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Biotech firm puts off rice crop in Missouri

(Friday, May 6, 2005 -- CropChoice news) --

1. Biotech firm puts off rice crop in Missouri
2. Missouri funds for agricultural pharmaceutical center draw fire
3. Transgenics Is Like the Plague and Brazil Caught It
4. Public In the Dark as Illegal GE Corn Enters Food Supply April
5. Heartland PBS series to celebrate agriculture
6. India bans Monsanto GM cotton seeds
7. Report: Farmers are sick less from GM crop

1. Biotech firm puts off rice crop in Missouri

Bill Lambrecht
St Louis Post Dispatch, 28 April 2005
http://www.stltoday.com/stltoday/news/stories.nsf/nation/story/6E8BA6940206E58 186256FF20012D055?OpenDocument

WASHINGTON - The California company that riled Bootheel farmers and Anheuser-Busch Cos. with a plan to grow pharmaceutical rice in Missouri has given up on planting in the state this year and instead is aiming at North Carolina.

Scott Deeter, president and chief operating officer of Ventria Bioscience, said Thursday that he saw no hope of winning approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture in time to plant its special rice in Missouri this spring.

But Deeter said that his company intended to plant next year in Missouri and to follow through with a plan to make Missouri and the campus of Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville Ventria's permanent home.

"There's no doubt in our minds that there's a very strong and visionary commitment in Missouri to biotechnology," he said.

The decision not to plant here this year is a setback for Gov. Matt Blunt and Missouri political leaders who fought for the California company and the goal of elevating Missouri's status as a biotech leader. Allied in opposition were rice growers, major food companies and environmental groups that tried to prevent companies like Ventria from getting permission to convert croplands into factories for drugs.

Ventria had obtained preliminary approval from the Agriculture Department to plant some 200 acres in southeast Missouri with rice that is genetically engineered to produce human proteins for use in drugs. But the company encountered an 11th hour uprising by rice farmers who feared accidental contamination of their crops and damage to a $100 million industry that depends heavily on exports.

Anheuser-Busch's recent declaration that it would not buy Missouri-grown rice if Ventria planted in the Bootheel sent Ventria scurrying to find sites elsewhere for its rice.

With the Agriculture Department promising additional scrutiny of a last-minute site in southwestern Missouri, Deeter said he concluded that the company could not meet a May 20 deadline for spring planting.

Ventria hopes to plant its pharmaceutical rice in Missouri next year, Deeter said, and already has begun sowing varieties of conventional rice in the state to determine which variety can grow well when genetically engineered.

On Wednesday, Ventria submitted requests in Washington for new permits that would allow the company to plant on 70 acres at two undisclosed locations in North Carolina.

An Agriculture Department spokeswoman said the company was seeking approval, as in Missouri, to plant rice that produces lactoferrin and lysozyme, proteins that occur naturally in human breast milk, tears and other bodily fluids.

The company already had received one permit from the Agriculture Department for planting its engineered rice on five acres in North Carolina.

It was uncertain whether Ventria could meet a deadline for planting this spring in North Carolina, because the government may take public comments for at least 20 days before making a decision.

The Agriculture Department is under pressure to turn down Ventria's request and others like it. The Grocery Manufacturers of America, whose members represent $500 billion in annual sales, insists that the government lacks a way to prevent contamination of food with synthetic proteins destined for drugs.

On Thursday, advocacy groups presented Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns with 30,000 signatures asking for a ban on the use of food crops to produce drugs.

Ventria has insisted that its specialty rice can be contained.

Northwest Missouri State University President Dean Hubbard said Thursday that his institution planned to proceed with a $30 million agricultural pharmaceutical center that would house Ventria and other companies. Hubbard helped raise $5 million to persuade Ventria to relocate from Sacramento, Calif., to Missouri.

"We're moving ahead. I have no doubt about that at all. The architects are busy," said Hubbard, who recently became a Ventria board member.

2. Missouri funds for agricultural pharmaceutical center draw fire

By Virginia Young
St. Louis Post-Dispatch Jefferson City Bureau
Wednesday, May. 04 2005

JEFFERSON CITY - Some Democrats are questioning a late addition to the state budget that would funnel more than $1 million next year toward construction of an agricultural pharmaceutical center in northwestern Missouri.

A state board would issue bonds to build the $30 million Center of Excellence in Maryville, Mo. Anchoring the project would be California-based Ventria Bioscience, which has genetically engineered rice seeds to produce human proteins for use in drugs.

House-Senate negotiators slipped the project's funding into the state's $19.2 billion operating budget on Monday. The Legislature passed half the budget bills Wednesday and is expected to sign off on the rest - including the bioscience center funding - today.

Rep. Rachel Storch, D-St. Louis, said the bioscience center needed more scrutiny than the brief presentation that budget negotiators received. She said there is still "much controversy" about whether Ventria's production of genetically modified rice could harm Missouri's rice farmers.

"In this budget climate, where we're making slash-and-burn cuts in Medicaid, I think we need to act cautiously before we hand out corporate subsidies," Storch said.

Under the plan, state taxpayers would spend $1.1 million a year for 15 years to help cover the center's debt. The federal government and private local sources would be expected to pay the rest.

House-Senate negotiators usually discuss only items approved by at least one chamber. But the bioscience center was on neither list; it surfaced for the first time Monday, allowing no public input.

It did have an inside track: It would be in the district of House Budget Chairman Brad Lager, R-Maryville.

Lager said in an interview that he pulled no special strings. He said the project has been in the planning stages for months at the Department of Economic Development and Northwest Missouri State University. The center would be on the university's campus.

The planners recently decided to ask the Missouri Development Finance Board to float the bonds and to lease the building to the state. That spurred the request for general revenue to help pay the construction cost.

"It has nothing to do with me being budget chair," Lager said. "This is truly an economic development piece."

Ventria plans to move its headquarters to Missouri from Sacramento, Calif. Sen. David Klindt, R-Bethany, told budget negotiators Monday that four additional high-tech companies are expected to move into the bioscience center within five years, generating 226 high-paying jobs.

"We're at a point where we have to invest in our future," Klindt said.

3. Transgenics Is Like the Plague and Brazil Caught It

Written by Sérgio Antônio Gorgen
Saturday, 30 April 2005

On March 4, 2005, Brazil's Law of Biosecurity, which legalizes the planting and commercialization of transgenic seeds, was approved by the National Congress. Now social movements and environmental groups have but one option: to present a case to the Federal Supreme Court to show that the law is unconstitutional.

The approval of the law of Biosecurity - which actually is a threat to biosecurity - has brought the tensions between small farmers and multinational agricultural businesses to a new level.

After seven years of attempts, multinational transgenic companies finally were able to get a law passed which will facilitate their goal of approving once and for all the commercial production of genetically modified produce.

Since 1998, these companies have been trying to impose their products without any sort of controls. But their attempts were confounded with the resistance from social movements, environmentalists, consumers, innumerous independent scientists, and renown lawyers.

Only now, during President Lula's tenure and with his support (due honor, however, goes to his Minister of Environment, Marina Silva, who has resisted the trend at every step) has it been possible for transgenic companies to get a law passed.

This law has opened the door for massive, commercial use of transgenic foods, without any studies, independent field tests, food security studies, or environmental impact studies.

It is an embarrassing decision which the Brazilian nation will regret one hundred times over. The multinationals celebrate in silence. The agribusinesses celebrate in public, not even perceiving that they also are victims and will become the slaves of a handful of multinationals.

General Contamination

Now, agricultural multinationals will accelerate the imposition of transgenic soy across the country. Next will come cotton, then corn, sugar, rice, papaya, and tobacco. They will try to impose a general contamination of as many food products and in as many regions of the country as possible.

They will move forward in their monopolies of seeds, in sales of herbicides and pesticides, and in charging royalties for the use of this technology. They will try to put us on a one-way street, and make Brazil kneel before their interests. Their objective is total control of the food market, and profit at whatever cost.

The law approved by Congress gives CTNBio (National Technical Commission of Bio-security) total power to decide to use transgenics. Housed in the Ministry of Science and Technology, the ad hoc commission is made up of scientists who meet from time to time, the majority of whom research for companies involved in transgenics.

CTNBio does not have the permanent structures necessary for technical studies, evaluation, and field accompaniment concerning the effects of transgenics in nature.

The technical organs with legal force and permanent structures for the evaluation and accompaniment of the impact of this new technology, Ibama (the government's environmental agency) and Anvisa (the health agency), will be obliged to honor and carry out the decisions of CTNBio, decisions which will be based on information furnished by companies interested in the legal use of transgenics.

Approval is Unconstitutional

The juridical confusion may continue as the Federal Constitution, article 225, demands environmental impact studies before an activity which may cause environmental damage can be legalized.

Increasing every day are scientific studies from all over the world which demonstrate the environmental risks of transgenic plants. The same group of scientists who warned the world about climatic changes today are alerting us about the risks of transgenics.

But popular consciousness about these risks will force society to exert pressure on governments and lawmakers to apply the principle of caution in the legalization of transgenic foods on a large scale.

Our resistance will continue. We will denounce the disastrous consequences of transgenics for farmers, the environment, health, the sovereignty and economy of the nation.

These seven years of resistence have not been in vain. The multinationals have succeeded in imposing their new form of domination at the worst possible moment for them: agribusiness controlled by multinationals is sinking in a severe crisis with the increase in the costs of agricultural production, the fall of international prices, and the devaluing of the dollar.

As transgenics are part of this model, if the model enters into crisis, it also affects the strategy of implantation. It is in this crisis that we need to prepare ourselves and advance in the construction and consolidation of our own alternative projects.

It is up to us to move forward with new models of agriculture, with new land reforms, technology with ecological bases, and agricultural production controlled by small farmers, organized in cooperatives under their own control, and producing varied foods to feed, before all else, the Brazilian people.


Friar Sérgio Antônio Gorgen is a state congressman of the Workers' Party from Rio Grande do Sul, and has worked closed with the MST (Movement of Landless Workers) since the 80's when he was a member of the Catholic Church's Land Commission. He is the author of the book, "O Massacre da Fazenda Santa Elmira" (Saint Elmira's Farm Massacre).

Originally published at the newspaper Sem Terra.

4. Public In the Dark as Illegal GE Corn Enters Food Supply April

Pesticide Action Network Updates Service, April 29, 2005

On March 22, 2005 the science magazine, Nature, revealed that Syngenta had inadvertently sold an unlicensed strain of genetically engineered (GE) Bt corn to U.S. farmers for a period of four years. During that period approximately 146,000 tons (133 million kilograms) of the corn, containing an antibiotic resistant gene, was marketed in the U.S., Europe and Asia as animal feed and corn flour. Nature also reported that the biotech giant had informed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) of their four-year error in December of 2004, and the agencies had consulted with the White House about the situation, but no one informed the public.

Syngenta sells genetically modified corn in which the soil bacterium Bacillus thruingiensis (Bt) has been inserted as an insecticide. The company has won approvals to sell corn containing the gene Bt11 for food, animal feed and cultivation in the U.S., Canada, Argentina, Japan, South Africa and Uruguay. However, from 2001 through 2004, Syngenta says it unintentionally sold corn seeds with the Bt10 gene, which has not been approved.

When Nature published its story, Syngenta declared there was essentially no difference between the non-approved Bt10 and Bt11. The company insisted that they had tested both strains, and decided to move ahead with petitions for approval of Bt11 simply because it performed better. According to Syngenta, the only difference between the two strains was the placement of the Bt gene in the plant's genetic structure, likening this to "two compact discs that have identical songs but with one song appearing in a different order."

What Syngenta did not reveal, but came out in a second Nature story on March 29, was that Bt10 also contains a gene for resistance to the commonly used antibiotic, ampicillin. Antibiotic-resistant genes are used as 'tags' during production of genetically engineered or modified seeds, and are usually removed before the seeds enter the food chain.

The Nature story appraised the risks of antibiotic-resistant genes, "The release of such genes into the environment is sometimes considered inadvisable, as there is a small chance that they could flow from crops to microorganisms and spread problems of antibiotic resistance."

Meanwhile, the USDA announced in early April that Syngenta would pay a fine of $375,000 and sponsor a conference on compliance training. According to USDA officials, the maximum allowable fine for the violations involved was $500,000.

Two weeks after the antibiotic resistance became public, the European Food Safety Authority issued a caution concerning ampicillin resistant genes in the food supply. On April 12, 2005 EU member states voted to block all U.S. imports of corn gluten feed and brewers grain until they could be tested for GE strains. EU Health and Consumer Commissioner Markos Kyprianou said the ban was necessary to uphold consumer confidence in the food supply. The European Commission (the executive arm of the EU) estimates that 1,000 tons of the unlicensed corn products entered the EU, with some seed also imported for test fields in Spain and France.

Shortly after the EU ban, the Japanese government announced that it would also monitor U.S. corn imports for the presence of Bt10. However, both Japanese and EU officials were stymied because Syngenta balked at providing the proprietary data necessary to detect the unlicensed strain. The European Commission said that Syngenta should reveal the corn's molecular structure to European scientists, stating "Syngenta has a responsibility to give all the information we need to test for Bt10."

A standoff ensued as EU officials continued to demand data from Syngenta. On April 17, Greenpeace International called attention to the unloading of corn gluten from the U.S. then underway in the Rotterdam harbor, boarded the ship to collect samples, and called on the Dutch government to halt the offloading.

Finally on April 25, the EU announced it had approved a testing method for Bt10 to be performed in U.S. ports with additional testing by the EU for monitoring purposes, thereby lifting the ban. EU Commissioner Markos Kyprianou also announced that the EU's Joint Research Centre was building a database of detection methods for all genetically modified organisms, "be they authorized in the EU or not" in order to prevent future release of unlicensed GE strains. He also urged the U.S. to follow the lead of the EU and establish labeling and tracing systems for GE crops and food.

Last year, U.S. shipments of corn gluten grain to the EU totaled US $347 million.


  • Nature, 434, 423 News, March 22, 2005, Nature 434, 548 March 29, 2005, http://www.nature.com;
  • International Herald Tribune, April 5, 2005
  • Interpress News Service, April 14 2005, http://ipsnews.net;
  • European Food Safety Authority Statement, April 12, 2005, http://www.efsa.eu.int/press_room/press_statements/884_en.html;
  • Des Moines Register, March 23, 2005; Associated Press, April 25, 2005;
  • Europe Information Service, April 27, 2005.

5. Heartland PBS series to celebrate agriculture

Farm Bureau News, April 21, 2005

"We project that the first season of the program will be available in markets totaling more than 60 percent of the nation's viewers ... reaching more than 71 million households." --- Jim O’Donnell, Director of Program Marketing, KVIE-TV (Sacremento affiliate)

Sacramento, Ca., ­ A new weekly public television show that celebrates the miracle of American agriculture and the farm and ranch families that help make it possible will hit the airwaves this fall, it was announced today. America’s Heartland will profile the people, places and products of U.S. agriculture. The magazine-style, half-hour program will focus on our national love for the land, our fascination with food and the bedrock American values of family, hard work and independence that make our agricultural system the finest in the world.

In announcing the ground-breaking series today, the series’ two flagship supporters ­ Monsanto Company and the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) ­ along with the show’s producer, KVIE, the public television affiliate in Sacramento, Calif., said they are proud to collaborate with other U.S. agriculture groups to raise awareness of the significant contribution that agriculture makes to the quality of American living. America’s Heartland supporting contributors include American Soybean Association, National Corn Growers Association, National Cotton Council, United Soybean Board and U.S. Grains Council.

America’s Heartland will help viewers better understand the nation’s farm and ranch families and the challenges and opportunities they face as they produce food and fiber for Americans and people in other countries. "American farmers play an important role in the stewardship of the land and foods we eat ­ it is important that they are recognized by non-farming communities for their hard work and devotion," said Kerry Preete, vice president of U.S. crop production at Monsanto Company. "America’s Heartland will provide metropolitan audiences an important opportunity to learn more about the story beyond the grocery store shelves and usher in a greater respect for farmers’ and ranchers’ contributions."

Series supporters also believe America’s Heartland will help raise public awareness of the agricultural industry, particularly among the nation’s opinion leaders, and highlight the important role farmers and ranchers play in feeding, clothing and fueling the world.

"We believe America’s Heartland will provide an opportunity for consumers to get reacquainted with American farmers and ranchers, the people who produce their food," said Bob Stallman, president of AFBF. "Americans, for a number of reasons, are removed from their agricultural roots. America’s Heartland will help bridge that disconnect. America’s Heartland will show the diversity of American agriculture ­ the variety of operations and people in the profession. America’s farms are still predominantly operated by farm families and not large corporations, as many people think. America’s Heartland will put a face on those families and give them a voice."

Stallman said Farm Bureau is proud to team up with Monsanto, a leading agricultural technology company that has helped farmers become more profitable, productive, and efficient in meeting the needs of American consumers, and KVIE, which has already proved its ability to tell agriculture’s story to the public through its eight years of producing the California Heartland series, which was one of the most-watched series in the 50-year history of California public television.

America’s Heartland is as much about the way of life of the people working and caring for the land as it is America’s food and agriculture system. Each half-hour program will be shot entirely on location in digital widescreen format, according to Jim O’Donnell, Director of Program Marketing for KVIE.

The first season of the program will consist of 20 original programs, one or more of which will break from the established format to cover a single topic or theme.

The series will premiere the first week of September 2005.

The series will be distributed to each of more than 300 public television stations in America by America’s Public Television, the single largest provider of programming to public television stations.

"We project that the first season of the program will be available in markets totaling more than 60 percent of the nation’s viewers ­ approximately 100 stations reaching more than 71 million households," O’Donnell said.

People interested in seeing a sneak peek of the series may view an introductory trailer at the website: www.americasheartland.org .

America’s Heartland is a weekly television program that celebrates the miracle of American agriculture and the farm and ranch families that help make it possible.

The American Farm Bureau Federation is the nation’s largest farm organization with affiliates in 49 states and Puerto Rico. For more information on Farm Bureau, see: www.fb.org .

Monsanto Company is a leading industry provider of technology-based solutions and agricultural products that improve farm efficiency and food quality. For more information on Monsanto, see: www.monsanto.com .

KVIE, Sacramento is the creator and producer of America’s Heartland, a weekly series celebrating the generous earth of our nation and the people who work it. KVIE is a PBS member station and one of the most prolific producers of content for public television in America. For more information, see: www.kvie.org .

Contacts: KVIE: Jim O’Donnell, Director of Program Marketing 916-641-3550

Monsanto: Lee Quarles, Public Affairs Manager for North America 314-694-4452

American Farm Bureau Federation: Don Lipton, Director, Public Relations (202) 406-3644

6. India bans Monsanto GM cotton seeds

http://tinyurl.com/dj2zs [aljazeera], Tuesday 03 May 2005

India has barred Monsanto Company and its Indian partners from selling three varieties of genetically modified cotton in a southern Indian state.

The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee, a federal regulator, refused to renew licences for the sale of three Monsanto BT cotton varieties in Andhra Pradesh state, because they had been found ineffective in controlling pests there, said Suresh Chandra, the committee chairman.

However, the seeds can be sold in other Indian states, Chandra said.

Years of discussion

"It took us six-and-a-half hours of discussion, but at the end, we decided not to renew those licences for Andhra Pradesh," he said.

The Andhra Pradesh state government also asked Monsanto to compensate farmers who it said lost money by sowing its transgenic cotton. Monsanto disputed the claim.

Monsanto's spokeswoman in India, Ranjana Smetacek, said the company had yet to receive the federal regulator's order and would not comment.

The licences granted in March 2002 expired last month, and Monsanto applied for their renewal in six southern and central Indian states, including Andhra Pradesh.

Verdict on cotton

In April, the federal regulator asked various state governments to give their comments on the performance of BT cotton over the past three years.

"The report [from Andhra Pradesh state] was not satisfactory, and hence we had to disallow the licences," Chandra said.

St Louis-based Monsanto's BT cotton is the only genetically modified crop allowed in India. BT stands for bacillus thuringiensis, a bacterium whose gene is injected into cotton seeds to give them resistance against boll worms, which are common in India.

Monsanto sold 1.3 million packets of BT cotton in 2004, but critics say the seeds are environmentally hazardous and could contaminate the genes of native varieties through cross pollination.

However, advocates of genetic modification say it helps fight plant diseases, increases yields, and makes food crops more nutritious.

7. Report: Farmers are sick less from GM crop


WASHINGTON -- Chinese farmers growing genetically modified rice produced larger crops, saved money on pesticides and were less likely to get sick from exposure to poison intended for insects.

An analysis of dozens of farmers growing two strains of rice modified to resist insects showed they used much less pesticide than those using conventional rice. None of the farmers using only the genetically modified (GM) crop was sickened by exposure to pesticides.

In contrast, 8.3 percent of farmers in the study growing only conventional rice reported pesticide-related illness in 2002, while 3.0 percent of them did so in 2003, researchers report in Friday's issue of the journal Science.

"Small and poor farm households benefit from adopting GM rice by both higher crop yields and reduced use of pesticides, which also contributes to the improved health of farmers," said Carl Pray, an agriculture, food and resource economics professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

Pray and researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the University of California at Davis studied farmers using two rice strains that had been modified in different ways to make the plants resistant to rice stem borer and leaf roller.

In 2002, researchers studied 40 farmers using modified rice on all or part of their farms and 37 farmers using only conventional varieties of rice.

In 2003, they looked at 69 farmers who were using modified rice on all or part of their farms and 32 who were growing conventional varieties.

The farmers were not paid for their effort and were not assisted by technicians. They made their own decisions about using pesticides by studying their fields.

On average, farmers working with genetically modified rice used pesticides once a year while those with conventional varieties applied pesticides 3.7 times annually.

The researchers found that the total amount of pesticides used was eight times to 10 times more for the conventional farmers than those with the genetically modified crop, saving the farmers with the new strains a lot of money.

Yield for the insect-resistant rice averaged 14,033 pounds per hectare compared to 13,563 pounds per hectare for the conventional crop. A hectare is about 2 1/2 acres.

The researchers said they included pesticide-related illness in their study because it is common in developing countries.

They asked farm family members if they experienced any headaches, nausea, skin irritation, digestive discomfort or other health problems during or after spraying pesticides on their farms, and whether they had visited a doctor, gone home to recover or taken other actions to deal with the symptoms.

If they had, it was recorded as a case of pesticide-induced illness.

Although China has commercialized cotton modified to produce a natural pesticide against the bollworm, it has not developed any genetically modified food crops for the commercial market, the researchers said.

In the United States, genetically modified soybeans, corn and canola are in use as well as squash at some times of year and papaya from Hawaii, according to the Biotechnology Industry Organization.

This Chinese study was funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China and the Chinese Academy of Science.