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Syngenta Claims Multi-Genome Monopoly; US Government Proposal Puts Food Supply at Risk; Monsanto bribes; other news

(Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2005 -- CropChoice news) -- Below are seven news items

1. Syngenta Claims Multi-Genome Monopoly
2. USDA letter on GMO and organics
3. Europe Holding Firm Against GMOs
4. Monsanto Unveils GMO Alfalfa! - Public Comments to USDA due by Jan. 24th
5. Monsanto fined $1.5 million over Indonesia bribes
6. Monsanto settles probes involving Indonesia affiliates
7. US Government Proposal Puts Food Supply at Risk

1. Syngenta Claims Multi-Genome Monopoly

ETC Group News Release
Monday, January 10, 2005

ETC Group's first Communique of 2005 focuses on Syngenta, the global gene giant that ranks first in agrochemicals and third in seeds. Syngenta has a patent pending in 115 countries that, if approved, would give it a multi-genome monopoly over at least 40 plant species.

Calling Syngenta's patent claims "an unprecedented bid for multi-genome monopoly," ETC Group (pronounced "et cetera") has written to the European Patent Office (EPO), the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) demanding that the patents be rejected. Simultaneously, ETC Group has written to the Director-General of FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) and to the Chair of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) asking them to oppose Syngenta's applications, "on the grounds that they represent a direct threat to world food security and an attack on public agricultural research," said ETC Group's Research Director, Hope Shand.

In a Communique released today, ETC Group reveals how Syngenta's public image as the "nice" multinational belies its actual activities. "No more 'Mr. Nice Guy,'" Kathy Jo Wetter at ETC's US office insists, "Syngenta is muscling its way toward control of dozens of plant species even as it appears to make nice with FAO and CGIAR as the good guy Gene Giant. If Syngenta is granted this patent, it will make Monsanto look like Santa Claus."

Syngenta's 323-page application, WO03000904A2/3 claims monopoly control of DNA that regulates flowering development, flower formation, whole plant architecture and flower timing in rice - in up to 115 countries. But the claims are not limited to vital rice gene sequences. According to a study prepared by Dr. Paul Oldham at Lancaster University (UK), the scope of this massive patent application is virtually limitless - extending to flowering plants in general, including those not yet classified by taxonomists. Syngenta's claims extend to key gene sequences of 23 major food crops annexed to the FAO Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. "If all its claims are approved," says Silvia Ribeiro in ETC's Mexico office, "FAO's seed treaty will be virtually useless." Dr. Oldham's analysis is available on the Internet: http://www.cesagen.lancs.ac.uk/docs/genomics-final.doc

Researchers are just weeks away from completing a polished sequence of the rice genome. This DNA blueprint of the crop that feeds half the world's people is also the basis for identifying similar genetic traits in other flowering plants. "Effectively," says Kathy Jo Wetter, "the completed rice map provides a template for most of the world's major food crops. Syngenta is arguing that since it can identify certain gene sequences in rice, it can monopolize the same sequences when they turn up in other species."

Syngenta's involvement with rice genome research has been convoluted and controversial. Initially, the company attempted to withhold its genomic research from the public domain and only surrendered some information after the scientific community - including two Nobel laureates - criticized Syngenta publicly. Even as the company won favorable publicity for donating some data, it was simultaneously applying for its multi-genome patent. The company has also had a sticky history with genetically modified Golden Rice - the supposedly vitamin A-rich rice created through public funds and then surrendered to the company's predecessor in order to avoid patent disputes. On the eve of World Food Day last October, Syngenta donated patent licenses to the Golden Rice Humanitarian Board. Syngenta Foundation - a company-dominated private foundation in Switzerland - stirred more controversy and embarrassment when it was invited to become a full member of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).

"While the Genome Giant congratulates itself for donating rice germplasm and information to public researchers, its lawyers are working overtime to monopolize rice resources," says ETC's Silvia Ribeiro.

ETC Group is calling upon FAO and CGIAR to take the unusual step of challenging the patent application prior to its determination by patent examiners. "The patent system is heavily biased in favor of a patent holder," explains Hope Shand. "If we don't block this patent and it is approved with all its claims it will take years - possibly more than a decade - to have it rescinded. The litigation costs will be huge... It is urgent that FAO and CGIAR defend world food security and protect the public good now before the monopoly is granted."

The full text of the Communique is available on the ETC Group website: http://www.etcgroup.org

For further information:

Pat Mooney, ETC Group (Canada) etc@etcgroup.org, (613) 241-2267
Hope Shand and Kathy Jo Wetter, ETC Group (USA) kjo@etcgroup.org, hope@etcgroup.org tel: +1 919 960-5223
Silvia Ribeiro, ETC Group (Mexico) silvia@etcgroup.org 52 55 55 632 664
Jim Thomas, ETC Group (UK) jim@etcgroup.org tel: +44 (0)1865 201719; mobile: +44 (0)7752 106806

2. USDA letter on GMO and organics


December 21 2004

Mr. Gus Douglass Commissioner
The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture
1156 15th Street, N.W.
Suite 1020
Washington, D.C. 20005-1711

Dear Commissioner Douglass:

Thank you for your letter on October 15,2004, on behalf of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) concerning organic agriculture and biotechnological agricultural methods, and for NASDA's statement supporting diversity in agriculture.

Your letter raised several questions that have been raised by and to NASDA members regarding the implications of genetically-modified, genetically-engineered, or biotech crops and seeds on certified organic production and handling operations. Let me address each of the issues raised in your letter. Where applicable, citations from our regulations and its preamble (7 CFR Part 205), including page numbers, are included.

Issue: If a producer adheres to all aspects of the National Organic Program (NOP), including never utilizing biotech-derived seeds, but a certifying agent tests and detects the presence of biotech-derived material in the crop, is that crop's status determined to be no longer "certified organic?" And, if so, what in the NOP supports this conclusion?

Reply: It is particularly important to remember that organic standards are process based. Certifying agents attest to the ability of organic operations to follow a set of production standards and practices that meet the requirements of the Act and the regulations. This regulation prohibits the use of excluded methods in organic operations (§205.2-Terms defined, and §205.105-Allowed and prohibited substances, methods, and ingredients in organic production and handling). The presence of a detectable residue of a product of excluded methods alone does not necessarily constitute a violation of this regulation. As long as an organic operation has not used excluded methods and takes reasonable steps to avoid contact with the products of excluded methods as detailed in their approved organic system plan, the unintentional presence of the products of excluded methods will not affect the status of the organic operation. As to the status of the commodity, USDA's position is that this is left to the buyer and seller to resolve in the marketplace through their contractual relationship. (See page 80556 of the preamble, "Applicability-Clarifications; (1) "Genetic drift").

Issue: You refer to a section on the NOP web site commonly known as FAQs, or frequently asked questions, that address the presence of a detectable residue of a product of excluded methods. You ask if insufficient buffers or barriers that result in unintended contact with a product of genetic modification would threaten the farm's certification or use of the field for the production of organic crops. You also ask if an organic producer or handler is found to have not implemented measures necessary to prevent commingling of organic and non-organic products, would that threaten the certification of the producer or handler?

Reply: In order to become a certified organic operation, a producer must submit an Organic System Plan (plan) to a USDA-accredited certifying agent for approval. That plan must include, among other things, evidence that sufficient buffer zones have been incorporated into the operation to ensure the integrity of the organic crop operation. The certifying agent must not approve a plan that does not provide evidence of sound measures taken to ensure the integrity of the organic crop operation, including buffer zones and other steps to prevent commingling with unapproved non-organic materials or conventional crops. If a producer does not adhere to such preventive measures, the certifying agent is expected to denote such failure as a noncompliance and take appropriate measures toward correction by the producer. Inadequate buffer zones should not be approved in the first place and failure to comply with approved buffer zones constitutes a noncompliance with the approved organic system plan. (See the preamble, page 80558, on Subpart C-General Requirements, which describe what must be contained in an organic system plan, and §205.2 under terms defined -Buffer zone.)

However, even when all precautions have been taken, and an approved buffer zone fails to provide the protection that both the operator and the certifying agent reasonably expected, certifying agents must not "retroactively" punish the producer by an enforcement action or "de-certify" the organic crop. The appropriate action to take in this case is to re-evaluate the buffer zone and other preventive measures in the plan to ensure improved integrity and performance in the future. As to the status of the commodity, USDA's position is that this is left to the buyer and seller to resolve in the marketplace through their contractual relationship. (See page 80556 of the preamble, "Applicability-Clarifications; (1) "Genetic drift").

Issue: You ask if a certified organic operation that refrains from intentional use of biotech seeds has ever lost certification for the inadvertent presence of biotech material in its crop, and if so, how many and under what circumstances did the loss of certification occur?

Reply: No accredited certifying agent has reported to us that certification has been lost due to adventitious presence of biotech material. In one instance, a producer admitted to deliberately planting GM-corn seed and representing the crop as organic corn, for which we took enforcement action and revoked the organic certification.

Issue: You ask if food labels stating "GM, GE, or GMO-free" are part of the National Organic Standards?

Reply: They are not. Truthful labeling is embodied in the National Organic Standards, as supported by USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) -the agencies with respective jurisdiction over truthful labeling laws. In the preamble of the National Organic final regulations, we stated that organic is not synonymous with "GM -free," when we said: "These phrases may...be used as additional, eco-labels, provided they are truthful statements...[but] they are not permitted as replacements for the term 'organic.'" (See page 80586 of the preamble, under "Labeling-Changes Requested But Not Made: (7) Use of Other Terms as Synonymous for "organic").

Issue: You also state that it would be helpful to confirm "the role of a marketing order of this kind, e.g., that the order is intended to control the activities of those who voluntarily opt in to the program," and whether a marketing order can be used to control the production activities of other growers who do not choose to participate in the program.

Reply: First, the organic program is not a marketing order, in the traditional sense of marketing orders administered by the Agricultural Marketing Service for fruits and vegetables and for dairy producers. The NOP is, as you correctly point out, a voluntary program -that is, producers who wish to become a certified organic operation can do so by adhering to all of the regulatory requirements and successfully achieving certification status by a USDA-accredited certifying agent. But the NOP confers no rights on such producers to control the activities of non-organic producers. In fact, "split operations" are permitted under the NOP. That is, a producer may have part of an operation that is certified organic, and the remainder of the operation is a conventional agricultural operation. In that case, the regulations related to commingling of organic and non-organic operations and products discussed above apply to that split operation.

Issue: You ask if there is a working definition of the word "contamination" within the NOP, noting that the word "contamination" is used frequently in the final regulations, and if all products of genetic modification are considered "prohibited substances" as defined in the final regulations? And, what actions are authorized or required when organic crops or products are found to contain unintended or inadvertent genetically modified hybrids or other genetically modified substances?

Reply: There is no definition in the final regulations of the National Organic Standards for the word "contamination," even though, as you point out, it is mentioned frequently. By our count, "contamination" is mentioned nearly 50 times in the regulations. All genetically-modified practices or products are indeed considered prohibited, as cited in 205.105, the paragraph that describes "excluded methods." Please refer back to the above issue when considering the adventitious presence of a genetically-modified or genetically-engineered substance. Such adventitious presence does not affect the status of the certified operation and does not necessarily result in loss of organic status for the organic product, provided it was produced in adherence with all of the organic requirements under 7 CFR 205. Again, the action regarding the final product's status in this case is left to the determination by the buyer and seller of the product.

Contamination by a prohibited substance, when mandated by a government body, however, would result in loss of organic status for the product, even when all other regulations had been followed. In the case of an emergency spray program, for example, if the spray is a prohibited substance but is mandated by a State or Federal program, the crop's organic status is lost and that crop must be diverted for sale in the conventional market. Neither the operation nor the land's organic status is altered by an emergency spray program, however. (See §205.672 Emergency pest or disease treatment.)

I appreciate this opportunity to respond to these issues and to echo the statement of NASDA members -USDA supports and promotes all methods and segments of agriculture and our goal is to ensure that farmers are successful in meeting market demand, whether they choose to plant biotech, conventional, or organic crops. Thank you again for writing about these important issues.

Bill Hawks
Under Secretary
Marketing and Regulatory Programs

3. Europe Holding Firm Against GMOs

The Institute of Science in Society
Science Society Sustainability http://www.i-sis.org.uk
ISIS Press Release 11/01/05

A strict German law to protect GM-free agriculture followed by majority votes against lifting bans on GM food and feed. Mae-Wan Ho and Rhea Gala

Germany passes first anti-GM Law

German Agriculture Minister Renate Kunäst hailed as a major victory a new highly restrictive genetically modified (GM) crops law passed by the German Parliament on 26 November 2004. The new law requires GM crop growers to publicly register the exact location of fields, and holds those planting GM crops liable for economic damages to neighbouring non-GM fields even if planting instructions and other regulations were followed.

Ms Kunäst praised the new law as a success for consumer protection and for farmers who want to cultivate GM-free. "Germany is one of the first EU countries to create a legal framework for the protection of GM-free agriculture," she said. Germany was in a hurry after the EU Commission cancelled Europe’s de facto moratorium on GMOs, she added, and urgently needed regulations to protect GM-free agriculture against contamination.

The new law introduces the principle that GM farmers and GM operators are financially liable for economic damage caused if their crops contaminate non-GM products. It takes a proactive stance against GMOs, and protects organic farms and non-GM conventional farms against insidious dominance of GMOs. It also protects ecologically sensitive zones against transgenic contamination. It lays down rules for good professional practice such as minimum separation distances, documentation, and use of GMO fertilizers. And companies are bound by law to inform growers about compliance with the demands of good professional practice by means of an instruction leaflet; and are liable for incorrect product information.

Reaction to the new law is mixed. Dr Felix Prinz zu Löwenstein, chairman of the Federation of the Organic Food Industry (BÖLW), is happy with the result. "We think it is especially important that the liability for damage caused by cross-breeding and mixing are clearly assigned to the genetic engineering users". He also suggested that the new law would act as a signal for other European countries.

In contrast, the German Farmers Association (DBV) criticized the decision of the parliament, a DBV press report advised all farmers not to cultivate GMOs because co-existence is not achievable.

Geert Ritsema of Friends of the Earth (FoE), Europe, said "This law is good news for hundreds of millions of Europeans who do not wish to participate in the biggest biological experiment of our time, and who want to eat food that is GM-free. This law should now be the benchmark for similar legislation in other EU member states".

The law received a predictably negative response from the bioscience community, where German researchers and industry said that liability for economic damage will create a financial risk that some German universities, research organizations and companies will not take.

Mark Stitt, managing director of the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology said "I think the law, as it now stands, will have a detrimental effect on innovation in Germany…Firms will be leaving Germany". He said that the law goes far beyond EU GM law that allows non-GM plants to be contaminated with up to 0.9 percent of pollen from neighbouring GM plants.

However, in Germany, "bio" (organic) products must contain less than 0.1 percent of GM contamination to retain the bio stamp.

Jens A Katzek, CEO of BIO Mitteldeutschland GmbH, which promotes the biotech industry in central Germany said that his own state, Saxony-Anhalt, has already announced that it will challenge the new law in the federal court.

The law also contains loopholes that need improvement; and, most importantly, hardly covers damage to the environment caused by GM crops. The protection offered to ecologically sensitive zones only covers ‘Nature 2000’ areas that are only 2.5 percent of the area of Germany.

FoE is also concerned that the European Commission might overrule the German law by taking Germany to the European Court of Justice. In a leaked document (available from FoE) dated June 2004, the Commission has already hinted at this. But the EC suffered a setback in trying to force European countries to lift their bans on GMOs.

European countries voted by large majority against lifting bans on GMOs

On 30 November 1004, EU environmental experts voted by a large majority against proposals to overturn the bans on genetically modified (GM) crops in five countries; the group also failed to reach a majority decision on clearing a GM crop ingredient for the European food chain.

The group rejected proposals from the European Commission calling for five European countries ­ Austria, France, Germany, Greece and Luxembourg ­ to repeal their bans on specific GMOs within 20 days.

The bans, introduced between 1997 and 2000, involved three maize and two rapeseed varieties approved before the EU began its unofficial biotech ban in 1998 that ended earlier this year.

Every single one of the Commission's proposals failed to get the required qualified majority of 232 votes out of 321.

The results, representing a majority against GM, were as follows:

On lifting the bans on Syngenta’s Bt176 maize in Germany, Austria and Luxembourg: in favour, 54 votes; against, 221 votes; abstained, 46 votes

On lifting the ban on Bayer’s T25 maize in Austria; in favour, 54 votes; against, 221 votes; abstained, 46 votes

On lifting the ban on Monsanto’s MON810 maize in Austria: in favour, 73 votes; against, 178 votes; abstained, 70 votes

On lifting the ban on Bayer’s oilseed rape Topas 19/2 in France and Greece: in favour, 54 votes; against, 178 votes; abstained, 89 votes

On lifting the ban on Bayer’s oilseed rape MS1xRf1 in France: in favour, 54 votes; against, 178 votes; abstained: 89 votes

The Commission’s proposals are seen as a direct result of the trade dispute in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) started last year by the United States, Argentina and Canada. The three countries claim that Europe’s precautionary stance on GM food, including the national bans, are a barrier to free trade and harm their farmers. The WTO has set up a three-person panel currently meeting in secret to decide the case, with the final verdict expected next year.

The Commission’s proposals will now go to a Council of Ministers meeting in the new year. If no decision is taken after three months, as is likely, the Commission can adopt it under a legal loophole.

Despite tough new European rules enforced in April to track and label GMOs, food makers are opting to skip GM ingredients in Europe because they know the European consumer will refuse to buy GM food products.

At the same meeting, the environmental experts failed, again, to allow Monsanto’s genetically modified maize MON 863 for import and processing into the EU. MON 863 was cleared earlier this year by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA); but two months ago member states failed to give it the green light.

On 20 December, EU environment ministers blocked the approval of Monsanto’s GM oilseed rape GT73 with a vote of 135 against, 78 for, and 108 abstentions. Member State experts had already failed to reach agreement on this in June 2004, and the opposition vote appeared to have grown since.

The United Kingdom was among the abstentions. Its official advisors on GM foods and feeds were "not satisfied with the explanation that Monsanto has provided for the observed increased liver weight in rats fed GT73" and are not convinced by EFSA’s assurance that GT 73 "is as safe as conventional oilseed rape for humans and animals, and in the context of the proposed uses, for the environment."



4. Monsanto Unveils GMO Alfalfa! - Public Comments to USDA due by Jan. 24th (http://www.infoshop.org/inews/stories.php?topic=70)

Attention: Dairy Farmers, Ranchers, Bee Keepers, Horse Breeders, Conservationists, & Pet Owners!

Monsanto Seeks Approval for "Round-Up Ready" Alfalfa! Public comment period ends Jan. 24, 2005!

On April 16th, 2004 Monsanto submitted a federal petition for commercial introduction of "Round-Up Ready" (RR) alfalfa in the U.S, and on Nov. 24th the USDA began its required sixty day public comment period. Given that alfalfa is a common perennial forage and cover crop used in a wide variety of animal feeds and even eaten by humans, this latest move by Monsanto to bring another genetically modified organism (GMO) into the world is now ringing alarm bells across rural America.

What will be the impact on animals that now consume alfalfa ? from cows and horses to chickens and bees? Will there be adverse health impacts downstream in the human food supply? What about the environmental consequences? Could this latest herbicide resistant GMO crop jeopardize the longterm utility of glyphosate (aka ?Round-Up?) as ?super weeds? emerge? Will alfalfa, itself, become an invasive plant largely immune to conventional control techniques? If there are problems, who will assume liability - the manufacturer, the distributor, the farmer, the consumer? Many of these questions have yet to be resolved and should be before Monsanto is permitted to bring its biotech alfalfa into U.S. agriculture.

Monsanto began work on RR alfalfa in 1998 in collaboration with researchers at Montana State University and within a year there were field trials underway in Wisconsin, Indiana, Iowa, and Idaho. In 1999, Monsanto officially licensed its RR technology for use on alfalfa to Forage Genetics, Land O?Lakes? primary seed research partner. Land O?Lakes is among the major dairy co-ops in the U.S. and has been a major advocate of GMOs since the FDA?s controversial approval of recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) back in the early 1990s.

If approved, RR alfalfa will be sold under the Croplan Genetics brand through Cenex Harvest States and Land O?Lakes? Farmland Industries. Other genetic manipulation of alfalfa is also underway. Researchers at the U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center in Madison, WI are isolating genetic traits to make forage fiber more digestible. At the University of Guelph scientists are trying to splice the bacterium, Pasteurella hemolytica, into alfalfa as an oral vaccine agent for cattle pneumonia. Other University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers are altering alfalfa to produce its own phytase enzymes to improve phosphorus utilization by livestock. It is argued that this could reduce the need for imported mineral supplements such as di-calcium phosphate as well as the threat of manure pollution from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs).

Like Monsanto?s other biotech varieties, farmers who use RR alfalfa will never own the plant or the seed. Instead, they will be leasing a product under a one-sided technology use agreement (TUA) with many restrictions. For instance, Monsanto reserves the right under these contracts to physically inspect (ie. trespass) and remove crop samples to insure compliance. In Canada, Monsanto has a long history of sending ?extortion? letters to farmers whose fields tested positive for their other GMO crop varieties, threatening lawsuits if they did not pay for their ?use? of the patent.

The main rationale offered by the biotech industry for introducing RR alfalfa is that it provides farmers with simpler weed suppression. This is in line with the vast majority of genetic research in agriculture (98% according to one recent USDA survey) geared towards making production easier, not necessarily to improve nutrition or protect the environment. There are already 90 weeds identified as significant in U.S. alfalfa, with 20 major herbicides used, glyphosate among them.

Dubbed ?Queen of the Forages,? alfalfa is a perennial herbaceous legume, known as lucerne in many other countries, originally from the European Caucasus and Central Asia. Since its introduction to North America, alfalfa has been among the top four field crops in the U.S. (along with corn, soy, and wheat). In 2004 the USDA estimated that 77.4 million tons was produced on 22.2 million acres, with an additional 88.5 million tons of alfalfa mixed hay produced on another 39.4 million acres.

Alfalfa is considered the best available animal feed for ruminants and is critical to the dairy industry, providing up to a third of crude protein, half of the calcium, and a quarter of the energy needed on a daily basis by a typical cow. Other livestock sectors which rely upon alfalfa include beef cattle, sheep, chickens, turkeys, and horses. Pelletized alfalfa is a common component of many pet foods for everything from iguanas and parakeets to hamsters and rabbits. Alfalfa also produces a large amount of nectar, up to 1900 pounds per acre, which is why it is so popular amongst beekeepers. In turn, honey bees, alkali bees, and leaf cutter bees are important pollinators for alfalfa producers.

Concerns are growing, though, about the potential adverse impacts of RR alfalfa. Studies are just now revealing the health fallout of too much GMO corn, soy, canola meal, and cottonseed cake in livestock feed. Monsanto uses the Cauliflower Mosaic Virus (CMV) to insert RR traits in its GMO crops, and this same promoter virus in alfalfa could have the potential to disrupt the balance of intestinal microflora and reactivate other dormant pathogens. Other studies have shown a clear downward nutritional shift in GMO crops. For example, beneficial phytoestrogens such as lignan and isoflavon are reduced by 12-14% in RR soybeans compared to conventional soybean varieties.

As with other GMOs, there is the clear danger of ?gene jumping? between RR alfalfa and conventional alfalfa varieties, as well as between alfalfa and wild relatives, such as black medic ? a common naturalized weed in North America. Given the promiscuous genetic dominance of GMOs, this could mean rapid transfer of glyphosate resistance, as well as the spread of other traits (such as enzyme or vaccine production), especially if several GMO alfalfa varieties are approved and put into simultaneous production.

As has been well documented in the case of Bt corn and RR canola, there is obvious potential for ?genetic drift? between fields planted with Monsanto?s RR alfalfa and other nearby alfalfa fields and pastures. Besides wind, insects are particularly good at transporting pollen over long distance, and bees are known to travel several miles in search of alfalfa. Most alfalfa hay is cut after some of blossoms have already bloomed and the pollen is viable. Alfalfa allowed to reproduce also produces a lot of ?hard seed? that can remain viable in soil for years to come.

This threat is of special concern to alfalfa seed growers and dairy/livestock producers who stand to lose their value-added markets and organic certification. Alfalfa seed production is concentrated in just a few northwestern states and provinces and could be vulnerable to genetic contamination. For many dairy farmers who rely on managed intensive rotational grazing (MIRG), Monsanto?s RR alfalfa offers no real benefits, since a healthy pasture has no real ?weeds.? In fact, straight alfalfa often yields less fodder per acre than more diverse forage systems.

Herbicide resistant GMO crop varieties are widely perceived by farmers as just another way to encourage dependence on expensive inputs. Predictably enough, the introduction of RR varieties did lead to a five fold increase in glyphosate use across the U.S. Because alfalfa is perennial and often grown for 3-5 years in a row, the introduction of RR alfalfa could well increase overall herbicide use ? by an estimated 200,000 more pounds per year in California alone. As with other GMO crops, the promised yield gains and cost savings may not materialize, leaving farmers holding the bag for the higher seed price that always comes with Monsanto?s patented technologies.

An estimated 5% of U.S. alfalfa production is also exported ? 2.9 million metric tones in 2002 worth $480 million. About 75% of this forage market is in Japan where consumer awareness and resistance to GMOs is high. U.S. refusal to sign the Convention on Biological Diversity, including the Cartagena Protocol (which went into effect on Sept. 11, 2003), or to even mandate segregation naturally fuels suspicions of biotech ?dumping? overseas and prejudices other GMO-free U.S. exports. Some also foresee the rapid international spread of RR alfalfa through less formal means, such as casual travel of pollen, seed, and fodder between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. About 7% of alfalfa seed in the U.S. is also eaten by humans in the form of sprouts, and such natural food consumers are also highly wary of potential GMO contamination. Those in the business of prairie restoration, as well as many conservationists and officials interested in controlling invasive plants on public and private lands, are concerned that the introduction of herbicide-resistance traits in a perennial like alfalfa could make their job more difficult. After just six years of planting RR crops across the U.S., the number of glyphosate-resistant weeds doubled. As super weeds emerge, chemical control will shift to more toxic, persistent, and less desirable herbicides such as 2,4-D and Paraquat.

The fact that alfalfa has a taproot up to 20 feet deep and complex symbiotic relationships with nitrogen-fixing bacteria exacerbates the potential environmental consequences. Alfalfa is an important crop in many field rotations, contributing up to 200 kg of soil nitrogen per acre per year. Researchers in Arkansas, though, have found an adverse impact on symbiotic nitrogen-fixing bacteria associated with soybeans after treatment with glyphosate. Scientists have also noted an increase in the presence of the fungal disease, Fusarium, on RR crop varieties.

In weighing the relative costs and benefits of bringing RR alfalfa to market, many people remain unconvinced. Is this technology really necessary to grow alfalfa or is it just another marketing opportunity for agribusiness? Are there not cheaper weed control options that do not pose such serious threats to the future of farming in the U.S.?

Comments on Monsanto?s petition to the USDA to introduce ?Round-Up Ready? alfalfa (be sure to reference Docket #04-085-1) can be sent to: Regulatory Analysis and Development, PPD APHIS, Station 3C71 4700 River Road Unit 118 Riverdale, MD 20737 Email comments can also be submitted to:regulations (at) aphis.usda.gov An online form is also available at: _http://www.aphis.usda.gov/ppd/rad/cominst.html_ (http://www.aphis.usda.gov/ppd/rad/cominst.html) For the Federal Register Notice (published 11/24/04), Monsanto?s GE alfalfa petition (submitted 4/16/04), as well as the USDA/APHIS environmental assessment go to: _http://www.aphis.usda.gov/brs/not_reg.html_ (http://www.aphis.usda.gov/brs/not_reg.html) or call #301-734-5715

5. Monsanto fined $1.5m over Indonesia bribes

By Jonathan Birchall, Financial Times, January 6, 2005 http://news.ft.com/cms/s/42d799ac-6019-11d9-bd2f-00000e2511c8.html

Monsanto, the agrochemical company, is to pay $1.5m in penalties to the US government over a bribe paid in Indonesia in a bid to bypass controls on the screening of new genetically modified cotton crops.

According to a criminal complaint by the Department of Justice on Thursday under US anti-bribery laws, the company paid $50,000 to an unamed senior Indonesian environmental official in 2002, in an unsuccesful bid to amend or repeal the requirement for the environmental impact statement for new crop varieties.

The cash payment was delivered by a consultant working for the company's Indonesian affiliate, but was approved by a senior Monsanto official based in the US, and disguised as consultants fees.

The company also admitted that it had paid over $700,000 in bribes to various officials in Indonesia between 1997 and 2002, financed through improper accounting of its pesticide sales in Indonesia.

As part of the agreement with the DoJ and the Securities and Exchange Commission, Monsanto has also pledged to appoint independent consultants to review its business practices over a three year period, when the criminal charges against it would be dropped permanently by the DoJ.

Christopher Wray, assistant US attorney general, said in a statement that the agreement required Monsanto's full cooperation and acceptance of responsibility for the wrong-doing. "Companies cannot bribe their way into favorable treatment by foreign officials," he said.

Monsanto's general counsel Charles Burson said that "Monsanto accepts full responsibility for these improper activities, and we sincerely regret that people working on behalf of Monsanto engaged in such behavior".

Monsanto said it had first become aware of financial irregularities in its Indonesian affiliates in 2001, and had begin an an internal investigation, which continued at the direction of its board of directors.

The company also said it had voluntarily notified US government officials of the results of this investigation, and had fully cooperated with the investigations by the DoJ and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The attempt to circumvent environmental controls on genetically-modified crops in a developing country is a significant embarrasment for Monsanto, which is engaged in an ongoing campaign to win public support in the European Union for its genetically modified crops.

6. Monsanto settles federal probes involving Indonesian affiliates

JIM SUHR Associated Press Posted on Thu, Jan. 06, 2005 http://www.fortwayne.com/mld/journalgazette/business/10582326.htm

ST. LOUIS - Agribusiness giant Monsanto Co. said Thursday it has agreed to pay $1.5 million in penalties to resolve U.S. investigations of improper payments and financial irregularities related to its Indonesian affiliates.

As part of the settlement awaiting court approval, "Monsanto accepts full responsibility for these improper activities, and we sincerely regret that people working on behalf of Monsanto engaged in such behavior," said Charles Burson, general counsel for the St. Louis-based company.

Monsanto said the Justice Department investigated whether a former senior U.S.-based Monsanto manager directed an outside consultant to make a $50,000 bribe to an Indonesian government official in 2002.

The bribe, which the unidentified manager told the consultant to keep secret, was meant to influence an Indonesian official to repeal or amend an unfavorable decree. It required an environmental impact study before any authorization was granted to allow cultivation of genetically modified crops by Monsanto, Monsanto and the Justice Department said.

Despite the bribe, the official never rescinded or altered the decree.

Monsanto on Wednesday did not further identify the former Monsanto manager; the Justice Department said that person was responsible for certain activities in the Asia-Pacific region.

The manager and consultant later lied to get a reimbursement for the bribe and tried to disguise the payment as a consulting fee, the company said.

"Companies cannot bribe their way into favorable treatment by foreign officials," Christopher Wray, assistant attorney general for the criminal division, said in a statement. The settlement "will help ensure that such dishonest and illegal activity does not occur in the future."

Monsanto also said at least $700,000 in other illegal or questionable payments were made to various Indonesian government officials between 1997 and 2002. Such payments were financed, at least in part, through unauthorized, improperly documented and inflated sales of Monsanto's pesticide products in Indonesia, the company said.

During the past four years, Monsanto's net combined revenues from customers in Indonesia were less than 1 percent of the company's total revenues.

Monsanto said it learned of the irregularities in 2001 and notified the Securities and Exchange Commission and Justice Department after an internal investigation. Burson has called the alleged acts "obviously contrary to Monsanto's corporate policy."

Monsanto said it has fired employees involved in the matter - along with the questioned consultant - and restructured its Indonesian affiliates. The company said it also has tapped a new "director of business conduct," among other things.

Monsanto agrees to pay a $500,000 penalty in settling the SEC probe and pay twice that amount under its deal with the Justice Department. In both cases, Monsanto must retain for three years an independent compliance consultant to review and evaluate the company's compliance with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

If Monsanto complies, the Justice Department will permanently drop deferred charges of violating the anti-bribery and bookkeeping provisions of the FCPA.

Burson said that dating to the launch of the government probes, Monsanto has cooperated.

Monsanto "has made clear that improper activities will not be tolerated by the company," Burson said. "We are pleased today to begin the process of putting these matters to rest."

Shares of Monsanto were up $2.07, or 4 percent, to $53.07 in afternoon trading Thursday on the New York Stock Exchange.

7. US Government Proposal Puts Food Supply at Risk

By Jeffrey M. Smith, author of Seeds of Deception
Institute for Responsible Technology, Spilling the Beans, January 2005

Welcome to the year 2021. Genetically engineered wonder seeds lead to exploding crop yields. . . . But there’s a problem. When the wheat seed was modified, a long-dormant gene was activated causing severe allergic reactions in nearly 3 billion people. Years pass before the connection is made. By then, the world’s wheat supplies must be destroyed, and a global food shortage sets in.

This was the scene described by the narrator of a "Modern Marvels" episode entitled "Doomsday Tech," shown on the History Channel throughout the U.S. on December 28, 2004. Are similar disasters possible? Unfortunately yes, and new guidelines proposed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) increase the likelihood that GM crops will make people sick in new, hard-to-track ways.

Genetically modified (GM) crops may produce dangerous allergens or toxins that are difficult to detect. Since the FDA does not require safety testing and refuses to monitor the effects of GM foods on public health, the seeds for such a catastrophe might have already been sown.

While the seven approved, commercialized varieties of GM food crops (soy, corn, cotton, canola, Hawaiian papaya, zucchini and crook neck squash) may pose a greater threat to our health,1 increasing risk comes from more than 100 other GM species, not approved for human consumption, that have been planted in experimental field trials since 1987. About 40,000 test sites covering approximately half a million acres2 are virtually unregulated. Several are reported to have contaminated non-GM crops, but the overall extent of contamination is unknown and potentially widespread.

This makes the food and the biotech industries nervous, and rightly so. When a corn engineered to produce a pig vaccine contaminated half a million bushels of soybeans, the corn’s producer required a government bail out to pay nearly $3 million in fines and cleanup costs—a fraction of the cost if the drug had made it to grocery shelves. When StarLink™ corn, a potentially allergenic GM variety, did end up in the food supply, product recalls, lost exports, clean-up efforts, and lawsuits totaled about $1 billion.

On August 2, 2002, a White House directive issued by its Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) told the FDA, USDA, and EPA to create ways that contamination from "field tests could be found acceptable." 3 On November 19, 2004, the FDA proposed a "Guidance for Industry," which acting FDA commissioner Lester Crawford described as "a high priority for the Administration and the industry, to enhance public confidence [and] avoid product recalls."4 What the new guidance does not do, however, is protect public health. In fact, it does the opposite. If approved, it would increase the chances that the world food supply will suffer dangerous untraceable contamination.

The gist of the new draft guidance is this: A GM crop developer voluntarily provides the FDA with answers to two pages of questions. These may include the results of two superficial tests on their crop that take as little as 20 hours to complete. If crop contamination is later discovered, companies can claim that they have complied with FDA requirements and the agency can declare that their prior "evaluation" shows that the contamination will not cause harm. Armed with what appears to be a legal defense, companies would become less likely to spend the money needed to prevent contamination.

FDA Ignores Science

Biotech scientists insert genes into DNA to produce new proteins. According to the draft guidance, a new protein "might be an allergen or toxin." That’s true. But the guidance also states that the "FDA believes that any potential risk from" contamination by GM field trials "would be limited to" this potentially allergenic or toxic protein.5 That’s not true.

There is evidence of numerous other ways in which GM plants may create a health catastrophe. In the History Channel scenario, for example, "When the wheat seed was modified, a long-dormant gene was activated." Later in the TV program, I am quoted describing one way this might occur: the promoter, which is inserted with the foreign gene to switch it on, might accidentally switch on other genes—permanently. This danger is not acknowledged in the guidance. Nor are other dangers described by FDA scientists in internal memos, made public by a lawsuit. The FDA’s Division of Food Chemistry and Technology, for example, predicted in 1991 that genetic engineering might create "increased levels of known naturally occurring toxins" or the "appearance of new, not previously identified" toxins.6 Subsequent studies have verified this. GM yeast, for example, contained a 200-fold increase in a naturally occurring toxin. A GM tobacco plant produced a toxin not found in natural tobacco, and not directly created by the inserted gene. The FDA division also warned of "undesirable alterations in the levels of nutrients," and of an increased tendency to gather "toxic substances from the environment" such as "pesticides or heavy metals."6 These concerns were also later verified.7 But the warnings by FDA scientists’ were ignored, even denied, in the official FDA policy. That policy was overseen by Michael Taylor, former outside attorney for Monsanto, turned FDA policy chief, later turned Monsanto vice-president.

In a 2001document,8 the agency finally acknowledged that genetic engineering carried risks that were different from traditional breeding. They described insertion mutations—a well known effect of gene insertion that damages DNA. Each GM variety may be uniquely damaged, which can lead to unpredicted problems. Thus, the document states that, "FDA believes that it needs to be provided with information about foods from all separate" GM varieties, even if the gene that was inserted was the same one used in another, already approved variety. This logical position is reversed, however, in the new draft guidance, which says that if the FDA looks at a novel protein created in one GM variety "and no safety concerns are identified,"10 they do not have to look at other GM crops that insert the same gene.

So what do they propose to look at? Not much that would protect public health. For example, they will tell biotech companies, "You should consider whether the new protein is an allergen, or a toxin." From the formerly secret FDA memos, FDA scientist Carl Johnson wrote in 1991, "Are we asking the crop developer to prove that food from his crop is non-allergenic? This seems like an impossible task."9 While there are no tests to verify that a novel protein is not a human allergen, the World Health Organization and the United Nations FAO recommend criteria to minimize the likelihood that it is. The GM corn, soybeans, and papaya already on the market, however, fail those criteria. That hasn’t stopped them from being approved.

The FDA recommends test tube studies to simulate digestion, but they are a poor indicator of what really happens inside human beings or animals. Moreover, biotech companies typically manipulate the test parameters to force their own conclusions, so that the tests often give a false sense of security.

But even these poorly designed studies, like all FDA regulation of GM foods, are entirely voluntary. The draft guidance states: "The use of the word should in agency guidances means that something is suggested or recommended, but not required."10 Thus, if a company’s response to the FDA’s questionnaire "raises questions about the food safety of" the new protein, the best that the FDA can come up with is to say to the company: "You may wish to discuss the identified issues with us prior to engaging in any activity that might result in material from your plant inadvertently entering the food supply."10

Threat Grows over Time

Even if harm from experimental crops were a small probability, repeated enough times, it becomes a certainty. From 1987 through 2002, the USDA issued 8,571 permits and more are expected. The government identifies about 500 different foreign genes used, but the actual number is higher since most are kept secret—classified by companies as confidential business information. We don’t know what might end up in our food supply and we don’t even know how to test for its presence. In some cases, even tiny amounts of contamination carry significant risks. According to the EPA’s expert Scientific Advisory Panel, no minimum amount of StarLink was considered safe.11 Some GM crops produce pharmaceutical products which are known to be active at billionths of a gram.12 While the current draft guidance addresses food crops, the FDA is considering an analogous guidance for pharmaceuticals.4

In an April 2004 joint press release, the Biotechnology Industry Organization and the U.S. grain industry instructed the U.S. government that it "must vigorously promote global adoption of compatible regulatory systems."13 They want the world to also accept contaminated food. Five months later, acting FDA commissioner Crawford heralded the draft guidance as "an international model."4

In the History Channel scenario, Years pass before the connection is made. This may be optimistic. Without monitoring, a food-related health problem could go untracked for decades. And even if evidence were compiled, like tobacco and pesticides, the biotech industry may fight to keep their products on the market.

Soy allergies skyrocketed in the UK by 50% after GM soy was introduced. According to Russian scientists, allergies there tripled in the three years corresponding to the widespread introduction of GM foods. And food related illnesses in the U.S. doubled between 1994 and 2001, when many GM crops entered the food supply. A History Channel scenario might already be in the making.

The FDA’s draft guidance comment period ends January 24, 2005. To send a pre-worded letter or write your own, go to www.thecampaign.org/alertFDA012405.php.

This monthly column & citations are found at www.seedsofdeception.com. © Copyright 2004 Jeffrey M. Smith.

For an excellent analysis of the draft guidance, see Friends of the Earth Briefing Paper, "How the US Government is Planning to Approve Contamination of the World’s Food Supply with Experimental GM Crops," November 2004 http://www.foei.org/publications/pdfs/contamination.pdf