from Claire Robinson, WEEKLY WATCH editor
"SCIENCE NOT FOR SALE," read the signs on Thursday at a vibrant rally outside the Chancellor's office at the University of California, Berkeley, following Dr Ignacio Chapela's final lecture.
The Daily Californian reported, "Since Chapela was first denied tenure, hundreds of students, professors and activists have rallied around him and demanded the university reverse the decision."
Berkeley scientist Andrew Gutierrez told the paper, "(Chapela) is incredibly well-respected, both professionally and personally. He had people mesmerized in his last class - they were sitting at the edge of their seats."
Another Berkeley scientist, David Quist commented, "(Chapela's) research resonated truth. This is the kind of science we want to have. This should have been an open and shut case. Instead, they showed him the door."
But the fight for justice in the Chapela case is far from over. (see THE AMERICAS and CAMPAIGNS OF THE WEEK)
Other news this week includes an important International Symposium in Russia, involving all the country's relevant science institutes, which came out strongly against GMOs. Professor Vladimir Kuznetsov, Director of the Institute of Plant Physiology of the Russian Academy of Science warned participants, "scientific knowledge about plant's genome is extremely poor... It is absolutely obvious that long-term research aimed to prove GMOs' biosafety must PRECEDE their commercialization if any." (EUROPE)
Meanwhile, in Australia the lies of GM lobbyists CS Prakash and Florence Wambugu have been exposed in a brilliant parliamentary speech. (AUSTRALASIA)
Finally, please check out CAMPAIGNS OF THE WEEK. There's several very important ones and they're all easy to do.
www.gmwatch.org / www.lobbywatch.org
BIOTECH REVOLUTION A MYTH
GM HERBICIDE RESEARCH
CAMPAIGNS OF THE WEEK
BIOTECH REVOLUTION IS A MYTH
+ THE MYTH OF THE BIOTECH REVOLUTION
A paper in Trends in Biotechnology (vol 22, issue 11, Nov 04) concludes that many expectations of medical biotechnology are "wildly optimistic and over-estimate the speed and extent of the impact of the technology... suggesting that the assumptions underpinning much contemporary policy making need to be rethought".
The 'biotech revolution' model of innovation underpins a substantial amount of government health, education, science and regional policy. It has created widespread expectations about the rapid impact of biotech. These expectations are not remotely matched by the reality.
The authors have written elsewhere, "Unrealistic expectations are dangerous as they lead to poor investment decisions, misplaced hope, and distorted priorities, and can distract us from acting on the knowledge we already have about the prevention of illness and disease."
+ AUSTRALIAN PARLIAMENT ATTACK ON WAMBUGU, PRAKASH AND DECEPTIVE CORPORATIONS
Ian Cohen MP has made a brilliant parliamentary speech in the New South Wales Legislative Council . Cohen exposed the lies spread by AgBioView and CS Prakash, GM PR woman Florence Wambugu, and the deceptive corporate sector.
ON WAMBUGU: Many have bought the feed-the-world myth perpetuated by the GM advocates, but a closer examination reveals that it is a lie. One of the key proponents of this myth... is Monsanto-trained Kenyan scientist Dr Florence Wambugu. She claimed that GM crops were the key to eradicating poverty and hunger in the Third World. She told the New Scientist: "In Africa GM food could almost literally weed out poverty."
In the Nature journal she claimed that GM food could not only solve poverty but also take care of famine and environmental degradation. All of these claims were built on the Monsanto-created GM sweet potato. Wambugu claimed in the world's press that yields of the GE sweet potato, which were trialled in Kenya, were double that of the regular plant, with potatoes bigger and richer in colour. She went even further to claim that the GM sweet potato increased yields from four tonnes per hectare to 10 tonnes. All of this was an outright lie.
When the results of the three-year trial were published in January 2004 they showed that, far from dramatically out-yielding the non-GM sweet potatoes, the exact opposite was the case. The report indicated that during the trials non-transgenic crops used as a control yielded much more tuber compared to the transgenic. The GM crop was also found to be susceptible to viral attack-the very thing that it had been created to resist.
... A successful conventional breeding program in Uganda had produced a new high-yielding variety, which was virus resistant and raised yields by roughly 100 per cent. Yet the GM sweet potato was a total flop.
ON PRAKASH: One of the key advocates of the feed-the-world myth is Professor CS Prakash, who is Director of the Center for Plant Biotechnology Research at the Tuskegee Institute in Texas, and a roving GM ambassador for the US State Department.
He lied to members of the Tanzanian press last summer when he told them that GM "doubles production", while in the Philippines he told a press conference the lie that "most genetically modified crops have longer shelf life".
These lies come packaged with manufactured smears. Prakash told a press conference in Manila that Greenpeace could be getting money for opposing GM crops from "some companies that think their business operations will be greatly affected by widespread use of genetically modified crops". According to the Philippine Star, "Prakash would not say if pesticide companies are financing the operations of Greenpeace".
Professor Prakash poses as a third-world scientist rallying support from fellow academics. He is backed by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which is a far-right, industry-supported American think tank. One only has to glance at its web site to see how extreme it is. This institute campaigns against environmentalists. It attempts to debunk global warming, opposes controls on smoking, opposes the Kyoto Protocol and believes in complete deregulation of GM crops.
Professor Prakash accuses critics of genetic engineering variously of fascism, communism, imperialism, nihilism, murder, corruption, terrorism, and even genocide - not to mention being worse than Hitler and on a par with the mass murderers who destroyed the World Trade Centre. Professor Prakash has been heavily into dirty tricks campaigns against GM skeptics...
ON THE MINISTER: Imagine if you will the Minister standing in this Chamber 40 years ago strongly defending James Hardie's right to mine asbestos and to build fibro homes all over New South Wales. Imagine him saying that James Hardie was providing much-needed jobs for workers and building cheap and affordable homes for lower-paid people.
Imagine him saying further, "Fibro-using asbestos is a breakthrough technology and you greenies are just Luddites in opposing the use of asbestos." The Minister would have accused us of being anti-business and anti-jobs.
This Minister says much the same about those of us who express concern about the unknown health and environmental risks associated with GE. It took decades before we discovered the true and horrific cost of asbestos.
Ian Cohen also referred in his speech to an important new report showing how little was previously realised about the extent of damage to the genome from the process of genetic engineering, see it at http://www.econexus.info
+ RUSSIA SHOULD STAY GM FREE, INTERNATIONAL SYMPOSIUM
An International Symposium on 'Transgenic Plants and Biosafety' has just been held in Moscow, Russia. The meeting was organized by the Institute of Plant Physiology of the Russian Academy of Science in collaboration with the whole range of
scientific and public organizations of Russia and the CIS.
"...scientific knowledge about plant's genome is extremely poor... It is absolutely obvious that long-term research aimed to prove GMOs' biosafety must PRECEDE their commercialization if any," said Professor Vladimir Kuznetsov, Director of the Institute of Plant Physiology of the Russian Academy of Science (RAS).
Representatives of the 15 biological institutes of the RAS took part in the Symposium, together with researchers from the Russian Academy of Agricultural Science, the Russian Academy of Medical Science, the Ministry of Health, Moscow State University and other Russian universities, together with institutions in Norway, the Czech Republic, Ukraine, Moldova and Tadjikistan.
The resolution from the conference, which will be passed to President Putin, included the need to adopt an international pact to stop the spread of GM plants to areas that remain GM-free, including Russia, until the biological safety of GMOs for humans and the environment is proven.
+ GERMAN COMPANY CHIEF "SCUFFLES WITH FATHER CHRISTMASES"
Greenpeace has filed a legal complaint against the chief executive of a German dairy company, accusing him of attacking six of their protesters disguised as Father Christmases.
Prosecutors in Augsburg announced they were considering charging Mueller-Milch chief executive Theo Mueller with causing bodily harm and damaging property after claims of a violent confrontation in the car park of the firm's factory.
Greenpeace spokeswoman Karmen Ulmen said the Father Christmases had been trying to hand out organic yoghurt to employees to protest Mueller-Milch's use of milk from cows fed with GM maize. Ulmen said Mueller and around 50 employees confronted the protesters who were "struck and beaten with fists and feet".
+ FORMER MONSANTO MAN IN NANO PROTEST
Protesters disrupted a nanotech conference in Buckinghamshire UK , featuring speakers from arms company BAE and chemical giant ICI amongst others, organised by a UK Nanotech Trade Group whose backers include GM crop company Syngenta.
"The same greedy corporations who messed with the genetic basis of life are now seeking to alter and privatize nature right down to the atomic level", explained one of the protesters
The protesters also awarded their annual "Can of Worms" to former Monsanto man Harry Swan who "has now returned to the family firm to stake its future on becoming the UK's major producer of carbon nanotubes - toxic asbestos-like fibres".
+ PAKISTAN: CAUTION URGED ON THE BIOTECH "MIRACLE"
Caution is urged on biotech's promises in an article by Miguel Loureiro, lecturer in development studies at the Lahore University of Management Sciences.
Pakistan's natural resources have been depleted and soils and watercourses have been polluted by overuse of inorganic fertilisers and pesticides. If these issues aren't tackled, then the impact of biotechnology will be the same as of the Green Revolution - it will benefit a handful of Pakistanis.
But biotechnology goes even into other levels of questionable practices. For starters, the bulk of research and lobbying on biotechnology is being done by a handful of multinationals: Monsanto, DuPont, Dow Chemicals (remember Bhopal?), Advanta, Bayer AG, BASF, and Syngenta (formerly Novartis and AstraZeneca). ...all these giants were, at one time or another, involved in the creation of some of the most harmful products in our life on Earth: heroin, napalm, agent orange, and other chemical weapons.
+ INDIAN FARMERS CHALLENGE DFID'S CORPORATE AGENDA
A party of marginal farmers from the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh travelled to London this month to berate Britain's Department for International Development (DFID) over its past support for agricultural reform programmes that would have driven 20-30 million people off the land. The reforms included the introduction of GM crops.
There are no indications that DFID has changed its agenda despite the fact that local people in Andhra Pradesh have roundly rejected the development programme both when consulted as part of an imaginative citizens' jury and via the ballot box.
In many ways this epitomises the conflict over GM crops and our food futures. As Michael Pimbert of the International Institute for Environment and Development asks of DFID: "Is [the department] working to a corporate or a people's agenda?"
A very British aid advisor - the man from DFID, now of Syngenta - a GM WATCH profile
Andrew Bennet is the Executive Director of the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture, which has as its declared goal 'contributing to sustainable food security for small-scale farmers'. Syngenta is the world's largest biotechnology company and Syngenta directors occupy 3 of the 5 seats on the Syngenta Foundation's board.
Immediately prior to joining the Syngenta Foundation Bennet was Director of Rural Livelihoods and Environment for the UK government's Department for International Development (DFID) where he directly advised UK government ministers on issues like environmental protection and sustainable development.
According to an article in The Guardian, "Mr Bennett is known to be a supporter of GM technologies for developing countries, and to have helped to frame the department's policies and influenced its decision to contribute GBP600,000 a year to GM crop research in poor countries. He is also believed to have backed a controversial GBP65m British aid programme in Andhra Pradesh, India, that supports a state plan to introduce prairie-style farming and GM crops. Critics in India and Britain say the aid will help to force 20 million poor farmers off the land...".
+ AFGHANISTAN: CORPORATE SEEDS AND GLYPHOSATE SATURATION
Not so long ago we published some speculative comments about the possibility of GM wheat being introduced into Iraq, a breadbasket of the Middle East and the genetic origin of most wheat cultivated today. This followed news that the US has imposed laws forbidding Iraqi farmers from saving their own seeds.
In a nation where 97% of farmers save their own seeds, they will now be forced to buy seeds from multinationals - the leading company being Monsanto. http://www.grain.org/articles/?id=6
Now it's emerged that USAID are distributing wheat seeds in opium-growing areas of Afghanistan at the same time that the US is about to begin spraying these areas with Monsanto's glyphosate.
Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, is a broad-spectrum herbicide that will kill all conventional crops - but not GM herbicide-resistant (RR) crops. Monsanto's GM wheat (MON 71800), which is modified to be glyphosate-resistant, is one of the few crops that would survive such applications.
It has been suggested there could be no better opportunity than in Iraq and Afghanistan for the Monsanto-infiltrated US administration and the fanatically pro-GM USAID to force its unpopular GM wheat, which has been rejected by the rest of the world, on subject nations.
According to an article in The Independent,
The US is preparing to destroy Afghanistan's opium poppy crop from the air next spring, before it can be harvested, brushing aside objections from aid agencies.
The operation, modelled on controversial efforts to wipe out cocaine-growing in Colombia, reflects growing concern in Washington that the opium trade is financing al-Q'aida-linked terrorist groups and posing a grave threat to the region's stability. Hundreds of private security contractors and pilots will be hired to spray herbicides from low-flying aircraft.
..A Colombia-style operation in Afghanistan could spark rural rebellions, increase support for the Taliban's insurgency and perhaps cause damage to the environment and health, according to critics. They fear that destroying a crop on which an estimated two million farmers and their families now depend for their livelihoods could impoverish whole provinces without stopping the massive flow of heroin to Europe.
The herbicide glyphosate, used in Colombia, is reported to have caused severe skin rashes and other illnesses. If it is accidentally sprayed over legitimate crops, innocent farmers could suffer, and local famines might result.
See story at: http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=4702
For more on USAID: http://www.gmwatch.org/profile1.asp?PrId=165
+ ASIA HOLDS THE KEY TO THE FUTURE OF GM FOOD
Here's just a short excerpt from an extremely good article from the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization:
Wary Asian consumers may decide how much GM food will reach the world's dinner tables. It is in Asia that the new techno-food will live or die. Asia is home to the world's largest consumer base and the greatest number of farmers.
The talk in the United States and Europe is about consumers. The issue in Asia is livelihood, the farmers, and the takeover of the food system.
The stakes in Asia's decision on GM food are enormous: a huge market in seeds and crops, a total restructuring of farming practice, and a test of civil society's strength in countries where governments routinely dictate agricultural policy. The backlash against new technologies can be either a temporary speed bump or a significant obstacle. In the end, Asians will determine whether the new techno-foods remake the global diet or join radioactive fertilizer and cold fusion in the junk bin of science.
+ INDONESIAN FARMERS AGREE TO ADOPT MODERN BIOTECH - OR DO THEY?
Those who have followed the GM debacle in Indonesia may be startled to see the headline of an article from industry body ISAAA, '"Indonesian farmers agree to adopt modern biotech".
The article claims farmers in Indonesia are expressing their eagerness to have access to GM crops. This was apparently agreed upon during an Asian Farmers Regional Network (ASFARNET) workshop, or so we are told in the "weekly summary of world developments in agri-biotech for developing countries, produced by the Global Knowledge Center on Crop Biotechnology".
The Global Knowledge Center is a joint project of the biotech-industry backed International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) and AgBiotechNet. And what the article fails to say is that the Asian Farmers Regional Network was set up and even initially run by ISAAA, after which it was coordinated by a Secretariat headed by Edwin Paraluman, a pro-GM farmer from the Philippines who chairs a group there known as SARGEN.
It may be remembered that the Columban missionary Father Sean McDonagh recently commented on a presentation given by Paraluman at the conference organised by the US embassy to the Vatican in September.
"One of the farmers, Mr Edwin Y. Paraluman, is from Mindanao. I was interested to hear his fulsome praise for GE crops which he is growing in the vicinity of General Santos City. I lived with T'boli people in that area for over 12 years and I never heard of SARGEN the non-government organisation which Mr Paraluman chairs... I am familiar with many farming organisations in the Philippines... It is legitimate to ask why some of the numerous independent farmers' organizations in the Philippines were not asked to send representatives to the Conference?"
For more on the welter of industry lobbyists pushing GM in Asia, see Focus on Asia
+ CAMPUS RALLY SUPPORTS CHAPELA
The Daily Californian reports: The two-year battle over Ignacio Chapela's tenure came to a close [Thursday] when he taught his last class at UC Berkeley.
Chapela, a controversial associate professor who brought national attention to the university’s contract with a biotechnology company, was denied tenure twice despite receiving overwhelming support from his colleagues and department.
But Chapela's supporters say the fight is not over: more than 100 people crowded outside California Hall after his last lecture yesterday to urge Chancellor Robert Birgeneau to grant him tenure.
Waving signs reading, "Science Not for Sale" and "Tenure Goes to Those Who Earn It," protesters urged Birgeneau to address the crowd and reverse the decision.
"(Chapela's) research resonated truth. This is the kind of science we want to have," said David Quist, a graduate student who studied with Chapela. “This should have been an open and shut case. Instead, they showed him the door."
Chapela's bid for tenure stalled when it hit the university's budget committee and former Chancellor Robert Berdahl held off granting him the the position twice in 2003.
"We consider our tenure process to be among the most thorough and stringent in the country to maintain our academic quality and success," George Strait, associate vice chancellor of public affairs said in May. "We stand by the decision and our process."
But Chapela's supporters said rather than basing the decision on his work, the university denied him tenure based on his criticism of the university’s contract with one of the world's largest biotechnology corporations.
Since Chapela was first denied tenure, hundreds of students, professors and activists have rallied around him and demanded the university reverse the decision.
"(Chapela) is incredibly well-respected, both professionally and personally," said ecosystem science professor Andrew Gutierrez. "He had people mesmerized in his last class””they were sitting at the edge of their seats."
Chapela has since filed a grievance with the university that is currently being reviewed by the University Committee on Privilege and Tenure, said Dan Siegel, Chapela's attorney.
If Chapela prevails, another review of his case will be granted, which could possibly net a tenured position.
Siegel said if the university does not grant an additional review process, Chapela will sue the university.
Colleagues said Chapela all but quashed his chances of winning tenure when he headed up a coalition criticizing the College of Natural Resources' five-year, $25 million contract with Novartis Corporation.
"This sends a clear message to faculty who challenge the university: they are not guaranteed academic freedom, especially if they have the audacity to speak out against unethical research funded by corporate interests," Nunez said.
"I think there is a hunger in academia to get rid of these really pervasive interests, especially corporate interests that are so deeply imbedded in our culture," Chapela said.
** SUPPORT IGNACIO CHAPELA - SEE CAMPAIGNS OF THE WEEK, BELOW**
+ BUSH NOMINATES JOHANNS AS AG SEC
President Bush has nominated Nebraska Governor Mike Johanns to be the new Secretary of Agriculture.
John Nichols writes in The Nation, "One of the biggest mistakes that Democrats made in the first days of the Bush administration was to support the nomination of Ann Venemen to serve as Secretary of Agriculture. Venemen, with her close ties to agribusiness and the biotech industry, was precisely the wrong choice.
An unyielding supporter of free-trade initiatives, and an unquestioning backer of even the most controversial schemes to genetically modify crops, Venemen was a dream-come-true pick for multinational food-processing corporations, chemical companies and big agribusiness interests. But for working farmers and the residents of rural regions and small towns, she was a nightmare selection.
...Now, after a four-year tenure that confirmed all the worst fears of her critics, Venemen is leaving the Department of Agriculture for what will undoubtedly be a very lucrative return to the agribusiness and biotech sinecures she occupied before her sojourn in Washington. And the president has again selected a nominee for Secretary of Agriculture who is unacceptable.
Nebraska Governor Mike Johanns, who the president has named to replace Venemen, has a troubling track record of taking the side of agribusiness over that of working farmers."
Johanns has been a major promoter of the sale of GM crops overseas, leading delegations with the goal of opening markets for GM crops.
He also heads the Governors Biotechnology Partnership - a platform for State Governors to explore ways to promote biotechnology.
According to Johanns, "The promise of biotechnology includes new crops that mature faster, produce more, resist drought and insects, and provide better nutrition. The potential will exist to feed hundreds of millions of malnourished and starving people in underdeveloped countries around the world, especially in Asia and Africa, in a way never before possible."
Johanns also initiated what Nebraska farm advocates saw as an attempt to gut I-300, the state's 23-year-old ban on corporations owning farmland or engaging in agricultural activity in the state.
+ GM SUPER COKE? NOT LIKELY!
LETTER TO THE EDITOR, THE INDEPENDENT
Lots of nonsense floating around about a GM coca plant that should have been put to bed weeks ago by a Wired news investigation which showed this was a heap if hooey! Here's Robert Vint in a letter to one publication purveying this nonsense:
With reference to your article "GM coca plant boosts profits for drug cartels" (9/12/04), it is significant that no GM crop of any kind to date has increased overall yield. Usually the yield of GM crops is a few percent below the leading conventional varieties - yet the Colombian government claims that GM techniques have been used to increase coca yields by 800%. Such fanciful increases exist only in the propaganda of the US Government and the biotech industry. Maybe the Colombian government still believes these fantasies. Bayer and Syngenta, however, have both recently stated that improved performance is far easier to achieve through conventional breeding.
+ THE MILK DRUG THAT REFUSES TO DIE
"Effective December 1, 2004, as a current customer, you will have access to an increased supply of POSILAC." This news from Monsanto to its customers was disappointing for those around the world who understood its consequences. Back in January, the company announced that they would reduce their supply of the drug by 50%, after FDA inspectors discovered unacceptable levels of contamination. Many people hoped that Posilac would quietly disappear altogether. "If Monsanto gives this stuff up, it would be a godsend to both cows and people," said Rick North who heads up the campaign by Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility to fight the drug. But on October 8, 2004, Monsanto announced it would be increasing its supply back up to "at least 70%."
Posilac is a genetically engineered drug that increases milk production in cows by 10-15%. It is also known as recombinant bovine growth hormone, rbGH, Bovine Somatotropin, BST, and "Crack for Cows." Its controversial history has left fifteen years of frustrated whistleblowers strewn in its wake.
- Jeffrey M. Smith, author of Seeds of Deception
+ BIOTECH INDUSTRY REPORT CLAIMS GM CROPS GROWING
The Campaign reports on how a new report titled "The Global Diffusion of Plant Biotechnology: International Adoption and Research in 2004" was released on Wednesday by the Council on Biotechnology Information.
Since this report was prepared for supporters of genetically engineered crops, it paints a positive outlook for the future of GM crops. However, if we look closer, we find that the growth of biotech crops has been quite restricted.
There were only five countries that grew about 98 percent of the $44 billion of commercial genetically engineered crops in 2003-2004. Those five countries were: the United States ($27.5 billion), Argentina ($8.9 billion), China ($3.9 billion), Canada ($2.0 billion) and Brazil ($1.6 billion).
And the 98 percent that those five countries grew consisted of only four crops -- soybeans, cotton, maize (corn) and canola.
Eight other countries are growing some genetically engineered crops commercially, but the combined acreage is less than 2 percent of the global total. Those countries are South Africa, Mexico, Australia, India, Romania, Spain, Philippines and Uruguay. And there is a lot of heated debate in several of those countries regarding these controversial crops.
The global acreage is dramatically less than many in the biotech industry had predicted 10 years ago when these crops were first introduced on a commercial basis. Many promoters of biotech crops predicted there would be dozens of countries growing large-scale commercial acreage by now. And they expected dozens of varieties to be grown worldwide by the year 2000.
It has been the active protests of thousands of concerned citizens all around the world that have stopped the international acceptance of these risky crops.
If you would like to read the entire 124-page report, here is a link:
Note: The Campaign did a search on the word "organic" to see if the report addressed any concerns about organic crops being under attack from biotech pollen drift. The word "organic" never appears even once in the entire report.
+ BANNED GM SOYA SMUGGLED INTO ZAMBIA
The Zambian government is setting up stiff surveillance measures at all entry points on its borders following reports that banned GM soya beans entered the country illegally. Zambian Minister of Agriculture Mundia Sikatana said GM soya beans were entering the country using the southern border entries, a situation he described as "most unfortunate."
"The policy of the government is that we will not allow any genetically modified products to enter into the country and we are following up the reports that genetically modified soya beans is being smuggled into the country," he said. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=4700
+ SOUTH AFRICA: ANGLICAN CHURCH GROUP HITS AT GOVT STAND ON GMOs
Bishop Geoff Davies, chairman of the Church Environmental Network, representing members of the Anglican church, has spoken out against the government's backing of GMOs. He said it was disturbing that the government had given strict instructions to its delegates at the World Conservation Union congress to vote against the call to halt further releases of GMOs.
"The GMO issue is not only about untested technology, but the further economic enslavement of the poor to multi-national corporations and the extraordinary lack of transparency characterising the whole debate," Davies said.
+ KENYA: GMOS A HEALTH HAZARD - KOREAN SCHOLAR
GMOs are being imposed on Kenya to the detriment of the environment and human health, a visiting Korean scholar says. The country is not being given the opportunity to freely choose from a range of biotechnological options by competing multinational firms, explains Prof Soon-Kwon Kim. Now working at the Kyungpook National University's International Agricultural Research Institute, he is in Kenya at the invitation of President Kibaki to assist in the fight against hunger.
+ KENYA GM BAN SOUGHT
A parliamentary motion calling for a ban on ALL genetically modified foods has been brought before the House. Saboti MP Davies Nakitare was the proposer. Laikipia West MP G.G Kariuki (Narc), supporting the motion, said multinational food companies wanted to influence developing countries to adopt GM foods to boost their sales.
+ US PUSHES GM IN BOTSWANA
US ambassador Joseph Huggins has urged Botswana to exchange ideas on biotechnology and GMOs in order to come up with a comprehensive national framework on biosafety. Speaking at a seminar on biotechnology organised by the US mission and the government, he said GMOs and biotechnology could make Botswana move from food deficiency to food self-sufficiency and reduce dependence of imported food from other countries.
"Biotechnology may lead to more harvest with little effort and help improve food security in Botswana as excessive imports on food products from South Africa and other neighbouring states," Huggins said.
GM HERBICIDE RESEARCH
+ GLUFOSINATE HAS ADVERSE EFFECTS ON THE BRAIN AND CREATES AGGRESSION
Glufosinate herbicide, used in large quantities on Bayer's GM herbicide-resistant crops, has been found to have adverse effects on the brain, according to Japanese research.
Yoichiro Kuroda, the principal investigator in a project titled the Effects of Endocrine Disrupters on the Developing Brain, under a government program, believes polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and glufosinate can hamper the development and activity of the brain.
Glufosinate, widely used in the US on herbicide-resistant GM crops, is like a "mock neurotransmitter" that has an aggressive effect on brains, he said. If an embryo or a baby is exposed to the chemical, it can affect behaviour, as it disturbs gene functions that regulate the developing brain.
A decade ago, Toshiko Fujii, professor of medicine at Teikyo University, conducted research in which she found that the main component of this GMO-compatible herbicide had adverse effects on the brains of baby rats.
"Male rats often fight one another, but female rats are peaceful," Kuroda said in explaining Fujii's research. "But female rats born from mothers that were given high doses of glufosinate became aggressive and started to bite each other - in some cases until one died. That report sent a chill through me."
He said there is a considerable possibility that fetuses and babies are also affected by the substance, and since it is widely assumed that males are more aggressive to begin with, it is possible they are more affected than females.
For research showing glyphosate, the other herbicide commonly used on GM crops, is linked to Parkinson's disease, see http://www.weeds.iastate.edu/weednews/parkinsons.htm
+ AUSTRALIA: CONSERVATIVE THINK TANK MULLS ANTI-ENVIRONMENT REBELLION
A conservative think tank has launched a rebellion against what it refers to as "environmental fundamentalism". The Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) that is funded by mining, energy, biotechnology and agricultural companies attracted approximately 150 people to its inaugural "Eureka Forum" to help launch a "strong national network to counter the environmental movement".
In the eyes of the IPA, environmentalists are now the new "establishment" to be overthrown.
LOOK OUT FOR SOME AGGRESSIVE TACTICS EMERGING OUT OF AN ALLIANCE OF OZ BIOTECH BACKERS ENRAGED AT THE GRASSROOTS RESISTANCE GM CROPS HAVE BEEN FACING.
Associate professor in Geography and Environmental Studies at the University of Adelaide, Tim Doyle, believes the IPA's Eureka Forum mimics the anti-environmental Wise Use Movement that emerged in the US in the early 1990's.
"It is the same populist anti-government rhetoric that was employed in the United States by think tanks and groups - some of which were funded by corporations - to rollback environmental policies and undermine public support for environmental groups," he told IPS.
Doyle, who authored a book on the environmental movement in Australia - 'Green Power', argues that "the IPA seem to want to develop a grass roots base to mask their free market ideology."
"Their view is that all these issues should be left to the market and that there is little role for the government in regulating to protect the public's environment. It's an approach that would suit the IPA's corporate sponsors fine," Doyle pointed out.
At the IPA's Eureka Forum the head of the IPA's Environment Unit, Jennifer Marohasy, gave the opening address titled 'Environmental Fundamentalism'.
Marohasy is particularly critical of the introduction by most state governments of bans on GM crops, the ban on land clearing by agricultural companies in Queensland and proposed reallocation of water for environmental restoration in the Murray-Darling Basin, which drains over 14 percent of the entire continent of Australia.
"'Environmental fundamentalism' sounds like a description of the Institute of Public Affairs position denying climate change," said Catherine Fitzpatrick, climate change campaigner for Greenpeace Australia.
The IPA, which has received funding from a range of fossil fuel companies - including Shell, Esso Australia (a subsidiary of Exxon) and fifteen major coal burning electricity generating companies - has been a vocal critic of the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.
"The IPA's rejection of the scientific findings of the overwhelming majority of the world's scientists on climate change reveals that it is they who reject science," Fitzpatrick said. "They claim that climate change is not happening or if it is happening it is natural, or if it's not natural it's not large enough to worry about. Or if it is, it is too expensive to do anything about. They just won't accept scientific evidence," she added.
+ INSTITUTE OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS - A GM WATCH PROFILE
The right-wing Australian think tank, the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA), was established in 1943 and claims to have been "a significant player in the public policy debate" in Australia ever since. ...
With Monsanto amongst its funders, the IPA has a specific focus on biotechnology, saying it wants to "combat the misinformation put out by radical groups" who oppose genetic engineering. It claims this technology is "safer", "cheaper" and "more environmentally friendly" than conventional plant or animal breeding. According to its website, its promotion of genetic engineering takes place via "Biotechnology Backgrounders, Speeches and submissions, IPA Review articles/Other articles, Newspaper articles and letters to the press".
For full profile, see:http://www.gmwatch.org/profile1.asp?PrId=259&page=I
+ GM FOOD SAFETY RESEARCH: WHY HAS IT NOT TAKEN PLACE?
Robert Vint of GENETIC FOOD ALERT has written a letter (a slightly shortened version is below) to Prof Mike Gasson, head of the UK government's Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes (ACNFP). Gasson is also a member of the European Food Safety Authority's GMO Panel and Gasson is a consultant to Danisco Venture - a venture capital company that invests in biotech companies. For full profile:
We'll publish Prof Gasson's reply, if any.
Dear Professor Gasson,
GM FOOD SAFETY RESEARCH - Why has it not taken place?
... Browsing through the latest three editions of the British Journal of Nutrition I found quite a few feeding studies assessing the effects of whole foods on animals (usually without harming them) or on human volunteers. One looked at the effects of Jarlsberg cheese on blood serum levels in 22 human volunteers. Another assessed the effects of a new barley variety on cholesterol levels in pigs. A third looked at the effect of Camembert cheese on intestinal microbiota in rats...
The latest edition of the (American) Journal of Nutrition likewise reports on the effects of the Traditional Mediterranean Diet on Obesity in a Spanish Population - involving over 3000 human volunteers...
In the archives of both publications there are a vast number of such reports. As all these studies are published in academic journals they will have been peer reviewed and they are all available to the public and the scientific community for further independent evaluation. It is clear that professional nutritionists assess the long- and short-term effects of a wide variety of whole foods in this manner as a matter of course.
The safety of GM foods and the possible long-term effects on both humans and farm animals of eating them has been, as you will know only too well, a burning issue since late 1998 - the date of the "Pusztai Case". For the last five years over 200 non-governmental organisations, under the umbrella of the Five Year Freeze alliance, have been demanding a moratorium on GM foods until they have been demonstrated to be safe beyond reasonable doubt. Virtually the entire population of Europe has chosen not to eat such foods whilst such uncertainty remains. The entire insurance industry has failed to obtain access to reassuring research data and so have advised their members to add exclusion clauses to avoid liability for any health effects of GM foods. The European food industry has decided not to use such ingredients. None of them want to know about gene expression or substantial equivalence, they want to know what happens when you eat the stuff year on year.
And yet survey after survey continues to confirm the almost total absence of long-term, independent, published, peer-reviewed studies of the effects of feeding GM foods to humans or animals. ... I'm interested to find out why this research has not taken place.
One claim is that such research is unnecessary. It is claimed that US citizens have eaten GM crops for years without any effect. Yet during this period many health problems have increased in the USA (including soya and maize allergies) and these have cost the US medical service dearly. There has been no attempt to find out whether these correlate in any way with GM food consumption. There has been no post-release monitoring of the population. No coroner or doctor is in a position to record any symptoms, even death, as resulting from GM foods because no-one knows what symptoms there could be. Whether or not the products are safe they are being rejected by consumers and food manufacturers. Surely the economic impact of this alone indicates the necessity of such research.
Another claim is that such research is expensive - but surely the food manufacturers and importers and the major insurance companies can afford to pay for independent research that could open up an entire new market to them? After all, the examples of research that I have listed above would not appear to be especially expensive. And how much will it cost the economy if we make the wrong decisions in the absence of such research?
Another claim (made verbally by GM industry lobbyists) is that such research would be 'Luddite' and 'anti-science' because it would slow or obstruct the introduction of food and crop biotechnology. Make of that claim what you wish! I for one am pro-science in the sense that I would like more rigorous safety research, not less.
Yet another claim is that no-one is interested carrying out or publishing such research - yet it has been by far the most significant food controversy of the last decade. The UK government was certainly interested enough at one point to employ Dr Pusztai to carry out its official feeding studies. At that time the Government felt that such long-term whole food feeding studies were possible, necessary and affordable. Why does the government no longer think this?
At the time Dr Pusztai was sacked, silenced and publicly disgraced, a key argument used by the government was that research was not valid until it was published and peer-reviewed (I refer to the time before Dr Pusztai had the research peer-reviewed and published in the Lancet, despite threats to the editor). Does this not strengthen the case for ensuring that the public and consumer groups, the food manufacturers and insurers have direct access to published and peer-reviewed feeding studies to provide reassurance? Yet the reality seems to be that the sacking of Dr Pusztai marks the final end of public GM safety research in the UK. The Government terminated the research programme, decided not to repeat or improve Dr Pusztai's experiments and has never since commissioned any such research.
Not only has such government research been terminated but independent scientists wishing to carry out such research have been made to understand that their department or institute may lose funding if they are involved in 'irresponsible' research. Scientists have been denied access to the GM crop varieties and null cassette isotopes. Of the very few published papers on GM food safety that we have been able to identify, half were industry-funded and reported negative results, the other half were independent and all raised safety concerns. All the scientists raising concerns have subsequently been subjected to campaigns of intimidation or ridicule. The only two independent scientists on the government's GM Science Review panel, Dr Andrew Stirling and Professor Carlo Leifert, were likewise threatened as a result of raising their concerns.
The two hundred or more organisations in the Five Year Freeze alliance have demanded a moratorium on GM foods until adequate research has been published to confirm its safety beyond reasonable doubt. My impression - and it is a widespread impression - is that the UK government and the biotech industry has instead decided that there will be a moratorium on the safety research until the products are on the shelves.
We would welcome reassurance that the ACNFP and related bodies are not trying to hide the facts and that such research will be published - because it must now be clear to you that there is no hope of these products ever being sold in Europe in the absence of public access to this data.
Yours sincerely, Robert Vint, Director
CAMPAIGNS OF THE WEEK:
+ PLEASE TAKE ACTION IN SOLIDARITY WITH DR IGNACIO CHAPELA - STAND UP FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM!
Call, fax, or email Robert J. Birgeneau, the Berkeley chancellor
Tel 510 642 7464 Fax: 510 643 5499
E-MAIL YOUR PROTEST VIA GM WATCH - IT'LL ONLY TAKE A MINUTE:
Sample points to make are at this URL and can be modified according to your views.
+ SUPPORT THE CALL TO KEEP PARAGUAY GM FREE
On October 2004, the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock issued a resolution authorizing the addition of four species of GM soy for commercial production to the Cultivation Registry of Paraguay, despite the opposition of environmental, human rights and rural civil society organizations in Paraguay.
This resolution ignores the active opposition by organized peasant communities who have campaigned against GM soya and the use of toxics in agriculture, which have already caused serious problems, including deaths among members of peasant families affected by this type of cultivation.
Please support the "Transgenic-free Paraguay" campaign that SOBREVIVIENCIA, Friends of the Earth Paraguay, is undertaking with other civil society organizations. Please send a letter to the Minister of Agriculture of Paraguay to request an immediate reconsideration of his decision. Go to:
+ EMAIL THE VATICAN, SAY COLUMBANS
The Columban Missionaries - a Roman Catholic organisation of missionary priests, sisters and laity - are calling for letters to be sent to the Justice and Peace Council appealing to the Holy See not to endorse GM as a solution to world hunger.
The Columban Missionaries are calling on the Vatican to instead organise a serious and inclusive consultation on food and how to combat hunger in a world of plenty. They're asking for the consultation process to draw on the experience and expertise of as wide a group as possible and for it to be particularly sensitive to contributions from local churches where poverty and hunger are widespread.
E-mail the Vatican:
The concerns of the Columban Missionaries are at: http://www.columban.com
+ HELP MAURITIUS PROTECT BIODIVERSITY AND FARMER RIGHTS!
Help stop Mauritius being dragged into a system that will damage its biodiversity and farmers rights. Mauritius is about to sign up to the Union for the Protection of New Plant Varieties (UPOV). UPOV does nothing to protect plant varieties - the basis of the world's food supply - but rather allows the corporate take-over of plant breeding.
UPOV gives plant breeders a legal monopoly over seeds and therefore allows them to collect bigger profits from farmers for genetic innovations.
There is an alternative. The African Union, which represents all the countries in Africa, has developed its own model which avoids the problems of UPOV. In other words, if Mauritius adopts UPOV, it will not only be a disaster for the Mauritians but it will be bad for Africa as a whole.
Please give your support to a letter of protest to the Prime Minister of Mauritius about the proposed Plant Breeders' Rights Law being adopted in Mauritius. It will only take a minute. Go to: http://www.gmwatch.org/proemail1.asp?id=6
WEEKLY WATCH number 102
from Claire Robinson, WEEKLY WATCH editor