from Claire Robinson
THE MONTH'S TOP STORIES
+ PUSZTAI DEMOLISHES PRESTON AND GM SAFETY STUDY CLAIMS
Dr Christopher Preston of the University of Adelaide claimed on the pro-GM AgBioView listserv that he has found 42 published studies, the vast majority of which found no harmful effects from GM crop products. Monsanto has supported Preston's claims. However, Arpad Pusztai, a leading expert in this field, points out that most of these studies are useless when it comes to evaluating food safety.
Dr Pusztai's comments are at
+ AUSTRALIAN PARLIAMENT ATTACK ON WAMBUGU, PRAKASH AND CO.
Ian Cohen MP 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.
+ AUSTRALIA: CONSERVATIVE THINK TANK MULLS ANTI-ENVIRONMENT REBELLION
A conservative think tank has launched a rebellion against "environmental fundamentalism". The Institute of Public Affairs (IPA), funded by mining, energy, biotechnology and agricultural companies, said environmentalists are now the new "establishment" to be overthrown.
+ SCIENTISTS UNDER ATTACK - MAJOR WORKSHOP
"Scientists under attack - reaction to research on the environmental and health impacts of GM crops" is the title of a major GM workshop at the Soil Association's annual conference TAKING PLACE THIS WEEKEND.
Speakers: Professor Ignacio Chapela, Dr Arpad Pusztai, Dr Terje Traavik and with Dr Andrew Stirling in the chair.
+ ZAMBIAN GOVT DRAFT BIOSAFETY LEGISLATION
The Zambian government has drafted biosafety legislation to ensure the country is not consuming GM food.
+ PHILIPPINES: GROUPS CLAIM BT CORN HAS BAD EFFECTS ON HEALTH
GM Bt corn, which is widely used by farmers, causes adverse health effects to consumers and planters, according to a science group. "Considering that Bt is a toxin injected to the corn seed to fight certain pests and anything toxic is harmful to our health, it's just like having pesticide inside us," said Shen Maglinte, deputy director of the NGO, Sibol ng Agham at Teknolohiya.
Sibol, along with other NGOs, are documenting cases of diarrhea, headache, influenza and chest pains possibly brought by the corn pollens from Mindanao. Maglinte said it was observed that people residing near the field with Bt corn crops experience itchiness when in contact with corn leaves.
+ EU-FUNDED PR OP ON GM FOODS EXPOSES EFSA BIAS
News has emerged about conflicts of interest in the controversial ENTRANSFOOD project, which has now made way for a successor European Commission-sponsored project, SAFEFOODS.
One of the aims of ENTRANSFOOD has been agreeing safety assessment and communication procedures that will "facilitate market introduction of GMO's in Europe, and therefore bring the European industry in a competitive position."
Disturbingly, a recent report by Friends of the Earth on the work of the GMO Panel of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) revealed that several members of this key advisory panel have also been part of the ENTRANSFOOD project.
The ENTRANSFOOD project claims it has "brought together representatives from academia, regulatory agencies, food manufacturers, retailers and consumer groups from across Europe." But there has just been one solitary representative of Europe's "consumer groups" involved and there is no consumer representation at all on the key ENTRANSFOOD working group looking at the critical issue of "Safety Testing". There are plenty of experts sympathetic to industry, though - some are employed by the biotech industry
Serving alongside employees of Monsanto, Bayer and Syngenta on the food safety Working Party has been Dutch scientist Dr Harry Kuiper. Kuiper is both Chair of the European Food Safety Authority's GMO panel and overall co-ordinator of ENTRANSFOOD. He also coordinates the successor project SAFEFOODS with his colleague Hans Marvin.
If it seems disturbing that the head of the key EU food safety panel on GMOs also coordinates a project which has the aim of facilitating their market introduction, equally worrying is Kuiper's involvement in the attacks on Dr Arpad Pusztai and his GM research. Kuiper has been accused of dragging "Pusztai through the dirt" while avoiding public debate with him.
Although the industry-aligned ENTRANSFOOD project offers little more than a PR gloss on GM foods, the Friends of the Earth report exposes how key statements of the European Food Safety Authority's GMO panel regurgitate almost word for word ENTRANSFOOD's position statements - statements arrived at with the help of employees of GM corporations.
+ WEEKLY WATCH HITS THE AIRWAVES!
An experiment is under way to make a short version of each Weekly Watch available as radio online. The first attempt involves Weekly Watch 103:
+ GM FOODS SHOULD BE BANNED, SAY DOCTORS
The Irish Doctors' Environmental Association has warned that, "[GM] foods have never been tested for adverse health impact on humans and animal tests have given rise to concern. Our association wants a complete ban on the growing of these plants and the sale of foods containing such products."
+ THE MYTH OF THE BIOTECH REVOLUTION
A paper in Trends in Biotechnology concludes that many expectations of medical biotechnology are "wildly optimistic and over-estimate the speed and extent of the impact of the technology...".
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." (This obvioulsy applies equally to the agricultural sector)
+ MINISTER TO ABOLISH GM SCRUTINY BODY IN UK
The environment secretary, Margaret Beckett, is to scrap an advisory committee after it repeatedly placed obstacles in the way of government plans to introduce GM crops. The commission established by the government to monitor ethical and social issues linked to GM crops is to be disbanded after its members insisted that conventional and organic farmers should be protected from contamination by GM crops - and be compensated if safeguards fail.
+ FARCE BEHIND MEXICO'S "MONSANTO LAW"
Summaries of two documents providing background on the Mexican Senate's recent passing of what has been aptly termed the "Monsanto Law" - a biosafety bill offering more protection to multinationals than to Mexico's farmers and biodiversity - are at
These documents show how the legislation was watered down and excluded amendments put forward by a group of scientists and academics calling for a continued moratorium on the importation of GM maize.
More at http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=4726
+ CHAPELA'S LAST CLASS? WE HOPE NOT
Dr Ignacio Chapela, whose research revealed GM contamination of native Mexican corn, recently taught his last class at University of California, Berkeley. Chapela was denied tenure at Berkeley, despite overwhelming support from his own department and from his academic peers. Chapela had also been a critic of a $25 million research deal between UC Berkeley and the Swiss biotechnology company Novartis (now Syngenta).
"SCIENCE NOT FOR SALE," read the signs at a vibrant rally outside the Chancellor's office 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 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."
Add your voice to the protests against the way Chapela was treated: http://www.gmwatch.org/proemail1.asp?id=7
+ CANADIAN FARMERS CONCERNED THEY MAY BE FORCED TO GROW GM
The National Farmers Union of Canada has presented its opposition to the Seed Sector Review completed in May this year. The NFU said, "The plan is to introduce legislation that will prevent farmers from being able to save seed and use it on their farms."
+ CONTROVERSY RAGES OVER MONSANTO'S CORN
After having expressed doubts about the safety of Monsanto's GM corn, MON 863, France's Biomolecular Engineering Committee (BEC), approved its importation into the EU on December 14 at a controversial meeting held without a quorum. The same body delivered an opinion on October 28, 2003 opposing the introduction of the same GMO!
Researchers from Covance Laboratory - commissioned by Monsanto - discovered blood stream anomalies (increase in white blood cell levels and lymphocytes in males, decrease in new red blood cells in females). An increase in female blood sugar levels was also noted. There were also more frequent appearances of renal lesions (inflammations, kidney stones) as well as variations in kidney weight in the animals fed MON 863.
These results led the BEC to conclude in its unanimously adopted October 28, 2003 opinion that "the study of low level toxicity conducted with MON 863 corn...raised... numerous questions... relating to the... significant differences observed in blood chemistry, clinical biochemistry, urinary chemistry and the weight of certain organs of tested animals".
The French body for GMO evaluation requested further information from Monsanto. However, the conclusions arrived at on the basis of these reevaluations do not satisfy Gilles-Eric Seralini, BEC member, who voted against MON 863's importation.
"Monsanto contradicts itself," Seralini says. "The first time around, their studies explain, in a rather amusing manner by the way, that there are 'significant effects without a pathological significance', and the second time around, their studies say that the effects observed are no longer significant."
+ BIOWATCH LOSES APPEAL IN SOUTH AFRICA
Biowatch-South Africa has lost its appeal against Syngenta over the company's growing and selling of GM maize in South Africa.
Biowatch criticised the appeal process which had been so drawn-out that by the time Biowatch's case was heard, the field trials of GM maize had been completed and the first crop of maize had already been harvested.
Biowatch said Syngenta's notices informing the public of its intention to grow and import GM maize had not complied with legal requirements. The appeal board confirmed that Syngenta's public notices had not complied with the law, but found that "little purpose would be served" in setting aside the permit because the trials had already been completed.
+ US TO RUBBER-STAMP CONTAMINATION OF FOOD WITH EXPERIMENTAL GM CROPS
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published a proposal on 24 November 2004 to allow experimental GM crops grown on 'test' sites to legally enter the food chain. The proposal is open for comment until 24 January 2005.
The FDA proposal came in response to a 2002 Bush administration initiative in the wake of widespread contamination of US food supplies and exports in 2000 with unauthorised Starlink GM corn, which continued to be detected in the US grain supply and in food shipments as recently as autumn 2003.
FDA Commissioner Lester Crawford described the proposed 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.
The new policy sets out loose "safety assessment" guidelines under which a company may voluntarily consult with the FDA to have its experimental GM crop material deemed "acceptable" as a food contaminant.
The "safety assessment" consists of paperwork and two inadequate tests that the FDA estimates will take companies just 20 hours to complete; and does not include animal feeding trials or tests for unintended effects caused by genetic modification. This would then give biotech companies the legal cover to allow their experimental GM crops to enter the US food supply.
+ OVERSIGHT OF PHARM CROPS IS POOR - REPORT
US federal oversight of crops genetically engineered to produce medications is inadequate to prevent unwanted contamination of food crops, according to a report, "A Growing Concern: Protecting the Food Supply in an Era of Pharmaceutical and Industrial Crops", commissioned by the Union of Concerned Scientists and carried out by independent experts.
+ US BECOMES NET FOOD IMPORTER FOR FIRST TIME IN NEARLY 50 YEARS
Following nine harvests as the world's biggest adopter of GM crops the US is now running an agricultural trade deficit for the first time in nearly 50 years.
+ POSILAC RISES AGAIN
Back in January, Monsanto announced that they would reduce their supply of their GM cattle drug Posilac (aka bovine growth hormone, rbGH, BST) by 50%, after FDA inspectors discovered unacceptable levels of contamination. But the company has now announced that increased supplies will be available - a disappointment to campaigners, who hoped that the drug would disappear.
+ RUSSIA SHOULD STAY GM FREE, INTERNATIONAL SYMPOSIUM
An International Symposium on 'Transgenic Plants and Biosafety' in Moscow has concluded on the need for an international pact to stop the spread of GM plants to areas that remain GM-free, including Russia, until the safety of GMOs for humans and the environment is proven.
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.
+ INDIAN FARMERS CHALLENGE DFID'S CORPORATE AGENDA
A party of marginal farmers from the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh travelled to London to berate Britain's Department for International Development (DFID) once again over its support for agricultural reforms that would have driven 20-30 million people off the land. The reforms included the introduction of GM crops.
+ AFGHANISTAN: CORPORATE SEEDS AND GLYPHOSATE SATURATION
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.
+ 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.
+ COEXISTENCE IMPOSSIBLE, COURT CASE SHOWS
Australian farmer Julie Newman of the Network for Concerned Farmers in Australia has drawn our attention to a report about a New Zealand vegetarian food manufacturer who has been fined for "positively promoting the absence of GM content" in a non-GM product that was found to be GM contaminated.
"Non-GM" or "GM free" must mean what they say, the court said. The judge during sentencing also noted that "many consumers only bought goods they understood contained no genetically modified products".
Julie points out, "This is a critical bit of news, as coexistence is based around definitions that claim that 0.9% is accepted in non-GM produce (for the EU) when the reality is that 0.9% is merely what triggers a GM label in the EU. In order to legally sell something as GM-free or as non-GM, the produce cannot have any trace of GM contamination. Coexistence is proven to be impossible to maintain at a zero tolerance level, therefore coexistence plans are worthless".
+ 2004 - THE FARMER'S VIEW FROM OZ
Julie Newman of the Network of Concerned Farmers looks at 2004 from the perspective of an Australian farmer.
EXCERPTS: "The misleading propaganda involved with promoting GM is nothing short of appalling. Australian farmers are told GM has far superior yields when there is no evidence and no reason to presume this. We are told that there will be a reduction in costs when the little information available reveals a significant increase in costs to all farmers. We are told there is no market risk when there is evidence that there is significant market risk for a range of our products. Again, the GM industry has been launching a concerted effort to discredit any alternative voice and quashing any adverse reports while refusing to submit the data required to support their claims."
"Trust must be earned, not demanded and this PR disaster is of the GM industry's own making as consumers will not be forced to consume food they do not trust. Consumers wishing to avoid being guinea pigs in a massive unmonitored, unrecallable experiment has caused increasing demand for foods that are guaranteed not to be GM."
MONTHLY REVIEW - DECEMBER 2004
from Claire Robinson