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Monsanto under pressure over report; other news

(Friday, June 10, 2005 -- CropChoice news) --

1. Court orders Monsanto to make scandal report public
2. Calls to Ban GM Crops Intensify After Rats Suffer
3. Biotechnology Loses Billions A Year

1. Court orders Monsanto to make scandal report public

Environmental Media Services
Source: Greenpeace International
Jun 10, 2005

Amsterdam/Cologne, 10 June 2005 - A German law court in Cologne/Germany today ordered biotechnology giant Monsanto to make one of it's confidential reports public after the company tried to prevent the dissemination of its own study. The 1000-page document is in the center of international attention after its results were exposed by the British newspaper Independent On Sunday (1).

Greenpeace have asked for access to the document in Germany referring to an EU-law which states that the public has the right to have insight in all documents related to risk assessement of genetically modified (GM) plants.

After the German state authorities endorsed the access, Monsanto filed a court case against the government of Germany in an attempt to try to stymie the publishing of the document. Greenpeace joined sides with the German government in the case and with today's order the original study should be open for insight by the public.

"This is a important success - both for Greenpeace and for the people. The strategy of secrecy and intransparency of Monsanto failed, and now the document can be a subject to independent investigations," said Greenpeace International campaigner Christoph Then.

The aforesaid rat feeding study found "significant" effects in the blood and organs of the rats fed on the GM maize MON863. A number of scientists across Europe who have already seen the study expressed concerns about the health and safety implications of this GM corn. Monsanto does not put in question that there were significant health effects in the rats, but claims that these were not caused by the GM maize. But according to the opinion of several experts the explanations of Monsanto are not sufficient to put down recent concerns.

On the 24th of June the Council of EU ministers will decide on the market authorisation for import and use of MON863 in our food. It is almost impossible to evaluate Monsanto's over 1000-page study on the health effects until that date; in particular because Monsanto is expected to file a further appeal against the recent decision, which could result in further delay in the publication of the documents.

"EU member states should set a clear signal in the interest of their people and should reject the application of the GM maize. Otherwise the maize corn could be permitted by the EU Commission without any further consultation or votings - and that could have serious consequences," said Then.

For more information:
Christoph Then, GE campaigner, Greenpeace International, mobile: +49 171 878 0832
Judit L. Kalovits, media officer, Greenpeace International, mobile: +31 621 296 914
(1) Independent On Sunday, 22 April 2005.

2. Calls to Ban GM Crops Intensify After Rats Suffer

Ranjit Devraj


NEW DELHI, Jun 6 (IPS) - Environmentalists and food security activists in India have renewed calls for a moratorium on genetically modified (GM) foods and crops after rats reportedly secretly tested with GM corn diets by the U.S. agribusiness and biotech giant Monsanto developed blood and organ abnormalities.

Monsanto's tests are already the subject of brewing controversy in Europe, where the transnational corporation is facing increasing resistance to its products and where legal initiatives are being mounted to compel bureaucrats to make public the full results of the tests.

So far, Monsanto has maintained that its 1,139-page report could not be revealed, even to the European Food Safety Authority, on the grounds that it "contains confidential business information which could be of commercial use to our competitors."

In India, a country with 600 million farmers, the results of the tests have been appended to public interest litigation filed in May seeking Supreme Court intervention in India's own GM programme by a group of prominent anti-GM activists, including Devinder Sharma of the Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security and P.V. Satheesh of the Deccan Development Society (DDS), based in southern Andhra Pradesh state.

While the litigation is pending Sharma has teamed up with Suman Sahai, who leads the internationally known group Gene Campaign, to demand that the government urgently publish all food and feed safety research on GM crops in India, including cabbage, cauliflower, brinjal (aubergine), potato, tomato and staples like rice.

"The methodology used must be made known, as also the laboratories where safety tests are conducted, and all decisions on GM crops and foods taken in accordance with the provisions of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, which already requires public participation and to which India is signatory," Sharma said in an IPS interview.

Both Sharma and Sahai said it is becoming increasingly important that food and feed safety data not be accepted from companies, but generated in government laboratories and in a transparent manner.

Although India has a string of well-established agricultural laboratories that compare to the finest in the world, Indian authorities had chosen to accept data generated by Monsanto before accepting the company's GM cotton for large-scale cultivation -- and this has already proved disastrous for farmers growing the crop.

The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) last month banned two varieties of Monsanto's GM cotton for use in southern Andhra Pradesh state, where farmers have committed suicide by the hundred after severe crop failures last year.

And in retaliation for the refusal of Mahyco-Monsanto (the Indian subsidiary) to compensate the farmers, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YSR Reddy last week ordered the company blacklisted in his state. He has also demanded that state authorities be consulted before the GEAC grants approvals for cultivating GM crops in Andhra Pradesh.

''Reddy's courageous decision will serve as an eye-opener for the Parliamentary Select Committee that is presently examining the controversial Seed Bill 2004. The proposed bill allows the seed industry to escape free without paying any compensation for any crop losses. All it suggests is that in case of crop failures, farmers should knock on the doors of the consumer courts,'' said Sharma.

According to Sharma and Sahai, more than growing GM crops in India, the central government needs urgently to address the loosely regulated import of GM foods into this country until clear safety data generated independently and subjected to a public risk-benefit analysis is available.

Both said the question must be asked in this country why transnationals are gaining a reputation for being eager to force genetically altered foods on unsuspecting populations and then shying away from making public the results of research trials -- as Monsanto appears to be doing in the case of the secret trials on rats with GM corn.

In the United States itself, the Centre for Food Safety has alerted the Environmental Protection Agency on the Monsanto trials and said that the rat study showed ''unreasonable adverse effects,'' and these should have been drawn to the attention of regulators, because failure do to do so was a potentially criminal offence.

The activists suggest that the Monsanto study should be reason enough for a serious overhaul of a draft Biotechnology Policy drawn up by the Indian government and which has been criticised as jettisoning the elements of precaution, safety and public participation.

They feared that if the new policy is passed, health effects of the kind reported in the leaked Monsanto study would not even be detected since there is no requirement for testing. Entire populations could be exposed to untested foods and it would be too late should health impacts be detected, they said.

''In a country where there is a 50-million-tonne food grain surplus there is little reason to invest in costly technology which is of doubtful value and which increasingly is found to be risky,'' said Sahai.

''India is a storehouse of food and agricultural diversity and has many options to offer for food and nutritional security. There appears little reason to opt for potentially dangerous GM foods especially when regulations are demonstrably weak,'' she added.

3. Biotechnology Loses Billions A Year

The Associated Press, May 31 2005

SAN FRANCISCO - Since researchers first mixed genes from two species more than a quarter century ago, biotechnology companies have promised to revolutionize the pharmaceutical industry - and disrupt centuries of farming practices.

Despite that promise - and some significant breakthroughs in treating cancer, diabetes and other widespread and deadly diseases - the industry's losses continued to mount in 2004.

The biotechnology industry lost a combined $6.4 billion last year, according to a new report from Ernst & Young. The industry's total accrued loss since its birth in Silicon Valley in the mid-1970s is more than $45 billion.

The 93-page report mostly was upbeat: federal regulators approved 20 new biotech drugs last year, and 230 such medicines and other related products are on the market. Ernst & Young is optimistic that biotechnology will become profitable by 2009, pointing to some 365 drugs in the final stages of development compared with 290 in 2003.

Revenue worldwide grew 17 percent to $54.6 billion based on Ernst & Young's study of 641 public companies and 3,775 private companies.

A handful of biotechnology companies indeed have hit it big after modest beginnings, making their initial investors wealthy.

The market capitalization of Genentech Inc., the San Francisco biotechnology pioneer, recently surpassed several pharmaceutical giants such as Merck & Co. and biotech rival Amgen Inc.

For its part, the drugs that launched Thousand Oaks-based Amgen into profitability - epogen and its successors - rang up more than $10 billion in sales last year for Amgen and three competitors who market the drugs, which is used to treat anemia in many cancer patients and people with kidney disease.

Genentech earned $785 million in 2004, and Amgen reported profit of $2.4 billion for last year.

Hunting For The Next Success

Investors, meanwhile, continue to plow billions into biotechnology each year in hopes of getting in on the next Genentech, which shareholders value at $83 billion.

According to Ernst & Young, the industry raised $17 billion from investors last year, the highest total since 2000. Venture capitalists invested $3.6 billion last year.

Yet there's no getting around the industry's continued losses. For every success such as Genentech and Amgen, there are dozens of failures.

"It's a crazy industry to invest in"' said John McCamant, a biotechnology investor and editor of a stock-advising newsletter. McCamant nevertheless is optimistic that biotechnology is poised for explosive growth in the coming years and that measuring it today against staid sectors such as the automotive industry is unfair.

Others are more skeptical.

"It's essentially like a casino," said Joseph Cortright, a Portland, Ore. economist. "There are lots of bets you can lay down, and the potential can be very valuable, but for the most part, the odds that any one will pan out are extremely long."

Effect Of Science Isn't Huge

Biotechnology remains a money-losing niche industry of 1,400 companies employing about 183,000 workers nationwide. By contrast, Wal-Mart employs 1.7 million workers, and its annual revenue rivals the entire biotech industry's annual sales.

Cortright, who co-wrote a report critical of biotechnology's ability to drive a region's economic growth, says local government officials who promise companies all sorts of incentives to relocate are ignoring the industry's financials.

"The mistake that people make is confusing science that is really cool with something that is going to have a significant economic impact," he said.