from Claire Robinson, editor
Here's our review of all the GM news for December 2005 from around the world. We at GM Watch would like to wish all our readers a very happy and peaceful 2006.
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+ WTO RULES AGAINST EU IN GMO CASE
The French International Trade Minister, Christine Lagard, confirmed to NGOs that the EU has lost the World Trade Organisation (WTO) challenge the US has made against the EU's GM moratorium. The WTO is due to issue its draft final report on the GM trade dispute on 5 January 2006.
+ CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE CALLED TO OPPOSE GMOs AT WTO
In Hong Kong, civil society groups delivered a strong message to the sixth WTO ministerial meeting in a petition against GMOs. Presented to WTO deputy director-general Alejandro Jara, the petition urged the global body to respect people's self-determination to "know and choose what they eat and farm", honour governments' right to "protect their citizens and the environment from GMO food and farming", and reject trading complaints of the US and other GM producers.
+ WTO - THE POOR STAY POOR AND WE CARRY ON POLLUTING
Andy Rowell gives a rundown on the implications of the WTO meeting in Hong Kong. Once again, it's business as usual for the rich countries and poverty as usual for the third world.
+ MANDELSON ROUNDS ON "FAKE" FOOD AID
Peter Mandelson, the EU's trade chief, has branded the US food aid programme "fake" aid designed to help US farmers rather than the world's poor. For once, Mandelson is saying the same thing as the development agencies
+ UK GOVT POLICY PUSHES GMOs
Two papers out in December show the direction of UK government policy. One, the DFID Agriculture Policy Paper, outlines the UK government's Dept for International Development's agriculture policy - including commitments to help promote patented new agricultural technologies (i.e. GM seeds).
The other paper - "Science, technology and innovation in Africa - going for growth" - is published by the Smith Institute, a Labour think tank. It's edited by the ardent GM-supporter Calestous Juma and includes a section contributed by Syngenta and a preface by Tony Blair's successor, Gordon Brown.
+ JOHN VIDAL ON SYNGENTA'S ACCESS TO UK GOVT
The Guardian's John Vidal points out Syngenta's extraordinary access to the UK government: "[Blair's] Development secretary Hilary Benn today [7 Dec] unveils Britain's long-awaited strategy for agriculture in poor countries, and GM crops, as expected, are to be officially blessed. What happy timing, then, that Michael Pragnell, chief executive of Syngenta, the world's third largest GM company, should be in London last week to give a talk about poverty in Africa at No 11 Downing Street. ..."
+ MONSANTO SEIZES TRADE UNION'S BANK ACCOUNTS
Monsanto has seized the bank accounts of France's second largest agriculture trade union, Confederation Paysanne. Monsanto's action follows a court judgment after the trashing, in 1998, of GM maize and soya.
+ FRENCH COURT ACQUITS ANTI-GM PROTESTORS
In a judgment expected to send a chill through companies growing GM crops in Europe and embolden their opponents, a French court was cited as acquitting 49 activists who destroyed GM plants after ruling their actions were justified.
+ EURO COMMISSION ALLOWS GM CONTAMINATION OF ORGANICS
The European Commission has authorised genetic contamination in organic agriculture, putting the biotech industry before organic farmers and consumers. In a draft Regulation on Organic Production, adopted by the Commission on 21 December, products containing up to 0.9% GMOs can be labelled as organic. This is a step backwards compared to existing EU legislation. The Organic Regulation currently in force does not allow an organic product to contain GMOs in any quantity.
+ GERMAN MINISTER OKs GM CROPS
Germany's new food, agriculture, and consumer protection minister, Horst Seehofer, has expressed strong support for GM agriculture and GM crop research, and antipathy towards organic farming, a sharp reversal of the sentiments of the previous minister.
+ GM FOOD MUST BE LABELLED IN BELARUS
Labelling of GM food is now law in Belarus. Russia is also tightening its labelling.
+ KELLOGG TO USE GM OIL
Kellogg says it will begin using oils derived from GM soybeans in some products to lower fat content beginning next year. Kellogg will begin using a low-linolenic acid oil named Vistive, made from Monsanto's GM soybeans.
In fact, linolenic oil is a vital nutrient. But when the food industry processes oils by hydrogenation, which improves shelf life, they produce trans fats, which are harmful to health. In other words, Monsanto's low-lin oil only solves a problem that was caused by the food industry in the first place.
+ ILLINOIS FARMERS WANT TO BE ABLE TO KEEP PATENTED SEEDS
The Illinois Farm Bureau is urging a fresh look at federal laws that bar farmers from keeping patented plants' seeds from one year to the next. The Bureau's position is believed to be the first from a large soybean-producing state that challenges Monsanto's patent rights.
+ COMPANIES OVERSTATE ECONOMIC BENEFITS OF BIOPHARMING
States like Missouri and Iowa are lining up to grow crops genetically engineered to produce pharmaceuticals and industrial chemicals, because proponents have touted the crops as an engine of rural economic development and farmer prosperity.
But a new report by leading agricultural economist Dr Robert Wisner of Iowa State University finds that while some drug and biotech companies may profit from these "pharma crops," farmer benefits are likely to be small and rural community benefits may be much more modest than often portrayed.
+ BIOTECH COMPANY CLOSES FOR LACK OF CASH
The company that led the way in trying to produce pharmaceuticals in genetically modified crops has run out of money and shut its doors. Robert L. Erwin, a founder and the chairman of the company - Large Scale, said the main problem for his company was the reluctance of drug companies to have their products developed in crops: "There are very few corporate executives willing to bet on an unproven process." Moreover, he said, pharmaceutical crop developers are wrong in assuming that lower production costs are an important consideration for drug companies.
+ BIOLOGICS PROJECT CUT FROM $30M TO $12.5M
Plans for the Missouri Center of Excellence for Plant Biologics, which would house Ventria Biosciences, have been whittled down from nearly $30 million to about $12.35 million.
+ ILLEGAL GM CORN FOUND IN BRAZIL
GM corn is being illegally sold in the southern Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, according to an accusation by the state deputy Frei Sergio Antonio Gorgen. In Gorgen's opinion, this case will not have the same fate as that of the smuggled soybean seed in the 1990s, which temporary laws accommodated as "fait accompli".
"The farmers have already realized what a disappointment the transgenic soy was -- an economic failure," because it requires more agro-chemicals, driving up production costs after the first few years, said Gorgen.
+ DOCUMENTARY ON GM COTTON "BUSTS MYTHS"
The success of the GM-critical film, The Future of Food, has galvanised the biotech industry's PR machine into subsequently giving us:
* America's Heartland - the pending PBS TV series funded by the American Farm Bureau and Monsanto
* Voices from Africa - a video supposedly produced by the African-American civil-rights (turned-corporate-rights) group CORE but, in fact, funded by its "corporate partner" - Monsanto - and directed and scripted by a film-maker who has worked on other Monsanto projects
* And now: The Story of Bt Cotton in India.
This new documentary comes courtesy of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA). ISAAA's funders include Monsanto and just about every other major GM corporation.
According to the new film, "Rapid strides made by India in cotton production in the last three years are nothing short of a dream run for any agrarian economy". The film implies that this is no accident as this period "also coincides with the adoption of Bt cotton".
Curious then that in December the Indian government admitted that Bt cotton had failed in parts of India, and asked state governments in all cotton growing regions to institute enquiries.
+ DEATH ALONG THE FAMISHED ROAD
An important article tells cataclysmic tales of deprivation and despair wreaked by Bt cotton cultivation.
...This year has been the worst for Vidarbha's farmers since the first farmer's suicide seven years ago. In 2004, up to 80 percent of cotton growers harvested Bt, genetically modified seeds produced by a company called Monsanto. Recalls Hardikar, "When actor Nana Patekar, the brand ambassador of Monsanto, toured this region last year to promote Bt, his public meetings had a huge impact. Farmers went for Bt in a big way. But it boomeranged badly."
The seeds, with a starting price of Rs 1,600 (the hybrid variety cost Rs 450 a packet), have demonstrated no sustainability in the parched environment of Vidarbha. This year, the fungal infection Lal Rog struck the fields. Stretches of land in Yavatmal appear a hazy crimson in the distance. From close quarters, the withered cotton, branches red in colour, makes for an eerie sight. In the shadow of each failed harvest, stands an entire family, emaciated and hungry. "Monsanto's claim that a test application would involve minimum pesticides and maximum yield has proved fatal," says Kishore Tiwari, president, Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti.
+ PARLIAMENTARY WARNING ABOUT FARMER SUICIDES DUE TO BT COTTON
Expressing concerns over the number of farmer suicides in the country, R S members [RS = Rajya Sabha, the Indian Parliament] cautioned the government to be on the alert because large number of farmers in Mahrashtra and other cotton growing states had grown failure-prone Bt cotton.
+ WE'RE SELLING OUR VILLAGE, SAY DESTITUTE BT COTTON FARMERS
Left destitute by failed Bt cotton crops and saddled with debts they incurred in order to grow the crop, desperate villagers are selling up and moving out. The 270-odd residents of Dorli in the hitherto prosperous region of Vidarbha unanimously arrived at the decision a day after the Vilasrao Deshmukh government announced its 'package' on December 8 for six districts of Vidarbha. The 'relief', note angry villagers, does not address their real problems or help anyone.
+ NEW REPORTS ON BT COTTON FAILURE IN INDIA
Two newly available fact-finding reports on the Bt cotton problems in Andhra Pradesh show how the desperation induced by the problems of Bt cotton (suicide is mentioned by farmers as a way out of their difficulties) is itself being exploited by rival Bt cotton companies as a reason for purchasing their products in future.
These companies appear to be using the farmers' bad experiences with Bt cotton as a springboard for aggressively marketing their own brand of expensive Bt cottonseeds as the answer to the problems generated by their rivals' products. In this way each year's failure of Bt cotton is itself a means of maximizing Bt seed sales for the next year!
This farce has only been made possible because the Indian government has pinned its colours to the mast of Bt cotton, proclaiming it a breakthough technology.
+ INDIA TO LABEL GM FOODS
India is to introduce mandatory labeling of GM foods.
+ PAKISTAN GOVT TO ALLOW BT COTTON FARMING
Pakistan's prime minister Shaukat Aziz has said the government will allow farmers to grow Bt cotton from next year.
+ JAPAN TO TEST CANADIAN RAPESEED FOR UNAPPROVED GMO
Japan plans to test rapeseed imports from Canada to check if they contain RT73, an unapproved strain of GM oilseed developed by Monsanto.
+ CHINESE ACTIVISTS VOW TO DESTROY GM RICE
Anti-GM activists in China have vowed to trash China's first commercial GM rice crop, Bt rice, if the authorities give the green light to full-scale production of the grain.
+ KRAFT PROMISES TO SELL NON-GM FOOD IN CHINA
Kraft Foods has announced it will stop supplying GM food to China within one year.
+ S. KOREA SCIENTIST FAKED CLONING RESULTS
South Korea's most renowned stem cell scientist fabricated a ground-breaking paper.
See also: Probe delivers a new blow to cloning work
+ BIOPIRACY AND GMOs: THE FATE OF IRAQ'S AGRICULTURE
Recent rule changes allowing farmers to use transgenic wheat species in Iraq to help rebuild the region's agriculture have some critics concerned that the new policy could help wipe out the natural hotbed of diversity in Iraq, where wheat originated. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=6042
+ MOST IN SOUTH AFRICA REJECT GM FOODS
Almost six out of 10 South Africans either reject or avoid GM foods, according to a recent poll.
+ U.S. POLICY KEEPS POVERTY ALIVE IN AFRICA
In the run up to the WTO meeting in Hong Kong, the US announced the allocation of $7 million to a West African project intended to introduce GM cotton and help West African countries with their cotton marketing.
This "aid" can be directly measured against the cost and impact of the US's massive cotton subsidies which are now in the spotlight in Hong Kong. Even the WTO has ruled these subsidies to be wrong. In response to the denunciations of its poverty-creating cotton subsidies, the US has said in Hong Kong that it is ready to offer African cotton farmers duty-free access to US markets.
But as Phil Bloomer, head of Oxfam's Make Trade Fair campaign points out, this is little short of a bad joke: "Africa does not export a single gram of cotton to the US and has not done so for years. The problem for West African cotton farmers is not market access - it is the US subsidies that lead to dumping."
Several articles at http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=6051
+ MALI'S DAVID VS GOLIATH GM STRUGGLE
A debate over Bt cotton has erupted in Mali. In 2004 in Mali, the national agricultural research institute, IER, began a five-year project with the US development agency, USAid, and Monsanto and Syngenta to develop and introduce GM crops such as Bt cotton.
IER scientific coordinator, Siaka Dembele claims Bt cotton is more productive. But Asseto Samake, professor of genetics and biology at the University of Mali, says, "The claims they are making for this cotton are absolutely false."
Samake explains that Bt cotton has been modified to resist two or three major cotton pests. She says that in Mali there are thousands of cotton pests and that when a few are removed from the natural equation, others will flourish and farmers will still need pesticides. "If Bt cotton is so profitable," Samake says, "why do they have to subsidise their cotton farmers with billions of dollars in the United States?
+ MONSANTO AND DOW AMONG 14 WORST CORPORATIONS
Monsanto and Dow, both involved in GM crops, are among the 14 worst corporate evildoers, according to a report by human rights NGO Global Exchange.
+ MONSANTO'S REVENUES FACE UPHILL BATTLE
By the end of the decade Monsanto's revenues from its cotton traits could be in severe decline, says a report from the Polaris Institute. The reversal is likely to happen because competitors plan to replace Monsanto traits with their own and others' technology.
+ WARNING ON BITTER GM HARVEST
GM crops have failed to deliver the economic benefits promised to US farmers and could pose similar problems if adopted in Australia, Dr Charles Benbrook, who worked as an agricultural adviser to the Carter, Reagan and Clinton administrations, has warned.
+ JEFFREY SMITH ON LACK OF GM FOOD SAFETY TESTING
Did you know that some GM foods are sensitizers, i.e. eating them increases the risk of having an allergic reaction to other foods? A superb article on the lack of GM food safety testing is worth reading in full for this and other unique insights:
+ GM HAS LED TO LOST OPPORTUNITIES IN PLANT SCIENCE
GM has led to a neglect of broader genomics-based approaches for improving crop plants, notably marker-assisted breeding, says Prof Steve Hughes, co-director of the ESRC Centre for Genomics in Society and a historic supporter of GM crops.
+ "LET THEM EAT PRECAUTION" - NEW PRO-GM BOOK
A new book, Let Them Eat Precaution: How Politics Is Undermining the Genetic Revolution in Agriculture, has been published by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) - a key promoter of the US's war agenda on Iraq. The book is full of righteous indignation at the denial of the supposed benefits of GM to the world's poor.
The list of contributors to Let Them Eat Precaution reads like a rogues' gallery. Take, for instance, Monsanto's former Internet PR chief - Jay Byrne. Byrne is credited with designing the notorious Monsanto/Bivings' "Fake Persuaders" campaign, which utilised fake email identities and a fake agricultural research centre to post poison pen attacks on Monsanto's critics.
Then there are AgBioWorld co-founders, C.S. Prakash and Gregory Conko. AgBioWorld was also party to the "Fake Persuaders" campaign, while Conko is a leading light of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which takes money from Monsanto, Exxon and Big Tobacco to aggressively promote the interests of all three! The AEI also takes Exxon's money and has even had Exxon's Vice President on its Board.
+ PRECAUTIONARY PRINCIPLE MAY BE MORE SCIENTIFIC THAN "SOUND SCIENCE"
When it comes to assessing the risks of GMOs, the precautionary principle may be more scientific than "sound science", says Prof Daryll. E. Ray. Prof Ray holds the Blasingame Chair of Excellence in Agricultural Policy, Institute of Agriculture, Univ of Tennessee.
+ KREBS REPEATS MONSANTO'S LIE
Ardent GM supporter, Prof Sir John Krebs, has devoted this year's Royal Institution's Christmas lectures to the subject of food. The lectures, aimed at 11-14 year olds, were broadcast on Channel Five television, 26-30 December, 1915 -2000hrs.
On BBC Radio 4's Start the Week recently, Sir John stated that GM was "just the same as plant breeding". This is misleading. Traditional plant varieties are produced by cross-pollination among the same, or closely related, species. In GM, genes from any class of organism (e.g. viruses, bacteria, unrelated plants, animals and even humans) can be randomly inserted into plants.
This is why the UK's Advertising Standards Agency upheld complaints against Monsanto when it claimed that GM was just an extension of traditional breeding.
+ WHEN TECHNOLOGY DISPLACES THE FARMER
Plans are afoot to use nanotechnology to produce commodities including 'synthetic' cotton and rubber. If adopted, this technology could make farmers redundant, with devastating effects on third world economies, says an article for the Panos Institute at