SOME OF THE MONTH'S TOP STORIES
Here's Claire's pick of some of the month's top stories.
+ CONTINUED LOSSES PUT PRESSURE ON MONSANTO PRODUCT LAUNCH
On 6 Oct 2004, Monsanto posted a net loss of USD 42m for the fourth quarter, spurring a 3.2% single day drop in share price. Continued erosion of sales, down 3% from a year earlier, has increased expectations for the agrochemical giant's newest product: low linolenic acid VISTIVE(tm) soybeans.
Monsanto is suffering depressed earnings, losses to share price, and a troubled horizon. Stock analysts give mixed reviews of the firm's prospects, many citing concerns that the company is overvalued by Wall Street, and that long-term growth will be below average. All of which means Monsanto's future will be critically dependent on the success of developing its GM seeds and traits business.
+ INDIA: NO END TO WOES OF BT COTTON FARMERS
Complaints are coming in once again from Bt cotton farmers in various parts of the state of Andhra Pradesh. The farmers' experience indicates that the recovery rate of Bt cotton from serious moisture stress is poor. Though the plant has recovered from stress, the yield after the shock is very poor when compared to non-Bt types.
+ WORLD CONSERVATION UNION CALLS FOR MORATORIUM ON FURTHER RELEASE OF GMOs
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. Although the IUCN resolution is not legally binding, the member countries are morally obliged to carry out the adopted items.
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.
+ NAFTA REPORT CALLS GM GRAIN A THREAT TO MEXICO; BUSH ADMINISTRATION DISPUTES STUDY
A scientific panel of international experts has concluded that the unintended spread of US GM corn in Mexico - where the species originated and modified plants are not allowed - poses a potential threat that should be limited or stopped. But the US has attacked the report and its conclusions as unscientific, and made clear it did not intend to accept the recommendations.
The report, written by a group convened under the North American Free Trade Agreement, rejected the US position that the modified corn is, in effect, no different than conventionally bred corn hybrids. It said that because the Mexican government has never examined or approved the use of transgenic crops, their presence in the country is a problem.
+ PUSZTAI ON FOOD SAFETY AND MONSANTO'S 863 CORN
Dr Arpad Pusztai has commented on a recent pro-GM piece published on AgBioView by Dr Christopher Preston of the University of Adelaide, looking at the lack of peer-reviewed publications on the safety of GM foods.
Dr Pusztai takes particular issue with how Preston presents the findings of the research on rats fed the controversial MON863 GM corn. He comments, "I am sure Dr Preston must have read a different submission on MON863 to the one that I read", and he quotes from the submission to show it says the exact opposite to what Dr Preston claims.
+ GM SAFETY TESTS FLAWED, NEW PAPER SHOWS
A peer-reviewed scientific paper published on 16 November in Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering Reviews debunks the myth that GM crops are thoroughly tested, regulated and proven safe.
The paper, "Safety Testing and Regulation of Genetically Engineered Foods", includes a comprehensive case study of two types of insecticide-producing GM corn (chiefly the MON810 variety of Monsanto), showing how flawed testing and regulation permitted these varieties onto world markets despite evidence that they could cause food allergies.
+ ITALY: TOUGH COEXISTENCE BAN PASSED
The Italian Government has just passed a tough bill on coexistence between GM, conventional and organic crops. Prime minister Berlusconi tried to block the bill as restrictive and illiberal, but in the end he and his ministers had to pass it because of the popular outcry.
The decree bans the cultivation of GMOs in open fields, in a bid to prevent the contamination of traditional crops. But it will not outlaw restricted and protected testing of GMOs.
+ SYNGENTA ABANDONS GM WHEAT TRIALS IN GERMANY
Blaming disruptive efforts from environmentalists, Syngenta has decided to not pursue any further field trials with GM wheat for the time being in Germany, and is abandoning GM in Europe altogether.
+ BAYER BACKS OUT OF UK - AND EVERYWHERE
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.
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 (see below).
+ BAYER PULLS OUT OF GM IN INDIA, ADMITS THAT FUTURE IS IN CONVENTIONAL BREEDING
In an admission of immense significance to the entire GM industry, Bayer Crop Science has conceded to Greenpeace India that all its projects on GM crops have been "discontinued". Bayer's withdrawal from GM research around the world is part of a larger pattern of retreat in the biotechnology industry. For example, Monsanto globally abandoned GM wheat research earlier this year. The company also shelved its Australian work on GE canola one month prior to a similar decision by Bayer.
+ MONSANTO OFFICIAL TAKEN HOSTAGE BY ANGRY INDIAN FARMERS
About 200 cotton farmers took into custody the District Manager of Monsanto, T.V.S. Gupta, and eight Agriculture Department officials on 9 November demanding compensation for the Bt Cotton seed that had failed to germinate properly leading to poor yield.
The next day, the farmers, of Guntur district, released the nine hostages after an assurance from the District Manager of Monsanto Seeds that it would pay compensation. The farmers demanded a compensation of Rs.15,000 per acre for about 20 acres.
+ JAPAN: NEW HOKKAIDO RULES WOULD STOP FARMING OF GM CROPS
Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost prefecture and its largest food-producing region, plans to put in place next spring restrictions that would result in an effective ban on commercial cultivation of GM crops.
+ FED UP WITH LIES & CORPORATE SPIN?
A major new website called SpinWatch has been launched (http://www.spinwatch.org ) that aims to counter corporate PR and government propaganda.
+ VENTRIA FLEES CALIFORNIA
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.
+ SCIENTISTS WORRY ABOUT RUSH FOR GM RICE IN CHINA
Scientists say the rushed introduction of GM rice in China 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.
+ US TO LEGALISE GM CONTAMINATION
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.
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.
+ MONSANTO AND BAYER BACK EPA IN TESTING EFFECTS OF KNOWN TOXIC CHEMICALS ON POOR CHILDREN
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.
+ GERMAN GM STUDY EXPOSES MONSANTO PARADOX
Monsanto is using German research (published in The Scientist 24 Nov 2004) 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.?
+ AFTER GM FOOD, HERE COMES NANO-FOOD!
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. 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.
+ FOOD SAFETY SPIN: "GMOS SAFE FOR ENVIRONMENT, HUMAN USE, STUDY SAYS"
A revealing piece of spin from America: researchers at Southern Illinois University Carbondale detected bits of corn transgene in the stomach contents of 50 piglets, and found GM gene DNA in one of the samples screened from the small intestine, suggesting that GM gene DNA can at times survive the digestive process in pigs. This news is released as, "GMOs safe for environment, human use, study says"!
This curiously illogical leap is presumably supposed to imply that the low incidence of GM DNA survival into the small intestine in pigs suggests transgenes do not, in all likelihood, survive the digestive process and end up in the small intestines of humans.
If so, this is already known to be a misplaced assumption. Intact GM DNA was found in the small intestine of humans in the Newcastle human feeding trial. Interestingly, the subjects in the Newcastle study were tested after only ONE meal containing GM soy content and yet the tests showed transgenes transfer out of GM food into gut bacteria at detectable levels.
Despite this, the new pig research, we are told, confirms that GMOs "are safe for human consumption", not to mention the environment! The Council for Food and Agricultural Research and the Illinois Corn Marketing Board paid for the research.
+ NON-GM IRON-ENRICHED RICE A SUCCESS
A non-GM iron-rich rice has been developed in the Philippines. In tests on Catholic nuns, sisters who consumed high-iron rice "ingested about 20 percent more iron than those who consumed regular rice," the ADB noted. "On average, they increased their body iron by 10 percent."
+ MONSANTO GOES AFTER PEER REVIEWERS
More than 20 chemical companies, including Monsanto and Dow Chemical, have taken the unusual step of issuing subpoenas to five peer reviewers of a scholarly book. The book, Deceit and Denial: The Deadly Politics of Industrial Pollution, presents evidence that in the late 1960s and early '70s, chemical-industry leaders failed to inform the government about a link that had been found in experiments with rats between exposure to vinyl chloride monomer and cancer. The director of the University of California Press, which published the book, called the companies' actions "really pretty sleazy. ... They're trying to discredit the peer-review process."
+ AUSTRALIAN FARMERS FIGHT BACK
The Network of Concerned Farmers (NCF), an alliance of Australian conventional and organic farmers, are encouraging farmers to forward letters to Bayer Cropscience insisting they accept liability for their trespassing GM products.
MONTHLY REVIEW -- NOVEMBER 2004