GMWatch News Review archive
MONTHLY REVIEW No. 98
GMWATCH MONTHLY REVIEW No. 98
From Claire Robinson, Monthly Review editor
EU GM POLICY AND RISK ASSESSMENT
REST OF THE MONTH'S NEW IN BRIEF
+ PERU'S CONGRESS APPROVES 10-YEAR GM BAN
Peru's Congress has approved a 10-year moratorium on imports of GMOs in order to safeguard the country's biodiversity. The measure bars GMOs – including seeds, livestock, and fish – from being imported for cultivation or to be raised locally.
GMW comment: In 2009, in diplomatic cables made public by Wikileaks, the US identified the "key countries" it had in its sights for GMOs, and Peru was on the list. Then, earlier this year, the administration of the outgoing Peruvian President slipped in a decree that opened the door for GM foods and seeds. But the subsequent outcry forced not only the resignation of the Agriculture Minister who'd introduced the decree but also a 10-year ban on GMOs. Now, because that ban wasn't signed into law by the outgoing administration, the new Peruvian Congress has overwhelmingly approved the ban once again. And the new President is a known opponent of GMOs.
+ U.S.: BAN NEW MONSANTO GM CORN
In the US, opponents of Monsanto's new GM sweet corn are petitioning national food retailers and processors to ban the biotech corn, which does not carry a GM label. A coalition of health, food safety and environmental organizations said they have collected more than 264,000 petition signatures from consumers who do not want to buy the corn. "Consumers deserve to know what's in their food, especially when there is a pesticide in every bite," said Charles Margulis of the Center for Environmental Health, one of the groups in the coalition. "This whole, unprocessed corn has been spliced with genes that produce a risky, untested insecticide."
Two major national food companies, General Mills and Trader Joe's, have already indicated that they will not be using the Monsanto GM sweet corn in their products.
+ U.S. SUED OVER GM CROPS IN WILDLIFE REFUGES
A lawsuit has been filed in federal court against the US Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) to end cultivation of GM crops in fifty-four national wildlife refuges across the Midwest. The suit marks the latest in a series of successful lawsuits by public interest organizations to stop the planting of GM crops in national wildlife refuges.
+ HUNGARY JOINS ALPS-ADRIATIC GMO-FREE REGION
The Hungarian Parliament has unanimously passed a resolution requesting that local governments ban the use of GMOs in agriculture and farming, so joining a Croatian initiative.
+ "GATHERING MORE MOMENTUM" IN THE UK
You are invited to a day to refine plans against the return of GM crops at the beautiful Hawkwood Nursery in Walthamstow, one of London's most spectacular community growing projects.
For directions see: http://www.organiclea.org.uk/contact-us/
+ RISING TREND OF FARM SUICIDES IN INDIA
Bt cotton was first released for commercial growing in India in 2002, and the data on farm suicides show clearly that the last eight years were much worse than the preceding eight. As many as 1,35,756 farmers killed themselves in the 2003-10 period. For 1995-2002, the total was 1,21,157. On average, this means the number of farmers killing themselves each year between 2003 and 2010 is 1,825 higher than the numbers that took their lives in the earlier period. This is alarming since the total number of farmers is declining significantly.
+ INDIA'S COTTON YIELD MAY FALL TO 5-YEAR LOW
India's Bt cotton "revolution" has lost its sheen over the past five years, with a consistent decline in cotton yield, says an article in the Business Standard. Even as the area under Bt has grown to 93 per cent of the total area under the cash crop, the overall yield is estimated to decline to a five-year low this cotton harvesting season that begins October 2011.
GMW comment: It's interesting that when cotton yields go up in India, it's attributed to Bt cotton. But when they go down, it's the weather that gets the blame. This de
spite a pattern of consistent decline since 2007!
+ MEXICAN HONEY THREATENED BY GMOs
Honey produced by thousands of Mexican beekeepers is at serious risk of contamination from GM soybeans. Mexico is the sixth largest producer and third largest exporter of honey in the world. The main market is the European Union. But this position is being threatened by nearby crops of GM corn and soybeans.
The Tribunal of Justice of the European Union has prohibited the commercialization of honey that contains pollen from unauthorized GM seed. Ernesto Ladron de Guevara, advisor to Mexico's National Union of Regional Autonomous Peasant Organizations (UNORCA), warned, "Two situations arise as a result of the decision by the Tribunal: if it involves pollen from GM plants not authorized for food purposes, the honey simply cannot be marketed (principle of zero tolerance); if it involves pollen from GM plants authorized for food purposes, the honey can be marketed, with a label reading Contains Genetically Modified Ingredients when its content exceeds 0.9 percent. However, marketing honey with this label is practically impossible since the huge majority of European consumers reject GM foods."
Mexican producers are calling for a new social model of agriculture.
+ ARGENTINE REPORT IDENTIFIES MAJOR MEDICAL PROBLEMS ASSOCIATED WITH GM SOY
An important report by Argentine physicians has just been published in English. It arose from the 1st National Meeting of Physicians in the Crop-Sprayed Towns, at the Faculty of Medical Sciences at the National University of Cordoba. It points to a big rise in birth defects, up in parallel with expansion of GM Roundup Ready (RR) soy. It also notes a high incidence of DNA damage, confirming laboratory research on glyphosate and its breakdown product AMPA – and neurological development problems.
+ ROUNDUP READY ALFALFA DAMAGES U.S. SEED INDUSTRY
The introduction of GM Roundup Ready alfalfa in the US has been a disaster, writes farmer Phillip Geertson, as the US has lost overseas markets. The US alfalfa seed industry was the world's major producer of alfalfa seed and historically has exported more than half of the alfalfa seed produced.
As Geertson points out, "Export data would be very useful in determining the amount of damage that was done to the US alfalfa seed industry by the release of RR alfalfa into US agriculture." But such data is not available. 2007 was the last time the USDA reported the size of the US alfalfa seed exports. Perhaps not coincidentally, this was also the year that seed producers found that seed lots produced in Montana and Washington had been contaminated with the Roundup Ready gene.
The only winners in this farming catastrophe? Forage Genetics/Monsanto, who own the patent on the gene that is now contaminating non-GM alfalfa.
+ ROUNDUP AND BIRTH DEFECTS RESEARCHER PRESENTS FINDINGS TO GERMAN GOVT
On 28 September, Prof Andres Carrasco, the scientist at the centre of the global row over glyphosate/Roundup herbicide and birth defects, met with representatives of the German government to present his scientific findings that Roundup herbicide and its active ingredient glyphosate cause birth defects in laboratory animals. Germany has a special responsibility for glyphosate, as it was the rapporteur member state for the pesticide for its 2002 approval in the EU and will again act as rapporteur for the next review in 2015.
EU GM POLICY AND RISK ASSESSMENT
+ EU COMMISSION "REVIEWS" GMO LEGISLATION
In a move that rings warning bells, the European Commission has published a Q&A document stating that it is "reviewing the existing legislation" on GM crops, foods and feed. The Commission is assessing the findings of two "independent consultancy reports" on the effectiveness of the legislative process regarding (a) GM cultivation and (b) import of GM food and feed in Europe.
GM-Free Cymru commented (condensed by GMW) on the Commission's Q&A document:
There is lots of talk about "improvement and adjustment" – and this is clearly a part of the Commission's PR exercise – in seeking to convince the Parliament and the member states that their concerns (which have been frequently articulated) about EFSA [European Food Safety Authority, which assesses safety of GM crops and foods] and the GM assessment process are being responded to.
Almost every answer is defensive or complacent – and it is clear that the Commission is very reluctant indeed to take on board the criticisms frequently levelled against it.
For example: "The evaluations found that the legislation's objectives for safety on health and environment and the creation of an internal market remain consistent with the needs of society, but are not being fully met as intended by the legislators." In other words, the system is perfectly OK as it is, and the nasty member states are the ones who are screwing it up.
For example: "There is a general understanding amongst most Member States and other stakeholders that the use of national safeguard measures, while presented as having a scientific justification, is sometimes an expression of political objections." That may be, but the Commission still will not accept that there is a fully justifiable SCIENTIFIC basis for many of the GM bans in European countries, and that there are real science-based defects in EFSA's methods of working.
More comment from GM-Free Cymru:
The "independent consultancy reports":
+ WHAT IS THE EU COMMISSION REALLY UP TO?
The "independent consultancy reports" on existing GMO legislation that the EU Commission cites note that the authorisation system could be "more efficient", that GMO cultivation would benefit from "more flexibility", and that the risk assessment process would benefit from from "further harmonisation".
We wondered what this meant in plain English. We found some likely answers from ENSSER, the European Network of Scientists For Social and Environmental Responsibility. We understand that EFSA [European Food Safety Authority] is promoting the idea that a "comparative safety assessment" (CSA) would serve as a first-tier filter for GM approvals. The CSA is likely to consist of measuring the levels of a few basic components in the GMO, eg carbohydrate, protein, etc and seeing if they fall within the levels found in the huge range of crops in a database conveniently provided for the purpose by the GM industry-funded group ILSI.
A 2011 EFSA Guidance appears to suggest that any GMO that passes this inadequate screening step – which is incapable of assessing safety – may not be tested/investigated further. In practice, any GMO would almost certainly pass this CSA step and thus could escape being subjected to a proper risk assessment. If EFSA and the Commission get their way, the EU will be left with a GMO risk assessment system no better than the US's doctrine of "substantial equivalence". In fact, "comparative safety assessment" is "substantial equivalence" by another name, as its originators admit.
For a quick insight into the problem, please listen to ENSSER's Dr Angelika Hilbeck in a video of a meeting at the European Parliament hosted by Corinne Lepage MEP. Go straight to minute 55:28 and listen for 5 minutes: http://www.ensser.org/activities/projects/reforming-the-gmo-approval-system/alde-seminar/
More from ENSSER about this issue:
Read a brief powerpoint presentation from ENSSER's Dr Hartmut Meyer about this issue:
+ INVITATION TO IMPORTANT DEBATE ON WHY REGULATORS IGNORE INDEPENDENT SCIENCE
The public and press are invited to an exciting debate in the European Parliament, Brussels this Wednesday, 9 November, about the role of independent science in regulatory decision-making in the cases of risky products like GM foods, pesticides, chemicals, and food additives. At the moment, independent science is pretty much ignored in risk assessments. Speakers include independent scientists and EU regulatory bodies EFSA and DG SANCO (responsible for pesticides, chemicals and GMOs).
Registration closes at noon on Monday 7 November:
+ GATES FOUNDATION "SWIMMING AGAINST A TIDE OF INFORMED OPINION"
As the world population reaches 7 billion, GM Freeze says in a new report that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's policy on agricultural development to tackle hunger is "swimming against a tide of informed opinion". The report reveals the Gates Foundation has allocated over 40% of its committed research expenditure from 2005 to 2011 on projects involving risky "silver bullet" GM technology.
The recent collaboration between the Gates Foundation and the UK government overseas development agency DFID includes a commitment to carry out GM research into drought-tolerant rice. This theoretical switching of rice metabolism has been described as "high risk" by many, including the Royal Society, because of the complex changes required to make it work and the high chance of failure.
In contrast, the Gates Foundation has only allocated some US$20 million (4% of the total budget of US$521 million) to all soil research despite acknowledging the poor state of some African soils. However, the Gates Foundation has pledged nearly US$214 million to research involving GM techniques from 2005 to the present ten times the budget for soil research.
+ U.S. STATE DEPT PIMPING FOR MONSANTO – WHY?
The US State Dept is using taxpayer money to help push the agenda of Monsanto and its friends across the world, writes Jill Richardson in an article for AlterNet.
+ U.S.: WHEN TROLLS DO FIGHT...
Bunge, the massive seed corporation, refused this year to accept or move seeds from Syngenta's new variety, "Viptera", based on its recognition that it is impossible to segregate or otherwise control the movement of Syngenta's promiscuous DNA, writes Dr Ignacio Chapela. Syngenta sued Bunge and lost. The court sided with Bunge, ruling: "Bunge's decision to reject Viptera corn at all of its locations was a legitimate and reasonable business decision."
Dr Chapela adds that farmers are incensed by Syngenta's behaviour because the company went around giving out Viptera corn seed across the corn belt as a marketing campaign, knowing that the seed was not approved in all international markets. Farmers planted the seed and now are faced with the problem of identifying, segregating and storing, or destroying their harvest. When driving up to their elevator or mill, they find the following note: "Please note that Bunge currently is unable to accept delivery of the following seed product for the 2010 growing season: Agrisure Viptera MIR162 (Syngenta)."
+ SHAREHOLDER TO MONSANTO: BE TRANSPARENT ABOUT GM FOOD RISKS
Harrington Investments Inc, (HHI) a socially responsible investment advisory firm and a Monsanto shareholder has submitted a "resolution requesting Monsanto publish a study on the financial risks and impacts of its genetically modified products." As a shareholder, HHI can propose corporate changes that may then be voted on at shareholder meetings. In its press release, HHI points out the multi-hundred million dollar settlements relating to GMOs "that may have an adverse impact on Monsanto shareholder value."
Directly implicated in actions harming farmers' livelihoods, the environment, and public health, Monsanto failed to pass HHI's rigorous social and environmental screens that determine whether the company can be an investment option for the firm's clients.
+ AGENT ORANGE PROTEST AT MONSANTO SHAREHOLDER MEET
An action group has called on people suffering from the effects of the defoliant Agent Orange, which the US government sprayed over Vietnam, to protest at Monsanto's annual shareholders' meeting. Len Aldis, Chairman of Agent Orange Action Group, asks Agent Orange victims to purchase shares in the company so that they will have the right to ask questions to the board members about the damage Agent Orange has caused. Those unable to purchase shares are invited to join a peaceful protest outside the building.
Shareholders' meeting: Tuesday 24 January, Monsanto headquarters, St Louis.
More information and contact details: http://aoag.org/?p=617
+ SYNBIO FOR VITAMIN A-ENRICHED BREAD
Researchers have created vitamin A-enriched yeast using synthetic biology, a form of genetic engineering, with the aim of producing vitamin A-enriched bread for malnourished people. But Dr Michael Antoniou, a geneticist at King's College London School of Medicine, said this is "Another classic case of using GM to cover up a problem rather than address its cause. Even the developers of this VitaYeast admit that the cause of the problem is that people cannot afford the fresh fruit and veg they need, not that there isn't any there to be had! So the problem is a social injustice that needs to be addressed on its own level rather than trying to use a genetics fix that will at best cover up the problem and at worst detract attention from it."
Antoniou also warned, "Many years ago, attempts to genetically engineer a better fermenting brewer's yeast also resulted in the side effect of increasing its content many fold of the DNA mutagen methylglyoxyl, a potential carcinogen."
+ LAB FIGHT RAISES BIOSAFETY ISSUES
A dispute at the Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center (SynBERC), a coalition of biology labs that is led by the University of California, Berkeley, illustrates the potentially dangerous consequences of synthetic biology. A biosafety expert, Paul M. Rabinow, resigned last summer amid complaints that the coalition was not doing enough to prevent a biological disaster.
Dr Rabinow said he resigned because he was fed up with what he described as SynBERC's scientists' indifference toward their "responsibility to larger society, which is funding them, by entrusting them to manipulate life."
"It had begun to worry me how profoundly irresponsible these guys are," Dr. Rabinow said. "There are possibilities of all kinds of nefarious things happening. There is no reason that someone couldn't modify a virus; you could release it on an airplane or subway, and it could have profound terror effects."
+ FALSE CLIMATE SOLUTIONS EXPOSED
A new book from ETC Group analyses how Northern governments and corporations are cynically using concerns about the ecological and climate crisis to propose geoengineering "quick fixes". These threaten to wreak havoc on ecosystems, with disastrous impacts on the people of the global South. Some of the dubious and risky technologies being pushed are biomass energy and GM and patented "climate-ready" crops. Far from helping farmers adjust to a warming world something peasant farmers already know how to manage these crops will allow industrial agriculture to expand plantation monocultures into lands currently cultivated by poor peasant farmers.
ETC Group, Earth Grab – Geopiracy, the New Biomassters and Capturing Climate Genes. Pambazuka Press: 2011. Available from www.pambazukapress.org and bookshops.
REST OF THE MONTH'S NEWS IN BRIEF
For those who do not receive GMWatch Reviews
+ HUNDREDS RALLY IN WASHINGTON TO DEMAND GM LABELLING
Hundreds of people from around the United States rallied in front of the White House on Sunday 16 October, urging the government to require compulsory labeling of GM food.
See http://www.right2knowmarch.org/ for photos and more.
See the anti-GM World Food Day events across the USA:
+ OBAMA PROMISED GM LABELLING
When running for president, Barack Obama made many promises, but one in particular – "We'll let folks know if their food has been genetically modified, because Americans should know what they're buying". Since he was elected, he has remained silent on the issue.
+ ON SUPERWEEDS, MONSANTO TELLS FARMERS THEY'RE ON THEIR OWN
Herbicide-resistant weeds are winning the pesticide "arms race" in US Roundup Ready crops, and Monsanto has no intention of shouldering responsibility for rising weed control costs, according to a new briefing by GM Freeze.
+ OBAMA BAILED OUT FAILING GM SALMON FIRM
The Obama administration awarded a $500,000 research grant to AquaBounty, a financially strapped company working to put GM salmon on American dinner tables, overlooking disclosures that the firm could run out of cash in early 2012, it has emerged.
+ SAFETY OF WILD FISH STOCKS QUESTIONED BY REGULATOR IF GM SALMON HATCHERY GETS GO-AHEAD
The Canadian regulator Environment Canada isn't sure it can fully protect wild fish stocks if it approves the commercialization of a hatchery of GM salmon eggs.
+ WILD COTTON IN MEXICO CONTAMINATED WITH GM MATERIAL
Wild cotton in Mexico has been contaminated with GM material, posing a risk to biodiversity, experts say.
+ GLYPHOSATE KILLING BEES IN MEXICO?
Glyphosate sprayed on GM soy is reportedly killing bees in Mexico, according to an article about the spread of GM material to wild cotton.
+ BIOTECH GROUP SEEKS TO RECRUIT HIGH-PROFILE GM "AMBASSADORS" TO FAKE SUPPORT FOR GM
Europe's largest and most influential biotech industry group, whose members include Monsanto, Bayer and other GM companies, is recruiting high-profile "ambassadors" to lobby European leaders on GM policy. Leaked documents from a PR company working for EuropaBio claim to have "had interest" from Sir Bob Geldof and others, and "potentially" the involvement of former UN secretary general Kofi Annan and pro-GM science writer Mark Lynas.
The ambassadors will not be paid directly, but the lobbyists have offered to write, research and place articles in their names, arrange interviews and speaking engagements with the Financial Times and international media, and arrange speaking slots for them at conferences.
EuropaBio adds that it will introduce them to the highest-level European bureaucrats and MEPs in order for them to make the case for GM within EU institutions. Several people named in the documents denied all knowledge of EuropaBio.
For more on EuropaBio, see
Greenpeace statement on the story:
Sad GM propaganda from EuropaBio – when scientific facts don't support you, you have to turn to science fiction (video): http://www.seedfeedfood.eu/video
+ EU IMPORTS OF CANADIAN FLAX RESUMED – LEGALITY QUESTIONED
Contamination of Canadian flax seed with the untested GM flax CDC Triffid is still being detected, yet industrial flax is again being imported into the EU. The GM flax is not authorised for import anywhere in the world.
Biotechnologist Alan McHughen's bad seed:
+ GM PRESENTATIONS RAISE CONCERNS OVER HUMAN HEALTH
The message from speakers at a conference staged by the Women's Food and Farming Union in Aberystwyth was that the risks of GM far outweigh any possible benefits. Dr Michael Antoniou, from the London School of Medicine at Guy's Hospital, said, "GM breeding is very different to normal plant breeding, having an inherent destructive effect on the structure and functions of genes which can have knock-on effects in numerous areas, including human health. In fact, there is an increasing body of evidence from controlled laboratory studies showing adverse effects in the functioning of the kidney and liver from the consumption of GM crops. The worrying aspect is that some of the studies showing high levels of toxicity relate to commercialised varieties – findings which should have been carried out before commercialisation."
+ SCIENTIST'S REBUT OF CRITIQUE OF "BT TOXIN IN HUMAN BLOOD" STUDY
A scientist has rebutted a critique by biologist Marcel Kuntz of a 2011 study which found Bt toxin circulating in the blood of pregnant women and in the blood supply to their foetuses:
+ TECHNO-UTOPIAN "SPACE CROPS" ASKING FOR TROUBLE
Chinese scientists claim to have created a range of super-crops by blasting seeds into space so their genes are mutated by cosmic radiation. But a scientist told us, "This is not a good idea and is only asking for trouble... wide-scale gene mutations by irradiation in space or otherwise risks introducing genome-wide gene structure/function disruptions with a high risk of pleiotropic effects, giving rise to novel proteins and biochemistry leading to toxic effects. As these "space crop" varieties are highly unlikely to be tested for potential novel toxicity before marketing, any ill effects will only be seen after mass consumption."
+ NEW REPORT ON GM SHOWS FALSE PROMISES
Genetic engineering has failed to increase the yield of any food crop but has vastly increased the use of chemicals and the growth of "superweeds", according to a report by 20 Indian, south-east Asian, African and Latin American food and conservation groups representing millions of people. GM crops have been billed as potential solutions to food crises, climate change and soil erosion, but the assessment finds that they have not lived up to their promises.
"The GMO Emperor Has No Clothes", a global citizens' report: http://t.co/rKSjblud Comment on the report from John Vidal of the Guardian, plus video:
GM not the answer to food security in the Commonwealth:
+ SOUTH AFRICA TRIBUNAL REJECTS DUPONT DEAL
South Africa's Competition Tribunal has prohibited a seed merger between multinational seed company Pioneer Hi-Bred and South Africa's largest seed company, Pannar Seed. The African Centre for Biosafety (ACB) has welcomed the decision.
+ GM BANANAS IN SOUTH AFRICA
The University of Pretoria has applied for permission to conduct the first field trials of GM bananas in South Africa. The rationale for the genetic modification is to combat Fusarium wilt – a disease exacerbated by glyphosate/Roundup herbicide, according to research.
+ RETURN FROM GM IN NEW ZEALAND HAS BEEN "ZERO"
"We have overinvested in biotechnology, but the overall return has been zero." – Michael Corballis, emeritus professor of psychology at the University of Auckland and a member of the council of the Royal Society of New Zealand.