaceutical crop to treat diarrhoea in African children is unnecessary and a calculated move to distract from ongoing global programmes to save children suffering from the disease, says Nnimmo Bassey, Director of Environmental Rights Action in Nigeria.
A new variety of GM rice containing human genes is set to be approved by the US Dept of Agriculture (USDA) for large-scale planting in Kansas, USA after two other states barred such plantings. Ventria Bioscience announced that the rice will be used in oral rehydration solutions to treat diarrhoea and as supplements in yogurt, sports drinks and granola bars.
Environmental Rights Action points out that diarrhoea has well-known causes (such as contaminated drinking water) and proven, inexpensive solutions. And in a clinical trial of the GM rice held in Peru, there were reports of infants suffering serious allergic reactions, causing the Peruvian government to launch an enquiry into the experiment.
+ BIOTECH INDUSTRY WITHDRAWS GM FOODS
The biotech industry has withdrawn from sale in Europe five GM foods and crops, including the first GM crop grown in Europe. Friends of the Earth Europe has highlighted this as further proof that GM crops are failing. A list of the withdrawn crops is at:
+ HUNGER STRIKE AGAINST GMOs IN FRANCE
Activists are conducting a protest fast in Orleans to ask the government to place a moratorium on the cultivation of GMOs in the new planting season.
+ ANTI-GM STUNT TARGETS FRANCE'S SARKOZY
Greenpeace activists unloaded a truck of maize outside the Paris headquarters of French presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy, urging him to back a moratorium on GM crops. Sarkozy is "the only candidate in the presidential election who has not backed a moratorium on open-field GM crops." Sarkozy's Socialist rival Segolene Royal has promised an immediate moratorium on GM crops if she is elected in the April-May vote. The centrist Francois Bayrou, in third place in the polls, has also said he backs a moratorium.
+ GMO-FREE REGIONS CONFERENCE
For the third time representatives of GMO-Free Regions, NGOs and other interested organisations from all over Europe will be meeting on April 19th and 20th in Brussels at the European Parliament. For further information and registration see http://www.gmo-free-regions.org
+ NEW ZEALAND FARMERS WILL GO BANKRUPT IF NOT GM-FREE
Colin MacKinnon, from New Zealand's Federated Farmers maize growers committee, says maize growers would go bankrupt without certain strict GM-free contracts with countries such as Japan.
+ GM WHEAT FIRM GOING BELLY-UP – "STATE WON'T HELP US"
A Perth biotech firm is complaining it faces closure after failing to secure Western Australia state government funds to finish developing a GM salt-tolerant variety of wheat.
GM WATCH comment: Grain Biotech Australia can whinge all it likes but it would have been madness to put public money into GM wheat when not only is there no market for it but any GM contamination caused by trials could decimate Australia's existing wheat market, as has happened with US rice.
+ CSIRO AXES EXPERT WHO CRITICISED GM CROPS
One of Australia's top organic farming experts, Dr Maarten Stapper, has been dumped by CSIRO, amid allegations he was bullied by executive management for criticising GM crops. CSIRO sources say Dr Stapper, a farming systems agronomist and popular public speaker on soil biology and health, was "carpeted" by management after he was overheard explaining criticisms of some aspects of GM crops while mingling with audience members after a public forum.
GM WATCH comment: CSIRO is promoted as Australia's pre-eminent public scientific research body but although ostensibly publicly funded, CSIRO is, in reality, highly industrially aligned. One of its most lucrative deals is with Bayer CropScience.
+ INDIA: 84 MORE VILLAGES PLEDGE TO STAY GM-FREE
Nearly 5,000 farmers from 84 villages spanning eight blocks of Gonda district in Uttar Pradesh have pledged NOT to cultivate genetically modified (GM) crops and instead practice organic farming. 2,000 farmers from 64 other villages in Uttar Pradesh have already taken a similar pledge.
+ MONSANTO TO BOYCOTT CHINA
Monsanto says China has no respect for intellectual property rights and so its transferring the release of its next generation of GM cotton to India.
+ BANGLADESH: WEEK OF RICE ACTION LAUNCHED
The Week of Rice Action (WORA) 2007 was officially inaugurated amidst much celebration and excitement in a village in rural Bangladesh. 3,000 farmers from across the country chanted slogans such as 'Preserve local seeds!', 'No GMO!!', and 'We will give our blood but not our seeds!'
SEE CAMPAIGNS OF THE WEEK
+ SILENT WAR ON PEOPLE OF INDIA
Arun Shrivastava argues that GM "will utterly destroy India's agriculture and rural economy and decimate India's mega-biodiversity and seeds heritage gained for us by our farmers over 10,000 years of agriculture. Monsanto is not even 10 decades old..." FULL ARTICLE AT
+ THE GM WAKE-UP CALL
EXCERPT from good article by Stephen Daniells PhD for FoodNavigator.com (a food industry outlet that's far from anti-GM) about the recent study of Monsanto data showing ill effects from MON863 GM maize:
News that a variety of GM corn produced signs of liver and kidney toxicity in rats should be a wake-up call for better testing and more transparency from biotechs, if GMOs are to be accepted by increasingly sceptical consumers.
Last week, amid much media fanfare in France and media silence elsewhere, French researchers from CRIIGEN ... based at the University of Caen reported their findings from a 90-day rat study that indicated liver and kidney toxicity in the rats, as well as differences in weight gain between the sexes as a result of eating the transgenic maize ...
The scientists also questioned the methods used by Monsanto to initially show the safety and non-toxicity of the corn, saying that the statistical methods used were insufficient to observe any possible disruptions in biochemistry.
And what is Monsanto doing to redress the balance and build confidence? Well, it has remained relatively tight-lipped and has not responded directly to the statements by the French researchers about possible shortcomings in their initial methodology, and suggestions of incomplete data collection. Instead it has stuck to the line "that the overwhelming opinion of expert authorities is that MON863 is safe for human and animal consumption."
But the opinion of these expert authorities was based on data provided by Monsanto... And according to the French researchers, this data does not stand up to rigorous scrutiny, with doubts raised over the statistical protocols used, questions over why no sufficient analysis of animal weight was performed, and why "crucial" data from urine tests were allegedly concealed in Monsanto's own publications.
+ REGULATORY SYSTEMS FOR GM CROPS A FAILURE: THE CASE OF MON863
The new peer-reviewed evaluation of Monsanto's data shows MON863 should not have been approved in the EU or elsewhere, says a Greenpeace briefing.
+ SAFETY FEARS ARE GROUNDS FOR CONTINUED MORATORIUM IN WESTERN AUSTRALIA
Agriculture and food minister Kim Chance said the MON863 study was further support for Western Australia's moratorium on the commercial production of GM crops. Chance also urged Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) to undertake thorough testing of the GM corn, and other GM products, before they are approved.
"FSANZ should stop relying on the data supplied from the GM companies and conduct their own independent feeding trials and stringent analysis of the GM products that are proposed for human consumption in Australia and New Zealand," he said.
+ MULTIPLE STUDIES SHOW ROUNDUP TOXICITY
PR consultant for the biotech industry Hans Lombard has been claiming in the South African press that Roundup is safe. Numerous peer reviewed studies refuting this are cited in two letters, one published in, and the other submitted to, the Cape Times, at
+ ANOTHER LM NETWORK SWINDLE
Channel 4's recent screening of 'The Great Global Warming Swindle', a documentary that claimed accepted theories about global warming were "lies", has led to much adverse comment as well as scrutiny of its director's controversial past history as a programme maker, including his links to the GM-loving environmentalist-hating LM network.
But then, just as all was looking bleak for Martin Durkin and the documentary he'd boasted would change history, two meteorologists – billed on BBC Radio 4 as "leading experts on climate change" – threatened to revive the row by apparently warning their scientific colleagues in a report "Don't exaggerate climate dangers".
But it turns out the meteorologists are not experts on climate change at all and one of them admitted when pressed that "he could not think of a case where a scientist had overstated the position" on global warming. So where did this new story come from?
According to The Observer newspaper, the report was launched at a conference organised by Sense About Science. Key players in this pro-GM lobby group, including its director Tracey Brown, are part of the climate change denying LM network, to which Martin Durkin also intimately connects.
+ WELCOME TO CHANNEL 4'S LATEST DODGY DOC
Question: How could Channel 4 possibly follow up Martin Durkin's 'The Great Global Warming Swindle'?
Answer: With 'Animal Farm', a new Channel 4 series on GM and cloned animals, and GM crops like Golden Rice.
It's presented by two guides from supposedly opposing viewpoints. One is Dr Olivia Judson, who's described by the Times as "a biological scientist... who... believes that anticapitalist conspiracies are behind much of our revulsion at the biotech revolution." According to Dr Judson, "Every country has its own hysteria. Here it's genetic manipulation."
Her co-presenter on Animal Farm is food critic Giles Coren. Needless to say, Dr Judson largely wins Coren over to the view that, as Coren told The Times, "There's a lot of prejudice and hysteria about genetically modified crops and cloning." According to Coren, "now I... know that if you plant a load of genetically modified crops there's really no chance at all of modified genes being transferred to surrounding plants." [!!!] Dr Judson, incidentally, first came to TV fame in a series directed by Martin Durkin (see above).
+ GM WATCH EDITOR ON 'ANIMAL FARM'
The Ecologist interviewed Jonathan Matthews from GM Watch about some of the arguments advanced in Channel 4's 'Animal Farm'. Here are some shortened extracts.
*Ecologist: Channel 4's documentary accused anti-GM lobbyists of luddism, wanting to hold back scientific progress, even when, in the case of 'golden rice', it is thought to hold significant health benefits. Is this the case?
*Jonathan: No, it's complete nonsense. GMOs are no more 'science' than... nuclear weapons... If we judge nuclear weapons to be a dangerous misappliance of science, that doesn't involve us in rejecting the laws of physics!
Winston Churchill got it spot on when he said, 'Scientists should be on tap, not on top' and that's still more the case when so many biotechnologists are in bed with big business.
The same goes for 'golden rice'. It should be evaluated alongside the many other alternatives by the people who will be most directly affected – for instance, through citizens' juries, which have already happened in relation to GMOs amongst poor farmers in India, West Africa and Brazil.
*Ecologist: At one point in the documentary, the commentary suggested that 'GM scientists only ever have the good of other people in mind throughout their work'. Is this your experience of genetic modification?
*Jonathan: Absolutely not, and it simply flies in the face of common sense. Would we accept such a statement if it were made about priests or policemen? It's also a profoundly unscientific statement because there's plenty of evidence of false claims being made and of data being manipulated, not to mention scientific researchers being seduced by the material charms of industry. There are also GM scientists working on biological weapons! FOR THE FULL INTERVIEW
CAMPAIGNS OF THE WEEK
+ 1-MILLION SIGNATURE CAMPAIGN
The People's Statement on Saving the Rice of Asia from threats like GM rice is an important feature of WORA – the Week of Rice Action (see ASIA). Please go to the WORA webpage and sign on to show your support via www.panap.net. Just click on 'Week of Rice Action'. More information at
+ STOP GM CONTAMINATION OF ORGANICS
On 29 March the European Parliament will vote on proposed legislation which allows for 0.9% GM contamination of organic food without having to inform consumers. Please call on MEPs to support no GM contamination in organic food.
Take action: Please send a letter to your MEP as soon as possible asking them not to allow contamination of organic food. You can find out who your MEP is, and where to send the letter at:
Model letter at: