from Claire Robinson, WEEKLY WATCH editor

Dear all

In the week in which the powerful World Conservation Union called for a global moratorium on GMO releases, the industry continues to retreat from hotspots of resistance. Bayer has given up on Britain, withdrawing its last GM seeds from the approval process (see EUROPE), and GM pharm company Ventria has fled California, taking refuge in Missouri (see BAD-IDEA VIRUS LATEST). Even in China, which is somewhat insulated from the battles raging in the rest of the world, there seem to be qualms about forging ahead with genetically modifying its staple crop, rice. (ASIA)

In Germany, meanwhile, the industry is engaging in a masterly exercise in doublethink. Monsanto is using German research (non peer-reviewed, of course!) which claims to show there's no danger of GM farmers contaminating non-GM crops, to support their opposition to a proposed new German law under which GM farmers would be held liable for contaminating non-GM crops (EUROPE). In other words, Monsanto is yet again claiming GM to be perfectly safe while desperately opposing any liability for damages! Let's hope the German government maintains its generally strong capacity for logic and doesn't get bamboozled by this scam.

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On 22 November, IUCN (World Conservation Union) members voted by a large margin for a moratorium on the further release of GMOs until they can be demonstrated, beyond reasonable doubt, to be safe for biodiversity, human health, and animal health.

The moratorium resolution was carried with overwhelming majority support from both nations and non-governmental organisations, even after several days of intensive lobbying by agribusiness interests.

The resolution set a one-year deadline for the director-general of IUCN to compile a report on GMOs' impacts on biodiversity and human health. Although the IUCN resolution is not legally binding, the member countries are morally obliged to carry out the adopted items, Schwann Tunhikorn, of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plants, said.

IUCN is a unique Union. Its members from some 140 countries include 77 States, 114 government agencies, and 800-plus NGOs. More than 10,000 internationally-recognised scientists and experts from more than 180 countries volunteer their services to its six global commissions. For more than 50 years it has generated environmental conventions, global standards, scientific knowledge and innovative leadership.

"IUCN builds bridges between governments and NGOs, science and society, local action and global policy. It is truly a world force for environmental governance," says Achim Steiner, IUCN Director General.

In its press release IUCN stated, ""The unregulated rise of GMOs world-wide in recent years has led to
concern among scientists and government officials alike. Scientists are learning that GMOs know no boundaries, degrading genetic diversity of crop seeds and then expanding beyond farmscapes into adjacent areas of biodiversity. In the process, they degrade complex soil ecology and habitat for beneficial insects, thus affecting mammals and birds and killing the very biodiversity that GMO proponents claim to care about."


"This notion that you lure biotech to your community to save its economy is laughable," said Joseph Cortright, a Portland, Ore. economist who co-wrote a report on the subject. "This is a bad-idea virus that has swept through governors, mayors and economic development officials."

Ventria Bioscience of Sacramento, Calif., a company specializing in plant-made pharmaceutical production, has fled California where it has been facing strong opposition to relocate in Maryville, Missouri through a partnership with Northwest Missouri State University.

"This really is a moment in time that will have an enormous impact on our area," university president Dean Hubbard said at a news conference yesterday. "We were competing with several other states right down until 4:30 [pm on 18 November]."

"We're incredibly fortunate to have this caliber of a company coming to the area," said Lee Langerock, executive director of the Nodaway County Economic Development Corporation. "They were incredibly impressed with the Maryville area, and were very excited to call this their home."

Eventually, Hubbard said, Ventria could be contracting over 25,000 acres of farmland for its work.

Ventria has been looking to move for months, partly because of the hostile reception and regulatory hurdles it faced earlier this year in California when it tried to expand field trials of rice that contains human proteins for pharmaceutical use.

Biotech opponents say the risk of contaminating the food supply with plant-made drug compounds is too great to allow open-field production. California has a $500 million rice industry.


Maryville, Missouri is within the Mississippi basin, a natural 'sink' that has long collected and concentrated pollutants from the industries that line the Mississippi river. The river itself gets more polluted the further downstream you go. Things get especially bad downstream of St Louis, Monsanto's home town, which is 350 miles south-east of Maryville.

The counties either side of the Mississippi river have been dubbed "Cancer Alley" because of the high rates of that disease among people living there. Maryville is not so close to the river that it belongs in Cancer Alley, but a milder but still noticeable Mississippi river basin effect does spread over the entire state of Missouri.

Here's Dr Peter Montague of Rachel's Environment and Health Weekly (Feb 13, 1990):

Is it a fact that cancers cluster near heavy industry? It seems to be so. Greenpeace has published two studies in the past two years revealing that people who live in counties bordering the Mississippi River have a high death rate, compared to the national average, and a high cancer rate. The further south you travel along the river, the worse the statistics become. On a map showing low cancer rates as a light color and high cancer rates as a dark color, the Mississippi River originates in Minnesota surrounded by light-colored counties, but by the time you make your way down through Missouri, Arkansas, Kentucky, to Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana, counties that touch the river are darker, darker, darkest. This picture IS worth a thousand words. The Mississippi below St Louis is a chemical sewer, and people who derive their drinking water from it are twice as likely to get colon and rectal cancer as those who don't drink from it, to cite but one statistic. From Baton Rouge down to New Orleans, 136 major chemical plants discharge into the river. The shadow of the grim reaper lingers near these outfall pipes.

It would of course be too cynical to suggest that Missouri will lap up anybody or that it is logical within the operating framework of polluting industries for Ventria to move there. Mind you, as one UK government environmental official once told me, "If you site a landfill near a sewage farm, a nuclear power plant and high-voltage power lines, no one can say that the bad smells and cancers are due to the landfill."


GM rapeseed is proliferating around ports in Chiba, Yokohama, Nagoya and Kobe, after its propagation was confirmed in other places such as Kashima port in Ibaraki Prefecture and Yokkaichi port in Mie Prefecture.

Scientists say the rushed introduction of GM rice in China as early as 2006 could ruin the nation's staple food. It would also make China the first country in the world to switch to a GM version of its main food crop, something some scientists say carries special risks.

Professor Zhu Xinquan, who sits on the government's transgenic food safety committee and is president of the Chinese Society of Agrobiotechnology, seems less than convinced transgenic is the right route, "From my personal point of view, we can't just rush in because that would be very irresponsible, and we would have to bear that responsibility in the future."

Professor Xue Dayuan, a scientist at the Nanjing Institute of Environmental Science says if GM contamination of wild rice happens, "it would be a disaster. The genetic pollution will damage biodiversity. You really have to careful about introducing this kind of thing." He thinks it's only a matter of time before transgenic rice is commercialised. Farmers, he says, are ignorant, and those that do know what transgenic rice is, are "running after a fashion. They hear the words 'United States!', 'High yield!', 'Insect resistant!' And they want it."

Not all scientists are concerned that poorly educated Chinese farmers don't know what transgenic crops are, making compliance with the push for GM a certainty. Professor Zhu Zhen of the Chinese Academy of Sciences says complacently, "They don't know what it is. There won't be much of a problem from the farmers."

Thailand's leading agricultural activist network has urged Thais not to vote for political parties which back free trade agreements and GM crops at next February's general election.

Millions of farmers will be severely affected when cheaper imported agriculture products flood the country, and there is a more liberal policy on the cultivation and research of GM plants, said a senior member of the network, Chinda Boonchan.

The cultivation of GM plants would also destroy local crops and allow powerful transnational companies to dominate Thailand's domestic agricultural market, he cautioned.

The network urged Thailand's political parties to adopt five basic principles. They include the establishment of a national committee on sustainable agriculture with at least half its members directly elected from local networks for sustainable agriculture, the setting up of an independent national institute for sustainable agriculture, the creation of a system to assure small farmers access to natural resources and to involve them in resource management, and the promotion of sustainable agriculture among 10,000 poor farmers and their families.

According to an article in New Age, the second largest English language daily in Bangladesh, there are clear lessons for developing countries in the commission of the North American Free Trade Agreement recommendation that the Mexican government minimise imports of GM maize from the US on environmental and health grounds and continue a ban on the cultivation of GM maize in the country. The warning came in the face of strong US opposition, which had succeeded in delaying the publication of the recommendation since June, as it runs contrary to US trade interests.

Ben Ayliffe of Greenpeace said, "When a free-trade organisation like NAFTA starts raising concerns about GM crops, it ought to set some alarm bells ringing. It's like McDonalds saying burgers and chips aren't very good for you."

Jonathan Matthews of GM Watch told New Age, "By undercutting the Mexican farmers [with subsidised exports], the US is also threatening the country's food security, and worsening Mexico's economic woes, since unemployment and rural to urban migration will increase sharply as the farmers lose their livelihood."


A new proposal to allow contamination of human food crops with GM experimental crops grown on "test" sites was published 24 November by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In sixty days from 25 November the new proposal could be accepted, giving biotech companies a major disincentive to control field tests contamination - which is therefore likely to increase.

It is already impossible to test for the presence of experimental GM food crops in foods imported from or processed in the US, because over two-thirds of US experimental GM crops contain genes classified as confidential which therefore can't be detected.

Juan Lopez from Friends of the Earth International said: "The Bush Administration, with the active support of the biotechnology industry, is about to force their untested genetically modified experiments into the world's food supply. This proposal should be ringing alarm bells in every consumer, every food company and every food agency of the planet."

The FDA policy comes in response to a 2002 initiative by the Bush Administration. FDA Commissioner Lester Crawford described the policy as "a high priority for the Administration and the industry, to enhance public confidence, avoid product recalls, and provide an international model" for similar policies around the world.

FDA release of the policy was announced at:
FDA's draft policy is available at:

US farm exports will plunge by 10 percent to just over $56 billion in 2005 as soaring crop production around the world lowers prices and results in greater competition for US farmers, the Agriculture Department predicted.

Agriculture in the US has also been hurt by European barriers to certain GM foods as well as last December's discovery of the first US case of mad cow disease, which triggered bans on US beef by a number of countries.

The commercial production of GMOs has created a legal minefield for American farmers and requires that farmers be particularly sure footed, says Farmers' Guide to GMOs, just released by the Farmers' Legal Action Group (FLAG) and Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA (RAFI-USA).

Co-author and attorney David R. Moeller of FLAG says that whether farmers grow GMOs, conventional seeds, or are certified organic, the use of GMOs in commercial agriculture can affect operations and have costly legal ramifications.

"After almost a decade of commercial production, we have reached that point," Moeller said, "where every farmer has a stake and has to be fully aware of the legal ramifications. No farmer should buy seed for next season without having a grasp of the information contained in this Guide."

The Guide warns: "Some legal scholars argue that if a farmer and/or seed company knows that a GM crop is difficult to control and that it will likely cross pollinate with crops in adjacent fields, the farmer and/or seed company should be held strictly liable for any resulting damages."

Co-author Michael Sligh of RAFI said, "The problems GMOs are creating for farmers are getting increasingly complex. We at RAFI felt it was time to invest in a collaborative effort to inform all farmers of the risks and legal liabilities involved and help them protect their self interests."

Copies of the Farmers' Guide to GMOs, the first comprehensive look at the subject, are available free at and

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), led by Bush appointees, is seeking input on a new proposed study in which infants in participating low-income families will be monitored for health impacts as they undergo exposure to known toxic chemicals over the course of two years. The study, entitled Children's Environmental Exposure Research Study (CHEERS), will look at how chemicals can be ingested, inhaled or absorbed by children ranging from babies to 3 years old.

For taking part in these studies, each family will receive $970, a free video camera, a T-shirt, and a framed certificate of appreciation.

In October, the EPA received $2.1 million to do the study from the American Chemistry Council, a chemical industry front group that includes members such as Dow, DuPont, Bayer, Exxon, and Monsanto. Critics of the research, including some EPA scientists, claim the study's funders guarantee the results will be biased in favor of the chemical industry, at the expense of the health of the impoverished children serving as test subjects.

For 30 years the ACC has known the high level of toxicity of the specific chemicals being "studied" in this project. These are some of the most dangerous known chemicals in household products. (see references at The trick here is that these products are known to have negative long-term health effects. This is a short two-year study. In other words, the results of he study are already known: there will be little or no obvious short-term negative effects on these children at the end of the two-year period. The seemingly positive results of the study will allow the ACC to announce positive "EPA study results" to the public, which will allow the ACC to more effectively lobby congress to weaken regulations on these products even more. This technique has been exercised by the ACC for decades.


The Network of Concerned Farmers (NCF) has taken aerial photographs of Australia's first commercial plantings of GM canola in Naracoorte and Lucindale, South Australia, and has published these on their website at

The photographs make it clear that most of the 9ha crop in Naracoorte has been a failure. "From the South Australian photos it appears that one of the GM commercial plantings has failed due to waterlogging," said NCF spokesperson Geoffrey Carracher.

"The photographs demonstrate clearly the danger of contamination as you can see how the water can flow from the site past the buffer zones into adjoining grazing lands. The long distance movement of viable seeds by flood and animals is one obvious way that GM seeds can escape and spread contamination."

The NCF claim that since commercial approval at a federal level, the government no longer guarantees a GM-free status and farmers are expected to accept liability for economic loss caused by GM contamination.


Industry has dropped its last attempts to get GM seeds approved for growing in Britain, in a final surrender of its dream to spread modified crops rapidly across the country. Bayer CropScience has withdrawn the only two remaining applications for government permission for the seeds - a winter and a spring oilseed rape, both modified to tolerate one of the firm's herbicides. Supporters of the technology say this will put back their commercial use in Britain for years. Environmentalists cite it as one more indication that they are never likely to be grown here.

Industry, ministers and environmentalists agree that the abandonment of the last applications means it will be the end of this decade, at the earliest, before any GM crops can be grown. Any new application will now have to go through a long process to be approved. First, it will have to be passed by the European Union. Even if that hurdle were surmounted, the crop would have to go through two years of trials in Britain, and then get government approval - a process that will be fought by protesters.

Bayer said it would not even try to carry out trials in Britain until the Government took strong measures to stop protesters pulling up the plants. And ministers now believe that there is no market for the crops, so they would not be grown even if approval were granted.

Back in March, Bayer said it would be pulling out of GM crop research in the UK; then, in June, it announced it would not pursue commercialisation of GM oilseed rape in Australia; and last week they also got out of GM in India, saying the future was conventional crop breeding.

See if you can fathom this interesting piece of Monsanto logic. Monsanto are using German research which claims to show there is no danger of GM farmers contaminating non-GM crops, to support their opposition to a proposed new German law under which GM farmers would be held liable for contaminating non-GM crops.

This is just the latest variant on the continuing paradox of the biotech industry's ferocious opposition to liability. Why do they fight every suggestion of legal liability tooth and nail, at one and the same time as claiming that GM crops are absolutely safe to eat, unproblematic to grow, great for the environment, etc.?

Monsanto Agrar Deutschland issued a statement saying the test results supported Monsanto's opposition to a proposed liability fund that would be used to compensate non-GM farmers whose crops are contaminated from GM crops. Under the new law set to be approved later this week, planters of GM crops who are found to have contaminated adjacent non-GM fields can be held liable for damages even if they followed planting instructions and other regulations.

Here's a shortened version of the report on the research in The Scientist (24 Nov 2004):

The organizers of a research project in which German fields were planted with genetically modified (GM) corn said today (November 24) that the test results prove that GM corn fields can "co-exist" with neighboring non-GM fields.

The announcement was made at a Berlin press conference just days before Germany's Bundestag, or lower house of Parliament, is expected to give final approval to a new law that would strictly regulate GM crops. Opponents of the law say it will stifle innovation and most likely trigger an exodus of GM research from Germany.

The tests, in 28 GM corn fields surrounded by non-GM fields in seven states, have been a magnet for controversy in Germany, whose environmentally friendly Greens Party is a junior coalition partner of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's ruling SPD party. Test field locations were kept secret to prevent their destruction by anti-GM crop activists.

Speaking to The Scientist after the press conference, W. Eberhard Weber, leader of the research team, said his study, which measured GM contamination in corn harvested from surrounding non-GM fields, shows that non-GM corn planted at least 20 meters from GM corn was not contaminated above the EU-allowed limit of 0.9%. According to EU regulations, corn with a GM level above 0.9% cannot be labeled as non-GM.

"There is no doubt that if you keep a certain distance, then co-existence between GM and non GM fields is possible," said Weber, who is head of the Department of Plant Breeding and Plant Protection at Martin-Luther-University at Halle-Wittenberg. "And that 'certain distance' not less than 20 meters."

Christoph Then, a Greenpeace Germany GM expert who heard Weber speak at the press conference, told The Scientist the study results appeared to be accurate. "But the conclusion that you have no problem if you put non GM crops 20 meters away from GM crops, this conclusion is wrong," Then said.

Then insisted that the 0.9% contamination threshold mandated by the European Union is irrelevant, because many German corn processors and millers will not accept corn with GM contamination above 0.2% to 0.4%.


Could someone have a word with the Food Standards Agency? This government body has long backed GM food and thrown doubt on organic foods, and now has a spiffy new consumer website that could have been written by Mr Monsanto himself. Remarkably, the FSA does not mention one single doubt thrown up by years of government and industry research into the technology. When asked why, the FSA responds that "Defra [Dept of the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs], and not the FSA, is responsible for looking at the environmental impact of GM". See
- John Vidal's Eco Sounding, The Guardian, 24 Nov,14124,1357822,00.html
More on the FSA:

The Catholic Institute for International Relations (CIIR) has responded in a letter (at to the attack made on it by Peter Raven, a Pontifical Academician and Director of the Missouri Botanical Garden, in his address to the US-Vatican conference, "Feeding a Hungry World: The Moral Imperatives of Biotechnology."

In his speech, Raven contrasted the rationality and scientific consensus found amongst supporters of the genetic engineering of food crops with the opposition, which he characterised as "ideological", "unsupported", "harmful", "idiosyncratic", "scientifically unfounded", "fanciful", "self-serving", "murky", "outrageous", "politically or economically motivated", "obscene" and immoral.

The least savoury aspect of Raven's address was his ludicrous attack on CIIR as allegedly a paid agent of the European Union or its individual member nations: "If allegations that the European Union or individual nations are funding pressure groups such as Greenpeace or 'The Catholic Institute for International Relations' (not affiliated with the Vatican, and perhaps not officially with the Roman Catholic Church) are true, they clearly indicate a misuse of taxpayer funds to support ideological causes that are unsupported and harmful to the development of Europe and its individual countries".

As we noted at the time, what made Raven's attack on CIIR, as allegedly a paid mouthpiece of an undisclosed funder (in effect, a foreign power) so disgraceful was his own failure to disclose anywhere in his address that the Missouri Botanical Garden, of which he is director, has received millions of dollars in funding from Monsanto. The Garden's multimillion-dollar research centre is even called The Monsanto Center after its benefactor! And that's the tip of the iceberg.

Meanwhile, despite Raven's personal attempt at excommunicating of the organisation, CIIR is, in fact, headed by a Romsan Catholic Cardinal. It was also founded by one.

Academics who were invited to be part of an exclusive email list from the 10 Downing Street biotech strategy unit are incensed that they have been deluged by a stream of pornographic emails for the past year, including a graphic invitation to take part in "raw and live" sex.

"Will you prats please close down this bloody email list?" said John Manoochehri, a senior policy adviser in the UN environment programme. Calestous Juma, UN consultant and professor of international development at Harvard university, was relatively restrained: "This is now a list from hell. Please shut it down!"

Downing Street apologized and said: "The porn ... received did not originate from No 10 or any government source and I have been reassured that the lists have been closed down." She said there were several possible explanations: that the email address was "spoofed" by hackers; that it had been copied from an external website; or that someone on the list had received an email infected by a virus that copies addresses.

But it was all too much for one unnamed porn recipient. If No 10 was "supposed to be full of high flyers who influence the future of Britain, yet they can't resolve a simple mailing list security issue, then this country is really in trouble."
- From John Vidal's Eco Sounding, The Guardian,3604,1354874,00.html


As the government committee who first let GM Food into Britain prepares to meet again, The ETC Group (an international research and advocacy organisation) has called for an urgent public debate about the use of Nanotechnology in food and agriculture - recommending that unassessed nano-foods and pesticides be removed from the market.

In a new report, "Down on the Farm" (available online, ETC Group offers the first comprehensive look at how nano-scale technologies will transform farming, food and agriculture. At a public meeting of the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes (ACNFP) on 24 November, questions have been tabled calling for the withdrawal, assessment and labelling of nanotech foods in line with recommendations by the Royal Society and others. ETC will also be writing to the European Commission as well as Food, Agriculture and Environment Ministers worldwide asking them to take precautionary action.

Nanotechnology refers to the manipulation of matter at the scale of atoms and molecules, where size is measured in billionths of metres and quantum physics determines how a substance behaves. According to Hope Shand, ETC Group's Research Director, "Over the next two decades, technologies converging at the nano-scale will have a greater impact on farmers and food than farm mechanisation or the Green Revolution. Most consumers and farmers are still unaware and have never been asked whether they want these changes to the food chain".

ETC's new report 'Down on the Farm' dishes out some big surprises: A handful of food and nutrition products containing invisible and un-labeled nano-scale additives are already on supermarket shelves. In addition, a number of pesticides containing nano-scale materials have been released in the environment and are commercially available. Nanomaterials exhibit different properties than the same materials at larger scales - and scientists are now finding out that some nano-scale materials are more reactive and mobile if they enter the body. Only a handful of toxicological studies exist.


The European Commission is attempting to overturn bans on GM food and crops that Austria, France, Greece, Germany and Luxembourg put in place to protect its citizens and the environment. On 29 November the Commission will ask all EU member states to vote against these bans. If the European Commission gets its way, these five countries will have to lift their bans and allow more risky GM products into their countries. The move is yet another case of the Commission acting under pressure from the US-led trade dispute at the World Trade Organisation (WTO). A pro-biotech decision would also send a worldwide signal to other countries not to ban GM crops.

YOU CAN HELP! Stop the European Commission from forcing risky GM foods onto your plate under WTO pressure. Send a letter, fax or email to your government, demanding that they vote AGAINST the Commission's proposals and ensure that the Commission protects the rights of countries to take a precautionary approach to GM foods and crops.

** Write to your Environment Minister today, demanding to vote NO! on proposals by the European Commission to end national bans on risky GM food! Email your minister at
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