GMWatch News Review archive
MONTHLY REVIEW No. 93
From Claire Robinson, Monthly Review editor
REST OF THE MONTH'S NEW IN BRIEF
VIDEOS OF THE MONTH
+ PLENTY OF NON-GM ANIMAL FEED AVAILABLE FOR POULTRY INDUSTRY - AWARD WINNING FOOD WRITER
An excellent article has appeared in the UK food industry outlet, The Grocer, by award-winning food writer Joanna Blythman, critiquing the British Poultry Council (BPC)'s proposal to dump its long-standing guarantee that members use only non-GM poultry feed. The BPC says that this "unsustainable" rule is "imposed by retailers". It's too hard to source non-GM soy, it complains.
Blythman says this is nonsense. Forty per cent of Brazilian soya is certified non-GM, "so if poultry producers can't get their act together to source some from the perfectly efficient companies importing it, they clearly aren't trying." She also warns, "Any fool can see that BPC producers would be slitting their own throats if they went down the GM path."
Blythman's analysis was confirmed in The Grocer by a company that certifies non-GM soy:
+ WHAT WE KNOW - AND DON'T KNOW - ABOUT THE SAFETY OF EATING GMOs
Good summary by Tom Philpott of Grist:
For research on the health effects of GM foods and crops on laboratory animals, see
+ GM FOODS: POISONING OUR PEOPLE?
Good analysis from Glenn Ashton:
+ EXPRESSION OF BT TOXIN HAS DETRIMENTAL EFFECT ON PLANT GROWTH, DEVELOPMENT
Indian scientists have discovered that the genetic modification of plants with the Bt toxin gene, which is used in crops worldwide, may severely damage the plants. The scientists at the University of Delhi have shown that inserting a bacterial gene that makes a protein named Cry1Ac into genomes of plants appears to cause developmental defects, growth retardation and sterility in cotton and tobacco plants.
The plants that express high enough levels of the insecticidal toxin to control pests grow and develop less well and are more likely to have abnormalities. The plants that express low levels of the toxin (and therefore are unlikely to be able to control pests) grow and develop better and are less likely to have abnormalities.
+ SWEDEN: GM POTATO BLOCKADERS REMOVED BY POLICE
Police officers in northern Sweden took action against a group of Greenpeace activists who were occupying a barn while protesting against the planned introduction of GM Amflora potatoes in the area. "It is tragic that the Swedish state uses the police to let the company carry on with the planting of this hazardous GM potato while other countries ban the crop," said Patrik Eriksson of Greenpeace. The activists had been chained to the barn but police cut the chains and removed them. They were then carried, one by one, to a police van and were taken to a police station. According to police they will be charged with arbitrary conduct and trespassing.
The activists were later released and were back within a couple of days, forming a blockade at the warehouse holding the Amflora potatoes.
Hungary has already taken the EU Commission to the European Court of Justice over the approval of Amflora. They were later joined in this legal challenge by Austria, Luxembourg, Poland and France. Several countries have also already forbidden the cultivation of the risky GMO potato.
TAKE ACTION! Please ask the Swedish government to ban the cultivation of Amflora - just like other European countries already have - and make Sweden GM-free:
Show your solidarity with the protesters here: http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/getinvolved/gmo-potato/
+ PROTESTERS DESTROY GM POTATO FIELD TRIAL IN BELGIUM
Protesters have destroyed a GM potato field trial in Belgium. In Wetteren, a municipality in the Belgian province of East Flanders, activists succeeded in damaging the GM potatoes being trialled for blight resistance, despite a large contingent of police officers who had been ordered to guard the GM trial. The officers were unable to stop the 300-400 or more peaceful protesters of all ages, who included local people.
In an open letter to the scientists conducting the GM trial, a group of scientific researchers working at various academic institutions explained why they sided with the activists. One researcher was sacked for making a stand, while others were threatened.
Non-GM blight-resistant potatoes already available:
+ TAKE ACTION: SIGN THE PETITION OF SUPPORT FOR SACKED RESEARCHER
Dr Barbara Van Dyck has been dismissed by the the Catholic University of Leuven because of her expression of solidarity with the protesters who destroyed a field trial of GM potatoes developed as part of a public/private partnership between the University of Ghent and the German chemical giant BASF. "We appeal to academics worldwide to resist this dismissal and to sign this open letter." There is also a petition that can be signed by non-academics.
+ SHIELDING CROPS FROM GMOs PROVES COSTLY
Trying to keep GMOs from contaminating traditional crops could cost up to a fifth of the total production cost, a Swiss study concludes. This figure comes from a report done by the national agricultural research organization, Agroscope, and Zurich's Federal Institute of Technology (ETH). According to the study, the extra cost of shielding normal crops from GMOs ranges between one and 20 percent of production costs. Switzerland has a moratorium in place for GMOs until 2013.
+ KENYAN FARMERS REJECT GM, ROOT FOR ORGANIC
A coalition of small-scale farmers in Kenya has reignited the campaign against cultivation of GM crops while stressing that organic farming offers a sustainable path towards a food secure and ecologically healthy future. The farmers challenged the government to recognize organic and other agro ecological farming practices in agriculture policies.
President Mwai Kibaki signed the Biosafety Act in 2009 to pave the way for cultivation of GM crops. But Anne Maina of the African Biodiversity Network said, "Our ability to feed Africa through agro ecological practices is recognized and supported by UN reports and broad scientific consensus," said Maina.
Jack Rware, an organic farmer in Embu, says that organic farming has brought good tidings to his household since he embraced the practice almost two decades ago. "We no longer spend money on chemical fertilizers and depend on compost manure to grow staple crops. Organic manure promotes soil nutrients and water retention. Yields have gone up and new market frontiers for organically grown crops have opened up," said Rware.
+ UGANDAN FARMERS REJECT GM SEEDS
Farmers have strongly rejected the use of GM seeds in Uganda, saying their introduction is detrimental to the indigenous seed. At a meeting of farmers' groups, it was noted that GMOs are not the solution to the food challenges in Uganda or in Africa. Instead, they pose more problems. "The protection and preservation of indigenous/traditional seed is fundamental in ensuring food security," read a joint statement from farmers.
Mr Robert Tumwesigye, the director of Pro-Biodiversity Conservationists in Uganda, said GM trials in Uganda were done hurriedly and the absence of the law guiding the technology did not make matters any better. "GMOs have come but they are a false hope to food security," Tumwesigye argues. "Their introduction is being done hurriedly and haphazardly, for example open field trials started before the legal framework, so there is no protection for any problems that arise."
+ PROTESTS GREET OPENING OF NEW GATES FOUNDATION CAMPUS IN SEATTLE, USA
On the public opening day of the new Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation campus in Seattle, local activists called attention to the negative aspects of the Foundation's agricultural development efforts in Africa. Although farmers, activists, and civil society organizations throughout Africa and the US have pointed to fundamental problems with the programs of the Foundation and its subsidiary, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), the Foundation has been unresponsive to these concerns.
The majority of the projects funded by Gates promote high-tech industrial agricultural methods and market-driven development privatizing seed, lobbying for GM crops, increasing farmer debt alongside corporate profits, and encouraging land consolidation. The Foundation's "theory of change" acknowledges that this approach will ultimately push many small-scale African farmers off of their land, driving them into the cities to swell the numbers of unemployed and marginalized but seems unperturbed by such consequences. Thus, the agricultural development agenda on the continent is being determined from Seattle instead of locally, and control over African food systems is being transferred from farmers to transnational corporations.
Local activists emphasize that they support drawing on traditional and indigenous agricultural knowledge, as well as incorporating new technologies into African farming; however, those technologies need to be small-scale, not dependent upon foreign capital, and environmentally and socially sustainable in other words, agroecological.
"To feed 9 billion people in 2050, we urgently need to adopt the most efficient farming techniques available," said Olivier De Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food and author of a report issued two months ago. "Today's scientific evidence demonstrates that agroecological methods outperform the use of chemical fertilizers in boosting food production where the hungry live especially in unfavorable environments." De Schutter said that agroecology is not anti-technology: "Agroecology is a knowledge-intensive approach. It requires public policies supporting agricultural research and participative extension services."
Kenyan farmer and director of the Grow Biointensive Agricultural Center of Kenya (G-BIACK), Samuel Nderitu, said, "The technologies that are promoted by the Gates Foundation in Africa are not farmer-friendly or environmentally friendly. Some of them have not been tested fully to determine their effects on the environment and consumers. African farmers are seeking food sovereignty, not imposed unhealthy foods and GMOs!"
+ GROW BIOINTENSIVE AG CENTRE IN KENYA
A successful organic farming project that is gaining popularity is the Grow Biointensive Agriculture Center of Kenya. The Grow Biointensive system is practiced all over the world but seems well suited to the Global South. It focuses on building good soil structure and fertility, achieving self-sufficiency in natural fertilizer, conserving water, and using open-pollinated seeds that suit local conditions.
+ ARGENTINA ACCUSES BIG FOUR GM SOY GIANTS OF HUGE TAX EVASION
The world's four largest grain traders, responsible for the vast majority of global corn, soya and wheat trading and processing, have been accused of large-scale tax evasion in a landmark series of cases being brought against them by the Argentinian government. Ricardo Echegaray, the head of Afip, the country's revenue and customs service, said his department is bringing charges against ADM, Bunge, Cargill and Dreyfus. "These companies have gone into criminality," Echegaray said. "2008 was when agricultural commodities prices spiked and was the best year for them in prices, yet we could see that the companies with the biggest sales showed very little profit in this country.
GMWatch comment: The Argentine government has hitherto been an enthusiastic supporter of the the soy economy (most of which is GM soy), because it has levied export taxes on soybeans that reached a massive 35 per cent in 2010.
+ NEW THREATS BY MONSANTO AGAINST ORGANIC FARMERS
New threats by Monsanto have led to the filing of an amended complaint by the Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT) in its suit on behalf of family farmers, seed businesses, and organic agricultural organizations challenging Monsanto's patents on GM seed. "Our clients don't want a fight with Monsanto, they just want to be protected from the threat they will be contaminated by Monsanto's genetically modified seed and then be accused of patent infringement," said PUBPAT director Daniel B. Ravicher. "We asked Monsanto to give our clients reassurance they wouldn't do such a thing, and in response they chose instead to reiterate the same implicit threat to organic agriculture made in the past."
Soon after the March filing of the lawsuit, Monsanto issued a statement saying they would not assert their patents against farmers who suffer "trace" amounts of transgenic contamination. In response, and in the hope the matter could be resolved out of court, PUBPAT attorneys wrote to Monsanto's attorneys asking the company to make its promise legally binding. Monsanto responded to PUBPAT's request by hiring former solicitor general, Seth P. Waxman, a partner in the Washington, DC office of WilmerHale, who rejected PUBPAT's request and instead confirmed Monsanto may indeed make claims of patent infringement against organic farmers who become contaminated by Monsanto's GM seed.
+ UNLABELLED CLONE MEAT ALLOWED ON SHOP SHELVES
Here's more on the recent EU decision to allow clone products to be sold unlabelled:
+ GOLDEN RICE - OR TROJAN HORSE?
Big funders and new NGOs are teaming up with the pesticide-biotech giant, Syngenta, in a renewed effort to push GM golden rice forward in Bangladesh and the Philippines through the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has approved $20 million in new monies towards the development of golden rice. Meanwhile, Helen Keller International (HKI), a New York-based health and nutrition NGO, has also jumped on board.
Speaking from Malaysia, Sarojeni V. Rengam, Executive Director of Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific (PAN AP) called on the donors and scientists involved to wake up and do the right thing: "Golden Rice is really a 'Trojan horse'; a public relations stunt pulled by the agri-business corporations to garner acceptance of GE crops and food. The whole idea of GE seeds is to make money.
Rengam said donor organizations' money and efforts would be better spent on restoring natural and agricultural biodiversity rather than destroying it by promoting monoculture plantations and GM food crops.
Marcia Ishii-Eiteman of PANNA points out that the golden rice project does not have a single farmer, indigenous person, ecologist, or sociologist on board to assess the huge political, social, and ecological implications of this massive experiment. The leader of IRRI's golden rice project is none other than Gerard Barry, previously director of research at Monsanto.
REST OF THE MONTH'S NEWS IN BRIEF
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+ WHOLE GM BT TOXINS FOUND IN HUMAN AND FOETAL BLOOD - GM CROPS/IMPORTS MUST STOP
The study that found GM Bt toxin in the blood of women and evidence that it was passed to foetuses continues to make headlines. Articles appeared in the UK's Daily Mail, Telegraph and Independent newspapers. GM Freeze is calling for an immediate halt to GM Bt crop cultivation and imports of Bt GM food and feed until the findings are properly evaluated and further studies can be done.
Useful study summary
Why Bt toxin found in human blood is not harmless
+ RE-ASSESSMENT OF GLYPHOSATE SILENTLY POSTPONED IN EUROPE
The European Commission has delayed a planned re-assessment of the pesticide glyphosate to allow chemical companies a three-year extension to complete applications. The Commission has also postponed the re-assessment of 38 other pesticides used in agriculture in Europe.
Pesticide Action Network Europe (PAN) and Greenpeace filed a complaint before the General Court of the European Union challenging the Commission's decision, which ignores growing evidence on the harmful effects of glyphosate on health and the environment. The re-assessment of the 39 pesticides should have taken place in 2012 but was postponed to 2015.
Since the authorisation of glyphosate in Europe in 2001, an alarming number of scientific studies have shown that it can have serious adverse effects on human and animal health and on the environment. The current authorisation of glyphosate is based on old safety tests mainly carried out by chemical companies, which lack the necessary independence. In addition, the tests are no longer up to date. In light of recent scientific findings, the safety of glyphosate products must be urgently re-assessed.
+ REFORM NEEDED ON EUROPE'S GM CROP RISK ASSESSMENT
An alliance of 19 environment, consumer and sustainable development groups from across Europe is calling for major changes to the draft risk assessment procedures companies will have to follow when applying for approval to grow GM crops. Pete Riley of GM Freeze said: "There is EU-wide support for tightening the risk assessment for GM crops and making the approvals process far more inclusive, allowing the concerns of Member States, individual farmers, independent scientists and the public to be fully considered alongside the analysis of the biotech companies.
"The current draft guidance leaves a lot to be desired and leans far too heavily on outdated concepts, such as 'substantial equivalence', developed by the very biotech companies who stand to profit from GM crops gaining approval."
+ GM TOMATO PUREE: THE SUCCESS STORY THAT NEVER WAS
GM tomato puree is often touted by the biotech lobby as an example of a GM product that outsold non-GM equivalent products and would have been a success were it not for the fearmongering of anti-GM activists. But this is untrue, as revealed by an article by Dr Peter Quaife. Quaife's research showed that the GM tomato puree was actively promoted in UK stores by those pushing the technology. These people pressured store owners to price the GM product at an artificially low cost that did not reflect the cost of production. They ensured that it was placed in stores known to have lots of cost conscious customers. Information leaflets given to customers offered only positive messages about GM, not arguments against. In other words, the 'success' of GM tomato puree was not due to a free choice by consumers, but to a promotional launch.
+ EU: TRADE LAW AN EXCUSE TO STOP LABELLING OF FOOD FROM CLONES
The European Council (the EU's main decision making body) and European Commission misled member states and citizens when it claimed that its position on cloning was backed up by the legal opinions it sought, says Food & Water Watch.
A recently leaked legal opinion requested by the Council from its official Council Legal Services contradicts Council and Commission claims that banning or labelling food from clones and their offspring would risk a trade war between Europe and the US. In fact, the legal opinion says a ban could be supported by the arguments that food from clones is not a "like" product as compared with food from conventionally bred animals. A ban or labelling could be supported by consumers' ethical concerns.
Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch and Food & Water Europe commented, "What we now know is that not only is it entirely possible to trace clones and their offspring, but to do so and label the resulting foods is arguably not the violation of WTO rules they said it was, according to their own legal advice."
+ GM MAIZE FAILURE IS LESSON FOR THE FUTURE
A new GM maize variety produced by Monsanto does not perform any better than conventional varieties. The findings come from a US Department of Agriculture draft environmental impact assessment, produced as a step towards approval of the new GM crop. It could mean that years of investment in this technology has been a failure, writes Dr Helen Wallace of GeneWatch UK.
+ U.S.: MONSANTO'S APPEAL OF GM SUGAR BEETS CASE DISMISSED
The US Court of Appeals has issued a summary order concluding a long-standing lawsuit over the impacts of GM Roundup Ready sugar beets. As a result, previous court rulings in favor of farmers and conservation advocates will remain, including the order requiring the US Dept of Agriculture (USDA) to prepare a rigorous review of the impacts of GM sugar beets, before deciding whether to again allow their future commercial use.
Center for Food Safety (CFS) attorney George Kimbrell said the order cements a critical legal benchmark in the battle for meaningful oversight of biotech crops and food: "Because of this case, there will be public disclosure and debate on the harmful impacts of these pesticide-promoting crops, as well as legal protections for farmers threatened by contamination."
+ U.S.: STATES LEAD DEBATE OVER GM FOOD LABELING
In the absence of a federal law requiring labels for GM food, 14 states are debating whether to mandate labeling for GM foods sold within their borders. The discussions come as federal regulators weigh approval of the first GM animal, a salmon, for human consumption.
+ GLYPHOSATE DRIFT A MAJOR PROBLEM IN U.S.
When they're not having their markets destroyed by GM contamination, US rice farmers are suffering serious harm from the massive applications of glyphosate onto the Roundup Ready crops grown around them. The damage can include young rice crops being killed, thinned or burned off, as well as significantly decreased yields, deformed kernels and problems with milling, when the rice is harvested.
+ ROUNDUP: "THE MOST ABUSED CHEMICAL WE'VE EVER HAD IN AGRICULTURE"
Prof Don Huber, the scientist who appears to have discovered a new pathogen in fields sprayed with glyphosate/Roundup, says Roundup is "the most abused chemical we've ever had in agriculture". Huber blames over-use of the herbicide for glyphosate-related crop diseases, superweeds, and health problems in livestock.
+ HIGH COST OF GM SOY IN PARAGUAY
An article in the Telegraph tells how scientists and villagers in rural Paraguay are questioning the health and environmental impact of GM soy. The article recounts the story of 11-year-old Silvino Talavera, who died after being sprayed with agrochemicals (including glyphosate).
+ HYPING BT COTTON TO AFRICAN FARMERS
Reuters reports claims being made to farmers in Zimbabwe that Bt cotton will boost production by 400%!
By way of comparison, see the film A Disaster in Search of Success - Bt Cotton in the Global South which explains what has actually happened to Bt cotton farmers in neighbouring South Africa, as well as to farmers in Indonesia and India when they have grown Bt cotton.
+ INDIA'S POLITICIANS JOIN OPPOSITION TO GM CROPS
As India gets ready to unleash GM food crops, politicians have joined activists in opposing engineered crops. This is snowballing into a volatile political issue with states refusing to let the Centre government have the final say in the matter. A number of chief ministers have objected to field tests of GM crops being conducted in their backyard, while some have declared that their states will be GM-free, citing health and environmental concerns.
+ EVERY 30 MINUTES: NEW REPORT ON FARMER SUICIDES AND BT COTTON
In India, one farmer commits suicide every 30 minutes. A new report on the issue from the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at New York University Law School offers a damning indictment of Bt cotton. The report's co-author, Smita Narula, summed up the problems with the crop: "The Bt cottonseed ... requires two resources that are already scarce for most Indian smallholder farmers. That's money and water. Bt cottonseeds cost anywhere from two times to 10 times as much as regular cottonseed, and they also require a great deal more water in order to yield successful crops.
"The farmers often go to private moneylenders, who charge exorbitant interest rates, to purchase the seeds, on the promises and based on aggressive marketing that they will bring greater financial security. But then, because 65 percent of cotton farms in India are rain-fed and don't have access to irrigation, the crops inevitably fail... So they've gone into insurmountable debt to purchase the inputs. They don't have the yields. They repeat this cycle for a couple of seasons. And by the end of it, they're simply trapped in a cycle that they can't get out of, and they consume the very pesticide that they purchased, in order to kill themselves."
+ INDIA'S GOVERNMENT LIKELY TO KEEP BT BRINJAL MORATORIUM
The moratorium imposed on Bt brinjal last year is likely to continue, despite the expert committee, set up by the environment ministry, favouring "limited release" of the crop. Environment minister Jairam Ramesh has made it clear that his ministry is against such a move.
"There is no such thing as limited release," Ramesh said. The moratorium was imposed in February 2010 because there was insufficient evidence on the crop's health and environmental impacts. Over a year later, there is hardly any more evidence.
+ CODEX POISED TO ADOPT NEW GM LABELLING GUIDELINES
The Codex Alimentarius Commission is a UN agency which sets international norms for food safety and the food trade. After nearly two decades of debate, the Codex Committee on Food Labeling has finally adopted a Guideline on labeling of GM foods. The Guideline will provide some protection from the World Trade Organization for national-scale GM-labeling programs around the world. For a country considering whether to have a labeling scheme or not, this means US diplomats can no longer whisper in their ear that they could face a WTO trade dispute as a result.
+ COMMERCIAL INTERESTS SHAPE PEER REVIEWED STUDIES ON GM
Research published in a leading scientific journal concludes that commercial interests interfere with peer reviewed articles on health risks of GM plants. The study shows that studies funded by industry or involving scientists employed by industry are almost certain to produce conclusions in favor of product commercialization, as opposed to studies not dependent on such conditioning.
The study also shows that more than half (52%) of the 94 analyzed articles did not declare funding source. However, in those articles specifically, the existence of at least one author affiliated to industry was prevalent (73%). In 83% of the cases where funding was actually declared, none of the authors was directly affiliated with industry. Not surprisingly, proportionally more articles with undeclared funding ended up with conclusions favorable to industry.
+ NEW ZEALAND: HOW GM ANIMALS ARE DISPOSED OF
New concerns about AgResearch's 200 acre facility at Ruakura have been raised following a tour of the facilities by GE Free NZ president Claire Bleakley and Soil and Health spokesperson Steffan Browning. GE Free NZ said the conditions in the fields were shocking, with waste matter from blood, effluent and milk visible. The GM animals suffer a high abortion rate and hawks could be seen flying over the facility. With recent heavy rain, excess water run-off went into a major drain that flowed through the facility to the outskirts of town.
"There were clots of blood fallen on the ground from the disposal of animal's carcass and signs that a tractor had run over the blood mass and transferred it through the fields," said Claire Bleakley, president of GE Free NZ. "But of particular concern was the pit containing a mixture of effluent and blood-washings running into a tank the contents of which are sprayed onto the paddocks transferring viable transgenic cells over the fields."
+ PROBLEMS WITH GM SALMON
Patty Lovera from Food & Water Watch and Eric Hoffman from Friends of the Earth discuss the problems with AquaBounty's GM salmon.
+ MICHAEL POLLAN'S DEEP AGRICULTURE
In a superb talk, Michael Pollan promotes the premise - and hope - that farming can become an occupation and force of the future. Watch this film and understand why Pollan was nominated as an alternative US secretary of agriculture to the agribiz-friendly Tom Vilsack.
+ ANTI-GM SONGS
***Smells like genocide: Why we don't want to eat GM foods
***OGM Monsanto 2011: Song from the album Zulu Nation by Square Lohkoh about Monsanto's terrible record