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Seeds of conflict take root in debate over Michigan farming bill

(Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2006 -- CropChoice news) --

1. Spain seizes Argentine Soymeal (genetic royalty fees)
2. Follow the Swiss example and bring back the moratorium
3. Seeds of conflict take root in debate over Michigan farming bill
4. Moratorium on Terminator technology reaffirmed, but with qualifications
5. Statement on WTO decision on genetically modified foods
6. 'Suicide Seeds' could spell death of peasant agriculture, UN meeting told
7. Monsanto chasing patent violations
8. Austria bans Monsanto's GM oilseed rape

1. Spain seizes Argentine Soymeal (genetic royalty fees)

BNA, Jan. 30, 2006

Corn producers are used to buying new hybrid seeds each year to retain hybrid vigor. However, genetic royalty fees for soybeans and other genetically engineered crops tend to be unpopular among some producers who argue that seeds they produce are theirs to use or sell -- or plant. As a result, seed companies sometimes have difficulty collecting such fees, especially in Argentina or Brazil.

In a dispute over genetic royalties from Argentine soybeans, Monsanto recently used legal pressure to force Spain's customs agency to seize two shipments of soymeal that it alleges were produced using Roundup Ready seeds without paying royalties. It is pressing for restitution in Spanish and other European courts.

Roundup Ready soybeans have patent protection in many countries, but not in Argentina, Monsanto says. It claims its current legal strategy is intended to assert patent rights on Argentine seed rather than on actually collecting money from seized consignments. However, it has reserved the right to demand substantial fees before agreeing that the Argentine shipments can continue.

Monsanto is using European courts for its claims because of its lack of success in Argentina, industry experts say. And, it is likely legal pressure on Argentine soybean products in transit will attract Argentine government attention since exports of soybeans and products are the single largest hard-currency earner for the country and taxes on products moving overseas are a key source of government revenues. The government previously supported efforts to create a special fund to compensate Monsanto for its loss of royalties, but that project was opposed in the Argentine Congress by farm lobbies.

To no one's surprise, Monsanto's action in Spain is extremely unpopular with Argentine producers, who are urging the government to sue the company and seize its Argentine assets. Farmers there say that they recognize Monsanto's right to royalties but condemn what they call its bullying tactics.

The long-standing efforts by Monsanto and other seed companies to collect royalties on their seeds could have at least indirect effects on U.S. producers, as well. To the extent that farmers in the United States pay annual fees for advanced genetics while those in competing countries do not, they are at an important competitive disadvantage. As a result, this dispute and seed company efforts to level the international playing field for genetics costs is one U.S. producers should watch carefully as it unfolds over the coming months, Washington Insider believes.

2. Follow the Swiss example and bring back the moratorium

By Steve McGiffen
January 30, 2006

Growing disquiet amongst consumers led in recent years to the introduction by the European Union of a new package of laws governing genetically modified organisms (GMOs). These measures represented a step forward, offering greatly improved labelling of GM foodstuffs and obliging member states to make public the sites of any GMO cultivation.

Unfortunately, however, the problems which the package left unresolved have since become more pressing, and the inadequacies of the legislation have been ever more starkly revealed. The European Commission's refusal to draw up centralised rules for protecting conventional and organic crops from contamination by GMOs created the first problem, and, happily enough, led directly to last summer's reimposition of a moratorium on new cultivation.

A lack of action from Brussels is generally to be welcomed. Unfortunately, while the Commission has left the member states to draw up their own rules to prevent contamination, it has also more than once refused to approve moves by some of them to declare sensitive areas GM-free. In the UK, the Welsh Assembly's attempt to ban GMOs from the country's farms were quashed, as were similar moves by Austrian regions.

Yet evidence is accumulating that the only way to prevent GMOs from contaminating other plants is either to grow them in closed systems, or not to grow them at all. Exclusion zones such as that recently proposed by the Estonian government, which would require a gap of only 20 metres between GM crops and others, are clearly absurd. The problem is, however, that even 20 kms or 20 miles might not be enough.

Plants employ a variety of reproductive strategies. Those which do not produce seeds light enough to be carried by the wind may have to resort to the birds and the bees to spread their genes - or to the boots of farmworkers and hikers, the tyres of tractors and cars, and the fur or pelts of passing animals.

Wherever transgenic plants are grown, they will spread. Native plants will be jeopardised. Insects which feed on them will be affected. The birds and bats which eat the insects will then take their turn. And so on, right up to the creatures, such as birds of prey, foxes and homo sapiens, who stand at the top of these food chains.

Experiments involving GMOs have time and again produced unexpected and destructive results. Transgenic proteins in tomatoes, potatoes and maize have caused stomach lesions, transformation of vital intestinal flora, and serious damage to the immune systems of rats, mice and chickens.

Outside the laboratory, contamination of farmland and ecosystems following the cultivation of GMOs has been shown to last longer and be more far-reaching than was ever anticipated. Government-sponsored research, published by the Royal Society, showed that GM oilseed rape contaminates a field for up to 15 years after it has been harvested. Researchers found that fifteen years after planting a single modified crop, on average a GM plant would grow in every square metre of an affected field. This is enough, under current law, to require any resulting product to be labelled as containing GMOs.

Research published in France in 2004 showed that the relatively large pollen grains of maize can be carried on the wind for distances far greater than any which could viably be used to separate GMOs for other crops. The scientists involved tracked movement of pollen using an aircraft. They refused to give a precise figure for how far a maize pollen grain might travel, but spoke of "dozens of kilometres".

Clearly, for any farmer to find that he or she had inadvertently grown GMOs would be damaging, especially at a time when food retailers and others are frantically searching for GM-free sources. Beyond damage to livelihoods, moreover, are the consequences for the environment as a whole. What can contaminate a neighbouring field can equally well enter the ecosystem surrounding a farm. Plants modified to resist broad-spectrum herbicides (so that a field can be sprayed to kill all weeds without damaging the crop) have led to the evolution of "superweeds" impervious to any known chemical control. Plants modified to produce their own insecticides have been shown to threaten benign and beneficial species as well as their targets.

The growing realisation in some EU member state governments that once you have bought into agricultural biotechnology there is no way back, has mercifully so far held up its spread. It is now time, however, to insist that the government follow the Swiss example and introduce a moratorium not only on planting but on any marketing, use, or import of genetically modified organisms or products derived from them.

The Swiss moratorium is limited to five years, which will surely not be long enough. The moratorium which we should be demanding would not be limited in time but would persist until the biotech corporations, who are the only ones who stand to gain any benefit, can prove to us that their products are safe. That might prove impossible for them, of course, but frankly that is their problem, not ours. It would be our problem too only if GMOs offered any real benefits. Transgenics, we were told, would banish hunger and attack disease. Instead, they have failed to offer anything of value even to relatively well-off consumers in countries like our own, let alone to people in parts of the world where children still die from malnutrition or diarrhoea.

People do not go hungry because the world lacks the resources to feed them. They go hungry because of appalling inequalities of wealth and power, inequalities which the introduction of GMOs under the control of US and European corporations can only reinforce.

Steve McGiffen edits spectrezine and was formerly an adviser on environmental policy to the United Left Group of Euro-MPs (GUE/NGL). This article, which is based on a speech he made to a hearing on GMOs organised by the GUE/NGL at the European Parliament in Brussels on 11th January, was previously published in The Morning Star. His book, Biotechnology: Corporate Power versus the Public Interest, which includes a comprehensive glbal review of existing biotechnology-related legislation, was published by Pluto Press last year.

3. Seeds of conflict take root in debate over Michigan farming bill

Associated Press, Jan. 29, 2006

LANSING, Mich. - Food is their livelihood.

But for Michelle Lutz, an organic vegetable farmer, and Herb Smith, a planter of genetically modified soybeans, the job requires more these days than simply tending their fields in St. Clair and Monroe counties.

They're on opposite sides of a budding battle in Lansing over legislation that pits natural, chemical-free crops against genetically engineered seeds. The bill not only is prompting a basic fight for economic viability among growers, it's raising questions about food safety and who should regulate it.

"We give people a unique relationship with their food," said the 34-year-old Lutz, whose 80-acre organic farm 55 miles north of Detroit ships fresh produce to 1,000 families every week from June through October. "They get to know who, how, why, where and when."

Lutz is worried, however, about legislation in the state Senate that would prevent local governments from barring the planting of seeds, including genetically modified crops. Pollen from farms with genetically modified crops can drift onto her Yale-area farm and corrupt the "organic" status of her food, she says.

Five California counties and cities have restricted growing genetically modified organisms since 2004. Fourteen states have since passed laws pre-empting similar measures in their backyards, prodded by large seed companies and an increasing number of farmers who plant their genetically modified products.

Smith, who farms 900 acres near Temperance, says he supports the Senate bill because he could keep planting his engineered soybeans - which have received federal approval - without intrusion from local governments. Because the soybeans are engineered to specifically resist a cheaper weed killer, Smith says he saves about $20 an acre by not using conventional herbicides.

"I wouldn't sell you stuff out of here that I didn't think was safe," said Smith, 76, who first planted genetically modified soybeans in 1996.

Up to 85 percent of U.S. soybeans are genetically modified along with 45 percent of corn. It's estimated that 70 percent of processed foods on U.S. grocery shelves contain genetically modified ingredients.

"I'm not afraid of change. I'm not afraid of GMOs," Smith said. "I'm concerned that well-meaning people will pass rules that will destroy farming as we know it." [interesting, that "farming as we know it" has only existed since 1996 and largely affects just 3 crops]

Critics worry that so-called "frankenfoods" pose allergy risks to humans, contaminate the natural ecosystem, lead to more chemical spraying and create other unknown, long-term health dangers. Another big concern is government oversight. Douglas Gurian-Sherman, senior scientist at the Washington-based Center for Food Safety, says the U.S. Food and Drug Administration lets the agricultural industry decide how best to test the safety of genetically modified seeds.

"It is a classic case of the fox guarding the hen house," said Gurian-Sherman, a former Environmental Protection Agency scientist who recently testified before a Senate panel in Lansing. Since there are few federal regulations, he says, "the state and local jurisdictions are necessary to protect the public and send a message to Washington that they need to do a better job."

The bill's sponsor in the state Senate, Republican Gerald Van Woerkom of Norton Shores, says genetically modified crops generally benefit society by reducing the amount of chemicals in the environment, among other things. But he wants his committee to hold off on voting on the measure until he looks into Gurian-Sherman's testimony questioning federal oversight.

The Michigan Farm Bureau and other backers of the bill say safety fears are unfounded and federal officials have created proper regulatory checkpoints. Biotechnology cuts down on the use of herbicides and pesticides, which saves fuel and labor costs. It also makes drought-resistant crops that grow faster, produces better yields and reduces greenhouse gases, they argue.

Opponents say the bill isn't necessary because local governments in Michigan haven't passed rules against genetically modified crops. Yet farmers, feeling outnumbered as urban sprawl reaches their communities, think it's only a matter of time before township boards and county commissions meddle in their seed choices.

Tonia Ritter, legislative counsel for the Michigan Farm Bureau, says the emotional issue has split members of her group.

The seed bill is Senate Bill 777.

4. Moratorium on Terminator Technology reaffirmed, but with qualifications

Third World Network Biosafety Information Service
29 January 2006

The fourth meeting of the Ad Hoc Open-ended Intersessional Working Group on Article 8(j) and related provisions of the Convention on Biological Diversity met in Granada, Spain from 23-27 January.

On the final day of the meeting, the Working Group finalized its recommendation on GURTs (popularly known as Terminator Technologies), which will be forwarded to the eighth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), to be held in March 2006.

The 8(j) Working Group reaffirmed the CBD’s existing "de facto" moratorium on GURTs. However, this was weakened by the inclusion of language in another paragraph, at the insistence of Australia, that further research and studies on potential impacts and other aspects of GURTs, be undertaken on a case by case risk assessment basis. Parties repeatedly clashed on many issues, and it was clear that some Parties are determined to undermine the moratorium.

However, Parties to the CBD will still have a crucial opportunity to strengthen the decision on GURTs at COP8, which will make the final decision. Indigenous peoples, farmers and NGOs are calling for an international ban on Terminator Technology.

Countries could, as sovereign nations, enact national legislation that bans GURTs. Furthermore, farmers as well as indigenous and local communities would now be assisted to apply the "de facto" moratorium within their communities and territories.

We provide below a report on the outcomes of the meeting.

With best wishes,

Lim Li Ching
Third World Network
121-S Jalan Utama
10450 Penang
Email: twnet@po.jaring.my

REF: Doc.TWN/Biosafety/2006/B

CBD moratorium on Terminator Technology reaffirmed, but with qualifications

Granada, 28 January 2006 (Third World Network) - The fourth meeting of the Ad Hoc Open-ended Intersessional Working Group on Article 8(j) and related provisions of the Convention on Biological Diversity, which ended on 27 January, saw Parties clashing repeatedly over the issue of Genetic Use Restriction Technologies (GURTs).

The 8(j) Working Group reaffirmed the Convention on Biological Diversity’s (CBD) existing "de facto" moratorium on GURTs. However, this was weakened by the inclusion of language in another paragraph, at the insistence of Australia, that further research and studies on potential impacts and other aspects of GURTs, be undertaken on a case by case risk assessment basis.

GURTs are also popularly known as Terminator Technologies. Terminator Technology is a genetic engineering technique that renders seeds sterile at harvest, thus preventing farmers from saving and re-using seed, a practice carried out by millions of farmers, particularly in developing countries. Apart from these socio-economic impacts, there are also serious threats posed to agrobiodiversity and biodiversity.

In 2000, the CBD adopted Decision V/5 (Agricultural biological diversity) section III, paragraph 23, which recommends that Parties not approve GURTs for field-testing or commercial use, until transparent scientific assessments of its impacts are made and its socio-economic impacts validated, thereby establishing a "de facto" moratorium on GURTs.

The 8(j) Working Group met in Granada, Spain from 23-27 January, and one of the issues on its agenda was on the potential socio-economic impacts of GURTs on indigenous and local communities. On the final day of the meeting, the Working Group finalized its recommendation on GURTs, which will be forwarded to the eighth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the CBD, to be held in Curitiba, Brazil in March 2006. Parties to the CBD would still have an opportunity to strengthen the decision on GURTs at COP8, which will make the final decision.

One of the most contentious issues in the recommendation had to do with the inclusion of language recommending case-by-case risk assessments for further research and studies on potential impacts and other aspects of GURTs. The drafting group that was formed to draft the recommendation had adjourned the day before (26 January) without agreeing on this, and had placed the paragraph in brackets. However, informal consultations were made among the contending Parties as the Sub-Working Group went into plenary, and there they approved the removal of the brackets.

Paragraph 2(b) of the decision reads:

"2. Invites Parties, other Governments and relevant organizations and stakeholders, to: (b) Promote cooperation and synergies between agencies and experts in order to undertake further research and studies on potential impacts and other aspects of genetic use restriction technologies, including their ecological, socio-economic and cultural impacts on indigenous and local communities, including on a case by case risk assessment basis with respect to various categories of GURTs technology subject to the precautionary approach."

The reference to case by case risk assessments could undermine the "de facto" moratorium, as it may open the door for the countries pushing to field test and commercialize GURTs, to do so at their national level.

However, the reference to case by case assessments has been subjected to a qualification, through the inclusion of a footnote to Paragraph 2(b) of the recommendation. The EU, in the final plenary meeting, explained the details. The footnote reads as follows: "this is meant to be with respect to different variations within different categories of GURTs technologies."

When the Philippines asked for clarification on what this meant, Australia said it was "to enable greater clarity, to make it quite clear" what these assessments would be all about.

An NGO delegate representing the Federation of German Scientists had a different view, saying these assessments would be "further down the road", and in the meanwhile this will lead to national level decision-making on GURTs, a scenario which may not be good, as most governments do not have national biosafety regulations to deal with these issues.

Norway also spoke about its grave concern about this point but given the qualification, it believed it could go along with such a footnote. Uganda also voiced its support for the footnote.

The Chair of the Working Group, Amb. Jose Cuenca of Spain, instructed the Rapporteur to take into account these observations in his final report of the Meeting. It is however unclear whether the footnote qualification will be sufficient to roll back the danger posed by including the reference to case by case risk assessments for GURTs.

In any case, it is clear that the "de facto" moratorium on field-testing and commercialization of GURTs remains. Furthermore, countries could, as sovereign nations, still enact national legislation that bans GURTs.

Even farmers as well as indigenous and local communities would now be assisted, through, among other things, capacity-building activities that will enable them to apply Decision V/5, part III on GURTS, within their communities and territories.

Australia had won the inclusion of the wording on case by case risk assessment by using it as a bargaining chip, in return for dropping its initial insistence during the drafting group discussions, that reference to the precautionary approach be removed in the preambular paragraph of the then draft decision.

During those discussions, the Philippines, the EU, and Norway opposed Australia’s proposal, as it would have meant that any decisions relating to GURTs would not be guided by the precautionary principle, one of the cornerstones of the Rio Declaration as well as the Convention on Biological Diversity. The drafting group eventually came to consensus when it was agreed that the references to Principle 15 of the Rio Declaration, as requested by New Zealand, would be couched in language that will also refer to the Preamble of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

Discussions on the draft recommendation saw many other clashes between Parties. One disputed item delved on whether the socio-economic impacts of GURTs were a mix of both positive and negative. Australia, together with the US on the floor, and a pro-industry scientific group, wanted this, along with the word "aspects", which most of the delegations opposed. Uganda pointed out that even the title of the agenda item used the word "impacts" rather than "aspects". Australia insisted "aspects" was broader, which was greeted by dissatisfied grunts from those observing the drafting group.

The delegates agreed to remove both the words "positive and negative" and settled to have both the words "impacts" and "aspects" in the text. References to the "potential benefits such as increasing productivity" were also removed without much debate after this agreement.

However, tempers flared when Australia wanted to replace the word "Reaffirms" in the first preambular paragraph with either "notes" or "recalls", referring to the 2000 decision of CBD COP V, which many observers see as a decision that imposed the "de facto" moratorium on GURTs. Australia, helped along by Canada and New Zealand, claimed that there was nothing wrong with the words "notes" or "recalls", though some observers said that it is absurd for a COP to take note of its own decision, as if it is not aware that it has made such decision in the first place.

As discussions dragged on, the delegate from the Philippines reminded the delegate from Canada that in the Friends of the Chair meeting in Bangkok in 2004, where both of them were present, there was an agreement then to revisit the 2000 decision of the COP in the light of new technologies and related developments. Thus there is a need to determine whether some of the conclusions of the 2000 decision are still valid at this present time, and hence the need for a reaffirmation of whether that decision is still valid or not.

Canada then did not insist on changing the word "reaffirms" but Australia was adamant that both the words "reaffirms" and "recalls" be placed in brackets, to show that such words were not agreed upon by the delegates and would need to be revisited at some future time by the COP of the CBD. Eventually, the desire of the majority prevailed, and the final recommendation from the Working Group reaffirms the previous CBD decision.

Another difficult item centered on the invitation for CBD Parties, governments and relevant organizations to respect the rights of farmers to save and use seeds. Canada suggested that some references to its national legislation be made to reflect its situation, but the Philippines opposed it as the impression made was that Canada was trying to bring in language from the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, of which Farmers’ Rights in its Article 9 is still made subject to national legislation.

Canada clarified that they are not doing so but the Secretariat inserted language that made it appear that such farmers’ rights should be made in accordance with national legislation, leading some indigenous leaders in the room, to shout, in their own language, that that formulation was simply unacceptable. A delegate from Africa said that the words in the text should refer to farm-saved seeds, which again elicited protests from the indigenous leaders in the room, as they said that not all the time do they save and use seeds only from the farm.

Language was then proposed to specify that the rights of farmers and indigenous and local communities to save and use seeds would be respected. Canada again harped that their national situation needed to be taken into account, thus their insistence on language that takes account their national law on this matter of saving and re-using seeds.

Finally, it was agreed to keep intact, as a general principle, the right of farmers and local and indigenous communities to save, use and exchange their seeds, and to just take into account Canada’s situation in a separate clause, within the same paragraph.

Another contentious item referred to technology transfer but got mixed up in the sharp verbal exchanges between the Philippines and Australia on whether capacity-building relating to GURTs would include the enablement of farmers and local and indigenous communities to implement Decision V/5, the 2000 COP decision which set the "de facto" moratorium on GURTs.

Australia simply went ballistic over the word "implement", saying this simply could not be done at the local level. The Philippines asserted that that was precisely what needs to be done, as most farmers and indigenous and local communities simply have no idea about these international discussions and the capacity-building efforts should simply apprise them that there is a moratorium at the international level and that they should be helped to act, in accordance with their customary rules and practices, to take steps to put this moratorium into effect within their communities and territories. The EU mediated between the two and the word "implement" was changed to "application". Thus, there is language in the final recommendation that capacity building efforts would help farmers and local and indigenous communities apply the moratorium.

There was also some discussion on whether to call on Parties to ensure the participation of local and indigenous communities in future deliberations of the CBD on this issue. However, the Secretariat told the meeting that the Parties could not be forced or compelled to allow indigenous and local communities to join their CBD delegations; it was a matter of sovereignty whether a Party wanted to include indigenous and local communities in their delegations.

Final discussions centered on whether to call on WIPO, UNESCO and the Human Rights Commission to investigate the patent record on GURTs and assess its ethical and spiritual implications. The WIPO representative said that it would be out of their mandate to tackle the ethical and related aspects, but Egypt insisted that it would be up to these international bodies, to act within their mandate to examine this request. He said that if the international organizations find that it is out of their mandate, then it should just tell the CBD such fact, and work on the request in accordance within its mandate.

Many observers familiar with the processes of WIPO said that it would take some time for WIPO to decide on this, especially if the request is seen as something out of their mandate, and there could be a possibility that they would reject this request, which may effectively set back the data-gathering exercise on the patent landscape on GURTs. But, ultimately, it is up to the WIPO General Assembly to decide on what to do with this request

5. Statement on WTO decision on genetically modified foods

January 20, 2006
TransAtlantic Consumer Dialogue (TACD)

News reports indicate that early in 2006, the World Trade Organization (WTO) is expected to rule in favor of the United States on a Bush Administration challenge to European delays in approving new types of genetically modified (GM) foods and various European Union member state bans on specific GM varieties.

The current U.S. case does not challenge present European Community (EC) regulations on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), which include rules on safety testing, labeling and traceability, but concerns the EU's delay in granting new approvals of GM crops while the European-wide policies were being put into effect.

The Bush Administration claims that the EU's delay in granting new GM crop approvals has resulted in lost markets for American farmers. But clearly consumers' preference for non-GM food is the true engine of the market collapse for American crops. Even before the delay in GM crop approvals began in 1998, U.S. corn sales to Europe had dropped by more than half.

"The US effort to force GM foods upon unwilling consumers is offensive and misguided," said Jim Murray of the European consumer organization BEUC. "Consumers cannot be forced to buy and eat food that they do not want."

TACD has vigorously protested the United States suit and has repeatedly urged the US and the EU to resolve disputes over consumer, public health and environmental matters outside of the WTO where public interest regulations are regularly ruled against in the name of free trade. If the WTO panel rules against the right of individual governments to regulate the use of GM products, the shock waves will be global. The number of countries that regulate GM products in the public interest is growing rapidly and today half of the world's population lives in countries that require premarket approval of these products. Even in the United States, three California counties ban growing of all GM crops. "This suit can be seen as a preemptive effort to chill the development of new policies for regulating GM crops around the globe," said Rhoda Karpatkin representing the US-based Consumers Union. "Ironically, the US may have won the battle but it is losing the war. A WTO ruling in favor of the U.S. will only increase consumer suspicion of GM crops and of a global trading system that subsumes the public interest to the interests of giant biotechnology firms."

In a similar WTO case, in 1996 the US launched a case on behalf of the US Cattlemen's Association against Europe's ban on hormone-treated beef. Yet while the U.S. "won" the beef-hormone dispute in 1999, Europe has still not opened its markets to U.S. beef, because European consumers do not want hormones in their meat. The repercussions of this case are still being felt almost ten years later as the EC continues to pay a ransom in the form of $116 million dollars worth of punitive trade sanction for the privilege of maintaining their public health policy on hormones. The EC recently counter sued in the WTO to get these sanctions lifted.

TACD, which includes all the major consumer organizations on both sides of the Atlantic, supports labeling and safety testing of GMOs, and consumer choice about consuming them.

6. 'Suicide Seeds' could spell death of peasant agriculture, UN meeting told

by Haider Rizvi
Published on Thursday, January 26, 2006 by OneWorld.net

UNITED NATIONS - Groups fighting for the rights of peasant communities are stepping up pressure on governments to ban the use of genetically modified ''suicide seeds'' at UN-sponsored talks on biodiversity in Spain this week.

''This technology is an assault on the traditional knowledge, innovation, and practices of local and indigenous communities,'' said Debra Harry, executive director of the U.S.-based Indigenous Peoples Council on Biocolonialism.

The group is among organizations urging United Nations experts to recommend that governments adopt tough laws against field testing and selling Terminator technology, which refers to plants that have had their genes altered so that they render sterile seeds at harvest. Because of this trait, some activists call Terminator products ''suicide seeds.''

Developed by multinational agribusinesses and the U.S. government, Terminator has the effect of preventing farmers from saving or replanting seeds from one growing season to the next.

The product is being tested in greenhouses throughout the United States. Opponents fear it is likely to be marketed soon unless governments impose a ban.

''Terminator seeds will become a commercial reality unless governments take action to prevent it,'' said Hope Shand of the Canada-based Action Group on Erosion, Technology, and Concentration (ETC Group).

If commercialized, activists said, Terminator would force farmers to return to the market for seeds every year, adding to their annual costs. This also would spell the end of locally adapted agriculture through seed selection, because most farmers in the world today routinely save seeds from their harvest for replanting.

''This seed technology is a fundamental violation of the human rights of indigenous people,'' Harry said of Terminator. ''It is a breach of the right of self-determination.''

Environmental and consumer advocates also have said that genetically modified crops--ranging from Terminator to ''Round Up Ready'' varieties designed to survive the heavy duty herbicide Round Up--offer the promise of fat profits for their developers, marketers, and political supporters while threatening farmers with lean times and consumers with ill-health.

''The promise of increased profit is too enticing for industry to give up on Terminator seeds,'' says Lucy Sharratt of the International Ban Terminator Campaign.

The issue has pitted some governments against their citizens. Canadian government officials at a UN meeting in Bangkok last year pushed for language allowing the field testing and sale of Terminator. But they backed down in response to strong public criticism at home.

For their part, biotech companies have enjoyed limited success in trying to influence governments' policies in favor of using Terminator seeds. Their main argument: that Terminator's higher cost is more than compensated for in improved crop yield and quality at harvest time.

Governments generally have distinguished between different types of genetic modification. Many--especially those in industrially developing regions of the world--have resisted pressure from the biotechnology industry and the U.S. government and maintain a strong stand against Terminator.

The government of Brazil--the world's fifth most populous country and a major agricultural producer--last year enacted a law that prohibits the use, registration, patenting, and licensing of genetically modified (GM) seeds. India, a predominantly agrarian nation and home to more than one billion people, has done the same.

However, a number of governments have agreed with industry statements that other genetic modifications can play a significant role in combating hunger at negligible risk to the environment.

Even so, a 100-page report released last week by Friends of the Earth (FoE), a leading international environmental group, concludes that only a handful of countries have introduced and increased the use of genetically modified crops--and then again, largely because of aggressive lobbying by the biotech industry.

Entitled ''Who Benefits from GM Crops?'' the report says that after 10 years of GM crop cultivation, more than 80 percent of the area cultivated with biotech crops is still concentrated in only three countries: the United States, Argentina, and Canada.

In other countries--including Paraguay and Brazil, GM crops were planted illegally and in Indonesia, they were planted after government officials were bribed, FoE said.

This week's UN talks in Madrid are scheduled to continue until Friday.

7. Monsanto chasing patent violations
-Seed Company Wants Argentine Seeds Tested in Spain

Dow Jones, Jan. 26, 2006

BUENOS AIRES (Dow Jones) -- Monsanto, a leading maker of farm seeds, has asked Spanish customs officials to inspect samples of soybean meal products recently shipped to that country from Argentina as part of a broader effort to force Argentine farmers to pay for the right to use Monsanto-made soybean seeds, the company confirmed Thursday.

Monsanto wants authorities to study the samples "to determine whether the shipment contains unlicensed technology."

"If so," Monsanto said, it "will (pursue) patent infringement proceedings in Spain in respect to the shipment."

Monsanto has tried for two years to get the Argentine government to help address Monsanto's claims that Argentine farmers properly pay the company's Roundup Ready soybean seeds only about 20 percent of the time. The rest of the time, farmers use the seeds without paying for them. Often the seeds are bought illegally in an underground seed market or replanted after each harvest. That, Monsanto says, is unacceptable.

In June, Monsanto began filing lawsuits over the shipment of soybean products to the E.U. Many E.U. nations recognize Monsanto's patent on the genetically modified seeds, which are used to plant 95 percent of the soybeans in Argentina. In contrast, the Argentine government has never allowed Monsanto to patent the seeds.

"Unfortunately, despite two years of discussions the parties have failed to conclude an agreement to pay for the (Roundup Ready) technology which has delivered $1 billion of value per year over the last 10 years for the Argentina economy, and significantly more supply choices for European customer," Monsanto said in a statement.

The European feed industry, which imports up to 10 million tons of soybean meal annually from Argentina, last year called on the government and farmers here to resolve this dispute so that it doesn't affect trade with the E.U.

Argentine Agriculture Secretary Miguel Campos has slammed Monsanto, saying its effort to collect royalties on soybean seeds show that it is a "greedy" company that cares little for the well-being of local farmers. He has said the company's lawsuits in the E.U. are equivalent to "extortion."

Monsanto says negotiations with the Argentine government and local farmers have so far proven to be feckless.

"A new crop is about to be harvested, the third harvest since discussions have taken place," the company said.

"(A)nd since no agreement has been reached yet, Monsanto has no other choice but to ensure the protection of its rights and therefore file legal actions on a shipment by shipment basis to seek damages for patent infringement for any imports of unlicensed patented technology into markets where Monsanto holds patents."

8. Austria bans Monsanto's GM oilseed rape

Friends of the Earth news release
Jan. 23, 2006

Friends of the Earth has today welcomed the decision by the Austrian Government to ban Monsanto's genetically modified (GM) oilseed rape. This brings the total number of European bans on GM foods or crops to twelve [1]. The decision by the current EU presidency follows November's referendum in Switzerland which put in place a five year moratorium on growing GM crops and comes ahead of the WTO GM dispute ruling, which will include whether countries are allowed to impose such bans. Friends of the Earth is calling on the UK Government to follow suit.

The Austrian decision to ban Monsanto's oilseed rape, GT73, is based on the risk of genetic contamination and the inadequate risk assessment carried out before the European Commission authorised it for import in August 2005. This authorisation came despite a majority of EU Environment Ministers blocking its approval in December 2004 [2] for environmental and health reasons.

Friends of the Earth wrote to the Government following the approval of GT73 oilseed rape, urging it to impose a national ban in the UK to protect health and the environment, but it refused.

Friends of the Earth's GM Campaigner, Clare Oxborrow said:

"The Austrian decision to ban this GM oilseed rape is a clear sign of the growing frustration with the EU's undemocratic decisions to approve GM food. Opposition to GM crops and food is growing - in the UK over eighteen million people live in GM free areas. It is time the UK Government accepted that there are genuine concerns surrounding this GM oilseed rape, and banned it too.

GMOs are now banned in seven European countries, while the number of EU regions banning GMOs is also growing:
> *172 Regions in the European Union and 4500 local authorities and other zones have now declared themselves GMO free [3] and are calling for the right of Regions to decide whether or not to grow GMOs. This includes 60 local authorities in the UK.
*In June 2005, the EU Commission was defeated by Member States when it tried to force them to drop national GMO bans [4].


[1] GMO bans in the European Union:

Syngenta's Bt176 maize (banned 31/03/2000) - Reason: effects on non-target insects + transfer of antibiotic resistance genes to humans and animals + insects could develop resistance to the Bt

Bayer's oilseed rape Topas 19/2 (banned 16/11/1998) - Reason: impact of genetic escape and spread of herbicide tolerance Bayer's oilseed rape MS1xRf1 (banned 16/11/1998) - Reason: impact of genetic escape and spread of herbicide tolerance

Syngenta's Bt176 maize (banned 13/02/1997) - Reason: effects on non-target insects such as butterflies + transfer of antibiotic resistance genes to humans and animals Bayer's T25 maize (banned 28/4/2000) - Reason: protection of sensitive areas, lack of monitoring plan and concerns about the herbicide used Monsanto's MON810 maize (banned 10/06/1999) - Reason: Effects on non-target insects

Monsanto’s maize MON810 seeds (banned 20/01/2005)

Syngenta's Bt176 maize (banned 07/02/1997) - Reason: Transfer of antibiotic resistance genes to humans and animals

Bayer's oilseed rape Topas 19/2 (banned 08/09/1998) - Reason: impact of genetic escape Monsanto’s maize MON810 seeds (Commission ruled to overturn ban earlier this month)

Monsanto's maize MON810 seeds

[2] http://www.foe.co.uk/resource/press_releases/european_commission_approv_28092005.html

Voting Results of Environment Council on 20/12/2004:
*For* : SK, SE, FR, PT, FI, NL. (78 votes)
*Against* : IT, GR, DK, PO, MT, BE, HU, LT, LV, CY, AT, EE et LU. (135 votes)
*Abstention* : IE, SI, ES, DE, CZ et UK. (108 votes)

[3] see http://www.gmofree-europe.org/ for further information

[4] see http://www.foeeurope.org/press/2005/AB_24_June_vote.htm