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Farmers, others sue USDA over Monsanto's GMO alfalfa

(Thursday, Feb. 23, 2006 -- CropChoice news) --

1. Monsanto may commercialize Terminator
2. Farmers, others sue USDA over Monsanto's GMO alfalfa
3. Canadian Wheat Board eyes GM wheat
4. Tweaking plants for better health using tilling techniques
5. Biotech's sparse harvest
6. More voices joining chorus for GMO wheat
7. 2005, a scary year for genetically engineered crops
8. Bill would require labeling of genetically modified seeds
9. America's masterplan is to force GM food on the world

1. Monsanto may commercialize Terminator
Biotech giant revises pledge on sterile seed technology as global alliance calls for a ban

February 21, 2006

Monsanto, the world’s largest seed and agbiotech company, made a public promise in 1999 not to commercialize ‘Terminator Technology’ ­ plants that are genetically engineered to produce sterile seeds. Now Monsanto says it may develop or use the so-called ‘suicide seeds’ after all. The revised pledge from Monsanto now suggests that it would use Terminator seeds in non-food crops and does not rule out other uses of Terminator in the future. (1) Monsanto’s modified stance comes to light as the biotech and seed industry confront peasant and farmer movements, Indigenous peoples and their allies in an escalating battle at the United Nations over the future of Terminator.

In 2000 the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) adopted a de facto moratorium on sterile seed technologies, also known as Genetic Use Restriction Technologies (GURTs). But at next month’s high-level meeting of the CBD in Curitiba, Brazil (20-31 March 2006) the biotechnology industry will intensify its push to undermine the six-year old de facto moratorium.

In response, over 300 organizations today declared their support for a global ban on Terminator Technology, asserting that sterile seeds threaten biodiversity and will destroy the livelihoods and cultures of the 1.4 billion people who depend on farm-saved seed.

"The world’s farmers and Indigenous peoples cannot trust Monsanto," said Alejandro Argumedo from Asociación ANDES - Potato Park in Cusco, Peru "Monsanto’s broken promise is a deadly betrayal because Indigenous peoples and farmers depend on seed saving for food security and self-determination."

Terminator technology was first developed by the United States Department of Agriculture and US seed company Delta & Pine Land to prevent farmers from saving and re-using harvested seed, forcing them to buy new seeds each season. (2)

In October 1999, in response to worldwide opposition, Monsanto publicly pledged not to commercialize Terminator seeds. Then-CEO, Robert Shapiro, wrote an open letter to the Rockefeller Foundation, stating, "I am writing to let you know that we are making a public commitment not to commercialize sterile seed technologies, such as the one dubbed ‘Terminator.’"

Now, Monsanto has revised its commitment, pledging to keep Terminator only out of food crops ­ opening the door to the use of Terminator in cotton, tobacco, pharmaceutical crops and grass with sterility genes. Referring to new versions of GURTs, Monsanto’s ‘pledge’ now says, "Monsanto does not rule out the potential development and use of one of these technologies in the future. The company will continue to study the risks and benefits of this technology on a case-by-case basis."

"Monsanto’s revised pledge resonates closely with the actions of a few rich governments that have been promoting Terminator at the UN recently," points out Chee Yoke Ling of Third World Network. "It looks like Monsanto and other corporations are behind the strategy to unleash Terminator at the upcoming meetings of the CBD".

Monsanto’s new stance on Terminator is part of an industry-wide attempt to undermine the de facto moratorium. In the past year, government delegates from Canada, Australia and New Zealand , working hand in hand with the biotech industry, have used UN meetings to introduce new text that will be considered at next month’s CBD meeting in Brazil. (3) This text recommends Terminator technologies be approached on a "case by case risk assessment" basis ­ echoing the language of Monsanto’s new ‘pledge.’ The intention behind the ‘case by case’ approach is to regulate Terminator just like any other genetically modified crop. This would ignore the uniquely devastating societal impacts of genetic seed sterility.

"Terminator is a direct assault on farmers, Indigenous cultures and on the food sovereignty and well-being of all rural people, primarily the very poorest," said Chukki Nanjundaswamy of India from La Via Campesina, an organization representing hundreds of millions of peasant farmers worldwide. "If Monsanto bullies the UN into allowing ‘case by case’ assessment of Terminator, it means farmers will be carried off the land coffin by coffin."

"These companies have a clear and simple vision that nothing should be grown without a license from Monsanto and a few other masters of sterility and reproduction," explains Benny Haerlin of Greenpeace International. "They pursue this strategy step by step or ‘case by case’ as they now call it. If governments at the CBD give in to Monsanto and erode the Terminator moratorium we will all have to pay the bill tomorrow and the collateral damage will be the integrity and fertility of nature."

The Ban Terminator campaign today announces the names of over 300 organizations worldwide that are demanding a ban on Terminator technology. The list of organizations is available at www.banterminator.org/endorsements These organizations are from every region of the world and include peasant farmer movements and farm organizations, Indigenous peoples organizations, civil society and environmental groups, unions, faith communities, international development organizations, women’s movements, consumer organizations and youth networks.

"We are particularly alarmed that Monsanto’s edited pledge no longer rejects commercialization of this dangerous technology." said Lucy Sharratt of the international Ban Terminator Campaign. "We are calling on national governments to dismiss Monsanto’s tactic in favour of an all-out ban on Terminator. We invite all civil society and social movements to join with us for the battle against Terminator next month in Brazil."

Lucy Sharratt, Coordinator, Ban Terminator Campaign
+1 613 252 2147 mobile,
+ 1 613 241 2267
Pat Mooney, ETC Group
Jim Thomas, ETC Group
+1 613 241 2267

Hope Shand, ETC Group.
+1 919 9605767

Alejandro Argumedo, Asociación ANDES.
+51 84 245021

Chee Yoke Ling, Third World Network
Lim Li Lin, Third World Network.
+603 23002585

Chukki Nanjundaswamy, La Via Campesina.
+91 80 28604737
+91-94482 41401 mobile

Greenpeace International:
Benedict Haerlin, Greenpeace International.


Notes to editors:
1.Monsanto’s new pledge on Terminator and GURTs is online (Monsanto's 2005 Pledge Report). Click here to see relevant quotes from Monsanto.
2.Delta and Pine Land refer to Terminator as Technology Protection System (TPS). Terminator is currently being tested in greenhouses and Delta and Pine Land vowed to commercialize it within the next few years. Click here for more information on Delta & Pine Land.
3.In February 2005 at a meeting of the CBD’s Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Assessment (SBSTTA) in Bangkok, Canadian government delegates made a surprise attempt to overturn the moratorium by allowing Terminator to be field tested and commercialized. Last month, at another preparatory meeting in Granada, Spain (known as the Working Group on 8j), the Australian government, coached by a US State Department representative, also attacked the moratorium. See news release on 27th January 2006: "Granada’s Grim Sowers Plow up the moratorium on Terminator"

2. Farmers, others sue USDA over Monsanto's GMO alfalfa

February 17, 2006 — By Carey Gillam, Reuters

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A coalition of farmers, consumers and environmental activists Thursday sued the U.S. government over its approval of a biotech alfalfa that critics say will spell havoc for farmers and the environment."

Opening another front in the battle over genetically modified crops, the lawsuit contends that the U.S. Department of Agriculture improperly is allowing Monsanto Co. to sell an herbicide-resistant alfalfa seed while failing to analyze the public health, environmental, and economic consequences of that action.

"The USDA failed to do a full environmental review when they deregulated this genetically engineered alfalfa," said Will Rastov, an attorney for Center for Food Safety, one of the plaintiffs. "They're going to wreak untold dangers into the environment."

The lawsuit asks the federal court in San Francisco to rescind the USDA's decision until a full environmental review has been completed.

The suit asserts that the genetically modified alfalfa will probably contaminate conventionally grown alfalfa at a fast pace, ultimately forcing farmers to pay for Monsanto's patented gene technology whether they want the technology or not.

The group says biotech alfalfa would also hurt production of organic dairy and beef products as alfalfa is a key cattle feed. And the suit claims farmers could lose export business, valued at an estimated $480 million per year, because buyers in Japan and South Korea, major importers of U.S. alfalfa, have indicated they would avoid buying U.S. alfalfa once the genetically engineered variety is released.

Plaintiffs also said Monsanto is marketing the herbicide-tolerant crop in a way that encourages far greater applications of chemicals than alfalfa typically requires.

Alfalfa is the fourth most widely grown crop in the United States, behind corn, soybeans, and wheat.

South Dakota alfalfa farmer Pat Trask, one of the plaintiffs, said Monsanto's biotech alfalfa would ruin his conventional alfalfa seed business because it was certain his 9,000 acres would be contaminated by the biotech genes.

Alfalfa is very easily cross-pollinated by bees and by wind. The plant is also perennial, meaning GMO plants could live on for years.

"The way this spreads so far and wide, it will eliminate the conventional alfalfa industry," said Trask. "Monsanto will own the entire alfalfa industry."

Monsanto has a policy of filing lawsuits or taking other legal actions against farmers who harvest crops that show the presence of the company's patented gene technology. It has sued farmers even when they have tried to keep their own fields free from contamination by biotech plants on neighboring farms.

"It's the desire of Monsanto to pursue global control and total control over the American alfalfa seed industry," said Trask.

Monsanto spokeswoman Mica DeLong said the company had no comment on the issue and referred inquires to USDA. Monsanto received regulatory clearance to begin selling the biotech alfalfa last summer.

The suit names Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns, Animal Plant Health Inspection Service Administrator Ron Dehaven and Environmental Protection Agency administrator Steve Johnson as defendants.

APHIS spokeswoman Karen Eggert said the agency had no immediate comment. EPA also declined to comment and a spokeswoman for USDA could not be reached immediately.

In addition to the Center for Food Safety and the Trask family, the plaintiffs include the National Family Farm Coalition, Sierra Club, Dakota Resources Council, and other farm, environmental and consumer groups.

3. Canadian Wheat Board eyes GM wheat

By Phil Franz-Warkentin

Winnipeg ­ A number of US wheat groups recently came out in favour of using biotechnology to breed new wheat varieties. While genetically modified (GM) wheat is still a concern for many of its customers, the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) agreed that further research would be useful.

"Biotechnology research holds great promise for the future, and the US wheat industry recognizes these advancements," said a joint statement put out by the The National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG), the US Wheat Associates (UWA) and the Wheat Export Trade Education Committee (WETEC) in early February. A separate resolution also endorsed continued research and development into a fusarium resistant trait by Syngenta.

In recent years Monsanto had also worked on a GM wheat variety resistant to the company's Roundup Herbicide. However, those plans were eventually scrapped due in part to the general outcry against the variety.

"Our position is that we're not opposed to biotechnology, although we had specific concerns with Roundup Ready wheat," said CWB spokesperson Maureen Fitzhenry. She said that before any GM wheat is introduced, it should be ensured that it presents a positive cost/benefit for farmers, which was not the case with Roundup Ready wheat.

"lt's a fair assumption that fusarium resistant wheat would have a cost benefit for farmers," said Fitzhenry. "That being said, it all boils down to what will be acceptable to the customer and what segregation may or may not be necessary... lt's not an easy cut and dry thing."

Currently, the Canadian government only looks into safety issues when deciding to approve a new variety. Fitzhenry thought a cost/benefit analysis would be a beneficial tool, as the economic implications of introducing a wheat variety not acceptable to most of Canada's customers would be large.

"Resistance to CM wheat was strong, and is still strong," said Fitzhenry. About 82% of Canada's wheat customers said they would not accept the Roundup Ready GM wheat variety when Monsanto was still working on it. "Would they say the same thing about a GM wheat variety that's fusarium resistant? At this point in time - quite likely," said Fitzhenry.

That being said, she added that any research into fusarium resistant wheat would be useful.

"The bottom line is that new varieties have to have benefits for farmers that outweigh the costs," said Fitzhenry. "With Roundup Ready, that wasn't the Gase, but with fusarium resistant 1 think you would see a different cost benefit equation."

David Rolfe president of the Manitoba farmer group the Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP) noted that his organization opposed the introduction of Roundup Ready wheat, "however, we certainly did not oppose biotechnology." He agreed with Fitzhenry that market acceptance is key for any new wheat varieties, and would be supportive if the benefits to farmers outweigh the costs.

Rolfe also pointed out that a BASF's herbicide tolerant Clearfield wheat has already come onto the market relatively unnoticed. While the variety is not considered genetically modified, as no foreign DNA was inserted during development, it does perform a similar function as was intended by Roundup Ready wheat.

4. Tweaking plants for better health using tilling techniques

Thursday, February 16, 2006
By Tracy Powell

Genetically modified crops have received an official thumbs-down internationally, promises of feeding the world notwithstanding. But a new technology could get the same results without actual genetic modification.

It's called Tilling, or targeting induced local lesions in genomes, and it uses reverse genetics to pinpoint mutations that might enhance nutritional value or eliminate allergens. The technology thus far has not raised the hackles of environmental groups the way genetic modification has.

The controversy surrounding biotech foods often focuses on transgenics, the controversial technique that involves inserting genes from one species into another.

"The issue with transgenics is the capacity to bring in new genes that haven't been in that genome before," says Jane Rissler, a senior scientist at the Washington, D.C., Union of Concerned Scientists. "It's this power to combine genes from very different organisms that's causing concern."

Tilling, on the other hand, avoids these concerns because it relies solely on genes already in the plant.

Scientists at the USDA Agricultural Research Service's Crop Production and Pest Control research unit on the campus of Purdue University, have launched a Tilling project with the goal of making hypoallergenic soybeans. The researchers are creating as many mutations as they can in soybeans, then mining that information.

"It may be possible to identify mutants in the Tilling population that do not produce specific allergens," said Niels Nielsen, a geneticist working on the soybean project. Soybeans are one of the top eight allergenic foods, along with peanuts. Food allergies affect 6 to 8 percent of children and 1 to 2 percent of adults. The U.S. government has mandated that all products with soy should be labeled as containing potential allergens in 2006.

Nielsen and his colleagues are also using Tilling to develop healthier soybean oil and higher-protein soybeans. They estimate that trans-fat-free nonhydrogenated soybean oil will be available in one year, while soybean oil that will rival olive oil for its monounsaturated fats is three years away.

Steven Henikoff and his colleagues at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle first developed Tilling, a process that begins with soaking seeds in chemicals to induce mutations. Researchers then plant the seeds, and analyze genes from the mutated plant. They collect and store DNA samples containing mutations on a given gene.

Tilling can be used in a variety of plants. Researchers at Arcadia Biosciences in Davis, California, recently showed it could help develop an improved line of bread wheat.

The technology can also help scientists find previously unidentified mutations.

"By identifying mutants of genes whose function is unknown and studying them," Nielsen said, "it may be possible to deduce what they do."

5. Biotech's sparse harvest

Andrew Pollack
NY Times, Feb. 14, 2006

At the dawn of the era of genetically engineered crops, scientists were envisioning all sorts of healthier and tastier foods, including cancer-fighting tomatoes, rot-resistant fruits, potatoes that would produce healthier French fries and even beans that would not cause flatulence.

But so far, most of the genetically modified crops have provided benefits mainly to farmers, by making it easier for them to control weeds and insects.

Now, millions of dollars later, the next generation of biotech crops - the first with direct benefits for consumers - is finally on the horizon. But the list does not include many of the products once envisioned.

Developing such crops has proved to be far from easy. Resistance to genetically modified foods, technical difficulties, legal and business obstacles and the ability to develop improved foods without genetic engineering have winnowed the pipeline.

"A lot of companies went into shell shock, I would say, in the past three, four years," said C. S. Prakash, director of plant biotechnology research at Tuskegee University. "Because of so much opposition, they've had to put a lot of projects on the shelf."

Developing nonallergenic products and other healthful crops has also proved to be difficult technically. "Changing the food composition is going to be far trickier than just introducing one gene to provide insect resistance," said Mr. Prakash, who has promoted agricultural biotechnology on behalf of the industry and the United States government.

In 2002, Eliot Herman and his colleagues got some attention when they engineered a soybean to make it less likely to cause an allergic reaction. But the soybean project was put aside because baby food companies, which he thought would want the soybeans for infant formula, instead are avoiding biotech crops, said Mr. Herman, a scientist with the Department of Agriculture.

In addition, he said, food companies feared lawsuits if some consumers developed allergic reactions to a product labeled as nonallergenic.

The next generation of these crops - particularly those that provide healthier or tastier food - could be important for gaining consumer acceptance of genetic engineering. The industry won a victory last week when a panel of the World Trade Organization ruled that the European Union had violated trade rules by halting approvals of new biotech crops. But the ruling is not expected to overcome the wariness of European consumers over biotech foods.

New crops are also important for the industry, which has been peddling the same two advantages - herbicide tolerance and insect resistance - for 10 years. "We haven't seen any fundamentally new traits in a while," said Michael Fernandez, executive director of the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology, a nonprofit group.

Now, some new types of crops are appearing. Monsanto just won federal approval for a type of genetically engineered corn promoted as having greater nutritional value - albeit only for pigs and poultry. The corn, possessing a bacterial gene, contains increased levels of lysine, an amino acid that is often provided to farm animals as a supplement.

Coming next, industry executives say, are soybean oils intended to yield healthier baked goods and fried foods. To keep soybean oil from turning rancid, the oil typically undergoes a process called hydrogenation. The process produces trans fatty acids, which are harmful and must be disclosed in food labels under new regulations.

Both Monsanto and DuPont, which owns the Pioneer Hi-Bred seed company, have developed soybeans with altered oil composition that, in some cases, do not require hydrogenation. Kellogg said in December that it would use the products, particularly Monsanto's, to remove trans fats from some of its products.

Monsanto's product, Vistive, and DuPont's, which is called Nutrium, were developed by conventional breeding. They are genetically engineered only in the sense that they have the gene that allows them to grow even when sprayed with the widely used herbicide Roundup.

But Monsanto and DuPont say the next generation of soybean, which would be able to eliminate trans fats in more foods, would probably require genetic engineering. Those products are expected in three to six years.

Beyond that, both companies said, would be soybeans high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are good for the heart and the brain. These are now derived largely from eating fish, which in turn get them by eating algae. Putting algae genes into soybeans could allow for soy oil that is rich in the fatty acids.

"Our hope is it is easier to formulate into food without it smelling or tasting fishy," said David M. Stark, vice president for consumer traits at Monsanto.

Other second-generation crops are also on the way. DuPont is trying to develop better tasting soy for use in products like protein bars.

Some efforts are under way to develop more nutritious crops for the world's least developed countries, led by what is termed golden rice, which contains the precursor of vitamin A. Vitamin A deficiency is a leading cause of blindness in certain poor countries.

There has been progress in crops able to withstand drought. While those would mainly benefit farmers, it would also help consumers in regions like Africa, where droughts bring famine.

Mr. Stark said Monsanto had not anticipated that use of genetic engineering would discourage food companies from using the company's soybeans. "I don't get many requests for 'Is this a G.M.O. or not?' " he said, using the abbreviation for genetically modified organism. "It's more 'Does the oil work?' "

Still, opposition by consumers and food companies has clearly forced big companies like Monsanto and DuPont to choose their projects carefully. It has also made it difficult for academic scientists and small start-ups, which typically provide much of the innovation in other fields, to obtain financing.

Avtar K. Handa, a professor at Purdue, said he had stopped work on a tomato he helped develop a few years ago that was rich in lycopene, a cancer-fighting substance. Genetically modified crops are not being brought to market and research funds have diminished, he said.

Still, opposition is not the only problem. Alan McHughen, a professor at the University of California, Riverside, said that for small companies and university researchers, the main obstacles were patent rights held by the big companies and the cost of taking a biotech crop through regulatory review. That has made it particularly difficult to apply genetic engineering to crops like fruits and vegetables, which have smaller sales than the major grain and oil crops.

Technical issues are another obstacle. While a single bacterial gene can provide herbicide resistance or insect resistance, changing the nutritional composition of crops sometimes requires several genes to alter the metabolism within a cell. That raises a greater risk of unintended effects, some experts say.

Enhanced crops must also meet the demands of farmers for high yields and of food companies for good taste and handling properties.

DuPont won approval for a soybean high in oleic acid, which could produce healthier oils, back in 1997. But instead of becoming a showcase of the consumer health benefits of genetic engineering, the crop is now used only to make industrial lubricants.

Erik Fyrwald, group vice president of DuPont's agriculture and nutrition division, said one reason the crop was not sold for use in food was that demand for healthier oils was not as great then as it is now. But other experts say there was another problem - foods made with the oil did not taste good.

"The high-oleic oils are not very well received by the consumer," said Pamela White, a professor of food science and human nutrition at Iowa State University. Further, she predicted that soy oils containing the omega-3 fatty acids would be unstable, making them hard to use in fried foods.

William Freese, a research analyst at Friends of the Earth, which opposes genetically engineered crops, said genetic engineering had been oversold. "The facts show that conventional breeding is more successful at delivering crops with 'healthy traits' than genetic manipulation, despite all the hype from Monsanto and other biotech companies," he wrote in an e-mail message.

Scientists at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in Mexico have already used conventional breeding to develop corn rich in lysine, similar to the new Monsanto product, he said.

The biotech companies concede that if improvements can be made conventionally, results would come quicker because such crops do not face regulatory scrutiny. Mr. Stark of Monsanto said that if his company could develop high-oleic soybeans using breeding, the product could reach the market in three years, rather than six for the genetically engineered version.

But in some cases, scientists and executives say, it is not possible to get a trait, like the omega-3 fatty acids, without using genes from another species. "With genetic engineering you can go further," said Mr. Fyrwald of DuPont.

Mr. Fernandez of the Pew Initiative said polls have shown that consumers seem to be receptive to genetically modified products that have direct benefits for them. But whether that would be enough to win wide acceptance of genetically engineered foods remains to be seen.

One issue is whether consumers would even know what they are eating. Right now, in the United States, genetically modified and conventional crops are typically mixed together, and food made from biotech crops is not labeled.

But it is likely that crops with consumer benefits would be segregated so farmers could charge more for them. And food companies are probably going to want to label them. But the labeling is likely to proclaim that the food has healthier oil or is better for the heart, rather than mention it was the product of genetic engineering.

In Europe, food containing genetically modified ingredients has to be labeled to that effect, but it is not clear whether the health aspects would be linked to genetic engineering on the label.

Chris Somerville, chief executive of Mendel Biotechnology, a small company developing drought-resistant crops, said acceptance would depend more on big food companies than consumers. Companies, he said, would not want to risk their brands by using biotech crops if they thought there was even a slight chance of consumer rejection.

"Really, they're the gatekeepers," said Mr. Somerville, who is also head of the plant biology department at the Carnegie Institution. "The consumers aren't going to have any choice before the brand companies think it's safe to go out."

6. More voices joining chorus for GMO wheat

Scott A. Yates
Capital Press Staff Writer
Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2006

SAN ANTONIO ­ They may not have been singing in perfect harmony, but for the first time since the issue of biotechnology surfaced, U.S. wheat interests all appear to be reading from the same sheet of music.

The change in tune was made clear at a meeting of the industry’s Joint Biotech Committee Feb. 5. Made up of representatives from the National Association of Wheat Growers, U.S. Wheat Associates and the Wheat Export Trade and Education Committee, the group’s meetings are frequently acrimonious, with growers association representatives urging quick adoption of the technology and USW officials advising caution.

As recently as a year ago, Greg Daws, a wheat grower member of the committee from North Dakota, couldn’t contain his anger over the USW’s go-slow approach to biotechnology. He charged the two groups were so far apart that even a joint committee wouldn’t work.

At the latest meeting, however, Daws didn’t speak. Afterward, he said a change in personnel on the committee made an important difference in bringing a more-rational attitude to the biotech debate ­ that, and a realization that without the technology’s adoption, fewer wheat acres would be planted, which would impact the USW’s bottom line.

"Money talks," he said.

Vince Peterson, the USW’s vice president of overseas operations, made it clear he did not want to be viewed as an obstructionist. Peterson is the latest of four different staff members to head up the USW’s biotech committee contingent in the past six years.

During a presentation to the Joint Biotech Committee, he explained how the USW is attempting to soften up resistance to adoption of the technology around the world. Among other things, buyers are being discouraged from maintaining a zero-tolerance policy for adventitious or accidental commingling of minute quantities of GMO wheat in non-GMO cargoes. Without achievable tolerances, customers are being warned, they could cut off a major supplier and wind up backing themselves into a corner.

That sort of language was unheard of five years ago when several overseas surveys indicated customers would refuse to buy any wheat from the United States if a GMO trait was even approved, let alone grown commercially. A "customer is always right" mentality dominated the USW’s actions.

Wheat growers, however, have said the downward trend in U.S. wheat acres was fueled by biotech advances in corn and soybeans. They argue the only way to compete is through adoption of the technology that allows scientists to "engineer" a plant’s genetic code.

USW’s change in attitude can partly be traced to the fact that Roundup-ready wheat, poised to be the first biotech trait in wheat released to growers, was mothballed by Monsanto in May 2004. The technology, which would have allowed farmers to apply glyphosate over a growing crop to kill weeds, did not provide any advantage to grain companies or consumers.

A biotech trait from Syngenta, which provides resistance to fusarium head blight or scab, is next in line for approval. Because vomitoxin associated with fusarium head blight is important to food companies as well as consumers, Peterson said, it is a much better lead-off.

"Fusarium tolerance is a trait we have a much better opportunity to work with overseas countries’ concerns about food safety. They all have vomitoxin specifications. If we can say something is healthier, this is much easier to work with than Roundup-ready wheat was," he said.

For Peterson, the only thing better than having a defensible biotech trait introduced in the United States would be if another country comes out with a GMO trait of its own and "beats us to the punch." Many other countries are working on GMO wheat, including Egypt, China and India.

But Al Skogins, who represents NAWG on the joint panel, disagreed. He said U.S. competitiveness is dependent on farmers’ ability to adapt the latest technology. Starting out in the lead makes it much easier to hang on.

"It is a race. I would like to be the first to have (a biotech trait) as soon as we have enough consumer acceptance," he said.

Scott Yates is based in Spokane. His e-mail address is syates@capitalpress.com.

7. 2005, a scary year for genetically engineered crops

By Jeffrey M. Smith

Genetically modified (GM) crops were introduced 10 years ago, but 2005 saw plenty of evidence that the technology was introduced long before the science was ready. Here are some of last year's highlights, so to speak.

At a conference in October, a leading scientist from the Russian Academy of Sciences reported that more than half (55.6%) of the offspring of rats fed GM soy died within three weeks. By contrast, only 9% of rats died whose mothers were fed non-GM soy. The study is preliminary, but the American Academy of Environmental Medicine asked the NIH to immediately repeat it.[1]

In June, a German court ordered Monsanto to make a study public, in which rats fed GM corn developed kidney inflammation, altered blood cell counts and organ lesions. These and other changes suggested possible allergies, infections, toxins, anemia or blood pressure problems. The rats were fed corn genetically engineered to produce a pesticide called Bt-toxin. A French expert who reviews GM safety assessments for the government says that these and other studies indicate that Bt crops create reactions similar to chemical pesticides. Monsanto, however, was able to convince regulators to overlook the findings using arguments that were widely criticized as unscientific.[2]

In November, a 10-year, $2 million GM pea project in Australia was abandoned when the peas were found to create immune responses in mice. The results, which indicate that the peas might create serious allergic reactions in people, were discovered only after scientists employed advanced tests that have never been used for evaluating GM food. If those peas had been studied in the normal way, they could have been approved. The findings suggest that undetected problems may be common in GM crops on the market.[3]

Medical reports from India say that farm workers handling Monsanto's GM cotton developed moderate to serious allergic reactions, forcing some to the hospital. There were also reports that numerous animals died after eating the Bt cottonseed.[4]

The Indian government confirmed that Bt cotton's disastrous yields cost millions. One state even kicked out Monsanto, after they refused to compensate farmers' losses. Tragically, hundreds of debt-ridden cotton farmers committed suicide.[5]

Monsanto was fined by the US Justice Department for bribing up to 140 Indonesian officials over several years, trying to get Bt cotton approved.[6] But widespread crop failure had left farmers in ruins there too, so even the bribes didn't work.[7]

A three-year UK study showed that GM crops damage biodiversity and threaten birds and bees.[8] Another study surprised scientists when GM crops cross pollinated with a distant relative.[9] And some Indian farmers found that after planting GM cotton, their fields became sterile and could not support subsequent crops.[10]

According to USDA statistics, much more Roundup herbicide is used due to Monsanto's Roundup Ready GM plants. Roundup was found to be far more toxic to humans and animals than previously thought. [11] Furthermore, its over use has resulted in the proliferation of herbicide-tolerant weeds in the US.[12]

Contamination was also a big issue.

In March, the US government revealed that an unapproved GM corn variety by Syngenta had been sold for four years. By late December, Japan had rejected 14 contaminated corn shipments.[13] Illegal GM papaya showed up in Thailand.[14] Illegal GM varieties were about to be identified in Turkey, but the research project was mysteriously canceled.[15]

According to a UK study, even when GM crops are grown in special government-supervised field trials for just a single year, unharvested seeds continue to grow and re-seed fifteen years later.[16] And farmer Percy Schmeiser, whose contamination by GM canola made it to the Canadian Supreme Court, has again discovered windblown GM seeds from passing trucks.[17]

The Danish government passed a law in which they compensate farmers for losses due to GM contamination and then seek to collect from the offending GM farmer. Vermont's proposed Farmer Protection Act, which passed the senate last April by 26-1, offered a different solution. It placed the financial responsibility on the biotech seed company. This allowed contaminated farmers to recover their losses while shielding GM farmers that had planted their crops in accordance with the seed company's directions. Biotech proponents who lobby around the world to make sure their companies don't pay for damage created by their products, flocked to Vermont's state house. Sure enough, on the first day of the 2006 session, a close house vote struck down the bill in a New Year's gift to industry. A conference committee of senators and representatives may yet take this up and reinstate strict liability for seed producers.

Unwilling to accept GM contamination at all, Switzerland passed a 5- year moratorium on planting GM crops. Likewise, 4500 European jurisdictions, and regions and countries in Africa, South America and Australia have passed bills or resolutions for GM free zones. By contrast, the US biotech industry rushed legislation through 14 states so far, preventing local governments from creating such zones.

Perhaps in the distant future scientists will be able to safely and predictably manipulate and control genes in plants. But for now, feeding the products of this infant science to millions and releasing them into the environment is foolish and dangerous. In the meantime, pregnant women and children in particular, may want to avoid eating GM foods.

Most of these 2005 stories are elaborated in Jeffrey Smith's free monthly column, Spilling the Beans, available at http://www.responsibletechnology.org

Jeffrey M. Smith is the author of the bestselling book on GM foods Seeds of Deception and producer of the DVD Hidden Dangers in Kids' Meals, available at www.seedsofdeception.com or by calling 888-717- 7000. He is working with a team of international scientists to compile all known risks of GM foods.

Spilling the Beans is a monthly column available at www.responsibletechnology.org. Publishers and webmasters may offer this article or monthly series to your readers at no charge, by emailing column@responsibletechnology.org. Individuals may read the column each month by subscribing to a free newsletter at www.responsibletechnology.org.


[1] See Jeffrey Smith, Most Offspring Died When Mother Rats Ate Genetically Engineered Soy, Spilling the Beans, Oct 2005 at http://www.responsibletechnology.org

[2] See Jeffrey Smith, Genetically Modified Corn Study Reveals Health Damage and Cover-up, Spilling the Beans, June 2005 at http://www.responsibletechnology.org

[3] See Jeffrey Smith, Genetically Modified Peas Caused Dangerous Immune Response in Mice, Spilling the Beans, Nov/Dec 2005 at http://www.responsibletechnology.org

[4] Bt cotton causing allergic reaction in MP; webindia123.com, cattle dead, Bhopal, Nov 23 2005, http://news.webindia123.com/news/showdetails.asp?id=170692&cat=Health

[5] See Jeffrey Smith, Un-Spinning the Spin Masters on Genetically Engineered Food, Spilling the Beans, January 2006 at www.responsibletechnology.org

[6] Monsanto fined $1.5m for bribery, BBC News, Jan 7, 2005, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/4153635.stm

[7] Pests Attack Genetically Modified Cotton, Jakarta Post (Indonesia) 29 June 2001, http://www.mindfully.org/GE/GE2/Pests-Attack- Cotton-Jakarta.htm

[8] See Jeffrey Smith, Genetically Engineered Crops Damage Wildlife, Spilling the Beans, March 2005 at www.responsibletechnology.org

[9] Paul Brown, Weed discovery brings calls for GM ban, The Guardian, July 26, 2005, http://politics.guardian.co.uk/green/story/0,9061,1536021,00.html

[10] Abdul Qayum & Kiran Sakkhari. Did Bt Cotton Save Farmers in Warangal? A season long impact study of Bt Cotton - Kharif 2002 in Warangal District of Andhra Pradesh . AP Coalition in Defence of Diversity & Deccan Development Society, Hyderabad, 2003.

[11] Sophie Richard and others, Differential Effects of Glyphosate and Roundup on Human Placental Cells and Aromatase, Environmental Health Perspectives Volume 113, Number 6, June 2005

[12] See for example, Investigation Confirms Case Of Glyphosate- Resistant Palmer Pigweed In Georgia, Sept. 13, 2005, http://www.monsanto.com/monsanto/layout/media/05/09-13-05.asp

[13] Japan finds 14th US corn cargo tainted with Bt-10, KTIC 840 Rural Radio, http://ellinghuysen.com/news/biotech.html

[14] Illegal GE papaya in Thailand has antibiotic resistant genes, Greenpeace press release, June 30, 2005

[15] Michael Kuser, Tests reveal presence of GM tomatoes in Turkey, Turkish Daily News, 26 May 2005, http://www.turkishdailynews.com.tr/article.php?enewsid=14143

[16] Geoffrey Lean, GM crop 'ruins fields for 15 years', The Independent, 09 October 2005

[17] Sean Pratt, Roundup Ready Canola back in Schmeiser's field. The Western Producer, October 26, 2005

8. Bill would require labeling of genetically modified seeds

Associated Press Writer
February 12, 2006, 10:22 AM EST

ALBANY, N.Y. -- Lawmakers in Albany want New Yorkers to know not just what they're eating, but what they're planting as well.

A bill introduced in the Legislature would require the labeling of all seeds that include genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

Organic farmers fear having their crops tainted from birds, insects or wind that could transmit pollen from GMO crops while many consumers fear there isn't enough information available on the long-range consequences of eating genetically modified foods or on their environmental impacts.

"Organic food is considered healthy because it's natural. The one thing genetically modified food is not is natural," said Sarah Johnston, executive director of the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York, which represents 650 farms. "Farmers are in some cases purchasing genetically modified seeds unbeknownst to them. At the very least, people need to know what they are purchasing."

The measure, one of several bills around the country relating to genetically modified crops, is backed by the New York Farm Bureau and the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York.

Democratic Assemblyman Peter Rivera, a sponsor of the bill, said that since GMO crops are patented, farmers also fear they could be sued for patent infringement. Republican state Sen. James Seward is sponsoring the bill in the Senate.

"Really there has not been enough testing done on the effects genetically modified crops have on people, the environment and animals," said Maureen Knapp, whose family owns an organic dairy farm in Preble, about 20 miles south of Syracuse. "We grow crops to feed our animals and we do have conventional farmers all around us growing (pesticide resistant) corn. It's scary."

According to the Organic Farming Research Foundation, about 2 percent of the U.S. food supply is grown organically. Sales of organic products have shown an annual increase of at least 20 percent, the fastest growing sector of agriculture, the organization reported. The growth has come even though organic foods cost more to produce that conventional crops.

"The organic movement has grown tremendously because of consumer demand," said John Bunting, a grass-based dairy farmer in Delaware County. Organic farmers "want to guarantee to the consumer that they are in no way involved in GMOs."

To get their organic certification, farmers are required to use organic seed and required to make sure their vegetable crops aren't contaminated with GMOs.

Genetic technology has been widely used by major seed companies such as Monsanto Co. to promote insect resistance or herbicide tolerance in crops. About 80 percent of the U.S. soybean crop and 50 percent of the corn crop is genetically modified, said Michael Fernandez, executive director of the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology.

A 2004 study by the initiative found that state legislatures are increasingly debating issues surrounding biotechnology's use in agriculture.

The number of bills and resolutions introduced by state legislators nationwide addressing biotechnology and farming rose 7 percent to 130 in 2003 from 121 in 2001, according to the study.

Rivera is also sponsoring a bill that would make manufacturers of genetically engineered plants and seeds liable for damages caused as a result of cross-contaminating crops, seeds or plants, including wild plants. A similar bill is now being considered in Vermont.

In Hawaii, the Legislature is debating a bill to require companies to make public disclosures of locations of crop fields and test sites of genetically modified crops and to specify the types of genetic tests conducted.

On the Net:
Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology: http://pewagbiotech.org/
Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York: http://nofany.org/index.html

9. America's masterplan is to force GM food on the world
The reason the US took Europe to the WTO court was to prise open lucrative markets elsewhere

John Vidal
Monday February 13 2006
The Guardian

Just a few years ago, World Trade Organisation officials used to act hurt when described by social activists as irresponsible, secretive bureaucrats who trampled over national sovereignty and placed free trade over the environment or human rights. But that was when the global-trade policeman ruled on disputes that had little bearing on Europeans.

The WTO court's latest ruling will greatly increase the number of people who believe the organisation needs radical reform, if not burial. This week three judges emerged after years of secret deliberation to rule that Europe had imposed a de facto ban on GM food imports between 1999 and 2003, violating WTO rules. The court also ruled that Austria, France, Germany, Greece, Italy and Luxembourg had no legal grounds to impose their own unilateral import bans. "Europe guilty!" shouted the US press. "This is glorious news for the Bush administration," said one blogger.

Actually, the judges said much more, but in true WTO style no one has been allowed to know what. A few bureaucrats in the US, EU, Argentina and Canada have reportedly seen the full 1,045-page report, and an edited summary of some of its conclusions has been leaked. But no one, it seems, will take responsibility for the ruling, which may force the EU to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to compensate some of the world's most heavily subsidised farmers, and could change the laws of at least six countries that have imposed GM bans.

In fact the US has mostly won a lot of new enemies. Rather than going away, as the biotech companies and Washington fervently hoped, the opposition to GM foods seems to have been growing since 2004 when the case was brought to the WTO. Europe, its member states and its consumers all rejected the ruling last week, making the WTO look even more out of touch and incompetent to rule on issues about the environment, health and consumer choice.

The European commission, which has been trying to force GM crops into Europe over the heads of its member states, says the ruling is "irrelevant" because its laws have already been changed. Meanwhile, individual countries who dislike being told what to eat or grow by the EC as much as the WTO say they will resist any attempts to make them accept GM.

In the past few days Hungary has declared that it is in its economic interests to remain GM-free, and Greece and Austria have affirmed their total opposition to the crops. Italy has called the WTO ruling "unbalanced" and Poland's prime minister has pledged to keep the country GM-free. Local government is even more opposed: more than 3,500 elected councils in 170 regions of Europe have declared themselves GM-free.

There is little the WTO, the EC or the US can do in face of this coalition of the unwilling. If the US again tries to impose its GM products on Europe - as it did in the 90s, sparking the whole debacle - the attempt will backfire. Europe's biotech industry may now try to force the EC to use the WTO judgment to get the six countries with import bans to repeal anti-GM laws, but it will meet an even broader, more determined movement.

In fact, Washington and the US companies are not that bothered by Europe's predictable reaction. Europe has all but dropped off the world's GM map. The companies and the supermarkets know there is little or no demand for GM crops, and that Europe's subsidised farmers are reluctant to alienate the public further by growing them.

It is now clear that the real reason the US took Europe to the WTO court was was to make it easier for its companies to prise open regulatory doors in China, India, south-east Asia, Latin America and Africa, where most US exports now go. This is where millions of tonnes of US food aid heads, and where US GM companies are desperate to have access, buying up seed companies and schmoozing presidents and prime ministers.

More than two-thirds of exported US corn now goes to Asia and Africa, where once it went to Europe. As the Monsanto man said this week about the WTO ruling: "Our feeling is that it's important for countries other than the EU to have science-based regulatory frameworks."

Like the tobacco industry, GM companies are now focusing almost exclusively on developing countries. But here the industry is meeting stiff opposition from powerful unions and farming groups. Brazil has caved in, but Bolivia may shortly become the first Latin American country to fully reject GM. Some Indian states are deeply opposed, and there have been major demonstrations in the Philippines, Korea, Indonesia and elsewhere. India's largest farmers' organisation this week said the result of the WTO verdict would be that the US would become more aggressive in dumping GM food on to developing countries.

The US maintains that through the WTO it has won a great victory for free trade, and passed a significant milestone in US attempts "to have GM crops accepted throughout the world". Perhaps, but the battle is far from won, and in the meantime anyone opposing the crops is being reclassed as an enemy of America.

Within hours of the WTO decision, José Bové, the French farmer who has led European protests, arrived in New York to give an invited talk to Cornell students about GM food - and was immediately sent back to France by the US government.